February 5, 1882:

"Amélie?" A knock came at the dressing room door. "It's me, Christine. May I come in?"

"Of course…" Amélie finished up with her rouge and walked over to the door. Christine hurried in, clutching the embroidered black shawl she wore as Aminta over her shoulders, and carrying a bundle of fresh white bandages in her hands. "Oh, thank you."

"Take off your things, I'll help you get them on. Are you feeling alright?" Christine asked, unwinding the bundle as Amélie removed her loose blue silk kimono and her old bandages. "Oh!" Christine sucked in a breath.

"Is it still that bad?"

"You might want to look in the mirror," Christine answered, chewing her full, rouged lips. Amélie turned and examined her flesh. Three days ago, it had been an angry red patch, moist and gleaming with pale blisters that dotted the scarlet area. Now, the swelling of the blisters had gone down, but some of them had burst, leaving new bright red holes in her skin. "I brought that salve Madame Giry ordered from the company doctor, too."

"Thank God… Please, it's driving me mad."

"Thank you again for letting me use your dressing room. I just don't…"

"I understand… AH!" Amélie let out a yelp as Christine's hands made contact with her flesh.

"I'm so sorry…"

"Just get it done, get it DONE!" Amélie screamed again, panting as Christine worked the ointment into the open blisters. Neosporin and a Band-Aid, Alicia's voice chirped cheerfully in her mind, solves any problem.

"There, that's the last of it." Christine said, setting aside the jar. "Would you like me to help you get your costume on?"

"Please." Amélie said, holding up her arms. Christine delicately wrapped the black corset around her and started lacing it up very loosely. "Christine, dear, you can lace it tighter. If you don't, that stupid dress isn't going to fit."

"Will you stop complaining about your dress?" Meg asked, striding in without knocking. The little blonde was already dressed in her Gypsy Queen costume, tying a colorful scarf over her curls. "I like it!"

"Then you wear it," Amélie retorted, holding out her dress. It wasn't too bad on its own, really. It was a nice warm brown color, with a pretty lavender stomacher and matching apron, but compared to everyone else's, it was just so boring! No flounces or gorgeous embroidery, like Christine's, no flattering corsets or flashy colours, like Meg's.

"It doesn't look right for a gypsy, and my costume certainly wouldn't be appropriate for a maid." Meg answered primly.

"Admit it, you hate it, too," Amélie retorted.

"Well… no, not hate…" Meg said, taking the dress from Amélie and holding it so she could step into it. "It's just… underwhelming…"

"I know!" Amélie groaned as Meg pulled it up around her. "Lace me up? You needn't worry about going too tight, the bandages help."

"Alright, I will." Meg set to work at the back of the dress. Christine rolled her eyes and set to work darkening her eyelashes. "I still can't believe you stood up to the Phantom like that."

"Meg, we've been through this before," scolded Christine. "What happened in the graveyard…. We're trying to forget it."

"How could you want to forget it! This is the Phantom of the Opera we're talking about, and—"

"And after tonight, I pray none of us will ever have to speak or think of him again," Christine interrupted.

"You think Raoul's going to succeed, then?" Meg asked.

"He's trying… oh, merde." Amélie said.

"What is it?"

"I, uh, I left my diary in the house, I'd better go get it."

"Do you want me to come with you?" Christine set down her makeup and reached for her shawl.

"No, I can manage. It'll only take a moment." Amélie said, standing up and hurrying out the door. "I'll be back before you know it."

She'd only been telling half the truth. It wasn't a diary, not in the traditional sense. It was a small, leather-bound journal she'd been keeping with the details of her time in the past. Something that she could read when she returned home, to be sure that this whole thing was real. And she'd left it in Box Five, of all places. She rushed past a few police officers and fireman. "I'm a member of the company!" she called over her shoulder as she made her way up to the box. The journal was sitting on the footstool, right where she'd left it. As she rose from picking it up, she couldn't help but stop for a minute.

