Disclaimer: I do not own Phantom of the Opera or any of its characters. Hey-does any one else think that we should just put one big disclaimer on the page? I mean, we can be pretty sure that no one posting on fanfiction.net owns any of the characters in their stories (well, except for their own characters, but they could write that at the top of their stories!). I mean, if we were posting on myfiction.net we could be sure that we all owned our own characters, but… Oh whatever. Well, I don't own anything.

A/N: Hey everyone! This is the first two chapters of my story! Thanks for reading (which I assume you're about to do if you're reading this). Okay, my story begins three years after the events of the original novel. The only differences are that Erik has the half-mask from the musical (don't ask me why I decided to do that for this story, but it just works better) and I'm probably going to bring Nadir into the story in a couple of chapters. Nadir belongs to Susan Kay (for, you know, the two of you who didn't already know that!) Okay, thanks again! Enjoy and please review!

Reality Issues

Chapter One: A Life Less Ordinary

© © ©

Christine bowed yet again, alone, center stage. A stagehand brought on another bouquet of flowers; she already held so many that her face was buried. Helpfully, he took two of the bouquets from her and stepped aside. She bowed her head and, when she raised it, lifted her free hand to silence the audience.

Their applause died down quickly after this signal; they knew the soprano wished to speak to them and were eager to hear what she had to say. It was a full house on this night; the Opera was packed from wall to wall with delighted men and women, a sea of bows and frills, silk and feathers, top hats and tails.

"Thank you," Christine said, her voice flowing effortlessly to the farthest corner of the auditorium, "Thank you all so very much. I just want to take this moment to show my gratitude to you, my public, for being so wonderful. And I would also like to thank the most important person in my life. He constantly supports me and encourages me and teaches me new things everyday—my husband."

And as the applause rang out once again, Christine turned her head to look offstage and smiled at the gentleman waiting there. The gentleman with the mask…

"Christine…" he whispered.

* * *

Christine sat up with a start.

Her knitting needles fell to the floor with a clatter, but she didn't hear it.

She looked around. A red, woolen rung lay beneath her feet. The deep green of her dress clashed furiously with the navy cushion of the chair she sat in. Her small hands clutched the wooden arms tensely. A small couch rested next to her chair, in front of that a short table. The colorless walls were bare, excluding the curtain over the one, small window.

Christine slouched back into her chair; it had all been a dream.

But how could it have been? Her hands still trembled as they only shook after she had been onstage. She could still smell the bouquets of roses. And she could still hear his voice, clearer than she could hear her own heavy breathing.

With a sigh, she bent down and picked up the fallen items. Her senses were beginning to come back to her, one at a time. She could smell fish burning somewhere in the house. And she heard her name being spoken aloud by a different man's voice.

Raoul casually entered the room. "Darling," he said, smiling, "are you all right? I heard a something fall."

"Yes, I'm fine. I was resting."

Raoul nodded in response. "Well, let's go stop that fish from burning. The sooner we eat, the sooner you can sleep." He helped her out of her chair and together they went into the kitchen.

It was not a good day for Raoul. He did not bring in many fish that morning. Being a fisherman was not very rewarding. Raoul had discovered fishing three years ago, after he was disinherited. The Chagnys did not think it was respectable for one of their own to marry a singer. So they cut him off and refused to see him when he called. Thus, he and Christine left Paris, poor and alone. Having been brought up a gentleman, Raoul had no skill to use as a profession. Yet he found fishing would suffice and so they moved to a small village near the sea, where he could fish. Every morning he joined three other fishermen on a boat on their boat. It was Raoul's job to watch the nets and the hooks. He helped the others pull up the nets and bring them into market, where they would sell them. Christine, shortly after they arrived, allied herself with a tailor in town. She was given a home sewing machine (one of the new ones, just brought over from America) and was sent orders directly to her house. They made just enough to live on and hardly anything more.

That night they ate their meal quietly. Christine hardly ate anything at all; her mind was consumed with thoughts of Erik. In her dream, she was sublimely happy—she could feel the happiness. It was like a presence in that dream, as clear as the smell of the flowers, or the sound of the applause. Not to say she wasn't happy with Raoul; she was. Well, if she had to be honest, she was content at least. He was a good man, Raoul; he worked hard and meant to please her.

Not to say he never pleased her, either. There were many pleasurable moments spent in marital bliss. But she couldn't be happy in this normal existence. It was odd: three years ago Christine had prayed for a normal life, and now that she had one, she yearned for something more.

"Darling," Raoul said, calling her attention to him, "You seem tense."

"Do I, Raoul?" Christine asked, distracted.

"Come," he said, standing up and extending his hand towards her, "I know what will relax you." With a forced smile she gave him her hand and let him lead her upstairs.

They made love mechanically and afterwards, alone on one side of the bed, Christine cried silent tears of regret. How had she let this happen to her life? Perhaps she deserved this. Think of all those horrible things she did to Erik! Maybe if she had been wiser three years ago she could be feeling that true happiness from the dream. Eventually, her weeping carried her to sleep, her eyes finally closing over one last tear.

© © ©

And when she opened her eyes a moment later that same, last tear slid down her cheek. The tear was the same, but the room was different. She was no longer on her bed in the small cottage, but on a couch in her old dressing room! Yes, she was sure of it. There was the same faded wallpaper, and the small dressing table and…oh! The mirror! The mirror with the beautiful voice behind it…the voice that was speaking to her now…

"Christine? My dear, how do you feel?" Yes it was Erik—who else would call her 'my dear'?

She tried to sit up, but a sudden pain struck her head like a bolt of lightning. She cried out in pain and two hands gently guided her down again.

"Erik?" Christine asked, more for assurance than for acknowledgement.

"Hush, child, I'm here." Christine blinked hard to force her vision to clear. When it did, she saw before her Erik, her long-lost Angel, no longer just a voice. He grinned down at her as their eyes met; even his half-mask seemed to smile a white glow.

"What…what happened?" she stuttered.

"You fainted, my love," he replied, tenderly brushing a curl away off her forehead. She shivered from the contact, his touch cold, yet somehow comforting. "After the performance… Which, by the way, was a complete success! Christine, the web you spun around that audience! Why even I almost…"

What performance? she thought, Oh, the dream! So that means this must be a dream too…

"Christine?"

But how I wish it wasn't!

"Christine, is anything wrong?"

"What? Oh no, Erik. I'm…" she was interrupted by another strike of the splitting pain in her head. This doesn't make any sense! Dreams aren't supposed to hurt! Christine thought as she clutched Erik's lapel while the pain continued to sear through her head.

Erik stroked her hair gently until the pain subsided, when he simply said, "Let's go home."

Christine looked deeply into his eyes, sparking into hers, and smiled back in the moment before the pain struck again.