Now and Later
Author's note: Previously published on Fanfiction.net. The author took liberties in history since Tchaikovsky's ballet The Nutcracker was first represented in Saint-Petersburg in 1895, and the story is settled in 1881 Paris. Feedback is appreciated.
Marguerite was back.
Erik retained a frustrated grunt as the little blonde ballerina made her way into his lair, as if she was at home, her usual cheery smile stamped on her face as if it was utterly immutable whatever happened.
Except maybe that time he told her she was nothing more than a ballet brat. He remembered the sudden change of mood, as her expression decayed, and tears appeared in her eyes. It was almost disturbing to see, since she was always so cheery. Erik realized at that moment that he somewhat appreciated it. But Meg Giry had somehow boldly lifted up her pointy chin, as a way to make herself taller despite her petite frame, telling him that from now, since he had looked for it, he was to call her Marguerite, and not Meg. He had almost laughed at her face when hearing so childish of a request. Already, the name "Marguerite" seemed way too much of a mouthful for a tiny thing as herself. But when he gazed into her grey eyes, he could clearly see that she was dead serious. So serious, for a moment, Erik thought Antoinette Giry had somehow taken possession of her daughter's body.
Since the night of Don Juan Triumphant, he would try to shove away the painful memories linked to it and stay awake as much as he could, as a way so he would not fall in his nightmares, even worse than before, where he would cry his rage and sometimes despair of Christine's departure. And during all that time, she was there. The first of the mob to enter the infamous Phantom's lair, she had, only God knew how, managed to lead them some other way, in order to find him, going through the shattered mirrors, as soon as the coast was clear. And since then… it was impossible to make her go away. Each evening, after all those rehearsals and representations, she would come down to hell. Of course, her mother wasn't at all aware of this, and it was most certain she would be furious of knowing Meg was helping him.
Antoinette had been his friend once – well, as much as you could be friends with him, of course. Then, when all his obsession with Christine had started, the ballet mistress being common sense made in person, she had tried to stop him, and had threw quite a tantrum when he had actually requested of her that she would help him. When he had blackmailed her with Meg's life, the way Mme Giry's eyes died at that moment made him flinch during the moment's shock, but unfortunately not enough, enthralled as he was by his obsession with Christine. And now… somehow, he regretted what he had done with Antoinette. She had saved him once, after all, and protected him in all those years…
And he couldn't help but scoff at the irony that it was the girl he had once threatened to harm in case of disobedience to his commands who was now help him despite his unwillingness for her to do so.
He didn't quite understand why she did it, anyway: he knew how much she was attached to Christine, and he could overhear her during the rehearsals for Don Juan Triumphant ranting in front of her mother about how terrified her sister by heart had become, showing even signs of depression. She ought to fear and hate the Phantom of the Opera, of course.
But somehow, she didn't.
Probably because she had found that night the poor wretch he was at that moment, and that her little heart had fluttered ten times too quickly, and that by some sentimental impulse, she had decided to play guardian angel or something to later muse on her own goodness.
Of course, at the beginning, he had done everything he could to shove her away. But despite everything, despite him calling her a ballet brat, she would come back, and even start chattering about everything and nothing, until he would unceremoniously tell her to keep quiet. At such a moment, she would lower her head and bit her lips, but with a glimmer in her eyes Erik was unable to analyze, and which perturbed him (though he would of course never admit it out loud, since he even had trouble admitting it to himself. Damn it, he was otherwise going to admit he was intimidated by some tiny ballerina!).
Having another person around him also troubled him a great deal. He had not live with another human near since years, and to have chatterbox Marguerite Giry around was no blessing at all. He tried to forget as much as possible the thought that Christine was a human being and that he was after all planning to share eternity with her. Well, a lifetime, but Erik, keen on melodrama as always, found that eternity sounded more solemn. But Christine was Christine, after all, a demure, sweet angel who had fallen from her pedestal to Heaven and begging to go back, and where only music could save her... And certainly, she was no foolish ballet brat…
No, Marguerite was not a ballet brat.
