Disclaimer: I do not own Cantarella—Cantarella is the property of Yuu Higuri

Author's Note: So, I'm curious, is there an audience at all for a non-shonen-ai Cantarella fanfic involving Cesare and Chiaro? Because thinking about it, Cesare not falling in love with Chiaro would make this such a happier story. Anyway, I thought I'd post this and see what people thought. I have a longer one I'm working on if people like this one.

Reviews would be much appreciated! :-)

A Game of Chess

"You see," Cesare said, with the air of one delivering his clinching argument, "if we arrange our troops on the other side of the hill, the French army will be forced to go through the village, which will slow them down and give us a chance to surround them from behind. Perfect, don't you think?"

Chiaro looked at the map Cesare had been pointing at. "Maybe," he said. He looked at the village. "But what about the people in the village? Is it really fair to get them involved?"

Cesare shrugged. "They don't matter."

Chiaro stared at him. "What do you mean, they don't matter?"

"They're just peasants."

Chiaro winced at his words. "So am I."

"No, you were a peasant. Now you're the companion of a cardinal."

"An army going through the village would wreak havoc on the peasants," Chiaro insisted. "I remember when armies would come through. They'd trample people down and destroy shops and steal food… and kill anyone who tried to stop them."

Cesare sighed and rolled his eyes. "Chiaro, peasants die every day. I can't afford to concern myself with them."

"Cesare!"

"They'll be better off in the end, with the French army defeated."

"If they survive!"

"They won't all be killed."

"So that excuses killing some of them?"

"I'm not killing anyone."

"But you're letting the French kill them."

Cesare sighed. "Chiaro, they're just pawns. I can't worry about every pawn."

Chiaro glared at him. "So what about the rest of the cardinals? Would you treat them with the same disregard?"

"Of course not."

Chiaro sniffed. "Great. Just great. You know, I thought you were different."

Cesare looked at him curiously. "Different?"

"From all the other nobles who see peasants as a lesser form of human."

"But I don't see peasants as a lesser form of human."

"Then why do you care more about the cardinals?"

"Because they're more valuable."

"And if they weren't?"

"Then I wouldn't."

Chiaro paused for a moment, stunned. It was at times like these that Chiaro actually remembered that Cesare was possessed by demons, but he didn't think that excused this level of indifference. "Is that supposed to make me feel better? That you don't assign any particular value to anyone's life?"

Cesare sighed. "Look," he said, walking over to the chess table. "It's like a game of chess. Some pieces are more powerful and valuable than others. I'm obviously going to take better care of those. But all of them are expendable, except the king, which, of course, is me. Rather apt, don't you think? Unable to move more than one space at a time and having to rely on all of the other pieces to win the game?" His voice had grown frustrated.

"All of them are expendable," Chiaro repeated, his heart sinking.

"Of course."

"What about…?" He stopped before saying "me," because he didn't want to know. "What about your father?"

"Yes, although he's quite valuable. Perhaps… both my bishops combined."

"Lucrezia?"

"My queen. I'm careful with her."

"She means more to you than your father? Why, because she's more valuable?"

Cesare was beginning to look annoyed. "No, because I love her."

"But you still put her in the game."

"She's in the game. I can't change that. If I were to lose her, it would mean I had been outmaneuvered, and I would only put her in a situation where I might as a last resort. It would break my heart to lose her—she's the last piece I'd give up."

Which, of course, meant that Chiaro wasn't. He opened his mouth again to ask about himself, then closed it. "What about Volpe?" he asked at last.

Cesare smiled, clearly glad for the change of subject. "My knight," he said. "Obviously."

Chiaro felt a little hurt until he looked at the board and remembered that the king had two knights. "And me?" he asked at last. "What piece am I?"

"You?" Cesare seemed a little surprised by the question, like it hadn't occurred to him, but then he smiled again. "Now there's a question." He looked back at the board and didn't answer immediately.

"Well?" Chiaro asked after a few moments of silence. "Which is it? How easily would you sacrifice me?"

Cesare gave him an annoyed glance and looked back at the board. Unaccountably, he began to look upset, and a moment later, he was furrowing his brows. Chiaro saw him focus in on the different pieces, even the queen and king. He looked at Chiaro, then back at the board. He shook his head a little and continued to stare at it. Chiaro sighed and started to look away before Cesare said, "I wouldn't."

Chiaro looked back. "Huh?" Cesare had taken so long to answer, he'd forgotten the question.

"You're not a piece," Cesare said, sounding surprised and perhaps a bit shaken. "I would rather lose the game than give you up."

Chiaro stared at him, bewildered, as the implication of this set in. He meant that much to Cesare? More than Lucrezia, even? Chiaro wasn't sure if this was necessarily a good thing, but he couldn't help feeling elated that he was more to Cesare than a mere tool. "You care about me that much?" he asked.

"Yes." Cesare's voice was quiet, and his face looked very young suddenly. He looked from the board to Chiaro, meeting his eyes. "So don't leave me."

"Never," Chiaro replied. "But… why? Because I can keep the demons away?"

"Perhaps," Cesare said. "I don't know. I only know it would kill me to lose you… and I would go to extreme measures to keep it from happening." He paused. "I'll set up a few people to keep order in the village, so not very many people are hurt."

Chiaro blinked, having almost forgotten this conversation. "Thank you."

Cesare nodded slightly and went to the window, staring out. After a moment, Chiaro went to stand beside him and put an arm around his shoulders. Cesare relaxed, but he didn't look. "Cesare?" He waited for his friend to turn. "I'm not going anywhere. I promise."

There was a moment's silence and then, to Chiaro's eternal shock, Cesare suddenly turned and hugged him tightly. Chiaro hugged him back, amazed but smiling. "Cesare?"

"You'd better not," Cesare said, his voice muffled against Chiaro's shoulder. "Don't leave. I'll still need you once this game is over."