Title- Little Secret-Keeper
Characters/Pairings- primarily E/M with snatches of (onesided) E/C and R/C
Summary- Five times Meg Giry didn't kiss the Phantom of the Opera... and one time she did. E/M, because did you really expect anything else from me?
A/N- The AU will hopefully explain itself, but just to make absolutely sure you're not completely lost, the first part takes place pretty far pre-POTO. I'm not too happy with how this turned out, but I really, really needed to write some fluffy stuff and a Meg-actually-goes-with-Raoul-to-the-cellars scene, and it seems a shame to waste all the effort so... hopefully someone will enjoy my fluffy nonsense.
It was not a pleasant day. The sky was full of boiling gray clouds leaning towards a sickening mauve, hinting at a coming storm and the first spitting drops of rain were beginning to fall as the grave-diggers shoveled earth on top of the coffin.
Meg had been far too young when Jules Giry died to recall his funeral. Now though, she was fourteen and sure this day would be seared into her memory until the day she died. She felt chilled to the core, and she couldn't even cry. She wanted to, but every time she thought about it she knew she wasn't free to break down until she was alone.
Her fellow mourners were trickling away from the graveside, but two still remained with her. Sorelli laid a warm hand on Meg's shoulder.
"It's time to go, Marguerite," the prima ballerina said gently.
Meg bit her lip and shook her head.
The tall woman smiled sadly at her. "I know how much you miss her. I do too. Your mother was an inspiration to me when I was just starting in the corps, and one of the dearest friends I've ever had. But we have to go. It's going to rain."
"I want to stay with her for awhile," Meg said stubbornly. "Take Christine home. I won't be too long. I just... please."
She felt the tears welling up in her eyes and clamped down harder than ever on her quivering lower lip as she shot a glance at the curly-haired girl standing sadly by Sorelli's side. Christine had been inconsolable since Antoinette Giry had departed from this earth three days before. Meg supposed it must be hard for her. Antoinette had been like an adopted mother to her dear friend, and Christine had never dealt well with grief. No, she would not cry while Christine could see her. She had to be strong for her sister's sake.
Something in her face must have convinced Sorelli that she needed this, because she placed her hand at Christine's back. "Come along dear," she murmured, and guided the young girl away.
Once they had disappeared into the misting rain, Meg turned away and stared at the mound of earth that covered all that remained of her mother. She was utterly alone, the grave-diggers having departed while she was arguing with Sorelli. Or perhaps not so alone. Almost out of sight in the poor light, half-concealed behind a twisted old willow, a figure waited.
"Erik?" she called tentatively.
He emerged from the darkness, cape swirling around him, the white gleam of his mask almost hidden by the low brim of his fedora.
"How did you guess?" he asked. His voice was melodic even when he was speaking normally.
They stood shoulder to shoulder, not looking at each other, both pairs of eyes fixed on the marble headstone. "Maman told me everything," she explained. "The night she died, she sent everyone from the room and called me in... she told me how you two met." Feeling him stiffen beside her, she smiled bitterly. "She also said you wouldn't be happy about someone else knowing. But she... she wanted to make sure there was someone looking after you."
He was silent. Curiously, she glanced up at him, and saw that a tear had run down his left cheek. Acting on impulse, she reached out and took his hand. He started at the contact... but did not pull away. Meg let her own tears fall, and together they stood there, holding hands in the rain, silently mourning the woman who had sheltered them both for so long.
Meg had a feeling she should not have intervened when Carlotta walked out. Let them cancel the gala, it would give these new managers a baptism by fire in just how much power Erik held over this opera house (and how much it could benefit them if they just followed his rather excellent advice). She just had to open her stupid mouth and suggest Christine as a replacement. She probably should have suggested herself instead. She did not have the heavenly voice Christine had developed under Erik's instruction, but she was still a damn fine singer, better than many she'd seen come and go over the years for all that she was still young and her voice hadn't matured.
