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By Any Other Name

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Mercutio and Benvolio lag behind Romeo, who is practically skipping down the streets of midnight Verona. Mercutio tries to join him, but with one swift glare from Benvolio, he settles for walking with a skip in his step.

The stars shine brightly, but Benvolio is not convinced that they will not be spattered with his blood by the end of the night. He glances at Romeo, and he knows that Romeo believe he will find love underneath them tonight. Sappy bullshit, if he ever heard it. Mercutio has already made numerous remarks about sex underneath the stars. More realistic than Romeo’s, at least.

They are all wearing masks because they are attending a Capulet masquerade. Crashing a party might seem like ordinary teenage shit, but as Montagues, they will be killed if caught. Which means they probably shouldn’t risk going, right? Well, Benvolio tried to explain this in terms they could understand, but to no avail. They are going to that party if it is the last thing they do. Which it likely will be.

Benvolio breaks the all too rare silence that comes from hanging out with the two loudest idiots on the planet. “Romeo, are you sure that this is the greatest idea?”

Mercutio finally skips ahead, ignoring Benvolio’s death glare. He turns around and continues skipping, a feat that would have been impressive if Benvolio cared. “Of course it is, my ignorant friend! Romeo gets to get over that bitch Rosaline and meet some girls who might actually like him, and we get free alcohol! It’s the perfect plan!”

Romeo slows to a walk and glances behind him. “I told you, I’m only going to the party to see Rosaline and convince her to give me a chance.”

Benvolio rolls his eyes. “Well, nevermind then. Breaking into a Capulet party, something we will get killed for, for the chance that you will convince the girl that hates your guts to love you forever, is bloody fucking brilliant.”

Mercutio winks and says, “You’re not thinking of this the right way, babe. Free. Alcohol.”

“Free. Stabbing,” Benvolio retorts.

Romeo must not have heard the turn the conversation took because he says dreamily, “You’ve just never seen her the way I see her. Kind as a goddess, innocent as a child, lips as full as a strawberry, an ass like a ripe apple ready to bite-”

“That was way too close to the child simile, dude,” Benvolio says.

“Just support me on my quest for love, guys!”

Mercutio turns to face forward once more and throws his arm around Romeo’s shoulders. “Never, my friend! There are so many better girls out there. Why, once you’re at the party, you’ll think thy swan a crow!”

Benvolio joins them in walking side-by-side. “I never would have thought such beautiful words would have come out of your mouth.”

Mercutio lets go of Romeo and smirks. “Been looking at my mouth a lot, huh?”

“Yes, it is utterly fascinating. How can so much bullshit spew from one mouth?”

“Talent, my friend, talent.”

“More like a lack of common sense and a fucking brain.”

Romeo waves a hand in front of their faces, reminding the two, who were slowly gravitating closer together, that he is still there. “Can you stop flirting for two seconds and get back on track here?"

“You mean can we get back to you and your moaning about how perfect Rosaline is?” Benvolio asks. “I’d rather hang myself.”

Mercutio high-fives Benvolio without looking, a feat that they totally did not practice in private. “Hey-oh!”

Romeo’s eyes widen like he finally had a thought going through his head. “What if they catch us? We’re Montagues.”

It’s not like that’s all Benvolio had been warning him about for the past twenty-four hours. Not at all. “They’ll kill us,” Benvolio says in a tone usually reserved for explaining to three-year-olds why they don’t stick rocks up their noses.

“They won’t kill me. I’m not a Montague,” Mercutio says proudly.

“You’re basically a Montague by association, and you’ve just broken into their party. Of course they’ll fucking kill you, too.”

Romeo finally seems to have connected the word “kill” with the image of his body on a knife because he says, “Oh my God, what if we get caught?”

Mercutio laughs like the conversation had been about unicorns and not death. “Stop worrying so much guys! Our costumes are fucking amazing; they’ll never know it’s us.”

Romeo looks convinced, and Benvolio thinks listening to Mercutio might be even stupider than ignoring him. “Okay. I’ll seduce Rosaline and then get out. It’ll be quick.”

Mercutio says, “There are so many sex jokes in there, I don’t know where to begin. Oh my God, they’re all competing for dominance in my head, and it’s hard to think. Oh my God-”

Benvolio puts his arm around Mercutio and says, “See? Now you’ve broken Mercutio.”

Mercutio hugs Benvolio. “Comfort me.”

“I don’t feel that bad for you,” Benvolio says, pushing him off of him.

“Aw, you love me!”

Benvolio does not deny it, but whether it is because it is true or because they are now standing in front of the Capulet mansion is unclear. Romeo clears his throat. “So do we knock, or-”

Mercutio opens the door and gestures inside grandly. “And that is how it’s done, young students.”

The three enter to find a ballroom full of women in every color gown and men dancing with them. An orchestra played music in the back, louder than one would expect at such an elegant affair. The walls were lined with food and, as Mercutio predicted, free liberations.

Mercutio announces, “Holy shit, how are Capulet parties so much better than Montague parties? We need to convert.”

Benvolio says, “You know it’s not like religion, right? You can’t just change families.”

Mercutio puts a finger to Benvolio’s lips. “Shush, honey, you’re making a fool of yourself.” Benvolio rolls his eyes and tries to speak. Mercutio adjusts his hand so that his hand cups around Benvolio’s mouth, effectively silencing him. Without thinking about all the jokes Mercutio could make, Benvolio bites down. “Kinky tonight, aren’t you?”

“God, you’re an idiot.”

Romeo is looking around the room on his tiptoes, looking like a combination of a psychopath and a lunatic. “Where’s Rosaline? I need to confess my love to her.”

Mercutio throws his arm around Romeo again. “Forget her! Look around. There are hot chicks everywhere.” Romeo side-eyes him. “Sorry, I don’t know the lingo for girls. Hot chicks is out, then?”

“Oh! I think I see her. I’ll be right back!” Romeo slides away from his friends and quickly sinks into the sea of people.

Mercutio turns to Benvolio. “So. Find a room?”

Benvolio rolls his eyes. “You’re an idiot.”

****

Juliet is fucked. But that isn’t news. She’s always fucked. But today, she is particularly fucked.

Juliet’s nurse, Pam, is helping her get into her way too elaborate gown with way too many frills for a simple masquerade. Pam ties the lacy bow in the back, and Juliet moans, “I can’t believe I have to go to this stupid thing. Just because Tybalt is throwing it. We’re cousins, not best friends.”

Juliet can feel Pam shrugging behind her. “At least your boyfriend will be there to comfort you.”

Juliet’s eyebrows furrowed in confusion. “Who?”

“Why, that handsome, intelligent, wealthy, handsome gentleman, Mr. Paris.”

Juliet snorts, and before Pam can point out just how unladylike that was, she says, “Paris is not my boyfriend. He’s my betrothed.”

“Even better!”

Juliet shakes her head. “No, it’s not. I don’t love him. I can’t marry him.”

“C’mon, sweetie! He’s the perfect husband. Rich and powerful and kind. You are so lucky to get a shot at him. The girls lined up around the kingdom just to marry him, and he chose you.”

Pam finishes tying the bow and moves on to Juliet’s hair. Juliet says, “Well, he shouldn’t have picked me. Any other of those gold diggers would have been a better fit. I never said I wanted to marry him. Hell, I’ve only ever met him once before. Father arranged it. I had no say in the matter.”

“So? You’re a woman! Women don’t need a voice. They just need to marry the richest man. And you’ve got him, sweetie!”

“Well, women should have a voice,” Juliet proclaims. “I shouldn’t have to marry him if I don’t want to.”

There is no knock on the door, but Capulet and Lady Capulet barge in anyway. Juliet thanks the stars that she was dressed. Capulet looks over Juliet and says, “This will do. You are to be on your best behavior tonight. Paris is here, and you’ll need to make a good impression on him so he’ll still want to marry you on Sunday.”

“Wait,” Juliet says, “Sunday? But I thought there was no date yet.”

Lady Capulet shifts uncomfortably in the background, hiding more behind Capulet than previously. Capulet ignores her and says, “Paris and I settled it already. The wedding will take place at his cousin’s palace, and you just need to show up. Is that too much for you to handle?”

Juliet glances at Pam. She is nodding at her with a proud expression, like this wedding is something to be happy about. Lady Capulet is looking at Juliet with sympathy, but when Juliet makes eye contact, she quickly glances away. Capulet is staring at her with the same stony expression.

Juliet used to pretend that he was some kind of demon from hell who could not show emotions. She would tell him joke after joke, hoping for a crack of a smile. That never worked. Sometimes, she managed to get him angry, but even then, his expression did not change. The only thing that changed was the mark on Juliet’s face.

And so, Juliet has since given up on making him show emotion. It would be like trying to get a stone wall to smile, if the stone wall dropped a stone on her every time she disobeyed it. So she never disobeyed him either. It was always, “Yes, Father,” or “Yes, sir”. But tonight, Juliet did not care about his temper. She couldn’t, not when her future was on the line.

“I can’t marry him, Father. Please, let me find someone else. Someone who I love.”

The only difference in his appearance this time is his flaring nostrils. “Love? What does love have to do with anything?”

Behind him, Lady Capulet bristles. Juliet would feel bad, but her pity ran out a decade ago when she left Juliet to fend for herself. Juliet cannot remember the last time Lady Capulet uttered an original thought, even without her husband in sight. Seen not heard would be her motto, if she was ever seen.

“I will only marry someone I love,” Juliet says, hoping her calm, rational words will overpower the sound of her thumping heart.

“Naive fool.” He takes a step toward her, and Juliet tries not to bristle like Lady Capulet, but she knows she failed. “You will marry that boy for the good of this family. I do not care whether you want to or not. All you have to do is willing show up for the damn wedding. If you are not willing, I will drag down the aisle. Do you understand?”

The correct answer is “yes”. Juliet’s head screams to say “yes” for survival, but Juliet has never been that great at listening to her head. “But-”

She stumbles backward, her cheek burning. She should have seen his hand coming. It should have been obvious. Ducking should have been second nature to her. Lady Capulet’s gasp should have been a warning. But it wasn’t. She holds her cheek in her palm like that will magically fix it.

“I said, do you understand?”

Juliet holds back tears. I will not cry. I will not cry. I will not cry, she chants to herself. A traitor still falls. “I understand, Father.”

He nods once. “That will be all.” He turns to Pam. “Make sure the mark is covered up.”

Pam nods vigorously. “Of course, sir.”

He leaves, Lady Capulet scrambling behind him without a backward glance. Once the door is shut, Pam pulls Juliet into a hug. The tears fall quickly now, and Juliet can’t stop them, even with all her willpower. “Oh, you poor baby. Are you okay?”

Juliet sniffles and mumbles, “I won’t marry him, you know.” Pam holds her tighter, and Juliet repeats hysterically, “I won’t. I won’t. I won’t marry him, Pam. I can’t.”

****

For someone called the Prince of Cats, you’d think he’d get more pussy. As far as anyone knows, he’s never had a girlfriend. But, to be fair, he is currently holding a love affair with his glass of punch, the corner of the room, and glaring at everyone like they personally killed his father.

Tybalt is happy to let the rumors fly. Why would he need a woman when hate gives him all the rushes he needs? He’s heard that love is more powerful than hate, but that person has obviously never stabbed a Montague before. Ah, the rush. He decided long ago that there is no better feeling in the world than revenge and hate. They’re his lovers, his friends, and his soulmates. No one else can compare.

Tybalt looks around the room with disgust. This may be his party, but this is not what he would have wanted, given the choice. A duel or massacre would have been better. Instead, he’s got women flouncing around like peacocks and men chasing after them lustfully. Disgusting. He amuses himself by making a game, called, “Find the Montague.”

Just when he’s sure he’s never going to find one in this crowd of pathetically horny people, he sees a man jumping up and down in the crowds, yelling, “Rosaline? Rosaline!”

Tybalt’s glass breaks in hand. Maybe glass dug into his skin, maybe it didn’t. He’s too focused on the Montague to notice such petty, insignificant things such as blood.

Tybalt would know Romeo anywhere. He sets off, shoving through the crowd, to find his arch-nemesis. “Move,” he shouts to one particularly little girl. She jumps out of the way, running for her mother. Good. Children need a little fear.

Tybalt wades through the sea like it’s life or death, but it is futile. He lost Romeo, and his chance at a good night, a duel, and bloodshed from a Montague. “Damn it,” Tybalt mutters under his breath, shoving his way to find Capulet.

The Prince may have decreed that anyone who gets into another fight is dead, but if anyone can evade that proclamation, it is Capulet. Permission, then blood, Tybalt decides.

“Tybalt, my nephew,” Capulet says. “Brilliant party.”

“Thank you, Uncle,” Tybalt says, trying to be polite for once in his life. “I feel that I should inform you that I just saw Romeo Montague in our midst.”

“So?” Capulet takes another sip of his wine.

Tybalt barely keeps his anger in check, and a mini-explosion still erupts. “So? He’s a fu- Montague! He can’t be at my party!”

Capulet, also for once in his goddamn life, was remaining calm when a Montague was within his line of scent. “Let’s not make a big todo about this. He’s not causing any harm, and the Prince has already threatened us about violence.”

“You are not usually one to take warnings. Have you gone weak in your old age?” Maybe later, Tybalt would see the error in these words. Right now, he only saw red. Red like blood. And he wanted it.

Capulet’s eyes darken. “I do not have to explain my logic to you. But I will tell you this: your cousin’s wedding is this Sunday, to a relative of the Prince. I do not want any bad blood between our families that will cause him to call off the wedding.”

Tybalt scoffs. “So you are a coward. I am not. I want to challenge him.”

“Simply crashing a party is not enough to call for a duel. I forbid you to challenge him. If you do, your neck will be on the line. I will not offer any help, except maybe for choosing which noose will hurt you the most.”

Tybalt storms away, shoving his way to his beloved corner and punch. He would challenge Romeo one day. And on that day, he will cry out in pain, begging for mercy. But he would be shown no mercy. The Tybalt Capulet special.

****

Juliet wipes the tears off of her face and puts on her mask. White, with feathers. It feels symbolic, but all she cares is that it covers her tear-streaked face. With a deep breath, she takes the first step down the stairs. They all tell her she has no choice, she has no voice, that she’s weak, that she can be pushed around, but with every step into the wild ocean, she knows how wrong each of these statements are. Wiping away tears and kicking ass; that’s what women do.

People greet her as she walks past, like subjects greeting their queen. Juliet realizes in a couple days, she will be royalty. She shakes her head. No. She won’t be royalty because she won’t marry Paris. She won’t. She doesn’t know how, but she won’t.

Someone taps Juliet’s shoulder. She turns, and there is Paris. “Juliet, my love.”

Juliet tries to smile, but it probably looks more like a grimace. At least the mask hides the pain in her eyes. Why can’t she just wear it all the time? “Paris. Hello.”

There’s nothing wrong with Paris, per say. He has never said an unkind word to her, and he’s always polite. But Juliet doesn’t love him.

Paris wrings out his hands, nervous. It’s ridiculous, given that he could literally behead anyone in the room if they so much as look at him the wrong way. It’s the kind of sweet thing that should make her love him. “Did your father tell you that we are to be wed this Sunday?”

“He did,” Juliet replies. She opens her mouth to add some excited sentiment, but she cannot think of one, so she closes it.

“I am so excited about our wedding.” He leans closer, as if telling her a secret. “I almost start crying for joy every time I think of it.”

“I start crying, too,” Juliet adds truthfully.

Despite the harsh meaning behind her kind words, Paris’ face lights up. “Really? Oh, that’s wonderful, Juliet! I was afraid my love was one-sided.”

Juliet laughs nervously. “I can see how you would think that.” She suddenly feels trapped, like the crowd of people around her are going to close in her. She has to get out. “Would you excuse me for a moment? I’ll be right back.”

Without waiting for an answer, Juliet shoves her way through the crowd to the back stairway. It’s not very well known, and she is usually the only one there. “It’s okay. I won’t marry him,” Juliet mutters to herself. “I won’t. They can’t make me. I just won’t. It’s good. Everything’s good. I’m good.” Juliet stands on the middle landing. “Everything will be good.”

Maybe she could run away. Running away from all her problems sounds good. But if she succeeds, she'll have no money and no way to get a job as a woman and as a Capulet. More likely, she'd get a mile, and then all the people her family sent out would catch her and drag her home to get dressed, then drag her down the aisle. Hell, she'd be lucky if she got a mile.

Juliet tries to keep her breathing steady as she thinks of other possibilities. There are none. She is fucked. There is nothing she can do.

Someone taps on her shoulder. Juliet resists the urge to grab the arm and twist until something snaps and turn. A man is standing there, dashing in his black outfit and mask. “Rosaline?” he asks.

Juliet’s panic fades to a dum hum in the back of her mind. She lifts her mask. “No. This is Juliet.”

The man smiles. She cannot see his eyes, but she bets they are kind. His smile is. “I’m glad I found you instead. Next to you, she looks like a crow.”

“No need to insult my cousin. After all, there is a reason you were searching for her and not me.”

“I was searching for her because I haven't met you before.”

Juliet cocks her head. His words are derogatory, but Juliet cannot help but feel the innocence of the man. “My cousin is not inferior to me, and I am not inferior to her. Please do not refer to us in such a way.”

Mr. Cute Smile bows. “Of course. My humblest apologies.”

Juliet laughs a short huff. “Are you aware of how ridiculous you are?”

He takes a step upward on the flight of stairs, making them at almost equal height. “I’m afraid I do not know what you mean.”

Juliet slides forward an inch. “Well, you talk so pretentiously, yet you are the least pretentious person I've met.”

“You’ve known me for a mere moment. You may wish to re-evaluate in the future.”

Even with the mask, Juliet can tell he raised an eyebrow. “You assume we will meet in the future.”

“I hope we will do more than meet,” Mr. Cutie says, his deep voice an octave lower.

Juliet thinks of Paris, thinks of how she should not even be doing this. She needs to find a way to not marry him, not complicate her life further. But they’re nothing in this moment but part of the hum, and all she can think of if this man’s eyes are as kind as his smile and if his lips are as soft as they look. Screw her father, screw planning.
Juliet gently lifts his mask. His eyes are more mischievous than she thought they’d be, but somehow, that fits. “I hope so, too,” Juliet whispers.

She leans in and kisses him. She goes for a light brush, but he quickly pulls her in. Juliet cannot think of anything else besides from this impetus, pretentious stranger in front of her, and how kissing is not at all like she expected. It’s wet, but his lips are rough, which kind of balances it out. He pulls back too soon and whispers, “Holy shit.”

Juliet laughs a little, but it quickly goes to full belly laughs. Pretentious and crass. She can get on board with that. “Holy shit is right.”

Someone, Tybalt, Juliet realizes, calls from downstairs, “Romeo Montague! Where the hell are you? I’m going to murder you!”

Romeo lets go of Juliet. She hadn’t even realized she was holding onto him until then. It shouldn’t feel so much like home after such a short time. “Shit. I’ve got to go.”

He runs up the stairs, leaving Juliet in the dust. Montague, she thinks. He’s a fucking Montague. She just had to pick a fucking Montague. Well. She’s more fucked than before. And how is that even possible?

Tybalt bursts through the door and says, “Have you seen Romeo?”

“I know no one by that name, cousin.”

Tybalt runs up the stairs while pulling at his hair and growling. Juliet hides a smirk. “Fuck! How far could he have gotten?”

****

Mercutio slams Benvolio up against the door, kissing him like he needs him to breathe, which is ironic, given how much they are panting and moaning. Mercutio goes to kiss Benvolio’s neck, and Benvolio giggles. He’s way too ticklish for this, but he still insists Mercutio does it. The giggling should not turn him on so much. It’s getting to be a problem.

Benvolio stops giggling suddenly and gently pulls Mercutio’s head up. “Wait. Should we be doing this in a Capulet bedroom? What if someone finds us?”

“Like you said, execution. But they have, like, a million bedrooms. They won’t find us. Relax and take your shirt off.”

Benvolio throws his mask to the ground, apparently convinced. He unbuttons his shirt and teases, “A million? Really? Is that the exact number?”

“Actually, it’s a million and twenty-six, but I rounded it for sexiness.”

Benvolio’s shirt is only half unbuttoned, but he moves on to unbuttoning Mercutio’s. Mercutio helps by staring at his chest, something he’s seen a sexy million times, but he’ll never quite adjust to. In a world where he’d be stoned for just looking at a guy the wrong way, he’s so lucky to have his best friend. His best friend is his, and he is his best friend’s. He can repeat that forever and never get sick of how fucking amazing that is.

Benvolio sighs and says, “God, you’re hot when you’re stupid.”

“So, I’m always hot.”

Benvolio pulls him forward by the collar and kisses him hard. He lets go the second Mercutio remembers to respond to say, “Obviously.”

Mercutio kisses him softly, and Benvolio wraps his fingers in Mercutio’s shirt. “Bed?” Mercutio asks.

Benvolio rolls his eyes, even though there is little reason, and Mercutio falls a bit more for him. How is giggling and eye-rolling even attractive? Answer: Benvolio is doing them. “Fucking yes,” Benvolio says.

****

“Romeo, oh Romeo, why the fuck is your name Romeo?” Juliet stands on the balcony, overlooking the Capulet estate, and plucks a flower bare.

Everyone has always told her that Montagues were bad, that they were the villain in all of her books. But how could all Montagues be bad when Romeo was living proof that a Montague could be good?

“It is not a person’s name that makes them good or bad,” Juliet decides, “but the person themselves. Why, chocolate cake by any other name would taste just as sweet.”

She needs to find a way to escape marrying Paris, and falling in love with a Montague is as far as it gets. Juliet needs a knight in shining armor to save her from her fate, but instead, she has received a death sentence in a cute smile and rough lips.

“I’d rather live with him for an hour and die than live forever with Paris,” Juliet decides. She looks up from her flower, startled. “Shit. I’m talking out loud again, aren’t I?”

“Yes,” someone says from behind her. Juliet doesn’t think; she turns and punches the intruder in the stomach.

He stumbles backward with a high-pitched cry and holds his stomach. Juliet stops herself from kneeing him in the balls when she sees the jet-black hair that she already knows like her own. “Oh my God, I’m so sorry, Romeo!” Juliet says, bending down and placing her arm around him. “Are you okay?”

Romeo tries to straighten, but whimpers in pain and hunches back down again. “Fine,” he says, his voice too high to encompass that word truthfully. “Just feel like I’m going to vomit. You have a better punch than Tybalt, holy shit.”

Juliet rubs her fist. It doesn’t actually hurt that much, but talking about her punching skills makes her feel self-conscious. “Pam, my nurse, taught me. She wanted me to be able to protect myself against my fath- Montagues.”

“Well, she did a good job,” Romeo says, finally able to stand up without groaning.

Juliet shuffles her feet. “So, did you hear that?”

“About chocolate cake and morality and how you are totally in love with me? No, not at all.”

“So you heard. Why aren’t you running away screaming? I would be.”

Romeo takes her hand. Juliet’s already kissed him, for God’s sake. This should not make her heart pound so much. “Because I like you, too.

Logically, one of them had to have leaned in first. But it feels like a magnet is drawing them together at an equal pace until they are kissing and their hands are all over each other.

****

Paris is in love, and there’s nothing like Paris in love. He feels like it’s spring every day, and he’s walking through a meadow of flowers. But right now, it’s stormy April. He’s been waiting for Juliet to come back for an hour, and he hasn’t seen her at all.

He needs a drink.

There’s a man sulking by the drinks, nursing a glass of punch. Tybalt, he recognizes as he draws closer. As Paris pours himself a drink that he hopes is loaded with alcohol, Tybalt says, “Why’s it so fucking hard to find someone at this party?”

Paris joins him in sulking in the corner. “I have no idea. I’ve been waiting for my fiancee for an hour.”

“She just disappeared on you? That’s like my guy. I’ve been chasing this trespasser all over this property, and I can’t find him anywhere. It’s like he disappeared into thin air.”

Paris sips his drink. He’s only ever seen Tybalt from a distance before. “Trespasser, huh? Sounds more exciting than missing fiancee. Do tell.”

Tybalt spits out, “There’s this bastard Romeo Montague who is currently crashing my party.”

“Why do you care?”

Tybalt looks affronted, like the answer to why a party crasher is ruining his evening should be obvious. “He’s a Montague,” he says.

“Oh, yeah,” Paris says. “My cousin was telling me about this little feud between you Capulets and the Montagues as a little comedic story over champagne.”

Tybalt sputters incredulously. “It’s not comedic or some little feud. It’s a fight to the death.”

“Okay, so it’s violent. But why do you care?”

“Because they’re Montagues.”

“But why are you feuding against the Montagues?”

“Because they’re Montagues.” Before Paris can ask why the hell Montagues are the devil, Tybalt adds, “And Romeo is the worst of the worst.”

“So he’s, like, your arch nemesis.”

Tybalt raises his glass to him in a mock toast. “Now you’ve got it.”

“That’s kind of awesome. I’ve never had an archenemy before.” As royalty, he was absurdly protected as a child, to the point that he barely got to interact with other children. Sometimes, he wishes he got to know others and got to experience hate and love and indifference instead of being protected by literal and figurative walls.

Tybalt shrugs. He had obviously not received the same privilege and believed his exposure to hatred was a normalcy. “It’s not as cool as it sounds. It’s mostly, ‘I want to kill you!’ ‘I wanted to kill you first!’ ‘No, I wanted to kill you first!’ Pretty childish stuff.”

Maybe he hated being protected, but he’s not sure if he could have survived in the real world. “I’m not that great with blood, so an archenemy is probably not for me”

Tybalt looks Paris over. “You seem more like the love type of guy than the hate type of guy.”

“I have been pining over this one girl, your cousin, Juliet, forever. We’re getting married on Sunday.”

“Ah. So you’re the guy her parents won’t stop talking about. Honestly, I think they’re half in love with you themselves.”

“At least they are. Sometimes, I think Juliet doesn’t love me like I love her.”

****

Romeo’s lips are perfect. I want them all over me, Juliet thinks as the two of them roll on her bed.

****

Paris finishes his drink with this confession. He’s never actually told anyone this before. Denial is more his style. He must be reading the signs wrong. He’s just being clingy. Not everyone is as open as he is.

Tybalt says, gentler than he thought such a blood-crazed lunatic was capable of, “Any girl would be lucky to have you.”

Paris scoffs. “You mean they’d be lucky to have someone of my position.”

Paris may be stupid, but he's not that stupid. While Juliet may love him, he knows that the hoards of woman begging for his love was not for his remarkable personality. It was because his cousin's the Prince, and he's filthy rich. This is part of the reason he doubts Juliet loves him every once in a while. When everyone is lying to him, it's hard for him to know who to trust.

“No, I mean they’d be lucky to have you. You by any other name. I’ve only known you for, like, five minutes, but you seem nice enough. You don’t need your power or wealth for someone to love.”

Paris squeezes his arm. “For a guy who talks so much of murder, you’re really sweet.”

Tybalt’s face convulses a little. “I’ve never been called sweet before. Ew, I don't like it. Take it back.”

Paris laughs. He hasn’t laughed in so long. It’s nicer than he remembers. “No way. Get used to it, sweetie, because I’m gonna be calling you that a lot.”

Tybalt grumbles, “I hate you.”

“I thought I was a nice and anyone would be lucky to have me?”

“I changed my mind. You’ve got an evil streak.”

Paris cackles. “I’ve never been called evil before. I like it.”

“Well, guess what I’m never calling you.”

Paris wonders if touching his arm twice in one night might be extravagant. It might be, so he settles for smirking at him. “I hate you.”

“At least we’re in agreement on something.” His tone never changes, but Paris detects a small smile. One day, he’s going to make him laugh. Paris bets it’s the most embarrassing sound ever, all scratchy from a lack of practice.

****

Romeo moves to take Juliet’s dress off. It’s become a barrier to the most beautiful woman he’s ever met, and he wants everything off of her. Juliet’s catches his wrist before he unties the bow around her waist. “Wait,” she says. “I can’t do this before I’m married.”

Romeo pants and sits up. “Okay. That’s fine.”

Juliet sits up too and begins speaking at a pace about ten times too fast to count as a calm pace. “But I want to, and I’m going to be married to this guy who’s okay, but I’m not in love with or even in like with on Sunday. So I might as well have one night to myself.”

Juliet goes back to trying to kiss him, but this time, it is Romeo holding her back. Wow, he never thought he’d ever hold back a woman. Life is crazy. “Whoa, hold on a second. You’re getting married on Sunday?”

Juliet shrugs, like it’s no big deal. “Yeah, my parents are making me marry him. He’s rich and royalty.”

“Why don’t you just say no?” Romeo asks.

“I can’t!” Juliet says, frustrated.

Romeo cocks his head. He always says no. “Why not?”

“Because I’m a woman! And women can’t say no.”

“Oh,” Romeo says softly. He’s never thought of that. He thinks of Rosaline for the first time all night, and how whenever he asks her out, she only gives vague replies like, “I’m too busy,” or “Sorry, I don’t want a relationship right now.” She has never said no. She can’t. If he insisted she went out with him, she would have had to. He could have done whatever he wanted to her, and society would have applauded their love story.

Romeo feels guilty he’s never noticed this before. He’s never had to. Women were just there to him, and why they never said no to him seemed insignificant.

“What can I do to help?” His eyes light up. “We could get married so you don’t have to marry that other dude.”

“No. That would never work. You’re a Montague. You can’t do anything but shorten my lifespan,” Juliet says, her words harsh but tone devoid of hope.

Romeo personally thinks the whole feud between the Montagues and the Capulets is stupid. He doesn’t even know why they’re fighting. And so, he has never let it impact his romantic endeavors. Even so, he cannot marry a Capulet and say, “Screw you, Montagues!” It’s not realistic, a term that is usually foreign to Romeo. He has to help Juliet, not get her in deeper shit.

“I know, I know. But I wish we could get married.”

Juliet sighs. “So do I.”

“What can I do instead?” Romeo asks. “Anything. I’d do anything for you.”

Juliet shifts closer to Romeo and whispers in his ear, “Just give me this one night.”

Romeo struggles to keep a level head and think logically for once. “But you said that you wanted to be married first.”

Juliet kisses his cheek and moves down to his neck. “I don’t care anymore. I just want you.”

Deflowering Juliet sounds like the best night of his life, but having sex with her when it goes against her ample morals goes against Romeo’s limited morals.

“Hey, wait,” Romeo says. Juliet stops and looks up. “I have an idea. Maybe we can’t be married by the law, but we can be married by God.”

“What the fuck are you talking about, Romeo?”

Romeo stands and pulls Juliet back to the balcony. He takes one of the vines and wraps it into two rings. They stand, facing each other, hands clasped. “Juliet, my moon and stars, do you take this man to be your unlawfully wedded husband?”

“Oh, I get it now,” Juliet says with a quiet laugh. She holds out her hand and Romeo slides one of the vine rings onto her finger. “I do. And do you, Romeo, my sun and sky, take this woman to be your unlawfully wedded wife?”

As Juliet slips the vine ring onto his finger, Romeo says, “I do. Now, by the power vested in me by me, I declare us husband and wife. May I kiss the bride?”

“You may,” Juliet says, pulling him into a passionate kiss.

Benvolio said that he was stupid to believe he would find love under the stars, but Romeo is sure he just did.

Chapter Text

Juliet awakens to the image of Romeo naked and rumpled, and she bites back a smile. She could get used to that.

But, she realizes immediately after coming out of her dreamlike, Queen Mab-induced haze, she won’t get used to this. Her fling with Romeo can’t last any longer. It has already gone past its expiration date, which was the second after he tapped her on the shoulder.

Juliet got out of bed quietly, so as not to wake Romeo up. She began pacing around the room, freaking out about her fucked up life.

Juliet is marrying Paris tomorrow. As in one day from now. Twenty four hours. She had tried to deny it, to say that she just won’t marry him, but that was not realistic. Juliet had no choice in the matter. It was either willingly marry Paris or unwillingly. Walk with her head held high down the aisle or be dragged, kicking and screaming.

Last night was the best night of her life, but it was a fantasy. Now real life had to begin.

Juliet had tried to be quiet with her mental breakdown, but Romeo awoke with a groan. He watches her pace around the room and pick at her hair, bleary-eyed. “Baby, what’s the matter?”

“Nothing,” Juliet snaps, finally standing still to whirl around on him. “And don’t call me baby.”

Romeo adjusts himself on the bed so that he is lying sideways with his elbow on the pillow. From experience, that is uncomfortable, but Juliet guesses he is going for sexy. If she wasn’t suddenly so irrationally angry at Romeo, maybe she would have seen the appeal. Romeo says teasingly, “You liked baby fine last night.”

“Well, this isn’t last night. I told you, I’m yours for a night. After that, we’re over. So get the fuck out,” Juliet says, picking up his clothes and throwing them at him.

Logically, Juliet knows that Romeo did nothing wrong. That she was so lucky to have him, even for a night. But now, she wanted to rip off the band-aid. She didn’t want to have to look at what she is going to lose for a second longer.

Romeo sits up, putting his pants on slowly. “Seriously, Juliet, are you okay?”

“I’m. Fine.”

“And I’m the motherfucking prince of Verona,” Romeo retorts. “Please, Juliet, just tell me the truth.”

Juliet begins pacing again. “I told you, I’m fine.” Juliet’s flash of anger gives way to panic. “I’m just marrying Paris tomorrow, which would have been bad enough because I don’t love him, but now, I have someone who I do love, which sounds great, whole knight-in-shining-armor trope, but you’re a Montague, and you can’t save me, just send me to an early death. So now I still have to marry Paris, but I know what I’m missing. So yeah, I’m fine.” Juliet finishes her speech by collapsing on the bed next to Romeo.

Romeo gently touches her hand, which is somehow too sweet a gesture for her to handle. Tears begin falling, and she is soon bawling into her hands. Romeo puts his arm around Juliet and rubs circles into her back. “I’m sorry,” he murmurs.

Juliet laughs a little, which probably sounds more pitiful than even manic. “Don’t be. It’s not your fault that you’re everything I want and can’t have.” Juliet chokes back more tears. “I’m the one who’s sorry. You wake up to your one-night-stand screaming at you, then confessing her life-story, then bursting into tears. I must make the cuckoo fuck list, huh?”

“Do guys have those?” Romeo asks, trying for a joke.

It works because Juliet laughs a little more joyfully and wipes the snot away from her nose. “I don’t know. I thought they would.”

“Well, I’m honorable and do not. Even if I did, you would not be on there. You’d be on the ‘girls I’m hopelessly in love with list’.”

“Guys have those?” Juliet says, now full on smiling.

“I do. And it’s got one name.”

“Rosaline?” Juliet asks, half-serious.

Romeo’s smile falls a little. “She was never on there. I only thought I was in love with her. It’s different with you.”

“How?” Juliet asks.

Romeo smiles and rubs the circles on her back counter-clockwise. “You’re someone I wish I could wake up with every morning. You’re real, not a fantasy. And I love you.”

Juliet brushes her lips against his gently. Her moods had been all over the place that morning, yet Romeo had somehow changed them to content. “I wish you could save me,” Juliet whispers.

“Me, too,” Romeo says. Juliet goes to kiss him again, but he pulls back suddenly, his eyes bright like a lightbulb went off over his head. “Hey, you said that I can’t help you because I’m a Montague, right?”

Juliet nods. “Right. So you can’t do anything.”

“I can’t. But I’ve got a friend who is not a Montague. What if you married him instead and we carried on our love in secret?”

Juliet laughs a little. “You have to be joking. That’ll never work.”

“Why not?” Romeo persists.

“Because my parents won’t change their minds! Paris is royalty and wealthy.”

Romeo still looks like he’s struck gold, which is ridiculous considering how outlandish his idea is. It will never work in a million years. “He’s also royalty and ultra-wealthy, and he’s a pretty good sweet-talker. I bet he can convince your parents.”

Juliet is still unconvinced on the last point. Capulet is the infamous brick wall. He’d never budge just because someone sucked up to him. But Juliet moved on because she knew she could never make Romeo understand her father, and she isn’t sure she’d ever want to. “Okay, but your friend will never agree to this.”

Romeo’s smile broadens. “Oh, I think he will.”

“Why would he want to marry a girl he’s never met and who his best friend is in love with?” Juliet asks, sure that even Romeo has to see this point.

“I’d let him explain that.”

“People will see through this, though, Romeo! You think we can convince people for the rest of our lives that we are in love?”

“You would have had to have done so with Paris.”

“But he wouldn’t have been faking. And the marriage would have been legitimate. With your friend, the guy who for some reason is going to agree to this ludicrousy, we’d both be faking. At some point or another, we’d trip up.”

“You wouldn’t get caught. And even if you did, wouldn’t it be worth it? Wouldn’t it be worth it if we even got just one more day together?” Romeo asks, sliding even closer to her. He is practically on her lap, and their legs tangled together.

The plan is still ridiculous. Nothing can change that. But Juliet has to admit, it might just work. And she would do anything for the possibility of having love in her life. “Okay,” Juliet says. Romeo looks like a child in a candy shop. “If your friend agrees, which I doubt he will.”

Before Romeo can convince her, someone from outside calls up, “C’mon, Romeo! You’re ruining our morning.”

Juliet tilts her head. “Whose that?”

“Wow. It’s like you summoned them. Are you a witch? Please tell me now.”

“‘They’? I only heard one person.”

“Trust me, they’re together. They’re never apart.”

“And who, exactly, are they?”

“My best friends. One of whom is your future groom.”

Juliet gets up and throws a robe over her underwear. As she walks over to the balcony, she says to Romeo, “I had hoped for a more romantic meeting with my future husband, but what can you do?”

Juliet opens the doors to her balcony and looks downward. One redhead with an irritated expression and one brunette with the most garish outfit look up at her. The latter waves childishly until the redhead smacks his hand away and whispers, still loud enough for Juliet to hear, “We are trespassers. Don’t wave to the woman who can behead you.”

Juliet whisper-yells down the balcony, “I’m not going to behead you. Just come on up.”

The brunette immediately compiles, but then the redhead pulls him back. The redhead says, “Do you just go anywhere someone says? We trespassing. Her stranger. We in danger.”

“But she looks nice! Are you nice?” he calls up to Juliet.

“Yes, I’m nice. And Romeo’s up here. So, please, stop yelling before we’re all caught and just fucking climb.”

The brunette looks to the redhead, who shrugs. They both climb up the bricks. Capulet really should have made it harder for people to break in. The redhead lands gracefully while the other falls over the landing. He would have cracked his head open if the redhead did not catch him. God, she hopes she’s marrying the redhead. Should he agree. Which is very unlikely, Juliet reminds herself before she gets too much hope.

The redhead says, “I’m guessing that was not an elaborate ruse to kill us partly because that would be awfully convoluted and partly because I’m feeling generous towards humanity today. Please tell me I guessed right.”

“Naw, I’m going to kill you both,” Juliet says seriously. “I just need to decide which knives to use.”

The brunette cowers behind the redhead. “Kill him, not me.”

“Wow, thanks, Mercutio. That’s sweet,” the redhead says.

Ah. Mercutio. A ridiculous name fit for a ridiculous man.

From behind her, Romeo says, “I won’t help either of you, you know.”

Mercutio grins, prances over to Romeo like a puppy, and gives him a hug like he hadn’t seen him in years. “Dude! We couldn’t find you! Where were you?”

The redhead says, “Before Romeo answers, take a step back and look around the room. Perhaps you’ll notice the woman standing next to me in the bathrobe. Then maybe you’ll notice that the man you’re hugging is shirtless. Now, try to reach a conclusion.”

“Ah. They had the sex,” Mercutio says, letting go of Romeo to make obscene gestures. Juliet would be angry if she did not find Romeo’s friends rather amusing.

“Brilliant. Maybe just don’t announce it in their presence next time.” He turns to Juliet. “So, why’d you let us up? I’m thinking you didn’t want to have a foursome with your boyfriend’s cousin and best friend.”

“Ew, no,” Juliet says, shuddering. “Romeo has a plan. A stupid one, but a plan.”

“I’d expect nothing more. A plan for what?”

Romeo says, “My wonderful wife-”

“Wife?” the redhead interjects.

“Not legal, just under God. I’ll explain later. Anyways, her parents are forcing her to marry Paris. I can’t marry her because I’m a Montague. So, I was thinking, what if you, Mercutio, could convince her parents to marry you instead?”

“Done. I’ll marry her. Just one thing: what’s her name?”

“Oh, I’m sorry. Mercutio, this is Juliet. Juliet, this is Mercutio.” Mercutio kisses Juliet’s hand despite her not extending it. “Juliet, Benvolio. Benvolio, Juliet.” Benvolio just nods at her.

“Wait one second here,” Juliet says. “Mercutio, why the fuck would you marry me? What’s in it for you?”

“My inheritance, my parents stop pushing girls on me, and I get to keep doing your boyfriend’s cousin,” Mercutio says quickly.

Juliet repeats dumbly, “My boyfriend’s cousin?”

Benvolio raises his hand with a dead look on his face. Nobody’s expression changes, but Juliet can feel the anxiety in the room. Telling a fourth person about their relationship would be dangerous, but telling a fourth person who they had just met is practically a death wish. The fact that they trust her because of Romeo’s blessing is touching.

Perhaps Juliet should care about their relationship. There had always been whispers of that sort. But Juliet cannot find the hate within herself, perhaps because they are doing her the biggest favor of her life or perhaps because she can not honestly claim she had never thought of girls like that herself.

Juliet says to Benvolio, “Wow. You must really be desperate to date him, of all men, huh?”

The tension breaks, and everyone’s uptight expressions relax. Benvolio nods in joking agreement and says, “I like you already. You have my blessing to marry my boyfriend.”

Juliet asks, “Seriously? You guys are both good with this?”

They both shrug. Mercutio says, “Yeah. I need you as much as you need me. It works out perfect.”

“Thank you both for considering this, but my dad will never go for it. He wants me to marry Paris, and he’ll never change his mind.”

Mercutio nods, his face actually serious for a moment. Juliet wants to think that this is some coincidence, but it is more likely he can relate to her situation more than anyone else. If his parents push girls on him all the time and threaten to withhold his inheritance if he did not marry, they probably suspect his sexuality. Hell, he’s not exactly subtle about it. She’s impressed that they have not worn his extravagance out of him with age. He’s survived better than her.

“I’m pretty persuasive,” Mercutio says. “Let me try. If it doesn’t work, I’ll take all the blame with your parents, and we’ll try to come up with another plan.”

Juliet feels like crying again, but she smiles instead. She’s never had so many people ready to watch her back, to help her. Her only friend in childhood was Rosaline, and as a fellow Capulet female, the most they could do was trade war stories and comfort each other.

“Okay. Let’s try it,” Juliet says. She takes both Mercutio and Benvolio’s hands in hers and squeezes them. “I will forever be in your debt.”

Benvolio says gently, “You’re not in our debt. Without you, we’re both at risk of execution. We told you, you’re helping us.”

Someone pounds on her door. Everyone exchanges a look of panic. Pam calls through the door, “Juliet? Are you awake?”

Juliet hisses, “Quick! Hide!” They all run in opposite directions, looking for a place to hide. Benvolio is considering the too small wardrobe, Romeo seems to be considering jumping off the balcony, and Mercutio is just sprinting around, silently screaming. “Under the bed, idiots!”

They all scamper under the bed, Mercutio dramatically sliding as Juliet calls, “Coming, Pam!”

Juliet opens the door for Pam, who is standing there with a pile of clothes in her hands. “Yes, Pam?”

Pam looks at her strangely as she barges into Juliet’s room and puts her clothes on her bed. “Are you okay, sweetie? You look a little flustered.”

Juliet tries to subtly turn her head away from her, and she ends up looking at the bottom of the other side of the bed. And then she sees Mercutio’s boots sticking out. Shit. She’s got to get Pam out of her room. “Yeah. I’m fine. So, is that all?”

Pam is still looking at her like she has sprouted an extra eyeball as she heads for the door. “Get dressed then come down for breakfast, alright, honey? Then maybe you should get some rest.”

Juliet starts closing the door on Pam. “Rest. Yeah. Great idea. Will do. See you later!”

She closes the door and breathes a sigh of relief. Juliet turns to the bed. “You can come out now.”

They all crawl out, Mercutio whining about how dusty it was and Benvolio pretending to care.

Juliet says, “All of you have to climb down the balcony and get out before anyone sees you. Pam was too close of a call, so be careful.” She turns to Mercutio. “Wait half an hour, then knock on the door and ask to see Capulet for my hand in marriage. Be prepared: he is fucking terrifying, and I have never seen him change his mind once in his life.”

Mercutio smiles way too confidently for the situation and says, “Don’t worry. I’ve got this.”

Juliet huffs in disbelief. “Okay. Good luck.”

Benvolio and Mercutio start climbing down the balcony, Mercutio calling up, “Don’t need it.”

“He will,” Juliet mutters to Romeo.

“Your dad is pretty bad, huh?”

Juliet freezes. She hadn’t meant to tell Romeo all of that about Capulet. She just wanted to warn Mercutio. “He’s not too bad,” Juliet quickly lies.

Romeo nods, but he doesn’t seem to believe her. “Okay. If you ever want to talk to me about it, you can. You can tell me anything.”

“For that to happen, this plan has to succeed first. Otherwise, this is the last time we’ll see each other,” Juliet reminds him.

“It will,” Romeo says confidently.

“How do you know?”

“Because our love is written in the stars. Trust me, this plan will work.”

“Just in case it doesn’t,” Juliet mummers into his ear. She wraps her arms around his neck and kisses him, trying to convey through the action just how much he means to her, how much she hopes this plan works, and how much it will hurt if she never sees him again.

“Holy shit,” Romeo whispers.

Juliet lets go of his neck with one hand and slides the other to hold his. “You should go before they catch you.”

“I’ll never let you go,” he says, squeezing her hand one last time before disappearing over the balcony.

To the empty room, she says, “Me neither.”

Juliet shakes off all of her mixed feelings as she dresses, but can’t completely shake off one annoying feeling. Hope. The most dangerous of them all. The most likely to bring you up to the top of a mountain and shove you over the edge. Still, she can’t stop the bounce in her step as she walks down to breakfast.

She starts to pass the front door to go to the dining room when there is a knock at the door. “I’ve got it,” Juliet shouts to Pam.

Juliet opens the door to see a priest standing there with a basket of bottles containing every color in the rainbow, plus more.

“Good morning, Miss. I’m Friar Lawrence, and on a mission from God himself, I’ve created potions of every kind to help humanity. I’ve got healing ones for basic wounds, ones for sadness, ones for beauty. Why, if you’ve got problems where it seems like you’re better off dead, I’ve got fake suicide ones.” He inspects her. “You look to be a girl with problems. Should I put you down for one?”

Juliet bursts out laughing and slams the door in his face. She needed a good laugh. Fake suicide potions. What idiot would take that?

Juliet enters the dining room with more hope and joy than she ever had when confronting Capulet. She decides that while hope holds you over a mountain and lets go, sometimes, you fly instead of fall. This time, she’s got to fly.

****

Mercutio is going to meet his fiancée's parents. No big deal, except that he thought that that whole sentence was utterly impossible.

When he was younger, he used to try to like girls. He thought as soon as he kissed one, he’d be magically fixed. At fourteen, he even got a girlfriend. Blond, always smiling, and smelled like sugar. She was perfect.

One day, he led her through the long route to get back to her house, underneath the canopy of willow trees. He was saying something about ladybugs and were they all women when she leaned in and kissed him. He held her by the shoulders and kissed back, hoping that by prolonging the kiss, he’d be cured. The whole time, he thought, I’m doing something wrong. This isn’t right. She was too soft and tasted too much like sugar.

When she broke away, all he could think was, I’m still broken. She looked at him with a hopeful look on her face, and he sprinted home. At least, he meant to go home. But he ended up at the back of Benvolio’s house, banging on his window.

Just when Mercutio thought he wasn’t home, Benvolio opened the window with a crack about how Mercutio woke him up from his nap. Mercutio laughed a little, despite his tears. Benvolio saw him crying but didn’t ask or even make some joke. He just pulled Mercutio into his room by the wrist and shut the windows and curtains.

Mercutio sat on the edge of his bed, wiping away his tears. Benvolio gently sat down next to him and said, “Do you want to talk?”

Mercutio shook his head. Benvolio shrugged and said, “Then I’ll get back to my nap.”

Instead of turning so his head was on the pillow, Benvolio lay down so that his feet were on the floor and he was perpendicular with the bed. Benvolio grabbed Mercutio’s hand and pulled him back too. He did not let go once they were lying back.

Maybe it should have been weird for two boys to do this, but it was sort of normal for them. Afterschool and sleepovers and practically anytime Romeo or anyone else weren’t around consisted of hand-holding and other innocent touching. Sometimes, Mercutio would think that they shouldn’t do this, that it had to be wrong, but then, Benvolio would hold his hand, and he’d remember he did not care. Holding Benvolio’s hand felt like coming home.

Mercutio thought about this as he stared up at the dark ceiling. He thought about how much more he craved Benvolio’s innocent touch than his girlfriend’s not-so-innocent one. How he always ran to Benvolio when he needed to feel safe, at home. Then, Benvolio rubbed his thumb across Mercutio’s, and Mercutio whispered, “Holy crap.”

Benvolio said, half-asleep, “What?”

“I’m in love with you.”

Okay, Mercutio definitely should have thought more before he said this. Benvolio could have him killed, or worse, stop being his friend. But Mercutio’s mouth and brain operated on two separate wavelengths, and he did not think.

It’s a good thing he didn’t because Benvolio rolled over onto his side, facing Mercutio, and said, “Took you long enough to realize.”

Mercutio grinned. “Do I get a prize for finally realizing?”

“Coy already. What are you thinking of?”

“A kiss?”

“So predictable,” Benvolio sighed, but his smile undercut his sarcasm. Benvolio propped himself up on his elbow and hovered over Mercutio for a second. He tilted his head, silently asking if he was sure he wanted to do this. Mercutio responded by wrapping his hands around Benvolio’s neck and pulling him down to his lips.

The kiss was chaste, way more chaste than the one with his girlfriend, but it lit his lips on fire. It made him more feel alive and not broken than anything else in his life ever had, drugs included.

When Benvolio pulled away and lay back down beside him, their hands instantly found their way into the other’s. They fell asleep like that, the same as always, but with the new feeling of each other on their lips.

So yeah. Mercutio did not predict a female fiancée in his future. And yet, he was pacing the entrance of the Capulet house, repeating his first sentence to himself like some lunatic. “Good morning, Capulet and Lady Capulet. I am here to ask for the hand of your son. No! Daughter. Daughter. Good morning, Montague and Lady Montague. Shit!”

Mercutio kicks the brick building and curses more when it hurts his foot worse than he anticipates. “Okay. Good morning Capulet and Lady Capulet. I am here to ask for the hand of your daughter, Benvolio.” Mercutio starts to smile, then realizes his mistake. “Fuck! Juliet. I’m marrying Juliet Capulet.”

The door opens, and Mercutio puts on a winning smile, like he didn’t just cause such a ruckus that the maid came to the door without him knocking. “Good morning. I’m here to ask for the presence of Capulet and his lady.”

The woman sighs and says, “Very well. Wait here for a moment.” Mercutio recognizes her voice as Juliet’s nurse, Pad or Parm or something. He can’t remember. He’ll blame the soul-sucking parlor he just entered for his memory loss.

She starts to walk away but stops before she completely exits. “If you are here for Miss Juliet’s hand, I should warn you that she is taken by the Mr. Paris. They are to be wed tomorrow, and nothing will stand in their way.” She gives him a pointed look that says he should run away with his metaphorical tail between his legs.

Mercutio just broadens his smile to a shit-eating degree and says, “Thank you for the warning, but you should know, I don’t really listen to them.”

Eggplant Parm sighs again and exits one of the thousands of doors springing from the parlor. He had gone through the grandest one in the center for the party last night. The parlor had looked small and insignificant then with the crowds of people pouring out from the overcrowded ballroom. But now, it is silent and looks a little like a church with the high ceilings and stone floors. His every step echoes, and he can’t help but think that if the Capulets’ goal was to intimidate its guests, they had definitely succeeded.

Capulet enters from the door on the right. His steps reverberate through the hall, and he looks even scarier than Juliet had described, almost like his father, but more muscular. Mercutio unconsciously straightens. He does not even notice the tiny woman following in his shadow until Capulet is about a foot away.

Mercutio sticks out his hand in greeting, but Capulet just stares coldly at it. Without preamble, Capulet booms, “Who are you, and why are you interrupting our breakfast?”

Mercutio lowers his hand and struggles to keep the pleasant grin on his face, but it is probably frozen in fear by now. “I am Mercutio, and I-”

“Mercutio?” Capulet interrupts. “Are you the Mercutio who is allied with the Montagues?”

Mercutio fights the urge to run. “I am acquainted with them, but I prefer to think of myself as impartial,” he lies. “After all, I would not wish to be enemies with so fine a family.”

“I can smell your bullshit from a mile off,” Capulet growls. “Why are you here? Tell the truth this time.”

There is a silent threat at the end of the sentence, and Mercutio does not want to know what it was. “Sir, I am here to ask for your daughter’s hand in marriage.”

“She is already engaged to someone far more worthy than yourself.”

“I am well aware of that as Paris is my cousin. But while Paris is far wealthier and closer to Prince Escalus in friendship than I, what will he really do for your family besides from ever-so-slightly raise your social status? And honestly, he will only raise Juliet’s. I am of the same status and can do the same and more. I can ensure you reap the rewards you deserve.”

Capulet’s arms are crossed and his expression has not changed. But he says, slightly more friendly, “Continue.”

Mercutio’s nerves calm a bit. He’s getting into the bullshitting zone, twisting facts to suit his purpose. “I do not claim to have the virtues as Count Paris, but I am entitled to a sizable inheritance. I am willing to give the 80% of it directly to you. The rest, of course, will go to giving your daughter the life she deserves.”

“How sizable?” Capulet asks. Mercutio whispers the amount, and even Lady Capulet, who was starting to blend in with the walls, looks enticed. Capulet says, “While that amount is… convincing, Paris has the wealth to match yours, should we inform him of this negotiation.”

“I know this, of course, but this is just the tip of all I have to offer. When I came in, you were under the impression I was allied with the Montagues. While this is false, the Montagues themselves also believe it. Imagine how much it will infuriate them when I marry into the Capulets and swear my allegiance and fortune to solely them.”

Capulet almost breaks a smile. “I can just see the expression on their faces when they have to watch one of their own being swooped away from their nest and taken to our cave.”

Mercutio holds back a sarcastic response about the evilness of his imagery. “Now, perhaps the biggest advantage to you. I met your daughter at the party last night. She and I hit it off, and I get the impression that while she’ll only go down the aisle kicking and screaming for Paris, she’ll go down willingly for me.”

