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What Fools These Mortals Be

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Prom season at Stratford High School is always a bit crazy--no one will soon forget the year the head cheerleader, Titania, dumped her boyfriend three days before prom and then tried to bring a donkey as her date instead--but this year is already proving to be exceptional.

It starts with the twins getting into a very loud and very public squabble in the science hall about which one of them is bringing Olivia to prom and which one is bringing Orsino (The school has long since gotten over their arrangement, and if anyone has a problem with the twins dating the same boy and the same girl, no one says anything). It’s all resolved pretty quickly, though, when Olivia darts up behind Viola and throws her arms around her girlfriend’s waist giddily just as Orsino comes over and pecks Sebastian on the cheek and hangs all over him like a dumb puppy. The twins look at each other, smile, nod, and just like that, chaos is avoided.

However, the student body doesn’t have to wait long for more ridiculous drama to arise, because Tybalt Capulet announces a challenge for a formal duel with Benvolio Montague at A lunch that afternoon.

“What do you want to duel me for?” Benvolio asks, slightly panicked. He looks down at his locally grown organic vegetarian lunch and frowns. “What did I do to you? I just want peace, you know I hate fighting.”

“You are one tie-dye shirt away from being a cast-member of ‘Hair’,” Mercutio informs him.

“I’m not even going to ask why you’re familiar with that musical,” Benvolio replies, now eyeing Tybalt warily. “Why exactly are we dueling?”

Tybalt responds by pointing at Mercutio. “Winner takes him to prom.”

Mercutio--Benvolio hates him, he really does--fucking grins like a Cheshire cat and exclaims, “They’re having a ‘the girl is mine’ fight over me. This is the best day of my life.”

“Shut up. I wouldn't take you to prom even if I did survive this,” Benvolio says. You can practically hear the silence of the other students at A lunch, watching the drama unfold with rapt attention.

“Baby, don’t be like that,” Mercutio croons in a horrible parody of affection.

“Don’t call me ‘baby’,” Benvolio grumbles. Andrew Aguecheek and Toby Belch have started a betting pool around the lunchroom on who will win the fight.

“So, are you going to fight, Montague, or are you forfeiting Mercutio to me?” Tybalt asks.

“I feel like I should be saying something about how I’m not just some prize to be won, but, to be perfectly honest, I’m way too interested in how this is going to turn out.”

Mercutio, Benvolio decides, is useless.

“This is absurd,” Benvolio tries again. “Mercutio and I are just friends. I’m certainly not planning on asking him to prom.”

Sebastian looks up from sucking face with Orsino long enough to shout, “Bull shit!” before Olivia smacks him and he goes back to making out with his boyfriend. Viola just rolls her eyes and pulls Olivia into her lap.

“This is ridiculous, I’m not going to fight someone over a guy I’m not even dating, especially not over prom.” And then Tybalt punches him in the face.

Benvolio looks kind of shocked, a hand pressed against his cheek where he’d been hit. “What the hell?” he demands, and Tybalt punches him again. Benvolio stumbles back and falls against Mercutio’s chair. Mercutio scrambles up and crouches beside Benvolio, who’s now sort of lying on the ground in the cafeteria, looking sort of pissed off and sort of dizzy.

“Look, I actually don’t want you to die, Benny, so please punch him or something. You know you’re my favorite.”

“I am?” Benvolio asks, dazed.

Mercutio chuckles, and it’s affectionate and nervous and a high thready thing that makes Benvolio’s heart race. “You always were,” Mercutio says gently, and kisses him.

A few members of the riveted cafeteria audience cheer and applaud. Benvolio breaks away, embarrassed and blushing, but he pushes to his feet and decks Tybalt right then and there.

Tybalt looks stunned. “You fucking-” Benvolio punches him again, and looks so proud of himself it spoils the effect and makes him look adorable instead.

“That will be quite enough, Mr. Montague,” drawls Principal Malvolio as Benvolio winds up for another hit. “My office. Now.”

