Summary- It started on a rooftop. A love story in four acts.
A/N- This really takes place more in the musicalverse than in the movieverse, primarily because I didn't want to deal with the opera house being Totally F-cking Destroyed the way it was in the film. Anyway, thanks once again to suscintilla for the inspiration here! New chapters of Don Juan and The Phoenix will be out once finals are over and my muse quits crying in a corner.
The roof is his place of solace. He comes here to sit and to think and to breathe free air outside the musty cellars. He doesn't come here often, but when he does, he stays outside the entire night, taking what pleasure he can from not being buried alive for a few short hours. He only flees back into the darkness when the first rays of the sun touch the horizon. And tonight, he needs to think. Tomorrow the company would perform il Muto. It is a particular favorite of his and he hates to interfere, but he is all too aware that his orders have been blatantly ignored. He has not trained that voice for so long just for it to be silenced. Christine will sing... Christine...
Christine has seen him, she has seen his face, and it has poisoned their love, as he had known it would. She shed tears of horror and pity and he curses her infernal curiosity that sent her tugging away at his mask... He needs to erase that moment, he needs to blot it out of his mind, he needs... he needs...
He needs his time alone here on the roof of the opera house to think, dammit!
Only, he isn't alone. Not for long, anyway.
It must have been three o'clock in the morning when she appears. Little Giry. What on earth is she doing out of bed at this time of night? None of the girls in the chorus would dare, all too terrified of O.G. to leave the safety of the dormitories (as if the doors and locks could keep him out if he really wanted to get in).
And yet, here she is. He melts into the shadows to watch her. She isn't fully dressed, just a white nightgown on and nothing on her bare feet. It is freezing on the roof, the still air bitter with the promise of an early snow tomorrow, but she doesn't seem to notice. Her soft blonde curls are tied back from her face with a black satin ribbon that looks suspiciously familiar. He wonders how she acquired that, assumes she had stolen it from Christine. She is beautiful, with her creamy gold skin and dark blue eyes set in a heart-shaped face that is almost too perfect. Christine is so beautiful she's almost painful to look at for fear she might break under another's gaze, burning with the dark fire of a goddess; Little Giry shines like the sun, an earthy beauty that is not eye-catching like Christine, but upon closer observation is nearly as perfect. Nearly.
He hates her beauty just as he hates Christine's. Their beauty mocks him, taunts him and his ugliness.
He had assumed she would go back inside shortly and leave him to his reflection, but it seems he is not the only one with weighty matters on his mind (as if Meg Giry, of all people, could possibly have anything of real value to worry about, ha!). She walks to the edge of the roof and leans on the parapet, staring out across the city. Her face is quite blank.
For many long moments she stands like this, and he debates using a bit of ventriloquism to scare the life out of her and send her scurrying away from his rooftop sanctuary. A change comes over her just as he makes his resolution to do so. Her shoulders slump, her façade (for façade it is) crumbles away, and she buries her face in her hands, hiding those striking blue eyes and the tears inexplicably pouring from them.
She cries for a long time, and he has no idea why. She does not speak a word, and her crying is silent. Her tears affect him strangely. He can't explain quite what it makes him feel, to be the unseen witness to an unknown sorrow. He does not pity her, it doesn't interest him. He does not particularly care what made the ballerina weep. But he feels oddly part of this moment, the only one in the world who knows that Meg Giry cries in the dead of night. He shares this with her, and it is a strange feeling.
The next evening, as he is stalking Joseph Buquet through the flies, he takes a brief moment to catch a glimpse of Little Giry, dancing in a white dress with flowers in her hair. Not a trace of the previous night's woe shows on her face. It was not trivial. No one weeps like that over something trivial, unless they are very silly, and he doesn't think she is. He has seen her with Christine. He supposes, therefore, that either it has resolved itself, or she is a better actress than anyone suspects.
