Beatrice smirked as she hurried up the winding staircase. Don Pedro was going to stay for a month in Messina in her uncle's castle… which meant that Benedick would be staying for a month too. Normally, she would have been unenthusiastic about visitors; she would have to act lady like and dress up... but if Benedick would be here, Don Pedro's visit might just be tolerable. As she burst through the door of her chamber, she laughed in anticipation of the chances she would have to make fun of Benedick's attempts to be witty. In a battle of wits, she always won.

"Scratching could not make it worse an 'twere a face as yours were." Beatrice smiled inwardly as Benedick crossed his arms, shifted his weight from leg to leg, and arched his eyebrows casually. He's stalling for time!

"Well, you are a rare parrot-teacher."

That took you long enough. "A bird of my tongue is better than a beast of yours." She countered, delighted at Benedick's reddening face. She smothered the giggles that threatened slip from her lips.

"I would my horse had the speed of your tongue and so good a continuer, but keep your way, i'God's name, I have done." Benedick replied. Lame. Really, Benedick? Triumph flooded Beatrice's veins. She had won again.

Beatrice saw a flash of metal out of the corner of her eye and ran to the window to watch. It was Claudio and Benedick walking together, deep in conversation, the swords at their sides reflecting the late afternoon sun.

"In mine eye she is the sweetest lady that ever I looked on." Claudio insisted. They must be talking about Hero! The corner of Beatrice's lip quirked upwards as she smiled.

Benedick cut in. "I can see yet without spectacles, and I see no such matter. There's her cousin, an she were not possessed with a fury, exceeds her as much in beauty as the first of May doth the last of December." Beatrice's head spun. He thinks that I am pretty? She shook her head and ran up the stairs. Men were a mystery better left unsolved. She took off her rebato and threw it onto a pile of petticoats and corsets perched precariously on an armchair. I'll have to fix that later, she thought as she picked out a blue and white dress for the feast that night.

Dark midnight blue velvet cascaded down her shoulders, and her golden locks were swept out of her face with sparkling pins. White lace petticoats peeked out from the corner of her gown, and ivory side sleeves embroidered with silver rustled as she hurried down the stone staircase. A night of reveling and dances lay ahead.

Beatrice triumphantly waded through the crowds of people towards the dance floor. She had once again reaffirmed her desire to never marry in front of her uncle, and there had been relatively little objections. Marriage. What a ridiculous thing to commit oneself to.

As Beatrice stared into space, lost in her thoughts, a masked party guest approached her. "My lady, would you have this dance with me?"

Beatrice snapped back to reality. "Oh -of course, sir!"

She grasped his outstretched hand and the pair swept gracefully onto the dance floor. The masked man smiled at her. "I am truly surprised you agreed, my lady, for I was told that you were disdainful, and that your good wit comes from The Hundred Merry Tales."

Beatrice laughed incredulously. "Will you not tell me who told you so?"

The mysterious man merely grinned and shook his head. "No, you shall pardon me."

"Nor will you not tell me who you are?"

"Not now."

Beatrice thought for a second. "That I was disdainful, and that I had my good wit out of The Hundred Merry Tales! Well, this was Signior Benedick that said so." He may have called me pretty, but he really is the only man despicable enough in Messina to say such a thing.

"What's he?"

Beatrice laughed. "I am sure you know him well enough." You must know him well to have heard such a tale.

"Not I, believe me."

Beatrice smiled and asked teasingly, "Did he never make you laugh?"

The man shrugged and smiled. "I pray you, what is he?"

That's an interesting question... Maybe this man doesn't know him. This my chance to enlighten him then! Beatrice took a deep breath and began her standard narrative about Benedick, the man who was the bane of her existence. "Why, he is the Prince's jester, a very dull fool; his only gift is in devising impossible slanders. None but libertines delight in him, and the commendation is not in his wit but in his villainy..."

Benedick staggered away from the dance floor and dove into the crowd, peeling his mask off his sweaty face and rubbing his temples. He had danced with Beatrice, though she was perfectly unaware of his true identity. He had attempted polite conversation, only to discover Beatrice's opinion of himself. The Prince's jester, a dull fool... How low is her opinion of me, truly?

As Beatrice excused herself from the conversation and left to rejoin the party, Don Pedro turned to Leonato. "By my troth, a pleasant-spirited lady."

