Chapter 1 The tunnel
Her footsteps echoed through the dark tunnel as she made her way towards the man who had just destroyed the only home she had really known. With one hand gripping firmly the bag her mother had given her, she walked slowly trying to listen above the muffled sounds of the mob to see if she could hear anything.
Meg didn't knew exactly what she was going to say to him, as she had never crossed a single word with him, only once, but it wasn't a real conversation, it was just them alone looking into each other's eyes for a long time before he vanished as quickly as he came. It had been a few years ago, when she was about 16 years old.
Her father had been ill for a long period of time, and although she knew that a goodbye was close, she chose to ignore it until she faced the reality. The night her father passed away was a blur in her mind, for she had isolated herself after holding his hands one last time. For months she had been nothing more than just a shadow in the Opera Populaire's corridors, tears fell down her face almost everyday. Her mother had tried to put her back together, failing miserably each time. But one day everything changed.
She was in the chapel one day when sadness seemed stronger than ever. She tried saying a prayer for her dear Papa, praying that wherever he was, certainly in heaven, he was all right and happy. Suddenly she let her walls crumble and cried, cried all the tears she had been hiding, for she had been trying to be strong for her mother. When she felt like all the pain was fading away, something changed in the room. She turned her face slightly to see the shadow of a man standing behind her.
At first she thought it was only her imagination playing games, but when the man took a step forward, recognition dawned in her. He was a tall, muscular man, his thick black hair combed perfectly, but what caught her interest was the white mask that covered half his face. No doubt was left within her; she knew that the man in front of her was none other than the Opera Ghost himself. She hesitantly looked up into his eyes, her own eyes still red and watery from the tears she had shed. No words were needed, for she knew by looking deep into his dazzling green eyes that he wouldn't harm her. He then came closer and as he reached towards one candle she could smell the faint scent of roses and candle wax, a scent purely masculine. She watched him curiously for what he was doing, until he lit up a candle in front of her father's picture. She felt a lump in her throat as she tried to fight back the tears that were starting to form again in her eyes.
He then knelt beside her and looked deep into her chocolate eyes. Slowly, he stretched a hesitant hand towards her and brushed away the tears that had begun to fall down without her noticing it. She closed her eyes at the almost imperceptible caress, and then, without any warning, he was gone.
So now, she was going in pursuit of the very man who had comforted her in a very odd way. Her mother, Antoinette Giry, had stopped her in her attempt of accompany her mother and the Vicomte below the Opera house, but before anyone could notice it, her mother returned quickly to her and gave her rushed instructions of what she must do should things ended up in a bad way. She had ordered her to go to her office and take their house key, together with a bag she had hidden in an alcove behind a portrait hanging on the wall. Once she had everything, she was to go down to his lair, find him and take him to their little house for the night. Then, before dawn, they would flee Paris and go to another city, another town, even another country, it all depended on the train station's schedule.
Well, things had ended up badly and there she was, in persuit of the Phantom of the Opera himself.
She was afraid that he would refuse and send her back to the surface, or worse, what if he believed that it was pity and not an act of kindness? After all he had suffered, she was praying that he could really see her true intentions: save him from an imminent death.
She kept walking silently trying to catch a glimpse of anything, but apparently the man was silent as a ghost, no wonder why he had been called a ghost after all this time. Suddenly she caught the faint scent of roses and candle wax. Her heart leapt with excitement as she knew he must be close to her now. She began to take longer steps until she was almost running forward. But then, she felt her ankle twist in a strange angle and a jolt of terrible pain assaulted her whole foot. Without wanting to, she let a painful cry burst form her mouth and collapsed to the floor, throwing her hands forward to stop her face from smashing into the cold damp floor.
She twisted herself stretching her leg and sore ankle in front of her. Trying to adjust her eyes to the consuming darkness, she then realized that she had fallen into a trap. Her mother had warned her about his traps, but in the excitement she had forgotten all about it. Oh how foolish she was! She closed her eyes and bit her lower lip trying to control the sobs that were threatening to come out. Suddenly, she felt a presence behind her. He is here, she thought.
