summary: The war is over. Philippines has fallen. The country is in disarray. Vicente thought he lost everything. And yet, somehow, after everything that happened, Vicente Enriquez found Joven Hernando.
genre/warnings: angst, mentions of blood, mentions of violence, implied PTSD, war setting
word count: 3k
Vicente thinks a lot these days. There’s nothing to do but think. The war is over. He is a soldier. Take away the war, and what is he? You are a little brother, his mind tells him. Take away Anacleto, what is he? You are a best friend, his mind tells him again. Take away Goyong, what is he?
Vicente thinks a lot.
He hates it.
Vicente walks around the city to stop himself from listening to the voices that never quite stop. Sometimes it helps, most often it doesn't. But he rather likes watching people than staying at home with the ghosts.
There goes Coring again, looking like she hasn’t slept in days. Goyong, putang ina mo, tignan mo ginawa mo sa kanya. He smiles ruefully as he hears Goyong’s voice in his head, clear as day. “At sino ka para mag-alala para sa kanya? Para kang nanay.” Vicente can almost see the smirk Goyong does when he teases.
It gets a little easier each day, accepting that he’s gone. He won’t be okay, not like before. But he’s getting better. A tiny step, day by day. So long as he doesn’t go anywhere near he and Goyong’s places in Bulacan. Maybe that’s why he goes to places he’s never been to before. No memories will follow him there.
One day, Vicente’s feet carry him to the next town over. He doesn’t know the town’s name, he never bothers. He could find his way home whatever happens, anyway. He watches as the people around him go about their daily business.
He passes through a row of houses, then he gets to the marketplace. He goes to the liveliest area, and just watches. Vendors and customers haggle over prices. Children run around, their mothers chasing after them.
A child runs past him, almost hitting his leg. Vicente smiles. A man closely follows the kid, calling out to him. “Kiko!”
Vicente freezes in his tracks.
He whirls around, searching for the owner of the voice. He follows the pounding feet of the running child, which leads him to a secluded eskinita. Light glints off a pair of glasses. Soft dark hair, hidden beneath a cap. A bag, slung across a shoulder. A hand, reaching for the shoulder of the kid.
Vicente walks slowly, not daring to believe. He thought he lost him in Tirad that day. A genuine smile forms on Vicente’s face, the first time in a long time. Oh God, how he missed him. He missed his smart eyes, always observing. He missed how he bites his lips when deep in thought. He missed his endearing awkwardness and gentle nature. He missed their talks, late into the night. Vicente missed Joven so much.
Joven turns, and he sees him too. Vicente raises his hand in greeting. His smile grows bigger, if that were even possible. He feels a weight he didn’t know he was carrying lift from his shoulders, and he can breathe easy again. His mind is crystal clear, and he feels like who he was before.
Joven entrusts the kid to another man. Si Eduardo Rusca ba ‘yon? Vicente wonders. He looks familiar.
Joven walks up to him. He sees him up close now. He sees the various cuts and bruises on his arms. His hand, however, seems to have healed, no longer bandaged. Vicente’s eyes travel to Joven’s face. His jaw is clenched, mouth set in a straight line. The bags are dark and heavy under his eyes. Vicente’s smile falters as he looks into Joven’s eyes. He takes a step back. He sees rage.
“Totoo ho ba, koronel?” Joven asks, a hard edge in his voice Vicente has never heard before.
“Jo-Joven. Mabuti at maayos ang lagay mo. Kumusta?” Vicente hates how his voice is shaking. He won’t admit it, but Joven calling him Koronel scared him. He finally got to call him Kuya Enteng after three months. To hear him revert to his title, as if pulling away from him, not wanting to be familiar, hurt like hell.
“Sagutin niyo ako. Totoo ba na isa ka sa responsable sa pagkamatay ng mga Bernal?” Joven’s eyes never leave his face.
Vicente’s world stops. Suddenly, he can’t breathe. He is back again in that dark, damp cell, the smell of rotting blood in his lungs. He sees the light flitting through that single window. He hears the laughter of Manuel mingling with Angel’s screams.
“Joven…” Vicente doesn’t know how to respond. To be honest, he hoped Joven would never find out. Or if he did, it would have come from him.
“Madali lang po ang sagot, koronel. Oo o hindi. Sagutin niyo ako,” Joven’s cold voice cuts through the haze in Vicente’s mind. He sighs.
