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Master of the House is a fanfiction about Ever After High's drama club, the Drama Kings and Queens. It was written by Alpha for an exchange with Zena.

All relevant warnings for Les Mis, including references to (fictional) death, prostitution, etc. etc. Also, obviously, Les Mis spoilers for most of the character deaths in the show. Due to the nature of the play in question, this fic is rated T for Teen (13+).

Notes

Characters

OCs

Sage Idason, Elisabella Cavalier, Charmaine Lexwington, Bathilda Waits, Celadon West, Kaolin Alabaster, Aisley Hazelwood, Sebastian Scrooge, Garen Norwitch, cameos by others

Canon

Headmaster Grimm, Justine Dancer, C.A. Cupid, cameos by others.

Summary and Tags

Ever After High's drama club attempts to put on Les Misérables as their spring show. As Vice-President of the club, Sage Idason very quickly has his hands full, especially when Headmaster Grimm attempts to censor the opera from being performed as written.

Tags and Warnings: Les Mis, which means mentions of fictional death, prostitution, etc. etc. Minor language.

Master of the House

It was a peculiar thing how Headmaster Grimm had wound up approving the show in the first place.

"As I am certain you all know," he announced in the auditorium on the first Wednesday of Spring Spellmester, "Your winter musical was cancelled as a result of your failure to follow the school rules pertaining to club performances. On page 353 of the Book of Entirely Reasonable School Rules, it quite clearly states that all performance material must be approved by the Headmaster in advance."

His gaze landed pointedly on Sage Idason, who had written said musical. It was obvious that Grimm had not appreciated the motifs, the subtle insinuations in that story. The military-uniforms, the war thus implied. The tragedy between the main characters who had been forced apart by duty, who had died to each others' hands at the whims of their rulers.

On his behalf, Sage suspected that Headmaster Grimm was in on one of the conspiracies he'd implicated, and had pulled the play last-minute.

It had been a work of art. The club president Elisabella had adored the costuming. Min Lexwington had been looking forward to playing the leading role. Sage himself directed, and their choreography had been totally flawless.

They'd put in countless hours of practice and hard work in order to make that play a reality, and Headmaster Grimm had shut them down almost the night of, delivering his judgement based off of a section of the script that had been admittedly a little less veiled in metaphor than Sage's usual work.

He'd completely refused to let them use the auditorium. The authorities had been called in when they attempted to perform on the school's front steps-- although that was in part because they'd been cited as a fire hazard for obstructing the doorway. The Swan Squad of the Swan Lake story had given a ballet performance in the time slot they would have otherwise used, and though it was totally amazing to watch, Sage couldn't help but feel a little bitter about it.

That play had been his brainchild. Headmaster Grimm had torn it down.

"In accordance to the rules on page 354," the Headmaster continued, "Your club has been restricted from producing self-written plays for one spellmester, upon the conclusion of which you will be free to produce your own play... though there is the unfortunate caveat of budgeting."

"... budgeting?" Elisabella raised a skeptical eyebrow. "Our club deserves the same amount of funding as any other club in this school. Are you trying to say that our club budget is being cut because we didn't get to put on our play?"

"Of course not, Miss Cavalier," the Headmaster harrumphed sternly. "It is an unfortunate but coincidental circumstance. The school board has elected to reduce club funding by 20% after this spellmester in favor of allocating the funds to Honor Student programs... and I am afraid the matter is a bit more... complicated than cutting the club budget."

"How complicated?" Sage questioned cautiously. 'Complicated' could mean anything from systemic bureaucracy to stifle their free speech down to the very Authors themselves intervening in their affairs. 'Complicated' could mean any number of conspiracies meant to end free thought and choice.

"Twenty percent is no small amount," Grimm sighed, beginning to feel a headache coming on. "And I am afraid, given the widespread unpopularity of this generation's performances... the Board of Education has almost unanimously agreed to cut funding from this club altogether."

The club erupted in uproarious protest, each one shouting about the unfairness of it all, yelling about how the students hadn't ever had a say in the matter, how important the drama club could be.

"No!" Elisabella burst out, standing abruptly. The room went silent as she spread her arms out, as if to physically protect the other members of the club. "They can't do that... this club has been standing for generations!"

"And I wholeheartedly agree," Headmaster Grimm straightened his back. "Ever After High has a rich tradition of theater history, and traditions must not be lost. Many musicals and plays were born within these very halls... which is why I have persuaded the board to give you another chance."

"We'll take it," Elisabella answered immediately.

"Seven hundred tickets must be sold in order to make up your club budget," Headmaster Grimm replied stoically. "The board will be unable to argue your continuation if the Drama Club becomes self-sufficient."

"Seven hundred tickets?" Elisabella's eyebrows rose. "The auditorium only seats 250 at a time. That's practically a full house every night on performance weekend!"

"The Drama Club hasn't sold out like that in over thirty generations," Sage furrowed his brow.

"Yes, well," the Headmaster cleared his throat. "I trust you will forward your chosen play or musical to me in short order for approval. Now, if you will excuse me... I have an appointment to deliver the bad news to the Chess Club."

And with that, he swept ominously from the room.

There was silence for a minute. Then, Elisabella pivoted on her heel and clapped her hands.

"Well, you heard the man!" she proclaimed. "Start looking for musicals, plays, anything you can get your hands on! We don't have any time to waste!"

As if it were a single organism, the Drama Club seemed to snap into action, riffling through the extensive collection of scripts and sheet music. It was lucky, Sage thought, that he had color-coded them all for easy reorganization.

--x-x-x-x-x--

Finding the play, in and of itself, was no easy task.

Headmaster Grimm turned down Hamilton on the basis of genre, refusing to recognize anything which contained 'rapping' as a form of theater or music. He turned down Grease on the basis of a particular True Hearts' Day scene, the holiday still contraband. Even Wicked, which had been one of the longest-running shows in Ever After High history, was rejected based on the thoroughly fictional ending.

Everyone could tell that he was deliberately rejecting the plays which implied even the slightest hint of rebellion in choice.

"It's the system," Sage frowned and reluctantly tabbed the latest manuscript with a yellow sticky-note for rejected. "They'll make themselves sound fair, sure... but in the end, the man's trying to keep us down, kick us out... prevent us from thinking."

"Did he say what plays would be allowed?" scoffed Bathilda from behind a pile of discarded plays.

"He suggested the classics. Snow White, Sleeping Beauty..." Elisabella tapped her nails on a counter-top, displeased herself. "Anything that has 'real moral value,' whatever that means."

"Club members can kiss their parts goodbye if we do one of those plays," Min piped up, shaking her head. "We'll be obligated to cast Apple White as Snow White, or Briar Beauty as Sleeping Beauty..."

"Maybe if we do The Little Mermaid, Meeshell will be too shy to try out?" someone suggested with a shrug. "There's a couple of good musical numbers in there, too."

"Yeah, because people are just lining up to see The Little Mermaid... a story everyone knows by heart," Bathilda snorted, setting down another manuscript. "Remember when we did Beauty and the Beast? Literally four people came on opening night, and one of them snuck in for free."