Even after five months in the opera, the theatre's grandeur never failed to impress her. She stared up at the frescoes on the ceiling and the new chandelier, drinking in every detail, how the light from the chandelier made the gold of the seats gleam, the soft red of the new velvet seats, the flickering of the gas lamps. As she looked down at the stage, she saw Raoul at its edge, kneeling down to speak with a man in the pit. "Give the order," he said briskly.

"ARE THE DOORS SECURE?" the fireman on the stage bellowed. The sound of banging doors and shout of 'Secure!" rang out through the theatre, but Amélie felt the unmistakable creeping presence of the man who had become her nightmare.

"I'm here, the Phantom of the Opera," his voice rang out from atop the chandelier. "I'm here, the Phantom of the Opera,"coming this time from the manager's box across the house. "I'm here!" he shouted from the statue atop the proscenium. "I'm here! I'm here!" With the final declaration, she felt his cold fingers seize her just as the man in the pit shot at the box. The bullet whizzed past her cheek, just barely missing her, and she screamed.

"You idiot!" Raoul yelled. "Amélie, are you alright?"

"I'm coming down," she warned, pulling herself from Erik's grip and vaulting over the ledge of the box onto the stage. Raoul caught her hands as she landed, to steady her, before turning back to the marksman.

"I said only when the time comes! God, man, you could've killed her!"

"My apologies, mam'selle," the man protested, "but, Monsieur, I thought—"

"NO BUTS. FOR ONCE, MONSIEUR LE VICOMTE IS RIGHT." Erik's voice was now ringing throughout the entire theatre, impossible to locate its true source. "Seal my fate tonight, I hate to have to cut the fun short, but the joke's wearing thin, let the audience in, let my opera begin!"

Everything was silent for several moments, until they were sure he'd gone. "Amélie, are you certain you're not hurt?" Raoul asked again.

"I'm fine, really. I've had worse jumps to make. But thank you. For catching me." He smiled, just a little, but it was actually quite warm and genuine, and made him look quite a bit more like James. "Raoul, look, are you sure you—"

"Yes, Amélie. We have to go through with it now. If we don't, he'll just keep coming after us. One way or another, this is ending tonight. I remember what you asked me. And I know now. Which is why I have to do this."

"If you're sure," she muttered, running backstage and into the dressing rooms. "I'm back."

"Are you alright? We heard gunfire," Meg said, rushing over to her.

"I'm fine!" Amélie brushed off the little ballerina, hurrying over to pull on her black boots. "Honestly, it isn't as though I get injured every single time I go somewhere."

"You could have fooled me. That time with the snow," Christine put a certain emphasis on the word 'snow' that made Amélie flush. How had she figured it out? "And then in the graveyard, with the fireballs."

"Oh, please, Christine, don't be rude," chided Meg. "She's been through a lot lately."

"And I haven't?" Christine demanded shrilly.

"Stop it!" Amélie yelled over both of them. "We shouldn't be squabbling, that's just what he'd want. A house divided cannot stand!" She stopped to take a deep breath. "We should… we should get into places. We have a show to put on."

"You're right… The show must go on." agreed Meg.

"Mariposa, you go with her, and make certain my child will obey," Roger sang. Amélie nodded, and made a curtsy as he exited. She and Christine skipped through the chorus, snatching up the prop food and giggling as the chorus sang. As they froze facing Carolus Fonta, who was playing Passarino, Christine waved her hand lightly, the signal for Amélie to exit. As she twirled offstage, she found herself spinning into an all too familiar pair of spindly hands that clapped a cloth over her mouth. An scent swept over her, making her feel lightheaded and woozy. Ah, merde, not again. Erik, what are you doing now?

Erik picked up his unconscious former protégée as though she were a sack of flour and unceremoniously shoved her into the hidden panel that concealed a large dumb-waiter. He froze just for a moment, looking down at her. Why did she have to look so damned innocent when she slept? He shook it off and lowered it down, Amélie disappearing into the darkness that led to a hidden cavern by the grotto. That half of his task done, he stalked back to the tent, just as Piangi slipped behind it. Without hesitation, he whipped the Punjab lasso around the portly Italian's neck and pulled. Within seconds, Piangi had collapsed, leaving Erik free to take the loose black cloak for himself. He had just finished donning it when he heard Fonta call to him. "Master?"