Mercutio has to bit back a sexual innuendo, and he continues, “Women should not have that have that type of power, but which situation will shine better upon you, Sir? The one where you have an unruly and insane daughter or the one where you have raised an obedient angel?”

Capulet mulls this over for a solid minute, during which Mercutio is sure his heart will fly right out of his chest from how fast it is beating. Finally, he calls, “Juliet. Get in here now.”

Juliet seems to almost float into the room. She quickly glances at Mercutio, who pointedly ignores her to keep up the facade, and says, “Yes, Father?”

“You will be marrying this gentleman tomorrow instead of Paris. The two of you get out of my sight while I make the necessary arrangements for the wedding.”

Mercutio almost lets out a triumphant yell, but before he can ruin everything, Juliet says, “Yes, Sir.”

The two of them march out the door, out the gate, and down a block until they risk looking at each other. They both break out into identical smiles and start squealing and laughing and jumping up and down embarrassingly. Okay, most of that is Mercutio, but Juliet does a little, too.

Juliet says, out of breath, “I can’t believe that worked!”

Mercutio spreads his arms out in a way that says worship me. “You’re marrying a master bullshitter, baby.”

Juliet throws her arms around Mercutio. Mercutio stands stiffly for a moment. The only people he remembers hugging are Romeo and Benvolio, although he’s sure his parents had to have hugged him at some point in time. Then he wraps his arms around her, and she squeezes him. Juliet stands on her tiptoes to whisper in his ear, “Thank you for saving me.”

Mercutio blinks back tears. He doesn’t like how sincere her words are. Sincerity makes him uncomfortable. Instead of making a joke like always, he pulls back a little and faces her. “No. You saved me, and I get the feeling that this won’t be the last time you will do so.”

Juliet says, “How about if we agree we saved each other?”

They begin walking down a street covered in willows, and this time, Mercutio does not pray to be fixed by the girl at his side. After all, he was never actually broken. “Eh, you saved me a little more.”

“C’mon, you literally convinced my brick wall of a dad that I should marry someone who is practically a Montague over his dream son-in-law! I think you saved me a bit more.”

“Maybe a bit more,” Mercutio jokes.

Juliet shoves him with her shoulder. “Jerk.”

Mercutio just laughs and shoves her back. He’s got the best boyfriend and the best future wife. How lucky can one guy be?

*****

How lucky can Paris be? He’s marrying the love of his life tomorrow. Sure, he never found her after the party and may have gotten slightly tipsy with Tybalt in despair, but that doesn’t indicate a loveless marriage. In fact, it’s probably the opposite because of the whole “don’t see the bride in her dress” thing. Not seeing the bride at all must be even luckier.

“Do you think we should have roses in a big heart at the wedding?” Paris asks. “Oh, or should we have roses that spell out ‘I love you, Juliet’? Would it be too much to have a giant heart of red roses with white roses in the center spelling out, ‘I love you, Juliet’?”

The man hemming Paris’s tuxedo leg looks up. “Don’t ask me, Sir, I’m just the tailor.”

Paris hums happily. “I’m sorry. I’m just so excited, you know? This girl is the love of my life, and I want the wedding to be perfect.”

The tailor replies, bored, “I’m sure it will be, Sir.”

A servant enters. “Excuse me, Sir, but Capulet is here.”

Paris whispers to the tailor, “That’s my future father-in-law. That feels so good to say out loud!” Louder, to the servant, Paris says, “Send him in.”

The servant bows and goes to fetch Capulet. Paris wonders what this could be about. Maybe Capulet wants to walk him down the aisle, too. Paris chuckles to himself while the tailor looks up at him like he’s deranged. No. That would be too much. He probably just wants to check that Juliet’s bouquet will match her dress, the one part of the wedding Paris has no involvement in.

Capulet marches in. Paris beams and says, “Father, what can I do for you?”

“First of all, never call me father. Second of all, you are not marrying my daughter.”

Paris laughs a little. “I never thought you had such a sense of humor.”

“I do not,” Capulet says, “and I am not joking. The wedding is off.”

Paris’ smile falls. “Wait, what? I’m not marrying Juliet?”

Capulet glances at the clock behind him, already obviously impatient. “No.”

“This can’t be true,” Paris mutters. It can’t be. This can’t happen less than twenty-four hours before his wedding. Not while his fucking suit is being altered. He feels his world come crashing down, and with it, his entire sense of joy.

Louder, he says, “We’re in love. Where is she? I want to talk to her.”

“She’s out with her fiance,” Capulet says.

Paris is sure this is a dream. None of these words can be true. “Her… fiance?”

“Your cousin, Mercutio. He asked for her hand this morning and made me an offer that you could not counter.”

Contrary to the belief of the kingdom, Paris has gotten angry before. Usually, it was just a bout of punching his pillow for five minutes until the unpleasant feeling wore off. Now, it was all-consuming. “Juliet, the love of my life, is marrying my cousin, my kinsman, instead of me?” Paris roars.

Capulet does not appear to be affected by Paris’ rage, but he does look a bit upset at how unruly his nails are. He looks to Paris and says, “That is correct. And you are invited.”

Capulet exits the room. The tailor begins stitching up Paris’ pant leg once again, and Paris pushes him away. “You idiot. Did you not hear the man? I am not marrying Juliet tomorrow. My fucking cousin is.”

The tailor backs away hastily, almost knocking over a table in the process. “I am sorry, Sir.”

“Do not apologize, just leave me alone,” Paris growls.

The tailor almost sprints out of the room, leaving Paris to pace and scream and punch walls at his mercy. Juliet Capulet made a grave mistake today, and she will pay.

Chapter Text

Tybalt’s worst nightmare has turned reality. No, not the one about the birds perking him to death, the other one. The one where he has to play nice with the Montagues because they are part of his family. And this is even worse. He has to be Mercutio’s best man. Mercutio. The guy who he has tried to kill on multiple occasions. The guy who is a piece of shit. The guy who makes fun of his hair, even though he knows it is stylish.

Tybalt hasn’t seen Mercutio yet, despite it being the morning of the wedding and there are definitely best man tasks to complete. He wants to delay the inevitable for as long as possible.

He strolls into the church where the wedding would occur in less than an hour. There are no pews, like most churches, and stained glass windows line the entirety of the room. The church is nearly empty except for Paris, who is leaning against the back wall of the church, glaring at the pulpit like he can already see Mercutio and Juliet standing up there. Still, Tybalt feels like he is being watched or judged, like God cares about his murderous thoughts. He doesn’t really believe in God, but something about standing in church makes him feel that he is definitely going to Hell.

He shakes the creepy feeling off. Tybalt Capulet is scared of nothing, let alone a fucking myth. He joins Paris in the back, his footsteps echoing off the stone floor and reverberating around the silent room. Paris doesn’t acknowledge him, but Tybalt can tell he knows he’s there.

Without preamble, Paris says bitterly, “She’s marrying my cousin. Not me.”

Tybalt continues staring at the pulpit. “I know. I’m the fucking bastard’s best man.”

Paris’ anger is almost hysterical as he says, “I can’t believe this. Yesterday, I was engaged to the most perfect person in the world. Today, I’m a guest at her fucking wedding.”

Juliet is practically his sister. She and Rosaline and he had practically grown up in the same house. No way she should be marrying someone who is practically a Montague. No, is a Montague.

“He doesn’t deserve her. All he deserves to marry is the end of my sword.” 

Paris huffs. “Or mine.” Paris’ eyes light up, and he turns to face Tybalt for the first time in the conversation. “I should challenge him.”

Tybalt side-eyes Paris in judgment of his positively stupid idea. “Are you kidding? You may not be executed since your cousin will exonerate you, but you’ll sure as hell be killed in the duel."

Tybalt doesn't know why, but the idea of Paris entering a duel makes his stomach turn. It shouldn't; he barely knows Paris, and it doesn't matter if he dies. But then he sees Paris, holding the sword the way a child would and standing across from Mercutio bravely, like he thinks he stands a fucking chance. Mercutio would stab him within a minute, and Paris would be lying on the ground, blood and guts pouring out of him.

It makes Tybalt's stomach turn. For reasons he'd rather not examine, he can't let that happen.

Tybalt ignores this annoyingly human feeling and focuses on the easy feeling of murderous anger. He has enough of it, after all. He continues, "I should challenge him. He’s a Montague who is poisoning the mind of my cousin." Almost to himself, he quietly says, "That’s enough reason.”

“Are you fucking kidding me?" Paris growls. "He stole the love of my life. According to all rules, I get first dibs.”

“I get to kill him,” Tybalt growls, whirling around on Paris. The two are face to face, glaring at each other like they want to kill each other, not Mercutio. 

“No, I get to kill him.”

“I kill him.” 

“No, I do."

“You’ll be killed, Paris.”

“And you’ll be executed, sweetie.”

“It doesn’t matter,” Tybalt snaps, angry enough to be honest. “I don’t care if I’m executed. The only reason I live is to kill Montagues. It makes sense I should die like that.” Quieter, he adds, “You, it matters if you die. You can't die like that. And you will if you fight Mercutio. You don’t have it in you to kill a man.”

Paris, still fuming, says, “I’m not a coward. Of course I can kill Mercutio.”

The two are still head-to-head and Paris looks just as furious as before, but now, after telling Paris something akin to the truth, Tybalt can't even muster up any anger. Anger and lying seem to hard of a facade to keep up now that a tiny piece of the truth has broken out. 

Tiredly, he says, “No, you can’t, and not because you’re a coward or some bullshit like that. It’s because you’re strong. You care too much about people, even the ones you hate, to end their lives. You’d never let yourself win the fight. Me, I’m weak. I should kill him.”

The cold rush of unadulterated truth seems to have hit Paris, too. With less anger, Paris says, “You met me yesterday. You don’t know me.”

“I know you well enough,” Tybalt replies.

“Then you’ll know I can’t let you go on some self-sacrificing mission.”

Paris is looking at Tybalt with sympathy, too much sympathy. It borders too much on pity. He hates it. Nobody should look at him with so much softness. It isn’t right. He is a killing machine, fit for only hatred. Tybalt wants to wipe that look off his face as much as he wants to see it every day for the rest of his life. He doesn’t deserve kindness, sure, but he still craves it.

Tybalt replies, “And I you.”

Paris says, “So then neither of us will kill him. Yet. We have to figure out a way to kill him without either of us dying.”

“Poisoning?” Tybalt suggests.

“No. I think I got a better way. We’ve got to break them up. Then, once Juliet’s heart is broken, you can rightfully challenge Mercutio. Not even my cousin will stand in the way of defending a maiden’s honor, and if he does, Capulet and I will be in your corner.”

Tybalt ponders this idea. Not killing Mercutio immediately will be painful, and Tybalt does not care if he’s executed. Juliet might hate him for killing her husband, but he'll be dead; what does he care about how she feels about a ghost? Ergo, he should challenge him now. Screw the consequences. 

But if he goes to challenge Mercutio now, Tybalt just knows Paris will somehow stop him and die in his stead. And Paris can't die like that, in a puddle of his own blood, sword in the stomach. He just can't. And Paris is looking at him so hopefully, so proud of his plan. And Tybalt can’t let the man he’s met a day ago down or let him die. He just can't.

“Fine,” Tybalt sighs, extending his hand. “Break them up, then kill.”

Paris shakes his hand in a surprisingly strong handshake. “Deal, partner.”

Tybalt lets go and says, “Now I’ve got to go help this bag of crap get ready for his wedding.”

“Now I’ve got to watch this bag of crap get married.”

The left corner of Tybalt’s mouth turns upward. “This is going to be fun.”

“I’ve never been the villain before,” Paris says before cracking a jaw-breaking smile. “It’s going to be awesome.”

Tybalt almost laughs before walking out of the church. He doesn’t have to turn to know that Paris is watching him with a self-satisfied grin at having gotten his way. Cocky son of a bitch.

It feels almost ironic that they created their wicked plan in a church, right under God's nose. Tybalt looks up at the sky and flips it off. “Try and stop us,” he threatens to the made-up entity.

Tybalt walks down the street to Prince Escalus’ palace, which is serving as wedding central and the location of the wedding party afterward. This is partly because of its relative closeness to the church and mostly due to Prince Escalus desire to show off his wealth.

During the walk, Tybalt solely envisions how good it will feel to murder Mercutio. His mind wanders to nothing else. And definitely to no one else. Definitely no one else.

Tybalt is not struck down by God during the entirety of his walk, which, in his opinion, is enough proof that he does not exist. He then walks through the entirely too lavish palace and opens the door of Mercutio’s dressing room/guest bedroom #103 to find Mercutio singing some upbeat song he’s never heard of and sounds like it belongs about five centuries from today.

“Interrupting something?” Tybalt deadpans.

Mercutio turns. “Just my good mood. You really know how to ruin a dude’s wedding day with your presence. You could probably get paid good money for that from ex-lovers.”

Remember how Tybalt felt like the truth made him lose the ability to feel anger? Well, something about seeing Mercutio's face made that anger come back hella fast. 

Tybalt storms over to Mercutio and says, “Wow, so funny. Let’s get something straight: I hate you, you hate me. In any other circumstance, I’d have my sword out already. But, for some reason, my kid cousin loves you, and I promised not to kill you.” Tybalt grabs Mercutio by the collar and whispers, “But if I so much as think that you hurt her or are unfaithful, my promise will go out the window and I will kill you.” He lets him go roughly and says, “Got that?”

Tybalt may have promised Paris not to kill him, but his protection of Juliet trumps any promise. 

Mercutio pants and straightens up his shirt almost subconsciously. He rambles, “Cool, cool, cool. Totally got it. Won’t be unfaithful. Why would I be unfaithful? Beautiful woman, boobs, lady parts, all the things I love.”

“Also, never talk about my cousin like that if you want to see the sun again.”

Mercutio laughs nervously. “Wow, you really take the whole threatening the groom trope seriously, huh?”

“Dead serious.”

****

Maybe marrying a gay man as his beard is not her childhood dream, but her dress is so pretty, which totally makes up for it. Oh, and the fact that she’s met the love of her life. That too.

But the dress is just gorgeous. Cream with frilly sleeves and a skirt that flies beautifully as she spins. Juliet admires it in the vanity mirror as Pam fixes up her hair into a series of elaborate braids.

Rosaline is sitting next to her with her heels up on the vanity table, munching an apple. Her bridesmaid's dress has slid all the way up to her underwear, but she either hasn't noticed or did not care enough to fix it. Juliet would guess the latter. Pam had begged her to help with the braiding process, but Rosaline somehow got out of that. It’s probably for best considering how much of a perfectionist Pam is.

Pam has not stopped talking since they arrived at the palace, and she is currently saying, “I know I wanted you to marry Mr. Paris, but Mercutio is a pretty good second choice. He’s Prince Escalus’ cousin, you know. So was Mr. Paris, but oh, well. You’re marrying Mercutio, so I guess you know best.”

This is as close as Pam could get to giving her blessing, and Juliet squeezes her wrist while smiling at her in the mirror’s reflection. “Thank you, Pam.”

“Of course, sweetie! You know you’re like the daughter I never had, and I’ll support you no matter what.”

Pam begins tearing up, and Rosaline rolls her eyes. “It's getting way too touchy-feely in here. Next thing you know, Pam will be telling the story of the day you were born.”

Pam continues, teary-eyed, “Look at you in that dress, so grown-up. It feels like it was just yesterday you were born. You were this cute little butterball, always crying, begging for my milk.”

Juliet goes to cover her ears before she hears all the gory details again. Rosaline smiles at her in the mirror, all teeth. She whispers, “Told ya.”

Juliet, still covering her ears, mouths, “Help me.”

Rosaline’s grin widens, and Juliet thinks for a moment that she won’t help her. But then she says, “Pam, the ceremony is going to start in a minute. Why don’t you get a seat so you can see Juliet walk down the aisle?”

Pam lets go of Juliet’s finished braids. “Yes, yes, that’s a good idea. I want to see my baby girl walking down the aisle to meet the purpose of her life.”

Pam walks out the door, stopping in the doorway to look at Juliet proudly and to wipe her tears. Rosaline gets up after her and closes the door in her face with a, “See you later!”

Rosaline marches back over to Juliet, re-taking her seat. This time, she sits facing Juliet. “God, the way she speaks, you’d think we have no other purpose in life than to marry a man and fuck him.”

Juliet laughs. She loves Pam, but some of her ideas are ridiculous.“She probably does think that.”

Rosaline looks at Juliet seriously, in that way a protective older sibling regards a younger sibling. Besides from the fact that Rosaline is her cousin and a year younger than her, that is exactly the situation. She says, “You want to marry him, right? Lucifer isn't forcing you?”

Juliet nods. “Yes, I do.” Not for the reasons Rosaline thinks, but she does.

Rosaline says, serious, “Okay, then. I don’t have to murder him in his sleep.”

Juliet laughs, and Rosaline says, “You laugh. I know how to wield a sword. Tybalt taught me. And I would if marrying him wasn’t what you wanted.”

Juliet smiles at Rosaline. Sometimes, she forgets what a fucking awesome cousin she has. “I know you would. I would do the same for you. Don’t forget, Tybalt also taught me.”

“But I was always better.”

“You wish, cuz. You wish.”

Someone knocks at the door. Rosaline stands and throws her apple core in the garbage can, which swoops in perfectly. “That’s our cue.”

Rosaline walks to the door, where Tybalt is waiting for her. He takes her arm and walks her out the door.

Juliet takes her place in the doorway, and Capulet, who is standing to her left, takes her arm. As they walk to the church arm-in-arm, Juliet realizes that this is the most physical contact with him she’s ever received. She always craved it as a little girl, but now, all she wants to do is rip his arm off of her.

Juliet feels like he is going to suddenly drag her away from the altar and insist she marries Paris instead. It’s ridiculous, she knows that. He just wants her married to someone who is rich and powerful. He already agreed to let her marry Mercutio. But Capulet never let her get away. So she can’t convince her beating heart that this will be the first, despite all evidence to the contrary.

They are almost at the church door when Capulet whispers, “Do not ruin this for us. Keep your mouth shut and do whatever Mercutio asks.”

Juliet’s throat dries. Part of her is relieved; he will let her marry Mercutio. The other part of her is terrified, even though she knows Capulet’s warning means nothing. Mercutio would never make her do anything she didn’t want to. Still, he holds power over her, and any threat, no matter how outlandish, is terrifying.

The two enter the church after the longest walk in existence. Everyone in the massive audience turns to stare at her walking down the aisle. Juliet glances over them. She maybe knows ten of them. Maybe. Most of them must be people who the royal family deemed important enough to attend.

She sees Lady Capulet, who looks strange not hiding behind Capulet. Instead, she is hiding among the crowd, not even making eye contact with Juliet and staring at the ground.

Pam, on the other hand, is in the front row, already sobbing loudly.

Capulet lets go of Juliet’s arm and gives her a formal kiss on the cheek. Even his lips are cold and stiff, and Juliet holds back a gag.

Mercutio is standing under the arch, smirking so subtly at her, it is probably mistaken for a loving look by the audience. Juliet takes her place across from him.

The priest begins to speak. “Dearly beloved, we are gathered here-”

Juliet stops listening at this point, already bored. Instead, she thinks of the commitment she is making. When she was little, she always dreamed of marrying the love of her life. Pam always told her that that was ridiculous, true love doesn't exist. Juliet almost believed her; her parents were living proof. Still, she couldn't help hoping to meet someone who just completed her. She needed this hope to survive, even if it was an empty one. Against all odds, her wish came true and she met the love of her life.

Yet, today, she is marrying the love of her life's best friend. She should be disappointed, but all she feels is giddiness at having gotten away with her plan. 

Juliet looks up at the priest for the first time; she did not bother looking at the person speaking the boring words before. Her eyes widen. She whispers to Mercutio, quiet enough no one can hear her, “Oh my God, this guy tried to sell me a fake suicide potion!”

“And you didn’t buy any?"

"No. Why would I want that?"

"Lame."

The priest/door-to-door salesman, whose name Juliet remembers as Lawrence, glares at the two of them like a teacher silently scolding his students for speaking during a boring lesson. Juliet and Mercutio both whisper their apologies.

Even so, there is still silence. Mercutio and Juliet look at each other, wondering what the hell Friar Lawrence, who is still looking at them expectantly, asked. In retrospect, maybe they should have been listening to the wedding ceremony.

Tybalt taps Mercutio on the shoulder, looking rather impatient, and Mercutio turns. Tybalt hands him the rings. “Ah, thanks, my dude.” Juliet pins Tybalt’s facial expression as Don’t kill him. The Friar himself seems to be praying for strength under his breath.

Louder, Friar Lawrence asks Mercutio, “Do you take this woman to be your lawfully wedded wife?”

Juliet almost giggles out loud at the thought that she now has two husbands, one legal and one not-so-legal.

“I do,” Mercutio says with a shit-eating smile.

Mercutio slips the ring onto her hand, and Juliet thinks that her vine wedding band from Romeo was so much prettier than this gold one.

“And do you, Juliet, take this man to be your lawfully wedded husband?”

“I do,” Juliet says, smiling at Mercutio without a hint of romantic love, but still lovingly.

Mercutio matches her smile as Juliet slips his ring onto his finger.

“If anyone has any objections to this union, speak now or forever hold your peace.”

Juliet’s heart thumps way too loudly for a ridiculous wedding ritual; this is the last time her father could end the wedding. Tybalt is glaring at someone in the audience, and Juliet looks out into the crowd to see who. She does not notice anyone unusual, but she sees Capulet, sitting silent, and she breathes a sigh of relief.

“I now declare you husband and wife. You may kiss the bride.”

Mercutio holds Juliet by the waist and dips her. If Mercutio is going to kiss her, he is going to do it scandalously; Juliet resists the urge to roll her eyes at him. Before he kisses her, he whispers, “I think I’m falling in love with you.”

Juliet whispers back, “I will murder you.”

The actual kiss is quick; neither one of them wants to draw it out. Juliet finds it much too gross and is extremely aware of their movements, unlike with Romeo, where every move was fluid and she did not have to think.

****

“They’re kissing!” Romeo whispers to Benvolio.

The two of them are standing outside the church, watching through the stained glass windows. The window distorts the whole image and makes everything appear red, and the stone walls are so thick, they can barely hear any of the ceremony, so the whole watching idea is kind of useless. But Romeo insisted upon “watching his wife get married”, one of the most ridiculous sentences he’s ever heard in his life.

So far, nobody has noticed them, but Benvolio thinks that this is sheer luck. And luck never runs forever. They should have headed out ages ago. Hell, they shouldn’t even be here.

“Yes, that usually happens at a wedding,” Benvolio replies.

“Mercutio looks really into it,” Romeo says. He looks scared for a second. “Do you think I have to worry? They’re going to be around each other all the time, and I bet he’s a really good kisser. Is he a good kisser?”

Benvolio snorts. “Yeah, he is, and Juliet is going to fall in love with him. Oh no, how could I have let my boyfriend marry her?"

Romeo’s face resembles a hurt puppy’s, but Benvolio cannot find it within himself to feel sorry when he’s so focused on not laughing loud enough to alert the entire ceremony of the intruders.

“It’s possible,” Romeo mutters. “You can’t be too careful.”

“Yeah, dude. You can be.” He gestures to Romeo. “Exhibit A. Also B through X.”

Romeo grumbles out some retort in response that is only understandable to some species of aliens.

Benvolio looks back through the window to see Juliet and Mercutio walking down the aisle while their guests throw rice at them.

He whispers to Romeo, “We’d better head out now. Before someone catches us.”

Romeo is staring through the window so Benvolio cannot see his face when he says, “And miss the wedding party? No way, man.”

Benvolio thinks he must have misheard. “You want to attend the wedding party?” he repeats incredulously. “You do know that we are intruders? That we are Montagues at a Capulet wedding? That we’ll be executed if we’re caught? You do know this, right? I feel like I’ve said this multiple times in the past couple days.”

“I know,” Romeo says, and Benvolio detects a hint of guilt in his voice.

“Romeo,” Benvolio says warningly, “what did you do?”

“Not ‘what did I do,” Romeo says, “it’s ‘what are we going to do?”

“I feel like that’s worse, somehow.”

“It’s not,” Romeo says, his voice an octave too high, his obvious tell for an obvious lie. He holds up the burlap sack next to him. “We’re just going to put on these disguises and then enter the party. Nobody will know it’s us.”

Benvolio stares at him. “Are you fucking kidding me? In what universe is this a good idea?”

“In the one where I really want to see my wife at her wedding party and surprise her as a big, romantic gesture to show my love?”

“You being there won’t change anything. And why didn’t you think to tell me beforehand?”

Romeo’s guilt fades to high-pitched defensiveness. “Well, what did you think was in the burlap sack?”

By this point, the entire audience is pouring out the doors of the church and down the street, following Mercutio and Juliet back to the palace. Benvolio hopes that they won’t hear them because of their own cheering and are too distracted to look at the sides of the church and see them cowering there.

Benvolio matches his pitch. “I don’t know! I was hoping food or something! You get hungry a lot!”

Romeo lowers his pitch and volume. “C’mon, dude, what’s life without taking risks?”

“Being alive?” Benvolio grumbles.

Romeo ignores him and continues, “This is a once in a lifetime chance. We’ve got to see them tonight. Please, Benvolio.”

Benvolio sighs. This is still the stupidest plan he’s ever heard in his life, even stupider than sneaking into yet a different Capulet party the night before. But he’s sick of being everyone’s babysitter. Maybe life would be better if he didn’t try to protect everyone so much.

And besides, Romeo knows that Benvolio is a sucker for begging (Thank God Mercutio cannot hear his head ‘cause he’d have a fucking field day). He can’t ever say no to his friends. He can mock them, sure, but he can’t say no.

“Fine,” Benvolio sighs. Romeo pumps his fist in triumph. “But these costumes better be bloody fucking brilliant.”

Romeo grins. “Oh don’t worry. They are perfect!”

“Why do I feel like this is so not true?” Benvolio mutters to himself.

Chapter Text

They are the perfect costumes, Benvolio can fight him. Benvolio is decked out in a red and white floral dress and has on a matching hat to hide his masculine hair. Romeo tried to convince him to wear makeup, but he could only get him to wear the red lipstick, which, he must say, looks marvelous on him. Romeo went in a more adventurous approach, wearing a deep blue dress with puffy sleeves, heavy makeup, and a wig he found in his attic.

The two of them enter the party and stop once they get a few feet into the ballroom. Unlike the Capulet party yesterday, there is a long table for the upcoming feast in the center, and the lights are brighter, the violin music is softer, and the chatter is quieter. It feels more dignified, like you won’t turn a corner and see a couple scandalously making out.

The feast has not yet started, and so, everyone is milling around aimlessly, talking about nothing in particular, hoping to get in a word or favor with Prince Escalus. Nobody gives the two of them a second glance, believing Romeo and Benvolio to be two fair maidens.

However, this doesn’t stop Benvolio’s nerves. He keeps his head down for a moment, then quickly looks up and glances around to make sure nobody is staring at them, then looks down again. It’s terribly suspicious. Romeo wouldn’t tell him, but he’s a terrible actor, even with the foolproof backstory and codenames he gave the two of them.

Romeo is playing Prince Escalus’ ex-lover, Rose. Despite Rose breaking Escalus’ heart, the two of them remained friends. Rose suspects this is because he is still in love with her, and his inviting her to the party is his attempt to win her back. As an excuse for being alone with the prince, Rose brought along her shy and masculine cousin, Betty. Betty has not found a husband or any friends yet because of her judging and von-holier-than-thou ways. (Benvolio slapped him when he told him this part).

Romeo takes another step into the party, feeling a tingle of excitement envelop him. It might have been stupid to crash yet another party for the second day in a row, but yesterday gave him the opportunity to meet the love of his life. Why should today yield bad results when he is applying the same formula? Surprising Juliet at her wedding party is the most romantic surprise of all.

Benvolio steps next to Romeo immediately, as if he fears that if he is left alone, he’ll be dragged to his death. He whispers, “I have never felt more stupid.”

“Why? The dress looks fabulous on you,” Romeo whispers back.

“We should stop whispering,” Benvolio whispers, glancing at the people surrounding him out of the corner of his eye.” People are staring!”

Romeo nods, takes a deep breath, and says in a loud, high-pitched voice, “I hope we don’t run into Prince Escalus! That would be awkward. I’m his EX-LOVER.”

Romeo smiles to himself. That was a brilliant cover. He should have been an actor. Heck, maybe he still will be one.

Benvolio appears to be less than impressed, though. He’s staring at Romeo with his jaw dropped, and he seems to slink into his gown. He hisses, “What the fuck are you doing? People are staring!”

Romeo looks around the room and people, indeed, are staring. They must be jealous of his outfit. He looks quite gorgeous in it, if he says so himself. Romeo whispers to Benvolio (rather subtly, he must say), “Get into it, dude! It seems weird you’re not speaking.”

Benvolio glances around the room, looking self-conscious, before saying, in the worst female voice he’s ever heard, “Um, yeah. Hope we don’t run into Prince Escalus!”

Now, people must be staring because of Benvolio. He’s a really bad actor. Romeo whispers, “Was that a French accent?”

Benvolio blushes madly. “I don’t know! It just came out! Can we go yet? People are staring.”

“Not until we see Juliet. The point of a romantic surprise is to see her.”

Benvolio sighs. “Couldn’t you have just gotten her chocolate like a normal human being?”

“That’s so boring,” Romeo says quietly. Louder, he says, “Betty, how dare you suggest that! I am not a whore!”

Benvolio blushes an even darker shade of red. Romeo looks around the room, and many eyes stare back at him. Oh good! They buy his female cover. He is quite proud of himself when he sees Juliet storming over to them, with Mercutio on her tail.

Romeo grins at her, sure she is so happy to see him. But, as she approaches, he notices not love in her eyes, but a fierce anger. Perhaps she isn’t happy? Why not? This is such a brilliant romantic gesture.

Despite her apparent anger, she sweetly says, “Thank you for attending my wedding!”

Juliet leans forward to kiss him on the cheek, as all ladies do, and she whispers in his ear, “What the fuck are you doing here?”

He whispers back, “Just wanted to see you!”

Juliet’s anger seems to fade a little, and after she leans back, she says loudly, “Well, then, come along, and I’ll show you to the bathroom!”

Romeo nods and follows her. As he leaves, he hears Mercutio whisper, “Meet you in the courtyard in five?”

Benvolio says in his terrible French accent, “That sounds lovely! Congratulations on your wedding.”

Mercutio, just as dramatically, says, “Thank you so much, kind LADY.”

Romeo smirks to himself. Benvolio fought him all the way on crashing this wedding, but his resolve entirely fell apart the second he saw Mercutio. Mercutio did not even care why Benvolio was there. For the millionth time, he thinks how perfect they are together.

Juliet storms into the bathroom and shuts the door after Romeo. The bathroom is small, not meant for two people, and Romeo appreciates that; less room between him and the love of his life is always good.

Juliet crosses her arms over her luscious dress and body, and Romeo forces his eyes up to meet hers. Juliet says for the second time, “What the fuck are you doing here, Romeo?”

“I told you, I wanted to see you!”

Juliet doesn’t exactly look angry. It’s more a look of exasperation, the way people look at him when he doesn’t quite get why what he was doing is wrong. She sighs, “That’s nice, Romeo, but crashing my wedding can ruin everything! What if my father recognizes you? Why would you say you’re here?”

Romeo shrugs. “I’d make something up. That I like the food here or something. He’d buy it.”

Juliet sighs through her nostrils. “It doesn’t matter what you’d say, Romeo! He could still behead you!”

“That probably wouldn’t happen.”

“Probably. What if it did, Romeo? Then this whole thing would be for nothing. You risked this whole plan for no reason!”

Juliet is breathing heavy, her breasts heaving. Romeo, before indifferent to the consequences, feels a stab of guilt. He’s never been that good at thinking ahead or caring about the consequences of his actions. But Juliet obviously cares and thinks ahead. What he considers a romantic gesture appears to be a dangerous decision to Juliet.

“I’m sorry,” Romeo whispers. “I just thought surprising you would be romantic.”

Juliet’s eyes soften and fall to the floor before meeting his own. “It was romantic. Just, think of the consequences next time, okay? Maybe just chocolates.”

“That’s what Benvolio said.”

Juliet laughs a little. “Maybe I should have married him instead.” At Romeo’s look of fear, she adds, “Kidding. You know I only love you.”

“I know. So, you’re not angry at me anymore?”

“No. I overreacted. I’m sorry. Sometimes the pressure gets to me.”

Romeo nods. He doesn’t really get it. He’s never had that type of pressure before now. But he kind of understands that to Juliet, every decision is like life-or-death. So of course she gets nervous about a decision that can mean death.

“I understand,” he ends up saying.

Juliet says, “Hey, do you want to meet me at Mercutio’s house tonight? Maybe you can show me your love in a different way?”

“You got it, baby.” Mercutio’s shown him the house before, so he knows the address.

Juliet leans forward and whispers in his ear, “And keep the dress on. It’s kind of hot.”

Romeo smirks. “Really?”

Juliet leans back, matching his smug expression. “Very.” She puts her hand on the door handle. “Leave five minutes from now to avoid suspicion, alright?”

Romeo steps towards to wall to hide. Juliet is pretty hot right now, being all commanding. “You got it, baby,” Romeo says again.

Juliet locks eyes with him one more time, and somehow, he can just see how much she loves him. She leaves, leaving Romeo in the bathroom to look forward to later, him in the dress and her ripping it off of him.

****

Mercutio does not exactly know why Benvolio is at his wedding, but he sure as hell isn’t losing valuable making out time. He spends the most painful five minutes of his life walking around his party, thanking people he does not know for coming and basically kissing asses he wishes were Benvolio’s.

Mercutio glances behind him to make sure no one is watching him, then slides out the door to the courtyard and bolts the door behind him. The courtyard is one of probably thousands, and it isn’t too big, but it is grand with hummingbirds and small trees and flowers that definitely aren’t indigenous to Italy.

He sees Benvolio in his floral dress pacing the back corner, his hat thrown on the ground, and he speedily walks over.

Benvolio stops pacing and looks up. “Hey.”

“Hey,” Mercutio repeats, softly kissing him in greeting. “What are you doing here?”

Benvolio rolls his eyes. “Romeo wanted to surprise Juliet, which I told him was the stupidest idea ever, but he wouldn’t listen. And I couldn’t let him go alone.”

“Well, I’m glad you’re here.”

They stare at each other, taking in each other. Birds chirp in the background, but Mercutio barely hears them. Most of the time, the two of them are teasing each other, then fucking. They rarely get moments like these, quiet, sincere, just the two of them.

Benvolio breaks the silence, blurting out, “I love you, you know.” He stares at the ground and kicks a stone. “I was just thinking that I don’t say it enough.”

Mercutio kisses him again, just a slight brush of the lips. He loves matching wits with Benvolio, it’s part of what makes them perfect for each other. But he also loves sincere, quiet Benvolio, the one only he gets to see. Even he rarely gets to see that side of him, maybe because they’re rarely alone for long.

“I love you, too, you know.”

Benvolio smiles. “Know what we’ve never done?”

Usually, Mercutio would say some type of sex joke, but it feels too real right now for that. “What?”

“Dance,” Benvolio says. He holds out his hand. “Mercutio, may I have this dance?”

Mercutio takes his hand and wraps his other arm around Benvolio’s waist. “You may.”

The two of them begin slow-dancing, if it can count as that. It is mainly holding each other close, Benvolio laying his head on Mercutio’s shoulder, and taking a step every few seconds.

Mercutio has never felt luckier in his life.

****


When Paris enters the party, he is fuming. He knows he agreed to break up Mercutio and Juliet with Tybalt, but the second the Friar asked if there were any objections, all Paris wanted to do was to do was stand up and scream, “I object!” It took all of his willpower (and Tybalt’s glare) not to.

It wouldn’t have done anything if he objected. He would have been thrown out and they still would have married. But, God, irrationally calling out Mercutio for stealing Juliet sounds so fucking good. Maybe then the ball of steely anger in the pit of his stomach would finally vanish.

About half an hour into the party, he sees Juliet exit a bathroom. Without thinking of the consequences, he storms over to her.

Her back is to her and she is facing the bathroom door when he reaches her. “Beautiful wedding.”

She jumps a bit, then turns toward him. “Thank y- oh. Hello, Paris.”

Strangely, she looked a bit guilty before she realized it was him. He doesn’t dwell on it because he cannot focus on anything other than making her understand the pain she put him through.

“Yeah. It’s me. Rather you would just never see me again, huh?” He’s probably talking too loud and making wild gestures remnant of a madman. But again, he could not care less.

Juliet says, still trying to sound like she is talking to any other guest about the cake or her dress or some other shit, “No. I just didn’t realize you were invited to my wedding.”

Paris scoffs. “Seriously? Your wedding? It was supposed to be my wedding.” 

Juliet glances around at her guests, like she’s scared that this would somehow reflect poorly on her. Paris rolls his eyes. Why would switching grooms the day before the wedding reflect badly on her? Then, she looks towards the bathroom, like somehow, even the fucking bathroom would judge her.

Juliet lowers her voice, looking at the bathroom quickly once more. “Look. Can we please do this somewhere else?”

“Why? You don’t want a scene at your fucking perfect wedding?” Paris says, verging on yelling.

Juliet sighs. Oh, poor her. Having to face the guy she fucking dumped. Somebody better get a fucking tissue before she cries from the injustice.

She says, softly, “I’m sorry, Paris. I just wasn’t in love with you.”

It feels like a punch to the gut. He knew, deep down, that she was never in love with him. He just told himself she was, forced himself to ignore all the signs that she wasn’t.

But still. How could she just pretend to love him?

“And you’re in love with that buffono?” he asks incredulously.

“Yes, I am in love with… that buffoon.”

Paris can feel his urge to murder Mercutio for stealing Juliet turn into an insane, tear-ridden fury at having lost the most wonderful girl in the world. He liked the pit of anger better. At least then, he didn’t feel so pathetic.

Blinking back tears, he says, “How could you just dump me, Juliet? Or how could you just have your father dump me?”

Juliet’s eyes turn hard, her former apologetic demeanor a thing of the past. Still quiet, but this time with a steel-cold undertone, she says, “I thought it was fitting. My father arranged the marriage, he should end it. I never once said I would marry you, Paris. I was forced to.”

Paris feels like he’s trying to cling to his wall of self-righteous anger, but he’s quickly sliding down to the pool of insanity at the bottom. “But your father told me-”

“My father doesn’t speak for me,” Juliet interrupts. “I couldn’t tell you how I felt because my father-” Her voice gives, a strange opposite to her previous anger. “I mean he- it wouldn’t have been-”

Juliet meets his eyes for a split second, and Paris thinks he sees fear. Quickly, it turns back to the cold anger. “I just couldn’t have told you. But you didn’t even ask if I wanted to marry you, how I felt about you. And my feelings matter, you know.”

Paris feels himself falling even further into the pit with every word Juliet says. Because she is, technically, right. Her feelings do matter.

But so do his.

Paris says, quieter than before and more in control, “I should have asked you how you felt about me, but I gave you every chance to tell me. I assumed you loved me like I love you. But while I was getting my suit altered and picking out roses you’d like and your favorite cake, you were fooling around with my cousin. And you didn’t even give me the courtesy of telling me yourself that you didn’t love me and you loved him. You had your father do it. You didn’t even think of me for a split second. Not for a moment. And that’s messed up, Juliet.”

The hardness of Juliet’s eyes has melted, and he can see that his words had an impact on her. She says, desperate to get the high ground again, “I had no choice-

Paris feels calmer, suddenly. Still fuming, but calmer. Something about telling her the truth is like confessing his sins. He takes a step back from her, saying, “There is always a choice. Goodbye, Juliet. Congratulations on your wedding.”

“Paris, wait-”

He stops for a moment. “Your husband doesn’t deserve you, Juliet, even with everything you’ve done. I swear I will win you back.”

With these words, Paris turns to the crowd and walks away with his head held high. People are staring, just as he suspected, but he cannot find it within to care. He told Juliet his intentions, and now, he just has to fulfill them. Simple.

Juliet calls after him, her voice fading, “You never had me to begin with.”

Paris feels proud of himself as he walks into the crowd for a full thirty seconds. Then stupid reality takes hold of him. That whole scene accomplished absolutely nothing. He still doesn’t have Juliet, and now, the whole kingdom knows how pathetic he is, losing Juliet to his lesser cousin.

Thinking of Mercutio, of how he snuck behind Paris’ back, stealing his girl, makes the ball of anger boil back to life surprisingly quick. This time, he welcomes it. Without the anger holding him up, he’s sure he would fall into the pit of insanity, crying about Juliet all day. Without it, he’s not sure he would be able to walk across the ballroom without his legs turning to jelly. Without it, he’s not sure he’d ever be sane again.

Paris sees Tybalt standing on the fringes of the crowd, staring at a door to the courtyard, and gravitates over to him, anger fueling his steps.

Tybalt does not take his eyes off the door when Paris stops next to him. His anger slightly lessens, like Tybalt is somehow absorbing some of it himself. “Does telling Juliet I plan to win her back mess with our plan?” Paris asks, worrying about how his outburst might affect Tybalt for the first time. “Because I-”

“Shut up,” Tybalt says. His words are harsh, probably harsher than he meant, because he glances at Paris out of the corner of his eye and says, “Sorry. No, it doesn’t mess with our plan. In fact, it helps, because once we break them up and kill Mercutio, then you have a stake on her.”

“Cool, cool. So, um, why are you staring at that door so creepy?” Mockingly, he adds, “Is it a Montague too?”

Tybalt glares at him. “No,” he says. “But a strange maiden went through it ten minutes ago, shortly followed by Mercutio.” 

“Seriously?” Paris asks, slightly excited for the first time since he was engaged to Juliet. God, yesterday feels so long ago.

“Yep,” Tybalt says, popping the ‘p’.

“Do you think he’s, you know, cheating on her?”

Tybalt walks toward the door and says, “Only one way to find out.”

Just as his hand touches the handle, Paris says, “You’re not going to open that, are you?”

“Why not?”

Paris shrugs. “I don’t know, they could see us or something.”

“They’re the ones who’ve got something to be ashamed of,” Tybalt says.

“It just doesn’t feel proper,” Paris says, feebly trying to explain. His innate sense of politeness is momentarily causing his hatred to mellow, and Paris silently curses it. He reminds himself that he needs that anger to get what he wants, to not go insane. 

 “You are literally the worst villain ever.”

“Fine,” Paris says, hardening his resolve and ignoring any lingering feelings of decency. “Open it.”

Tybalt opens the door, but it doesn’t go far. It’s bolted from the outside, so they only get to look into the courtyard an inch. Tybalt peeks out, and Paris leans down a little to peak out from under Tybalt’s chest.

They can only see the back left corner of the courtyard. Luckily, that is where Mercutio, obviously identifiable by his lacy collar and fancy suit, and his lady, wearing a red and white floral gown, are slow-dancing. The lady’s head is buried in Mercutio’s shoulder, so her face is unidentifiable. Every so often, Mercutio leans down and kisses her hair, which looks surprisingly short from this angle. It is such a tender scene that Paris would have been embarrassed to have witnessed it, had it not given his case to murder Mercutio the perfect ammunition.

“Gotcha,” Tybalt whispers.

They both extract their faces from the door, and Tybalt softly closes it.

“He’s cheating on her!” Paris exclaims. “What do we do now?”

“Now,” Tybalt says, walking back into the crowd and leaving Paris to scurry after him, “we tell Capulet. He’ll break up the marriage, it becomes the shortest marriage on record, I kill Mercutio, you marry Juliet. Bing bang boom, done.”

“I can’t believe it will be this easy,” Paris says as the two of them wade through the crowd to find Capulet. “In novels, it takes forever to accomplish the goal. We did this in less than an hour after the wedding.”

“Well, this isn’t a story. In real life, some things are simple and have no meaning. A villain is a villain, blood is blood, and a dead body is a dead body.”

“You’re a cheerful person, sweetie.”

Tybalt glances at him without actually turning his head, like he doesn’t actually want to be caught looking at him. Still, Paris thinks he sees amusement written in his eyes. Dryly, Tybalt says, “You’re no bucket of rainbows and puppies either.”

Paris sees Capulet standing with a glass of wine and surrounded by people congratulating him. Even in his formal wear and at his daughter’s wedding, he looks unimpressed.

Tybalt shoves past the people, leaving them to shrink away and Paris to quietly apologize for their collective rudeness. “Uncle,” he says in greeting.

Capulet remains unaffected. “Skip the pleasantries and get to the point.”

Tybalt nods, his Adam’s apple swelling as he swallows. If Paris didn’t know better, he’d say that Tybalt was scared of Capulet. But that’s ridiculous; Tybalt isn’t afraid of anything, much less his uncle.

“Paris and I just witnessed Mercutio, your son-in-law, dancing with and kissing another woman.”

Capulet’s expression does not change, so Paris adds, “It’s true, Sir. I just saw it a moment ago myself.”

Capulet says, his voice rumbling with power, “And I should believe you because…?”

Tybalt and Paris look at each other, silently asking each other what the correct answer is. Tybalt ventures, “Because we have eyes and we saw it?”

Capulet scoffs. “You’re saying I should take the word of a man who's wanted to kill Mercutio and his friends since birth? Just last night you wanted to kill Romeo. I have no reason to trust anything you say.”

“But I saw it, too,” Paris protests.

“I have even less reason to trust you. The ex-fiancee wants revenge? Classic.” Paris opens his mouth to defend himself, but Capulet continues, “And don’t even try to tell me that this isn’t about revenge. I saw you- Hell, everyone saw you- just minutes ago causing a scene with my daughter, telling her you still loved her and that she broke your heart.”

“But, Sir,” Paris tries, “whatever our motives, we are still telling the truth.”

“I will make a one-time exception and repeat myself,” Capulet says. Given his stoic appearance, it should be impossible to tell when he’s angry. And yet, fury radiates off of him, and it cracks through his ice blue eyes. “I have absolutely no reason to trust either of you, and I believe that every word coming out of your mouths are complete lies.”

Tybalt says, “We can prove it to you.”

“How?” Capulet asks, unimpressed.

“Follow us and you can witness it yourself.”

Tybalt takes off into the crowd without looking behind him. Paris waits for Capulet, who sets down his wine glass with a huff and strolls leisurely after Tybalt. People instantly part for him, the way the ocean might part for Poseidon. Paris chases after him in the clear path left by Capulet.

Tybalt stands by the courtyard door, waiting for Capulet. Once he is close, Tybalt opens the door with a smug smirk. Unlike before, the door swings wide open. Tybalt’s smirk dissolves. Even without approaching closer, Paris can see that there is nobody out there.

Capulet looks through the door. “Did you wish to show me the hummingbirds, nephew?”

If Tybalt blushed, he would be crimson right now. “No, Uncle. Mercutio and his lady were out there before, I swear.”

“I wish I could trust you. Do not bother me with this pettiness again.” He looks each of them in the eyes, causing Paris to shrink about ten inches and Tybalt to stare him back.

Capulet leaves, the sea of people parting once again for their god. Tybalt turns to Paris, his dark eyes flashing with an anger that matches Paris’.

“Where the fuck did they go?” Tybalt asks. “Did they just vanish into the air? How did they know we were coming?”

Paris’ eyes widen as Mercutio appears from behind Tybalt and taps him on his shoulder.

“Something wrong, dear cousin-in-law?” Mercutio teases, his mouth quirked up in an irritatingly victorious smile. “You look rather agitated.”

Tybalt balls his fists and steps toward Mercutio. Mercutio refuses to step back or drop his smile, leaving Tybalt standing less than an inch away from Mercutio.

“You,” Tybalt growls. “I warned you: you hurt my cousin, and I hurt you. Tell me why I shouldn’t kill you right now, right here.”

“Well, for starters that would be a terrible wedding present,” Mercutio jokes. Tybalt makes guttural growling noise, and Mercutio takes the step back and says, “And also, I haven’t done anything to Juliet.”

His voice sounds honest for once in his whole goddamn life, but Paris doesn’t believe that liar for one second.

“Don’t lie to me,” Tybalt says. “I saw you out that with that whore.”

Mercutio’s smile falters. “That… whore?”

“Two seconds until I stab you, you sick son of a bitch.”

Mercutio looks terrified for half a second longer, then his shit-eating grin comes back, like he just realized he has another ace up his sleeve. “Your eyes must be deceiving you, dear cousin-in-law. I’ve done nothing. And even if I did, you won’t be able to explain to Capulet why you murdered his greatest asset.” Mercutio leans annoyingly close to Tybalt and whispers, “In case you haven’t heard, he loves his new son-in-law.”

“Fuck you,” Tybalt sneers, but it holds no real power, and Mercutio knows it.

Paris steps in front of Tybalt, who steps back for him. Mercutio and he had always gotten along well enough, but, as they say, all is fair in love and war. Mercutio stole the love of his life, and now Paris is declaring war.

The anger that dulled around Tybalt takes the reins once again. “You are so lucky you are not dead yet. You should be, you asshole of a kinsman.” He points his finger at Mercutio, nearly stabbing him with every accusation. “You stole Juliet from me, the most wonderful girl in the world, and you don’t even have the fucking common sense to worship her. Instead, you go and fuck with the nearest floozy you can find at your fucking wedding.”

“Again, your accusations are all bullshit,” Mercutio says, his tone almost condescending. “Capulet gave Juliet to me, and I have been nothing but faithful to her in the hour we’ve been married, which, I know, is a complete shocker.”

Paris balls his fists. “I should kill you, you know.”

“Oh, dear cousin,” Mercutio sighs, lazily inspecting his nails. “I’d like to see you try.”

“Maybe I fucking will,” Paris says, gearing up his fists. Who needs a sword when you can just choke him?

Tybalt grabs hold of his arms before Paris can deck him. Mercutio has stepped back a bit, perhaps realizing that Paris might actually be ready to hit someone for the first time in his life. Tybalt whispers, “Whoa, dude. Remember the plan. I do all the killing. And I can’t yet. Let this go.”

“Fine,” Paris whispers back, yanking his wrists out of Tybalt’s death-grip. Paris sneers at Mercutio, “Count your blessings, dear cousin, and thank the lord you’re alive. Because you won’t be able to claim that for long.”

Mercutio replies, his face smug once again, “Do you want to escort yourselves out, or should I call the guards? I honestly prefer the guards option, but that might prove to be embarrassing for you, Paris, being escorted out of your family’s home.”

Paris has always considered himself a sensible person, but now, all he can think of is how nice it will feel when Mercutio is drawing his last breath underneath Paris’ fingertips. He tries to bolt forward, but Tybalt catches him by the arm and drags him toward the front door. Paris struggles, but it barely even makes it difficult for Tybalt. It’s unfair, really, how strong he is.

Paris gives up the struggle and begins walking willingly. People part for them again, but not because they’re gods like Capulet, but because everyone’s eyes are on them after their fight with Mercutio. Paris has never made such a spectacle out of himself, yet he has never cared less what people thought of him. He’s a villain now, through and through.

“Don’t worry,” Tybalt whispers out of the corner of his mouth. “He won the battle, but we’ll win the war. And the war will be won with many casualties.”

Paris and Tybalt walk out the door of the castle side-by-side, villain next to villain.

Chapter Text

Benvolio has been dancing with Mercutio in the courtyard for either five minutes or five hours. He is not sure. He so rarely feels peaceful, but in Mercutio’s arms, time seems to be as flexible as clay.

Suddenly, Mercutio spins him so his back is to the corner of the courtyard and pushes his head into his shoulder. Before Benvolio can ask why, Mercutio whispers, “The door opened. Somebody's peeking out at us. Keep dancing until they go away.”

Benvolio’s heart speeds up, and time once again feels real and rock solid. He nods into Mercutio’s shoulder, sure he feels the motion.

Mercutio whispers, “Slowly look up. Are they gone?”

Benvolio slowly lifts his head up from Mercutio’s shoulder. The door is closed, the same as before. If Benvolio didn’t know Mercutio better, he’d say Mercutio was trying for some cruel joke. But Benvolio knows him, and he knows when Mercutio’s serious from his tone, posture, squeeze of the hand, expression, everything.

“Yep,” Benvolio whispers back, his volume low despite the people being gone.

Mercutio lets go of Benvolio, a practical but miserable action. Mercutio picks up Benvolio’s ridiculous red and white bonnet and places it on his head, tying the ribbon underneath his chin. He makes eye contact with Benvolio the whole time, his hand purposefully gentle. Something as simple as eye contact with his boyfriend should not make his heart pound any faster, but in his defense, it was very intense eye contact. Mercutio seemed to be silently telling him how much he loved him all over again and what, exactly, he wished they could be doing right now.

Mercutio nods as he lets go of the now tied ribbons, as if finishing off his silent speech. Benvolio rolls his eyes at him, for no other reason than the familiarity. Mercutio gently holds one of Benvolio’s cheeks and kisses him briefly. It seems like the type of thing someone would do if they would never see their lover again, a goodbye of sorts. Dramatic, as always, Benvolio thinks, but then again, he did just mentally wax poetry about eye contact

Mercutio lets go of Mercutio’s cheek, takes his arm, and pulls him towards the door. “I’ll go first,” he says, “to check for people watching. If the coast is clear, I’ll nod at you. Count to ten, then leave the palace. Got it?”

Benvolio rolls his eyes. “It was three steps. I think so.”

Mercutio smiles at him lovingly, like somehow his obnoxious sarcastic comment was worth a thousand compliments. He then straightens his suit and puts on a laid-back smirk, the same thing he suspects Mercutio does every morning. He opens the door, glances around, and quickly nods before slipping off into the building.

Benvolio counts to the beat of his thumping heart. He slips out in a similar fashion to Mercutio, but with his head down. He passes Tybalt, Paris, and Capulet, the former two looking smug and Capulet looking as put-out as he probably can look.

As soon as he sees them, he ducks his head down even father and picks up his speed. The last thing he needs is for them to see him and then decide that decapitation for breaking into a Capulet wedding is in order.

Exiting the palace into the humid dusk is like escaping from prison, or more like potential execution for a variety of reasons, from being a Montague to kissing another man. He takes a deep breath of freedom to attempt to slow his pulse. It doesn’t work, and he walks down the steps and out of the gate, trying to get as far away from that hell house as he can.

He has just turned left, heading to the house he and Romeo recently got, when someone taps him on the shoulder.

Benvolio whirls around, heart thumping, sure that this person is going to know what’s he’s just done. Instead, he sees, Romeo, and he breathes a sigh of relief.

Romeo says, in that high voice, “Betty! Where have you been!”

There’s no one around, but Benvolio appreciates that Romeo is, for once, playing it safe. He can’t believe he’s saying that wearing a dress and pretending to be Betty is the safest option, but that’s what happens when you hang around fucking Romeo Montague.

“Not important,” Benvolio says in his Betty voice, and internally cringes at the accidentally and obviously fake French accent. “Let’s go, Rose.”