"Well, what can we do?" Elisabella picked up a manuscript. Then, changing her mind, she wrinkled her nose and dropped it. "We're all frustrated with the situation... can't think straight. I'm calling a break for dinner, and that's an order! Take care of whatever you need to take care of for tonight. I'll be here first thing tomorrow morning, and whenever you've got a rested mind and a fresh perspective, you can join me. It won't do anyone any good if you all stress yourselves to death."

Sage sighed and tabbed the script he'd been editing. Perhaps tomorrow, he'd sort through all the rejected rejected plays by the number of potentially-rebellious red flags he'd tabbed.

He filtered out of the room with the rest of the drama club, pulling his mask over his face as he entered the hallways. His carefully organized planner fell to hand and with a glance and a faint disappointment, he realized that the afternoon had dragged on longer than expected-- the mandatory Chemythstry project was nearly half an hour overdue for the next step, and thus, Sage hurried to the classroom, hoping that his project hadn't gone up in smoke and flames.

Setting off at a brisk walk, not eager to get detention for running in the halls, Sage pondered if his gas mask would actually get some use that day. He hoped not. At the very least, no smoke seemed to be rising out of the chemythstry lab, which was always a good sign.

He pressed his ear to the door, listening for explosions. Just in case.

A low, quiet song came through instead: "Oh, would you light my candle..."

Sage's ears perked at that riff, and he abruptly burst through the door. "That's from Rent!"

The room's sole occupant visibly jumped, pulling hid hat down further over his atypically verdant face. "Excuse me?"

"Great musical..." Sage muttered, seemingly to himself, "I can't believe I didn't think of it before! Hey, you'll audition, right?"

"I don't know what you're talking about," the stranger huffed, turning back to the potion he'd been working on. "If you were the cauldron on station 9, by the way, it would have boiled over and ruined everyone else's projects if I hadn't been here. I took the liberty turning down the heat."

"Oh! Thanks, then... I underestimated the amount of time I'd spend in Drama Club today," Sage set about removing the ingredients for the next required step. "You know, there's this conspiracy that Professor Rumplestiltskin assigns potions like these on purpose... so he can fail whole classes if even one of us makes a mistake."

"That's not a conspiracy," came the answering snort. "Everyone knows he does that."

Sage gave pause. He carefully scrutinized the other, as if attempting to assess where he had heard such information.

"You're descended from the Wicked Witch of the West, aren't you?" he questioned poignantly.

"What gave it away, the hat or the skintone?" he raised an eyebrow back, his wide-brimmed hat mirroring that expression. "Yes, I am. What does that mean to you?"

"You don't understand! That means you've got to be related to Elphaba West," Sage stressed, seeming altogether in awe. "As in the writer and composer of Wicked, one of the most successful musicals in Ever After High's history!"

As if it were somehow unclear, "I'm not Elphaba. My name is Celadon West."

"I know, I know, but that's got to be amazing," Sage ran a hand through his hair. "That musical unearthed a social conspiracy against the community of sentient animals... and I heard you singing. It sounds like you're pretty good with musicals, yourself. You should join the drama club! At least audition?"

"No," West answered bluntly. "I don't participate in theater."

"Why?" Sage's brow furrowed. He glanced both ways in suspicion, then leaned in, "Did the Authors place target on your head if you do? They've been known to silence people who can think for themselves."

"What? No," West shook his head. "Mythological beings like Authors have nothing to do with it. That musical was a folly of self-indulgence on my ancestor's behalf... not ten years after writing that musical, she melted and died, like any other Wicked Witch before her. It was nothing but wish-fulfillment, brought on stage. Besides... anybody capable of keeping their ears open is aware that you haven't even chosen your play yet. The Headmaster won't approve it."

"Who told you that?" Sage stiffened, his mind racing through a hundred different scenarios. Perhaps they had been spied on? Perhaps someone was seeking to sabotage them?

"If you must know, my cousin mentioned it to me," West frowned. "His boyfriend is in the Drama Club. If it's supposed to be a secret, though, half the school is aware. There was a Blondie report about five days ago."

"Oh," Sage visibly deflated, almost disappointed that it wasn't anything more exciting.

"But... if you're looking for suggestions," West began, giving pause. "I happen to know of a musical about a man who diverges from his intended path. He suffers for many years because of his decision to defy order. An agent of a higher power, however, changes his mind through a great act of charity, and he swears to live by his fate-intended destiny evermore, eventually becoming a mayor in the eye of the law. It sounds like something the Headmaster would approve of... don't you agree?"

Sage wrinkled his nose. "So that's it? The protagonist just gives in to the system?"

"Ah, right... one more key tidbit of information," the corner of West's lip twitched upwards. "The musical is about the revolution in Fairytale France. The story I gave you happens to be only the first act."

The pieces immediately clicked into place. "Les Misérables... a musical which offers social commentary about the nature of government and poverty and divine will."

"A musical which happens to be based off a lengthy book," West mentioned. He posited slyly, "So... if someone were to theoretically add script background with novel pages and music sheets, the Headmaster perhaps might... skim over a few details. Just to save the paperwork."

"Fighting bureaucracy with bureaucracy," Sage tapped the outside of his mask, presumably over where his jawline sat. "It's kind of poetically just."

"Turnabout is fair play," West shrugged. "In any event, it's a historical musical in which the characters who try to defy the rules suffer for it. It sounds like it'd be right up Headmaster Grimm's alley."

"Except for the fact that the people who defy the rules win at the end," Sage paused, "Even the ones who die."

"Maybe, sometimes... the people who defy the rules deserve to win, in spite of any losses they may incur. Maybe there are students who need to hear that," West shook his head. "Maybe that's a spoiler Headmaster Grimm doesn't need to know."

"A wake-up call to those who follow destiny blindly," Sage mused. "And we do have all of those military-styled costumes left over from the last play."

"... I mostly just like the music," West admitted. "But, ah... you'll consider the suggestion?"

"I'll definitely bring it up when we meet tomorrow," Sage nodded, already considering choreography and props and how many highlighters he'd need to properly code the music. He gave pause, "So... will you audition?"

"I'd better not," West shook his head. He tugged his hat down a bit over his face and lowered his voice, "I, uh... I'm gay. I'd rather not contribute to the stereotype if I can help it. Nothing against anyone else who joins regardless... just a personal decision."

"If you like musicals, then you like musicals," Sage insisted. "Les Mis has a huge cast, so you wouldn't need to worry about not having something to do. Besides, we can always use new members. Actors, stage crew, props, the pit... if any of that interests you, then you can just let me know. Joining the theater club or not doesn't have to be a social commentary deal."

West coughed and cleared his throat awkwardly. He mumbled, "I can sing falsetto."

Sage winced in genre-savvy sympathy. In the realm of theater tropes, that was practically asking for a shoddy portrayal founded solely on ill-researched stereotypes and misrepresentations. It was a shame, he thought-- especially because the guy was actually a half-decent singer. Even if he couldn't act very well, they were always, always in need of students who were willing to sing a choir line.

"Still," Sage replied, resolute. "If you change your mind..."

"I know where the theater room is," West averted his eyes. "... I watch sometimes."

"Really?" Sage furrowed his brow. "I mean, I've seen someone hanging around in a cloak of shadows every now and then, but I always thought it was a spy sent by the Authors."

"No... just me. Though I suppose that explains the tinfoil hats," West commented dryly, standing up from the lab bench.

Sage glanced in either direction suspiciously. "You never know when the Authors are listening in on your thoughts."

