A/N –You may read this first chapter – or, indeed, just the summary! – and think that this story deserves to fall under the umbrella heading of Meg/Erik phic. Let me hasten to assure you that it doesn't: it's a (very) little of E/M, a little of R/C, rather more of E/C … but above all, it is just a Megphic. It's about her, from her point of view, and utterly because of her … how anyone can not adore small blonde ballerinas is entirely beyond me. (I am succumbing to the screaming E/C shipper inside me, but those few E/C scenes that we all love so well will be the only non-Meg oriented scenes in the whole phic … as I say, this is her story.)
I've been working on this phic for longer than I ever have on a phic before, and the vast majority of it is already written. It was written before the new movie, so all characterisation and plots should be taken as coming from the musical and the various novels, although there is, I hope, some of Miranda Richardson in Madame Giry (stop that, Steph, don't think I can't see you rolling your eyes across the pond!).
Don't worry if the beginning of this chapter seems confusing: (one of the perils of writing certain scenes before others) by the end of the chapter, all ought to be revealed. (Oh, and anyone who spots the significance of the ballet rats' names will be given cookies :))
This story is for and because of Hayley Driscoll, the only Meg, to whom I owe my characterisation almost entirely.
There was a pause, broken by the scuffling of feet and a few subdued giggles and whisperings.
Meg Giry kept her head bent as her mother glared around the assembled troop of sugar plum fairies. "Well? Where is she?"
There was silence. Next to her, Meg felt Celia, a small brunette fairy, begin to shake with silent laughter, and dug her swiftly in the ribs: if her mother, already irritable because of Christine's non-appearance, decided that her remaining dancers were behaving frivolously – a word that she used so frequently that one member of the corps had actually looked it up – they could all expect a solid two hours' extra practice on toes that were already sore.
Fortunately for all the girls, the arrival of Poligny – flutteringly nervous and bearing an unfavourable-looking sheaf of documents – distracted Antoinette Giry from her errant charges for long enough for Celia to regain control over herself.
Meg watched her mother growing more and more tight-lipped as Poligny continued to talk excitedly, and was forced to stifle a giggle as he gestured particularly vehemently, sending a pile of sheet music that had sat precariously balanced on the piano flying like a papery snowstorm.
Antoinette silenced his anxious apologies with a glance, her face like stone, and turned back to the assembled girls huddled together. "You are all a disgrace. I suggest that you spend the rest of the day in private rehearsal, or you may all find yourselves unemployed when Monday comes." She emphasised her words with a staccato tap of her cane on the hard wood floor. "Now go, all of you."
She turned back to Poligny as the troop of slightly subdued sugar plum fairies traipsed out of the rehearsal room into the corridor.
For all it could only have been an hour at most, it seemed to Antoinette days before she could manage to usher Poligny out of her room and retire to her office, where she sat down in her high-backed chair, gazing into the dying flames of the fire, and thinking.
She was beginning to be uncomfortable about Christine Daaé's perennial tardiness and increasingly frequent absences from her rehearsals: she was probably the weakest dancer Antoinette had to deal with this season, and would, Antoinette was quite sure, fall further behind with every absence. She was, of course, fully aware of the reason behind these absences; and it irritated her intensely that that reason should be the only man in the Opera House whom she could not drive into cowering submission with a single raised eyebrow.
She was fully aware that the only reason Erik had unbent far enough to her to admit his tutorial relationship with Christine – unthinkable, that he should confess what was already beginning to betray itself in his eyes, that Christine was rapidly becoming more than a student to him! – was that she had, quite unthinkingly, forced his hand herself when she had presented to him the weekly list of administration of the corps de ballet, a generally mundane document including the price of the replacement of four pairs of ballet shoes, the sewing bill for a costume that Mary had carelessly torn, and Antoinette's intention to dismiss Christine Daaé at the end of the week.
"Why did you not inform me that you were thinking of depriving a twenty-year old child of her living?"
Antoinette frowned. "I dismiss girls all the time. If we are to retain the unreasonable standards of perfection that you consistently demand, I have no choice but to let go those girls who are not up to the requisite standard." She sighed. "It is a pity. She is a nice enough child, but she's just not strong enough, and she doesn't have the talent she needs to keep up with the other girls."
