I do not own the characters; they were borrowed from various versions of Phantom of the Opera.

Hello, all! I have another story for you. This particular one was written as a fill-in scene; I love stories like that, ones that could have potentially taken place because they don't really alter the important points of the real story at the end. This one follows the timeline of the musical version of the story and is set as the rehearsals are going on for Don Juan Triumphant. With this story, I wanted to create something that was full of desperation as if it really could have been a last chance to fix things before the events of the ending. I know it's short, but I'm actually working on editing something much longer that I want to start posting at the beginning of next week because it's going to have to be broken apart anyway.

SUMMARY: During rehearsals for the phantom's opera, Christine and Erik have a confrontation and a final desperate plea that could alter everything.

"A Love Worth Lying For"

Christine loved to sing high notes. It was something about the way the sound filled her, blossoming within, and rang forward with such perfect precision, connecting high to low with only rounded tone. Of course she had gone through the typical journey of self-doubt that every soprano usually did, keeping the stratospheric pitches bottled up within, terrified that an audience must only cringe to behold their zealous desperation to reach for the stars. But once she had learned and achieved the proper technique behind their creation, she found a certain love for any pitch designated by an added ledger line above the staff's completion. It was a fact that was unknown about her; had she harbored a diva's personality, perhaps her every musical tendency would have been flaunted and discussed at length. No, her high-note predilection was only known and understood by one person, the very person who had brought its existence to her attention to begin with. And if she had ever needed proof that Erik maintained an unnatural obsession for her, she was currently holding it in her hands in the form of the manuscript for his opera, Don Juan Triumphant. On its pages were an unusual abundance of ledger lines and stratospheric pitches composing the heroine's role and a high tessitura that many sopranos would find uncomfortable to endure to such extremes. But this was not just any soprano role; this one was obviously written solely for her to sing, absolutely crafted for her voice and talent. It had been apparent to her from the first time she had glanced through the score, and day by day as rehearsals were underway, her cast mates were taking note of it as well. How could it be denied when every lyrical line fit her voice like a glove?

But of course, this was her opera, after all. The details to her character held a certain parallel vein to her own life, claiming to be fiction even as it was anything but. Desire, innocent yet newly awakened, soaring to life at the hands of one man. The vast difference was the ending. The heroine of the opera fell victim to the desire and succumbed to its blatant power, but Christine…. Well, she had run away like a child, had denounced and shunned it as if it would have meant the death of her. How ridiculous that seemed now!

Rehearsal had only just ended for the day, but Christine had been made to stay behind and run her aria for the stage director, Monsieur Reyer. All she could consider as she let the passion-driven high notes pour brilliantly from her lips was that every single pitch, every single phrase and melody was like a lover's gift from Erik, whether she wanted it to be so or not. To think of him sitting at his piano writing line by line, chord by chord, and hearing her voice singing it back to him in his head…. It was the most intimate token of admiration she had ever been given. And singing it for him was her own unacknowledged gift in return…, even if she was unintentionally giving it.

Under such pressure-laden thoughts, she tried to float weightlessly through the final cadenza, but her voice felt heavy and inflexible with her forced motion. As the last note soared up to the rafters, it was cut off abruptly as courage faltered and dropped her body from beneath her sound.

Reyer was surprised by her uncharacteristic fault, but even as he arched a brow with concern, he bid, "That's just fine, mademoiselle. It's been a long day, and we are all under quite a bit of tension at present. The aria will be lovely once you are rested."

Nodding yet unconvinced, she dully replied, "Thank you. …Will you please tell the Vicomte that I will be out momentarily?"

"Of course." One final worried look was granted to her and her lackluster posture before Reyer left her alone with her thoughts and followed the accompanist out of the theatre.

The Vicomte…. Yes, Raoul would be anxiously awaiting her in the lobby. Had he caught an earful of her less than stellar performance? Perhaps overheard her choked ending? It was embarrassing enough to think of Raoul hearing her when she was not at her best, …but to consider her other unacknowledged audience member who was most certainly listening if she was singing…. It made her cheeks flush red with shame. How she always wanted to please him! Even now in spite of rifts and gaps and six months of separation! In spite of the inarguable fact that he was and would always be the dangerous Opera Ghost! Just to know he'd heard her folly overwhelmed her with a need to disappear from his observance. To disappear…, if only….

