Benvolio allowed the water to roll up his arms in little tiny waves. They twisted and turned in the sunlight, rising up almost as a flame--though only able to cool the summer heat rather than encourage it. He smiled as they flaked off into the air and became little puffs--tiny clouds to dance around his little corner of the church garden. He was supposed to be recording the growth of Friar Lawrence's sprouts, but the heat made concentrating more work than it was worth. He bent the water into a sphere and watched the light distort and practically glow on the dirt. The only things glowing were the tiny cerulean bands that curled across the the middle of his forearms and just above his elbows--the sigil of a mage.
"You mock me for being reckless, yet here you are: asking to be either murdered in cold blood or burned at the stake."
"So I'll die without cause, you, sir, would deserve it." Benvolio sighed and dispelled his magic, the thin wisps of cloud vanishing into the air without any dramatic pops or snaps, as some were prone to doing. One would think to be in a dream, the way they simply faded away--so insignificant, yet so deadly.
"The good friar gave word of your task as I arrived. It seems you made great time with starting your chores but failed to take your journal, quill, and ink." Mercutio sat down next to him, carefully handing Benvolio the objects.
"That's...not good." Benvolio frowned and watched his sigil faintly glow.
"You walk a more dangerous road than I."
"Really? Are you not kin to the prince and still end up bloodied and battered at the door of a Montague? Is picking sides not more dangerous than being a mage?" Benvolio shook his head, "I worry about you. You're more likely to die than I."
"My cousin is no better."
"Yes, but he walks the path of a suitor and not that of a rogue. He does not sneak away in the night and pick fights with those who publicly oppose a Montague. Your brother too, walks a much safer path and finds himself more in Milan than in Verona."
"Milan is full of thieves and scoundrels. My brother could not tell the difference, even if he tried. And so what if my cousin thinks himself a better suitor than I. He's always had a stick nailed to his spine since he was little. I am different."
"You are free?" Benvolio asked after a brief pause.
"As a beast with a spear in his neck." Mercutio scoffed, "I cannot marry whomever I fancy."
"Surely, you can."
"I cannot and as it may be, will not. I shall live my life as a bachelor until the day I die."
"Oh, I see! A monk!"
Mercutio smiled, his eyes lighting up as he let loose a laugh and shouldered Benvolio. "A jest! A jest! You do have a sense of humor!"
The bush behind him did nothing in support, so as Mercutio tried to lean back, he fell completely back with leaves and branches to decorate his hair. Benvolio leaned over top of him, barely poking his head inside the bushes. The shadows of the leaves danced across his face, yet completely overshadowed Mercutio.
"I jest?! Why, it must be judgement day!" Benvolio laughed and picked a few leaves from Mercutio's hair.
Mercutio cracked a smile, "Come, the day is young. There is a party tonight and we best not be late."
"Might I inquire where?"
"One Lord Capulet's house."
"And I walk the dangerous path?" Benvolio scoffed and helped Mercutio up into the light of day. "Perhaps we will leave unscathed for once."
"Unlikely," Mercutio slung his arm over Benvolio's shoulders and the two walked away from the small church. "Perhaps Romeo will join us."
"Maybe." Benvolio quickly shoved his materials in a bag and checked his arms one more time before pushing down the sleeves of his doublet. "He makes himself ill, dreaming of love."
"Of follies, you mean. Love is too beautiful and enchanting to truly be real."
"And yet you speak as if you fell victim to this plague of civilization."
"Plague of civilization?" Mercutio jumped onto the railing of a small bridge and walked across with unsteady feet, "I quite like the sound of that."
"They are your words."
Mercutio tilted and nearly stumbled onto Benvolio. He stopped himself on the latter's shoulder and pushed himself back up, carefully being guided by Benvolio's arm. Mercutio landed on one foot and balanced for a while before continuing to take long strides down the street.
"My uncle might kill me for staying out all night. It's not that he's concerned for me particularly, but for his reputation. If I were to get caught..."
"You won't." Mercutio stopped dead in his tracks and spun around to face Benvolio. "I swear to it, as long as I live."
"Thank you," Benvolio gave a small smile and shook his head. Mercutio looked around a few time before quickly kissing Benvolio on the lips.
