Afterward

A/N: This, dear readers, is the end. I am sorry, but it had to come eventually. This story was already absurdly long, especially in comparison to all the other Cantarella fanfics.

This is the part where you get my defense of this entire story. Historically, Cesare Borgia actually did get syphilis, and because he was self-conscious about his looks, he started dressing in black and wearing masks. No joke. I found this out while I was frantically trying to figure out some way to save Cesare while still being reasonably historically accurate, and went "Ah ha!" Because of course, if Cesare Borgia was wearing a mask, how are we to know if it was actually Cesare Borgia?

Okay, I admit it's a lame defense, but there you go.

"Hiya!" Sebastian cried, thrusting forward as he sparred with Chiaro, whose turn it was to give him his morning lesson.

"Too slow," Chiaro said, finally ending the battle. "But you'll get there."

Sebastian beamed, then went to sit by Cesare, who was looking at a letter. "Were you watching?" He asked. "Did I do good?"

Cesare smiled at him fondly. "You did very well."

"Really?"

"Yes. Though I warn you, it may be quite some time before you can match Chiaro."

"I'll do my best!"

"That's the spirit."

"What are you reading?" Chiaro asked, coming over after Sebastian had run off to play with Marco.

"A letter from my father. Volpe is doing quite well. Apparently I have syphilis now."

"Syphilis!"

"Yes, syphilis."

"What, is this Volpe's revenge or something?"

"Perhaps. But it's also practical, since it appears I am quite self-conscious about the scars it's left and so have taken to dressing in black and wearing masks."

Chiaro raised an eyebrow, suppressing a smile. "Now that sounds like you. Wrapped up in your looks."

Cesare rolled up the paper and smacked Chiaro on the forehead, making him laugh.

"Seriously," Chiaro said, still laughing. "He couldn't have just said you were wounded?"

Cesare rolled his eyes. "Apparently he has a vulgar sense of humor." He unrolled the letter again and continued reading. "Lucrezia is doing well. Oh, she's expecting a child. Well, then. I wonder if she's fallen in love with Alphonso after all." He smiled. "We may need to visit incognito sometime and meet my niece or nephew."

"Incognito? Won't that be kind of difficult in Rome? I mean, seriously, you were worried about me standing out."

Cesare shrugged. "I'll figure something out."

Chiaro sat beside him and put an arm around him. "Feeling homesick?"

"Not really." He leaned against Chiaro. Although he no longer needed Chiaro to send the demons away, excepting very occasionally when they'd visit to offer him his former life in his moments of weakness or confusion, he still enjoyed Chiaro's affection. Now and again, he missed the thrill of being pulled from his darkness into Chiaro's light, but the peace he felt almost constantly now was worth it. As for the power he used to have, he hardly missed that at all, though he did occasionally miss coming up with his perfect plots. But he had something more worthwhile to do now. He and Chiaro had started a school for peasant children, teaching them reading, writing, arithmetic, and swordsmanship. They charged a small fee to sustain themselves, but nothing the peasants couldn't afford.

"Shouldn't you be opening the doors, soon?" Chiaro asked presently. "The students will be here in a quarter of an hour."

"All in good time."

Chiaro chuckled. "You know, I'm glad you didn't suddenly get hands-off on me once the demons were gone."

"Oh, certainly not." Really, their relationship hadn't changed very much, except that the hole in Cesare's heart was healed now, which meant he was able to give nearly as much as he received, and he loved it. For a while, Chiaro had been a little uncertain, since Cesare no longer "needed" him, but Cesare had made it quite clear that he still wanted Chiaro, and Chiaro had managed to find a use for himself in helping Cesare learn to be a peasant.

It was nice, really, to not "need" Chiaro in the technical sense. He no longer craved Chiaro's embrace. He just liked it. He didn't have to cling and grasp. He could give, and enjoy giving. He was still a bit possessive of Chiaro, but he'd stopped taking it as a personal insult whenever Chiaro decided to make a friend that wasn't him. Which Chiaro had; in fact, he'd made several, which had surprised Cesare at first. Chiaro hadn't made any friends while they were at school, except Cesare. He hadn't made friends with Volpe or anyone else while they were at the Vatican. And yes, that had been primarily because Cesare had kept Chiaro very much to himself, but Chiaro hadn't seemed very inclined to make friends anyway.

When Cesare had finally asked him about it, Chiaro, after making sure this didn't bother Cesare and that he wasn't making Cesare feel left out (which it did, and he was, but Cesare didn't want to admit this, since he knew he was being a bit silly), had explained that he hadn't really felt comfortable with anyone at school or the Vatican except Cesare, but now he was among his own people, so he felt like he could talk to them. He'd quickly assured Cesare that he was his best friend and had nothing to worry about as far as loyalty was concerned, and Cesare had assured him that he wasn't worried. Which he wasn't. He'd only been a little jealous. Chiaro had encouraged Cesare to make other friends as well. Cesare was doubtful, but he did try making conversation at least with the parents of the children who came for lessons, which seemed to be going well. Often, Chiaro facilitated this, since he knew Cesare sometimes had a hard time fitting in. But Cesare had decided he preferred peasants to nobility regardless.

Finally, Cesare sighed and sat up. "I should go open the door."

"Hey," Chiaro said as Cesare got to his feet. Cesare turned. "Are you really happy?" Chiaro asked. "No regrets about not being in Rome right now?"

Cesare smiled. "Of course not. Besides, if we weren't here, who would be helping the peasants move up in the world?"

Chiaro shrugged. "Not to mention feeding them. You realize we almost break even with all the bread you keep giving out?" Cesare ignored him and went to open the door. Chiaro grinned after him.