"Passarino. Go away, for the trap is set, and waits for its prey…" he sang, adopting an Italian accent as he stepped out from behind the tent. Christine sat at the bench in front of the table, her glorious brown hair tumbling down her back. "You have come here in pursuit of your deepest urge, in pursuit of that wish, which till now has been silent, silent . . ." She turned towards him, an expression of lazy rapture on her face. "I have brought you, that our passions may fuse and merge - in your mind, you've already succumbed to me dropped all defenses completely succumbed to me—" He advanced on her and plucked the apple from her hands. "Now you are here with me: no second thoughts, you've decided, decided . . ." He held out the gold goblet to her and her small hands took it, sending shivers up his body where their skin touched.

"Past the point of no return - no backward glances: our games of make believe are at an end . . . Past all thought of "if" or "when" - no use resisting: abandon thought, and let the dream descend . . . " Christine tilted her head back with the goblet, then wiped her mouth with the same trance-like movements that she had possessed that night, so long ago. He reached out and turned her face towards his, pulling her closer. "What raging fire shall flood the soul? What rich desire unlocks its door? What sweet seduction lies before us . . .? Past the point of no return, the final threshold - what warm, unspoken secrets will we learn? Beyond the point of no return . . ."

Christine pulled away, her voice trembling slightly. "You have brought me to that moment where words run dry... To that moment where speech disappears into silence, silence… I have come here, hardly knowing the reason why…" She trailed her hands down her head and twisted her fingers together. "In my mind, I've already imagined our bodies entwining ... Defenseless and silent, and now I am here with you ... No second thoughts, I've decided, decided… Past the point of no return, no going back now... Our passion play has now, at last, begun... Past all thought of right or wrong, one final question... How long should we two wait, before we're one?" Her hands slid over his shoulders and he raised his to meet hers. Their fingers locked tightly. "When will the blood begin to race, the sleeping bud burst into bloom? When will the flames, at last, consume us?" Her fingers brushed against his mask beneath the fabric of the cloak, and he felt her tense, attempting to run. As she stood, he clasped her wrist, pulling her back.

"Past the point of no return, the final threshold — the bridge is crossed, so stand and watch it burn… We've passed the point of no re—"

"Turn!" Christine blurted, pulling down the hood.

"Turn…" he said quietly. Amélie had been right. He was going to fail. He turned to run, but saw that damned vicomte standing in the wings with a second gunman.

"Don't fire, not yet." Raoul warned. The marksman nodded, cocking the gun in preparation.

Christine… he turned back to her, singing the same tune he'd heard Amélie singing under her breath multiple times. "Say you'll share with me one love, one lifetime. Lead me, save me from my solitude…" He removed the onyx ring from his finger and turned towards Christine. "Say you want me with you, here beside you…" Christine stood frozen, staring at him with a mix of horror and shock on her face, and did not offer any resistance as he took her hand and slid the ring on her finger. "Anywhere you go, let me go, too! Christine, that's all I ask of—" Christine reached up and and pulled his mask away. All the women in the audience screamed. The police man fired and Erik pulled Christine out of the way, trying to protect her from the bullets.

"RAOUL!" Christine screamed as he dragged her along. "Let go of me! I don't want to go back! I don't! Please!"

"You don't want to go back? How the hell do you think I've felt all my life? Living with no kindness, no compassion? What you want is not important to me, not after what you've just done!" he snarled, flinging her down into the boat. "WHY? WHY WAS I GIVEN A FACE LIKE THIS? WHAT EVER MADE ME DESERVE THIS?"

A/N: That's where I'm ending this latest one, because, in all honesty, I'm a believer in giving myself a limit. How will things go down in the cellar? What plans does Erik have in store for Amélie? Is anyone going to end up happy in all of this? We'll all just have to wait and see!