Horatio can not avert his eyes from the two men who are dancing a few meters away, as if there is no tomorrow. Faces red and hot, hair straggly, eyes closed, expressions absent as if they were in a different, better world. He has rarely seen Hamlet like that. So overflowing with energy and enthusiasm. So alive. So shortly before the moment when exaggerated euphoria turns into madness. The moment at which his mind is not capable of reining the despair in anymore and it strikes at full power. Horatio is fascinated and frightened at the same time. Because he doesn't know what to do when Hamlet reaches the moment he's inevitably heading for. With his mouth full of alcohol and alarmingly loud laughter.
‚He has this effect on other people,' mutters the young man with the Mediterranean accent, who's leaning at the counter of the bar next to Horatio. They haven't talked much, even though they've been standing side by side for a while. They were both too busy not to lose sight of what's dearest in the world to them. To make sure they'll be there when it threatens to break into pieces like it was so many times before. Horatio knew right away that the stranger and he are alike: that both of them have concentred their whole lives on protecting someone.
‚He's incredible,' says Horatio watching the man who's dancing so ecstatically next to Hamlet that he seems in danger of falling at any moment. But he doesn't fall. He laughs and sweats and bawls out all the energy his young body and his doped spirit want to throw into the room. And Hamlet is by his side. Wild and free and beautiful. And so fragile that it brings tears to Horatio's eyes. He's not sure whether the desire of seeing his friend, his soul mate, his lover, as exuberant as in this moment another thousand times outweighs the unspeakable pain of the deep fall that'll unavoidably follow.
‚It was a night like this when I first met him,' the voice on Horatio's right continues. He recalls the name, which he wasn't familiar with before, but fits the other so well that his mind held on to it. Benvolio. Because they speak Latin with each other – the only language both of them master and in which they can communicate, even if Horatio's Latin sounds bumbling and wooden – the meaning of the name jumped out at him immediately. And it fits the mild look from the deep dark eyes, in which he can spot a slight melancholy. Benvolio. Who wants the good.
‚Where have you met?' Horatio asks, while his sight wanders back to Hamlet, who's just throwing his head back and blurting out a howl that gives Horatio goosebumps. It sounds so uninhibited. Excited and heartbreaking.
‚A feast at my cousin Romeo's,' tells Benvolio and his gaze swings back to the dance floor, his eyes always fixed on the man who attracts the attention of the whole crowd. ‚I already knew him before – there's probably no one in Verona who doesn't. But I watched his ado only at a distance. Half fascinated, half wary. When he approached me I tossed all wariness overboard without giving it another look. It felt like I had found the centre of my life right at that moment. The middle which everything revolves around. The fixed star to which everything adjusts. I behaved absolutely dull, stuttered and blushed and couldn't get a straight sentence out. He watched my struggle for a while, amused, then he said, „I like you, Benvolio. You're one of those wonderful people the world hasn't spoiled yet. Keep it for you". Then he was gone again, back to the crowd, dancing and cheering and catching all the attention he needs to exist. I was the one who didn't lose sight of him that night. And I was the one in whose lap he cried once the zenith passed and all the sorrow of this world caught up with him. And I'm still this one until today. Every day, every second of our existence. A burden weighing tons and the greatest gift of heaven at the same time.'
A faint, sad smile creeps into the corner of his mouth as he darts a quick glance at Horatio.
‚I don't have to explain, do I?' he says. ‚I'm sure you know this feeling only too well.' Horatio laughs outright. Not because Benvolio's words are ridiculous, on the contrary. They all too well reflecting what his own life is about. A life that interminably centres around taking care of someone who cannot do it for himself. Of someone whose existence he considers so precious that he would give his own life for it without blinking an eye. It's an assignment that sometimes threatens to destroy him and at other times fills him up to the brim so he's not sure whether he could exist without it.
He catches Hamlet's gaze for just a split second and a sharp stab hits his heart as the unfulfilled longing leaps out of it. The longing for something that neither this world nor anyone – not even Horatio – is able to give him.
‚Sometimes it's hard to bear,' he murmurs, more to himself than for other ears but Benvolio hums approvingly.
‚I'm sure that I'd never have chosen a life like this before I knew him,' he agrees absently. ‚Nobody with a clear mind would.' They lapse into silence, dwelling on their thoughts which even the loud music and the strident people around them cannot supplant.
‚But we had no choice,' Horatio says finally. It sounds right to use „we" because the few words they have exchanged already revealed to him that he was right: Benvolio and him couldn't be more alike. Their lives are controlled day and night by concerns for the person they love, and there's only one thing that lets them stand these concerns. The fact that this very person loves them back just as unconditionally. That he makes them feel like the only person in his life that matters. This keeps Horatio with Hamlet. This keeps Benvolio with his lover. Mercutio. Horatio remembers the name that is even as characteristic as his companion's. The Capricious.
‚Where are you two heading for?' Horatio asks when he can no longer bear the gnawing thoughts. ‚It's a pretty long way from Italy to Wittenberg, isn't it?'
‚Yes,' Benvolio affirms and his gaze becomes a little distant. ‚We have no destination, we… I suggested this journey. I know that he feels confined in Verona, in the golden cage of aristocrat society. He needs his freedom, and the suspense, and the adventure. I've never seen him as relaxed as in these past few weeks...' He pauses, keeps silent for a moment, and utters a quiet sigh which reaches so deep, Horatio feels the pain with him even though he doesn't know the reason for it. Maybe because he's used to the case that with some people happiness and despair are never far apart.
