Disclaimer: I, of course, do not own Romeo and Juliet or anything associated with it. Even if this disclaimer wasn't here, I think we all know that William Shakespeare never had a account. Character imagery follows Franco Zefirelli's 1968 movie adaptation of Romeo and Juliet.
Overall Warning: Child abuse/neglect, general violence, angst, depression, implied themes, and character death.
Author's Note: For this story, Mercutio is 20 years old during the time of the actual play, Benvolio is 19 and Valentine is 34. Reviews are very much appreciated, with the exception of flames. There is eventual Benvolio X Mercutio slash (as well as some in the prologue); don't like, don't read.
Offense and apologies are never evenly balanced. A single thoughtless sentence can invoke grievous effects that a full omnibus of apologies may never fully mend. Mercutio had experienced proof of this observation countless times. Each occasion, the initial reaction varied.
This time, it was laughter.
Perhaps this was due to the recent festivities at the Capulets' home (there had certainly been no paucity of wine), for there was nothing remotely jovial about Romeo's words, which seemed to reverberate throughout Mercutio's mind as affronts often do, rapidly growing to torment him further. He could sense Benvolio's worried gaze upon him; it scarcely came as a surprise.
"'He jests at scars that never felt a wound', quoth he," Mercutio exclaimed. "Why, is this not a curious bit of jest to augment his counterfeit, Benvolio? The slip does not satisfy thy dear coz, but perchance the addition of mockery shall do so!"
He heard Benvolio's tentative approaching footsteps, but chose to ignore them.
"Ay, here is one who becomes the topic most excellently," Mercutio muttered, forcing a smile for reasons he did not fully understand. "Here is one with so vast a knowledge of these troubles whilst I am most ignorant on the subject… one who has grown so learned of sorrows over the years whilst I have reveled in a life of jest. Marry, here is the one!"
His voice grew steadily louder with each word. He wondered if Romeo could hear him, and almost wished it to be so. Yet, the latter was too engulfed in a pit of naïve, impetuous affection to give a thought to anything but his unrequited love. The prisoner had grown foolish and impertinent in his captivity.
"Mercutio," Benvolio said quietly; each word was heavy with hesitant concern. "Prithee, do not fall so quickly to rage. Thou know'st he intends no harm. He knows not his words' offense."
"'He knows not'," Mercutio repeated as though the phrase was particularly vile to the tongue. "Thou speakst true, Benvolio. He is ignorant, in twice the sense now!"
Despite their bitter nature, the words seemed hollow, a scathing reminder that however much Mercutio spat out curses or threats, satisfaction was no more than a futile dream for him and Romeo was scarcely the slightest perpetrator in the matter. Yet, denouncing the true culprits seemed no less fruitless than condemning another. Neither would be any recompense for the scars.
It was times like these when the illusion Mercutio had founded and sustained so attentively shattered that summoned back the trying years. His illusion could conceal much but could alter nothing, and he found himself feeling detached and deserted in ways no different from his childhood, the thought of which always induced a sharp chill.
"'Twould please me beyond measure if his words were true," Mercutio added gravely.
He took a few stiff, aimless steps down the street. Their dull echo barely seemed to disturb the night. This was not the first occasion of the sort, and it seemed to mirror the one before. Mercutio wrapped his cloak tighter around himself, a feeble, instinctual attempt to provide himself solace. Yes, even the cloak was the same he had worn that night…
His thoughts were diverted upon noticing Benvolio hurrying after him. Mercutio whipped around, glaring at the other man.
"Wherefore dost thou linger here?" he snapped. "Art thou without kin or abode to return to?"
"Wilt thou not linger still alone if I were to part thee?" Benvolio protested. "Would the fault not be greater for mine own part by this act?"
Mercutio scowled. He could dissuade Benvolio from most positions with a few cunning words. However, the latter clearly viewed this as a matter dire enough to be an exception to the rule and Mercutio knew that wit would not win this dispute. Unable to find a suitable retort, he remained silent, allowing Benvolio to proceed; the situation seemed surreal for both men.
"And wouldst thou not prefer a confidant over solitude?" Benvolio asked; his voice was gentle, each word devised to delicately circumvent an outburst.
Forcing himself to suppress the visceral wariness that had steadily grown in him from a tender age, Mercutio nodded and made a few more steps towards Benvolio. With anyone else, the memories of his uncle's saccharine words of treachery and Valentine's purely ephemeral support would immediately force Mercutio into withdrawn vigilance and mistrust. Though he still struggled to suppress this, he was now able to accept Benvolio's consolation.
