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As One Speaks of Ghosts

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It would not do to grieve.

They've had enough of it, as it is. For the past month, the town square has been awash with black cloth. Wool and linen for the most part, with the odd bit of cotton or silk. Rolls and rolls of the stuff, pouring from the columns, onto the streets, over the vendors and into the drains. A visiting merchant might have thought it the onset of a second plague.

The memory of the town square stands in fine contrast to her wedding frock, a pale yellow thing made entirely of linen edged with the finest English lace. It fits her poorly, as does her groom, but she nonetheless keeps her peace as the bishop continues with his reading of the banns.

Would Juliet have fought? She certainly kicked and screamed in the private quarters after her mother announced Paris' intentions. Juliet had been young (too young) and Rosaline is her senior, though by little more than a year. Despite this, Rosaline has never had any delusions about love. Love was something for bards, for heroes in epics and mermaids by the shore -- not for sensible ladies from good houses like her (and Juliet).

The bishop finishes and looks expectantly at the two of them. Rosaline turns to the groom -- her groom, her husband -- and twists her mouth upwards in what the minstrel's will call maidenly delight but which is in that moment morbid anticipation, pure and simple as he, her groom and husband, lifts the veil from her face and kisses her before both their families and what feels like half of Verona.

She has enough sense to close her eyes though Benvolio will have to pardon her for not kissing back. The kiss is brief but not fleeting and when her newly-made husband pulls back, the bishop takes their hands and twines them. Rosaline stares first at their tangled fingers, then at Benvolio's jubilant expression, before finally looking back to the crowd. She feels Benvolio's hand curl about her waist as they move forward, through the throngs of people who care too much (except when they didn't) and she very nearly pulls it off.

-

"I don't understand," Rosaline says, as soon as they've ducked into the relative privacy of their carriage. "How can you smile and wave like that?"

"It is what is expected," Benvolio answers.

"And you have always done that which is expected."

"Thou art the same."

Rosaline fixes him with a look. She doesn't know if she's more outraged by the implication or the informality.

"You are the same," Benvolio corrects.

"Howso?"

"Did you not walk up the same altar?"

He has her there, this husband of hers. Unable to find a suitable retort, Rosaline folds her hands in her lap and looks out the window. She initially intends to remain in such a position until their arrival in Soave but relents when they pass the vineyards of Tybalt's father. She thinks it a great concession, then she looks upon her husband and sees the man fast asleep, head wedged between wall and ceiling, dozing without a care.

Rosaline clenches her fists and grits her teeth, turning back to the window.

-

It is late afternoon when they arrive at the Montague estate nestled in the rolling hills of Soave. Benvolio wakes right as they're pulling past the front gates, clapping and cheering as if there were still a crowd to please.

Rosaline is conscious of a mild relief, that it will be but the two of them in the estate. Well, save for the Montague servants.

Benvolio continues the spectacle, descending from the carriage with a flourish before fussing most theatrically over the choice of footstool. He takes her hand and kisses it in full view of the servants before wrapping an arm about her waist and leading her through the main entrance.

She can already imagine the servants tittering to one another -- so young, so handsome, so very much in love -- and she is sick at the thought of it. Benvolio doesn't linger at least, giving her a whirlwind tour of the ground floor (ballroom, banquet hall, dining room, study) before dragging her upstairs into the -- their -- sleeping quarters.

They are given two separate beds, though each has a telling amount of room to spare, placed on opposite ends of a quaint bedroom. As soon as the door is closed behind them, Benvolio takes his arm off her waist, pitching himself onto the left bed with a boyish holler.

"Dear husband," Rosaline starts, raising her voice and then her hand.

"My good wife," Benvolio cheerily interrupts, rolling over so as to be seated on the edge of his mattress, "I am utterly fatigued and in no condition to entertain, you or any of your many inklings. Please give me my reprieve tonight and I swear I will be most amenable in the morning."

Rosaline draws a sharp breath, swallows once, steps forwards, and strikes her husband on the cheek.

"Stop that," she commands, only it's too broken to be a command. "Stop speaking like him."

"How can I stop?" Benvolio whispers, frozen in place against her palm. He is staring at the far window now, and Rosaline knows what he sees. "He is all I know."

"Have you not grieved enough?" Rosaline demands. It is as much a question addressed to him as it is to herself.

"I have grieved for my cousin," Benvolio answers, still staring at the window. "I have grieved for my friend. I have even grieved for his wife." His form contorts with a shudder then and he tears his gaze from the sunset. "But I have not grieved for him." He looks at Rosaline and she wonders if hurt she sees is but a mirror of her own. "How could I?" Benvolio continues, "When could I?"

He pushes her away and falls face-first against the bed.

