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Chapter 3 Healing the wounds

Meg waited patiently for her turn to buy the tickets. Erik had given her a pretty massive amount of money, explaining that she could buy tickets to wherever she wanted to go. Tapping her foot nervously against the concrete floor, she turned her head looking for him. She spotted him in a faraway corner of the station, hiding in the shadows. She felt a wave of compassion overwhelming her, why was he hiding? She could see both their bags on the floor next to one of his long muscled legs, and in one hand he gripped tightly the black case that had awakened her curiosity since they left her house. What could he be keeping locked inside that mysterious case?

She would have time to find out on the train, but now she was wondering, where would they go? Maybe she should just let fate decide and buy tickets for the first departure, or perhaps she could ask someone to choose for her. Erik had made it pretty clear that he would be happy wherever they went. So he let Meg decide. But… where did she wanted to go? A big city, a faraway town, a mysterious old village…

"Excuse me, mademoiselle?" a small robust man coughed slightly, motioning her to move forward.

Looking frantically at the board with departures, the name of a place made something inside of her tremble with excitement. She knew Erik was a very intelligent man, but all his knowledge had come from books. He had never experienced living it. What better place to go than a place full of history? One of the most beautiful cities in Italy and center of Italian Renaissance.

"Two tickets to Florence, please"

According to the schedule, the travel would last at least eleven hours. Soon, Meg was seated in the bed of their cabin twisting her fingers nervously. It was a simple cabin with a sleeping compartment, which had 2 beds, and a cabinet with wash basin. In the other compartment there were two opposite banquettes and a table intended for eating the dinner their private steward would bring. Meg had bought tickets for a cabin of first class; she assumed Erik would like traveling with class on his first real "holyday", as she had decided on calling whatever journey they were taking. The beds were included, but she thought it was a waste of space, the travel was of less than one day, and all she could probably do was taking a nap, and sleeping on the banquette was a very tempting idea. It was already mid-afternoon, the train had begun moving six hours ago…which meant they still had five hours to go.

Erik had been outside the sleeping compartment for a while talking with the officers of the border agency office. He had decided to deliver both their papers for himself, and she had reluctantly accepted after a somewhat heated discussion. She could hear men's voices in the outside compartment. She gripped the bed tightly, closing her eyes and saying a silent prayer that they would be accepted into Italy quickly, she felt rather ill with just the thought of Erik beeing in contact with any kind of authority. And now he was talking with the immigration officers.

In all her life, Meg had never had to deal with situations that involved anything outside the walls of the Opera. And now she was involved with a man guilty of destroying the Populaire. Suddenly she realized the great responsibility that she had. She had made a promise, to save him, to give him the opportunity of having the life he'd always wanted to live. A lump formed in her throat when she realized that probably she would never be able to dance again in the stage of any theatre. Sure she had brought her ballet slippers, but only as a reminder of her mother and her passion…but she had never thought of dancing again.

She curled her toes inside her shoes nervously. Taking a deep breath she tried to calm herself down. She would dance again, she needed to dance again. She couldn't imagine a life without the bliss of feeling music own her and let her body move freely, creating moves that she never thought she would be able to do. She leaned her head against the wall and closed her eyes. Of course she would dance again in Florence! There would be probably loads of ballet schools where she could teach, or maybe she could find a theatre to perform. Slowly releasing the grip on the banquette, she tried to listen to the conversation of the guards with Erik.

She should have been the one dealing with them, not him. She didn't think he wasn't capable of dealing with the authorities, but maybe he needed to be unnoticed, just in case someone could recognize him from the night of Don Juan…

A soft knock on the door awakened Meg from her thoughts. She slowly stood up and opened the door. Peeking out, she looked for Erik in the compartment. But he wasn´t there "Erik?" She stepped out slowly.

"Meg, I think we have just been admitted to Italy" turning quickly around she realized Erik was seated comfortably on the banquette taking off the bandages from his face.

Meg released a heavy sigh and placed a hand over her forehead "Oh thanks God! You have no idea the fear I've had for the past five minutes!"

Erik laid down the bandages, stood up and took a step towards her "You look quite pale" he extended a hand and touched slightly her hand "And are incredibly cold too! Sit down before you faint, Meg" He guided her towards the banquette and sat with her.