“Joven, wala akong magawa. Iniutos sa amin ito.” Vicente's voice is soft, hoping to lessen the blow.
Joven, however, seems to have expected this. He looked down and took a deep breath. Vicente didn’t notice before, but Joven’s eyes are red, as if he’d been crying. A lot.
Vicente reaches for Joven. The moment his hand touched Joven’s forearm, Joven’s eyes snapped up to his and pushed him away.
To say Vicente is shocked is an understatement. He didn’t think Joven was capable of doing that, in all honesty.
“Kasama niyo ako sa kampo niyo. Limang buwan tayong magkasama.”
“Kaya niyo pala ako iniiwan noong tayo’y nasa Dagupan. Gabi-gabi, umaalis kayo ng heneral at ni koronel para puntahan si Manuel. Tama ba ako?” Vicente looks down in shame.
Vicente doesn’t dare look up. “Oo, Joven.”
“At si Angel? Ano ang ginawa niyo sa kanya?”
A vice-like grip holds onto his heart. Diyos ko, Angel. Vicente squeezes his eyes shut, unable to take the deluge of memories.
Vicente crouches down to Angel’s kneeling position. He sighs, voice soft. “Huwag mo na pahirapan sarili mo, Angel.”
“Koronel, kapag po sinabi ko sa inyo kung nasaan si kuya, ipangako niyo na hindi niyo siya sasaktan,” Angel pleads. His lips are trembling and his eyes are glistening, but he doesn’t allow his tears to fall.
“Angel, gusto lang namin siya makausap,” Vicente replies.
“Ipangako mo po sa akin koronel. Parang awa niyo na po,” Angel’s voice breaks.
Vicente sighs, nodding. “Hindi namin siya sasaktan.”
Angel’s tears stream down his face, and Vicente’s heart breaks. This boy is much too young to have all of this happen to him. He frowns as he sees another bruise blossoming on the boy’s arm. He’s going to have a talk with Julian to go easy on the kid.
After all that happened in Dagupan, they let Angel go. They had no more use for him. They just killed his kuya Manuel, and his kuya Jose is just as dead. Vicente thinks he can’t ever forget the way Angel screamed in the cell after they shot Manuel. The way his voice broke with every “Kuya!”, every “Patawarin mo ako”, every “Nangako kayo!” thrown at him.
Vicente wills himself to open his eyes. He looks at Joven, imploring. "Joven, intindihin mo ako. Hindi ko ito ginusto—”
"Kahit na hindi niyo ginusto, nangyari pa rin, koronel! Patay na si Jose at Manuel! Si Angel, Diyos ko, si Angel, mas mabuti na pinatay niyo na lamang siya!"
Joven's words feel like a stab through Vicente's heart.
"Si Angel? Anong nangyari sa kanya?" He doesn't understand. They let him go, didn't they? Vicente fears the next words from Joven.
Joven starts deflating. Before, he looked ready to punch him. Now, he looks like he is bearing the entire world upon his shoulders. He sighs.
"Si Angel, naririnig niya ang mga boses ng mga kuya niya. Nakikita niya sila, kahit wala na sila. Diyos ko, nawala sa katinuan si Angel."
Vicente's blood runs cold. Oh God, he did this. He did this to the child. Angel’s voice reaches a fever-pitch in his head. Vicente covers his ears as he rocks on his feet.
(nangako kayo nangako kayo NANGAKO KAYO NANGAKO KAYO NANGAKO KAYO)
Joven looks at Vicente. Once upon a time, he would have comforted him. He thought he knew Kuya Enteng— no. Koronel. He thought he knew the koronel. He was kind to him. The other two, Heneral Goyo and Koronel Julian, never gave him much notice, not when there were girls around to woo. Joven knew he was awkward and naïve, and he was used to being ignored. He preferred it, actually. That way, he wouldn’t have to disappoint anyone. But Vicente was the first person who actively sought him out, besides those in Heneral Luna’s camp and his family. Vicente went out of his way to make sure Joven was included.
At first, Joven thought it was because the koronel wanted to make fun of him. Maybe, he was doing this to embarrass him when the right time comes. Joven was hesitant, to say the least, when Vicente asked him to join his friends. He kept his guard up, never letting anything get past him.
But Vicente was able to break down Joven’s walls. Vicente always invites Joven over for breakfast. He invites him on his rounds. He invites him during inspections. Sometimes with the Del Pilar brothers, sometimes just the two of them. Vicente fills the air with his incessant talking. He never forces Joven to speak. Joven just listens, nodding when needed, but he just mostly keeps his head down.