But no, she had done the stupid thing and hurled Christine into the spotlight. And now she was missing, and Meg had a very strong hunch about just where she'd gone.
Pushing back the false mirror in the prima donna's dressing room, Meg had resolved that she and Erik were going to have a good long talk about his continued associations with her best friend. She hadn't taken him to task for it before because Christine really did seem happier as her voice was unlocked more and more, but her little talk with Christine in the chapel earlier in the evening had convinced her that it wasn't healthy for either of the people involved.
"Where is she?" she demanded upon storming into Erik's music room.
He was hunched over the organ scribbling furiously, most undoubtedly composing and she knew her interruption would infuriate him but frankly she didn't much care. He looked up, murder in his eyes, an expression that softened slightly when he recognized her. "What are you doing here?" he growled.
"You heard me, Erik," she said firmly, crossing her arms across her chest. "Where is Christine?"
His eyes flitted to the bedroom and his expression went soft. "She fainted," he said. There was a note of wonder and worship in his voice and in his eyes that she couldn't recall seeing there before. Meg felt a flare of... something. She didn't want to know what. At the same time, she realized beyond any doubt that Erik would never intentionally hurt her friend. Christine, on the other hand, she couldn't be sure about.
"Be careful," she cautioned him, concerned for him now that her worry for her friend had been eased. "She has no idea who you are. She still honestly thinks you're the spirit of Gustave Daae."
A hurt look came over his face and was wiped away almost immediately. Anyone who didn't know him as well as she liked to think she did would never have seen it. "That's not true," he said angrily. "What we share... it's special. It's not something you could possibly understand."
"I just don't want to see you hurt," Meg replied softly. "Have her back before morning, won't you?"
She turned and walked away, resolving not to speak to him until he quit being so... so... she didn't know what.
Easier said than done, she thought bitterly.
The image of Joseph Buquet's twitching corpse was seared into the back of her eyeballs, and Erik was not in his caves. Meg had a mind to speak with him about what he had just done, the idiot! And he had the unmitigated nerve not to be where he ought to be when she wanted to have words with him!
If he wasn't here, he was undoubtedly following Christine somewhere. She wracked her brain, and vaguely recalled seeing Christine and her Vicomte fleeing toward the stairs to the roof while she was on her determined way to the passageway behind the dormitory wall. Well, it was a start at least.
Sure enough, she passed Christine and the Vicomte on their way inside; they had been on the balcony, it seemed, and they paused on the stairs to exchange a kiss. She melted into the shadows and they passed right by without seeing her. It was a trick she had learned from Erik and her mother. A stab of muted wistfulness passed through her suddenly at the thought of Antoinette Giry.
Stepping out onto the roof, she at first couldn't see anyone but... there! Huddled in the shadows cast by the huge bronze figure of Apollo's lyre, a deeper shadow lay. The soft sound of his sobbing reached her ears, and her heart broke for him.
"Oh Erik," she breathed.
She had meant to tell him off for killing Buquet, but at the sight of his shoulders shaking with unrestrained grief, all her anger dissipated. She flew across the snowy roof to his side. "What's happened?" she asked, laying a hand on his shoulder. "What is it?"
He wrenched away from her touch. "Get away from me!" he shrieked at her, face livid and eyes heartbroken.
"Erik, what's wrong?" she pleaded, though she felt she could guess.
"I want nothing to do with you! No, nor any other woman either! Christine would have her precious blue-blooded Vicomte before her Angel of Music. Well so be it! It shall be war upon them both!" Meg tried to reach out to him, but he knocked her hand away. "And you, you interfering little rat!" he cried. "Always poking around and getting in the middle of everything! Your mother was never like this, she always left well enough alone, but you! You won't leave me alone!"
He wrenched away from her and disappeared into the dark.
"I thought you didn't want to be alone," she said forlornly to the empty rooftop, wondering why her heart hurt.
He was magnificent.
Oh dear god.
