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

Danielle took a breath, sorting the story and allowing herself to sink into her estate of lies. "When I was about 8 my father sold me into labour," she began, aware of his concentrated listening. "He could get more money for me selling me to the workforce than a brothel," Danielle caught his slight twitch at these words, knowing they made his assumptions sound more steeped in fact. "I'd proven myself a waste of money, a humiliation to the family." She felt the first lie on her tongue like a remembered taste. Immediately the air of intense listening increased and Danielle smirked. "You see, when I was still very young my father paid a lot of money to a man. The hope was that I would raise their standard of life, they were convinced this would work; my father was a scheming man, always looking for new ways to make money." That last part at least was true. She sighed, not entirely pretending to regret what she had to say. "The man performed a certain operation on me; I am what you would call a Castrato." Everything in the room froze, Danielle could swear even the whispered tones that constantly flowed through the catacombs had ceased. She kept her face carefully blank, but within she smiled amusedly. You could almost see his mind whirling over the implications, how it explained everything; Womanly figure, lack of interest in woman, shame, lack of an Adams apple, terror of being sold to a brothel. All the boxes were checked and Danielle knew it worked so perfectly that she could almost laugh; it was not for nothing she had been building her story since she was smart enough to know her situation. "After some training it became apparent that my voice was not going to get us anywhere," despite her inner thoughts her voice and face were fittingly sombre. "My father had put so much money into this; he needed some way to recoup so here I am now ten years later." She shrugged, acting as if she was trying to brush it off.

His hands had stopped moving, frozen on his lower back. "Do you want some help with that?" She asked, fighting to keep the smug out of her tone. He became unglued at her words, turning to look at her with that familiar eyebrow raised. She shrugged, feigning an expression of barely concealed shame. "Unless you've got some serious flexibility you've failed to mention, I don't think you're going to get that where it needs to go." She gestured at the jar of ointment with a mischievous grin; the expression appearing suitably forced. This was becoming far too much fun; Danielle was in danger of milking this.

The Phantom watched her closely for a moment, before handing her the jar with a brief hard look. He came to sit on the bed with his back to her, the blue and black bruising splashing shapes on his skin. Once his back was to her Danielle allowed herself to grin fully, reminding herself to stay cautious. The ointment was cool to her touch, so she rubbed it briskly between her hands before applying it to his shoulders. She felt him tense abruptly, before slowly releasing each muscle as the ointment and his will forced them into submission. "I'll answer any questions, within reason." She said, successfully sounding hesitant. She considered letting her normal boyish lilt fade a little, but decided against it; she knew from experience that less was more.

He didn't speak at first, but even a fool could feel the concentration blooming around him. "Does anyone else know this?" It wasn't what she had expected as his first question, but she obliged, "No, no one. Except perhaps Madam Giry, that woman is three kinds of wily." He turned to glance at her over his shoulder, the white of his mask unexpectedly facing her. Though Danielle was unable to see his expression, she guessed at the quizzical look in his swirling turquoise gaze. Shrugging she ran her thumbs up along each side of his spine, satisfied when he flinched but then pressed back into her touch. "The woman found me after I passed out, the first night you officially took me on. She took some liberties whilst fixing me up, figured some things out." Danielle let him stew on that as she began working lower, pressing her fingers into the grooves of his muscles and ribcage. Her hilarity had died away by now, as it finally penetrated that she had her hands on his naked back. She felt the beginnings of a flush stain her neck, and concentrated on keeping it from getting worse. He made a noncommittal sound in his throat, moving off the bed as Danielle's hands dropped from him with a slap that signalled she was done. He picked up his shirt and slipped it back on, and Danielle guessed that he was getting to the question she'd expected originally.

He kept his back to her a moment longer, watching his shadow flicker where the candlelight fought the lifelong battle of light and dark. Finally, he turned, and caught her gaze with an unerring swiftness. Danielle struggled not to fidget under his penetrating stare, the clash of his turquoise all-knowing gaze against the butterscotch of her determined glare. Deep inside of her, where her 'self' lay hidden wrapped in her layers of lies, she felt a sudden jolt of terror. He knows, whispered traitorously through her mind as she fought this sudden bone deep certainty with the stubborn conviction that he could not.

Within this simple moment, so much passed through Danielle, that as he abruptly broke their almost corporeal link she was left nearly breathless. "You are perhaps more suited to the life of outcast than I would have thought," as he spoke the Phantom moved about the room and neatly gathered his discarded garments. He pitched them neatly into a basket for this purpose and then imperiously gestured for Danielle to follow him, disappearing out the curtained doorway without waiting to see that she followed.

