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say you'll share with me one love, two lifetimes

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Mira
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Being the leading man in one of the world's most well-loved musicals wasn't all it was cracked up to be.

Scratch that, of course it was. Disregarding the grueling performance schedule; not mentioning the weekly pickup rehearsals and the hour or so spent signing autographs and posing for pictures at stage door; discounting the five hours spent in the makeup chair each night and the half hour it took to warm up in his dressing room; ignoring his complete inability to maintain a healthy social life, as well as the lamentable fact that he hadn't dated steadily in almost ten years, playing the eponymous role in The Phantom of the Opera was pretty damn spectacular. Who else could boast of successfully crashing the same masquerade ball repeatedly; of sending down a chandelier, or shooting bursts of fire from his hands; of getting to kiss a beautiful ingénue by candlelight in the heat of a passionate exchange, every night, as if it was their first?

Who else could get away with murder?

No, Eric was living his dream, if not the dream of every high baritone who had ever struggled to make it in this industry. Even five hours pinned daily beneath a makeup brush felt like a promenade at the park. It was just another ritual, and actors were creatures who thrived on ritual. Besides, it gave him a much-needed pause in his hectic schedule to sit and think.

With increasing frequency, he thought of Charlotte.

As today's makeup artist began to meticulously apply his prosthetics, Eric allowed his mind to wander in the familiar direction of his costar. He watched his reflection in the mirror as his handsome features receded behind a head mold, blended and distorted beyond all that was recognizably human, and thought idly that it felt like a homecoming. He spent more time beneath the mask these days than he did out from underneath it.

Wedged into the mirror's frame was a portrait of Charlotte, in-costume and in-character, gazing demurely out from beneath her corkscrew extensions; beside the photograph, a lipstick kiss imprinted on the glass surface. There was a directness to her gaze now, the shadow of a leading lady's confidence, that he didn't remember from their first meeting. She hadn't been a leading lady, then…

… nor he a leading man. Inspector Javert, while no small role, was still hardly the most sympathetic character of Schönberg's piece, and certainly a lot less likable than the coveted part of ex-convict Jean Valjean. Eric had been in the running for the latter of the two roles until the casting director at callbacks had branded him 'too young' to believably carry a part that had traditionally gone to tenors ten to twenty years his senior. Thus, an older man had been cast as Valjean, with Eric relegated to the part of Javert. Not that he minded—like any actor, he was just happy to be gainfully employed, and borderline ecstatic to be given the opportunity to portray a multilayered character he could really sink his teeth into. Self-loathing son of a whore? Check. Lurking in a lifelong morally gray mire? Check. Two show-stopping solos? Just ask the audience.

Because when Eric sang, he brought the house down.

He remembered the day he first laid eyes on Charlotte. Or rather, hadn't. The girl had been in full costume with the rest of them, her messenger cap pulled so far down over her face she was sure to get harangued during notes if Eric didn't run interference for her. As the ensemble all stood packed tightly on stage, preparing for their first dress rehearsal together, Eric had reached over with his constable's stick and nudged the bill of Charlotte's cap up for her.

"Eponine," he had whispered a greeting, already half in-character, "open that face up before I book you."

It had been their first rehearsal together, he and her. Since their characters shared no stage time save for one or two mob scenes in the second act, their work until then had always been scheduled on different days. Eric had heard things, though: about how she, like him, was considered young for her part, and that she was a soprano. Oh yes, he had heard things about her voice.

And she hadn't disappointed.

Hat-tampering quickly evolved into a favorite pastime. Whether it was pushed too far up or too far forward or fixed perfectly dead center, it was never beyond his power to adjust it. Generally, he preferred to see it list more to one side, mussing her already teased hair until the hat assumed the exact angle of crookedness that drove their director nuts. It was more "street" that way, Eric had argued. He had never won the argument.

Somewhere along the way, they became friends.

And, five months ago, their paths had crossed again. They had clapped eyes on each other in the casting room, and—he couldn't remember anymore, had it been him or her?—well, one of them had run straight to the other, and somehow Charlotte had wound up swept up into Eric's arms. He had spun her wildly around, laughing, as if they were lovers formerly divided under the worst circumstances. They had both been overjoyed to encounter a friendly face in a room of packed full of cutthroats, and they took that off-stage chemistry and blew their callback clean out of the water. It was then that Eric found that the impossible had occurred: Charlotte's already rapturous voice had improved beyond all recognition in their time apart. She didn't sing like a girl anymore; she didn't even sing like a woman. She sang like an angel.

And they had rarely spent time apart since.

True to form, they had already fallen into another pre-show ritual, and today he was running late. Eric thanked his attendant and eased out of his chair, sweeping out the door and down the hallway in full costume as giggling members of the corps de ballet dodged around him. Arrows in glow tape marked his route as he escaped the dimly-lit hall and plunged into the murky darkness of the theatre. His senses kicked into overdrive, his ears picking up the collective murmur of the audience on the other side of the curtain as the orchestra shifted and tuned their instruments in the pit below. It was still a half hour to places.

More than enough time to find her.

He knew she was in the lair already; he could tell before he arrived. At first, it was just a few snatched notes as he rounded the Hannibal set; his hand slipped from the elephant's flank, and he followed the reel of music blind, his mind unconsciously putting words to the percussive chiming of the notes…

Masquerade…

And there she was, seated on the steps by the lake. Eric hugged the shadows close to the organ set piece and watched as Charlotte cradled the show's iconic music box in her lap, her finger delicately catching at the key as it spun around and around. He waited until the song played itself out, stranding her in a mute netherworld, before filling the sudden silence with a much deeper refrain of his own:

"Little Lotte, let her mind wander…"


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How time flies. One minute, you’re a university student, studying theatre, and the next you’re in costume backstage on one of the longest running musicals known to Broadway. Charlotte Dawson knew how very lucky she was – she was a fresh face, had hardly made a name for herself just yet, but the casting directors had taken a shot on her anyways and cast her as Christine in The Phantom of the Opera. Though, she knew that it wasn’t just due to her own good fortune that she had landed the part on that callback. If anyone else had been there to perform with her, anyone other than Eric, she would’ve been nervous as hell, shaking in her well-worn boots.

She could recall the first time they had met.

She had been cast as Eponine in Les Miserables; a feat that was impressive for someone fresh out of university, her degree still practically in her hand. No one knew who she was, no one had heard of her. She had made some waves in the university circuit, had a very successful couple of lead roles in the shows put on at school, and when she had graduated a few agents had been banging down her door.

It had been the first dress rehearsal for the company. She had dressed into her costume, and pulled the trademark cap her character wore a little too far down over her face, partially on purpose. She was terribly nervous. It wasn’t that she didn’t have everything memorized; the script, the lyrics, the choreography. It was just that this was her very first role outside of school. This was her first real job as an actress, and the thought was an intimidating one. She knew she was talented, obviously, but so were all the other people in the room. To say she wasn’t the smallest bit intimidated would’ve been a terrible lie. She was hiding her eyes, and hoping that her anxieties could be hidden away that way.

But Javert, that dog, had pushed her cap up for her with his constable’s stick, telling her she’d have to keep it up or he would be forced to book her. Wide-eyed, she had nodded.

“Yes, of course sir,” she had replied, half-in character as well, before shifting her eyes downwards and fixing the cap on her head so it sat better and showed off her face this time. And it turned into a sort of game. He kept fixing her cap, no matter how she put it on, so she just put it on so he would have to fix it before the show began, a few chiding words, a few silent chuckles and stolen smiles between them before the overture began.

The show had drawn to a close, and the one regret Charlotte had with leaving was that she hadn’t kept in touch with him. So when she had walked into that callback, and found that Eric was there to perform with her that afternoon for the casting directors, she had squealed with delight and ran over to him. They embraced, and he had picked her up, spinning her around. She had relaxed, and together they had blown away the casting team and their director, being given the parts then and there.

That had been five months ago, and they had been inseparable ever since, whether rehearsing, eating lunch together, going out for a drink after rehearsal, or going out for coffee on their days off just to see one another and practice even more. There had not been a single day where they had not seen each other, or at least talked on the phone.

They had opened to rave reviews, the people pouring in one after another into the theatre, buying whatever tickets they could. The standing ovations were something she had experienced a few times as Eponine, but nothing compared to the response she received now as Christine. It was intoxicating, being out on the stage during the encore, hearing people shouting her name and clapping as loudly as they could just for her. Afterward, Charlotte made sure to lurk around the stage door until every single person who came around had gotten whatever they wanted from her; a signature on a playbill, a photo, a hug.

It was a half-hour before they were to be at their places for the beginning of the show. She was all but ready, dressed in costume, wigged, with her makeup and microphone on her face. Everything was ready, except for one last thing. There was one thing that needed to happen before the show began, and Charlotte was growing anxious, pacing the beloved lair before sitting on the steps, and taking the monkey music box in her lap. Twisting the key, Masquerade began to faintly play from the box, the familiar notes soothing her as she waited.

Where was he?

Fiddling with her engagement ring, Charlotte sighed, quietly humming along with the song. Her boyfriend Ryan had surprised her the night before when she had gotten home to their apartment after the performance. There had been a candlelight homemade dinner waiting for her at their kitchen table, soft music playing in the background. After dinner, they danced slowly in the living room to their song, and then he had gotten down on one knee and proposed. It seemed the logical next step in their relationship – they had been together since the third year of university. But as she had said yes, she couldn’t help but think of the other man that she kissed on a nightly basis…

If he didn’t arrive soon, she’d just have to go leave to her place without seeing him until The Mirror. And then he arrived, startling her and pulling Charlotte out of her thoughts with a line from their show that he wasn’t supposed to say.

“Eric,” Charlotte exclaimed happily, much like Christine’s reaction to Raoul, turning to see him and relieved to have their routine kept intact; superstitious nerves could be set aside and forgotten now.