"Ay," he replied softly. "'Tis so."
Benvolio smiled slightly at this response. It was in no way a spiteful grin, and Mercutio marveled at how he suspected nothing of the sort. With any other man, the slightest hint of a sneer could provoke him to a dispute. Yet now, when he was trembling and wandering about like a lost madman, the ideal subject of mockery, he felt no threat from the young Montague he'd once thought to be no more than a naïve, pampered fool.
"'Twill not serve to remain here," Benvolio murmured, glancing about to assure that they were still alone. "I fear some restless soul shall shatter our secrecy."
"I shall not venture there," Mercutio's words were stiffly adamant, but there was an underlying tone of fear that eradicated any threatening command. "'Twould please more to endure the harshest storm here than the torments enclosed in that cursed household. Lest thou wilt…"
"Peace, Mercutio," Benvolio said quickly. "I intend no such means as would displease thee, and if I am deceived in this, I shall not thrust such plans upon thee perforce. Though whether thou canst ever evade the dread thou speakst of is not a matter of my will."
"Beit so, what dost thou intend?" Mercutio chose to ignore the last remark.
"My mother is away with her husband," Benvolio replied. "And the servants shall be of no disturbance. My household shall serve for the solitude we seek… thy presence there is as common as my own of late."
This was true indeed. Mercutio had paid many visits to the estate of Lord Montague, courtesy of Romeo, but these had been of casual, frivolous purpose. Contrastingly, the home of the patriarch's late brother, Benvolio's father, had been a place of refuge and catharsis for Mercutio, especially in recent years. Indeed, he had found more relief there than he could imagine having amongst his own kinsmen. He could not help but grin slightly at the mention of the times of "solitude" with Benvolio; even the most sorrowful felt like a blessing.
"'Twill please me if it does thee evenly," he murmured.
"Then let us go tither presently."
With that, the two began their way up the cobblestone slope. The distance was brief, but the absence of the daytime crowd and clamor made it seem longer. Mercutio stumbled slightly, though this was not due to the darkness; as his mind had drifted back towards other times, he seemed to further lose sense of the present, and the wine from the party certainly did not mitigate these effects.
He felt Benvolio's hand on his shoulder and instinctively tensed at the touch. Gathering himself again, he slowly relaxed. Again, he wondered why he was able to take such ease in this steady grip when any other hand would arouse only anxiety and abhorrence for such contact. Even Valentine's embrace was cold to Mercutio now; the security of his elder brother's presence that he'd cherished as a young boy had long since faded as all lies do.
"By what skill hast thou ensnared me, Benvolio?" he muttered.
"Nay, 'tis no skill by my own part," Benvolio said. "'Tis merely knowledge and comprehension."
"Thou art deceived," Mercutio was taken aback by the desperation in his own voice. "There is wit in both, wit that others want. Of what form is it?"
Benvolio turned to face him, his countenance grave and pensive. A short silence followed in which the night seemed to grow thicker and overwhelming.
"Knowledge," Benvolio answered at length. "Is of thy own making. Thou hast revealed to me what I may use to conceive… but the perception, if thou wilt pardon my calling it so, is still of another make. It comes of experience. I have heard thee rail on thy kinsmen, seen thy disquiet for fear that they shall learn of our affections truly. I have woken in the night when thou canst no longer suppress past horrors and given my feeble counsel as thou hast wept."
"Thou wilt witness the like again, I fear," Mercutio murmured, smiling bitterly as they continued down the path.
The words proved true. No sooner had Benvolio ushered away the servants and secured their seclusion in his bed chamber than Mercutio allowed another deluge of tears and cries he'd buried to surface. He thought dully of how wretched he looked, his kinsmen's disapproval echoing through his mind. One voice stood out, for it spoke in guidance, not disgust.
"Thou wilt mend no flaws with thy tears, Mercutio. Yet, they are a necessity for an elegiac soul. Conceal them from scorn when thou must, but do not dwell too deeply in this idleness, seeking aid in a practice that shall yield none."
"If you did think it so, Valentine, wherefore did you leave me no other source of relief?" Mercutio thought, grimly.
Noticing Benvolio's arms around him once more, his heart lightened slightly. He had not been quick to find it, but another source had come. Indeed, it was confined by harsh society, but in the dark secrecy, no shame or scorn from the blind critics could deprive Mercutio of its entirety.