Harlequin's Slash Fic

Romeo & Mercutio: an alternate love story

Title: Romeo & Mercutio: an alternate love story
Author: Harlequin
Universe: Romeo and Juliet
Characters featured: Romeo/Mercutio & Juliet/Paris
Category, Word count: Story; 10,823 words
Rating: PG13
Summary: Years before this story begins, Romeo gave up on Rosaline and instead committed himself to a love affair with Mercutio; they left Verona Beach. On their return, Romeo meets Juliet for the first time, and is intrigued to find she is working towards ending the long feud between the Montague and Capulet families.
Notes: This piece draws on Shakespeare’s play Romeo and Juliet, but also very much on the setting, visuals and casting of Baz Luhrmann’s 1996 film. Also, I borrowed some poetry from Arthur Rimbaud (translated by John Sturrock and Jeremy Harding).
First published: 30 August 2008 on Harlequin’s Slash Site


Romeo & Mercutio

an alternate love story

Romeo, with his young man’s limberness, heedless of convention, clambered onto the booth’s table and spread his arms waiting. Quiet rippled out from his centre, as one by one all heads turned expectantly towards him. Mercutio Prince, half fond and half amused, hid a smile.

‘I have a sonnet for you,’ Romeo announced, ‘and you must guess the subject.’

This was of course the main attraction. Mercutio’s café, hard on the college borders, offered the best dark–roasted coffee, the heartiest food, ridiculous discounts for students, and above all Romeo Montague with his golden perfection and exuberant poetry. Young women wanted to be him, young men wanted to love him. Or was that the other way round? Mercutio ducked his head as a grin ambushed him. In any case, this was exactly why the café was still crowded at eleven on a weeknight.

Dark and puckered like a purple carnation,’ Romeo declaimed into the hush – and Mercutio remained ducked, busying himself with drying the mugs hot and steamy from the dishwasher – ‘it breathes, meekly nestling in the moss – still damp from sex – which spreads along the slow, black incline of the buttocks to its rim.

Silence met this foray, though whether the silence of shock or confusion, Mercutio wasn’t quite game enough to discover.

The sonnet continued with geological metaphors, and ‘Often my dream was spellbound by its suction’, and ‘my soul construed it as a wild, wet eye’s edge’… It had been many long years and thousands of miles since Mercutio had blushed. One last reference to the Promised Land, and Romeo was done, arms still outstretched as if offering every last bit of himself to his audience.

The silence continued through a long weighty moment. Mercutio finally looked up to see that only one person had really understood – and that was Romeo’s man Balthasar, who’d collapsed with his face hidden in his arms, shoulders shaking with laughter or maybe with sobs. Others were gaping up at Romeo as if wondering whether they dared to guess, or shaking their heads as if it were all too obscure.

‘You must tell us,’ one of the more innocent students finally cried out.

‘Come on, Romeo, don’t leave us all in suspenders.’

‘I’ll warrant,’ said another of the less innocent ones, ‘it has something to do with Mercutio.’ Several knowing smirks and sniggers greeted this. Which certainly was the trouble with one’s boyfriend being a poet, Mercutio reflected: even the most intimate acts were grist for his mill.

‘You’re right,’ Romeo declared, ‘it has everything to do with the delectable Mercutio… but I will leave you to ponder the details further.’ And he bowed low, gracefully, from his narrow, sinuous hips. ‘Thank you. Thank you, all.’

A smattering of applause and much grinning appreciation as Romeo leapt down from his podium, and walked over to sit on one of the high stools at the bar, offering his lover a wink and an utterly unrepentant smile. Mercutio glowered at him, but fondly.

An hour later the last customer headed off into the chilly north–east night air, and Mercutio shut and locked the front door. While Balthasar collected a trayful of used crockery from the tables, Mercutio went to sit beside an unexpectedly contemplative Romeo. The quiet stretched for a while, until at last Mercutio asked, ‘What’s the matter, lover? Or is it the muse bending your ear?’

Romeo turned, and considered him thoughtfully for another long moment. ‘No, Mercutio, not the muse.’ And then he announced, very simply and directly, ‘I think it’s time to go home.’

Juliet Capulet Paris stood at the glass wall in her study, perched atop a house that climbed a steep hill, overlooking the whole sprawling valley. Dave had assumed that when they married they’d live in one of the marble mansions she could just make out below, evenly dotted along the palm–lined streets with wide green margins of lawn. But she had wanted something different, something distant. There was a fragile illusion here of space, of peace and quiet, and the streamlined modern lines, the glass and concrete, were the antithesis of her parents’ baroque tastes. Dave had, as always, acceded to her wishes.

‘I don’t know how you can stand there,’ came a mild voice. It was Dave Paris, of course, waiting near the stairwell at the back of the room. He smiled in acknowledgement as she turned to him. ‘I get vertigo just thinking about it.’

‘Any sensible person would,’ she offered, echoing his smile. It wasn’t just that the external wall was glass from floor to ceiling; the room itself jutted out so that one didn’t glimpse any supports, or the rest of the house, or even the cliffs, but only the rocks and foothills far below.

‘Peter tells me that lunch is ready,’ Dave said. ‘Would you care to join me, or shall I bring you a tray?’

‘I’ll come down. Thank you.’

But Dave had been distracted by the fashion designs propped on her easel. ‘Oh, this is really very good,’ he said, walking over full of admiration. ‘You must be pleased.’

Juliet cast a critical eye over them yet again: the clean lines and elegant shapes drawn economically in ink, the bright colours conveyed by watercolour, the neat fabric swatches down one side adding texture. The whole presentation demonstrably targeted a Capulet buyer, what with the rich warm colours, religious iconography, and lashings of blood red amidst black.

‘Aren’t you pleased, my dear? Isn’t this your final project? You can hardly fail to graduate top of your class.’

‘Oh, well,’ she said with a self–deprecating laugh. ‘It’s only a diploma.’ She was all too aware that Dave had two degrees, and a masters in political science.

You,’ he responded, taking her in his arms, ‘are not yet twenty, and running a very successful business. Not many could say half as much.’

The shop was doing well, she had to admit – though it could do so much more… She had plans she hadn’t dared tell anyone yet, not even Dave, because she wasn’t sure if it would work beyond her fondest dreams, or fail and destroy them all.

‘But what’s this…?’ Dave asked. He let her go, and moved to her desk, gingerly shifted the bits and pieces she’d absently scattered across what she’d meant to hide. ‘Juliet…?’

She stared down at the design as intently as he did. Less structured lines this time, a looser, more casual fit. Bright colours again, but now lush and cool, with tropical images and the most beautiful blues lightened by voluptuous creams. This certainly had nothing to do with Capulet tastes.

‘This looks more like…’ He couldn’t say it. Dave – Dave Paris, the Governor’s son, who had always stayed carefully above Verona’s family feud – was scared by what his wife had done. ‘This appears to be…’

‘Designs for the Montagues,’ she supplied. ‘Yes.’

