Disclaimer: Shakespeare, thank you for creating these two wonderful characters.
A/N: These two little stories are not related other than featuring Beatrice and Benedick (and sunlight). For visualization, I see David Tennant and Catherine Tate's portrayals as Benedick and Beatrice.
This chapter takes place before the events of MAAN.
Wiping the sweat from his brow for the fifth time in ten minutes, Benedick exhaled loudly. He was due to the Prince's training in an hour, and a full afternoon of jousting in the unrelenting Messina sun was enough to make him consider resigning from the ranks.
He looked around; mostly all doors were closed to him. He knew the pubs on the other side of town would be open. But he wasn't in the mood to be surrounded by whatever locals would be there.
He turned and saw one open threshold; to a small chapel. Eagerly, he rushed inside. It's most likely to be dark and cool within those walls, he thought. And quiet.
But not empty.
Upon entering, Benedick found one other soul: a woman kneeling before a pair of tombs. He paused, unsure who the woman was; a mantilla of purest white covered her head, and she was hunched over in prayer. Loathe to disturb her, Benedick quietly sat in the back, not so much speaking to his Savior but relishing in the muted light and the refreshing chill of the building.
A light cough filled the silence, bringing Benedick's attention back to the front. The woman slowly stood, arching her back. She turned slowly, pushing the lace covering away from her face. Benedick froze, suddenly feeling too hot in the cold sanctuary.
It was Beatrice.
Benedick frowned as he glanced behind her, realizing which tombs she had been kneeling before. When her eyes fell to him, she stiffened. Clearly, she had not heard him enter.
Out of respect for her mourning, Benedick rose automatically. He often found himself cross and weary after sparring with the proud and haughty niece of Leonarto, but she was a Lady. And no one could accuse Benedick of not following decorum. Also, he was willing to be courteous after seeing her in such a private moment.
She blinked, removing the mantilla as she walked by. Her fiery hair reflected the candlelight, making her glow. Benedick was struck still for a moment. But she offered a stiff and thankful smile as she passed.
Benedick listened to her footfalls recede, happy for true seclusion at last. Two forces of nature were just outside: the high-noon sun and Beatrice. He was in no mood to engage in either. He stared hard at the small altar, studying the bright colors of the Resurrection-themed triptych.
A thought came to him, and he stood quickly. He approached the spot where Beatrice had been kneeling. He knew so little of her; she never shared anything other than jabs and insults.
Looking at the names and dates, his frown deepened. It was the anniversary of her mother's death. He felt a stab of sympathy for her. He inwardly swore at himself; it would not do to start feeling warmth for the detached Beatrice.
But he turned to the entrance, feeling an odd compulsion he was reluctant to admit to. With a final nod of respect for the dead, he rushed outside, not wanting to dwell on why he wanted Beatrice to still be close by.
He found her quickly enough, sitting under the purple canopy of a Jacaranda tree. She apparently still craved solitude, but he felt a need to be near her. Inhaling and wondering what on earth he was thinking, he walked over to her.
Beatrice stood quickly, her shoulders squared for whatever sparring Benedick would instigate. She was in no mood to battle with him today.
But his palms rose to face her, and his expression was earnest. That only made her more cautious.
"My Lady, my condolences on your loss."
His voice was so unexpectedly soft, Beatrice did not know if she'd heard him correctly. She glared, wondering when the bait would be dropped for her to take.
But none came. Benedick knew she'd be defensive, and he wanted to convey his regard. His mouth contorted into a smile.
Stepping back, Beatrice nodded in acknowledgment. "I thank you, Signor," she said awkwardly. She looked around at the empty courtyard. "And what brought you into the chapel this afternoon?"
"The sun is merciless in Messina, is it not?"
She nodded. "I would think you'd seek relief in the public houses of town," she said.
He grinned. "Aye, one will find no fiercer companions than in the local establishments," he said. "Whose loyalty is strong while the spirits are running freely."
She scoffed. "Or whose actions are so foolish when emboldened by drink."
He nodded. "In truth, I was in search of some isolation."
Her eyebrows rose. "Really?"
Benedick was a little affronted. "In truth, yes! The peace of a chapel can be quite welcoming when one is in need of it," he said. At her dubious look, he grinned and shrugged. "And the Prince would not take kindly to his officers being inebriated upon training."
Her eyes widened. "You are to train today?"
"Aye," he said. "We start in an hour."
"In this heat?"
"I have fought battles under less forgiving skies."
She seemed sobered by the thought before regarding the insignia upon his chest. "Tell me, does the sun shine so brightly in Padua?" She rung her hands together, feeling off with the possibly civil conversation. Blaming the heat for the tingling running through her body, she looked away.
Benedick was silenced for a moment, staring at her. The sun laced through the flowered branches, divining an illuminated veil upon her sunrise-colored hair. Once again, she seemed to shine from within. He swallowed, rattled by the unexpected emotions stirring within him.
The words were out before he could stop them. "Messina as the the most radiant visions in all of Italy." Mortified, he whipped his head away.
Beatrice froze, not sure what to make of such a statement. Benedick was never to be taken seriously. She knew that better than anyone. But she believed he'd been sincere when offering his condolences. And yet, she was too well-practiced to let herself think he was actually going to remain kind to her. Bewildered, she turned to see him facing the ocean. He stood tall and bold. The daylight sharpened his strong edges. She inhaled, a sense of security enfolding her. It had been years since she'd felt so at peace. Which confused her all the more.
Benedick cleared his throat and shifted a little. It was rare that Beatrice was without something to say. He should have felt victorious at finally stopping her mouth. But the wind shifted her hair, and all conscious thoughts floated away from his mind as he beheld her.
He reached up and plucked a flower from the tree. Without stepping closer, he extended it out to her.
"In your family's honor," he said softly.
Beatrice took a tiny step toward him, accepting the offering. Without waiting for a response, he pivoted and started to walk away.
Beatrice inhaled the sweet fragrance, her heart jumping a little.
He was nearly too far when she shouted. "Benedick!"
She raised the flowers upward in gratitude. "Godspeed."
The Signor dipped forward in acknowledgement before turning to join his regiment.