Erik always made a habit of dressing impeccably, but this...! She knew the ironic significance of his costume and resolved to tell him so later. She hadn't spoken to him since the night of il Muto, had been determined this time to give him a taste of real loneliness, but seeing him again now wrecked her resolution.
He moved down the stairs, a lion on the prowl, the Red Death come to call on their revelry, proud and menacing and regal and every inch the Phantom. The deadly glitter in his eyes intrigued her and entranced her... and those eyes were, as usual, only for Christine.
But Meg didn't have time to work out why that made her stomach turn up in knots. She had a foolish Vicomte to rescue.
He had given her a role. He had specifically requested her to sing Cesarino. She didn't care that it was a trouser role. Erik wanted her to sing his music. Oh, she knew this was all for Christine. She understood that. But he had given her a role. Whatever rift had been sundered between them in the months since Christine's triumph in Hannibal, he still thought her good enough to perform his work.
She danced her piece in the prologue, because even though she was singing now she was also still the prima ballerina, an honor that had been conferred on her not even two months earlier. Then she rushed backstage to change, pulling on the white blouse and trousers that would match Piangi's costume, symbolizing Cesarino's role as Don Juan's rival for Aminta's affections. As she was moving to fasten her crucifix pendant around her neck, though, she heard it.
She had never heard him sing before, but it could not possibly be anyone else. That rich tenor, with the power and depth of a baritone and so beautifully sweet it brought tears to her eyes... that was Erik. No one in the history of the world had ever sung like that, she thought, the necklace slipping from her suddenly nerveless fingers.
Meg did not retrieve it, instead sprinting to the wings to catch a glimpse of what was happening.
Erik and Christine were entwined onstage, she pressed into his embrace and he caressing her torso, her arms, her throat... Meg felt those beautiful hands as if they were on her own body, and fire erupted through her, the spell his voice had woven in her spirit taking hold. Jealousy exploded inside her as she heard Erik suddenly inventing a new melody full of beautiful, pleading words, begging Christine just to love him, and in that second she knew.
She didn't have time to dwell on the revelation, because as if in slow motion she saw Christine's hand rise to caress his cheek, fiddling with the edge of his mask, and she knew what was about to happen. She knew. She wanted to cry out to stop it. She wanted to throw herself onstage to shield him from the hurt her best friend was about to inflict on him. But she was too late. Her scream of "No!" was just a second too late to change a thing, and was lost in the chorus of shrieks from the audience.
From where she was standing, Meg had a clear view, both of the deformity that had been Erik's curse for so long and of the look of disappointment, betrayal, and agony that twisted his expression. She would have given anything to turn back time.
And one time she did...
"Where has he taken her?" Raoul de Chagny demanded, and she regretted taking him into her confidence after the masquerade. She couldn't afford the delay, not now.
"Come with me," she sighed. "And for god's sake, try to keep up!"
She was half-tempted to show him the passage behind the mirror, quite possibly the longest and least dangerous way down to Erik's home, but didn't have the time for such a delay. Instead, she sprinted to the hidden stairwell concealed behind a false wall on the ground floor, the Vicomte hot on her heels. It was the fastest possible way down to the vaults. She guided him safely down, careful to warn him away from the places she knew contained traps.
It took them a solid twenty minutes to reach the concealed gateway to Erik's home, and of course the gondola was gone. They had been forced to wade through the lake. The Vicomte was soaked to the knee, Meg to the waist, and she was not happy in the slightest, burning with a fierce combination of conflicting emotions.
"Erik!" she shouted. "Dammit, Erik! I know you're in there, so open this damn gate!"
He emerged from behind a curtain that had concealed him momentarily from view, and suddenly she saw Christine standing at the top of the stone stairs, dressed in that infernal wedding gown.
"Meg! Raoul!" she cried, looking nearly hysterical.
"Christine, it will be alright," Meg said. She was careful to keep her hand at the level of her eyes, aware of just how desperate Erik was and quite certain that he wouldn't hesitate to kill even her if provoked.