Ted Montague rapped softly on the door of the bedroom suite his son was using, and walked in. This should have been a reasonable thing to do – Romeo wasn’t a teenager any more, and it was the middle of the afternoon, for heaven’s sake. But Montague found that he’d just missed the main event and was instead witnessing the aftermath. Too late, Balthasar skidded to a halt in the corridor behind him, realised that he’d failed, and tactfully retreated. Montague stalled with his hand on the doorknob, gazing at young Mercutio Prince, naked and sprawled facedown on the rumpled bed. Alone, thank god. The dark skin against the white sheets compelled Montague’s eye, though he really didn’t want to think about the implications of those pert buttocks, those thighs askew, the sleep a deep one as if the man were well satisfied.

His son, his only son Romeo was out on the balcony, bare–chested, bathed in strong sunlight in contrast to the dim coolness of the room, smoking with his back to the balustrade. Staring at Montague with a faintly belligerent air as if to say, Don’t try pretending you didn’t know this about me.

Well, they couldn’t talk here. Montague beckoned to him, and withdrew to wait in the corridor. Romeo joined him a few moments later, having at least discarded his cigarette and shrugged on a shirt. ‘What?’ the young man asked.

Montague led him some distance away before commenting, ‘It’s good to have you home.’

‘It’s good to be home.’ And Romeo blessed him with a brief but affectionate smile.

‘I thought it was time to talk about what you plan to do now.’

This was met with an ambivalent shrug.

‘I had to call in a few favours to allow you to graduate, you do realise that, don’t you? All those literature classes counted for nothing, I have no idea what your course adviser thought he was doing. But, anyway, that’s done now, and it’s time you took your place in one of our businesses – one or more, as you like! Your cousin Benvolio is already a junior manager in our real estate holdings, and making a decent fist of it, too, though of course he has nowhere near your abilities.’

They’d reached the atrium where the guest wing met the main house. Romeo paused near the picture window, apparently captured by the sunlight, and Montague stopped, waited. No reaction was forthcoming.

‘There’s an office I’ve already set aside, a corner office, with the hottest little secretary…’

‘I’m not sure,’ Romeo murmured.

‘Well, there’s no need to rush. The boss’s son must have a few privileges,’ Montague commented with a chuckle. ‘Take a week or two to settle back in. Catch up with your cousins, your old friends. You haven’t been back once in all these years. Talk with Benvolio, I know he’ll reassure you.’

A silence stretched. Montague began to frown. Romeo had already turned back towards the bedrooms, though he hadn’t walked away yet. He simply said, ‘We’ll see. Thank you, father.’

Montague’s anger surged, got the better of him. ‘It is time,’ he announced, ‘for you to put away childish things. It is time to take your rightful place in the world that I’ve created.’

Romeo looked back at him sceptically. ‘The world that you’ve created, father?’

‘Yes!’

‘And is there really no room in that world for… for what you call my childish things?’

Montague stared at him. Romeo made it sound so reasonable, and yet he was talking about the indulgences of writing verse and enjoying a deviant kind of pleasure. It was time for him to grow the hell up. Maybe not quite time yet for him to beget his own son, but definitely time to at least acknowledge the desirability of such a goal… Montague took a breath. Well, he reflected, but at least we are talking. Negotiating. Not fighting. His only son’s long–deferred homecoming mustn’t degenerate into an argument. Montague found a smile from somewhere. ‘Take a week or two. As I will. We’ll discuss this later.’

Romeo nodded, and reached to pat Montague reassuringly on the shoulder. ‘Thank you, father.’ And he calmly walked away, upright and self–assured.

That was the moment in which Montague realised his son had already grown into a man. Montague was proud; but the pride was tainted with foreboding.

She knew he’d arrived. The loud carefree roar of conversation had abruptly become the muted buzz of titillated shock, whispered controversy. Juliet felt all eyes fix upon her guest. A Montague – in the home of a Capulet! It was unheard of. He was walking up behind her now, she knew. Everyone was waiting, watching. She took a deep breath before she turned, because she wanted to handle this exactly right.

He was beautiful. She just stared at him for a long moment, her politely clever greeting dying on her lips. For Romeo Montague was a long pour of wild honey, and she’d had no idea. A blush suffused her whole body. And he, he was smiling at her; easy, confident; and he didn’t merely see her confusion, it was as if he could read her very soul. His smile grew irresistibly into a grin. ‘Hello,’ he said. ‘It’s good to meet you at last.’

Suddenly she recalled the hundred people watching. She must handle this right. ‘I’m so very glad you came.’ She shook his hand, and at his touch felt another blush warm her, ebb through her, and for a delicious moment she thought he felt it, too. But of course not, of course he wouldn’t. She turned to Mercutio, shook his hand, gave him a warm–hearted smile.

Romeo said, ‘It was generous of you to invite me. It was noble.’ Noble! He meant it, too, between the two of them; though he was as aware as she was of their audience.

‘Oh,’ she said with a laugh, ‘I couldn’t throw a party without Mercutio… and naturally he couldn’t be festive without you… so really it was a no–brainer.’

He laughed, while she mentally castigated herself. Foolish girl! This was going very badly. It was the beauty of him, the sheer unexpected wild sweet beauty of him that flummoxed her. She’d recover her wits any moment now. Mercutio, bless him, was silently laughing at her, eyes sparkling. He knew, of course he knew.

There were more guests arriving, waiting to be greeted. Mercutio smoothly said, ‘We mustn’t monopolise you, Juliet.’

‘Of course. Please make yourselves at home.’ A waiter hovered nearby with a tray of drinks, discreet and yet as agog as everyone else. ‘I hope you’ll stay for a while.’ And she blurted out, ‘Romeo, I have something to talk to you about.’ Oh, could she be any less cool?

‘I look forward to it,’ Romeo replied, quite sincerely. He’d taken a drink, and now he toasted her with it: ‘Happy birthday!’ And he wandered off, apparently totally comfortable, though staying close by Mercutio’s side – Mercutio, who was wise enough to steer towards the knot of relatives he shared with Dave – her husband Dave, who came forward with a genuinely welcoming smile to shake Romeo’s hand like the perfect host he was.

Juliet smiled at them all, pleased with everyone but herself. And her next guest stepped up to be greeted. The roar of conversation rose tenfold.

In the furthest corner of the room, Juliet’s cousin Tybalt was not so well pleased. ‘What’s that fag Romeo doing here? Where’s security? If they won’t do their job, I’ll do it for them.’

‘Come now, what’s the matter?’ Fulgencio Capulet asked. ‘This is a party, not a brawl.’

‘A party, yes, uncle, and he’s come in spite to ruin it all.’

But Capulet was in too mellow a mood to be bothered. ‘Leave him alone, Tybalt, for God’s sake. He is a fine young man. No one ever says a word against Romeo.’

‘Do they not?’ asked Tybalt with a sneer. ‘See what he consorts with.’

‘Well,’ Capulet allowed with a chuckle, ‘I won’t deny that what brings Montague shame, brings me some amusement. But,’ he added more seriously, ‘here in my daughter’s house, we’ll not insult him.’

Tybalt only grew more irate. ‘I’ll not endure him!’

‘He shall be endured,’ Capulet cried with all his authority, masked by the loud music and the crowd. ‘I say he shall.’ He pushed his nephew out onto the deck, grabbed a drink from a passing waiter, and put it into Tybalt’s hand. ‘Stupid idiot – behave yourself!’

