[{POTO}] Run and hide but a face will still pursue you! {(Chapter One)}

Paris ((1874))

A bit over three years, Danielle mused as the cart horses hauled against the load they were hitched to of wood and labourers that rode it. She clutched tighter to the rope that kept the wood strapped down, her knuckles white as she was tossed precariously with the jerks of the cart.

The remains of the old opera house loomed ahead. For three years, the Opera Populaire had remained lonely and slowly decaying with the passage of time. Just another of Paris' many landmarks. For the past two years it had been for sale, and had remained stubbornly so, even after it had become clear no one would buy the ruins.

But then an American had had the guts- or the stupidity- to purchase the building. The cart lurched to a halt in front of the entrance stairs, the doors wide open and tradesmen traipsing in and out. Danielle jumped down from her place, as did the several older lads she rode with. They were all thin wiry lads, agile and full of stamina like Danielle. The only difference between her and the boys was gender, and Danielle had worked hard to make sure no one knew that.

She was blessed with strawberry blonde hair, straight and as silky as fine silken threads. But she kept it cropped to just above the shoulder and usually tied back with a single black ribbon in the style of many young men. Every day, she would meticulously bind her chest as tight as possible, hiding her womanly curves. Though her chest admittedly was small for a girl of 18 years, she still had to bind herself, lest she be discovered. She hid her willowy figure with the aid of loose fitting shirts and trousers. Her naturally soft and sweet tone of voice was adequately hidden by speaking as a commoner and after many years of practice, she had learnt how to alternate the pitch and texture so she could sound like a passable male.

Eight years she had been with the tradesmen, working alongside them as one of the men. Everyone had accepted her as a very slight but able boy. Termed as a 'jack of all trades,' she dabbled in most trades and was useful at construction sites. Her pale, porcelain skin was thankfully covered in a layer of dust and grit, thanks to the buildings she was almost constantly around.

"Daniel! Daniel!" She turned her head as Blake, her closest friend amongst the lads, strode to her side and captured her shoulder. "Boss said to get the wood inside and then scatter where we're needed," he said, waiting for her instructions. The boys had a kind of code, there was the 'Boss' or rather the figurehead, and then there was Danielle or Daniel as they knew her. None of them would lift a finger until her instructions had been given, and then they would follow them to the letter.

She nodded and then looked to the load of wood. Her critical gaze swept over the stack, her eyes the pleasant colour of good aged whiskey. She flashed her eyes back to the group of boys, milling about patiently. "Alright boys. George with Andy. Raymond with Frank. Erin with Jake. Will with Bill. Tony with Verence. And Blake you're with me." Her voice had risen to parade ground volume, booming easily across the area. She added just the right amount of grit with a slight slur of her R's, to bring down the normally refined sound of her speech.

They all nodded in acceptance. She had matched boys together that would balance out each other, such as small Tony with all but giant Verence. In the case of Tony and Verence, Verence could pick up the length of wood on his own but he would loose all direction; that's where Tony the smallish lad would guide his steps, doggedly getting the transfer done quickly and efficiently. It was similar with the others except in their own subtle ways.

Blake and Danielle were the first towards the load. Her nimble fingers made short work of the knots and she tossed the ropes back over the load. As Blake began to direct the others with the wood, Danielle skirted around the cart to the other side. She drew the rope through the metal rungs and then tossed it back over again. She repeated this three times, the ropes having been secured in something of a shoelace pattern. She rejoined Blake at his side, the rope coiled and slung over one shoulder and her head so it rested diagonally across her body. He nodded when he noticed and as the large Verence grabbed another log, one of the large ones that Danielle guessed would be used for the replacement of the carvings around the boxes; she scrambled up onto the already smaller pile. She grabbed an end of one of the logs and using her weight and certain angles rather than brute strength, she slid the log along till Blake grabbed the other end and hefted it onto his shoulder. Blake usually took the brunt of the weight, so Danielle took anything he couldn't and it worked well, especially with her acting like a rudder at the back.

The moment she was on the ground and the log was on her shoulder, her arm wrapped around, they wound their way past the stairs and through the doors into the chaotic anterior. Having been here earlier to gain her bearings with the rest of the tradesmen they worked for, Blake and Danielle quickly made their way to the stage where the space was being used to construct the various pieces. Already carpenters and the like were hard at work. Looking out at the empty and still charred remains of the seats, Danielle saw a man in some kind of harness hanging down by a salvageable carved maiden. Lovingly he chiselled a portion, applying the hammer with gentle taps. Blake and Danielle placed down their burden with the pile beginning to form. They returned to the cart and for the next 20 minutes or so they went back and forth until every log was transferred.

