Chapter Twelve: In Your Most Frail Gesture

Meg Giry slipped quietly into the Opera house as the morning sun began to arise in the east, her dress wrinkled from hours of walking on her own throughout the silent night.

'You're wrong, Maman. You're wrong, and I'm going to prove it!'

Her emotions still high from the confrontation with her mother only hours before, and exhausted from no sleep, she slipped quietly into a familiar dressing room. Not her own, but one belonging to the one person she thought she could speak to about this. One person who could understand her plight, who could help her out of this jam she seemed to find herself in. Perhaps, the person who could offer her refuge.

She sat down on the small divan, and soon sleep had overtaken her tired form.

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"I'm frantic, Christine. I know how Erik feels about me contacting you like this, but I'm positively frantic. I can't think where she could have gotten to!"

"You're sure she was to meet you this morning?"

"Yes, we'd arranged it last night, shortly before I left her at home," Raoul's brow furrowed as he looked down on his childhood friend. "I went to her house, but no one was there. And then I came straight here, I peeked into the ballet practice room, but though Madame Giry is there, formidable as ever, Meg was not." Raoul shook his head, "The woman does not like me that much is certain. I gather she and Meg had words last night, for she told me to stay away from her daughter, she didn't need the likes of me sniffing around Meg's skirts!"

"What did you say to her?"

"Nothing, I . . . couldn't. She then continued that it was all my fault if she never spoke to her daughter again and I had best remember that, whatever may happen. Then she turned her back on me and went about scolding the petite rats."

"I've not seen Meg today either," Christine said softly, "And I stopped by her dressing room shortly before hurrying to rehearsal myself. I was running late so I didn't even have a chance to stop by . . . stop by . . . Raoul, maybe . . ."

"What is it?"

"She knows how to work the . . . the . . . Raoul, um," Christine stuttered, wondering just how much information she should impart. "If she's smart, she may have gone . . . to . . . perhaps we just missed each other. Erik only showed us both shortly after we returned."

"Gone where, Christine? I have to know she's okay, there's so much I still have not said . . ."

"You've still not told her you love her, have you?"

Raoul blushed, "I was planning on taking her to dinner tonight, and . . ." he paused, and took a tiny box out of his pocket. His brow was lined with worry as he stared down at the box, "I wanted to make it official, you see. I lost you . . . I didn't want to lose her."

Christine pursed her lips, "You went to a lot of trouble for this, didn't you?"

He nodded, "I did."

She laid a gentle hand on his sleeve, "I can't have you carrying tales to anyone, Raoul, if I trust you, please? It's still not safe for Erik and I to reveal all our secrets."

"You think she went down below?"

"She may have."

"I wasn't sure if the two of you were still there or not," Raoul muttered. "I'll not out your precious Erik, I just need to find Meg, to make sure she's okay."

"And I agree," a deep voice spoke from behind them. Christine jumped slightly before she turned to see the tall masked man behind her. Raoul tensed, and turned slower.

"Erik," Christine whispered softly, "sometimes I think I ought to put a bell on you so that you can't sneak up on me like that!" Then she grinned as he did at her gentle teasing, taking his outstretched hand.

The two men eyed each other warily for a moment before Raoul broke the gaze. Erik felt a tiny moment of triumph before he turned back to Christine.

"There are quite a few passages that Meg could have found herself down."

"Well, if anyone knows this opera house, it's you. Where do we start?"

"I can tell you one thing at least, she's not . . . at the house."

Christine nodded solemnly, "Did you come in the front door or the back?"

Erik arched a brow, "The front." He then shrugged, "I didn't expect to find you near your dressing room, actually. We'll start there, she knows . . . how to . . . work the . . ." he paused again, eyeing the Vicomte warily, "I guard my house well, Monsieur. It would not do for you to attempt to follow this road on your own, you understand? I have no issue with your friendship with my wife so long as you remember; she is my wife, mind you. And so long as you do nothing to damage Meg, I have no issue with your relationship with her, either. You do understand?"

