A shot. A loud, fulminatory thunder, carried by the huge, empty space of the prison, still ringing in Carlo's ears.
Time freezes. The world stops turning. For a moment everything on Earth just stays still.
Carlo stands there, his eyes wide open, staring at the curled up figure of the man in front of him. Rodrigo clutches at his side, facing the ground and Carlo can't see his face, his deep, dark eyes, his full, roseate lips... It makes him panic.
But he can only stand there, unable to move, unable to speak. Unable to do anything at all. He sees how Rodrigo slowly raises one hand to his eyes and stumbles back, leaning on the cold, stone wall of the prison cell. Even through the darkness Carlo can clearly see the crimson on his friend's hand.
Blood staining that warm, soft skin, lightly tanned by the gentle sun of foreign lands. Lands for whose people’s freedom that very blood is now flowing through the Marquis of Posa's fingers.
Rodrigo raises his head but doesn't look at Carlo. His eyes are shut tightly and he tries to calm his ragged breathing.
Carlo wants to move, to run up to him, to take him in his arms and protect him from the inevitable. But he has no control over his stiff body. He desperately tries to step just a little closer. Just a few steps.
And he realizes that his legs take him even further away, that he involuntarily steps backwards. He doesn't realize the exact moment when tears start to form in his eyes but the next thing he feels is the wet trace on his cheek.
"Oh, Carlo... listen" Rodrigo manages. His eyes are still closed and he bows his head again drawing in a shaky breath.
Dear God, no.
"Your mother awaits you... at San Yuste... tomorrow".
No. There is no tomorrow anymore.
"She knows all..." Rodrigo tries to straighten up against the wall. Suddenly his eyes flutter open and a piercing scream escapes his lips. "Ah, the world slips away from me!"
His pained words make something in Carlo break. He finally rushes forward. It feels like a whole eternity before he finally manages to get to the falling man and catch him before he can hit the ground.
Rodrigo tugs desperately at Carlo's shirt burying his pale face in his chest and Carlo wraps his arms tightly around the shaking man. He's not letting him slip away. He can't. He will hold him here by force, he'll tear him away from the Providence’s deadly grip if he has to. But he's not going to lose him. He can’t.
"My Carlo..." Rodrigo forces the weak, agitated words out of his clenched throat and his voice cracks miserably. Carlo feels his heart break at this pitiful sound.
The great Marquis of Posa, the bravest of knights, king’s favorite is now whimpering weakly in Carlo's arms.
"My Carlo... give me your hand" the marquis begs quietly and Carlo immediately takes the strangely cool palm in both of his own. With his other hand Rodrigo still clutches tightly Carlo's shirt, folding the white, thin fabric slowly soaking in crimson.
Rodrigo rests his head on his friend’s chest, visibly trying to ease his ragged breaths, to get the control over himself. And Carlo doesn't make a slightest movement, and doesn't loosen his iron grip on the man in his arms even for a moment. He can't. He can't let him go.
"I'm dying..." Rodrigo starts slowly, calmly, his voice gaining back that deep, low, velvet-like sound that always filled Carlo's heart with joy and happiness and the feel of safety. But now he doesn't feel any of these. The harsh, inevitable truth of those words, no matter how sweet to his heart is the voice that speaks them, fills him only with terror and despair.
"...but I'll die happy".
Some part of Carlo that isn’t currently screaming to him that it is not happening, it is just a terrible dream, would want to believe that. But he can see Rodrigo's glassy eyes and the excruciating pain hidden behind a soft, fake smile.
"...because I could preserve the life of… the Spain's savior".
Carlo wants to scream. He doesn't care for Spain any longer. He doesn't care for anything anymore. It's only here and now. There is no future. The world will stop turning once the last breath escapes Rodrigo's lips.
He sobs and with one hand strokes his friend's face gently. Rodrigo closes his eyes under Carlo's warm fingers and leans into his touch, seems to snuggle his face into his friend's hand. His smile breaks, his expression changes drastically and the tears finally flow from his eyes down his too pale cheeks.
