Charlotte was tired of being alone. She lived in an apartment in her hometown. She'd been skating too long without a partner and her urge to try doubles again grew too strong for her to ignore. Looking through the ads, she found one that interested her. Calling, she made an appointment to meet the director and her potential partner for the next day.

The next day, she went to the rink in the next city way ahead of time so she could warm up. There were quite a few others there too, but she didn't mind. After going around the rink a couple of time, she detached herself from the group and skated to the middle to practice an old routine. Soon, she forgot everyone and everything else. There was only her and the dance. She didn't notice when everyone else stopped to watch her. She especially didn't take notice of the couple in the stands that was watching her closely. "She's the one," one of them said. His name was Erik. "She's the one I'm going to have for my partner."

"But you don't even know if she signed up!" his manager Walter protested.

"It's her. I know it. And for some reason, it feels as if I know her already. Wait a minute. Isn't that…"

"I believe so. She's your doubles partner from way back when. My how Charlotte's changed. She's perfect: the right height, size, weight. And she's very good now. I wonder why she'd be quitting singles. Oh well. What do you think?"

Erik was at a loss for words, a rare trait for him. He was thinking about the old days. They'd been partners in their early teens but hadn't worked well with each other. Their quick tempers and even quicker tongues often got them in trouble. Charlotte had left him after one of their many arguments and never came back. She'd started singles skating then and Erik went through a long line of partners who he couldn't deal with. Now here was his chance at a perfect girl to skate with and the only problem was their past together. Suddenly, she flashed a smile into the crowd, one he wished was meant for him and he was drawn to her physically. She really has grown up, hasn't she? She's so beautiful… Wait! What am I thinking now! It's been so long since we've talked. I don't know her anymore! Walter looked over to Erik when he hadn't answered and frowned at the blank look in Erik's eyes before turning back to watch Charlotte finish.

Charlotte finished her routine and a burst of applause broke out. She was startled from her reverie. She'd felt so alone in her own world. Smiling with embarrassment but definitely pleased, Charlotte skated over to her bag in the stands, getting a towel to dab her damp face before looking at her watch. It was time for the appointment and she slowly gathered her things. It had been a great workout. She'd been able to let herself go and came out with a nearly flawless performance. She arrived at the office and knocked on the door. A muffled voice bade her in. She opened the door and froze. After a short, uncomfortable silence, she spoke. "Mr. Ward, Erik, nice to see you again. Now if you'll excuse me, I must be going."

She turned to leave when Erik's voice stopped her. "Don't leave. You've come to the right place Charlotte. Won't you have a seat?" His voice was so sickenly sweet and deep; Charlotte was afraid her knees would buckle right there. She took in a slow breath and took a seat in front of the desk next to Erik's and set her bag next to her.

As Erik closed the door, Walter started his speech into what exactly he was looking for. Charlotte'd heard his speech countless times before in the past so she waved him off. "Mr. Ward, you know I've heard this before. I just want to know if I have a chance at the position or not."

"Well, that's kind of up to Mr. Diaz," indicating to Erik.

Charlotte turned to him. "I want to see if we can do well on the ice first if you don't mind." Charlotte shrugged and followed him as they went to a private rink to see if they matched up. Walter looked on in approval as the pair skated together. The lifts they tried went well, her arms and height were a perfect match for him as he'd guessed before. And damn, she was good. Charlotte was the one they'd been waiting for all along. And she wasn't even complaining or anything. In fact, the two looked as if they were enjoying themselves.

When they finished, they skated over to Walter. Charlotte looked to Walter and saw him nod his approval. Next, she looked Erik. It took him a bit longer, but in the end, his reaction was the same and he nodded. Charlotte's face broke into a dazzling smile and she laughed as she hugged them both. "You won't regret this. I promise you that," and Erik secretly hoped so.

The next day, training started. Charlotte was a bit wobbly in the lifts, but that was to be expected since she hadn't done them in so long a time. After a few days, they sat in the office and started on the subject of a dance routine. Charlotte made it perfectly clear that she didn't care what they did as long as she got to be in charge of the routine when it came to the Olympics. The men were baffled. Walter started, "Charlotte, the Olympics have just passed. The two of you aren't even known yet. It's almost four years away!"

"So forgive me for having such high ambitions. Trust me. I know what I'm doing. I have it all worked out in my head. I just want your promise that we'll do what I want when the time comes. We'll make it, I'm certain." The men remained skeptical, but agreed, thinking that they'd never have a chance at the medal. But year after year, the two got better and better. When the time came, they signed up and qualified to join the USA skating team. Charlotte was pleased and the men could hardly believe it.