"Mercutio," Benvolio whispered, glancing behind him as if the shadows might attack.
"I'm damned anyways." was all Mercutio said, turning back towards their chosen path.
Benvolio stood for a moment before trailing behind him. He could feel the air turn thicker and thicker, a chill running up his spine as they reached just outside of the palace. In the center of the circle, a large wooden pillar stood menacingly above a sea of people.
"Have mercy on me!" a voice shouted. Benvolio could just barely make out the figure of a girl, not so much older than he, being dragged toward the pillar. A guard stood silent, torch lit even in broad daylight. He could feel his sigils burn beneath his shirt, not glowing but still flowing with power. The same emotion of panic he felt while watching a little boy burn just the other day seeped back into his conscious. He could smell the smoke before the flesh started to burn, see the skin flake and stain red, hear the voice that stopped screaming long ago...
"This way," Mercutio called as the flames reached up into the sky. He grabbed Benvolio's arm and pulled him towards the back streets that curved right around the palace fence. They entered through a gate meant for servants and headed toward the back entrance. Valentine blocked the doorway, reading a book in a language Benvolio couldn't understand. He gazed up at them lazily and scooted out of the way.
"Another burning?" he asked. Mercutio nodded to him. "Capulet or Montague?"
"Does it matter by this point?" Mercutio crossed his arms.
"I thought Uncle was trying to get rid of them. Didn't he make it so that the mages must be imprisoned first?" Valentine closed his book for a moment.
"Three days," Benvolio mumbled, "the people refused to yield."
Valentine nodded with a vague, dreary-like understanding.
Mercutio lead Benvolio inside and the two men slide through the hallways and ascended stairs until Mercutio's room came into view. The door locked behind them and they stood in a large, open room. The shelves were neat, clothes folded nicely, the bed made.
He hardly ever found himself in his room and it showed. Servants rarely ever entered the wing anyways, due to its inhabitants leaving more often than not. In short: they were safe.
Benvolio sat on the edge of the bed and sighed, placing his head in his hands. Mercutio walked himself over and wrapped his arms around Benvolio. He laid his head on his shoulders and closed his eyes.
"I don't know what is worse: watching innocent people be forced into the pits of hell for being born, or knowing that I will be next."
"You will not. Besides, no harm would ever come to you, even in hell."
"Who could ever hate you? And if some demon does try to hurt you, I will personally replace the devil."
Benvolio laughed a bit, resting his head against Mercutio's.
"Even so, you will not go to hell simply for being born a mage."
"You are right. There are many other reasons for me to be burned alive."
"They only say those things to put fear into the heart of men and guide them towards their personal set of beliefs. God loves us both, regardless." Mercutio kissed Benvolio's cheek.
"Friar Lawrence says that the world is ever-changing, but the mind of men can't keep up. He says that is the reason many people feel so trapped in their lives when there is nothing wrong with them."
"When was this?"
"When I first started helping him and learning from him."
"Did you tell him?"
"I didn't say anything, but I think he knew--not just about me being a mage."
Benvolio watched the clouds shadow the sun and veil him in the shade. He laid back onto the sheets and let the chill sink into his back. Mercutio fell back with him, preferring to stay on his side and play with Benvolio's hair. They stayed in silence for a while.
The summer heat overcame them and Mercutio closed his eyes, nearly falling asleep watching Benvolio play with water again. His sigils glowed again, calmly reflecting the color of the river emptying into the sea and separating into the heavens. Neither could see them through the doublet, but Mercutio had been with Benvolio long enough to know the colors without seeing them. Benvolio stopped and turned his head towards Mercutio, whose half-lidded eyes pierced into his very spirit. He leaned in and kissed Mercutio on the lips, softly yet lingering.
"I love you," he breathed, closing his eyes as Mercutio returned it.
"As do I."
"Ah," Benvolio let out a quiet laugh, "so you love yourself more than I."
Mercutio laughed and moved on top of Benvolio. He kissed more intensely than before. "I'd give more than just my soul and spirit to you, had I more to give."
"How do I know you do not lie to me to lie with me?"