"You let go of that high note completely," a voice called from the dark emptiness of the wings, and she immediately shuddered down her spine with its golden timbre. "That's not what I taught you. Where was your breath pressure? You dropped it from the sternum and gave no grounding to that note. It's no wonder it went awry."

Teacher first and foremost, and yet the instant Erik stepped out from the shadows and joined her solitary stance on the vacant stage, too many other things got in the way. Emotion, raw and unguarded, stealing any lingering professionalism in the ripped relationship of teacher and student. Dear God, after all they had endured, how could he possibly look upon her and detach his heart enough to only see his protégé before him, to not regard her as his only love and the woman who had broken his heart to bits in her selfish hands. Apathy was unfathomable.

The breath had fled Christine's lungs, and she was sure she would never breathe again; no, not while under the soul-penetrating power of those mismatched eyes. Six months, six months since they had been upon her in that manner that could swallow reality and alter the world to his liking. Just as before, one look into their depths, and she wanted nothing more than to continue to keep looking forever. Six months, and he now stood before her, the prince of the opera's shadows, the phantom and Opera Ghost, the angel that no longer existed, that never had existed. It bothered her to realize that he was as elegant as ever, as graceful, as stoically etched as six months ago had boasted. Unchanged…, why did she instead feel as if the world had turned on its head since then?

In a soft voice that was devoid of any real confidence, she replied, "If I slaughtered the high note, it's your fault. You put too many in the music. You think that I'm capable of being stronger than I truly am."

He turned her accusation over and over in his mind. "I suppose I've always given you more credit than you deserved, …believed in you a little more than I should have. I can be so foolishly optimistic sometimes. It's no wonder that I am so accomplished at destroying my own heart."

Music was a forgotten excuse; he had seemed to leap headfirst into the conversation she was terrified to have, and as shaking hands clenched fitfully about her score, she retorted, "It's been six months, Erik; I haven't seen you in six months. I had thought that you were intending to leave me be for good."

"Leave you be…?" he repeated, and he could feel his temper rising, coiling in his stomach until he felt sick with its churning currents. "Leave you be? Leave you to have your preferred life with the Vicomte, you mean, and perhaps if you meant nothing to me, I could just leave you be. But I am a selfish man, Christine, and you were mine. Mine! I have no intention of forgetting that or the very valid fact that the last time I looked upon your beautiful face, you betrayed me. You ran to your dashing Vicomte and allowed his lips upon yours. You cursed my existence to him despite all I'd done and given for you, despite the fact that I had never hurt you or even laid a single hand upon you." Those powerful eyes were burning with spite, and though he never made any move to approach her further, he watched as she curled tighter into herself, hugging that infernal score to her chest as if it would protect her. Choking back tears and burying them beneath fury's curtain, he accused, softer this time, "You knew I loved you…. You wouldn't let yourself love me in return, so you went to him instead."

"No," Christine stammered, his avoided tears appearing in her eyes as she frantically shook her head. "No, no, …that wasn't it. You left me," she insisted again, the blue depths of her stare glowing with desperation. "You left me, Erik."

"Left you! You foolish girl!" With an abruptness that made her jump in her place, he darted to her and yanked the score from her hands, tossing it carelessly to the stage floor. "Naïve to all ends! Did you truly think you'd be rid of me so easily?" His fingers caught her shoulders, gripping fiercely into her flesh, but she never made any move to struggle or flee, only faced his wrath, unblinking and quivering before him. "You, my dearest girl, are the most unfortunate human being on the earth; you have the devotion of the almighty Opera Ghost and the adoration of his loyal heart. I pity you. The consequence to such a misfortune must be a tragedy."

Her attention was caught on that white mask, concealing half of a face. How long would its image haunt her dreams? "A tragedy," she muttered half to herself. "This has always been a tragedy. It can be nothing else."

"Six months," he gasped, running ravenous eyes over every feature of her face, searching for his own admitted changes. "Six months, and have you considered me in all of that time? You thought I'd leave you alone; was I always only the unbidden terror in the shadows that you feared would one day return to steal you away again? Have I never been worthy of even one pleasant thought?" As his hurried gaze outlined the frown her full lips were sculpted into, he revealed, "I spent six months lost in music, hoping never to come out again. But you were there, too, always there, always singing in my head. I could never escape you no matter how hard I tried. How I longed to forget you! To blot you out of existence in my memory, but I was never so fortunate, not enough to deafen my ears to your voice in my head. I've been driven to insanity by it."