"Don't... Don't forget me". He forces the words out with great difficulty, his voice breaks again. A sob shakes his body as he tugs at Carlo's shirt and once again buries his face in the prince's warm breast.
Carlo closes his eyes. He doesn't speak. Doesn't say a word even though he wants to tell Rodrigo. He wants to tell him everything. But he will not dare.
He desperately tries to hush the pitiful whimpers escaping his lips. He knows he must be strong. For him.
But, God, he can’t.
He kisses Posa's hair and squeezes his hand tightly.
I'm here. I will never forget. Because I'll die here with you. You are my soul, my only life. We are one.
The feeling of Rodrigo's weak fingers struggling to squeeze the prince's hand back makes Carlo lose all the frail control and a loud sob escapes his lips. And then another. And another. Bitter tears stream down his face and fall on Posa’s dark, messy hair.
He feels Rodrigo shift weakly in his arms and then cool, shaking fingers gently stroke his cheek and wipe the tears away. He places his hand over Rodrigo's to hold it close to him when he feels it slowly weaken and slide down his face.
”Don't... forget me"
The marquis's voice is as quiet as a whisper but it fills the empty prison cell and rumbles in Carlo's head. He looks as Rodrigo struggles to breath, tensing in his arms, and he knows that there is nothing he can do. Nothing.
He tries to ignore the terrible feeling of his soaked with crimson shirt adhering to his stomach. He desperately tries to stop the stream of thoughts telling him, screaming to him that this warm, clammy liquid soaking his clothes is his childhood friend’s, his only friend’s blood.
He looks down at the marquis who is breathing heavily, his eyes closed, trying to collect himself again and his breaths are slowly getting more peaceful. His cool fingers, still held close to the prince’s face by his own trembling hand, caress softly Carlo’s heated cheeks in a calming way.
Rodrigo smiles slightly and looks up at him and Carlo can read this absurd hope in his weary eyes.
“You were meant to reign…”
He turns his face away, not being able to bear Rodrigo’s gaze. He’s going to fail him, he knows it. He knows he won’t be able to make it on his own and the trust and pride he sees in his dying friend’s eyes makes it even more difficult for him.
I don’t want to reign, I don’t want the crown dripping with blood. With your blood.
“…and I… to die…” Rodrigo visibly struggles with each word, he rests his head on Carlo’s breast and lets out a shaking sigh “…for you”.
Suddenly he groans in pain and his hand on Carlo’s cheek goes limp for a moment before Rodrigo pulls it down and Carlo lets him, even though he desperately aches for the soothing touch on his heated skin.
Posa is clenching firmly the prince’s damp, dirty shirt with both of his hands, curling up in his embrace like a little child.
Carlo wraps both of his arms around him tightly.
“I’m dying...” Rodrigo whispers again into his breast.
Carlo tries to answer but his throat is clenched too strongly to let out even the slightest sound. Instead he just buries one hand in Rodrigo’s hair and gently strokes his back with the other. He shudders when his fingers come across the wet, clammy spot on Rodrigo’s doublet and his friend flinches.
“…but I’m… dying happy…”
Carlo shakes his head and tightens the embrace, placing soft, desperate kisses on Rodrigo’s hair and forehead, inhaling his scent.
“I’ve saved you…”
You shouldn’t have.
Rodrigo raises his eyes and locks his gaze with Carlo’s. There is no smile on his face anymore, there is no sugarcoating the inevitable truth. But his gaze is sure and Carlo knows what his friend wants to tell him. It’s something that he has never heard from his father, and God knows how much he craved for it, but Posa’s told him this countless times already. And even though Carlo has never thought he really deserved it, he knows that Rodrigo meant it, each time.
I’m proud of you.
