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By CarolROI

"...I shall watch the performance from my normal seat in box five, which will be kept empty for me. Should these commands be ignored, a disaster beyond your imagination will occur. I remain, gentlemen, your obedient servant, O. G."

Christine looked up from the note at her friend Meg, who sat next to her on her bed in the ballet dorm. "Where did you get this?"

"Maman. The Phantom gave it to her to give to the managers." She pursed her lips and shook her head. "They've already seen it. They think it's a joke. Carlotta is going on as the countess. You're to be the pageboy."

Christine ran a hand over her face. After everything that had happened to her in the previous twenty-four hours, she had no desire to play the pageboy, let alone the countess in Il Muto. All she wanted to do was curl up in a ball and cry herself to sleep, though every time she closed her eyes all she could see was the anguish on her Angel's face at her betrayal. "A disaster beyond your imagination...what do you think he means, Meg?"

The blonde ballerina hugged herself. "I don't know, but I'm scared, Christine. He could have killed Carlotta with that backdrop yesterday. He could have killed you last night!"

The corner of Christine's mouth twitched. "No," she replied quietly, "he would never hurt me. All he wants is for me to sing." She thought about the things he had said down in the cellars, the things he had shown her. The exquisite little figure of her on the model of the stage, the drawings and paintings, the wedding dress...fear can turn to love.... Oh. Oh! She was such a dunce! He loves me....

"He what!" Meg squeaked, and Christine realized she must have said that last bit out loud.

She clapped a hand over her traitorous mouth and blinked back tears. "I am an idiot," she finally said. "How could I not see?"

"Christine, you're not making any sense," Meg replied, just as her mother entered the ballet dormitory.

"Come, girls, it's time to start getting ready for tonight's performance," Madame Giry said. She held Christine back a moment, letting Meg go ahead of them down the stairs. "How are you feeling, Christine? If you don't feel you can do this, someone else can go on for you."

Christine shook her head. "No, no, I'm fine. I just--" She bit her lip. "Can you get a message to him, Madame, before the performance? I need to see him."

Madame Giry seemed to think that over, then said, "I don't believe that is wise."

Grabbing hold of her arm, Christine pleaded with the ballet mistress. "Please, Madame Giry. Meg showed me the note. I'm afraid he'll do something to Carlotta in order for me to sing in her place again. I must speak with him."

The older woman sighed then nodded. "I will try, my dear. You go get into costume and I will look for him. Where do you want him to meet you?"

"The chapel," she replied without hesitation. "Have him meet me in the chapel."

Christine got into her costume and makeup in record time. As she headed downstairs, she heard footsteps coming toward her from the chapel. Quickly she ducked into a side passage and pressed herself against the wall. Raoul strode past, muttering to himself, but he did not look down the other hallway and see her.

Breathing a sigh of relief, she counted to ten then continued to her destination. Once safely inside the chapel, she shut and locked the door. Kneeling, she lit a candle for her father and said a silent prayer. She was just starting a prayer for her Angel when she heard the squeak of a hinge behind her.

Jumping to her feet, Christine whirled around to find her Angel standing there, his arms crossed over his chest, the masked side of his face toward her. "You wished to see me, mam'selle?"

The icy tone of his voice made her shiver and she had the fleeting thought that perhaps this wasn't a good idea. Still, he had respected her request and come. Now that he was here, Christine didn't know where to begin. Her apologies would probably be a good start. "Angel," she began then stopped as her voice broke on that single word.

It got his attention, though, and he turned so that she could see both sides of his face. He looked older somehow than he had the night before, his eyes bloodshot and watery, a shadow of beard stubble darkening his jaw. He had probably gotten as little sleep as she had. "I locked the door," she told him. "No one will find us here."

The set of his shoulders seemed to relax a little, but if she hadn't been staring so intently at him, she never would have noticed. Swallowing nervously, she started again. "Angel, about what happened last night, about what I did, I'm sorry." Her eyes began to burn with tears, but she kept on. "I know I hurt you. Please believe me that was never my intention." She took a small step toward him, peering up in to his face. "I would never deliberately hurt you. It would be like running a knife into my own heart."