He is waiting to die. The mob and the fortune-seekers finally got tired of looking for him after a few days, and he gave himself over to the task of dying of a broken heart. It is, apparently, harder than he would have expected, because three weeks have passed and he is still very unfortunately alive.
He hoped visiting the roof would bring him some solace, but it does not. She is there again.
That night, that awful night when his angel ran away and left him with nothing but the taste of her lips on his, he saw her there. She was the first down below, the first seeking to rescue Christine. He supposes that was brave of her, upon reflection. Who would have thought? Little Meg Giry ready to plunge into hell for the sake of a friend...
Tonight, she is perched on the parapet, the taffeta fountain of her skirt spilling out into the open air below. She does not clutch at the stonework to support herself, and she does not seem to be afraid of falling. Her eyes are dry, no tears now, but there is a strange wildness in her face that intrigues him. It is as if her body is there, but her soul has flown far away. Where does she go? he wonders. Where does her mind take her away to? And he wonders then why. What has she to fly from?
He watches her for some minutes. Then he makes the decision. He isn't sure why. Maybe he feels like there is something the same between them. He doesn't know what that could possibly be, because she is as unlike him as a person can be, but he sees her in his mind now. He sees her that night in her stable-boy's costume and shining in the dark like a fearless conquering heroine; he sees her dancing graceful as an angel with the lifeless eyes of an automaton; he sees her that night, leaning on the parapet with silent tears pouring from her eyes. He does not understand why she is now so fascinating to him, but he doesn't need to. He's never been particularly rational, anyway.
"Little Giry, what are you doing out so late?" he whispers, sending his voice in such a way so that it appears to emanate from the huge bronze gargoyle that graces the corner of the balustrade. How fitting...
She surprises him. She only throws the briefest glance at the gargoyle before her eyes dart around the darkened roof. She cannot see him. He knows this. Though he can see clearly in the dark, the stars do not provide enough light for her unaccustomed eyes to pick him out of the shadows where he hides. "Where are you?" she asks.
"Do you really think I would tell you?"
Her eyebrows raise and she inclines her head slightly in acknowledgement.
"Do you know who I am?" he wonders aloud, this time sending his voice from another direction, hoping to disorient her.
"You are the Phantom," she says. "But that's not what you really are, is it?"
It is his turn to remain silent. Meg swings her legs around to the safe side of the parapet at last, and he feels as though he has done something good. The faraway look is gone, and now she is all here. More's the pity.
"Christine thought you were an angel. The other girls think you're a ghost. Messieurs Andre and Firmin think you're some kind of monster, and so do a lot of other people. You're not any of those things, though. Maman knows. She won't talk to me about it, even now, but she knows, and I've guessed. I've been watching you for a long time."
"No one sees me if I don't want them to," he says, affronted. Her assured tone annoys him, and she does not seem as perturbed by his voice dancing around her from every direction as he would have hoped. At best, it momentarily unsettles her where he had hoped to have her as bewildered as Christine was sometimes.
A bitter little smile crosses her face. "Then I must be no one," she says. "because it's only just little glimpses, but I've seen you. The other girls don't think to look up, but I do. I am afraid of you, or at least I've been taught to think I'm afraid. But Christine told me enough that I don't think I actually really am. I think it's all smoke and mirrors and... oh, I'm talking nonsense."
He wants to smash something every time Christine's name crosses her lips. It is a bitter torment. He wants to shake her, startle her, unnerve her as much as she's unsettling him. "You cried on the rooftop the night before we performed il Muto," he says bluntly.
Those piercing eyes widen. "How did you-? Oh. Of course. You were here then, too?"
She bites her lip and glances away. He takes this as victory. He has shaken her, at least a little.
"Why did you cry that night?"
"Because before O.G. issued his demands and the casting was shuffled about just to spite him, I was meant to be singing Amelie."
