"Sleep with me and I'll set you free."
Cesare looked at him and Della Rovere saw the moment when the small spark of hope that there was a way that this was not going to be the end was enough. Della Rovere had known that Cesare was the kind of man that would never give up until the last resort was exhausted, who would never back away from a chance as long as it was a chance. Cesare Borgia would cut his losses to live another day, to fight another day. That was how Della Rovere knew he had won. And then the other man leaned up, took his face into his hands and kissed him. And Della Rovere could barely believe that he would finally achieve what he had wanted more badly than he'd cared to admit, had probably wanted since the day the young Borgia had cast off his scarlet hat and picked-up a sword instead, had wanted through every one of his outragous, insane, masterful moves, had wanted more, he realised now, than he had wanted to destroy him, couldn't believe he would finally have him. He was afraid his weakness would show on his face, in his demeanor, would be easy to tell for the man who was more perceptive than was comfortable, even in this state. A victory, to touch that skin, to feel that hair. To have all that power yield to him. Beaten, bruised, chained and exhausted, weary both in body and mind. Contained and yet dangerous enough that this could cost him his life. Irresistable he had always been. That toxic maelstrom of power that destroyed, repelled and yet seduced everyone. That uncontained force that was bound to end in catastrophe and was yet so beautiful to watch. He didn't even care for the blood and the dirt right now, would not have let off this for anything. The way Cesare, even in this, took control of his actions, even in submission. More alive than anything he had ever known, like touching a living fire.
Cesare broke the kiss. "Like this?" He asked with disdain, but Della Rovere could detect a slight tremor in his voice. "Or are you just going to bend me over the table?"
"No," Della Rovere said, one hand lightly touching a dirt-crusted cheek, feeling giddy with excitement, almost faint from adrenaline. "I'm going to take you to bed."
He wanted to drink in that moment, wanted to revel in it. Had the first men felt like this when they had learned to contain the fire, when they'd learned to cage it and use it for their own? That was what Michelangelo should have made immortal in stone, Cesare Borgia in chains, naked in his bed. Not that either artist or stone could have done him any justice. Della Rovere wanted to map out his body, remember every detail, every touch, every taste for the rest of his life. The way he felt when he'd breach his body. Every sound. Every involuntary moan. Every drop of sweat.
He was all teeth and steel. But Della Rovere could see the fear in his eyes. Knew the story about the young Marcantonio Colonna and the reason for his death.
"I'm not going to hurt you."
Cesare only laughed, teeth bared.
Della Rovere spoke then, "I want to have you, not to break you. Everything else would be a waste. When you're the most enticing animal that ever existed."
"Are you going to keep your word this time." Cesare asked, warily, bitterly.
"I think you are just desperate enough to be willing to find that out." He felt the other rear up under him. Hate simmering again over desperation that had been shining in his eyes since his admission of defeat. "But, yes, whether you believe me or not, submit this one time and you will be free again. Free to go wherever you will and raise up an army to fight against me."
His body was tense, the will to fight ever-present. Barely allowing any sound to pass his lips. Clenched teeth and eyes that against all efforts betrayed the deep-rooted fear and helplessness. The vunerability that made him even more enticing than his strength had. That made Della Rovere want to kiss those lips again and be gentle, to caress the tense muscles, the throat where a fluttering pulse was beating. Never to break him. Why would anyone ever want to do that?
Cesare rolled to the side with a groan. He briefly covered his face with his hands, before he regarded the ceiling with a rueful smile.
"You're not going to let me go, are you?" He asked the man beside him, as they still lay in the bed. His eyes wary, expecting very much that this price had been payed for nothing, having calculated it, bracing himself for the disdain and mockery and renouncing both shame and defeat over it, almost self-ironic about it. Weary, damaged, chipped and worn-out, but far from broken.
"I am." Della Rovere answered. He'd tasted his body, had indulged in this one forbidden pleasure. Not honoring the price of it didn't seem to do it justice. "You are free to go." He enjoyed the genuine disbelief in Cesare's face, the way everything in him seemed to baulk against the thought that he could have been sincere and yet couldn't keep the hope from rising. "But you don't have to leave. You don't have to be on the run like a dog. Begging for an army from people who are afraid of the rabid dog they know you are. Stay. Be my sword, the protector of my reign. For real this time." It would have been the worst shame of all to destroy something so magnificent. And he had realised he didn't even want to. Would let him go even, if he refused his offer, even though everything in him screamed to keep him here forever. But if you put a glass over a flame you don't confine it but choke it. But keep him he wanted. Let him burn others. "Just do as I command and I will give all your power back. You will be at my side to conquer Italy as you always wished to. We don't have to be enemies. You don't have to be my servant in this, look at the power you have over me. When I know I should kill you and still I don't." Maybe it was the sated heaviness, the drowsy contenment that still rested over his limbs that made him say it, that made him speak so freely, that made him show this weakness.
"Would you now?" Cesare laughed harshly. "Either you're giving me too little credit here or too much."
"I think we both have a pretty good picture of what to expect of the other, by now."
"All this because I let you fuck me?"
The word spread like wildfire, Cesare Borgia wasn't just free, no he was back in command of the papal troops and already raging through the Romagnia again, reclaiming what was and always would be his. His enemies were either cowering or running away, after the fate that had met the first few who hadn't believed in the stories of his return. And in the Vatican the cardinals were awaiting his return with trepidation, praying that he'd choose to turn again against the pope, take the troops and stay in his self-appointed kingdom.
This wasn't quite victory. Had been foolish more than anything else. At the end he'd given more than Cesare had. He'd been the one to yield to temptation, to abandon common sense and let the snake back into the garden Eden. Freeing him would have been tempting fate, reinstating him was madness. And yet he'd done it. Just so he could watch the fire a little longer, maybe feel it again, or at least burn his fingers on it. Maybe Cesare's hunger for war would be strong enough to have him heed their arrangement and maybe not. But well, to have Cesare or to have nothing.