For the next few months, they worked only on the routines they'd need for the big event. As promised, Charlotte was put in charge. It was to be a medley from the musical The Phantom of the Opera, with Erik as the Phantom and Charlotte as Miss Christine Daae. They worked tirelessly and as each day passed, Charlotte became more obsessed with getting everything right.

The day came for them to board a plane that would bring them to the Olympics. Everything was going well. They arrived safely and many people were ready to greet the aspiring gold medallists. The pressure was on, with everyone hoping they would win, but none of it seemed to bother Charlotte. They were quickly rushed to the hotel where Erik and Charlotte would be sharing a suite together, with Walter next door.

Five days passed and the three of them put all efforts into bringing everything together. The skating competition was held in a nearby town. The big day came and they were last to go in the compulsory, a comforting thought to both of them. After a spotless routine, they finished among the top three. The next day, they were happy to see that once again, they would be going last, this time for the free style. While backstage in the arena, they anxiously waited for the crowd's response to each pair of skaters.

Finally, it was time. Erik skated to the middle of the rink while Charlotte stayed at the spot where ice met ground. Everything was dark and silent. The opening chord of "The Phantom of the Opera" brought a gasp from the crowd as a spotlight captured Charlotte pushing away from the wall. For the entire first verse, she danced all by herself. Then the music cut to the fourth verse and the same chilling chord that Charlotte had started to once again echoed throughout the large arena. Erik raised his head, opening his cape wide before following Charlotte to finish the song. After they'd rested a short second on the last note, the music immediately jumped to "The Music of the Night." Intricate steps fit hand in hand with the music and even as the song came toward its climax at the end, despite it being at the end of their program and both were tired, more jumps and lifts and turns left the crowd ecstatic. When the last phrase started, Erik and Charlotte were at opposite ends of the rink and slowly, they skated towards each other with arms open and waiting to receive the other. They embraced and bent their heads toward each other as Erik enveloped her in his cape. Surrounded in darkness as the last chord strung out, he gave her a sweet kiss. "I love you," he breathed.

Smiling, she answered. "I love you, too."

There was silence for a second longer and then a wild burst of applause broke through the crowd. The two of them slowly broke apart to face the crowd. With each bow, the cheers got louder and more trinkets and flowers were thrown down to them from the stands. Slowly, the pair skated over to get the results of all their hard work. Three girls came from the rink to bring the gifts their admirers had flung and had to go back for the rest. Everyone anxiously waited. They needed a perfect score to get first place. The camera got them in close up as Walter talked to them earnestly of how well they'd done. The two held hands and said nothing. Finally, the scores came up, and it was the score they needed. The crowd went crazy. Erik and Charlotte jumped up and gave each other a hug before waving their handful of roses to the crowd.

After that, everything was a blur for Charlotte. All she remembered was having the gold medal put around her neck and then she was back in the dressing room. Suddenly tired, she sat down. She didn't even bother changing, much less take off her skates. She just sat there with head in her hands. The past four years had been a dream for her, culminating to the one moment where she got the medal. She'd used up all her energy for this and now she was drained. She didn't hear Erik come in. He'd already changed into his normal clothes and had gotten anxious when she didn't come out. He took one look at Charlotte and immediately carried her outside to a waiting taxi. He carried her to their suite where he laid her back down on her back and then went back to the rink to get their duffel bags.

When Erik returned, he saw that Charlotte hadn't moved from the spot where he'd left her. Worried, Erik felt her forehead and found her head slightly hotter than normal. Seeing that she was asleep, he tucked her into bed, hoping that she'd feel better in the morning.

When Charlotte awoke later that night, she saw that she was in bed and wondered how she got there. She didn't stay up long however. She quickly changed into a nightgown after noticing she was still in part of her skating costume and went straight back to bed.

The next morning, a delicious aroma wafted into Charlotte's room and woke her up. Her door opened and Erik came in with a tray of food. "Morning honey. It's about time you got up," he teased.

Charlotte tried to act grouchy, but smiled instead when she answered. "Morning to you too. What time is it?"

"Well remember that conference we were supposed to have about how it feels to win a gold medal?" Charlotte nodded. "Well, we missed it." Erik set the tray down.

"Oh no!" Charlotte groaned.

"Don't worry. Walter canceled it. After how you felt last night, I didn't think it would be wise for you to get out of bed for a couple of days. So how are you feeling?"

Charlotte noticed the hint of concern in his voice. "I'm fine." Charlotte saw the doubt in his eyes as he pulled up a chair next to her. "Seriously. I don't know what happened yesterday. I guess all of that hard work finally caught up to me."

"Well in that case, finish your breakfast and get back to sleep. Call if you need me." Erik turned and left the room. Charlotte was ravenous and ate till she could eat no more. She put aside the tray on the chair he'd left behind and went back to sleep.