Romeo nods, and the two of them take off for their house. Romeo seems different, more nervous. He is keeping his head down and not speaking, just like Benvolio, just in case someone else recognizes them.

They do not speak the whole way, the only sounds coming from their shoes tapping against the cobblestone road. Romeo opens the door to their house silently, and they don’t speak until he closes the door.

Romeo bursts out, “Do you think I’m an idiot?”

“Yes,” Benvolio says. Romeo’s eyes widen and his lower lip trembles, and Benvolio feels a stab of guilt. “I mean,” Benvolio fumbles, trying to say something nice but honest, “you’re an idiot, but a nice type of idiot, you know? Like, you’re kind of oblivious sometimes and all, but that makes you you, kind of. Like-” Benvolio sighs. He has no idea where he’s going with this.

Romeo nods, looking like a hurt puppy who was just denied a treat.

Benvolio cannot figure out how to be nice and honest, so he says, “Why do you ask?”

Romeo flops down on an armchair, resting his head on his hand. “Juliet thinks I’m an idiot.”

Benvolio crosses the room to stand in front of him. “I doubt she said that,” he says. He doesn’t know Juliet that well, but she seems much nicer than him, too nice to call the love of her life an idiot.

“Well, she didn’t say it,” he says, staring at the floor and fiddling with the hem of his dress. “She just implied it.”

Benvolio sighs. Most of the time, you can say anything you want to Romeo, and it just rolls right off of him. Like he didn’t even hear what you said. But sometimes, something will just hit him too close to home. Then, he makes up for all the times he didn’t care and cares too much. He’s sensitive, really, but only sensitive to certain insults.

“I’m sure she didn’t mean that,” Benvolio says.

Romeo looks up and meets his eyes. Benvolio liked it better when he was looking down. At least then, he didn’t have to feel all of his sadness.

“She did,” Romeo says, his voice hollow. “And she was right. I am an idiot. I literally thought dressing in dresses to sneak into her wedding party was a good idea. I had no doubts about it.”

Benvolio walks over to the side of Romeo. He sits on the edge of the armchair, his dress flowing on top of Romeo, and awkwardly pats his shoulder. Benvolio tries to finish up his point from before, hoping the thought behind it will make him feel better. “You make some bad decisions sometimes and all, but they are all fueled by your heart. Your heart overpowers your brain, sometimes, I guess. Juliet knows that, dude, or she wouldn’t have gone through this whole stupid, utterly moronic plan. And I’m sure she didn’t mean to imply that you’re stupid for thinking with your heart because that’s one of the best things about you.”

Romeo nods, thinking about this. He admits, “She did apologize for overreacting.”

“See?” Benvolio says, relieved that his theory panned out and he’s not just making the situation worse. Usually, him giving relationship advice ends up with the other person in tears.

Romeo sighs. “I just wish that this was easier, you know? Like you and Mercutio.”

Benvolio smiles a little at the absurdity of the statement but tries to conceal it. Laughing at him during a conversation about him being an idiot probably isn’t the most sensitive choice.

“Dude, Mercutio and I have been best friends for as long as I can remember. And we’ve been dating for years. I don’t think you can just get to that point of understanding in just two days.”

Romeo nods again, his thought process apparent by the furrow of his eyebrows. “That makes sense,” he decides.

Benvolio stands up and starts walking towards his room to change out of his dress, relieved that this conversation is over. Feelings are so hard. Before he gets there, Romeo asks, “Juliet invited me over tonight. You wanna come?”

Benvolio turns. “What are you guys doing?” 

“Having sex,” Romeo says in the same oblivious voice.

Benvolio nods, his eye twitching as he controls a sarcastic response. “Yeah, no thanks, then.”

Benvolio almost heads back into his room before he realizes Romeo is not making any move to take off his own dress or wig. Out of morbid curiosity, he asks him why.

“Juliet wants me to leave it on,” he replies. “She says it’s hot.”

Benvolio stares at him, then silently walks into his room, determined to get that image out of his head.

****

The party lasts late into the night. Capulet and Lady Capulet must have left without saying goodbye, and Juliet can’t help but feel a jolt of relief. She is finally free of them. Finally. Technically, she’s now Mercutio’s property, but God save him from Rosaline if he chooses to use that right.

Finally, there is only one elderly couple left at the party with Mercutio and Juliet; even Prince Escalus retired to his chambers long ago.

The man, elegant in his brown and black jacket, twirls around his partner, who is clad in a green gown covered with little red roses and whose graying hair is pulled back into a bun. Despite their age, they move with surprising agility. The orchestra behind them is almost falling asleep, and every few minutes, one violinist has to slap the other to keep him awake.

Mercutio and Juliet watch from the abandoned table full of empty champagne flutes and dessert plates as the couple dances together, oblivious to the fact the party was dead ages ago.

Mercutio is sipping on champagne. You’d think he’d be tipsy with the amount of alcohol available, but she’s pretty sure that it is his first glass of the night. He must have been too busy to get drunk.

Juliet is wondering the last time she got drunk and realizing she never has, out of fear of her father or her own practicality, when Mercutio says, “Do you snore?”

Juliet almost chokes on air. “I beg your pardon?”

“Do you snore?” Mercutio repeats, like it’s a totally normal question. “I figured, if we’re going to be married, we should know this type of stuff, right?”

“How the hell would I know if I snore?” Juliet asks. “I’m asleep; I can’t hear myself.”

Mercutio, swirling his champagne around in the flute, nods as if he never thought of this. His relaxed posture strangely reminds her of Rosaline, although she bets Rosaline would kill herself (or more likely Mercutio) if Juliet mentioned this. “I snore,” Mercutio says absently.

Juliet shakes her head incredulously. “And you know this how?”

“Queen Mab told me.”

Again, he sounds like he’s commenting on the weather instead of telling her some made-up queen told him he snores. “Queen-fucking-who now?”

“Queen Mab. She’s the fairie that watches you as you sleep and gives you all your dreams and desires. She doesn’t usually talk to people, but we’re bros. She tells me things. Like the fact that I snore,” he says.

Juliet did not think that Mercutio drank a lot, but- “Are you drunk or insane?”

“Neither. You know, Queen Mab told me you would react this way,” he says, still sipping his champagne and talking like he’s completely sane.

Juliet stares at him, jaw opened. For a split second, she’s terrified she married a deranged madman. The description, even without the whole fairie queen thing, kind of fits. But then she breaks into a smile. “You’re messing with me, aren’t you?”

“No,” Mercutio says. But his tone is too dramatic and insulted, and Juliet’s grin widens as she’s sure she’s caught him in his lie.

He meets her eyes, and his straight-face completely breaks into a grin matching her own. “Fine, you caught me,” he sighs.

“I knew it!” Juliet says, pumping her arm in triumph.

“You know, you’re the first person besides Benvolio to realize when I’m bullshitting,” Mercutio says, leaning towards Juliet in the way close friends in an intimate conversation might. “Romeo usually believes me.”

Juliet laughs, delighted to learn more about Romeo. “Seriously?”

 Mercutio nods. “Well, he believed me about the first time. I think he just wanted to believe in fairies. The next time, I think he just thought I was insane.”

“I can’t believe he believed you,” Juliet says, still chuckling. “I thought he had more sense than that!”

“He’s the most gullible person ever,” Mercutio says, emphasizing this hyperbole by raising his glass on ‘ever’. “When Benvolio and I first got together, he was so oblivious, we made a game out of it. We’d dare each other to do the most obvious romantic stuff in front of him and see when he realized we were a couple.”

“Isn’t that a bit dangerous, though?” Juliet asks. “I mean, what if he wasn’t- you know, um-”

 “Accepting of us?” Mercutio asks. He shakes his head. “It’s Romeo. I trust the dude with my life.”

Juliet smiles. Hearing her new friend rave about her beloved makes her love Romeo even more.

“So, how far did the game go?” Juliet asks.

Mercutio smirks. His eyes look a bit distant, like he’s recalling a favorite memory. “Well, Benvolio started calling me ridiculous pet names, like ‘baby’, ‘honey’, even ‘sugar tush’ at one point. Romeo said he like these nicknames and that we were such good friends.”

Juliet is laughing so hard she can barely breathe. Gasping for air, she says, “Because ‘sugar tush’ is just bros being bros, right?”

“Exactly. It took Benvolio literally making out with me for him to ask, ‘Is there something going on here?’ And then, when we told him, he said, ‘Oh. I thought he was just giving you CPR.’”

Even Mercutio is laughing by the end of it, the champagne in his flute dangerous close to spilling as he convulsed with laughter.

Juliet is crying with laughter, a welcome alternative to crying tears of sadness, anger, pain, and stress, like usual. Through her blurry eyes, she sees the elderly couple coming up to her and Mercutio. Perhaps they took the orchestra leaving or the Prince’s staff coming in to clean up as their cue to leave. Juliet taps Mercutio a couple times to alert him of their presence, and she attempts to muffle her laughter.

Closer up, Juliet can see that the woman’s eyes are extremely blue. She’s heard the phrase “kind eyes”, but she’s never really understood it until this moment. She says, “Congratulations, you two. I can tell you are right for each other.”

Mercutio and Juliet glance at each other and quickly look away so as not to burst out laughing. Juliet turns a bubble of laughter into a cough and says, “Oh, thank you. We can already tell we’re right for each other.”

The man speaks up. “Well, that’s a load of bullshit.”

The woman slaps his arm. “Alfred!”

He shrugs unapologetically. “I’m sorry, Millicent, but it’s true.” To Mercutio and Juliet, he says, not unkindly, “Love at first sight is a load of bullshit. You can’t tell you’re right for each other until you’ve spent time together and actually gotten to know each other. Otherwise, it’s just hormones running rampant. Young love is nothing; it’s once you’ve gotten past that that it means something.”

Juliet stares at him, speechless. She wants to write this off as a bunch of elderly scrambled-eggs for brains hooey; he’s talking about her fake relationship to Mercutio for God’s sake. But doesn’t stop the seed of doubt from implanting in her brain.

Mercutio does not appear to feel this doubt. “O…..kay. Thanks for the advice, Sir?”

The woman -Millicent- says, “I’m so sorry. He’s just a cynic. You two really do make a beautiful couple!”

Alfred scoffs, and Millicent glares at him. It doesn’t help the seed of doubt from growing that Alfred and Millicent really are the perfect couple and Alfred probably knows all there is about love. This is the first relationship Juliet’s seen where the wife appears to be on semi-equal footing and where they speak of loving one another. That’s like spotting a leprechaun riding a unicorn spewing rainbows; it just doesn’t happen.

Alfred and Millicent exit, Millicent sweetly waving behind her at Mercutio and Juliet.

Mercutio stares at them as they exit. “Wow. What a bunch of loonies.”

Juliet shrugs, not wanting to agree or disagree. “They were kinda sweet.”

Mercutio stands up and Juliet follows. They begin walking out of the castle. “Sweet doesn’t cancel out the crazy. I mean, telling a newly-wed couple that they’re headed for disaster is just straight up strange.”

“Was he right, though?” Juliet asks, fearing that she and Romeo are headed for disaster.

Mercutio appears to ponder it before saying, “You know, I think he was.” Juliet almost feels her heart sink. Then, Mercutio adds, “We are headed for disaster. All I ever felt for you was hormone-induced horniess, not love.”

Juliet shoves him jokingly, her previous fears forgotten. “Shut up.”

She walks out the door, not holding it for Mercutio. The door slams, and she picks up her skirts and walks down the flight of stairs leading out to the road without looking back. She knows Mercutio is following by the consecutive bang of the door. Quickly, he is walking backward so that he faces Juliet as he pretends to confess, “Oh, Juliet, can help it that your voluptuous breasts fill me with such sinful thoughts?”

Juliet tries to appear angry, but she cannot help the smirk as she says, “I am living with you. I will murder you in your sleep.”

Mercutio laughs, his head tilted against the starry night sky. “You make a lot of murder jokes, don’t you?”

“Oh, darling, you ain’t seen nothing yet.”

Mercutio, hiding his own smile, says, “You know I’m kinda scared of you?”

“A little fear in a man is good for him,” Juliet says. She’s joking, but she can’t help but feel it’s a little true. If her father feared her, he wouldn’t have hurt her. A little fear goes a long way.

An owl hoots as they walk along the isolated and otherwise silent street. Juliet suddenly realizes she has no idea where she’s going. “Hey, where exactly are we living?”

“My parents had this little house from a long time ago, and they never sold it. They said I could live there if I got a wife.”

Juliet nods. “That sounds good.”

They walk in silence for a moment, the crickets chirping like crazy in the humidity. Juliet, feeling strangely giddy, walks like she is one more laugh away from dancing down the cobblestone street. Her heels click against the cobblestone road in perfect time to Mercutio’s own boots.

“I bet he snores,” Mercutio says, out of nowhere.

“What?” Juliet asks. She’s probably going to have to get used to asking this, with Mercutio being her husband.

“Alfred. I bet he snores,” Mercutio says.

Juliet shakes her head, like she cannot believe his question. In all honesty, she can; already, she can tell that him saying random shit with no context and expecting everyone to read his mind is a totally normal occurrence. “Why?” she asks.

Mercutio shrugs. “He just seems like it. I can just see him raising the roof with his snoring, and Millicent getting all horny from it.”

Juliet makes a shocked sound, somewhere between a gasp and a scoff, pretending to be disappointed while hiding yet another smile. “You’re terrible,” she states emphatically.

“What?” he says, faking innocence. “Old people can have sex, too, you know. Get your mind out of the gutter.”

Juliet’s smile breaks through. “What the fuck is wrong with you?” she asks, laughing.

“Many things, honestly. First and foremost, I’d say my uncanny ability to be perfect at all times,” Mercutio says seriously.

Juliet is laughing when she thinks back on early that night. Like Mercutio, she randomly changes the subject. “I just realized. How did you know you snore?”

Mercutio shrugs. “Benvolio told me.”

“That is so cute."

“It’s cute my boyfriend told me I snore?” Mercutio asks.

“Yes!” Juliet exclaims. “You two are so cute together.”

“Are you going to that thing where you obsess over our relationship? Because Romeo did that for a while, and I was not a fan.”

Juliet laughs. “If it irritates you, then yeah, I definitely am.”

“Can I make a murder joke? Because I really want to.”

“No. Saying that to a lady is considered rude.”

“Double standards,” Mercutio grumbles.

Mercutio slows to a stop in front of a tiny house. In the dark, she can’t tell much about it but this: it’s a very tiny house. About 1/17 the size of Capulet’s house and 1/1000 the size of the Prince’s palace. Juliet’s first reaction is that people actually live in this? Her next is that if people do, what is the cousin of royalty doing with a house like this.

Her third is that this tiny house might actually be kind of nice. Instead of the cold, winding staircase, haunted mansion vibe from the Capulet manor, this one might actually feel like a home. A very strange home where the husband and wife both have Montague boyfriends, but still a home.

Plus, it’s a home without Capulet, which automatically makes it paradise.

“How do you like it?” Mercutio asks.

“It’s perfect,” Juliet says, happy to be honest.

Mercutio starts walking down the short path to the door. “Really? Because when I first saw, I asked my parents if it was a joke. They said no, that I was lucky to be getting this much.” He pauses in his speech at the same moment he arrives at the door. “I don’t think they like me very much,” he says.

His tone is joking, like always, but Juliet suspects that a lot of work must have gone into that tone. He is also avoiding her eyes like the plague, searching his pockets for the keys for a bit too long to be anything but an excuse.

Juliet almost says something polite, like “But the house is nice!”, but then she thinks of how much she would hate it if someone said something like that to her. Instead, she says, “Then they’re idiots.”

Mercutio glances up at her, his eyes strangely vulnerable. “Thanks,” he says, surprised. He clears his throat, pulls out the key which turned out to be in his the whole time, and opens the door. He looks back to her again, his face guarded once again. Cheerfully, he says, “Am I supposed to carry you through this door bridal-style, or the one to our bedroom before our session of epic love-making?”

Juliet shakes her head, smirking, and shoves past him. “Don’t make me murder you so soon.”

“I’d prefer to delay that for as long as possible,” he replies, closing the door after himself and strutting past her.

Juliet cannot see much of the house in the dark, but she can tell the living area is fairly small. A dusty couch and an armchair sat in front of a fireplace to her left, and, to her right, the room formed an L. In the tip of the L was the kitchen, which consisted of a small fireplace with pots hanging over it, and closer to her at the bottom of the L was a relatively large wooden table that also served as counter space.

Mercutio lights a candle, and Juliet can immediately tell that the place is much dustier than she thought.

“Okay,” Mercutio says, “so I’ve been here before, and the problem is that there is only one bedroom.”

“So we’ll just have to sleep in the same bed like a real married couple,” Juliet says, not understanding the problem. It isn’t the ideal situation, but they might as well make it look as real as possible.

Mercutio shakes his head. “Not at all what I mean.”

Juliet cocks her head, confused. He’s acting like the problem is obvious, and he’s waiting to see how long it’ll take her to catch up. She asks, “Do you mean because you snore? Don’t worry, I’ll just sleep with my pillow over my head or strangle you; it’ll all work out.”

“No. I mean, what do we do when Benvolio and Romeo come over looking for some sexy-times,” he says, exasperated and almost embarrassed he has to walk her through this, which is ridiculous considering how many sex jokes he makes.

Juliet shrugs. “It’s not that big of a deal. One of us will go for a walk or cover their ears while the other… uses the bedroom.”

Mercutio’s jaw drops like she just suggested that they run around naked outside, howling at the full moon. He screeches, “I am not using a bed which you and Romeo have defiled!”

Juliet leans back at Mercutio’s intensity and laughs a little, although she is not sure if it’s mocking or just some weird nervous reaction. “Whoa, dude. It’s not that big of a deal. I’d sleep in a bed you and Benvolio had sex in.”

Mercutio makes a high-pitched whining sound. Disgusted, he says, “Then there’s something wrong with you!”

“Not really. I don’t like it the idea or anything, but we don’t really have an alternative. I’ll just try not to think about it.”

“No, no, no, no!” he says, his pitch high. He waves his hands around frantically, like he is trying to shake off the idea of sleeping in the same bed Romeo and Juliet *gasp* had sex in. “How can you not see the grossness of this? I am seriously questioning your sanity right now.”

“If it bothers you so much, we can have a specific blanket that we have sex on. We’ll call it the ‘Sex Blanket’. Or, if we want to be cute, ‘The Love-Maker’. That good?” she asks, finding her own idea pretty clever.

Mercutio considers this for a moment, then shakes his head. “No. The blanket may slide off the bed or something, and then you and Romeo will be having your gross sex on top of the bed anyway. I say we make the bedroom a no sex zone.”

God, this is the weirdest conversation she ever had. “Then where’s a yes sex zone?” she asks, already exhausted with the entire conversation. “On top of the kitchen table? Because that’s a sanitary and convenient location?”

“I can’t even tell if you’re joking, that’s how outlandish your conceptions on grossness are,” he says.

“C’mon, dude, I know you don’t want to give up on sex any more than me,” Juliet says.

Before this night, she might have used the word sex in a conversation once. And that was probably just to tell Pam to stop talking about what her first night with Paris will be like. And now, she’s entered some wacko dimension where she’s talking to her husband about where she can have sex with her boyfriend/not-at-all-legal husband. She shakes away that thought and decides to embrace the craziness of her new life. “What do you suggest?” she asks.

“Only have sex at Benvolio and Romeo’s place? They just got a two-bedroom place because they somehow convinced their parents that having their own house does not mean they’ve accepted their believed singledom for life, but that they have some sort of bachelor pad that will help them find the mother of their children.” He snorts. “Like that’s going to happen.”

“So you only want to have sex at their place? Please. You’d break in a week.”

Mercutio opens his mouth to argue but closes it when he realizes that her blow was absolutely true. He’s silent for a moment, a goddamn miracle, considering his options. Juliet stares at him, waiting and hoping for a reasonable answer.

“Fine,” he says finally. “The sex blanket thing.” Before Juliet can celebrate being allowed to have sex with her other husband in her own house, Mercutio adds, “But we’ve got to stick to the blanket rule at all times. And it’s got to be tucked into the bed so it doesn’t fall off with all the rolling around. And we’ve got to have two, one for you and Romeo and one for me and Benvolio. And never, never, never let me touch yours and Romeo’s.” He shudders. “The mere thought of it makes me want to vomit.”

Juliet nods rapidly, ready to agree to anything. “Deal.”

Mercutio shudders again, like the residual conversation is still creeping around on his skin. He then straightens up. “We better straighten out the rest of our rules.”

“We need more than sex blankets?” Juliet asks. “Oh good.”

“Take this seriously, Juliet! We need to make sure that this arrangement works well.”

“How are you the neurotic one in this marriage? I always am.”

“You probably worry about the future and decisions and your life. Me, I obsess about things like you and Rome fucking on my bed.”

Juliet can’t deny this; she does spend a lot of her life obsessing about life. She shakes off this thought, not wanting to start worrying about her worrying, and begins thinking of other rules. In most marriages, she thinks, the wife is the slave to the husband; she wants to do everything in her power to keep herself from becoming a slave.

“For rule number two,” Juliet says, “I don’t do all the cooking and cleaning. You have to do some. I hate all that stuff, and I get the feeling cleanliness might be important to you.”

Mercutio nods. He doesn’t look horrified like Juliet expected, but almost pleased. “That’s good with me. I actually like cooking, but my mother never let, saying it’s not a man’s job or some other bullshit. I make a damn good stew, man or not.”

Like Mercutio, she is also pleased with this surprise. She wouldn’t have expected Mercutio to like cooking. “Great. Next rule?”

Mercutio considers this, then says, “Never invite Tybalt over?”

Juliet rolls her eyes. “Mercutio, c’mon. He’s not that bad.”

Mercutio scoffs, “Really, Juliet? He’s tried to kill me on multiple occasions. And today, he told me that if I hurt you, he would kill me.”

“Well, that’s ridiculous. If you hurt me, I’d kill you myself. Or Rosaline. There’s a Capulet cousin pecking order, and he’s dead last.” At Mercutio’s glare, Juliet says, less sarcastically, “Seriously, he isn’t too bad. When we were younger, he used to visit all the time, and he would show me how to wield a sword and stuff.”

“Of course ten-year-old Tybalt wouldn’t play hide-and-seek. He’d teach his younger cousin how to wield a fucking sword.”

“Hey, I loved those lessons. But if it bothers you so much, I won’t invite him over. It wasn’t like we were all going to be buddies anyway.”

Mercutio looks relieved. “Okay, great.”

“We’re still going to have to see him, though,” Juliet reminds him. “At Capulet dinners and such.”

Mercutio groans dramatically, flinging himself onto the couch like he just contracted some fatal illness and is too weak to stand. “Can’t I just buy some of that crazy Friar’s suicide potion and pretend I’m dead? That sounds better than putting up with him for a night.”

Juliet pretends to take this semi-seriously, but really, she can’t. He’s all talk. Mercutio married her, for fuck's sake. And by marrying her, he was marrying into her family. He knew what it meant. He’s not actually stupid. But joking is second nature to him. He’d joke about anything. If someone stabbed him, she’d bet money his last words would be a pun.

“C’mon, dude,” Juliet says, pretending to have to convince him.

“Fine,” he sighs, acting like those two words were enough to change his mind. “I am willing to go through torture for you because of my undying love for you, darling.”

“Thank you, darling,” Juliet replies sarcastically.

There is a knock at the door. “Please tell me that it’s the Friar coming to sell me suicide potion.”

Juliet heads to the door. “Haha. It’s just Romeo. He told me he’s coming over tonight.”

Before Mercutio can respond, Juliet opens the door. Romeo is standing there, still clad in the blue dress and blonde wig, although his make-up is slightly melted from the humid day.

Romeo steps into the house, Juliet closing the door behind him, before he says, “Hey, babe” and pulls her into a kiss, his arms wrapping around her waist.

Juliet loses herself in the kiss, vaguely aware that her arms have wound around his neck and the fact that Romeo’s hands are pressing her into him as much as he can.

From behind her, she hears Mercutio say, “Don’t wait for me to leave before having vertical sex or anything, guys.”

Romeo lets go of her so quickly Juliet almost falls backward. While Romeo is blushing and looks a little embarrassed, Juliet just glares at Mercutio for interrupting one of the best kisses of her life.

“Hey, Mercutio,” Romeo says, blushing and scratching the back of his head.

“Oh no, don’t stop for me,” Mercutio says, heading for the door. “I’m leaving anyways.” Before he opens the door, he says, “Remember: sex blanket.”

He closes the door behind him. Romeo looks at her, the blush fading. “What the fuck is he talking about?”

Juliet shakes her head, not wanting to relive that conversation. “Just ignore him. Oh, and we have to put a blanket down before we have sex.”

“Should I ask?” Romeo says.

“Unless you want to be mentally scarred, I’d say no,” she says before wrapping her arms around Romeo’s neck once more. “I think there are better things to do, no?”

Romeo smirks. “I agree,” he says, lifting her up and carrying her into the bedroom.

Juliet shrieks a little as he picks her up, grateful her arms are around his neck so she does not fall. Then she laughs a little, grateful that this her life.

Romeo pushes the door open to her bedroom, which she notices has a bed. She does not stop to admire the other scarce decorations, though, because Romeo places her down on the bed and is leaning over her, kissing her thoroughly.

She’s heard before that people’s minds go blank when they’re kissing from her novels, and that usually happens with Romeo, but right now, as his tongue grazes along the roof of her mouth, exploring, and she moans underneath him, her mind wanders from her immediate desire. She thinks of Millicent and Alfred and how happy they were and how Alfred talked about how you needed old love, not new.

As Romeo moves down to suck on her neck, Juliet pants, “Hey.”

Romeo looks up for a moment. “Do you want me to stop?”

“God, no,” Juliet says.

He nods and goes back to kissing a sensitive spot. Juliet’s back arches up, and for a second, she forgets what she was going to say. But then, she remembers. “Mercutio and I met this old guy today.”

Romeo stops again, and she immediately misses his rough lips. She wonders why on earth would she bring this up now. “If that turns you on, sure, imagine that,” he says.

“No,” Juliet says, laughing a little. “He said that love at first sight is bullshit, just lust.”

Romeo cocks his head, his eyes strangely innocent and sweet for a guy who’s about to fuck her senseless. “He’s never met us,” Romeo says matter-of-factly.

“Yeah,” Juliet says, trying to convince herself that he is right. “He’s never met us.”

Before Romeo can say anything else, Juliet pulls his lips up to hers, determined to lose herself and all her doubts and fears in the safety of his arms and the warmth of his lips.

Her last thought before she accomplishes this goal is fuck that guy. He’s never met us.

****

There is a woman in a blue dress and shoulder-length platinum blonde hair walking up to Mercutio’s house. She knocks on his house, and she is immediately let in.

Paris hides back behind the bush, his heart thumping from the thrill of spying on the house. He turns to his right and shakes Tybalt, who had fallen asleep after an hour of spying, awake.

Paris feels kind of bad for waking him up. Even in a patch of dirt, he looks less angry and almost sweet when he sleeps. At Paris’ light touch, Tybalt jolts awake, immediately sitting up. “What? Huh? I’m up! I’m up,” he says, his voice not as polished or angry. Just Tybalt. He looks to Paris and relaxes a bit, like he notices he’s safe. “What happened?” he asks in his Tybalt-voice.

“Some woman just entered their house,” Paris says.

“Mercutio’s whore?” Tybalt asks.

Paris shakes his head. “A blonde in a blue dress.”

“You didn’t know her?”

“No,” Paris says. “She might be from out of town. I’ve never seen anybody with that hair color.”

Tybalt peeks through the branches. “Look,” he hisses to Paris. “Mercutio’s leaving now, too.”

Paris peeks through the branches to Mercutio, still in his formal wedding attire, walk down his pathway and down the street. “What the hell is going on?” Paris wonders out loud.

“I don’t know,” Tybalt says. “But we’re going to find out. You follow Mercutio, I’ll watch the house. Meet me tomorrow at Tom’s Tavern.”

Paris nods. “You got it, sweetie.”

Mercutio is far down the street, whistling that damn upbeat song, so Paris risks getting up and softly following the bastard down the street to whatever vices he gets off on.

Chapter Text

Romeo wakes up warm, with something soft lying on his chest. As he blinks the sleep out of his eyes, he realizes it is his wife, the love of his life, Juliet. She is sleeping soundly, her wavy brown hair splayed all over his chest. He runs his arm down the curve of her back, and she snuggles closer, smiling slightly in her sleep.

Romeo could write thousands of pages on the curves of her hips, the softness of her body, the shape of her breasts, the fullness of her lips, and the kindness everpresent in her eyes. He could write a thousand more on the sex last night, but, being a gentleman, he would never publish those.

He could stay in that bed with Juliet forever, and he wants to more than almost anything. Except making his wife happy. Getting her breakfast in bed, he realizes, would definitely make her happy.

So what if he’s never made breakfast once in his life before? It can’t be too hard. And his love will mean he can persevere through even the most challenging tasks. Making breakfast should be simple.

Romeo carefully lifts Juliet’s head up and places it on her pillow. She whines a little in protest but then snuggles into the pillow. Romeo reminds himself that just because unconscious Juliet seems to like the pillow just as much as him, there is no reason to be jealous. She’s asleep.

In a perfect world, Romeo would make Juliet a feast for breakfast. In reality, Romeo knows the best he can do is warming up some barley bread. Even with that simple breakfast, he’s got to start a fire, something he’s only seen servants do before.

He knows he has to use the flint and steel and hit the steel against the flint to create a spark, which will catch on the char cloth, which will then start the large fire with the wood. Simple.

He hits the flint with the steel experimentally, hoping a light hit would work. It did not. Romeo hits the steel harder, then harder, then even harder. It still does not work.

There must be some trick that Romeo does not know because nothing he does seems to work. Instead, he’s just creating an extremely loud ruckus.

“Romeo?” Juliet says, coming out of the bedroom and rubbing her eyes.

She looks rather hot in the loose dress she must have quickly slipped on. Momentum brings down the steel one more time, but Romeo does not pay attention because the love of his life is in front of him and he just woke her up. Damn it.

“What’s going on?”

“Oh, er, just trying to start a fire,” Romeo says sheepishly. “Sorry about the noise.”

Suddenly, Juliet looks wide awake. She’s staring at his underwear, and Romeo hopes for a repeat of last night.

“Romeo,” Juliet says, her voice tight with warning.

Warning of sex, he hopes. “Yes?” Romeo says, trying to sound sexy.

“Your underwear is on fire!”

Romeo glances downward and promptly bursts out into a high-pitched scream. His underwear had started to feel warm, in retrospect, but he assumed that that was his body’s reaction to Juliet entering the room.

“HOLY SHIT!” Romeo screeches.

He’s frozen in place by fear, and Juliet says, her voice still tight, “Roll on the ground, Romeo. Roll on the fucking ground!”

Romeo’s body finally obeys with the second command and he hits the ground hard. He does not stop rolling until Juliet is crouched down beside him, breathing hard. He reaches down and pats his underwear, most of which has burned away, leaving the back completely bare. Romeo sits up and laughs a little.

“Well, that was interesting!” Romeo jokes.

Juliet’s eyes widen. She obviously did not find his joke as funny as he did. “Interesting?” Juliet says, now the one screeching. “You could have died. You could be dead now, Romeo.”

Romeo furrows his eyebrows and grabs her hand gently. She yanks it away quickly.

“But I’m not,” Romeo says gently.

“I don’t care! You could be. And I could be, too, if I was still asleep and you did not know what to do. And the whole house could have burned down. We could be dead, Romeo.”

“If,” Romeo repeats. “It didn’t actually happen. We’re alive and fine.”

Juliet growls in frustration, jumping up and pacing the kitchen. Romeo stands up, too, watching her pace around the room.

“It could have, though, Romeo. And you don’t even care at all.”

“I do, care, babe. I just don’t get why you’re freaking out.”

“Because it could have happened and all because you decided to start a fire, something you had no experience doing, instead of waiting for me, who actually knew how to make breakfast without burning down the fucking house.”

Romeo, before just confused about Juliet and her strange reactions to everything, now feels a cold anger.

“You’re calling me an idiot again, Juliet.”

Juliet stops her frantic pacing, turning towards him in surprise. “What?”

“You keep on saying I’m an idiot. Yesterday in the bathroom and today again.”

“I never said that!” Juliet says. “All I said is that your stupid choices keep on endangering us.”

“And saying I make stupid choices isn’t calling me an idiot?”

Juliet blushes a little. “Well, okay, ‘stupid choices’ was a little harsh, but I meant-”

“I know what you meant,” Romeo snaps.

Juliet doesn’t reply. The air, along with the few feet of distance between them, is tense. Romeo runs his hands through his hair, trying to calm himself down. He reminds himself how wonderful Juliet is, how much he loves her.

Juliet takes the few steps between them and grabs his hands. Romeo does not pull away, but he can’t find it within himself to hold back.

“Why are we fighting?” Juliet says, her tone desperate.

“Because you implied I am an idiot and-”

“I know, I know, okay?” Juliet says. “I meant that we are a few days old couple and love each other. We have no reason to fight.”

Romeo feels his anger weakening as she looks at him with those wide, kind eyes. Romeo looks at his feet and says, only partially joking, “Maybe if you apologize…”

Juliet grins and clears her throat. “Romeo Montague, I am sorry for implying you’re an idiot. Your romantic gestures are the sweetest in the kingdom, and you are the smartest, most caring, most perfect husband in the world.”

Romeo looks up and meets her eyes. He definitely can’t stay mad. Totally joking this time, he says, “Not good enough, babe.”

Juliet’s grin widens. “He is the most amazing husband in the world, and to apologize, I will-” she leans in towards him and whispers things someone who was a virgin only days ago shouldn’t know about.

Her breath is hot against his ear, and, yeah, he could definitely write another thousand pages about that and how turned on she makes him.

Juliet leans back. “Forgiven?”

Romeo clears his throat, trying not to let his arousal affect his voice. “Definitely,” he says, his voice scratchy despite himself.

“Good. Let’s make that breakfast,” she says, squeezing his hand before letting go.

Juliet barely gets out the bread before Mercutio bursts in. “Yello, sluts and sinners, I am back.”

Juliet smiles at him while Romeo says, “Is it really necessary to make such an entrance?”

“When you’re this fabulous? Of course it is.” He turns to Romeo for the first time, quickly covering his eyes. “Dude, I don’t know what you and Juliet get up to in bed, and based on the state of your underwear, I’d say she’s a fiend, but nobody, I repeat, nobody, wishes to see your bare ass.”

Romeo blushes. Before he can apologize profusely and get his dress back on, Juliet says, smirking, “I do.”

Romeo grins. “Aw, thanks, babe.”

He leans over and gives her a chaste kiss.

Mercutio’s eyes are still covered. “Until I am informed otherwise, I am going to assume you two are having more vertical sex. Tell me, Juliet, how is he? Don’t hold back.”

Romeo slips off into the bedroom. He doesn’t close the door, so he hears, “He’s very good, actually. Right now he’s nibbling on my earlobe and his hand is creeping up my thigh-”

“Shut up, Juliet!” Romeo calls.

Juliet laughs, sounding more evil than he’s ever heard her before. How could he have thought putting Juliet and Mercutio in a marriage together would be a good idea? Juliet’s latent horribleness seems to bring out Mercutio’s obvious horribleness.

“Only for you, babe,” she calls back.

He hears Mercutio sigh dramatically. “Too bad. I love hearing vivid details about my friends’ love life.”

Romeo hopes that this is not true as he slips his dress back on. He tears off the rest of his underwear, figuring that at this point, he might as well go commando.

“Speaking of which,” Juliet says, teasingly, “how was Benvolio?”

Romeo wonders if the innuendo was purposeful, but after learning about his wife’s dirtiness, he’s sure it was. He applies his wig as Mercutio says, “Oh, you know. All ‘poor you because the gross heterosexuals wanted to fuck on your bed.’”

Romeo blushes to himself. His sex life is much more public than he would have liked. But, then again, one of his best friends is Mercutio. What did he expect?

“You two are made for each other,” Juliet declares.

“What did I tell you about gushing about us?” he warns.

“That you like it?” Juliet says innocently.

Romeo exits the bedroom to Mercutio toasting something that smells amazing in the fireplace and Juliet sitting up on the table, nibbling on some bread. He had no idea Mercutio could cook. He pushes away the twinge of jealousy he feels for Mercutio. Just because he can make an incredible breakfast for Juliet doesn't make him the better husband. 

“That you shouldn’t pull a Romeo,” Mercutio reminds her, stirring something.

“Pull a what now?” Romeo asks, saddling up next to Juliet.

“A Romeo. Meaning fangirling excessively over my relationship with Benvolio.”

“I didn’t fangirl. I just really supported you two.”

“Babe,” Juliet says, taking his hand, “I didn’t even know you then, and I’d bet anything you totally fangirled.”

Mercutio points his spoon at Juliet, silently supporting her. 

“I am never getting my way in this house, am I?” Rome asks, looking between the love of his life and Mercutio, who already seem bonded beyond measure.

“Never,” Juliet declares, smiling a smile that is worth a thousand poems.

****

Paris made a terrible spy. He tripped over his own feet, and anyone with any sense would have heard him. But it was Mercutio. He did not hear Paris tripping and crunching on leaves over his damn cheerful humming.

And so, because Mercutio is an idiot, Paris was able to follow him to a house slightly larger than Mercutio’s. As a crucial member of the royal family and Prince Esculas’ closest kinsman, Paris knows everyone’s business. That’s how he knew where Mercutio and Juliet live, and that is how he knows that that house was Benvolio and Romeo’s self-proclaimed bachelor pad.

“Wait,” Tybalt interrupts, “back up. How the fuck did Benvolio and Romeo start living together?”

Paris shrugs, taking a sip of his mead. It’s rather good. He’s never been to Tom’s Tavern before, on account of being royal and having standards and shit, but the place is much nicer than he would have anticipated. Stone walls, dark enough to feel cozy but not creepy, and a ton of booths. He and Tybalt got a back corner booth, one usually reserved for couples but taken by them because it is more private, perfect for their devious talk.

He’s a bit surprised Tybalt has gone here since he is apart of one of the noblest families in Verona. But really, Tybalt’s got to have some fun sometime. He can’t just sit around all day, sitting in his evil fortress, sharpening his sword and brooding.

“Recently,” Paris says. “They told their parents it was a great way to meet their future bride.’

Tybalt snorts. It cannot, to Paris’ disappointment, count as a laugh because his face remained plastered in his usual look of superiority and utter hatred of all those around him. “I wish that would go over with my mother,” Tybalt says.

“You still live with her?” Paris asks, taking note of his disgruntled tone.

“She’s never really home, so it’s more like I live in her house.”

“Where’s your father?” Paris asks.

Paris realizes that probably wasn’t the most polite question, but holding his tongue was not something his tutor taught him. Or at least could teach him successfully. 

“Dead,” Tybalt says, emotionless. The only hint of some human feeling is the grinding of his teeth.

“I’m sorry,” Paris says, trying to convey his sympathy through his gaze. It can’t do much, though, because, like always, Tybalt refuses to meet his eyes.

“Don’t be. I don’t like pity.”

Paris should keep his mouth shut. Change the topic. Go back to scheming how to kill Mercutio. Anything but say- “How did it happen?”

“Some Montague killed him.” Tybalt clamps his jaw like that is all he wants to say on the topic, but then, he bursts out, “And it wasn’t, like, in a duel or anything. He was just walking along the street when some Montague just jumped out and stabbed him. The coward’s way. Dad didn’t even get to face him in a duel. At least, that’s what they told Mom and me. And I don’t even know the coward’s name.”

Most people would look sad when reiterating their father’s death, but Tybalt looks furious. Like he wants to murder someone.

“Is that why you kill so many Montagues? Revenge?” Paris asks.

Tybalt turns toward him, his eyes hard. “If it makes you feel better to believe that I kill people because, deep down, I have a soft heart, then you can. Your belief doesn’t make it true.”

Paris ponders this. Tybalt isn’t explicitly denying that is why he kills, but he isn’t confirming it either. It seems a bit like an insult to Paris, saying that he has to believe the best of people. At the same time, he seems like an insult to himself more so, saying that does not have a soft heart.

Paris remembers, at the church, Tybalt telling him that he’s weak because he does not care about people. Paris wonders if that this is true, Tybalt is an uncaring murderer, or if this is what he tells himself so he does not have to confront himself and examine how he feels about taking lives.

“How many people have you killed?” Paris asks the second the thought pops into his head.

“You don’t want to know,” Tybalt says, his eyes, again, avoiding Paris’.

“Tell me,” Paris says, steeling himself for whatever answer he gives.

“I don’t remember,” Tybalt confesses, his eyes locked on the wall.

Paris’ stomach lurches. Somehow, this is worse than him saying an exact number, even if it was in the hundreds. How long has he been killing, how many has he killed, how little does he care, if he cannot remember?

“Anyways,” Paris says cheerfully, finally doing the smart thing and changing the subject, “Mercutio did not leave Benvolio and Romeo’s house all night. He left at dawn and walked back to his and Juliet’s house.”

Tybalt’s expression has relaxed from “I’m going to kill you right this minute” to “Eh, I’ll kill you in an hour or so” with the conversation change.

Although Paris is not scared of his angry expressions, trusting, somehow, that he’d never hurt him, Paris still feels a jolt of relief. Not for his own safety, but for Tybalt’s comfort. Paris did not intend to upset Tybalt so much, and he promises himself that he’ll be more tactful his feelings in the future.

“The platinum blonde in the blue dress stayed with Juliet all night,” Tybalt says. “She left right after Mercutio got back.”

Paris goes over the facts slowly in his head. Mercutio danced with a redhead in a red dress at his wedding, most likely his whore. A woman in a blue dress visited Juliet and Mercutio, but Mercutio quickly left to visit the Montague residence. Mercutio stayed all night and so did the woman in the blue dress.

Paris thinks he’s figured it out. “Mercutio is not only cheating on Juliet, but he is also allied with the Montagues. So he’s cheating on her in two senses. The woman in the blue dress must be one of Juliet’s friends, helping her through the heartbreak of falling in love with a complete asshole.”

Tybalt nods once. “That makes sense.”

Paris raises his glass and clinks it with Tybalt’s. “A toast to coming one step closer to Mercutio’s demise.”

They drink together, Paris taking a polite sipping and Tybalt chugging down the rest of his glass.

When Tybalt is finished, he says, “We should probably still spy on them, though. To get one piece of irrefutable evidence before we tell Capulet.”

“Agreed,” Paris says, smiling in self-pride.

Just a little bit longer and Mercutio will be dead, Juliet will be his, and he will not have to remind himself of his anger to keep himself from crying himself to sleep every night.

Chapter Text

“I can’t believe we have nothing!” Paris exclaims.

Meeting at Tom’s Tavern every night to discuss their new evidence has become a routine in the past two weeks. Tybalt cannot remember what he used to do with his evenings before he met Paris.

Brooded, perhaps. Maybe killed. Depended on the evening.

He glances at Paris, pretending to check out the painting behind him. Paris pushes his hair back with a growl and his eyes are dancing with frustration.

At first, Tybalt could not tell what color his eyes are. But after two weeks of side-glances, Tybalt has deduced that they are some combination of green and brown, like leaves just before they begin to change in the autumn.

Perhaps if he spent less time doing detective work on Paris’ eyes, they would be a lot farther along on their murder scheme.

The only additional evidence Paris and Tybalt collected was the fact that Romeo Montague and Benvolio Montague, sometimes in disguises, sometimes not, occasionally visited Juliet and Mercutio, proving Mercutio was corrupting poor Juliet.

It makes Tybalt’s blood boil. He hates Montagues with a passion and he loves Juliet like a sister. Combine those two and he wants to kill Mercutio and his bastard friends more than before.

“We know more about how much of a shit Mercutio is. That’s got to count for something.”

Paris smirks. “He’s not good enough to be shit. He’s more like an asswipe that has to clean that piece of shit.”

“He’s the asswipe with the piece of shit on it,” Tybalt decides.

Tybalt risks a glance to his side at Paris. He’s more thrilled than he will admit at Paris’ smile.

Paris raises his glass and says, “I’ll drink to that.”

Tybalt clinks his glass with Paris’. Out of the corner of his eye, he can see Paris looking at him. If he had more courage, perhaps he’d meet his gaze.

“Why don’t you ever look at me?” Paris blurts out.

Tybalt cringes. He knows exactly what Paris is referring to, but he still says, “What do you mean?”

“I mean, why don’t you ever look me in the eye?”

Tybalt doesn’t know exactly why. Something about it feels intimate. Like if he met someone’s eyes, they’d know exactly what he’s thinking. It’s so much easier to make people scared of you and to be scary when you don’t look at them.

Plus, like, people. Ugh. Why look at them if you can help it?

“It’s not you,” Tybalt says instead. “I don’t look anyone in the eye.”

“Why not?” Paris persists, his hazel gaze intent.

The only thing more intimate than looking someone in the eye is explaining why you don’t look them in the eye.

“What is this? An interrogation? How come you get to ask all the questions?” Tybalt says.

As Capulet says, the best defense is an offense. Of course, he may have been referring to stabbing and not deflecting personal questions from cute boys.

Who knows what that enigma meant?

Luckily, Paris doesn’t seem that offended at Tybalt. He never does. For someone who claims they’re angry at the world and is hatching a plot to murder someone, Paris sure laughs a lot.

“You ask me something, then,” Paris says.

“Anything?” Tybalt says, doubtful.

“Anything.”

Tybalt tilts his head. He hopes Paris doesn’t think that this is too personal or worse, wonder why he’s asking.

“Why do you love Juliet?” Tybalt asks.

He went for a disengaged tone, but it came out curious. His occasional glancing at Paris probably doesn’t help.

Paris thinks about this for a moment. “I don’t know. Just, she’s so fierce, you know? Like, she has this aura about her, like, even if she’s shy, she could destroy you with one word or a slash of a sword if she wanted to. And she’s so… cerebral, you know? Like, she’s kinda quiet, at least around me, but you can tell she thinks a lot. And, like, I know it’s terrible she didn’t want to marry me and all, but it shows she believes in love and would do anything to find it. She’s so passionate and strong.” He pauses. “I just love everything about her.”

Yeah, Tybalt doesn’t stand a chance.

He doesn’t know exactly when his crush on Paris started. Probably the second he stood next to him at that party. He always falls for the guys who he has no chance with.

Well, he has exactly a zero percent chance with all guys considering they’re, you know, guys. But he always falls for the guys he has negative one thousand percent chance with.

Like Mercutio. His first crush. Something about the way he never seemed afraid of him and his stupidly endearing smirk. Puppy love at it’s finest.

There had always been… rumors about him, but that didn’t change the fact that he is practically a Montague and Mercutio hates him with all his guts. So, he ignored it and changed his feelings into utter hatred.

And then Mercutio faded into Romeo. Romeo was perhaps even more unattainable then Mercutio. The straightest of the straight. A Montague in love with a new girl every week.

Again, he channeled his feelings into hate.

Neither of them were serious, just little crushes. Little gazes at them from across the street. Fantasies about a world where he could hold their hands. Nothing serious, really.

Both of them faded but left their mark. The urge to murder them, as if their deaths would be the death of his feelings for them.

If he’s being honest, protecting Juliet is a bit of an excuse for wanting to murder Mercutio. He knows Juliet can take care of herself, and if she couldn’t, Rosaline would be there, whispering into Mercutio’s ear while he’s sleeping before stabbing him.

He wants to wipe all Montagues off the face of the planet, but he wants Mercutio and Romeo’s ashes spread across the other side of the universe.

You know, normal teenage crush stuff.

His crush on Paris always felt different. Instead of fading, it grew. Instead of being based on fantasies and forbidden-ness, it is actually based on him.

Still, he trusts that soon, his feelings will fade. They have to. They always do.

Tybalt tries to give unconvincing half-smile. It feels weird on his face. His mouth muscles are not used to moving like that.

“You’ll get her one day.”

Paris looks at him strangely, like he knows what he’s thinking. More likely, he’s wondering why Tybalt sounds semi-nice.

“Thanks, sweetie.”

Tybalt takes a gulp of his beer. Soon, his feelings for Paris would be ancient. Soon.

He glances over at Paris one more time. He’s trying to throw a peanut into his mouth but is failing miserably. Tybalt bites his lip to keep from smiling as a peanut hits him in the eye.

This crush isn’t going away soon.

****

“Happy over-two-week-iversary,” Romeo announces holding up his glass of wine for a toast.

Mercutio had ordered Benvolio and Romeo over to their place for some get-together, under the pretense that everyone needed to get together. Benvolio thinks that it’s really just an excuse for wine.

Benvolio interrupts the toast with, “Who to? Mercutio and Juliet or you and Juliet?”

It’s really weird he has to ask this question, actually.

“To me and my loving wife,” Romeo says, gazing at Juliet across the table.

For some reason, Juliet chose to sit next to Mercutio and across from Romeo. Juliet smiles politely at him before turning back to playing with the fish Mercutio made. It’s delicious; Benvolio does not understand why she’s not eating it. And no, he’s totally not offended on his boyfriend’s behalf.

“Wait,” Benvolio says, “I never asked. How are you two married?”

Mercutio answers the question. “Oh, they’re not really. Just some schoolchildren-pretend game where they play husband and wife.”

“It’s not pretend,” Romeo objects. “We really are married under the eyes of God.”

“That is so weird,” Benvolio declares. “Like the weirdest part of all of this.”

“It’s not weird!”

Juliet shrugs. “It’s a little weird.”

Romeo stares at her from across the table, his puppy-dog eyes chock full of hurt. “You said it was romantic.”

Juliet stares at her fish. “Can’t it be weird and romantic?”

Benvolio glances at Mercutio, who is already looking at him. Benvolio raises his eyebrows and quickly looks from the couple back to Mercutio, silently telling him, “OMG, can you believe how awkward this conversation is?” Mercutio nods over the top of his wine glass, meaning, “KMN.”

Romeo’s eyes do not leave his “wife”. His mouth opens, then closes, then opens again as if he’s trying to figure out how to respond. Finally, he says, “I guess.”

There is way too much tension in the room. Benvolio rarely sees Juliet and Romeo together, but he does not remember there being so much distance between them. He hopes that this is just some off evening and silently eats his fish, gearing himself for the tensest evening of his life.

Mercutio, of course, cannot take more than ten seconds of tense silence before breaking. “SO! My parents were terrible. Anybody else have terrible parents?”

Romeo and Juliet stare at him, Romeo’s forkful of fish halfway to his mouth. Mercutio looks to Benvolio, who gives him a sarcastic thumbs up and mouths, “Great job.”

Mercutio plunders on, too far deep to stop himself. It’s like he stepped into a puddle of quicksand awkwardness; the more he struggles to make it less awkward, the more awkward the situation becomes.

“Yeah, mine were terrible. They would tell me I’m a freak of nature, I’m going to hell, they wished I was never born, that I didn’t deserve the air I breathed, much less my inheritance. And I believed them!” Mercutio laughs, almost manically. “Isn’t that hilarious?”

Romeo still hasn’t moved his fork. Juliet looks like a pile of bricks hit her and it’s hard to breathe.

Benvolio doesn’t blame her; he probably looked like that the first time he heard about Mercutio’s parents, too. He has heard the horror story of Mercutio’s parents only a few times, sometimes at night when Mercutio breaks out into tears in Benvolio’s arms and sometimes told like it’s a funny joke. Every time, though, it makes Benvolio want to march over to his parents’ home and murder them, slowly, painfully.

He reminds himself he can’t do that. He’s the rational one; he can’t let anger affect him. It doesn’t help him and much less Mercutio. Mercutio needs a shoulder to cry on, not his boyfriend murdering his abusive parents.

Benvolio hooks his ankle around Mercutio’s and rubs it up and down, silently supporting him. Mercutio calms slightly from his hysterical laughter but not enough to make him stop the track he’s on.

“So funny!" Mercutio says. "Just like grade A comedy material. Anyone else have horrible parents?”

Romeo has given up on eating that bite of fish. Instead, he says, “I wouldn’t know. Juliet won’t tell me about hers.”

Juliet glares at him. “I told you! They’re fine!”

Mercutio looks to Benvolio, his mania changed to panic. Like he can’t believe his brilliant plan backfired on him, leading to yet more arguing. Honestly, no matter how bad that conversational change was, Benvolio is also shocked they could argue about it, too.

Benvolio rubs his ankle up and down again as if to say it was not his fault his dinner party turned into the first world war.

“And it’s an obvious lie,” Romeo retorts. “You get a panic attack every time we pass by Capulet’s mansion.”

“Seriously? Are we seriously doing this now? In front of guests?”

“I just don’t get why you don’t trust me.”

“Seriously? I do trust you, but you can’t expect me to tell you everything immediately.”

“We’re married. We’re supposed to help each other with all of each other’s problems.”

“Well, maybe I don’t want any help!” Juliet bursts out, jumping up from the bench. “Mercutio, the dinner was delicious, as always, but I’m afraid I’m not very hungry.”

She glares at Romeo, blaming him for taking away her hunger, before storming off to the bedroom. Romeo stares after her, somehow looking wistful, devastated, and furious all at once.

Mercutio says, uncharacteristically sincerely, “I’m sorry, dude. I didn’t mean for that to happen.”

Romeo nods, pulling at his hair like it’s the hair’s fault for the argument. “I know. It’s not your fault.”

For once, Mercutio does not try to break the silence, disheartened by his last attempt. After a minute of everyone picking at their food, Romeo stands. “I’m going to check on her.

“Do you really think that’s a good idea?” Benvolio asks, pretty sure storming off is lovers’ code for “Leave me the hell alone.”

“I need to see her,” Romeo says, walking over to the door. He knocks gently before disappearing into the bedroom.

Mercutio watches the empty door before turning to Benvolio and saying, “Well, that was awkward.”

“Want to listen?” Benvolio asks.

Probably not something the rational one should do. But hey. It's just Mercutio. He's allowed to engage in some terrible, childish things with him.

“Hell, yeah.”

****

Juliet lies on the bed, staring up at the ceiling. All she ever wanted was for someone to save her, for someone to take her away from her evil father. And Romeo did. He saved her. She’s the princess, and he’s her knight-in-shining-armor. Which means that they should live happily ever after, right?

But then why is her relationship with Romeo so hard? He’s romantic and caring and sweet. Everything she ever wanted in her husband.

But he’s too romantic. He’s too caring. He’s too sweet.

She doesn’t want the gestures, the surprises. She wants him to tell her what he’s doing so they can plan their future together, as equals.

She doesn’t want him to care about her, to be there for her, all the time. He wants to know everything about her when she doesn’t want to tell him everything. Her father is her personal business. Romeo’s saved her from him; she doesn’t want to relive it only to see Romeo’s reaction, whether it be pity or anger at her father or apathy since the abuse is typical of women.