Erik, betraying his agitation by his inability to keep still, had risen from his seat and was now pacing the room.
"I should prefer for her to remain in employment at the Opéra for the time being," he said expressionlessly.
Antoinette stood up. "I beg your pardon?"
"I would be obliged if you would reconsider your decision to deprive her of her job," he rephrased. He turned to look at her, and she was amazed to see the unaccustomed coldness in his eyes. "But before you do me the courtesy of a judgment, you will please be aware that you have no choice."
At the time, Antoinette had not been too concerned. Erik had explained that he intended his protégé to leave the corps in time anyway, in order to pursue a career in that area where her true talent lay: her voice.
But now she was beginning to feel frustrated with the situation. She had turned away a dozen girls more talented than Christine at yesterday's auditions, and was still having to accommodate Christine's ineptitude within her corps.
But, admitted Antoinette to herself, Christine's clumsiness and frequent mistakes worried her less than a situation that was beginning to seem far more pressing: the possibility that Meg should discover the dawning relationship between Erik and Christine for herself.
It was not, she feared, a discovery that her daughter would take well.
Antoinette wondered briefly where it had all begun; and unexpectedly remembered with a smile the horror on Erik's face when she had arrived on his doorstep in desperation bearing Meg, then a small sturdy blonde child of five.
"No, Madame, really ... I have no talent with children ..."
"She'll be good, I promise, quiet as a mouse ..."
It was Meg who settled the debate by handing Erik her rag doll and instructing him with the bossy innocence of youth, "Look after Araminta" before marching into the living room and comfortably settling herself in front of the fire.
Antoinette, deciding that the matter was closed, quickly gathered up her bag.
"Thank you, Erik," she said with hasty gratitude. "I'll be back in an hour."
She hurried off down the lakeshore, and Erik was left alone at the door holding a scruffy rag doll with shockingly red hair.
Antoinette hurried back to the Opera House through a light drizzle later that afternoon, feeling the uncomfortable pinprick of guilt begin to gnaw at her insides. The interview had taken longer than she had anticipated, and Meg had now been with Erik for almost two and a half hours. Oh, she trusted Erik implicitly, and had no fears whatever for her daughter's safety; but she was not unaware that Meg was inclined to be boisterous, and she rather feared that Erik might not know how to react if the little girl worked herself up into a screaming tantrum as she was wont to do.
She was entirely unprepared for the sight that greeted her upon entering the house on the lake.
Meg was sitting curled up on Erik's lap, her thumb comfortably ensconced in her mouth, the other little hand absently patting Erik's.
Erik was reading to her in a low, hypnotic voice from a small book bound in blue leather, held loosely in his free hand.
Antoinette took a step forward into the room and Erik started. Colour flooded into the visible side of his face, and he rose hastily, quickly deposing Meg from his lap.
Antoinette smiled at the remembrance of his embarrassment, his unwillingness to admit his dawning affection for her daughter.
The meeting that had been so important that day had heralded Antoinette's appointment as ballet mistress of the Opera Populaire. The money that this new job would bring in was a great relief to Antoinette, whose finances had been saved thus far only by her own scrupulous economy, but it did raise the problem of what to do with Meg. Poligny had listened carefully, and had been extremely courteous and sympathetic, but utterly immoveable on this point; Antoinette would not be allowed to bring her small daughter to work.
Antoinette, desperate to find a solution, ever aware that if she could not find someone to take care of her daughter during working hours, she would have to turn down this opportunity which at present seemed little less than a godsend, finally consulted Erik.
He listened carefully, asked several pertinent questions, and finally sat down thoughtfully to consider the question, absently tapping his fingers against the edge of the sofa.
It was he who made the suggestion - albeit tentatively - that Meg should come to him during rehearsal time until a more appropriate substitute could be found. This seemed the perfect solution: Meg would remain close to her mother; it would provide company for Erik, and a male influence in Meg's life. Relieved beyond belief, Antoinette accepted the offer immediately; and although ostensibly she continued to search for another suitable person to take care of Meg, aware that her daughter was happy with the situation as it was, she soon ceased to do so with any urgency or real energy.
