Present company

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Warnings/notes: Cesare/Chiaro, Chiaro/Lucrezia, Tagio, TWT.

Disclaimer: I don't own Cantarella. This ficlet is based on the first six volumes of the manga.

written at 25th march 2007, by Misura, for a challenge in the livejournal-community yaoichallenge
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Chiaro slammed the door as he left. Cesare winced, wishing he hadn't the moment he recalled that he wasn't left alone in his room. Not that anything /he/ did would make greatly change said person's opinion of Chiaro, but Tagio della Volpe was not a person Cesare much cared to show weakness in front of - and feeling hurt because Chiaro was a fool who didn't understand the first thing about how politics worked was most definitely a weakness, and one Cesare couldn't afford, to boot.

Tagio said nothing as he picked up the empty cup Chiaro had tossed on the floor, in a gesture that might have impressed Cesare more had there been wine in it, or had the cup actually sustained any damage. Then again, Cesare had already decided Chiaro was an idiot - a damaged cup would have made little difference. It wasn't, Cesare mused idly, so much that he didn't think Chiaro's anger sincere, but rather that he found it impossible to take it seriously. A subtle, but significant difference.

No doubt, Tagio would tell him he was taking this whole matter too lightly, if Cesare were to make the mistake of asking his opinion, which he didn't intend. Tagio barely knew the first thing about Chiaro, for all that they'd worked and traveled together on several occasions. The reverse would probably be true as well - Tagio and Chiaro got along when they had to, but no more than that. Cesare reflected that might be a good thing; for the moment, Tagio's loyalty was useful, but there might come a day when that loyalty would stand in the way of Chiaro keeping his promise to Cesare, and at that time, it would be best if Chiaro's loyalty was solely to Cesare. In the case that Tagio and Chiaro /would/ have taken a liking to one another, Cesare mused idly, he might have needed to take steps to remedy the situation.

Chiaro truly had an unfortunate taste in choosing his relationships, Cesare decided. At present, of course, there was his infatuation with Lucrezia - who was, at least, a loveable enough person, but wholly unsuitable as an object for Chiaro's love. Before that, there had been Prince Djem - a different kind of relationship, perhaps, but just as impossible in its own way, besides which there had been little to love about Prince Djem. A pretty enough face, but only emptiness and a purely selfish desire to die on the inside. Cesare had little doubt that, given the chance, Prince Djem would have used Chiaro as nothing more than a tool, without the least concern for Chiaro's feelings or safety.

Lucky for Chiaro, Cesare had been the first to find him. Cesare didn't delude himself into thinking he wasn't one of the people Chiaro might have been better off without having met and befriended, but at least he looked out for Chiaro, tried to keep him out of trouble ... not that Chiaro appreciated it.

"Master Cesare?" Tagio was frowning. Cesare wondered if the man could read minds, had been able to tell whom he'd been thinking of. "Should I send someone after him?"

For what purpose, Cesare wondered, did Tagio imagine he'd want to do that? Chiaro would probably simply go to someplace private to pout; he'd return soon enough, if not apologetic then at least willing to pretend he'd forgotten their argument for the time being. Besides, this was a personal matter - Tagio was only privy to it by a coincidence, and due to the fact he'd been with Cesare when Chiaro had walked in, demanding to know what truth there was to the rumors about Lucrezia's marriage.

"No," Cesare said curtly, his tone implying the question had been one Tagio ought to have known the answer to himself. "There is no need for that."

"He is a dangerous man." Tagio didn't sound particularly worried, more like he was feeling that Cesare should be worried, and felt somewhat annoyed that he didn't. "And he is, at this moment, not happy with you. In his right mind, he might never consider doing you any harm, but - "

"But when he's angry with me, he might throw an empty cup on my floor and run off to sulk," Cesare cut him off. "He is no threat to me."

Tagio's expression implied he disagreed, but was unwilling to say so out loud. Instead, Tagio nodded tersely, letting the subject lie. Cesare foresaw another conversation about Chiaro soon - Tagio meant well, but, like Chiaro, he expressed his loyalty in manners that were somewhat less than agreeable to Cesare. With Chiaro, Cesare considered it a fair price to pay - with Tagio, it was a nuisance. Tagio ought to know better; he didn't have the excuse of natural foolishness that Chiaro had.

Most of the time, in fact, Tagio acted like he understood Cesare better than any other person, Chiaro included. Tagio might not see through all of Cesare's plans, see all the strings Cesare was pulling and all the gamepieces Cesare was moving, but he was intelligent.

In fact, Tagio's only two flaws were that he wasn't Chiaro - he'd never make a promise and keep it no matter what, and he'd never mean more to Cesare than someone who was useful, someone Cesare could trust to a large extent, but not completely, not with his soul. He couldn't laugh with Tagio, couldn't tease him the way he teased Chiaro sometimes.

Cesare didn't think Tagio possessed anything resembling a sense of humor - if he did, he hid it well.

"I've slept with him." He'd told Chiaro that, referring to Tagio, amused at the way Chiaro had reacted, half-incredulous but with a hint of doubt that Cesare had decided to take as a compliment and a sign that Chiaro was inclined to trust and believe him, even when he said something outrageous. Chiaro had been more innocent then, perhaps - he'd met Lucrezia, but he hadn't loved her, Cesare didn't think.

He'd thought she was just pretty, probably. Cesare knew she was, both on the inside and the outside. Not at all like Juan, or himself, for that matter. Perhaps Jofre would resemble her, once he grew up - although it seemed unlike that anyone married to Sancia would grow up to be innocent and sweet-tempered. Lucrezia was unique, a rose among thorns - and a valuable pawn for that reason. Chiaro should have known better. Who did Chiaro think he was, anyway? Surely he couldn't honestly have expected that his childish infatuation would have caused Cesare to change his plans for Lucrezia?