Raoul nodded, his tongue stuck to the roof of his mouth. Without another word, Erik turned, his cape flaring, and the three of them made their way toward Christine's dressing room.

Christine was the first to enter, and paid no attention to her surroundings as she moved to the mirror. Erik came through the door second, and stopped suddenly when he saw the woman asleep on the divan, as Raoul nearly pounded into his back.

"Christine," Erik said softly, "I don't think there is any reason to show the Vicomte any further.

Christine turned, "What do you mean?"

At which Erik nodded toward the divan in the far corner, about the same moment that Raoul found his way from behind Erik.

"Meg!" Raoul gasped as he hurried to the side of the divan, his hand gently brushing a hair from her eyes. Pale green eyes which gently fluttered to wakefulness, gazing up at the young Vicomte.

"Raoul," she whispered softly, stretching out the aches in her muscles from lying in such a cramped position for so long. "What are you . . . I mean . . . oh my! How long have I been asleep? I completely forgot after last night, oh Raoul, I'm so sorry."

"Shh, no need to be sorry Meg, I'm just glad you're all right," Raoul answered quietly. "When you weren't at the café this morning, I was afraid something had happened."

Meg shook her head sadly, "Maman and I argued when I arrived home, she was still awake. I couldn't stay, Raoul, it was . . . she was . . . it was horrible. And I didn't know where else to go, but I needed to speak to Christine." She glanced over to her friend, and then realized with a start that not only was Christine there, but so was Erik. Her eyes darted between Erik and Raoul, noting the stiff stance of the former, and the concerned stance of the latter. "I didn't mean to worry you."

"It'll keep, now that I know you're all right," Raoul repeated as his hand brushed Meg's cheek again.

"Meg," Christine cut in, "why didn't you come to the house?"

Meg looked to Christine again, "I didn't wish to wake the two of you, and I didn't have time to bring a lantern."

Christine nodded, and with a glance to Erik and back, continued, "If you need some time away from your mother, you know you're welcome to stay with us."

Meg's eyes darted between Erik and Christine again, and at Erik's nod, she replied, "Thank you."

Raoul stiffened, but didn't say a word as he shot a knowing glance toward Christine.

"Erik," Christine whispered near her husband's ear, "perhaps we should leave them alone for a few minutes?"

Erik arched a brow behind the mask, but did not say a word as he took his wife's hand and led her into the hallway.

"Are you sure about staying . . . with . . ." Raoul's face paled as he tried to ask the question without giving away how much he knew. Things he was not sure that Meg knew.

"If it's Erik you're worried about, you needn't worry Raoul. Maman has met him as I have, and he escorted me to the wedding in Rouen. I've stayed the night there before on occasion. He's not as dangerous as he was made out to be."

Raoul shook his head, "I wouldn't know. I only know a few things that Christine told me."

"You told me about the murders, remember?" he had whispered, sotto voce. "Do you really think that I could forget that, no matter how wrong I may have been for trying to shoot the man in the back?"

"Raoul? I don't understand."

Raoul looked at her, the worry still written on his face, "It's up to Christine and Erik if they are to tell you, not me. I promised her."

Meg furrowed a brow, "You almost look as if someone died."

"Um, no, it's . . . I'm probably over reacting, that's . . . all."

Meg wasn't convinced, but didn't say another word, merely took his hand.

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"Well?" Christine asked softly as Erik closed the latch on the mirror.

"She's getting ready for her evening with the Vicomte," he replied, moving to place his hands gently on Christine's shoulders as she turned back to the vanity to finish preparing her makeup for the performance that evening.

"Did you have a chance to see Madame Giry at all?"

Erik nodded, "I slipped out for a bit earlier while Meg was sleeping, and told her not to worry, that we'd watch over Meg until things between the two of them calmed down."

"How did she take it?"

"She's vehemently opposed to Meg's relationship with the Vicomte, Christine. She fears he's only after her for one thing."

Christine groaned, "Raoul is not like that!"

Erik flinched for a second before regaining his composure, "I would never imply he was mon amour, merely stating one person's opinion."

Christine turned and stood to face her husband, her hand flittering up to cup his cheek, "I'm sorry, I shouldn't have sniped."

