I originally posted this story a few years ago under the pen name "Alaura Fairfield." Back in those days, the story was entitled Warmth Beyond the Winter. I recently read back over the story and decided that I wanted to make some changes, which led to a pretty major overhaul that is still in the works. I hope you enjoy this version!
Title: Marble and Diamond
Author: Laine Montgomery
Time Period: Alternate universe; two years after "Don Juan Triumphante."
Plot Synopsis: Two years after the disaster at the Paris Opera House and the disappearance of Christine Daae, the Vicomte de Chagny calls on the Girys with a very interesting proposition.
As a child, Meg Giry had been fascinated by the sight of Paris cloaked in a mantle of snow. The bustle and fervor of the city seemed muted by the layers of white powder, and the young Meg had enjoyed the peaceful noiselessness. However, when she looked through the large window in the sitting room onto the streets of the city, Meg’s focus was now directed fully towards the remains of the Paris Opera House, and her mind raced as she recalled the events of that fateful day two years past, when the grand theater collapsed under a wall of flames (courtesy of the Opera Ghost) and the little soprano Christine Daae disappeared forever.
Meg shut her eyes briefly, her lips silently forming the words of a Latin benediction learned long ago. She knew little about faith and prayer; Christine had been the pious one. Yet she perched at the picture window day after day, gazing out at the ruins and speaking to the God her friend had loved so much, pleading for redemption...for herself? For Christine? For the Phantom? She hardly knew. It hardly matters.
A knock on the door sharply halted Meg’s reverie, and she shook her head with annoyance as she rose from the wooden chair by the window and opened the front door. Upon recognizing the figure standing before her, she blinked rapidly, half-expecting him to vanish each time she reopened her eyes.
“Monsieur le Vicomte,” Meg spoke in greeting, dropping into a slight curtsy. Her eyes raked over his form for longer than was appropriate, but her astonishment hindered her sense of social decency. He'd grown thinner in the two years since their last encounter, but otherwise seemed in perfect health. Her insides lurched with discomfort as she recalled the bruised, battered, heartbroken wretch who had briefly resided with the Girys after the Opera House disaster. Upon her mother's instruction, she had spent hours by the Vicomte's bedside, patting his flushed face with damp cloths and whispering words of comfort as he cried...cried endlessly, loudly, pathetically. Meg had been appalled, embarrassed, disgusted, even as she stroked his hand and nodded with sympathy. Now, faced with the impeccably-dressed, classically handsome version of the Vicomte, she felt a twinge of shame and regret for her silent insensitivity.
She'd been staring for far too long now...she could feel a faint, awkward confusion radiating from his person. She lightly tossed her fair hair, and an uncomfortable giggle escaped her as she stepped to one side and gestured toward the small foyer. "Please, come in."
“Thank you, Mademoiselle,” the Vicomte replied, stepping cautiously across the threshold. He paused in the doorframe, standing directly opposite Meg, and his eyes held a peculiar, furtive expression that she couldn't identify. She flinched with surprise when he enveloped her small hand in his own and courteously bowed his head. A sudden itch spread across her palm, and she sighed in quiet relief when he released her hand. Grey-green eyes met blue, and she prayed that she wasn't blushing.
"You look well." The Vicomte's words felt abrupt, but not disingenuous, and Meg smiled vaguely in response. She opened her mouth with the intention of returning the compliment, but the gentleman continued: "Is your mother about?"
“She is,” Meg said, sidestepping around the Vicomte to nudge the front door shut. Pivoting on her heel, she proceeded toward the corridor leading to her mother's private chambers, gesturing to the man to follow in her wake. "This way, please."
An insidious prickling crept up her spine to the nape of her neck---she felt his eyes, trained upon her swishing hair, boring into her skull...she wanted to whip her head around, to demand that he STOP immediately...stage time aside, Meg Giry had never liked to be looked at. But she focused her attention forward, tightly gripping the brass doorhandle with her right hand as she knocked with her left. "Maman? Maman, the Vicomte de Chagny is here to see you."