He used to refer to her as Little Meg, Christine's Shadow or Antoinette's Daughter. But Little Meg, now, just seemed so inappropriate. He remembered those nights, the ones following the disaster, where he did eventually fall sleep, to wake up screaming and sobbing hysterically. Somehow, Marguerite knew instinctively that he would need her, and she was always there to even climb in his bed, to hug him and comfort him until he would fall asleep again.
It was something he preferred forgetting about. Especially with the fact that the last time it happened, when he woke up, finding Meg– Marguerite sleep near him, still hugging him tightly and her tiny hand holding his huge one.
She intrigued him. Really, she did.
"Hello, Monsieur le Fantôme!" She would cheer out, as if she was saluting a friend. Of course, Erik had refused to tell her his name when she asked for it. But to be honest, he wasn't quite sure why he did so. Perhaps because Christine never…
Don't think of her.
He sighed heavily, as he always did when she would come. But as always, Marguerite wasn't discouraged of his negative attitude one bit.
"We started rehearsing on The Nutcracker, you know," she started.
"Yes, as the company does each year in December," Erik replied, looking as bored as it was humanly possible. But the ballerina simply rolled her eyes, retaining herself from commenting on his foolish behavior and attempt to send her away.
"Mmm hmm, mmm hmm, but the thing is, Maman said I was old and experienced enough to audition for Clara's part."
Certainly, Meg– Marguerite was old and experienced enough for Clara's part. Of course, La Sorelli was to dance the Sugar Plum Fairy, as she usually do, her character's dance made even more mechanical not only by her soulless technique, but also the music accompanying it. He had seen, however, Marguerite evolving from afar, since, after all, he did keep an eye on the ballet chorus for his notes to the managers. He had remarked her when she danced. He had remarked how her technique still wasn't perfect, but she poured in her moves not only grace, but also her soul. She could, somehow, feel the music, though she had been raised to be a dancer rather than a singer.
And he quickly, once again, shoved away the thought that Christine, despite her capacity to produce music, was never able to feel it, no matter how hard he tried to infuse it within her, her trance state provoked by his power partially forbidding her to do so. But if he did, it still didn't satisfy him enough – even though she loved to sing, she looked to music as a way to connect with her father's spirit instead of the consuming, possessive passion Erik was trying to give her.
So overall, the reason why Mme Giry decided that it was only now that Marguerite could interpret Clara was somehow a mystery beyond him, as stern and exigent as he could be himself.
"You'll be wonderful, I think," he finally stated, before realizing that he had just graced Marguerite Giry with a compliment.
"You think so?" she replied cheerily, her eyes shining even more than they ever did. "Oh, if I do get the part, I think it's going to be the best Christmas I had in years!" She started jumping around, almost squealing in the process, until Erik coughed so she would be still again. She stopped, suddenly, unable however to retain a malicious glimmer in her eyes. Erik smirked, determined to stop that feeling that Marguerite Giry was for some reason starting to dominate him.
"And I suppose you want me to help for your audition?"
To his surprise, the ballerina's eyes widened in shock.
"No!" she shouted, scandalized. "I want to get that role by my own merit."
Of course, Meg retained herself from adding: "I don't want to be like Christine." Well, it's not like she was going to take Christine's place for him, anyway. Was he ever such a grumpy man at times! Utterly impossible to pull out anything from him! But still…
Instead, she paced around, without an apparent purpose, until her eyes stopped on Erik again.
"Are you doing anything for Christmas?"
Erik lifted up his eyes, completely taken aback.
"You know, Christmas is… fun. Well…" She blushed, before finally finding the courage to continue. "If you want, you could celebrate Christmas with me."
Erik retained himself from rolling his eyes. Really, what was Marguerite going to invent next?
"Oh? And what do you do on Christmas?" he asked, unable to retain all the sarcasm in his tone.
