"Leave France?" Erik blinked at that. “We are? But… why? And how?”
“The why should be obvious,” Meg said. “You were unmasked onstage, after all. I don’t know what stories are being told, but you are still being sought by the police. As to the how, we’ll travel together. No one will be looking for you with me, and even if I’m recognized, I already made sure a rumor would go around that I’d eloped. What’s more, I’m going to use my knowledge of theatrical makeup to let you travel without your mask.” She reached out and lightly grasped his chin, examining his face with almost clinical interest. “I’ll probably have to make you look a bit ill,” she decided. “The scarring makes your right eyelid droop a bit. We can say you’re recovering from a fit of apoplexy.”
He swallowed, more disturbed by her proximity than he expected. “If… if you think it will work, that’s what we’ll do,” he agreed.
She smiled and got up, bustling around by the gas ring and the sink, making tea and sandwiches for their supper. “Will you tell me more of yourself, Erik? Whatever you’re comfortable in revealing… I don’t want to be too much of a nosy Nellie. But at the same time, I would like to know more about you. I suppose you already know practically everything about me, since you would have seen me growing up.”
“Not that much,” he replied. “Your mother didn’t want me near you, so I didn’t see much until you started training with the ballet. And even then, it, uh, wasn’t you I was watching.” For some reason, he felt uncomfortable discussing Christine with Meg.
“Well, I still want to hear about you. And if you want, I can talk about me, too,” she grinned as she brought over the tea and sandwiches.
He reached for a sandwich, suddenly feeling hungry. “I’d like that,” he admitted. “I’d like to know if growing up with a family is anything like I imagined. I mean, I must have had a family, or at least a mother, at one time. But I don’t have any… real memories of it. Just a… a vague feeling of being handled gently, and of a soft voice calling me ‘little Erik’ and singing a lullaby.” He paused to take a bite of his food.
Meg smiled. “Vague it might be, but that sounds like a lovely memory of your mother. Perhaps it’s what sparked your musical talent.”
“It could be,” Erik admitted. “I never thought of it like that before. Mostly I was just…angry… that it was all taken away.” He gave a twisted, bitter smile. “Not that I can fully remember that, either. Just a crash, then pain, horrible, awful, burning pain. But there was no fire, I remember it was very dark, and there was a body… I fell…” He paused, shaking. “I was screaming and screaming… but my mother never came… Mon Dieu, Meg,” he whispered as he finally made the connection, “That must have been my mother’s body…”
She reached out and grasped his hand, then shifted over to sit on the bed and pulled him into a gentle hug, letting him lean on her shoulder as he quietly wept. When he calmed down again, she dabbed at his face with one of his handkerchiefs. “What happened after that?” she asked softly.
“The… the next thing I recall is the gypsies,” he said. “They must have found me. I remember thrashing around… I think they were trying to do something to my face. But it hurt so, and I just wanted my mother… none of the women used a language I understood, and the men who did speak French didn’t even try to offer any sort of explanation to me. They just beat me and called me a devil child for acting as I did. It was about that time they got the idea of displaying me and my scars in a cage at their fairs. I don’t know how long I lived like that, before the night your mother helped me.”
Meg tilted her head, thinking. “I realize it’s a moot point now. But I can’t help but wonder about your mother. I think perhaps she was a photographer. My father was interested in photography also, and I remember he had many little burns on his hands that he said came from the chemicals used in developing the plates, especially for the daguerreotypes. Perhaps you were with your mother when she was developing plates, and something went wrong in the process, killing her and burning your face with the chemicals.
He nodded wearily. “It’s possible, I suppose. Not that there’s any way of finding out at this point.”
“No, there isn’t,” she agreed. “But still… it’s a reasonable thought, and something to tell people who might wonder about your scars in the future.”
Erik looked uncomfortable at that, but just nodded. “Perhaps,” he said. “I’ll think about it, anyway. Just… later. Not right now.”
“Fair enough,” Meg nodded. “You should sleep.” She tucked him in again, dropping a kiss on his forehead. She paused, and then shyly offered, “I know I’m only in the ballet and chorus, but… would you like a lullaby?”