‘All right! All right.’ But a mutinous glare fixed on Romeo behind Capulet’s back. ‘I won’t forget this,’ Tybalt vowed under his breath. ‘One trespass deserves another.’

Dave managed it all so subtly that even Juliet didn’t realise what had happened until he beckoned her from the door to the library. It was about the midpoint of the party: some people had already left, others had settled in for the long haul mostly out on the deck, and those remaining were all thoroughly involved in each other. The hostess would not be missed for half an hour.

As she walked past Dave, she clasped his hand and smiled her thanks at him, and he beamed back at her. He shut the door as she walked further in, and so it was just the four of them, in relative quiet amidst the book–lined walls. She’d replaced the original chairs in here with a modular lounge suite forming a square around the centre of the room. Mercutio lounged back along the left–hand side, as still and enigmatic as a cat. Romeo was browsing the shelves – poetry mostly, from what she could see – and had already scattered discarded volumes in his wake. In one hand he held a collection of Coleridge. Dave sat down near where Juliet stood, and looked up at her with his usual tact, offering deferential support.

‘Thank you for being here,’ she said to them all.

Mercutio turned a quizzical gaze upon her, while Romeo put one hand on the back of the sofa near Mercutio, and effortlessly vaulted over. For a moment the sway of his honeyed hair and the length of his legs threatened to distract her again, so she turned instead to his lover. Mercutio’s rightful suspicion of her intentions was far easier to deal with than Romeo’s beauty.

Juliet had always liked Mercutio, or perhaps it was more accurate to say she’d admired him from afar; admired his reckless combination of passion and intelligence, even when it only served to inflame the family feud; admired his loving loyalty to Romeo. She’d still been a child, really, when Romeo had left for university and Mercutio had of course gone with him, but even so she had been grown enough to like him. ‘And so we are cousins now, Mercutio.’

‘By marriage,’ he countered. ‘By a string of three marriages, actually, I think.’

She smiled. ‘We are cousins. It was not the least of Dave’s attractions that he has such a wonderful family.’

He wasn’t wholly won over – and she knew he wouldn’t be until he’d judged whether she would cause Romeo, or the love they shared, any harm. But Mercutio was gracious or politic enough to smile. ‘And so, coz, what was it you wanted to talk about?’

‘I have a plan, for which I need – No,’ she said, ‘I must first explain that I have a clothes shop, Goodly Gear, on the corner of Vine and Mantua, and I’m currently designing –’ She took a deep breath. This wasn’t going well at all. The men were looking at her with various expressions of scepticism. Well, except for her loyal husband, of course – though even he doubted where this was going. ‘Forgive me,’ she said to him. ‘I haven’t talked all this through with anyone yet, not even you, Dave. I didn’t want you to persuade me to see sense. Not until I’d tried.’

He reached up to clasp her hand for a moment, and he smiled encouragingly. ‘Tell us your plan, then,’ he said. Which didn’t mean there wouldn’t be talk of seeing sense later on, in private.

Another deep breath, and it became clear where she should start. ‘Romeo,’ she said, ‘even though we’ve never met before tonight, we could hardly remain unaware of each other. And I have long suspected that you feel much the same as I do about the… the history between our families. I dearly love and respect my father, as I am sure you love and respect yours, and I would gladly follow his lead in all things, except for one. I cannot want the violence and the ill–will to continue between your family and mine. The reason for it, if ever there was one, has long been forgotten, and it’s lost now, irrelevant. This legacy benefits no one. And I wonder if you and I, as our fathers’ heirs, and thinking of the world we will leave our own heirs, can begin to turn this around.’

He was staring at her intently. As if he agreed, and yet was sensibly wary. After all, there would be many difficulties to overcome, and it seemed almost impossible that they could succeed. And yet taking the first step, and perhaps the one after that, must be vital, even if it took future generations to complete the process.

‘Yes,’ Romeo said. Mercutio cast him a glance full of misgivings, yet Romeo said more firmly still, ‘Yes, you’re right. I feel exactly the same.’

It was as if a weight dissolved from her heart. Juliet closed her eyes, almost dizzy with relief. It might still be an improbable goal, yet it no longer seemed completely impossible.

‘Well, then,’ Juliet continued. ‘I am designing my own label, which I’ll launch in fall. It features clothes for the Capulets, and clothes for the Montagues. If that seems presumptuous, I would welcome your advice on my designs. And more than that – I want you to be my partner in promoting the label, I want to make the shop a meeting ground, a safe place where we can all start to get to know each other. I’ll carry stock that will appeal to both families. I’m not talking about – well, maybe I am, it depends on how you think this will work – I’m thinking more of a marketing project. Though if you were interested in a business partnership of some kind, I’d be happy to negotiate.’

Dave looked concerned at this. ‘You’ve built this shop from nothing,’ he quietly explained, ‘and you’re about to launch your own label. It’s a remarkable achievement, Juliet, and while I appreciate the worthiness of your intentions, I wonder if a business partnership is really appropriate.’

Romeo was gentleman enough to head off any argument. ‘Dave is right, of course, and so are you. A marketing thing. A visible presence, especially at the launch.’

‘Yes,’ she said. ‘Oh, I do thank you for understanding.’

He smiled. ‘Perhaps even… I don’t know… a photo shoot? If you think my cousins are photogenic enough. Some of the Montagues modelling the clothes, and likewise some of the Capulets? Make it real?’

She flushed again, at the thought of designing the perfect outfit for this long pour of honey who was photogenic enough to make up for all the Montagues and Capulets in the world. But this was an amazing idea, absolutely amazing. A visible presence, shared, even in the posters and catalogues. ‘That would be wonderful,’ she exclaimed, and she sat down at last next to Dave. ‘Will your people do it?’

‘My friends will, if I ask them.’

‘And your father…?’

Romeo’s face became remote. ‘Leave him to me.’

‘And yours?’ Mercutio interjected.

Juliet nodded. ‘I’ll talk with him.’

A pause grew as they all contemplated what they were doing. It was all very well to dream in this peaceful sanctuary, but could such notions possibly survive the harsh Verona day?

‘It’s been quieter, these last few years,’ Juliet murmured. ‘Not that you ever seemed to cause any of it, not you directly, Romeo – but it’s as if a focus were gone.’

‘I know.’ And he confessed, ‘I almost didn’t come back.’ It was as if the two of them were talking quite alone, sans any kind of barriers. ‘This might stir it all up again.’

‘I know. That’s what I’m afraid of. But if we don’t try… It will never entirely die away of its own accord. We have to try.’

And he smiled gently, honestly, as if they really were as one on this point. ‘Yes, we have to try.’

When Juliet came into their bedroom late that night once everyone had at last gone home, she found Dave was stalled, lost in thought, sitting there with one shoe on and the other off. ‘Dave? What’s bothering you?’

‘I worry about you,’ he said, still deep in his thoughts.

‘Oh, please,’ she muttered.

Her exasperation pulled him back into the present. ‘Sometimes I worry about you, yes,’ he said in reasonable tones. ‘Can a man not worry about his wife? Especially when you are… You often seem too fine a thing for this world, Juliet. I fear you’ll be hurt.’

