It is him.
It is the truth of him, the vast and savage night, the darkness, full of promise, and violence, fear, and freedom.
And when the night shudders back into shape around them, they are no longer on the German train, but on a street, in the center of a city she does not yet know is Munich.
And she should be mad at the abduction, the sudden change in the direction of her night, but she cannot stifle the curiosity blossoming in the wake of her confusion. The sudden flush of something new. The thrill of adventure.
Her heart quickens, but she resolves not to let him see her marvel.
She suspects he does anyway.
There is a pleased glint in those eyes, a thread of darker green.
They are standing on the steps of a pillared opera house, her traveling clothes gone, replaced by a far finer dress, and Addie wonders if the gown is real, as far as anything is real, or simply the conjurings of smoke and shadow. Luc stands beside her, a gray scarf around his collar, green eyes dancing beneath the brim of a silk top hat.
The evening bustles with movement, men and women climbing the steps arm in arm to see the show. She learns that it is Wagner, it is Tristan und Isolde, though these things mean nothing to her yet. She does not know it is the height of his career. She does not know it has become his masterpiece. But she can taste the promise, like sugar in the air, as they pass through a lobby of marble columns and painted arches, and into a concert hall of velvet and gold.
Luc rests a hand on the small of her back, guiding her forward to the front of a balcony, a low box with a perfect view of the stage. Her heart quickens with excitement, before she remembers Florence.
Do not mistake this for kindness, he said. I simply want to be the one who breaks you.
But there is no mischief in his eyes as they take their seats. No cruel twist to his smile. Only the languid pleasure of a cat in the sun.
Two glasses arrive, brimming with Champagne, and he holds one out to her.
“Happy anniversary,” he says as the lights dim, and the curtain rises.
It begins with music.
The rising tension of a symphony, notes like waves: rolling through the hall, crashing against the walls. The inversion of a storm against a ship.
And then, the arrival of Tristan. Of Isolde.
Their voices larger than the stage.
She has heard musicals, of course, heard symphonies and plays, voices so pure they bring her to tears. But she has never heard anything like this.
The way they sing. The scope and scale of their emotions.
The desperate passion in their movements. The raw power of their joy, and pain.
She wants to bottle this feeling, to carry it with her through the dark.
It will be years before she hears a record of this symphony and turns the volume up until it hurts, surrounds herself with sound, though it will never be the same as this.
Once, Addie tears her gaze from the players on the stage, only to see that Luc is watching her instead of them. And there it is again, that peculiar shade of green. Not coy, or chiding, not cruel, but pleased.
She will realize later that this is the first night he does not ask for her surrender.
The first time he makes no mention of her soul.
But right now, she is thinking only of the music, the symphony, the story. She is drawn back to the stage by the anguish in a note. By the tangle of limbs in an embrace, by the look of lovers on the stage.
She leans forward, breathes the opera in until it aches inside her chest.
The curtain falls on the first act, and Addie is on her feet, ringing with applause.
Luc laughs, soft as silk, as she sinks back into her seat. “You are enjoying it.”
And she doesn’t lie, even to spite him. “It is wonderful.”
A smile plays across his face. “Can you guess which ones are mine?”
At first, she does not understand, and then, of course, she does.
Her spirits sink. “Are you here to claim them?” she asks, relieved when Luc shakes his head.
“No,” he says, “not tonight. But soon.”
Addie shakes her head. “I don’t understand. Why end their lives as they’re reaching their peak?”
He looks at her. “They made their deal. They knew the cost.”
“Why would anyone trade a lifetime of talent for a few years of glory?”
Luc’s smile darkens. “Because time is cruel to all, and crueler still to artists. Because vision weakens, and voices wither, and talent fades.” He leans close, twists a lock of her hair around one finger. “Because happiness is brief, and history is lasting, and in the end,” he says, “everyone wants to be remembered.”
The words are a knife, cutting swift and deep.
Addie knocks his hand away, and turns her attention back to the stage as the opera resumes.
* * *
It is a long play, and yet, it is over too soon.
Hours, gone in moments. Addie wishes she could stay, tucked in this seat, and start the opera again, fold herself between the lovers and their tragedy, lose herself in the beauty of their voices.
And yet, she cannot help but wonder. If all the things that Addie has loved, she loved because of them—or him.
Luc stands, offering his arm.
She does not take it.
They walk, side by side, through the Munich night, and Addie still feels buoyant in the wake of the opera, the voices ringing through her like a bell.
But Luc’s question echoes, too.
Which of them are mine?
She looks at him, the elegant shape beside her in the dark.
“What is the strangest deal you’ve ever done?”
Luc tips his head back, and considers. “Joan of Arc,” he says. “A soul for a blessed sword, so that she could not be struck down.”
Addie frowns. “But she was.”
“Ah, but not in battle.” Luc’s smile goes sly. “Semantics may seem small, Adeline, but the power of a deal is in its wording. She asked for the protection of a god while it was in her hands. She did not ask for the ability to keep hold of it.”
Addie shakes her head, bemused.
“I refuse to believe that Joan of Arc made a deal with the dark.”
The smile splits, showing teeth. “Well, perhaps I let her believe I was a little more … angelic? But deep down, I think she knew. Greatness requires sacrifice. Who you sacrifice to matters less than what you sacrifice for. And in the end, she became what she wanted to be.”
Addie shakes her head. “But the artists. Think of all they could have done. Don’t you mourn their loss?”
Luc’s face darkens. And she remembers his mood the night he met her in the National, remembers his first words, in Beethoven’s room.
What a waste.
“Of course I do,” he says. “But all great art comes with a cost.” He looks away. “You should know that. After all, we are both patrons, in our way.”
“I am nothing like you,” she says, but there is not much venom in the words. “I am a muse, and you are a thief.”
He shrugs. “Give and take,” he says, and nothing more.
But when it’s late, and he is gone, and she is left to wander, the opera plays on, perfectly preserved inside the prism of her memory, and Addie wonders, softly, silently, if their souls were a fair price for such fine art.