"Shall I prove it?" Mercutio laughed and kissed Benvolio deeper and deeper until both of them gasped for air. He trailed down towards his neck and gently kissed him.
"Mercutio," Benvolio partially moaned, "you act as if I am a mere dream."
"If you are a dream," Mercutio smiled, "than Queen Mab is teasing me."
Benvolio pulled him down by the top of his doublet and tasted his lips once more. This time, Mercutio moaned, leaning himself into Benvolio. Both sat up and began to strip, as if guided by their own instincts rather than reason. Benvolio's sigils softly danced across Mercutio's skin as they moved together to a waltz heard only by them. Another moan broke beneath Benvolio and he felt a warm, tingling sensation rush over his body. He leaned down and kissed Mercutio again only to hear his name whispered in his ear. Fatigue weakened him, for the morning began earlier than he expected. Mercutio let out a loud moan as Benvolio collapsed onto his back. He began to kiss his neck again, though his hands explored Benvolio's body in a feverish pace.
"I wish to never wake," Mercutio breathed and only received a gasp in response.
Benvolio quivered beneath his touch, rising and collapsing to each shift in movement. He moved back towards the end of the bed and brought his mouth down on Benvolio. He made circles with his tongue at first, then proceeded to suck around the sides and up to the head again. Benvolio squirmed and moaned louder than he would admit. Mercutio was talented with his mouth, to say the least.
The final moan came with heavy breaths and an overwhelming sense of euphoria and the two slowly fell asleep under patches of sun seeping from behind the clouds.
Night would arrive with hours of peace before it, much like the calm before a storm.
"Romeo is gone and I fear we might soon overstay our welcome," Benvolio watched the world of masks dance around him like dolls on a string, twisted and let go so that the dolls twirled around in a dizzying manner. Perhaps he drank too much wine, finding nothing else to settle the nervous feeling that sat in his stomach. He danced, of course, but found himself standing off to the side with a masked Mercutio, who rocked back and forth on his heels.
"You are right, you are right. It appears the prince of cats is getting unruly." Mercutio smiled and bowed towards Benvolio, extending his hand towards the entrance, "After you."
Benvolio laughed and nodded at Valentine as he passed them on their exit. Mercutio clasped him on the shoulder and whispered something in his hear that Benvolio could not make out. Valentine nodded, not quite making a remark back, but more so of a whisper of what appeared to be a warning.
"Come morning and I will be as I was--home, of course." Mercutio grinned and swayed past Benvolio in a sort of dancing swagger.
They walked by the sullen guards and into the cool night. Without so much as a warning, Benvolio stopped in his tracks. He began to call out to Romeo, who darted into the shadows the moment he heard his cousin's calls. Mercutio joined in, though halfheartedly. He looked behind him, the towering walls of a Capulet garden proudly cast the darkness over them.
"The bricks have ears and the stone have eyes," Mercutio shook his head, "we should travel together."
"Are you afraid?" Benvolio scoffed, the flames of his torch dancing in his eyes.
"Fear is not a part of me. We are not far from the party--there may be someone following us."
"And yet you appear to jump at shadows and cower from sleeping dogs."
"No, not I." Mercutio shook his head and glanced behind him the moment Benvolio turned from him.
"Your plan was to hide away with me, yet you suggest we travel together. I think you drank too much."
"And I," Mercutio jumped in front of Benvolio, causing him to stumble back, "think you drank not enough."
"Bah!" Benvolio threw up his hand and walked in front of him.
They spent the rest of the walk in silence, only the scraping of heels against dirt and stone to fill the absence of words. Benvolio let Mercutio down a back road and to a small open plaza. A large house sat soundly at the end, though not far enough away to draw a complaint of inconvenience. And as they entered to house, a servant exited and headed down the street, far too shrouded in darkness to be identified.
Mercutio kept his word to his brother, disappearing once the morning light broke into scattered echoes of day across the floor of Benvolio's room. He did, however, make a scene of his departure as to not worry Benvolio or discourage him. He would be back, Benvolio knew, and the world sunk back into thoughtless dreams. Despite Mercutio's airy cares and reckless nature, he knew what must be done. He never glanced behind his back with Romeo, for the man was too oblivious to run into danger, yet the careful eyes of Benvolio attracted more attention than preferred. A curse, Mercutio would joke, but felt it far more true than he would tell Benvolio.
