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It was quite odd, being around so many people all the time. There was simply never a moment's peace and she had learned rather quickly that if she was not heard she was also not seen, a far cry from being trotted out to sing for her father's crowds and sent to bed once she had been politely applauded. Even just having so many people around who are her own age feels daunting, for none of them are like Raoul, gentle and kind, and most of them would happily stomp on her feet if it meant they got placed in the front row, where a rich second son might see them.

She loved it because there was always music, and she could be part of it; feel the orchestra lifting her into a jeté and holding her in arabesque, even though she'd started late and her turnout would never be as good or her ankles as strong.

And if she sang it back to herself as she brushed her hair, or mouthed the words as she changed sidestage, or sometimes crept out of the dorm to go and stand centre front and close her eyes... it was just a dream, the same dream she'd always had, and she should be grateful to be in the ballet rather than a workhouse, just as Madame Giry had said to her a thousand times before she finally remembered the difference between fourth and fifth without having to check someone else's feet.

It was best when the sets was nearly constructed, and the staging mostly memorised; it was then that there would be a time, in the darkest hours of the night, when she could be sure there would be nobody there - no stray hands adjusting flies or lines, none of the cast marking or rehearsing, and thus nobody to laugh at her for daring to dream of moving on from the ballet and singing for the whole opera house, not just her father's drawing-room. It was those moments that spurred her on when they trained for hours, and when Carlotta's voice cracked and turned shrill and harsh on C and they all had to hide a wince.

 

The first time she saw him it was from the stage - a shadow in box five, flanked by light that she would swear to her dying day was angel wings, a shadow that she thought she'd wished into existence. That was, until the notes started, addressed to her in a carefully crafted hand, sometimes left on her pillow, others in her costume, others delivered from Madame Giry with a sigh and a stern look that silenced any whispers. Each time she saw one, she felt warm and pleased and proud; it was proof that she was still more than just another chorus girl, just another advanced class dancer, that someone out there believed in her and wanted her to have everything she always dreamed.

 

And when he finally came for her, reaching out from mist and shadow as if that's where he had been all along, the only thing she could do was put her hand in his; with him, she would be who she wanted to be, and it was all that seemed to matter while everything else fell away.