He turns to leave and Benvolio follows him wordlessly. But just as he reaches the lunchroom doorway, he turns around and yells, “Wait! Mercutio?”

“Yes?” Mercutio shouts back, laughter hanging on his voice.

“Will you go to prom with me?”

“Of course I will!” he shouts across the lunchroom. Satisfied, Benvolio turns and follows Malvolio to the Principal’s Office.

Mercutio triumphantly goes back to his lunch, but not before telling the room at large, “I defy you to find a more epic way of getting a prom date.”

***************************

And then there’s the Desdemona debacle.

Desdemona is a reasonably popular girl. She gets good grades, is incredibly pretty, is the yearbook editor, and is also improbably sweet to everyone. She and her boyfriend Othello had been tough competition for Romeo and Juliet for cutest couple, until ugly rumors started flying. There was talk of all kinds of cheating and abuse, until finally Desdemona’s best friend, Emilia, found out what was going on and fixed everything.

Basically, Emilia’s ex-boyfriend, Iago, was actually a racist asshole and was spreading all kinds of lies about Desdemona to try to ruin Othello’s life. But Emilia told Desdemona what was going on, and she’d managed to get Desdemona to break up with him before he could hurt her anymore.

Now, Emilia is one of the most opinionated, outspoken people at the school. She’s been known to go off on feminist rants and yell at people for saying the word “faggot”.

So, with such a reputation, the entire school is confused as to why Emilia is apparently too shy to ask Desdemona to prom when it’s common knowledge Emilia’s had a huge crush on her for years.

“Just ask her, Em. Even if she says no, you’re her best friend, and she loves you, and she always will,” Helena is telling her as she finishes braiding Emilia’s hair before biology class.

Emilia buries her face in her arms in a fit of emotion. “She’s just so nice and so pretty, I just want to pet her hair and buy her nice things and cry,” Emilia moans, her voice muffled.

“She is very pretty,” Helena agrees soothingly.

“And she’s all cute and girly and wears cute dresses and I’m just gross,” Emilia continues, all her usual fire gone.

Mercutio, sitting two desks away, rolls his eyes. “Those two should start a ‘Completely Obvious Secret Crush Club’ or something,” he tells Romeo. Romeo just raises an eyebrow.

“Like you’re one to talk.” Mercutio just smiles to himself, and Romeo’s mouth falls open. “Holy shit! You finally asked Benny out?”

“Sort of...”

“Dammit! Why don’t I have the same lunch as you?”

“Maybe be grateful you don’t,” Mercutio replies. Emilia is still hiding her face in shame.

“If it makes you feel any better,” Helena says quietly, “Hermia’s going with Lysander. At least you have a chance.”

Emilia looks up. “That’s supposed to make me feel better?”

Helena smiles, a little sadly. “I’ll go with Demetrius. he’s probably sad he can’t go with Lysander.”

“So, when are you asking Juliet?” Mercutio asks Romeo just as the bell rings for class to start.

Romeo gets a determined glint in his eye. “Soon.”

*****************************

Sure enough, at the end of the school day, Romeo runs to Juliet’s locker and waits for her there.

“Hi,” he says when she arrives. He gets so stupid when she’s around.

“Hi,” she replies smiling.

“I, um, I wanted to ask you something.”

“Yes?”

Romeo takes a deep breath before getting down on one knee before her. “Juliet Capulet, will you go to prom with me?” He presents two prom tickets with a flourish.

Juliet blushes and beams and covers her mouth in surprise and says “Yes! Yes, yes, I’d love to!” They embrace in the hallway and he timidly kisses her on the cheek.

*****************************

By the end of the week, the frenzy has died down a bit as most people pair off. Rosalind and Orlando both get checked off the mental “pretty sure they’re gay” list every student keeps when it’s revealed they’re going together. He asked her by leaving shitty poetry on her locker door every morning for two weeks. Then Orlando’s brother brother, Oliver, asks Rosalind’s best friend Celia and people start panicking over whether everyone will be taken before they get up the courage to ask someone themselves.