“Would you?” he asked with a smile.
She nodded, and softly started singing, “Au clair de la lune, mon ami Pierrot. Prête-moi ta plume, pour écrire un mot. Ma chandelle est morte, je n'ai plus de feu. Ouvre-moi ta porte, pour l'amour de Dieu…”
Erik drifted gently into slumber, still smiling softly.
The next couple of weeks passed quietly for the two as they waited for Erik’s sprained ankle to heal enough for him to walk comfortably. Erik, assuming she’d spent their first night there in the chair, told her where to find more bedding so she could fix up a second pallet bed for herself. Meg often made him laugh with her tales of the shenanigans pulled off by the ballet and chorus girls, the chorus men, and the other backstage workers at L’Opera Populaire. Erik made her laugh when he confessed that he’d been trying to scare Carlotta into leaving within a month after she’d started singing there, simply because he hated her voice, her arrogance, and the way she allowed her poodle to leave messes all over the theatre.
Meg made one more foray into Paris, bringing back more food, some theatrical makeup, and a pair of books used in most schools to teach English. That same night, unknown to her, Erik made his own foray into the sewers and catacombs to retrieve caches of money he’d hidden away over the years in the event he ever needed to leave the opera house. When Meg returned with the schoolbooks, Erik started to apply himself to the task of learning a new language. She helped, having learned some English along with several other languages as a child. Mme. Giry had held high hopes for her one daughter, and knew that a good education coupled with becoming an acclaimed ballerina would give the girl more opportunities as she grew up.
The day before they planned to leave the hideout and slip out of Paris, Meg decided to experiment with using the makeup to disguise Erik’s scars. As he had seldom ventured outdoors since he’d first hidden within the catacombs beneath the theatre, he was naturally pale enough to pass as a recovering invalid once she smoothed over the seamed and rippled flesh of his scars. A wig would easily hide the scars and thinned hair on the side of his head above his ear. They didn’t have a mirror in the hideout, but she improvised a small one by filling one of the cooking pots halfway up and having him look at his own dim reflection in the water.
Erik peered at himself, and then looked up at Meg. “I think it will do. You seem to have thought everything out. Do you have a destination in mind?”
“I thought perhaps the American city of New Orleans, or maybe the Canadian city of Montreal. I know enough English to manage in our travels, but I understand both of those cities have a large French-speaking population, which will make the transition easier, don’t you think?” she said. “We just have to decide which climate we’d prefer… something similar to Paris but with shorter summers, or something much warmer than what we’re used to.” She tucked her fingers under his chin, tilting his head to one side as she examined her handiwork once more.
Erik closed his eyes against a vision of Meg in a soft green dress, an ocean breeze ruffling her blonde hair as she smiled from the railing of a steamship. Her fingers were still warm on his chin, the faint scent of her soap filling the air around them. “I don’t know if I can do this,” he whispered hoarsely, attempting to turn away from her gentle touch.
Meg tilted her head. “What don’t you think you can do? Learn English? Live elsewhere?”
He shook his head. “I don’t think we should travel together. I can’t… you don’t know…” He swallowed again, then confessed, “You… you are making it… far too easy… to stop picturing Christine in my mind.”
“Isn’t that a good thing?” she asked, laying her hand over his.
That light touch proved too much. This young woman, just as lovely as Christine in her own fashion, approached him willingly, of her own free choice. He wasn’t her teacher; she didn’t believe him to be the spirit of her deceased father. She even implied that she considered him a friend. He reached out with shaking hands and grabbed her shoulders, pulling her into an almost desperate kiss.
Meg stiffened for a heartbeat in surprise when he grabbed her, but quickly relaxed into his arms, returning that kiss tenderly.
He released her just as abruptly, turning away with an expression of regret and self-recrimination. “I’m so sorry, Meg… I shouldn’t have done that… I don’t want to be a monster… but when you’re so close, it’s so easy to lose control, especially when you touch me so innocently…”
“Erik…” she began. Then she simply turned him back to face her and brushed his lips with her own.
