He recognized the tell-tale shuffle of her slippers and her delicate, feminine sigh before he ever laid eyes on her.
His nails bit into the crimson fabric of his cardinal uniform; the collar suddenly tightening around his neck, choking him, as it had done so many times before in the watery realm of his dreams. His teeth worried the flesh of his bottom lip, a rare outward display of anxiety.
He prayed she would be corporeal this time, skin and bone and beauty. Too often since she had been spirited away to Pesaro had the devil tortured him with glimpses of her specter, looking ethereal and morose in the moonlight. While lying in bed he could feel the gentle pressure of her hand on his cheek and the sweet, lilting sounds of her laughter echoing down the hall.
Cautiously, his dark eyes swept to the right, the source of the noises. It had been real this time. She was smiling in the sunlight, resembling for all the world an angel bedecked in platinum splendor. His mouth was dry and his fingers clenched the air around him, thinking What power she has. The ability to turn me into Tantalus with a single glance, I am forever blessed to admire the bounty of her and forever cursed to never enjoy it. Her brow crinkled, breaking him out of his reverie.
He ran to her, grinning and laughing like the boy she remembered so fondly from her youth. She opened her arms to embrace him and was whirled into the air, her full, violet skirts and curled blonde hair trailing behind her. She made a small sound of discomfort and was immediately deposited on the firm earth with the utmost of care. Dizzy, she braced her hands on her brother’s forearms and tilted her face up in search of his own.
It was an oath, a confession, an endearment, and an apology. She had forgotten how much he left unsaid, leaving her sharp mind to infer all the facets and complexities of his speech. She had missed him even more than her innocence.
“I’m sorry, my love, have I caused you any harm?”
His concerned gaze fell upon her and she almost unloaded the burdens of her soul at that exact moment: the boorish, unrefined ways of Giovanni, the feral, frenzied fear she felt whenever he cruelly reminded her of her conjugal duties as a wife, and the daily beatings which had marred her porcelain skin. She brushed those thoughts away: Cesare was rash by nature, and furthermore, there had always been an undercurrent of danger which crackled just underneath his skin. The Borgias needed no more scandals; Juan made enough for the lot of them.
She eased his fears with a genuine smile, the first since she had inherited the Sforza family name, and he pulled her lithe frame into the sanctuary of his embrace. She daintily sampled the unique qualities of his scent: myrrh, sweat, undiluted wine, and something undeniably Cesare.
“My sweet brother, my soul has longed for the comfort which your presence provides. How have you upheld in my absence?” He rested his lips against the shell of her ear and rumbled, “Lucrezia, I have been submerged in an eternal night; you carry all of my stars and suns in your pocket. They abandoned me when you made your departure from Rome, dear sister.” He chastised himself internally; he would not allow his own depression to seep into their stolen time together. It was far too precious. Straightening out his handsome features, he inquired, “Speaking of light, surely you must be basking in the blissful domesticity the Lord Sforza has provided you with.” His tone had been marginally cheery, only darkening when he spit out the name of the aristocrat as one does a vile substance.
She felt like vomiting. She only managed to withstand Lord Sforza’s behavior by steadfastly holding onto her favorite moments with Cesare. Lucrezia often wished she could bottle them at an apothecary, her treasured minutes made tangible. Sometimes, when she retreated into herself during the nightly invasions she would pretend Cesare was there with her, stroking her hair and murmuring his affection into her skin. It was her salvation; she found no shame in it.
“Brother, marriage is not poetry or well-crafted metaphors.” She sounded too somber, too mature, even to her own ears. Quickly, she injected some levity into the situation. “One would think your marriage to the Lord would have taught you that, at least.”
His lips twitching upwards in amusement, Cesare opened his mouth to reply, falling once more into the verbal sparring they both so thoroughly enjoyed. Simultaneously, Juan appeared behind his sister, placing a gloved hand on her shoulder by way of a greeting. Instinctively, Lucrezia’s hands flew up to protect her face from the relentless rise and fall of fists and a small cry escaped from behind the grim line of her mouth.
The two brothers exchanged startled looks, her actions seemed instinctual. Hands still fluttering, Lucrezia chuckled, a nervous, staccato sound. “Why Brother Juan, is that any way to greet your littlest sister?” Turning around in a graceful circle, she embraced him, asking the expected questions with a bit more surety in her tone.
Eyes blackened, Cesare tactfully disentangled himself from his siblings, offering nothing more than a hurried, “There are matters of the most pressing importance I must attend to” in his wake to explain his absence.
His mind was whirling, fury saturating every thought. She had been grievously injured of that he was sure. The tendons in his neck were lunging at their tissue that imprisoned them, his hands shaking like a man in his death throes. Incensed, he pounded the stucco walls of his home again and again, leaving bloody trails on the otherwise pristine whiteness. The irony was too apparent; he could feel the reigns of sanity slipping away and couldn’t find the energy to care. In the darkest recesses of his mind he mapped out a plan which involved a certain Sforza, torture, and the grim satisfaction that came with snuffing out a life as worthless as Giovanni’s.
