Really, he couldn’t see what all this fuss was about. Gambling had never driven men to murder-- not in his recent memory, at least, though that seemed more full of holes than he’d have liked. Taking that unfortunate fact into consideration, however, changed nothing about their current situation; a man with a sieve for a brain could still say with utmost certainty that spinning coins was now, and had always been a simple game . No worthy matter for rage, or even philosophical debate...though Guildenstern could probably find matter for debate, philosophical or polemic or any other sort, at the bottom of a burlap sack. Which wasn’t necessarily a bad thing. On the other hand, it wasn’t as though this passage of funds between them was significant in any way. Sure, Rosencrantz was now eighty-five crowns richer, but he would share if his friend greatly needed the money. At the moment he could revel, however guiltily, in the pleasure of having bested said friend at something : a pleasure too often denied him (though he could call to mind no evidence, anecdotal or otherwise, to support that assertion).
So he reveled. Gloated, perhaps. Or else merely expressed a sentiment of honest shock, because really, the only noteworthy thing about this whole affair was the sheer amount he had won. “Eighty-five in a row-- beaten the record!” Which was astonishing. In his mind, at least.
Not, it seemed, in Guildenstern’s. “Don’t be absurd,” he muttered, voice dropping to the familiar tired monotone it adopted when he’d reached the limits of his (admittedly, far from infinite) patience.
Which meant, of course, that Rosencrantz would engage in his own private game of seeing how far beyond those limits he could push his volatile companion without getting punched. Or strangled. Or kissed. Thus far only the last had yet to happen.
“Easily!” he retorted brightly, moving to sit beside the shorter man. Nudging him lightly with his shoulder. Taking care not to jingle the eighty-five glimmering additions to his purse too loudly.
Abruptly Guildenstern heaved himself to his feet, pacing as though the boundless energy ever coursing through his veins was coming to a boil, liquid fire burning beneath freckled skin. “Is that it , then?” he bit out, teeth clenched, a snarl tearing raggedly at the edges of the words. “Is that all?”
“ What ?” This from the man so quick to call him absurd?
“A new record? Is that as far as you are prepared to go?”
“No questions? Not even a pause?”
“You spun them yourself!” And he had done. Eighty-five times. He could have stopped at three, twenty-nine, thirty-two, but no, he’d chosen to keep going. To blast the record, which had been eighty-four the last time Rosencrantz had thought to contemplate it, and eighty-three the time before that , stretching back to the lonely one-- but that was beside the point. The point was , Guildenstern was working himself into a frenzy over something he’d brought entirely on himself. Granted, that was nothing new, but he didn’t even the decency to give in to a normal man’s proclivity for self-pity under trying circumstances. How was injury to one’s own pride less of a bother than the incongruity of probability?
Guildenstern was watching him intently, a nearly predatory gleam sharpening the dull sage of his eyes. “Not a flicker of doubt?” he asked quietly, taking one slow step towards Rosencrantz. Like a hunter holding his prey in thrall, playing with it for no greater reason than pure instinct.
“Well, I won, didn’t I?” he shot back, feeling a prickle of nervousness lodge itself in his throat: aggressive, insistent, so like anger that his conscious mind refused to deem it anything less.
A step. “And if you’d lost?” Another step, a kind of manic desperation thrumming through the words like the staccato’d beats of a war drum. “If they’d come down against you, eighty-five times, one after another, just like that?”
“Well….” It was a fair question. Not one he’d cared to think on overmuch in the wake of his streak of victory, but a fair question nevertheless. And, thankfully, one with a laughably simple answer. “Well, I’d have a good look at your coins for a start!”
“I’m relieved.” The other man backed away as though tugged by an invisible string, thin lips curling into a bitter facsimile of a smile. “At least we can still count on self-interest as a predictable factor. I suppose it’s the last to go.” Shaking his head slightly, he breathed out a long sigh, barely louder than the whisper of a breeze. “Your capacity for trust made me wonder if perhaps...you, alone….” As suddenly as he’d retired, so too did he turn back, lips parted and damp, hands trembling, eyes wild. “Touch.”
And Rosencrantz obliged, realizing worriedly that he’d pushed his friend too far, forgetting that realization the moment skin met skin. Guildenstern’s palm was rough and fever-hot against his own, the pulse in his wrist fluttering frantically like the wings of a bird trapped in a prison of glass. It was with a child’s fascination that he stared down at their joined hands: his own pale and smooth, long and elegant like a nobleman’s; his friend’s square and strong, calloused skin and ginger hairs burnt golden by the sun. One spinning and losing, the other casually picking up the pieces like they meant nothing, which couldn’t be further from the truth-- and in that moment Rosencrantz thought he’d like nothing better than to pull Guildenstern to him, to join lips as they did hands. But he couldn’t. Because he was eighty-five crowns richer. Because he burned under the weight of a madman’s gaze, pinned in place by eyes too hell-bent on seeking answers to embrace the question before him. Because he couldn’t remember why he was here, why he clasped his friend’s hand as tightly as if he were pulling him back from a cliff’s edge, why he WAS , and when the strength of a sinewy arm thrust against his own and sent him sprawling, he knew without knowing why that they were doomed to orbit each other in limbo, touching hands but never more, dancing back from the edge but never leaving it behind, for eternity.