It was a month after Joven joined the camp when he felt comfortable enough to converse with Vicente. And Joven swears that he was almost blinded by Vicente’s bright smile. It took him a while, but Joven eventually opened up to the Del Pilar brothers too. It was now a common sight in the camp for the four of them to be together.
Joven remembers the day Julian was promoted to be the Gobernador-Militar of Bulacan. The younger Del Pilar was of course, proud of him, but Joven could see that Goyo would miss his kuya. That night, Vicente woke him up from his sleep.
“Tara na, may pa-despedida si Goyong sa kuya niya,” Vicente said as he coaxed him out of his bed.
“Pero koronel, bakit kailangan niyo pa akong isama?” Joven asks, unable to stop a yawn from escaping his lips.
“Ikaw naman Joven, kaibigan ka namin! Syempre hindi ka pwedeng mawala,” Vicente replies with a smile.
There were a lot of things that happened that night, but this is what made it memorable for Joven. That was the moment he decided to trust Vicente.
How stupid he was.
Joven wonders whether the koronel's kindness was partly due to his guilt.
"Koronel, kaya po ba mabait kayo sa akin dahil sa ginawa niyo sa kanila Jose at Manuel?” Joven asks, unable to keep the fear from seeping into his voice. “Kaya niyo ba ako kinaibigan kasi alam niyong nawalan ako ng kaibigan, dahil sa inyo?”
At his question, Vicente looks up. Joven sees the answer in Vicente’s eyes. Joven shouldn’t feel hurt, but that stab of pain still surprised him. After everything he’s done, he still cares for him? Why? Because he was kind to him? He was a friend? That hint of something more?
No. Joven pushes that last thought away. He can’t afford to be vulnerable. Not now. Not when he was getting the answers he needed. He hardens his voice, willing his heart to harden as well.
“Ako ba ay isang paraan ng inyong pagpepenitensiya?”
Vicente’s voice breaks as he starts speaking. “Joven, paniwalaan mo ako. Tunay kitang tinuring na kaibigan. Inaaamin ko na oo, naging mabait ako sa iyo dahil nagsisi ako sa ginawa namin. Pero hindi nagtagal, totoo na ngang naging importante ka sa akin.”
“Sige po, koronel. Sabihin po nating totoo nga ang sinasabi niyo. Bilang kaibigan niyo, at kaibigan rin nila Manuel at Jose, wala ba akong karapatang malaman ang sinapit nila?”
Every word from Joven is like a gunshot to Vicente’s heart. Vicente’s eyes stay glued to the ground.
“Simula pa lang ng pagsama ko sa kampo niyo noong pinatay niyo si Manuel. Kailan niyo po planong sabihin sa akin iyon?”
Vicente doesn’t have the strength to meet Joven’s eyes.
“Naging kaibigan ko kayo dalawang buwan matapos kong sumali sa kampo niyo. Hindi pa ba sapat ang oras na iyon para malaman ko ang katotohanan?”
“Hindi po ako tanga. Hindi rin po ako bulag.”
“Naalala ko pa ang sinabi niyo sa akin noong hinuli niyo si Angel. Huwag kayong mag-alala, walang mangyayaring masama sa kanya. Iyan ang mga salitang sinabi niyo. Naaalala niyo ba iyon koronel? Pinagkatiwalaan ko kayo. Naniwala ako sa inyo. Sigurado akong si Angel rin, nagtiwala sa iyo.”
Vicente’s finally meets Joven’s eyes. Seeing no emotion in his usually warm eyes hurt Vicente even more. All those nights he spent breaking down his walls, and now he can see Joven rebuilding them, higher than ever.
“Sa pagpatay ninyo sa inosenteng mga tao, mga marangal na tao. Nang dahil sa utos, nawalan ako ng kaibigan. Nawalan ng mga kuya si Angel. Nawalan ang Pilipinas.”
At this point, Vicente breaks down. His sobs fill the air as he drops to the ground. All the hurt, the grief, the regret , Vicente lets it all out.
All the pain that Vicente kept bleeds into Joven, finding the cracks in his walls, inching his way back into his heart. Joven softens. In fact, he feels ashamed of himself. This is just not who he is. He’s not the type of person who blames.