Danielle popped upright on the bed as he departed, growling inaudibly as she pushed to the edge of the ludicrous bed and stood. Her muscles cramped for a moment, reminding her she was far from undamaged and she automatically grabbed for something to steady herself. Pulling her hand back an instant before she made contact, Danielle blew out a breath of exasperation for almost using her injured limb. Growing more irritable, she marched after the Phantom, using her left hand to pull back the curtain with a verging on violent movement. What's with him?! She grumbled to herself, mulling over the sudden return to his normal grand manner. She'd been expecting something akin to the Spanish inquisition. Questions and accusations, possible disgust on his part; castratos were not generally a topic of polite conversation so to speak. This sudden turn around had Danielle slightly confused, and she hated being confused, it made her feel not in control and vulnerable.

When she spotted him, he was down by the water's edge, pulling the little flat-bottomed boat in by its mooring chain. She had reached his side by the time it bumped against the stone floor with a hollow thump. "Get in," he commanded, tilting his head down to stare at her when she did not immediately do as told. Danielle was already glaring up at him and met his gaze with a hard look. Due to their proximity she had to crane her neck more than she would've liked; cursing her height for the millionth time. When he remained silent Danielle ground her teeth in frustration. "What the hell!" she finally exploded, barely shy of yelling. He quirked his eyebrow, turquoise eyes lighting briefly, with what Danielle knew was mirth. It was quick but she caught it, and perversely it cooled her temper. "I tell you my "big secret" and you just walk off?" she asked, considerably calmer, quirking her own eyebrow in something of a mirror image.

His mouth pulled into a smirk that shouldn't have been sensual but made her stomach drop for a second. "For a castrato you're amazingly glib about it," he pointed out as he gripped her upper arm and all but forced her into the boat. To prevent herself taking an impromptu dip in the freezing lagoon Danielle clambered aboard, shrugging off his hand with an agile slip that left him clutching air as she did. "Yeah well, what you call glib I call resigned." Danielle mumbled as she settled into her preferred seat. "Not like it'll just grow back," her blatant sarcasm was so thick Danielle could have cut it out and tailored it into a smart winter overcoat. She waved her hands in a vague gesture of growth, snorting with the mental image.

She had already guessed he intended to escort her back, rather than sending her on her merry way. Sure enough, he gracefully stepped aboard and began to push them away from the shore with the stored pole, maintaining his detached silence. She watched him effortlessly guiding their vessel and grumbled as he hit the hidden lever without any discernible hesitation. With the required dramatic gush of water the portcullis and curtains rose, uncovering the waterway out of the Phantom's lair. Automatically she ducked and covered as they sailed under, trying to avoid the large drips from the sodden drapes in vain. She swore as one caught her on the back of the neck, slithering chillingly under her collar. Trying to shrug the uncomfortable feeling away she brought her gaze back onto the Phantom and abruptly a surprised laugh bubbled up and spilled over as she caught sight of him. Not even he it appeared could quiet avoid the fat drops from the absorbent but remarkably undamaged drapery. He'd also, apparently, caught the worst of it. Big obvious dollops dotted his white shirt, plastering the spots to his shoulders and down his back in short trails. His wig, for Danielle had figured that out quickly, sported a few caught drops; more fortunate drips slid onwards and trickled down to drench his collar. But what had startled a laugh out of Danielle was his expression. It was a mix between disgust and surprise, with a rare flash of mortification pulling his face into a bizarre amalgamation. His only visible eyebrow was quirked high in the typical surprise position, with his nose slightly wrinkled and his usually deliciously sensual mouth curved distinctly down in each corner. Danielle sucked in her breath as the impulse to kiss that mouth back into its usual shape struck with a viciousness she didn't know it could. The abrupt halt to her mirth brought his gaze swinging back to her as his face cleared and settled into wry bemusement.

Growling mentally at herself Danielle crossed her arms and gave him what could only be called a Look. "I don't pretend to understand what goes on in your opium addled brain, and I can even accept that usually I'm not going to get a straight answer; but I want one now." She told him clearly, getting straight to the point. She kept her gaze locked on him, and wondered in that spare part of her brain that was always thinking how he could steer when he wasn't breaking the stare either.