“I wasn’t sure if you were going to come,” she said quietly, placing the music box back where it belonged as the final notes faded and dwindled into silence, the only sounds that of the orchestra warming up and the audience taking their seats. However, these sounds were easily forgotten in his presence; truly, it was rather like he was her Angel of Music. She didn’t know what she would’ve done had anyone else been cast as Erik; she truly wouldn’t have been able to make it through with such success if he hadn’t been there to listen to her fears and then tease her about them afterward, helping her relax into the role just as he had when she had been Eponine. But perhaps they had been destined to be cast as the iconic couple in Phantom, their names so similar to those of their characters.

...Maybe fate had brought him to her.


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Hijacking Raoul's songs backstage numbered among one of Eric's other favorite pastimes. He supposed it was a very Eri(k)-like trait to abduct lyrics from the mouth of his romantic rival… one of his favorite moments in the show came following Past the Point of No Return, just prior to his unmasking, when he was allowed to reprise a verse of the lovers' duet. There was something so vulnerable and sincere about that moment between him and Charlotte…

… between the Phantom and Christine. Anyway, the actor who played Raoul was less appreciative of his song-stealing; it was hard not to feel jealous, or even possessive, of one's songs after a while… especially when Eric used every opportunity to try and woo their leading lady with them. But how could he be expected to resist, truly, when the lyrics suited her so perfectly? Even the name was the same. It was almost as if it had been written for her.

Fate, indeed.

When she said his name, the shadows slid off him as the man detached from the set. His crooked smile wasn't just a result of heavy prosthetics—it was asymmetric, even without makeup weighing one side of it down—but it was lopsided and charming, almost boyish. And it was always, always genuine where Charlotte was concerned.

"When have I ever disappointed you?"

He dropped down to sit beside her, his posture decidedly out-of-character despite being in full, formidable costume. She was wearing her slave girl outfit for her first scene, so he threw a fold of his cloak around her narrow shoulders to keep the chill off… and if the move drew her nearer as a consequence, he certainly wasn't complaining. She had grown from a favorite acquaintance to what he would truly consider to be his best friend these past months, and he was still enjoying the particular benefits of having a female filling the role. There were more hugs, for one. And though she hardly needed his (arguable) expertise anymore when it came to the business, he liked being her pillar of support, the one she looked to for advice and guidance. He liked feeling needed… more than that, he liked having someone to look after.

Nobody needed to know, of course. And if Charlotte knew, they left it unsaid. Their dynamic worked perfectly without either of them having to examine it too closely. He couldn't remember how he had gotten by in life before her; now, he couldn't imagine ever being without her… and had he taken time off from goofing around long enough to reflect on this, he might have realized the implications.

But for now, their production showed no signs of ever closing. If anything, they were only gaining momentum—and if the critics were to be believed, they might even be taking their staging, full cast and crew, to a larger venue within the year. They hadn't garnered a single bad review since opening; more than once, he and Charlotte had even been called equal to, or better than, the original London cast. "… Dawson and Nightman were born to play their roles… they give everything to their parts and embody their characters entirely…" It was thrilling and more than a little scary to be on the receiving end of such stunningly high praise. Again, he was grateful to have someone as humbling and down-to-earth as Little Lotte along for the ride.

Something sparked and caught his eye, pulling Eric from his thoughts. He turned his gaze curiously to the small white ring adorning Charlotte's finger. He had found her already playing with the papier mâché monkey, so it should come as no surprise to find her in possession of another of her props as well. Holding items that belonged to their characters was certainly a good way to tap into the characters themselves… still, there was something curious about it. Eric caught her hand and held it aloft, watching the diamond wink in the darkness despite the absence of light.

"New ring?" he asked casually. "I like it. Looks more authentic than the one they had you wearing before."


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“Not once,” Charlotte replied, shaking her head and feeling incredibly foolish for having doubted that he would show as he sat down beside her. He hadn’t let her down once. Not when she had been absolutely terrified on opening night and needed a good pep talk and a reassuring hug. Not when the night after she had rushed into the theatre early, brandishing a copy of each of the newspapers that had written reviews for them and made Eric read them first because she didn’t have the heart to see if they had torn her apart in newsprint (of course, they hadn’t and she had squealed with delight, stealing the papers one by one from his hands after he had read them to her, making sure he wasn’t lying and just trying to make her happy). He had always picked up on the second ring, whenever she had called, whether it be the morning, afternoon or in the middle of the night having woken up with some kind of inspiration she just had to tell him immediately so they could work it into the next show. Eric had been there for her every step of the way, so of course he would be here before the show. It was their own little tradition, and actors were creatures of habit and superstition – any slight difference from routine could be blamed for a bad show.

The slave girl costume was hardly warm, and with the backstage being so drafty, who could blame her if she snuggled in a little closer as Eric threw part of his cloak around her shoulders, trying to steal a little body heat. Plus, she liked being close to him, just as Christine enjoyed being close to her Erik in Music of the Night. Charlotte couldn’t even begin to imagine what it would be like if she ever had to do the show without him, with someone else taking his place. It was an awful idea she didn’t want to entertain any further, because it made a hideously uncomfortable feeling begin to grow inside of her. No, no that would just not do. If the show ever closed, or if she ever decided to leave for some godforsaken reason (which really, she could hardly see happening as it was a steady paycheck, and something she absolutely loved), she would have to leave before Eric, or maybe they would both have their last show together. But again, that was something that she certainly didn’t want to dare think about, because this was too wonderful. It wouldn’t do to go and look whatever gift horse had given her this opportunity in the mouth.

So she turned her thoughts to happier things, like the show they were about to do tonight, possibly finding a new well-hidden café on a side-street somewhere they could go and hopefully just be themselves. It was quite nice to be recognized by fans of the show while they were out and about, but sometimes she just wanted to have coffee out with Eric and enjoy an afternoon off. But their next day off was still a few days away, so she had time to plan something.

And then Eric grabbed her hand as she was off in her head, thinking of various places they might go they hadn’t been yet, and reality came crashing back down upon her shoulders when he commented on her ring.

“I would certainly hope it looks more real than the other did, as it’s mine,” Charlotte chuckled, taking a second to glance down at the ring she still wasn’t used to having on her finger yet. It was a plain white gold band, with three small princess-cut diamonds, the bigger of the three in the middle. It was to represent their past, present and future together, Ryan and said. And he had picked the princess cut, because he would have nothing but the best for his very own princess.

“Ryan proposed last night,” she murmured quietly, not bothering to take her hand from out of his.

…why did she feel so guilty telling him the news that she was engaged? Why did she feel like she was betraying him, just like Christine did her Erik by agreeing to marry Raoul? Worrying her bottom lip with her teeth, she looked down to the ring in question. Was this even what she really wanted? Or was she only doing it because it was what was expected of her? How on earth did she end up in what felt like the exact same position as her character?


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Charlotte's words didn't register, not right away. Eric was too preoccupied with having his arm wrapped around her, her hand in his; he was too immersed in his own thoughts and trying to think of a clever prank he might pull. Perhaps he could exchange it for a Ring Pop? In rehearsal, of course—never for a real show. Then he could hide the ring somewhere in Charlotte's dressing room, or carry it with him outside of the theatre and mock-propose to her in some public place, maybe even in front of the fans at stage door…

... but his imagined proposal just wasn't going to cut it, not when he heard, really heard, what Charlotte said next. Eric froze like a statue as she revealed the nature of her latest accessory—not costume jewelry after all, nothing so harmless as that—and explained its acquisition without going too far into detail. Did she really have to? They had both known all along who she was dating, known that a proposal couldn't be very far off… hadn't they? They had talked about it before, certainly, but Charlotte had only ever brought it up when she needed to voice her anxieties on the subject, and Eric had always listened calmly until he sensed a topic change was what she needed. They never talked much about Ryan, not really—it never occurred to either of them how odd that might be, but he simply failed to come up when they were together. He was a part of the world outside their life and their theatre… even if the man was a semi-accomplished actor himself.

Eric had never been in a show with him, and could hardly speak objectively to his talents. There would always be that competitiveness, that rivalry, when men in a similar age bracket found themselves vying for the same roles.

It was a cutthroat business.

Eric realized now that he was still holding onto Charlotte's hand, still half-embracing her in the dark. Maybe he was holding her a little too tightly. His fingers released hers and slid away; he wondered why this had never felt strange before, the two of them going off alone together to an empty set. It certainly felt strange now. Had so much changed between them in the last few seconds? It was staggering. Eric forced a wide smile to his misshapen lips, suddenly determined to see her in a good mood. It had never taken this much effort before.

"Last night?" Last night, the two of them had signed autographs and taken photos for well over an hour, before Eric had hauled a squealing Charlotte up over his shoulder and made a show of abducting her away from the cheering fanbase. That girl would never stop signing if left to her own devices; she was like a machine, operating on endless gratitude and post-performance adrenaline alone. She always recognized returning audience members, and spoke to them all like they were old friends. Eric did the same, though he didn't have her knack for faces. He was almost always too busy watching her interact with them, anyway, to properly remember someone he had met the week previous.

"About time he took you off the market."

Eric rose suddenly, as if he couldn't bear to be near her any longer; then, completely undermining what he had just done, the man pulled Charlotte to her feet and into his arms. He wrapped her up tightly, the folds of his cloak engulfing her like the night. "Congratulations, Little Lotte," he whispered, keeping the exposed half of his face carefully hidden from view. Why did it feel like he was reassuring her? Why did this—them—suddenly feel so hopelessly awkward? He felt like he was holding a stranger in his arms.

He pulled away just as their stage manager rounded the corner of the set. "Places!" the woman hissed, before ducking off to converse with someone over headset. Eric gazed past the darkness into Charlotte's pinched face a moment longer, before grimacing and turning to go.

"See you at the mirror. Don't forget your ring."

Don't forget your ring? He was sweeping through the hallway again towards his dressing room, pressing a hand to his forehead despite running the risk of smudging his makeup. He had just been reminding Charlotte to take it off before the performance, but why did that have to be the last thing he said to her? She wasn't a damn understudy, she knew what to do without him telling it to her.

"Eric!" He was being pursued by Joey Buchanan, master of the flies. Eric wheeled impatiently, not wanting to get caught out in the hall by Charlotte after already bidding her goodbye. They needed time apart to find their characters. "Eric, I heard the news. About Charlotte, I mean," he prompted, when he noticed the other wasn't following. "That's got to be rough, man."