"Right," West replied, dubious. "I should probably leave you to finishing your chemythstry project."

"I didn't forget about that," Sage helpfully supplied, returning to cutting up his potions' ingredients.

"Of course not," answered West diplomatically. "I'll see you later... perhaps."

And in the wake of that departure, Sage Idason most gladly applied his attention to the project in question, feeling altogether more optimistic about the future of the Drama Kings and Queens. They would make that musical yet.

--x-x-x-x-x--

The theater club unanimously agreed that Les Mis-- in addition to being a fantastic musical in its own right-- actually stood a chance under the agenda-influenced scrutiny of the Headmaster. Thus, when they submitted the musical for approval, they were optimistic about the results.

Certainly enough, they received back their exceedingly hefty script with one new addition: the dark blue stamp that was Headmaster Grimm's official Seal of Approval.

"All right," Sage clapped his hands, rubbing them together in anticipation. "Now we're in business... Kaolin, how're those audition ad flyers coming along?"

"They're doing okay!" Kaolin almost fumbled with the empty ink cartridge he held, but managed to safely set it down. "I managed to get the printer working again, so that should be the last page that just printed..."

"And I just got back from putting the audition sign-ups over the auditorium doors," Bathilda bustled in. "Min already signed up for a spot. So did Sebastian."

"That's good," Sage tapped his clipboard with a highlighter and marked off those sets of tasks. "We've got a lot of roles to fill, and we'll need a lot of people to fill them."

"We all know that I'm going to get Cosette, of course," Min winked, flitting in and landing with a swing. "But there's no harm in bulking our numbers for try-outs."

"Well, we don't know that for sure," Justine Dancer danced across the floor, attempting to work out a few bits of choreography.

"A heart full of love... no fear, no regret," Min sang, clasping her hands, "Marius Pontmercy... and I'm Cosette."

"Come on, Min," Aisley elbowed her slightly. "Won't you at least give the others a chance?"

"I can't help it if I'm the best actress for the role," Min chuckled, fiddling bit with her hair. "Hey! Let me show you the visual de-aging illusion I've been working on for being little Cosette..."

"All right," Sage turned to his tabbed auditions-notes and wrote down the sign-ups. "By the way, Min, callbacks are Saturday of next week."

"Thanks, Sage!" Min chirped back with a broad grin.

Sage shook his head and switched to a green colored pencil, drawing a box around her name. "You still have to show up to the audition."

"Well," Elisabella poked her head in, "I can appreciate someone who I know for certain shows up to all the practices and meetings."

"We definitely don't want another Mystery of the Black Moor incident," Bathilda raised her eyebrows. "Not that Briar Beauty was the world's worst actress, but missing practice because she kept oversleeping? Every practice? Makes it pretty hard to put on a cohesive play."

"Anyways, someone defaced the sign-up sheet with graffiti," Elisabella pressed her mouth into a frown. "Again."

"Again??" Sage groaned, grabbing one of their (many) spare sheets. "I swear, there's a conspiracy against us!"

"Yeah, well, you can add this page to your Big Binder of Proof," Bathilda shook her head, grabbing a roll of enchanted tape. "It's only been like, ten minutes since I put it up! What does it say this time?"

"Theater is for nerds," Elisabella scowled. "Not the worst thing that's ever been put up there, but I'd appreciate it if it didn't take up literally every spot."

"I guess we'd better switch out the page, then," Sage shook his head. "Maybe... if we take the acronym of that phrase... TIFN... I'm sure this fits into the other messages I compiled..."

"Either that, or someone's just been pranking us," Bathilda shook her head, faintly amused by Sage's suggestion. "Better save that thought for after we switch out the form, so you can at least study the ink color too."

"I almost have a pattern established!" Sage insisted, pushing past the doors to cross the hall. "Look, if you observe the alternation between black ink and blue ink as a message in Morse code..."

"What does it say, then?" Bathilda arched an eyebrow.

"When," Sage declared. "More or less. Depending on where you draw the cutoffs."

"Uh-huh," she chuckled back, undoing the ruined sign-up sheet on the wall and exchanging it for Sage's clean one. "Just make sure to get the names on that before you seal it away as evidence?"

"Still just Min and Sebastian," Sage reported, flagging the graffiti'd sheet with a blue post-it and tucking it away. "See, this one fits right into the pattern. It's blue, so--"

"Uh," someone coughed awkwardly from behind them abruptly interrupting Sage's next coming theory.

When he and Bathilda turned, their inquiring eyes met with a familiar face.

"I've seen you before," Sage mentioned suspiciously. "You've been visiting our practices these last couple months."

"Kaolin's boyfriend, isn't it?" Bathilda elbowed Sage reproachfully. "Garen Norwitch, right?"

"Yes, that's me," the recognition was met with a bright smile. "I was wondering if this is where you're supposed to sign up for the, ah, musical auditions?"

"This is the spot," Bathilda passed him a pen. "Better sign up quick before all the spots are taken."

Garen glanced at the empty sheet. A smile quirked up at the end of his lips, "Ah, I see... should I just sign wherever there's room?"

"If you can find any," Bathilda deadpanned back.

"You're signing up for auditions? That's great," Sage's entire countenance seemed to lighten. "We can always use more people... unless they're spies."

"It's all right... you won't need to worry about that," Garen chuckled and rubbed the back of his neck. "So... the play this semester is, um, Les Misérables, right?"

"That's what the top of the sign-up sheet says," Bathilda raised an eyebrow in jest.

"What part are you auditioning for?" Sage formed a camera frame with his fingers. "I can see you as an Enjolras... don't let Elisabella know that, though. I think she's hoping to snag that part herself."

"Not Enjolras, then... I don't want to step on any toes," Garen answered politely. "Really, I just sort of feel bad for not doing much when I'm visiting Kaolin's practices... and participating in the play this semester sounds like a good way to fix that. I don't really know who any of these characters are, so I suppose I'll be fine with just about any part I can get. Maybe, er, a chorus member or something."

"You can put 'undecided' in the 'roles' column," Sage helpfully supplied. "We can always use more members of the chorus, and when you're not doing other things, we can train you for stage crew, too. Actually, if you're considering joining drama club, I happen to have a form that's been color-coded for convenience..."

"Maybe," Garen averted his eyes, flushing. "I'd like to see how it works out, first... between you and me, I'm kind of worried that Kaolin's just going to think that I'm being weirdly clingy, or something like that."

"Well, I've got a copy or two of the form with me pretty much all the time, so just let me know if you make a choice," Sage nodded. His eyes darted in either direction, and he waited for a student to pass them by before he leaned in and whispered, "Your secret is safe with me, if you feel your relationship is threatened by The System. I won't say a word to anyone about it."

"I see," Garen nodded solemnly, pretending to understand. He quickly scribbled down 'not Enjolras' beside where he'd signed his name. "In any case, it was good to talk to both of you. Auditions on Saturday, right?"

"Auditions on Saturday," Sage saluted, and Garen went off.

"He's not going to join Drama Club," Bathilda shook her head once the guy in question was out of earshot.

"He said he might," Sage lifted his eyebrows.

"Until you went all conspiracy-theory on him," Bathilda chuckled and elbowed him. "At least save it for after he fills out the club admission form. Not everyone's enlightened about that stuff, you know."

