Right as Rain

I know the last chapter was short. Things will get better, I promise. Really. A thousand thank yous to all who reviewed. It really gives me so much more motivation to write this story. I think you'll like it.

So…let's find out what Erik looks like. And how is Meg going to get him to let her stay with him? HM?

Read and review. I don't write these stories for myself, you know. Well, technically, I do, but whatever. I still love y'all.

Chapter Five: The Further On I Go, the Less I Know

Perhaps 'terrified' was an understatement.

It took a while for my brain to register, for my eyes to try to take in the sight before me. Now that his mask was gone, his black clad body melded with the shadows, making it impossible for me to delineate his form from the gloom around him. But his face, being as close as it was, was rapidly becoming more distinct as my eyes adjusted to the darkness.

I couldn't speak; the hand that was closed around my throat made it difficult to breathe.

His face….

It looked like the skin on the right side of his face had been stripped off; it was as if I was staring at bare bone. Upon closer inspection, however, I saw that there was a paper-thin layer of flesh, mottled gray and yellow, almost the color of parchment. The cut of his face was marred with lumps and gouges—this part of his skull was horribly deformed. His lips ended just underneath his nose; the rest of the skin pulled away to reveal grinning teeth. His eye was sunk far back in its socket, shadowed so much by the jagged bones around it that all I could see was a dull gleam, a pinpoint of light. His right nostril was nonexistent; all I saw was the gaping nasal cavity. There didn't seem to be any skin on the underside of his jaw—the bone gleamed brilliant and white against gray muscle. His collar blocked any further inspection, but the skin on his neck was the same blotchy color as his face.

I couldn't comprehend that I was looking at the same man. His unmarred side was completely normal, if a bit weathered by age. But staring at the grimacing skull before me, whose bones bubbled and twisted under rotting flesh, I didn't see the same man. I thought that this man was going to kill me.

"Do you like what you see?" he hissed. "You have to admit, I am handsome." He spat the word out like it was venom in his mouth.

And just like that, the spell vanished. His voice broke the terror that had gripped my mind. His anger was something I had experienced before; his sardonic comments and his bitter tone were no strangers to me. Even as he was pulling me from the water, even as he was sewing up my cuts, he was hiding this…so why should I be afraid now? It was the same man, even though his face looked like death.

Not to say I still wasn't terrified of what he was going to do to me, and the shadows did cast his face into frightful contrast. It seemed to be floating in front of me.

It was cold. We were both still sopping wet. And perhaps my next action was inevitable.

I sneezed.

My head lurched forwards—our foreheads smacked together. The Phantom cursed and jerked his hand away from my throat, placing both palms over his face. A sharp pang raced through my head. "Ouch."

"God damn it!" Erik said, his voice muffled.

I snorted. My nose was starting to run. Despite the pain in my forehead, I had to let a small smile curl my lips. I had sneezed on him. After his furious tirade, after all the trouble he took to take off his mask and present his face to me, he was probably expecting me to be crying out in terror, screaming for mercy. And I responded with a wet sneeze. What a blow to his pride that must have been.

"Sorry," I said. My voice quivered with the effort to keep my humor in check. Erik brought his hands down and glared at me. It was fascinating, watching his facial expressions. I couldn't stop staring, trying to see how the expression of anger reflected itself on each side of his face. The eyes sparked with the same ire, but the skeletal half-grin of his bared teeth made his expression look much more threatening than just a scowl alone.

He opened his mouth to say something, but then, thinking better of it, moved to pick up his mask from where it had dropped on the floor at my feet. I saw a red mark on his forehead and imagined that its twin was blooming above my eyebrows. He brought the mask back up to his face, but a felt a tug of true sorrow for the man, and I said, "Wait."

His eyes locked with mine. "What?"

"Don't put that on."

His mouth moved; I was totally engrossed in how both sides of mouth moved to form words. The teeth clicked together faintly; I wondered why his speech wasn't impaired by such an obvious flaw in mouth structure.

Then: he's a ventriloquist. My mother told me, once, that the Phantom could throw his voice, could make it sound like anything he wanted. Perhaps he developed this technique because his words would otherwise be slurred by his lack of a complete mouth.

"…not here for your personal entertainment, little Giry, so I suggest you conclude with your study of my face." I snapped to attention. He had been talking to me; I had not heard a word of it. Instead I repeated, "Don't put that on."

But it was too late; the porcelain piece with its straight mouth and flat cheek had covered up his face. He looked so…false, like a doll. His eye peered out from the eyehole, taunting.

"Take the mask off, Erik," I said. He turned on his heel and began walking away from me. He flinched every time I said his name.

He was leaving the room—I was still strapped to the chair.

"At least untie me!" I shouted at him.