"Well…" Marguerite bit her lip, as if she now realized the ridiculousness (well, at least from Erik's point of view) of her situation, while rolling one of her curls around her finger. "You have a nice meal, I guess, and… you give each other gifts, but you know, that part, you don't have to, and it has to be a surprise when it happens," Meg added nervously, instinctively suspicious that Erik wouldn't like the last part.
"Gifts?" he growled. Meg's instincts were right. Memories of Erik's childhood came back to him. Well, it wasn't quite the same circumstances. It was his birthday, not Christmas. And since Marie had given him that book about ventriloquism, he had thought he could ask something from his mother and…
Meg had jumped at his undomesticated tone, but somehow, she found enough courage to continue.
"Well, yes. It's just… fun. And… oh, damn it!"
Erik jumped at the unladylike word she had shouted, this emphasized by her foot stomping on the ground at the same time. And he was surprised to see a little blonde ballerina, offering an image that could have been sweet with her white tutu and her hair tied up with a bow, if it wasn't for the fury showed by her furrowed brows and her tight pout, surprising to see on a usually cheery face.
"How much time have you been here whining and not wanting any help?" Meg asked. "You want to know how long? It's been…" She suddenly stopped, starting the count the months on her finger, to come back to her anger when she had found the result. "It's been nine months! Can't you just… just… argh!"
"Do you seriously think you can just stay here all alone and cry on your fate and… and… and DO NOTHING?"
"And why not?" Erik growled. "Why are you still insisting on meddling in my business?"
"Well thank God I'm here, because if you did, you'd be still crying after Christine! Maybe…" It was only then that Meg judged that it was better for her to stop. She didn't regret mentioning Christine at all, for she hoped it would shake up the Phantom a bit. But she preferred keeping silent on the second part that came to her mind.
Maybe you would be dead at this hour.
The dreaded sentence had just stopped to circle around in her mind when she suddenly felt an iron grip on her throat, squeezing it just enough to make her gasp and panic, but not enough for her to suffocate.
"Don't you ever mention that name again, understood?" he hissed. Meg nodded almost hysterically, her eyes wide and begging him to stop.
He finally let her go, and returned to his organ, unconcerned, while she collapsed on the ground, massaging her neck's skin, looking down. For the first time in a while, Erik felt almost… satisfied. Perhaps that dreaded ballet girl would just finally mind her own business and dance and twirl around until she'd get her so-desired prima ballerina spot and catch the eye of some patron…
He finally stared at her somehow contemptuously, like a panther who just taught some kitten a good lesson. But aforementioned kitten finally lifted up her head, staring at him in the eye, got up gracefully and with dignity, standing so straight Erik thought for a moment she could almost rival with her mother on that point.
"Well, throwing tantrums like you do certainly doesn't help. It maybe works with other people. But it doesn't work with me. I may be small and tiny and… and insignificant, monsieur." The last qualification seemed truly painful for her to admit. "But whatever you might do, you don't scare me."
"Oh really? Do I?" Erik said, in a reptilian tone, getting up and making himself as imposing as he could. But the little ballerina didn't flinch one single bit. "But you know of what I'm capable of. Look at what I did to you. I could do it again. And this time…"
Erik was utterly startled. The only other one who had had enough courage to tell him "no" had been Antoinette – that is, before she was unwillingly silenced for years. And now, it was some silly little ballet girl who was now standing up to him…
"I know that you killed Buquet. And I know you killed Signor Piangi as well. But you know what? I don't care that you constantly yell at me not to talk about it, but you let Christine and Raoul go."
Memories of that night came back again, this time flowing even strongly than ever. This time, all that Erik could do was to stand blankly in front of Marguerite.
"I…" For once, that snark-master who called himself O.G. could mutter nothing more than the beginning of a sentence.
"Simply… you can't be as evil as everyone claims you to be." Marguerite's bell-like voice had become softer than ever, not to say even melancholic. "You live all alone and… you wanted Christine to be happy in the end… I just don't want you to be by yourself after all this. That's all."
She sighed heavily, her right foot tracing circles on the ground distractively.