"There's little of the melancholy element in her, my lord. She is never sad but when she sleeps, and not ever sad then, for I have heard my daughter say she hath often dreamt of unhappiness and waked herself with laughing."

Don Pedro laughed and said, " She cannot endure to hear tell of a husband." Much like another man who has no desire to wed.

Leonato laughed as well and replied, "O, by no means. She mocks all her wooers out of suit."

As I suspected. Don Pedro looked at Leonato seriously. "She were an excellent wife for Benedick."

Leonato laughed all the harder. "O Lord, my lord, if they were but a week married, they would talk themselves mad."

Don Pedro sighed inwardly and changed the subject. "County Claudio, when mean you to go to church?"

Claudio's eyes shone as he replied, "Tomorrow, my lord. Time goes on crutches till love have all his rites."

Leonato placed a hand on Claudio's shoulder. "Not till Monday, my dear son, which is hence a just sevennight, and a time too brief, too, to have all things answer in my mind."

Beatrice lay awake in bed, thinking about the night's events. Claudio was to be married to Hero! She thought that he could be a tad bit more intelligent, but he was a good man nonetheless. She stared up at her painted ceiling and fell asleep.

Beatrice groaned as she hurried through the halls, desperate to finish her unpleasant task. She found Benedick lounging in a garden. "Against my will, I am sent to bid you come in to dinner."

Benedick rose upon her entrance and greeted her courteously. "Fair Beatrice, I thank you for your pains."

Fair Beatrice? Thank me? Did he hit his head? Beatrice sighed. "I took no more pains for those thanks than you take pains to thank me. If it had been painful, I would not have come."

Benedick's face lit up in a brilliant smile. "You take pleasure then in the message?"

Beatrice huffed in exasperation. So he didn't hit his head, he was toying with her. "Yea, just so much as you may take upon a knife's point and choke a daw withal. You have no stomach, signior. Fare you well." She coated her words with venom and stomped noisily out the garden, trampling greenery in her wake.

Early afternoon sunlight spiraled into the parlor, bathing the room with gentle light. Beatrice sat, sipping tea and chatting with the Prince and Claudio; her legs were draped over the arm of her chair, and her skirt cascaded down its side, a flurry of creamy silk brocade and crimson tinseled satin.

Benedick stalked past the parlor, mulling over the events of the previous day. Beatrice loved him? She constantly attacked him with verbal swords whenever they met, but that was just as Leonato said she would do, was it not? "… for I should flout him if he write to me…"

His thoughts were broken by a peal of laughter that drifted out the door of the parlor. He hid behind a tapestry and peered into the room. There was Beatrice, legs draped casually over her chair. Her head was thrown back, and she was laughing at something Don Pedro had said. Benedick stared. If only he could make her laugh like that! The way her lace rebato framed her face, the way her shiny golden curls glowed in the sunlight… He shook his head. This train of thought would get him nowhere. He turned on his heel and walked to his room.

Claudio watched, fascinated, as Margaret ran into the room. Beatrice immediately straightened, and sat with impeccable posture as Margaret whispered something into her ear. As soon as Margaret was done, Beatrice excused herself and ran down the stairs. Claudio looked at Don Pedro. He simply looked back and shrugged. Claudio sighed. Women were impossible.

Beatrice crept under the bower, covered with honeysuckles. She looked through a gap in the flowers, desperately trying to catch a word of Hero's and Ursula's conversation.

"No, truly, Ursula, she is too disdainful. I know her spirits are as coy and wild as haggards of the rock." Who? Me? Beatrice seethed. How could Hero say that about her? Was she truly so disdainful, just as Benedick claimed she was?

"But are you sure that Benedick loves Beatrice so entirely?"

"So says the Prince and my new-trothed lord."

At this, Beatrice nearly fell out of the bower in shock. Benedick loves me? What universe is this? Mary, I must have heard them wrong… But it could explain the pathetic way he was acting yesterday when I went to get him for dinner yesterday. "Fair Beatrice, I thank you for your pains"... Bah! He but counterfeits, and makes a laughingstock of me! But… Claudio and the Prince say that he loves me, and they are his constant companions… Should I believe them? Beatrice snapped out of her reverie when she realized she was missing most of the conversation. She scrambled closer to the edge of the bower.