She strode over to the window on a surge of irritation, turned her back to him. ‘I am not so delicate as all that.’

‘No, I didn’t mean –’ He considered a moment, as usual refusing to be pushed. ‘I meant fine as in magnificent, not delicate. The world does not like magnificence. It will try to crush you. I won’t apologise for wanting to protect you from that.’

The irritation drained away. Even when Dave annoyed the hell out of her, she never lost sight of the fact that he was the most decent and considerate man she knew of.

‘This scares me,’ he eventually continued. ‘This plan of yours scares me.’

‘It scares me, too.’

‘And it’s not just your father, and Romeo’s, who we need to take into account. It’s my father. Mercutio’s uncle. Men who have lived all their lives in the midst of this feud.’

She leant her forehead against the cool glass. Dave’s father, the State Governor. Mercutio’s uncle, the Chief of Police. They had each tried to end this thing, and they had failed. They couldn’t even control it.

‘Though, if you and Romeo cannot make your plan work, then no one can. You are, each of you, forces to be reckoned with.’

She turned to look at him, interested in his opinion. ‘You consider Romeo to be a force?’

‘Yes, I do.’

‘I suspect most people underestimate him. I think most people dismiss him as a beautiful dilettante. Next to his father, he appears weak.’

‘He is far stronger,’ Dave said. ‘Though it is a different kind of strength. After all, he left Verona Beach, didn’t he?’

‘Yes,’ she said. ‘Yes.’

Dave was carefully considering her. At last he concluded amiably, ‘Well, you must follow your bliss, of course.’ And he bent to take off his other shoe.

‘Thank you,’ she said with simple sincerity. She went to her dresser, and began taking off her jewellery, brushing out her hair. Their usual routine was comforting.

Once he was in his pyjamas, Dave came over to stand behind her with his hands resting on her shoulders, considering her again through the medium of the mirror. He commented, ‘Handsome fellow, isn’t he?’

‘Oh, yes,’ Juliet replied, not scrupling to hide a last reprise of the glow Romeo had inspired.

‘You’re so beautiful…’ Dave murmured, and he leaned down to press a kiss to the juncture of her throat and shoulder.

‘She made an impression,’ Mercutio commented with ironic disapproval as they reached the privacy of their room.

‘Impressive, yes, she is certainly impressive,’ Romeo agreed. He was excited, and did not try to hide it. His beautiful blue eyes were on fire. ‘I lie at her feet, stricken with awe… She raises me up to the highest tower with hope.’

‘Romeo,’ Mercutio whispered, ‘my heart’s blood.’ He was stricken by misgivings.

Let it come, let it come, the time we dote on.

Mercutio knew of no other way to reclaim his love than the obvious. He shoved Romeo against the wall, and grappled with him; threw Romeo to the bed, and possessed him.

In the coolness before dawn, the poetry was once more for Mercutio: ‘He is affection, he is here and now. He is the love that I, mired in boredom, saw overhead in the storm–filled sky in banners of ecstasy. I have known the terror of his forbearance, the vigour of our faculties, my selfish passion for him. His every breath, his many–headedness, his fugues; the terrible swift perfection of form and action!

Mercutio held his lithe love close, and he sighed. A glimmer on the far wall threatened a new day. ‘We will do this, you and I,’ he murmured. The grief sighed through him again. ‘We must follow her plan.’

‘We will, yes,’ Romeo agreed with easy clarity.

‘Though she anticipates new life, and I fear the same old death stalking us.’

‘Don’t be afraid, Mercutio.’ Romeo’s face shone with the most perfect peace.

And for a moment, Mercutio let himself believe. It was a beautiful feeling. Mercutio didn’t trust it could possibly last.

His father was furious. Romeo had been summoned to the study, and now stood on the carpet in the centre of the room, bearing the brunt of all his father’s force. With Ted Montague, fury was glacial. Cold and slow but large and deadly; ultimately irresistible.

Romeo had denied nothing and offered no justification.

Montague sat there waiting, his temper worsening. Eventually, in the face of Romeo’s easy silence, he announced, ‘You will not pursue this friendship with my enemies while you live in my house.’

‘Well, then,’ Romeo replied with a shrug, ‘we will move.’

‘You cannot. My only son and heir. This is where you belong.’

‘How can that be, when you do not like my vocation, my love, my friends –’

‘Your vocation,’ Montague spat out disparagingly. ‘You will take up the position I have kept for you. You will learn my business, you will earn your inheritance.’

‘I think not,’ Romeo said. He remained quiet and confident, but under Montague’s glare he offered, ‘Not yet, father. Perhaps in time.’

‘Then what will you live on? Your versifying? You’ve never even published, but for that college rag.’

‘You’ve read it?’ Romeo asked, interested.

‘Childish drivel! Do you believe it wisdom? No one wants to read your provocations. No one wants the details of your…’

Filling in the blanks, Romeo considered the provocations of Mercutio. Sex. The love between two men. Thought of the peace and dreams and cool quiet of the north–east, and his comparisons of that life with the brawling love, the loving hate, the blaring heat of Verona Beach. Which did his father find more offensive?

Montague burst out, ‘What will you live on?

Romeo could not help but smile, though he knew it would only infuriate further. ‘Are you disowning me, father?’

It would seem so. Montague sat there, struggling within himself. Eventually he admitted in a strangled tone, ‘I do not want to.’

‘Then do not. My new friendships should not preclude the old ties of blood and love. Our dearest intention is to reconcile our families –’

Montague could not let him continue. He stood so abruptly his chair crashed to the floor. ‘You will not.

‘Father –’

‘We no longer stand on the same ground, you and I,’ Montague declared. ‘Be gone. When you are ready to come home, I will welcome you. Until then you are nothing to me.’

Romeo’s heart grieved, for despite everything he loved his father dearly. And yet he maintained his cool façade, and offered a slight bow. ‘Fare well, father,’ he offered. When it became clear the man would say nothing more, Romeo turned and walked away.

Behind him he heard an agonised cry: ‘My only son!’

But Romeo remembered Juliet’s courage, and would not relent.

Juliet invited them to her home for dinner. It seemed she had prepared the meal herself, for she wore an apron over her dark–chocolate silk dress. There was no one else in the house but for Dave and her man Peter; and Peter was dismissed soon enough. Romeo nodded at Balthasar, indicating he should go with Peter or do what he will.

The large rooms seemed to echo in the twilight, empty of all but the most essential furniture, every piece elegant and modern. The walls were bare concrete, with occasional paintings and hangings, some colourful but most subdued. Romeo found it all beautiful but slightly unnerving. This eerie eyrie perched halfway up the sky… He shook his head in despair, and tried not to chuckle. That was awful.

He and Mercutio had been led past the formal dining room upstairs, and were instead shown down to the more casual open–plan living room, as if this were a family meal. Dave prepared them drinks while Juliet brought in steaming platters and bowls.

When they settled at the table, Romeo and Mercutio were placed beside each other, with Juliet and Dave facing them. So there was no one at the head of the table, and even the opposing places at no great distance felt more intimate than otherwise. They helped themselves to the generous supply of food.