When the music-steeped conversation lapse lasts for so long that Horatio is no longer sure whether an explanation will follow, Benvolio says: ‚Today was the last day we moved further away from Verona, tomorrow we're starting our way back. We can't stay away forever, we have… commitments. I know that it afflicts him. He gotten more and more quiet during the past few days and when he proposed to go dancing today, I already knew that it was going to be one of those nights again. Full of wine and cackles and far too many tears afterward.' Horatio bites his lip to collect himself. Out of the fear that an uncontrolled laugh could fall from his strained heart. Because Hamlet, too, is troubled by an upcoming return home. They both are. He takes a deep breath, his jaw clenched, before he dares to speak.
‚Hamlet received a letter today,' he says‚ "Only three days after a message about his father's death. His mother wrote that she'll marry again – her late husband's brother. That Hamlet should, therefore, come back home and may not be able to finish his studies here. He read the letter straightfaced, looked at me and said, „I don't know what's harder to take: Her behaviour or that she still thinks I would call a prison my home". He said it with a smile so sad that I couldn't utter a word in response. Sometimes I'm afraid that he can't bear all this. That he's too fragile for this world and its terrors. And that I am not able to protect him from them.' He feels Benvolio's hand on his shoulder and when he turns towards him he thinks he can see tears glinting in the corners of his eyes. Or maybe it's just the murky twilight and the flickering of the lamps where nothing is like it seems to be.
‚It's difficult to love someone who's always just a finger-width away from the abyss, isn't it?' Benvolio says so quietly that his words are nearly swallowed by the music. Horatio suddenly shivers in the room heated by the dancing masses and at first, he doesn't know why. Until he recognises that it was Benvolio's choice of words that triggered him. Love. He has never spoken with anyone openly about the fact that he loves Hamlet. Obviously, but unmentioned, it has been hanging over their heads since they met for the first time. And even though all the people around them know that the two of them are more than friends, that they share not only every spare second but also the bed, that they fall asleep in each other's arms and kiss in unobserved moments, it's something completely different to speak about it. Even if it's exactly the thing Horatio feels. Love. A deep, intimate love that stands out from everything else. Until self-abandonment.
‚Yes,' he whispers, a little delayed after Benvolio's words and focuses on Hamlet again, who, just in that very moment, unsnaps from Mercuio's side and comes over to them. With one hand he wipes the sweaty hair from his forehead, with the other he stretches out for Horatio. When he's close enough Horatio reaches for Hamlet's hand. Of course he does.
‚Come on, dance with me!' Hamlet shoutsin his frenzy of alcohol - even over the music a little too loud - and Horatio has to smile against all common sense. He exchanges a look with Benvolio, who gives him a nod as though he knows situations like this all too well. Then Horatio is pulled away, dissolves with Hamlet into the crowd, between dancing bodies, cheering mouths and seeking hearts. He feels Hamlet's hand in his and all of a sudden, there are words on his tongue that want to be said. Horatio almost frightens himself by reaching for Hamlet's shoulder to retain him and waving his wondering face closer until his lips are directly on the other's ear.
‚I love you,' he whispers and his heart seems to pause for a moment when Hamlet pulls his head back and looks at him in surprise. A smile crawls up to his lips. A painful smile. One that doesn't quite know where it belongs. One that longs for a home and is not sure if it may have already found it.
‚I've always pondered on death a lot,' he finally responses after anxious moments and Horatio's heart tenses up although he should have known that Hamlet, in case of doubt, would always choose bitter words. ‚But since you've been with me, I'm not longing for Him anymore. The undiscovered country that lays hidden behind this border is no longer so tempting when I know that I'd have to be there without you.' He casts down his eyes. His chest is shaking and it is not clear whether he's crying or laughing. But when he looks up again his gaze is clear and the smile on his lips has changed. It is more honest than before and the despair is only slightly remaining in the corners of his eyes.
‚Death shouldn't dare to steal you from me,' Horatio wants to say, but instead only a sob comes from his mouth, and seconds later he feels Hamlet's arms wrapped around him. Squeezed against his chest, he hears the fast untamed heartbeat and he desires nothing more than to keep this heart beating forever. They rock slowly and totally inappropriately to the fast beat of the music from side to side and Horatio forgets about the world around him. Forgets that this night will end in disaster because nights like this are damned to do so. When he opens his eyes, he catches a glimpse of Mercutio over Hamlet's shoulder, who apparently had convinced Benvolio to come to the dance floor with him. Horatio has to smile when he sees how tightly their eyes are interlocked. As if they could keep the protective wall around their tiny intact world up for a few blinks of an eye. Intense and desperate and endlessly tender.
Without asking for it the question arises in his mind who of them – Benvolio or himself – will fail first. Which drama will take place first. Whether Hamlet's melancholy or Mercutio's drive for the dance on a knife's edge will claim the first victim.
He pushes the thought aside, becomes infected by the overwhelming rush of despair that already made Mercutio and Hamlet move madly to the music. Now he dances, too. Throws his head wildly from one side to the other as if he could fling the thoughts into the corners of the room. Far, far away.
Even if he's still aware that it's actually his job to be the decent one (the one that bars Hamlet from going crazy), he can no longer fend for himself. Too heavy seems the responsibility, too huge his fear. He can bear neither the one nor the other anymore. Instead, he throws himself headfirst into this world that others have entered long before him because they also knew no other way out. Mercutio. Hamlet.
Maybe this night is the beginning of the end, he thinks when he glances at Benvolio another time, who also gave up the resistance and joined the sheer foolishness of erratic movements. Maybe this is the night from which everything starts to go downhill. Horatio doesn't know what is waiting for Hamlet and him in Elsinore nor does he know what's going to happen after Benvolio's and Mercutio's return to Verona, but the lumps in his breast tighten as if they prepare to never loosen again. As if everything is already settled. Horatio clings to Hamlet with the irrepressible feeling that nothing can save them anymore. They lost, since this moment. All of them.