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As Garlic Cloves and Butter

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Mercutio was sprawled across the steps of Verona's plaza, head cushioned in his hands and long legs spread indecently wide despite the chill in the air. He cast an appreciative eye on the various beauties that strolled through the streets, and a somewhat less appreciative glance at the young man who dropped himself on the steps a few feet to his left, swearing to the wind and blowing into his hands.

"Good morning, Benvolio," Mercutio drawled. "What brings you here in such a pleasant temperament?"

"Good morning, Mercutio, and God damned be Romeo this day," Benvolio said, rubbing his hands together and blowing into them again.

"God damned be Romeo each day," Mercutio agreed, "though not by any major God, be sure. I wager Cupid's curse has struck again?"

"It's struck, and hard," Benvolio groaned, "judging by his path. He led me on a merry chase this morn. If ever there was a windy hill, desolate and bleak, perfect for a tragic romantic figure to walk upon and pine, he found it this morning and walked it end to end. And back again, and to his lady's house, where he would stand and sigh--but not for long enough to hear my calls, or heed my pleas to stop and rest in warmth. Then back and forth, and back and forth, all day, he chased the ghost of his new lady love."

"Fear not," Mercutio said, snatching a stray pebble from off the step and tossing it up to catch again. "As Apollo caught his love when she turned into a tree, so shall love be caught if chased for long enough."

"Since when have you been one to encourage Romeo's trysts? I thought you one to always spectate from afar," Benvolio said, and huddled in on himself, thick muscles bunched into a tight ball.

"And what makes Romeo Apollo in this case? From what I see, the one who chases and loses is always," he flung the pebble lightly at Benvolio's head, "thee."

Benvolio held up his hands to protect his head. "A poor joke. Fine, leave me be, let us talk of something else. How look the pretty fare this morning?"

"Both pretty and fair, tho few in mourning" Mercutio replied, not dissuaded by the change of topic. "While they are covered against autumn's chill, the flush across their cheeks leads thought of other areas to flush, and the extra wrappings are there to add anticipation to the gifts to be unwrapped."

"Fairly put, tho I prefer the straightforwardness of summer's heat," Benvolio remarked.

"You would," Mercutio said. "And look! These lovelies pass by all morning, and not a one doth flee from my path."

"That is simply because you do not chase and--ah, you have put me on that thought again!" Benvolio grumped. "You do not play fair."

"Tis your thoughts, not my words, that brings you to this place," Mercutio said innocently.

"Tis your being an ass that brings you to my fist," Benvolio said, clenching a hand.

"Peace, peace. Does not your hot temper heat you on a day like this?"

Benvolio paused to think on this, and how his shivering had temporarily subsided. "If you wish me to think you magnanimous, you forget that I have known you as long as you have known your name."

Mercutio laughed. "Fair enough. But look at the space between us and tell me that Romeo doth not lie heavily on thy mind."

Benvolio looked, and saw that the gap between them was perfectly shaped for Romeo, as clearly as a hollowed peach holds the shape of its missing pit.

"Perhaps you are right," he said, mulling a thought over in his head. His gaze shifted from the empty space to his right arm, which would have been lightly pressed against Romeo, had Romeo been there. "I wonder." He shook his arm a few times, testing its weight. "Like garlic cloves and butter on the shelf where, if left for too long a time, the taste of both begin to intertwine, and butter takes the other for itself."

"What fool grocer are you, to pair garlic and butter?" Mercutio asked. "Speak plainly, or in more apt metaphor that one might follow."

"For as long as I have lived, Romeo has been at my side--or I at his, to better tell the truth. I wonder if the press of Romeo's left arm has left an imprint on my own."

Mercutio has peered in closer. "Ah! I see! The bend of your right elbow has a distinctive melancholic, love-despondent droop." He held up a hand, blocking all of Benvolio from his view save for the remarkable elbow. "Benvolio! Where have you gone, friend? For all I see is Romeo here!"

"That is not what I--"

Mercutio grabbed the elbow and jostled it up and down. "Ah, me!" he cried in imitation of Romeo. "Ah life, ah love, ah me! Ah she I love, and me she doth disdain!"

"You are an ass," Benvolio said, but he was smiling and didn't knock Mercutio's hand away.

"My poor Romeo, what creature has stolen your heart?" Mercutio asked the elbow in his own voice, absolutely serious.

"I love a darling wooly-wimpled nun. Ah, nun! Please leave your rosaries by the side and instead of counting prayers, count me, and start and end your loving count at 'one,'" Mercutio said, wiggling the elbow, and at that, Benvolio snatched it away from Mercutio's grasp.

"Romeo would not blaspheme--well, not so much," Benvolio amended.

"Only in the course of true love," Mercutio said in Romeo's voice, waving his own left elbow--a counterpart to Benvolio's right.

"And how many true loves have you had?" Benvolio asked the elbow.

"Each one more true than the last!" the Romeo elbow insisted. "Which such a progression, the truest of loves will come at the end!"

"Tis a troubling habit to be in," Benvolio muttered.

"In the case of this nun, tis an excellent habit to get into," Mercutio said with a leer, and Benvolio groaned at the horrible pun he had set himself up for. "And what do I care when love fails? For I have Mercutio to lift my spirits after, and Benvolio, the loyal seamstress, to mend my heart each time it is broken--"

With a roar, Benvolio launched himself at Mercutio and aimed a few good hits at his chest; Mercutio, for his part, was laughing too hard to do anything but put up his arms as a feeble resistance. "Be cautious, Benvolio. You would not hurt this piece of Romeo, would you?" he laughed.

"What about me?" Romeo asked, and the two broke apart at once.

"Oh, nothing," Mercutio waved it away. "Just a little argument about garlic."

"Mercutio is being an ass," Benvolio said, with as much ire as one would have for the sun's rising or a rock's falling or any other course of nature.

"I see," said Romeo, who clearly didn't, but was too preoccupied with his own thoughts to care. He settled himself between the two, left arm pressed against Benvolio's, right against Mercutio's, and when he sighed, "Ah, me," he did not know what to make of Benvolio's groan and Mercutio's laughter.