She’s been saved, but it doesn’t feel like she’s living happily ever after. Or happily at all.

There is a gentle knock at the door. Juliet wants to tell him to go away, but he’s in before she can yell. She doesn’t have to look to know Romeo has come in; she feels the bed indent with his weight as he sits down on the edge.

“What is it, Romeo?” Juliet asks, suddenly tired.

“Does it have to be anything?” Romeo whispers.

“There is something, though.”

“Why do we keep on fighting?” Romeo asks, gentle as always.

Juliet turns over on her side, facing away from Romeo. “I don’t want to have this conversation.”

“You never want to, do you?” Romeo says, quiet but bitterness seeping in, slowly, like the fog before a storm.

Juliet sits up. Romeo is looking at her, the usual cheerfulness gone, pushed away by the fog. “What’s that supposed to mean?”

Romeo replies, “You never talk to me. You tell me I’m stupid, sure, but you don’t tell me real things. The problem here is you don’t trust me.”

Lightning claps. Juliet feels it spread across her body, lighting her aflame. “I don’t trust you enough to what? Tell you about my abusive father? I don’t fucking want to, Romeo. Leave it be.”

“You should trust me enough to tell me something, anything, and know I’d never hurt you.”

Juliet laughs bitterly, sarcastically. “And you know about trust? You get jealous when I lick an envelope."

"That's not about trust!" Romeo says, all hints of gentleness vanished. "I'm jealous because I think you're the most perfect girl in the world, but I'd trust you around even the sexiest envelope. I trust you. You don't trust me enough to believe I'll always be on your side no matter what you tell me."

The lightning reverberates through her body. "Stop trying to guilt me!"

"I'm not guilting you, Juliet, I'm telling you the goddamn truth."

"It's guilting. Trying to get me to do something I clearly don't want to by telling me you love me." Before Romeo can reply, she continues, her anger fueled by something deep, something she does not wish to examine, "And the problem with us isn’t that I don’t trust you. It’s that you don’t respect me.”

Romeo snorts. “I worship you.”

“That’s not the same thing, and you fucking know it. You constantly push me past boundaries I am comfortable with. Like invading my wedding. Like constantly asking me about my father.”

Thunder booms and Romeo’s eyes flash. “You want to talk about respect? Okay. Let’s go, baby. How about the fact that you don’t give me an ounce of respect? I accidentally start a tiny fire, and you act like I’m a child who you have to babysit. Not an equal. You wanna talk about the wedding? I tried to surprise you, to make you happy. I obviously failed. But nothing I do makes you happy. No. Everything, every single thing I do makes you treat me more and more like an idiot, like I’m stupid.”

“I never called you stupid, I never implied you’re stupid. Don’t push your insecurities onto me, Romeo,” Juliet growls, two storm clouds clashing.

“Even an idiot would know you treat me like I’m stupid.”

“That doesn’t even make sense.”

“See? Implying I’m an idiot. Again.”

“No, implying your statement is idiotic, not you.”

“It’s the same thing, Juliet! You say I don’t respect you, but I do, more than anything. I respect you to hell and back. You? You don’t trust me or respect me. If you love me, how come you can’t do either?”

Rain begins to pour.

“Maybe because I don’t love you!” Juliet bursts out, causing the world to drown.

Romeo’s anger breaks. “What?” he whispers.

****

Mercutio and Benvolio jerk away from the door as if it shocked them.

Benvolio whispers, “Maybe we shouldn’t be listening to this? It seems awfully personal.”

“Exactly why we should be listening!”

Benvolio sighs. “You’re a terrible person.”

Still, Benvolio puts his ear back to the door before Mercutio.

“It’s why you love me,” Mercutio says with a shit-eating grin.

****

Juliet’s breathing calms. She’d never even thought this before, always repressing it, never allowing herself to think it.

But it’s true.

Her relationship with Romeo isn’t hard because he’s too romantic, too caring, too sweet. It’s because she doesn’t love him.

She wanted to be saved, to be loved, and so she fulfilled it herself. She needed to love, and so she did. But it wasn’t real; he wasn’t her knight-in-shining-armor coming to save her from the clutches of her evil father and from an eternity with Paris. He was just a person, a romantic, caring, sweet person who could not save her forever. Just provide her with some semblance of saving, of love, when she needed it.

Only she could save herself.

The whole argument doesn’t matter. Romeo has some valid points, she has some valid points. But they both don’t matter because she doesn’t love him.

Romeo’s face is falling, some mixture of disbelief and terror written across it.

Juliet repeats, “It’s true; I don’t love you.”

Romeo falls to his knees, drowning in the ocean. “That can’t be true, Juliet. It can’t.”

Juliet shakes her head, a tear falling despite herself. “It is, Romeo. It is.”

Romeo shakes his head vigorously, trying to save himself from the ocean overtaking him. “Never mind, Juliet. Forget this conversation. Call me stupid. Don’t tell me anything. Don’t trust me. Don’t respect me. I don’t care. Just say you love me again.”

“I can’t, Romeo,” Juliet says, her voice breaking.

She may not love him that way, or at least enough, but she cares about him. And her causing him pain is more painful than she could have imagined.

“Please, Juliet,” he says, grabbing her hand, hoping she’ll drag him to safety. He kisses it like it’s his only hope of survival. “Just let me stay. I’m so sorry for everything, okay? I’ll do whatever you want. Just let me stay. Please.”

Juliet pulls her hand back. “You have nothing to be sorry for, Romeo. Nothing you did made me not love you. I just don’t. I needed somebody to love to survive, and I chose you. I’m sorrier than you can imagine for the pain I’ve caused you.”

“But I love you, Juliet,” Romeo says softly, like this can solve everything, like this can make the storm disappear.

“I’m sorry, Romeo,” Juliet whispers.

Romeo stares at her, looking at her like he hopes it’s a dream. Juliet cannot bring herself to meet his eyes so she stares at his ear. Safe, right?

Except that it’s the ear that, when she nibbles on it, he makes funny noises. And it’s got that little mole on the bottom and the little scar on the top from the time he got into that sword fight.

Maybe she doesn’t love him, but she sure does care about him.

Romeo asks quietly, “So we’re divorced now?”

Juliet swallows back her hesitation, her urge to tell him it was a sick joke. His love means protection, means safety, means she’s been saved. She wants that so badly. But she’s got to find the real thing, not some artificial replacement for saving. No matter how much she cares for the person it comes in.

“We were never really married.”

Romeo stands, his legs wobbly in the ocean. When he leaves, a sliver of sunshine breaks through the storm, a reassurance that she did the best thing for her.

That doesn’t stop her from second-guessing every word in that damned argument that led to losing her artificial, but safe, knight-in-shining-armor.

****

Somehow, Romeo got home. Probably because Benvolio helped. Benvolio always helps.

The next thing he knows, he’s lying in his bed, staring out his window out at the flooded world.

Romeo feels numb. Like he’s still with Juliet and he just had a bad dream.

She couldn’t have broken up with him. She loves him. He loves her. She couldn’t have fallen out of love with her. She couldn’t have.

His door opens slowly and light pours in. Romeo doesn’t look up.

“Are you okay, Romeo?” Benvolio asks.

“No,” Romeo says.

“Do you need anything?”

“No.”

Romeo hears Benvolio shuffle his feet. “If you need anything, anything at all, just call me, okay?”

Romeo doesn’t respond. Why should he? Benvolio won’t be mad at him for not doing so, it’s a dream. It’s just a dream. He’ll tell Mercutio about it when he wakes up, and he’ll laugh at him, saying that Queen Mab visited him.

He’ll tell Juliet, and she’ll laugh hysterically at the dream-version of her who didn’t love him and say how stupid that dream was.

The light disappears as Benvolio closes the door.

It’s just a dream, Romeo tells himself as he stares out the window. Just a dream. 

Nothing this bad could be reality.

****

Juliet has no right to cry. She broke up with Romeo. It was her choice. She broke his heart. She is the villain in this story.

So why does she feel so damn miserable?

Juliet squeezes her eyes shut, willing the tears to stay at bay. She has no right to cry when she is not the victim. When she brought this on herself.

But she’s never been too good at not crying. Tears fall out, slowly at first, then faster, until she is helpless against their whims. She is still silent, though, refusing to make a sound. She has no right to cry, after all, so the least she can do is not show her misery.

Juliet turns over onto her stomach, burying her head in her pillow. The tears form wet spots on her pillow, and she feels guilt at the proof of her crying.

She stays like that, her body ignoring her mind even after she finally has no more tears left to cry.

She hears, "Nice weather tonight, huh?"

Juliet lifts her head to see Mercutio lying beside her, his hands behind his head. He’s facing up, but his eyes are watching her, not full of the usual jocular merriment. She must not have heard him come in in her self-pity session.

Juliet wishes the room was darker so Mercutio would not see her tear stricken face, but she’s sure the moonlight shining in from the window makes it glow beautifully.

Mercutio continues, silence being his Achilles heel, "Warm out. Not a cloud in the sky."

He obviously doesn't know the world drowned.

To him, it must be a normal day where two of his friends broke up. How nice must that be.

“I guess you know I broke up with Romeo, huh?” 

There is silence, and Juliet guesses Mercutio is biting back a joke. She appreciates the effort, but she’d rather he was normal. Then maybe she wouldn’t feel so guilty or sad or some weird combination of the two.

“Yeah,” he ends up saying. “I kinda eavesdropped on your conversation? Sorry?”

“I’d probably do the same.”

Mercutio now laughs humorlessly. “I bet you’re sorry you married me now, huh?”

Juliet rolls over onto her side, facing Mercutio so she can see his expression. The moonlight she feared is reflecting off his smile.

It’s a different smiling than his usual joking one. This one’s all teeth, like a fox baring its teeth when it’s backed into a corner. His cheeks are stretched too much, like they can’t contain his smile. It doesn’t reach his eyes, and she tries to pinpoint the emotion. Concerned? Guilty?

It’s so hard to tell when his smile is his mask.

“Why would I be sorry?”

Mercutio shrugs, staring at the ceiling, still smiling, still hiding even as he confesses. “Because we married so I could hide my relationship with Benvolio and you could hide your relationship with Romeo. I think that’s called a muralistic relationship or something. But now that you broke up with Romeo, you get nothing from our marriage.”

Although he is not looking at her, she smiles at him. Not as a mask or to hide her tears. Because she just realized she’s not alone anymore.

She doesn’t have a knight-in-shining-armor to save her, but she has someone to have her back as she saves herself.

Even if she hasn’t met the love of her life, she has met her soulmate.

“I get a best friend,” Juliet says. “I get you.”

He turns toward her, his smile small and real. “I bet you say that to all the guys you fake marry.”

She reaches up and grabs his hand, pulling it down between them.

Mercutio raises his eyebrow. “I’m taken, darling.”

“Shut up or I’ll murder you in your sleep,” Juliet says fondly.

Besides from Romeo, she’s never had much physical contact. And with Romeo, it was all sexual, about the heat of the moment. Juliet decides she likes the contact, the kind that comes from intimacy, the kind with no ulterior motives. The kind that means friendship. His hand is warm and grounding and feels like home.

“Goodnight, darling,” Mercutio says.

“Goodnight, asshole.”

Juliet still feels alone without Romeo and still feels guilt for missing the man she pushed away, but she feels less alone and her mind stops running a million miles an hour.

She falls asleep against her will, feeling safe with her hand in her best friend’s.

Chapter Text

“You’ll be okay if I go out, right?” Mercutio asks as he fixes his hair, glancing at Juliet.

She’s curled up on the couch, a romance book in hand, and snuggled up in one of the not-for-sex blankets. The same position she’s been in for the past week.

“I’m going through a break-up, Mercutio. I’m not dying.”

“And I’m not breaking some bro-code by hanging out with Romeo?”

Juliet rolls her eyes, but she’s flattered. He’s been friends with Romeo since diapers and he’s only known her for weeks. If he’s willing to not see Romeo for her, he must really care for her.

“No. I’d never expect you to give up him up.”

Mercutio looks at her, scrutinizing. Then he breaks out into a smile. “Great! Don’t wait up for me, then, darling. I rarely get a night away from my ball-and-chain.”

Juliet does not look up from her book as she flips him off. “Call me that again and I’ll kill you,” she says, singing the ending.

“Bye, ball-and-chain,” Mercutio calls over his shoulder. “Have fun masturbating to your book!”

“Have fun on your last day of life, asshole,” Juliet calls back as he slams the door.

She goes back to her book. Right now, the king is carrying on a dangerous love affair with his servant and his wife is just about to find out.

This is the fifth book she’s gone through since her break-up. Reading about romance should remind her of Romeo and make her question her decision again.

After a day of, Did I make a mistake? No, I didn’t make a mistake. I didn’t love him.

And the voice in her head screaming back, But what is love, really? You cared for him. He loved you. He was the first man to ever love you and will probably be the last and you kick him to the curb like he’s garbage? Bad choice, girl. Horrible. Life ruining, really. And if you gave it more time, you probably would have loved him. Head-over-heels love is unrealistic anyway.

And her thinking, Shit, I made a mistake. I should have stayed with him. I miss him so much.

And then, You have no right to miss him, girl. You broke up with him. You broke his heart. He probably hates you and wishes you were dead. He is probably suicidal. You could be responsible for his death. You could have killed him. You could have blood on your hands.

And, So you can’t mourn the break-up. You drove him away. It was your choice. You can’t be sad.

Juliet decided that she would not think about Romeo and the break-up anymore. The best way to not think is to disappear into a blanket heap and join a fantasy world.

Honestly, the king in this book is kind of an ass, and the servant is much too good for him. She should break up with him and get together with the wife. They’d make a badass couple.

Still, the book is distracting.

Juliet is fully invested in the king ripping off the servant’s bodice when there is a knock at the door. Juliet almost calls for Mercutio, not wanting to get up, before realizing he is gone.

Fuck him for not anticipating she may have to move. How dare he not be here to open the door?

Juliet sighs and gets up, shrugging off the mounds of blankets and the cold of the world hitting her too hard.

She opens the door to see Rosaline leaning against the door frame. It strikes her again just how wolf-like she looks with her sharp smile and ice-blue eyes. Her lazy posture is misleading; it looks relaxed, but she could totally kill a man without blinking an eye.

Somehow, she even makes the slim purple dress look badass. The sharp silver sticks in her hair that look like mini-swords and the knife under her skirt definitely helps with the illusion.

“It’s been too long, sis,” Rosaline says.

Juliet smiles weakly. She’s never been good at keeping stuff from Rosaline, never really had to. Even though they are cousins, they were like sisters in childhood, and even as they saw each other less, they still trusted each other with their lives. Juliet hopes Rosaline can’t tell she just went through a break-up or she’s spent the past few days on the verge of tears.

“Much too long,” Juliet says warmly.

“Put on a dress that doesn’t look like it belongs in the tenth century and we’ll get going,” Rosaline says, like the two of them have plans.

“Um, what?”

“Dinner. Tybalt’s paying.” She considers her words. “Well, Tybalt doesn’t know he’s paying yet, but he is.”

“Did I forget something, or…”

“Naw. Just thought it’d be fun. As I said, it’s been too long since the Capulet cousins got together, right?”

Juliet does not want to go. Not because she doesn’t want to see Rosaline or Tybalt, she really does miss them, but because she’s not sure how long she can keep up a happy facade without breaking.

“I mean, I was reading,” Juliet says hesitantly.

Rosaline’s grin widens. “Sorry, sis, you don’t have a choice. Meet us out front in five or else I’m giving a Tybalt a break and you’re paying, kay?”

Before Juliet can answer, Rosaline shuts the door in her face.

Juliet sighs and goes to put on a dress. She chooses a royal blue one because it’s her favorite. Actually comfortable and Rosaline sewed some secret pockets in and a compartment for a sword.

She’s never actually used a sword on a person before, but it makes her more comfortable to wear one. Especially at night. Tybalt always told her and Rosaline, don’t go anywhere without a sword. Men are pigs and don’t trust them.

Juliet finishes off her outfit with a pair of worn boots that look like a piece of garbage but are, again, comfortable. Besides, no one can see them under the skirt.

Juliet meets Rosaline outside. She’s in an intense argument with Tybalt about something. She's pointing at Tybalt and baring her teeth, and Tybalt is glaring at her and shaking his head when she speaks.

As Juliet draws closer, she hears Rosaline say, “Are you an idiot? Like, seriously, are you an actual idiot? Obviously, dogs are better than cats!”

“You’re the idiot if you think dogs are even close the level of cats. Cats are intelligent and cunning. Dogs are licking shed-monsters.”

Juliet snorts. It’s just like Rosaline and Tybalt to get violent over a cats vs. dogs debate.

“Say that again,” Rosaline dares.

“Or what? You’ll duel me?” Tybalt taunts.

“It doesn’t count as a duel if the other person gets fucking obliterated.”

“Like you would stand a chance against me.”

“Like you wouldn’t trip over your ego and die in two seconds.”

“My ego comes from somewhere, and it’s my skill.”

“I think it’s your loss of reality. The one where I would beat you to a pulp.”

“Oh, honey, that’s fantasy.”

“Say that again, bitch,” Rosaline threatens, her finger jabbing at Tybalt’s throat.

Juliet knows swords won’t ever come out. In all of their violent debates, they never once even threw a punch. Juliet thinks that this is because Tybalt cares too much for Rosaline and Rosaline knows she’d beat Tybalt, so there’s no sense in killing him over nothing.

Still, they’ll get to dinner a lot faster if Juliet intervenes. “Guys, c’mon. Isn’t this a bit too far?”

Tybalt glares at her. “It isn’t far enough.”

Rosaline glares at him one last time before turning a sickeningly sweet smile on Juliet. “Don’t talk to our cousin like that, Tybalt. She can decide which of us is right. And she knows the correct answer is dogs.”

Tybalt continues glaring at her. “Trying to get her on your side, now, huh?”

“I wouldn’t do that!” Rosaline says, faking innocence. “Just because Juliet and I have a bond no male can break doesn’t mean I’d call upon that.”

“Oh, real nice. Playing the ‘females stick together’ card again. That got old when you turned six.”

Rosaline smiles, her teeth looking even sharper than usual. “I said I’m not calling upon that bond. Really, Tybalt, you’ve got to listen better.”

“Guys,” Juliet interrupts. “I love both. Can we go to dinner?”

“Not until we settle this,” Rosaline says.

Juliet crosses her arms like she’s about to scold some toddlers. “Tell me your arguments on the way, in a civilized manner, on the way to the restaurant. Or I will not be the tie-breaker and I will go back into that house and read my damn romance novel. Got it?”

Tybalt and Rosaline nod in unison, looking exactly like scolded toddlers except for their resting bitch faces.

They begin walking towards some restaurant that Rosaline wants to go to.

“So,” Juliet says, “Tybalt, convince me.”

Juliet only has to break them apart two more times on the five-minute walk, about half the average.

Tybalt’s arguments rested on the foundation that dogs take a ton of caring, are needy, obnoxious creatures while cats independent and actually have a mind of their own.

Rosaline snorted at this, saying he is only partial to cats due to his nickname. Dogs, she argued, actually care about their owners and you become part of their pack. They would do anything for you while cats would eat your flesh if you died.

By the end of the vicious debate, they have arrived at the restaurant. The inn is not too fancy but more so than the average tavern. There are a bunch of circular tables with couples and families seated at all of them, laughing, giving it a light ambiance. The three of them are seated at a table close to a fireplace.

“So dear cousin,” Rosaline purrs, “what is your decision?”

Juliet smiles, looking between them. She is glad that the conversation is so unserious, or at least as unserious as a conversation containing Tybalt and Rosaline can be. She almost feels herself forgetting about Romeo. Almost.

“I have to side with Rosaline.” Rosaline smiles at Tybalt sweetly as he stabs the table with a knife. “Just because she is right about your bias.”

“I’m called the Prince of Cats, I am not literally the Prince of Cats. And I didn’t even come up with the stupid nickname.”

****

Mercutio did. That stupid son of a bitch who deserves to die. Painfully and slowly. For being a Montague. For breaking Paris' heart. For betraying Juliet. For being his first crush. For (almost) outing him.

Yeah. Death is merciful.

****

Juliet pours herself a glass of wine and pours some for her cousins. “What does it even mean?”

"It's a mock. You know, nine lives, I’m not dead, haha?” Tybalt says, rolling his eyes.

Rosaline interrupts with a mischievous smile. “I always heard it was because of your lack of girlfriends.”

Tybalt wipes his mouth with his napkin despite the fact that no food has been served.

Juliet cocks her head in confusion and asks, “Wait, what do you mean?”

“You never heard?” Rosaline says, surprised.

“I’ve never been one for gossip.”

“This rumor’s hard not to hear. They call him the Prince of Cats because it’s saying he’s the prince of pussy when he’s never had a girlfriend,” Rosaline says, smirking at Tybalt like it’s a funny joke.

Tybalt wipes his mouth more. “Do we have to talk about this?” Tybalt asks, sounding bored. Juliet knows he’s really embarrassed.

Rosaline must, too, because her smirk disappears. “I’m not judging you,” she says, more gentle than usual. “I’d be the last person to. I’ve never even had a boyfriend.”

Tybalt puts down his napkin, slightly less embarrassed. “So? You’re like fifteen.”

“I’m sixteen, and if Capulet had his way, I’d have been married five years ago.”

“Fuck him,” Tybalt says with little malice, taken away by the years of repetition. Instead, his tone is tired.

“How can he have everyone, all his siblings, all his nieces and nephews, under his thumb?” Juliet wonders out loud for the thousandth time.

He had her under his thumb, sure, but there must be somebody with more of a backbone than her in her family.

But, then again, both Rosaline and Tybalt were, still are, under his thumb, and they are two of the strongest people she knows.

She realizes, for the first time, that while she escaped Capulet, Rosaline and Tybalt have not.

Juliet always got the brunt of his abuse, being his daughter and living in his house, but Capulet’s siblings worshipped Capulet like a god and Tybalt and Rosaline were basically sacrifices to him. They spent most of their childhoods with her, trapped under his reign of terror.

Tybalt was always the luckiest, which is to say not very lucky, being male. He was pretty much out of Capulet’s grasp now since he was older. An older, single male still had some power.

Rosaline, however, would not be freed until she is married. She would forever be indebted to him, reliant on him until she found a husband.

Tybalt finally replies, “He’s got some twisted power nobody can break free of.”

The three of them nod simultaneously, thinking of that almost magic-like sense of their will bending, soul breaking in his presence.

“On to more superficial things and less emotional things,” Rosaline says cheerily. “Juliet, how’s married life?”

Romeo flashes through her mind, and Juliet forces herself to think of her actual marriage to Mercutio and smile. Romeo is not her husband anymore. No. He never was her husband.

“Great,” Juliet says.

“We need more detail than that,” Rosaline says.

Juliet glances to Tybalt, expecting him to be bored, but he looks strangely interested, eying her out of the corner of his eye as he nurses his glass of wine.

“It’s really good,” Juliet says, trying to sound sincere. “Mercutio is great, of course. He makes breakfast a lot and we fall asleep holding hands. He really cares about me.”

“I’m glad you’re happy. I had to check. You had this brokenhearted expression when I knocked before and I thought I had to kill him.”

Juliet forces a laugh. “Nope! Not brokenhearted and no killing necessary.”

Tybalt sits up straight, trying a bit too hard to look uninterested. “So he doesn’t sneak out at odd hours or anything like that?”

Juliet furrows her eyebrows, unsure of what he’s getting at. “Not any stranger than anyone else.”

“So, you don’t wake up and just find him gone or anything?”

Juliet feels her underarms start to sweat. She feels like she’s under interrogation and Mercutio and her lives are at stake. Like Tybalt somehow knows about Mercutio sneaking out to see Benvolio.

But that’s impossible. He can’t know about that.

Still, she speaks slowly so she doesn’t mess up. “As I said, he makes me breakfast.”

“You said he makes you breakfast a lot. Why doesn’t he always make you breakfast?”

“Because I sometimes make it. What’s up with these questions, Tybalt?”

Tybalt ignores her question and asks, “And does he have friends over?”

“Sometimes-”

“How about any Montagues?”

Juliet’s heart is pounding and she forces herself to look not guilty. She tries to think of a response where she doesn’t burst out into tears and confess when Rosaline says, “Answer Juliet’s question, Tybalt. What the fuck is up with the third degree?”

Tybalt shrugs, leaning back into a lazy position. “I just wanted to make sure Mercutio’s treating her right. With his past, you can’t be too sure.”

Rosaline glares at him, ice cold. “Juliet knows what she’s doing. Trust her a bit.”

Juliet doesn’t know how to mold her face. A grateful smile at Rosaline? A glare at Tybalt for doubting her? Some neutral expression? What would look the least guilty?

Juliet ends up just staring at the two of them, her mouth wide open, surely drawing attention to the sweat on her brow. Tybalt glances at her, narrowing his eyes at her suspicious expression like it’s all the proof he needs that she is up to something.

She has never felt like this around Tybalt, like the one he’s out to kill is her. She has always trusted him with her life, sure he would protect it.

Now, she’s not so sure.

****

According to Benvolio, Romeo has not left his bed since the break-up. He does not speak except to rhapsodize about Juliet and how broken-hearted he is.

And because of Mercutio’s great empathy for Romeo’s situation and not at all because he wants Romeo to get out of the house so he can be alone with Benvolio, Mercutio suggests an outing to raise his spirits.

They planned to meet at this new pub with dark lights, loud orchestra music, a dance floor, and a ton of girls. Seemed like Romeo’s type of place.

Mercutio gets there first and snags them a table right near the dance floor and a table of giggling girls who appear to be Romeo’s type. His type being drunk and female.

At least, that was generally his taste before Juliet. Mercutio hopes it has not changed.

He orders some beers and sips at while he waits. The gaggle of girls beside him glance at him every few moments and giggle more, causing Mercutio to point to his wedding ring. They still glance at him, but more subtly.

Another brilliant advantage to being married. He no longer has to come up with excuses for why he can't date girls. The, "My mother says I'm too young to date" only works for so long.

Mercutio sees Benvolio first and waves at him. Benvolio looks tired, and before Mercutio can wonder why, he sees Romeo.

To say he looks like an earthquake hit him, he survived, then a tsunami hit him and he was sent plunging down to the underworld where he got into a fight with Hades before crawling his way back up to Earth is a vast understatement.

More specifically, he looks like utter shit.

He has dark circles under his eyes like he used an entire container of eyeshadow, the whites of his eyes are more red than white, and his hair looks like he actually rolled out of bed instead of styling it.

Romeo slumps down on one side of Mercutio and Benvolio sits down on the other. Mercutio examines Romeo silently for a full minute, but Romeo is too busy staring at the wall without blinking to notice.

Mercutio turns to Benvolio and whispers, “Is he okay?”

Benvolio rolls his eyes. “Better than ever, obviously. He got up this morning, did a tap dance, and shat rainbows. I think I’m starting to see literal sunshine radiating out of him.”

“Oh good. I thought the sunshine thing was just me.”

Benvolio glances at Romeo, who does not seem to notice a conversation about him is taking place, before lowering his voice saying, “He’s been like this since the break-up. I basically have to shove food down his throat to get him to eat. This is the first time he’s even stepped foot out of the bedroom, and I had to literally drag him here.”

“Is this normal? I don’t think this is normal.”

Benvolio shrugs. “I don’t know. He’s never been like this before. How’s Juliet taking it?”

Mercutio thinks of Juliet, sitting on the couch at all hours, plastering on a smile. “I don’t know. All she does is masturbate to romance novels.” Benvolio gives him a look. “Okay, all she does is read romance novels. She cried a lot the first day and at night, she talks in her sleep.”

“What does she say?”

“Nonsense. Like, just repeating ‘I’m sorry’ and ‘bad Juliet’ over and over again. It doesn’t make any sense.”

One second Mercutio’s whispering to Benvolio and the next, Romeo is in his face, his red eyes wide. “Are you talking about Juliet? What about Juliet? How is she? Has she said anything about me? Does she miss me?”

Mercutio gently pushes Romeo back and laughs. “Whoa, dude. Calm down on the stalker routine.”

Romeo nods rapidly, looking like a drug addict ready to do anything for the slightest taste of Juliet, even if it’s just second-hand information from his emotionally-unavailable friends.

“Okay, okay, okay. I’m calm. Totally calm. Now tell me about Juliet.”

Mercutio glances at Benvolio, silently asking if he should tell him. Benvolio gives a microscopic shrug, silently saying “What’s the harm? He’s already in lunatic territory.”

“She’s fine. Reading a lot.”

Romeo’s posture straightens like he’s on a high. “Do you think she misses me?”

Mercutio hesitates. He knows she does, he can just tell. But if he tells Romeo that, he’ll be at her door in two seconds. And he’s not sure if Juliet wants to get back together with him.

“I think she needs her space,” Mercutio says carefully.

Aw hell. When did Mercutio start hedging his words? It’s absolutely miserable being in the middle of break-up drama.

“So she doesn’t miss me?” Romeo asks, his shoulders sagging.

“I don’t know, dude,” Mercutio says, feeling like he’s absorbing some of Romeo’s sadness. He quickly shakes it off and says, “Forget about Juliet. So she’s not the one for you. Who cares? You’re Romeo fucking Montague. You’ve had more casual flings and burning loves than the princes or shit in Juliet’s books. You’ll find someone else.”

“Who?” Romeo asks, whiny as all hell. “Who can hold a candle to Juliet’s beauty, Juliet’s kindness, Juliet’s kisses, Juliet’s mouth on my-”

“Okay,” Benvolio interrupts. “That’s more than enough information for even the grossest pervert.”

“I wasn’t going to say that! I was going to say Juliet’s mouth on my dick-”

“What the fuck did you think we were thinking?” Benvolio asks.

“Juliet is the world’s most perfect woman. An angel on earth, if you will. She’s the only one for me.”

Mercutio, sick of his bullshit, says, “And that’s exactly what you said about Rosaline and all the girls before her.”

Romeo sighs. “Juliet’s different than all the other girls. My love for her makes my love for every other girl look like hatred. My passion for her shines like the sun, making all my other passions shimmer like a candle with only a centimeter of wax left.”

Mercutio has heard this more times than he can count with the only differences being the name. Juliet does seem different, though, in the sense he looks like a drug addict after the break-up.

Mercutio does not know if this means he truly loved her more or if he only thinks he needs her more.

“Fine, so Juliet’s the love of your life, the perfect angel, blah-blah-blah,” Mercutio says. “Nobody says you’ve got to find the love of your life right this second. Why not a rebound? That’s an essential part of toxic male culture, right?”

Mercutio glances at Benvolio, double-checking the validity of that statement. Benvolio nods his agreement, and Mercutio turns back to Romeo with assurance in his eyes.

“Where am I going to find a rebound though?”

Benvolio snorts. “Have you seen this place? It’s rebound central.”

Romeo sighs. “But none of them-” 

“If you end that sentence with some comparison to Juliet and your dick, I swear to God,” Benvolio says, letting his threat hang in the air.

“And who cares if they’re like Juliet?” Mercutio adds. “You know, they’re hot. Females. Not chicks because apparently, that lingo is out.”

“No, that’s in again,” Romeo says glumly.

“Seriously? A month? A month later and it’s in again?” Mercutio shakes his head and leans on Benvolio’s shoulder. “The world’s mocking me.”

Benvolio pats the back of his head. “I know, I know. You live a hard life. I’m so sorry.”

“Who would even want to be my rebound?” Romeo asks, obviously looking for some pity and something along the lines of, You’re so great! Want to have a threesome with me and Benvolio? We’ve been secretly lusting after you forever. When I’m kissing Benvolio, I pretend it’s you. I think he does the same. Is that weird?

Instead of this, Benvolio jerks his head toward the gaggle of girls beside them, unfortunately forcing Mercutio to lift his head. Benvolio says, “They’ve been staring at you all night.”

“Seriously?” Mercutio asks. “They were hitting on me, too. Oh, God. Do I have the same sex appeal as Romeo? Am I not hot?”

Benvolio pets the top of his head like he’s a dog. “Do not despair. You are hot. The world is just so cruel to you that people you are not attracted hit on you then hit on Romeo.”

“It is so cruel,” Mercutio agrees.

Like usual, Romeo has tuned out their conversation and changes it back to him. “Is it betraying Juliet to hook up with someone else less than a week after we broke up? I still love her and no one can hold a candle to her, but, you know, a rebound sounds good.”

Mercutio throws an arm around Romeo. “Not at all, my dude. The rules of toxic culture dictate that the dumpee can do anything they want after the break-up, including ill-advised pity sex. Now, go out there and use your patheticness and natural hurt puppy look to your advantage!”

Romeo looks comforted and stands. “Thank you. You give the best advice.”

Mercutio smiles. He does give the best advice. Of course, Benvolio has to ruin this by whispering, “If he thinks that, he’s going to make the worst decision of his life.”

Romeo walks over to the table and they immediately offer him a chair. A blonde leans over and coos loudly, “Your girlfriend just broke up with you? Poor thing!”

Benvolio raises his eyebrows. “Wow, he works fast.”

“It’s kind of terrifying.” Mercutio looks at Benvolio, with his red hair sticking up and his own dark circles from taking care of Romeo, and he smiles evilly.

Over exuberantly, he says, “Oh, Benvolio, my love, have I not mentioned that nobody holds a candle to you? With your firm muscles and your wiry hair that I love to pull as-”

“Not here,” Benvolio interrupts, glancing around at the people surrounding them.

“Nobody hears us. It’s too loud,” Mercutio says, feeling rightfully chided but wanting to hopelessly defend his dangerous joking.

“I know, but we can’t be too careful.”

Despite Mercutio’s intense desire to flirt with Benvolio openly under the influence of alcohol, he knows Benvolio is right. They can’t be too careful. Unlike Romeo, who can just run up to a table of girls, they have to be sneaky. If anyone finds out they are together, they would both be subject to the death penalty.

And death is not exactly how Mercutio planned his weekend.

“Back to your place then?” Mercutio asks.

“We can’t just leave Romeo.”

“Of course we can! He’s fine.”

Benvolio raises his eyebrows. “He’s not fine. We’d be terrible friends if we left him.”

“Terrible friend is my middle name. Let’s go.”

Benvolio just tilts his head, silently waiting for Mercutio’s moral compass to kick in. It takes a couple of minutes, but finally, Mercutio feels a slight bit of guilt at his suggestion. “Fine,” he says. “We’ll stay. But Romeo owes us so much.”

“And as soon as he’s better, we’ll tell him how much he impacted our sex life. Because that’s what good friends do,” Benvolio says, rolling his eyes.

“Exactly! See, you get it.”

Benvolio rolls his eyes again, but Mercutio sees a tiny bit of amusement on his lips as the corners creep up ever so slightly. Mercutio smiles to himself. The next best thing to sleeping with Benvolio for the first time in a week is making him happy.

****

There’s no healthier way to distract yourself from a breakup than with a table full of hot girls. Romeo is sure that is exactly what any medical professional would say.

After introductions and them pitying Romeo, all of them except Guida, a beautiful blonde, leave with quite lame excuses. Romeo appreciates the effort, though. Now he doesn’t have to leave to get privacy with Guida.

“That girl must have been an idiot to break up with you,” Guida says, leaning in towards Romeo another half an inch.

“Not really,” Romeo says, unthinking. “She was very smart, actually. And kind. And-” Guida’s flirtatious smile starts to sour and she backs further into her chair. Romeo realizes he has to remedy this situation fast. Leaning forward himself, he says, “But it’s very kind of you to think I’m such a catch.”

Guida’s face immediately sweetens. “It’s not kind, at all. It’s fact. I do not understand how anyone could have broken up with someone who has such soft hair.”

To demonstrate, she twists a lock of his hair through her fingers. Unless Romeo has been out of the game for longer than he thought, he’s sure that’s code for, “Fuck me now.”

“It’s not that soft,” Romeo says.

He brushes his hand against her shiny hair. It’s more oily than Juliet’s, whose subtle curls were dry in the morning. Romeo quickly shakes his head to get this and all thoughts of Juliet out of his head. She’s not here; she doesn’t love him. It’s Guida who he currently likes. Or at least wants to fuck.

“Yours, on the other hand, wow,” Romeo says, purposefully lowering his voice on the wow.

Guida giggles as his hand glides from her hair down her arm, light as a feather.

“I use olive oil,” she says, sounding shyer than her position conveys, making him think it’s an act like his lower voice.

At this point, she’s mere inches from his face and her hands are crossed on her knees, forcing her breasts close together under his chin and in his eyesight.

“Well, it works,” Romeo says, cupping the back of her neck with the pretense of feeling her hair.

“Why, Romeo, if I did not know better, I’d say you have ulterior motives.”

“You obviously don’t know me very well,” he says lowly, closing the last few inches.

Guida’s a good kisser, obviously experienced, and moves confidently against him. Her lips are soft and taste fruity like the red wine she was drinking. Juliet never tasted like that, having preferred white wine, and she usually tasted like sugar because of her sweet tooth.

As he rests his hand on Guida’s thigh and Guida moves her hand to the back of his head, Romeo wonders what Juliet would think if she saw this scene. He doesn’t think she’d be angry. He’d always been the jealous one.

And she doesn’t love him anyways. So why would she care if he hooks up with another woman?

With a new sense of righteous fury, he kisses her deeper, letting his tongue wander freely.

Take that, Juliet. Just because she doesn’t love him doesn’t mean that there aren’t thousands of other girls who would kill for the chance to be with him. Look at Guida. One look from him and she’s pretty much putty in his hands. She’d do anything he says.

At this thought, he feels a stab of guilt. Juliet would kill him, literally kill him, for these thoughts.

“Guida is a person, too,” she’d say. “And you’re just using her. You don’t care about her feelings. You just want to get laid.”

He thinks of her telling him that women can’t really say no to men, that women at the mercy of a man’s whims. He hopes that isn’t what is happening here.

Romeo breaks away from Guida’s lips with a wet ‘plop’ noise. Guida leans back.

“Did I do something wrong?” she asks.

“No, no, nothing like that. You’re a great kisser, actually. I just realized I never asked if this was okay with you.”

Guida stares at him for a moment. “What?” she says, actually sounding uncertain for the first time in their encounter.

“Is this, our kissing and maybe further, okay with you?” Romeo repeats.

Guida stares at him for another second, and Romeo wonders if he did something wrong. Juliet was really into the whole consent thing, something he’d never had to think about, but maybe not everyone is? But it seems like something so important.

Guida finally says, “No one has ever asked me that before.”

“So, is it okay?” Romeo asks hesitantly.

Guida laughs a bit. “Yeah. It’s okay. Maybe we can just make-out though? It’s just-”

“You don’t have to give me a reason,” Romeo interrupts.

Before, he’d have been disappointed. But now, after Juliet, he realizes that not everyone is like him. Sex isn’t just sex to everyone. For Juliet, it meant something. She only wanted sex with her husband.

Maybe for Guida, she wants to wait until she’s married. Maybe she just doesn’t want to have sex with a stranger. Maybe she just doesn’t like it. Whatever the reason, it doesn’t matter. She said no.

With a start, Romeo realizes that he may have accidentally become a better person from his relationship with Juliet. He isn’t sure what to make of that. A part of him is thankful to Juliet, but most of him is more lost. Although he only knew her for a few weeks, she has already become his moral compass. Without her, what will he do? He needs her to be a good person.

He shakes off this sudden feeling of helplessness and smiles at Guida.

“Has anyone ever told you your name sounds like a cheese?” Romeo asks, blurting out the first thing that comes to his head that involves her.

Shit. He sounds like Mercutio. That can’t be sexy.

Guida laughs a little, less flirtatiously than before. “Nope. And it’s definitely okay if you kiss me now.”

Romeo smiles as he leans in. Apparently sounding like Mercutio isn’t as heinously gross as he thought. He’ll have to remember that for next time.

****

Paris is alone tonight. Tybalt wasn’t at Tom’s Tavern, which was fine. He doesn’t need Tybalt to have fun. He can have fun on his own.

Just because drinking tea and reading a book in bed doesn’t sound like typical teenage fun doesn’t mean it isn’t. In fact, it’s the new cool kids' thing.

Paris tries to convince himself of this as he reads the same paragraph over and over again. The words just aren’t sticking and he forgets everything he read within two seconds.

It’s too quiet and he’s too sober. He hates being alone. It’s harder to control his thoughts. It’s harder to be angry at Juliet for leaving him.

Who could blame her for ditching him? Mercutio’s actually a bit of fun. Paris? He’s dull and clumsy and petty and spoiled.

And there’s that little bit about planning to kill Mercutio. That part also adds a bit to his horribleness.

Paris knows he never deserved Juliet. She is kind and sweet and everything anyone with a brain wants.

He used to watch her even before they were engaged. Not in a creepy way or anything. But if they were at the same party, he used to watch her from across the ballroom.

She would always have on the prettiest dress and stand in the corner, looking kind of shy. Which is ridiculous considering every guy in the room wanted to dance with her.

At every party, he’d tell himself he’d ask her to dance. Just during the next song. Or the next. Or the next. Or the next party.

He never did ask her. Just admired her and her kindness from the opposite corner of the room.

One time, someone brought their toddler to the party. And then ignored her while they got drinks. She was started to wail and Paris was about to help her when Juliet found her. She held her hand and played games with her for the rest of the party.

He knew, even then, that Juliet would never go for him. He’s nothing compared to her.

Paris doesn’t know when he began to cry. He’s been on the verge of tears for the past month, and now, he can’t stop. Not even telling himself how Mercutio and Juliet screwed him over makes the tears stop. Because he knows that she was right not to have married him.

Why would she have loved him? How could he have thought even for a moment someone loved him?

Paris thinks back, wondering if anyone has ever loved him. His parents, maybe. But it’s more because they’re obligated. He’s sure they would have preferred a more eloquent and charming son. Esculas? No. He’s pretty sure he tolerated him, liking him more than Mercutio but not enough to count as love. 

Tybalt? No. Paris actually laughs a little at this thought, his laugh high against his sobbing. Tybalt only hangs out with him because of their deal. That’s the only reason.

Paris decides that he is unlovable. He knows, as he leans back against the headboard, not even bothering to wipe away the tears, that this is self-pitying. He knows that there is a court jester out there, ready to tell him that it’s just his lack of confidence. He’s better than he knows. Nobody is unlovable. One day, someone will fall in love with him and they’ll live happily ever after.

Paris calls bullshit on his fantasy jester. It’s not even self-pity, it’s just the truth.

Statistically, even if there is someone for everyone, the perfect soulmate, there has to be someone left out. There has to be someone who’s soulmate was never born, never existed. There has to be someone who is never loved.

And Paris is, without a doubt, that someone.

Nobody will ever love him.

Even if he gets married to one of those girls begging to marry him, they won’t love him. They’ll love his power, his checkbook. Not him. They couldn’t. He’s unlovable.

Even if Tybalt kills Mercutio and Juliet agrees to marry him in her grief, she won’t love him. Even if she has no idea he helped Tybalt with his plan to kill him. She’s never loved him before, and of course, that won’t change.

So what’s the point of killing Mercutio? There is none. Maybe he should just tell Tybalt he’s out. He doesn’t want to be involved in this murder scheme anymore. Murder just isn’t his style.

Then Paris thinks of Tybalt. Even if Tybalt doesn’t like him, he’s a person who is willing to hang out with him, even if it’s to scheme his cousin’s murder. Without him, he’d be completely alone.

Without him, he’d spend every night in his too quiet bedroom, too sober, and cry in self-pity.

So yeah. If planning his cousin’s murder, something that he just realized is a tad bit of an overreaction, gets him someone vaguely resembling a friend, then he’s totally willing to do it. He'd be willing to do almost anything.

Chapter Text

Mercutio enters his house, whistling a tune he could not get out of his head. Mercutio is shocked to see Juliet pacing the room. As soon as he slams the door, she turns toward him. “Where have you been?”

“Well, darling, when a man and a man love each other-” he starts. It's a total lie; he and Benvolio barely got to do more than talk and they split ways after the pub. But it makes an excellent joke.

Juliet glares at him. “Shut up. I saw Tybalt-”

Mercutio holds out his hand in a stop sign motion. “Hold on. Many questions. Was that bastard in this house? Do we need to spray for lice? Maybe we should just burn this house down. Who cares, living on the street would be better than living in a house Tybalt stepped foot in.”

“He didn’t come inside, but-”

“Does that mean you went outside? Oh, it’s a miracle! God is real!” Mercutio says, clutching his heart and looking up to the heavens which are, apparently, totally real.

He grins at Juliet, sure she finds his jokes as hilarious as he does. But, strangely, she does not look amused.

“Mercutio, we have a serious problem here. Please be serious.”

Unable to hold back another joke, Mercutio says, “Should I get some glasses to look smarter or-”

“Tybalt knows about us,” Juliet interrupts.

Mercutio feels his grin fade. “What?”

“I think he knows about us,” Juliet whispers urgently, sitting on the arm of the couch.

Mercutio is now the one pacing. “He can’t know, Juliet. That’s impossible.”

“He was asking me all these weird questions at dinner tonight like if you sneak out at odd hours and if I wake up and find you gone. Stuff that he shouldn’t know about.”

“Maybe he was just being weird. He’s a psychopath; psychopaths are weird,” Mercutio says, pacing faster.

“You weren’t there. He definitely knew all about us,” Juliet insists. “It was like I was being grilled about a murder or something. I thought he was going to shine a light in my eyes and refuse me water.”

“How could he know? We were so careful!” Mercutio says, thinking back on all the times he visited Benvolio and Romeo’s house and Benvolio and Romeo came over to his and Juliet’s house in broad daylight, laughing and singing the whole way.

There was no way they could have been more sneaky.

“We were not sneaky!” Juliet says. “We literally just went over to everyone’s houses in broad daylight, laughing and singing the whole way. It was like we were in a goddamn musical comedy.”

“Exactly! We were so careful.”

Juliet sighs. She does not bother to refute this point, probably because Mercutio is so obviously correct. “From now on,” she says, “we only see each other at night. In disguises. We are not taking any risks here.”

“But Juliet,” Mercutio whines, “that’s so boring.”

“Do you want to get caught?” Mercutio envisions himself being hanged in the middle of Verona, everyone cheering over his death. He always wanted people sobbing and throwing themselves at his lowering coffin when he died. So, he shakes his head. “Then we’ve got to be more careful.”

“Fine,” Mercutio sighs. “I guess it’ll be kind of hot. Sneaking around in the cover of night to see my boyfriend. Like in one of your books.”

Mercutio imagines sneaking off to see Benvolio under the cover of night and Benvolio wrapping himself around him, kissing him senseless. Romeo, obviously, wouldn’t be home.

Mercutio smiles dreamily to himself and stops pacing at this daydream.

“And we need to prep our answers if anyone asks us about our relationship. You know, so we both say the same thing if someone asks.”

“But we already know what to say,” Mercutio protests. Doing more work is so not what he wants to do right now.

“Really?” Juliet asks, skeptical. “What would you say if someone asked how we met?”

“Easy. That you have been obsessed with me for years and followed me everywhere. I rebuffed you at first, thinking of you as one of the thousands of girls who fell in love with me, but after you snuck into my house late one night and sat on my bed naked, your gigantic breasts shimmering in the moonlight, I could no longer resist. And we made ravenous man-and-woman love. The end.”

Juliet glares at him, less than amused at his brilliant story. “Wrong. You already told my father that we met at Tybalt’s party.”

“Like he’d remember that,” Mercutio scoffs.

“Like he’d remember what you said before you stole me from Paris? I think he would.”

Mercutio is about to argue that point before he realizes, “Wait. How did you know what I told him?”

Juliet rolls her eyes. “Obviously I was eavesdropping. Did you think I was going to just laze around in my room while you convinced my father to let you marry me?”

“A girl after mine own heart. Benvolio better watch out.”

“Ha-ha. Let’s prepare.”

****

After Romeo made-out with Guida, he got himself rip-roaring drunk. And whenever Romeo gets drunk, he reverts into a glorified baby and Benvolio becomes the designated babysitter.

As the two of them walk home, Romeo is leaning so heavily on Benvolio that Benvolio is basically carrying him. And he’s not light. Benvolio is panting with the effort of keeping him upright and not trying to run off after squirrels.

“Squirrels are so weird,” Romeo says, his voice way too loud for a residential neighborhood in the middle of the night. “Like, they’re furry. But they climb trees. And some fly! It’s like little superhero dogs. Who can climb trees!”

Romeo’s speech is slurred, so Benvolio cannot understand the rest. It sounds something like, “I want to pet one,” or “I want one to pet me.” Benvolio cannot tell.

“Yep,” Benvolio grunts, pulling Romeo closer. “Squirrels are weird. I think about it all the time.”

“A squirrel wouldn’t break up with me,” Romeo says.

His pace slows down, and now, Benvolio also has to drag him forward.

“They’re too fuzzy and nice. They wouldn’t-” Romeo gestures wildly with his hand. “You know. The not nice thing with the heart.”

“Break it?” Benvolio guesses.

“Yes!” Romeo yells. “A squirrel wouldn’t break my, um. You know.”

“Heart.”

“Yeah! That thing.” Suddenly, Romeo falls to his knees. Benvolio almost goes down with the dead weight that is Romeo.

At first, Benvolio is irritated. He wants to get home and sleep. It’s so late. He’s barely seen Mercutio at all because he always has to babysit Romeo, and the one time he does see Mercutio, they can barely even flirt because of stupid society. That part isn’t Romeo’s fault, but it just adds to Benvolio’s general irritation.

“C’mon, Romeo,” Benvolio says, trying to drag him.

But when Romeo doesn’t get up, Benvolio’s heart begins to pound. He drank so much. What if he’s not okay?

“Romeo,” Benvolio says, trying to keep the panic out of his voice. “Talk to me. Say something.”

“Juliet,” Romeo moans. “I love you.”

Benvolio rolls his eyes. “God damn it, Romeo,” he says, irritated again. This time he’s irritated that Romeo made him so goddamn worried about him when he only wants to lie down on the goddamn ground and cry about his ex-girlfriend/ex-wife/whatever-the-hell-he-called-her.

“Why don’t she love me?” Romeo says. The only reason his ass isn’t up in the air and his head isn’t in the dirt is because Benvolio is holding his shoulders up. “I love her.”

“C’mon, Romeo. Just move,” Benvolio snaps at him.

This only makes Romeo’s words more slurred and incomprehensible. Benvolio can only make out, “Juliet”, “love”, “why”, and “dick”. Benvolio doesn’t want to know how they’re tied together.

Benvolio tries another tactic. In a gentle voice one might use with a two-year-old throwing a tantrum, Benvolio says, “Romeo, let’s go home, okay? We can talk at home. You just need to stand, okay?”

Romeo does not seem to even hear Benvolio as he continues with his slurring about Juliet the whole time.

Benvolio moves onto begging. “Please, Romeo. Just move. We’re only a block from home. I’ll do anything. I’ll let you give me a makeover like you always want to. I’ll even let you braid my hair. Just, please move.”

Even these promises make no difference. Benvolio sighs and mutters a string of curses about how goddamn cruel God is being to him before sitting down on the ground himself. Romeo instantly collapses into Benvolio’s lap, his head falling between Benvolio’s crossed legs.

“Thank you,” Romeo says, his voice sounding like a toddler whose parents just gave him the candy he’s been begging for.

“It’s fine,” Benvolio says grudgingly, trying to mean it.

As Romeo lies on his lap and mutters incomprehensible bullshit about Juliet, Benvolio tries to not feel so irritated that his life has boiled down to sitting on the edge of a street one block away from home at three o’clock at night with his drunk best friend, listening to said best friend talk about his break-up. It’s so hard, though. All Benvolio wants is to sleep. At home. In his own goddamn bed and not outside on the street.

Benvolio tries to sympathize with him instead. He imagines what it would feel like if he broke up with Mercutio. Logically, Benvolio knows he would be devastated. Mercutio’s his best friend and has been for as long as Benvolio can remember. Benvolio would barely know how to function without Mercutio’s stupid sexual innuendos and stupid puns and cheerful stupidity and constant humming.

Emotionally, though, Benvolio cannot even imagine it. It’s too bad, too impossible, for Benvolio to fully comprehend the hypothetical situation.

And so, Benvolio is still irritated at his drunk-as-a-goddamn-skunk best friend, but he manages grudging understanding, forcing himself to comb his fingers through Romeo’s hair and nod as he listens and pretends to understand Romeo.

After about ten minutes, Romeo falls asleep on his lap. Benvolio sighs. For a moment, he wonders if he could carry Romeo home, but he knows that Romeo is much too heavy. Benvolio settles himself in for a long night of sitting on the street and hoping nobody mugs them.

When dawn breaks, a man comes out of the house Benvolio is sitting in front of. He looks at the two of them strangely, and Benvolio can tell he’s wondering what the hell happened to them. Benvolio waves at him cheerily, pretending that there is nothing strange about the situation. The man just stares, open-mouthed, for another minute before promptly turning around and heading back inside, muttering loudly about kids these days.

A few minutes later, Romeo wakes up. He cracks open his eyes, then immediately closes them, groaning. “It’s too bright.”

“That’s called the sun,” Benvolio explains patronizingly.

“Turn it off,” Romeo groans, pushing his head into Benvolio’s stomach.

“As I am not yet God, I cannot do that.”

“M’head hurts,” Romeo says, his voice muffled.

“Shocking. Let’s go home.”

Benvolio knows he could show a bit more sympathy, but even his little bit of understanding has worn thin after a night sitting on dirt.

“No. Five more minutes.”

“Let’s go,” Benvolio says. When Romeo doesn’t move, Benvolio grabs Romeo’s hands and stands, successfully pulling Romeo up.

Successful is relative, though, because Romeo’s head bonked against the ground in the process. He howls in pain.

“Sorry,” Benvolio says unapologetically. “Now, let’s go.”

Benvolio still has to drag Romeo and Romeo still whines the whole way, but they eventually get home. As soon as they do, Benvolio drops Romeo in his bed and Benvolio falls down right next to him, too tired to even sleep in his own goddamn bed.

****

The letter came the next day. It was written beautifully in some servant’s cursive and addressed to Juliet and Mercutio. Juliet almost threw up.

It was an invitation to the Capulet mansion for that Sunday. Juliet spends the rest of the week in a panic, almost entirely forgetting about her break-up with Romeo in favor of the dominant emotion.

Sunday arrives much too quickly.

Even with her days of panicking, she did not adequately prepare herself. She forgot how much she hated the Capulet mansion.

She remembers quickly.

As she and Mercutio walk towards the mansion, arm-in-arm, silently, breathing becomes a chore. Each breath feels shallow, and Juliet is no longer sure that somebody didn’t suck all the air out of the world. The starry night sky feels oppressive, like a semi-spherical cage that she just can’t break out of.

All she can think is that Capulet is going to yell at her, scream at her, hit her. Force her to live there forever. Take away her life.

She can just see Capulet pulling her up to her room, telling her that this was all a dream. That she lives there forever. That she will never be free.