Meg's puppy fat had dropped off her as she grew older, and she was developing into a very lovely young woman. She had always been sturdy, and her dancing had made her strong; and although she would always be short, she still tendered what Antoinette privately considered to be an unfortunate propensity for the melodramatic that more than made up for what she lacked in size.
Meg's relationship with Erik had always been the one regular stabilising influence in her life outside her mother. Meg's friends tended to be much like the worst parts of herself: giddy, empty-headed, and tactless; and had it not been for Erik's steady cultivation of her mind and behaviour, Antoinette felt that her daughter's intelligence and wit, which often lay buried beneath a veneer of inane gossip when she was with her friends in the corps, might have gradually slipped away.
Unlike her mother, who had once come upon Erik in a rare unguarded moment that had almost cost her her life, Meg had never seen Erik's face. Antoinette had warned her not to raise the issue long before her daughter had ever met Erik; and the ensuing years of companionship had conditioned her to view the mask as something quite normal, another inexplicable facet of Erik's personality to be accepted without question or answer. She knew it concealed some peculiarity about which he was extremely sensitive; and, with the blinkered affection of youth, was not at all troubled by that knowledge, or driven by curiosity to wish to know more.
Antoinette had always approved of Meg's affection for Erik. But recently, observing her daughter's behaviour around him, and the change in her tone of voice when she spoke about him, she had begun to fear that Erik's unshakeable courtesy, his catlike grace, and his unfailing humour and gentleness had begun to impress themselves upon Meg's mind as agreeable in a different way to ever before. This in itself would not usually have worried Antoinette: attachment was a natural consequence of Meg's age – and God alone knew how silently grateful Antoinette was that Meg had evidently developed sense enough to politely discourage the admirers who filled a different girl's dressing room with roses every night – and, knowing Erik as she did, she would not have objected to a match between him and her daughter, even considering the disparity in their ages.
But Antoinette feared that, even as Erik altered subtly in Meg's eyes every day they spent together, it had never even occurred to him that she was growing up; he had never noticed quite what a beautiful young woman she was becoming. Although he was unfailingly kind to her, and cared for her intensely, Antoinette felt that he had never ceased to see her as the child who had first wound herself around his heart at the age of five with the aid of a grubby rag doll.
For weeks Antoinette had worried about the seemingly inevitable crisis. She could imagine Erik's reaction should she confide her fears to him: horrified by the threat of such unfamiliar territory, she had no doubts that he would retreat into himself and withdraw from Meg entirely; and such unexpected and inexplicable coldness on the part of her dearest friend would, Antoinette knew, crush her daughter utterly.
And so, in the end, she had done nothing. Unable to think of any one course of action that could result in anything other than her daughter's fury and Erik's humiliation, she had resigned herself to preparing for when the situation exploded – as she had no doubt it would, her daughter's melodramatic streak being what it was.
As she sat and watched the fire die in the grate, Antoinette dreaded to think how much more destructive that explosion would be if Meg were to learn that her dearest idol had already fallen hopelessly in love with a chorus girl named Christine Daaé.
The girls made their way back to the ballet corps' dormitory, and there was much squeaking and giggling as they fought for the best seats next to the fire.
Meg caught hold of Celia's arm. "What was wrong with you in rehearsal today?"
Celia shook her head and began to giggle again. "It's nothing," she demurred. "It's just …"
The other girls crowded round, eager now to hear the gossip.
"It was something about Christine," observed Lisa from her seat on Meg's bed. "You started to laugh just when Madame Giry mentioned her."
"What's she done?" asked Anna with curiosity.
"Nothing!" protested Celia. "I promised her I wouldn't tell …"
"Oh, promises promises," said Nicole with cheerful dismissal. "Easily made, easily broken." She beamed and took Celia's hand. "You have to tell us. We're your friends!"
"And hers," added little Robyn enterprisingly.
"Exactly," piped up Katrina, spotting the chink in Celia's resolve. "Why would she mind our knowing about it?"
Meg frowned slightly and withdrew from the centre of the group. Of all the girls, it was she who was closest to the reserved little soprano; and she was beginning to feel uncomfortable at the corps' collectively shameless attempt to uncover a secret that Christine evidently did not want to share.
