"I am all the daughters of my father's house," Viola whispered, standing still before a mirror. Her dress was long, golden brown velvet sweeping to the floor, brushing over soft shoes. The flare at her hips had more to do with her petticoat than any curves she possessed. Her breasts had always been small so nothing was needed to flatten her torso to the proper shape.
She'd spent her life in Messina in dresses, long hair curled around her face as befitted the virgin daughter of the house. When people had said she resembled Sebastian, she had thought they were mocking.
Now she looked foreign to herself, hair pinned back as a married woman, the style disguising the still shorn locks. The color to her lips, the looseness of her chest, the undeniably feminine look to her. It was wrong, wrong enough to twist her stomach, make her shift before the mirror, struggling to continue to stare, to force herself to become used to the image before her. That was her. That was Viola, Duchess of Illyria.
She heard the swish of a silk underdress before she felt Olivia's hand on her wrist, standing beside her taller sister-in law-and teasing, "Yes, we know you're quite lovely, but must you stand and gawk when there are things awaiting? Your husband and mine both wait and, in truth, require both our company before they can begin the revelry."
Viola did not feel lovely beside Olivia. But then, Olivia was an acclaimed beauty, sought after and admired both in Illyria and abroad. Sebastian was oft the envy of their acquaintance for winning her.
Viola did not often feel the need to point out that, it had been she, as Cesario, who had won the love of Olivia. And if, occasionally, Olivia's gaze lingered on the line of Viola's jaw, seeing the young man she had fallen in love with well... She wasn't the only one who sought Cesario's countenance in Viola's face.
Viola often did as well.
When Viola stood nude in front of the mirror in the room she shared with Orsino, it was late at night, the candle and fire flickering and providing uncertain light. It was better that way. The dim light sharpened the planes of her face, the sharpness of her jaw bone.
She looked at the large bed where Orsino slept, half buried in furs and blankets, curtains wreathing the bed in darkness. There was no sound coming from the bed and Viola made none herself while she went to the chest beside her wardrobe. She had said that the trunk that had been fished from the sea beside her had sentimental value and it had. But more than that, far, far more than that, the chest had been with her as Cesario. In the chest was where a young gentleman had kept all his belongings, few as they were, and, still in it were the binding cloths Viola used to wrap around her breasts, making even the small mounds invisible. She swallowed roughly, then, nearly shamefully, furtive as she withdrew the cloths, and, in the dim light, wrapped them without thinking, binding her breasts to her chest, making her chest flat.
She curled her fingers down over her narrow hips, then set her jaw and pulled on the hose and doublet from Cesario's trunk, straightening the clothes before looking in the mirror. Viola's hands shook as she reached into her hair and removed the few pins holding it. It wasn't that long, not much longer than Cesario had worn it and then, then when she looked into the mirror, his reflection was finally right. Cesario rubbed his hands over his bare cheeks.
"Too much the youth," he said quietly, wishing for the beard that would fit on Cesario's face but never would on Viola's.
But for the first time since the wedding, Cesario's skin fit again.
He stared at himself, the candle flickering and finally spluttering out as it reached the end of the wick.
When Orsino woke in the morning, it was to a familiar young man in his bed, fully clothed and curled on his side. He did not hesitate to put his hand on Cesario's shoulder, shaking him lightly; he had spent enough long nights beside the young man, baring his soul until both of them had nodded off beside the fire to feel no hesitation to waking him.
"Cesario, wake, man," he said, not feeling more than the first stirrings of wakefulness himself. His hand on Cesario's shoulder was rough, but affectionate. Far rougher than he'd ever be with Viola and he distantly recognized that fact, that the man he saw in his bed both was and was not his wife. He saw only Cesario, the boy who had arrived from no where with his narrow hands, soft voice, and cheek untouched by age.
Cesario opened his eyes grudgingly, peering up at his master, blue eyes sleepy but open. He smiled slowly, warmly, and Orsino recognized, not for the first time that it was love, the love Cesario felt for him. And this was Cesario, he doubted it not. Cesario moved carelessly, at ease in his body whether he was fencing or laughing, ducking past a good natured blow or avoiding one that wasn't. He had thought it was the relief at being back as a woman, at finding her brother alive that had killed the light from Viola's eyes, that had made her as any of the other silly young noble women he'd never had time to pay attention to. Only Olivia, who mocked him, who was rude and cruel, and he remembered a time when she would play in the dirt beside him, and stick worms down his tunic when they were both barely past swaddling. Only Olivia who was more than a pretty face and her mother and father's hopes of a rich match. The light was back, luminous and making Cesario as beautiful as Viola could never be, lit from the inside.
"Good morning, my lord," he yawned, stretching in the bed. Orsino absently noted the flatness of his chest, the stuffed codpiece giving Cesario the appearance of enjoying the morning as Orsino himself was, full and hard.
"Good morning, boy," he said with no small amount of affection, tousling Cesario's hair.
Cesario laughed, ducking a bit away. "I meant not to fall asleep…" He realized suddenly that he was not just Cesario, not a friend only to this man, the last weeks rejoining his memory and he paled, shamed and pulling away, afraid of Orsino's distaste.
Orsino caught Cesario's wrist, not letting him escape and told him, voice low but intent, "I have missed your laughter, Cesario. It did once bring me all the joy I could wish."
"You wished for more joy then my laughter could fill, my lord," Cesario said quietly.
"I did," he agreed, thumb brushing over the delicate inside of Cesario's wrist, watching him.
"You did wish for Olivia for your wife," Cesario reminded him, making bold.
"And she is now your brother's bride," Orsino countered, "and I would another lover stay the course with me."
"Your wife…" Cesario started before his voice caught and he looked away. It was too soon to try to hide into Viola's clothing again, fit into her body and her role, to play the part of woman and wife when he would rather stay in such a way that the mirror reflected what he felt in his soul. But some things were proscribed and out of his hands.
He could stay and play the part of this man's wife, if he could stay by the side of the man he loved more than life and light.
"Viola is my wife," Orsino said, watching the struggle on Cesario's face. "And will be so before the court and when it must be. But, if I had my way I would see a smile upon my companion Cesario's face and spend my life in the company of such a man."
Cesario's eyes darted up to Orsino's face, stunned. "It's unnatural," he said reflexively
"The priests decide what is natural and we'll have none of them," Orsino returned. "Between you and I, we need make no room for them."
Cesario bit his lip, a flush appearing on a pale cheek. "I could not let you love another, my lord, and you need a wife for such companionship as that."
Orsino's lips twitched. "You spent too little time with sailors, boy, to be so naïve in a seaport kingdom. But perhaps they spared your boyish blushes. Your brother's friend Antonio, I warrant, can tell you of such loves as men may share."
"I am a man," he said softly, looking at Orsino's hand on his wrist rather than meet the other man's eyes. "Though I was born Viola, I fear God mixed me too well with Sebastian for in truth, I feel more at home in these clothes then I ever could in a woman's dress."
"I." Orsino stopped, and then began again, "I see Cesario, whom I love, when I see you such. Cesario of the poetical tongue who laughs with me and shares my table and wakes beside me and still laughs. I would see Cesario's smiles far before I would see Viola's frowns and her quiet nature, feared to speak and be called too manly. I can love the boy, I do love the boy, and I know not the woman."
"I don't know the woman exists."
"Then best give me the boy and we may both live happy." Orsino shook his head. "I know not what to make of you, Cesario, but I would spend my life beside such good humor and learn to call it only mine. If you would let me."
"My lord," Cesario whispered, "I could do naught else."