The first time Da Vinci asks the question, he and Count Riario run as fast as they can through one of the bridges over the Tiber. The Holy Father’s men are chasing them, but the artist and his friends have created a diversion with fireworks and explosives to free the Count from captivity. The Romans believe they are being attacked by a small army when, in fact, his enemies are only three men. It’s almost dark night, and some people run aimlessly, frightened, obstructing the work of the soldiers. The young Florentine is practically dragging the other man, who can barely stand. Riario is shattered. His father, the Pope, has had him tortured for failing in his plans against Florence. The Count has wounds of lashes, burns and countless splinters under the skin of his sides. The new torturer of the Church of Rome, a smiling and silent man who has come from the distant lands of the East, can do his job very well. Sixtus himself, moved by curiosity and his innate depravity, has spiked several of these splinters.
In the middle of the bridge, the only way out is to jump into the Tiber and pray that Zo and Nico find them downstream and help them to escape. Amid the smoke and tumult, with Roman soldiers approaching, Da Vinci makes Riario look at him. His friend/foe is very weak and quite scared. Puzzled, too. He can’t understand why the Florentine has come to save him. The pain is terrible.
—We have to jump, Count —Da Vinci says urgently—. I’ll hold you. I swear I won’t let you go. Do you trust me?
Riario smiles vaguely. His voice is more hoarse and faltering than usual.
—I jumped... from the Vault of Heaven with... your invention..., don’t you think I trust you?
—That was more desperation than trust, I think. And in case you’ve forgotten, you broke a leg.
—That you fixed... —gasps the Count—. But it is not the best... time... to remind me.
Da Vinci nods and hugs the other man tightly. Riario stifles a cry of pain and clings to his antagonist. The pain the splinters embedded in his flesh are causing is very sharp, but the hot touch and the smell of the artist are comforting him in a way that he can’t or don’t even dare to process.
—Desperation or trust, it’s our only way out —Leonardo says just before they both jump into the river.
The second time the Florentine asks the question, Riario is lying on a rickety table. The pain has become unbearable, he even fears losing consciousness. After a few hours of escape, the four men reached the outskirts of a small town at the Northeast of Rome and found a small, abandoned house that would serve them as a shelter while the Count recovered enough to continue the journey to the North. At dawn, Nico and Zo have gone to town to buy some groceries. Da Vinci’s been a long while cutting the skin of his friend/foe? to remove the torturer’s splinters and washing the wounds. There are only a few left, but in too sensitive places. Leonardo wipes the blood that runs over the Count’s ribs staining the old wooden table and approaches with the knife again. Riario suddenly grabs his wrist with a somewhat shaky and very hot hand. His chest rises and falls with difficulty and his forehead is beaded with sweat. The younger looks into the other man’s eyes and puts his other hand on the other’s in a comforting gesture. Riario’s pulse, fast and strong, thunders against Leonardo’s, serene but equally strong. One tear slips from each eye of the Count down the sides of his face.
—I’ll hurt you as little as I can —the artist says with a reassuring tone.
The Count nods and takes a deep breath, preparing himself.
—I know —he gasps.
—Do you trust me?
Riario smiles slightly and closes his eyes. He nods again. The knife sinks into the flesh, the blood flows and the Count drowns his cries of pain gripping the sides of the table.
The third time, Leonardo has just got rid of his shirt, throwing it to the ground. Riario, who sits on the edge of the table in Da Vinci’s study in Florence, wraps him with his long legs, tightly around the waist. The hands and lips of both men are running eagerly over the other’s hair, shoulders and breast. Leonardo’s hands, more audacious than the Count’s, slide under the fabric of his pants. Both men look into each other’s eyes and smile slightly. Riario looks down instantly. The severe and dysfunctional education he received from his immoral father, the Holy Vicar of Rome, has never allowed him to know feelings other than anger and cruelty. He’s still tired and sore, and wears bandages that Leonardo, kind and solicitous, has kept dry and clean. But desire is stronger than pain and fear, it’s stronger than everything the Count has felt so far.
—Do you trust me? —Leonardo asks, his green eyes staring at the Count’s, that under the light of the candles that illuminates the study and gives them privacy, seem made of gold.
Riario laughs. Leonardo feels strange, he rarely has heard the Count laughing and never with good intentions, but he laughs too. The artist is about to ask the question again, but it will never be necessary. Riario kisses Leonardo passionately, showing his consent and giving his nemesis full permission to do whatever he wants with him. And of course, Leonardo doesn’t need to be told twice.