"I don't faint" she mumbled, but did as she was told.

He couldn't believe it! Had Meg been that afraid that they would have been caught? Did she really care that much for him? Something deep inside of him warmed as he looked down to the shaking form of his little ballerina. He owed her a lot, practically, his life. No one had ever cared that much for him, only Antoinette, but after he turned eighteen years old, he practically started to live his own life, only needing her assistance for monetary issues. And now he was in debt to another Giry. How come this little woman had become so strong? Yes, he was thankful that he was being saved, but not by anyone, by Meg Giry.

Meg kept her gaze averted somewhere else than the eyes of Erik. Suddenly, Erik reached for her small hand wrapping it in both of his. Her hands were ice cold, adapting to the same temperature of his warm ones. Meg looked down to their intertwined hands, and then up to his gaze.

She suppressed a gasp when she stared at him directly. In his eyes she could see a lot of emotions swirling around. His eyes were the kind that gave away what he was feeling inside, revealing much more than he would have wanted to show. His light green eyes sparkled and she stared at him, waiting as he organized his thoughts.

"Meg I owe you my life, for that I swear to protect you, nothing or no one will ever harm you. You have done so much for me, much more than anyone has ever done. I will always be there for you, as you are now for me. Thank you" he gently squeezed her hand and his lips turned up in a gentle smile. Meg fought back the tears that threatened to spill from her eyes and just nodded in reply.

She had no idea what he was feeling until now. Meg wanted to be there for him always, she wanted him to have a whole new life…but for that, she knew there was something that needed to be done.

"Erik I…I know you have been through a lot all your life" she whispered while she took her hand out of his grasp. She stood up and walked to the opposite side of the compartment. She slowly leaned against the window, watching the meadow pass quickly in a blur.

He was silent, waiting for her to continue "Yes."

She kept her gaze out of the window "Two nights ago, the night of the fire…I arrived to your lair after she had left" Her back was to him and he observed as her small shoulders tensed. She was having an inner fight with herself.

Slowly, Meg turned around and faced him, taking him by surprise when he saw her eyes glistening with unshed tears "I never knew what happened, not the real story. I wish, Erik, to know the truth, not only because I believe I deserve an explanation, but because until the truth comes out, the shadows of our pasts will not let us live our future in peace"

She lifted her eyes and stared directly at him. The man staring back at her was not the Opera Ghost anymore. The defeated look in his eyes, the tired way his shoulders slumped against the wall, the slight paleness…she was now facing Erik, the real person behind the mystery, tragedy…behind the mask.

He stuttered a bit organizing his ideas "Where do I…begin?"

Meg stepped forward with trembling legs "Why Christine?"

She spoke softly, trying to calm the flood of emotions she had been feeling since they got on board. Meg seated on the opposite banquette in front of him.

Erik looked directly at her, placing his trembling hands over his thighs. He needed to do this. He knew that if he wanted to begin a new life, he needed to lay the monsters of his past to rest. Meg deserved an explanation; she had done so much for him. A fear crept over him, the fear of rejection. What if she hated him? What if she decided to return to Paris the moment they arrived? Swallowing hard, he nodded and hoped that she would understand him.

"When she arrived, I only saw a little girl with black curls who spent almost all her days in the chapel, praying and talking to her father. But one day…everything changed" he closed his eyes and let out a deep sigh "That day she decided to sing, and the moment I listened I knew she was the voice I had been looking for, the voice that would bring to life all my music. I called out her name. Suddenly she stood up and called an angel, an angel of music to be more precise. She was alone, consumed with sadness and lost…like I was. So I decided to play along"

Meg observed him for the other extreme, her face emotionless. She knew he was waiting for her to react somehow, but she decided to hide all of her emotions and just listen to him.

He shifted in his seat and continued "I began teaching her how to sing properly, she had natural talent, she just needed some directions…but I had never seen her, well not at least directly, and she had never seen me either. The day the new managers arrived I decided to play one of my little jokes on them and on La Carlotta. So when your mother offered Christine as an understudy, it was the first time I saw her. She had become a woman, and when she sang, I knew it was no longer appreciation for her what I felt" Erik felt his eyes start to tickle and fisted the material of his pants tightly to hold the tears back. He wouldn't cry, he needed to be strong, for Meg.

