A/N: Just a quick update before the final scenes. Thank you for your patience, and for sticking with this story!

Act V, Scene I (Benedick)
Location: Messina, Leonato's Stables

I find my prince and Claudio parading like peacocks through the stable yards, continuing to prove themselves the most disgraceful of guests by thumbing their noses at mine worthy host and his gracious brother. That they would stoop so low as to jest of coming to fisticuffs with the aged gentleman makes my blood boil - that they believe me in agreement with them in this matter of fair Hero makes me wonder what manner of man these men I thought my friends must truly be. At the behest of the good priest, Leonato has spread the rumor the wound Claudio dealt killed fair Hero dead, and yet here my prince and Claudio stand laughing at the sorrow they have brought upon the house that has always been our most welcome sanctuary. It is truly a terrible wonder to behold - clearly, I have been too agreeable in the past when it has come to mischief, too like to smile and nod agreement where in truth I had none. I have suffered enough at their careless hands, but it is not for myself that I seek vengeance. Rather, for Beatrice, whose tears I would defy the whole world to wash away, and for fair Hero, whose only sin was to love a man whose handsome face hid a hollow soul.

Nevertheless, I must confess a sort of dark satisfaction filled me when I threw down a gauntlet at Claudio's feet. "You are a villain," I hear my own voice say, as though from far away. "I jest not. And I will make it good how you dare, with what you dare, and when you dare." The young face seemed to drain of blood behind the swarthy tan, and I cannot help but grin - he has fought at my side on too many a battlefield to think he stands a fool's chance of victory in the lists against me.

The petty attempts to either pacify or provoke, for honestly, I cannot tell which was intended, only leave me further disheartened in my friends and strengthened in my resolve. Claudio tries to mask his fear with a rapier wit that needs far too much sharpening at the whetstone - how have I spent so long in such a dullard's company without becoming one myself? And Don Pedro's provocations seem strangely desperate, for how else am I to understand his threats to cuckold me before I have even betrothed myself? Has he always been such a pale imitation of a prince? Surely, Beatrice must have seen the truth long ago, for she evaded his grasp with all the wiliness of a fox while I soldiered blindly on in his service. I understand now, my darling, why you were hurt that I followed him willingly.

But to leave his company is to doom myself to poverty and perhaps to forfeit my chance of winning Beatrice's hand. Forgive me, dearest girl, but even for you I will not compromise mine honor and continue in the company of such vile corruptors. It is clear they believe me not as a I forswear my prince's company and reiterate my challenge to Claudio's cowardly conduct, but I will no longer waste words bandying with witless worms. I hear them chattering like magpies as I depart, but I will not look back.

I will find my love instead, whose mind is keen and brilliant and whose soul shines with a radiance that effaces all her endearing faults, and I will cling to her with all the strength that is in me. As I should have done all those long years ago.