Juliet forces herself to breathe. She tells herself that Capulet can’t really take away her life.

But she knows she’s lying. Her fears, for once, are not ill-founded. Tybalt will be there, trying to trip her up at every turn.

And if Tybalt succeeds? Capulet will kill Mercutio. Kill Benvolio. Kill Romeo.

He will take her life from her. Lock her up. Torture her. Force her to marry some other rich snob who will yell at her, scream at her, hit her.

“Juliet?” Mercutio asks, breaking her out of her reverie. “Are you okay?”

Juliet forces herself to smile, but she can’t remember how to. Turn her lips up? Teeth? No teeth?

“Perfect,” Juliet says, her voice too high and out of breath, her smile wide and teeth-full. “Why?”

“Because you stopped walking, like, ten minutes ago, I’ve said your name like a hundred times, and you’re hyperventilating like crazy,” Mercutio lists, staring at her with something akin to worry or pity.

“Isn’t that normal?” Juliet asks, widening her lips.

“And your smile is really freaking me out here.”

Juliet turns down the smile, closing her lips a bit. “Better?” 

“Not at all. Juliet, seriously, you don’t have to go to this thing. I’ll just say you’re tired from our ravenous love-making or sick or something.”

“I’m fine, Mercutio,” Juliet says, adding a fake little laugh to her routine. “Really.”

Mercutio unlinks his arm from hers, and Juliet panics for a second, wondering if she insulted Mercutio, is he going to leave her, is he sick of her. Then he gently grabs her wrist, and Juliet mentally slaps herself for being so stupid.

“You don’t have to lie to me, Juliet. I get it,” he says, lowering his head to meet her eyes.

Juliet wants to scream that he doesn’t get it, he can’t get it. But she knows that he does. That his parents were just as bad as hers.

His eyes never waver, and she feels herself and her smile crumble. “I’m not fine,” Juliet says, her voice cracking and her entire body slackening with this confession. Mercutio holds on tighter, grounding her, making it a tiny bit easier to breathe.

“He’s going know, Mercutio. He’s going to find out. And then he’s going to kill you and Benvolio and Romeo. And I know I broke up with Romeo, but I don’t want him to die. He’s a good guy. And I love you and Benvolio. You can’t die. And then he’s going to make me watch you guys die and then he’s going to sell me off to the highest bidder and I’m going to have to live with him, knowing that I killed my best friends. And I’ll never be happy and he’ll hit me and I won’t love him and I’ll have to have sex with him, but it won’t matter because you guys will be dead.”

Somehow, Juliet has not passed out despite there being no oxygen left in the world, used up by her selfish rant. Mercutio’s eyes have not left her, and Juliet cannot read them.

He must think she’s crazy. Of course he does. She belongs in a madhouse. He’s going to leave her here, and then she’ll still have to go back to Capulet and he’ll still hit her and he’ll still scream at her and he’ll still sell her and her new husband will still hit her and he’ll still scream at her. Mercutio’s the best thing that ever happened to her, of course he wouldn’t last. He’s the one person who got her, so of course-

“That won’t happen, Juliet,” Mercutio says, gentler than usual. “He won’t find out. You drilled me for hours-” he smirks to himself “-on our entire life story. There’s nothing he can ask that we won’t know the answer to.”

“But what happens if he does find out?” Juliet says, unconvinced, her throat still feeling like a tiny crack that air can’t travel through.

“Then we won’t go down without a fight,” Mercutio says, his voice confident. “I swear to you on my life, he won’t take you back.”

“Okay,” Juliet says, trying to sound like his words comforted her. “Okay.”

“Do you want to go home? I’ll go to the party alone and make an excuse or go home with you and you can read to me one of your stupid love stories all night. Either way, you don’t have to go. You owe him nothing.”

All Juliet wants to do is go home. Pretend this walk never existed. Read one of her stupid love stories.

“No,” Juliet says, despite how perfect his idea sounds. “I have to go. At least this once. To show Tybalt I have nothing to hide.”

Mercutio nods once. “Okay,” he says. “If you want to go at any point, let me know.”

“Okay,” Juliet says.

They walk to the mansion, Mercutio’s hand holding Juliet’s wrist and his eyes constantly watching her.

There is still not enough air. But Juliet forces herself to walk, forces herself to breathe. She tries to not think, but her heart pounds as the mansion grows taller, looming over her ominously, as they approach the front door.

Mercutio lifts his hand not holding Juliet’s wrist to knock but stops mid-air. “Are you sure you don’t want to leave?”

“No,” Juliet says, and the door opens.

Pam stands there, and her face lights up the second she sees Juliet. Juliet’s worry momentarily takes a backseat.

“My baby girl!” Pam exclaims, holding out her arms.

Juliet slips away from Mercutio and gives Pam a bone-crushing hug. “Pam!”

Pam’s hug is warm and the closest thing to motherly Juliet has ever felt. She smells just like that jasmine perfume she always wears too much of and Juliet’s old bedroom perpetually smells like. Juliet forgot how much she missed Pam.

Juliet can almost breathe again. Almost.

“I missed you so much, honey!” Pam says, voicing Juliet’s thoughts.

“Me, too, Pam,” Juliet says into Pam’s shoulder, taking in another breath of her jasmine scent.

Pam steps back and holds Juliet by the shoulders, examining her. “You look so much older.”

Juliet scoffs. “It’s just been a month.”

“A month where I haven’t seen my baby!” She leans closer, like she has a secret, and loudly says, “How’s the sex?”

Juliet groans. “Pam!”

“Hotter than hell,” Mercutio says from behind Juliet. He holds out his hand. “Hi, I’m the guy she’s having sex with. I have been standing here the whole time.”

“I know,” Pam snaps, glaring at him. “I just don’t care. I’m talking to my baby.” Her gaze softens as she turns back to Juliet, and she squeezes her shoulders. “Seriously, honey, how’s the sex? Is he any good? He’s scrawny, but that can be satisfying.”

“Pam,” Juliet whines, wanting to disappear. “I’m not discussing this with you.”

Pam nods knowingly. “That bad, huh? Too focused on himself? Has he even found the clitoris? Have you even had an orgasm?”

Juliet covers her ears and squishes her eyes shut. “I’m not listening to this!” 

“Honey! It’s just us girls!”

“Again,” Mercutio says, “right here. The guy who apparently can’t give Juliet an orgasm.”

“Mercutio!” Juliet squeals. “Stop talking!”

“What’s this about you not giving my girl an orgasm?” Rosaline says, smirking, as she enters the parlor, her heels clicking against the stone floor.

Like always, she looks dangerous. The silver cross around her neck shines against the dim candles, and her blonde hair is loose tonight, a stark contrast against her dark gray satin dress.

Of course, Juliet cannot focus on this because she’s dying of embarrassment.

“Rosaline!” Juliet squeals, mortified.

Rosaline tilts her head back and laughs. “Don’t worry, sis. I’m joking. If he’s not satisfying you, that’s your business.”

“Everyone, please stop talking about my sex life!” Juliet begs, way too loudly, her voice echoing across the hall.

Juliet is more embarrassed than she’s ever been in her life, but she’s also so relieved that this is how she’s being embarrassed. With her friends. She’s so happy she doesn’t have to focus on Capulet in the next room yet.

“Yeah, or at least paint me in a more desirable light. Give me some abs and skills and stuff,” Mercutio says.

“Mercutio,” Rosaline says warmly, planting a kiss on his cheek. “Juliet tells me you make her happy, so I do not have to kill you.”

Mercutio laughs nervously, glancing to Juliet to see if she’s joking. Juliet only smirks.

“That’s good,” Mercutio finally says. “I do like to live.”

“Everyone is in the dining room,” Rosaline says to Juliet. “It’s like a tomb in there. Thank God you’re here.”

“Thank God you’re here,” Juliet says, squeezing Rosaline’s arm. “I couldn’t do this without you.”

“Darling? I’m right here.”

“Yes, yes, I couldn’t do this without you, too,” Juliet says, pretending to be irritated. Honestly, it’s true. She couldn’t do this without Rosaline or Mercutio.

“Is he always this jealous?” Rosaline whispers theatrically. 

“Always,” Juliet replies, sharing a secret smile with Rosaline.

“Seriously, am I just invisible or something? Am I here? Am I dead?”

“Did you know Paris is here?” Rosaline asks, ignoring Mercutio and raising her eyebrows like she’s sharing the world’s biggest piece of gossip.

This night just got twenty times more terrible.

“Seriously? Why would they invite my ex-fiance?” Juliet groans.

The last time she saw Paris, he was (rightfully) yelling at her and telling her he would win her back. He hasn’t done anything yet, so maybe he found someone else and doesn’t care about Juliet anymore. Maybe that was just a one-time blow-up about not getting the one thing in the world he wanted but couldn’t have.

Maybe he wouldn’t make this night more terrible.

But Juliet knows he will.

Rosaline rolls her eyes. “They want me to marry him. You didn’t, so they figure his fortune is free for the next of-age Capulet.”

“Fuck them,” Juliet says, her tone tired and her personal fears about Paris temporarily forgotten. Her heart reaches out to Rosaline, who’s being pressured to marry the same guy Juliet was.

Only, if Capulet does end up forcing her, Rosaline won’t have a Mercutio to help her.

“Rosaline! Paris is waiting for you!” Capulet booms from the dining room.

Faintly, Juliet hears, “No, I’m not.”

And just like that, the air supply disappears once more. Not even Mercutio or Rosaline or Pam can get it back.

Pam smiles lovingly at Juliet. Somehow, even that smells of jasmine. “Make sure to say goodbye before you leave, honey. You still have to tell me about the sex.”

“Oh, Pam!” Juliet groans, closing her eyes and tilting her head back in humiliation and irritation.

“See you later, honey! You, too, Rosaline!” Pam says as she disappears into one of the thousands of doors.

“Again,” Mercutio calls after her, “I’m right here!”

His words echo down the hall, and Juliet worships every reverberation as they represent every second she gets to spend in the too-cold, too-tomb-like hall before moving on to the too-cold, too-tomb-like dining room.

Eventually, silence overtakes the hall. Juliet no longer has an excuse to stay, and so, she forces a smile.

“Ready for hell?”

Rosaline nods, her armor of lazy nonchalance on. “Ready,” she says, hooking one arm around Juliet’s.

“Ready,” Mercutio says, hooking his arm around Juliet’s other arm.

Pam turns down a different doorway to help prepare the dinner. They walk into the dining room like that, Juliet armed by the two people she trusts most in the world.

Chapter Text

Why on Earth did Paris come to this literal hellscape?

Oh yeah. Because he told Tybalt he was invited and Tybalt made a slight, pleased noise. Like, a high-pitched, “hm” or “huh”.

And the prospect of the one person who tolerates him being ever-so-slightly pleased with his presence is enough motivation for him to enter literal hell, equipped with Satan and the woman who broke his heart and the cousin who stabbed him the back.

In other words, Paris is totally whipped.

The table is eerily silent. Like the hall, every sound echoes, so anytime someone coughs or moves their chair, it sounds like an earthquake. The floors are stone and the windows, for some reason, let in very little light. It does not help with the tomb effect.

Capulet sits at the head of the table like a king ruling over his subjects. His posture is regal and appears as stiff as the walls. Lady Capulet sits to his right, shrinking and blending in with the chair. The chair to his left is empty, saved for Rosaline, and the two chairs next to Lady Capulet are reserved for Mercutio and Juliet. That leaves Paris next to Rosaline in the middle of the table and Tybalt to his other side.

Rosaline left the room about five minutes ago. She’s terrifying, and for some reason, Capulet sat her next to him, so Paris is glad she left.

Paris is twiddling with his napkin, looking from Capulet and his wife, wondering if anyone is ever going to speak. He glances over to Tybalt, who does not appear to feel the tension and is lazily playing with a butter knife that appears to be way sharper than everyone else’s. Paris wonders if Tybalt brought his own for a moment before becoming way too aware of the silence once again.

“This is a lovely home you have,” Paris lies, willing to say anything to end the silence.

“You have been here before,” Capulet booms matter-of-factly, his voice causing the table to shake.

“Yeah, I know. I just meant I haven’t been here in a while and I had forgotten how lovely it is,” Paris covers lamely. There is a beat of silence, and Paris resorts to all his lessons on small-talk. “Lady Capulet, did you do something with this room? It looks absolutely gorgeous.”

Lady Capulet does not look to Paris. It does not look like she is even aware that he spoke or that she was addressed. It is like he spoke to a cardboard cutout of a woman.

“Paris asked you a question,” Capulet says, his tone strangely threatening. Paris must be imagining the undertone. Capulet’s just a scary dude; it doesn’t mean anything. Everyone says he’s an upstanding man. He must be.

Lady Capulet looks to Capulet blankly before turning to Paris. “No,” she simply utters. “I didn’t do anything.”

Silence takes over the room once more. “Well, it looks just lovely,” Paris repeats.

Tybalt scoffs as he carves something into the leg of the table. Paris cannot tell what it is, but it looks like letters.

After yet another silence, Capulet calls out, “Rosaline! Paris is waiting for you!”

“No, I’m not,” Paris responds instantly, realizing after that perhaps that was a lie to get Rosaline back and that he was supposed to play along with. Shit.

Tybalt snorts quietly, chipping away at the wood.

Capulet does not bother responding, and no one speaks until Rosaline, Juliet, and Mercutio walk in, arm-in-arm, minutes later.

Juliet looks as beautiful as always, her brown curls swept off to one side and her pale complexion seeming to glow. Mercutio, dressed as extravagantly as always, looks a tad bit more solemn than usual, but that is probably just the gloominess of the mansion reflecting itself.

Paris’ heart aches as he sees the two of them together.

But it’s more the ache of having loved and lost, of rejection. Not one of unrequited love. Not one that makes his head spin and his fists clench with irrational anger.

He doesn’t love Juliet and he doesn’t want to kill Mercutio. Not even their arms linked intimately can change that.

Juliet sits across from him, Mercutio across from Tybalt. Mercutio winks at the two of them as he sits down, but Paris cannot decipher the meaning behind the seemingly meaningless gesture.

He forgets about this as Rosaline sits down next to him and his brain is preoccupied with fear.

It is ironic he is seated next to Tybalt and Rosaline, yet only the one who is not famous for murdering people makes him want to run from the room, screaming bloody murder.

Of course, he cannot appreciate this irony as all he can think is, Run! RUN!

Rosaline seems to smell his fear, and she slowly turns toward him, smiling her sharp smile. Paris laughs nervously in response and slinks towards Tybalt.

“Mercutio,” Capulet says. Mercutio jerks his head up in surprise and his eyes widen like he cannot believe he’s being addressed and he suddenly wishes he was invisible. “How is Juliet behaving?”

Paris glances over toward Juliet, who is preoccupied with straightening her utensils perfectly.

Mercutio’s “deer in candlelight” look quickly turns to a superior smile, his status quo. “She does whatever I say, sir,” he says innocently, although Paris knows that this is an innuendo.

“She has been known to throw childish tantrums and cry uselessly. If she isn’t listening to you, there are a few tips I could teach you to discipline her.”

Paris does not look away from Juliet, but he can feel Tybalt freeze in his quest to destroy the table and Rosaline’s posture straighten, like a dog who just sensed a squirrel. Juliet does not appear to blink or breathe as she straightens the utensils, and Paris momentarily worries about what went on in this house.

But then Mercutio says, “That’s okay, sir. We get on fine,” and the topic is dropped. Tybalt goes back to chipping wood, Rosaline’s posture relaxes, and Paris decides he imagined that weird aura.

“Paris, why don’t you tell us how you have been?” Capulet says.

It sounds more like a command than a question, and, like a puppet, Paris answers, “Very well, sir.”

“Have you found a bride yet?”

Paris’ eyes are drawn to Juliet’s, and although they are still downcast, he searches them for any sign of guilt. But they are unreadable. He is not sure if he would have wanted to see any anyways.

“Not yet, sir.”

“I do wish Juliet married you. You would have made such a prominent addition to the family.”

Mercutio says, “Aw, thank you, sir. I feel the same way about you!”

Capulet, ignoring Mercutio, continues, “I’m sure you were looking forward to marrying Juliet, weren’t you?”

Paris shifts uncomfortably in his uncomfortably hard seat. Maybe he misjudged the place before. Maybe nothing weird went on in this house except for making everyone feel as uncomfortable as possible.

“Of course,” Paris says, because it’s true and it’s his daughter, so he has to be polite.

“I know it is not quite same, but Rosaline here is single.”

Paris edges farther from her as he looks over to her, praying all that is holy that she does not want to marry him. Luckily, and a little insultingly, Rosaline rolls her eyes at the idea.

“How is it even vaguely similar?” Rosaline asks, sounding bored but feeling like a challenge.

And Capulet is not one to back down. “You are both Capulets, you both come from the same fortune, you both have the same background. Paris here would be lucky to call either of you his bride.” He turns to Paris. “Wouldn’t you?”

Paris wonders if it is possible to run out of this party and to the other side of the planet. But then he glances at Tybalt, who is completely ignoring him, and he decides that he can’t.

Because he is obligated, Paris replies, “I would.”

“You see, Rosaline. He’d love to have you as his bride.”

Paris’ heart pounds. Did he just accidentally agree to take the most terrifying woman he knows as his wife? Did he just sign his death warrant?

But then, Rosaline says, “He’s just being polite, Uncle.”

“Are you?” Capulet asks, his eyes boring into Paris, causing him to sweat in places he didn’t know possible.

“Um,” Paris says, glancing from Rosaline’s irritated eyes to Capulet’s boring ones to Lady Capulet’s distant ones to Juliet’s downcast ones to Mercutio’s laughing ones and to Tybalt’s… well, he cannot read them. But he is pecking at the wood with extra vigor like this conversation is angering him to murder.

“Uncle,” Tybalt says quietly, causing all eyes to turn to him. “Why don’t we do the interrogation later? It’s more of a dessert conversation.”

Capulet’s eyes flash, and Paris can almost see his thought process. He does not back down. But, then again, he wants Paris on his side, and he cannot appear to be anything less than polite and giving.

Capulet forces a laugh, but it looks funny because he does not smile or tilt his head and it does not reach his boring eyes. “Of course. I did not intend to be impolite,” he says.

Paris hears, You won the battle, I’ll win the war. And I don’t care about the casualties.

To be polite, Paris says, “You were the exemplar of respect, Sir.”

Mercutio scoffs, and Paris glares at him. Mercutio just sticks his tongue out at him, quickly enough so no one else sees it, making him look like a frog searching for flies.

The interaction epitomizes their relationship. Since they were kids, Paris was the brown-noser and Mercutio was the troublemaker. As a result, Esculas liked Paris better. But Mercutio never seemed to care. He had actual friends who actually liked him for his personality and not his name.

Paris has always been a teeny bit jealous of Mercutio and his laissez-faire attitude, the way he can make a sexual innuendo to his devil incarnate father-in-law. Paris has to make everyone like him, and he hates that about himself.

Tybalt, taking this victory to steer the conversation in a direction he’d like, says, “Mercutio, you and I have not gotten an opportunity to talk. Please, explain to us how you and Juliet met. Spare no detail.”

Paris knows what he’s doing. He’s trying to get Mercutio caught lying, right in front of Capulet. If he succeeds, there’s no way Capulet won’t let him kill Mercutio.

But Paris can feel nothing but apathy for the mission that Paris used to co-command.

Mercutio smirks like he’s been waiting for this moment. “We met the night of your party, Tybalt. It was so romantic. I was searching for a bathroom, and I was heading upstairs when I saw this gorgeous woman on the stairway. Juliet later told me that she had just finished talking to you, Tybalt, about a missing Montague or something. I could not help but introduce myself to her. It was love at first sight. I did not even kiss her because Juliet said she was engaged to another, but we both knew, instantly, that we wanted to spend the rest of our lives together.”

Paris should care about this. This is the moment the woman he loved fell in love with his cousin, a bastard who is cheating on her, who is betraying her family. But all Paris feels is sympathy for her. She has to spend the rest of her life with that jerk if he survives Tybalt’s test. It’s not her fault she’s in love with such an asshole and not him.

Tybalt, who has been staring coldly at a smug Mercutio, says, “That’s beautiful, Mercutio. You sound like you’re totally in love. Tell me, what’s her favorite color?”

“Blue.”

“Favorite animal?”

“Trick question. Both dogs and cats.”

Rosaline watches the exchange like a fascinating tennis match, her head resting on her hand. Capulet looks upon with bored anticipation, like he does not care about the conversation, but he wants to see what comes out of it. Juliet and Lady Capulet look like they just want to disappear.

“Favorite flower?”

“Jasmines.”

Tybalt stops with his rapid-fire questions, his knuckles turning white around the knife in his hand. Paris worries he’s going to throw it at Mercutio’s head, resulting in his execution, so Paris gently pries it from his hand. Tybalt lets him with only a little resistance but does not look down, continuing to stare murderously at Mercutio.

“Sounds like you really know her,” Tybalt says, his tone threatening. “I have to ask, though, do you still see any Montagues?”

Mercutio’s shit-eating smile does not even slip as he lies, “Of course not. I am loyal to the Capulets.”

“Really?” Tybalt says, the one word encompassing pure and utter hatred. “Then how come I’ve seen you entering Benvolio and Romeo’s house on multiple occasions?”

Smoothly, way too smoothly, Mercutio says, “Why, you must be mistaken, dear cousin-in-law. I haven’t seen them since, well, way before my wedding.”

“That is a lie,” Tybalt growls loudly, too loudly.

Paris feels a wave of second-hand embarrassment for Tybalt at how poorly this interrogation is going. All it is accomplishing is making Tybalt’s face apple-red and Mercutio even more smug.

“I’ve seen you. I’ve seen you so many times,” Tybalt insists, his fists now pounding the table.

Mercutio raises his eyebrow in mock shock. “Why, dear cousin-in-law, how have you thought you saw me so many times? You live nowhere near me. Or Benvolio and Romeo, for that matter. Have you been spying on us?”

And there it is. Paris’ anger is back. Mercutio does not mock his person like that, does not try to get him hurt. He does not.

“Shut up,” Paris snarls, and both Mercutio and Tybalt look to him in surprise. “Stop insinuating utterly ridiculous things about the nephew of our gracious host, you absolute-” Paris chokes back his curse and finishes, “-ly kind kinsman.”

Tybalt looks at Paris for a beat longer before a slight smile ghosts his lips and he turns back to Mercutio, now the smug one.

“I must agree with Paris,” Capulet says, shocking everyone. The master has spoken, jerking the puppets to attention. “Do not speak of my nephew that way in my presence.”

Mercutio remains surprised for a full half a second before his smile comes back and his posture relaxes once more. “Of course, sir. I apologize sincerely and profusely. I did not intend to insinuate as such.”

Capulet nods once, then turns to Tybalt, his glare making Tybalt’s glare seem like a love-struck gaze. “I am sure Tybalt did no such thing,” he says.

His words should be reassuring, but Paris hears a threat behind them. Like, if he did such a thing, there will be consequences.

Paris would think he’d imagined this too, but Tybalt glares at the wall behind Capulet’s head like it personally murdered his entire family.

Paris wonders yet again what exactly goes on in this hellhole.

He pushes this thought from his mind. Anything bad can’t be too bad. It can’t be. Capulet is too respectable, this house is too famous, his legacy too pristine.

Servants begin walking out, serving trays upon trays of every meat imaginable and fluffy wheat bread with cheeses and apples. Paris rarely even sees this amount of food at Esculas’ castle, so the Capulets’ either really don’t care about waste or they really want to impress at this meal.

Dinner talk is less murderous and more polite and awkward, revolving around remarks about the delicious food, Mercutio making sex jokes with a straight face, Tybalt scoffing under his breath at every word spoken, and lengthy silences.

Capulet would occasionally say things like, “Rosaline is a very good cook, Paris,” and Rosaline would say something as sarcastically as she could while still being slightly lady-like, like, “I’ve never once cooked for you in my life. You must have me confused with one of your servants, Uncle.”

Juliet and Lady Capulet did not speak a word the whole time, making Paris feel like there were thousands of spiders crawling up his back. He ignored them, though, and commented politely on the Munster cheese.

By dessert, Paris is drained. The mansion feels like it is sucking all the life out of him. At the Capulet parties, the life must have been purchased, artificially channeled in through some system of tubes. That’s the only way that Paris must have never felt how soul-sucking this place is. He cannot imagine how Juliet grew up here.

“So, Paris,” Capulet says, and Paris forces himself to smile politely at the puppet-master. “We have not yet discussed the matter of a bride for you yet.”

“I feel like we have extensively,” Rosaline says, maintaining a polite tone.

Capulet ignores her and says, “As I said before, Rosaline comes from the same family as Juliet. You’d be lucky to have her as your bride.”

Time feels like it stops, and Paris can feel the pressure on him. Out of the corner of his eye, he notices Tybalt watching him, perhaps wondering what he’ll say since he still thinks Paris is in love with Juliet. Paris quickly decides that can’t be true; that’d take Tybalt caring about him.

Paris decides, for once in his goddamn life, to quit being diplomatic and start being honest. “I’m sorry, sir, but I only want to marry someone I love.”

Capulet mutters something sounding suspiciously like, “Kids these days. Just like Juliet” before loudly asking, “And you’re saying Rosaline here isn’t someone you could love?”

“No, sir, not at all,” Paris replies immediately, reverting back to his polite ways. Paris inwardly scolds himself and says, “But I don’t know her very well and so, I do not love her. I want to marry someone I know and love.”

“So get to know her! Then you can decide,” Capulet declares royally. “Go stroll around the gardens with her. I think you’ll be most impressed with the roses and my niece.”

“Ah, yes, I am on par with roses,” Rosaline says.

Capulet’s mouth tightens, ever-so-slightly, and he commands, harsher, “Go. Have fun.”

The puppet master has spoken, and so, they go.

Rosaline and Paris stroll side-by-side, and, God, it is awkward. They stand at least a foot apart, Paris shrinking away in fear anytime she steps an inch closer to him.

Paris keeps his hands in his pockets partly to keep warm in the windy night and partly so Rosaline doesn’t suddenly have a change of heart and character and reach out to hold them. Rosaline must be freezing in her light, wool dress, but Paris would rather go back inside the mansion than offer his arm, which she would most likely chomp off.

The roses are truly lovely and somehow vibrantly colorful even under the pitch black sky, and Paris focuses on them instead of Rosaline. Maybe they won’t even have to talk if he doesn’t look at her. Maybe they could pretend they talked and never actually have to.

“Paris,” Rosaline says.

Damn it.

“Yes?” Paris says, looking up from the roses reluctantly.

Rosaline somehow looks slightly less terrifying right now. Her guard is down, and the ice blue of her eyes no longer looks challenging and hard, but vulnerable, like the ice has melted into pools of water.

Paris is still terrified of her. A baby wolf is still a wolf.

“I don’t want to marry you,” Rosaline says bluntly.

“Oh,” Paris says, trying to keep his voice from sounding hurt.

It’s a good thing, after all. He doesn’t want to marry Rosaline. He doesn’t know her and he doesn’t love her. Still, it hurts that she rejects him so quickly. Is he that terrible? He thought she’d at least consider it because of his name.

“It’s not you or anything,” Rosaline says, perhaps hearing the hurt he tried so hard to hide. Paris doesn’t believe her; “it’s not you, it’s me” is line number one in breaking up.

“Okay,” Paris says, kicking a stone and trying to keep his voice level.

“It’s just that I don’t want to marry anyone,” Rosaline says.

This time, it’s her who’s voice is concealing something. It’s artificially normal and definite.

Paris looks at her strangely. Besides from her voice, it’s a strange statement. All women have in life is marriage.

“Right now?” Paris finishes hesitantly, sure that’s where she’s going with the statement. She’s young, after all. She might just want to wait.

“Ever,” Rosaline says, in that same steady tone that sounds too normal to be normal.

“Oh,” Paris says. He doesn’t really understand. How could someone not want to marry? It’s just the way of nature. Everyone wants someone to love. But he doesn’t know how to phrase this without sounding like a major jackass.

“And I know everyone should want to marry, but I just don’t,” Rosaline says, answering his unasked question. “It’s just something I don’t want. I’d rather spend my time writing or playing with dogs.”

Paris still doesn’t understand. It sounds like it goes against nature. But he’s figured out the reason he couldn’t phrase it without sounding like a jackass; it’s a jackass thought.

Maybe he doesn’t understand it yet, but that doesn’t mean she’s unnatural. And besides, whatever made her this way, it means that he doesn’t have to marry her. 

“Okay,” Paris says, trying to sound like he understands.

“I don’t usually tell people this,” Rosaline says, plowing past his stupid “oh” and “okay” comments like usual. “I’m just telling you because I don’t want you to feel bad that another girl doesn’t want to marry you.”

“Thanks for the sympathy,” Paris says sarcastically, and then immediately bites his tongue.

But Rosaline smirks. “I didn’t know you could speak more than two words that weren’t ass-kissing bullshit.”

“It’s a new talent,” Paris says, surprising himself by speaking without thinking.

She looks him over for a second, and Paris can feel her re-judging him, considering if he might possibly slightly less horrible than she first imagined. She finally says, “If I had to marry someone, maybe you wouldn’t have been so bad after all.”

“Don’t worry. I don’t want to marry you either,” Paris reassures her.

“Wow, I’m hurt, dude,” Rosaline says sarcastically, her teeth sharp. Paris doubts that anyone could hurt her.

On the walk back, they only walk half a foot apart and Paris even lends Rosaline his scarf. She somehow seems less scary. More like a violent husky prone to attack than a wolf.

****

So Benvolio is off visiting his parents. Which is fine. Romeo can totally deal with being alone. He loves being alone. He wishes he was alone more often.

“Did I say that out loud?” Romeo wonders out loud. “I definitely said that out loud.”

See? He’s excellent at being alone.

Romeo taps his fingers on the arm of the armchair. The room is cold. He really needs a fire. But Benvolio isn’t here, and he always starts it. Romeo, remembering the time he set his pants on fire, knows he is perhaps not the best at starting fires.

But it’s really cold. So, he picks up the steel. This time, he’s careful as he hits it against the flint. He watches. He does not get distracted.

It still takes him about an hour and multiple first-to-second-degree burns, but he does it. He starts a fire on his own.

As soon the flame catches in the fireplace, Romeo lets out an embarrassingly loud “whoop”. He’s never been prouder of himself for anything in his entire life.

He fucking did it. He started the fucking fire.

Maybe he doesn’t need Juliet to survive. He misses Juliet so much still that it hurts, but he might just be okay alone. He thought Juliet was his moral compass, his everything, but maybe he can be complete without her.

Romeo spends the rest of the night braiding his hair and practicing makeup techniques and signing operas way too loudly.

Yeah. He’ll be just fine.

****

Everyone is sitting in the parlor by the time they get back. You’d think the parlor would be more friendly, but nope. It’s got the same eerie silence, windows that let in now light, echoing ceilings, and stone floors, only this room has a couch and set of chairs in front of a huge fireplace and a chess set lining the back wall.

Capulet is sitting on the couch, his posture formal, with Lady Capulet sitting slunk down in his massive shadow. Juliet is sitting on an armchair and Mercutio sits on one of its arms, the one closer to the couch like a barrier between Juliet and her father.

Tybalt is sitting at the chess table alone, his arms crossed like a petulant two-year-old who didn’t get the toy he wanted and scowling like a hardened criminal. His downcast eyes jerk up for a moment, brightening when he and Rosaline enter, but the less-murderous expression was so quick Paris knows he imagined it; his eyes lower and darken once more.

Paris takes the seat across from Tybalt, and out of the corner of his eye, he sees Rosaline drop into the second armchair and set her boots up on the coffee table, much to the dismay of Capulet.

“Chess?” Paris asks.

Tybalt scowls at him, and Paris thinks that this is the time most people burst out into tears or run away. But Paris just smiles cheerfully, undeterred by Tybalt’s cloudy persona.

“I haven’t played since I was a kid,” Tybalt says shortly, as if this means that he can’t play now.

“Do you need me to teach you?” Paris asks, cheerful. He feels cheerful all of a sudden. He didn’t die on his walk with Rosaline, and now, he’s talking to his sort-of-friend, total murder-partner. Why shouldn’t he be cheerful?

Instead of answering, Tybalt moves his knight. Paris raises his eyebrows. “Bold move.”

“Why is Rosaline wearing your scarf?” Tybalt asks in place of responding.

Paris glances over to her. She’s ripping up pieces of newspaper and throwing them into the fire like a game.

“She was cold and she didn’t have a coat,” Paris says, moving his pawn.

Tybalt nods once, his dark eyes intensely, almost angrily, trained on the chessboard. “Congratulations,” Tybalt says, the word short and pointed.

“On what?” Paris asks. “We’re not engaged.”

“But you gave her your scarf,” Tybalt says, his voice confused and his eyes less angry.

Paris almost laughs, but he doesn’t want Tybalt to think he’s mocking him, so he holds it back. “So? I’ve let you wear my scarf, too. That doesn’t make us engaged.”

The clouds form over his eyes again. “I know,” he snaps. “It just seemed intimate.”

“Like when I gave it to you?” Paris asks, teasingly.

Tybalt just moves his pawn one more space forward, the clouds over his face dark.

Paris cannot figure him out. One minute, it seems like they’re almost friends. The next, Tybalt seems angry at him.

“Did I do something?” Paris asks hesitantly. He doesn’t want Tybalt angry at him. He’d do anything to repent.

“No,” Tybalt replies, his words still clipped short like lengthening them will show his feelings.

“Really? It seems like it.”

Tybalt glances up from the chess board. “You didn’t,” he says, and Paris swears his voice is softer, like a prayer.

“Good,” Paris says, matching his tone.

They make a couple moves in silence. For all Tybalt said about not having played in years, he’s good. He’s already captured a knight, a rook, and a bunch of pawns while Paris has only captured a measly pawn and is fighting to protect his king.

The mansion doesn’t feel so oppressive, life-sucking now. It’s silent, sure, but Tybalt is across from him, so he doesn’t care. There’s little light, but who needs that when he’s got someone who’s kinda-sorta-maybe his friend playing chess with him and who isn’t angry at him?

The storm clouds have passed over Tybalt’s facing, leaving nothing but sunny horizons for Paris. And so, he asks, “If you were a chess piece, which do you think you would be?”

“What the fuck type of question is that?” Tybalt asks dryly.

“I think I would be a pawn,” Paris says conversationally, moving one as he speaks. “Everyone around me seems to have this great plan and knows how to execute it. But I don’t know it.”

Paris didn’t mean to be so serious. He meant it as a fun type question. But now that he started talking, he can’t stop. “I’m kind of just there, the weak little piece that’s cluttering up the board and makes no difference to the outcome.”

Tybalt glances up at him, then back down at the board. “No wonder you’re so bad at chess.”

Paris blinks twice, sure he misheard. “What?”

“You think of pawns the wrong way. Nobody expects anything of them, but they change the game,” Tybalt says factually. He moves his pawn one square forward. “Checkmate.”

Paris stares at the board. He can’t take the pawn because Tybalt’s rook would get him. And all his other moves are blocked by Tybalt’s queen and bishop.

“Fuck,” Paris whispers.

“See? You think of pawns the wrong way,” Tybalt repeats.

Paris is no longer sure if they’re talking about chess. Either way, he smiles a small smile at Tybalt. “Maybe I do.”

Tybalt shrugs and modestly says, “I’m right about everything, so…”

“Tybalt Capulet, did you just make a joke?” Paris says in mock shock. Well, it’s not too fake. He is a bit shocked.

“No,” Tybalt says harshly, but a tiny up-turn of the lips gives him away.

“Sweetie, you totally did,” Paris laughs.

From the other side of the room, Capulet booms, “Sweetie?”

Paris feels time stop. Like, it literally stops. All he can see is the horrified look on Capulet’s face.

Then Mercutio calls back, “Yes, dear?”, and time speeds up. Too fast. Paris can’t think; his mind is going a thousand miles an hour. He can feel his blood rushing and sweat pouring down his face. When did this tomb get so damn hot? When did hell boil over?

“It’s a joke,” Paris says stupidly.

“A joke?” Capulet repeats.

“Yes,” Paris says, but his voice is too quiet and his thumping heart is too loud. “It’s a joke. He said he isn’t sweet, so I jokingly call him sweet. It’s a joke.”

Paris knows he’s saying it’s a joke too much. It sounds too defensive. But it’s true. It’s just a joke. But Capulet won’t see it that way. People have been executed for less. And it is such a strange joke to have, after all. But it is just a joke.

“A joke,” Capulet repeats. A beat passes. Stoically, he says, “It’s… funny.”

Paris still can’t breathe. He knows the only reason he’s not pursuing it more is because he wants Paris to marry Rosaline and he won’t, can’t, believe such a thing of his nephew. Paris thanks God for this blessing, but he knows Capulet won’t forget such a thing.

Time must pass because he sees Capulet turn back to glaring at the fireplace, Rosaline throwing things into the fire, and Mercutio whispering terrible things to Juliet and her slapping his leg.

Paris finally turns to Tybalt, who, somehow, looks more terrified than him. He’s so pale, Paris swears he can see through him. Plus, he’s unmoving, just staring at the wall past Paris’ head like his life depends on it.

“Hey,” Paris says, this time extra careful to keep his voice low. “Don’t worry. It was just a joke. It’s not like it’s true or anything.”

Tybalt gives a tight smile, and Paris hates it so much. He’s never hated anything more or yearned so much for his beautiful, scowling face. “Yeah. It’s not true.”

It is not until later, when Paris is lying in bed trying not to review the day, that Paris realizes Tybalt never said what chess piece he would be.

Chapter Text

“Are you sure you’ll be okay?” Mercutio whispers.

Juliet rolls her eyes in a very Benvolio-like fashion. “You’re going to the bathroom. I think I’ll be okay for five minutes.”

Mercutio can tell, though, that she’s not as okay as she sounds. Her breathing is labored and she keeps glancing over at Capulet on the armchair like she expects he’ll leap up at any second.

He really has to pee though. So, he gets up. But he makes eye contact with Rosaline first, and she looks up from her game of throwing odds and ends into the fire to nod, a silent agreement to protect Juliet.

He hasn’t spoken a word to her, but he instantly likes her.

Somehow, the halls feel even more isolated and terrifying as he wanders them alone, two qualities he thought had already reached the peak of all existence in this house. He keeps on thinking someone is going to jump out from one of the doors and murder him, and he can’t convince himself that this is farfetched.

His steps echo, but everything else is silent. It’s too cold and Mercutio is pretty sure he’s totally and completely lost.

He had thought the bathroom was down two lefts and one right, but maybe it was two rights and one left? All Mercutio knows is that he is hopelessly lost.

He creeps down a hallway he’s pretty sure he just saw a minute ago, trying to keep his steps silent so no murderers can hear him.

And then, Mercutio hears footsteps. They start out soft and grow louder and louder. Mercutio’s heart thumps as his mind runs wild with the ways in which the murderer will kill him. He doesn’t even have his sword on him.

He has two choices: face his killer or duck into one of the rooms and hope the murderer doesn’t find him.

Mercutio’s always hated hide-and-seek, and so, he squares his shoulders, raises his fists, and turns towards the footsteps.

“Who’s there?” Mercutio calls out. He blames the shaky quality on the echo. “I’m a good fighter and totally have a sword, so, you know, go kill someone else. I suggest Tybalt.”

Someone walks out of the shadows. Mercutio does not shriek like a little girl or flail his arms and shut his eyes.

“Don’t kill me! I’m too pretty!” Mercutio does not scream.

When Mercutio is not dead within a minute, he opens his eyes. Paris is standing in front of him with an almost amused look on his face.

Mercutio’s first thought is that he didn’t know Paris could look even vaguely amused. His second is wondering if he peed his pants. His third is a hope that he looks manly, and so, he straightens his posture, lowers his arms, and nods his head in a distinctly manly fashion.

“Hey, Rome. What up?”

“Did you just scream?” Paris asks, and he bites on his lip, although the corners are still raising.

“No,” Mercutio scoffs. “Of course not.”

“I heard you.”

“Well, he who heard it, dealt it,” Mercutio retorts maturely.

“That’s not how the phrase works,” Paris says.

“I think it does. Because you totally screamed like a little girl.”

Instead of dissolving into a totally mature “Did not, did too” argument, Paris just sighs like he cannot believe how incredibly mature Mercutio is, and says, “Whatever. I’m just trying to find the bathroom.”

Paris begins to walk away from Mercutio. In any other circumstance, Mercutio would clap and dance for joy. Their relationship has always been composed of competition for Esculas’ attention, envy of each other, and playful stabbing in the back.

And the last time he saw Paris was at his wedding and Paris threatened to kill him and said he saw him with some whore (AKA, Benvolio in a dress), and Mercutio told him he was all bullshit and threw him out of the party.

So yeah. Their relationship probably isn’t that great right now, and Mercutio doesn’t want to talk it over with him. Mercutio should be thrilled to see him leave.

But Mercutio really doesn’t want to be left alone in these creepy murderer-infested halls. Plus, he really needs a less handsome and charming shield to throw in front when the murderer comes charging at him.

“Yo, London!” Mercutio calls. “Wait up!”

Paris groans quietly as he stops in his path and turns around. “What is it?”

Mercutio jogs to catch up with him. “Can’t a guy just want to hang out with his cousin?”

“When it’s you? No,” Paris says, walking quickly as if that will lose Mercutio. As if. Mercutio is willing to break a sweat (*gasp*) if it means he doesn’t have to be alone in murder-ville.

“Rude,” Mercutio says cheerfully.

They walk in silence down the hallway, glancing in doors to see if they finally found a bathroom.

Mercutio had never really thought about how marrying Juliet without telling his cousin, who was engaged to her, was an asshole move. It seemed kind of insignificant compared to what a good deed it was, helping Juliet to her freedom.

But now, standing next to him, Mercutio feels guilt fill up his stomach. He doesn’t like the feeling. He doesn’t like to think less than the best of himself, and thinking of himself as an asshole is really making his stomach hurt.

Before Mercutio can think too deeply about how much of an asshole he is, Paris says, “I’m not angry at you, you know.”

Mercutio looks at him in surprise. “Wait, you’re not angry?” In a small voice, he adds, “But you threatened to kill me.”

“I was. Really angry, I mean. I seriously wanted to kill you,” Paris says with a self-deprecating laugh that doesn’t fit with his words. “But I don’t anymore. I mean, Juliet choose you. It’s not your fault you got the girl.”

Paris sounds so depressed that Mercutio thinks about telling him about his deal with Juliet and his relationship with Benvolio. Thinks being the operative word.

“Well, looks like the best man won,” Mercutio says cheerfully.

Now he doesn’t have to deal with the unpleasant feeling in his stomach. Paris isn’t angry, so Mercutio doesn’t have to feel guilty.

Simple.

Paris stares at the floor, unblinking. “Yeah,” Paris says, his voice barely a breath.

Maybe not so simple.

Mercutio still feels that annoying feeling in the pit of his stomach. Paris looks like a hurt puppy.

Maybe he said the wrong thing. But Mercutio doesn’t know how to fix it. Words aren’t his thing, and how is he supposed to apologize profusely and sincerely for the best thing that ever happened to him?

Paris will get another shot. Girls are lining up around the block for him, and he actually likes them in a romantic way. He’s got everything. He doesn’t need Juliet or Mercutio’s lame apology.

Mercutio repeats this to himself like an anthem. He has no reason to feel guilty. Paris isn’t angry. Paris is lucky.

After a few more minutes of silence, they find the bathroom. Turns out, it was right next to the living room they’d been in the whole time and they’d been walking in circles. Paris goes first, and Mercutio paces outside the door, trying hard to convince himself he has nothing to feel guilty for.

****

Juliet does not remember how she survived in this house. Every day was a battle, sure, but she lived and breathed and didn’t feel like she was going to die every single second.

Now, breathing is hard. She feels like her mother, unable to utter a single word, confined to the shadows of conformity.

Juliet has barely spoken a word since entering the dining room, protected by Mercutio’s wit and Paris’ presence, which hindered Capulet’s cruelness.

But Mercutio and Paris both left for the bathroom about five minutes ago, leaving only the Capulet clan. Tybalt stayed at the chess table in the back of the room despite having finished the chess game long ago. He is sitting there, silent, brooding. Rosaline sits on the armchair, and while her posture is lazy as always, Juliet can tell she’s tense, her watching eye on Capulet gives her away.

Air isn’t coming to Juliet. She doesn’t know what Capulet is going to say to her. And she can’t stop running through every single one of the thousands upon thousands of possibilities.

He could ask her if she’s behaving in that way that means, I know you’re not, but let’s humiliate you. He could degrade her in only that way he knows how. He could mention that he knows she isn’t really married, at least under the eyes of God, to Mercutio. He could do anything.

“Tybalt,” Capulet says, and Juliet can almost see his voice bouncing off the walls, causing them to shrink back further from him. “I need to talk with you. Come with me to the kitchen.”

She's not the one who's in his line of fire. And somehow, that's so much worse.

Juliet wants to scream. He’s said that so many times to her. She knows what it means.

“I’d rather stay here,” Tybalt says, his tone sharp.

“It’ll only take a moment.” 

Juliet should say something. Anything. Anything at all. She has a voice. She needs to stop this.

She doesn’t say anything.

Rosaline, of course, says something. Because she is braver. Because she is kinder. Because she is better. “Uncle, is that really necessary?”

Capulet spreads his hands out. “It’s only a talk.”

“Fine,” Tybalt spits out, his eyes flashing. “Let’s go.”

Juliet watches as they go. In her head, she is screaming. She is brave. She is stopping them.

In real life, she is silently having a prolonged panic attack.

****

“Everyone out. I need to talk to my nephew,” Capulet orders as he strides into the kitchen.

The servants all share nervous glances and quickly scatter out the door with their heads down. Pam was hanging out with them, and on her way out, she quickly squeezes Tybalt’s arm.

Capulet turns to Tybalt. Tybalt tries to look bored, crossing his arms over his chest and examining the fire behind Capulet in fake fascination.

Tybalt knows what to expect from this “talk”. In the few he’s gotten, Capulet gives him a stern talking to, causing Tybalt to piss his pants, then let him go. It’s terrifying but simple.

Tybalt knows what to expect.

So when the fist comes, he is shocked.

It hits him right in the eye. Tybalt is vaguely aware of the smacking sound, the utter and absolute pain, and his stumbling backward, holding his eye and staring up at Capulet with his good eye in disbelief. Mostly though, he feels like this didn’t even happen.

It’s like he’s watching Capulet hit him from the corner of the room as a spectator. It couldn’t have happened. It’s not something that has ever happened before.

He’s suspected that this has happened with Juliet and maybe even Rosaline before, but it’s never happened to him. Probably because he’s a male, and Capulet couldn’t hurt him if he wanted a supportive heir and future head of the Capulet clan. Tybalt has always tried to protect Juliet and Rosaline, but he never thought he himself would need protection.

“That,” Capulet says, his voice slow and deep and menacing, like molasses that’s dripping with evilness instead of sweetness, “is for what you’ve done to this family.”

“I did nothing,” Tybalt says, trying to sound fearsome while huddled over with his eye clutched in his hand. He sounds like a shot baby deer.

“Nothing? For years, we’ve had to put up with these… rumors. Rumors that most people would be killed for. But I’ve protected you. Sheltered you. I told everyone, there’s no way any of it’s true. He’s a Capulet. And to thank me,” he says, the molasses dripping thicker, “you go and fuck my most valuable asset.”

“There’s nothing going on there,” Tybalt retorts, trying to growl like he doesn’t wish something was going on there.

“I don’t care. There are rumors. Rumors that are tarnishing our reputation. Rumors that shouldn’t exist because you are married.” Capulet leans closer with every sentence, and Tybalt forces himself not to back away. Not to cower. “Rumors that you are aiding with your blatant flirtation with the royal boy.”

Capulet’s breath of wine and cheese and power is warm against Tybalt’s cheek.

“I am not flirting with him, nor am I in any way aiding these preposterous rumors,” Tybalt says, forcing himself to straighten.

“You are not to see him, speak to him, or interact with him in any way, shape, or form outside of polite and obligatory ‘hellos’ at social events like his inevitable wedding to Rosaline. You, for once in your goddamn life, are going prove to me that I was right to defend you and keep you alive. Do I make myself clear?”

Tybalt can’t take it anymore; he steps back, bumping into the wall and hitting his head. Tybalt doesn’t like how afraid he is. He has a knife in his boot and a sword hidden beneath his pants. He’s killed men before. He shouldn’t be afraid of his old as dirt uncle.

But he’s looking at him like that. Like he’s never seen such shit in his life. Like he could simply blink and have him killed if he wanted to.

And Tybalt has never been more terrified in his life.

“Crystal,” Tybalt says. He pretends he isn’t terrified and his voice didn’t quiver and his eye isn’t turning black and there isn’t a bump forming in the back of his head from hitting the wall.

“Good,” Capulet says, and the muscles in his arm relax ever so slightly and he turns back into the terrifying uncle Tybalt knows and despises, not fears. “Now, you better go home and put some ice on that before it starts to bruise. I’ll tell everyone you were tired and needed to go home.”

Capulet stares at him. Tybalt knows what he wants. Because of his newfound terror, Tybalt decides to oblige. “Thank you,” Tybalt chokes out.

“Leave the back way,” Capulet says, and if Tybalt wasn’t there for the whole thing, he would say he almost sounds fatherly and loving.

Tybalt doesn’t even bother responding, brushing past Capulet and walking as fast as possible out the back door.

The cold air of the night hits him almost as hard as Capulet did. Tybalt doesn’t stop walking until he’s almost a mile away from the Capulet mansion. His eye hurts more now, less numbed by the shock.

But Tybalt barely cares about the physical pain; he’s a Capulet, he’s been hundreds of fights, he’s been through worse.

It still feels almost like a dream. All Tybalt can think at first is that it didn’t happen.

But, as he stands there staring up at the stars, reality takes over. It did happen. Capulet hit him.

At first, Tybalt doesn’t know what to feel. He doesn’t feel sad. Sad is for babies, people who have nothing better to do with their lives than cry over their own weaknesses.

And so, Tybalt decides he is furious. Furious that his uncle hit him. Furious that he didn’t hit him back. Furious that he’s getting blamed for those goddamn rumors Mercutio created. Furious that they’re mostly true. Furious that Capulet must have hit Juliet before. Furious Juliet had to go through hell. Furious he didn’t help her more. Furious he didn’t stop him better. Furious Capulet is such an abusive asshole. Furious he’s in love with someone who will never love him back. Furious he’s a freak of nature.

Furious at the whole goddamn world.

“FUCK,” Tybalt screams at the stars, amplifying his voice by cupping his hands around his mouth. “FUCK YOU.”

Tybalt doesn’t really know who he’s talking to, but pretending it’s Capulet makes him feel a hell of a lot better.

****

“Where’s Tybalt?” Paris asks the second he gets back from the bathroom.

Mercutio’s still there, but he felt no compulsion to wait for the guy who so clearly feels he is better than Paris.

He looks to Juliet, whose breathing appears even more labored than at dinner and who is twisting her hair, looking almost guilty.

Before he can examine this weird reaction, Capulet smoothly says, “He went home. He had a headache.”

Rosaline dryly adds, “Headaches are pretty common here.”

“Really?” Paris asks, confused. “He didn’t say anything about that to me.”

“Well, he doesn’t have to tell you everything, does he?” Capulet asks, and Paris doesn’t think he imagined his cold tone or the way he wants to run in fear.

“No, but…” Why would Tybalt leave because of a headache? Paris is pretty sure that if his entire arm was chopped off and blood was gushing everywhere, Tybalt would say it’s just a tiny cut. Hell, that’s probably happened before in one of his thousands upon thousands of duels.

And Juliet looks so guilty. And Capulet sounded so smooth. Alarm bells go off in Paris’ head. Something doesn’t add up.

“I’ve got to go,” Paris says suddenly. He backs up quickly, bumping straight into the wall.

“So soon?” Capulet asks. It should be a concerned tone, but all Paris feels is manipulated.

“Yeah. You know how it is being royalty-related and all. Esculas always needs me,” Paris laughs.

“In the middle of the night?” Capulet asks.

“Yep. He’s working all hours. Crime never stops and all that,” Paris says, laughing lamely. He backs up even more, and he’s almost to the door. “So yeah. See ya. Thanks for a great time. You have a lovely home, Ms. Capulet. Mrs. Capulet. Um, Lady Capulet. Yeah. So, thanks.”

Paris turns and all but runs out of there. “Good luck with Esculas and solving crime, Paris!” Rosaline calls after him, and Paris swears he can hear a smirk in her voice.

Paris is out the door before Capulet can stop him. Something is wrong with Tybalt, he can just tell.

Something was wrong with that whole night, actually. It seemed so friendly on the surface, but Lady Capulet and Juliet never spoke. It looked like they were petrified. Even Tybalt was more subdued in his anger. And Capulet? That dude was just weird. His words were so carefully chosen, and even when they seemed kind, he wanted something. And sometimes, it felt like icy murder was behind his eyes.

Paris is shocked he got out of that house alive.

Tybalt once mentioned where he lived. Paris heads there and tries to convince himself it’s not creepy he memorized his address. He only memorized it because, well, it’s the only friend he ever had and he kind of really wanted the option of one day visiting him. You know, like friends do.

Tybalt’s house is grand. Not like the Capulet-mansion grand or Esculas’ palace grand, but it has perfectly maintained gardens and an aura of importance. The house is dark, making it look abandoned, and Paris briefly wonders if he got the address right, despite having repeated to himself as a lullaby when he could not sleep.

Paris knows he is right, so he walks up the drive, trying to act like he belongs so no peeping neighbors get suspicious of the strange man walking up at night, and knocks on the door.

Nobody comes. Paris prays to God that he won’t disturb Tybalt’s mother or Tybalt gave him a fake address before softly calling, “Tybalt? It’s Paris. Are you home?”

The door opens. Tybalt’s face is hidden by the darkness and the door so all Paris can tell is that Tybalt’s lips are clenched tight and he looks weirdly stressed. “Hey,” Paris says softly, trying to gauge Tybalt’s mood.

“How do you have my address?” Tybalt asks.

“Normal ways,” Paris says quickly. “You said it. I remembered. Because I have a good memory and all. It’s not weird.”

They stand there staring at each other for a second, Tybalt probably wondering what the heck just came out of Paris’ mouth and Paris definitely wondering what the heck just came out of his mouth.

“So, um,” Paris says, “can I come in?”

Tybalt stares for a moment longer. “Sure,” he finally says, devoid of emotion.

At least Paris got a yes. Tybalt opens the door wider and steps to the side. “Thanks,” Paris says as he awkwardly shuffles inside.

It is so dark that Paris literally cannot see anything. “Can I light a candle?” Paris asks.

