A/N: This is it. The (second?) climax. And then all denouement. Hold on tight. It's going to be a bumpy ride.
The title, apart from being a reference to that famous Italian song written by Carlo Donida, made famous in the U.S. by Connie Francis, also translates neatly as "Beyond the Beyond". What? It's Romeo and Juliet. What do you expect?
Recap: Romeo is about to be hanged. The following is what happened and Juliette's response. C'est tout. *dance*
Disclaimer: An ode to Shakespeare and Presgurvic: You are/Awesome/Seriously.
Chapter Thirteen – Al Di Là
That night there was a perceptible chill in the air, and though it surely lowered the temperature a degree or two, it seemed to make the night impossibly cool. It was a full moon, though, and its silvery beam filtered ethereal and clear through the high bars of the cell. It lit the cell with their silvery shadows and Romeo never felt so alone and so hopeless, and the night too beautiful.
In their lifetime people are guilty of at least one vice and one virtue they can admit to with relative ease. For Romeo, it was patience – his lack thereof, to be more precise. And if there was any certain way of ensuring his madness, it was waiting. In this instance for death.
He wasn't particularly keen on that.
So tired. He had worn himself out considerably, in his desperate, rat-like attempts to escape the prison – but in the end turned out to be more useful as exercise than anything else. The bars were far too high, and if leagues of prisoners before him could not escape, then Romeo could not hope to. He did it anyway, planning and dreaming and lusting and planning all over again, when pacing about the small confines of his cell proved too futile for his taste, and much too exhausting. But after awhile his mind became tired as well and at last he slumped down to the dusty floor and focused his energy on not thinking.
The truth, of course, inevitably crept into the numbness. He was going to die. If he were to go to sleep, he'd wake up a second later facing the hangman's noose. He had briefly pondered about killing himself now instead of waiting until later (as it had been one of his plans) but keeping alive quickly became a priority, and every tiny moment he was alive was a miracle. Besides – he had nothing to own except the clothes on his back.
He felt as though he was slowly going mad. There were howls coming from the other cells piercing the silence. Was one of them his? He didn't even know, because the screams he felt inside were too cramped and one of them would surely escape. Sobs and pleads permeated alongside, but with a loud clang the noise was subdued and there was again quiet.
Romeo closed his eyes and rested his head on his knees. Purple and red spots danced behind his eyelids, and forming oddly contorted images. His mother, pale and drawn. His father, dead and gone to him. Benvolio, staring at him with unfathomable eyes. Mercutio, wild, and reckless. Tybalt, his tiger eyes glaring at him with fury and bitterness and hurt. And Juliette. Endless Juliette.
"It's all your fault, you know."
Romeo jerked his head up and whipped around to see the very same Tybalt, sitting beside him, his direct gaze very nearly a glare. He wore the same clothes he wore from when he had died, and his shirt was still torn and bloodied from where Romeo's dagger made connection with his flesh. And he looked surprisingly solid for a hallucination. Romeo stared at him blankly.
"Tybalt? What are you doing here?"
For the last time he had seen the man was in dreams.
"Shut up, Montaigu" was Tybalt's immediately response, and this time he really did glare at him. And very realistically too. "Just shut up. First you steal the love of my life, then you kill me, and then when it seems as though you might have at least given Juliette the happiness I never could have given her, you bungle up and end up here. Congratulations, genius." He exhaled sharply and for a second he resembled like a particularly disgruntled lion. "I hope you feel like you've deserved this."
Romeo stared at this strange apparition and instead of feeling alarm or confusion, he felt strangely earnest. "I'm sorry, Tybalt."
"I'm more sorry that you managed to best me," said Tybalt, but with less of his usual belligerency. He stared into space, suddenly gloomy. "And now that stupid cousin of yours will think he's failed."
"What, Benvolio?" Romeo frowned in puzzlement. "What do you mean, he'll think he's failed?"
"Never you mind, Montaigu," scoffed Tybalt. "You wouldn't understand. You never do."