"Let me see her!" Raoul called from behind her, and she rolled her eyes. He sounded nearly as distraught as Christine. It wasn't that she wasn't emotional and confused too, but the only way any of them were going to get out of this with their sanity and lives intact was to remain calm! Her mother had taught her that. She was Antoinette Giry's daughter, and strength in the face of adversity was her legacy. She would uphold that legacy.
Erik obliged the Vicomte and opened the gate. "You should not have brought him here, Marguerite," he said, and from the tone of his voice, Meg suddenly realized she was the only person here who was maintaining any shred of clear thinking. Erik was heartbroken and desperate. Christine was terrified and desperate. Raoul was panicked and desperate. Above them the opera house was in flames, and she was the only one keeping her head.
"Yes, well, if it had been up to me he'd have stayed aboveground as well," she said brusquely, "But he's very persistent in his desire to protect Christine."
"You think I'd harm her?" he scoffed. "Why should I make her pay for their sins?"
"I know you wouldn't hurt her," Meg said. "But good god, Erik, it didn't have to come to this! I told you! I warned you that you were going to get your heart broken and you wouldn't listen to me!"
Christine was staring at her with wide eyes. "You... you know him, Meg? All those years, believing he was the Angel of Music, why didn't you tell me?"
"I tried, Christine," Meg sighed.
While Christine had kept her attention, Erik had worked around behind her to where the Vicomte was gaping at the tableau before him heedless of the danger, and before Meg could react, a rope was around his neck. Christine screamed and Meg felt her heart stop, thinking it was the end for poor Raoul, but Erik instead tied him to the grate and turned to Christine.
"Start a new life with me or send your lover to his death!" he cried. "This is the choice! This is the point of no return!"
Christine now had tears pouring from her eyes, standing helplessly on the shore. Meg stared between them, suddenly not nearly as calm as she had been. Erik made for the shore, no doubt to retrieve the instruments to carry out his threat.
Meg, though, was having none of this. God dammit, she had been charged on her mother's death bed to take care of Erik. She had done a pretty poor job, given the situation, but maybe she could still salvage this... She threw herself in front of him and pushed him back. "Erik, stop!" she cried. "Don't you dare take one more step!"
"Get out of my way, Meg," he growled.
"No! I will not! You've been behaving like an idiot for months and I let it go because I thought maybe you'd see it on your own, but this stops now!"
"Why you-!" he started, raising a hand to strike her, but she stared up at him defiantly, blue eyes narrowed.
"You wouldn't dare," she hissed at him.
Erik hesitated for a tiny eternity, hand still raised.
"I thought not," she said smugly. "Erik, you cannot do this!"
"I have to!" he exclaimed. "I have to! I am finally loved for myself!"
Meg shook her head. "Are you really that blind? Please, Erik, I think you know the truth but you just don't want to admit it. Christine does not love you! You know that, I know you do!"
His mesmerizing emerald eyes were pleading and desperate. "No, I... I... I just wanted..."
She gave him a small smile. "I know. I understand."
"You don't understand!" he cried out, anger and despair filling his voice. "How could you possibly understand this? You were never... never..."
"Erik, even though Christine does not love you, it doesn't mean you are not loved."
The lack of understanding was so clear in his face it almost broke her heart. He really had no idea. Then again, until recently neither had she. She smiled at him, knowing there was only one way to make him understand. She stood up on tiptoe, the only way she could possibly reach him with his tremendous height, and pressed her lips to his. She had never done this and neither had he, and she was feeling her way on instinct, but as far as she was concerned it was perfect, circumstance be damned. Her hand landed on his shoulder to help her keep her balance, which suddenly seemed to have deserted her as the taste of him filled her entire awareness.
It might have lasted a minute or an hour, she didn't know or care. She was only really aware of the feel of his lips against hers, the steady rhythm of his heart keeping time with her own racing pulse, the beautiful reality of him held close to her the way she had been wanting for so long, only she'd never even realized just how much until tonight... She sighed against his lips, breaking the kiss softly.
