Disclaimer: I do not own Phantom of the Opera
I was apprehensive as I handed Madame Derring off to Nadir, and assisted Eleonore from the carriage. Peter vaulted out behind them, then I looked up to Sera, who was absolutely breathtaking in that gown. I had been a little angry that she hadn't worn it yet, if only so I could take it off.
"Sera, if you will follow them into the theater, I will be in the box by the time you arrive," I said quietly, intending for her to go with them.
"No. I want to go with you," she said firmly.
"There will be spiders," I reminded her, "those passages haven't been used in over a year. Are you certain?"
She didn't look certain, and with a shrug to Nadir, I escorted her to a secret entrance in the alley beside the theater. She watched with wide eyes as I pushed a stone on the building and opened the door, then stepped inside.
I waited a moment for her to follow, then tugged her in after me, closing the door.
"The purpose of a secret entrance is to keep it secret, Sera."
"Its dark," she complained as I pulled her down the tunnel.
"Yes, well, it is a secret entrance," I reminded her again. "You should have gone with them."
I let go of her hand for a moment to light a torch, and she ran directly into my back.
"Sorry," she whispered, and brushed at my opera cloak.
"Have you injured yourself?" I asked quietly.
I lit the torch quickly, and drew her down the tunnel, "Let us proceed then, Madame Gervais."
She followed in silence as I made my way upstairs, and I couldn't help but feel a clenching in my gut as I bypassed several entrances that would have taken me to my former home.
My former cell.
Finally, we arrived at the passageway that would lead us to our box, but I turned to kiss her one last time before we continued.
"No matter what, Sera, I love you. I will always love you, and only you."
"I know she's singing tonight, and I know what it means for you to hear her. I know you're proud of her," she said softly. "It doesn't mean that you love me less. Stop worrying."
I couldn't help but placate her again before we made our way to the shadowed box where Madame Giry was already waiting.
"So glad you could join us," she said cordially. "I regret I cannot stay longer, I merely wanted to welcome you, and hope you have a pleasant evening."
"Thank you," I bowed to her slightly.
I was amused when Sera performed a gracious curtsy, and Adele left.
We settled back against the chairs, and I looked down on the theater I had nearly destroyed.
It appeared that with money, anything was possible.
The only thing noticeably different was that the chandelier was not the original. Garnier would roll over in his grave if he knew the atrocious thing they replaced it with hung in his theater.
"Its beautiful," Sera whispered, leaning over the balcony to look around.
She blushed when she took in the figures of the naked women lounging against the circular wall.
"Is it everything you thought it would be?" I murmured, watching as her eyes lit up when she looked down on the people below us.
"I love it," she sighed, then settled back against her chair.
Nadir entered the box, leading Madame Derring gently with Peter's assistance, and I stood to offer my chair, which the frail lady nearly collapsed in. I was worried about her, and hoped that she would live far longer than she appeared she would. Hopefully being reunited with Sera and Peter would give her the strength to live for several more months.
"Thank you, Erik," she said weakly, and leaned against the chair only for a moment before straightening her spine to sit ladylike in her chair.
Once the lights dimmed, I noticed she sank back against it.
They had chosen to open to Don Carlos, and the tenor playing him did a superb job, whoever he was. I glanced down at my program, and saw that his name was Carlos Giudicelli.
I could actually see a resemblance to Carlotta. Too bad she had not possessed her relative's singing ability. She could have gone far.
Christine, as Elisabeth, entered in the second scene of act one. I looked over to Sera, and she was leaning forward in her chair, eyes narrowed as she peered down at her. I silently handed her my theater glasses, and she looked at me in surprise as I smiled grimly at her.
The glasses were immediately brought up to her eyes, and I held my breath as she watched.
Then, Christine began to sing.
I turned my attention back to the stage, stunned at the clarity of her voice. She had not forgotten one single thing I had taught her. Somehow I had expected, and half hoped, that she would be horrid.
I had purposely asked for a box furthest from the stage, and did not attempt to retrieve my glasses from my now attentive wife. Yet, I wanted to see her.
I cursed myself for feeling anything, and instead reached for Sera's hand.
She turned to me and squeezed my my fingers, and I looked in awe at the tears that slid down her face.
"She's lovely, Erik. You did a wonderful job tutoring her," she said simply.
I nodded, too confused to speak.
Why was my wife crying over the woman who had nearly destroyed me?
I watched the rest of the performance, but my mind was on Sera. I couldn't concentrate after that, no matter how beautiful the aria.
