The man's strangled cry did not distract Meg from her book. Not that it was a particularly interesting novel, but she knew that devoting her attention to the interruption would be to no one's benefit. She sighed inwardly as Erik threw the intruder up against yet another wall of their home. Ah well, she thought to herself, you know what they say…once a notoriously short-tempered, violent and lovesick opera ghost, always a notoriously short-tempered, violent and lovesick opera ghost…

"You should not have come back!" Erik's voice echoed through the cavernous catacombs he called home. "Erik will make sure that you do not have the chance to intrude again!"

There was a gasped, unintelligible response from the unequivocally handsome Vicomte. Erik pushed the guest harder against the wall, if at all possible, and Meg flipped the page of her book nonchalantly. "Good afternoon, Monsieur le Vicomte," the latter greeted amiably, seeming to be absorbed in her reading. "I trust you are in good health?"

Out of the corner of her eye she caught Raoul's incredulous glance, as if he was of the opinion that she was as insane as the man currently assaulting him. Meg stifled an amused chuckle, twirling a blonde lock between her fingers. "Erik, where are your manners? That is no way to treat a guest. And nobility at that! Tsk, tsk." Meg laughed silently to herself as she said the words, realizing that she was sounding like a less severe version of her mother.

Erik's head whipped around to focus on her for a moment before turning his attention back to his soon-to-be victim. "You should keep silent, or Erik may not be satisfied with killing you swiftly. He might want Christine's boy to suffer…"

"You'll regret this later, Erik," Meg told him in a singsong voice, much the same as a mother telling her child not to eat too many sweets.

"I doubt it," Erik hissed, causing the young nobleman to shiver and shrink away from the heated whisper.

"What would Christine say?" was her next attack, although this remark may have been a shot below the belt. Meg watched Erik stiffen in her peripheral vision, his hand grasping the Vicomte's neck tighter as he paused in his reach for his lasso.

"She does not matter," he replied icily, spitting the pronoun out, his voice laced with venom.

Meg shrugged, turning her gaze back to her book. "It's your funeral."

Erik chuckled sinisterly, brandishing the Punjab in a frightened Raoul's face. "Actually, my dear, I believe it will be the Vicomte's."

Meg sighed, audibly this time, her eyes following the words on the same page she had been studying for several minutes. She began to hum the aria from Faust quietly, purposely making a note out of tune every so often.

It was almost comical, how a muscle in Erik's neck twitched every time she let her voice slide off key. Meg saw his determination wavering, even as he slid the lasso around the unlucky suitor's neck. "Marguerite…" The word was just a breath from Erik's lips, a whisper under her torturing of the poor song.

"Come correct me, Erik," she cooed softly, a small smile managing to curl her lips. She set her book on the divan and walked to the organ, playing the same notes she had just been singing, letting her fingers slip from the correct keys to ruin a chord. Reminding him of music and Christine all in one blow… "You can play the song so much better than I," she murmured, continuing to play the magnificent instrument rather poorly.

She watched Erik's determination waver as Raoul sputtered for breath under the lasso. Finally Erik let the younger man fall to the floor, gasping for lost breath, and stalked quickly to the organ, pushing Meg's fingers from his instrument roughly. A sad smile flitted across Meg's face. Even after months of her constant presence with the masked unfortunate, it was no mystery where his priorities lay. Music was first, and Christine was a close second, even after her flee from the haunted edifice.

Meg did not even make the top five on a good day, and though she wished it otherwise, she realized and accepted this fact. Erik's heart would never belong to her, even if every inch of her own beat solely for his.

Her fingers squeezed her companion's shoulder firmly, letting her own shoulders relax as Erik tuned out the rest of the world in favor of his music. Perhaps his world of notes and dynamics is simpler than this one, Meg mused dryly, flitting over to where a dazed Vicomte sprawled on the living room floor.

"You are even more foolish than I though, monsieur, if you have come here with out a justifiable reason," she told him, disapproval strong in her tone. She pulled the now-loose lasso from around the handsome neck, crossing her arms as Raoul blinked furiously, trying to focus on her.

"So are you just here for your adrenaline rush, or did you have some message important enough to risk the bowels of hell to deliver?" She raised her eyebrows expectantly. "If you are here simply to make my life more difficult, I suggest you leave before this aria finishes." Both pairs of eyes flashed to wear Erik sat, flooding the tiny home with the familiar sounds of Faust.

"I…I did come here for a reason," the young nobleman whispered. "It's about…about C-christine…"

Meg inhaled sharply, glad that Erik was unable to hear their hushed conversation over the rolling chords and charming harmonies. "And what, pray tell, has my dear old friend managed to get herself into this time?" Bitterness betrayed the dancer's neutral expression, a bitterness that had only surfaced in recent weeks, when Meg had discovered just how deeply Erik and Christine were connected…to the point of obsession...

"She's sick," he whispered brokenly, staring at the floor. "She's sick, and I don't know what's wrong with her."

Meg was unable to help herself. She broke out laughing, the effort springing tears to her eyes. "If that is really why you're here, then you are not foolish. You are outright stupid!"

Raoul frowned, staring at her as if she were crazy once more.