"I'm sorry," she finally said. "I've been an intruder for nine months already. I disturbed you way too much."
She turned around, heading to the lair's entrance.
"You want to know why I want to know nothing about your damned Christmas?"
Marguerite turned around somehow reluctantly, as if, for once, she was eager to leave the cave.
"Why?" she asked.
"I just hate presents. You ask for something as simple as one-two-three, and the world just shattered. You know what I asked my mother for my fifth birthday? Two kisses. One for now, and one for later. But apparently, that was too much. She showed me my face instead. You know what? I thought it was some other monster, and not I. Oh, and – why am I even telling you this?"
As a way to somehow canalize his anger on something else, the Phantom grabbed a bottle of ink, throwing it and making it smash on the nearest wall, not caring about the splash coming with it. Really, he had no idea why he had started talking about anything about his past to Marguerite. No one knew about his past very well – not even Antoinette, who had been the closest thing he had had to a friend.
Erik lifted up his head, staring at Marguerite.
"Of course you are," he replied gruffly. "I don't want your pity. I had more than my share of that."
"No, I mean it – I really am sorry. And… please," He could see from afar her eyes watering, "I really want to help. I don't want you to leave you alone. Don't… don't tell me you want to be alone, right?" she asked, somehow unsure and almost childlike, eager to please as if she had been grounded and was now willing to go back in grace.
But suddenly, she bit her lip, taking a resigned look.
"I'm sorry, Monsieur. I've been an intruder for too long."
She headed out towards the entrance, determined that this time, it would be for good.
Marguerite stopped, startled by the voice which had just called her back. She turned around, her eyes shining with hope.
"I'll do it."
"Do what?" Meg couldn't believe what she was hearing.
"Do your damn Christmas Eve with you, you stupid girl." Erik said half-heartedly, as if it was painful for him to give Meg a verbal agreement to her wishes.
But somehow, the look of pure joy that had appeared on Marguerite's face seemed simply priceless to him.
Meg folded the letter she had received that day of Christine, to put in what she called teasingly her treasure chest the lock she had sent her of her newborn child, now two months old. The so-called "treasure chest" was actually the only thing she had left from her father that belonged entirely to her: a little wooden music box with birds painted all over it, which was actually pretty insignificant compared to those she could see in the windows of certain stores or in the Phantom's lair, since he had several, including that one with the monkey in the Persian robes. But to Meg's eyes, it was priceless.
She smiled, as she remembered the words full of bliss Christine had given her in her letter. She could imagine her being the most radiant mother imaginable. Of course, if you counted the months, it was obvious that little Godefroi had been conceived before the vicomte de Chagny's union with La Daaé. Back then, at that moment where everyone believed that O.G. had vanished for good, Christine had evidently told her sister by heart a few details, just what decency and a long-time friendship could permit to reveal, of course. And that night, Meg even found herself imagining that the sheets all wrapped up around her were arms and caressing her shoulders.
They had given their first born the name of Godefroi – an homage to Godefroi de Bouillon, who had been Raoul's childhood hero. And of course, when they had been children playing by the sea, he had told his little Lotte again and again the tale of the brave knight who had saved Jerusalem back in the Middle Ages. Christine had indeed been impressed; but her fantasies materialized themselves instead in the form of a fourteen-year-old boy all clad as a knight in shining armor.
Yes, Christine's letter had been full of bliss, and Raoul had even left a little side note, since he remembered very well the little ballerina who had had a serious discussion with him about his intentions with Christine, just before Il Muto, and with him he had become quite the chap with in the following six months. Christine would even jokingly say that they were twins separated at birth…
But there was always that one little sentence: "How is he?"
Christine knew, of course, that Meg was looking after Erik.
It had taken time before Meg had actually decided that it was alright to reveal her secret to Christine, and Christine alone. She could sense all her worry for her former Angel of Music when he would mention him in his letters. The now vicomtesse de Chagny had been guilty of leaving him behind, and not being able to help him any further (not that she really wanted to, either, since she repeated to herself again and again that with everything that happened, she couldn't), almost hoping he did commit suicide to end his miserable life before remembering that suicide victims went straight to Hell.