A moment's pause, followed by a soft call: "Come in." Meg obligingly opened the door for the Vicomte, flattening her back against the door to allow him room to pass. The side of his arm brushed against her chest, and she caught a faint snatch of fragrance---cologne, perhaps?---which she found strangely, remotely pleasant. After a brief and respectful greeting, the Vicomte settled into an uncomfortable-looking chair opposite Madame Giry, who astonished Meg with her placid, imperious stillness. The older woman offered her guest a reserved smile before speaking in her deliberate contralto, "It is a pleasure to see you in Paris again, Monsieur le Vicomte. I hope you will not think me too presumptuous if I inquire about your business here?"
"Not at all, Madame." The Vicomte straightened his posture, his handsome face a mask of earnestness. "I wish to..to apologize for my hasty departure from your company...I never truly thanked you for your kindness and hospitality, and I wish to remedy that now."
"Apology accepted, Monsieur," replied Madame Giry, lifting her narrow brows and tilting her head slightly to one side. "But you can't have supposed that I'd fault you for that, not considering the circumstances. Also"---she paused briefly, a cynical smile ghosting across her pale lips---"I can't imagine that you made such a journey merely to beg my pardon, all this time later." The Vicomte bristled, and Madame Giry leaned back in her hard wooden chair with an air of self-satisfaction. "What else can I do for you, Monsieur?"
The Vicomte inhaled deeply, releasing the breath in a hollow sound that seemed akin to a laugh. "You are, as always, very perceptive, Madame." Meg, ever-curious, inched along the wall near the doorframe, eventually positioning herself within the Vicomte's field of vision. He glanced up at her very briefly before returning his attention to Madame Giry. "I have come to ask a favor of sorts...it involves a matter of great importance."
“Of course." Madame Giry nodded meditatively, her position ramrod-straight and still. "Marguerite," she called without shifting her head, and Meg winced at the use of her Christian name. "Some privacy, if you please."
Meg began her retreat toward the sitting room, but halted in her steps at the Vicomte's next words, "No, Madame...Marguerite must be present for this conversation, as it concerns her as well." Madame Giry nodded in assent, wordlessly gesturing to a third chair, and Meg, still piqued by all the "Marguerite" nonsense, seated herself beside her mother. More pauses, and the Giry women waited.
If Meg had supposed that she would be truly included in the discussion, that notion was quickly proven incorrect; the Vicomte focused his eyes fully on Madame Giry, addressing his next words to her exclusively: "I have been to visit my family in the countryside, and they have made it abundantly clear to me that I am in need of a wife...for the sake of the family, you understand. And as you recall, my initial plans for marriage were..." He stopped here, swallowing laboriously, and Meg noticed a glistening in his eyes that suspiciously resembled tears. She felt the old twitch, the old instinct to recoil...what kind of a man cries? This time, however, she immediately chastised herself for being so callous. You who miss her too, you who loved her as a sister, how heartless are you, to fault him for his grief? You, who have never loved as he loved...
“…..and so, Madame….I have come here to ask for your daughter’s hand.”
Meg’s blue eyes widened dramatically as she whirled about to face the Vicomte, her mouth agape in amazement. “Wh..what?” she sputtered, shifting her stunned gaze to her mother as she awaited the older woman’s reply.
In sharp contrast to her daughter, Madame Giry gave no outward sign of surprise at the Vicomte’s request. She blinked once, twice, readjusted her hands on her lap...obviously rattled by the silence, the Vicomte began to speak again:
"Of course, I realize that this is something of a breach of propriety...there won't be time for a proper courtship. This must happen swiftly, to appease my relations..." Meg watched, stunned beyond words, as her mother calmly surveyed her flustered guest, turning her head to cast a perfunctory glance toward her daughter. At last, she saw fit to respond:
"I have no objection to your suit, Monsieur le Vicomte. You do us a great honor with your request." The Vicomte's expression wavered between gratitude and confusion, and Meg could hardly blame him for his befuddlement...was that a yes or a no? Am I betrothed or no?