He froze, unable to believe what was happening. Surely he was dreaming, he thought. Meg Giry couldn’t possibly be sitting beside him… kissing him… He groaned. “Meg… Meg… you shouldn’t… I can’t… I’m only a man and a weak one at that, and you are tempting me beyond my endurance!”
She responded in the last way he expected; by standing up long enough to remove her skirt and shirtwaist. “If you want me,” she whispered, “you may have me. I’ve wanted you since I first saw you back on New Year’s Eve,” she added with a soft blush. “When you appeared at the top of the stairs, garbed as the Red Death, you looked so handsome and commanding. And your voice, so passionate… if my mother hadn’t held me back like she did, I would have approached you then.”
“You would have?” Erik asked in wonder, his expression torn between astonishment, desire, and disbelief. “Still, we shouldn’t…” he said, making one last effort to think of her and not of his own desires. “You’re young… you’ll want to marry someday. What you’re offering… should belong to your husband.” Despite his words, he reached out and grasped her hands, his thumbs gently caressing the insides of her wrists.
Meg responded with a smile. “But I want you, Erik.” She lifted his hands to her breasts.
The feel of her soft flesh under his fingers broke the last of his resistance. With a hungry moan, he drew her down beside him and captured her lips in a fierce kiss. He gently explored her breasts with his hands, marveling at the silken smoothness of her skin and the way her nipples puckered into tight little points at his caress. She moaned softly, shyly lifting her hands to his shoulders, then down over his chest. She trembled slightly, pressing into his caresses even as her own hands drifted down to the fastening of his trousers, opening them and exploring within. He groaned as her small fingers wrapped around his rock-hard shaft, her innocent touch unbelievably arousing. He shivered and rocked his hips into that delicate caress. She moved her hand faster in response, quickly bringing him to an explosive climax.
He felt himself hardening again almost immediately as he kissed her again, savoring the taste of her lips. He pulled back to gaze at her for a long moment. “You’re so beautiful,” he whispered hoarsely. He pushed his trousers the rest of the way off before shyly reaching out to her once again. “I don’t want to hurt you… you’re so small…”
“I’m not afraid,” Meg whispered. “I trust you, Erik.” She leaned up to press a soft kiss to the side of his neck.
Erik shivered at that kiss, his hand just brushing the soft curls of her mound. He delved into her moist folds with one elegant finger, gently seeking her pleasure bud.
She gasped, her hips lifting instinctively at his touch. “Mon Dieu, Erik…” she moaned. Her hands clutched at his shoulders, attempting to pull him closer.
He moaned as well, her enthusiastic responses only increasing his desire. He shifted a little awkwardly to cover her petite form with his own. “Last chance to say no,” he whispered as he guided the tip of his shaft to her entrance.
“Take me… please…” the young dancer pleaded. Meg’s head was spinning with the sensations engendered by his touch. She hungered for something she couldn’t name, but instinct told her that only the joining of their bodies would satisfy the longing.
Erik pressed forward, trembling as her wet heat enfolded him. His breath grew ragged as he struggled for control. Drawing back slightly, he caressed her node with gentle fingers until she was gasping and crying out softly, then thrust deeply.
Her breath caught, little mewling sounds escaping her throat as he teased her with his fingers. She barely felt the stab of her lost virginity as his throbbing shaft filled her. She felt something building, then wave after wave of pleasure broke over her. “Erik…” she cried. “Ohhh… Erik!”
It was too much. Feeling her coming apart in his arms pushed him over the edge of his control. With one more deep thrust, he spilled himself into her eager warmth with an inarticulate cry. Shuddering with the intensity of his pleasure, he stayed there for a long moment before wrapping his arm around her and rolling them to the side. “Thank you, Meg,” he whispered as he cradled her close.
“Thank you, Erik,” she whispered back, nestling contentedly against him. She rested her head on his shoulder and closed her eyes.
He dropped a soft kiss on the top of her head and tugged the blanket up over them both before he too succumbed to slumber.