"What do you know about it?" Eric demanded, his voice barely below a snarl. "Hasn't the tech crew got better things to do than eavesdrop on other peoples' conversations?" The frame around his dressing room was gaffer-taped with sponges, otherwise it would have slammed shut spectacularly behind him then—as it was, the door simply closed with a muted 'thunk!' as he disappeared to brood. Joey scratched the back of his neck, wondering if his condolences had been misplaced, when a passing techie rescued him from his confusion.

"You can't talk to him after 'places' has been called, he's already in-character," she said knowingly. Joey shrugged his arms in irritation.

"Actors! I'll never understand them."

Lights came up on the prologue. The overture began as the canvas dropped from the chandelier, and the audience gasped in anticipation—theirs was the only production of The Phantom of the Opera to have ever installed the one-ton chandelier on a runner that could simulate a more frighteningly life-like crash at the end of Act One. It was an effect that many critics had taken issue with, due to the potential hazards it seemingly posed to audience and cast alike; the controversy had only sold more tickets.

Eric waited alone in his dressing room. By now he had successfully escaped into the headspace of the Phantom… but every time he caught sight of the picture of Charlotte on his mantle, her beaming face only served to draw him back out again. Frustrated, he rose to go and take his place for his entrance. He had forgotten to stand by Charlotte today for her own, but he had a lot on his mind. Most of what was on his mind was devoted to avoiding what was really on his mind.

He vowed to immerse himself even further in character today. When the time came, his voice boomed out across the auditorium as loud as thunder, impossible to ignore, reverberating from the walls of the theatre itself:

"INSOLENT BOY, THIS SLAVE OF FASHION! BASKING IN YOUR GLORY." A fierce intake of breath, and then, "IGNORANT FOOL! THIS BRAVE YOUNG SUITOR, SHARING IN MY TRIUMPH!"


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With those four words, everything changed. As soon as they had passed from her lips, she could feel it, a shift in the air, energy, auras, whatever you call it. There was a distinct movement from their easygoing contentment with one another to something colder, something more distant, more standoffish, more something.

She shouldn’t have said anything; she shouldn’t have let those four words out of her big, stupid mouth. Things had changed, and she so longed for them to go back already. If she could reach out and grab hold of the offending words she would’ve, she would’ve ripped them to pieces, eaten them, burned them and tossed away the ashes. He let go of her hand and withdrew from her, and Charlotte was desperate to go back in time, and somehow stop herself from saying those words that would ruin the wonderful thing that they had together. Whatever it was, it had sold tickets, it had made the show believable, and it had made her life so much fun. She had never enjoyed a part as much as this; never got up in the morning excited to go to work and see her ‘other half’ as the crew had jokingly referred to Eric as. They had been inseparable, and she had liked it that way. In his company, life seemed better, brighter, no matter what came their way it would somehow work out.

When he withdrew, it was all gone, all of it, she could tell. She had ruined the best thing that was in her life, and she had done so with four simple words. Words that were supposed to instil joy and congratulations had gone and broken their connection, severed it in two completely, with no stray strings still attached. He was on one side, she on the other, a vast void there between them as he stood and she remained sitting.

Then the next second she was pulled up and wrapped in his embrace once more, and she held on, her fingers curling into the back of his shirt, desperate to try and regain whatever it was that they had just lost. Why, as he congratulated her on her engagement, did she feel like crying? Why did she have to bite down on her lip to keep from letting out the small sob that was building from the hole in her heart where they had been? This was something she was supposed to be happy about, not something she was regretting with every passing second, not something that brought about so much pain.

The stage manager came around and called places just as Eric pulled away.

“See you,” Charlotte echoed, forcing a small smile to turn up the corners of her lips which faded into sadness as she watched him walk away from her. She had stood and watched until he was gone from her view, before closing her eyes and letting her head fall down to her chest, her shoulders slumped for a moment before letting out a shaky sigh, and making her way to her own dressing room, decidedly avoiding anyone, keeping her gaze focused on the floor and feeling very small indeed.

When she stepped onto the stage to dance in Hannibal, and then sing Think of Me, she didn’t have to act shy and feeling grossly intimidated and unworthy, she was feeling that way well enough on her own. Eric had always popped by to wish her luck and give her a quick squeeze on the shoulder or hug if there was time for one – but he hadn’t come by today. When her voice quavered, it was genuine.

She could only bring herself to be half-heartedly happy to see Raoul when he came to congratulate her on such a wonderful performance at the gala with flowers, and it was quite easy to say no to him, to tell him that she could not join him for supper, becoming exasperated when he left, calling out, “Two minutes, Little Lotte!” That was Eric’s nickname for her, and worked to make her feel even more anxious.

So when his voice boomed through the theatre, she didn’t need to pretend to cower – he was angry with her, and she truly was desperate to please him.

“Angel I hear you, speak – I listen! Stay by my side, guide me. Angel, my soul was weak – forgive me! Enter at last, master… Angel of music, guide and guardian, grant to me your glory! Angel of music, hide no longer. Come to me, strange angel!”

She was more than willing to come to him when he bade her, hand outreached to grasp his when she reached the mirror, holding on tight when she did. She was desperate to make him happy once again, to prove that she was worthy of his affections. All through Music of the Night it was almost like things were back to normal, almost. He was holding her, touching her, singing to her. It was wonderful; the music of the night was theirs and theirs alone. She wished nothing more than to belong solely to him, to be his, to have this feeling forever.

But such good things couldn’t last forever, and as she reached out to take off his mask, she felt the same sting of betrayal that she had earlier, telling him of her ring. He yelled and loathed and seethed at her. The tears were real, the shame was real, the sadness was real. Giving him back his mask, she wondered if she could ever do anything to repair the damage she had done.

She returned to the stage for Il Muto, which went by accordingly, and All I Ask of You with its Reprise as well. It was difficult to pretend to be so in love, so happy with Raoul, when she wasn’t sure of what to do. Her own life had blurred the edges of the show, and it was impossible to tell which was what currently. She was just grateful there was barely enough time for her to get out of the way of the oncoming chandelier. She literally had to run in order to get out of the way in time. And then it was time for the intermission.

Charlotte stayed in her own dressing room, alone with her makeup artist. Presumably Eric was in his own, because he didn’t come say hello and remark on how wonderful they had been in the first act, as he normally did. She missed their dynamic, she missed his subtle reassurances that she had come to rely on. She felt like she was floundering without him, and when Mary remarked on how strange it was Eric hadn’t popped by when places were called for act two, Charlotte fell like falling apart, not going out for Masquerade.


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As soon as she appeared on the downstage side of the mirror, he thought they had it back. Her eyes locked with his, and he saw a woman who feared and adored him… who craved his approval, his voice, the ghost of his touch. Surely this was Christine and not Charlotte, the happy-go-lucky, soon-to-be married young woman who had become his costar and confidante. His best friend. How had he allowed things to get this mixed up? They had out-of-this-world chemistry, they gelled, their talents and voices complimented each other and rocketed their performances to heights unreachable on their own, but of course she had never been his. She belonged to him as much as she belonged to the audience, to the rest of the cast; he shared Charlotte with the world and he had always been fine with it. More than fine.

Any feelings of possessiveness were entirely the Phantom's. Not his. That's all it was—he was more method than he gave himself credit for. He gathered up those feelings now and honed them into his stare, pinning her with dark eyes and drawing her into the folds of his cloak as soon as she stepped through the threshold. The maneuver threw Eric back to the moment they had shared earlier, with him sheltering a shivering Charlotte beside him in the darkness, and he nearly tripped ascending the catwalk.

What the hell? He had to get his head straight—if not for the sake of the show, then for the sake of their safety. Bones ran the risk of getting broken and worse when actors allowed themselves to get distracted in shows as technically-heavy as Phantom. Their Enjolras had broken two or more ribs their third week into rehearsal while joking around on a rotating barricade. Eric never let him hear the end of it, of course.

And now look at them: Charlotte's dressing gown had snagged on the gondola, and Eric shut his eyes as he was forced finally to reach down to her and pull her up, a tearing noise escalating in the wake of his panicked improvisation. The costumer was going to have his head for this, but at least Charlotte was out of the boat. If they were lucky, maybe no one in the front row would notice…

It only got worse from there. When he captured her in his arms for a verse or two of Music of the Night, he kept her body a hair's breadth from his own; his hands skated across her skin and never lingered, as if she burned hotter in his arms than the lights above and touching her outright would scald him. It was like their first day of rehearsal all over again, only here he couldn't crack any jokes to help put her mind at ease. He doubted he'd be able to think of one, anyway. Eric didn't particularly feel like being funny tonight.

And even that was the best of their scenes together. He could feel his character grow angrier, more frustrated, as the performance wore on—he was helpless to dial it back, to make himself more sympathetic—and that was when he was able to channel the Phantom at all. He could sense his cast mates going out of their way to give him space in the wings, and Charlotte was nowhere to be found. He stayed in his dressing room during intermission, silently pleading with the door to open and admit her.

Time crawled agonizingly; their pacing was off; when suddenly he had Charlotte by the wrist and they were plunging Down Once More. He was too harried to wonder if he pulled her harder than necessary; she had always endured his violence gamely, but it had always been tempered by Eric's careful gentleness before. Right now, he didn't know who he was.

The final scene in his lair unfolded, the three anguished lovers at turns crying and throwing fierce accusations at each other. He had Raoul strung up against the iron grating, Charlotte broken and gasping through tears at his feet. No, it was Christine. Were those tears real? He had never been able to tell where they came from, what well of strength she drew from, but now his heart lodged in his throat as he tried in vain to banish the singular impression that he had reduced her to this: he, Eric. He had been all over the board tonight, his character going from flat and disengaged to downright bullying at the drop of a mask, at the final drop of a body from a hangman's noose. As he gazed at her now, his chest heaving, he felt in the throes of a fever before its final break.