Il Muto was to be her debut. Pieces fall into place. The careful distance she kept from her mother in recent years... the hours she spent closeted with M. Renoit, the musical director... the silent tears when her dearly-bought role was snatched out of her hands just when she thought she would achieve her dreams... Meg Giry was a slave to her mother's reverse nepotism and a life as a dancer she did not want. She had no desire for the destiny she was given, was trying to break out and create one on her own terms. She was trapped and alone and screaming for something else, somewhere else, to be someone else, and just when it had been within her grasp, it had slipped away.
He hadn't known he still had a heart left to break (hadn't Christine taken it away with her?), but in that moment he discovers he does. And it does break a little, because though he is not used to feeling any kind of compassion, he knows just what she felt that night. He too has been alone in the darkness, begging just for the chance to change his fate.
That night is the beginning of the strangest friendship Erik has ever experienced. He has not had many friends, if he has had any. Perhaps Madame counts, except on reflection he doesn't think she does. The little Persian boy who slipped him sweets through the bars of the cage when the fair traveled east so many years ago might, though. Meg, though...
He does not know what to make of her. She is a fairly bright girl. Not on his level by any measure, not even close, but she's clever. She is afraid of him, whatever she claims... at least, at first. As time goes by, he begins to wonder whether it's still true. She knows more about him than he's comfortable with, thanks to Christine's confidences, but still she has told him things about her own self no one else knows. He doesn't know why. He isn't sure he likes knowing her so well, better than he knew Christine. It feels like a betrayal... at least, at first.
Meg is also an interesting mixture of dark and light. He never imagined it was possible to be a part of the world, and still be lonely, but incredibly she is. Her mother is a good woman, but ever since Madame's husband died when Meg was just tiny, she has been distant and anyway she lavished all the affection she was capable of giving on Christine. The other men and women in the corps de ballet distrust her, suspecting her of being the recipient of nepotism, but really Madame has fought long and hard to keep Meg back and everything she has achieved has been in spite of her mother, not because of her. But the simple fact of her connection has set her a world apart from the others, though they don't hesitate to draw on her giving nature in times of need. In the end, Christine was her only close friend, and with her swept away to the Chagny estate to await her marriage, Meg is left utterly alone. Everyone expects her to be one thing... and she has no desire to do it. She loves dancing, but it isn't what she has dreamed of in her heart since her childhood. It's just something she does, for all that she's an ecstatic, glorious talent (he knows, he watches). There is no joy in it for her anymore.
She has so much pain underneath her pretty face. No one would ever suspect, but he comes to know her so well that he can see the emptiness she tries to hide. Yes, she is in pain, but she uses it in a way he has never witnessed before. It does not sour her. She transforms it into something else. She feels without a purpose in life, and so she changes that into a quest to find one, and goes in search of voice lessons. She feels lonely, and so she changes that into love and compassion which she showers on the people around her, even the ones she knows whisper about her the moment she's out of the room.
They continue to meet on the roof after that first night. It isn't every night, but it is more often than not. She is usually dressed in her nightgown and he always stays in the shadows. At first he did not wear a mask because he lost his (he thinks she has it, but does not ask), and it didn't seem to matter because she couldn't see him in the dark and he was planning on dying soon, anyway. Later, he simply doesn't have the impetus to unearth a new one. And so they have their conversations in the dark, and after some time he quits throwing his voice around from all over the place so that, though she cannot see him, she can guess where he is. She respects him enough not to try to approach.
Sometimes she sings. Her voice is fine, and he understands immediately why she was given the role of Amelie (even if she did not perform in the end). He is not teaching her, he decides. He is just... giving her a few pointers. That's all. She improves, and when the company performs La Cenerentola she is given the role of Clorinda (she should have been Angelina, but the new diva is as pushy as Carlotta ever was, and would never have let it go by if she had been demoted in place of a common chorus girl). Meg is not, will never be Christine, but she does well enough, better than many he's heard.
In this manner, three years go by and somehow he forgot that he meant to get around to dying. Meg is good at distracting him that way.