So with Mercutio gone, Benvolio found himself idly pacing the cold floor, his bare feet patting the ground in quiet taps. He dressed and headed out towards his uncle's estate. A servant greeted him and his uncle appeared behind him.
"Good morning, Uncle, I hope you are well."
"I am. I am shocked to see you here when Romeo is not." Lord Montague's face remained stoic.
"Did he not come home last night?" Benvolio narrowed his eyes.
"No, and were you not responsible for keeping him well?" Lord Montague took a step forward and whispered, "I do not care if we are related by blood or if you are second in line to be the head of this household. If anything happens to my son, I will personally see to it that you are the next to be burned alive."
"I will find him, Uncle. You have my word."
"What good is the word of a mage if it can destroy everything this family has ever built?"
Benvolio bid goodbye, feeling the stare of Lord Montague on his back. He hastily headed home to check if Romeo came by while he was gone. With no result, he turned right into Mercutio, who tried to sneak up behind him.
"You worry too much," was all Mercutio said, trailing behind him in a lazy manner as Benvolio rushed across the room.
"Romeo is missing. If he is found dead," Benvolio stopped in his tracks, glaring at Mercutio until he sidestepped out of his path, "I will be dead."
"Just calm down--"
Benvolio shot daggers at Mercutio, his lips tight together and his body stiff. Mercutio laughed and stepped up to him. He wrapped his arms around Benvolio and rubbed circles in his back. "Relax. Pretend you've got your little sparks of light and glittering water droplets bobbing around your head and breathe. You'll be alright. Romeo will be alright. You worry too much. I fear you will grow old before me if you keep pacing the floor like that."
He separated himself from Benvolio for a moment, "Better?" Benvolio nodded and Mercutio pecked him on the lips. "Good. Now let's go out to the market and search there first. From there we can curve by towards the church and back around to the market."
The two walked for hours, calling for the lost Montague heir. The heat struck hard, leading to two boys to the fountain for a drink. The shade cut sharp between Benvolio and Mercutio, shrouding the latter in a kinder light. Mercutio nearly fell into the fountain as Tybalt approached them.
"Romeo was at my uncle's house last night, trespassing. For that I wish to speak with him."
"Oh Tybalt, oh prince of cats, you wish to humiliate or kill him for living his life, not speak with him. Don't jest." Mercutio splashed some water up at him.
"Jest? Only fools such as yourself jest. I am honest."
"Am afraid we have not seen him either. We are no use to you as you us." Benvolio frowned at Mercutio who mouthed the name "Capulet" in an accusative manner. "It's best the two of you either take this somewhere else or cease."
"I will be on my way then." Tybalt nodded towards Benvolio, but caught sight of someone past him. "Ah, here is Romeo."
"Good evening, why do you stare like the plague stains my skin?" Romeo furrowed his brows.
"You villain, trespasser of good men, you have insulted me and my kin." Tybalt stood tall.
"I have not a single reason to hate you, Tybalt, and thus you'll only find love of Capulets and Montagues alike in me." Romeo bowed to Tybalt and Mercutio, horrified and confused, stood up and drew his sword.
"You bend your pride to no one, Romeo. Tybalt! Draw!" Mercutio pulled away from Benvolio's resisting hand.
"I have no reason to fight you."
"Find it, for you will be the fool."
"You will hang, should you be caught!" Romeo shouted, "Benvolio, stop them!"
Benvolio drew his sword and attempted to break them apart. A crowd drew closer--an audience for an entertainer and an entertainer was Mercutio. He began to prance around and mock Tybalt, who took no hesitation in his own smooth retorts. Benvolio stood a bit back, finding more humor than hate in each strike. Romeo, however, could not.
"Hold! Hold! Cease this madness!" Romeo found himself between the two dueling men. Mercutio violently pushed him away and Tybalt's sword clattered to the ground. The other Capulets pried Tybalt from where he stood, eyes wide and darting between his fallen weapon and Mercutio. When Tybalt finally gave in, Mercutio steadied himself with Romeo's shoulder.
