Title- Empress
Erik and Meg, could be considered shippy but it's not strictly intended as such, and you'd need to squint, anyway
Years have passed, and Little Giry is all grown up. Erik isn't sure this is a good thing. A perspective on the life of a Baroness.

A/N- Reread the Leroux for the first time in ages. Somehow this happened. Don't ask me to explain it. It's mostly Leroux-based, obviously, but I think there may be some ALW blended in there under the surface.

Little Giry has grown up. It is an amazing thing to him. He hardly gave her a thought when she was a child, but he does have a very vague recollection of seeing her dancing, row leader by his own demand. Seeing her now is a startling thing.

He kept his word to Madame. He didn't particularly want to, as at that time his mind was rather more occupied with mourning the loss of Christine, but he honored his promise. Though he did, he supposes, have some prodding on her part when he showed no signs of progress on that front. Darius, of all people, guided her to his hiding-place to afford her the opportunity of demanding that he do as he promised. Interfering bastard...

And so he pulled the strings, not as blatantly as before but he still had power even now. By the time she was seventeen, Little Giry had become prima ballerina, and a fine one at that. She was undeniably a talented little thing. Charming, one might say, for all her flaws. When the Baronne de Castelote-Barbezac took an interest, he did what was necessary to turn a trifling fancy into a desire powerful enough for the aging, wealthy nobleman to make her his second wife (the first having perished in childbirth many years before). It was an easy thing to do, for the Baronne was a dull-witted, superstitious man whose mind was wide open to suggestion. Madame Giry lived to see her progeny nicely married into rather extraordinary wealth.

What she fortunately did not live to see was how unhappy her daughter has become. He, however, sees all too well. He's taken to watching the Baroness, having nothing else better to do with his time. He sees her, and he wonders if it might not have been better for all involved if he had not tossed the batty old woman out on her backside when she came imploring him to keep his promise. The task of securing Meg's fortune was what forced him to live in the aftermath, but he didn't really want to, and sometimes he doubts that she does, anymore.

Little Meg is twenty-seven now, and the Baronne's two daughters by the first wife are not much younger. They do not like their father's young wife very much. The Baronne, though he abhors entertaining himself, is frequently occupied in the smoking parlours of his fellow gentlemen and, though he thinks his wife hasn't figured it out, the occasional opium den (but Meg does know, of that Erik is sure). For the most part, therefore, she is left to herself in the sumptuous town-house that has become the boundary of her world. Sometimes, when she has had quite enough of her husband, she retreats to the large estate in the country, but there too she is quite on her own.

He supposes that after a life lived so much within the realms of fantasy that comprise the Opera, it must feel a terribly small world she has found herself in. Maybe he pities her. He isn't sure.

She has matured, and that he does pity. She is no longer the silly girl who raced around the opera house telling stories of the Opera Ghost in his box, heedless of wisdom or caution. She has become charming, but too late, for now she is safe under the protection of her husband and it does her no good. She presents quite a brazen face when interacting with her husband's friends and their wives, and he noted that when that skinny journalist fellow came asking questions (questions about him), she was suddenly Little Giry all over again, outspoken and a bit course, but a softness he swears she never had as a child has crept into her manner even so.

Moreover, she has grown into her looks at last. Though no one would mistake her for a great beauty, she is in possession of handsome features that will serve her well for longer than the flush of youthful beauty would. The dark color of her hair is unremarkable, but her tresses are thick and shiny and when bound up neatly atop her head draw attention to the fine shape of her neck. Her skin too, so sallow as a child, has changed its temperament, and the olive tone gives her an exotic look, an imported lady of Spain or farther amidst the pale French women with whom she normally associates. The pregnancy she suffered in the early years of her marriage ended badly, but it softened her body somewhat, gave her modest curves a greater depth to them.

She still dances. No one but he knows this.

It is only rarely, when her husband is away on the pretense of business and her step-children are away at some ball or concert, but she dances, alone in the house. She takes off her elaborate skirts and stands there in her chemise and she laces on a pair of supple pink leather-and-satin shoes from her hiding place behind the book-shelf in the drawing room. And then she dances.

Sometimes she will hum or sing to herself for accompaniment. Her voice is certainly nothing to become excited over, but she can at least carry a tune. Usually it is something he recognizes, some waltz from a production during those three glorious years in which she was the prima. Occasionally it is something he does not know, and the melody is so meandering and lacking in style that he knows she is making it up herself. She is graceful in these times, still so talented though she'd never make her living at it now. She's far too old, at twenty-seven. Still, she is graceful.

It is when the music stops, though, that she really shows her art. Her eyes close, and the notes die in her throat, and then it is as if she has grown wings. She transcends, and there is such rapture in her face that he has to wonder what is happening inside her soul in these moments. What music does she hear in her head now? What angel speaks to her heart to give her this impossible gift that no one but he will ever see, and no one but she will ever truly appreciate? She never danced like this at the opera. Maybe no one has ever danced like this.

He knows, though, that she would never let anyone see, no one but him, and he doesn't think she knows he watches. Oh, he's quite certain she's aware that he's around; she knows only too well about his bargain with her mother. But he doesn't think she's aware he sees her dance. She would not be able to throw her soul out into the open air so plainly if she knew anyone was watching. She has kept that soul, so well-disguised in company, a closely-guarded secret.

He hates her for letting him see it. He doesn't want to be the keeper of the secrets of the soul of Meg Giry... because that's what it is. The Baroness is just the face she presents to the world, a face with scarlet-painted lips (shocking in a married woman but appealing with her dark coloring) and a pleasant smile for the people she calls "friend." It is only in those rare moments, when she is alone and leaps from the floor as if reaching for some heaven he can't see or imagine, that Meg Giry, the ballet rat who never actually wanted to be anything else, reveals herself. And he hates it, because it's just similar enough to his own sorrows that he feels this pity for her. He doesn't want to. He doesn't want to give a damn about another human being ever again.

But he pities Meg, Baroness de Castelot-Barbezac, née Giry, and so one day, when he knows she will dance, he leaves a white cala-lily in the drawing room, atop those precious shoes. And that day he sees something he has never seen before in his life.

He sees Meg smile.