Slowly, she turned her head a little bit to catch a glimpse of him. He was exactly as she remembered him, tall and imposing, even without his mask. His face hadn't scared her, for, who was she to judge people? She believed in something called inner beauty, and she knew he was beautiful on the inside, though the darkness and hate of life had caged all love in the depths of his heart. And besides, she thought he wasn't horrifying, he was a little handsome to be honest.
Slowly he came closer and she felt her heart pound loudly. He towered over her and then bent his head a little closer to her.
"What, may I ask, are you doing here, mademoiselle?" his voice was a deep whisper in the silence of the tunnel, but he still managed to sound threatening.
"Monsieur, please we need to go-" her sentence was cut when a sharp stab of pain jolted up her leg as she tried to stand up.
Erik blinked in surprise as he recognized whose voice was; he came closer to confirm his suspects of who she was.
"Marguerite Giry, what are you doing here?" he asked in surprise "You must go back to your mother"
"But she sent me here, Monsieur! She was the one-" she tried to go back on her feet, but the pain was too strong and she collapsed again.
Suddenly she felt a strong pair of arms catch her before falling to the ground. She looked up into his eyes with a pained expression. He slowly sat her down into the damp floor and knelt beside her. He then leaned towards her foot and stopped to look at her.
"May I?" he asked raising an eyebrow. She nodded and then with extreme gentleness, he slid the boot off of her throbbing ankle. When her foot was free she let a hiss scape her lips.
"It seems like you have fallen into one of my traps, Mademoiselle" he said with a soft chuckle.
"Well, we have no time for that, we need to go, and quickly" she answered trying to stand up again.
"Your ankle is slightly injured, so you cannot go anywhere" he extended his hand to softly touch her ankle and she gripped his wrist as pain jolted up again.
Then, they heard it. The muffled sound of shouts coming from the entrance of the tunnel. The mob had found his escape. She gripped his wrist even more tightly and looked up at him with horror in her eyes.
"Please Erik, we need to go," she saw surprise in his eyes when she pronounced his name "Maman has a plan for you, for us"
He seemed like he was fighting an inner battle with himself "Well…I cannot leave you here all alone"
She smiled brightly and pushed herself up, just to be stopped by his hands pushing her down once more.
"You can't walk at this exact moment," he said as if it was an obvious fact. He then came a bit closer to her "May I?"
She gave a simple nod and then she was scooped up into his arms easily. Instinctively, she wrapped her trembling arms around his neck and let him guide them both towards the exit. The feeling of the solid wall of his chest was unfamiliar to her, and she even found comfort for a brief lapse of time. He walked with grace, carrying her like she weighed nothing. Soon, she caught a glimpse of the moonlight and a wave of fresh air hit her face. They were at the Opera stables'.
He gently sat her down on a pile of hay, while he turned around and silently disappeared to retrieve his own horse. He then came out of the stable with a black horse behind him.
"Cesar, this is Meg; she will be accompanying us tonight." said politely Erik as he approached Meg.
"Hi there, Cesar" greeted Meg lifting one hand to carress the stalion's long neck. Cesar nuzzled first Erik and then turned to do the same with Meg.
A giggle of surprise left Meg's lips "He's so soft"
Erik observed as Meg carressed his horse, surprised at how young she looked. Suddenly, the sound of breaking glass brought them back to reality.
He quickly settled the horse in front of her and picked her up again in his arms. He set her gently in the saddle, quickly leaping up himself to sit behind her. She felt his arms enclose her tiny frame and she put her hands on the pommel for support. He held the reins of the horse and with a flick of the reins, the horse galloped out of the stable. Waves of cold air hit her face and all her body; suddenly she realized that she had forgotten to take a coat for her own. After a few moments, she was already shivering. Erik took notice of it and despite his attempt of trying to not shiver, he came closer to her.