As his hands loosened their grip upon her shoulders and tentatively made paralleled treks down each of her arms, burning her skin through clothing's intrusion, her eyes fluttered closed, and stilled tears were disturbed and shaken free by lashes to slide in crystalline paths along her cheeks. "Erik, don't," she whispered yet never attempted to draw away.

"Don't what, Christine?" he demanded in an urgent whisper. "Don't touch you this way?" As he asked, his fingers passed the cuffs of her sleeves to trace the smooth flesh of her inner wrists, noticing the quickening shiver to her limbs. "It's an indiscretion, isn't it? It can be nothing else when I am in the role of your lover. It must be a sin to touch you with my bloodstained hands." Even as he spoke the dubbed transgression, he continued to trail his fingers over her palms and up again to the flustered pulse at each of her wrists. "Or is it that you don't want me to love you? Do you believe asking me to stop will make it so? Because I've asked the same for six months; I've begged it of my heart. To stop loving you, and yet all I've done is burn. Six months of burning alive, of displacing its aggression into the music. But it was never enough. It was never you."

"Erik…." She felt the syllables of his name pass her lips with whispered consonants, and her terrified eyes peeked out at him, her heart sobbing in her chest with every vision of that masked face. "And yet for six months, you stayed away. Now you return, and what am I to do? You were gone…."

"No," he insisted with an adamant shake of his head. "I never left you; how could I leave the other half of my soul? You could destroy me, shatter my heart in your hands, and yet I'll always return to you. How pathetic that must seem! The Opera Ghost ready to fall at your feet and beg for your love, but I've never wanted anything as I want you. What must I do to have you, Christine?" His hands had caught hers, his fingers weaving between each match, always with a lingering question to each unthreatened caress. "I would do anything you asked. Christine, please…."

"But the Vicomte-"

"No!" he interrupted sharply, eyes bearing into hers. "Don't speak to me of him! Over and over in my mind, I am tortured, twisting the image of you in his arms round and about until I am consumed with the need to strangle his milksop throat in my hands! You went to him as if he was your salvation from me. …You told him that you loved him."

"I lied," she softly revealed, the tears yet glistening in her blue eyes.

"You…lied?" he repeated, hardly able to comprehend her meaning.

Nodding somberly, she insisted, "I lied to the Vicomte. I told him I loved him…. And every word was a lie."

"But you let him kiss you," Erik pushed. His grip on her hands tensed with his growing impatience, his curved fingertips digging harshly into her knuckles. "Will you now tell me that was a lie as well? Do you presume me to be entirely ignorant?"

"It was a lie." Even as she sought to sound resolute, her voice wavered when she stood beneath the fire of that flickering rage, only an answer away from becoming an inferno. "The kiss was as much a lie as the words. He…he would have gone after you, Erik. Can't you understand that? He knew who you were because I foolishly confided in him, and I was so sure that he would tell your secrets, that he would have called upon the managers and the gendarme. He would have had them flooding the catacombs after you…."

The skepticism never left his fixed stare as he demanded, "And so you were the sacrifice in my stead? You gave yourself to the Vicomte as compensation? It must have been the most horrific of tortures for you then. To pretend to want his flawless face and perfectly handsome features. To feign a love with the unwanted attributes of his title and wealth at your fingertips."

Avoiding the brunt of his sarcasm, she declared, "I had to convince him that you meant nothing to me, that if I loved him, then nothing could ever touch us, and you were gone; it was practically an attestation to my claim. You laid no threat for six months, and he never pursued you on his own."

Erik was studying her intently, seeking the fine crack in her countenance but yet unable to find it. "And if that were true, how far would you have taken your charade? Would you have married him then as you had committed yourself to do? Or would you have abandoned him if I had not reappeared to force it upon you?"

"I would have done whatever I must do to keep you safe," she answered hesitantly, for the first time cringing beneath the power of those eyes. "I thought you would come for me six months ago. I never assumed you would disappear instead and seemingly let him win. …I did what I felt I had to, but I believed I would be able to set it to right again…when you arrived to take me away with you, as I was so sure you would. I waited for you; I nearly invited your presence, but you never came, Erik. You left me with Raoul, and what else could I do but play the part? What else was there if you no longer wanted me?"