The confusion in his eyes was heartbreakingly beautiful. She smiled at him.
"What...? Meg... I-I don't..."
She reached up and caressed the deformed side of his face gently. "I love you, you idiotic man," she said.
Seeing the question in his eyes, she correctly interpreted it. "I think I have since that day in the rain so many years ago... only I was too stupid to see it until you started pushing me away," she explained.
Tears filled his eyes. "I..." He couldn't even speak as a sob welled up and choked him, his face crumpling in on itself in the only outlet he had for such overwhelming emotion. Unhesitatingly, Meg pulled him into a tight embrace, holding her to him and tentatively he placed his arms around her as well. She buried her fingers in his hair and rested her chin on his shoulder, feeling him cling to her in response. Meg could hardly breathe around her racing heart. Even if this didn't work, even if it all came crashing down around her ears, it would have been worth it and she was happy.
"I never knew," he whispered.
"Neither did I," she said. "There was always some distraction, but I see it now. I know I'm not her, but I love you and I'm not going anywhere so please... won't you let them go?"
He moved away from her, tears still pouring silently down his face, and turned to Christine, who had been silently untying Raoul while they had both been distracted. "Go," he said. "Take the boat and swear to me you'll never tell my secrets to another soul!"
Christine nodded. "I swear," she said.
The Vicomte gave her an incredulous look, but she squeezed his hand and he calmed, leading her toward the little black gondola that sat a few feet away in the shallow water.
"Meg?" Christine asked as Raoul helped her in.
She was suddenly so very aware of Erik's eyes on her. "I'm not coming," she informed Christine. Her friend's face filled with panic. "Don't worry," Meg rushed to reassure her. "It's not goodbye. But how could I leave when I've just found what I was looking for all this time?"
Christine knew her well enough to understand when her mind was made up and she and the Vicomte poled away in the little boat, vanishing swiftly from sight as Meg turned back to Erik, who was gazing at her with stunned wonder on his face.
"You love me?" he breathed. "Why? How can you possibly love me?"
Meg shrugged. "I just do." She reached out and took his hand, mirroring a gesture she had made during their first meeting so many years ago. "When Maman died, she told me she regretted being just your secret-keeper and not your friend as well, and I promised her and myself that I wouldn't make the same mistake. Didn't you ever wonder why I was so persistent in coming down here, even when you told me repeatedly to stay away? And somewhere along the way I just fell in love with you."
He reached out a trembling hand and brushed his fingers across her cheek. "Doesn't make any sense," he said.
"Love rarely does. Sometimes you scare the living daylights out of me with the things you do, but I don't care. I love you, flaws and all and I wouldn't have you any other way. If you believe nothing else, please believe that. I know you love Christine and you don't love me, but I'll stand by you," she informed him. Her heart was beating wildly in her chest, and she was in complete shock that she was finding the courage to say such things to him, especially when she had only really realized just how she felt not so long ago. At the same time, though, what she said was true and her love for him seemed so right, as if it were simply how it were meant to be. Meg and Erik. "I hate that you've been so alone for so long. I'll stay with you for as long as you want me to stay."
Erik gave her a hesitant smile. "I think..." he began slowly. "I think I could learn to love you."
"That would be preferable," she said wryly.
Tentatively, he leaned down and kissed her briefly, sweetly on the lips. Meg smiled at him, feeling more home than she had in five years, and squeezed the hand she still held tightly in her own. "Now what?" she asked.
He looked around. "Now we leave," he said. "I seem to have upset a rather large amount of people and although I imagine it will take them some time to find their way down here-"
"It would be best not to be lingering here once they do?"
Meg shook her head. "Yes, that's what tends to happen when you set a full opera house on fire- which, by the way, we will be having a discussion about when I'm not in such a good mood."
"I look forward to it," he said ironically, smirking at her, mood mercurial as always.
Meg grinned, enjoying the little flutter he awoke in the pit of her stomach. Yes, she had a feeling this would work out admirably.