Let's just get through this, his eyes begged Charlotte as she rose from subjugation. Bring us home. She ascended the stairs to meet him, and his heart seized again suddenly, this time in unbearable anticipation. She cradled his mutilated face in her hands, and he had time for one last delirious thought before she rose to meet him.

Come back to me.

He kissed her back. He didn't mean to. He wasn't supposed to. But as her lips met his tentatively, he was afraid she would pull away too soon, and they collided clumsily when he bent his head to her in readiness, in submission, as if her touch alone was enough to master him utterly. He wasn't meant to move the first time; they had never rehearsed it that way before.

They hadn't rehearsed a lot of things that had happened tonight.

His downstage hand came up to cradle her cheek, his thumb brushing below her ear as his fingers affixed themselves like a comb at the base of her scalp. He could tell the move startled Charlotte; he could sense the moment when Christine retreated and the actress rose to the forefront. Her character's determination died at once, and the desperation they both felt compounded tenfold. He realized with dawning awe and horror that they had inadvertently just shared their first real kiss, onstage, in front of thousands. She, as good as married, and he… what was he anymore? He was nothing without her.

Charlotte withdrew. The music ebbed around them like the outflow of a tide, before crescendoing again for the second kiss—but they had already missed it—she made no move to return to him as Eric stared at her, dumbstruck. There were voices in the distance, chanting, growing closer… an angry mob descending into darkness, to hunt and pursue him… it was only when their voices could grow no louder, could no longer amplify to feed the illusion of closing in, that he realized it was his cue to do… something.

He spoke, finally. He had no way of knowing if the lines he said were the right ones. He turned to cut Raoul down, and his fellow actor seemed all too eager to grab Charlotte and get them both offstage. The lair scene concluded, with Christine never reentering to return his ring… he wondered at the implication, and at why this small oversight in a sea of gaffes should make his distorted mouth twitch in the beginnings of a smile as he disappeared beneath his cloak. The trapdoor engaged beneath him and he fell backward into the waiting arms of darkness.

They would have a lot to answer for. That he was not looking forward to notes from their director went without saying.


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“Think of it – a secret engagement! Look, your future bride. Just think of it…”

“But why is it secret? What have we to hide?”

“You promised me.”

“You promised me!”

“No Raoul, please don’t, they’ll see!”

“Then let them see! Christine, what are you afraid of? It’s an engagement, not a crime!”

“Let’s not argue; please pretend! You will understand in time.”

She should’ve left her stupid engagement ring at home. She never should have brought it here. She should’ve taken cue from her role, and kept the thing secret, hidden away until she was ready to deal with all of the repercussions and consequences. But keeping the engagement secret hadn’t worked so well for Christine, had it? By the end of the damn song Erik knew. And she had already told her Eric before the beginning of the production.

Secrets hadn’t worked for Christine, but the truth certainly hadn’t worked for Charlotte, not one bit. And it was obvious. No matter how hard they seemed to try and get things back under their control, more and more things went wrong with the show. They were off tonight, and not by just a little bit. She was far more desperate to earn his approval, the only step further would be to break down on her knees and beg; and he was so short with her, so angry.

In the cemetery, as he tried to convince her to come back to him during Wandering Child, Charlotte was all but pushing the actor playing Raoul away so she could go to him, longing for Eric’s approval and affections once more. Her body may have belonged to another, but her soul was truly his; and she couldn’t tell if this was how Christine felt, or herself. She couldn’t tell and she didn’t care as he beckoned her to come to him, and she walked towards him with her arms outstretched. She wanted to be with him, why didn’t Ryan…no, Raoul, why didn’t Raoul understand that?

She was lost in the show, floundering during her costume change for The Point of No Return, unable to tell where Christine began and where Charlotte stopped.

Even under the black cloak, she knew it was him. She knew his voice from any other; she would be able to pick him out in a crowd of hundreds. She relished the touch of his hand on hers as they sang the song together, giving herself over to him, truly the willing victim of his conquest. There was no one else, no second thoughts. She had decided. They truly were past the point of no return. There was no going back from this, and Charlotte, no Christine, Christine didn’t care. She wanted him, and no one else.

“You have brought me to that moment when words run dry; to that moment when speech disappears into silence…silence. I have come here, hardly knowing the reason why… In my mind I’ve already imagined our bodies entwining, defenseless and silent. And now I am here with you, no second thoughts. I’ve decided… decided.”

She had truly decided, hadn’t she? She would have to tell Ryan, Raoul! She would have to tell Raoul it was over. He could take his ring and his ideas about their future together and find someone else to be his princess, err, viscountess.

As he asked her to share with him one love, one lifetime, the corners of her lips trembled, trying her best to keep from smiling. He was standing there, confessing his undying love for her, and she betrayed him by tearing off the mask just as she had before the show with telling him of the true nature of the new ring on her finger.

She could tell she had hurt him as he howled when she tore the mask away from his face, regretting her actions as soon as she had done it. But there was no take-backs in life, nor in theatre. You get one and only one shot to do it right, and she had ruined everything. It was all her fault. But they had all expected her to do as she had; there had been so much pressure on her from Raoul, Ryan, and the cast and her friends. They all wanted her to stay with them, and not be with her angel, her protector. She had given in to them, and she had ruined everything for everyone. She had let everyone down and she knew it as the tears flowed down her face from her eyes. She could hardly see as Eric encouraged her to make her choice, her vision so blurred from the tears that simply wouldn’t stop.

“Pitiful creature of darkness, what kind of life have you known?” She began, the familiar words slipping from her tongue, feeling far more genuine than they ever had before as she rose to meet him. “God give me courage to show you, you are not alone!” She stood up on the tips of her toes, and kissed him, her hands coming to rest on either side of his face, her thumbs brushing the prosthetic scarred and pristine flesh of his cheeks.

But something else happened that she hadn’t expected. He kissed her back, and their characters were suddenly gone. For a brief moment it was just the two of them kissing on stage before she pulled back, realizing what was happening. That kiss wasn’t between Erik and Christine; it was between the two of them, Eric and Charlotte.

She stood frozen in place, unsure of how to move past this. The music swelled, reaching its crescendo as they were supposed to kiss a second time, but all they could do was stand there and stare at each other. He had kissed her. She had kissed him. She had thought about it before, sure, who wouldn’t? Eric was an exceptionally handsome man; he was funny, kind, always looking out for her. Of course she had thought about it. But she had never expected this, not here, not now, not after what had happened tonight.

Their first kiss, onstage, half in character and half out, in front of hundreds of people in the audience. Charlotte didn’t know if she should feel elated or sick that it had happened as it had. And she was still frozen in the moment, as was he, even as the voices of the mob grew louder and louder, came closer and closer until finally they had reached their limits.

Finally, Eric snapped out of it, and released the actor playing Raoul, who practically ran to her and dragged her offstage, while Charlotte looked back over her shoulder at Eric.

What had just happened?

Standing hidden in the curtains, she felt weak, and stumbled back to a chair, sitting before she fell down. Her hand without the ring on it lifted to her face, and she ran her thumb over her lower lip, staring out into nothing as she was unable to process the fact that they had kissed. It hadn’t been Christine convincing Erik that she loved him; it had been Charlotte and Eric in a desperate moment after a night of chaotic, roller-coaster emotions.

Someone tried to cue her to go back out on stage to return the ring, but Charlotte completely missed it, and Eric closed the show on his own.

The bows were thankfully quick as the audience didn’t know how to feel about the trainwreck of a show they had just watched. She had taken Eric’s hand in the cast-wide bow that was ritual, but she hadn’t dared to glance at him once. And as soon as they were dismissed from the stage, Charlotte fled for her dressing room at a full out run through the narrow corridors, needing to be alone with herself and her emotions to try and figure out what on earth she was going to do.

Everything had changed.


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Bows. He almost forgot them, then he nearly almost deliberately forgot them. But as much as Eric abhorred the idea of accepting applause for his performance, he knew it had to be done. The show must go on—even if it was already over, for all intents and purposes. One final call and they could all go home—or face the wrath of their director, should he happen to be present. Which, of course, he was. As soon as Eric made his way down the corridor of costumed bodies to the front of the stage, he could see their director's private box was indeed occupied, as it had been every night since opening. Well, one could dream, couldn't they? Eric joined with Charlotte for their final bow and tried not to picture too vividly the disappointment on the elder man's face.

He almost didn't let her break away after. When he felt her hand starting to slip, he tightened his as if he meant to keep it. He knew where she would go—to her dressing room, to the sanctity of a hundred bouquets and well-wishing cards, away from him—and he wouldn't get another chance to see her again before tomorrow's rehearsal.

But he let her slip quietly away. It was something he was going to have to get used to.

Later that evening, after he had a few drinks under his belt, Eric would wonder why he should. He attacked the dartboard in the back of a smoky, nameless pub with a vengeance, only occasionally pausing to revisit his table and glass. Though it was unbelievably trite, imagining the bull's eye was Ryan's face made him feel significantly better; his aim actually improved with the night's progression of drinks.

So he had kissed Charlotte. Charlotte, who was as good as married. So what? He had done it before a million times. Two pairs of lips met onstage and that was the end of the story. Of course, he had thought about kissing her outside of the final lair scene, even as recently as today, when he had found her alone and shivering in the dark. But of course he never acted on it—the impulse barely registered on a conscious level, so the man had no idea of the frequency with which he thought it. Because he and Charlotte were friends, and friends didn't kiss friends the way he had always wanted to kiss Charlotte unless it was pre-scripted into platonicism.

And then there was Ryan—but who the hell was he, anyway? Not Eric. Maybe that was the point.

A very different point, the one on the end of his dart, drove itself into the plaster wall a good few inches away from the badly-abused board. Maybe his aim wasn't improving, after all.

The next day at rehearsal, Eric nursed his hangover with a little less enthusiasm than he had nursed his drinks the night previous. All members of the crew, by order of the stage manager, had gone to great lengths to keep any newspapers from entering through the door, though Eric still had one hidden away inside his bag from earlier that morning. Any of their attempts to keep the cast in good spirits were thwarted by the arrival of their director, who just so happened to have a copy rolled up in his hand. Eric was starting to seriously reconsider his sitting in the front row.