For the last time, Meg made sure her pointe shoes were well tied, that her tutu was fluffy enough (fluffy tutus were very important indeed, especially when you were auditioning for The Nutcracker. Well, it was a detail, fairly ridiculous when you thought of it. But to Meg, somehow, it was important). And finally, she headed towards the theater, where the audition was going to take place.
As she entered, she cast a quick glance towards her mother, who was of course occupied with something else. It was useless to go and speak to her before: in such a situation, Mme Giry would insist even more than usual on putting a distance between her daughter and herself. This year, most especially, though she would never say it out loud, she was quite certain it was Meg – her little Meg, she would say proudly in the depths of her mind – who was going to get the part of Clara. It was a dream role for all the ballerinas in the corps de ballet, it opening possibilities for them to eventually end up as soloists, which was the echelon just under the one of a prima ballerina.
Plus, there were many rumors of La Sorelli's eventual retirement, which was said to happen very soon…
For a quick moment, as she heard her name called as it was her turn, Meg glanced quickly at the rafters, hoping to see a familiar dark silhouette, trying to hide in the shadows but failing to escape the ballerina's sharp glare, which she had of course inherited from her mother.
For once, she saw nothing.
Her throat inexplicably tightened at that moment, and her courage started to fade away. But in the inside, she shrugged, laughing at herself and even wondering where her gloom came from. It wasn't the time at all for that, for Heaven's sake!
Perhaps her future was going to determine itself in the next few minutes.
But Erik was there, of course.
And somehow, he was proud of having escaped the little ballerina's sharp glance, shoving away the thought that he was... proud of thwarting a little ballerina.
He watched her evolving gracefully on the stage, indifferent to everything happening around her except the music accompanying her moves – no, not accompanying. Somehow, she formed one soul with the melody. And Erik couldn't help but be fascinated with her.
Then the deliberation between the managers and Antoinette had come. Erik was more than tempted to secure Clara's role for Meg – Marguerite. It was how he had always worked anyway. But Marguerite's warning not to help her in any way, since she wanted to get the role by her own merits, was coming back to his mind constantly. Erik felt sometimes flashes of angry frustration coming to him. Damn that ballerina who thought she could tell the Opera Ghost how to behave!
But somehow… something deep inside told him to just let Marguerite go.
And it was probably the best thing to do, after all, since when the managers came back on the stage, it was to announce that it was Meg Giry who had obtained the role of Clara this year.
"You know you'll owe me twenty francs for all of this?" Madame Fanjeaux, the Opera Populaire's head cook said, giving Meg a wry look, for she knew that ten francs was a little fortune for her.
"Mmm hmm," Meg nodded. "That for cooking for me despite all the work you already have, keeping it secret from Maman, and making sure she'll be occupied and that she doesn't surprise me carrying all of this – because dear, I'll have to do two or three trips! Twenty francs it is."
Mme Fanjeaux nodded, seemingly satisfied. But Meg wasn't done with her yet…
"And may I know for who you're doing all this?"
"A friend," Meg shrugged, retaining herself from telling the cook that it was none of her business, especially after everything she had done to help her…
"A beau?" Mme Fanjeaux asked, lifting up her brows with a knowing twitch in her lips.
The ballerina blushed furiously. "No, of course not. What an idea!"
The cook muttered an unconvinced "mmm hmm", before going back to her business, knowing she'd get nothing else from Meg, before going out to create a diversion for Mme Giry.
Meg, meanwhile, headed towards Box Five, where she knew Erik was waiting for her as agreed.
Quite conveniently, it was only when she had brought the last part of their meal that he showed himself.
"All right," Meg chirped, rubbing her hands before placing them on her hips. "You take care of bringing all of this down there, and I have to get in bed quick, because Maman always checks on me before going to bed herself, and I don't want to get in trouble. I'll be there later, all right?"