"We shall continue your training, even my pride must buckle under the hypocrisy of abandoning our efforts just because of what you are," The Phantom didn't even pretend he didn't know what she meant, and Danielle appreciated the unaccustomed straightness. "There's a first," she couldn't resist adding, grinning at the glare he shot her. "We shall discuss this at length tomorrow night; I require time to process this new information and neither of us are in particularly fine mettle at present. We will both benefit from a night of rest," The Phantom ended his sentence with a finality that suggested strongly that he wished now for silence. His face appeared introspective in the twilight gloom of the underground, his strong jaw line catching Danielle's attention as she watched him. Impotent anger flickered around her consciousness as she tried to stem her strong reaction to him, hating this uncontrollable part of her. Honestly, the man had only to look at her and vital organs turned to mush. Thankfully she was able to shuffle her reactions to the back of her mind nowadays and focus on the present task; but they were no less powerful or diminished.

"Opium?" The Phantom's sudden query into the silence startled Danielle from her inner musings, and she snorted with amusement. "I was thinking of several others, but they'd all make a sailor blush and seemed somehow crass." This was said with such sincerity that she heard his quite chuckle above her head as the boat touched the stone dock, looking away from him as the gentle bump caught her attention.

He stayed standing in the boat as Danielle scrambled out, knowing with a grim certainty that she would never be able to look graceful or nonchalant getting out of the cursed thing. She turned to watch him, cocking her head in question when he made no move to join her. "You know the way from here little aprendiz," The Phantom told her, leaning his weight expertly on the pole as he controlled the shallow craft. Danielle's brow puckered slightly at this new title, a line forming between her eyebrows. "What's with the little? Shall I start calling you Big Boss?" She cocked an eyebrow, planting her uninjured fist on a hip. "I should think that would be obvious, and you shall call me Eric; I find I grow tired of 'The Phantom' and your obtuse 'Boss' ruse." He'd already begun guiding the craft away, missing Danielle's stunned expression as gloom obscured her from his view. She was not so stunned to discover he'd seen through the 'Boss' term, but positively floored that he'd given her his name. Raising her free hand she covered her eyes and leaned into the reassuring solidity of her palm. Too much had happened today, and right now she did not have enough brain cells to cope.

Deliberately forcing her chaotic thoughts into submission, at least for the next few hours, Danielle turned for the passage that led to her room; until she had the fortitude to sort them. Unsurprised to find the way lit by strategically placed torches she climbed on automatic until she stumbled into her apartment, shutting and jamming the mirror behind her as she did. Tired as she was Danielle knew she still had some rather pressing matters, namely the boys. Considering the way she had left them, she wouldn't be at all surprised to find them organising a lynch mob.

With a sigh Danielle left her rooms and forged a steady path back down to the main areas of the Opera, slinking in amongst the thinning crowd without anyone taking notice. She allowed the crowd to pull her along in its natural currant for a short time, agilely slipping out into a corridor without disturbing their flow. They were leaving she knew, the tradesmen returning for the night to their homes and families. Many of the performing staff remained in the residential boarding house up above, her destroyed apartment in an obscure enough section that it remained undisturbed. Danielle was relatively sure that she wouldn't be able to keep the room for much longer, especially not with the attached washroom. However, if she were lucky, the general trepidation remaining would prevent that for a while longer. At least until someone decided the Phantom wasn't going to step in and finish what he'd started.

Finding her group of lads wasn't hard, they were arguing fair loud enough to rival a group of tomcats, all she had to do was follow the sound. Her lynch mob idea wasn't that far off the mark. At least when she stepped unnoticed into their gathering spot the pervasive feeling in the room was a little too mob like for her palate.

"He's taken Daniel below and you want to wait!" bellowed tiny Tony, bouncing with fury. Blake stared down at him, as implacable as stone. "We don't know where they are down there; he'd have the advantage over us in that labyrinth." Blake pointed out, one dark brow raised in subtle challenge. Danielle hung back, melding seamlessly with the group; she wanted to see how Blake handled this.

It was always a bit peculiar to her that if she had tried to hide her alert boys would have instantly spotted her. Even they failed to notice her small slip of presence though; when she lounged indolently against a nearby prop as if she had never left. "He makes a good point Tony, calm down," Vorence placed a placating hand on his companions shoulder, swallowing both the shoulder and a good portion of his arm in his massive grip. Tony glared defiantly at Blake for a moment longer, and then deflated and shook his head. "But we can't just sit here!" he insisted, though without the defiance of a moment before. Blake nodded his head in agreement, turning his gaze to lock on the young pair George and Andy. "What did you learn from the trap door?" He asked. Danielle approved of the commanding but not domineering tone of his voice. "Grade A work, never seen its like." George spoke with enthusiasm, his eyes lighting as if he held a new type of toy in his hands. "We've seen a lot of escape routes, but this one is seamless," Andy added, splaying his hands to indicate the mastery. "The mechanism is adjusted just so that once you're through, no one can follow. If you can even find the damn thing, only reason we could spot it is because of the three years' worth of dust and the sawdust in that pit." Andy looked at George; their expressions turning sour at the same instant. "In fact, it's the first bloody door we've been unable to get through since, well, ever." George turned an apologetic face to Blake.