"… all right. We've had a good run so far—remarkably good, supernaturally good—I guess I should have seen this coming." He strolled along the line of actors as Eric stared resolutely forward. "As your director, I blame myself. I let the acclaim go to your heads… go to all our heads. But if last night proved anything to me, it's that even a perfect run is going to have its fair share of setbacks. Success has made us complacent. Erik!" Sure enough, the swat he'd been expecting ever since he saw the newspaper was delivered. Despite his better efforts, his eyes had wandered across the room to Charlotte during their director's speech. "Up on stage. You too, Christine. Everyone in their places for the finale. I don't care how long it takes, we're going to run it until we get it right."

Oh, merciful Christ, he should have know the self-deprecation was all a ploy. This was the equivalent of making the entire team run laps for the tardiness of a few. With great effort, Eric pushed himself up from his seat and mounted the stage.


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She was a coward. She was hiding in her dressing room, instead of going out and searching Eric out in his own so they could talk about what had happened tonight. It was a conversation she knew needed to happen, but was it so wrong that she wanted to put it off? Maybe it was, if their performances were going to suffer as drastically as they did tonight.

Sitting down, Charlotte brought her hands up to cover her face as she leaned back into the chair, a shaky sigh coming out from between her lips. This was a disaster. How had telling Eric she was engaged ended up with such a mess? They had talked about the possibility a few times, whenever she was anxious and needed to talk. This was supposed to be something that was happy, something that would bring about smiles and congratulations, not awkwardness and tears.

If she dared to look closer at the reason why their dynamic had changed so suddenly with the revelation of her engagement, she might have realized the implications. However, Charlotte shook her head free of her thoughts, and got out of her costume, returning to herself and doing her best to forget Christine’s mindset. She was just too far into character, that was all. That was why she was so distraught at all of this, just as Christine was when her Erik was mad at her. That’s all it was. That’s all it could be.

Back in her own clothes, tying her hair back in a quick ponytail, Charlotte grabbed her purse and headed out the door, keeping her head down and avoiding eye contact with anyone else who was lingering in the hallways. She didn’t want to talk to anyone about what had happened tonight, not a soul. She didn’t need reminding how awful she had been tonight in the show, and she didn’t need anyone asking her if she was okay, because she most certainly was not.

Taking a deep breath, Charlotte forced herself out the stage door with a tiny smile on her face. Thankfully, there were hardly any people waiting to talk or get her autograph after such a train-wreck of a performance. She signed autographs quickly, posed for a few pictures and then was on her way back home.

Thankfully Ryan hadn’t been in the audience that night, and would have no idea about what had happened. Hopefully, no one would’ve called him and told him.

Walking back into the apartment, there was yet another homemade dinner waiting for her on the table, with her fiancé in the kitchen, pouring a glass of wine. His back was turned, and she quickly slipped into the bathroom, locking the door behind her and getting into the shower.

Leaning her head against the ceramic tile, scalding water fell from the shower head and over her body. What was she going to do? How could they fix things? Would they even be able to? How had so much changed with just a ring being on her finger? Eric was practically her best friend, and had she been upset for any other reason he would’ve been the person she called. Except right now she couldn’t call him, could she? She let herself cry in the shower, her quiet sobs stifled by the sounds of running water. If she was red and splotchy afterwards, well she had just been under the hot water for far too long.

She went to bed without eating; claiming she was too tired Charlotte asked Ryan to pack it up, that it looked wonderful and she would eat it tomorrow. Right now, what she needed most was to get a good night’s sleep. Everything would look better in the light of a new day.

Except when her alarm went off in the morning, that feeling of dread settled right back inside her stomach, taking up residence for the long haul. They had rehearsals all day long, and after last night it was a sure thing that their director was going to be putting them through the paces. It was not going to be an enjoyable day, that was for sure. Normally, Charlotte tried to be a somewhat optimistic person, but right now optimism was entirely overrated. Nothing was okay, and she had no idea how to make it so.

One thing she did was leave her engagement ring on her dresser; something she probably should’ve done yesterday. None of this would’ve happened if she hadn’t brought it with her, hadn’t told Eric. For half a moment, she resented Ryan for asking her to marry him. Sure they had been together for three years now, but why would you ever ask someone to marry you in the middle of the biggest moment of her career. How was she supposed to go to rehearsals, perform shows, attempt to have a social life and plan a wedding on top of all of that? How was she supposed to be able to afford a wedding? They were actors – they weren’t exactly rolling around in cash.

Sitting a few rows up, Charlotte had once again avoided eye contact with anyone on her way in, especially that of her partner in crime. Normally, they would’ve been sitting together, sipping coffee and laughing about one thing or another. While no one else had mentioned anything, everyone in the room could tell that there was something off.

Their director knew it too, and upon hearing they were going to be performing the finale until they got it right again, Charlotte glanced at Eric for half a second, watched him get up and move onto the stage. Doing so herself, she took her place beside him, and inhaled a deep breath, closing her eyes for a moment. She could forget about everything else, and just be Christine. She had to. That was the only way she would be able to make it through the day.


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When Charlotte moved to join the others on stage, the hand that extended first to offer her leverage up was familiar: broad and square, with long fingers like a concert musician's, or those belonging to an adept lover. It was Eric's hand, of course. They may have felt miles apart from one another that morning, with the insurmountable ocean of a poor performance between them, but she was still his Christine.

From the vantage afforded by the stage, he could spy one or two understudies seated in the back row watching the rehearsal unfold hungrily. Eric was not personal friends with any of them, and he couldn't blame them—he had been in their shoes himself once—but their hyena eagerness to replace either of them on stage set his own teeth on edge. He had rehearsed with an understudy a time or two, as had Charlotte, but he had never missed a performance, and neither had she. The thought of one of them taking his place beneath the mask, of pulling her down the catwalk into the Final Lair… it called up his feelings from the night before all too vividly. Since when was he jealous? Charlotte made her living as an actress, and beautiful actresses delivered almost as many lines as they did kisses. For every great romance there was a kiss, and theirs was arguably one of the greatest romances of all.

But it wasn't real.

Eric's eyes shifted sideways to Charlotte, attracted by her movement, and he watched as the girl closed her eyes and breathed deeply. The company's Raoul—today he could scarcely remember the other man's name, but it was Darby, and they were friends—approached them with an intrepid smile and managed to manufacture a bored look.

"The hyenas are circling," he mentioned, mirroring Eric's own sentiments about their understudies. It occurred to Eric that he had been so self-absorbed up until this point that he hadn't even considered how Darby's performance might have been affected by their own. Sure enough, he spied a few of Raoul's understudies seated toward the back, their Victorian sideburns freshly trimmed. All three of them were on thin ice after last night's review.

"Let them circle," Eric said, smiling a lion's smile.

But his confidence may have been ill-placed. His hangover was more apparent than ever; his head pounded with each strike of the rehearsal pianist's keys, but it didn't help him keep better time. Still, from what he could tell, his voice was in excellent form, and he carried them all into "Down Once More" with more dark energy and fast-burning enthusiasm than anyone could remember witnessing since opening night. Maybe he was trying to make a point; their director, seated in the front row, seemed more than receptive.

As the music built, so too did Eric's self-assurance. He imagined the familiar notes weaving around them all like a safety net, there to catch them, making it alright to fall. This was more than muscle memory being flexed, this was another man's life he knew almost better than his own, one he could inhabit utterly. For the Phantom, there was a beginning, a middle, and an end to the arc of his torment; for Eric, there was only reality as sharp and cold and everlasting as a diamond affixed atop a band.

"Make your choice."

Had they come so far already? Suddenly, Eric found himself standing in his own shoes, still sticky from the bar floor the night previous, staring into Charlotte's doe eyes as if he was the semi slowly hurtling toward her. The blocking didn't call for eye contact; he quickly corrected, turning his back to her. The auditorium was mired in silence, so thick you could cut it with a knife, or a kiss.

Now it wasn't his head pounding, but his heart. He dreaded what came next, but there was no escaping it, just as there was no escaping the truth: he had feelings for Charlotte. Feelings that he had repressed, or channeled through his performance to great effect, feelings that had gone on to win them both critical acclaim. Had he even been acting at all? How could he ever let her kiss him again, knowing it was her being taken advantage of, knowing what Charlotte couldn't—that it wasn't an act for him?

Eric's hand clenched over the veil, but he didn't turn. He willed Charlotte to fake a sudden, inexplicable illness. He willed her to cross to him, and catch his face between her hands. He willed there to be no ring.


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She hadn’t slept well the night before; hints of dark circles were forming under her eyes, her face had been a little flushed still from the minor breakdown she had had in the shower, her eyes a little bloodshot. thankfully, there had been a bottle of Visine behind the mirror in the medicine cabinet, and the rest she had been able to hide with some concealer and foundation. Her knees were a bit wobbly; too much caffeine that morning to combat the lack of sleep, trying to will her body to perform at its peak with a jump start of espresso. All were small details, small pieces of a puzzle that when put together would form a realization she was struggling with.

She was engaged. She was engaged to be married, and had feelings for someone who wasn’t her fiancé. If it had only been flirtation, a small infatuation, she would’ve been able to handle it. She could’ve told herself that she was engaged to someone else, that she was getting married. If it had only been a silly crush she could’ve snapped herself out of it, told herself that she was doing the right thing by marrying Ryan, that they were going to have a nice life together, and that was that. It was the next step in her relationship with Ryan, and everyone always said what a lovely couple they were. It made sense to marry Ryan; they had been together for three years. He was a nice boy from a good family, supportive of her career, and they made a lovely couple.

But what if she didn’t want nice? What if having a simple, good relationship wasn’t enough? What if it was stifling her, what if the only time she felt like she could come up for air and breathe easily again was when she was with someone else? What if she wanted more from life than what was planned for her future? What if she wanted passion, and a love so intense it could leave you breathless with a single glance? What if she wanted joy, and to desperately leap into things headfirst, without a care in the world, and the tight grasp of a hand holding hers, jumping right in along with her?

