Cesare Borgia gave his like to many, and his love to a scant few.
His Father, the monster, he did not so much love as behold with a bitter admiration. His Mother, the whore, he loved once, he knew, but he could no longer remember the curves of her cheeks, nor the sweet scent of her neck, nor the downy velvet of her skirts.
His Brother...he was fond with, but distanced. His Sister...was Pandora's box.
But nearest, and arguably dearest, was his aide, a foundling, an orphan, a nobody. A Jew. His aide, Michelotto da Corella.
To be a true master was to cherish one's servant, to embrace, to protect, and to receive loyalty and adoration in return. It was not unlike the relations between a husband and a wife; well, the idyllic perception of such, anyway.
There were many similarities, now he came to think it. Wedlock could be forced, and abusive. Mastery could be much the same. And laying together. There was that, too. Far from uncommon among Patron's and their pretty young assistants, but he and his infidel hardly had such a vulgar, clinical, businesslike relationship.
For Cesare adored his Archangel, his demonic right hand, his Michelotto. And Miguel loved him fiercely in return, sometimes, the Borgia heir thought, too much. Several gallons of blood, and several piles of corpses, too much.
He and Miguel were not lovers.
Well, in the physical sense, perhaps, the Borgia heir ponders, and a wry smile curls his thinning lips. He recalls sweaty, fevered childhood terrors huddled together beneath a white shroud, a pavilion, of sheets, Miguel's doughy little toes wriggling against his master's marble-cold shins (for Cesare was always cold).
Such closeness had fallen as assuredly as Eden's apple to fumbled, sinful manhood embraces in the summer hay, with creaking leather and bare shoulders and the brays of the horses masking their own.
Miguel, all hush and mystery in the public realm, was really quite the vocalist in the bedchamber, his Master thought, and sniggered like a boy again.
But their bond was not so superficial as to be deemed romantic, or fraternal, or friendly. It was all and none of these things. Their love was not one of balcony confessions (although there had been that business with the bullfight...) or material tokens (although he did buy Miguel little things, regularly...) but one of mutual understanding.
They were each other's comfort and sanctuary, half to the whole, shadow to the light.
The noble turns from his perusal of the Pisa vineyards before the break of Autumn dawn. Long, ribonned expanses of prickly, stubbled hay-fields, row upon row of obedient grapevines, struggling like pregnant whores to carry their reams of engorged fruits. He shudders a little, goosebumps rising up his bare arms like a warning.
"Why are you awake? You should be resting."
Miguel's chastisement is soft and thick with sleep, but his eyes, as always, are beady and alert in the semi-light. Constant vigilance.
It gives his aide the most excruciating muscle pains, that constant tension. But his master's nimble, ivory fingers are always at hand at the end of the day to soothe them. Much to Miguel's protestations of propriety and place. His cheeks always flush delightfully.
"I must set sail for Roma tomorrow." The heir to the Borgia dynasty murmurs, stroking idle fingers across the polished varnish of the balcony rail.
Miguel yawns widely behind him, jaw snapping wide like a snake, and stretches his arms high in surrender as he comes to stand at his master's side. One pace behind, slightly to the right, as is customary habit.
"Why?"he asks, simply, rolling his shoulders to shake the dullness of sleep from them, joints and vertebrae popping deliciously as he does so.
Cesare-- for that is who he is around Miguel, not Lord Cesare, bishop, nor His Eminence, just Cesare- beckons his aide to come stand in front of him. Miguel raises a dark eyebrow, grins his slow, lazy, lopsided smile, and does so without question.
The master folds his arms around his servant's broad shoulders and sinks his face into the sleepy, crumpled mess of linen and caramel skin at Miguel's back, and sighs contentedly.
"Stealing my heat again? You're the worst." Miguel mutters without force, shaking his head in mock despair. His dark hair is mussed like a bird's nest, and sticks up on one side. Cesare stifles his mirth and tussles his fingers through it fondly.
"But Miguel, you make such a pleasant bedwarmer! It is surely your destined vocation." he says, laughing, and the infidel prickles and squirms and protests weakly in his grip.
Teasing is a rare pleasure, caught only between he and his closest. They slept in the same chamber, Miguel on a cot beside his master's enormous four-poster, as was bodyguard custom.
Well, in theory. Since their earliest days, Cesare would crawl determinedly into the narrow box that was Miguel's bed, and stubbornly refuse to remove himself until Miguel would agree to join him in the (what was then gigantic) silken expanse above them.
The young Cesare had not been allowed closeness, nor affection, not after he had been taken from his Mother.
And so he had clung to what had then been his new toy.
A living, breathing, warm little body, that giggled when it was tickled and smiled when Cesare laughed. It had fascinated him. To have a little human creature that was entirely his, to play with, to work with, to banter and bicker and occasionally fight with. He could be a tad possessive at times, but he preferred to say protective.
A master should not allow what is his to be mistreated, after all. He lavished touches on Miguel because...well, because in all other facets of his life everything was so cold and empty. And too dangerous to risk affection, to risk weakness. But Miguel was safe. And he accepted his eccentric master's oddities without flutter, without judgement.
They were twinned cuckoo bastards in a cradle of vipers.
He and Miguel were the same. A pair of conspirators, outcasts, robbed of their parent's love. Touching Miguel reminded him that he was here, alive. A brush of fingers against velveteen elbows, a tap at the padded small of his infidel's back, a lingering smile, the whisper of messy dark hair against his own silken curls.