"Oh, I appear to be bleeding. I wonder how that happened." Mercutio's tone was light a airy, yet shook the very being of Benvolio. Romeo seemed not to notice, shaking his head.
"Is it severe?" Benvolio took a step forward.
"No, no, only a scratch." He paused between each word and motioned for his servant. Mercutio whispered in the servant's ear and with haste the servant vanished. The crowd slowly dispersed, though not fast enough. They did not miss Mercutio stumbling about as if he were drunk. Without a moment's notice, he collapsed on the ground and began howling and cursing.
"Benvolio," he called.
"I'm here. I'm here." Benvolio helped Mercutio stand, leading him out of the hot sun and into a cool, dark house, left unattended by the commotion.
"Benvolio," Mercutio groaned, his side soaked with blood. Benvolio carefully peeled off the fabric from the wound and froze. The skin flaked and hung off of him like old paint, blood flowing out of his body at an alarming rate. He did his best to clean it and pressed a cloth to the wound. His heart echoed loudly and consumed his thoughts.
"Benvolio," Mercutio called again. He held up a hand and tried to wipe the tears form Benvolio's eyes. "Benvolio, it's okay."
"I don't want to lose you," Benvolio leaned down and kissed him on the lips. A smile played across Mercutio's face, but it wasn't enough to ease Benvolio's fears.
Benvolio could feel his sigils burning again, filled with raw emotion. He couldn't tell if someone was nearby or if it was his own grief that caused them to sting him. He couldn't think straight and began to form a small green light by Mercutio's wound, but Mercutio would not have it.
"Stop, Benvolio. I do not want to lose you. Please, don't." His last word echoed until Benvolio stopped and collapsed over Mercutio.
"I don't want to lose you. I love you, Mercutio, and I don't want you to die." He shook as he sobbed. Mercutio kissed his forehead and tried his best to comfort him.
"Don't worry, I'll make sure the way is safe." He laughed a bit and felt tears stream down his face, "I don't want to die. I love you. I don't want to leave you. I don't want to die."
"I...I am," Mercutio began to struggle, "I am afraid."
In the darkness of a peasant's home, on the table, no less, Mercutio breathed his last breath. Benvolio's scream and wailing brought a few Montagues into the house to try to bring him back into the light. He kept turning back--running back--to where Mercutio laid. Romeo grabbed a hold of him and tried to steady Benvolio.
"He's dead," Benvolio mumbled, though all he said before became a blur. Before he could look up, the body of Tybalt Capulet laid a few feet in front of him, still clinging to life. He sank to his knees next to Tybalt, trying to stop the bleeding. Romeo's strikes were messy and gashed up Tybalt's chest in three different place, all with no certainty of ever healing.
"You don't have...I killed hi-him. I didn't mean...I..." Tybalt gasped, hazily staring up at Benvolio. Like before, Benvolio tried to form the glowing light again, but Tybalt covered his wounds with his hands, settling for the the shredded fabric Benvolio placed rather than the magic. "I would die either way," he managed to speak and stared up at Benvolio, unblinking, unbreathing.
Blood soaked Benvolio's hands and clothes as the guards took him before the prince and the two houses to tell the tale. The prince patiently listened to each word and the outcries of the ladies of the houses. Benvolio caught the eyes of Valentine for a moment before looking away. The sun gleamed on the lords and ladies, the windows painted on the floor growing larger as the sun rose. Benvolio stood between them under the cover of the wall, a chill running up his spine.
"Banished?!" the nobles cried and Benvolio's heart sank a little lower. Lady Montague begged and begged, but as it were, she was interrupted. A cold hand of a guard seized Benvolio's wrist and ripped open the arm of his doublet.
"I knew your family was full of mages!" Lord Capulet screamed.
"You and Benvolio have a lot in common then," Lord Montague growled. He slammed Benvolio against the wall and punched him in the face. A few guards held him back, but blood still dripped down the side of Benvolio's head.
"Hold. I will not have this sort of violence in my palace, not even against a mage." Prince Escalus stood, silencing the small crowd.