Then again, maybe that was wanting too much from life. Maybe she should just be happy that she found someone who loves her in his own simple way, someone who will care for her well enough. Staying with Ryan was the safe route, the smart thing to do.

All of this was running through the back of her mind as they took their places for the beginning of Down Once More, and Charlotte wondered if these thoughts were similar to the ones that had to be running through Christine’s mind. Who would Christine choose? Would she stay with Raoul, who would keep her safe, provide for her, care for and love her in his own simple ways? Or, would she take the risk and follow where her heart and passions consistently lead her? No matter what Raoul tried to do or say, time and time again she returned to Erik. She always came back to him; the pull of their combined passions was too strong to ignore, the gravity of it was irresistible and impossible to escape.

“Make your choice.”

...when she took the time to stop and think about it, it really wasn’t even a hard decision to make.

Taking a moment’s pause, she glanced over to her Raoul, and then to Erik, who was cradling the veil in his hands as if it were the most precious thing in all the world. Her answer had been in front of her all along, but until now she just hadn’t had the strength to see it.

Pitiful creature of darkness, what kind of life have you known,” Charlotte began, sympathy for the hardships he had suffered through alone in every word; but, from now on at least he wouldn’t have to suffer through them alone. Crossing the distance between the two of them, she reached out, gently turning him to face her. “God give me courage to show you, you are not alone!” This time, as scripted, she kissed him first; and when the music swelled once more, she kissed him like her life depended on it (technically, Raoul’s did).

They went through the rest of the scenes without a hitch, and when they finished it was to thunderous applause from their director.

“I have no idea what happened last night, but if you two can keep up this kind of performance, we’ve got the Tony’s in the bag! Good job everybody; go ahead and enjoy the rest of the afternoon, just make sure you’re back in time for tonight’s performance.”

As they were dismissed, Charlotte climbed the stairs of the auditorium to go collect her things from the fourth row where she had been sitting at the beginning of the day. Slinging her purse over her shoulder, and draping her coat over her arm, Charlotte looked around to see if Eric was still here. A frown pulled down the corners of her lips when she couldn’t find him. Jogging down the stairs, she headed backstage, and then to their dressing rooms.

She knocked on Eric’s door before opening it, and being relieved when she found him inside. Closing the door behind her, Charlotte leaned against the wood, worrying her lower lip between her teeth and fiddling with her purse strap for a second. It was a nervous habit, one that frequently happened when she needed a moment in order to build up the courage to be able to look someone in the eye and say what she needed to say.

“...Eric, we need to talk.”


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A hand so familiar alighted on his shoulder, and Eric turned, as he had countless times before, still reacting to the touch as if it was the first real caress he had ever received. That was how Charlotte made him feel: like he was the madman, consigned only to darkness, and it was she alone who could raise him to the light. His mouth went dry, his hands hovered purposelessly at his sides, as she turned him and raised herself up to meet him.

Their lips met, and he could feel it: the unstoppable current, the electric charge that had always run underground between them, buried safely beneath costumes and makeup and famous bars of music. Now it was exposed. She kissed him on cue, and when the music swelled for their second joining, he dropped the veil and grasped her back. Without the obstacle of the prosthetic sneer, Eric could claim every inch of her; he kissed her passionately, with the sensation that he was falling back through the trap door, that this was his final performance, his final stand. This time, he would make Christine choose him.

But she chose differently. She always did. As Eric's last, mournful note rang out through the auditorium, they were met with thunderous applause, and he knew they had overcome last night's poor review.

But at what cost?

After bows, he did the rounds: he smiled, confidently and boyishly, he slapped hands and presented his shoulder to be cuffed, he accepted the grudging congratulations from his understudies. Once he had attended to everyone, and assured their director that their outstanding rehearsal would be replicated in tonight's performance, Eric pulled his vanishing act; he escaped to his dressing room, certain that no one would look for him there for another few hours at least.

But Charlotte wasn't no one, and she knew him better than he knew himself at the worst of times. He recognized her knock, and said nothing as she let herself in. He sat in his makeup chair in front of the lit vanity, turning a scrap of paper over in his hands. The familiar fixture of her photograph was noticeably missing from the frame of his mirror.

He didn't have to look up to know her lower lip would be between her teeth—and the sudden, sinful urge to have it between his was overwhelming.

Eric, we need to talk.

"Because I dropped the veil?" He was stalling. They both knew it. He carried on, handsome face remote and blasé. "It was just a little change. I thought it was well-received. I always play it like he doesn't know what to do with his hands, but maybe he does."

His words hung in the air between them, dangerous as a Punjab lasso. "Maybe he would know, Charlotte, because she is his soul. Maybe he would know exactly how to kiss her. Maybe he wouldn't care who was watching."


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How had this gone on for so long without her even realizing it? Eric had gone from merely another cast member and friend in Les Mis, to her costar and other half in Phantom of the Opera. He was her best friend. Eric was the person she told everything to; her fears, her hopes and aspirations both in her career and in her personal life. If she needed someone to vent her frustrations to, Eric was the person she called. If she needed a shoulder to cry on, all she had to do was show up at his door, no mater what time of day it was. If they went more than a day without seeing each other or speaking, it was strange and unpleasant.

It had happened right under her nose, and she had never been aware. Ignorance is bliss, so they say; but the veil was lifted, and there was no denying it anymore. There was no way to keep telling herself that there was nothing between them but professional chemistry and a beautiful musical that they were privileged to perform together. The thought of doing a performance with one of his understudies just felt wrong, and the idea of Eric on stage with one of her own understudies instead of herself was one that she vehemently abhorred.

He was hers and she was his, just as their characters were as well, and her heart was pounding in her chest from accepting what was clearly the truth. It wasn’t that she was just delving too deeply into character, that she was mistaking Christine’s feelings for the Phantom as her feelings for Eric. The last night’s kiss had forced her to see the truth, and there was no way to hold back her feelings any longer.

“Maybe,” Charlotte conceded with a one-shouldered shrug, holding Eric’s gaze through the mirror. She hung up her purse and jacket on the hook on the back of the door without looking away; she had spent so much time in this room with him that she could’ve been able to navigate through the room with her eyes closed.

“Maybe he would know how to touch her, how to kiss her,” she continued, slowly crossing the room while never breaking gaze. “But knowing how, and actually following through, are two very different things." The Phantom never fully acted on his passions, and that was one of the most heartbreaking aspects of the show; he’d let Christine in a little, push her away, and then pull her back in again. It was easy to understand why the young ingenue was so confused and torn between the two men vying for her heart.

Coming to stand behind him, Charlotte leaned over, her palms holding onto the arms of the makeup chair, her lips nearly brushing against his ear when she spoke quietly next, still holding his gaze in the mirror.

“...So, how’s she supposed to know, if he never actually does anything about it?”


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His words to her seconds before had been dangerous and deliberate, and for once, entirely unscripted. He had been expecting an admonishment, or worse, silence; if his words had driven her from the room, he would have launched himself after her and kept them coming, until he had made light of the situation and convinced her it was all just a joke.

But neither of them was laughing when Charlotte detached from the doorway to join him at his chair. She held his gaze steadily in the mirror, until his eyes dropped to the fragile white hands placed on either side of him. Her breath against his ear, chasing down his neck, was enough to make him forget how to exhale altogether.

Now he knew how Don Juan had felt when he met Aminta in the inferno.

Eric whipped around in his chair and rose; Charlotte would be forced back out of necessity, but he kept her going until he heard her shoulders hit the wood panel of the door and she could retreat no further. He leaned forward, palms flat against the door on either side of her, crowding her in. The scrap of paper fluttered to the floor, and it was Christine's demur expression that looked up from the photograph.

"Maybe he knows he can't have her."

Eric's eyes dragged to her neckline slowly, and in a way he knew she could follow, but even the resignation in his whisper couldn't bank the sudden fire he felt. Charlotte, in that moment, seemed very unlike herself, and he… he didn't feel quite the same, either. He felt like the mask was slipping, or like she had stolen it off him in her staunch refusal to let the man he really was hide any longer.

One of his hands dropped to claim hers, pulling it between them. Their hips brushed. Fingers that could marvelously mimic the playing of a vast and hellish organ brought her own into the wane light provided by the dressing room mirror. Charlotte's engagement ring glinted as he slowly eased it off her finger.

"Christine…"

On his lips, it didn't feel like a slip of the tongue; it felt like her given name, or the lyric to an old lullaby. His hand moved behind her, his eyes never leaving hers, as he clicked the lock into place. His mouth, only a breath away, dropped as he shifted the collar of her shirt to one side. He moved in.

There was a knock at the door.


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As Eric turned his chair and stood, she was forced to remove her hands and take a step back in order to give him room. The way he was looking at her was almost predatory, like he wanted to devour each and every inch of her; it had her heart racing in her chest as she continued to back up when he advanced on her, until she hit the door she had walked through mere moments ago.

This wasn’t how the conversation was supposed to go. They should’ve been actually talking, instead of playing the same games they’d been playing ever since the beginning. Double entendres, saying one thing but meaning another, hiding behind the emotions their characters expressed - it had been going on all along. Did he really want her too? Because that was what it seemed like. How long had he felt that way? Had all the jokes, all the ‘kidnappings’ from signing after the shows, how close they were, had it all meant more to him this whole time? Her pulse was flying as fast as the thoughts in her head when he trapped her against the door.

All the times they had walked arm in arm down the street, all the times they had sat beside each other in a booth at a restaurant or cafe, all the times he had given her his coat and pulled her close to steal his body heat because she was cold, all the times he showed up and surprised her with a cup of coffee or tea just how she liked it, all of the times he had reassured her before a show with a pep talk and sealing it with a hug and a kiss to her forehead, all of the jokes to make her laugh when she wasn’t feeling her usual upbeat self, all the times he had held her while she cried - all of it was suddenly cast in a new light from her realization.

“Maybe he knows he can’t have her.”

She wasn’t in love with Ryan anymore, not really - and, with every day that passed, she was falling more and more for Eric.

“Maybe he could,” she barely whispered as he took off her engagement ring, a ring she had never really wanted in the first place, wrapping her arms around him.