"I couldn't talk about anything more overt... not here, not now," Sage cast a suspicious glance around the hallway. "We'd better get back to the theater club room before anyone else comes by. You never know when you're being watched."

--x-x-x-x-x--

They actually managed to work their way through nearly all of the auditions before Headmaster Grimm offered his first real protest.

"It has come to my attention that there is a scene pertaining to certain, ahem, unsavory practices in this musical," he stood before the stage, carefully averting his eyes from the closed curtains behind him.

A male voice shouted from behind that obfuscation, "Come on! The hell was I supposed to know that pole dancing wouldn't count for the dance audition? The character's a prostitute, for cryin' out loud!"

There was a muffled cursing noise before Headmaster Grimm continued on stoically, "I would ask the Drama Club remove this scene from the play altogether."

"But we can't!" Elisabella was the first to protest.

Bathilda wasn't far behind, "That scene's essential for the character arc!"

Sage set his jawline firmly and stood. "We can't just censor the Lovely Ladies scene. It's an integral part of the storyline, and it sets the stage for Fantine's desperation so we can have the emotional impact of--"

Headmaster Grimm cleared his throat, "That's enough out of you, young man. I will not tolerate the implications of my students, most of whom are underage, even merely acting the part."

"I'll only cast people who are over eighteen, if I have to," Sage frowned, pressing his eyebrows together. "And whether anyone likes it or not... that's really what happened back then in Fairytale France. Les Mis is based on a true story, and there wouldn't be theatrical-- or historical integrity! And we should repeat the story exactly the way it was told to us... shouldn't we?"

Headmaster Grimm took a deep breath in, beginning to go a little red in the face. "For the sake of historical integrity, Sage Idason, I had best find you correct."

"I have the documents about it. The historical applications of Les Mis in telling the story about the revolution in Fairytale France," Sage crammed open one of his multiple binders, this one labeled Les Misérables. He flipped to the orange-tabbed section, for history notes. "I photocopied this page right out of the History class textbook, in fact!"

Headmaster Grimm rubbed away an ache at his forehead. "See to it that you only cast actors of an appropriate age, Mr. Idason, and that all costume pieces adhere to dress code. I don't want to see any freshmen in these roles."

"Definitely," Sage pressed his lips together in a slim smile, and watched as Headmaster Grimm departed.

"I thought for sure he was going to shut us down, there," Elisabella exhaled a sigh of relief, at last returning to her perch at the piano. "How did you do that, Sage?"

"I couldn't let him censor us. Les Mis has an important message to all the students here at Ever After High..." Sage ran a hand through his hair. "Maybe, sometimes, it's worth it to rebel... even if it hurts. I've been doing a lot of research, and nobody can argue the facts. The System can't censor us, and won't censor us."

"Let's hear it for Sage!" someone in the drama club hollered.

"Fight the system!" Bathilda yelled out, not entirely ironically, and there were a few moments of uproarious applause.

"All right, guys," Sage lifted both of his hands, then adjusted his trench-coat collar before sitting down. "Let's get the rest of these auditions done with. We've got a play to put on."

"Next on the list, we've got Garen Norwitch," Elisabella announced, lifting an eyebrow at the page. "Auditioning for... not Enjolras?"

Kaolin gasped, looking altogether shocked. "Garen! You didn't tell me you'd be auditioning!"

"I wanted to surprise you," Garen smiled slightly, gently squeezing his hand before backing away. He walked briskly atop the stage, now absent of the previous auditioner. "I've studied the sheet music for Suddenly... if Miss Cavalier cares to do accompaniment."

Sage lifted an eyebrow at her, and she shook her head fondly and sighed. Only in Drama Club was it possible to facilitate such grand romantic gestures, but neither of them would begrudge Kaolin and his boyfriend the moment.

A strain of piano music floated forth, the gentle and romantic notes that made up the musical transition.

"Suddenly you're here... suddenly it starts," came forth a firm but gentle tenor. "Can two anxious hearts beat as one? Yesterday I was alone, today you are beside me... something still unclear, something not yet here has begun."

Sage could scarcely maintain his grip on the clipboard. His eyes darted between the fondness written across Garen's face, his wide-sweeping gestures upon the stage, his utter command of the moments of the passages of piano and the places of crescendo.

He shut his eyes and swallowed. Even blind, those notes were laden with emotion, through to the very last, as Elisabella finally lifted her fingers from the piano keys.

"So, hopefully, I didn't do too bad," Garen chuckled with a note of self-depreciating humor, leaping down from the stage.

"Callbacks," Elisabella announced immediately. "You've made callbacks."

"Yeah," Sage took a deep, shuddering breath in and calmly boxed his name several times in green pencil. "You definitely made callbacks."

It was Kaolin who ran up to him first, nearly stumbling over the chairs to do so, "I didn't know you could sing so beautifully..."

"I meant it, you know," Garen helpfully caught him, something soft in his gaze. "I meant it for you."

They stood and gazed silently into each others' eyes for a moment. Sage, on his part, averted his gaze.

Still, all such moments had to end, and this one did so when Cora Chopper elbowed him in the ribs, grinning, "I can't believe you've been hanging out in the club room for months, and you were hiding this! You've been holding out on us, Norwitch!"

"Right, well... that's it as far as auditions go for the day," Elisabella clapped her hands together.

"Callbacks will be posted on the auditorium doors at 3 PM on Monday," Sage announced helpfully, tucking his papers back into their proper folders. "The callback auditions are at noon a week from today. We're looking forward to seeing you there."

Students began to file out of the auditorium-- roughly thirty of them or so, and Sage thought that it was a pretty good turnout. He could work with a cast of thirty.

"Hey, Sage?" Elisabella added, just as she was about to turn and leave. "Don't think I didn't notice that nobody else auditioned for Enjolras except for me."

"I only mentioned it once," Sage insisted, beginning to sort the many pages of loose sheet music into their appropriate binders. "And the sign-up sheet was public, so..."

"I guess it was," Elisabella halted. "But, still... I'm grateful for it, you know. I don't know if anyone higher up would've approved of a girl playing Enjolras otherwise, and now..."

"I know," replied Sage, shaking his head. "It's the System. They want all of us to play parts the same as the ones in our stories... they want us to play parts according to gender norms or archetypes. I won't let that happen. I'll never let the System win."

"And even though you've got a funny way of showing it, sometimes..." Elisabella shook her head, "The theater club is behind you on that one. A hundred percent. Make sure you get dinner once you're done in here, okay?"

"Will do, chief," Sage grinned back, returning to organizing the piles of sheet music just the way he liked them, cross-referenced by instrument, song, and the primary characters of that piece.

There was a moment of blessed, organizational serenity as Sage sifted through the dozens of pages, softly humming a few scores to himself as he worked. Still, his head snapped up when the door creaked softly open.

"Are you here to audition?" Sage called out hesitantly, unsure if this could possibly be a last-minute latecomer.

"Sorry," muttered West, sweeping in. "I'm, er... I'm told that someone left a dancing pole in here. I've been sent to pick it up for them."

"I think that might still be on the stage somewhere," Sage mentioned. "So... have you changed your mind about the audition?"

"I haven't changed my mind... there's a certain degree of social responsibility involved. I'm not about to play into the stereotype," West shook his head, attempting to figure out how to dismantle the portable object. He admitted, "I... thought about it, though."