"No longer wanted you…?" he repeated, anger drifting to melancholy. "No longer wanted you, Christine? I've always wanted you, so much so that it's killing me to hear this story. My God, how I long to believe every merciful word! To denounce my very own eyes and the contrasting visions they've seen. I would rather believe you than my own sense if only because the story you spin is so close to every fantasy I've carried for six months."

"But it's the truth, ange," she insisted, adding the appellation and watching it register with a searing warmth in his fixed stare.

That one word nearly destroyed his every doubt and ripped each to indecipherable shreds, but with a remaining inkling of uncertainty clouding full acceptance, he desperately commanded, "Prove what you say is true. Prove it to me, Christine."

Her smooth, pale brow furrowed with little lines of contemplation. Prove herself…; when every bit of her was lost to a shaking she had been unable to quiet since his appearance and better judgment felt captured somewhere in between, how could she possibly convince his doubts otherwise? She was equally as uncertain and timid in that vein, but one consideration that this could be her only chance made the decision for her.

Both hands were yet intertwined and resting at her sides, and with an incessant quivering always tainting movement, she lifted one set of joined limbs, pleased that he never stopped her. Slow and tentative yet, a question unto itself, she brought his hand to her lips, pressing a cherishing kiss to his knuckles and stalling there in that innocent gesture, so unthreatening, so afraid, refusing to meet the intensity of his stare as it bore into her with all of the force of a physical touch.

Erik wondered if she could tell that he was shaking as hard as she was or if she was convinced that she was the only lost one between them. Those soft, perfect lips were held so gently to his hand, the kiss unbreakable at its essence, and he was terrified by that one simple contact. …It seemed so real….

As tingling sensation raced up the length of his arm, bringing goosebumps to every inch of skin, he released a held breath in an agonized sigh and suddenly leaned near until he could rest his forehead to hers, thrilled when she never drew away. No, she nuzzled against flesh that was half artificial with his mask's presence, clasping his hand against her collarbone, and as his fingertips dared to extend and graze the line of her jaw, her every flustered breath and unacknowledged tear struck his wrist with their descent and branded him with a myriad of addictive pleasures.

"Christine," Erik desperately pleaded, mirroring her tears as he intoxicated himself on her nearness. He was rubbing his forehead to hers until he could find her skin with his beyond the mask's boundaries, …until he could turn and press his bare cheek to her wet one, sharing tears. "I want you to love me," he suddenly begged. "Please love me…."

Releasing the hand still carefully contained at her side, Christine brought it with a constant tremor running its fingertips to his mask, sobbing soundlessly as her fingers fitted about its edges without a protest to stop her. His own sob was lost in her actions, and closing his eyes so as not to see, he felt the gust of air as it struck the sensitive expanse of his deformity. Fighting to take a breath into suffocating lungs, he kept his one unmarked cheek firmly to hers so that she could never turn and glimpse the ugliness of the other.

The mask tumbled unnoticed to the stage floor as forgotten as a heaved score earlier, and shaking, always shaking, Christine let her palm curve and cup that scarred flesh, resting so feather light along its oddly textured surface, as terrified as he was. His tears were wetting her fingers, sliding between and trailing her knuckles with their intrepid fall, and his body had tensed and gone rigid through the lengths of its muscles inches from hers.

"Christine," he whispered on the verge of a sob. "I love you; I love you." His unmarred cheek gently nuzzled hers, fascinated by soft, warm skin and silken tresses that tickled him at his temple. Never before had he known such sensations, and he was sure he was now cursed never to be able to live without their presence again.

Without another word, he slowly slid to his knees at her feet, both of his arms raising to weave about her waist, and he burrowed the scarred side of his face against the soft material of her gown so she would not see its distortions, unable to bear having this scene destroyed so quickly with reality's return.

Christine was shivering in his hold, gazing down at the crown of his dark head with despair playing across her features. She never attempted to draw free or create distance; she only allowed him and his desperate embrace as his hands fisted tightly against the small of her back, his fingertips digging and clenching in her gown with their unbreakable grasp. No, no, he wouldn't let her go now.

"I love you," he whispered again, crying into soft material and rubbing his forehead against her stomach. "Christine, …tell me I may have you…."

Tears made long, meandering paths of crystal along her pale cheeks as she reluctantly replied, "I can't…. I can't be yours, Erik."

"Why?" he demanded urgently, his hold viselike and unwilling to loosen.