The problem is that in this state too, Rosaline is unable to think tenderly of him. That is because he is still too much a stranger to her, this new husband of hers.

(Though they were not officially married by royal decree, it was much the same thing. Prince Escalus, in declaring that the feud between the Capulets and the Montagues must come to an end and, more importantly, that the deaths of the past month -- which two of his kinsmen could be counted towards -- would not be in vain.)

In time, Rosaline is lulled to sleep. She dreams of cats and sabres and crescent-moon smiles.

-

Come morning and she is the first to wake. The tranquility of the scene before her is almost comical and she turns from the window (through which early morning sunlight gently pours out, spilling through the curtains as the blackened linens had spilled out onto the streets) to her -- husband, before turning to look at her own hands.

The sight of Benvolio, as fast asleep as a babe to his mother's breast, serves a dutiful reminder to the minimal difference in their ages, as do the dried tear tracks in the corner of his eyes. Rosaline watches her hands, clenching and unclenching themselves in her lap. Then she purses her lips and pushes the sheets from her, shouldering a shawl for the morning chill before slipping downstairs.

As expected for an estate of the Montagues, the help is already bustling despite the early hour. There's tittering and tuttering at the sight of her, so young, so beautiful, so gainfully wedded. She pulls up and smile and tells them she is looking for sustenance for herself and her... husband and the servants (some of whom must have the Prince's ear, which would explain Benvolio keeping up the act even after their arrival) beam as one before ushering her upstairs with a promise to bring to a king's feast to them.

So young, she hears them say, so young and so beautiful and so very much in love.

-

Rosaline is light-headed when she returns to her -- their -- room. She is faintly aware of Benvolio being absent from his bed but the memory of the smiles -- knowing yet unknowing at the same time -- of the maids is enough to collapse her.

Was this was Juliet was running away from, she wonders. Paris was not an ugly man by any means, certainly a finer husband than Benvolio. But as for what the heart -- what her dear cousin's heart -- wanted...

"Good morning," her husband greets. Rosaline, reclined against her own mattress, lifts her hand to look upon him. He's smiling down at her, beaming from ear-to-ear, and there's that familiar manic look in his eyes. She thinks of the man in her own dreams and wonders, was this how he looked when he died?

"Good morning," Rosaline replies though she does not care to smile in turn.

She sits up right as Benvolio sits down. They look at one another from their respective beds and he opens his mouth, about to say something, except one of the servants knocks on the door.

"Breakfast, milord!"

And so they eat.

-

"Was this thine doing, my dear wife?" Benvolio asks, when they've had their fill and the servants have descended like harpies, like vultures, and taken away both plates and cutlery.

"Dear husband," she says again, "It is too soon."

"I only use it," Benvolio grates, and it heartens her to see his affected cheer wear at the edges so, "As a means of acclimation, my dear. It would not do, you understand, for the maidservants to catch us speaking so."

"There would not be maidservants to tell the Prince of our affairs if you had not declared for Soave."

Benvolio laughs, shaking his head, "That it flatters me is insufficient to stand as truth: there was nothing for me to declare."

And that -- that is the long and short of it, is it not? Benvolio has every right to be just as miserable and no doubt is, as he had just as much say in the marriage. Rosaline had hoped and prayed he would be nothing like his cousin, his brash feckless reckless cousin who could give his heart to every day of the week and still have love left for Sabbath, and God has answered her prayers in this regard, in His usual way. Which is to say: she regrets having asked.

"I am sorry," Benvolio adds, looking back at the window as his voice grows quiet. "Truly, I am."

"It as much your duty as it is mine," Rosaline answers, for it is the same truth she told herself every step up the altar. And then, when he does not look much improved, she adds: "And it does not matter, for the only man I would have liked to wed has gone to same ball as yours."

Her husband's eyes widen and he turns to her, lips drawn in a pitying moue. The fool thinks she loved his cousin, she can see it in an instant, and she almost wants to correct him, wants to say there was nothing for her to love in Sir Monday through Saturday when her heart had been filled with cats and crescent smiles already, but. But it's liberating in a sense, that out of all the people who know her secret, her husband does not.

And she knows his.

"I'm sorry," Benvolio says again, when Rosaline makes no move to speak. "He loved thee, he really did. But thou would give him no quarter. For weeks he sought to ply thee but thou..." Rosaline closes her eyes and wishes it were true. How wonderful it would have been, if Tybalt had seen her as Romeo had seen her. She would have contented herself with that -- if it were so.

But no. He barely knew her and certainly never thought tenderly of her. If his raging heart knew peace, it would have been through Juliet and not herself. And even then, she has watched him for too long and knows he has been cut from the same cloth as Mars.

Even if he had lived, there would have been no love between them.

And so, she concludes, there is very little reason to grieve.