"...She cannot love, nor take no shape nor project of affection, she is so self-endeared." Me? Self-endeared? AM NOT! Beatrice skittered backwards as Hero and Ursula walked closer to the bower. She leaned as far forward as she could without drawing attention to herself. Her gown caught on something and ripped. Beatrice gritted her teeth. At this point, she didn't care if she was ruining her dress. Benedick loves me?

Margaret peered out of the windows overlooking the grounds and saw a flash of crimson underneath a bower of honeysuckles. She shook her head. This was going to be a long conversation, and she was going to have to explain why Beatrice's dress was destroyed to the chamber maids.

Beatrice blinked as Ursula shook her awake. She groaned and picked up the clothes she had set aside for the day. Silver cloth and luscious silk glinted up at her. I'm surprised the maids didn't have any objections to letting me wear this, given the state of my dress yesterday… But I guess I could be more careful. Tinseled satin! Hopefully it'll be fine after it's washed.

Ursula complained and tightened Beatrice's corset unbearably. "Hurry up, today's the wedding!" Oh, right. The wedding… the wedding! Hero's getting married!

Beatrice pulled the silver gown over her layers of lace petticoats, as Ursula frantically puffed out the slashed sleeves. Will Benedick like my dress? I rarely wear silver brocade… What shall I do with my hair?!

Beatrice shoved a handful of pearl pins into her hair and ran out of the room.

Ursula raised an eyebrow. What has gotten into that girl?

Beatrice stood there in a state of absolute shock as Leonato, the Friar, and Hero departed. Tears ran down her cheeks as she processed the unthinkable. How could Claudio, who so loved Hero, accuse her of such a crime? Now they had to fake Hero's death! Benedick walked up beside her. "Lady Beatrice, have you wept all this while?"

Beatrice stood in her newly mended crimson gown, silently cursing her corset and wishing it could magically loosen. Claudio and Hero were getting married again, and she was going to suffocate silently in a chapel.

Benedick's voice echoed through the cavernous hall. "Soft and fair, friar. Which is Beatrice?"

Beatrice removed her ornate, feathered mask with sweaty hands as her pulse quickened. Get a hold of yourself, Beatrice. "I answer to that name. What is your will?"

"Do not you love me?" Oh, dear, dear Benedick. Of course I love you, kind man who I have wronged so deeply.

Beatrice took a deep breath. "Why no, no more than reason."

Benedick stepped forward. "Why, then your uncle and the prince and Claudio have been deceived. They swore you did."

"Do not you love me?"

"Troth, no, no more than reason."

Beatrice's heart sank a little. "Why then, my cousin, Margaret, and Ursula are much deceived, for they did swear you did."

Benedick took another step forward. "They swore you were almost sick for me!"

Beatrice stepped forward incredulously. "They swore that you were well-nigh dead for me!"

The two walked forward till they were face to face. Benedick breathed in. "'Tis no such matter. Then, you do not love me?"

Beatrice replied, "No, truly, but in friendly recompense." Even so, she desperately searched Benedick's face for a sign of a disappointment, a slight crease in his brow. But there was none.

Leonato's voice cut in. "Come, cousin, I am sure you love the gentleman."

Claudio held up a crumpled sheet of paper, marked with pocks of black ink. "And I'll be sworn upon't that he loves her, for here's a paper written in his hand, a halting sonnet in his own pure brain, fashioned to Beatrice." Benedick's face suddenly turned red as fear of his terrible rhymes being discovered assaulted him.

Hero stepped forward as well, a neatly folded parchment covered in lilting swirls of black letters in her hand. "And here's another, writ in my cousin's hand, stolen from her pocket, containing her affection unto Benedick." Beatrice's face paled. How did Hero know?

Then, Benedick burst out laughing. "A miracle! Here's our own hands against our hearts. Come, I will have thee, but by this light I take thee for pity."

Beatrice finally smiled. "I would not deny you, but by this good day, I yield upon great persuasion and partly to save your life, for I was told you were in a consumption."

Benedick grinned. "Peace! I will stop your mouth."

The loud cheering of wedding guests echoed throughout Messina, and the sun shone down as not one, but two couples made their way to the altar.

Author's note: Hello readers! That was my first fanfiction, so please review! Dedicated to my best friend, who adores Much Ado About Nothing.