Title: Real 3/3

Author: Princess Joyce

Rating: T

A/N: Okay, this is it. I hope you enjoy it…

Real-3

"And you promise not to stare at his mask?" I asked my stepfather anxiously as we drove to Erik's house the following night.

Charles sighed, and gave me a perturbed look.

"Christine, I'm a lawyer. I deal with unusual people every day. I am not going to be rude or embarrass you."

I didn't say anything, just twisted my hands nervously in my lap.

"I listened when you told me their story. It's very sad, and I'm glad that you have made friends with him. But I have to admit, Princess, you were no where near this nervous the first time I met Richard," he said, arching an eyebrow at me.

I blushed and looked out my window.

"Erik's different. He's… just different," I muttered.

Luckily he dropped it.

We arrived right on time, and I was slightly relieved to see that Erik was as nervous as I was. Of course he didn't look nervous, but his hand was shaking slightly when I gave it a squeeze.

Erik's house was nice. It wasn't as large as mine was, but then he didn't have four people living it like I did.

He led us through a short entryway to a living room where his mother was seated on a sofa. Erik introduced us, and excused himself to check on dinner.

His mother, who insisted we call her Nancy, was delighted that we had come. It seemed Erik was not exaggerating when he said they didn't get many visitors. But Charles was very polite, and made all the appropriate responses as Nancy chattered away about whatever popped into her head.

Not only was Erik very musically inclined; he was also a superb cook. We had a nice dinner, with Nancy doing most of the talking. Erik interrupted her when we had finished eating.

"Mom. It's getting late, and I want to show them the studio before they have to leave."

He led us down a staircase to find a fully furnished basement. There were all kinds of sound equipment, instruments, microphones, speakers, etc.

Erik gave us a brief tour explaining a few of the things we would be using.

I turned to look at Charles hopefully.

He looked around and nodded as if he was suitably impressed.

"You've been practicing together all these weeks, but I've never heard you sing. Would you sing something for me Christine?"

I looked at Erik who gestured for me to follow him to the piano. After a quick warm-up, he had me sing the aria, 'Think of Me' from the musical. The acoustics and sound quality of the room were incredible, and my voice sounded better than I had ever heard it sound.

Charles applauded enthusiastically when I had finished. He even wiped away a tear!

"That was wonderful, Christine! I had no idea you were so talented."

I ducked my head and blushed, but turned to look at Erik for approval as I did after every time I sang.

"Bravissimo…" He sang to me softly.

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Christmas break came and went in a flourish. Erik and I found much more time to practice together with school intruding. Richard was not happy that I was spending so much time with Erik. I tried to explain how important getting the part of Christine was for me, but he couldn't understand.

Erik could sense the added stress that Richard was causing me, and I soon found myself telling him of my frustrations with my boyfriend even though I had not wanted to burden him with it. Erik seemed a bit perturbed at first. He didn't like Richard, and I understood why. But then he came up with a solution.

"Richard's friend Joseph Wilcox is auditioning for Raul, is he not?" He asked me after we'd finished up our latest practice.

"Um, yes I think so," I said. Honestly I hadn't paid that much attention to Joey lately.

"And your cousin is auditioning for the part of Meg Giry?"

I nodded. That I knew for certain as Meg would not shut up about it.

"Why don't you ask them to start practicing with us? Auditions are only a few weeks away, and we could all benefit." he explained.

I smiled and nodded.

"That's a great idea, Erik! But, you don't mind having them all over?" I asked, thinking of his mother, and how protective Erik was of their privacy.

"No, I don't mind. Richard could even come and watch us," he offered.

I arched an eyebrow at that.

"Okay, who are you and what did you do with my friend?" I teased, though Erik didn't find it funny.

He sighed.

"It's been a long time since Richard… wronged me. He has apologized repeatedly, but I have never forgiven him. I wanted to hang on to the hate and anger. I've pushed others away…" he trailed off and reached for my hands.

"You have reminded me in these last few months, what it is like to have a friend. I guess I did not realize what I was missing. Holding myself back because of this," he said raising one of my hands to touch his mask.

"I'm letting my father win. I want to be a performer, Christine. I want to have friends and experience life the way you do. And I want to be a part of your life. More than just your coach, and maybe someday, more than just a friend."

Erik always had such a way with words.

"I think I'd like that too, Erik," I said, leaning forward to give him a hug.

He held on to me for a long time, and when I pulled back he tightened his arms to keep me close.

I looked at him, and his face was just inches in front of me. There was a heat in his eyes that I'd never seen before. I liked my lips unconsciously, and his eyes dropped to them.