Toby’s taking some freshman girl named Maria, which is kind of weird, but whatever. Other Juliet, as she is unfortunately known, is going with Claudio, which is nice since he knocked her up a few months ago. Claudio’ sister Isabella is totally getting creeped on by Angelo, but she ends up saying yes to Vincentio Friday morning.

******************************

Desdemona smiles at Emilia when the girl comes to stand beside Desdemona’s locker. “What if I decide to be a cheerleader in college?”

Emilia bites back a thousand comments about her problems with cheerleading and just returns the grin. “You’d be amazing.

“You really think so?”

“Of course I do. You’re always optimistic and adorable.”

Desdemona laughs. “Thanks.”

“So, how many prom invitations have you had today?” Emilia asks, and wonders when she got so masochistic.

“None, don’t be silly.”

Emilia is actually surprised by this. “None? But...you’re so popular.”

“I wouldn't say that.”

“Michael didn't ask you?”

“Michael?”

“Michael Cassio?”

Desdemona laughs a bit sadly at that. “ I don’t think he wants anything to do with me after last year. Besides, I heard he’s taking Bianca.”

“Why wouldn't he take you if he could?” Emilia's genuinely baffled.

“If you want to go with Cassio so badly, just ask him,” Desdemona teases. Emilia sighs.

“I’m not interested in Cassio.”

“Well, who are you going with?”

Emilia’s heart is racing, but she manages, “No one. I think I’ll just stay home.”

“Emilia!” Desdemona looks horrified. “You have to go! it’s your senior prom!”

“Emilia smiles at her, but there’s no happiness in it. “My junior prom didn't exactly go well,” she reminds Desdemona gently.

Junior prom had actually been nothing short of a disaster for Emilia. She had gone with Iago, whom had tried to sleep with her later that night. She’d resisted, and finally told him that she was a lesbian, he’d freaked out, and they’d had a nasty split.

She regrets bringing it up instantly, though, because Desdemona looks like she’s going to cry. “I didn't mean-”

“No, no, of course you didn't. It’s fine. Really,” Emilia rushes to assure her. She reaches out and pulls Desdemona into a hug to soothe her, because this is what she does. this is how they function. Emilia has always been the strong one, the one to pick up the pieces and put Desdemona back together again.

“I’m sorry,” Desdemona tries again, and she sounds so sincerely upset on Emilia’s behalf that it break Emilia’s heart all over again.

“There’s nothing to be sorry for.”

Desdemona hugs her tightly and then pulls back. “You don’t have to go to prom if you don’t want to. I won’t make you go. But I’ll be sad if you’re not there with me.”

Emilia feels a pang in her heart; Desdemona doesn't even know how sad Emilia will be not to be there with her.

*************************************************

Viola picks up Olivia at her house (Sebastian waits in the car) and Olivia’s mom makes them take about a thousand pictures out on their front lawn in front of a tree. It’s all cliche and dumb and they love every second of it. Then they go pick up Orsino and repeat the whole process with Sebastian, and the they take group photos for forever until they finally manage to pull away from the parents and actually go to prom.

************************************************

Mercutio rolls up at Benvolio’s house and tries to be a “gentleman” to his parents and everything, and Benvolio's mother fawns over him, to Benvolio’s amusement and horror. He really, really wasn't intending for his mother and his best-friend-turned-boyfriend to become bffs. But then again, he’s not sure why he didn't see this coming. No one can resist Mercutio when he’s trying to be charming. Benvolio certainly couldn't. And then when Benvolio’s mom insists on prom pictures and Benvolio complains and tries to leave, Mercutio is the one who coaxes Benvolio into listening to his mother. God dammit, what has he done.

And then they make out for like fifteen minutes once they’re in Mercutio’s car and Benvolio totally forgives him.

