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bitter, broken, burning

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[1] GUSTAVO.

He had been a fool.

Her love had been a revelation. When she had finally dared to open her heart to him, finally pushing past the fear and propriety that held them both prisoner, it was the single most joyful moment in his life. Nothing, not even his ascension to the throne, had compared to the sheer relief and euphoria that had flooded his entire body at the sight of her in his arms. Amelia. She was the answer to everything he had ever wondered, the light in all of his darkness, the moon on a cold winter's night.

It was fate, then, that in the moment of his greatest triumph, Renato was to have walked in. Somewhere in his the back of his mind Gustavo was certain he could hear the laughter of a certain fortune-teller echoing with mirth. She'd warned him, hadn't she. His own best friend, advisor, and lover; certainly, if they hadn't been so close, if Renato hadn't felt so protective of him, he would not have wandered into that dark field at midnight. If only Renato had not loved him so much. If only he had not loved Amelia so much. If only, if only, he thought, and Madame Ulrica Arfvidsson's laughter only grew louder in his mind.

The awareness had dawned on him quickly, and dreadfully. Like dropping a priceless artefact, he was suspended in the moment of freezing panic before the crash, a gut-wrenching coldness that washed over his entire body when he realized exactly what he'd done, in all of its horror and betrayal. Torn between the two halves of his own heart.

It seemed impossible that something so beautiful could be so wrong, that a mutual desire would lead to nothing but destruction. But perhaps Renato's intrusion had been a cruel sort of gift, a chance for him to change his fate before a far worse one befell him.

So he had suffered an indignation to his pride: this he could survive most easily. So Renato was furious with him: it hurt, but they would move forward. They had fallen out before, and always reconciled; no argument or mistake was too great to drive a permanent rift between the men.

But Amelia-- poor Amelia-- she had come right into the fury between the two men. It was his fault, all his fault; he had tempted her, pursued her, pushed her further until she'd fallen right into his arms. He had no doubt of the cold fury she would receive from her husband; he, too, had known the count's wrath at times. And he knew her as well, knew the guilt and shame she would feel most keenly. Surely she would never touch him again.

Possibly she would never even look at him again.

Gustavo felt his breathing catch at the thought of losing her. With a slow, dreadful, sinking feeling, he realized what he had to do.

It was brilliant concept. It was flawless, of course. He could still win. He could still save the day, hold all the cards, save everyone he loved. But the cost was great, so great--

Actions had consequences. This he knew. This he knew all too well. Somehow he had yet to feel their sting, had always managed to escape the flames and soar ever higher. Yet now, finally, it seemed his luck had run out; sacrifices would have to be made.

First he would offer himself to the fire. Perhaps it would be enough to save the two he loved, more than anything else in the world. Perhaps he could still save them from himself.

It was impossible not to think of Renato, and then Amelia, as he sat down at his desk and pulled out the papers. Already he could feel a coldness coming over him, a quiet sort of grief that he knew would never truly leave him, as if a part of his soul had be extinguished, never to return.

 

[2] AMELIA.

She had been a fool.

She'd known what she was doing was wrong; yet the one time she dared step towards her own happiness her entire world came crashing down around her, and she lost everything

Yet still there was some unspeakable injustice in the whole situation; was she now forever condemned to a lifetime of suffering, a victim of her own infidel heart?

She dreaded the rise of the sun, when she would have to face her mistakes in the full light of day; she dreaded the fall of the night, when she would have to look her husband in the eyes and live with her choices. The happiness of that evening, the unbridled, liberating joy of Gustavo's lips on her own, was now little more than a half-remembered dream. Renato was silent; after the kiss he'd seared into her mouth like a brand, he would not touch her, would not ever look at her, as if he was so disgusted by what she'd done she was unworthy of even his eyes. She knew soon she must beg for, if not forgiveness, then mercy. If not for herself, then for Gustavo, and for her son, their family. All she wanted was for him to take her in his arms and forget everything that happened-- to let the past drift away, to start anew-- but it was too late. From the moment she had stepped onto those dreaded hanging fields, it had always been too late.