"You did?" Sage seemed to immediately perk up. "You were considering auditioning?"

A pause. "Maybe."

Sage pursed his lips thoughtfully. Then, "I know you're not trying out... but out of curiosity. What part would you have tried out for, if you had?"

"... you'll think it's foolish," West snorted. "It was a girl's role. I can't hit half the notes."

"That's not foolish. Our Enjolras is being played by a girl, and music can be transposed if it's not in someone's range," Sage posited the counter-example. He continued to question, "Do you maybe... have some other reason to hide it? You don't have to worry about the Authors listening in, you know... this room has tinfoil in its insulation."

"Concerning, the fact that you cared enough about the room's insulation to know," West tisked. "But I assure you... Authors have nothing to do with it."

"Then, if you have no reason to hide it... what part would you have tried out for, if you'd tried out?"

West lowered his hat. "Éponine."

"Éponine," Sage repeated, nodding slowly. "She's got a great part. Lots of harmonies, lots of belting. On My Own is a classic song, too."

"I personally prefer A Little Fall of Rain."

"Wait right there for a second," Sage went and immediately came up with the piano sheet music for the song. "You know the lyrics to that?"

"Of course," West answered, hesitant. He narrowed his eyes in suspicion. "You want me to sing?"

"The music happens to be out," Sage shrugged. "Humor me."

He struck up the opening chords, and then, West could do little else than to concede.

"Don't you fret, Monsieur Marius... I don't feel any pain," he sang, the words seeming to fall heavy from his lips. "A little fall of rain... can hardly hurt me now. You're here-- that's all I need to know. And you will keep me safe, and you will keep me close. And rain... will make the flowers grow."

Sage halted the music there. "You're really good."

"I'm no Charmaine Lexwington, but I can read music." West snorted, dropping his voice back to its usual registry.

"It's pretty clear that you love the character," Sage insisted. "And the musical! Your idea worked, you know. Fighting bureaucracy with bureaucracy. Standing up against the system on its own terms, the very message that this play is all about. Why didn't you audition?"

"You mean besides the gender issue and the propagation of the toxic 'gay actor' stereotype?" West lifted an eyebrow, his hat mimicking that movement expressively.

"Is there another reason?" Sage asked earnestly.

West frowned, "I'm allergic to water. My family has been, for the last one hundred generations."

"We wouldn't use real water for the rain. Adobe can get a sound effect running, and Aisley's getting really good at illusion spells," Sage explained. "It'd be safe."

"You don't get it, do you?" West sighed faintly. "No matter how you try to make me up, it's impossible to hide whose descendant I am. When Éponine sings that song... she doesn't feel any pain because her unrequited love is holding her. She didn't have to die, but she threw herself in the line of fire for the sake of love. That's what makes her character death so tragic."

"I know... Les Mis is a pretty hard-hitting tragedy," Sage shook his head. "I just don't see what the rain song has to do with any of this. I don't really get how the heritage issue fits in..."

"The audience will see a descendant of a Wicked Witch before they see the character of Éponine," West lowered his hat over his face, his voice beginning to tremble. "A witch who doesn't care about melting, if it means he can be beside the person he loves..."

It abruptly dawned on Sage, "It would mean that your Éponine would have known he was going to die before he ever braved the front lines. And then, when he dissolves into a puddle on Marius' lap, and there's nothing to bury... I didn't think it was even possible. Making Les Mis even more tragic than it already is... the audience might never recover from that."

"That's why I can't play Éponine," West concluded, straightening his back.

"No," Sage insisted. "That's why you have to play Éponine! With your voice and your destiny and everything... you'd completely ruin the audience. Emotion like that is what art is all about... it's what theater's all about."

"I said," West bit more firmly. "I can't play Éponine."

"Okay," Sage attempted to assuage, "But why?"

"She's a familiar enough archetype," West crossed his arms. "The senselessly tragic death, the water-based imagery, being 'not that girl.' Using my heritage to theatrical advantage like that is typecasting, Idason. It's giving in to what society expects."

"But she's a protagonist! The secondary love interest, even. A well-intentioned character who didn't do anything wrong," Sage protested. "That's nothing like the villain's role your destiny set out for you."

"There's more than one kind of typecasting, Idason," West at last managed to get the pole in question to detach from the floor. "And... I don't want to be that guy, just playing myself. I appreciate the offer, but look... I've got to go. I should get this back to the guy who forgot it here."

"Right," Sage hesitated, pondering deeply. "I should go consider callbacks."

He checked again his notes as the door shut behind West once more. Bathilda... all she'd written on the sign-up page was "not Éponine." He'd figured that all she wanted was to avoid being the secondary love interest, or to avoid being cast as a character who was doomed to die.

Of course, he'd flagged her as a candidate for Madame Thénardier... the sort of over-the-top character she typically played. Kind of antagonistic, and maybe a little bit evil... but he'd thought it was balanced out by the fact that the character was alive at the end. Boisterous. Lots of comedic lines. A character who stuck out as an inappropriately hilarious comedic relief in a three-hour tragedy.

Sage didn't get rid of the bright violet tag... not exactly. But just beside it, he added a pale blue tag.

He wondered how Bathilda would sound singing I Dreamed a Dream. Perhaps she would be interested in taking a crack at Fantine...

--x-x-x-x-x--

"It has come to my attention that there are on-stage, explicit deaths in this play," Headmaster Grimm had stormed in that afternoon, shortly before callbacks were posted. He loomed over Sage's figure. "Though the rules of Ever After High do permit non-explicit death scenes in their performances, anything in which the notes read 'fake blood everywhere' is expressly forbidden."

"But it's Les Mis," Sage stressed, clutching the callbacks list to his chest as if the Headmaster would forcibly take it from him. "It's a tragedy which derives its sadness, in part, from people dying... uh. In part because they attempted rebellion? It's an important message."

"Be that as it may, page 355 of the school rules claims that no theater organization may use something which may tarnish the waxed surface of the auditorium floor," Grimm harrumphed. "There may be students' parents in the audience... many of whom would not appreciate any of their children even feigning death for a school production."

"The actors are all aware of the play's contents before being assigned roles, and if their parents have any complaints, they can take it up with the students personally... because in theater, you have a choice in what part you want to play," Sage pressed his lips together, adding only in his mind: unlike real life. "And we won't use fake blood, or anything else that'll require cleaning. Adobe has this really cool effect trick where red silk banners can spill out in strategic locations... and Aisley's getting really good at illusion magic."

"Be that as it may, I don't think I need to remind you that, as Headmaster of this school, I am held responsible for permitting students to engage in activities which their parents-- many of whom are on the Board of Education-- may not approve of," the Headmaster huffed. "I am sure that you have no desire for them to vote in favor of suspending Drama Club activities indefinitely?"

"They won't," Bathilda interjected confidently, nudging Sage out from under the Headmaster's scrutiny. "They'll be too impressed by this musical. Tell the board members to see it for themselves-- opening night is April 21. Tickets are five crowns, like always... that's six and a half Wonderlandian spades."

"Hm," the Headmaster's frown deepened. "Very well. I will permit the show to go on... for now."

He marched out of the room, disapproval heavy in his every footfall.

Sage heaved an exhale of relief. "Thanks... you really came in the nick of time there."

