Breathing his last breaths, fatally wounded, he decided that all embarrassment he would have faced in life was not worth denying the one who had a claim on his soul, his very self. What censure was there to be had, when that man had died so long ago on the battlefield. Estranged to all who knew him, banished and alone. Whether it had been his own name that had graced that inner wrist, he didn't know. It was not customary to bare the names, not even once the person had passed. They were sacred. Not even murderers or witches would be forced to reveal those they carried beneath their wrist wraps.
His fingers trembled when he began to open the leather strings keeping his soul hidden beneath the arm brace. Hands were trying to stop him, voices told him to let them help. Suddenly, a female voice spoke next to his ear, saying that she believed him without further proof. Begging him to not leave her alone, to not also leave her alone. Whispering in a choked voice that she regretted all she had done, that they could fix it all.
His voice was breaking when he pleaded with her to make them leave, the others he heard. There was no use prolonging it. He could feel the coldness seep through his bones, his very being. Death was near. Just one thing left to do before it all would end. His fingers had finally untangled the strings around his left wrist and slid the brace off. There was a gasp near the left side of his face. Soft fingers, uncalloused were softly caressing over the name there.
He opened his eyes. It hurt; his eyelids could have been made out of lead. He felt some of the blood that was lazily dropping from a cut on his brow drip into his eye. He blinked and focused on that face next to him. She looked like she had when they had first met all those years ago. The light shining from a candle behind her made her glow softly, took away the creases, the wrinkles. Tears were falling from her eyes and yet she smiled and quickly moved her hands to slip off the finely wrought bracelet that hid what was surely his own name. He halted her movement, moved his left hand slowly, flinching, to his right arm. However, the injuries he had received would not permit him to manipulate his fingers delicately enough to undo the complicated patterns. “Help me”, he croaked, begging her with his eyes. Bewildered she let go off her own wristbands and moved around the bed to his right side.
Still she didn’t dare touching what was forbidden for anyone but him. He nodded, tiredly encouraging her, he could sense another hacking cough rise in his throat. It would not be long anymore, he noticed distachedly.
He closed his eyes again, he didn’t need, didn’t want to see the hurt, the disappointment that she would surely display in a few moments. He felt the heavy leather move on his skin. Felt the same caring hands turn his arm, so that his inner wrist was showing. He turned his head to his left. He heard her stifle a sob after a small eternity. The hands withdrew. There was the rustling of clothes. He knew it would only be mere moments until she would stand up and leave. He sighed. He had needed to come clear. It would not have been fair to leave without making the truth known to her. Revealing that all her doubts and fears had been unprecedented, and that he had held a very different secret near to his heart all his life. Heartbreak he had experienced, yet not the kind she would surely have thought of when he had banished them impulsively. His greatest failure. His only true regret.
Not the betrayal of seeing his friend, his best friend, who had grown up with him, had been there for him from the very beginning, with his beloved wife. No, not that, but seeing both whose names he carried, betraying him, loving each other in secret. Behind his back. Long had he known that he would only be able to have one of them. He had accepted it, locked away everything but friendship for one and love for the other.
Not long now.
Suddenly a palm touched his face, turned him. She asked him to open his eyes again. He forced them to open, the effort almost too great. She deserved it. He became aware of her face. She was smiling a sad smile, in her eyes he could see once again tears gather. Then she raised her arm that had lain in her lap, free of the bracelet. And suddenly he knew his greatest mistake had been this. Following propriety, not expressing his feelings, not trusting enough. What could have been, would have been, if he had only trusted enough.
And then he felt his heart falter, his lungs stop, and knew it to be the end.