As Raymond and Frank deposited the last log heads turned to Danielle for further instructions. She smirked "Okay boys, you heard the Boss. Go be useful, but keep in your current pairs." Immediately they went off in their pairs, off to help wherever it was needed. She turned to Blake. "Listen Blake, I'm going to scope the joint but I need you to keep an eye out on the boys while I'm otherwise occupied."

"Alright, the boys and I'll fill you in later tonight. Boss told us we have lodgings here until constructions finished, I'll be at the front door at 6 if you haven't finished by then," Blake agreed, smirking in return.

Danielle grinned as she turned on a booted heel and made for the shadowy recesses by the stage. She and her crew were an honest bunch, but they made it their business to know everything about any place they worked at. Give them a good 24 hours and they could tell you with complete certainty who was sleeping with whom, exactly what rumours were true, how many hairs the man named 'Smith' had missed while shaving, and where the vault was and the combination; not to mention exactly how much was in that safe or vault.

No one ever seemed to notice the young men. One of the best places to put something you wanted to hide was in plain view, and so it was the same with spies of any sort. The best way to play the spy with no suspicions aimed at you was to just be a part of the scenery, to have always been there, and she and the boys were more than adept at doing that.

Danielle wandered down the corridors, passing various workers busy at their tasks. The place smelt faintly of smoke and mothballs, currently overshadowed with the fresh new smells of candle wax and saw dust. She went deeper, skirting a couple making out ravenously in a corner. Both men, Danielle noticed. Only in the theatre or opera might such a union be accepted; not spoken of, but accepted. Danielle had no problem with the union; in her opinion, love was love no matter whom you had it for.

She spotted what she had been unintentionally looking for. Grinning, she grasped it in her hand. She cast a quick glance around her before hoisting her lithe form up the rope until she had climbed up to the hidden world made up of rope walkways and well-placed planks. With a rope wrapped around her wrist for insurance, she looked idly about her in the gloomy darkness.

Danielle grasped the rope more firmly around her wrist and twined her leg around the rope before she swung herself bodily and swooshed quietly through the air to a nearby rope bridge. She let the rope go and squatted down on the wooden boards that made the walkway. She peered over the edge and observed a maturing but elegant woman and a young girl with cornfield blond hair below. Danielle sighed in a moment of purely feminine envy and smoothed a hand over her cropped hair, wishing she could have the luxury of growing her tresses long as she had as a child.

She snapped her attention back to the two females as they began talking in hushed tones. Danielle was delighted to discover that despite how quiet they were straining to be sounds drifted easily up to her and she settled in to listen unashamedly to their secret conversation.

"Do you think he has gone mother?" the girl asked, looking around as if she expected someone to jump out.

"I do not know Meg my dear. He is a persistently stubborn creature and if there is a chance he is still alive I would not put it past him to return for some sick sense of revenge." The maturing woman was obviously this girl's mother, and Danielle had her suspicions about what they were discussing. The story had spread through Paris as only the juiciest of gossip could, that is to say quickly and viciously. The details weren't known; just that a mad man had 'haunted' the opera and caused deaths and the event that had thrown the Opera into its current state of dilapidation. Obviously this woman knew a lot more than the public.

Curiosity caught Danielle began to listen in earnest, instead of the mild interest of a few moments ago.

"Mother, please stop blaming yourself. You simply showed compassion to a young boy who desperately needed it. In your place I would have done the same thing." Madame Giry smiled softly at Meg. She felt better for her words but the guilt still clung to her consciousness. She felt her neck prickle at the all too familiar sensation of being watched and she lifted her gaze, her face draining of colour for a moment. But all was still, there was even a boy coiling a rope nonchalantly on one of the plank bridges. He flashed a bright smile at her and tipped his cap, fingerless gloves adorning his hands. She smiled in return and turned back to Meg.

Danielle let out her breath in relief, thankful she had brought that rope along forgotten across her chest. She resettled her cap more firmly on her head, having whipped it out of her pocket. God knows how the woman had known she was up here, but thankfully Danielle had seen the tensing of shoulders just in time. Conversation struck up between the two once again, but now it was over the new dancers and girls coming into the ballet. Danielle shrugged and strolled along the high walkway, hands stuck boyishly in her pockets. She whistled as she nimbly traversed the ropes and planks, grateful she was used to heights as her various trades called for.

This Phantom business intrigued her; she was a sucker for mysteries. Later tonight, she'd instruct the boys to keep their ears open for anything relating to it. Grabbing a random rope, after a hard tug to ensure the thing was properly anchored, she wrapped a leg with the braid before she jumped from her current spot and let the rope slip through her hands, lowering her rapidly and safely to the ground. As Danielle's boots hit home she released the rough but sturdy piece of stage rope and wandered off once again.