He opened the door and stepped through the threshold. A moment later I heard a key clicking in the lock. A red haze of anger burned in my head, accompanied by my fever, which had gone unnoticed until I realized that my limbs were shaking and I was feeling nauseated. I tried moving my wrists; the rope rubbed against my skin and made it burn. My feet, tucked underneath the chair and pinioned to one of the wooden legs, were useless.

There was nothing that I could do. I had to sit here and wait.

For what?For him to get over this tantrum? I hadn't said anything to make him angry—and sneezing is a human action, after all. I was growing tired of our constant arguments. I swallowed; my stomach gave a painful twist. I couldn't remember the last time I'd eaten. Maybe he'd leave me here to starve. My mouth became suddenly dry.

I held out for as long as I could, but the near-drowning and the fever were dragging me down. When the room started to swim, I felt a small pang of fear—and then, nothing.

Erik's POV

She had been terrified. I saw the panic in her eyes when she took in my face for the first time. She had blanched; I distinctly remembered hearing a sound of fear coming from her throat—but then, it was gone. I said something, and she was snapped out of the trance. Her expression became…calm, almost, and thoughtful. She looked at me, almost expantantly. Why don't you do something?

But I had done something—I had bared my curse for her, shown her the face that my own mother couldn't stand to look at! And she sat there and stared, like she was looking at a normal person.

And then she sneezed on me. Needless to say, I didn't know how to continue the conversation. I was prepared for any reaction—except hers.

I returned to the bedroom a half-hour after I had walked out, almost apprehensive about facing her again. I opened the door slowly. There was no movement from the form in the chair.

"Giry."

She didn't answer me. Her head was slumped over her chest, her hair hanging in tangles around her face. I reached down and jerked her face up; her eyes were half-closed. The skin under my hand was clammy. So, she was unconscious. Her fever had not gone down.

I heaved a sigh and knelt down in front of her, grabbing the rope around her ankles and untying it. "How annoying," I said to her as her ankles swung free. I reached around and tugged at the string around her wrists. "You cause so much trouble."

She slumped forwards, no longer pinioned by the rope. I caught her against my shoulder and heaved her up out of the chair. She was too easy to carry; a mere wisp of flesh. It wouldn't take much more of this fever to kill her. It looked like I was in for a long round of playing 'doctor'.

I turned down the cover on the bed and tossed her onto the sheets. A stale smell wafted into the air; I never used this room—it had been built specifically for Christine. I hadn't entered it since the last night she had been here.

I dragged the quilt over the girl, up to her neck. Her body barely made a lump underneath the blankets. She shuddered; her eyes opened.

"It's cold in here," she whispered hoarsely.

It looked like I was going to have to start a fire after all.

"All right, Meg," I said. "You win."

Her eyes brightened. She tried to push herself up; I put my hand firmly on her forehead and pressed her back down into the pillows. "—For now," I finished. "I will allow you to stay with me until you are better. What little humanity I have is keeping me from sending you back onto the street."

She coughed. "And when I am better, what will happen to me?"

I walked to the fireplace. A few unburned logs waited in the grate; I grabbed a box of matches and a few dried bits of wood. I contemplated my actions as I watched the flames grow. Sending her away as soon as she was healthy was my easiest course; I would be content in knowing that I had helped her conquer her fever. Whatever she did after that was none of my concern. On the other hand, she was a homeless girl, coming from the Opera, where all she could do was dance, and not very well at that. She had no other skills; she would be worthless as a maid and ruined as a prostitute. The Opera reopened in a matter of months, but surely I could not have her here for that long. It would drive me mad.

It is only two months until opening day. Surely you can live with that.

"Monsieur Erik?"

My name on her lips again; damn Madame Giry for telling her wench of my true identity! Christine's pronunciation of it was much more elegant; she made my name sound beautiful. Hell, I preferred Nadir's accent of my name to this girl's. I ground my teeth and looked back at the form on the bed.

"Go to sleep, Meg."

"What will happen to me?"

I turned back to the fire, letting the blaze warm my hands. "We shall see."

I remembered the glass in her foot; she would not be able to dance unless she underwent vigorous training again. Even if I waited the necessary months until the Opera reopened, she wouldn't be able to perform. Who, then, could I leave her with?

And the idea came out of nowhere: Nadir! My dual tormenter and friend—I could introduce them—he could hire her to do menial work around his estate. He would not allow her to live with me; he knew my unsteady nature all too well. It was perfect. I would be free, and Meg would be off of the Parisian streets.

"We shall see," I repeated. I smiled.

Behind me, I heard a sigh. And then:

"Is that your real hair?"

So, that's chapter five. Things will start picking up soon, I promise. I really do. I know it's boring. But it'll be better.