Erik smiled gently down on her, his eyes dancing, "I on the other hand . . ."

Her jaw dropped as she realized his intent, even as her body relaxed against his, fitting together in perfect harmony. "I imagine your thoughts are anything but pure."

"As the driven snow," Erik laughed softly, his lips beginning their descent to meet hers and drive all other thought from her head.

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Every few minutes, he would catch her looking toward the door.

'Perhaps picking a café which is so close to her home was a mistake,' Raoul thought wryly as he ran a hand through his thick hair. He'd requested a table near the front window, which though one would think it would be the height of activity, he'd picked because it was a more quiet corner of the restaurant. The waiter had brought their wine and their dinner with due speed, but all through the evening, he could not help but notice Meg's distraction.

'Perhaps I should have asked Madame Giry's blessing first' he thought with a flash of nerves. 'The way she keeps looking out that window . . . was this a mistake? Have I been mistaken in her feelings for me? Perhaps she doesn't feel quite the same as I do. Perhaps . . .'

Meg's head turned as Raoul let out a low breath, her green eyes wide as she looked to the man who sat before her.

'I've not been the best company tonight,' she thought. 'Here he's been trying to hold up a pleasant conversation, and I keep looking toward home. Oh Raoul, I'm sorry that I've let this battle with Maman affect our evening! If I only knew what to do to make it better . . .'

Their eyes met, and held together fast. Blue upon green, for a silent moment before Meg smiled.

"I've not been the best company tonight," she began, echoing her thoughts from a moment ago.

Raoul reached out, and grasped her left hand from across the table, "You've a lot on your mind, and perhaps I did not pick the best place to come to dinner. I know you came here often with your Maman."

Meg nodded, "Yes, we did."

'You're wrong, Maman. You're wrong, and I'm going to prove it!'

The words echoed through her mind again, over and over, her last shouts, as she looked at the man across the table from her. His tender kisses the night before had excited a need in her, but a part of her still needed to know, needed to ask.

'God help me if Maman is right.'

"Meg," Raoul said quietly, squeezing her hand. "If you like, we can go somewhere else."

"No," Meg replied quickly. "No . . . it's fine, I'm . . . I'm sorry."

Raoul smiled as her lips tilted up into a shy smile, and gently kissed her hand. Then his eyes darkened as he looked at her, and he took a deep breath as a violinist came up to the table, and began to serenade them. Meg's smile brightened as she looked up, and then back at Raoul. He moved closer to her, and reached into his pocket.

"Meg," he began. "I wanted to tell you that this time getting to know you has been the best time of my life."

'He's going to tell me it's over. He's going to tell me I was just a fling.'

He scooted off the chair, and dropped down to one knee before her as her eyes widened. Her hand was encapsulated within his own.

'Oh my.'

"I'd wanted to go about this the proper way, asking your mother's permission first. I was going to try to catch her at the Opera this morning, but after last night, I thought perhaps I should assure you of my intentions first and perhaps if you are willing, go to her together." He held out a hand, palm up, before her. "On my hand is this polished silver tray and on the tray is my heart. I'm giving it to you. It's a little beaten, but it's bursting with love for you. My question to you is - do you want it? Will you stand by my side for the rest of our lives, as my wife?"

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Author's Note

It's been a while.

I admit between working full time, and many, MANY Phantom trips Grins wickedly and just real life, I've not been able to write as much in this story as I'd wanted to. Plus ever persistent writer's block. Finally I think I scraped together this chapter, though it seemed to stop and start over the past year.

Anyway . . . too all of you who have waited for over a year (and to all the newcomers to this story I've noticed since my last visit to the review section) I hope you enjoy this chapter.

Hopefully those pesky muses of mine will be nice and will help me out with the next one. Grins

Oh! The website question. Yes, I know the site that was listed at the end of "Love Comes" is down . . . and sadly, it's going to stay that way . . . but for those of you who asked, and wanted to see the steamier ending, you can find Love Comes, and most of my other Phantom Phics, on my new website: Stemwinder -----'-----