Her voice wavered, choking back as she forced herself to answer him. "Because Raoul would come after us, and the two of you would kill each other over me…."

"No," he suddenly replied, his tone sharp, "you mean I would kill him. That is the ending you would predict and rightly so, and you can't bear to consider dearest Raoul dead, can you?"

With an abruptness that made her sway on her feet, he released her from his stabilizing hold and ducked his head out of her view until he recaptured his mask. She was glad that he was too preoccupied to notice that she never tried to look at him anyway; no, not until the mask was back in place, and he was rising up with fire in his eyes.

"What a superb little actress you've become," Erik snapped, burying tears and pain out of her regard. No, he would not let her see how deeply he'd been hurt, how his heart ached with a pain that was a physical ailment in his chest. "You nearly had me believing your façade. It's an insult to my own character to realize that I wanted to trust your little ploy so badly that I nearly let myself be duped by you and skills that I myself had a hand in creating. Brava, Christine. What a performance on your part! There are few who could stand in the face of a murderer and feign love so convincingly."

"But I wasn't-"

"Weren't you? Your concern for the Vicomte gave you away," he told her, forcing himself to ignore the constant tears streaming down her cheeks. Tears must be yet another deceptive device; they must be as much of a lie as her idle touches had been. "And how far would you have taken that scene if you weren't found out? Would you have vowed love to me? …Would you have kissed me, Christine?" Pain peeked through in minor cracks despite his aversion for its presence; how he wanted only to seem angry with her! Pain meant that she had more power over him than he wanted her to realize. But in a soft, breaking voice, he insisted, "I've never been kissed. I'm sure you've assumed as much. Romantic tendencies have always been beyond my grasp. And would you have now used that truth to your advantage? To prove yourself to me, Christine? A kiss for a monster…."

Christine's eyes were fixed upon the discarded score on the stage; she couldn't bear the sheer power in his mismatched stare and the pain unwittingly on display, so intense that it made her cry for its very existence. "No, Erik," she whispered solemnly. "If I had kissed you, it wouldn't have been a lie…."

"Everything about you is a lie," he countered, fitfully checking the placement of his mask yet again if only to busy his violently shaking hands. "Well, no matter. I'll have you anyway in the end. You're mine, Christine; the Vicomte be damned! You will see soon enough. And you will choose me, and even if it is a lie, it won't matter because you won't be able to play both sides anymore, to embrace me in one moment and run into his arms in the next. No more! And you may lie, but I'll believe it when there is no Vicomte to kiss and love and seek protection from in the background."

"Erik," she attempted one last time, but his resolve was blazing like a torrid inferno between them, a wall of fire she could not cross. "What do you intend to do?"

"Work on your high notes, Christine," was all he said, sharp and biting. "I expect you to do justice to your role. I want it performed to perfection."

Her blue eyes dared to meet his, her stare brimming over with her agony, but he chose apathy as his response, and glaring one last breath, he abruptly turned and was gone back into the shadows from where he had come.

For a long moment, she was rooted to her spot; part of her was betraying better sense and praying that he'd return. A lie; it was all supposed to be a lie. Shaking incessantly, she collected her score in white-knuckled hands, and with furtive glances into shadows, she darted off of the stage and toward the sanctity of the lit lobby.

In her frantic state, she ran right past the theatre seats for the door without ever realizing that lingering in the last row was a solitary audience member to the scene that had taken place onstage. The Vicomte de Chagny stared fixedly at the way Christine had gone before turning his somber eyes back to the stage and its shadows. The devil lurked somewhere in their darkness…. He wanted to believe what that phantom demon had, that the lies had been in the performance only just concluded on the stage, that they couldn't have existed in a scene on a rooftop six months before. But with both of her roles equally as convincing, he wasn't sure which to believe.

No, no, Christine loved him; he was sure of it…. But he had never moved her to tears; he had never seen such desperation in her eyes for him to believe her. No, those things had been the opera devil's alone. And all Raoul could conclude with any certainty was that he would not lose Christine to that monster, no matter what it took. That bastard had said that Christine would make the choice; Raoul was convinced that her choice would be him. Lie or not, he'd believe her if only to have her.

Forcing back tears of his own, he replaced his cultivated countenance and followed Christine out of the theatre, determined that she'd never know what he had witnessed and equally so, that he would forget it had ever happened.