*************************************************

Romeo is, of course, the guy who rents a limo for his prom, and he comes up to the door and Juliet walks down her stairs in her prom dress like every teen movie and they happily pose for pictures in Juliet’s living room because her parents aren't home and Juliet’s nanny is pretty cool.

************************************************

Emilia is sitting in her living room watching the Food Network when her doorbell rings fifteen minutes before prom is scheduled to start. She debates just letting whoever it is--probably the UPS guy--leave, but then it rings again, and she gets off her ass and answers the door.

It’s Desdemona.

“Let me explain,” Desdemona says instantly as Emilia begins to open her mouth.Desdemona is in her prom dress and has her hair and makeup done perfectly, and she looks more beautiful than Emilia’s ever seen her, if that’s even possible. “I was talking to Cassio this afternoon in English class and told him to have fun with Bianca at prom, and then I...well. I sort of mentioned that I wasn't going with anyone and he seemed really surprised and asked if I had just said no to everyone, and then I told him that no one had actually asked me and that I was honestly sort of surprised--not to sound stuck up or anything. It’s just...people like me, and I hoped someone would ask me to prom, you know? And then-” Desdemona bites her lip and looks down shyly before continuing. “And then he said that no one had asked me because they assumed I was going with...you.”

“Oh.” Emilia needs to shut the door and go hide or do anything, anything, to get away from here right now. But all she can do is stare at Desdemona helplessly as Desdemona waits for a reply.

“I guess it’s silly to think-”

“No.” She might as well. “Cassio was right. I was going to ask you, but I chickened out. I never thought you’d say yes.”

“Of course I--Emilia? Do you really like me?”

“I like you a lot.”

Desdemona looks up then, smiling properly now. “Then why didn't you just ask, Emilia? I would have said yes.”

“You would have?” This isn't real. “You know I wasn't going to ask you to go as my friend, right? I was going to ask you to be my date.”

“Well, I would hope so. But, since you didn't, I’m asking you now: Emilia, will you go to prom with me?”

Emilia might actually fucking cry.

“Oh, shit, is that not, like, fancy enough? I can get down on one knee or something.”

“No, no, it’s...you’re perfect.”

“Go change. I know you bought a dress.”

“I did,” Emilia concedes.

“Go change then. Right now.” She's beaming. “We don’t want to be late.”

********************************

Juliet wins prom queen, to the shock of none, and Mercutio wins prom king. They laugh as they dance together, Mercutio making stupid faces at Benvolio over her shoulder and Juliet blowing kisses to Romeo. When the song ends, Mercutio actually kisses Juliet’s hand before returning to Benvolio and forcing him to slow dance with him.

Olivia has her arms around Viola’s waist and Viola’s are on Olivia’s shoulders, and they’re closer together than anyone else on the dance floor, whispering to each other as they sway to the music.

But no one in the room looks happier than Emilia, her arms around Desdemona as they dance. As the song nears its end, she leans in tentatively and presses a kiss to Desdemona’s mouth.

“I just wish I’d asked you sooner,” Emilia admits.

“Me too.”

“I didn't think I even had a chance.”

“You've always been closer to me than anyone else in the world, Emilia. You’ve helped me through so much of my life...I can’t imagine there’s anyone I could possibly care more about more than you.” She kisses Emilia, and they aren't even bothering trying to move to the music anymore.

“I love you,” Emilia says honestly.

“I love you too.” And Emilia knows she really means it.

*********************************

The dance is really quite tacky and sweaty, and of course there are the kids that are too-cool-for-school that rant on about how lame it is. But, really, it's kind of perfect.

“This may be the strangest prom season yet!” Titania exclaims. She’d apparently enjoyed high school so much she went to college to become a guidance counselor so she could come back. She and Oberon are chaperoning the dance like they do every year, and, like every year, they're letting the students get away with everything and not actually enforcing any rules. They're everyone's favorites. She smiles at Oberon, whom she’d gotten back together with and eventually married, to everyone’s mild amusement.

“The strangest prom yet?” Oberon asks her humorlessly. He still remembers the donkey.

the end.