setzer & celes, a night at the opera, things unsaid.
con te partiro
su navi per mari
che io lo so
no no non esitono piu
In the murmuring hush of the entr'acte, Setzer stretched contentedly. The company was in rare form this evening-- it was not every night that the audience took a full minute to recover from the first act finale. Only after a collective sigh did everyone remember to applaud.
As the lights flickered on again in the opera house, he chanced a sidelong glance at his dinner companion, hoping to catch her off her guard. No such luck. Celes was sitting rather stiffly by his side, watching him, where another woman might have been watching the descending curtains.
Ah, well. He had seen her laugh when the servingmaid was singing her light-hearted aria, and had seen her holding her fingers to her mouth when poor Yvette first suspected her love of his betrayal. Perhaps she was not so unswayed as she seemed.
Lazily, he draped one arm along the back of her seat-- his eyes ingenuous, his hands not quite so. "Ah, such a performance, tonight! Yvette has become truly exceptional." His fingers found the soft fabric of her sleeve, rested gently there. "Surely such art as this is life more perfect than living."
Distinctly not looking at his hand on her shoulder, she tried to reply, and had to wet her mouth to try again, three long scenes without speaking. "It is a good thing that true life is not so... concentrated. There is no such thing as an intermission."
He laughed, approving. "Well-said, my dear Contessa." Knowing her well enough to trust that his answer might come more from her eyes than from her words, he squeezed her arm. "Tell me you're enjoying yourself."
Distracted by some discomfort, she was fidgeting unconsciously with the lace at her dÃ©colletage. "You are most kind to have invited me," she said, with practiced grace.
He could not resist the temptation presented. "Ah, not so. I am not kind, if you would have preferred to remain in Figaro, helping with the reconstruction." As she began to object, he waved her words away with a gloved hand. "Or perhaps finding yourself lost in a dingy cave somewhere, with your Locke? Or hewing hapless soldiers, the fearsome Lady General on the battlefield... Anything, rather than sitting here wearing that dress?"
Her fingers stilled, a bit guiltily, at her throat. "Not so," she mimicked him, a touch of brightness laughing in her grey eyes as she met his glance. "It is merely-- warm in here. I am enjoying myself."
He would have said she was lying, there in the spacious patron's box the two of them shared, but for the faintest flush staining her cheeks. And because (always because) she reminded him of someone else, he let it be. "Aren't you glad," he whispered, as if once again her conspirator, "that you are no longer in the dress of the leading lady? I would think that would be quite constricting."
"Well, of course." She blinked up at him, briefly, and just as quickly looked away, examining the rings on her fingers as if they were quite foreign to her. "It did not sound so, did it?"
Oh, for that sweet uncertainty in her voice, he could have taken up each and every one of her fingers and kissed them. Feeling a faint surprise that they had never spoken of this before, he assured her, "Of course, my devious MarÃa. How else would I have fallen so whole-heartedly... for your ruse?" He winked. "Your voice is quite excellent."
"Setzer." With a faint wry smile, she met his eyes. "Flattery is the only language you know, isn't it?" There was no reproach in her tone, now, only mild interest.
This he noted with some pleasure, that quiet curiosity where there had once been only stern disinterest. With a generous smile, he pantomimed placing a hand to his bleeding heart. "You wound me, Contessa. Surely you know me better, after all our years together... I am fluent in Gambling and Theatre Doubletalk, as well."
His riposte earned her quiet chuckle, though now she was looking studiously down at the moving curtain, the stagehands bringing in the properties for the next act.
Perhaps hoping to capture her attention, or perhaps for reasons even he himself could not name, he touched the elegant twist of her hair at the nape of her neck. "Daryl had hair like yours," he said with his eyes half-closed, his fingers never quite touching her as he shaped the air around her face. "Finer than spun gold."
Utterly still, she lowered her eyelashes, as if considering this.
"Perdono," he said, after a moment, dropping his hand lightly with a selfconscious lift of his eyebrows. "Forgive me. It is but the burden of memory. Your hair would still be lovely, without the comparison."
The way she turned to look at him made him wonder what she was hearing, beyond his words.
"Daryl," she said sharply, no softening to the richness of her voice, pure economy of words. "What happened to her?"
He winced, for her benefit, gloved hand making an abortive gesture towards his scarred cheek. "You waste no words, Contessa," he murmured with a perfectly bittersweet smile. In that, too/, he thought, /you are like she was. And what am I, that you should spare my feelings? "Shall I tell you? It is a tale fit for the theatre."
"I only thought," and for a moment he would have almost sworn her voice was compassionate, "that you might want to tell me."
The smile in his eyes was undisguised. "Grazie, Contessa. Some day, perhaps. But it is not a happy story, and for now I would like you to enjoy yourself." Reverting to simple honesty without quite being aware of it, he added, "For I find your company most enjoyable."
It startled a smile from her, and she tilted her face fractionally towards his, most unexpectedly. "Truly you must," she said, and Setzer caught himself leaning closer, wondering what that scent was that she was wearing. "That you would share your new love with me."
"Yvette?" Setzer began, very nearly caught off his balance and ready to protest his innocence.
"Though, quite honestly," she interrupted with an actress' flourish of her programme, "I must admit that I prefer Nicolai's voice to Yvette's."
Setzer could not help but laugh, enchanted that he could yet find her surprising. "Ah! Is that so?" he mused, one thoughtful hand to his chin. "Then shall I remember that, and invite you back when our Nicolai is once again the leading man?"
Dryly she considered the list of names on the programme, her eyes skimming as a connoisseur of wines might sip. "If the librettist is again as talented as tonight's," she allowed with a lift of one golden eyebrow, "then, yes. I would be delighted."
It was not often that she spoke his language-- things of the theatre, or of the arts. And even in her understanding, she was still the herself, the carefully considered General. "I might have known that you would hear the words," he said, openly appreciative, "rather than merely the voice that carries them."
"That, I cannot help." Celes averted her eyes. "I do not know how not to."
He let the silence stretch a measure too long, lest his tongue betray him with idle words. "I know," he said at last. "It is one of the many reasons I prefer your company, Contessa."
Neither had realized she was holding her breath until she sighed, and the set of her slender shoulders seemed to relax. "You yourself have perfected the art of listening, I am sure," she said lightly, and tapped his arm sternly before he could respond. "And a good thing, too, for it seems the second act is beginning."
Difficult to tell, with the lights dimming and the eager hum of expectation in the air around them, but Setzer thought she might have laughing at him behind her hand. But it was a gentle laugh, without malice, and he could not begrudge it, for the way it brightened her face.
He found he could not be sorry; if indeed he had lost the battle of wits and words, he had been well-matched. And, he thought, his eyes following the curve of her throat as she lifted her eyes to the stage, perhaps just a bit distracted.
He did not allow himself to wonder just how many more battles he could afford to lose before he lost the war; and, faced with another such question from her unflinching eyes, surrendered the truth.
(i will go with you
on ships, across the seas
which i know exist no longer)