But it was too late: Celia's already wavering resolution had not survived the onslaught of her friends.
"You must promise not to tell her I told!"
Collective assent. The air became thick with excitement as the girls crowded in closer in a cloud of lace and crinoline: as valuable a commodity as gossip always was, no one had ever fancied there might be anything worth telling about the almost incredibly innocent Scandinavian dancer who frequently seemed to be lost in a world of daydreams, and always appeared utterly bewildered when the conversation moved – as it inevitably did – round to suitors and flowers.
"I was walking past her dressing room yesterday. And …" Celia began to giggle helplessly again. "I heard a man's voice!"
A barrage of gleeful disbelief broke out.
Disbelief promptly gave way to hilarity.
"And she always seeming so innocent!"
"Are you sure it was her?" Little Robyn this time, doubt creeping into her voice.
Celia nodded furtively, beginning to giggle again. "I caught her coming out and I asked her about it! And she said …" The other girls looked on, bemused, as Celia's voice gave way to helpless laughter. "She said … it was her singing teacher!"
It is a curious fact about ballet dancers in general, and short ones in particular, that every sentence they speak is inevitably concluded with an exclamation mark. Celia – being both – was positively awash in punctuation.
The other ballet girls dissolved into squeaks of laughter. Meg was well aware that, should she tell the other girls that Christine did, in fact, harbour secret aspirations to be a singer one day, her words would fall upon utterly deaf ears. She therefore refrained, and slipped quietly out of the dormitory to find her friend.
Meg padded through the Opera House corridor to Christine's tiny dressing room, humming happily to herself, and arrived at Christine's corridor slightly out of breath and intensely grateful – not for the first time – that her mother had managed to secure her a more spacious dressing room than was usually allotted to the corps, one considerably closer to the stage.
It was really no wonder, Meg thought to herself, that Christine was always late for everything. If she were to be meeting a lover – and Meg could not restrain a little snort of laughter at the prospect – her dressing room would certainly be the ideal place, tucked away at the back as it was.
She was unprepared for the sound that greeted her as she approached the door of Christine's dressing room: her friend's voice raised animatedly within. She stopped, consciously putting down the wild thought that flickered through her mind that perhaps Celia had been right.
But however surprised she was by the sound of Christine chattering away, apparently to herself, nothing could surpass her astonishment when she heard a second voice rise in answer … and recognition swept through her.
"You need not be nervous. You will not take her part until you are ready."
"I don't feel I shall ever be ready."
The man's voice again, gentle this time. "But you will be. And you will be the greatest star ever to shine on the Opera's stage.
Meg fell back against the wall, speechless and suddenly light-headed. She knew that voice …
Meg took a deep breath, and moved her bishop.
"I hear you've started tutoring Christine Daaé," she said carefully, looking nervously up into his face.
Erik did not look up, staring at the board with a look of apparently intense concentration on his face. "Indeed." He looked up and smiled. "I decided that it was unreasonable to expect you to attempt to dance any longer to the strains of La Carlotta." He glanced back at the board and moved a pawn, not meeting her eyes. "Your friend is very talented."
Meg twirled a curl nervously around her finger, pushing a knight a few spaces without really thinking. "Why didn't you tell me?" she asked finally.
Erik glanced up at her. "I'm sorry?"
"That you'd started teaching Christine. Why didn't you tell me?"
"Ah." Erik looked back down at the board and moved a bishop two squares. "I wasn't aware you'd be interested."
Meg looked down at her feet, unaccountably hurt. "I'm always interested," she mumbled.
There was a brief pause, before Erik rose to his feet and laid a paternal hand on her shoulder.
"Meg, I'm sorry," he said gently. "I didn't realise you would mind."
There was a long, intense silence, in which Meg felt something shiver, deep inside her. She was on the point of reaching up to cover his hand with her own, when he withdrew his hand and sat down again. He made a gesture towards the chess board, taking refuge in the easy world of pawns and queens, and she knew that the subject was closed.
"Have you heard?"
Madame Giry glanced up from her book. "Mmm?"