"Yeah, well, I didn't want an agent of the System trying to interrogate Drama Club secrets out of you," Bathilda nudged him playfully. "Besides, you're late posting the callbacks."

"The Headmaster ambushed me," Sage insisted, hurrying after her in the direction of the auditorium doors. "I think he's only just realized the kind of opera we're putting on."

"Nah," Bathilda shook her head. She smirked, "I think that if he knew what this opera was really about, he'd be begging us to go back to Hamilton."

Sage carefully taped the callbacks list to the auditorium door. "We won't let the System take us down."

Bathilda did a double-take at the callbacks list. "Cupid's got a callback for Éponine?"

"And Cosette," Sage rebuffed. "Min's got to have at least a little competition. Besides, she did great as a choir member in Justine's musical. We all agreed on that."

"I thought Cupid didn't need a callback for Éponine," Bathilda furrowed her brow. "She was amazing! The best Éponine we saw all night by far."

"The best Éponine... you saw," Sage's eyes shifted suspiciously in either direction. "But it's bad luck to talk about casting before the casting's done."

Bathilda ran her finger down the list, her furrow deepening. "And... you want me to call back for Fantine."

"I mean... you just wrote down 'not Éponine,' so I thought, maybe, you'd be willing to try it?" Sage shrugged. "Fantine's one of the most expressive parts. One of the most famous roles in this musical. And her big solo song, I Dreamed A Dream, is in your key, and I think you've got the acting skills to pull it off... one of the saddest songs in the entire musical."

"Fantine, though," Bathilda at last backed away from the page. "Thought I was a shoe-in for Madame Thénardier. Big lady. Innkeeper's wife, bartender. Wicked sense of humor. Antagonist."

"I thought about it for a while. You've got callbacks for her, too," Sage assured her. "If you don't want to play Fantine, though--"

"Are you kidding me?" Suddenly, a smile burst out on Bathilda's face. "What kind of actress would pass up the chance to play Fantine, the tragic lead of the entire first act? The character with one of the most devastating songs of all time?"

"So... that's a yes?" Sage brightened. "You'll do callbacks for her?"

"Of course I will," Bathilda grinned, lightly nudging his shoulder. "I guess I kind of resigned myself to playing the hilarious but hated villain's wife. Underestimated your taste in casting... it's better than I expected."

"You've still got to go to callbacks with Duchess Swan," Sage helpfully reminded her. "Her voice might not be as good... but she's got the choreography down pat. You'd be going toe-to-toe with her for both roles."

"Oh, I'll go to callbacks with Duchess Swan, all right," Bathilda narrowed her eyes competitively. "'Scuse me, Sage... there's a practice room that's got my name on it."

"I'll see you later?"

"I'll see you at callbacks," Bathilda smirked, and turned on her heel.

Sage chuckled and waved after her. "Break a leg!"

Students emerging from their afternoon classes began to congregate in the halls, the preemptive flood of those who had come to check the callback listings. Sage listened to their exclamations, hiding stealthily just behind the auditorium doors.

"It looks like you and I are on for Éponine and Cosette, Cupey," came Min's joyous voice. "I admit... I do love On My Own. I'm glad to see that someone good's going to wind up with whichever role I don't get."

"Honestly?" Cupid giggled a bit. "I'm just tickled pink that I made it to callbacks at all! I'd royally love to play either of them..."

"Charming! Dexter, right?" came forth Garen Norwitch's voice. The smile was audible. "It looks like we're both candidates for Marius. May the best man get the part, then."

"I'm being considered for Marius?" Dexter's shock was evident. "Me? That's not a misspelling, is it? Like... they didn't accidentally put a typo in Daring's name, or anything?"

"They spelled out the whole name... Dexterous Charming," Garen assured him. "I look forward to facing you at callbacks."

"I don't know why they didn't just cast me as Fantine!" came Duchess Swan's complaining voice. "I have the tragic heroine role down to an art..."

"Maybe they didn't think your voice fit the character?" someone unsubtly added.

"Madame Thénardier ends up with a happily-ever-after, though!" a member of the Swan Squad hurriedly assured.

"Some of the cast list is up, too!"

"Sebastian Scrooge... as Jean Valjean?"

"Elisabella Cavalier as Enjolras? ... isn't Enjolras supposed to be a boy's role?"

"THEY CAST SPARROW HOOD AS THE BISHOP!" An obnoxious guitar riff cut through the din. "GONNA PREACH IT, SWEET!"

Sage smiled.

"You know," Elisabella spun around from her seat at the piano, where she'd waited all study hall for the results. "I would've pegged you as Gavroche, at first. Most of the drama club staff might have, too... if you hadn't brought it up about how we keep casting the same roles to the same people."

"Maybe I just didn't want to play the short guy again," Sage grinned, shrugging. "Besides... Hopper's one of the best actors in all of Ever After High. He's got a way with delivering his lines... something that makes him a real presence on stage, even when he's stuck as a frog."

"Really helps, too, when Gavroche's big song is about Little People," Elisabella winked. "I'm... still grateful about the Enjorlas thing, by the way. I know it's gonna be a lot of work to figure out what to do with the notes that aren't in my range."

"He's a tenor. Belts a lot," Sage assured her. "I've got full confidence in your ability to hit any of his lower notes. Case in point, that time you played the prince in Once Upon a Mattress."

"Yeah, but I was an understudy that time," Elisabella shook her head. "And Enjolras is a spectacular role... he counterpoints the romantic Marius as the idealistic, militant leader of the rebels. He motivates them to fight for their freedom! And he fights so the rebels can break free of their roles... so they don't have to suffer under the evil regime in power. That's the spirit at hand... and that's the way you suggested we assign roles."

"We can't play the same archetypes every time. We shouldn't play the same archetypes every time," Sage proclaimed. "That would be giving into the System, playing blindly into the hands of those who would control us... playing the roles we were unjustly assigned! And nobody wants to be controlled like that."

"Do you hear the people sing?" Elisabella struck out those notes.

"Singing the song of angry men!" Sage agreed.

"It is the music of a people who will not be slaves again!" Elisabella thumped her chest. "And when the beating of your heart--"

"Echoes the beating of the drums," Sage continued.

"There is a life about to start when tomorrow comes!" they finished at last in unison.

Elisabella played the emphatic chord, and finished. "Are you sure you don't want to be Courfeyrac or Combeferre? We still haven't cast all of Les Amis... and I know you love those parts."

"Thanks for the offer," Sage shook his head and smiled. "But... no thanks. I want to try something different, this time."

"It's a pretty big role," Elisabella hesitated, dubious. "Not that I don't trust you to play it, but wow is it different from your usual."

"He's the philosophical point of the whole opera," Sage replied with a smile. "That sometimes... loyalty doesn't get its due. That sometimes, the dogmatic fall where the treacherous succeed. Sometimes, the law fails, and destiny fails."

Elisabella chuckled, "Only you would see the antagonist as a treatise in philosophy."

"Maybe," Sage chuckled and pulled his gas-mask back over his face. "I'd better go hunt down Justine about that choreography. I probably need tons of practice."

"All right, do what you have to do," she shook her head in fond exasperation. "I'd better get back to practicing for callback accompaniments."