"I know," Tagio said, "but that's no reason to - "

"You what?" Tagio knew? Knew what? Cesare mentally retraced their conversation, trying to find out what Tagio might have been referring to, aside from what Cesare /thought/ he'd been referring to. His mind turned up a blank though; their exchange had not been very extensive, limited to the subject of Chiaro. Whom Cesare most certainly hadn't slept with.

Tagio gave him a look that was half-confused and half-impatient. "I know that you have slept with him."

Cesare narrowed his eyes. Was this Tagio's attempt at a joke? If so, Cesare failed to see the humor, added to which Tagio certainly had poor timing.

"You need not be concerned; I believe nobody else has noticed. Your brother might have, but then, your brother is of no concern anymore." Tagio shrugged. "On top of which, I assume he has found someone else, whereas you - "

Unlike Chiaro, Cesare had no use for empty gestures. Tagio jumped back as the winejug hit the floor and broke with a satisfying crash. Cesare estimated that there had been enough wine left for one or two cups. Enough to make a nice mess on his floor.

"Della Volpe, I believe I'm tired of your company for the moment." Chiaro, he might have attacked, fought with, settled his discontent with by a purely physical strife. There were still tricks Michelotto could teach him, and even without them, Chiaro would be a pleasurable match. Tagio fought the way he served - adequately, usefully, but rarely passionately.

"Master Cesare - " Until now, Cesare'd also have said Tagio didn't possess Chiaro's inability to take a hint. It seemed today was his day to be proven wrong - both about the depth of Chiaro's feelings for Lucrezia, and about Tagio's sense of humor.

"Leave me alone!" Cesare ordered, and Tagio obeyed. That, at least, was something familiar. Tagio closed the door behind him softly, almost as if inviting Cesare to notice how very different his exit was from Chiaro's. Cesare grimaced. He had to have drunken more wine that he'd thought if he was now suspecting Tagio of trying to - no, that was just ridiculous. The man had /no/ interest in anything that others might desribe as a pleasure, be it wine, women or men. His jealousy of Chiaro existed only in Cesare's mind - to Tagio himself, it was probably nothing more than a desire to keep someone he perceived as dangerous away from the man he'd sworn to serve.

And Tagio was right, of course - Chiaro, Michelotto/was/ dangerous. That was why Cesare trusted him to keep his promise, why Cesare trusted him more than Tagio to guard his soul. Why Cesare trusted him not to get himself killed by whatever dark powers that haunted him. Like Vanozza, Chiaro could keep the demons at bay, but unlike Vanozza, Chiaro could also defend himself against them and anyone else who sought to harm him ... most of the time.

This infantile /crush/ on Lucrezia would put Chiaro in danger, Cesare knew it. Chiaro was simply too ruled by his emotions, too easy to get riled up - at times, Cesare found that charming and amusing, but it could be a weakness as well, and Chiaro couldn't afford such a weakness. Cesare couldn't afford Chiaro to have such a weakness. Putting distance between Lucrezia and Chiaro should help - it wasn't like Chiaro's feelings were sincere, after all.

Cesare breathed in, breathed out, and felt himself begin to calm down. Chiaro was just being a fool, that was all. He probably - no, he /definitely/ didn't have any idea of what he was doing, what he'd been saying to Cesare (in anger). Soon, he'd come seeking Cesare, a bit sullen and too stubborn to say he was sorry, but that was all right. Lucrezia would be far away, and everything would go back to normal. In time, Chiaro might even understand it had been for his own good.

As for Tagio - well, Cesare would need to question him more closely about where the idea that he'd slept with Chiaro had come from. Quite likely, it'd all turn out to be nothing more than a misunderstanding, perhaps something Tagio had overheard and misinterpreted. Perhaps Tagio had only meant his words in the literal sense, that Chiaro and Cesare had shared a room on occasion. Tagio was, after all, a bit of an innocent in carnal matters - the more Cesare thought about it, the less likely it seemed that Tagio had actually suggested that he and Chiaro had /that/ kind of relationship. Chiaro didn't swing that way, and Cesare - well ... after Sancia, any man might feel like something different. And even if he might have considered Chiaro attractive before, what of it?

Chiaro was pleasant company (far more pleasant than Tagio) when he wasn't sulking. He was a capable swordsman, and his aura kept the demons away. It was only natural that Cesare would think fondly of him, forgive him more than he'd forgive anyone else. Cesare was (for the moment still) human, after all, as was Chiaro. Cesare considered, weighing and discarding his options. It was a fact that he /liked/ Chiaro. Chiaro, for the moment, was hung up on Lucrezia, but she'd soon be out of his reach even more than she was already. Unless Cesare made very sure that Chiaro would stay here, Chiaro might do something stupid, like following Lucrezia, making trouble for everyone, himself, Cesare and Lucrezia included. Such a turn of events wouldn't benefit anyone.

So. Cesare should give Chiaro something to occupy him, to take his mind off Lucrezia and off the fact that Cesare would use her in his game, regardless of the fact that she was his beloved sister. Something ... or someone. Cesare had been busy recently, even Tagio had said so, suggesting he delegated a bit more often. Fine. Cesare would delegate, Tagio would be delegated to, and Chiaro would discover that the brother could be far more seductive and alluring than the sister.

A perfect solution for several of his problems, if Cesare did say so himself.

OWARI