Of course he had recognized her when he first caught a glimpse of her cleaning the salons at the Palais Garnier; there was no way he would not have. He had heard of her, of course, and seen her dance several times before the fire, when it seemed she was going to take on the whole world with her dance and make it a better place because she had. That had been before his time as Maître de Danse at the Opéra, and he did not know much more than that about her. He tried asking after Odette Livry, but nobody seemed to share his concern or interest in the woman who swept more gracefully than most ballerinas aspired to dance in their lifetimes. And so, Louis Mérante, patient man that he was, found himself watching from afar and wondering about the fate of the woman who had once been a great ballerina and was now apparently scullery maid to Régine Le Haut, apart from working as a maid at the Opéra full time.
He did not have any contact with her for several years; there never seemed to be any opportunity for him to approach her, and what few times he had encountered her cleaning his salon before a lesson, she left as fast as she could upon the sight of him. He learnt that she was surprisingly nimble on her feet for someone who needed a cane, so he just appreciated from afar. With time, he began memorizing the moments when she would clean the main stage, for that was always a treat to watch. He only did this on special occasions, though, or when he was feeling particularly disheartened by his students. It felt like he was intruding on something private he should not be looking at, so he cherished those rare moments. She was, more than anybody he had seen, a person born for the stage. Fate was cruel indeed, he thought. Having somebody like her, somebody destined for something, and taking it away entirely too soon, before she even had a chance to truly spread her wings.
Enter Félicie Lebras, under the guise of Camille Le Haut. If there was something he found to be discrediting to his work, to his art, and to everything he had lived for, it was having to teach some rich girl just because the Director was besotted with her mother's prime rib. He was proven right in the girl´s first lesson: a complete disaster from beginning to end. That was why he was even more surprised than he would have been when she started improving so quickly over such a short period of time. When he got the full scope of the picture, though, he understood everything. He saw them together one day and it was as simple as putting two and two together. He began taking a shining to the girl because he could see Odette's work on her, apart from her obvious innate love for dance.
When Régine Le Haut threatened to fire Odette, he found it inevitable to not get protective. He had come to care for her, at a distance and in a purely platonic way. He had to admit that he found it terribly romantic: somebody who, despite not being able to perform, still lived and breathed for her art. The day when he crossed words with Madame Le Haut was also the first time they spoke. He was leaving the building when he heard his name called. He turned and saw her making her laborious way towards him, so he met her mid-way.
"Thank you, M. Mérante" were the first words out of her mouth directed at him. Her face was demurely turned down, but in her eyes he could see the fire that had ignited her performances all those years ago. "I did not even think you knew who I was, but thank you for your kindness towards me and Félicie."
"It was the least I could do, Mlle Livry," he answered "since you have given me a pleasant surprise in the form of a pupil. And it really is impossible to not know who you are, for someone with the right set of eyes."
She smiled at that and looked up. He continued "You should be proud of yourself. If you continue like that, I just might have to speak to M. le Directeur and get you hired as a teacher." That did take her by surprise, and he stayed just enough to enjoy the look of complete bafflement on her face before leaving for the day.
After that, she no longer shied away from him, and he found he ran into her more and more. It seemed she also knew more about him than he had initially thought. He felt more at liberty to watch her clean, though it still seemed an invasion of her privacy. Félicie found him once and asked him about her. He told her what he knew to be true: she had been the best of her generation. They spoke more and more, and even if she was not the mysterious sylph who had lived for dance any longer, he cherished knowing the real person behind it all. He got glimpses of the prima ballerina she had been, though she did not like talking about the past. When Félicie left her, he was happy she allowed him to be there for her. The girl had disappointed them both when she had not done what she had to do in order to win the audition, but clearly, Odette took the brunt of it all.
He managed to find her rooms inside the Palais Garnier. They were small, but she was used to small. This also meant that she could stop working at the Le Haut residence. He had never seen her smile like that and was pleased that his offer would be taken up on.
The day of the premiere came, starring whom he had come to think of as Odette´s adoptive daughter of sorts. He was backstage, making sure everything went well. He put his hand on her shoulder when they were encouraging the child, offering her words of wisdom to help her get through the performance, and when the show started took Odette to his booth with him. She was overcome with emotion watching Félicie, and he was overcome by tenderness watching all the emotions play on her face. He had never been so distracted from a choreography he had put together, but he found he didn't mind. So when he saw her wipe a tear from her cheek, he finally gave in to his desire and kissed her right where the tear had been. She turned to look at him, with open eyes and a small smile, and he drew her closer to him.
That night he helped her clean after the show and she spoke to him even more openly than before. He learned about her feelings towards Félicie, what had happened in the fire and her attitude towards dance. He promised himself that he would get her out of there, and he spoke to the director the next morning. She was deemed fit to be his assistant, with the possibility of a class of her own later on. He was more than fine with that. Working in close proximity to her was wonderful, and it meant that they got to know each other quicker and she no longer had to clean for a living. Their proper first kiss happened not long after they started working together: the last class was finished, and as was their custom, they left together. He walked her to her lodgings and when he was about to turn back after a kiss on the cheek, it was her who grabbed him by the necktie and kissed him fully on the lips.