PG-13. ~1775 words. Cesare/Lucrezia.
Advent calendar (one day late) for vega_ofthe_lyre, whose day was going to be BORGIA DAY. but let's be honest: that's every day around these parts. Provoked as such: "Confessional booths, baby." And written mostly between the hours of three and four. I'm just saying. Timeline c. 1493.
+ the Scripture Lucrezia quotes is from the Song of Solomon; the line of Latin is from the Aeneid (referencing Dido in love).
He’s nearly outside the chapel when he hears the rustle of skirts, the maddening quick-patter of feet, and Lucrezia—the only person to run in the Vatican’s holiest of holy halls—calling out to him: “Wait, Chezza, wait.”
He stops and waits for her to skid up to him, all slippers and fluttering skirts. She gives him a quick grin as her ladies in waiting file out past them at a more sedate pace. Adriana da Mila waits at what he supposes she thinks is a tactful distance; he raises an eyebrow at her and Lucrezia turns around. “Give me leave to talk to my brother a moment. I’ll be back with you and the others betimes.”
Adriana dips a small curtsey. “Madonna,” she says, and leaves the two of them to stand aside in the hall, next to the stream of worshipers.
“Your watchdog,” he says with a smile.
“My keeper,” she huffs, “no longer.”
“How presumptuous marriage has made you,” he teases, and she looks at him sharply.
“Indeed.” Speaking as though she is choosing each word with care, her fingers fiddle with the tight sleeve of her dress, circling idly along her narrow wrist. It is difficult for to look away from her hands, her face canted down—he finds himself oddly struck by each individual movement she makes, cataloguing limb and gesture. It was ever thus: he has found a measure of grace in the things his sister does even when she trips over her own giddy feet. But she is not tripping now. “I would speak to you—of such things. I’ve a confession to make.”
She bites the corner of her lip, tucking her mouth thoughtfully into her cheek. “No, I mean—I’ve properly got a confession to make.” Moving in, she looks up at him with pale clear eyes, an oddly guarded expression on her face. “Is it too much to ask for penance given by the Cardinal of Valencia himself?”
He laughs sharply, starts back. There is something terribly clear in the way she is watching him; his cardinal’s hat feels heavy on his head and it takes all he has not to put his hand up to his forehead to check that it is straight. He has never worn it comfortably. “What sort of question to ask is that, Crezia?”
Her lips quirk. “Is this unseemly? I don’t know the rules now. Before you were a mere bishop, now who knows, you could be Pope ascendant.”
“Perish the thought.”
“Will you forbid me from unburdening my soul?”
“No.” He laughs lightly. “I am not skilled in forbidding you the things you want.”
“I don’t want so much,” she says, and he swallows his reply—lucky you, then. Instead, in the quieting chapel, they walk through to the confessional. He raps his knuckles against the polished wood on the side.
“In the name of His Holiness—”
The priest inside pokes his head out, eyes round and fearful. “What does His Holiness need?”
“Clear out, would you?”
He clears. “What would you have done had there been a penitent in there?” Lucrezia teases, and Cesare shrugs.
“Most higher orders don’t even sit here,” he says wryly; “the College of Cardinals tends to be interested in exacting its penance directly.”
“Pity,” she says, and smiles sideways, her hand on the frame of the door. “They don’t seem to be so good at it. I’ve a bone to pick with them, you know.”
“What do you mean?”
For a swift minute, she only continues to look at him with that small crooked smile on her face; then she steps into the penitent’s half. He follows, sliding onto the priest’s cushion.
From across the barrier, he can hear her sigh, her heels drumming against the floor. “What is it?”
“Properly, Chezza,” she says in a small voice. “Please.”
He snorts, but not loud enough for her to hear—very well, only for you, sister. “Yes, my child,” he says in sonorous tones, trying not to laugh.
“Father forgive me: it has been two days since my last confession and some time since I have truly unburdened my heart.”
“Unburdened?” he asks. “What burdens can possibly weigh upon the Lady of Pesaro?”
The barrier thumps. “Chezza, hush!”
“My brother,” she says, and he swallows, stills—her voice is serious.
“Your brother is a grief to you?”
“Neither grief nor burden. My brother is a worry to me.”
“For what reason?”
“He is not at peace serving God.”
“And what would you have done for him?” He smiles thinly, peers through the iron-wrought window. She is staring down at her lap, biting her lip. “Shall I pray for your wayward brother, Madonna?”
“He would not have you so.”
“And I would not have him serve a master he does not love.”
“Who would you have him serve? A new master? A mistress?”