Tybalt walks over to the couch (or what Paris assumes is a couch - for all he knows, it could be Rosaline posing as a couch as some sort of joke only she finds funny. It’s too dark to tell) and sits down. Somehow, even that seems to be mechanical. Paris’ worry for him increases. Headache his ass.

“Sure,” Tybalt says in that same tone of voice that makes Paris want to wrap him in a hug.

Paris lights the candle as fast as he can, finding a light fire in the kitchen and a candle to do so. The house is eerily quiet, and it looks almost creepy in the light of one candle.

Paris comes back into the living room to see Tybalt staring at the wall, almost absent from reality. Paris thinks his eyes are deceiving him at first and rushes to sit next to Tybalt on the couch. He quickly places the candle on the end table before turning his full attention to Tybalt.

His left eye is a splotchy red. Paris’ heart breaks a little, and he gently puts his hand on Tybalt’s arm. Tybalt does not face him, but for some reason, he does not flinch. “Holy shit, Tybalt,” Paris breathes. “How?”

“Capulet. He took me into the kitchen and hit me,” Tybalt says. Paris can tell he’s been trying to keep his emotions in check, but when he says “hit”, his voice just breaks and the dam cracks. He turns towards Paris, his gaze focused on his chest. Paris tightens his grip on Tybalt’s shoulder. “He just hit me, Paris. Like I was nothing.”

His tone shifts from desperate to furious, skirting the line between the two until they mix like wet paint.

Paris’ breath catches. His whole memory of the night shifts before him, and suddenly, everything makes sense. Before he was shoving puzzle pieces together, trying to force them to fit with some type of idealistic hope, but now, it all clicks together perfectly.

The way Lady Capulet and Juliet never spoke. All of Rosaline’s sarcastic comments. The way Capulet’s voice was so cold and threatening. The way it felt like they were in a coffin for the dead the whole night.

Paris wants to tell himself that the hit was probably just a one-time thing, a fit of anger that meant nothing. That it has never happened to Rosaline or Juliet. But Paris knows better. He can’t ignore the signs any longer.

Capulet is an abuser. It makes so much sense. It makes too much sense.

Paris selfishly wishes he didn’t know for half a second before remembering Tybalt. He’s glad he knows because now, he can be there for him.

Unfortunately, being there for someone is not something Paris is great at.

“I’m so sorry,” Paris says.

He knows it is a stupid thing to say. It’s not his fault (well, he did make the sweetie comment that probably was the trigger, but he didn’t make Capulet an abuser and he can’t feel guilty right now. He will later.), and it doesn’t make Capulet a better person.

But it doesn’t matter because Tybalt doesn’t seem to hear him. He rants, his voice full of fury, “I should have hit him back, you know? I should have. I could have pummeled that old bastard to the ground and made him beg. I should have done that years ago, you know? I knew he was doing that shit to Juliet. I should have done more than give her a sword. What’s the point of giving her the weapon when she doesn’t know who to use it on?”

His anger shifts to desperation once again. “But I didn’t know just how bad it was until tonight, you know? Like, I didn’t get how it feels to be nothing in his gaze. I didn’t get how scared you are when he’s right there in your face. I should have done more.”

“It’s not your fault,” Paris says, and he tries to sound reassuring, but it is hard when he feels like vomiting.

“It’s my fault for not killing him in his sleep,” Tybalt says, his voice cold like steel.

Capulet deserves to die, but Paris really doesn’t want Tybalt to be executed for killing his uncle. Paris says, trying to sound confident, “Juliet is away from him now. She’s fine. You’re fine. Rosaline’s fine. It’s all okay.”

He wishes his words were true.

“It’s not all okay, though, Paris. He-” his voice breaks. He sounds so vulnerable, so un-Tybalt-like, that it makes Paris hate Capulet even more. He made his person feel this way, and Capulet deserves something worse than death.

Tybalt’s voice comes back in that harsh steel tone. His back is hunched, but somehow, even that seems rigid with anger. He keeps his eyes on Paris’ chest as he spits out, “He thinks we’re fucking.”

Paris tastes bile in the back of his throat. Something about the way Tybalt said it, his repetition of Capulet’s words. It sounded so hateful. Like their being together would be the worst thing in the world.

“But we’re not,” Paris says, unable to form another response.

“It’s not even my fault people think that. It’s Mercutio’s.”

“Mercutio’s?” Paris repeats, confused.

“He started the rumor. It’s all his fault,” Tybalt growls. His voice turns desperate then like he’s trying to convince both Paris and himself. “It’s not my fault. It’s not mine.”

“I know. I know,” Paris repeats, trying to convey through his gaze on the top of Tybalt’s head and his light grip on his arm just how much he believes him.

It’s hard, though, when all he’s thinking about is strangling Mercutio. He still doesn’t actually want to kill Mercutio like Tybalt, but it is a nice fantasy.

How could Mercutio even create that rumor? What was going through his goddamn mind? Especially since, before he married Juliet, the same things were being said about him. How could he do that to someone else?

Answer: he’s a horrible human being with no thought to other people.

“And now,” Tybalt says, clenching fists, “Capulet doesn’t even want me to see you. I’m pretty sure if he knew you were here right now, he’d literally kill me. Or get Esculas to execute me with his power. You know, because he can’t have anyone know he’s less than perfect.”

“You don’t have to see me if it’ll make things worse,” Paris says. The words feel like metal weights and are almost impossible to say. Paris can’t even imagine his life without Tybalt anymore. It would be so boring. So lonely.

Tybalt shakes his head rapidly, and Paris can almost feel the hot hatred radiating out of Tybalt’s gaze. “Fuck him. I’m not listening to him if he is suddenly possessed by God himself.” Paris is a bit ashamed of how relieved he feels. He should not be relieved his friend is putting his life at risk to see him. “We can’t use him in our plan anymore.”

“What?” Paris asks, confused. He cannot place what plan he is talking about.

“He won’t be convinced,” Tybalt continues. It’s like he didn’t hear Paris’ question, and his speech is almost manic, uncontrolled. “He will not listen to me or you. He has been out to ruin her life since the day she was born. We cannot trust him to help Juliet now.”

Paris now remembers the murder scheme. It seems so insignificant now. Like a little story schoolchildren might create about a teacher they despise. It has seemed insignificant for a while now, ever since he’s realized he doesn’t love Juliet anymore and it is her own life with her own choices.

It seems even more insignificant now that Tybalt was just punched by his uncle less than an hour ago. But it must not to Tybalt.

Paris thinks it must not because he’s channeling all of his anger at the world into this plan. Paris can almost see Tybalt’s thoughts: as soon this is done, Tybalt won’t be angry. As soon as Mercutio is dead, all will be right with the world.

Paris knows this is not true, but Tybalt needs an outlet. And this plan is the perfect one.

“Okay,” Paris says slowly, trying not to sound demeaning of the plan. “So how are we going to do this now?”

“We’ll convince Esculas. He’s your cousin and you’re close, right?” Paris shrugs - close is relative. “If we can convince him Mercutio is cheating on Juliet, he’ll give me permission to kill him. Maybe not legally or anything, but like in a gentlemen’s agreement.”

“When should I tell him?” Paris asks. He does not give a damn about this plan. He’s also pretty sure Esculas will never agree. But it’s important to Tybalt. And he’ll do anything to even momentarily help Tybalt.

“Later,” Tybalt says, the anger in his voice finally quieting. “Not now.”

“Okay,” Paris says quietly.

The candle flickers in the corner of the room, and Paris stares unashamedly at Tybalt’s red eye that will soon be black and blue. Tybalt is still staring at Paris’ chest, and it feels as intimate and trusting as eye contact. His fists clenched tightly on his lap. If Paris starts softly petting Tybalt’s arm, well, Tybalt doesn’t say anything.

“Mercutio looked so stupid tonight,” Tybalt says suddenly, after minutes of silence.

Paris giggles like a child. Something about talking about something so ridiculous after such a serious conversation makes him feel giddy. “So stupid. Did you see his pants?”

“And his hair? So stupid,” Tybalt agrees.

“I was on my way to the bathroom when he heard me coming, and he thought I was going to murder him. He screamed like a little girl.”

Tybalt does that little half-smile that is equivalent to a full-body laugh. His fists loosen a little. “Do you think he pissed his pants?”

Paris laughs. It’s not that funny, but it seems so funny under the flickering candlelight. “I hope so.”

With his half-smile, he looks peaceful, almost happy, despite what happened an hour ago. Paris smiles to himself. God, I love him, Paris thinks.

Paris’ body freezes, his hand on Tybalt’s arm now a stick of lead.

What the actual fuck did I just think?

Chapter Text

The rest of the night is a blur to Juliet. She was in shock the whole time, sitting there frozen, the way her mother always would. She vaguely remembers Tybalt leaving, Paris leaving, Rosaline leaving with a stern look to Mercutio before Mercutio dragged Juliet out of there with a quick goodbye to her parents.

The next thing she knew, she’s curled up on her bed in the fetal position with Mercutio next to her. Juliet isn’t sure when she started crying. It could have been on the way home, it could have been when she curled up on her bed.

The tears come fast, leaving trails of sticky saltiness on her face. She is crying loudly, not caring that Mercutio hears her labored breaths and snotty inhales.

“I’m...such...a coward,” Juliet sobs in between difficult inhales.

She feels Mercutio shift on the bed, most likely unsure what to do. He pats Juliet three times on the shoulder “There, there?” he says, but it comes out like a question.

“I’m a coward!” Juliet repeats. “I’m such a coward.”

She says this because she believes it. All she did all night was sit there, silent, frozen, terrified.

Did she used to have more courage? When she faced him day-to-day, she was terrified of him, sure, but she was able to speak and move without her brain shouting at her.

Now, she feels like her mother, and she hates herself for it. She always thought her mother was a coward. She knew it was mean, but she couldn’t help it. She never stood up to her husband, not even in little ways. She never even said a word against him when it was just her and Juliet.

Juliet was half-way there tonight. She became frozen in Capulet’s presence. Without Mercutio and her new life, would she have lost any fight in her? Or was her loss of any fight tonight the result of her new life? Did her new life make her softer, somehow? More sensitive to cruelty now that she expects basic kindness? And without this new life, would she have eventually become her mother?

Juliet does not have the answer to these questions, and it makes her terrified. Terrified of herself and how malleable she is. Her environment shaped her and it still is. She can’t control herself, and Juliet loves control.

Her terror leads to anger. How dare she be scared of herself? Of life? She should be stronger than that. She should be better than that. She should be braver than that. Her environment should not shape her, she should shape it. Whip it into shape. Mold it into the life she wants.

It’s not that simple and she knows that. She knows that she can’t expect herself to be perfect. To always be brave. If she was, she wouldn’t be human.

She knows this, deep down, but she doesn’t believe it.

Juliet believes she is a coward. An idiot. And really, that is all that matters.

“I’m a coward,” Juliet repeats hysterically, the words muffled against the bed. “I’m such a coward.”

“Hey, don’t call my wife a coward,” Mercutio jokes, forcing himself to laugh.

Juliet starts pounding the bed, pretending it’s her face. She probably looks like a child throwing a tantrum. She does not care. She might as well be a child. She’s already a coward and an idiot. What does it matter if Mercutio sees her craziness and gets a front row seat to her tantrum?

“I’m an idiot! I’m a literal coward.”

“Hey, Juliet,” Mercutio says, holding her wrists gently to stop her from pummeling the poor bed. “Stop it. Please.”

“Why?” Juliet sobs. Her brain isn’t working properly and she doesn’t understand why she should stop her fit. There is literally no reason to. She’s a coward and an idiot and so stupid and she might as well act like it.

“Because. Because you’re not an idiot. Or a coward. What were you supposed to do, just get up and scream at Capulet? Punch him? There was nothing you could do.”

“I did nothing though! I did nothing! I let him drag Tybalt out of the room to God knows what punishment. I didn’t even speak. I was such a coward.”

Mercutio probably doesn’t understand a word she’s saying. They’re all blurring together, slurred by her hysteria and tears and muffled by the fact her mouth is against the comforter.

“C’mon, Juliet,” Mercutio says, and his voice is verging on begging. Begging her to regain her sanity. It’s too late, Juliet thinks. It’s long gone. “There was nothing you could say that would make him, you know, human.”

“I know that! I’m not an idiot!” Juliet sobs. “But I should have said something.”

“But that wouldn’t have helped, Juliet. Whether you said something or not, he’s an asshole. He’s an asshole no matter what. So you need to get away from him. Like I did with my parents.”

His words barely register with Juliet. They’re a dull hum in the back of her brain, one person shouting in the middle of a city-wide riot.

“I should have said something. Anything. I’m an idiot,” Juliet sobs into her pillow. She breaks her wrist out of Mercutio’s grip and pounds it against the bed.

She’s being self-pitying. She knows it. She’s being a child. She knows it. She’s being a burden. She knows it.

But she does not care. She can’t stop the tears, she can’t stop the repetition of her words, she can’t stop her brain. She can’t stop it any more than a weatherman can stop a tsunami.

And Mercutio can’t either. He must have accepted it because he lies down next to her and takes one of her hands in his. It feels unbalanced to pound the bed with one fist, so she stops pounding the bed.

He rubs circles against the back of her hand, and she finds it calming, in the sense of one person adding water to a fire while a thousand add more wood.

He whispers, “You’re not an idiot. You’re not” repeatedly, like a chant, as Juliet repeats, “I’m an idiot” to herself.

Her words must have faded at some point and the tears must have stopped flowing at some point because she doesn’t remember when she fell asleep. All she remembers is that Mercutio’s voice was strong as hers grew weak.

****

Paris lies in bed. He can’t sleep. His stomach hurts too much and his brain won’t turn off.

How could Capulet have been so awful? How can one person be so awful? And how can nobody have noticed? How can the world still think he’s good?

How did Juliet survive? How did Rosaline? How did Tybalt, who was perhaps the luckiest?

What was it like for Juliet to grow up in that house? Did she think that his treatment was normal? Did he hit her as a “good morning”? Did she think he was good, like the rest of the world?

Is that why she said she couldn’t talk to him? Because of her father?

Paris shudders to think of how he must have made her situation worse. He almost forced a girl who did not want to marry him to do so by bartering with her abusive father like she was a piece of meat. He loved her, but did that matter? He never treated her like a person.

And Tybalt. His “sweetie” comment is what got him hit. He shouldn’t have said that. It’s not even a funny joke. And because of him, his person got hit.

Paris’ stomach turns, and Paris turns onto his side, hoping that will somehow alleviate his psychosomatic stomach ache.

He tries not to think about Capulet anymore. It’s too horrible to think about when he cannot do anything about it.

And so, his mind wanders to safer, yet totally unsafe, things. Like his totally random thought of God, I love him.

Paris is not in love with Tybalt. He’s just not. He has no idea what he thought, but that was just platonic. Like, God, I love him in an I love that dude in a no homo way. He just thought that because of the closeness and the candlelight and the intimacy. He’s confused; he just wants to be really good friends with Tybalt. Of course that’s it.

He’s wanted to be friends (and only friends, Paris reminds himself) since the moment they met at his party. Paris has never had any real friends, people who made him feel like he could say stupid things or be stupid without being judged or criticized. Tybalt makes him feel that way.

A part of his brain that Paris tries to silence whispers that that’s not all Tybalt makes him feel. He makes his heart thump when he sees Tybalt watching him out of the corner of his eye. Whenever their arms brush against each other, Paris blushes a little and he yearns for that warmth once again. And Paris thinks about Tybalt and him playing chess or getting mead or walking down the street or just hanging out at home more than anyone ever, Juliet included.

But that’s totally platonic. He’s never thought about kissing Tybalt or doing dirtier things, so… oh, crap, now that’s all he can think of. Tybalt’s probably a really good kisser. He’s good at everything.

But it’s not like he actually wants to kiss Tybalt. It’s just the power of suggestion. It’s like if someone says, “Don’t think of fucking an elephant”, and then all you can think of is fucking an elephant.

But fucking an elephant makes Paris want to stab himself. Tybalt, on the other hand, panting and moaning and sweaty and hot…

Paris shakes his head rapidly, like maybe the thoughts will literally fall out of his ears if he shakes his head fast enough. The thought maybe isn’t bad, but the reality? Paris would probably hate the reality.

Because Paris likes girls. He always has. He’s never felt this way about guys before.

Okay, there was that one visiting prince of Venice who was so charming and smart and kind. Like, he’d specifically say hi to Paris sometimes, even if there was a roomful of people. And nobody says hi to Paris. He was just so nice. Paris was so jealous of him and all he wanted was to be his best friend forever or to be him or…

Okay, so there’s the chance Paris likes guys. But it’s a small chance. It’s most likely just his imagination running away. It does that. Because can people even like guys and girls? Is that possible? And Paris definitely doesn’t.

All he feels for Tybalt, all he’s ever felt for any guy ever, is platonic feelings. Yearnings of friendship-style intimacy. Nothing more. Any other lingering, weird thoughts are just random. From the power of suggestion. He thought one weird thing and he can’t stop focusing on it. That’s all.

He’s totally and completely not in love with Tybalt Capulet.

****

When Juliet wakes up, all is good. The sun shines through the window. It’s been forever since there’s been a sunny day. Mercutio’s hand is in hers, and she always loves that. It’s a solid reminder that she has a best friend.

But then she really wakes up. Wakes up in the sense that she remembers yesterday and she feels the soreness in her back from sleeping in a twisted fetal position and she opens her eyes only to feel her eyelashes sticking together from dried tears and she feels the soreness in the back of her throat from her tantrum.

She sits up and stretches. Her back cracks a little, and Juliet hopes that is a good sign, not a bad one. She gently pulls her hand out of Mercutio, trying not to wake him up.

She gets out of bed purely because of routine. She starts the fire and makes tea out of routine.

As she sits down in the living room with her tea, she tries not to think about last night and fails.

Juliet is embarrassed about her tantrum last night. She doesn’t know why it happened. Now, she’s more clear-headed and sees how it was a bit of an overreaction. Now, she hears Mercutio’s words and actually understands them.

In all the books she’s ever read, a character who is bullied has this big scene. This scene where the bullied stands up to the bully and the bully gets what’s coming to him. It’s the climax of the book. You rooted for the victim and cheer when the bully falls.

Juliet did not have that moment. That moment where she stands up to Capulet and he is flabbergasted. Where he realizes just how cruel he is and when everyone in Verona realizes too and he is hated by everyone.

Part of Juliet wants that moment. She wants to see Capulet with no words. She wants to see him suffer.

But it’s not realistic. Capulet is too powerful. If she stood up to him last night, he would have hit her. He would have pretended he was the victim in the situation and Juliet’s claims were those of the bully. He wouldn’t have suffered karma’s fate because he has karma in his pocket, bribed by his wealth and fame.

And really, Juliet would not have the courage to stand up to him to his face. She withers up in his presence and she does not know if she can realistically overcome that, at least anytime soon.

What Juliet really needs is to get away from him. She needs to never see him again.

He doesn’t deserve a big telling-off. In telling him off; Juliet would only be putting herself through more trauma. She doesn’t need more trauma; she’s already got plenty to spare.

She has nothing to gain from telling him off in a big fairy-tale finish. But he would get to traumatize her one more time.

And he doesn’t deserve that opportunity. And she deserves better than that.

She will not waste one more second of her life seeing his face, being scared to speak. She does not deserve that.

Juliet feels like she can breathe for the first time ever. She doesn’t have to see Capulet. She doesn’t have to see Capulet.

She owes him nothing. She won’t give him anything.

Mercutio walks out of the bedroom, and his eyes are a bit wild. As soon as they land on Juliet, they calm, and he walks over to the couch and sits down beside her. “You weren’t in bed.”

Juliet smirks. “I know. I am here.”

“No. I mean,” he sighs, searching for the words. He looks like he reached them, and he looks her in the eye, and she can see the fear in them. She doesn’t like that look, so she grabs his hand.

“I mean it was really scary last night. I don’t like seeing you like that.” He quickly amends, “Not that you can’t be like that. It’s totally understandable, and of course you can cry and panic and all. I want to be there for you. I just meant-”

“I get it,” Juliet interrupts. “Of course you were scared. I was hysterical.”

Mercutio looks grateful for her interjection. “Yeah. Exactly. And when I didn’t see you in bed this morning- I don’t know, I just felt like I needed to know you were okay.”

Juliet laughs quietly and squeezes Mercutio’s hand. She loves him so much. “I’m fine. Seriously. I’m taking your advice, actually.”

“Good choice. Obviously, it was brilliant.” He pauses for a second. “What advice, exactly?”

“You know. The thing about Capulet being an asshole and my not being able to change that and never seeing him again. I decided to do that.”

“Great!” Mercutio says, and he sounds so excited. It’s nice how much he cares for Juliet’s well-being. “That’s great, Juliet.”

“I don’t owe him anything,” Juliet says. The words feel strange in her mouth. It was one thing to think about it. To say it is permanent. Final. Solid.

It makes her thought feel more real.

“You don’t. He’s an asshole,” Mercutio says passionately.

Juliet laughs too loudly for the situation. It strikes her as funny, somehow. ‘Asshole’ is somehow an understatement.

“Such an asshole,” Juliet laughs.

****

Paris is totally and completely not in love with Tybalt Capulet.

He’s just not. It’s physically impossible.

So what if Paris woke up early just to visit Tybalt and check on his eye? It’s a friends-like thing. It’s not at all romantic. There’s nothing about it that’s romantic.

Okay, so he brought some fresh bread and apple cider and grapes from the palace. So what? Tybalt deserves a nice breakfast because he is a good friend who went through a traumatic event.

If Paris had any other friends, he would totally do the same thing for them. It’s not romantic.

Okay, so there may be a rose with the breakfast. But still. Totally platonic.

Paris knocks on his door, the basket of platonic food in the other hand.

Tybalt opens the door. His glare softens when he sees it’s Paris, and he removes his hand from the handle of his sword hanging in a sheath.

His eye looks awful. After just a few hours, it’s all black and blue. Paris feels his stomach turn, and he fights against his urge to gently touch it, just to see if it’s real, just to try to help him.

“Weren’t you just here?” Tybalt asks, but he doesn’t sound unpleased.

To explain, Paris holds up his totally platonic basket of food. “I brought breakfast.”

“I am capable of making my own breakfast,” Tybalt says, but he opens the door further and steps back so Paris can come in.

Paris doesn’t pay attention to how close he is to Tybalt and how much heat he radiates as he brushes past him. He doesn’t because that isn’t a friend-thing. He totally doesn’t.

Paris sets the basket down on the table and starts looking for plates in Tybalt’s cabinets so he can set everything up nicely.

Tybalt crosses the room and inspects the breakfast Paris brought, pulling everything out of the basket, one item at a time, turning over the bread idly, and popping a grape into his mouth.

For half a second, Paris thinks he looks hot with the way he’s half leaning on the table, his dark hair still messy, the half-smile playing on his lips as he obscenely chews on the grape.

But for only half a second. Then, Paris realizes that he only platonically thinks Tybalt is hot. In the way one might admire a painting.

Paris feels heat rising in his cheeks, and he quickly ducks his head back into the cabinet. He already found the glasses and dishes, but he doesn’t want Tybalt to see how red his face is.

“You got me a rose,” Tybalt says softly.

Paris almost drops the dishes. Why the hell did he bring that goddamn rose? It’s literally the flower of romance. Now Tybalt is going to get the wrong idea and think Paris likes him and is going to kill him.

But Paris sneaks another glance at Tybalt from behind the cabinet, and he doesn’t look angry. The small smile on his lips is still there, but his eyebrows are furrowed. He’s turning the rose over delicately in his hand, twisting the stem round and round, completely ignoring the thousands of thorns. Somehow, they don’t bother him.

He seems fascinated by the rose, as if he doesn’t believe it’s truly real.

He looks younger than usual, with the rose in his hand and his guard down. Paris briefly wonders if this is what he used to be like before his father was killed, before he realized he had to protect Juliet and Rosaline, before he realized the cruelty of the world. Before he became so angry that he decided to kill everything in his path.

Paris shakes off that thought. There are too many ifs for anyone to know the outcome. And besides, he loves Tybalt this way.

(Platonically. I love him platonically.)

“Yeah,” Paris says, finally replying. His voice is muffled since he is speaking into the cabinet. He’s too much of a coward to take his head out and see if Tybalt truly liked his totally platonic gesture. “I, um, saw it. In the castle. There are vases everywhere. And I thought you might like it.”

Paris glances again at Tybalt. He’s still watching the rose as if it might disappear, and he looks so soft and innocent. He’s hard to believe he has a sword in his sheath right now.

“I do,” he says, his words still soft in every single sense.

“Good,” Paris replies, matching his tone. He leans his head against the edge of the cabinet so he can marvel (platonically) at soft Tybalt.

Tybalt suddenly glances up, and Paris can almost see his mask go on. He is no longer immune to the thorns, and Tybalt drops the rose onto the table as they prick him and draw blood. “The dishes are right there, you know,” he says, his voice harsher, but it’s rough, and Paris can still hear the softness it hides.

“I know,” Paris says quickly, ducking his head back into the cupboard. He mentally slaps himself and adds, “I know because… I just found them. They were kind of hidden. In the back. Behind some… other stuff.”

“They’re usually right at the front,” Tybalt says, and Paris cannot tell if he knows Paris saw them immediately.

“Really?” Paris says, trying to feign surprise as he brings the dishes and two cups over to the table. He sits down on one of the wooden chairs, Tybalt, following his lead, sits down next to him. “That’s weird. I didn’t see them before.”

Tybalt watches him for a moment, and Paris shifts under his gaze. Paris feels like he has to do something to look more normal, so he starts pouring apple cider for the two of them. But his hands are shaking and he spills some of it onto the table.

“Maybe I put them in a different spot,” Tybalt says, almost kindly.

It feels like a reprieve. Paris sighs in relief; he was not caught in his lie. Or maybe he was; Tybalt said it like he knew Paris was lying. Either way, he was not challenged, and Paris is happy. He doesn’t have to explain that he didn’t want to face Tybalt because his stupid brain is trying to convince him that he has feelings for Tybalt.

“Yeah,” Paris says, matching Tybalt’s soft tone from earlier. “Maybe.”

Tybalt does that little half-smile at Paris - quickly, for only a moment. Then, he starts eating his breakfast, ripping off pieces of bread and popping grapes into his mouth. But even after Tybalt looks away, Paris can’t stop watching him or stop the lazy smile on his face. Something about watching Tybalt just makes Paris happy.

(But it’s platonic).

Tybalt looks up from his food, and Paris wants to look down and pretend he wasn’t staring at him. But Paris forces himself to meet his stare; he’s not doing anything wrong, after all. A person can watch their friend eat without it having any further implications.

Tybalt glances down first, and if he wasn’t Tybalt, Paris would have sworn he was blushing.

“Your eye looks terrible,” Paris says, as smooth as always. He winces and amends, “I mean, are you okay?”

Tybalt shrugs and plays with the grape in his hand. “My eye doesn’t hurt.”

“No, I mean-” Paris tries to think of how to phrase it. He’s not referring to the physical pain, but the mental. He can’t figure out how to say this, so he says, “Are you okay?”

Tybalt glances up and his hands stop fidgeting for a just a moment. He seems to know what Paris means. He always does. That’s why Paris loves him (platonically, goddamnit). Tybalt says, “Yeah. Still a little in shock, I think. I don’t really know. No one ever really asks me that.”

Even though Tybalt’s gaze is downward, Paris tries to convey through his eyes how much he cares about him. “They should.”

“You do,” Tybalt says, and his guard is down again. All defenses are gone. “So I don’t care.”

Paris swears his heart skips a beat and he forgets to breathe. Sometimes, Paris isn’t sure whether Tybalt really cares for him. They’re murder-scheming partners first and foremost, and because of his own baggage, Paris often isn’t sure who truly likes him.

But now, Paris has a verbal confirmation that Tybalt, the man he loves (platonically), cares about him too.

And that’s the best damn thing ever.

Chapter Text

Mercutio snuck out in the next morning in one of Juliet’s long coats. He didn’t bother with a better disguise because he’s a rebel. He knocks on the door and prays Romeo won’t be home.

God must be angry at Mercutio. Perhaps because of all the sex with Benvolio. But God’s probably very chill about that sort of thing. Mercutio doesn’t exactly trust the church’s interpretation. It’s far more likely God is angry at him for his conversation with Paris, the one he totally doesn’t feel guilty for.

Whatever the reason, God is definitely angry because Romeo opens the door. Mercutio feels a slight bit guilty for his resentment when Romeo’s face lights up like a puppy who sees his owner after days away from him.

Only a slight bit, though. Romeo is really cockblocking him here.

“Mercutio!” Romeo says in that same childishly delighted voice that he always uses. “I’ve missed you!”

“Literally saw you two days ago, dude. Remember? When Benvolio and I were making out on the couch, and you came in and asked us what we were doing? Then proceeded to sit in between us and drone on about your day?” Mercutio says, his flat tone similar to Benvolio’s.

Perhaps it is true what they say of couples, that they develop each other's qualities. Mercutio hopes it is true - he’d love to see Benvolio in a frilly shirt.

“I know! It’s been too long! Come in!” Romeo says, opening the door wider and gesturing grandly.

Mercutio comes in and immediately heads for the kitchen table, where there is burnt toast out. Mercutio wants food, so he eats around the burnt edges. But that only leaves a tiny square of gold in the center, so Mercutio bites into the crispy black edges. Mercutio gags.

Romeo walks over next to Mercutio and says, “It’s good, isn’t it? I made it myself.”

Mercutio tries to swallow, and he gags again. Damn it. He thought he didn’t have a gag reflex.

Mercutio gives up on swallowing (something he’d never admit) and spits it out into the nearest napkin. “It’s inedible, dude.”

Romeo looks way too offended by this obvious statement. Did he think these black pieces of crap were good? What the actual hell is wrong with him?

“But I made it myself,” Romeo says, and he sounds like a kicked puppy.

Mercutio wonders what he’s supposed to say to that.

Because Mercutio lacks any common decency, he ends up saying, “My dear Romeo, I am sorry, but it is literally the most dreadful thing I’ve ever tasted. And I’ve kissed a girl before. With tongue.”

Romeo looks downright offended. He crosses his arms over his chest protectively, like armor to protect himself from Mercutio’s comments.

“That’s not nice. I just learned how to make a fire. You can expect me to be, like, a perfect chef or anything yet.”

Mercutio sighs. Maybe giving in to his demands will make him happy, and making him happy might make him more likely to leave the house so Benvolio and he can finally have some alone time.

“You’re right, of course. I apologize, my dearest Romeo. I shouldn’t have expected you to be able to make toast,” Mercutio says.

Romeo (being Romeo) takes this mocking apology as him begging for forgiveness. His face immediately brightens, and he lowers his arms, taking Mercutio’s half-bitten piece and biting off a large chunk.

He chews it loudly, his mouth open and stretched into a wide smile. Mercutio instinctively takes a step back from the gross sight and wonders how the hell Romeo is able to eat such crap without vomiting.

“Apology accepted,” Romeo says cheerfully, a little bit of black char spewing out of his mouth. “I had the best day yesterday.”

“Really?” Mercutio asks, and he subtly glances towards Benvolio’s bedroom. Is he home? He better be. He gagged on crap for him, after all. “Do tell,” Mercutio as he stares at the closed bedroom door.

Romeo excitedly says, “Well, I was home alone for the first time since my breakup with Juliet. Benvolio or you are always here, it’s so nice of you guys.” Mercutio makes a little grunting noise. It’s not very nice for them. “So I decided to make a fire. I’ve never been able to do that. You know that, you saw my underwear on fire that time.”

“How could I forget? You have an ass to remember.”

“Thanks, dude!” Romeo says sincerely. “So I decided to start a fire. How hard can it be, after all? So hit the flint. It didn’t go the first time, so I tried again. Nothing the second try, so what do you think I do? I try again. The third time I saw a spark, but it might have been my imagination. The fourth time-”

“As much as I am loving this story, maybe you could summarize a bit?” Mercutio says. At this rate, Benvolio will be dead of old age before Mercutio gets out of this conversation.

“Okay! So, I finally get the fire started after forty-nine tries. I was so proud of myself. Like, it was the first time I realized maybe I could be alone after all. Like, maybe I don’t need Juliet or even you guys. I’m fine on my own.”

Mercutio stops himself from doing a celebratory dance all over the house. Finally. He has been dreaming of the word “alone” coming out of Romeo’s mouth since the night he broke up with Juliet.

“That’s amazing, dude!” Mercutio says, perhaps a bit too enthusiastically. He tries to tone it down and says, “So you wouldn’t mind leaving Benvolio and I alone for a couple hours?”

“Aw, dude, don’t worry! I don’t have to be alone all the time. I want to spend this morning with both of you! I was alone all last night anyways,” Romeo says, shoving Mercutio playfully. Mercutio refuses to move from his spot of irritation.

How can one man be so oblivious? But he’s also so sweet. Mercutio can’t tell him to get the fuck out of his own house because he wants to do unspeakable things to his cousin without hurting his feelings and leaving him to wander around the neighborhood, lost, on his own.

So Mercutio says, reluctantly, “That’s great, dude. I’m thrilled.”

Romeo nods enthusiastically. “I know, right? Now we can hang out, just like old times.”

Benvolio comes out of his bedroom, dressed only in his underwear and an old tee-shirt, and wow is that not helping with his whole horny situation.

Benvolio’s eyes catch on Mercutio first, and he reaches him in a few strides. Benvolio kisses Mercutio intensely, grabbing his wrist with one hand and his shoulder with the other. His morning stubble scratches Mercutio in a pleasant way against his upper lip.

All Mercutio wants to do is shove him back into the bedroom and say good morning to him a way that involves his mouth and Benvolio’s dick.

But Romeo is right there and Mercutio can hear his obnoxious chewing and watching as Benvolio kisses him in that way that makes Mercutio whimper.

Because Romeo’s watching is getting the kind of kinky Mercutio is not even into and he’s pretty sure Benvolio has not even noticed Romeo is there, distracted by Mercutio’s effortless hotness, Mercutio pulls away. It’s the hardest thing he’s ever had to do.

Benvolio chases after his lips, but Mercutio cocks his head towards Romeo. Benvolio looks, and his face changes from surprised to angry to embarrassed. Benvolio lets go of Mercutio and clears his throat. “Good morning, Romeo,” he says.

And God, his voice is so scratchy and morning-like and perfect. Mercutio did not think it was possible to want to blow him more, yet here he is.

Romeo smiles at him, full of a naive glee that should not be coming from a dude who’s chewing literal shit and literally just watched them make-out. “Good morning, Benvolio! Want some toast?”

Benvolio glances down at the black pieces of shit that can no longer qualify as toast. He looks back to Mercutio, questioningly, and Mercutio shakes his head, silently telling him to not even question Romeo’s ludicrous behavior.

“No thanks, Romeo,” Benvolio says. “Looks delicious, though. So, um, are you going to be here all day?” Benvolio says, and his voice is so hopeful.

“Yep! I can’t wait to spend all day with you and Mercutio. It’ll be like old times! We’ll get out the cards and the board games and it’ll be perfect.”

Benvolio is just as weak as Mercutio when it comes to Romeo’s puppy face. He crumbles immediately.

“Sure, dude. That sounds perfect.”

“Great!” Romeo says, positively beaming. He bounds over to the couch and pulls out a deck of cards that must have been shoved between the cushions. “This’ll be fun!”

Mercutio and Benvolio glance at each other, silently mourning the loss of their day of fucking. Benvolio whispers, “At least he can’t burn the cards.”

And Mercutio bursts out laughing. God, he loves his boyfriend. He’s utterly perfect. Or perfect in the sense that he’s perfect for Mercutio.

Benvolio smirks softly like he didn’t just make a joke and like Mercutio has no reason to burst out laughing. Through his tears of laughter, he sees Romeo looks on confusedly, probably wondering what the hell just made Mercutio lose his mind.

****

When Juliet wakes up, her hand feels empty. As she blinks the sleep out of her eyes, she realizes it is because Mercutio is not there.

He must have left to see Benvolio. He does that a lot.

Like always, Juliet smiles to herself. She likes that she was able to help Mercutio and Benvolio. Even though she no longer has a relationship to hide herself.

Besides, this morning, she wants to be alone. She has things to do.

She sits up and blinks the sleep out of her eyes. She wants to finish this before breakfast so the rest of the day belongs to her and only her.

Juliet gets out a piece of parchment and writes,

Dear Father,

Thank you for dinner the other night. The food was delicious.

Juliet cannot think of something else nice to add, so she continues,

I am very happy in my marriage with Mercutio. So much so that I am afraid I will no longer be able to come home. Do not despair, though. Mercutio will still provide you with monetary compensation after he receives his inheritance, and we will still remain loyal to the Capulets.

As far as the world knows, I am still your loving daughter.

If you have any further questions, please ask my husband. He will answer anything.

Your daughter,
Juliet Capulet.

Juliet considers adding a, P.S. Fuck you, you bastard, but that is sure to bring Capulet’s wrath down upon her and Mercutio. With a little bit of probing, he could easily find out about Mercutio and Benvolio’s relationship and his friendship with the Montagues.

He could easily get him killed. He could easily ruin their lives.

And she would do nothing to endanger either of them.

Besides, this polite letter gets the point across: she never wants to see him again.

And now, she’ll never have to be traumatized again.

She is finally free.

Chapter Text

It is not helping Paris’ overactive imagination spending all this time with Tybalt. And without any conversations about murdering Mercutio.

Yesterday, after breakfast, Paris had to leave for some prince-ly emergency with Escalus. Turned out that was just deciding which outfit complemented his gold crown the best.

Paris spent the whole time thinking of Tybalt.

Platonically, of course.

This morning, Paris had to help Escalus again with some prince-ly emergency. This one was deciding which outfit complemented his silver crown the best.

Again, Paris spent the whole time thinking of Tybalt.

It was harder to convince himself it was totally platonic this time, especially since the majority of the thoughts were about Tybalt’s lips on his.

But it was still, most likely, totally platonic.

Like, who doesn’t fantasize about making out with your best friend of the same gender? It’s normal stuff for a totally straight guy.

Paris has no plans for that night. Instead of sitting at his too quiet bedroom, too sober, with only his intrusive thoughts for company, Paris decides to go for a walk and try to convince his stupid head that he has no feelings for Tybalt or anyone who is not a girl.

But when Paris walks out of the palace’s gates, there is Tybalt, leaning against the intricate golden gate with his arms crossed over his chest. The moon kisses Tybalt’s downcast face and his freakishly high cheekbones, making him look like some type of god or like he is blessed by Artemis herself.

At first, Paris thinks Tybalt is a figment of his imagination. He’s just been thinking too much about Tybalt, so now he’s just hallucinating (a super hot) Tybalt. Hallucination seems sane compared to his crazy, and now ordinary, thought process.

But then Tybalt looks up. When he sees Paris, a slight smirk dances on his face, and he straightens and strides over to Paris.

He looks solid enough, all tall with sharp edges, but Paris has a vivid imagination and he is not convinced.

Paris pokes Tybalt on the arm to see if he’s real and because he’s a total idiot. Tybalt is indeed solid and warm and very Tybalt-like. Paris snaps his arm back like he just touched burning hot coals.

Instead of looking confused or irritated at Paris’ weird action that suggests a complete lack of boundaries, Tybalt’s smirk widens ever-so-slightly, and Paris places his expression as amused.

Tybalt pokes his arm back, and Paris cannot stop his jaw from dropping in surprise. It’s like a playful kitten trying to emulate its owner.

Tybalt asks, amusement written all over his voice, “Is this a new type of greeting?”

“No,” Paris says, and he struggles to find words to explain that he thought that Tybalt was a figment of his imagination because he’s spent the last two days thinking of nothing but him. “It’s a new- it’s how I-” Paris stumbles over words for a minute more before saying, “I don’t know what it is.”

Tybalt shrugs, the amusement in his dark eyes still plain. “Okay.” Paris is so grateful Tybalt does not pursue it further. No wonder Paris loves this man (PLATONICALLY, GODDAMNIT). “Do you want to get a drink?”

“Please,” Paris says, relieved to be moving on from his completely weird action.

If Paris walks a little too close to Tybalt, it’s only because Tybalt is warm and it’s way too cold for a fall day and he needs some of Tybalt’s body heat. If he sits too close to Tybalt at Tom’s Tavern, it’s only because it’s loud in there and he wants to be able to hear Tybalt speak.

If he walks even closer to Tybalt on the way back, it’s because it’s even colder and Paris is slightly drunk and he needs to lean on Tybalt for support.

“You’re so sweet, Tybalt,” Paris says, his words slurring a little. He almost trips on air, so he holds onto Tybalt’s arm for support. “You’re like the sweetest sweetie ever.”

“I think you’re drunk,” Tybalt says. The amusement in his voice never disappeared the whole evening, and goddammit, it is attractive. (Paris is too drunk to convince himself it’s platonic. He’ll do that in the morning.)

“So? It doesn’t mean it’s not true,” Paris retorts, holding Tybalt’s arm tighter because he likes how warm and muscular it feels.

“It means your judgment is impaired,” Tybalt says, smiling softly at Paris’ head. “I am not sweet.”

“Yes, you are,” Paris argues, his voice rising in his passion. “You are very sweet. I am going to call you sweetie.”

“You already do that,” Tybalt replies, his voice getting quieter as Paris’ gets louder.

“Oh! I forgot!” Paris says, way too loud.

Paris feels something cold, like steel, on the back of his neck. Paris assumes it’s a fly. What else would be on his neck?

Paris lifts his arm off Tybalt’s shoulder to swat it away, but Tybalt grabs his wrist before his hand can complete the arch.

From behind him, Paris hears a voice he does not recognize say, “Fucking fags.”

Paris suddenly feels too sober, like a bucket of ice was poured on his head. He can feel the tip of the blade pushing into his neck. He can’t breathe or speak.

When Paris’ arm slacks, Tybalt lets go of his wrist and puts his head on his sheath. Tybalt does not turn around, but he says, his voice like the cold steel on Paris’ neck, “Let him go. Now.”

“Before killing him? I think not,” the man says. Amusement on Tybalt was so attractive, but on this man, it makes his bones tremble.

Paris has never been more scared in his life. His hands are trembling, and he feels like he is going to pass out. The only thing keeping him from doing so is the knowledge that he’d fall right back into the sword.

Paris is sure he is going to die tonight.

A lot of things happen fast. Maybe it’s the alcohol, maybe it’s Tybalt’s skill, but Paris cannot figure out which happened first.

Tybalt’s sword is out and Paris is shoved out of the way. Paris stumbles forward, the steel pain is gone from his neck, replaced by a tingling burn as it meets the cold air.

He vaguely hears Tybalt growl, “I told you to let him go.”

Paris wants to run, but he can’t leave Tybalt. He turns and faces the duel.

The man he’s dueling is shorter than Tybalt, but he’s more muscular. He’s obviously skillful; his silver sword cuts through the moonlight, countering Tybalt’s attacks skillfully. Somehow, he still looks cocky and amused, even as Tybalt’s sword chases after him.

“Tybalt Capulet?” the man says as he duels him. He sounds almost pleased, which makes Paris even more terrified; anyone else would run if they discovered they were in a duel with the Prince of Cats. “I guess Mercutio was right; you really are a monstrosity.”

With these words, Tybalt goes for his heart.

But the man sidesteps the move easily, and as Tybalt’s momentum makes him stumble, the man slashes at him, drawing first blood.

“Amateur move, Prince of Cats,” he says, laughing as Tybalt turns back towards him, hatred in his eyes, blood staining the sleeve of his shirt, and sword flying. “I thought you were supposed to be a challenge.”

Their swords clash furiously with awful smacks and scratching noises. Paris cannot even tell whose sword is whose; it’s all a fog of silver.

Paris wants to help. He wants to so bad. But he’s drunk, he’s never been in a duel, and he doesn’t even have a sword. He can’t do anything but stand there, glued to the ground in cold fear.

The man manages to free himself from the tangle of swords for a half-second, and his eyes land on Paris. Paris can see his amusement grow as his savage smile grows "Is that Paris? Prince Escalus' favorite cousin?"

Paris almost feels the man's tongue, wet and slimy and cold, running over his body as his tongue caresses Paris' name. Tybalt steps towards the man with renewed fury and their swords cut through the night once again in a blaze of silver.

"Don't say his name," Tybalt growls, countering a particularly vicious jab towards the stomach with ease.

"Why not? Soon the whole kingdom will know. And what a story it will make. The Prince of Cats and literal royalty, dead on the streets of Verona for their crimes against God. A story generations will tell. Your names will go down in infamy."

The man's voice is dreamy, and perhaps it is this dream that distracts him and leads to his mistep.

Tybalt goes for the heart again. But this time, when he sidesteps, Tybalt cuts his sword to the side with him.

The man goes down with a sound like a hurt animal and with a sunset of red. Paris hears him whimper. Paris cannot help but think of a hurt bunny, trapped in one of those cruel animal traps, slowly dying.

He is no longer the amused and cocky man who was going to hurt Tybalt. Now, he is a defenseless creature, at the mercy of his prey turned predator.

Tybalt stands over him, the sword on his (heart? lung?) chest. Tybalt’s breathing is labored and the gash on his arm is enough to make Paris sick, but everything about him screams predator, beware.

“Please,” the prey croaks, “let me live. I won't tell anyone anything, I swear to God. Just let me live. I have a family. They need me. I can’t die. I-”

There is a flash of silver, then another sunset of red.

Paris cannot look. He closes his eyes. But he can’t stop himself from hearing the man’s last cry, the sound of a knife cutting through meat, his last gasping breath. He can’t stop himself from smelling the metallic scent of blood and piss. He can’t stop the bile from rising in his throat.

“That’s what everyone says,” Paris hears Tybalt whisper before he hears Tybalt’s boots clicking away from his dead prey and towards Paris.

Tybalt’s clicking slows and Paris forces himself to open his eyes. Tybalt is watching Paris with an expression Paris cannot recognize. It looks vaguely haunted, but maybe that’s just what Paris wants to think.

Tybalt says, his voice rough, unused to being so gentle after being so cold, “Let’s go.”

Paris blinks twice before he remembers to nod and how to walk. Tybalt walks briskly down the street, and Paris follows him mindlessly, like a zombie.

Paris makes it two blocks before he falls to his knees and vomits up his night of alcohol and violence and terror. It tastes bitter and burns the back of his throat. It feels good, though, to feel something.

He doesn’t have to look up to know Tybalt stopped, too. Maybe because Paris is so innately in touch with Tybalt now after obsessing over him for what feels like a lifetime. But it’s more likely because Paris hears his boots stop clicking and because a small puddle of blood is forming next to Paris’ puddle of bile.

“I had to do it,” Tybalt says, breaking the silence of the night and disturbing the gods, who are now definitely watching this tragedy take place. “I had to,” he repeats.

It’s not Paris’ imagination; he definitely sounds haunted. Or at least like he’s trying to convince himself.

“Why?” Paris asks. He doesn’t mean to sound so judgemental, but he does.

Paris glances upward. His eyes are downcast, and there is wet blood mixed up in his unruly dark hair and smeared on his godlike cheekbones.

It’s so hard to think of this person, the one who just killed a man, as the one Paris knows. It’s like there are two men.

There is the sweetest man he’s ever met. There is the only true friend Paris has ever had. There is the man who can obscenely eat a grape, damn it.

And then there’s this man. The one who just killed someone. The one who the rest of the world knows.

“Because he tried to hurt you,” Tybalt says, his voice raw.

Paris tries to think logically. Tybalt just killed someone, took someone’s life.

But logic isn’t one of Paris' strong points.

He sees the duel from Tybalt's perspective. The man tried to hurt his friend, and so, Tybalt had to protect him. If Tybalt didn't kill him, the man could have spread lies about him and Tybalt that surely would have led to their executions. Or, he could have recovered and tried to kill either of them again. He knew their names, and their residences are easily found.

Promises and pleads made in threat of death don’t really mean too much. 

And Paris realizes he was terrified during the duel not because of Tybalt’s cruelty, but because Tybalt was in danger. Paris couldn’t take Tybalt dying. He cares too much for him now.

He is not a predator. He is not prey. He is human. A human Paris loves (really, does it matter if it’s platonic at this point?).

And then it isn’t so hard to believe that these two men, one sweet, one deadly, are one and the same. The split image of them once again forms one whole person.

He’s Paris’ friend. He doesn’t need to be perfect to be so.

“Okay,” Paris says simply.

Tybalt’s eyes wander over to Paris, softness abound. Paris smiles at him, and for one moment, everything is alright. It’s just a normal night again. No one died. No one killed.

But then Tybalt winces. Subtly, of course. God forbid Tybalt shows any pain.

Paris looks to Tybalt’s arm, a spot he’s subconsciously avoided in fear. Paris tries not to look too affected in fear his terror will transfer to Tybalt. But it’s ugly. Blood isn’t pouring out anymore, but the gash is still wet and deep. It must hurt like hell.

“Let’s get you home,” Paris decides.

“It’s not that bad-”

“Shut up,” Paris commands, staggering to his feet. He inwardly curses at himself - he isn’t the one who was in a duel. He grabs Tybalt’s shoulder for balance, and, when Tybalt does that little wince, Paris lets go instantly. “Shit. I’m sorry.”

“Shut up,” Tybalt says, and Paris smiles to himself. “Let’s go.”

Chapter Text

Paris sits up on Tybalt’s kitchen counter as he disinfects the wound on Tybalt’s arm.

Tybalt leans against the counter, shirtless so Paris can disinfect the whole wound. And it’s a long one.

Tybalt would be embarrassed, but, well, it’s Paris. He’s seen him at his best and at his worst. There’s really no need to be embarrassed.

“Doesn’t it hurt?” Paris mummers.

Tybalt shrugs, the cold counter digging into his lower back. “Not really. I’ve had worse.”

“You know it doesn’t make you any less tough to feel pain, right?”

“I know,” Tybalt says, and he wishes it didn’t feel like a lie. “But it doesn’t hurt. The alcohol hurts worse than the actual sword did.”

Paris shakes his head, laughing to himself. In the candlelight, the scene looks almost romantic. A nurse tending to a wounded soldier.

But, of course, it isn’t. Because this nurse happens to be male and in love with his cousin.

“What?” Tybalt asks. He hates how loving he sounds. It’s shocking Paris hasn’t figured out how in love Tybalt is and stabbed him in the heart. Literally, not figuratively.

“You’re just so annoying. Like, just feel pain and let us mortals feel better about ourselves,” Paris jokes.

“I’m mortal,” Tybalt replies, watching the shadows dance over Paris’ face in the candlelight.

“You didn’t seem mortal tonight,” Paris says. His sentence starts out light, but it fades out towards the end like he doesn’t know if it’s okay to talk about the duel.

“I’m so sorry,” Tybalt says, quiet. It is long overdue.

“Why?” Paris asks. “You had to do it.”

Tybalt’s own words sound better on Paris’ tongue - kinder, gentler.

“I know,” Tybalt says. He did. He couldn’t let anyone hurt Paris. He can’t. “But I’m sorry you had to see it. I-” Tybalt’s voice catches, and he swallows loudly. “I didn’t want you to know me like this. I’m- I’m sweet to you.” He laughs bitterly. “I was sweet to you. And I liked that. Now you know what I am. Now you know how wrong you were.”

Paris looks up from disinfecting Tybalt’s arm and tries to meet Tybalt’s eyes. Tybalt looks downward and examines his stone floor. He can still feel Paris’ warm gaze, though.

“You’re still sweet to me,” Paris says, and his gaze feels way too sincere.

“Does the blood just scream sweet person?” 

“Tybalt,” Paris says gently. Tybalt doesn’t like how gentle his words are. When words are sharp, knives, Tybalt knows how to fight back. But when words are gentle, Tybalt doesn’t know what to do. He doesn’t have to defend himself, he doesn’t have to fight. So what is he supposed to do besides fall in love?

“What?” Tybalt asks, the question sharp despite the fact he is not being attacked. But it’s easier than matching Paris’ tone.

Paris doesn’t seem to notice his voice is sharp, and he continues in that same gentle voice that Tybalt hates (loves). “I don’t care what you’ve done, in the past or tonight. I probably should and all, but I don’t. All I know is that you’re a sweet person. I knew from the moment we met.”

It sounds almost romantic. But, of course, it isn’t. “How?” Tybalt asks, quiet, staring at the stone floor.

Out of the corner of his eye, Tybalt sees Paris shrug. “You had kind eyes.”

“Most people say I have a death glare, but okay.”

Paris laughs, and even that is gentle. Tybalt hates (loves) it. “Your death glare is sweet.”

Tybalt glances at Paris’ face, soft in the candlelight, and he really wants to kiss him. It would be the perfect moment. Tybalt would lean over and gently kiss him. Paris would be surprised at first, but then, he’d respond and gently kiss back, putting his hands on his biceps and pulling him closer.

It would be perfect, and Tybalt can almost see this perfect scene play out in front of him.

But it can’t happen.

Instead, Tybalt says, “You’re even more messed up than I am.”

Paris watches Tybalt’s face for a second, unmoving, thinking. Tybalt wants to squirm under his gaze, but he holds himself still. It feels like Paris is thinking about kissing him, feels like there is tension in the air.

But then Paris chuckles softly, and Tybalt knows he imagined a moment and he inwardly kicks himself for thinking for a moment that Paris likes him back.

“Probably,” Paris says. He wipes Tybalt’s cut with the alcohol-covered rag one more time, and Tybalt forces himself not to flinch when the pain hits.

“I’m staying tonight, you know,” Paris says matter-of-factly.

Tybalt’s heart, which was already pounding like a marching drum, quickens. He imagines Paris in the same bed as him, and his throat dries. He clears it and says, “Why? I’m fine.”

Paris gives him a scolding look. “You’re not fine, and I need to be here. I’ll sleep on the couch.”

Tybalt’s heart falls at the couch part, but he quickly brushes aside his disappointment. “You don’t need to stay.”

And it’s true. It’s a cut. It’s not bad. Tybalt’s been through a thousand times worse. “I do,” Paris says, and Tybalt doesn’t argue.

“You’re always taking care of me.”

“That’s because you’re an absolute disaster, sweetie.”

****

Tybalt wakes up the next morning, and his arm hurts like hell. He remembers vaguely the duel last night, but it doesn’t seem important. What seems important is getting out of bed and getting food because he is starving.

Like a zombie, he stumbles out of his room and into the kitchen.

He stops when he sees Paris with bedhead and day-old clothes in the kitchen, filling up a pot with water and singing under his breath. Not a note is on key, and he taps his foot to the song, missing every single beat.

Paris turns around like he can sense Tybalt watching him and smiles softly. “Hey, sweetie. Want to help?”

Tybalt never realized it was possible to love someone so much.

****
Benvolio feels a little bad. He lied to Romeo.

Romeo. The sweetest guy in the world.