They confirmed him, like a baptism, in every touch.
"You know, it's rude to go wandering inside one's head when one is in company."
Miguel intones with mocking pomp, and Cesare grins and snaps back to the reality, of the villa and the vineyard and the breaking day.
He fists his hands in Miguel's shirt and dips his nose into his hair. He smells of cinnamon and wood-oils, leather and clean cut grass. Fields and freedom.
"The Pope has passed."
Miguel tenses in his embrace, but does not seem alarmed. They are precisely the same height. They always have been. Sometimes, it is as if Miguel truly is his shadow.
They both know what this means. Cesare watches the blood beat steadily in the tendons of his servant's neck, and is lulled by it. Beat. Beat. Beat. Beat. Slow and strong and predictable. Never wavering, never faltering.
"I cannot take you with me." He murmurs, resignedly, nosing at the nub of bone at the back of Miguel's neck and watching the downy hairs there rise, soft and wary like the antlers of an unblossomed stag "It is too dangerous. There will likely be disturbances."
His aide takes a single, deep, calculating breath. The wretched Reconquista. Conquest was ever a massacre of innocents.
"It is too dangerous NOT to take me with you." He says, tone light, careful and profound, like cutting through flesh with a blunted butterknife "But as you wish. If there is no other way."
The valley between Miguel's shoulder blades is, to him, deep and wide as a crevasse. Like the bowl of the sky. Like a cradle.
His aide's chemise has slipped off his left shoulder, revealing a curve of dented muscle with a spattering of little tiny scars. Remnants of the many times Miguel would tumble out of trees long ago, chasing Cesare’s whims up the boughs- a nest, a wayward kite.
There is a tiny constellation of moles that huddle in the dip of Michelotto's left collarbone. Seven of them, perfectly round little dots. They are a mirror replica of the Little Bear that sits in the heavens.
"Yes, Osa Menor?"
Miguel bristles at the unloved nickname, and turns to regard his master with serious eyes "Am I a greater burden to you now?"
Silence. The servant blinks once, a single sweep, and presses on with a practicality void of resignation (for the prison of his Jewish blood was ever a stale stain) "Do I stunt your ambitions, because of what I am?" there is no bitterness, no remorse in his tone; Miguel never did indulge in the futile "To keep a Jew at your side is-"
A pearly white fingertip presses firmly against Miguel’s lips "No. Be silent. Now."
A dewy wind picks up, dampening the dry air of the Italian countryside. The Borgia heir takes his vassal's calloused hands in his softer ones and brings bruised knuckles to his lips.
"You are my heart." He murmurs, holding firm and thwarting his aide's gruff attempt to pull his hand away "My shadow, my support, my greatest friend, my dearest vassal, my Archangel, my beloved infidel."
He is rarely so open; but something in the bleak, blunt dawn and the precipice of uncertainty yawning before them, moves him thus "Without you beside me...I would be a mess."
A glimmer of mischief in Miguel's eyes breaks the heaviness of the moment with an almighty crack "Well, that is true I suppose." He thrums, lips twitching "You still cannot even dress yourself properly!"
Cesare glances down to see that his chemise is on backwards, his stockings mismatched and, Miguel points out through a hysterical fit of unmanly giggles, his breeches are unlaced. He smiles. How unseemly.
And how delightful for it not to even matter.
"Then help me?" he murmurs, smiling the unguarded smile he keeps for Miguel alone.
"Si, su majestad." His aide replies with a mock-bow, and Cesare cuffs him playfully and allows himself to be led back inside.
Dressing in the mornings was a ritual only made bearable by Miguel's hands upon him. So very many layers. It was like trapping oneself in a facade, Cesare thought. An iron maiden made of satins and silks. Undershirts and coats and buckles and straps and laces and flaps and bodice pieces and brocade...as a child it had made his head spin.
But Miguel had a blessed talent for simplifying things. He never tied too tightly nor tugged too fiercely, like the stony-faced, wrinkled old women who used to care for him before his aide arrived.
Am I a burden to you? Cesare tenses imperceptibly, and worries at his lip in a habit he has yet to break. A burden, indeed. Ridiculous. Miguel was a blessing. And besides, if he could not even protect his dearest underling, how could he be expected to embrace the entirety of Italia? Or the world beyond even that?
...not that Miguel particularly needed protecting. The boy was a phantom, a shadow wielding a bloodied stiletto in the dark. But as a child, he had been a shy boy. He leeched off Cesare's confidence, but at his heart, behind the lewd jokes and the laughter, he was really rather uncertain of himself.
"...ember to tie your breech-laces up this time. We don't want your 'Holy Spear' making all those perverted old clergymen swoon, now do we."
The rising sun breaks like a chisel in the plaster cast of the horizon; thick slats of light creep across Miguel's face like slabs of translucent paint, lightening the curves and deepening the crevasses. The left side of his face is emblazoned. The right hollow and empty and dark.
The master cups his servant's cheeks in his hands. The curve of Miguel's jaw fills his palms as holy water in the grail.
"Umbra dextras." Cesare murmurs. The shadow on the right hand of God. That is what Michelotto da Corella is "When we are parted..." the heir to the Borgia's brings their burning foreheads together "cierro mis ojos y te imagino junto a mi. "
Light without shadow is lonely. But shadow without light is nothing at all.
"Siempre estoy cerca de ti." The infidel replies, and Cesare swallows his smile as their lips meet "Cerca de usted."