He hears her hiss in a breath sharply between her teeth. “Speak, Madonna,” he says, trailing his fingers lightly over the barrier, the ironwork, crosses and roses. “God is listening.”
“This is not God’s compact,” she says very softly. “I would have him serve as he feels himself meant. In such a manner that it does not feel like servitude.”
“Ten Aves for you.” He sees her head jerk up and he smiles wryly: her game. For all that his pulse spikes at her words: her game, hers (he tells himself) alone. “We are all servants, are we not? What, pray tell, would His Holiness say?”
“I will not take the penance. I am not finished. And you're an awful priest,” she mutters, and he, not laughing aloud—admirably, he finds—has never pretended otherwise.
“Then carry on,” he says, “child,” and her eyes flash sharply back at the window; he ducks his face back past her view, resting his head against the wooden wall.
“Father forgive me, I do not love my husband.”
He bites the inside of his mouth, curling up into a humorless smile; he remembers her on her wedding, lovely and veiled and shining and nervous, and he remembers her before and afterward, the promises he made to her, her hand in his like a compact, his lips sealing the words warm against her knuckles. “There is no sin in this,” he says, and the barrier rattles again, knocked with the sound of those same knuckles. He presses his palm against the wood beneath the window. “God knows what you expected—”
“God knows?” He hears the angry puff of her breath. “Yes, I suppose he does. But it is a sin, or at the very least a lack.”
“I don’t know what catechisms you’ve been reading—”
“Let him kiss me with the kisses of his mouth: for thy love is better than wine,” she says hotly. “I’ve been reading since I was a child. I’ve been—promised. Brave men and bold men, and I cannot honor my husband, nor my father for giving him me, and that is a sin.”
“You are forgiven,” he says immediately.
“It’s not your place to forgive me.”
“Have you dropped the pretence yet, or am I to give you a Gloria Patri for your trouble?”
“Gloria Patri,” she snorts, her voice chastising when she says his name: “Chezza.”
“Uritur infelix Lucrezia—if only.” She presses her face to the window, fingers curling in rings over the iron lacing, whose shapes etch along her cheeks and nose like a veil. “You have wronged me, brother.”
His own fingers snake through the rungs between hers. “How have I done?” he asks and smirks. “Your Classical education was not my teaching.”
“Not my Classical, no.” He can feel her breath on the backs of his fingers. “I can’t talk to Sforza either way.”
Not with Virgil, he supposes, no. Not with anything that might lie in Sforza's puddle of insight, either, not if Sforza wants to keep his throat in one piece—Cesare himself has a mental catalogue of the ways the man might look dead, and they are not all unpleasing sights to him. He does not share them. (He has offered them.) “You don’t marry for the conversation,” he says instead.
She huffs. “You wouldn’t like to breach the silence if you had a wife?”
“Ah, but sister—” he points through the bars, taps her nose. “I won’t, now, will I?”
Her teeth snap at his finger, catch it between teeth and lips. She does not bite. She looks at him through the window, and he feels her tongue touch the tip of it. “I am”—and when he speaks, his voice comes rough in his throat—“promised to the same wife of our father. You might call it a terrible case of bigamy.”
Her lips press tartly against his fingertip and release it. “Profanation of our Lord bar none.”
“From your lips to the wedding bed we share,” he says, and watches her shudder, eyes casting sharply down. “Not a metaphor to your taste, sister?”
With some bemusement, he watches her rise from her seat, a sort of sinking sensation in his stomach when she opens and closes the door. He is biting his tongue in annoyance with himself when the door pushes open. For a moment there, he is utterly without words; in this silence, she steps inside. The little chamber is in no way large enough for the two of them, and in her gilded gown she takes up more space than he would have thought his little sister capable of. Little in limbs and in stature, but no longer in presence. She puts her hands on her hips, tilting her elbows slightly inward at a brace against the wall.
“What are you doing, Crezia?”
“Our family doesn’t breed wives,” she says, her expression half acuity and half nerves. “Do you think God will forgive it?”
It is a true question, and one he cannot imagine answering with the same truth. Not when her chin is tipped up and parting the shadows around them, her face fearful of something bigger than the world, her body comfortable and maddeningly close in a place too small to contain her. He reaches out and touches her waist, inches away from his hand, slides an arm around her hips and pulls her in close, relishing the sharp inhalation he feels more than hears next to his ear. Her body curls into his, skeleton bending at the touch of his hands—as many do, but few so gracefully—the shade catching dark in the hollow of her clavicle, the cleft between her breasts.
God is not listening. He has learned this long before.
“Deo gratias,” he says simply, and presses his lips to her throat.