But he had to. The dude was driving him up the wall. He had to get him out of the house and Mercutio into it. With Mercutio spending all his time with Juliet, and Romeo being around every goddamn second, they spent literally no time together.

He whispered his plan to Mercutio after yet another night of cockblocking.

Benvolio will get Romeo out of the house by telling him Mercutio is waiting for him over at his and Juliet’s house. Mercutio will take the back roads and sneak here.

It’s a simple plan, really. Not as simple as telling the truth, but much less likely to hurt Romeo’s feelings. And as Benvolio always says: the not-messy way is the best way.

Guilt gnaws at Benvolio’s stomach, and Benvolio wanders aimlessly around the house, fixing a crooked picture frame and wiping non-existent dust from the coffee table.

Mercutio barges in as Benvolio straightens a pillow. “Miss me, babe?” Mercutio asks, smiling devilishly.

The gnawing feeling almost vanishes, and Benvolio feels tension leaving his body. “You’d better close the door first.”

Almost in response, the wind outside howls and blows at Mercutio’s back. Mercutio jumps and closes the door, saying “Oh! Right.” He turns back to Mercutio. “I don’t think the neighbors want to watch what’s about to happen.”

Benvolio crosses the room, stopping a foot before Mercutio. “They’d be scandalized.”

Mercutio grabs Benvolio by the shirt and pulls him closer, whispering, “We can’t let that happen, can we?”

Benvolio feels Mercutio’s words vibrating against his mouth, and he kisses him mid-word, swallowing the sound. Mercutio instantly stops speaking and kisses back eagerly, like he’s waited months for this when, in reality, it’s only been weeks.

Benvolio puts one hand next to Mercutio’s head on the door. The kiss is surprisingly languid, with slow nips and lazy tongues, given how long they’ve been waiting for this.

Benvolio breaks away. He isn’t sure why; kissing is good. No kissing is bad. Logically, he should still be kissing Mercutio.

But, for some reason, Benvolio decides breaking away and saying, “Thank God Romeo isn’t here” would be a brilliant idea.

“Way to kill the mood, babe. There’s a reason he’s our safe word.”

Mercutio tries to pull Benvolio back, but again, Benvolio’s innate stupidity trumps his logic and his horniness.

“I feel kind of bad. About lying to him,” Benvolio confesses, twiddling with the sleeve of Mercutio’s blouse.

“Less talking, more kissing,” Mercutio responds, trying to pull Benvolio in again.

“Do you think I should feel guilty?” Benvolio asks, resisting Mercutio’s pull and staring into Mercutio’s eyes, trying to convey his guilt.

“Of course not,” Mercutio says certainly. “He wasn’t leaving us alone. And he wasn’t taking any of my hints and you just let him walk over you, so of course you had to lie.”

“Wait, wait, wait,” Benvolio interrupts, removing his hands from Mercutio and the door. “I just let him walk all over me? What are you talking about?”

“C’mon, babe,” Mercutio whines, taking a step closer to Benvolio and playing with the collar of his shirt. “I didn’t mean it. Can’t we just kiss?”

“No. Tell me what you meant,” Benvolio says, staring at Mercutio hardly until he removes his hand with a sigh.

“I just meant you kind of let him, you know, take advantage of you.”

Benvolio scoffs and steps back from Mercutio. For some reason, Mercutio’s words are crawling under Benvolio’s skin in a way they never do. Something about them are so goddamn irritating today.

“And you don’t?” Benvolio replies sharply.

“I mean, you’re the guy living with him. Are you not?”

“Don’t try some fancy lawyer talk with me.”

“Hey, I can be a fancy lawyer, too. You’re not the only smart one around here.”

“If you’re so smart, how come you couldn’t get rid of Romeo?”

“I don’t know!” Mercutio says, his voice high in exasperation. He paces away from Benvolio and the door towards the living room like his exasperation with the situation turned into a surplus of energy. “Because he has a puppy face. We both let him take advantage of us, okay? We both let him cockblock us. I shouldn’t have blamed you, okay? But now he’s finally not here. Why are you cockblocking us?”

“I’m not!” Benvolio denies, facing Mercutio in the living room.

“Really? Because as far as I can tell, we’re not on a bed right now and it’s your fault,” Mercutio says, pointing at Benvolio.

All of Benvolio’s irritation drains out of him. Mercutio is right. “Stop being such a good lawyer,” he grumbles.

“Seriously, babe. What’s going on? Because my plan had a lot less talking than this. Unless you were in one of your talkative-during-sex moods. That was the exception.”

“Nothing,” Benvolio says immediately. Because nothing is going on. Mercutio just pinned all the blame for them not having sex on him, which led to them not having sex more. Simple logic.

“Is it ‘cause I’m a married man?” Mercutio says teasingly. “Because you know no ball and chain is going to hold me back.”

“It’s not that,” Benvolio snaps, a bit too harsh.

“I see I struck a nerve,” Mercutio says, looking way too smug. Condescendingly, he adds, “Are you jealous, babe?”

“No,” Benvolio sighs, honest. “I know you’d never do... that to me.”

“With a woman, definitely not. So if you’re not jealous, why are you purposefully keeping us from having amazing, glorious, holy sex?”

“Because I’m scared,” Benvolio bursts out. He did not expect that to come out of his mouth. He honestly didn’t know why he was doing this. But as soon as he says the words float from his subconscious, past his conscious without a wave goodbye, and right out his mouth, he knows they’re true.

“I’m scared, alright? I’ve been your best friend for as long as I can remember, and now, there’s Juliet. You never stop talking about her.”

“Not true,” Mercutio states emphatically.

“Think about it,” Benvolio says.

Mercutio cocks his head, and Benvolio can almost see a cartoon thought bubble appearing out of Mercutio’s head, re-playing the last few weeks events. Benvolio sees the moment last week, when they got drunk on wine and dared Romeo to eat burnt toast, a task he completed happily.

He sees a drunk Mercutio slurring about how much Juliet would enjoy this, then promptly covering his mouth as he realizes Romeo is right there and that Juliet is his ex-girlfriend/wife/whatever-they-decided-upon. When he realizes Romeo is happily munching on burnt toast, mumbling words about how independent he is, Mercutio unclamps his mouth and says, “She’s so funny. And mean. She calls me an asshole. I love her.”

Maybe those are actually Benvolio’s thoughts. Because they are definitely flying through his head at warp speed.

“I’m scared she’s your new best friend and I’m just your boyfriend,” Benvolio says, barely audible, scratching the back of his head.

“Hey,” Mercutio says, crossing the room. “It’s different with Juliet and me.”

“How?” Benvolio asks. “She’s your best friend. I was your best friend.”

“You know I can have two friends, right?” Mercutio says, patronizing. Mercutio is lucky because any other boyfriend would have stormed out the door right then. Benvolio just glares his death glare at him.

The joking look drops and is replaced with the one Benvolio sees: the sincere one. The one where his eyebrows are comically raised and his smirk is dropped. “I love you both. It’s different though. Like, she’s kind of like the sister you’d want but never get because you can only get this kind of platonic soulmate through choice, not blood. She’s my best friend like that.”

“I do not see how this is supposed to make me feel better.”

“Just wait, you impatient spork. You’re my best friend like you’re the person who knows me more than I know me. You’ll never not be my best friend. I love you both; neither of you are replaceable or substitute the other.”

Benvolio smiles softly. Mercutio’s words were a blanket of sunshine: warm and reassuring. “When did you get so good with words?”

“That’s Juliet’s doing. She reads a lot.”

“Maybe this two best friend thing is pretty good after all.”

“I told you it has benefits,” Mercutio says. He comes closer to Benvolio slowly, as if Benvolio is a dog who he isn’t sure is rabid. He must feel the way Benvolio is silently begging for him to come closer, and he does, confidently this time.

He stops a foot away, and Benvolio cannot wait any longer. He grabs Mercutio by the waist and pulls him in until their noses are almost touching.

“So you were trying to stop us from having sex because you weren’t sure we were still best friends?” Mercutio says, amusement tracing his words.

“What can I say?” Benvolio says, staring at Mercutio’s perfect, poem-worthy lips. “I’m a picky man.”

They may not have ended up on the bed, but neither cared. Mercutio didn’t even remember the sex-blanket pact.

Chapter Text

“Fuck you, Mercutio,” Juliet whispers to herself as she kneads some dough. Flour is all over her dress, and yeah, it was never that nice, but it’s a soft yellow sundress that makes Juliet feel like she’s walking on clouds. Now, it’s a literal cloud. And the more she tries to brush the flour off, the deeper it ingrains into the fabric. Juliet’s pretty sure it’s never coming out.

Juliet has no idea why she thought making bread was a good plan. Like, she woke up in the morning and saw Mercutio was gone, then decided to get breakfast. 

But Mercutio usually makes breakfast. Because he’s an incredible husband. Or, if he’s not there, she’ll have some toast.

But there wasn’t even any bread this morning. And Juliet really wanted some toast. So, she decided that she’d make some bread. Mercutio does it all the time. Without getting flour into his hair. And Juliet used to make it all the time with Pam. So she thought it’d be an easy task.

She was incredibly wrong. Making bread takes forever, hurts your arms, and gets flour in your hair, eyes, clothes, and nether regions. There’s literally nothing good about it.

Juliet punches the bread with vigor instead of “gently kneading” as the recipe suggested. “Seriously, fuck you,” Juliet growls, irrationally irritated at Mercutio for leaving without making her breakfast.

The recipe suggested kneading for five to ten minutes. But it also said to knead gently. So fuck it. Juliet picks up the soft lump of dough, about to carry it over to the bowl next to the warm fire so it can properly rise.

That’s another thing. Bread takes hours to make. Literally. You break your back stirring and kneading, and then it has to rise next to a warm fire for hours. It’s ridiculous.

The bowl next to the fire is two steps behind her. So, Juliet turns around to place it in the bowl.

But the thing about dough is that it is soft. Like, really soft. The mound of dough begins drooping down the edges of her hands and between her fingers. To save the dough, Juliet tries to re-position her left hand so that the drooping dough is encapsulated in her hands once more.

In trying to save the dough, Juliet loses her grip, and the dough falls right onto the ground. Juliet does not quite cognize this until a moment too late when she’s stepped right into the squishy dough.

Juliet looks down at her foot, hoping that by some miracle, the dough is still okay. But miracles are not in her favor today.

The dough, which she spent a freaking hour on, is completely ruined and her boot is coated in the dough, which feels even stickier when stepped on, somehow.

“Shit!” Juliet growls as the preamble to a long string of eloquent curses, most of which include some insult to Mercutio for putting her into this position.

Still cursing, Juliet tries to lift her foot out of the dough. Tries being the operative word. The dough sticks as she lifts, creating a string-like effect. After jerking her leg to the side, her foot becomes unstuck, but a lot of dough remains on the sole and edges of her shoe. So, when Juliet steps down again, she steps with a soft “plop” and the feeling of stepping in mud.

In between curses, Juliet hears the front door behind her creak open and then close. Juliet is fuming about spending an hour trying to make bread and then ultimately failing while effectively ruining her favorite dress and shoes, and she’s decided to blame it on Mercutio, so it’s not a great time for him to be coming home.

“Mercutio, I’m going to fucking kill you,” Juliet calls over her shoulder, fixated on trying to scrap some of the dough off her boot and onto the floor.

“Um, I’m not Mercutio.”

Juliet’s back straightens instantly as she hears the familiar voice, like a Great Dane who hears a dog whistle and perks its ears. Suddenly, dropping some dough and exacting revenge on Mercutio doesn’t seem so important anymore.

Juliet turns, her boot making the “plop” sound as she does so. “Romeo,” Juliet breathes. “Hi.”

Romeo scratches the back of his head and smiles awkwardly. His innocence is still kind of endearing. “Hi.” He pauses for a moment, and Juliet doesn’t know what he’s going to say or if she should say anything.

What do you say to your ex-boyfriend/husband who is now standing inside your home? Is there some type of etiquette, some manual she’s supposed to follow?

She wishes that there was and she’s read it because she has no clue what to say or even how to feel. So, she stands in silence, her jaw dropped slightly as she tries to gather her thoughts.

Romeo says, “You’ve got a little flour on your dress.”

Juliet bites back a laugh. It was the last thing she expected him to say, and it’s the understatement of the century. She looks like she’s been to hell and discovered it’s a bakery.

“Yeah, I, um, have a ‘little’ dough on my shoes, too.”

Romeo looks down at her shoes, and Juliet can see he’s holding back his own laugh. “How’d that happen?” he asks, amused.

“Mercutio’s fault,” Juliet explained.

“I assumed so,” Romeo replies, and they share a smile. It’s a smile of shared battles and shared memories, one they’ve shared a million times before. But Juliet does not know what it means now that their battles and memories are separate, separated by Juliet’s cold words. It feels the same as before, but it can’t mean the same. Not anymore.

Romeo seems to realize this a moment later, and his smile becomes more hesitant. Juliet no longer recognizes it; he’s always been so open. She hopes he did not learn how to guard his feelings because of her. It’s a horrible skill to have, one that’s nearly impossible to unlearn.

“I’m here for Mercutio.”

“Mercutio?” Juliet repeats. “He left a while ago.”

“Oh. He told me to meet him here.” Romeo looks like a lost puppy, suddenly. It makes Juliet a little relieved; he hasn’t totally learned how to hide his emotions. Thank God. “I guess I better go.”

“Wait,” Juliet says without thinking of the consequences. He looks in her eyes, and goddamn it, they are so puppy-like and pleading. “You want to stay for breakfast?” Juliet glances at the dough lying on the kitchen floor. “I mean, I don’t actually have any anymore, but-”

“I can make some,” Romeo offers.

Juliet thinks back on the time Romeo set his underwear was on fire trying to make breakfast. She then thinks of the argument they had afterward and the mind-blowing make-up sex. Juliet’s cheeks heat, and she glances away from Romeo for a second, unable to look at him without turning the color of a strawberry.

Juliet forces herself to look back, and she focuses on the fire part. Skeptically, she asks, “Really?”

“Yeah!” Romeo says, walking towards the kitchen. He seems to have forgotten that he came here for Mercutio, that Juliet broke his heart, and that this is supposed to be awkward. He looks right at home. “Not to brag, but I’ve made toast before.”

If it was anyone else, Juliet would assume they were being self-effacing. But it’s Romeo, and he looks so goddamn proud of himself that Juliet is slightly amused.

“That’s not exactly the same thing.”

“They’re both made out of bread, aren’t they?”

“Yeah, but to make bread… you actually have to make the bread, you get what I’m saying?”

“Yep! This should be easy. What do I bake first? The flour?”

“No,” Juliet replies, giggling. “Look at the recipe.”

“What’s a recipe?”

Juliet laughs, and Romeo smiles despite having no idea what she’s laughing at. “I’d better help you.”

All irritation at having ruined her breakfast is gone, and she barely even minds her sticky shoe or ruined dress.

****

Flour is literally everywhere; there’s flour on the walls, Juliet’s eyelashes, the ceiling. Every few seconds, flour rains down on the two of them in little snow-like poofs.

Juliet has taught Romeo how to make bread. And Romeo was actually really good at it. Like, seriously. He’s good.

And he’s a totally non-biased judge.

Juliet looks over the recipe, perusing the page and looking a bit like a librarian. “Now we just have to let the bread rise.”

Romeo looks at the dough and cocks his head, staring at it. “So does it-”

“No, it doesn’t fly, you idiot,” Juliet laughs.

Romeo scoffs dramatically. “That wasn’t what I was going to ask,” he lies.

“You’re an idiot,” Juliet repeats.

Romeo forgot how bright her smile is. It changes her whole face when she’s happy, and you can’t help but feel lighter, like your problems are nothing.

Or something like that. Romeo is not a poet.

“You’re the idiot,” Romeo retorts.

Juliet gasps, holding her hand to her heart, causing another poof flour. “You cannot call a lady an idiot. It is not proper.”

Romeo pretends to look thoughtful. “Huh,” he says, sticking his hand into the jar of flour. He throws it at Juliet. “Is this proper?”

Juliet jumps backward, but flour still lands all over her, raining down on her head like snow. “I am going to murder you,” she says and throws a handful of flour at Romeo.

Romeo scoffs and almost chokes on the flying flour. Juliet giggles cruelly. “It’s what you deserve, idiot.”

“Okay, now you’re just asking for it.”

Romeo violently throws another fistful of flour at Juliet, and she quickly throws a handful back. Soon, they forget that they are “fighting,” and they openly laugh, mocking how stupid the other looks.

Romeo is too focused on pouring flour on top of Juliet’s head so that all her hair appears white and so that they can pretend to be old people to hear the door open.

He does hear, however, “Holy Jesus Christ, fuck me.”

Juliet, who’s facing the door, lets the flour in her hand sift out to the floor. “You do know how that sounds, right?”

Romeo turns, and there is Mercutio, his blouse buttoned wrongly and staring at the kitchen like a tsunami hit it. Romeo glances at the kitchen and the inches worth of flour near his feet and decides it does look a bit like a tsunami hit.

“Everything I say is purposeful, darling. I do not make mistakes.”

Juliet bows sarcastically, and flour floats from her head to the ground. “Such trivial things are beneath you, of course.”

“Of course,” Mercutio says. “Now, I must ask-” he gestures towards Romeo, Juliet, and the kitchen, all of which are coated in flour “-what the actual fuck-ity fuck happened here?”

“We made bread,” Romeo says proudly.

Mercutio blinks purposefully at Romeo. “Of course. How could I forget that making bread destroys my precious kitchen?”

“We are so sorry, darling,” Juliet says, her voice dripping with sarcasm. “Can you ever forgive us?”

“I am literally never getting the flour of this place. It will take hours to clean, down on my hands and knees-”

“And I bet they’re sore already, right, darling?” Juliet interrupts.

Romeo looks to her, confused. Juliet puts her hand to Romeo’s ear and whispers, loud enough for Mercutio to hear, “He came from Benvolio’s. And you know what that means.”

“Oh! Sex!” Romeo says loudly.

“Calling it ‘sex’ really minimizes it. Everyone has sex. What Benvolio and I have cannot be called something so ordinary as ‘sex.’” Mercutio ponders for a minute. “Jesus’ threeway? Whoopee-canoodle? Orgasmic paradise?”

“Whoopee-canoodle?” Juliet mocks, sitting down at the table and placing her head on her hand. The gesture looks very patronizing when directed at Mercutio.

“Henceforth, sex shall be known as whoopee-canoodle,” Mercutio declares.

“It sounds like a marshmallow,” Romeo says.

Juliet cracks up. “It totally does!”

“You are just mocking what you do not have the privilege of knowing.” Mercutio walks significantly into the kitchen. “And now, I must clean up your mess because you two are children who cannot be left alone for two seconds while the adults whoopee-canoodle.”

“Whoopee-canoodle,” Juliet whispers to Romeo, then cracks up again.

Out of the corner of his eye, Romeo sees Mercutio look at the two of them, then smile and shake his head. Romeo has no idea what Mercutio means by that look, so he focuses on Juliet’s laugh, which he hadn’t realized he loved so much.

****

The kitchen isn’t clean until it is dark outside. Romeo was kicked out by Mercutio hours ago after he spilled the remainder of the flour onto the half-clean floor.

Juliet sits on the middle of the kitchen table, her legs crossed over one another. Because sitting in chairs is for the mundane. She looks over the sparkling kitchen and takes a large bite of her slice of homemade bread. “So worth it, right?”

Mercutio, whose pants are covered in flour and his face in sweat, looks slowly over to Juliet, a combination of hate and exhaustion written over his face. “If you ever try to cook again, I swear I will murder you.”

“That’s my line, asshole,” Juliet retorts. “And it was all Romeo’s fault.”

Mercutio walks to the living room and collapses on the couch face down, butt in the air. Juliet turns on the table so she’s facing the couch. “I cannot make it to the bed. It’s too far,” he says, his voice muffled since he is speaking into the couch cushion.

“Oh my God, you are a literal baby,” Juliet laughs, her mouth full of bread. Pam would tell her to swallow first, but Juliet doesn’t really care about manners right now. It’s only Mercutio, after all.

“So,” Mercutio says, his voice still muffled, “you and Romeo?”

Juliet feels her cheeks becoming warm, and she’s glad Mercutio cannot see her because he’d so read into her blushing when it is involuntary and a gut reaction to being asked about your ex-boyfriend/husband.

“There’s nothing there,” Juliet says, waving the question away with her hand even though, again, Mercutio literally cannot see her.

“I never said there was,” Mercutio mumbles.

“Shut up,” Juliet says, taking another bite of her bread. She says, quieter, “I just forgot how much fun we have together, you know? I don’t actually like him.”

Mercutio doesn’t respond, which never happens unless he is unconscious. And then he snores, which Juliet takes to mean he is definitely asleep.

So Juliet keeps talking. “I actually don’t like him that way anymore. I might be a little attracted to him, but only a little. In a what if sort-of way. I just want to be friends now. And maybe always. But definitely now.”

Juliet thinks about the broken-hearted look on Romeo’s face when she said she didn’t love him. The crushed expression when he begged her to forget the argument, just let them stay together.

“I hope he does, too,” Juliet whispers.

****

Paris walks home that morning, feeling strangely happy and content considering he just saw a man die last night. But that feels so long ago.

All Paris can really think about is how nice it was making breakfast with Tybalt and eating breakfast together. It was almost like they were a couple.

Except, totally different. Because they’re friends. And that’s all.

Paris has accepted that his feelings for Tybalt are not totally platonic. It’s kind of hard to deny them when he fantasizes about kissing him all the time. But he’s willing to push down those feelings forever because he will not lose this friendship. Tybalt can’t feel the same, and Paris is fine with that. Friendship is good enough.

No. Not enough. Enough implies that there is more to be had, that it is just a piece of a whole. Friendship with Tybalt has always been and will always be more than enough. It’s the whole goddamn package. 

Right now, the only problem is not kissing Tybalt and subsequently being stabbed. As long as he doesn’t kiss Tybalt, everything should be good and his organs should remain intact.

Paris is mulling this over as he robotically unlocks the door to his room. As soon as he shuts it, someone says, “Took you long enough.”

Paris almost jumps out of his skin. Then, he looks towards the voice and sees a figure leaning against the wall to his right. At first, in the dark, all he can make out is a sharp smile. Then, his eyes adjust to the darkness, and he can tell the person in front of him is Rosaline.

“Jesus Christ, Rosaline,” Paris sighs, holding his heart. “You almost gave me a heart attack. How’d you even get in here?”

“Security is surprisingly lax,” she replies, leaning lazily against the wall.

“It’s the prince’s palace,” Paris says stupidly. “There are hundreds of guards.”

Rosaline shrugs as if this is inconsequential to the fact that it is shockingly easy to break in. Instead, she asks, sounding bored, “Where were you all morning?”

“Doesn’t matter,” Paris says quickly. He doesn’t have to lie, he knows that. It goes along with the platonic thing. But he still does. Rosaline raises her eyebrow, but she doesn’t press. “Why are you here?”

“For two things. One-” she holds her hand out, which Paris now sees is holding a cashmere scarf “- to give you your scarf back.”

Paris takes it and runs his hands over the soft fabric he hadn’t seen since the night of the nightmare party at the Capulet mansion. “I forgot about this.”

“Two,” she starts. Then she gets down on one knee and Paris, for the thousandth time in the last couple months, is sure his eyes are deceiving him. “Paris I-don’t-know-your-last-name, will you marry me?”

Chapter Text

“Wait, what?” Paris exclaims. This must be a trick his eyes are playing. Rosaline probably said, “I just killed a man for proposing” or something normal like that.

Rosaline stands, and for the second time ever, Paris can see vulnerability in her ice blue eyes. Still, she speaks with the same cold confidence she always speaks with. “Can’t you hear? I asked if you would marry me.”

“Why?” Paris blurts out. Rosaline told him she doesn’t want to get married, probably ever. Why the hell would she be proposing to him?

Her blood-red lips quirk upwards. “A real gentleman would invite me inside.”

Paris, dumbfounded, opens the door wider. Rosaline strolls in like she’s the queen of this palace. Paris slowly closes the door behind her, still staring at the woman who just proposed to him. His mind spins with the ways in which he can politely turn her down. Sorry, lol, I’m in love with your cousin. No, not that one, not the one I was engaged to. The male one. You know, the one where my telling you would lead to my death. Yeah, that one! You remember! Such a good memory! Do you want some caviar before you go so you can feel further humiliated? No? So disappointing!

Paris forces his brain to shut up; it doesn’t work, but it quiets enough that he can focus on Rosaline about 5% more. Rosaline spins around slowly, taking his apartment all in. It’s mainly just a bedroom as he lives in a freaking palace with Esculas, so he doesn’t really need anymore. He has servants for food and a table with hundreds of chairs for eating.

But the bedroom is very impressive. One wall is lined with books in oak bookshelves, and Paris has only read about 1% of them. His gigantic bed with velvet sheets is furthest from the door and is right next to the window. Closer to the door is a bunch of velvet armchairs arranged in a circle.

“Kind of roughing it, aren’t you?” Rosaline says, still smirking.

“It’s not too shabby,” Paris says, and he sits down elegantly on one of the armchairs. He gestures for Rosaline to do the same, and she flops down on the seat, her boots kicked up on the coffee table. Even though it is his apartment, Paris has never done that before.

“So, um, I believe you asked me to marry you?” Paris starts off.

“Yes,” Rosaline says matter-of-factly.

“I thought you didn’t want to get married?” Paris says slowly, calmly. His brain, meanwhile, is screaming: How can you turn this poor girl down? Sure, she’s got more confidence than Escalus, but you’ll hurt her if you turn her down. You can’t hurt her.

“Oh, I don’t,” Rosaline says. Paris’ brain actually shuts up, purely due to shock. After a moment, his brain starts screaming again: of course she doesn’t actually want to marry you. You misunderstood like always. How presumptuous of you to assume you’d have to turn this marvelous girl down. In any universe, she’s the one shooting down proposals, not you.

Meanwhile, Rosaline, in sane reality, is saying, “It’s just that Capulet, you know, the big, scary dude, told me that if I don’t marry, he’s going to have my parents kick me out of my house and cut off my inheritance. And if I’m kicked out, it’s not like I can get a job. There are not many jobs for women, and any ones that are available, he’ll be sure to get me fired. So I’ll be living on the street without a husband until I die a probably violent death. If I’m lucky.”

Rosaline’s tone is matter-of-fact, but the biting of her lower lip in between sentences gives away her nerves about telling Paris about all of this.

“Why’d you propose to me, though? There must be hundreds of other guys who want to marry you.”

“You mean because of my name?” Rosaline asks, and he startles. That’s the exact way he feels about everyone who wants to marry him. Honestly, though, he meant because she’s a catch. There are better people for her to marry.

“They won’t get me. They’d want to have, you know, a real romantic relationship with sex and kissing and all that other gross stuff. You are the only one who knows I don’t want that. And you are an actual nice guy who I would not mind being, you know, platonically married to. Plus, Capulet would shit himself if I married you, so that’s always good.”

Before Paris can reply, Rosaline adds, “Of course, my motives are all selfish. There’s literally nothing for you in this marriage. You probably want to marry a girl who will actually kiss you and love you and shit. I knew coming here you would never say yes, and I don’t blame you. You deserve better. But I had to try, you know.”

“I’ll do it,” Paris says, surprising even himself.

Rosaline, who was halfway up from her seat, sits back down and says, “What?”

“I’ll do it,” Paris says confidently. “I’ll marry you.”

“And why on earth would you do that?” Rosaline asks, shocked out of her vulnerability and back into her slightly condescending tone.

Shockingly, it’s not to do with his innate sense of politeness and his crippling anxiety. It has to do with, wait for it-

Tybalt.

Tybalt will never love him back. He can’t; he’s a guy. And this love isn’t like with Juliet. This love runs deep, deeper than views from afar and fake ideas of perfection. He knows Tybalt isn’t perfect - he’s far from it. He’s violent, moody, cold, distant. But he knows this because he knows him. He knows him and he loves him. Paris cannot imagine loving anybody other than him.

If Tybalt won’t love him back, Paris doesn’t want to love anyone else. So there’s no reason not to marry Rosaline.

Plus, he wants to. He wants to help her. He couldn’t help Juliet. He just made her life worse, made her life harder with her father. Dug her into a deep hole she had to claw her way out of with Mercutio’s help.

But Rosaline? He can be her Mercutio, without the whole endless love part. He can help her get out of Capulet’s life.

He owes Juliet that much. And even though Tybalt will never love him, Paris would still do anything to help him. And there’s nothing he loves more than his cousins. So by helping Rosaline, he is atoning for his past with Juliet and professing his undying love to Tybalt.

“Because it’s the right thing to do,” Paris says.

Rosaline clasps her hands together on her lap, looking like an evil mastermind. “That’s bullshit, dude. People don’t do good things to be good.” Amusedly and dangerously, she adds, “Tell me the truth or I won’t marry you.” Paris isn’t sure if she’s joking.

It was the truth. Kind of. But it wasn’t the whole truth. So, Paris honestly says, “Because the person I love will never love me back. So I don’t care who I marry.”

Rosaline stares at him, her eyes judging him, trying to undo all the knots of lies and truths and in-betweens in his brain. “Juliet?” she asks, and her voice is strangely gentle.

“Yeah,” Paris says, lying because it’s easier. Easier than pouring out his heart. “Juliet.”

“You can find someone else, you know. You don’t have to marry someone who will never love you,” Rosaline says. Her voice is weird. It’s like a wolf who’s protecting her cubs.

“I don’t want to find anyone else.”

“You can at least marry someone for physical reasons. It’s my understanding that most people like sex.” Paris still can not tell if she’s joking.

“Anybody else I’d marry would only marry me for my name, but they’d pretend to love me,” Paris says. “I’d rather have no sex and someone who’s honest with me than someone who lies to me.”

“Dude, that’s weird. Teenage boys are not supposed to think with their brains so much.” Before Paris can defend himself, Rosaline widens her smile, showing off her sharp teeth. “But it works to my benefit. So I don’t care.”

“Oh, great?” Paris says, but it comes off as more of a question. “So, engaged?” 

“Yes. Me, you, wedding. You groom. Me bride,” she says in a caveman-like-way. Paris is pretty sure she’s mocking him.

“O-kay,” Paris says, already regretting agreeing to marry this madwoman.

“Hey,” Rosaline says, and her guard is down again. Paris does a double take, and suddenly, she’s a sixteen-year-old. A sixteen-year-old child. She’s no longer the terrifying woman who could kill him in a thousand different ways. “Thanks.”

“Oh. No problem,” Paris replies, surprised.

“No, like, seriously, thanks. I’d be dead on the street without you,” she says, forcing a laugh.

Paris shrugs and shifts in his seat. He doesn’t know how to receive such sincere thanks. “Seriously, it’s not a problem.”

Rosaline laughs under her breath. She stands. “I’ve got to go.” She stands there for a second, silent, and if she wasn’t Rosaline, he’d say she felt awkward. Then she leans down and quickly kisses his cheek. “Thanks.” 

Paris laughs softly. “You said that.”

“I know,” Rosaline says. She stands there for a second longer, then turns around and heads out the door.

Paris sits in his velvet throne, staring at the spot where Rosaline just stood. He tries to process the last five minutes.

He’s engaged. To the scariest woman he knows. And he’s never having sex for the rest of his life.

He might as well have joined the priesthood. If they accepted that nut job, door-to-door selling, fake-suicide-potion toting Friar Lawrence, they’ll accept anyone.

But Paris, strangely, doesn’t feel any regret. His stomach doesn’t hurt and his brain isn’t screaming he did the wrong thing. And these things always happen, even after simple things, like a “hello” to a person on the street. Because a “hello” might not have been as polite as a “good afternoon.”

Maybe it’s because he knows he did the right thing. He helped Rosaline like he couldn’t help Juliet.

Maybe it’s because he knows that it’s his only way of marrying an honest person. Nobody else would tell him straight out they’d never love him.

Paris doesn’t really know why this decision - this stupid, utterly moronic decision - is the one thing in his life he’s ever felt confident about.

Chapter Text

Paris knocks on the door. He didn’t want to come here. But it would probably be expected. Mercutio’s his cousin. Of course he would be his best man. The only reason Paris was not Mercutio’s best man was because of the whole awkward thing about Juliet being Paris’ fiancee first. Paris doesn’t have that excuse.

So of course Mercutio is expected to be his best man.

Doesn’t mean Paris is happy.

Just because he doesn’t want to murder him anymore doesn’t mean he likes the dude.

He is still the obnoxious, cruel, and childish cousin Paris has always known. He fucking started the rumor about Tybalt for God’s sake. How could Paris like a person who did that?

Juliet opens the door. She’s in a light, white nightgown, and Paris immediately feels embarrassed. He came too early. He’s probably interrupting some private moment between her and Mercutio.

Juliet blinks twice in shock, as if doing so will remove the hallucination from her field of vision. When he doesn’t disappear, Juliet smiles. It looks forced.

But of course it is. He hasn’t seen her since the Capulet’s hellhole party, and he hasn’t spoken to her since her wedding, when he told her that she should have had the courage to tell him herself that she did not love Paris and when he kind of yelled at her for marrying his cousin. Of course she doesn’t want to see her ex-fiancee and the man her husband hates and she may hate as well.

Because Juliet is nice (she’s so nice. That’s why he once had a crush on her), Juliet says, “Paris. Hi. Mercutio didn’t tell me you were coming.”

It just sounds so domestic. They are just the perfect couple, and Paris can’t help the flare of envy. He’ll never have that with Rosaline. Or with anyone really. He pushes it down, though. Marrying Rosaline was his choice. A stupid, utterly moronic one, but still his choice.

And besides from the little stirrings of jealousy, it’s a stupid, utterly moronic choice he’s happy with.

“Yeah. That’s because I, um, didn’t tell him.” As Paris says this, he’s reminded, again, that Juliet is in her freaking nightgown. He totally woke her up. Or he totally interrupted something else (something more private). He is totally not welcome. “Sorry. I should go. I’m intruding. I’m sorry.”

“No, no, it’s fine,” Juliet says quickly. She opens the door wider and gestures for him to come in. “Come in. You’re not intruding at all.”

It’s a lie. He totally is. But Paris doesn’t know what else to do. He has to talk to Mercutio. And he can’t turn down Juliet without looking like even more of an asshole.

“Okay,” Paris says, forcing a smile and trying to look charming. “Thank you.”

He shuffles inside and Juliet closes the door behind him. It’s a homey place. There’s a long wood table and the fire in the living room is roaring. Paris shoves down the jealousy once again.

“Sit down,” Juliet says from behind Paris. Paris glances behind him, and he sees Juliet quickly smoothing out her dress and combing her hair with her fingers. Juliet meets his eyes, and immediately stops, embarrassed to be caught.

Paris doesn’t know why. He’s the one who should be embarrassed. He interrupted the picture of domesticity and now, she has to scramble to be the picture of public perfection.

Instead of commenting on the awkward situation, Paris awkwardly sits down in front of the fire.

“I’ll go get Mercutio now,” Juliet says gesturing towards a door that most likely leads to the bedroom. “He sleeps like a rock,” she says with a laugh.

“I’m waking him up,” Paris says guiltily, his worst fears being confirmed. “I’m sorry.”

“No, it’s fine. I had to get him up soon anyway. He sleeps way too long,” Juliet says with that same self-deprecating laugh that Paris has used so many times before.

Paris doesn’t know what to say, so he just nods and warms his hands over the fire while Juliet wakes up Mercutio.

Through the door, Paris hears urgent whispering. He can’t understand a lot of what is said, but he definitely hears, “Paris… goddamnit… I don’t know why… stall him…”

His guilt level goes from a ten to ten thousand. He didn’t mean to wake them up. He thought it was late enough. He should have written a letter or something first.

Juliet comes back out, and her hair is less knotted than before and her smile is more practiced. “He’ll be right out.”

Paris tries to match her smile. “Again, I’m so sorry for intruding.”

Juliet makes a waving motion with her hand. “Really, don’t worry about it. Would you like some tea while you wait?”

“No, I’m fine,” Paris says automatically. He loves tea, but he doesn’t want to be any more trouble than he already is.

But then Juliet just stands there, with her smile in place, for a half a second too long, and Paris knows he made the wrong decision. He should have said yes. Then they would have something to do and something to talk about.

Now, there’s nothing. He should have said yes.

But he doesn’t know how to take it back without looking like an idiot.

So, Juliet sits down next to him, and Paris can see her internally crying out for help.

“You have a lovely home,” Paris says, and he internally winces. What a stupid thing to say.

“Thank you,” Juliet says. She looks like she wants to say something else, but she doesn’t know what. She crosses her legs, then uncrosses them, then crosses them again. She then clears her throat.

“I’m sorry,” Paris blurts out. He’s wanted to say this since he came up the drive, but he didn’t know how. But turns out, he’s going to do it the Paris way. With zero grace or preamble.

“For coming here? Seriously, don’t worry about it,” Juliet repeats for about the thousandth time, and she’s so nice that she somehow still sounds sincere.

“No. I mean, I am sorry about that. I should have written a letter or something. I shouldn’t have just stopped by and expected you guys to be prepared. But I meant about the whole us-being-engaged-thing.” Juliet’s smile falters. She’s probably shocked they’re not just engaging in meaningless small talk about her curtains or couch. Paris is too, but the words are just pouring out of his own mouth. Paris isn’t so sure he is in control of his mouth anymore. “I said some kind of horrible things to you at your wedding, and I want to apologize.”

“You didn’t. You were right. I should have talked to you,” Juliet says, and her voice is still airy, still in small-talk-polite-bullshit-zone. She might mean it, but it’s also obvious that she wants to get this conversation back into a more comfortable zone.

Paris does too. God, does he ever. But he has to say this.

“I wasn’t right. Well, I wasn’t all right. It would’ve been nice if you talked to me, but now I get that you couldn’t.” Paris considers telling her about Tybalt and his black eye and that night, but he doesn’t think it will help Juliet feel more comfortable. “I could’ve, though. I could’ve talked to you. There are two people in a relationship, and I was one. I never did, really, talk to you. I only talked to your father. I should have treated you more like a person. So I’m sorry.”

Juliet’s smile is long gone. Her guard is down, broken by Paris’ honesty. She brings her hand up to her mouth and nibbles on the knuckles. Paris cannot tell what she thinks yet.

But then she looks up from her hand, and her eyes are shiny. Paris’ guilt goes up to level twenty thousand.

“Thank you,” Juliet says, and it is obvious she is choking back tears.

“Are you crying?” Paris asks because he is Paris and has no tact in stressful situations.

“No,” Juliet says, wiping at her eye. “It’s just… a really nice apology. I’m still not used to them.”

“Oh,” Paris says, and he doesn’t know what to make of that.

He doesn’t know what to do. As far as he knows, there is no set rule for what to do when you make your ex-fiancee cry with your apology.

Juliet is still wiping at her eyes and staring up at the ceiling, silently crying and, strangely, laughing a little.

He scoots over to her because he feels like that seems like a nice thing to do. He pats her shoulder once, then twice, and then he thinks that this is probably weird. She doesn’t want him anywhere near her. He pulls his hand back, but then Juliet looks to him, her shiny eyes pleading, and Paris thinks that that might mean she didn’t hate his comforting, so he rests his hand on her shoulder.

“I didn’t mean to make you cry,” he says, aware the second out of his mouth that it’s dumb.

“It’s not your fault,” Juliet says, nice even when she’s crying. “I cry a lot.”

Paris doesn’t know what to say to that, so he rubs Juliet’s shoulder once and hopes that is somehow vaguely comforting to her.

Mercutio chooses that moment to walk in, and Paris becomes vividly aware of the scene. Juliet and Paris sitting in front of the fire, his arm on her shoulder, their legs touching.

Paris says, “It’s not what it looks like,” as Mercutio says, “Did you make my wife cry? Because I’ll fucking kill you, even if it means getting blood on my nice shoes.”

O-kay. Not what Paris was expecting. He thought it’d be, “Are you fucking my wife? Because I’ll fucking kill you, even if it means getting blood on my nice shoes.”

It makes him think better of Mercutio, somehow. Maybe he’s (slightly) more honorable than Paris had always thought.

Mostly, though, it fills Paris with fear. He’s never heard Mercutio so angry, not even at his wedding.

Before Mercutio can stab Paris, Juliet grabs Mercutio’s wrist. His face immediately softens, and Juliet says, “Mercutio, wait. It’s all good, I promise. Paris didn’t do anything.”

Mercutio still looks at Paris suspiciously. “Are you sure? Because I really don’t mind getting my shoes bloody.”

“But you love those shoes, darling,” Juliet says, and Paris sees a smirk playing at the corner of her mouth and the tears drying up. “You say they make your ass look incredible.”

“They do, don’t they?” Mercutio says, and his voice is dreamy.

“Please don’t stab him, darling,” Juliet says. “I like him a bit too much for that.”

The cold fear is washed away by a warm filling that fills Paris’ body. She likes him. Not in that way, of course. But she likes him. Despite everything he’s done, she likes him. There is someone in the world who doesn’t hate him, who doesn’t think he’s a burden. It’s a nice feeling.

“If you’re sure, darling,” Mercutio says. They’re throwing around “darlings” the way Tybalt throws around glares. It should be fake or sickening, but somehow, on them, it works.

“I am,” Juliet says, and she sounds strangely content.

She kisses Paris on the cheek, and it feels like forgiveness. She stands up and kisses Mercutio on the cheek, too, and it looks like love.

“Have fun talking, boys. Don’t kill each other. I’ll be in my room, reading, so I’ll hear any screams of agony,” Juliet says. If Paris didn’t see her tear-stained cheeks or the redness of her eyes, he’d have no idea she was just crying.

She’s different around Mercutio. She’s louder, more confident, more vulgar. He brings out the “worst” in her, all her “bad” qualities. All unlady-like qualities that are distinctly and unapologetically her. No wonder why they’re so perfect together.

“He’ll have to die quietly, then,” Mercutio calls after her, and Juliet flips him off over her shoulder.

Paris’ fear must show in his eyes because Mercutio says, “Kidding, Florence. I wouldn’t do that.”

It still doesn’t comfort Paris much, because he wouldn’t put it past Mercutio to lie.

Mercutio sits on the arm of the armchair, despite the chair itself being empty. Paris thinks he likes the sick power kick he gets from being a lot taller than Paris.

“So, what did you want to talk to me about?” Mercutio asks, folding his arms and peering down at Paris, looking like a true business executive staging an interview.

“I’m getting married,” Paris replies, nodding a little and fidgeting his hands. He shouldn’t feel so nervous - it’s just his cousin. But, then again, it’s the cousin who just threatened (albeit jokingly) to kill him and who Paris has threatened to kill (not at all jokingly).

Mercutio smirks, smug. “And I just had to be the first person you told, huh?” 

“No,” Paris scoffs, but then he realizes that is a total lie. “I mean, you are the first person, but-” wow, Paris needs more friends “-I just came here to ask if you wanted to be my best man.”

“Because you love me so much?”

“Exactly,” Paris says, and he tries to keep the resentful sarcasm out of his voice.

Mercutio pretends to mull it over, probably just to make Paris squirm in his seat. “I’d be delighted, my dear cousin. Who’s the unlucky woman?”

Paris is pretty sure the phrase is lucky woman, but whatever. “Rosaline Capulet.”

This actually breaks Mercutio’s condescending exterior, and for a brief moment, he looks surprised. “Rosaline? Juliet’s cousin?”

Paris nods. “Yep.” 

Mercutio’s smug smirk comes back, and all the power is in his court once more. “Congratulations. If she’s anything like Juliet, you’re a lucky man-” Paris waits for the other shoe to drop “-who does not deserve her.”

And there it is.

“Thanks,” Paris says, and he does not even try to keep the sarcasm out this time.

“Relax. I’m joking,” Mercutio says, smiling at Paris like he expects him to laugh.

“It’s funny,” Paris says, and his voice sounds like black coffee. He didn’t even try to add sugar.

Even Mercutio is intelligent enough to detect the hatred in his voice. His smile falters for a moment, but then it comes back with a fever. “C’mon, Connie! I’m joking.”

Paris is exhausted of adding sugar to his voice. It’s fucking exhausting. “Connie? That’s not even a city.”

“Well, Constantinople is too long for a nickname. So I nicknamed the nickname,” Mercutio says, still looking at him with that stupid fucking smile like he thinks he’s the greatest thing to have blessed the Earth since Jesus himself.

“Brilliant, Mercutio. Did that take you all day?”

The words come without thinking. For once, is brain is silent, taken over by a fury he has let fester for all of his life. And Paris couldn’t be more thrilled.

“Dude, why are you so angry?” Mercutio asks, the stupid smirk still lingering on his face. “We were just joking.”

“Sure. You’re always joking,” Paris says, and Paris cannot stop his words for anything. He seriously is no longer in control of his mouth. He’s going to have to watch himself around Tybalt. But right now, he does not care.

“You were joking when you said I’m not good enough for Rosaline. You were just joking when you pantsed me in front of the prince of Venice. You were just joking when you started calling Tybalt the Prince of Cats, which, by the way, almost got him killed the other night. Well, you know what Mercutio? It’s not goddamn funny.”

By the end of his rant, he’s in Mercutio’s face, using wild hand gestures and glaring so much Tybalt would be proud. Mercutio’s stupid smirk is even shocked off his face, and he’s leaning back to get away from Paris’ barrage of accusations and flying hands.

“Dude,” Mercutio says, gentler than usual. It’s almost like he’s trying to calm a wild horse. “I was seriously just, you know, messing around all those times. And the Tybalt thing? Who cares, man. He’s an asshole.”

But Paris is not a wild horse. He’s a fucking person who has fucking feelings and whose anger does not vanish with a few gentle and still asshole-y words.

“Maybe you look at yourself before you start throwing stones,” Paris snaps.

“Dude,” Mercutio says, still using that don’t-provoke-the-psycho-horse voice.

“I’m leaving,” Paris says, standing. Anger is still coursing through his veins, making every step to the door a stomp fueled with adrenaline. He reaches for the doorknob and pauses. He takes a deep breath and turns around, facing Mercutio, who's still sitting on the couch with a shocked look on his face that suits him so much better than that stupid smirk.

He says, anger still making the corners sharp, “Tell your wife she’s a lovely person and I hope to see her again sometime. Thank you for agreeing to be my best man.” Paris opens the door. “This is going to be fun.”

Paris closes the door politely behind him before storming down the street. Anger feels so fucking good. His brain is quiet for once, and his chest feels a thousand times lighter.

Later, the adrenaline will wear off, and he will become aware of the fact that he said what he meant instead of what he was supposed to say, undoing decades of work. Then, his anger will become directed at himself.

Until then, though, Paris will be blissfully high off of his recklessness. A high that is so fucking brilliant.

****

Mercutio sits on the couch, his mouth wide open, staring at the door. He has never heard Paris speak like that. Ever.

Not even that time he convinced Paris to “practice dueling”, and then he stabbed him in the arm, making a scar that will never fade. Not even that time (well, times) he shared the story of Paris peeing his pants at age 11 to multiple royal families.

He didn’t even know Paris could speak that way.

Juliet opens the door of the bedroom and walks towards the couch, her white nightgown floating as she does so, making her look like an angel. She sits down next to Mercutio.

“You were listening, right?” Mercutio asks.

“Of course,” Juliet scoffs.

“That was ridiculous, right?” Mercutio says. It sounds like he is asking for approval of his actions, for Juliet to say that he is good, but that totally isn’t what he means. What he is doing is venting. He still continues, “I mean, everything he said was ridiculous. It’s not my fault he doesn’t have a sense of humor.”

“Did you really start the Prince of Cats rumor?” Juliet says, her voice in check, revealing no emotion.

Mercutio inhales sharply. “Well…”

“You absolute piece of crap.”

The unadulterated fury in her voice makes Mercutio jerk back. He’s never heard her sound so angry, so capable of carrying out her murder threats. “Why?” he asks, his voice an octave too high.

Fire burns in Juliet’s eyes and her hair looks like it’s rising above her head. “Why? Why? Why the fuck do you think, you absolute lily-livered piece of crap? Because you- You started the fucking rumor about Tybalt.”

“It doesn’t matter! He’s an asshole!”

“You fucking outed him,” Juliet says, quietly, slowly, fury packed into every single word like a punch.

Mercutio can’t quite process her anger - it came on so quickly. His mouth doesn’t think before it says, “So it’s true? He’s gay?”

Juliet looks to the ceiling and growls, “Ugh!” like she’s praying for strength. “That’s what you get from this?”

“Hey, I was just wondering!” Mercutio says, holding up his arms to show his innocence. “Curiosity, you know.”

Juliet sighs like she cannot believe this is real, and Mercutio swears he sees steam coming out of her mouth. She sounds less angry and more disappointed, confused, when she says, “How could you do that to someone, Mercutio? Like, you literally have a boyfriend. And even I heard some of the rumors about you.”

It’s almost worse than the anger. He hurt his best friend, his soulmate.

The fact that she, with so much goodness in her, knows the horrible thing he’s done makes him realize the extent of the lie he told. Guilt finally overcomes him, and he feels sick. He hates the feeling. “I don’t know, okay!”

He doesn’t know how he did it. He knows it might just be the most awful thing he’s ever done, and he’s done a lot of awful things. Just ask Paris.

All he knows is that when he was a young teenager, he just didn’t like girls that way. But Benvolio… Benvolio was hot. And he hated himself for it.

He hated all the rumors going around about himself. They were bound to happen, after all. Mercutio was never really… subtle in his extravagance. It was only a matter of time before people started talking.

And then, he saw Tybalt. He hated that dude. And he hated the rumors. So, he figured, why not place the rumors he hated on the dude he hated? Take care of two issues at the same time.

Nobody would be saying, “Look at Mercutio! I think he’s a little funny, if you know what I mean,” when they now had new gossip and could be saying, “Look at Tybalt! I heard he’s a little funny, if you know what I mean.”

“I just-” Mercutio says, struggling to put it into words. “I just wanted people to stop talking about me, okay? And Tybalt was a good way to do so.”

Juliet is quiet, but she hasn’t gone to get a knife, so Mercutio takes that as a good sign. “You’re still a piece of crap.”

“I know,” Mercutio says, too guilty to even make a joke.

“But you’re my piece of crap. I’ll help you make this better.”

“Can’t we just ignore it and hope it goes away?”

“Do you really want the answer to that?”

Chapter Text

Tybalt paces the floor, growling under his breath and running his hands through his hair.

It’s been five days since he’s seen Paris. The longest he’s gone without seeing Paris in months.

It’s been four days since Rosaline told him she’s getting married to Paris. It’s been four days since his heart beat normally, since he stopped pacing, since he slept normally.

Someone knocks on his door. Tybalt glares at it. He can’t decide if he wants it to be Paris or not.

Of course he wants to see Paris. He always wants to.

But he doesn’t want Paris to tell him it’s true. If he isn’t here, then Tybalt can live in denial for another hour, another day. If he isn’t here, he doesn’t have to hear that the love of his life is in love with his cousin. A-fucking-gain.

Tybalt is still conflicted when he opens the door to Paris’ smiling face. No matter how irritated he is at Paris, he can’t stop the tug on his heart and the softening of his features.

“Hey,” Paris says cheerfully, coming into the house and flopping down on the couch. He no longer asks to come in.

Tybalt closes the door behind him and takes a deep breath. He doesn’t want to, but he’s got to know.

“Do you have any news?” Tybalt asks carefully

“What, you don’t say ‘hello’ like a normal person?”

“You know I don’t do anything like a normal person.”

Paris smiles softly. If Tybalt didn’t know better, he’d say tenderly. “I know,” he says. If Tybalt didn’t know better, he’d say he said it fondly.

But he does know better. “Do you have any news?” Tybalt repeats, this time sounding a bit irritated.

Paris’ smile wavers. “No. Nothing new.” Tybalt wants to believe him, but he knows when Paris is lying. He tries to keep himself from glaring at Paris, but Paris must see the grimace that passes over his face to keep himself from doing so. “Is something wrong?”

“So there’s no news?” Tybalt crosses the room so he stands in front of the couch and in front of Paris.

“I told you, nothing new.” He’s getting better at lying. He’s just not good yet. And he’ll never be good enough to fool Tybalt.

“So you’re not engaged to my cousin?” Tybalt spits out.

Paris’ smile wavers and a jolt of soul-crushing sadness passes through Tybalt.

It’s true. It’s undeniably true. Paris is engaged to his cousin. The man he loves more than anything in the entire goddamn world is engaged to his cousin. His best friend is engaged to his cousin. His only friend is engaged to his cousin.

Paris would have never loved him back, but at least when he was single, Tybalt could dream. Tybalt could dream about one day, waking up next to Paris and waking up happy because he’s waking up next to his best friend.

Now, though, it’s undeniably a fantasy.

“I mean, yeah, I am,” Paris says, and Tybalt can tell he’s trying to act confident. “I just didn’t think that was news.”

“What the fuck else would getting engaged count as?” Tybalt growls.

He can’t take the sadness. He can’t take the knowledge that Paris will never be his and he will never be Paris’. And so, the sadness quickly becomes anger. Because heartbreak is for those with hearts. And Tybalt does not have a heart.

“I was going to tell you,” Paris offers, his smile completely gone.

“When? I just asked you if you had any news, and you said ‘no, nothing new.’”

“I was going to tell you later. Sometime later.”

“Why not now?” Tybalt asks, crossing his arms over his chest.

“Because-” Paris says and then stops abruptly. Tybalt stares at him, daring him to finish his sentence. “Because-”

****

Because I wanted to pretend for one more day that everything was normal. Because I wanted one more day where I pretended you could love me.

****

“Just because,” Paris finishes lamely.

“That’s a great reason,” Tybalt snaps. He glares at Paris, disgusted. Paris looks guilty, but Tybalt can’t find it within himself to care. Paris broke his heart - or, did whatever you do to a person who does not have a heart. “I can’t believe you’re marrying Rosaline.”

Paris’ eyes harden, and his spine is suddenly made of steel. “What, do you think I’m not good enough for your cousin?”

“Well, you didn’t have the balls to tell me you’re marrying her, so that should be a good indicator.”

It’s cruel. Definitely. But Tybalt wants him to feel just a little of the pain Tybalt is feeling. An eye for an eye. Self-confidence for a heart (or whatever it is that Tybalt has).

Paris stands and takes a step closer to Tybalt, invading his personal space. Tybalt pulls his arms tighter around himself as if to stop himself from leaning forward and kissing the daylights out of Paris.

Paris jabs his finger on Tybalt’s chest, and Tybalt can feel his hot breath on his cheek. Tybalt pretends that this is not hot and reminds himself of how much he hates Paris now.

It doesn’t exactly work, but Tybalt turns up the heat in his glare to compensate.

“I thought you liked me,” Paris says, his voice hard, and every word feels like a punch.

I loved you.

I love you.

“I guess you were wrong."