His eyes widened slightly and an explosive breath of air escaped his nostrils, but he said nothing.

Christine ran her tongue over her suddenly dry lips then plunged on. "I know you love me. I've known all along that my Angel of Music loved me, I never doubted it. I just couldn't see it last night when it was right in front of me. I see it now, though." Reaching up very slowly, she rested her hand on his chest, over his heart. "I can feel it."

"Christine..." It was almost a moan. She slid her arm around his waist, underneath his cloak, and stepped into him, pressing her cheek against his shoulder. She felt him trembling against her, and she asked nothing more of him, but neither did she release him from her light embrace. After what seemed like an eternity, he tilted his head slightly, his chin coming to rest against her hair. She wanted to stand there forever, feeling his heartbeat under her fingertips as she inhaled the mixture of smoke, wool, and spicy musk that made up his scent.

The need to see his face, to look into his eyes was too strong, and Christine moved back just enough to gaze up at him. His eyes seemed to glow in the candlelight and the trace of a smile played across his lips. His gloved fingers gently stroked her cheek then lifted her chin slightly as he bent toward her. He was going to kiss her, Christine realized. Her Angel was going to kiss her! She had just closed her eyes in anticipation when someone pounded on the chapel door. They both jumped.

"Christine! Ten minutes before curtain!" Meg's voice yelled.

"Coming!" Christine answered, then turned back to her Angel. "I'm sorry. I don't have much time but--"

"Be ready," he interrupted her. "La Carlotta is going to be indisposed, and you will be taking her place as the countess. I must go." He started toward the brass gate set into the wall.

The bold, confidant handwriting of the note swam before Christine's eyes. She grabbed his sleeve. "No," she said, her voice suddenly loud in the tiny room.

He looked back at her, his left eyebrow raising. "No? You do not wish to sing?" he hissed, and she realized she was treading dangerous ground.

She took a breath. "Yes, I want to sing, but not like this."

Her gentle Angel disappeared and her stern Maestro glared down at her. "What do you mean 'not like this'?"

Her mind whirled. How could she make him understand? Then she recalled one of her first singing lessons. "Remember when you were teaching me to sing, and I didn't want to do my exercises, I wanted to start right off with a song? You told me that I had to earn the right to sing an aria, that it wouldn't mean as much to me if I hadn't worked for it." Her grip tightened on his arm. "It's the same thing, Angel. I know you think it should be me up there in the limelight tonight instead of Carlotta, but I have to earn it. I have to put in the work, not just have it handed to me. Otherwise, it means nothing."

She had given her speech to the first button of his waistcoat, but now she raised her gaze to his. There was a scowl on his face, but Christine could tell there was no anger in it. He let out a long sigh. "You're right, Christine. But still--the very idea of that woman's screeching makes my teeth ache!"

Smiling at him, Christine slipped her arms around his waist and gave him a hug. "Thank you for understanding," she told him.

She felt his arms wrap about her and his cheek press against the top of her head. "Yes, well, that doesn't solve my problems with the new managers," he replied in a grumpy tone that made Christine giggle.

Giving him another squeeze, she stepped back. "I know it doesn't, but surely you can think of a more productive solution than dropping scenery on someone's head." She could hear Meg yelling for her again. "I have to go, Angel, I'm sorry."

He waved a hand toward the door, lost in thought. "Yes, yes, go show those cretins that you don't need to sing a note to outshine that old toad."

"You'll be watching, won't you?"

His attention focused on her again. "Of course I will," he answered gently. "From the flies if they've rented my box again, but I shall not miss a moment."

Christine paused, her hand on the door. "No disasters beyond my imagination?"

His eyes narrowed and his mouth tightened at her reference to his note. Then he seemed to notice the worry in her eyes and she saw quite clearly that he realized her fear was for him. Two long strides and he was at her side, sweeping her into his embrace. "No disasters, Christine, I promise."

She smiled up at him and he brushed his lips against hers in the softest of kisses. Hugging him tightly, Christine whispered, "I love you." Then she was out the chapel door and racing up the stairs to the music of the overture to Il Muto.

 


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