A/N: I apologize for the lengthy wait. I honestly just lost my muse for this, but somehow it returned yesterday, strangely close to the time I read the anonymous review that was posted yesterday. I also apologize for the cliffhanger. So here it is, the end, finally.
Meg came to her senses long before she found herself capable of opening her eyes. She could feel the soft cushions underneath her, the warmth of the fire on her skin, chasing away all of the cold, the way the her body ached and argued against her consciousness.
I hurt too much to be in Heaven.
She groaned as she opened her eyes, her hand flying up to her head. This is definitely, definitely not Heaven.
"Shh," a soft, feminine voice murmured. "Just relax, Meg, you gave us quite a scare."
"M-maman?" she questioned, frowning slightly in confusion. Blinking rapidly, she turned her head around, trying to catch sight of the woman. She only frowned harder when the stern-looking woman dressed all in black finally came into her vision. "What are you...where am I...what's going on?" Then, pushing herself up into a sitting position, she added, "Where's Erik?"
"Lie still, child," Madame Giry told her firmly, pushing her back down towards the couch. "You very nearly died."
Died? Yes, I remember that...the argument, the running, the cold...oh, the cold. Meg groaned again when she remembered the exact circumstances from which she had fled the opera house.
"You were freezing, dehydrated, and malnourished when you got here," Madame Giry continued. "Honestly, girl, did I teach you nothing? You can't even remember to take a sip of water once in a while?"
"I'm sorry, Maman," Meg replied sheepishly, feeling again like the little girl being scolded for not practicing her pliés enough. "I...things were...difficult."
Madame Giry sighed, shaking her head a little. "And yet you stayed. You knew he was crazy, insane, dangerous, and yet you didn't come home. To safety. To me."
"I...he needed me."
The older woman laughed a little. "Needed you? He needed you so much he left you without food, without warmth, threw you out on the street when he couldn't accept the news you brought him? Meg, he's never needed you. He needs to be on his own; he won't believe you accept him even if you truly do."
"I had to try," she told her mother stubbornly. "Who else would?"
"People who are stupid enough to try such stupid, heroic feats rarely escape unscathed. Christine is barely able to be her own person anymore. And you almost died, Meg!"
"What was I supposed to do?" she snapped, shoving her mother's hands away. "Get up and leave, say, 'Sorry Erik, I give up?' He deserves better than that!"
There was silence in the small flat for a long moment. "So do you, Meg. You deserve better than that hole in that ground with that hole of a man who will never be able to give you what you need."
"Who brought me here?"
Shaking her head a little, Madame Giry seemed to consider how to respond. "Erik," she finally admitted, eyes on the shirt she was mending.
"Did he say anything?"
Another pause. "Meg, I really don't think it prudent to dwell -"
"Did he say anything?" she repeated stubbornly, crossing her arms in an obvious show of defiance.
Madame Giry sighed. "He showed up at the door with you in his arms, and I let him in without asking any questions. I learned long ago not to ask when it comes to Erik."
"So he didn't say anything?" Meg asked softly, sighing a little to herself.
"I wasn't finished," her mother chastised, frowning at her daughter. "He put you on the couch and turned to me, visibly upset. He asked me to take care of you, that he was afraid you were hurt, that you weren't going to survive.
"He sat near the door for awhile while I tended to you, silent all the while. Finally I asked him what had happened. I received the story in bits and pieces - it was not a good day for him. Erik was afraid that he was the cause of your death."
Meg laughed silently to herself for a moment. A murderer, worrying about causing another death? It was ironic to think that such a madman would fear for her life...that was something at least, no? Valuing her life?
Enough, she told herself firmly. Your mother is right. You need to stop this madness, move on, get your life together. Meg took another sip of tea to keep herself under control.
"I was unsure whether to give this to you," Madame Giry said softly, catching Meg's attention. Her mother was holding out a wrinkled piece of paper. "I suppose you're old enough to make your own decisions."
Meg took the paper with a surprisingly steady hand, smoothing it out methodically.
I apologize for the circumstances in which we parted company. Please know you are always welcome in my home.
Meg stared at the piece of paper for a long moment before crumpling it in her hands. Mademoiselle. The word echoed deafeningly in her head, as if it had been screamed at her. Not Meg, not Marguerite, not even Mademoiselle Giry. Just simply mademoiselle, as if she had been no more than a girl he had met on the street.
You are not Christine! Erik's voice rang in her head, those words that should have been an obvious statement ringing in her head painfully. Mademoiselle, mademoiselle, mademoiselle...Still a stranger after these many months, still unable to find a place in his life.
It has to stop, she told herself. No more. Find yourself a job, get yourself a life, a man. A real man. Meg stood, walking over to the fire, and managed to hesitate only a brief second before tossing the paper into it. Mademoiselle, she thought bitterly as she watched the paper burn and curl.
Erik is dead.
It had been almost ten months since she had seen Erik when she noticed the one line obituary.Erik is dead. She knew the Daroga must have written it, Erik often spoke of his plans concerning his own death.
Meg was fairly certain that she herself was the reason such actions had been postponed. While I was there, he had some possible reason to live, she thought, frowning at the newspaper. And now, am I the reason he's dead?
He was dead before he ever met you, a voice nagged in her head. All you did was delay the inevitable, preserve the shell of a man for a few months longer. And for what? Had she truly accomplished anything? For herself, for her friends, even for him?
The production opened that night at an opera house on the other side of Paris, where she had found employment after a grueling search process. That night, when she danced, she found herself thinking about Erik, about all that had happened. That night, she danced for him.
She did not shed a tear for his death, but inside she still felt slight pangs of grief for the man he could have been, for all he could have accomplished, and for the girl she had once been. Before the fire, before Christine, before Erik.
Lost in her personal reverie, she did not even notice the single red rose, tied with a black ribbon, that lay on her vanity.