And that was the last thing he ever said to him, because when silence fell and Romeo turned to look at him, he was gone. Romeo, feeling himself strangely hollow, let his head slump back onto his knees. Well. It was official. He was mad. It was not as surprising, and not nearly as interesting. All he could think when he thought about Tybalt's apparition was how vaguely similar his eyes were to Juliette's.
The hours lengthened. His heart began to palpitate with the resonance of a steel drum and the force and drive of the kettle drum and it was warm and alive. Romeo put his hand over it and its warmth lulled him into a restless, final sleep of the dead.
The morning dawned gray and dry, not altogether an ugly day, but certainly a gloomy one. Most of Verona gathered about the city square to view the hanging, which would take place on the same scaffold Count Paris used to commit suicide and – in a twisted bit of irony– where Romeo first met Juliette amidst the throng.
Usually a hanging was a great source of entertainment, if tension, among the populace and this was no exception. There was something about a death that incurred some sort of curious fascination in people, especially one as desensitized as Verona's. But there was a thick sense of sorrow, particularly from the Montaigus, that sobered the excitement and saturated the air. The buzz of the crowd and the choked sobs cut through the otherwise tense quiet.
The condemned was eventually brought in, surrounded by two guards. The buzzing murmurs grew louder and some of the usual jeers and catcalls while others watched him stonily. Yet there were still others were marked by how young he seemed and felt pity. But in all hearts, deep down, lurked a subtle, harsh truth: It was all in essence a show. Only this and nothing more.
Romeo Montaigu himself did nothing, said nothing, and probably saw nothing, rendered deaf, blind, and numb.
He was lead up to the scaffold and a thousand eyes followed his ascent. Along with the hangman, there was the captain of the guard, Conrad, along with his section, and silently conversing with the Prince, diffidently and darkly garbed and it was as though his senses were awakened and he could see and hear and sense everything with disturbing clarity – there was coughing, a choked sob, the suddenly unbearable drone of the crowd, the rough feel of the noose around his neck –
Wait. No, he was getting ahead of himself. The captain was talking – reading off the death warrant.
"By order of Prince Escalus of Verona, Romeo Carabantello Montaigu is condemned to death by hanging for breaking his term of exile –"
If only things had gone the way they should have been –
"– sentenced due to his killing of Tybalt of the Capulets –"
Tybalt had been angrier that he had managed to get himself hanged than anything else –
"– on the year of our Lord, Lammas Eve."
The captain rolled up the death warrant and Romeo was led to the noose.
"Any last words?" The captain looked at him disinterestedly and the multitude suddenly hushed.
Juliette, he thought, but he had no other words, and even if he did they would melt into insignificance. He shook his head and the captain shrugged.
"Let's get it over with, then." He gestured with his head. "'Fredo?"
He stepped on the small platform and the noose was inserted about his neck and this time he really did feel the rough texture. The drums began to sound and the panic that had been building up in the corner of his mind finally smashed through his consciousness and his calm. He recoiled and the noose tightened. Too late.
The body hung there, suspended for two or three minutes after the chaos of the crowd died down a bit. The tense silence was broken through cleanly like glass, loud and unexpected. The captain was shouting over the cheers and wails and chatter and it was devastating and satisfying and exciting, and he was just so young and it was so quick and they should have hanged him before…
In the shadows of a nearby alleyway, a lone figure stood unnaturally still; it had watched the proceedings of the hanging with close, undeniable interest. When he hanged, the figure emitted an odd, strangled sound that seemed more horrible to the ear than the sweep of the hangman's noose – of course it was swallowed up by the tumult of the crowd. It slowly sank to the ground and for several long moments it didn't move until the square was nearly empty and the crowd nearly dispersed. The figure stood up quickly, almost disconcertingly, and turned and disappeared further into the alleyway.
The Nurse was suspicious.
The Capulets had been extremely reluctant to let their now highly unpredictable daughter attend the hanging, for more reasons beside the obvious ones, even though Juliette almost nearly sacrificed her last vintages of dignity to get them to accept. It only led them, in the end, to assign La Muette as a watchdog over Juliette. The thing was (and the Nurse knew this quite well) that La Muette was as suited for controlling Juliette as a cat would a lion. The feeling was greatly accentuated when, after the gruesome business was over and done with, La Muette had suddenly flown the coup, as it were – or else hiding from the Nurse.