He doesn't know what he feels for her. He knows he desires her. He has always been attracted to her, who wouldn't be? She is beautiful (that frustrating word again). But lately it has been more than that. He wakes with her name on his lips, wishing she were beside him to chase away the nightmares. Perhaps he is in love again. He doesn't want to believe it, because he doesn't want to betray Christine... but on the other hand, Christine is gone. She will not care, he thinks, if he finds some tiny shred of happiness without her. Indeed, with her generous spirit, it would probably please Christine to no end if she knew he could go forward with his life (such as it is).
And so he lets himself fall.
Four years since Christine left. He is nearing forty, and Meg is twenty-two, and dear god he adores her. He will not make her the next Christine. He will not. He will be content to speak to her and be her friend and adore her from a distance, from the shadows. Maybe. He's never quite sure what he'll do, and now that his heart is once again no longer his own that goes double. He still flees into the dark the moment the sun begins to rise to ensure that Meg will never, never see him. But she, it seems, has other ideas.
"You don't need to go yet."
It is May of 1875. The sun rises earlier every day, cutting their time together shorter bit by bit. He wishes he could stay, but...
"I should leave."
He glances at the horizon. It is turning green with the first hints of sunrise. Soon he will be revealed. But Meg's word is law. She is as stubborn as her mother, perhaps even more so. And so he turns his back to her the moment it gets light enough that she might be able to pick him out.
She tries to keep the conversation going, but he is anxious and begins to respond mostly in one-word answers. After some twenty minutes of this, the rooftop is drenched in that growing, sourceless light that comes in the minutes before dawn when everything is hazy but bright nonetheless. He hates it, feels exposed and defenseless. And then the command comes.
"Erik, won't you look at me?"
No, dear god, no... But she's got that tone in her voice, the one he's pretty sure she guesses how impossible he finds it to refuse...
She lets out a noise that isn't quite a yelp and it isn't quite a gasp, and she claps a hand over her mouth as tears fill her eyes. He is hideous and she finally understands that, and this, his only connection to his own humanity, is over. His heart shatters and he turns to flee, to bury himself beneath the earth forever and ever until he really does die this time...
...but a hand grabs at his elbow, fingers digging into the fabric of his coat and holding him there. He tries to pull away, but she won't let him go, and suddenly he registers her voice, pleading with him to stay, to just wait a moment and listen to her.
He turns back to her, his hideousness carefully concealed behind his right hand.
The look on her face is complex, and impossible to interpret. She reaches up with one trembling hand and prises his fingers away from his face. He lets her, because all the strength has gone out of him. He is just so tired. He cannot fight his fate anymore. For a tiny eternity, they just stare at each other.
"I'm sorry I screamed," she says. "It caught me by surprise... I haven't seen you properly in so long."
"Fairly typical reaction," he mutters, feeling weak. His right hand is still caught in her left.
"Then I'm doubly sorry. I had hoped I was better than that." Her sweet blue eyes are so sad. He can't fathom why. "Oh Erik..." She sighs and looks away for a moment, before bravely looking right at him once again. "I won't lie and say it doesn't bother me. But in the end it's only a face. There's more to a person than what they look like."
He lets out a cynical, bitter chuckle. "Yes, and the rest of me isn't all that charming, either."
"Well, I'm quite fond of you," she says frankly.
He looks at her incredulously.
"I mean it," she insists. Then she shakes her head, laughing a little. "I hadn't intended to tell you quite like this, but now is as fair a time as any. Erik I... I've fallen in love with you."
Words fail him entirely. She smiles shyly at him and releases his hand to reach up and place her hand on his twisted, deformed cheek. He lets her, and he stares at her and something in those eyes says what she claims is true. He is loved for himself.
With a sob, he reaches for her and draws her to him. He kisses her fiercely and then wraps his arms around her, reveling in the feel of her warmth against him and he whispers to her how much he adores her, how she is the only thing that kept him alive these past years, how he cannot be without her anymore.
"I won't leave," she promises him quietly.
He believes her. He is loved for himself.