Disclaimer: I am not Dickens. I do not kill off the hottest character at the end of my books. I do not own Sydney Carton, nor do I own Charles Darnay; if I did, miss Lucie would be a spinster.

A/N: It's a sign of how bored I am in English class when a multiple-choice exam inspires me to write angst. Tale of Two Cities angst, at that. I think this is the first time I've written fanfic about assigned reading. Hehe.

Warnings: slight Darnay/Carton tones, because I kind of hate Lucie. A lot. And OOC. Lots of that too. Rating for, again, slight shonen-ai, but only stuff that slash fans (and desperate ones at that, i.e, me) would pick up on.

.o.

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Dingy, dark, unrelenting stone. He traces his fingers across it pensively, waiting with held breath for the slowly receding metallic footsteps to be interrupted by the cry of alarm or rage. But no sign comes, and after a tense moment as the last door clangs shut, he relaxes. The deed is done, with no regrets, save one.

It had hit him, hard, on that night after the trial: that one of the two constants in his life was to bow before the altar of La Guillotine. Yes, he had loathed the man. Yes, he had yearned sometimes that he be the charming Frenchman and that Darnay be the irascible, profligate young lawyer. Yes, he found himself filled with a burning, breath-catching anger whenever he caught the shy glances between the teacher and that golden-haired, swooning doll. Yes, he had sometimes hated the very sight of him.

And yes, he had been desolate at the prospect of losing him.

It wasn't as though they had been friends. Far from it. When two men are united only by their love for another, friendship is out of the question. But he had always been content to lurk in the shadows, the fallen seraphim watching as the glowing, angelic couple held their first child in their arms, cooing and loving.

Sometimes, if he'd tried hard enough, he'd deceived himself into thinking that he had been part of it all, too. Not the demon with lost chances and no hopes that all perceived him to be, but a man with potential. A man with promise.

A man with something to live for.

And he did have something, he had realized on that night. For over the years, that lovely, flawless Frenchman had managed to twine himself into Sydney's own thoughts as irrevocably as she had that afternoon so long ago. When Carton thought of Darnay, he called to mind the similarities in their honey-hued gazes. When Sydney looked in the mirror, he saw not his own visage but the countenance of Charles, that person whom he might have been. To remove that—that prat was to remove a part of himself that strove for something better. For without Darnay, he had no proof that he was human, or could have been. Without Darnay, he had no memory of the self before the drink, or the misery, or the loss of hope. Oh, the hope.

Without Darnay, there was no possibility of hope.

There had been no need for lengthy internal debates. He had only needed to ask himself who deserved this wonder-ridden, albeit chaotic, life more: the irascible, impenitent lawyer pacing the streets, or the upstanding gentleman whose only crime was his station in life? It had been no decision, really.

His gaze flicks to the strewn pages crumpled about the scant desk, ink still dripping from the discarded quill pen, and smiles bitterly. Letters, both heartfelt, addressed to Lucie and Alexandre Manette. He had no idea why he'd even entertained the notion that one might have been for him. Why would it? The two had…hated each other, after all.

His mirthless, half-cocked smile slips away as quickly as it had come as he rifles through the pages, a slight note of sadness rising behind his features. He traces the small, looped handwriting, marveling at Darnay's ability to stay pedantically neat even at the direst of times. Eyes slipping down to the floor, he spies the two sets of footsteps in the dust, and the scuffled upset where Charles's unconscious body had slumped to the floor. The wistful grin returns at the memory of the feel of the other man's vulnerability pressed against his own form, and he clenches his eyes tightly, trying to hold back the spring of sudden tears welling behind his lids.

Blind to the world, he forces himself to calm down. Finally he begins to breathe more steadily; the urge to weep for the love of lost chances has subsided. Standing there still, he wonders vaguely if he thinks of him now, if he has woken up from his state yet. He wonders if he is glad that his breath has been saved, or if he is angry that his chance for martyrdom has been snatched away from his flawless neck. He wouldn't be surprised; a man like Darnay would have no qualms about leaving his lovers and his beloved in this world while he ascended to the earth beyond. How dare he think not a whit for the man who made his rescue, how dare he have the gall to—

A sudden noise makes him start and slowly unclench his curling fists. He opens his eyes and stares at the miniscule cuts in his palms that his fingernails have etched, shaking his head unconsciously. Deep in the small core of truth within him, he knows that Darnay would have been angry with him, but not for ridding him of any supposed glory. No, Charles would have been furious, furious because he would have viewed it as another wasted chance for redemption on Sydney's part. In Darnay's mind, death was the only opportunity for defeat.

Sydney grins, slightly saddened, as he recalls one night more than five years past. He had been slinking out of the Darnay (Evrémonde, he supposes now) household, head bowed against the wind and eyes narrowed with the effort of containing his rage. It had been the last straw, that evening, seeing her drift off to sleep in that overstuffed armchair, delicate face pale from the stress of caring for the newborn that she carried tucked under her arm. Charles had stopped his halting conversation with Sydney and smiled as he saw her peaceful, albeit exhausted, countenance, getting abruptly to lean down and kiss her unblemished forehead.

Carton had shut down then, simply gotten up and exited with no semblance of his shredded dignity about him. He had nearly reached the gate when a clear-toned voice had called after him to wait, and a wide-eyed Darnay trotted after him. Forehead creased with nothing more than polite concern, he had asked the reason for Carton's displeasure. Carton had brushed him off, of course. He regrets that now, but regretted it then, too, especially after Darnay's next words.

He had proclaimed, loudly enough for answering lanterns to flicker on in the next cottage over, that a life lived with regrets was a life lived by a fool. He had focused his steady gaze on Carton's rapidly reddening face, and asked bluntly, with a taste of his native French on the tip of his tongue, "And are you a fool, Monsieur Carton?"

Sydney, much affronted, had replied in due course that he was not, and he would thank Mr. Darnay to keep out of his affairs, but Darnay had paid no mind. As Carton had stalked away, feeling his heated cheeks burn in contact with the crisp night air, Darnay had called after him, "Then pray do not continue to act like one, Monsieur!"

No, Darnay would not have stood in this rat-ridden cell as he is now, counting his previous mistakes with all ten fingers. Darnay would have made peace with himself and his own demons, and gone smiling to La Guillotine. That was the kind of man he was.

The kind of man Carton could have been.

Sydney's eyes flick to the window, glimpsing a square foot of vivid cornflower sky crisscrossed with the stark lines of the bars that prevent any hope of escape. Yes, he decides, he will live as a better man, if only for his remaining hours. No more regrets, and no more wasted tears. The world will not glimpse a beaten man; no, instead, the red-tinged world will see him flashing a wry grin back at the shimmering teeth of La Guillotine. He tosses his head back and smiles at the thought of the expressions on the faces of the knitting-women tallying heads as he challenges them to make him suffer for his sacrifice.

He is still smiling as his gaolers arrive, holding his head up high in defiant invitation for the slice. And it is in this fashion that he arrives in style at his own demise, still smirking in open amusement as the blade of his executioner glints wickedly in the cheerful sun.

A better man, indeed. If only for a few short hours.

.o.

A/N: Thus concludes my angsty Tale of Two Cities shpiel. Not enough Darnay/Carton shonen-ai for you? You should see my binder; it's scribbled all over the margins. More coming soon.

Review, por favor.