"About Erik's newest project! He's started tutoring Christine, of all people!"
Madame Giry closed the book and laid it down on the table. "Meg ..." she said carefully, patting the seat beside her. "Come and sit down. I want to talk to you."
Meg nodded and sat down, slightly confused.
"I don't want you to discuss this with Erik, all right?"
Meg nodded slowly. "All right ..."
"I think you ought to be careful how you discuss their relationship … especially with the rest of the corps. I don't think they ought to know about it."
Meg laughed, relieved. "They don't really have a relationship, Mother. He's just tutoring her because he says Carlotta's an embarrassment." She beamed. "You know how seriously he takes the Opera."
Madame Giry sighed. Better that her daughter should hear the news that was to invert her world from her than from anybody else, she thought with weary resignation. "Meg, I don't think you've quite grasped the situation." Seeing her daughter frown with confusion, she clarified, "He isn't just teaching her for the good of the Opera." There was a pause. "He's in love with her."
"What?" Meg stood up blindly, feeling faint. She forced a laugh. "Mother, I'm afraid you've caught the wrong end of the stick entirely. He's just interested in her voice, that's all!"
Madame Giry shook her head gently, her face compassionate. "I'm sorry, my dear."
Meg sat down, more surprised now than annoyed. "Why do you think he's in love with her?"
Her mother looked warily at her, as if wondering just how much she should tell her. "Have you ever heard the music he writes for her?"
Meg looked up again, feeling as though she might be sick. "He doesn't write for her, Mother, it's for his opera," she said, a little too quickly. "He's been working on it for years now, it's terribly good; he's probably just trying out a few of the songs on Christine."
Deep inside, the revelation that he was allowing Christine to sing his music hurt Meg very much; she herself had largely given up asking Erik to play his music to her after years of gentle but firm refusals which brooked no argument.
Meg felt her mother take her hand.
"Megan," she said gently. "Listen to me. You have been a very good friend to Erik, and nobody knows more than I how much he appreciates it. But what he feels for Christine is different ... I don't think he himself quite understands it yet, and I certainly don't want you asking him about it."
Meg, staring blindly down at her hands, did not see the compassion in her mother's eyes.
"I am sorry, Megan, I would not have had it turn out this way; but Christine has been good for him. You would not condemn him to a lifetime of solitude with only our society to alter the monotony of the days?"
Meg brought one hand slowly to her face, and laid it against her burning cheek. "Is she in love with him as well?" she whispered.
Madame Giry smiled, a little sadly, and took up her book again. "You are her closest friend," she said with maternal logic. "Why don't you ask her?" She turned a page, and Meg saw, inexplicable relief colouring her disappointment, that the conversation was over.
Five storeys below the Opèra, Erik was smiling as he put the final touches to his latest composition. It would be the work of a moment to make his way up to Christine's dressing room and, slipping in through the mirror, to place it on her dressing table.
He touched the page gently, suppressing the flickering torch of delight that lit in his heart as he imagined her touching that same page.
As he neared her dressing room mirror, he was caught off guard and slightly alarmed to see a lamp still burning in the room. Cautiously, still not quite secure even in the certain knowledge that he could not be seen through the mirror, he approached that kindest and cruellest of barriers with apprehension.
The scene that greeted his eyes within was enough to stop his heart and catch his breath in his throat.
Lying curled on the small couch which stood along the back wall was Christine; and even more unendurably lovely in sleep than in wakefulness. His hand pressed unconsciously against the mirror with unexpected yearning, and he shut his eyes, the better to engrave this memory upon the rapidly-melting marble of his heart.
Silently, he slipped through the mirror and laid the sheets of handwritten music on her dressing table, an angelic gift for when she awoke. He knew with a smile how excited she would be to discover it in the morning: further proof that her Angel was all her father had promised he would be.
He did not dare to linger. Silently, he returned to the darkness of the subterranean corridors, allowing himself only one farewell glance at the woman who was rapidly becoming everything to him, and made his way unlit down the paths to his lair, carrying within him the still unfamiliar warmth of love and an unshakeable resolution: tomorrow, she would sing Marguerite.
And tomorrow, he would reveal himself to her.