Sage bade her farewell and shuffled on out of the auditorium, the crowd thinned so that none were there to see him leave his perch. The auditorium doors shut behind him, the callback papers still carefully taped to the front.

And there, at the bottom of the confirmed casting list, there it stood.

Sage Idason-- Monsieur Thénardier.

The Master of the House.

--x-x-x-x-x--

"Five years for what you did," Garen flung his arms out wide, belting authoritatively. "The rest because you tried to run! Yes, 24601--"

"My name is Jean Valjean," Sebastian countered.

"And I'm Javert! Do not forget my name," Garen leveled himself seriously. "Do not forget me... 24601."

"All right, cut," Sage drew a hand across his throat. "Garen maybe, uh, try to be a little bit meaner about it? A little more forceful? We've only got another three days to get this down pat!"

"But my mom says that when enforcing the law, though it is imperative to be stern," Garen paused, scratching his cheek briefly. "It is more important to be understanding and kind."

"Yes, okay, but just picture this for a minute," Sage held his fingers in a camera frame. "The setting is a crime-ridden Fairytale France. Your mother isn't the Good Witch Glinda... but a woman who gave birth to you inside a jail. You watched the prisoners treat her poorly every day... you saw them all at their worst. In spite of it all, you've risen as an agent of the law! Your life's work is to bring criminals like those to justice!"

"But he only stole a loaf of bread," Garen gestured to Sebastian, still in full costume.

"You believe he broke into a house and endangered the life and property of a law-abiding citizen," Sage corrected. "Now, again!"

Garen straightened his back and attempted to wear the most vicious sneer he could possibly manage. It bore some faint resemblance to a constipated puppy-dog, and Sage rubbed his forehead with a sigh. He wondered if it was already too late to re-cast.

Then, he remembered that Dexter Charming-- their present Marius, and the only other candidate for Javert-- was even worse at looking mean. Great singers, the both of them. He'd wound up casting Garen only because Dexter couldn't get past the first thirty seconds of the great fight scene between Valjean and Javert.

Something occurred to him, then, and Sage interrupted once more, "Garen! Pretend that he broke into Kaolin's house! Shattered a windowpane. There was glass everywhere."

A new, protective strength seemed to wash over the son of Glinda, his military bearing almost broadening with the force, "Follow to the letter your itinerary... this badge of shame you'll show until you die. It warns you're a dangerous man!"

"I stole a loaf of bread," Sebastian entreated in perfect tune. "My sister's child was close to death. We were starving!"

"You will starve again," Garen cut across with a new viciousness that hadn't been there before. "Unless you learn the meaning of the law!"

Sebastian's acting, in turn, was impeccably grave and dark, "I know the meaning of those nineteen years a slave... of the law!"

"All right, keep that up!" Elisabella nudged past. "Sage... you're needed with our Éponine. I'm taking our Marius for ABC Cafe rehearsal... Valjean, you're needed with Cosette. Javert... just, uh, practice your suicide scene or something--"

A grim shadow fell over their hallway practice spot. The Headmaster glared down at them. "Ahem. Suicide scene?"

"Yes, sir," Garen adjusted his posture in deference to the authority. "When confronted with the conflict that he will either have to jail a good, reformed, destiny-abiding man or go back on his vow to the law, my character, Inspector Javert, chooses to commit suicide rather than betray either one of his dogmas, unable to reconcile the difference between goodness and law."

"Following the rules is goodness," Headmaster Grimm's jaw set sternly. "I was not aware this was a scene in this musical."

Oh no. Sage and Elisabella exchanged a glance. They knew that look in the Headmaster's eye-- they had seen it upon a hundred different faces before. They had seen it in the eyes of their fellow students after a particularly devastating episode of Game of Crowns. They had seen it at the end shows of every tragedy they'd co-directed.

Headmaster Grimm had just discovered that his favorite character... was killed off.

It wouldn't be above him to cancel the entire production just because of that, Sage knew. He could do it. It was well within his rights as Headmaster to pull the play, for whatever reason he might so choose. Sage was already sorting through the folders of documentation he'd have to sort through in order to convince the Headmaster of the importance in this scene. Literary analysis papers, perhaps, comparing this to the essential star-crossed ending of Romeo and Juliet?

However, still-- it seemed that Garen had the explanation well in-hand, "It speaks volumes about the character, and how deeply he believes in the good order of the world, the delicate balance maintained by the rules. It's a devastating scene, Headmaster... it says that Inspector Javert is so deeply devoted to both goodness and the law as one that he would rather die justly than betray either of them."

Sage carefully eyed the Headmaster's stance. He could see the despair in his eyes fade slowly to understanding. Of course, Garen hadn't exactly interpreted the character in a traditional way, either... but Sage figured, if it got them out of this mess, Garen could interpret the character of Inspector Javert however he well pleased.

"In the end, it means that he will sacrifice whatever it takes in order to protect both the people and the institution of destiny," Garen concluded. "Unwilling to compromise on either one, he commits a heroic suicide rather than impede Valjean's desperate bid to save the life of our hero Marius-- and in this way, he follows his destiny until the very day he dies."

The Headmaster sniffled a little. "Well... if that is the heroic, law-abiding end of the deuteragonist Javert... I suppose this scene is acceptable. Carry on."

Sage was pretty sure that the Headmaster had left in order to have a good, long cry about it in the bathroom.

"So," Garen's military posture relaxed, as if he hadn't just driven the school headmaster to tears. "Directors Cavalier and Idason... you were saying something about rearranging the practice groups?"

"Right," Elisabella straightened her back, the passing of authority in that room almost tangibly evident. "Sage, you're needed with Cupid. Sebastian, go find Min and work on your scenes. Garen... whatever the heck it is you're doing with Javert, keep doing it. If you need me, I'm in the main auditorium with the rest of Les Amis and our Gavroche."

"I'm on it," Sage shook his head and smiled. It was beginning to sound like people were becoming attached to this play, now... as deeply as if it had been written by one of their own.

He hurried down the hall to the music-room which had been reserved specifically for that afternoon's solo practice-- Cupid, with Éponine's On My Own. He hoped that she hadn't come down with a sore throat, or perhaps that she was having difficult with some of the more unorthodox riffs...

But when he heard a sniffle, and a nose being blown into a tissue, Sage immediately knew it was something far, far graver than that.

He cracked open the doorway a little. "It's, uh... it's Sage. Can I come in?"

"Yeah... I'm fine," Cupid answered.

Sage poked his head in, relaxing ever-so-minutely when he saw that the cherub had been wrapped in a blanket, an enormous mug of tea fitted into her hands. Elisabella had gotten her to calm down from whatever her initial issue had been. Sage wouldn't be surprised if Bathilda had helped, too.

"So," Sage began, shutting the door behind him and plopping down on the piano-bench. "Elisabella said you wanted to talk to me?"

"That's right... because you were the director in charge of casting," Cupid wiped at one of her eyes with her wrist, as if unable to stop the tears from flowing. "I'm royally sorry about it... but I just don't think I can play Éponine."

Sage's breath caught for a moment. Every other actor they had to spare was already taken with other roles... and Éponine, specifically, did not have an understudy.

"If there's something in the music that's too hard to sing, we can make altercations," Sage offered. "And there's still another three days of practice if you're having trouble with your lines. I'll help you memorize, any time you're available."