He looked me in the eyes again, and started leaning forward. My mind was a mess. Should I let him kiss me? What about Richard? Would pulling away from Erik ruin this closeness that I'd found with him?

I was still undecided when a voice from above called down.

"Christine? Your father is here to take you home!"

Erik and I jumped apart, even though Nancy was blind and had no idea what we were doing. Or had almost done anyway.

"We'll be right up, Mom," Erik called, and looked at me uncertainly.

I smiled and pecked him on the cheek.

"I'll call you after I talk to Meg and Joey."

He nodded, and I darted up the stairs to meet Charles.

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"No, no no! You sound like a dying bird!" Erik practically yelled at Meg.

I looked over at Joey and Richard and saw that they, like me, were doing their best not to laugh. Meg was a spoiled brat, and it felt great to watch Erik put her in her place.

"I do not! I've been practicing for months, and my mother says I do it perfectly!" She shouted back, indignant.

Erik shook his head and glared at her. His eyes almost seemed to glow in the dark studio as he stared the petite ballerina down.

"You've been practicing your ballet, but you have to sing too!"

Meg crossed her arms and lifted her chin.

"I sing perfectly!"

"No, Christine sings perfectly! But even she understands the value of practicing!"

I wasn't sure what to do. Luckily, Joey saved the day.

"Richard, why don't you take Meg home? Erik, Christine and I can practice our scenes. We have a lot the Meg isn't in," He suggested.

Richard jumped right up from the sofa he'd been sitting on for the last hour.

"Sounds great, let's go," he said, pulling his car keys from his pocket.

Richard, like Meg apparently, was not at all musically inclined. Though he seemed to enjoy hearing me sing, he quickly grew bored with mechanics that rehearsing consisted of.

Joey had not been practicing his part enough either, but unlike Meg, he was grateful for Erik's help and paid close attention as the masked man went through his part with him.

Meg left without a word, but Richard stayed long enough to kiss me goodbye and invite Joey to join him at his house for a few hours of video games when we were done.

For the next three hours, Joey, Erik, and I went over every little detail for our scenes. In all the times that I had practiced with Erik he had never done much singing or acting himself, so I was rather surprised to see just how good he was.

I found that actually doing the scenes with Erik made everything very easy. He was so intense, that all I had to do was react naturally. I mean, that's pretty much all there is to Christine. Well, that and the singing.

I felt real fear when the script called for him to be intimidating, and real tears fell from my eyes at his sadness. The Phantom's story was very similar to Erik's own, and it was easy to feel compassion for him.

Joey's voice began to get scratchy, and Erik immediately called a halt to his singing anymore. Secretly, I was happy to take a little break myself, and collapsed on the sofa while Erik took Joey upstairs to get him some tea.

After giving Joey explicit instructions on how to take care of himself so that he would have full use of his voice in time for auditions, Joey left to join Raul at his house.

When Erik returned to the basement an awkward moment passed between us. We hadn't been alone together since the almost-kiss the week before.

Just as I was about to ask him if he'd like to talk about it, he spoke. "Is there a scene you'd like to rehearse?" He asked, his melodic voice made me shiver with the anticipation of acting with him and him alone.

I had been looking forward to rehearsing the very last scene that ended with a kiss, but we needed Joey for that. So I thought over everything that we had done, and remembered one song we had skipped earlier because it only included Erik and me.

"Um, Music of the Night?" I asked, trying not to blush.

He stared at me for a long time before he nodded and walked over to the cd player.

The music started and he turned to face me. His entire countenance seemed to almost ripple as he sank into the character of the Phantom.

His voice was seductive and his eyes held a promise of pleasure. I found myself wanting to be Christine with a desire that nearly stole my breath. I wanted to have this man all to myself.

I acted my part. Well, not so much acted as gave in and let him mesmerize me with his caressing voice and touches.

He pulled me up against him, and gently ran his hand down the front of me to grab my hand. I turned my face toward him wanting desperately for him to kiss me, but he continued to sing and pulled away.

I allowed myself to fall limp when it came time for Christine to faint, and he caught me with surprising grace. The music swelled as he carried me, effortlessly to the sofa we were using as the bed.

"You alone can make my song take flight. Help me make the music of the night…" he sang gently caressing my face as the note rang out through the empty room.

I counted in my head the time it would take him to walk back to his 'organ' and then opened my eyes to begin the next scene.

To my surprise, he had not walked back across the room. His face was hovering, inches from my own, and he was looking at me with such hunger I felt my entire body flush with heat.