He hears the voice of the heneral again. He's still right, even from beyond the grave. Ang kaaway ng Pilipino ay ang sarili niya. The country has fallen to the Americans, and yet all they're doing is fighting among themselves. Joven looks at Vicente again.
Joven finally feels regret. He kneels and takes Kuya Enteng into a hug.
Vicente tenses at the younger’s touch. At the very least, he expected a punch. A slap, a kick, more vicious words. He didn’t expect this, being held in arms gentler than anything he’s known, with a hand brushing his hair in comforting strokes.
Why is he being kind to him? He knows he doesn't deserve this. And yet, there's that little voice in his head, whispering how good it felt being in Joven’s arms, how nice it feels to be comforted.
“Kuya Enteng, tahan na po,” Joven whispers.
Tinawag niya akong Kuya Enteng ulit.
“Kuya Enteng, patawad po. Alam ko po na hindi niyo ginusto ang nangyari, at alam ko rin po na wala rin ho kayong nagawa dahil utos ng Presidente. Hindi tama na kayo ang sinisisi ko sa nangyari.”
More silence from Vicente prompts the younger into speech. “Sobrang sakit na mawalan ng kaibigan, pero hindi tama na pati kayo idadamay ko sa sakit na nararamdaman ko. Kuya Enteng, patawad po.”
Vicente pulls away from him, and takes his hands. “Joven, hindi. Ako dapat ang humingi ng tawad sa iyo. Tama lahat ng sinabi mo—.”
“Kuya Enteng, hindi po. Hindi tama na kayo ang sinisisi ko sa mga nangyari. Lahat po tayo ay may pinagdaanan. May mga pangyayari na hindi natin kayang pigilan. Kuya, lahat po tayo may kasalanan.”
Joven really has a way with words that makes you listen to him. His voice is soft and slow, demanding to be heard. Vicente calms down. The relief he feels from Joven is overwhelming. It feels so good, being comforted in the ways he wanted to be, hearing the words he wanted to hear for so long, from someone who experienced all the shit he went through, and then some.
Joven pulls him into a standing position, never letting go of his hands. “Pinapatawad ko kayo, Kuya Enteng.”
Vicente looks at Joven again. This is a testament to Joven’s soul because no matter how much the pain the world gives to him, his heart still remains pure and free from hate.
Joven continues speaking. “Pero sana po patawarin niyo rin ako. Hindi ko po kakayanin na makita kayo palagi. Masyado pong marami ang sakit na nasa puso ko. Kaya ko kayong patawarin, pero hindi ko po kayang makalimot.”
There’s a tiny part of Vicente who wants to protest, to scream at Joven, to beg him not to leave him, that he can’t lose him again. But Vicente has always been a smart one. He knows that Joven deserves this. And knowing this hurts.
So he just nods, not trusting himself to speak. He squeezes Joven’s hands, hoping the younger would understand.
Joven pulls him back into a hug. They prolong the moment, not wanting to let each other go. It’s bittersweet, knowing after this would mean not seeing each other again. They pull back, only a little. They rest their foreheads against each other, not wanting to break the moment.
Reluctantly, they let each other go. Joven starts to walk away.
Vicente is torn. His body yearns to go after him, hold him, never let go. His feet move of their own accord. He doesn't realize he's running until he bumps into Joven.
“Kuya Enteng, ano—?”
Vicente always wondered how Joven’s lips taste like.
All those times he dreamt of doing exactly this, it was in a whole different situation.
He pours everything into this kiss. All his I’m sorry’s, What if’s, I love you’s. Joven seems to understand, because he answers his kiss with equal fervor.
Their tears stream down their faces as they come up for air.
“Sana po maging masaya kayo.” There is no trace of sarcasm or irony in Joven’s tone. Joven genuinely wanted Vicente to be happy, despite everything he did.
This time, he just watches as Joven pulls away, stands up, and walks away. He looks until he can no longer see Joven.
Vicente wants to laugh. Because of course, of fucking course the universe would do this to him. It gave him one more chance to see Joven Hernando. Then the universe slaps him in the face with all his sins, and takes back the one good thing in his life. Vicente shouldn't be surprised anymore.
He knows he deserves this.