Erik had listened to all her commands with a lifted brow.
"You've decided all of this just like that?" he said, emphasizing his statement with a rather satirical finger snap. However, Meg rolled her eyes and crossed her arms.
"What do you propose? And anyway, don't come and tell me this is too much of a charge for someone as strong as you are," she mocked with a cheeky grin. "Anyway, it takes someone utterly mighty to just bring down an organ like you have."
"I thank you for the most sincere compliment," the Phantom replied coldly, though Meg was taken aback by the spark of playful malice she could see in his eye. So, without further ado, she made her way out of Box Five, rushing to her room (the only privilege she had compared to the other ballerinas was that she had a room of her own, and with a lock: her mother insisted), slipping in her nightgown, and pretending to be asleep when Mme Giry came, to get out with a smile, thinking that poor little Meg was probably exhausted after the five performances she had had as Clara, and after that the special Christmas reception earlier that night, where she had barely eaten anything, and that her rest was more than well-deserved.
Meg waited for about half an hour in the dark before finally getting up, heading towards the costume department. She wanted to wear something special tonight – not her usual practice vestment, of course, and the very few dresses she had, including her Sunday dress, just seemed way too plain for her. She sneaked in, making sure the costume mistress was gone, and thankfully, she was.
She made her way through all the costumes, looking for the perfect one… until she fell across a blue and gold bodice and tutu worn for the production of La Petite Sylphide two seasons ago. Meg almost squealed in glee, especially when she saw that the sylph's wings were still on…
It had been a solo role, and Meg had been stuck doing a crocus, among other flowers, while the sylph would gracefully dance all around and that the petite ballerina would look at her with some envy, dreaming of the day where she would be in the spotlight as well.
But she was tiny…
What if it didn't fit?
Meg almost panicked as she picked up the costume, rushing towards a folding screen to get changed. She tightened the corset as much as she could… to realize with great relief that it did fit!
She was finally ready, and so, this time without even checking if anyone could eventually see her, she hurried to the undergrounds. Thankfully, at his hour, on that night, there was no one.
Erik, of course, smirked when he saw a little blonde sylph finally coming in.
"It's no time to play dress up," he said in a tone Meg was surprised to find genuine amusement in.
"I like that costume," Meg pouted. "For once I get to wear it, and anyway, I could say the same for the mandarin robes you wear from time to time."
"Yes, I know, there're really expensive, and you got them from someone while you were travelling to somewhere," Meg rambled quickly.
"I can see you've been listening," Erik muttered.
"I remember, don't worry, I just don't need to get back in the details again, all right? Anyway… where's the dinner?"
Needless to say that the meal's beginning had been incredibly… awkward for both of them.
Neither of them knew what to say.
They ate very little.
And Meg was about to say something that, hours later, as she reminisced the events of that night, she found incredibly foolish and wondered how such a thing could even come to her head, Erik finally coughed slightly and broke the silence.
"I've got something for you."
For a moment, Marguerite Marie Jeanne Giry thought that thunder had stroke her.
"Whaio?" was the sound she heard coming from her mouth.
"Oh please, you're the one who talked to me about the tradition of giving presents in the first place," he somehow teasingly. "Don't tell me you have so short of a memory like La Sorelli has."
Meg burst out laughing like a naughty brat, before having a slight cough as a way to regain control on herself. Coming back to reality, she stared at the Phantom for a moment, wondering if he was playing some trick on her or if he really was serious.
It seemed like he was. But it wouldn't be so surprising if he was an excellent actor.
"See your costume?"
"Umm, uh, yes, yes," Meg muttered, blushing at the same time.
The ballerina, for a moment, starred at him with such a hilarious display of disbelief, her eyes later travelling to her costume, then to him, then to her costume, and then to the ceiling for some mysterious reason, Erik retained himself from laughing wholeheartedly, not even realizing that such a reaction didn't come to him since… since when, actually?
"I was expecting a bit more gratitude, you know."
