The alcohol buzzed under Mercutio’s skin as the smoky-air of the Capulet ball enveloped his senses. Ribbons glittered in ladies’ hair as the candlelight bounced off of gilded masks and golden jewels. Mercutio sipped on his wine, the taste heavy on his tongue. Romeo was somewhere beyond him; he didn’t care. The boy was having fun, and that was the point of the night, was it not?
Benvolio stood beside him in silence, observing the crowd the way a painter would examine a scene. Thoughts bounced around in his mind, blocked from Mercutio’s view. He wanted to touch Benvolio’s temple and feel the warmth of it under his skin in a vain attempt to read his troubled mind.
It was funny. They were both kids, really. Still teenagers. But, they were on the cusp of real adulthood and all of its frivolous expectations. This would be their last summer to be free to be young and foolish. Romeo, barely their junior, could still be a child. At fifteen, he was still a boy and was able to live his life without the responsibilities of the world ahead. But, Mercutio, at an awkward middle-point between seventeen and eighteen, and Benvolio, his senior of just a few months, were beginning to enter that world.
Mercutio had decided to drink up this final summer like the wine he was now downing. He wanted to live it fully and boldly without care or fear of judgment. It was the last time in his life that he would not be burdened by fear of marriage and respect for God. Benvolio seemed to realize it, too. He was more pensive and angry than before. He had always been thoughtful, but he had never let his thoughts swallow him whole like this before. He worried too much for someone so young, Mercutio thought. He was too grown for his own good. This summer had made it ever the more clear.
Mercutio knew that he couldn’t really help him, though. Danger and volatility followed him like his shadow. He was too proud to let go of the spark that lit him up and set fire to everything he touched. He wasn’t going to settle down like dead leaves in the wind. He was going to live life however he pleased and not accept a growled word from any judgemental dog that dared bark up at him. Still, it pained him that out of all that he could give, he could never give Benvolio the one thing he truly wanted. He could give him lavish feasts and shimmering jewels and ancient books. He could give him royal luxuries and velvet-gloved dreams and swords as sharp as wit. Yes, he could give Benvolio anything, and would in a loving instant. But, he could never give Benvolio the peace he desperately craved. His hunger for peace was so insatiable that he would willingly throw his life in front of a familiar blade just to stop it from spilling an enemy’s blood. All he wanted in this cruel, complex world was the most simple and intangible thing: peace.
Mercutio looked into Benvolio’s stern face again. He was ashamed of how wonderful Benvolio seemed beside him. Yes, he had his flaws. Benvolio was often bitter and irritable, too absorbed within his own philosophy to see what was right in front of him. But, he was a good person. He was so painfully good. He was a paragon of integrity next to Mercutio, an angel on the shoulder of the devil. Mercutio teased him with all of the tenderness he could draw from within himself. It was the only thing he could do to cope with the overwhelming pain of never feeling enough. He was never good enough, smart enough, strong enough, or anything enough. It was much easier to poke fun at him than to try to be perfect for him. But, annoyingly, Benvolio never confirmed his fears. He never said a truly unkind word to him. Jokes and jests were one thing. But true meanness was never something Benvolio would show to him. Not if his life depended on it.
Sometimes, it felt like they were surrounded on all sides. Conflict and tension simmered in Verona’s summer air. The pressure threatened to crush them and make their lives crumble to dust. Mercutio could try and tend to the wounds left by the cutting pain of living in a world like theirs, but Mercutio knew that some of the blood would always be on his hands. He could never stop the fighting, because he knew that he was a combatant himself.
Benvolio turned to him. He always seemed to be able to tell, even in the silence, when Mercutio’s unstable train of thought began to run off the rails. Benvolio reached for his hand, and squeezed. The gentle act of affection said what words could not. There was an understanding between the two of them.
I don’t care what you cannot give me. You’ve already given me the most precious thing of all. You have given me love beyond understanding, beyond conception and beyond possibility. You have given me more than I could’ve ever asked. That is the greatest peace of all.