By which time perhaps half an hour had gone by, and they had exchanged nothing but pleasantries.

‘This is delicious,’ Romeo offered, indicating the meal.

‘Thank you,’ Juliet responded with a polite though genuine smile. Then it seemed that the friendly, meaningless interchanges were over, for she continued with concern, ‘I was sorry to hear you’re no longer living at home.’

‘It hasn’t been home for years,’ Romeo muttered. Then he looked at her and offered, ‘When I didn’t come back for my mother’s funeral, my father said his doors were forever barred to me. That was years ago, and it seemed like he’d changed his mind. But we were only guests, weren’t we, Mercutio? And we outstayed our welcome.’

‘I am sorry,’ she repeated. ‘And I was so sorry about your mother. I understand it was completely unexpected? It must have been such a shock.’

‘Yes. Yes.’ He smiled at her, though he knew it was a pale imitation of the real thing. ‘You will blame me for not returning to Verona, but it was so soon after we left. It wasn’t even a month afterwards. My father said her breath simply stopped and she was gone. So it was too late for her sake, and too soon for mine. I feared I’d be…’ He shivered a little. ‘I was so afraid I’d be drawn right back into all this, after I’d only just managed to escape it. And then it would not have ended well.’

‘I understand,’ she said. ‘I don’t blame you.’ After a moment she continued, ‘Perhaps it has been for the best, despite your grief. It has been quieter without you here. Without you for either of our families to focus on.’

‘Yes.’ He thought, but would not say aloud, that in his absence Juliet’s cousin Tybalt must have been content to consider himself king of the hill, with only dear, reasonable Benvolio to lead the opposition. Nor did Romeo comment that his too–clever, too–sensitive, too–argumentative Mercutio hadn’t been there to provoke matters either. There was no point in saying what didn’t need to be aired.

‘The violence has almost been in limbo for these few years. Not entirely, of course, but it’s been better. So that,’ she concluded, ‘gives us something to build upon.’

‘Yes.’ They all quietly contemplated this for long moments.

Until Juliet asked, ‘But what will you do? Where will you live?’

‘We have found an apartment,’ Romeo replied with an easy smile.

‘It will serve,’ Mercutio interjected bitterly. It was shabby, and in one of the poorer quarters.

‘It will serve,’ Romeo quietly reassured him. He reached to clasp Mercutio’s hand. ‘What care I where I lay my head, so long as you are there?’

The feeling between them swelled.

Juliet judged her pause to a nicety: long enough to allow them that moment, and yet short enough for Mercutio not to grow embarrassed. ‘Forgive me for persisting. I only mean to help, if you want us to; if we can. Will you look for work? Is there anything you need?’

Mercutio started to speak, and then cleared his throat. ‘I owned a coffee shop at the university, which has since sold for a goodly price; I plan to buy another one here. That will suffice.’

Really?’ Juliet was staring at him.

‘Ah,’ Mercutio flatly responded. ‘More plans?’

‘Well –’ Her eyes flicked between them all, and then lost focus as she thought it through. ‘Well,’ she continued excitedly, ‘the shop beside mine on Mantua Street is empty; I had plans to extend across both shop–fronts. But both have an empty second floor; I could expand upwards. We could knock out the interior walls… I mean, you could open your coffee shop beside Goodly Gear. We could run them side by side, with separate entrances but they’ll spill into each other. It will become a meeting place for all.’

And everyone turned to look to Mercutio for his reaction. Romeo could see him struggling. But eventually he said, ‘Then we will do this, too. We will follow you in this plan as well.’

Romeo lifted their linked hands to his mouth and pressed a kiss to Mercutio’s espresso–hued skin.

Dave suggested he and Mercutio make the coffee. ‘You can tell me what I’m doing wrong,’ Dave offered. Mercutio managed not to roll his eyes.

So Juliet took the opportunity to invite Romeo up to her study. Her own hallowed place.

As soon as he’d climbed the last stair, he walked right up to the glass wall with no hesitation, no fear, and exclaimed, ‘Magnificent!’

Juliet joined him there. It was midnight, and Verona’s lights were spread out like jewels, like currents in a river running between the hills and the ocean. ‘The lights make me think of sequins and beads embroidered on a silk dress.’ She confessed, ‘I tried to design it, but I haven’t got the pattern right. Yet,’ she added.

Romeo laughed in appreciative delight. Then, ‘Show me your designs,’ he said. ‘I want to see your work!’ And, as they moved over to her desk, ‘What will you call it, your clothing label?’

‘Unity.’

‘Oh, yes.’ His eyes were on fire. Hot blue eyes more precious than any jewel.

Juliet shivered, and reached for the Montague designs. In that moment they felt the safer option.

Her father was furious. Juliet had been summoned as soon as her parents returned from Miami. She hadn’t made it further than the main hall before Fulgencio Capulet swept down on her with all his hot passion. ‘Hang thee, young baggage, disobedient wretch, what’s this I hear? You have been feasting with mine enemy!’

She stood coolly through his harangue, denying nothing and offering no justification. His words felt harsher still as they echoed against the marble. But she barely even flinched when he moved to strike her.

Capulet managed to hold himself back. He uttered a disgusted groan. ‘But you are mine no more. Cannot your husband keep you in line?’

‘No, thank God! He supports me.’

‘Then it was a foul mistake to give you to him.’

‘He is your friend!’ she cried.

‘What do you know of my friends, you puling fool? You know more of those who wish me mortal harm!’

She tried to reason with him, though she knew it was useless. ‘You cannot even remember what started this feud. The root of it all has been lost in time. Your own grandfather couldn’t have remembered. Your great–great–grandfather wouldn’t have known.’

‘Maybe not,’ he allowed, ‘but I know full well how it has continued. I may not know the original injury they inflicted, but I could spend the day telling all the injuries since.’

Juliet stood firm, though she hated to set herself against her own father in this way. He would not forgive, he would never forgive her. Nevertheless, she declared, ‘I will not inherit this violence from you.’

‘I am not dead yet, lady. My time has not yet passed.’

‘I work towards the future, and that is mine to make of what I will.’ She said calmly, knowing it would wound him, ‘I will not bring children into this world of yours. That is the fruit your feud has borne.’

He was about to explode, and he would not restrain himself this time. But Gloria Capulet appeared at the last possible moment, and dragged Juliet away. Juliet was hustled out the front door, blinking in the blinding sunlight and stumbling down the staircase, before she even registered that her father had not followed.

‘Sweet my mother,’ she murmured to Gloria, not protesting the claws, the fingers digging into her arm. ‘I thank you.’

‘Talk not to me,’ Gloria hissed, ‘for I’ll not speak a word.’

‘You will not cast me away…’

‘You befriend this Romeo, this queer whoreson of the Montagues?’

‘Yes.’

‘Then do as thou wilt, for I have done with thee.’

And Juliet was alone. She stood there in the gardens, looking up at the house, the home that had sheltered her childhood. The security guards had turned their backs, discreetly withdrawn. Juliet looked up at the shuttered windows, and then spied her old nurse looking down upon her. Juliet lifted a hand in a greeting, in a plea – but the nurse turned away from her as well.

