Chapter 61- Stranger Than You Dreamt It…

A/N: could it be?? two updates in a week?? ;)

The Comte's voice continued to grow nearer.

"Come to rescue your phantom, Meg?" he asked, amused. "I see you have succeeded… or, halfway succeeded, at least. Tell me, is his life for yours a fair trade?" He grabbed her by the arm and spun her around to face him. "Because that, my dear, is just what you've done."

"Get off me!" Meg said defiantly.

The Comte laughed again. "My dear girl, I mean you no harm. Had I intended to kill you, I can assure you, it would have happened already."

"Then what is it that you intend to do with me?" Meg spat.

"First, I wish to know everything about your connection to the Phantom of the Opera. After that…" a sinister grin spread across his face. "We shall see…"

"And if I refuse?"

"Let us just say," he said, running a finger along her jaw line "that I can be a very persuasive man, Mademoiselle."

Meg flinched in disgust, and the Comte pulled his hand away.

"But let us not forget our sense of propriety just yet. I wish to speak with you, Meg, and I ask that you comply. It would be in your best interest, I think."

With a sinking heart, Meg knew that he was right. She could think of no way to fix this… she knew of no way to escape… Christine and Erik were for the most part useless, at this point, it would be a major miracle if they managed to evade capture. There was Raoul, but who knew where he was.

Reluctantly, Meg allowed the Comte to lead her up the stairs and into the main hall of the manor. From what she now saw of it, Meg knew that the house itself was the epitome of splendor—the walls were a deep, dark, finished wood that shone in the light of the oil lamps that burned brightly along the hall. Rich, elaborate paintings surrounded by gold gilded frames provided decoration. Without warning, the overpowering feeling of captivity swarmed over Meg. This house was unfamiliar to her… and as the Comte led her further on, she realized that they were most certainly not alone. From all around, she could hear the muffled voices of men, talking, swearing, laughing here and there. There would be no chance to run… she thought.

They entered a spacious room that Meg guessed to be a sitting room of some sort, in which there were six or seven men, sitting and standing idly.

"Did I not instruct you to search the grounds?" the Comte snapped upon entering.

"Jacques, Leon and Marc have gone out," one of them responded.

"Well I expect you out with them!" the Comte responded indignantly. "Now!"

The room emptied immediately, leaving only Meg and the Comte behind. Once he was certain they were alone, he closed the door, and to Meg's dismay, locked it with a shiny brass key, which he deposited back in his waistcoat pocket.

Turning back to Meg, he smiled his deceivingly charming smile. Meg winced.

The Comte gestured to the small settee on the far side of the room. "Please, sit," he said cordially.

Seeing no reason to defy his simple request, Meg complied, sinking to the softness of the sofa in a trance-like state.

The Comte himself took a seat in a finely-upholstered chair opposite her, and looked at her intently. As he surveyed her, he had to contain his amusement. She looked like nothing more than a kitchen wench—her dress was plain, her face smudged, and her hair mussed. And yet, there was still an air of pride about her, and air of defiance… a fiery spirit, he thought. She still believes she can win. His sneer widened.

"Now, do tell me, Mademoiselle Giry… why exactly have you gone to such extremities to rescue the Phantom?"

"What do you stand to gain from all this?" Meg countered. "Why do you pursue him so intently?"

He laughed. "An answer for an answer, dear lady. Answer my question first."

"And if I should not?"

"Do you enjoy playing this game, Marguerite?"

"I do not recall giving you permission to address me informally, Monsieur," Meg said coolly. Her heart was beating rapidly against her chest, and she knew that the Comte was enjoying the battle of wit far too much for her liking. He wasn't even trying to mask his amusement now… the ridiculous look on his face made Meg want to lash out with everything she had—she wanted to fight tooth and nail, futile though it may be.

But she thought of Erik then… she had to get back to him. And to reach that goal, she knew she would need patience.

"You are truly an enigma, mademoiselle," the Comte continued. "I knew that from the first day I saw you. One glance was all it took… I knew there was more to you than met the eye. I should commend you—not many women would have the constitution for a… daring rescue mission, shall we call it?"

He was mocking her.

Meg was seething, and she felt her passive expression begin to crack.

"Do you love him, Meg?" the Comte asked, his voice turning cold. "Do you truly love the monster?" His expression was that of disgust. "Come now, Meg. Be reasonable. You're an attractive woman. You could have any of the handsome men in Paris. Why choose a man who is so hideous, so repulsive that he hides behind a mask?"

Meg clenched her fists together tightly… her fingernails broke through the flesh of her palms, but she didn't care. She felt nothing—only fiery hatred for the Comte that flowed through her like an electric current.

He continued his commentary on Erik with the air of someone commenting on the weather. "He's not much of a man, even. Why, he barely put up a fight when we made to capture him. Whether you see it or not, your phantom is a weak, pathetic excuse for a human being. The world would be better off rid of him. And that is precisely what I intend to see happen. The phantom will die."

"Why?" Meg asked suddenly, voice filled with indignation. "Why are you so consumed by the desire to see him killed?"

The Comte gave a short bark of laughter. "It started out with you. When I first came to the Opera, I knew that of all the women in the company, you were the most beautiful, the most talented. I knew then that I wanted you… all for myself. But you… you would have nothing to do with me. I thought initially that if I could be the one to bring the Phantom to justice, to finally punish him for the crimes he has committed, and the pain he has caused you—"

At this, Meg raised her eyebrows.