Shadow of Night Read Along: Chapter 27
Matthew and Diana arrive at Prague at the eighth of March, and three days later Matthew is getting ready to see Rudolph, even though Pierre and the children, with whom they parted ways in Hamburg, haven’t arrived yet. To gain the emperor’s favor, Matthew plans on giving him an altarpiece painted by Bosch—however, this is supposed to be a last resort, as he is reluctant to part with it. However, the emperor doesn’t grant him an audience. Nearly two weeks later (Matthew still hasn’t been able to see the emperor) Pierre arrives with the children as well—Jack has had a growth spurt, but he looks sick, because he hasn’t been able to sleep due to nightmares. At Pierre’s prompting, some gossip is talked about—apparently, a witch created a clay golem in the Jewish quarter. This can only mean one thing: there is a weaver in Prague, something Matthew had tried to keep a secret from Diana. To speed things up, Matthew decides to send the altarpiece to the emperor after all. That night, Diana wakes to an empty bed—Matthew is teaching Jack how to draw in the adjoining room, to keep the nightmares away. The painting finally does it, and Matthew is summoned to the palace that afternoon, however, he is to bring Diana along. At the palace, they meet Tadeás Hájek, the royal physician, and Master Strana, whose sister is the emperor’s mistress—the former a friend, the latter less so. Finally, the emperor arrives as well, and immediately sets his eyes on Diana. At the emperor’s order, Matthew shows him the book he promised him—which is, of course, the Voynich Manuscript, which angers Rudolf. Still, Matthew makes it clear that he wants Ashmole 782, but lies that he only wants to know that Edward Kelley is there on his own free will. Then to conversation turns to Rudolf’s curiosities, but Matthew still insists that he wants to see the book and Edward Kelley, but Rudolf won’t yield. Matthew tells him they’ll wait, then. When told that Diana has been tasked with purchasing glassware for Mary, Rudolf allows Diana to visit his workshops—it’s already clear that that he intends to court her.
I kinda wanna know what Matthew and Diana did during those three days between arriving in Prague and the start of the chapter.
By now Diana has enough stuff that her linen make up a whole box.
Orlissa’s now customary fashion history tidbit: petticoats wouldn’t necessarily be white. In fact, red was fashionable. What was white is anything that made contact with the skin—those garments were changed frequently, so they needed to be easy to clean. A petticoat, however, wouldn’t make contact with the skin (there was a chemise under it).
Gosh, I love Bosch’s paintings.
Also, I hate how the de Clermonts casually own original paintings by big masters.So not fair.
It’s infinitely hilarious that Bosch accidentally saw Matthew feed and it influenced his whole life’s work.
I do have a feeling that Matthew has a tendency of misplacing his keys. Also, I love how they tease each other.
I love the mental image of Diana standing on the top of the table.
I wonder if Charles is already a vampire here. We know he’s still alive in the 21st century, and that he was Chef’s assistant. It could be that he’s still human at this point.
It’s so cute that Gallowglass just randomly brings Diana a pretzel.
Jack had drawing equipment with him during the journey—what a luxury for a “servant” in the 16th century.
Matthew knows he’ll have to get the altarpiece back, because he must have it in the present.
The name Hoefnagel always reminds me of an old Hungarian cartoon. It’s kinda hard to explain what it was about, because it had three seasons, and all three had wildly different concepts. But overall, it was about an average family who somehow always got into trouble (e.g. in the first season they made contact with their descendant in the future, who kept sending futuristic gadgets that always backfired in the end), and the episodes usually ended with the wife lamenting “Why didn’t I marry Steve Hoefnagel?”
Which one of King Phillip’s wives objected to the Titian?
Teasing is still precious.
I’m kinda disappointed in Matthew for not providing Diana with suitable fancy clothing by this point. This should be a question of pride.
Matthew surely speaks English, Occitan, French, Latin, Spanish, Italian, and German. I also strongly suspect some Indian dialect (Hindi?) and Dutch. I wonder what else?
(After Diana finds Matthew’s red hose.)
“Tell me now if you have a habit of losing your car keys, because I’m not putting up with this kind of panic every morning when you get ready for work.” I slid my arms around his waist and rested my cheek on his heart. That slow, steady beat always calmed me.
“What are you going to do, divorce me?” Matthew returned the embrace, resting his head on mine so that we fit together perfectly.
Back in London, Matthew had taken to supplying Jack with a pocketful of paper scraps every morning. How Jack went through them was a matter of some speculation.
“Besides,” Gallowglass continued. “Among my people it’s a great compliment to be likened to a raven. I’ll be Muninn, and Matthew we’ll call Huginn. Your name will be Göndul, Auntie. You’ll make a fine Valkyrie.”