Madame Giry leaned forward slightly, her tone placid and vaguely amused: "All you need do now is ask the girl yourself."
The Vicomte rose from his chair rather too quickly and crossed to Meg, who felt compelled to stand as well. He reached for her hand, which she gingerly placed within his own. She inhaled his sweet, musky fragrance...it smelled of breeding, of culture, of money. The tip of her index finger softly brushed the fabric of his coat sleeve: fine wool and brocade. And this could all be yours.
She lifted her gaze to meet his, and her stomach twisted at the LOOK he gave...helpless, heartbroken, desperate...I am not a selfless woman. Can I spend my life caring for a shattered man? And yet...yet she recognized the emptiness, the pain, the inexpressible loss...the memory of the dreamy, waifish, fragile girl they both had loved, still haunting, lingering, refusing to let them be. She felt her hand tighten over his as her answer emerged, emerged before he could even ask the question: "Yes, Monsieur le Vicomte. I will marry you."
A considerable amount of time must have passed before his departure---an hour, perhaps, maybe more?---and Meg pretended to listen, pretended to care about the dowry, the engagement, the lack of a ring (promised in the near future...as though it mattered!). She nodded and mumbled and hummed her assent to everything, trying to conceal her swirling, dizzy thoughts. She needed to sit, needed to breathe...
At last, at long last, Madame Giry bade her visitor farewell, instructing Meg to see the man out. She nodded compliantly, turning to lead the Vicomte to the front foyer. No words passed between them as they walked--what is there to say? Meg felt suddenly, irrationally angry for her hasty decision, wishing frantically for a way to escape...but then they reached the front door, and she saw his eyes once again. And she knew.
"I do apologize about the ring," the Vicomte murmured, his expression sheepish. "I'll bring you one tomorrow...do you like diamonds? Or would you prefer something else?"
"Diamonds are lovely. Thank you," she replied. For lack of anything else to say or do, Meg extended her hand once more. "Until tomorrow, Monsieur le Vicomte."
The Vicomte accepted her hand, but leaned in to drop a soft kiss on her cheek. She blushed a dark shade of rose, which only intensified when he spoke quietly in her ear: "It must be 'Raoul' now, Marguerite. No more 'Monsieur le Vicomte'."
Her reply flew unbidden from her lips, too quickly to consider: "Oh, I beg you, please call me 'Meg'. 'Marguerite' is...dreadful."
And Raoul laughed, laughed genuinely, and her blush darkened into a violent fuchsia. "As you wish, Meg." He tipped his hat politely before exiting the Giry household, footsteps silent on the snow-covered walkway.
“Goodbye…Raoul,” she whispered, still struggling to feel comfortable with the familiarity of this address. After watching the Vicomte’s lithe form disappear around the corner, she slowly closed the door and entered the sitting room to once again take a seat by her favorite window. She felt her mother’s hand upon her head, but chose not to acknowledge her presence.
"Well, my love, we certainly have much to do." Madame Giry placed a thin hand under her daughter's chin and lifted the girl's face to meet her own. "I need to see you married, Meg. You've known this for some time. And there's no reason to settle for a poor tradesman, not when a Vicomte offers himself so readily!" Meg shrugged, deflated, exhausted, and Madame Giry continued.
"I know what's troubling you, little one. He still loves her, that's obvious. But she's gone. And marriage need not be about love....you will be a Vicomtesse, Meg. Wealthy, respected, secure...you understand, don't you?"
Meg nodded wordlessly and turned back to her window, focusing her stare upon the Opera House. She watched for a moment as the snow continued to accumulate upon the marble and then, after murmuring a quiet apology to Christine, closed the linen curtains and followed her mother’s retreating form down the corridor.