She didn’t know what he did with the ring and she found she didn’t care as she heard the lock click into place. His hand caressed her neck as Erik pulled the collar of her shirt out of the way, and Charlotte tilted her head to the side to offer more of her skin to his lips. Except his mouth never connected with her skin - they were interrupted with a knock at the door.

...Whoever was on the other side of the door was going to die. It was more Erik’s style to hang someone with the punjab lasso, but she was feeling the bloodlust rise (or was it too much lust in her blood). She had been about to refocus him, since the knock had distracted them both. Charlotte had started to move her arms to grab his face, to kiss him and prevent him from answering the door, when a voice spoke through the solid wood.

“Eric? You in there?” It was their director - the only person they couldn’t ignore.

Fuck,” Charlotte groaned under her breath. She didn’t swear often, which undoubtedly expressed her frustration just as much, if not more than her tone, and when Eric stepped back from her, her body mourned the loss of him pressed so solidly against her.

If Andrew had wanted to speak to them both he would’ve asked if they were both in the dressing room. No, their director wanted to talk to Eric, which meant that she needed to leave. As Eric unlocked the door, Charlotte swallowed thickly, turning to grab her sweater and purse from the door.

Grabbing the handle, she opened the door.

“Oh, hi Charlotte - I hope I’m not interrupting anything,” Andrew stated, knowing that his two leads spent more time together than apart.

“No, it’s fine,” she lied, with a tight lipped smile. “I was just leaving.”

And so she left, with every step wishing Andrew had just called instead - they would’ve ignored the phone.


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Eric was an actor. He listened to his director, and Andrew's voice could cut through anything—including the charged moment he shared with Charlotte.

For a moment, he didn't move from where he stood over her. It really seemed like he was prepared to continue down whatever course he intended, and leave Andrew to go and seek his leading man somewhere else. Charlotte's curse sent a heady thrill racing through him. The innocence their close relationship had always maintained seemed subverted now at every turn. His body, already pressed against hers, pressed further. His hand delved into the alcove the arch of her back formed.

He unlocked the door.

They were actors. They could reach into the ether and change the energy to fit the scene. So why did this one suddenly feel like a crime scene?

Charlotte smiled. She said what the script called for. And if her smile was tight, and she excused herself in an uncharacteristic haste, their director did not appear to notice. Andrew turned to Eric once their leading lady had gone, but the latter had already retreated back to his makeup station and slumped down in his chair. "I just got off the phone with your agent. I think congratulations are in order," Andrew said.

"What are you talking about?" Eric's eyes drifted to his cell, where the screen showed a banner denoting several missed calls from Darius.

"Not that I appreciate my best Phantom being poached out from under me, but it was bound to happen sooner or later," Andrew continued on wistfully. "And when the composer invites you to originate a role in a sequel—a sequel!—you answer." Andrew paced the length of the dressing room, hands clasped behind his back. He pivoted suddenly on his heel and grinned. "The understudies will be happy, anyway. I'm thinking about having them audition all over again. We'll work it out. Just give me a hell of a show tonight, yeah?" Andrew clapped him on the shoulder before withdrawing, but paused once more in the doorway. "Oh, and Eric? Don't worry about Charlotte. I have every reason to suspect she'll be getting her own call later today."

After Andrew left, Eric stared at his reflection in the divided mirror. He had heard the whispers. Love Never Dies, former cast mates and theatre insiders across the pond were saying. A sequel. A continuation. It's either completely mad or totally brilliant. Why not both? But those weren't the only rumors. Other murmurings claimed the show's Christine had already been cast—which meant that Charlotte's expected call today could have nothing to do with the secretive production.

They had their Christine. And now they had their Phantom. Eric made up his mind in the same instant he put a jagged hole through his dressing room mirror. A dozen distorted reflections stared in hideous disbelief at his bleeding fist, but the pain didn't register. He knew he would need the stage manager to break open the first aid kit for it. He would hunt her down after he returned his agent's call.

Three hours to curtain.

Three hours later, and Eric appeared without warning beside Charlotte in the shadows of the stage left wing, a white strip of mask bobbing in the darkness. It was not one of their designated places, not a part of the ritual… but neither was his dressing room. The other Hannibal dancers were off stretching and gossiping amongst themselves while Charlotte stood alone. Eric didn't have to wonder about the topic of their conversation. The entire theatre hummed with the news. Charlotte to Broadway, and Eric to the West End—it was enough to knock any thought of last night's calamitous show entirely from their heads.

Occasionally, in the past, he had allowed himself to wonder what Erik would think of Christine's slave girl costume. The Phantom would have detested what it symbolized for his ingénue: how it relegated her to part of the flock, as undifferentiated as one of the sheep in the Il Muto ballet… the glaring metaphor of the chains. And he would he have despised his own weakness for looking, for how could any man look away? Beneath that waterfall of honey-brown hair, her creamy skin. A minute spent dancing out under those hot lights and it would start to bead with perspiration. Too many times they had sat backstage together, sweating and laughing, and taking turns tipping bottles of water over each other to stay cool.

"I heard about the call. Congrats, Lotte." He drew her engagement ring from a pocket hidden in his costume and held it between them. It caught the light and ignited, its sparkle audacious and out of place in the ghostlit realms backstage. "But you'll be hearing that a lot in the coming days."

Eric wasn't sure what he meant by offering the ring back to her. Perhaps he was being cruel, because where could she put it? They were mere minutes away from her first entrance. But he knew he couldn't have it in his possession anymore. He might lose it, and he wasn't sure he could convincingly make an excuse he had not done so on purpose.


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Once the door to Eric’s dressing room had closed behind her, she took a few steps down the hallway before leaning against the wall, closing her eyes and taking a few deep breaths to recenter herself. If Andrew hadn’t interrupted them, right now she would’ve been pressed up against the door, her hands knotted in Eric’s hair and clothes as they finally kissed each other for real, with all the built-up passion between them finally coming to a head.

She wasn’t sure if she wanted to yell in frustration, or cry. She needed to clear her head, and staying in this building was not going to help.

Pushing off from the wall, she sneaked out the stage door, and thankfully there were no fans lingering around, hoping to catch a glimpse of the cast after leaving rehearsal - she was able to make a clean getaway, letting her feet take her wherever they wanted, not paying attention as she took the time to process and go through everything she was feeling.

There was one thing that she knew irrevocably - she was in love with Eric, wholeheartedly and irrefutably. He was the last thing on her mind when she went to sleep, and the first thing she thought about when she woke up. He was her best friend, her co-star, and the love of her life, her true soulmate. They did everything together, on stage and off. If he wasn’t by her side, it felt like a piece of her was missing.

She would tell him tonight, after the show. She would tell Eric she loved him, and she would tell Ryan it was over - something she should’ve done a long, long time ago.

Charlotte was pulled from her thoughts by her phone vibrating in her purse.

She had several missed calls from her agent, all from when she had been in rehearsal or with Eric.

“Meg - sorry about not picking up earlier. We were doing rehearsals, and then-”

“It’s fine!” Meg cut her off, the excitement clear in her voice. “Listen, I have the best news. Are you sitting down? You should sit down.”

Charlotte took a second to realize where she was - her feet had taken her to Central Park. She was in her favourite place - high up on the hill, able to look over the man-made lake, see the skyline, and hear the bells toll as the people of the city went about their business, chatting and cars driving by, honking. Stepping off the cement walkway, she walked a few feet over to the grass and sat down.

“Okay, I’m sitting. What’s this about?”

“I got a call this morning. From the casting director at The Majestic.”

“Oh my god, no - no, I...you’re joking, you've gotta be kidding me!”

“Girl, we’re going to Broadway!”

Charlotte let out a very undignified squeal of delight, her phone leaving her ear momentarily as she flailed. How many times had she gone to The Majestic as a kid with her parents? How many times had she stood at the front of the orchestra, and then turned around to see the auditorium as if she were seeing the audience from the stage? How many times had she dragged Eric with her, dreaming about how maybe they would end up on that iconic stage together, to take their place in history as the Erik and Christine of Broadway, to stand on the stage where The Phantom of the Opera had been playing for over twenty years?

This was her longest childhood dream come true. Tears of joy stung her eyes as she put the phone back up to her ear.

“I can’t wait to tell Eric we’re going to The Majestic! He is going to FLIP OUT,” Charlotte laughed, a few tears slipping from her eyes, rolling down her cheeks.

“Oh, honey... the offer is just for you.”

And just like that, the smile was wiped from her face.

“I know how much you love working with Eric, but this is Broadway we’re talking about - not taking this chance would be career suicide! Besides, rumours are he should be getting a call about going to London. I’ve heard Andrew Llyod Webber himself wants Eric for the Phantom sequel everyone’s been talking about for ages. It’s finally happening, and I can’t imagine he’ll say no. It’s set over a decade after Phantom, and you’re just too young - Christine’s already been cast.”

Charlotte was silent, the tears falling down her cheeks were no longer from joy.

“But that means you won’t have any reason to stay off-Broadway now! You can make the leap up to the big leagues - this is everything you’ve wanted. I’ll make the call to confirm the part, okay?”

“Yeah,” Charlotte replied. “Yeah, sure... You’re right, I won’t have any reason to stay.”

“Okay, great! I’ll go do that right now - I’ll text you later to confirm, and give you dates of when they wanna meet with you and set everything up.”

Putting her phone back into her bag, a sob slipped out before she could stop herself, a hand coming up to cover her mouth as she crumpled forward.

This was everything she had ever wanted, but it felt like everything in her life was falling apart. She’d be going to Broadway, and Eric would be going across the pond to help originate a new musical. With that one phone call, it felt like her whole world had been turned upside down, and her heart had been ripped from her chest. He’d be leaving her - there was no doubt about that.

The last time she had been here, she had brought Eric with her. They had gotten coffee after doing a matinee show, and sat down together to relax and unwind, to let the post-show adrenaline fade away. She had leaned against his shoulder, and Eric had wrapped his arm around her, and they had just sat and talked, resting after the afternoon performance and enjoying the night off. When her stomach had rumbled of its own volition, they had laughed, got up, and walked arm in arm to go get a pretzel from one of the street vendors.