She had once had everything she'd ever needed: a loving husband and son, and a home that carried happiness in its four walls. Renato grew distant; their bed was cold and still. Life and circumstance seemed to descend between them like a curtain of velvet, silent and impenetrable. She had dared to dream of the passion they had once known, waking with thighs clenching on-- nothing-- and sweat beading down her back-- as her husband slept silently and stilly beside her. His mouth became another's, their forbidden lover, and she fell into a restless sleep, soothing herself with the wicked thoughts of their mouths together, Gustavo before her paying worship at the altar of her body, her husband behind, holding her, driving her closer and closer to some divine ecstasy she would never truly know in life.

She hated it. It was sinful; traitorous; disloyal; it was unfit for a mother and a wife. She begged God to help her, and instead, she only grew to love Gustavo more. When her husband could not even find the time of day to touch her with any tenderness, Gustavo's gaze alone across a crowded room made her feel cherished. She lived to see him, lived to want him, lived to love him, and look where it had led her. Surely Renato would never love her now; surely she would never see Gustavo again. Surely she would never again feel the soft light of contentment upon her skin.

Never had she felt so powerless, so hopeless.

He would kill Gustavo. He would kill her, and he would kill himself. She had lit the flame herself, and now there was nothing to do except to watch as everything she loved burned slowly to the ground around her, taking her down with it.

She peered, momentarily, into the nursery, where her son slept peacefully. Soon he would wake with the day, and she would have to protect him, too, from her actions. But for now he was unaware and innocent. She wished she could say the same for herself; instead, she felt her heart had been replaced with embers, flickering quietly into darkness.

 

[3] RENATO

He had been a fool.

A betrayal-- a betrayal!- by the two whom he loved most.

Amelia, Gustavo, Amelia, Gustavo: an impossible choice. And yet he would have to choose: who to suffer, who to blame? Who had hurt him more?

Hate struck its victims more swiftly than love, and who better than he to strike? Who in all of Sweden was there that was closer to the king, who had loved the king as he had? Who knew all of the secrets of state, and all of the king's own heart?

Who more than him wanted revenge?

And yet for all his hatred, and deeper still under the sorrow and pain, there was something that would not let him hurt Amelia. His only answer, staring darkly at the walls of his study, was that some part of him, for all the pain she'd caused, that loved her still, and very much. Of course he did: it was Amelia. His wife, the mother of his child. He had loved her once, hadn't he? And somehow, he loved her still, senseless as it was.

Even deeper than that bitter love was a trace of guilt, like the faintest dusting of shame on his conscience. He had loved another man while still married to her; he had, perhaps, spent too many evenings at work, too many hours away from the home, too many nights laying silent and rigid by her side. How he wished he had been there for her. How he wished she would hold him, now, when he needed her most. But it was already too late.

He had loved Gustavo: it made everything so much worse. He had never failed Gustavo like he had failed Amelia. Indeed, he had given Gustavo his everything: his loyalty, his counsel, his years, his body, his love. And still-- still-- he had not been enough, had he? He had not been enough for the good king, the adored king, who was apparently as generous with his heart as he was with his money.

He hated Gustavo; there was no word more strong or plain to describe the feeling that coursed through Renato's veins beyond hatred. Pure hatred.

To have him, to love him, and and to betray him? To pursue his wife? It was unforgivable. It was damnable. It was worth all the hell that Renato was about to unleash.

He wanted to scream, to be loud and frightening and make them know how much they had hurt him. Instead, with hands shaking with rage and devastation, he reached to his desk, retrieving a slender pack of matches. Slipped one out of its box, struck it hard enough he feared it might snap.

It flared up, brilliant white and just painful enough that it calmed him, centering his racing thoughts. He watched the fire consume, watched the brilliant flame creep up the delicate stick, closer and closer to his fingers until it burned. Only when he could no longer stand the pain did he shake it out.

Only upon seeing the burnt, crooked sliver of wood in his fingertips did he begin to weep.