"What happened that night? The night she went missing?" she asked gently.

"I heard the Vicomte praising her for her beautiful voice, the voice I had created! He insisted on going out to have supper with her, she refused several times…but in the end she agreed" his voice was filled with hate, but Meg didn't know if it was towards the Vicomte or her friend "In that moment I knew it was time for us to meet each other. So I opened the mirror and guided her down to my lair. I sang to her, a song I had written specifically to express what I felt…to show her what she could have if she stayed with me…then she saw the wedding dress and fainted. I placed her on the bed an let her rest, hoping somehow that when she woke up, she would chose to stay-"

A soft knock sounded on the door, breaking the atmosphere that had invaded the little compartment. Probably it was dinner. Meg stood up and walked towards the door, feeling light-headed. When she turned around to tell Erik to go into the bedroom compartment, the door was already closing.

The steward walked into the cabin and placed the food over the table, bowed slightly and went out again. As soon as he was gone, Erik stepped out silently, watching her carefully. Meg sat down again and looked up at him "Please, sit…I believe no one else will interrupt us"

Erik did as he was told and sat down again. He knew he was getting to the hardest part of his story. But he couldn't say if Meg was angry or upset. She was doing a great job hiding what she felt.

"Go on"

"Later, she woke up and came to me. She…she caressed my face, or so I believed. No one had ever…I thought it was her way of showing acceptance…but then she took off my mask" suddenly anger rose up him "Why? Why did she have to do it? Why did she needed to know what laid behind the mask and destroy everything?" Erik looked at Meg pleadingly; she could see how hurt he was, his lips trembling slightly.

Suddenly, Meg's expression changed. Compassion and sadness appeared clearly on her face, as did confusion and desperation "Maybe…maybe the need to know what you were hiding was bigger than her, she needed the truth"

"I never knew. But the fear in her face, the way she screamed…it was all that I wanted to avoid, I never wanted to see her react that way…I thought…that she would be different…" He looked down in defeat. He had really hoped everything would be different with Christine, that she would be able to see beyond his face. But she wasn't.

And now he was saying all of this to the best friend of the woman he had loved. He was avoiding the gaze of the only person who had not feared him…who accepted him as he was.

Meg felt one lonely tear roll down her cheek and wiped it away quickly. Her heart was aching for the man in front of her. She could see the burden he was carrying on his shoulders, and was somewhat thankful that he had decided to let her inside his mind for a moment. She finally understood why Christine had acted the next days the way she did. But why? His face wasn't the one of a monster…he was a man, who's past and hate for the human world had made him the way he was.

"Would you like some tea?" she asked quietly, trying to hide all the feelings she had inside of her. He nodded, still not looking at her. She stood up and walked towards the table, lifting a cup with shaky hands. Erik stood up too, and for the first time, Meg saw the man behind the mask. She saw a man haunted by his past, asking for someone to accept him. He needed love, someone to show him that life was not dark, that there was light, still hope.

Erik took the cup and mumbled a quietly thanks before sitting again. He drank quietly and let the warm liquid spread in his body. Maybe this was what he needed…someone to listen to him. But he feared telling what happened then. He had killed, and was ashamed of that. He wanted to keep Meg's innocence, to not show her what kind of monster he was.

"Do you want to continue?" she spoke gently. He couldn't remember talking to someone that long…and to be honest, he felt slowly the burden become lighter. He nodded and put the cup on the table.

"I wrote instructions to the managers, the Vicomte, La Carlotta…simple requests. But no one would listen. That night I decided that if no one followed my instructions…I would have to do it for myself. But I wasn't counting on someone following my every move"

"Buquet" Meg whispered.

