When Death finally came for him, Benvolio realized with a start that he recognized her. It had been decades since the tragedy that had stripped away his two truest friends, but in that moment, he realized he’d seen Death back then, all flowing clothes and hair like dark smoke. Even before people started dying, she’d been there, lurking.
“You knew,” he said, just before she kissed him, drawing his spirit from his now lifeless body. When she pulled away she cocked her head to the side, in an obviously questioning gesture.
“You knew,” he repeated. “Back then, you knew people were going to die.”
She gave him a small, knowing smile and nodded.
“How dare you! ” he cried. “You let them die! You let all of them just… die!” He lunged forward, but Death took a step to the side, avoiding his ill-planned attack. He whirled to face her and she touched her chest before spreading her hands in front of her with a shrug, as if to say she was Death, what did he expect? He wanted to rage, to scream, to cry. He wanted to hit her, to grab her and shake her. It had been so many years since that tragic week, but all the pain he’d thought long scabbed over was bleeding through him as if it were fresh. But Death reached out and caught his wrist before he could pull away, and the world around them dissolved into fog.
“Let me go!” he protested, trying to pull away. Death’s grip on his hand was firm. She looked at him, looked around at the fog, and then raised an eyebrow at him. Though she didn’t speak aloud, her meaning was crystal clear. Did he really think he could navigate the fog without her? There were no landmarks he could make out, just endless, undulating grey, blocking sight for more than a few scant feet in any direction. As they walked along in silence Benvolio realized he could feel the weight of years falling away. He felt stronger, more energetic, like a young man again. Looking down at himself he realized the change was physical, at least as much as anything could be when you were dead. When he looked up again, Death had stopped, and released her grip on his hand. He glared at her, about to ask what was going on when she waved a hand ahead of them. The fog rippled and rolled back, exposing a large space bordered by fog on all sides, and several people he knew all too well standing in it, looking confused. Before he could say anything, he was half hugged, half tackled by Mercutio.
“Benvolio! You’re finally here! What took you so long?” Mercutio said, laughing as he pulled Benvolio further into the clearing.
“We’ve been waiting for you,” Romeo said, grasping Benvolio’s arm. Juliet smiled at him shyly, half hidden behind her husband’s shoulder.
“You’ve been… waiting?” Benvolio asked, looking around at the three of them, his face breaking into a wide grin as he hugged first Mercutio and then Romeo. “But it’s been years!”
“Time runs differently here,” Romeo said with a shrug. “It’s been a while, sure, but weeks and months don’t exactly mean much here.”
Benvolio’s eyes widened at that. “It’s been nearly thirty years for me!”
Mercutio laughed and punched him on the shoulder. “It’s crazy, but who cares? We’re all together again! And this time lover-boy’s got his wife, so it’ll be even better!”
Benvolio rubbed at his arm where he’d been punched, more in confusion than actual pain. “This is… Heaven?” It didn’t feel like Heaven. Or Hell for that matter.
Mercutio laughed again. “Nah, this is probably more like Purgatory. A waiting area before you have to deal with all that Judgement nonsense.”
“We were waiting for you,” Romeo added.
Purgatory. Benvolio nodded slightly to himself. That made sense. Well, as much as anything else did here. A sudden thought made him look up, his voice filled with hope. “If this is Purgatory, then Silvestro? Is he here?”
Romeo’s next words killed that hope and more. “Who’s Silvestro?” Of course. Romeo had been five years dead when Silvestro had been born.
“He was my eldest son,” Benvolio said quietly. “He died shortly before his fifth birthday.”
“My deepest sympathies,” Juliet said, with a slight bow of her head. “We hadn’t known you’d had children.” There was a hint of regret in her voice.
“It’s been thirty years,” Benvolio repeated. “With Mercutio and Romeo dead, I was expected to marry and have children. So I did.” He paused, feeling a sudden swell of pain. “They and my wife are probably mourning me as we speak.”
Juliet stepped forward, reaching out a hand to touch Benvolio’s arm. “I am sure they will miss you greatly.”
Mercutio snorted. “Who’d have imagined you with a wife and kids? What happened to us being kings of the world, unburdened by anything?”
Benvolio shot his old friend a hard glare. “If you hadn’t died, it would have been you married with children.”
Mercutio laughed. “You’d never have caught me tied down like that.” Benvolio felt a sudden stab of irritation. Had Mercutio always been this immature?
“It’s going to be all right,” Romeo said with a weak but hopeful smile. “We’re together again; everything’s going to be just like it was.”
For most of Benvolio’s life, a small part of him had always been looking forward to this moment, to being reunited with his best friends. But now that moment was here, and it was wrong. All wrong. His friends wanted to pretend nothing had changed since their deaths, but it had. He’d grown and changed, and now he wanted his wife and children far more than his childhood friends. And why not? They’d both died so needlessly, so pointlessly. They’d left him, and forced him to grow into the very person they were trying to deny he was. “No,” he said quietly, shaking his head. “It’s not going to be all right, don’t you see? That whole ‘kings of the world’ thing died when you all did.”
“What’s with you?” Mercutio asked, tone full of the mocking derision Benvolio remembered so well. When he’d been younger he’d thought it funny. Now, it irritated him. Made him angry that someone he’d once called a friend could be such a fool.
“What’s with me?” he snapped. “What’s with me? What’s with me is the people I thought were my friends want to ignore the life I had after them! I’m sorry I survived when you didn’t, but what would you have had me do? Someone had to be the next head of the Montague family, someone had to make sure the peace between us and the Capulets that your deaths purchased actually lasted. I did what they expected of me. I got married. I learned to love my wife. We had children. And you know what? It wasn’t that bad! I’m sorry, but I grew up.”
Mercutio took a step back, lifting his hands, palms out. “All right, all right, sorry!” He shot a glance at Romeo, obviously seeking support. Romeo just shook his head and wrapped an arm around Juliet, pulling her close. Both looked worriedly at Benvolio, who just sighed and buried his face in his hands.
“You don’t get it.” He felt suddenly tired. “Things aren’t ever going to be just like they were. And I….” He paused as a sudden understanding hit him. “And I don’t want them to. You were my best friends, yes, but that was a long time ago. Maybe it wasn’t for you, but it was for me. I’m sorry, but I want to move on.” As soon as he said it, Death was there with a knowing smile on her face as she held her hand out to him. He took it and the fog closed in around them again, quickly hiding Mercutio, Romeo, and Juliet from sight.
“Was that… real?” he asked, as she led him further into the fog. Death glanced back at him and nodded.
“Are we going to Judgement now?” Death nodded again. This time Benvolio returned the nod. “And after that, I will get to see my son?” Death’s answer was a shrug, but that made sense. How would she know, when she was just a guide? He would just have to hope he was found worthy of Heaven. With a deep breath he squared his shoulders and nodded again. “I’m ready.”