"Do you think you can find a doctor in the catacombs of an abandoned opera house?" Meg questioned, getting to her feet and rolling her eyes. If he and Erik were not constantly at each other's throats, they'd probably be the best of friends…she thought irritably. Both are turned completely idiotic by a single woman…Men.

"She refuses to see a doctor," Raoul explained in a rush. "I thought…I thought you would know what to do. You're her friend – your mother said I could find you here…"

Meg sighed, for what seemed like the hundredth time that night, and extended her hand to help the young man to his feet. "Christine Daae has never done anything I've told her."

The heartbroken look on his face was enough to make Meg want to roll her eyes again, but also enough to make her give in. "Alright, I'll give it a try. No promises how soon I will be there, or that she will even agree to see me. The Vicomtess is at the de Chagny mansion, I presume?"

Raoul nodded. "Thank you, mademoiselle, thank you!" He took her hand and bestowed a chaste kiss to it.

"Don't thank me yet," she murmured under her breath, all too aware of the sweet and gentlemanly gesture that the Vicomte had unthinkingly bestowed upon her. The gentleness she had been missing for these long months all came back to her in a flash…a gentle kiss to the forehead, the harmless holding of hands…

"Marguerite!"

The harsh sound of Erik's beautiful voice pronouncing her name brought her back to reality. To her relief, Raoul was already gone, although this left her alone with the masked murderer. "Yes, Erik?" she replied softly, attempting to regain her calm façade.

"Where is he?" The angry growl came from somewhere just behind Meg, but she dared not turn to face her volatile companion.

"Where is who, Erik?" she replied meekly, her courage failing her at last, now that Raoul's life was not in immediate danger.

"You know precisely who, you insufferable woman! The Vicomte!" Meg felt herself being spun abruptly and forced back against the wall. She bit back her whimper of pain, watching Erik's enraged expression as calmly as she could. "Where is he, damn you?"

"Gone," she replied simply, staring into the face of the short-tempered monster she seemed to manage to unleash on a daily basis.

"How could you let him go? Did I not make it clear that his life was forfeit for his trespassing?" Erik was hissing in her ear now, so much more dangerously than his yelling.

Meg didn't answer, causing Erik to grip her arms with new force, throwing her back into the wall once more. This time she was unable to stop a slight hiss of pain from slipping between her teeth.

And although his fingers dug into her already painful bruises, and he was as angry as ever with her, Meg could not stop herself from closing the distance between them and experimentally pressing her lips to his.

She felt Erik tense beneath her, and then she was being shoved violently away. She crumpled to the ground and remained there for a few moments before slowly looking up at Erik. "Don't ever do that again! You are not Christine!" And Meg received a sharp blow to the cheek.

Meg's gasp was the only thing that disrupted the silence that followed the sudden strike. Perhaps her surprise was not at the blow, but at his words. She knew very well that she was not and could never be Christine to him. She attempted not to show her hurt on her face from the words, instead focusing on the pain in her cheek. Never before had he intentionally hit her; he insisted that he was a gentleman, adverse to hurting women. But, her mind argued with her, are your arms not bruised from his previous assaults? Perhaps they were not sharp strikes, but he has hurt you…

It wasn't on purpose! her heart insisted stubbornly. He just becomes angry, and doesn't realize what he is doing!

During her internal debate, Erik had fallen to his knees, face buried in his hands. "Marguerite…" he whispered, edging closer to her.

She drew back, not sure that his temper had passed, or even that his violence would leave with the anger.

He was keening softly, stealing glances at her through his fingers. "Marguerite," he whispered again. He corrected himself. "Meg…"

She sighed, letting her hand fall from its protective placement in front of her cheek. Her eyes met Erik's for a brief moment, before he continued his sobbing in what appeared to be shame. "Forgive me…forgive me…I didn't…Erik didn't mean…didn't want to hurt you…"

It was the same way every time. Erik would become violent in his anger, usually just grasping her too tight, or throwing her against a wall, and he would realize his wrongdoing only moments later. He would beg her forgiveness, and she would give it freely. And perhaps the saddest part was that she recognized the pattern, and yet had no desire to break it.

It was the only time that Erik ever showed her a bit of his weakness, his desire for acceptance. And as perverse as it seemed, she relished the time after the violence, when he would beg something of her, vie for her affection.

"I forgive you, Erik," she murmured softly, watching the small hint of a smile creep up onto his masked face.

He threw himself into her arms, sobbing into her shoulder. "Erik is sorry….Erik is so sorry…" He keened this mantra repeatedly into her bodice.

She delicately wrapped her arms around his shoulders, holding his shaking body to her own surprisingly still one. Meg felt like a mother, not a lover or even a friend. A mother who had just forgiven her son for breaking the expensive vase.

Meg let her head fall back against the wall, closing her eyes. These encounters with Erik always left her exhausted. She knew that her poor muscles would hate her for falling asleep in this position later, unless Erik was in a particularly good mood and chose to move her whilst she slept. Meg sighed in contentment for the first time that night, and slipped toward unconsciousness.

Whether it is the love of a mother or friend, it is love all the same, right?