A dash of tears escaped her. The grief and humiliation and loss clamoured in her heart, grew to a dizzying din in her ears. She turned away. Took a step. Thought cooling thoughts of Dave, of the home they shared. Peaceful thoughts of Romeo, quiet thoughts of Mercutio’s devoted love for him. They were the future, the four of them together. A new family to replace both the old.

Juliet straightened, and found that she could walk tall. Her tears had dried. She left the Capulet mansion behind her, and resolved to think on it no more.

It was a beautiful day. The infinite blue dome of the sky arched over them, the sun shone in benevolence, the air was fresh, almost intoxicating. After church Juliet and Dave changed into jeans, t–shirts and sneakers, and headed into the city centre in a holiday mood. Of course she would be sorry if she never had to suffer through another Capulet family Sunday dinner, but for now she felt free, as if it were the first day of summer vacation. Better still, it seemed that they had the city to themselves, as if everyone had deserted it for the mountains or the beach.

When they met the others on the sidewalk outside her shop, Juliet laughed in delight: Romeo was glowing golden, Mercutio was fondly amused, Dave was profoundly content, and Juliet herself felt she was sparkling. Peter and Balthasar stood stalwart and true at their shoulders. And…

‘Juliet, this is my cousin Benvolio,’ Romeo said.

‘I’m so pleased to meet you,’ she said warmly, shaking his hand.

He seemed good–natured and willing but wary, as well he might. ‘Likewise, Mrs Paris.’

‘Please call me Juliet.’ She introduced him to Dave, who asked Benvolio to help him open up the vacant shop.

As the others moved inside, Romeo ended up quite naturally beside her, and the two of them stalled in the sunshine. He asked, ‘You didn’t bring anyone?’ It wasn’t a criticism; he was just curious, perhaps a little concerned. They had agreed to start involving others in their plans.

‘No, I…’ The brightness of the day dimmed a little. To tell the truth, she was still feeling a bit shocked about the confrontation with her father. And then she had wondered which of her cousins and friends to approach first. She hadn’t been very close to anyone except the nurse until Dave had begun wooing her. She’d thought briefly about asking her cousin Rosaline, but in the end decided that Rosaline’s lingering contempt for Romeo would be counterproductive. Rosaline had been the last of many girls Romeo had laid siege to, years ago, before he turned to Mercutio.

‘It’s all right,’ Romeo was saying reassuringly. ‘We failed, too. Mercutio asked his brother Valentine to join us, but he’d have none of it.’

‘Oh, I hope they didn’t fall out.’

‘No more than usual,’ he said with light humour. ‘I’ll do the asking next time; Mercutio wasn’t at his most diplomatic.’

She sighed. ‘From what I know of Valentine, he’ll come around to the plan anyway. He probably just needs time.’

‘Certainly. He is a far more reasonable man than his brother.’

A guilty chuckle, and then another sigh, and she looked at Romeo directly. They should have no secrets here. ‘My problem,’ Juliet confessed, ‘is that I need to get my cousin Tybalt on–side, but I really can’t think how.’

Romeo’s lips pursed as if he were trying to repress a smile, but then it burst from him anyway. ‘Tybalt, eh? The prince of cats…’

‘The same. You’ll remember him, I’m sure. I love him dearly, but…’ He could ruin everything for them, and he was too important to ignore.

‘I have the answer,’ Romeo offered mischievously.

‘Yes?’

‘You will know exactly how. Design him an outfit so splendid that his vanity can’t resist. Bribe him with it. His cooperation in return for the very finest array. Not to mention, of course, his billing as top model in your catalogue. In fact, he should have the cover and the centrefold; you may relegate me to a small picture on page five.’

She looked at him for a long moment, and then found herself bubbling over in delight again. He was perfect. So beautiful, so well–made, so full of insight. She remembered thinking of him as a long pour of wild honey, and began imagining once more… ‘What would I design for you?’ she murmured, a blush suffusing her. It was warmer than she’d thought, or the morning’s coolness was passing already.

‘Anything of yours, lady, would grace me beyond my poor merits.’ And he swept into a courtly bow, both sincere and safely humorous. They shared a laugh, and then Romeo offered his arm. ‘Shall we?’

‘We shall.’ They followed the others inside.

The men were being manly and clearing out the rubble and refuse under Benvolio’s direction, while Juliet bent her head next to Mercutio’s over the plans she’d sketched out. ‘You must say,’ she told him, ‘if you don’t like any of this. I only mean it as a way to start talking.’

‘That’s all right,’ Mercutio reassured her a bit thickly. It was strange how his usual cockiness deserted him in Juliet’s presence. He didn’t like it.

‘Do you see? I thought the Capulet gear here, and then the Montague gear, and then your coffee shop, all flowing across the first floor, merging one into the other.’

‘Yes,’ he responded, more abruptly than he meant to.

‘Then the central part of the floor upstairs taken out, so the four sides form a mezzanine level looking down on the first floor, with more clothes, and with comfier chairs, lounges for your customers.’

‘Yes.’

Juliet looked at him, and paused a moment. ‘Do you have a name for your shop?’

He met her gaze directly. ‘You will not like it. BSDL Café. The logo an arrangement of the letters, styled like graffiti.’

She was polite enough to look intrigued. ‘What does it stand for? Does it mean something?’

‘BSDL: Bright Smoke, Dark Lightning. We’re starting from scratch; it’s not like I’m taking over an existing shop. So I mean it to influence everything. The colours – storm clouds, dark purples, shimmering white. The design – the chairs, the cups, the menu… Maybe a bit of neon.’

‘Bright Smoke, Dark Lightning,’ she repeated slowly, mulling it over. She concluded, ‘The tension of opposites. The unexpected. Contradictions.’

‘It is an important theme in his poetry,’ he loftily informed her.

Yes,’ she said. ‘Yes, of course.’ And she wasn’t just humouring him. She really seemed to get it.

They sat there watching for a while as Romeo shared a joke with Dave, a boyish wrestle with Benvolio, then helped Peter lift a cumbersome sheet of wrecked plasterboard and carry it out to the skips. Romeo, supple and lean. Mercutio’s cream–skinned, golden–haired love. He murmured, ‘My heart’s blood.’ Then he turned to Juliet, who was gazing at Romeo with much the same enthusiasm as Mercutio himself. ‘He admires you, too, you know. You strike him with awe.’

Juliet turned to face him gravely, and they considered each other for a long moment. ‘Thank you,’ she eventually said. ‘But you have nothing to fear from me.’

‘Do I not? Be one hell of a way to end this feud, wouldn’t it? If the two of you married?’

‘There’s many ways to end it,’ she said with some bitterness. ‘But that is not going to happen.’

‘What other ways?’ he asked, distracted.

‘I’m not bringing kids into this. And Romeo’s with you. So if we can’t end it, then it dies with us. There’ll be no one left.’

He winced. ‘All the cousins? Tybalt? Wouldn’t they carry on the fight?’