"No," Cupid shook her head, her pink curls swaying with the movement. "It's not that. It's just... I can't play Éponine anymore. On My Own just hits too close to home, and... when A Little Fall of Rain comes on, and my character's dying in Dexter-- I mean, Marius' arms... when he sings that line in his emotional tenor. The one that goes, but you will live, 'Ponine - dear Fates above... if I could heal your wounds with words of love."

She choked on her tears, then, and Sage helpfully supplied her with several tissues.

"It's an emotional scene," he admitted. "Éponine's entire character arc is pretty tragic... a devastating metaphor for how the powers of destiny can put a chokehold on even the most selfless and unconditional loves. It's tough to get through that ending without crying. I don't pretend to know much about what Éponine feels, but my guess is that it's not good."

"I'm so, so sorry, Sage... I really thought I could do it without letting my feelings get the better of me," Cupid hiccuped. "There's someone else who can play Éponine, right? Isn't there?"

"I don't know... I'm not sure it's possible to have someone totally new memorize all of Éponine's music and cues in three days, even if it's Drama Club crunch time three days," Sage ran his hand through his hair. "Min's the only other person who knows all the lines, and she's already Cosette. The person who should have been her understudy dropped the play three weeks in because of mid-spellmester hexams."

"What about Raven Queen?" Cupid inquired desperately. "She's a great singer! And... I know she and Dexter work well together."

"She's already the lead keyboardist in pit," Sage shook his head. "We're already performing with the bare minimum of background characters and extras... we've even had to combine some of the roles together. Maybe we can try Justine... but she's been up to her ears in making sure the set design goes smoothly, not to mention the dance numbers. "

"You have to have someone else in mind," Cupid pleaded, weeping. "I just really don't want to cry on stage... what would you do if I came down with a really bad cold?"

Sage swallowed. There was, indeed, one person he had in mind.

"I'd go and beg," he confessed. "The one person who refused to audition."

"Then I'll come with you," Cupid agreed, wiping away the last of her tears. "They at least deserve to know why I can't perform this week."

--x-x-x-x-x--

"... I was told that you'd be practicing the show in its entirety," West frowned, crossing his arms over his chest. He winced as Sage shone a bright lamp in his face. "I came for the music. I wasn't aware that the attendance fee would be an interrogation."

"Our Éponine needs to drop out of the musical," Sage explained hurriedly, toeing closed the practice-room door behind them. "And I know this is all very rushed, but I know you have all the songs memorized, at least, and I know you really like the part--"

"Cupid's your Éponine," West answered bluntly, perhaps edging on harshly. "I already gave you my reasons for not auditioning."

"You won't even consider it?"

"My opinions on the matter haven't changed."

"The show can't go on without the part!" Sage protested. "The role is integral to it!"

"Isn't that what rebellion is founded on? Stories continuing on without the parts of those who must suffer for it?" West scowled. "Write the character out, then."

"I've got papers-- tons of them-- about why Les Mis would be totally different without an Éponine," Sage tried to reason, "Just work with me, though, from the philosophical perspective--"

Their argument was cut off with a knock at the music room door.

Cupid's voice floated in, "Um... is he here yet? The new Éponine?"

West gave pause upon hearing that voice. He seemed to visibly deflate. "I'm not your new Éponine, but yes."

"I'm... really sorry about this," she nudged her way past the doorway. "It's just... the songs and the role hit a little too close to home for me, right now, and..."

"And I don't want to make someone play a role that they don't want to play," Sage finished, glancing down at his feet. "Then I'd be no better than the System of control that we're fighting, the puppet-masters who think they can play all of us by the roles they assign."

"What if I don't want to play the role, either?" West crossed his arms over his chest. A defensive gesture.

"You want to play the role," Sage shook his head. "You want to be Éponine just as much as Elisabella wants to play Enjolras... you just won't let yourself do it."

"No, I mean it," West, for once, spoke openly. "I don't want the role. I haven't put in the hours of work, I haven't practiced for it the way Cupid has... the musical will be a disaster if I take the role."

"Then... if I leave, there won't be a spring musical," Cupid's gaze dropped to the floor. "Everything will have been for nothing... even if I'm going to humiliate myself on stage by crying in the middle of an act, I have to perform. No matter how much I don't want to."

Determination set into Sage's jaw. "No. If you don't want to act the role, then I'm not going to make you act the role. No matter how close it is to opening night... and if that means there won't be a play, there won't be a play. Holding your puppet strings with guilt isn't going to do anything."

"You're being foolish about this," West tisked.

"Maybe that's so," Sage shook his head. He took a breath in, and then, with slight strain: "I dreamed a dream in time gone by... when hope was high, and life worth living. I dreamed that choice would never die... I dreamed that Fate would be forgiving. Then I was young and unafraid... and dreams were made and used and rested. There was no ransom to be paid... no song unsung, no truth untested."

"But on my own," Cupid came in, her own sweet, quavery soprano. "Pretending he's beside me... all alone, I walk with him till morning. Without him, I feel his arms around me, and when I lose my way I close my eyes and he has found me."

"Not alone," West cut in, a low exhale as he at last surrendered to the curse that seemed to afflict theater nerds everywhere. "For I yearn for a world that is new, that is free... every word that he says is a dagger in me! In my life... there's been no one like him anywhere-- anywhere, where he is... if he asked, I'd be his."

"In my life... there is someone who touches my life," Cupid's eyes widened at that, faintly surprised. "Waiting near..."

"Waiting there," West achingly finished. "You're not the only one who relates to the role more than they ought to. Don't you think there's someone in the audience who might need to hear her story?"

"You're right," Cupid admitted, shaking her head. "I've put in way too much work to just let go of Éponine's story like that. Sage... can we say that what happened earlier was just nerves acting up? I want to be Éponine! I want to play her part in this play more than anything right now. I just... freaked out a little, earlier. You know... crunch time. Haven't slept in a couple days."

"Go back to the dorm, then," Sage cracked a smile in her direction. "I think we could all use a little rest."

"I'll be back here first thing in the morning," Cupid reported, fluffing out her wings. "And I'll make sure I get On My Own down completely by this time tomorrow."

"And, if there isn't going to be a full-show rehearsal," West snorted, "I should go, too."

"Yeah," Sage shook his head and smiled. "I guess, then... the show will go on."

But this time, when Sage opened the practice-room door...

"Do you hear the people sing, lost in the valley of the night?" Elisabella chimed.

"It is the music of a people who are climbing to the light!" the entirety of the drama club echoed back.

"For the wretched of the earth, there is a flame that never dies!" Bathilda belted, "Even the darkest night will end and the sun will rise!"

"Guys?" Sage's eyebrows rose in surprise.

"They will live again in freedom in the Stories, in the Words," Garen clapped his shoulder.

"We will walk behind the quills and we will put away the swords," Sebastian gripped his other shoulder.

"The chain will be broken and all us folks have our reward," Min flitted out in glorious crescendo, and there was not a single voice in the entire room which missed the next verse.

--x-x-x-x-x--

Will you join in our crusade?

Who will be strong and stand with me?

Somewhere beyond the barricade

Is there a world you long to see?

Do you hear the people sing?

Say, do you hear the distant drums?

It is the future that they bring

When tomorrow comes!

--x-x-x-x-x--

D. S. al Fine

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