Slowly, giving me plenty of time to push him away, he lowered his mouth to mine.

The kiss was indescribable. I thought of Richard and all of the hot, heavy kisses we'd shared with tongue and saliva. But not one of them had made me feel this way. Our lips were slightly parted, but our tongues remained in our mouths. The pressure of his lips against mine was firm, but not bruising. A great warm swelling sensation rose in my chest, and I suddenly gasped and pushed away from him.

I sprang to my feet staring in wide-eyed disbelief, one hand covering my still-tingling lips.

We stared at each other breathing hard. And then, I ran.

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It was three blocks to Richard's house, but I ran the whole way, burst through his front door leaving it open as I ran into the den where he and Joey were playing video games.

I grabbed the controller out of his hands and threw it to the floor. He opened his mouth to yell in protest, but I dived on him, covering his lips with my own.

As soon as it registered that I was kissing him like mad, he relaxed into my embrace and grabbed my hips with his hands. The kiss was just as hot and passionate as all the others that we'd shared were. I let out a moan of desire and pressed closer to him caressing his tongue with my own.

A minute later, I forcefully pulled away.

"Wow, Chrissy. Anytime you want to interrupt me to do that, please go right ahead," he teased, practically leering at me.

I shook my head, staring at him in shock.

"Nothing. It isn't there. It never was…" I muttered.

Richard frowned.

"Christine, what…?"

"I have to go," I said abruptly and ran out the door.

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I was gasping and sweating profusely when I finally made it back to Erik's cool basement.

He was in the same spot I'd left him, tears streaming down his face. The wetness has caused his mask to slip off and it lay unnoticed on the floor.

He gasped when he noticed me standing there trying to catch my breath.

And then, in the most beautiful voice I had ever heard him use, he sang, "Christine, I love… you…" holding out the 'love' and 'you' for an impossibly long time.

I hurried to him and fell to my knees so that we were eye-level, my hands coming up to hold his face.

I kissed him this time, my tongue slipping into his mouth to tease his before darting back into my own. His followed hesitantly, but even as our kiss grew in passion, there was no mistaking the feeling that it invoked from the beginning.

They say that when you fall in love, when you meet 'the one', you just know. And if you don't know, then you're not in love. A pretty concept that I had clung to for all of my childhood but had had to let go of as I reached adulthood.

Kissing Erik was like finding something I'd been searching for, for so long, that I'd forgotten I was even looking for it. And suddenly it was there. I found love.

Complete. That was the only word I could think of to describe being in his arms. I knew I'd found something that most people never do. I was so humbled, I cried.

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Epilogue

Ten Years Later…

The beauty of the Atlanta Fox Theatre mesmerized Princess Joyce as she and her younger sister, Liz, walked down the aisle toward their seats. She had been waiting for months to see 'Phantom of the Opera' on stage and could hardly believe that it was actually here.

"Here we are," Liz said and led the way down the row.

"Wow, these seats are great! How long 'til it starts?" Joyce asked, eyes darting in every direction to take it all in.

Liz looked at her watch and sighed.

"Another thirty minutes. You always insist on being extremely early to everything!" She complained.

"Not extremely…"

Liz crossed her arms and gave Joyce a superior smirk.

"What about last week when we went and saw 'Pirates of the Carribbean' at the movies? We were there for twenty minutes before the previews even started!"

"I like getting a good seat…"

"And I had to sit through all those freaking previews!"

"Hey, sometimes the previews are the best part of the movie-going experience!"

Liz huffed and opened her program, while Joyce sat back with a tiny smile believing herself to be the winner of that particular argument.

"Hey, this says that the actor who plays the Phantom and the actress that plays Christine are married in real life. Aww, they have two little kids! Look there's picture."

Joyce quickly flipped through the program and found the article. It should the Actor and Actress in costume, posing with their young son and daughter who were dressed in their Sunday best

"Aww, they are sooo cute…"

A few hours later Princess Joyce, Liz, and everyone else in the audience were on their feet clapping as loudly as they could.

Joyce turned to Liz with tears streaming down her face.

"Christine may have chosen Raul on stage, but we all know who she's going home with tonight…"

The End

A/N: Okay that's it. I hope you aren't disappointed that it stopped where it did. I had never intended for it to even be as long as it was. The epilogue is completely true, by the way, and that is what inspired me to write this. Thanks so much for reviews. I don't have plans to write another PoTO fic at this time, but I love it so much I'm sure you'll see another from me soon.

Love,

Princess Joyce