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The Rack

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"Savonarola told me," Cesare says, "that you are a sodomite."

He plays with a knife. Flick, flick, turn. The handle is gilded, wrought with rich metal and with rubies. He passes it from hand to hand, light as the wing of a sparrow, where he sits on the slab of the torture rack. He wears black in the vault, a black doublet, black leggings. It suits him, Micheletto thinks, it suits his noble young form, suits a bravo and condottiero. The opulent knife dances idly in his hands. 

They have still had no luck breaking Savonarola. The priest endures the slab, the blade, the coals and forceps with the groans of the an animal and with no words. Daily, Cesare tells him that a signed confession will end his suffering, or at least make his end swift. Savonarola spits blood in his face and submits to another hour at Micheletto’s patient hands. Micheletto has been at the craft of torture long enough to know that any man breaks once enough pressure is applied. He knows torture enough to make any man will a swift end, if he puts his mind to it.

"A man on the rack says many things," Micheletto says.

Cesare looks at him, finds him with his eyes through the murk and shadows. Micheletto inclines his head slightly in response. That is the end of it, he expects. Cesare has kingdoms on his mind; temporal, for the most part, but heavenly also. Often he sees no one but those he loves and those he wishes to destroy. In the vault, though, they are out of sight even of Heaven. They can hear Savonarola in his cell, praying through a broken mouth.

Cesare continues looking.

Micheletto looks away. He leans back against the door frame and crosses his arms, one hand on his heart, and feels the corner of the stone cut into his spine.

"He wishes to sow distrust between us," Cesare says.

Micheletto’s heart quickens under his hand, only a flicker. Still, still as water, still a stone. “Your eminence,” he mutters.

His young master’s mouth twists to half a grin. “No longer. Remember.”

Micheletto’s lean shoulders twitch in a shrug. “Then what should I call you?” he inquires.

Cesare springs off the slab and to his feet, the knife still in his hand. In the cell beyond the stone, they hear Savonarola preach to the Roman bedrock. He curses all things in the world. Florence. The Medicis. Vanities. Books. Borgias and sodomites. He promises God’s wrath and earthly fire down upon them all.

Micheletto closes his eyes briefly as Cesare comes to his side. 

He wishes that he could keep them shut. Cesare comes close. He is all in black and his hair is like a dark halo around his face. He holds the blade. There is a touch of wine on his breath, perhaps no one might have smelled it but Micheletto, who still lives because he notices everything about other men. A good harvest. A young face. A gilded knife. 

"He claims that you are a demon," Cesare murmurs.

Like water, like stone, a chill passes through the cords of Micheletto’s shoulders, down his crooked spine. Cesare doesn’t see. There are still, there will always be things that Cesare will not see. But for a moment he is cornered, he is naked, he is  young , and the knife feels too close in Cesare’s hands. From their first meeting until now, drop by drop, worldly things have crept into Cesare’s bones: corruption and steel in equal measure.

For a moment he is bare and there is nothing but truth, and truth can never be spoken. Not even out of Heaven’s sight.

He turns his face away from Cesare and speaks to the stone of the walls.

"I am your Micheletto," he says.

Cesare pauses, and then grins, skull-like. “And I am a Borgia.”

He moves back. The cool, heavy air of the vault rushes in between them. Micheletto leans a little further back. He lets the corner gouge harder into him. In his cell, Savonarola’s prays and preaching had pitched themselves into hurled insults, and Cesare’s eyes alight with bloodlust. Opium of his very own, or torture. He licks his lips, and nods to himself. 

"Again," he says.

Micheletto needs no more instruction. He turns to the comfort of the rack.