That afternoon, Charlotte finally emerged from her room wearing a thick bathrobe to keep out the chill. Charlotte got herself a cup of coffee and walked over to Erik, who stood looking out of a window. He hadn't been able to get her out of his mind and was worried sick about her. Charlotte noticed his pale face. "What's wrong?"

Erik hadn't heard her come over and now her face showed her worry. My how she's beautiful. "Nothing. I was just wondering how you were doing."

All the concern fled her face and left behind one filled with laughter and playfulness. "I told you I was just overworked. Nothing too bad."

"You sure?"


Charlotte stood with him, snuggling close as his arms encircled her tiny waist. They stood like that while, staring out at the winter wonderland outside before Erik took the mug from Charlotte's hands and put it on the windowsill. Then he turned her around to face him. One hand went up and brushed back some of the hair that had fallen across her face. His fingertips then traced her jaw as her arms went around this neck. He bent his head and brushed his lips lightly on hers for a gentle kiss. "I love you so much," he said, voice filled with longing and desire.

"I know you do. It didn't seem possible so long ago and yet it's so right now."

"Charlotte, I don't want to force you into anything you don't want to do, but…" he hesitated, trying to find the right words to say. "I would really like it if… we could go out together sometime?"

Wow. He's really nervous! She smiled and rested her head on his chest. "I'd love to. How about tonight?"

"What? So soon?" he teased.

"I can't wait. Now I better get dressed," she said as she slowly pried herself from his arms and walked to her room.

That evening, Erik took Charlotte out to a nice, little restaurant. As they ate, her gaze traveled over her partner's body once again. He was dressed in all black: boots, jeans, and a skin-tight shirt. His powerful arms and legs, broad chest, wide shoulders, boyish grin, probing, brown eyes, and thick and very unmanageable black hair all caught her eye. He carried himself as if he were royalty and rarely let his anger show through anymore. How strange. Just a few years ago and I wouldn't have even given him a chance of going out with me. Even if we did, we'd be fighting with each other every minute. How could he have changed so much? Near the end of their dinner, she asked, "What are you thinking?"

Erik took a minute in answering while he studied her. Charlotte was in complete contrast to his clothing: a white ankle-length, loose, sleeveless dress, sandals, and a thin, gold necklace. "I'm thinking about how a guy like me could have ever let a woman like you get away. Look at you! You've changed so much!"

"So have you!"

"I doubt it. You, you've changed from an awkward, scrawny, very loud kid to… Well, look at yourself! You're beautiful! You can have any guy you want and you pick me! It's not as if we're not around each other enough, and here we are on a date!"

"Seems like I made the right choice in choosing you. You too have changed and don't try to argue that you haven't because you have. You never were able to keep your temper in check before. You were never patient or willing to try anything. You could never let anyone be better than you and you only thought about yourself. Don't argue with me!" her eyes twinkling with mischief when he tried to get a word in. "It's true! You really did think only of yourself. Remember that time when we just finished our what we thought was our best performance ever and still got only fifth place? You blamed everything on me and then said to coach that I hadn't tried at all, just to save your face. Remember that?"

He blinked back in surprise. "You remember that?"

"I remembered that and much, much more."

"Okay, okay. I guess I was a fool then. But don't blame everything on me! You still had a wicked tongue that you weren't afraid to use. You stood up for yourself by throwing more angry retorts."

Charlotte gave a sad smile. "That's what I tried to get everyone to think, but I really was hurt. Each and every time you yelled at me, or blamed me, or accused me of things that weren't true, I was hurt." Charlotte looked down at her hands folded on her lap. Her voice grew quiet and there was a slight tremor to be heard as she remembered. "The things you said… I couldn't stand it. I never learned how to channel my anger until after we went our separate ways. The only way I knew how to talk then was to talk back. Get angry. I wanted to get back at those who hurt me, wanted them to feel the same pain I was going through."

Tears rolled down her cheek. "Hey, don't cry!" Erik's hands slowly brushed away some of Charlotte's tears.

"I had to leave. I didn't want to because I cared about you so much, but I had to. I didn't want to be hurt anymore. I couldn't bare to leave you, you have to believe me!" she looked up. "Even then I wanted you, but I was afraid of being hurt." Erik beckoned to the waiter and paid for their dinner. Then he gathered Charlotte into his arms and they walked out back to their hotel. Erik led her to her room and they both sat down on her bed. "I'm sorry. I didn't mean to spoil our dinner."

"That's all right, no need to worry," he whispered. Erik took her face into his hands and tenderly kissed her tears away. "Thank you for being honest with me," he whispered.

Charlotte looked deep into his eyes and smiled, answering him with a kiss.