She tensed, but in an instant relaxed, thankful for the little heat his body was providing her. He tried to ignore the feeling of her tiny body pressed against his and bent to her ear.
"Where to?" he asked, suddenly intoxicated by the delicious fragrance of her hair. Was it lilies? Or maybe…
"My house," she answered turning slightly to him.
He was confused, so confused. What was this girl doing trying to find him? Her mother had sent her? Definitely sounded like something Antoinette would do. He could not deny his great surprise when he discovered who had fallen into one of his traps. In the brief time they had shared, he could say with total security with total assurance that she was as stubborn as her mother. Also, he couldn't ignore the fact that she was beautiful too.
But why was she with him and not comforting her best friend? He stared at her with confusion, trying to find out what was going through her mind. She then turned her head slightly towards him and gave him a warm smile.
"Does it hurt?" he asked, knowing that she had fallen in a very painful trap.
"I'll only know when I'm on my feet" she answered, with a soft giggle that made his stomach give a flip.
What a strange girl Marguerite Giry was.
"How do you know my name?" he inquired, trying to keep a civil conversation while they rode toward their humble house.
"Maman told me before she left, she thought you might trust me a little more if I knew your name, it's really beautiful, you should use it more." Her answer left him shocked, no one had ever said that anything about him was beautiful, anything.
They rode a few minutes in comfortable silence before the Giry's house came into view. It was a modest little house of two floors, with a wooden gate. Erik moved Cesar until he was close to a little stable near to the house. He then jumped off Cesar's back and turned to help Meg come down. He placed his hands on her waist and she gripped his shoulders. He stared down at her as her feet touch the ground, but in the moment she tried to put weigh in her ankle she winced in pain and began to fall down.
Erik caught her and scooped her up swiftly as he began walking towards the door.
"It seems like you cannot walk properly" he said as he extended his hand and turned the doorknob. Surprisingly, it was open. Erik carried her in and stared at the simple living room with one sofa and a couple of rocking chairs beside it.
"My room is on the second floor, so you can leave me here, the sofa is very comfortable-" but before she could say anything more, he began walking up the stairs.
"Which one?" he asked, eyeing the three doors.
"The left one."
Gently he opened the door and entered to her room.
She felt herself blush at the fact that he was entering a woman's room, and she blushed even more when he laid her in her bed. He put the bag she was holding on her table and turned to face her. Suddenly he was aware too of their condition, and quickly looked away and took a few steps to the threshold.
"You can use the room to the right...is our guest room" she whispered shyly "But I think Maman always thought it would be yours, so she brought some of your clothes here"
He was shocked at the deeply warm feeling he had when he realized what Antoinette had done, he knew she was an excellent friend, but with this, he now knew that he couldn't have asked for a better friend than her. And now her daughter was helping him.
He nodded stiffly "Don't you need anything?"
She seemed a little confused and then nodded "Could you give me the gown that is in that chair?"
He walked stiffly through the room and took the gown. He extended it to her and returned to the threshold "Anything else?"
"You can have whatever you want to eat," she said with a warm smile. The corner of his mouth lifted in a half smile and nodded in response. Then he remembered why he was there.
"Wait, I need to see your ankle," he gave a hesitant step towards her bed. She grimaced as she remembered the pain she had felt when he touched her foot. But ignoring that, she nodded.
After a few minutes of him looking closely to her foot and putting a wet cloth over it, he stood up and walked to the door.
"It's nothing serious,tomorrow it should be perfectly fine," he concluded with a little smile.
"Thank goodness, because we are leaving before dawn, Erik," she said with a lace of sadness in her voice. He looked at her intently with a quizzical look.
"Where?" he asked with his deep voice.
"I don't know" was her simple answer.
She bid him goodnight and he turned around to leave. God, what was going on with her? Blushing like a silly ballet rat at a simple look. She slowly undressed herself and put her nightgown on. Slowly she laid down and closed her eyes, praying that whatever journey she was going to begin, would end up well. She prayed for strength, for her…and for him.