"Yes, I mean, no, I mean, oh, I'm awkward, um, no, you say, well, I'm awkward, you're awkward, no, you're not, actually, I'm awkward, not you, and…"
Meg blushed to the point she felt her ears heating up.
"I mean… Thank you so much… really." Her eyes were shining brighter than stars, before they lit out again. "But this isn't yours. It belongs to the costume department."
As an answer, the Phantom bent towards her, across the table, looking as menacing as he could. "But I'm the Phantom of the Opera, mademoiselle. Everything here belongs to me." A shiver went down Meg's spine. But it was a good sensation.
"But if they need for a production…"
"I'll furnish a new one myself, and anyway, they lose costumes every year, and not just because of me."
"But… what am I do with this?"
"You spend hours simply contemplating it when you're sure your mother will not find you."
"How do you…" But to see the Phantom's devilish smirk, she guessed the rest of the story. She frowned, staring intently at him.
"Don't follow me everywhere. Understood?"
"I don't, mademoiselle. I have better things to do. I just fell on you entirely by coincidence and I must admit you had me quite intrigued with your… occupation."
Meg looked away, still trying to keep some sort of offended dignity while all she wanted was to laugh. It wasn't quite a hard thing to make her laugh, actually… and to think that she had somehow managed to actually amuse the fearsome Phantom of the Opera… it brought her a strange sort of pride, to be frank.
So all she did was to turn back towards the Opera Ghost, with a mischievous glimmer in her eyes.
"Touché, Monsieur le Fantôme."
And now… now that he was in a good mood, for once, perhaps she could…
How could she even consider such a thing?
But he made the effort of giving her a present as well, despite everything…
It was the least she could do.
And she had thought of it all week.
What did she risk?
A lot, actually.
He had a heart and a soul, after all. A lonely one…
"I also have something for you."
She regretted spitting that out.
Erik only replied with a lifted brow.
"Well?" he asked. Meg, for a moment, wanted to disappear into thin air like the sylph she was… but what was done was done, she mused.
She cleared her throat, though what was going to follow didn't require speech, so to say.
And so, she went forward, and kissed the Phantom of the Opera on one cheek, then on the other. Well, it was on the mask. But it was still a kiss.
She backed away, eager and not so much at the same time to see his reaction.
It was one of a thunderstruck child. His mouth was opened, his hands were trembling, his cheeks still burning from the sensation of sweet, soft lips touching them, his lower lip trembling as if he was going to cry, his green-golden eyes wide and watery.
All she was left to do was to smile.
"You… you gave me two…" it was now Erik's turn to be at lost for words.
"Yes. Two kisses." Meg said softly. "One for now, and one for later."
Almost impulsively, he lifted up his arms towards her, as if he was going to hug her, but quickly regained some control on himself. Certainly, this was just too much to ask for…
But Meg grinned, and without further ado, embraced him tightly.
And she was surprised of the strength he displayed when he hugged her back.
To Erik, it was the least he could do. For God's sake, he was afraid that if he let go of his grip for one second, she was just vanish into thin air, like the sylph she was, draining away what seemed too beautiful to be real. Crushing her against him was already enough, but now, he just felt like kissing the breath out of her!
Not that Erik had any sort of romantic inclination for Meg Giry. But he had been for so long without any sort of human affection that he needed it now, more than ever.
There had been Christine, of course, who had kissed him out of pity, with the purpose of saving her fiancé's life always dancing in her mind.
But Meg's kisses, as simple and chaste as they were, had been genuine and deliberate.
"Thank you, Marguerite," was all he found to say.
"My friends call me Meg."
Erik had a watery smile. "I never had any friends," he said in a small, childlike voice.
"Well, there's a first time for everything, isn't there, Monsieur le Fantôme?" Meg said gently.
"My name is Erik."
Meg smiled. Somehow, she felt like Erik – yes, Erik was indeed his name – had just given to her a secret he gave to very few people.
"Then Merry Christmas, Erik."