Tybalt doesn’t know how the conversation got here, but he’s not backing down now. Hurt flashes behind Paris’ eyes, and Tybalt, being a terrible person, feels victorious. Now he knows how Tybalt feels.

“We only ever hung out to plot revenge on Mercutio. That’s all,” Tybalt says, twisting the knife in Paris’ back and deriving a sick sense of happiness.

Paris scoffs loudly and takes a step back. “Seriously? That murder plot or whatever we are calling it now is utter bullshit. We were never going to go through with it.”

No. Suddenly this doesn’t feel so fun. Tybalt feels the power he has in this conversation slipping away; Paris now has the knife and is advancing. Quickly.

“Of course we were going to go through with it,” Tybalt says roughly, trying to sound like he’s not cornered.

“That was a coping mechanism! I got over my shit long ago, but I just went along with the bullshit you spewed because-” he stops abruptly and then continues, “I don’t know why, but the plan is bullshit. It changed so much I don’t even know where we stand.”

“It’s simple,” Tybalt says, and Paris is advancing and Tybalt is stuck in the corner. There’s no way out. He has to try though. He has to. “We just have to tell Escalus that Mercutio is cheating on Juliet, and we’ll get him to turn the other way when we duel.”

“It’s a bullshit plan that would never work in a million years. First of all, Escalus would never agree to it. And second of all, it’s a fucking coping mechanism!”

“It is not,” Tybalt says, and he tries to sound like he’s still got power. He doesn't. He sounds powerless.

“Of course it fucking is! You’re angry about your father dying or Juliet marrying the guy who told the world you’re gay or you need someone to pin your anger on. I don’t know. I’m not a fucking psychiatrist.”

“You sure sound like one."

What Paris is saying is not true. It’s not. So he’s not even listening. What he’s saying is going in one ear and out the other. Nothing he says is affecting him.

If he pretends Paris is not advancing on him with a sword, then he’s not. He just has to pretend.

Paris continues as if he didn’t even hear him, “If you wanted to kill Mercutio, you would have done it months ago. You didn’t need some long plan that would never work even with a million revisions.”

“Stop it,” Tybalt says, and he can feel the tip of the sword on his heart and he feels panic rising.

“Stop the lying,” Paris retorts, and behind his anger, he sounds a bit pleading.

“I’m not lying,” Tybalt growls.

Paris makes a noise of disgust, like he can’t believe Tybalt is being so ridiculous. Then, he drops the sword.

Tybalt blinks twice, shocked he would back down when he had the killing move. He’s not used to mercy.

“See you at the wedding,” Paris says coldly and takes off towards the door.

The reality of the situation hits Tybalt. Paris is leaving, leaving for his wedding. In his focus on the battle, Tybalt forgot about Paris getting married.

And again, Tybalt feels trapped in a corner. This time, though, Paris is not his attacker; he is the only person who wants to help him.

And he’s walking away.

Tybalt wants to yell wait, that he didn’t mean it. Please, just stay. Stay forever.

Instead, he calls, “Who’s your best man?”

The position of the best friend.

Tybalt’s position.

Paris turns slowly right before he reaches the door. “Mercutio,” he says, and the answer couldn’t have hurt more if the letters were made of knives.

“Good choice,” Tybalt replies. “You’re meant for each other.”

Paris glares at him one last time before walking out the door. And probably out of Tybalt’s life forever.

Tybalt watches the door for an abnormally long time after it slams shut, hoping that maybe, Paris will walk back into his life again.

But it does not happen.

Tybalt doesn’t like how close he feels to crying. So, he reminds himself that Paris never loved him, could never love him, and he’s marrying his cousin.

Anger courses through Tybalt’s veins, and he likes the feeling. He missed that feeling. It's a high he'd forgotten about, and he's addicted once again. 

Chapter Text

I thought you liked me.

I guess you were wrong.

Paris looks at himself in the vanity mirror, and he looks more like a reformed cocaine addict than a man less than an hour away from the wedding all of Verona was invited to. Eyes not quite red, but tired and obviously devoid of any more tears, and looking ready to collapse on his feet at any moment. He looks so out of place in one of Escalus' gigantic dressing rooms, waiting for his wedding to begin.

Paris is not an idiot. He knew there was no chance of him and Tybalt getting a happily ever after. But he thought, he believed, Tybalt liked him. Thought Tybalt was his friend. Believed Tybalt was his friend.

Paris wants to believe Tybalt only said that to hurt him. It would be like him - lash out when hurt. And he knows all of Paris’ weak spots, knows where to hit where it would hurt.

But it’s so damn hard to believe that. Paris hasn’t had the greatest history with friends, and history repeats itself. Of course Tybalt didn’t really like him. Of course Paris was just being clingy, projecting his needs and wants on some innocent murderer. Of course Paris was wrong.

Evidence proves conclusively that the two of them were friends. They spent nights at Tom’s Taverns and opened their hearts to each other and saw each other’s tears. It was real.

But for Paris, self-doubt is king. It will always trump evidence and proof because why believe something good about himself when he can believe the worst? He thought Juliet loved him; of course he was wrong about Tybalt too. Of course he was only a burden to Tybalt, not a friend. Of course he didn't love him, not even platonically.

Paris shakes off these thoughts and focuses on combing his hair back. Because his wedding is in less than an hour and he needs to prepare. Prepare for the perfect wedding.

It doesn't feel perfect, though. It feels more like a business transaction than a wedding, a ceremony of love, reminiscent of deals made so many times before.  “We will not invade your country if you give us access to your rivers. Cool?” “I will give my daughter to your son for three cows and a sheep. Cool?” “I will marry you so your abusive uncle doesn’t kill you indirectly or directly and I get the chance to actually help people instead of being a figurehead who accidentally hurts people and plots murder. Also, I’m never gonna get to be with the person I truly love, anyways, so why not, lol? Cool?”

And now that Tybalt has univocally declared that he doesn’t even like Paris, Paris should probably run right out of Escalus’ dressing room and find a place to hide until the guests understand that Paris has ditched his wedding. There is, without a doubt, absolutely no hope for Paris’ fantasy where unicorns are real and Tybalt loves him the way Rosaline and he are supposed to.

But it doesn’t feel like it matters to Paris. No matter how depressed he feels or how exhausted he looks, he wants to go through with this wedding. Because even with no hope for any type of future with Tybalt, he’d rather marry Rosaline than any woman who he might be attracted to or have sex with or might even possibly love. Because, unlike his love with Juliet, which was shallow and based on glances across the room and snippets of conversations, his love for Tybalt is deep. He loves him because he knows him. 

His heart is reserved for Tybalt and Tybalt only, by choice. And maybe it is for this reason that the thought of running from his wedding makes his stomach hurt more than the thought of Rosaline walking down the aisle, the roses he meant for Juliet and he wants for Tybalt in hand. For some reason, for some stupid reason, Paris’ gut is telling him to stay. That he is finally making the right choice. That he shouldn’t run.

The wedding still doesn’t match the magic of his dreams. It still feels a bit like a business transaction. But it’s a business transaction he wants to make, a business transaction he knows, for some reason, will make him happy.

“Why are you glancing at the door? Got cold feet?”

Mercutio is leaning lazily against the wall right next to Paris’ vanity, examining his nails. He looks more like the groom than Paris. He’s dressed to the nines in a deep purple cloak and a yellow tunic and black stockings. Of course Mercutio would want to steal the wedding. It’s Mercutio, for God’s sake.

“Nope,” Paris says, trying to sound like he wasn’t just contemplating leaving Rosaline at the altar. “I’m great.”

“People do get nervous before their wedding. I mean, I didn’t. But not everybody is like me and Juliet.”

“Juliet and I,” Paris corrects.

“Rosaline. You’re marrying Rosaline,” Mercutio says condescendingly. “Juliet is your ex-fiancée. Rosaline is your fiancée.”

As Paris glares as him, doing his best impression of Tybalt, Mercutio raises his arms in mock innocence. “Just doubling-checking you knew.”

“Thanks,” Paris says, sarcastic.

Mercutio goes back to examining his nails, but he glances back to Paris every few moments. Paris can feel his eyes on him. They feel like a thousand insects crawling up and down his arms. “What?” he snaps.

Mercutio shrugs, nonchalant as always. “Just, I’m, like, sorry. You know.”

Paris raises his eyebrows and looks at him incredulously. “Is that an apology or are you having a stroke?”

Mercutio sighs. “I’m sorry for starting the rumor about Tybalt. And not just because Juliet yelled at me. It wasn’t cool. So. Sorry.”

There are so many things Mercutio could apologize to Paris for. Mocking him since his birth “Stealing” his fiancee. So many damn things.

And he chooses to apologize for something he… did to someone else?

“Apologize to Tybalt,” Paris says, coldly. “You need his forgiveness, not mine.”

Mercutio groans and slides against the wall until he is almost squatting. “But he’ll kill me if I talk to him,” he whines.

“Maybe you deserve it,” Paris says with absolutely no sympathy.

Tybalt and he may have gotten into a fight, but that doesn’t change the fact that Mercutio’s stupid fucking rumor almost got him killed. Mercutio almost killed Tybalt, and for that, he deserves any punishment Tybalt deems necessary. Death, honestly, would be merciful.

“Naw. I can’t die and take this body from the world. That just wouldn’t be fair,” Mercutio says with that shit-eating grin Paris hates.

Paris really hates this dude. He turns his glare up a degree to I want to kill you now and internally lists the reasons for wanting to kill this dude so bad.

  1. Almost killed the love of his life
  2. Married the woman who he thought was the love of his life and said “the better man won” like a true asshole
  3. Tormented him since birth
  4. Almost killed the love of his life
  5. Is cheating on one of the sweetest women on the planet
  6. Embarrassed him in front of the Prince of Venice, who he now realizes was his childhood crush
  7. ALMOST KILLED THE LOVE OF HIS LIFE

So yeah. Paris hates this dude.

“Why don’t we just not talk? Paris snaps, knowing that if he hears Mercutio’s voice for one more second, he’s going to strangle him until Mercutio can’t breathe anymore or until Mercutio stabs Paris and there is a knife in his back.

Not literally, of course. Because Paris has since realized that murder isn’t always the solution. Doesn’t mean he doesn’t want to murder Mercutio sometimes.

“You really got a stick up your ass, don’t you, Connie?” Mercutio teases. He now looks comfortable in his wall-sitting position, and somehow, despite how precarious it is, looks fucking smug.

Paris wants to wipe that smug grin off his face.

Instead, Paris focuses on straightening his tunic, tries to pretend Mercutio is just some annoying gnat who is not worth his time and mutters something about everything he’d like to shove up Mercutio’s ass.

****

“Can you believe it’s been over five months since I got married and you were the maid of honor?” Juliet asks, braiding Rosaline’s hair in one of the thousands of rooms in the Prince’s palace. Rosaline is sitting at a vanity, munching on some strawberries, while Juliet stands behind her.

“If you say something about how time flies, I will murder you,” Rosaline says, her sharp smile a stark contrast to the laurel in her hair and her flowing angelic dress.

At first glance, she looks like an angel, descended from the heavens. At second, you wonder if it’s heaven she came from.

Juliet warmly responds, “Not if I kill you first.”

Their eyes meet in the mirror, and the understanding that they are two sides of the same Capulet coin seems to pass. They are bonded through more than blood, spilled or flowing through their veins, and horror; they are bonded, forever, through their friendship.

“You got a really good guy,” Juliet says.

“Yeah,” Rosaline says, softer than usual, and suddenly, she doesn’t look like an angel or a demon. She just looks like a sixteen-year-old in a wedding dress. “I got lucky.”

“It’s a good thing I didn’t love him,” Juliet says, focusing back on the intricate braiding. “He’s meant for you.”

Rosaline hums softly but doesn’t respond. Juliet continues, “If we have kids, would they be cousins? Because it seems like they should be closer. You know, since we’re cousins and Mercutio and Paris are cousins.”

“I don’t think I’m going to have kids,” Rosaline says, her back stiffening. Juliet attributes that to her braiding, and she makes sure to pull on her hair less.

“Why not? Kids are the best. And if we have kids, all we need to do is get Paris and Mercutio to get along. Then we can have playdates together all the time.”

“You’re going to have kids?” Rosaline asks dubiously.

Juliet snaps her head up, startled out of her fantasy. It’s so easy to forget she’s not really married, that she’ll never have that future of love for eternity and kids with a husband she loves.

And yeah, it’s great being married to Mercutio. But it’s so unconventional. Sometimes, she wants the conventional. The type of marriage where you have sex, where you love each other romantically, where you’re husband and wife.

She said Mercutio when talking to Rosaline, but she didn’t picture him. Just dark-haired children running around the yard with children with blonde hair and ice-blue eyes. Rosaline would be standing beside her, pregnant with another child, with Paris on her arm.

It’s kind of the perfect future. The future she always yearned for, and the future she knows she’ll never get.

She married Mercutio so she could be with Romeo and have that (sort of) future with him. Now, she’s just some guy’s beard. She wouldn’t trade it for the world, but all her life, she dreamed of love and family. She’s not so sure that she’s going to ever get that now.

“I don’t know,” Juliet says after a moment of disillusionment. “We’re young, after all.”

Rosaline smiles, less sharp than usual, and again, she is just a sixteen-year-old in a wedding dress. “Kids are gross anyway,” says the sixteen-year-old, a mere child herself.

“Snotty little creatures,” Juliet says, smiling at Rosaline in the mirror.

Juliet finishes Rosaline’s braid and ties the end up. “Done! How’s it look?”

Rosaline examines herself in the mirror. “Great,” she says, and then she promptly pulls off the hair tie, runs her fingers through the formerly perfect braid, and shakes her head until her hair is loose from the confines of the braid.

Juliet shrieks, a sound she finds all together too damsel-in-distress-esque, yet she doesn’t stop it. “What are you doing? I spent an hour on that!”

Rosaline smirks, and she is the devil in angel’s clothing once more. Her smile alone would make men fall to their knees to grovel for mercy. “It kept you busy. I didn’t want you nervous.”

Juliet scoffs. She wants to say that she’s not a child who needs a toy to keep her occupied, but there is a bit of truth in the statement. She couldn’t worry about details when she was worried about whether she had to move that bit of hair to the left or right.

“Angry at me, sis?” Rosaline says, turning around on the stool with that dangerous, strawberry-stained smile that Juliet has come to love.

“It’s your wedding day. I’ll give you a pass.”

Rosaline stands and shakes her hair out once more. Honestly, it looks better like that; more free, less confined. It’s messy, sure, with some pieces still twisted together and other parts frizzy, but it’s totally and completely Rosaline, the angel, the devil, and the sixteen-year-old.

“Hey,” Juliet says softly, taking one of Rosaline’s hands. Rosaline lets her reluctantly, but Juliet knows she doesn’t mind; if she did, her hand would be gone. “Tell me if he hurts you, okay? I know it doesn’t seem like that now and he’s a good guy and all, but you never know.”

“He won’t hurt me,” Rosaline says confidently.

“Promise me you’ll tell me.”

Rosaline shakes her head fondly. “I promise, sis.”

Juliet smiles at her cousin. She loves this girl, and she’d do anything to protect her. Two-sides of the same coin, joined by more than blood.

“Can I hug you?” Juliet asks, knowing how Rosaline hates hugs or anything vaguely mushy.

Rosaline sighs loudly. “Fine,” she says dramatically. “If you want to.”

Juliet wraps Rosaline in her arms. She’s stiff at first, unused to being touched, but then, she relaxes. Rosaline pulls Juliet in closer, now fully committed to the hug.

“Be happy,” Juliet whispers.

“You, too,” Rosaline replies without her usual snark or bite. “You deserve it.”

The door to the dressing room opens and Juliet can almost feel the wedding panic seep in. “Girls!” Pam calls. “The wedding is about to begin! We can’t have the bride be late to her own wedding.”

Rosaline lets go of Juliet and picks up the train of her dress. “Why not? I think they’d wait for me.”

Pam glares at her, but she’s too motherly for either Juliet or Rosaline to take it seriously. “If you’re not joking, young lady, I swear to all that is holy-”

“She’s joking, Pam,” Juliet interrupts. She glances at Rosaline. “Right?”

Rosaline pops one last strawberry into her mouth and glides out the door. “Catch me to find out!” she calls behind her.

Pam shakes her head. “That girl will be the death of me.”

“I wouldn’t doubt it,” Juliet jokes, and speedwalks down the hall after Rosaline, going extra fast to make sure Rosaline was joking about seeing if the guests would wait for her.

Because you just never know with Rosaline Capulet.

****

Paris stands under the rose-covered arch, Mercutio a step behind him, close enough that he could easily stab Paris in the back with a tiny blade.

It’s the perfect day for a wedding. The sky is cloudless, probably because Rosaline threatened them, and the sun is shining. The garden is huge and surrounded by a tall shrub “wall” with an entrance that leads right to the aisle covered in white rose petals. The flowers behind the arch and Paris are almost smiling under the light, flaunting their beauty for the guests in the hundreds of rows of chairs to admire.

Paris looks out into the sea of chairs. They are all filled except for two in the front row. They are stand out, an imperfection in the perfect rows.

The rest of the front row is filled with Capulets. A blonde with blue eyes is watching Paris in a way that tells him that it is Rosaline’s father and he has to beware. Lady Capulet is sitting to his left, but she blends into the sea.

Capulet is not there. And Tybalt isn’t there either.

Paris doesn’t like how disappointed he feels. Tybalt hates him. He literally said so. So Paris should be happy the man who hates him and who broke his heart isn’t here. Tybalt won’t be there to distract him and make his heart hurt more.

But despite everything that was said, Paris still wants Tybalt there. He’d want Tybalt anywhere.

Paris wants to tap his foot to get some of his nerves out, but Mercutio is right behind him, and Paris doesn’t want to show any weakness. Like when you’re training a dog; you have to establish yourself as the alpha or they will take advantage of you and eat your dinner right off the table.

Instead, Paris stares expectantly down the white-rose-petal-covered aisle between the chairs.

At the entrance of the aisle, a man appears. Tybalt. In all black. Like he’s coming to a funeral, not his cousin’s wedding.

Paris wanted him here, but now, his heart is pounding. He doesn’t know what to do when all he wants is for Tybalt to walking down the aisle as his fiance, not as a guest to his cousin’s wedding. He doesn’t know what to do when said love of his life hates his guts.

Tybalt storms down the aisle to his seat in the front row and collapses into the chair. He crosses his arms over his chest sullenly, like a child. He ignores his relatives sitting next to him and ignores the wave Rosaline’s father offers him.

Paris tries to meet his gaze because, no matter what they’ve been through, Paris wants to show him just how sorry he is for what he said and just how happy he is that Tybalt is here.

Tybalt refuses, though, setting his sight on some flower in the background. It feels like Tybalt is telling him they’re not friends again. Like Mercutio has decided to stab him in the back.

Music from the orchestra begins playing, and everyone simultaneously turns around to face the entrance, Paris included.

Juliet appears from behind the wall of shrubs and begins walking down the aisle, a duty as Rosaline’s maid of honor. She is wearing an emerald green embroidered dress, her hair in a French braid, and holding a bouquet of white roses.

In an alternate universe, she would be walking down the aisle to marry him. Paris’ heart would have burst with joy at how beautiful she looked, and she would have smiled shyly at him.

It feels like a lifetime ago he loved Juliet.

Juliet takes her place across from Mercutio. He must have done something because she rolls her eyes at him. It doesn’t make sense that he’s cheating on her, but that’s a thought for a day that’s not his wedding.

Rosaline appears at the entrance, her arm held tightly by Capulet himself.

Paris’ first thought is that Rosaline looks like she’s floating. His second is, why is her uncle walking her down the aisle when her father is literally sitting right there?

And then he remembers: it’s a fucked-up family dynamic with Capulet as the patriarch and controller. Capulet walks slowly down the aisle, in step with the music. Every few seconds, Rosaline gets half-a-step ahead, and then she is subtly yanked back into step with Capulet.

They reach the end of the aisle, and Capulet lets her go with a kiss to the cheek. Giving away the bride, they call it. Paris has never been so happy to see this tradition performed.

Rosaline takes her place across from Paris. Her face is unreadable.

“Nervous?” Paris whispers.

Then, her signature smirk breaks out, and Paris is relieved. “Nope.”

“Yeah. Me neither,” he lies.

Out of seemingly nowhere, Friar Lawrence pops up (it must have been the garden behind them. was he crouching in the bed of flowers behind them? for how long? and why? for a dramatic entrance?). Paris jumps; Rosaline is unaffected.

“Jesus,” Paris mutters, placing a hand on his heart.

“Don’t take the lord’s name in vain,” Friar Lawrence, the part-time door-to-door drug dealer, responds.

Paris nods like a child chastised. Because the part-time door-to-door drug dealer is also a part-time friar.

Friar Lawrence takes a large book out of his frock, and Paris wonders how he was able to walk around with that thing weighing him down and how his frock didn’t fall right off him. He begins reading from it in low, hypnotizing tone. Paris hangs on every word because every word is one step closer to being married.

He tells the story of a woman who had to obey a man, and Rosaline looks like she is going to rip the friar’s eyes out. Juliet steps on the train of her gown to keep her from lunging at him.

Eventually, Friar Lawrence reaches the vows, and before Paris knows it, he is promising to love, cherish, and worship Rosaline and slipping a simple silver ring onto Rosaline’s finger.

“And do you, Rosaline Capulet, promise to love, cherish, and obey till death do you part?”

Juliet immediately steps farther up on Rosaline’s gown so her ability to move without ripping the dress is extremely limited. It’s probably a good idea because Rosaline’s look alone looks like it could kill Friar Lawrence for the ‘obey’ part. Paris doesn’t want to see what she’d do with control of the rest of her body.

Paris isn’t sure if she is going to even agree, but she ends up growling, “I do,” glaring at Friar Lawrence the whole time. She must have decided that the whole wedding is a farce; they’re not going to love each other either, but they need to be married. Might as well agree to the bullshit vows they’re going to break a thousand times over.

Without breaking eye contact with the friar, she gropes for Paris’ hand and, after finding it, practically shoves the ring on. Paris tries to hide his wince.

It’s not the romantic vows Paris always dreamed of. But it feels right, somehow. Yeah, he wishes it was Tybalt looking like he was going to murder the friar instead of Rosaline, but, for some reason, he doesn’t feel regret. He isn’t sweating or freaking out; this, he knows, somehow, that this is right.

“You may kiss the bride.”

Shit. Paris may have forgotten about this part.

Rosaline glares at him for a second longer, then turns to Paris. They stare at each other for half a second, daring the other to make the first move. Paris awkwardly puts his hand on Rosaline’s waist, a foot of pure tension between them, and prepares himself for his hand to be cut off.

Rosaline appears to make up her mind about something, determination in her ice-blue eyes, and quickly, so quickly Paris can’t even react, leans in for a kiss.

Neither of their lips move the entire time. It’s like pressing a hand or napkin to your mouth, except it smells like danger, old parchment, and strawberries.

It is, without a doubt, the most awkward three seconds of Paris’ life.

But the guests go crazy with applause, and the orchestra begins to play music again, and Paris feels rice hitting his shoulder.

So, they pull back. Paris would look down, embarrassed, after that pressing of the lips (it cannot even count as a kiss), but Rosaline stares at him stoically, as if daring him to look away. Instead, Paris holds out his arm for her, and she takes it. They walk down the aisle together, arm-in-arm, through the sea of cheering citizens and towards a future they can no longer back away from. There is no running now.

Chapter Text

The wedding party at the palace, the same place as Juliet and Mercutio’s party, passes quickly.

Rosaline and Paris dance, both very conscious of each others’ hands on each others’ hips. Tybalt sulks in a corner. Paris thanks guests for coming. Tybalt sulks by the punch bowl. Rosaline almost stabs a man for his sexist comments. Tybalt drinks some punch. Mercutio and Juliet dance, obnoxiously happy. Tybalt sulks in a different corner. Escalus gives a toast that somehow makes Paris feel inferior. Mercutio gives a toast that contains the words “pussy” and “get some.” Tybalt leaves. Paris has nobody to stare at.

All in all, a boring evening.

After the party, Rosaline and Paris walk back to their new house in silence. Paris doesn’t know what to say. Nice weather tonight, huh? Also, we're spending the rest of our lives together and we barely know each other and I'm in love with someone else and have I mentioned that we're spending the rest of our lives together? Oh, but nice weather, so that makes everything else okay. That doesn’t sound right, and he can’t think of anything else to say, so he doesn’t say anything.

The silence feels awkward, uncomfortable, to Paris, but Rosaline appears unaware of any tension, storming through the night in her angelic wedding dress with her heels in her hand. Her feet must be freezing. It’s the middle of the night in the middle of fall. But it doesn’t seem to affect her.

Rosaline has no clue where they’re headed, but she still leads the two of them. Paris follows a step behind, and whenever they have to make a turn, he speaks, breaking the almost holy silence.

When they pass a large, white house with a perfectly manicured yard and an intricately designed fence, Rosaline continues walking without a second glance. Paris grabs her arm before she continues down the street. Rosaline immediately stops walking and glares at Paris, and Paris lets go instantly.

“This is it,” Paris says, gesturing stiffly at the house.

Rosaline looks at the house for the first time, and her mouth tightens like she just ate something sour. “This?” she says with blatant disgust.

“Yeah,” Paris says. He’s a bit defensive when he says, “It’s a wedding gift from Escalus. What’s wrong with it?”

“It looks like a wedding cake.”

It does, honestly. But Escalus picked it out especially for them. Well, most likely someone else did and Escalus just handed Paris the keys. But still. It’s a thoughtful gift, and they should appreciate it. It’s the polite thing to do.

Rosaline continues, “We’re not living here." She speaks with complete decisiveness, zero hesitation. Paris doesn't think he's ever sounded this way once in his life. He's definitely never for a life decision made within ten seconds. 

Feebly, because how can he counter such a voice, he protests, “But we haven’t even seen the inside yet.”

Still strong: “Unless it’s somehow smaller inside, I won’t like it and I won’t live here.”

Still weak: “We have to. It’s our house. Our furniture and belongings are inside.”

“Do you like it?” Rosaline asks, turning towards Paris.

For a second, Paris thinks it’s a trick question. Surely she doesn’t care what he thinks. She's got the power here. She always has the power. But she stays silent, waiting for his answer, and her eyes search his face as she waits for his answer. Maybe he's not as weak in this conversation as he thought.

Paris shrugs, trying to keep all of the negative emotions off his face so she won’t see the truth. Now that it's obvious that his opinion makes a difference, he doesn't know what to say. His instant reaction was, in all honesty, similar to Rosaline's. The house really looks like a wedding cake. And it’s so big. And so perfect.

He could lie in order to greater his chance of staying at this house and being polite, but he ends up blurting out the truth: “Not really, but-”

“Then let’s go,” Rosaline says like it’s just that simple.

“It’s a gift, though.” His voice is still weak in comparison to Rosaline's, but it's not because she's overpowering him. It's because he can't convince himself to want to stay. He can convince himself to stay, but only out of obligation. He can't convince himself to want to. And Rosaline knows this. She's arguing on behalf of both of them. 

“Gifts are returnable. We can sell the house and buy one we actually like. The furniture can be moved. Nothing is permanent.”

“But it’s not polite.”

Rosaline shrugs, the wind blowing her blonde curls ever so slightly. She must be freezing in that lacy wedding dress with no shoes on, but she doesn’t even shiver. “Who gives a fuck?” She throws her heels onto the perfectly manicured lawn. “We can get those tomorrow. I’m sick of carrying them.”

She then turns down the street and begins walking away from the house and towards town.

Paris could try to argue more. But really, it’d be like arguing with mother nature; you can’t change her mind. And really, he doesn't want to. That house looks like a wedding cake.

Paris hurries after Rosaline. He has no idea where she’s going, but she probably has a plan. Probably.

You never quite know with Rosaline Capulet.

Within minutes, they are in the town square. Usually, it is bustling with people and chickens and dogs and literally anything alive, and you have to keep one hand on your wallet to make sure it doesn’t get stolen. Now, though, the whole city is asleep, and the town is eerily silent. Rosaline’s dress flows in the night, and from behind, she looks like she is floating. 

Rosaline makes a sharp turn into a tiny building right next to Tom’s Tavern that Paris had no idea even existed. Paris scurries after her and ends up right in front of a desk with an elderly woman dozing on it. Paris belatedly realizes that this is an inn. It smells like a combination of whiskey and firewood, and Paris does not want to think about all the fire hazards going on here.

Paris isn’t sure what to do with the sleeping woman: wake her? let her sleep and hope she wakes up soon? leave and find a different inn?

Rosaline has no qualms, and she slams her fist on the desk right next to the woman’s head. Paris and the woman both jerk back, the woman almost falling off her chair.

“We’d like a room,” Rosaline says with a forced smile. 

The woman blinks as if to make sure she’s still not dreaming, and then she slowly smiles, her teeth crooked and yellow. Her nose is slightly tilted, like it’s made of putty and it was smushed from sleeping on a desk.

“Lovebirds, eh? Just couldn’t wait until the morning to see each other, heh?” she says with a knowing crooked grin.

Rosaline crosses her arms, and her forced grin doesn’t meet her eyes. “It’s our honeymoon. How much for a room?”

“Honeymoon, heh?” she says, savoring the words like she’s positively delighted. “If you break the bed, that’s extra. Don’t worry, though, honey, it’s happened before. Usually, it’s with sweet girls who look like you.”

Paris internally prays for the woman. God help her; she just called Rosaline “honey.”

Rosaline slams some coins on the desk, and it quivers in fear. “That should more than cover it. Added in a little extra so I never have to talk to you again.”

The woman's mouth hangs ajar. After a moment, she reaches into the desk and pulls out a showy bronze key. “Room 104,” she says after she regains the ability to speak.

Rosaline smiles, this time not forced. Paris swears she’s part wolf because the corners of her teeth are definitely at least a little pointed. “Thanks, honey,” Rosaline says, her voice dripping with condescension.

Rosaline storms down the hall, her wedding dress almost blowing up to the back of her thighs, and Paris scurries after her.

Rosaline unlocks the door, and Paris closes it after them, locking themselves into their honeymoon suite. The room is small. Very tiny, in fact. It just barely fits the bed, which is barely bigger than a twin. It is all deep reds and browns, and the whiskey smell got stronger.

Rosaline sits down on the edge of the bed and pulls off a pair of worn leather riding boots.

“You wore boots,” Paris says stupidly.

Rosaline nods. “Yep.”

“That’s how your feet didn’t freeze.”

“I wasn’t going to wear heels the whole evening. They hurt like hell. You should try it.”

She doesn't sound sarcastic, but Paris can't place the tone, so he doesn’t know how to reply. Instead of doing so, he just leans against the door for a few moments with the bronze key in his hand, watching his wife take her riding boots off.

Because Paris hates silence and his tolerance for it has been soaked up by their long walk, he says, without any thought, “You didn’t have to be so rude to her.”

Rosaline doesn’t look up from her boots. “Why? I didn’t like her.”

He's in this now, and he can't seem to back down. “You just met her! She might be very nice!”

“I go with my gut.”

“Maybe her son just died, and you just hurt her feelings and that’s what’s going to drive her to suicide.”

Rosaline actually laughs at this. Like, full-body laughs. Her head falls to her lap, and her body shakes. Paris is a bit insulted. It’s a logical concern. He huffs a bit and crosses his arms as she laughs hysterically.

Finally, after minutes (literal minutes), Rosaline sits back up and wipes tears away from her eyes. “Dude, if she commits suicide, it’s not because I called her honey and glared a bit. She’s got bigger issues than me.”

“But what if it’s the last straw? What if it’s the last thing that shoves her over the brink?” Paris presses.

“Dude, seriously? You can’t go through life thinking every little move you make is life-or-death. Live a little. No one’s going to die if you tell them to fuck off.”

Rosaline pulls her last shoe off and drops it to the ground. She then stands and bunches the train of her wedding dress up in her hands so that her calves are free. Rosaline steps up onto the crappy bed that Paris is sure way too many people have had sex on and begins violently jumping. The bed creaks loudly, protesting.

“What are you doing?” Paris asks.

“Breaking the bed.” Rosaline jumps around in a circle, and when she faces him again, she says, “Help me.”

“What? No!” Paris says, appalled. “She said not to break the bed.”

“Yeah, and I’m breaking the rules. Justice. She was irritating.” She laughs softly as she jumps extra high, and Paris is reminded, again, that he is married to a sixteen-year-old. Her hair bounces with her, and she looks so young. “Jump with me. Live a little.”

Maybe it’s because she looks so young and happy. Maybe it’s because he actually wants to live a little and break some rules without thinking of the consequences. Maybe it’s because he’s really freaking tired and he’s not thinking clearly. But Paris rolls his eyes and pulls off his shoes. “Fine,” he sighs, acting like he’s doing her a huge favor and like he doesn’t actually want to do this.

Rosaline smiles, less sharp than usual, at him and does a twirl in midair. Paris steps up onto the bed and joins her, jumping lightly at first. After a minute, though, he gets into it and they are both jumping as high as they can.

Without speaking in more than childlike giggles, they start a contest of who can jump higher. Rosaline wins, and she manages to look smug without even admitting it was a contest in the first place. Then they try to jump at the exact same instant to make it so that they are almost flung into the air by the bed.

It is insanely fun.

After Rosaline and Paris manage to slam down on the bed at the exact same instant, there is a crack. The middle of the bed instantly collapses, ever so slightly, but both of them scurry off the bed, scared of their weight making the bed plunge to the floor.

Paris and Rosaline stare at the bed for a moment and pant for breath. “Well,” Paris says at last, “we broke the bed.”

“Hallelujah,” Roseline says, her smile sharp again. “And no one died.”

“Shockingly,” Paris adds dryly, thinking of the way they scurried off.

They watch the bed for a moment more, admiring the small indent in the center. “We don’t have any pajamas,” Paris realizes suddenly. “Or literally anything. It’s all at our house.”

“The wedding cake,” Rosaline amends.

“What are we supposed to do?” Paris asks.

Rosaline shrugs. “Only thing we can do.” She turns around and says, “Unbutton me.”

Paris blinks, surprised. “Are you sure?”

“I have a slip under here, relax,” Rosaline snaps. “Still not into sex. Sorry to disappoint.”

“No. I wasn’t- I wasn’t thinking that,” Paris stutters, his face heating.

Rosaline’s posture relaxes. “I know. Sorry. Gut reaction to asking a guy to take my dress off.”

Paris nods even though her back is to him. He gently begins unbuttoning her dress, and her posture tenses. Slightly. Still not a lot.

The pearl buttons go all the way down to her hips. Then, it almost slides off of her. As soon as that happens, Paris very pointedly looks up to the ceiling.

“You can look at me. It’s fine,” Rosaline says.

“I’m good,” Paris says, examining the cracks in the ceiling. He thinks he sees a termite crawling out of one of them, and he quickly begins examining a different crack.

“It’s much weirder this way, dude.”

Paris admits to himself that yes, this is weird. He forces his head down and meets Rosaline’s ice-blue eyes. He makes sure not to look any further down because that feels very un-gentleman-y and like he’d be taking advantage of the situation and like he wants to see all of her he can without her permission and he doesn’t, not even if he had her permission.

“You’re still being weird.”

“Sorry,” he says, and he forces himself to relax and look at her like usual.

She looks very vulnerable in her white slip, and he can tell she is forcing herself not to cross her arms over her chest.

“You know you’re safe, right? Like, I’m not one of those guys.”

“I know,” she replies instantly. She stares at him for a second, and then, quieter, more sincerely, she repeats, “I know. It’s just… there’s not a lot of guys like that. So it’s hard to believe you’re okay with this… no-sex-with-the-nearly-naked-girl-next-to-you thing.”

“Even if I wasn’t, I wouldn’t do anything.” Paris raises his right hand. “I swear, I try anything, and you can kill me on the spot.’

Rosaline nods, looking comforted by these words. He can see her guard drop, her eyes looking slightly less icy. Unguarded, they look younger, more innocent, and riddled with needless anxieties. He feels something akin to empathy in that moment, and he knows, in that moment, that his gut was right: it was the right decision to marry this fucked-up girl. 

She blows out the candle, and darkness encompasses the two of them. The bed creaks in protest as she lies down, one bad move away from breaking completely in half. “Goodnight, dude."

“Goodnight, Rosaline,” Paris repeats. He's a bit scared she may accidentally kill him that night, but he has to take that risk. He's in this marriage for better or worse, for life or death. 

Paris strips down to his underwear in the dark and lies down next to Rosaline, careful not to touch her. He knows by her breathing that she is not asleep yet, but neither say a word. 

****

Mercutio pleaded with Juliet to entertain Romeo at his house while Mercutio “entertained” Benvolio at their house. Mercutio said that as long as Juliet and Romeo are friends, they need to get the fuck out of some houses.

That’s Juliet’s excuse. That’s why she’s showing up at Romeo’s house at midnight in a maid of honor’s dress and heels that are killing her. That’s what she’ll say if he asks why the woman who broke his heart is disturbing him again.

Juliet hasn’t been to Romeo’s house in forever. Not since they were married or dating or whatever they were doing. She forgot how much bigger it is than her place and how messy the lawn is. It hasn’t really been that long, but the grass looks so much taller.

Juliet takes a deep breath, rehearses her excuse and phony laugh, walks up the stone walkway, and knocks on the door.

Romeo answers the door within seconds - so quickly that Juliet is in the middle of running of her excuse for the last (and thirtieth) time.

Juliet clamps her mouth shut quickly, hoping he didn’t see her mumbling to herself like a lunatic. She then smiles in a way that she hopes says Surprise! I’m just this spontaneous! Lol, hope you don’t mind me coming over to your house at midnight! That smile involves a lot of teeth and very raised eyebrows.

Romeo, for his part, doesn’t look that horrified to see her on his doorstep. In fact, he even looks kind of happy, his face doing that puppy-dog-lighting-up thing. “Juliet!” he says, saying her name like it’s a joy. Juliet’s smile becomes a bit more genuine. “I was just thinking about you! Come in!”

Juliet comes in slowly, a bit baffled, and a bit confused that she didn’t have to say her excuse yet. The room is bright, and the fire in the living room is on. “You were thinking about me?”

“Yep. I made toast, and I was thinking about the time we made bread,” Romeo says, closing the door behind him.

“You make a lot of toast, don’t you?” Juliet says. He talked about making bread the last time she saw him.

“I make very good toast." He makes it sound like a fact and not a brag. He walks over to the counter and holds a plate of black char out to her in invitation. “Do you want some?”

Juliet glances at the plate and realizes that the black char is, in fact, very burnt toast. “I’m good,” Juliet says, a bit amused in spite of herself.

Romeo shrugs, takes a piece, and takes a large bite of it. “Your loss.”

Juliet realizes she never told Romeo why she’s here and thinks that he’s probably wondering why and probably thinking she’s some creepy stalker. So she quickly says, “I just came from a wedding.”

Romeo continues chewing and nods once. “Okay.”

Juliet doesn’t understand his response. It doesn’t sound judgemental. She must not have explained herself well. “I mean, that’s why I’m here. I mean, not really. I mean, that’s where Mercutio and I were coming from and they wanted time to ‘whoopee-canoodle,’ you know. So that’s why I’m here.”

Romeo nods again and swallows his mouthful of burnt toast. He chuckles under his breath. “Okay.”

“Okay?” Juliet repeats, more confused.

“Okay. I don’t care why you’re here.” He smiles gently. “It’s nice that you’re here.”

“Oh,” Juliet says softly. She doesn’t get why he’s being so nice to her. She broke up with him, broke his heart. One fun day together doesn’t change that. But she’s grateful. “Thank you.”

Suddenly, Juliet is aware that it’s just the two of them, standing in the kitchen at midnight with a fire roaring behind them. It’s very quiet. “You look beautiful.”

Juliet immediately glances down at her emerald gown. Before she can respond, Romeo quickly says, “Shit. Sorry. Was that okay? I don’t really know the rules or anything. Can I say you look nice? I probably shouldn’t even though you always look nice. I’m not trying to flirt or anything, it’s just a fact.”

Juliet interrupts, “Romeo. Relax. It’s fine.” She gives a little twirl, making the dress flow outwards and making herself feel like a princess. “I do look beautiful.”

Romeo takes her hand and spins her once more. “You really do.”

Juliet continues spinning, this time in the opposite direction. She’s dizzy, but she doesn’t want to stop until the walls spin. “I really do.”

Chapter Text

When Paris wakes up, his back is killing him. Man is not meant to sleep in a broken bed that collapses right in the center, where the butt lands. Paris sits up and twists, cracking his back and trying to rid himself of the pain.

He notices Rosaline is not next to him. His first guess is that she is threatening the woman at the front desk in a method involving knives.

Then he looks up; his bones jump. And he no longer has to guess.

Rosaline is leaning against the wall, her wedding dress back on, but it is rumpled with layers torn off and the bottom coated in mud and grass stains. She is watching Paris intently, and Paris’ first thought is that this is how he dies.

“Rosaline,” Paris gasps, one hand over his naked chest and heart. “You scared me.”

She smiles; Paris does not know how a smile can look so dangerous. “I know. I wanted to.”

Paris opens his mouth to respond, but he cannot think of a response. He glances back down at the mud stains, and then back up to her face. “Did you go somewhere?”

She steps over to the bed and sits on the edge, leaning towards Paris almost flirtily with that dangerous smile. “I bought us a house, honey.”

Paris leans back. “Wait, what?”

Rosaline drops the jokingly flirty pose and lifts her legs up onto the bed, sitting criss-cross applesauce. “I bought us a house,” she repeats as if this makes it any more rational. “I left early, and I found one. Out in the woods.” At Paris’ panicked expression, she adds, “But not so far out in the woods you’ll get eaten by wolves. We’re still close to town, don’t worry.”

“How did you even find a house that was for sale?” Paris asks, still slightly in shock.

“Oh, it wasn’t for sale,” Rosaline says calmly. “I found a house I liked, so I knocked on the door. A man answered. I asked if he’d like to trade his house for a small mansion in the best area of Verona. He told me to fuck off and that I was disturbing his sleep. Using my charms, I convinced him to come into town and see the house then decide. He was very amiable then.”

“Your charms?”

“Yeah. My knives. They’re very charming. Cute, even.” To prove her point, she pulls a small, silver blade with an intricately carved oak handle out of her boot. She wipes the edge on her dress to clean it. She points it at Paris to show it off, and he scurries back on the mattress and hits his against the wall.

“Ow,” Paris whispers, rubbing his head.

Rosaline ignores his pain and continues, “So anyway, we then worked out an amazing trade. He gets a beautiful house to raise his three children in, and we get a house with actual character and that doesn’t look like a fucking wedding cake. So it worked out perfectly.”

Paris is kind of glad he hit his head because it felt like the shock was knocked out of him. “You threatened a man into giving up his home?”

“That sounds so ugly,” Rosaline says, still too calm, now leaning back on the bed at a forty-five-degree angle. She’s like a cat, sitting in strange places and bending at seemingly uncomfortable angles that she finds very comfortable.

“But it’s true,” Paris says, horrified.

Rosaline shrugs, obviously nonplussed. “He wasn’t hurt.”

“You can’t do that,” Paris says, completely alarmed. If someone woke him up in the middle of the night and then threatened him with a knife, he’d have nightmares for the rest of his life. Rosaline can’t just do that someone.

Rosaline finally sees his distress, and she tones down the apathy a degree. “Dude, it’s seriously fine. After I showed him the wedding cake, I apologized in a very ladylike manner for pulling the knife on him, and he accepted. I made it very clear he did not have to accept my deal, but he was practically salivating at the mouth. It’s totally fine.”

“You can’t just pull a knife on an innocent person,” Paris repeats. “You just can’t.”

Rosaline sighs. “It really bothers you that much, huh?”

“It would bother any sane person this much!” Paris practically screeches. He’s aware he sounds like a velociraptor and he’s probably waking up the whole inn, but whatever. Rosaline also threatened the owner of this whiskey-smelling fire hazard, so chances are, he’s not getting kicked out.

“Fine,” she sighs. She raises her right hand and states, “I swear to God I will not pull a knife on someone unless they deserve it.” She lowers it and cocks her head at Paris. “Happy?”

“I don’t believe you.” Why would he? She’s practically insane.

“Why not? I’m a good, church-going girl,” she says with a smirk. Paris eyes her dubiously. He’d believe almost anyone was a good, church-going girl over her. Rosaline drops the smirk and looks straight into Paris’ eyes. “And my word means something. Trust me here, Paris. Like I trust you.”

The words hit Paris hard. She does trust him. A lot. She told him that she never wanted love or sex. She married him on his word that he was honorable. She slept in the bed next to him in just her underwear.

Despite her lunacy, she trusts him. And despite his functioning brain, Paris’ gut trusts her.

“What if I don’t like the house?” Paris asks instead of answering.

Rosaline’s face brightens, and Paris instantly knows his gut is right. He can trust this cheerful and slightly violent sixteen-year-old. He shouldn’t, but he is going to.

“Then we’ll trade it again.” When Paris opens his mouth to argue, Rosaline quickly adds, “A trade where I won’t use my charms in the negotiations. Promise.”

Paris nods, satisfied. “You’re way too much like your cousin.”

“Juliet?” Rosaline asks, and she sounds a bit surprised. “Most people think we’re very different.”

“Yeah. I mean Juliet.”

****

Tybalt has a problem. And no, it is not that Paris married Rosaline or that he might have just found out that his murdering scheme was a coping mechanism or that he now has no way to complete his totally real murder scheme (that wasn’t at all a coping mechanism) with Paris.

No. None of those are bothering him at all. Because who cares about people? Tybalt doesn’t need them.

The real problem is that Tybalt is bored.

Paris was irritating. So goddamn irritating with his optimism and his awkwardness and how he made Tybalt have human feelings. Just so irritating. Tybalt is thrilled he’s out of his life.

But it turns out, Paris was the only thing occupying his day. As a Capulet, Tybalt was lucky (so goddamn lucky), so he never had to work a day in his life. Which has always been awesome. But now, Tybalt is used to being annoyed, and he needs something to do besides from lying in his bed and staring at the ceiling, which is what he’s been doing since last night because who needs sleep?

Tybalt needs something to do. He could work on a new murder scheme, but every time he starts to think of murdering Mercutio, he hears coping mechanism, and his brain freezes and his palms get sweaty.

So he’ll work on murdering Mercutio tomorrow; Mercutio can wait. It’ll make his death all the more glorious. It’s like how you only eat dessert after you eat your dinner; the waiting makes the reward even better.

He could try talking to Paris. That’ll make his life annoying again. But that makes his palms sweat, too. And he’s glad, thrilled, Paris is out of his life. Now he can annoy Rosaline for the rest of her life.

He could… actually, he has no other possibilities. Those two things were literally his life.

(Pathetic, a tiny corner of his brain whispers. Tybalt envisions himself stabbing this voice and blood spurting all over. It doesn’t make him feel better.)

So he now has literally no life.

(Shut up, Tybalt internally yells as a preemptive strike towards the now-dead voice.)

He needs to get a life. He needs something to do before he goes insane staring at his ceiling.

Tybalt gets out of bed. He’s still in his fancy clothes from the wedding last night. They’re rumpled, but who gives a fuck? He’s the motherfucking Prince of Cats, and everyone cowers in his presence. Just as it should be.

Tybalt storms out the door and slams it behind him. The bright sunshine hits Tybalt in the eye and he grimaces. It’s too sunny. He hates sunshine. Because it sucks and because it’s the one fucking thing that doesn’t cower in his presence.

Tybalt keeps his eyes on the ground, away from the sun, and marches into town. As he gets closer, there is more and more chatter, more children, more chickens, more noise, more sunshine. It’s so irritating - Tybalt wants to stab everyone.

Except for the chickens and sunshine, everything and everyone cowers in his path, parting way for him almost subconsciously, perhaps sensing the danger if they stood in their way. As punishment for the chickens, Tybalt does not change pathways as he walks, and he may step on a few feathers on the way.

His ankles are thoroughly pecked and bruised by the time he gets to Tom’s Tavern. Because, it turns out, chickens will fight back. Tybalt now hates chickens more than sunshine, although they both suck.

Tybalt enters Tom’s Tavern, a haven from both sunshine and chickens. The bell above the door rings with a ding ding DING, and Tybalt hates it almost as much as chickens and sunshine. Not as much because chickens and sunshine suck so much.

Tybalt marches up to the bar. The elderly bartender cowers in fear, and Tybalt smiles internally. “I want a job.”

The bartender almost drops the glass he is cleaning, and for a minute, he juggles the glass between hands in a useless attempt to keep it from falling. He fails and there is a crash. “Shit,” he mutters under his breath. He then looks up, and he looks so scared, Tybal’s internal smile widens. “We’re not- we’re not hiring,” he says quietly.

Tybalt glares at him, and the bartender quickly says, “But who cares, right? I’m the boss, and we can always use another bartender. Welcome aboard.”

“Wait. I have a couple conditions before I accept.”

If it was anyone else, Tybalt would probably have a black eye and a life-long ban. But he’s the motherfucking Prince of Cats and he’s got a bloody reputation. The bartender nods.

“One, I get all the free alcohol I want.” Because Tybalt needs it so much right now.

“All the bartenders do-”

“Two, we start serving chicken.”

“We already do-”

“More, then. We want to kill every chicken in Verona.” The bell rings in the background, and Tybalt grimaces. He hates that damn bell. More than sunshine. It’s quickly making its way to the top of the Things Tybalt Hates list.

The bartender nods rapidly. “Of course, everyone loves chicken. Who doesn’t like chicken? It’s just a good business decision.”

“And three, I start immediately.”

“That’s highly unprecedented.” Tybalt leans forwards slightly, turning up his glare a couple notches. “But who am I to deny good work ethic? We need more work ethic, I tell you. It’s going down the drain with each passing generation.”

“And four, show me how to make drinks and shut up.”

The bartender looks at him strangely. “Didn’t you used to come here with your friend all the time?”

“What did I say about shutting up?” Tybalt growls so loudly that all the afternoon alcoholics turn and stare. Tybalt hates them, too. Just not as much as sunshine and chickens and that damn bell that won’t stop ringing. That goddamn bell is now at the top of his list.

****

If Paris ever had any doubt in his marriage to Rosaline, it’s right now. She’s leading him out into the woods, far beyond human civilization, and he hears owls hooting, leaves mysteriously crunching, wind and wolves howling, and so many natural sounds that sound very unnatural to his city ears.

Paris has to push past overgrown bushes and undergrown trees and weeds as tall as his waist; he’s pretty sure he’s got a thousand ticks living under his skin now.

“Are we almost there, Rosaline?” Paris asks, his voice high as he tries to hold back the irritation that’s giving way to panic.

Rosaline treks in front of Paris, and she doesn’t turn around when she speaks. The only indication that she heard him snort of derision she makes. She’s still in her wedding dress, but the bottom is completely tattered and mud makes the flowing layers sag. She still looks like an angel, but one whose been through hell.

“We’ve literally been walking for two minutes.”

“Definitely more than that,” Paris grumbles under his breath.

“Men,” Rosaline whispers loudly to herself. Paris thinks about defending his gender, but then realizes he has no defense. Louder, Rosaline says, “Look behind you.”

Paris looks behind him, and he realizes he can still see the bustle of Verona’s town square; if he squints, he can see the outline of Tom’s Tavern in the distance.

“It felt like a lot farther,” Paris says, trying to defend his whining.

Rosaline glances back at him for the first time in their walk, and it’s only to give him a look that somehow shouts You are so stupid that it’s amusing.

After what feels like thousands of miles but what Rosaline says is less than a mile, they reach a house. When Paris sees it, he feels like collapsing to his knees and crying like a man who has been stuck in a desert for months and has only just found water. The thought of Rosaline’s mocking stops him from doing so.

Even though any house after that torturous walk would feel like paradise, Paris has to admit that this house, in particular, is a special kind of paradise. It feels homey, somehow, with warm brick walls and overgrown grass and dandelions.

Rosaline marches inside without a glance backward, so Paris decides to follow her. He is first struck by how the inside is just as home-y as the outside.

Then, he is struck by how all of his furniture is inside, from his books to his armchairs. “How-”

“I paid a couple guys,” Rosaline interrupts with a dismissive wave of her hand. Like it’s no big deal that she got a guy to switch houses with her and then moved all the furniture within twenty-four hours. “My charms are only part of my persuasion skills.”

“Impressive,” Paris says, spinning in a circle to view the entire room.

“Well?” Rosaline says, rough and confrontational. Paris jerks his head towards her, surprised. Gentler, so much so that he thinks her rough tone was accidental, she says, “Do you like it?”

“Yeah,” Paris says, softly, sincerely. He turns around once more, taking in the room. “I do.”

Rosaline smiles. Paris thinks he might be starting to figure them out. This one is less sharp; the sharp one means beware or I’m actually very amused here but I just look threatening. This one, the one that is just a slight turn of the lips, means she’s content. With that smile, she looks like a sixteen-year-old in a wedding dress.

Rosaline then lies down on the floor. Paris blinks once, then twice, and yep, she’s still lying on the floor.

“Rosaline?” Rosaline glances up at his face, her ice-blue eyes still looking as innocent as a sixteen-year-old’s. “What are you doing?”

“I don’t know,” she says lazily, and she glances back at the ceiling. She looks like she is stargazing, but instead of stars, she’s looking at a cracked, old ceiling.

Paris shrugs and lays down beside her. “Okay.”

The ceiling is more cracked than he thought, and it’s like a mosaic of cracks and popcorn. He kind of feels like he’s stargazing, and he looks for constellations of shapes and immediately finds a heart.

“It’s mine, you know?” Rosaline says, breaking the silence. “It’s my- our house. I can lie on the floor. So I will.”

Paris likes that. It’s his. It’s theirs. He can do what he wants with it.

He stares back up at the ceiling and stares at the heart. He thinks of Tybalt for some random reason and his stomach curls.

I thought you liked me.

I guess you were wrong.

One part of Paris, the logical part, knows that Tybalt only said that to hurt him. Paris knows Tybalt. He knows what his sharp tone means, he knows when he’s laughing inside, he knows when to back off. He knows that Tybalt liked him. He knows that they were friends.

But the dumb part of him, the part of him that isn’t very logical and the part of him where self-doubt is king, says that Tybalt never liked him. That Tybalt was just like the rest. That nobody ever likes him, so why would Tybalt be any different?

Paris stares at the heart. If he looks hard enough, he can find a crack, right down the center. It’s not a break-up or anything, but his heart belonged to Tybalt. In so many different senses. And now it’s broken.

Paris didn’t err in marrying Rosaline. He knows that already. He’s happy with this. But his broken heart is screaming, crying, for Tybalt back.

He selfishly wants both; he wants this life, where he jumps on beds and stares at ceilings with Rosaline, and the one where Tybalt likes him again.

He really wants Tybalt back.

I guess you were wrong.

But that’s not happening anytime soon.