That made her smile again, though reluctantly. ‘You’re right. Tybalt could start a world war all on his own. But there’s only so much I can do…’

Mercutio considered her anew, and decided he loved her steadfast determination. He felt relaxed with her for the first time since he and Romeo had come back to Verona Beach. He reached to hold her hand. ‘All this admiration,’ he confessed, ‘it’s becoming fairly mutual.’

She looked at him and laughed. ‘The four of us making a new family: that’s the best way to end the feud.’

‘Agreed.’

‘But don’t you start admiring Dave too much!’ And she winked at him.

Mercutio remained sober. ‘You really do love him, don’t you?’ He’d never thought of Dave Paris as the kind of guy who could inspire true devotion. No doubt she could hear and maybe even understand his slight scepticism.

‘Yes. Yes, I do.’ After a moment she explained, ‘Dave is painfully self–conscious, and it makes him appear insincere – but he isn’t. He’s the most sincere person I know. The most decent man I ever met. Sometimes I wonder how he could be so, after growing up in Verona.’

You grew up decent, and you’re far closer to the feud than he is.’

She disagreed. ‘In many ways, I was quite protected. Perhaps my father is regretting that now. I never really learned to hate.’

‘No?’

‘I used the word, I echoed my parents, my nurse. But I don’t think I ever really felt it. I hardly even knew anyone well enough to hate them.’

Mercutio shook his head. ‘You amaze me. I thought this whole city was fuelled by hate.’

A lovely smile curved her lips, and her eyes sparkled at him. ‘Maybe so, but also love. You were my hero when it came to love, Mercutio.’

He was beyond amazed now. Far beyond. ‘How so?’

‘You were my embodiment of that chapter in the first Corinthians. You know, love is patient, it hopes and endures. And though I understand all mysteries and all knowledge, but have not love, I am nothing.

‘Uh, isn’t there something in there about love not envying, or parading itself, or being puffed up? Doesn’t sound like me.’

Her smile quirked, yet she continued with sincerity, ‘You loved Romeo for years, didn’t you? While he fell in love with one girl after another. That’s how I heard it told. And you were quite without hope. No one thought you’d ever win him.’ She was far too tactful to mention how everyone had treated him as quite the joke. ‘It was the most charming thing I’d ever known. When Dave started wooing me, and my father wouldn’t think of us marrying for at least two years, I thought Dave could do far worse than modelling his conduct on yours.’ Juliet’s gaze sought out Romeo again, and found him. It was perfectly plain that she loved him, too. ‘But I can understand now. Your faith and persistence. What else could you do but wait and hope and love?’

‘What else indeed?’ he echoed faintly.

And she again declared, ‘You have nothing to fear from me.’

Before he could reply, she pressed a kiss to his brow, and headed off to help the boys with their clearing and cleaning.

In the twilight of a weeknight, Benvolio parked his car across the road from Juliet’s shop, and collected his gear from the trunk, before ambling across to unlock the door to what would become Mercutio’s café. He and Romeo were to prepare the walls and ceiling for painting that weekend; obviously Romeo wasn’t here yet, but that didn’t mean Benvolio couldn’t get on with it.

He was just done examining the extent of the task when he noticed a lithe figure detach itself from the shadows down the street. ‘Good den, coz!’ he called. ‘Nice of you to join me.’

Silence greeted him, though the figure drew closer.

‘Too busy poetising to speak,’ Benvolio grumbled, scooping up a tub of plaster filler.

‘Call me coz again, Benvolio, and I’ll dub thee villain.’

Benvolio slowly turned to face the figure poised in the doorway, his heart thudding. For he had already recognised the harsh insinuating tones of Tybalt. ‘Good den to you, sir,’ he offered carefully. ‘Did Juliet send you? Are you here to help –’

Tybalt snarled. ‘A pox on you all! What the devil is she playing at?’

Oh, this was bad… ‘The lady works to bring peace to Verona’s streets, Verona’s hearts –’

‘Peace! Peace is hell to one such as I.’

Benvolio stepped towards him and spoke as placatingly as he knew how. ‘She will explain it better than I can, but there is a place for you in our newly made Verona. If we can greet each other now as friends, Tybalt, then much might be hoped for.’

A disgusted Tybalt glared down at Benvolio’s offered right hand as if it were diseased. ‘I’ll not endure this…’ he muttered, as if to himself.

‘Will you not talk to Juliet, my friend? If anyone can convince you –’

Tybalt spat. But then lifted his right hand in response. He purred, ‘Benvolio, look upon thy death.’

A gun glinted between them, aimed at Benvolio’s heart.

It was too late to reach for his own weapon; instead Benvolio reached for Tybalt’s, grasped it, and tried to force it aside. They wrestled, evenly matched for a moment. But then Benvolio’s weight began to count against Tybalt’s wiry form. Tybalt pushed forward, so that for a long fraught moment they stared intimately into each other’s eyes. Benvolio could read doom there.

Suddenly Tybalt’s mouth stretched in a malicious grin. ‘Ah, ’twill serve!’ And the pressure on Benvolio’s hands vanished. The gun swung around. ‘A plague on the lot of you!’ Tybalt hissed. His finger snaked over Benvolio’s, forcing it onto the trigger.

A grain of gunpowder exploded. This deafening blast might destroy them all.

Montague was in his study watching the news broadcast; Capulet watched it in his office.

At the conference podium stood Juliet Capulet Paris, her face tear–streaked yet brave and strong. Dave Paris stood at her right shoulder; as the Governor’s son, his presence mattered. But a pale–faced Romeo Montague stood at her left shoulder, and his presence was shattering.

Behind Romeo hovered a troubled Mercutio Prince. Beside Mercutio stood his uncle, Captain Prince, Chief of Verona Beach Police Department. This personification of law and order appeared grim, resolute.

Juliet was fielding questions from the media. ‘Of course I believe Benvolio’s story. He is a gentleman, honest and true.’

‘Then why turn himself in?’

‘We must trust in the law, and let it sort out the merits of our grievances. I admire him for respecting the law and accepting its right to judge.’

‘But what he says of your cousin…?’

‘I mourn for Tybalt,’ she declared. ‘I loved him dearly. I grieve that he saw no place for himself in the future we have dared to dream of and plan for.’

‘What future, lady?’

‘A peaceful Verona, a place where all can grow true, a place where love is not stunted by hate.’ And she decreed, ‘Let this be the last death! Let this feud end.’

Then the only child of Capulet turned to the only child of Montague, and offered her hand. They shook on it, pledging themselves to this future of hers, their faces open and direct. Then Romeo took Juliet in his arms and hugged her. She wept a little, though she graced him with a smile.

The media erupted in frenzy.

‘I’ll not endure,’ muttered Montague.

‘This vile, dishonourable submission!’ cried Capulet.

‘Bring me my long sword, ho!’

‘She’ll not forgive you, son. She’ll not forgive you now!

Romeo turned a pitying face to his ranting father. The police had let him wait with his father in a holding cell. ‘She has already forgiven me,’ he said quietly. ‘I know it. She would even forgive you, if you truly asked it.’

‘She can overlook young Benvolio killing her cousin – but the murder of her father? If the old feud has ended, then I’ll warrant a new one now begins.’

‘Father,’ he said, ‘you do not understand her, if you think this will change anything. Indeed, it will rather confirm the steerage of her course.’