That wouldn’t be happening anymore. She would have to come here alone, and that thought made the tears fall harder.

~~~*~~~*~~~*~~~

The theatre practically vibrated, humming with the news and gossip as the understudies and ensemble murmured to one another, the vultures practically circling already, just waiting for the right moment to swoop down. This was the last performance for Eric, and for Charlotte. The director had already posted a sheet backstage to sign up for audition times before trying auditions from actors not already a part of the cast.

She stood alone, in costume, her arms crossed against her chest defensively (she could feel their eyes on her), and to help ward off the cold. Once she was under the stage lights she would be fine, but the dark depths of backstage were freezing, and Eric wasn’t here to help her stave off the chill. She bit down on her lip and closed her eyes to keep from crying again - despite visine and ice packs, her eyes were red and puffy enough as it was. She couldn’t afford anymore tears, not when she still had to cry during and at the end of the performance itself, and needed to mingle with the audience members at the stage door after the show. If she wanted to look good for the pictures, she had to keep it together.

But that was easier said than done when Eric startled her with his congratulations, and holding out her engagement ring. She had forgotten about it completely, and as she took it back from him the tears returned to her eyes, her lower lip trembling before she managed to pull herself together.

“As will you, I’m sure. Originating a part - that opportunity doesn’t just come along every day.”

They stood in silence for a moment - not touching, not talking, the tension between them immense, and the chasm between them felt miles wide. At least until places were called, and Eric turned to leave. Grabbing onto his wrist, she held on tight, not letting him leave.

“Eric, can we... can we talk? After the show? Please?” She begged, her eyes pleading with him to agree.

She had to tell him - she had to tell him that he was the only one she wanted, that he was the only one she loved and would be, now and forever. She couldn’t let him leave for London without knowing, without trying to work something out, somehow.

The distance, the time change - none of that would matter if he loved her too.


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It was black as pitch backstage, but he could see the silent tears winking like jewels on Charlotte’s cheeks, and their existence was worse than the one inset into the ring. In that moment, Eric loathed himself. He didn’t know why he should. He had done everything right, hadn’t he? Suppressed and buried what wasn’t meant to see the light of day? Maybe he should have broken his contract sooner to prevent a worse break.

But he hadn’t. And they had both lived as a consequence, this shimmering facsimile of a life, a story. A love. It was twisted every way; now, at least, they had found their exit.

Opportunity. Eric wanted to laugh out loud, and if the sound was laced with scorn, it wouldn’t be at Charlotte’s expense. But he kept the impulse in check. He could teach a master class in suppression at this point.

The temptation to reach for her, to banish her tears against a crooked finger, against the cool caress of his glove, was there. The temptation to drag her into his arms, resisting or otherwise, was even stronger. Maybe it was their costumes, or the shape of the Palais Garnier looming all around them in darkness, that perpetuated the illusion—or maybe it was the old difficulty he always had divorcing himself from the role. But an unholy possessiveness reared in Eric, demanding he take something, anything, of her with him. He didn’t doubt his own ability to spirit her away.

So he turned instead. And when her small hand caught his wrist, he told himself he would stay only a moment.

“What is there to say, Little Lotte?”

He didn’t turn back to her, and his voice was distant, as if he didn’t believe there really was a line in the script even though he had called for one. He had already jeopardized everything, changed things irrevocably, and lost what little he had of her, of them, by giving in. She knew what lay dormant now, and how could she defend against it? Because he would keep pushing, Eric knew. He might be able to hold off the beast for a little while, but his longing for her would consume them both. And she was such a young actress, and so relatively inexperienced. He had seen ingénues swept up by their costars soon grow to regret their decisions, their infidelities, and often before the contract had even ended. He couldn’t do that to Charlotte. He wouldn’t do that to Charlotte. He wouldn’t make her choose, so he would take away any choice she had in the matter. He would take himself off the board.

Our games of make believe are at an end.

Eric turned suddenly—not away, but toward. The light that shone in his eyes was preternatural, as if he could see in the dark. He saw Charlotte. He saw his own left hand cup her shoulder while his right ascended to cradle her cheek. Her tears smeared to a thin sheen of silver beneath his palm, and her lips parted as Eric bent and subdued her trembling mouth with the hot press of his. He kissed her through the mask. If he was going to destruct, he might as well do it totally. If there were no more lines to be fed, he might as well feed the fire and say his farewell. He didn’t wrap his arm around her, nor crush her against him. There was still space left between them. Instead, he bowed above her, like a tree willfully falling to half its height in an effort to reach the flower that bloomed hopefully below.

Then their lips disengaged, and Eric receded into stage darkness, the ghostly impression of his mask outlasting him long after the man himself was gone.


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She waited for his response with baited breath after asking Eric if they could talk after the show was over. She didn’t let go of his wrist, holding on tight, as if letting go would part them forever. With each passing second his silence felt as if it were growing louder and louder, as her heart beat frantically in her chest, like it was beating on the cage her body kept it in, desperately beating against the bones to leap out of her and into his hands where it belonged.

“What is there to say, Little Lotte?”

She could hear it in his voice, the finality of it all. This was it if he had his way; it would be their final night together, on stage and in life. He might try and push her away, but she wouldn’t let him. All her life she had done what was expected of her, what she was supposed to do, she did what everyone else wanted, gave in to everyone else’s persistence and wishes, just like her character counterpart. It may have taken her a long time to realize what it was that she wanted, but unlike Christine, she wasn’t going to give up her Eric without a fight.

When Christine went to her Erik at the end of the show, she pressed the engagement ring into his hand, to give him something to remember her by after she left with Raoul. The ring Ryan had given her was still held tight in her other fist, and in a split second decision, Charlotte threw the ring aside, not caring where it ended up, the metal clattering as it skated against the hardwood before finally coming to a stop. Whether or not Eric wanted her the way she wanted him, she wouldn’t stay with Ryan.

“It’s you,” she started, her voice barely louder than a whisper. Taking a deep breath to gather her courage, and say what she should've months ago, she continued. “I choose you, I want you, I... I love you, Eric.”

If he wouldn’t agree to speak with her after the show, then she’d say it now. She couldn’t let the chance slip her by. It wasn’t the way she wanted to tell him, rushed and quiet, backstage before they had to go and perform, when they couldn’t talk for hours about what this meant for them, about what they would do moving forward, if that was even something that Eric wanted. But she couldn’t risk him slipping away after the show and not speaking with her. So instead she threw it all out on the line, holding out her heart in her hand for him to take, and hoping he wouldn’t push her away.

When he started to turn to face her, she let go of his wrist. Instead of saying anything, he bent towards her, one hand resting on her shoulder, the other cupping her cheek. She met him halfway, grabbing hold of the lapels of his shirt, taking a small step closer to Eric as she stood on the tips of her toes to meet him in the kiss.

She only hoped it wasn’t a kiss goodbye.

Then it was over, and as she slowly opened her eyes she was left with the image of him walking away, before the stage manager barked at her in stage-whisper to get to places, they were going to start later than the usual if she didn’t hurry up.

She would prove it to him during the performance, Charlotte decided.

At the beginning, when whispering with Meg about who Raoul was, she merely spoke the lines as if she were remembering a childhood friend instead of someone she was interested in. Instead of gently telling Raoul no, that she couldn’t go to dinner with him with slight regret tinged with a hint of fear, she forcefully put the barrier down and told him no, getting exasperated when he wouldn’t listen to her and saying he would be back in two minutes instead of fearful of her Angel’s wrath.

She was already rising to go meet him at the mirror when he beckoned her, she held his hand as they walked like she had held onto his wrist earlier, as if she couldn’t bear to let him go. During Music of the Night, when his hands were travelling her body, Charlotte leaned back into his chest, she entwined their fingers. When Christine stole the Phantom’s mask to prove to herself he was real and not just a figment of her imagination or insanity, instead of being truly terrified of him, she only put a small amount of distance between the two of them as he lashed out at her, whispering, “I’m sorry,” as she gave the mask back to him.

Raoul had to act more desperately afraid for her, longing to protect her, to want to keep her safe from the Phantom of the Opera, convincing her to run away with him after Joseph Buquet’s body fell from the rafters, the man dead by hanging. He had to manipulate her into believing that the broken man she knew her Angel of Music was, the man she wanted to comfort and help heal from decades of trauma with love, was a cruel heartless monster. That Erik was not her Angel at all, but a vengeful ghost of a man who would haunt them forever if he didn’t whisk her away. But maybe she didn’t want to be whisked away, maybe she didn’t want to do what was asked and expected of her, so she went back to finish the production of Il Muto in the lead role as Erik had originally demanded.

It was nearly intermission. Charlotte was mobbed by a crew of stagehands helping her change as fast as possible into the new dress and wig for the Il Muto bows and the chandelier crash. Intermission wasn’t long, but it would be long enough for her to go to Erik’s dressing room and kiss him again, hold him again, to tell him she loved him again and again and again until he believed her.

She rushed onto the stage with a smile splitting her face wide open as she made her way to the front of the stage and curtseyed deeply. Charlotte made to move backwards with the rest of the cast, to get out of the way of the chandelier that was about to fall, when she realized her dress was caught. To stall a few seconds more, she pretended as if she was curtsying again a second time due to the thunderous applause the audience was still giving her, when in reality she was trying to rip her dress away from where it had been caught on the trap door.

She wasn’t strong enough, and as she rose, she saw the chandelier begin to fall. Their production had been hailed and raved about due to how the director decided he wanted the light fixture to crash to the stage; faster, more dangerous, to bring a very real sense of fear back to the audience as it rushed down from above them to the stage. Normally she had to run to get out of the way as it was, and that was when her dress wasn’t stuck on a trap door.

She was going to be crushed. She would end up with severe, probably life-altering injuries, and that was if she was lucky enough not to die on impact.

Instead of looking to the audience, where Ryan was in the front row, she glanced over to the side of the stage, terrified, crying, yanking on her dress trying to free it, as her eyes locked with the man she really loved for what precious seconds she had left.

Eric!”


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