"Sir!" squeaked a servant.
"Silence!" Lord Montague bellowed, but the servant straightened themself up a little.
"Sir! I must tell you something about your nephew!" she stepped back a little as Lord Montague denounced Benvolio, but continued, "He was at the Capulet party last night. He bewitched Tybalt, Romeo, and Mercutio!"
Benvolio stood horrified. What was coming from the servant's mouth was utter bullshit, but she had all the attention in the room.
"My nephew? Go on. Tell your story." The prince sat down once more.
"Well...see, he cursed Tybalt into trying to fight Romeo, attempting to kill off his only obstacle in becoming heir to the Montague house. He needed Romeo to disappear for a while so he could...so he could um, well..."
"Make haste." Lord Montague ordered.
"So he could lie with good Mercutio and renew his spell to gain control of your crown and all of Verona," the servant girl sputtered.
"Your highness, I beg you. I did none of those things." Benvolio lost his words.
"Silence!" Lord Montague bellowed. "Did you not fail to bring Romeo home last night? Did you not go to the party?"
Benvolio swallowed. His sigils faintly glowed green, seeming to get brighter by the moment.
"A liar. How like a Montague and a mage." Lady Capulet scoffed.
"I have made my decision." Prince Escalus stood again, stepping closer to the crowd. "Romeo will remain banished. I believe Benvolio's story."
"No!" a woman cried out.
"He's a vile monster!" Lord Capulet spit at Benvolio.
"Burn him now!" someone from the back called. Benvolio looked toward Lady Montague, she quickly turned her head from him, tears dripping from her chin. He remembered how much love she gave him growing up and wondered if those tears were only for her son. The crowd chanted for his death and he felt his very soul begging for it as well.
"Wait!" Valentine called out, pushing past his cousin Paris and into view.
"Valentine, now is not--"
"Uncle, please listen to me. All of you, listen to me. Three days in jail. Is that not what you agreed before slaughtering innocent people?"
"Innocent?!" Lord Capulet and Lord Montague cried out.
"Yes. Innocent. Unlike you murderers, Benvolio has not killed anyone, nor used magic against other people."
"So you knew?!" Paris shouted.
"I am not stupid. I do not judge based on assumptions. I have been studying the sigils and types of magic recorded in history. There is no reason for us to fear what we don't know. Look at his arm! The light green is for health! He was healing before you dragged him off! He was trying to save the lives that we have lost today. My brother is dead. Tybalt is dead. How much more blood is to be spilled because of your ignorance?!" Valentine shook.
"That is enough!" The prince yelled.
"No! It will never be enough. Every fucking day, someone new is dragged in front of our home to be burned alive. Their screams haunt my dreams. Some have sigils of yellows and blues, others of white and grey. Some have nothing. They have never harmed a soul and yet their blood stains our city. If you can't compromise, at least wait three days!" He met Benvolio's eyes for a moment, the emotion seeping into his soul as Mercutio's once did, and stormed off.
By what he thought might have been morning, the sigils nearly vanished from his skin--Benvolio used far too much power than normal, despite being in two short bursts. Hunger gnawed at his stomach and pain kept him still. Perhaps his bones were broken and his wounds still open. He could not use magic without being beaten, possibly even receiving a faster death than the one that awaited him. Benvolio licked his lips and waited.
The cell door opened and a guard, though standing quite a distance back said, "You may leave."
"Why? What happened?"
"Romeo Montague and his young wife, Juliet Capulet, were found dead this morning along with the news of two other deaths."
"Who? Why? And did you say a Capulet" Benvolio struggled to sit up.
"Lady Montague died of grief, I heard, and County Paris was slain by Romeo."
"But why release me?"
"It appears that the newlyweds were both mages and took their own lives last night. The feud has ended and Verona is at peace. They decided to end the burnings. Leave, before we find some other way to execute you."
Benvolio stumbled out of the cell and soon into the downpour. He stood there, alone, staring at the streets. To the rhythm of the rain, he headed down to where the river met the city and sat by its edge, soaked, cold, and trying to breathe. He dipped his fingers in the water, dried blood curling in the dark current.
He had nothing and soon felt nothing.