‘I did this for you, son. Now, you put aside your childish things and you take your rightful place –’

‘Father, stop it.’

And Romeo must have gained some authority since he’d come home, for the old man glanced at him with sharp eyes askew, and then bent his head in submission.

Romeo sighed. He had come to the police station to collect a newly freed Benvolio, only to find his father being led past in handcuffs, a police officer bearing Montague’s gun in an evidence bag. ‘What have you done?’ Romeo had demanded, his heart suddenly dried and cracking apart with horror at the thought that Juliet might be dead. ‘What have you done?’ And Montague had answered in full, declaring his actions, making a bold confession there on the steps of the police station for all to hear. He would be convicted by his own words, he would spend all his remaining life in a prison cell. Yet Romeo had been flooded with relief though his heart was still in pieces, for nothing could be ill if she were well.

‘Juliet…’ he whispered, not caring that his father heard him. ‘Oh, Juliet, my soul…’

Romeo did not venture out after that. He stayed at home with Mercutio in their shabby apartment, and let himself be cradled like a babe. Balthasar wordlessly took care of them both. When the media or Benvolio or his father’s lawyers came by and pounded on the door for entry, the three young men ignored them all.

Eventually she summoned him. Juliet had buried her father that day; Balthasar had heard as much when he went out for food, and Peter confirmed it. And now it was late, the night was dark, and she had sent Peter asking Romeo to come to her alone. He kissed Mercutio poignantly, thoroughly, as if for the last time, and he left.

As midnight struck, Peter showed him up through empty echoing hallways and stairwells to her study, and Romeo found her sitting alone in a chair by the window, looking out over the city lights to the infinite dark horizon. As Peter quietly padded back down the stairs, Romeo knelt at her feet. ‘How is it with you?’ he murmured. ‘How is it, my soul?’

‘Well enough. And you, my lord?’

He grimaced. ‘Well enough.’

They pondered each other for a long timeless while. And she said, ‘I have a favour to ask of you.’

Romeo bent to lay his head in her lap. ‘Anything. I would do anything for you.’

She gave a little cry, almost a moan, and her hand settled on his hair, stroked it trembling. ‘Oh, Romeo,’ she murmured. ‘Now we put it to the test, this new world we have dreamed of.’

‘How so, my lady?’

‘My cousin and your father thought they were testing it to the breaking point, but it is not yet broken. It would break now, though, if I took you at your word.’

He lifted his head. ‘I mean it,’ he declared. ‘Anything you ask of me, I will do.’

She gazed back at him solemnly. ‘Then I must be very careful what I ask for.’

He dared to lay worshipful hands on her, a palm on each thigh. She was shaking. Romeo carefully said, ‘Would it not accomplish what you dream of, if we were to unite, you and I?’

‘At the cost of each breaking our vows?’ She grimaced. ‘I know not what has been said between you and Mercutio, but in all respects it is a marriage, is it not? You have pledged yourself to him.’

‘They would let us go, Dave and Mercutio, if we asked it.’

‘That doesn’t make it right. No.’ She closed her eyes as a shudder ran through her. Then she looked directly at him again. ‘Romeo, you know I love you. But with Dave, I can be myself, my best self. With you, I would be lost.’

‘Would that be so bad a thing, to be lost in our passion?’

‘Don’t you see?’ she cried earnestly, leaning forward to emphasise her point. ‘That is what all the Montagues and Capulets have believed down through the years. That has been their excuse, their justification. The world and all our dealings reduced to our passions, our loves and our hates. But there is more to life than that. It is only one part of a full life. And all in Verona must remember or discover anew how to lead full lives.’

While she still leant close, he eased nearer, and they rested there together temple to temple. He pressed a kiss to her cheek, and she moaned again. She almost turned to him; her lips moved an infinitesimal distance towards his. But he did not do what he knew he could. Romeo decided not to pursue her further, though he knew now that Juliet could be seduced. He pressed her hands in his, and then sat back on his heels.

‘We will be friends, you and I,’ she declared. Neither of them deigned to notice that her voice shook. ‘We will be true partners to our loves, and the four of us will be friends.’

‘Yes.’ He offered her a wry smile, conveying all his regret and admiration.

‘We will not be unhappy.’

‘Of course not.’ A quiet moment passed, in which they each took a breath and settled back into their best selves. Then he asked, ‘Do you still have a favour to ask of me?’

She smiled gratefully. ‘Yes. Yes.’ Another breath. ‘Dave and I hope to have a child now. We hope to have children. And we would like you and Mercutio to stand as godparents for them all. We will create a new family between us.’

‘Yes. Yes, of course. You honour us.’

‘We are the ones honoured.’ She nodded once, as if satisfied. ‘Then all will be well.’

He took her hands in his again, and smiled. ‘All is well, my lady.’

Another perfect sunny day blessed the combined launch of Juliet’s Unity clothing label and Mercutio’s BSDL Café. A festive mood felt inevitable with the air sparkling like champagne. By this time, all in Verona Beach were tentatively following Juliet’s lead; and if some had quietly chosen to leave the city instead, few mourned their absence. The Governor attended the launch, as well as Friar Laurence and Captain Prince. Benvolio and Rosaline were there circling each other, intrigued. Peter and Balthasar were thick as thieves together. Valentine stood a little removed, watching his brother with a surprised pride. Various young and not–so–young Montagues and Capulets sparred with wary humour, beginning to form fast friendships instead of undying enmities.

In the midst of this joyous chaos, four people came together in a circle.

‘We have done it!’ Juliet declared, her face shining with happiness.

You have done it, my darling,’ Dave said, pressing a kiss to her temple.

Romeo lifted his glass to her in salute. ‘You have remade the world.’

‘And what a beautiful, brave new world it is,’ Mercutio offered, though his lips quirked into his familiar ironic smile, ‘that has such goodly people in it!’ When the others laughed at him, he protested, ‘I mean it from my heart!’

‘Still not so great on conveying the sincerity,’ Juliet commented.

‘He’s working on it,’ Dave cried in his defence. ‘I, for one, believed him.’

Romeo slipped an arm round Mercutio’s waist, and hugged him close. ‘I assure you he can be touchingly sincere in private.’

Juliet said, ‘I’m very glad to hear it.’

They all four looked at each other fondly for a long quiet moment.

But then there were coffees to be poured, fruit to be juiced, clothes to be fitted, sales to be made, poetry to be declaimed, alliances to be forged, peace to be encouraged. The foundations of this new world were strong, yet must now be built upon. They each gave themselves over to it with all their hearts.

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2 responses to “Romeo & Mercutio: an alternate love story”

  1. avatar Kari says:

    This is beautiful, I love everything about it. I love that it’s old-styled dialogue, but yet modern at the same time. And that the story is set in modern-times, but it still has that Shakespearean feel because of the dialogue. It also amuses me that guns and broadswords exist next to each other as “perfectly acceptable” forms of killing other people.

    • avatar Harlequin says:

      Thank you so much for your comment, Kari. I apologise for not seeing it in all this time… I am very happy for all that you say!

      I trust that you have had not one but two happy Christmases since you posted this comment.

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