When the applause began, and I lifted my eyes back to the stage, Christine was bowing, and I saw her eyes were on box five. I glanced over at it, and saw that it was empty.
Then she turned her attention to the other side of the theater, where her husband was clapping heartily for her, and they shared a smile before she rushed off stage.
But she looked for me first.
I didn't know what to think about that.
"Well, that was splendid," Madame Derring said. "Did I hear Sera say you were her tutor?"
"Yes, Madame. A long time ago."
"You must be proud of her. Will you be going to see her now?"
"I'm afraid not, Madame. I believe we are all eager to go back to the hotel, are we not?" I said, hoping I could appeal to her tiredness.
"Indeed. I think I will be glad to lie down," she said wearily.
"Nadir? Could you escort these ladies back downstairs? I think Sera and I may walk back to the hotel, if you don't mind."
He studied me for a moment, but nodded. He helped Madame Derring out the door, and helped Eleonore as well. Poor man, having to guide two elderly women around as if he were my assistant, and not my friend.
"Sit," I said, turning to Sera.
She did, though not without giving me a suspicious look.
We watched the assembly leave, and the stage hands removing props and begin cleaning up.
"Did this bother you?" I asked quietly, "I told you before we came in here...I don't love her. I love you. Did you think that had changed? Is that why you were crying?"
"No!" she said quickly. "I was crying, because her voice...it was magical. Beautiful. I've never heard anything like it."
"Erik!" she said sharply, "I do not question your love for me. Ever! I never have, and I never will. I hope you don't question mine for you."
"Of course not."
"Then you should know how I feel about you," she said gently. "You should know how much I love you, and that nothing could change it. Not even a beautiful song from Christine."
"I do love you," I whispered, bringing her hand to my lips.
"And I love you," she returned, sliding out of her chair to kneel before me on the floor. "How does it feel being back here?"
"Terrifying. But not as much as I expected it would be."
"Do you want to leave?" she whispered, searching my eyes.
I hesitated a moment, then asked, "Would you like to see my former home?"
"I would be honored."
So I led her down, and down, and down. I expected her to complain after awhile, but she didn't, and I surveyed the damage as I descended. There had been a lot of people here after the fire, and undoubtedly still knew the way. I hoped we didn't encounter anyone, but it was silent as always.
Like a sepulcher.
I avoided the lake as much as I could, but she seemed to find it fascinating, and claimed that it was beautiful. I had thought so too. At first.
She followed me into the small room that had served as my bedroom, and it was then that I remembered the coffin. I turned my head to hers, but she was staring at it with horror.
"Is there anyone in it?" she whispered.
"You don't want to know," I said dryly, and pulled her from the room. There was nothing left inside, except the coffin. In the area where the organ used to sit, a large pile of my things had been dumped in the center, and someone had been kind enough to torch them. The organ itself was beaten beyond recognition, the pipes torn from the walls, half of the instrument tossed into the lake, half on top of the pile of my furniture and other things that they had destroyed.
I was surprised that I didn't feel anger. I was surprised that I didn't feel anything at all...except a sense of relief that I was no longer here. I no longer had to confine myself to this room.
I was also relieved that someone had destroyed every painting I had ever done of Christine.
That would not have been fun to explain.
Nothing of value was left in my former home. Nothing worth saving, nothing that I cared to remember or take with me. Except my wife. Except Sera.
"It was once beautiful," she said softly. "I can tell that it was very unique."
"There are other words I would choose to describe it."
"No. It was beautiful. But I'm glad you don't have to live here anymore. Was it always this cold?" she asked, running her hands along her arms.
"Always so dark?"
"No. I had many, many candles," I said, indicating the candelabras that were piled on the floor.
"I'm glad you don't live here anymore," she said again.
"So am I," I said quietly.
She looked at me then, and smiled the beautiful smile. Sera, resplendent in her gown that matched her eyes. My wife, smiling at me, in the dark empire I had created, which had become my cell. I didn't feel a sense of freedom as I looked at her. There were no more weights to be lifted from my shoulders, no more chains that flew away from my heart.
She had already taken them all, the day we married.
I had given myself to her completely, and until now I had not realized it.
"Are you ready to return?" I asked.
"You lead, and I will follow, my love," she whispered.
And I did.
Sorry it took so long to complete it. I hope you enjoyed this story, and forgave me for becoming so consumed by A Fleeting Memory. Thank you for all your reviews!