He was seized by deep, belly-rippling heaves. She had been the flame which warded off the ghouls which lurked in the foreground, beckoning him towards the shade with gnarled, knobbed fingers. He would gladly give all the blood violently pulsing in his body to hear her laugh, to see her truly happy, even for a mere moment. Having regained a modicum of his cold logic, Cesare begrudgingly admitted he needed proof. Her gasps of pain and flinches may have provided clues, but he needed more. He knew what had to be done.
Lucrezia was exhausted; her battered body was demanding rest, preferably on the plush bed of her childhood. Drifting through the halls of her former home she barely made it under the covers before collapsing in a heap. She was sleep-deprived but refused to enter into any realm where he could be lurking. Sometime later her ears perceived the prattle of her hand-maidens, undoubtedly there to bathe her. The day had been hot and bright, melting the edges of her vision and painting all she saw in fiery hues. She was grateful for them; she needed help tending to her injuries. “My Lady, we have drawn your bath. It, uh, all been prepared.” Miriam was unsure how to react for her mistress’s order to assemble the manor’s medical supplies, but had been discreet in their procurement.
The bathroom was not as spacious as the one at her new home, allowing Lucrezia to enjoy the heat emanating from the clawed, ivory tub. Mindlessly, she raised her arms, withdrawing her breath sharply when aggravating an angry bruise on her felt shoulder blade. The bathroom was darker than usual, lit only by a handful of candles; exaggerated shadows stretched across the floor taking the warped form of individual men. Shaking her foolish thoughts aside, Lucrezia began to luxuriate in the feeling of her heavy hair being released from their complicated braids.
Cesare stood in the shadows, his body strung more tightly drum. He could almost feel the vibrations in the air around him. He watched with rapt attention as her hand maidens untied her violet gown. She was shedding her layers, a caterpillar evolving into a butterfly. In a moment she was left only in a rosy, silk chemise. He should have averted his eyes, he knew that, but felt powerless. Unquestionably modesty was a small price to pay for liberation from a tyrant, was it not? His mind roared, reminding him once more that perhaps there was more to his gaze than clinical evaluation. Miriam met his eyes over Lucrezia’s head; she nodded. It was time.
The chemise fluttered to the floor, pooling in a cool puddle around Lucrezia’s pale, slim ankles. She seemed so at ease. Cesare’s eyes flickered back up. His heart stopped. His breathing stopped. His thoughts ceased. Her luminescent skin was cris-crossed by purple bruises, thighs nearly violet from abuse. His eyes blurred his vision, morphing Lucrezia into a watercolor of whites, blues, and reds. He uttered a wet, shuddering breath and screamed, a cry that swore to vengeance.
“LEAVE US, NOW!”
Lucrezia’s head pivoted with lighting fast speed, creating a curtain of golden hair around her. Her eyes were glassy as well, her heart destroyed by the sight of her brother so broken. He approached her slowly, holding up his hands before him, careful not to startle her. He opened his mouth to speak but his words died in his throat. Soundlessly, he ghosted to the medical supplies, coating a towel in a tonic he had bought some months previously after being scratched in a swordfight. Before applying the soothing ointment he bestowed trembling kisses to each abrasion, the skin of his lips articulated more than his speech ever could.
Lucrezia was openly weeping; she had forgotten kindness. Her body was wracked by the spasms of her emotional turmoil. Breaking the silence, Cesare’s voice filled the air, sounding throaty and overwrought, “My love, I married you to a monster. Forgive me, sweet sister, forgive me!”His head fell into his hands; he had failed her. Reflexively, Lucrezia drew him into her embrace, disregarding her current state. He clutched her, carefully, and seemed to find solace in the feeling of his stubbled face pressing against the sweet skin of her belly.
Finding his inner balance, he drew up to his full height. With the care of a mother bathing her newborn child he cleaned her thoroughly, wiping way all traces of the bitter beatings that had fell upon her like the rain. Dressing her in her bedclothes, Cesare carried her into his own room, lying her down on the bed.
Her tears had dried, and she looked at his face and her eyes were dripping with gratitude. Cesare climbed into bed after her, spooning his body around her petite frame. He heard her contented smile unfurl and he almost grinned, but it died before reaching his mouth. Alone and protected, Lucrezia inclined her head to meet his gaze. In a small voice she reminded him of her promise, “Do you remember, Chezza, when I promised that I would never love a husband as I love you?” The outline of his face nodded his assent in the darkness which swaddled them. “I was right.” Her lips met his then, and lingered. He was torn, but he needed assurance of her vitality. Pushing aside all other thought but her, he met her half-way, the tender pressure of fleeting kisses slowly giving way to something much more wet, much headier. Drawing the tattered reigns of his self-control he pressed a chaste kiss to her each of her eyelids, and begged her to fall asleep. “You are safe now, my love. Rest.”
Soon, her weight pressed into his chest more thoroughly; she was sleeping. He listened to her rise and fall of her chest. He knew sleep would not come for him for a long while.
A/N: Hey guys! I posted this a few months ago and then deleted my LJ like an idiot haha
I've been thinking of continuing the series and will probably post a third fic in a week or so :)
Comments/thoughts are appreciated!!
Oh! btw, this fic is based off of Jeff Buckley's "Lover, You Should Have Come Over"