Erik clenched his fists and took a deep breath. He was ashamed of what he had done, and admitting it to a pure soul, someone who would never hurt anyone, was even more difficult. It was again the angel and the devil "Buquet followed me through the catwalk. I knew he was a drunk man who had hurt several young women of the opera, he inebriated them…he was a menace, Meg. I had tried to warn the managers, but neither of them listened…so when the opportunity came, I had to choose between killing him or wait until someone got hurt. So I killed him"

Erik looked up at Meg, waiting for screams, a glance of fear or hate. But neither of that was on her face. She stared at him with compassion "As much as I hate to admit it…I believe you did the right thing, for all of us"

He stared shocked at her "What? You…you don't think I'm a monster? I've killed, Meg!" he said loudly, looking at her expectantly. He needed to hear someone say that what he had done wasn't right, that he deserved punishment…and Meg just ignored that!

"I know killing is a sin, Erik. But Buquet was a horrible man, and he did many horrible things to the girls…we lived in fear of being the next ones…I can't judge you for that" Meg explained patiently. He looked at her surprised. This girl was full of surprises.

He shook his head and closed his eyes. There was a thick silence before she spoke again "Please, do continue"

"I followed Christine and the Vicomte to the roof top…nothing prepared me for what I was about to witness. Christine cried, and he comforted her. She said my face was…hardly a face. They both declared their love towards each other…they kissed…he proposed to her, and she said yes…and all the time I was there, watching"

Erik couldn't bear it any longer; he let his face fall into his hands and let big tears fall down from his eyes "Since that moment I never left my lair, I was writing Don Juan. It was my first ever complete opera; I tried to express everything I felt through the music. I didn't see Christine again until the night of the premiere. But I never imagined that there was a plan behind all that to capture me…everyone could see that I would fail, except for me…"

"I never knew of the Vicomte's plan, not until I heard you sing. Maman was there too, she was terrified, it was then when she began giving me instructions…but I didn't know what she was talking about…I was lost in your performance" Meg had never heard a voice as beautiful and pure as his was. When he began professing his love towards Christine, those heartbreaking words, she questioned herself if her friend had made the right decision in choosing the Vicomte.

"I truly believed Christine wanted me, for a minute I thought she would choose me…but then she ripped off my mask. I took her down to my lair again, and I forced her to make a choice. Staying with me, or going away...but I would kill the Vicomte"

Meg stared at him, horror in her face. Had she ever had any idea of what was really going on, she would have persuaded Christine to no get onto the stage. Meg was already crying silent tears, but she wanted to hear the end of the story "What happened then?"

"She said she hated me…it was then that I realized that I was fighting a lost battle. She made a choice. She walked towards me, putting the ring on her finger…and then she" Erik closed his eyes, remembering the moment his world had been shattered into pieces "She kissed me

I could not bear that, I didn't want that kind of pity. So I let them both go…but before they left, she returned and gave me the ring, then, they both ran away... I stepped through the tunnel. You know how it goes then"

Erik had shrunk into the banquette, with his face cradled into his hands and cried, tears of self-hate, of regret, of loneliness. Meg stood slowly and walked towards him. She put one tiny hand over his shoulder and felt him tense. He lifted his face and looked into her eyes. Where there must be hate and loathing, there was compassion and acceptance. Her beautiful cheeks were covered with tears and her shoulders were trembling slightly. She took his hand into hers and motioned him to stand up.

"You're crying…for me?" he asked through sobs, looking at her surprised. No one had ever cried for him, just Christine, and it was tears filled of fear. But of compassion?

He stood up, and looked down at her. She held his gaze, and he could feel as her gaze traveled over his face as a soft caress. Gently, Meg lifted one hand and put it over his ruined cheek. He stood motionless, suppressing a shiver to run up his spine. He could feel the gentle press of her palm along his jaw. Neither of them dared to look away.

Slowly, Meg closed the distance between them and pulled him down in an embrace. He was too surprised to react, and he felt Meg tremble with sobs, her face buried into his chest. As an instinct, he wrapped his longs muscled arms around her tiny frame. Erik gave up on trying to be strong and gave away to the fact that someone has holding him. Him. He let his head fall into her neck and let the tears fall freely from his eyes. He held her for dear life, as she did too.

"Thank you, Erik. For telling me truth" she said, her voiced muffled by his shirt "We will have a better life in Florence. Together we'll find a way, you'll see"

They held each other for a long time. She was crying for compassion. He was crying because, at last, he had found peace with someone. He had found what he had been looking for.