“The Spain’s savior” Rodrigo extorts and his eyes close again, the look of concentration on his face as he struggles to take another breath. A thin streamlet of blood flows lazily from the corner of his mouth.
And Carlo traces with his gaze the soft line of his cheekbones, the light curve of his jawline, his slightly crooked nose, his shut tight, trembling eyelids and the dark bags under his eyes, the little drops of sweat on his forehead and the still fresh trails of tears on his terrifyingly pale cheeks. He locks his gaze on the parted, quivering, significantly bruised lips. He stares at them while they’re still slightly roseate. He tries to remember that color, the color that was the reason of many of his sleepless nights, before it turns completely livid.
He feels new stream of tears burning his tired eyes. Rodrigo is dying. He is getting weaker and weaker. In a moment it will be over. Everything will end. There will be just a cold, lifeless body dangling limply in Carlo’s bloodied arms. And it occurs to him that no matter how hard he’d cry, scream, curse and pray – it’s still going to happen. Because of him.
“Don’t… forget…” the quiet words are cut off by a sudden scream escaping Rodrigo’s throat. He tenses up in his arms, going completely rigid for a moment, his hands tugging at the prince’s shirt so hard that it finally rips, and his wide open eyes, staring somewhere beyond Carlo’s head, filled with pain and… fear.
“The world… slips away!”
Carlo holds his breath. He freezes not knowing what to do.
No. No, please, not yet! Just a few more minutes, hours, years… Please.
“Your hand… Give me your hand!” Rodrigo begs desperately and when Carlo does so he squeezes the prince’s fingers so hard that it hurts but Carlo doesn’t pay any attention to that. He just stares in horror at Rodrigo’s white face overwhelmed with pain and terror.
Another groan escapes the marquis’s lips and he shifts his gaze to Carlo letting go of his shirt and instead squeezing his arm tightly with his stiff, shaking fingers.
“Save the Flanders!” He pushes out the words with his last bits of strength. His voice breaks and a tear streams down his cheek. He looks right into Carlo’s eyes, piercing his aching soul. The prince is still frozen, holds his breath and stares at his friend with wide open eyes, letting the tears flow freely in total silence.
Rodrigo lowers his head as a tough cough shakes his whole body and when he raises it again there’s more blood staining his now almost completely livid lips and once his eyes meet with the prince’s, Carlo knows.
“Carlo…” though terrifyingly thin and quiet, the voice seems like a thunder in the prince’s ears, screaming at him that this is the last time he will ever hear his cursed name spoken with such affection, hope, trust, love. He tries to push that thought back but it not only stays firmly in his head but reaches even further, claiming more and more of his tortured mind and swallowing every other thought.
The marquis’s gaze traces restlessly every feature of Carlo’s face, before finally focusing on the prince’s gleaming, red eyes. His shaking lips part slightly, hesitantly, but before any words may escape them, a look of regret and resignation flickers in Rodrigo’s eyes, and his mouth closes. He swallows tentatively and utters only a quiet, whispered “farewell” followed by a painful gasp and a weak, barely audible moan.
Carlo wants to scream, to howl, to beat his fists into the cold stones surrounding them as a sudden wave of fury and crippling despair coats over all his senses.
It’s too late. Too late.
And as he bows his head down and presses his desperate lips to Rodrigo’s, there is only one thought filling his mind, his heart, every last bit of him.
I love you.
He realizes he had never been happier in his life than in this very moment; never felt such an overwhelming joy, than when Rodrigo’s lips part, let Carlo’s tongue slip into his mouth, and when he kisses back. His heart seems to stop and a new wave of tears streams down his face as the man he cuddles in his arms, reaches his hand up and caresses his cheek in the most gentle, tender way and Carlo smiles slightly against their joined mouths.
And then the tongue dancing with his own draws back, the lips pressed to his part further, torpid, and the cool hand on his burning cheek falls limply to the ground.
And Carlo is suddenly aware of the obtrusive taste of blood in his mouth.