"Oh yes, Meg. I know about your mother's untimely death. As a member of the Hospital's financial board of directors, I tend to hear these sorts of things. She was another casualty of the Opera House fire, they said… her heart and lungs were weakened from the smoke. Anyway, I thought that I would gain favor with you if I could bring down this phantom. But, as I soon discovered, you were involved with him somehow. And that, my dear, was when my hunt for the Phantom intensified. I no longer wanted him dead to make you happy… I wanted him dead because he stood between me and the thing that I wanted most… you."

"You bastard," Meg said through clenched teeth.

The Comte chuckled. "Be that as it may, I must ask you to examine this current situation from an objective perspective. I have you here, in a locked room, armed men at by beck and call. I have men scouring the grounds at this very moment for your precious Phantom. That, my dear, puts me in the position of power, and it leaves you with regrettably little with which to negotiate. So," he continued, "let us see if we can't arrive at some sort of… mutual agreement… shall we?" He eyed Meg suggestively.

"I won't," Meg said staunchly, looking the Comte right in the eyes. "Kill me if you must."

"I can assure you, it will not come to that," he responded crisply. "Somehow I think that against the choice of watching your beloved phantom murdered before your eyes, you'll think differently about my offer."

Meg was about to retort, but suddenly from outside the door there came a sudden scuffling—raised voices and brisk, heavy footfalls.

"I would wager that these are my men now," the Comte said. "No doubt they've captured the phantom. Perfect—we can move along with our negotiation."

As the din outside intensified, Meg's heart began to pound. Please, she prayed, don't let it be Erik…

But suddenly, both the Comte and Meg heard something that made them both raise their eyebrows in surprise.

A moment later, and the door burst open, revealing not the Phantom of the Opera, but a pink-clad and irate-looking Rachelle L'hereux.

Christine Daae was feeling more and more unsettled by the moment. She had somehow managed to move the half-conscious Erik away from the house and into a nearby shed, where—thoroughly exhausted— she had come to a halt. She knew that they couldn't stay there forever, though; already she could hear voices coming from around the farmhouse. But as she sat there on the dusty floor, her tiny chest heaving, she was glad for the short reprieve from the evening's dangers. Beside her, Erik lay relatively unconscious.

Or so she thought.

Moments slid past, when suddenly the phantom groaned, and raised a hand to massage his temples.

"E-Erik?" Christine asked tentatively. She was suddenly extremely aware of the awkwardness of the situation. She had not been alone with her old teacher since that fateful night in the bowels of the Opera House...

"Christine…" he whispered through parched lips, his eyes still closed.

Christine hesitated, unsure of whether or not to respond. She couldn't tell whether or not Erik was lucid; it could have been just part of his fevered dreaming, she thought.

"Christine…" Erik said again.

The soft, tender way her name still seemed to slide off his tongue made Christine's heart stop. She had spent months trying to banish the memory of his voice from the depths of her mind. Every night for weeks following the opera house fire, she had heard it in her dreams, beckoning her, pleading with her to return to the broken heart she had left alone in the dark. Never had she thought that there would come a time when the two of them would be reunited.

Uncertainly, she reached out a hand and touched his face very lightly, as though he were a wisp of smoke that could be easily dissipated.

"I-I'm here, Erik," she said.

A strange look passed over his face—a shiver. His body seemed to convulse for a brief moment, and then his eyes fought themselves to open.

As Erik came back to consciousness, the first thing he saw was her.

There was Christine, hovering over him, her large, brown eyes round with concern and fear. She was still as beautiful and as perfect as ever, he thought; with her flawless white skin and fair complexion, perfectly crafted bone structure and silky hair.

But unlike months ago, Erik found himself strangely devoid of the aching feeling of unrequited love that usually came whenever he looked upon her…

"Meg…" he said suddenly. "What happened to Meg?"

Christine didn't respond immediately; she seemed to be searching for the right words.

"After you got out," she began, "Meg was getting ready to climb up, when the Comte came down. I'm afraid—I'm afraid he's caught her."

Clearly shaken, Erik struggled to sit up, and Christine found herself putting her arms around his waist in the effort to help him.

Their contact disconcerted Christine, who once Erik was sitting upright scooted a few more inches away.

Erik didn't seem to realize, or if he did, he didn't care.

"I have to go back for her," he said.

"Erik—you aren't strong enough," Christine said timidly. "We don't know how many men the Comte has guarding the house… or where inside Meg is. You could be killed."

"Perhaps that is my fate," he said grudgingly. "But I won't leave Meg in there."

He moved to stand up; he did so shakily, and when it looked as though he might fall, Christine rushed to help him, but he waved her off, forcing his thin body up so that he was leaning against the wall of the shed. He clenched his eyes closed, calling upon every last bit of strength that he had. When he opened them, he felt a slightly greater sense of clarity. His eyes darted around the room looking for something—anything—that he could use for a weapon.

He spotted just what he was looking for in the back corner of the shed. He walked over unsteadily, trailing one palm along the wall of the shed for support. Reaching down, he picked up the thick length of rope. A small smile played around his lips—he felt a small thrill; the feeling of the rope took him back to the time when he had been feared by many for his skill with the Punjab lasso. With a few twists and knots, he created his weapon.

He looked back at Christine, who was eyeing him with apprehension.

"Go, Christine," he said. "Leave this place, run as far and as fast as you can. It's too dangerous for you to linger."

"What will you do?" she asked.

"I will lure them here and kill them," he replied tersely. "I'd rather you not witness it."


"Do not fight me, Christine. It will be easier if you go."

Though she still looked hesitant, Christine nodded. Before turning to leave, she went to Erik, looking into his eyes.

"I am sorry for the pain that I caused you, Erik..." she whispered.

"It is already forgiven, Christine."

A look of relief passed over her face, and she stood on tiptoe and—to Erik's complete shock—kissed his marred cheek. Then, without another word, she was gone.

next up: a confrontation, of sorts. :)