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tremano d'amore e di speranza

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“What the hell do you think you’re doing!”
 
Barak almost didn’t see what was happening in time, but he just manages to grab the back of Calaf’s flowing robe before he can run for the stairs up to the gong. Putting an arm around Calaf’s waist, he drags him into a nearby alley.
 
“What were you thinking?” Barak demands, pushing Calaf back against the wall at the end of the alley. “I didn’t come all this way with you just to see your head roll down the palace steps!”
 
“Turandot…”
 
Barak grabs Calaf's arm as he tries to push past him. Damn it, this was what always happened! And he had finally thought that here might be an ally with enough willpower... He should have known better than to get attached, but it is far too late for that now. Still, he’s not about to merely stand aside helplessly and let Calaf walk boldly to his own doom.
 
“What do you want Turandot so much for!” he demands. “You’ve barely seen her!”
 
“I love her,” Calaf insists, pulling at Barak’s grip. “Let go,” he says, his voice starting to become low and dangerous. “I will not let you stop me.”
 
Barak swears silently in Tibetan. Or perhaps he prays. He isn’t quite sure any more. “Love her? You don’t know anything about her. That’s not love!”
 
“You’ve become quite the expert in love all of a sudden,” Calaf retorts.
 
Barak lets go of his arm, but continues to block the way out of the alley. “What do you know of Turandot? Her favorite foods? Stories about her childhood? Her hobbies besides having dozens of people executed for sport? You don’t know any of that, do you: how can you say you love her!”
 
“Oh?” Calaf stares at him for a moment, his head tilted to one side curiously. Then he takes a step closer, so Barak has to look up at him to make eye contact. “And have you ever loved anyone, then?”
 
“I…” Calaf’s hand is on his chest now. Barak imagines he can feel it burning even through the heavy layers. “Yes.”
 
“Tell me about her, then, if you know so much.”
 
Barak wonders for a moment if Calaf knows, and is purposely baiting him, but Calaf is too straightforward for petty intrigues like that; after all, it’s that direct nature of his that’s causing all this trouble. “They...they’re from a foreign country,” he says. “An exile. They...they sing songs from their homeland, sometimes, when they think no one is listening. They’re proud, but loyal to their friends, and gentle when they try…”
 
Calaf’s eyes are wide, and Barak presses on desperately, knowing how foolish he must sound. “He likes meat buns, and shrimp skewers, and one time we made him try spicy noodles and that was definitely a failed experiment, and, and once he gets some idea in his head nobody can stop him, even if they just want to save him from getting himself killed, and, and…” Barak grabs the open front of Calaf’s robe. “And I love him more than I’ve ever loved anyone in my life.”
 
Calaf blinks a few times, a bewildered expression on his face. “I...oh...really?”
 
“I am not a man with good judgement,” Barak says.
 
“Case in point, the spicy noodles.” Calaf laughs a little, and Barak can’t help but join him.
 
“That was Ton’s idea,” Barak says. “Sort of Ton’s idea,” he admits as Calaf’s eyebrows go up. “Mostly...not Ton’s idea. Calaf, please—”
 
Calaf takes Barak’s wrists. “Don’t worry, Barak,” he says, with that confident smile Barak fell in love with. “I won’t die.”
 
Barak tries to hold on to Calaf’s robe as Calaf slowly pulls his hands away. “I...maybe so,” he says, numbly, “but...if you go, even if you live...even if you live, you won’t be mine.”
 
Calaf stares down at him for a few moments, his brown eyes warm in the golden sunset. Suddenly, he releases Barak’s hands and puts an arm around his waist, pulling him close. Barak gasps as Calaf buries his other hand in his hair. “Calaf, wha—”
 
The kiss feels like it will last forever. Barak closes his eyes to take in everything—the tight embrace, the warmth of Calaf’s hands, the soft curve of his lips.
 
When he opens his eyes Calaf is gone.