He waved away the apologetic tone, indicating without words that the sentiment wasn't necessary. "We'll just have to find another way in," he frowned even as he spoke, Danielle guessing he was remembering that she had been uncovering the various hidden passageways and had yet to pass this information on. She had initially started some sketches of the passages in relation to where they were in the Opera House but shortly after initiation into the Phantom's tutelage Danielle had neglected the rough maps. She watched with a half-smile as Blake caught the attention of Andy and George with another wave of his hand. They perked up, metaphysical tails wagging, as they awaited his instruction. "I need you to go to Daniel's room, search it for anything relating to the tunnels," despite their interested expressions he left it at that. Danielle could only approve. Being too specific about what to find would result in them overlooking items that could otherwise lead to exactly what they needed, plus it kept them intrigued which meant they were alert for longer; even when combing through hay, as it were.

With a quick nod Blake sent them on their way, and they would have scampered right past Danielle without a second glance had she not grabbed the pair of them by the back of their tunics. As they began to react instinctually, Danielle dropped to one knee to avoid the fists previously intended for her face and with a strong jerk sent them reeling backwards before landing heavily on their tailbones. She pretended to dust off her hands as she stood and turned to face the two wide eyed youths, ignoring the throbbing in her wrist the trick had redoubled. It was worth it to see the expressions of renewed respect flash for only a moment from the gathered group before shouts arose. A cacophony of sound she chose to ignore until they settled back into silence.

As the dust shaken loose from the rafters began to settle Danielle locked eyes with Blake. He was frowning still, obviously unhappy. She knew she'd have to give him an explanation or risk alienating him. He wasn't one to pry ordinarily, but she knew she'd given him a scare today and it was the least he deserved. At least Blake wouldn't demand a play-by-play. He never required much; mostly he was a need to know kind of guy. As he had earlier she waved a hand to indicate without words that she'd explain later. As she did Blake's eyes flickered to her waving gesture, locking instantly on the first aid with a deeper frown. Danielle sighed with exasperation, approaching at a faster gait to forestall the brewing anger Blake very rarely unleashed. "Down boy," she muttered for his ears alone the moment she was in range, sending him a hard look before turning to her small clutch. "That," she paused, gaining the absolute attention of the room. "Was close," Danielle finished with her voice arrogant and her mouth curling into a familiar smirk. Chuckles filtered back to her, though subdued.

"What happened?" This was Tony, forever forward in his thoughts. Mutters along the same vein followed his question. Danielle sighed, she was so tired, and gestured for everyone to take a seat as she climbed what looked and felt like a pile of rolled rugs. She settled at the top, resting her bandaged wrist against a knee. "First of all, whilst I appreciate what you were trying to do, no one is to ever interfere in my fights unless I indicate otherwise." She levelled a gaze of frigid amber on them until they began to squirm, visibly fidgeting. Even Blake rolled his shoulders; she could view him across the heads of her audience standing at the back. "But why did you push him Daniel" Danielle couldn't pin point the speaker, she was so very tired. She rubbed her good hand over her eyes, trying to ease the burning. "That dagger is only a few inches long and not weighted right for throwing. At the time I judged it at best would lodge in his shoulder; I've looked into his eyes boys, it would've done nothing but make him mad. At worse it would have hit me, distracting me enough to let him shatter my defence and finish me off." She chopped her hand lazily through the air to indicate sudden cut off. "I had enough time to decide that if I 'saved' him he'd owe me, and maybe I'd get us all off the hook; so I did." She shrugged with the last word and pushed herself off her makeshift tower of rugs, her legs barely catching her as she hit the ground. Clenching her jaw she willed the weariness off for just a while longer. "It worked; we're safe, this time." She pointed at them with a sudden movement, emphasizing the significance of that. Danielle didn't expect them to suddenly sing his praises, but she wanted them to be careful, and gratefully she knew they understood her.

She bid them goodnight then, exchanging some quick words with a few of them before she gestured Blake over to her side and left the area. They walked in silence, Blake patiently waiting for her forthcoming explanation. Danielle shoved her hands into her pants pockets, the extra bulk on her injury only causing minor difficulty. "He fixed me up," she said as they turned a corner, catching the quick nod from Blake. She knew he'd already guessed, she was only confirming. She hadn't actually told Blake what she was doing with the Phantom, but intimations had been made. She'd lost count of the amount of times she'd left him with leading bits of information. She supposed she'd have to come clean, to a certain extent anyway. She wet her lips, sorting through what to tell him as she did, and prepared to speak. "We're needed in the amphitheatre tomorrow, the new chandelier is going up tomorrow and they want all hands on deck." Blake cut her off before she had even drawn the first breath, startling a breath out of her instead. "All hands Daniel," he said again, and Danielle understood in that moment that she had not given him enough credit. He'd obviously figured enough out, and knew where and with whom she'd been spending all her time. Now though, she sensed a subtle disapproval from him, a not quite there reprimand that asked her faintly to spend less time there and more time here. Her chest felt tight as she nodded, "I'll be there." With the promise still warm on her tongue she bid Blake too goodnight and left him at one of the many corridor intersections; knowing she'd just committed to his unspoken request.

There was not much time left before the Opera was finished and the Boss would be moving them elsewhere, leaving Danielle behind. She reasoned with herself as she climbed steadily to her temporary quarters. For now she would try to split her time more in their favour, until they left and she could give it all to Eric. Warmth flooded her unexpectedly as his name inserted itself into her thoughts. Blood leaping into her checks with unexpected enthusiasm. Scowling she ordered her thoughts into submission, though her present state of lethargy made it more difficult than normal. She would think about her new plateau of emotions regarding Eric later, when she had the emotional fortitude to deal with whatever was there.

Finally Danielle was in her room, and despite her growing grogginess she managed to strip quickly and efficiently, even hampered by her wrist. She shed her binding with a sigh of release, and then cringed as blood surged in to remind her she was battered all over. Too tired to bother with bathing Danielle struggled into her linen shirt in place of a nightgown and went to scrub her face instead in the washbasin. She fell into bed, regretting it a little as she knocked the air from her lungs. Flipping onto her back, reminding herself just in time to not use her wrist, she pulled the blanket cloak up and snuggled beneath its heavy comfort. She fell asleep thinking of the shifting patterns of blue in the far too knowing gaze of The Phantom.

Author's Note:

Before anyone starts pulling out the explosives, let me explain….. okay, scratch that, let me duck and cover.

I apologize for the lack of updates. Between the abrupt death of my pc, damn you blue screen!, and general suckiness at work I'm afraid my writing motivation took a nose dive. I just recently got my computer back, and my plan was to hold off posting another update until I had something super long to post.

That was the plan, past tense. I've since realised that if I stick to this plan it is going to be a reaaaaaallllllyy long time before we see any activity. I don't want to do that to my readers and I'm too excited about finally being able to post again to withhold much longer.

Unfortunately my work still sucks my soul till it leaves nothing but a flaccid husk, so updates are still going to be slow in coming. However, with my computer back on track we should be seeing updates occasionally instead of once a century.

Anyway, regarding this chapter; who saw that coming? Honestly now, who?

Castratos were such a good cover, and explained away everything about her without uncovering her secret.

I'm looking forward to the masquerade, le shit will hit le fan, so to speak.

Now, onto my reviewers!

CodeNameRunner:

In my head, and about half a dozen notebooks and various post it notes in varying locations.

MrsKasparVarn:

Gosh, now I'm all warm and fuzzy. I did try to update as quickly as I could, honest.

:

I do love all that's amazing and beautiful, hmmmmmm.

pegasus5406:

I appreciate the reviews, but am equally happy that you liked it enough you couldn't stop!

jackiemack916:

Stick with me and we'll go far kid.

Bad movie reference, but I regret nothing!

Danielle is nothing if not resilient. Hell, she's resisted Erik so far, in my opinion that's will power I admire.

There are so many reviewers, and I wish I could respond to you all, but please know that your support is a wonderful motivation to write and every time I receive one I get this great burst of enthusiasm to write.

I am always happy to respond to PM's if I haven't responded to a review, and even in the regrettably large span of time between chapters it is very likely you'll get a response that way.

Thankyou for your ongoing support!

As always, your obedient Author.

- SnickersPods

P.S. I am looking for cover art for this story. If any one wants me to consider something you have made please contact me via PM.