But paradoxically enough Juliette was in her room, sitting near the window and looking so forlornly the Nurse almost decided to leave her be and let her keep her ignorance for awhile longer. But Juliette noticed her presence and the Nurse found that she could not – almost literally could not – tell Juliette that her lover was dead. She didn't even need to – upon seeing her countenance Juliette launched herself in her Nurse's arms, sobbing inconsolably while the Nurse soothed her the best she could.
By afternoon, however, Juliette's tears had dried and she was composed. Too quiet and too pale to be even a close distance to normal, but otherwise still part of Veronian reality. In fact, she had been worse the night when she had taken that sleeping potion. She had been too nervous then. But here there was only dull acceptance and natural grief. Truth be told, it was a relief after all of the chaos of the past two weeks, even with the newfound tension that seeped into the Capulet household on the eve of the Montaigu heir's death.
Yet the Nurse couldn't help but feel that the young lady wasn't as passive as she appeared to be and it made her considerably uneasy. She endeavored talking to La Muette, but the redheaded mute remained…well, mute. In the end, she told La Muette to keep an eye on Juliette, see if she would be all right. God only knew what was going on in the young girl's mind.
It was just a little whisper into the night, a whisper that by all accounts wouldn't have been audible. But Juliette heard it as clearly as if it had been a shout, and she sat up, quitting her pretend slumber; it was useless to sleep, anyway.
It was him, standing in her room like the hanging never happened, as if it hadn't been real, but just a figment of her imagination. He couldn't be real – but she found that she didn't care.
Such was her amazement that she didn't see the white butterfly fluttering about over his shoulder.
He stared at her sadly in the darkness, looking just like he did when he was about to hang, but otherwise perfect. The wound was ripped open and gaping again, as though her measly methods of hiding and obscuring the hole were little more than a veil, and without knowing it she had extended her hand to reach him. To her surprise, he backed away.
"Follow me," he said and he disappeared from out the window.
For a moment Juliette stared, stunned. Then as though coming back to life, she got out of bed, pausing only to put on her cloak before following the ghost or apparition or whatever it was.
She went out to the balcony and her panic was relieved when she saw him standing in the same spot he had once stood when he visited her balcony that night. He stared up at her expectantly before he turned and disappeared into the foliage. She started to climb down the branches of the oak tree, awkwardly maneuvering her way to the ground and through the Capulet orchard, her heart beating wildly in anticipation – but for what?
The city square, in contrast to the previous morning's excursions, was completely deserted. The scaffold looked so cold and bare in contrast to the heat and fire of the hanging, of seeing his body suddenly give way and fall limp, of the light that left his eyes…the same eyes that, so little time ago, ages ago, had connected with hers in dawning wonder…
And suddenly he was there on the scaffold again, on the same spot, holding out his arms to her and Juliette ran to him. They embraced and Juliette found her heart breaking again for the second time.
"Shush. It's all right."
"No, it's not. You're gone." He was even cold at the touch. "You aren't even here."
"Of course I am." He smiled an odd, crooked smile, and rolled his eyes. "You can touch me, you can feel me."
Juliette touched his face softly, timidly. It was the same exact face she remembered, the shape and contours were the same. So why did she feel vaguely discomfited?
"I'm so cold."
"I miss you."
Another odd smile, this time with a slight tilt of the head. "I know."
Juliette cupped the sides of his face tightly. "Kiss me," she said. "I need to know if this is real."
Something flickered in Romeo's expression. He seemed to stare into space for a minute. Then he flashed her a smile again, this time almost flirtatious. "Say you'll come with me first."
Juliette felt her heart explode with the happiness she felt. "Yes."
His eyes flashed. Juliette reached up and kissed him passionately in the lips and it was as though the ice that had replaced the blood in her body had melted and there was warmth and light again, beautiful and bright. There was no hurt, no suffering, no anything, but an irrepressible, grandiose wealth of love, love that they'll forever share. Romeo slowly broke the kiss and whispered softly in her ear:
"By the way. Happy birthday."
They stood there for eons, exchanging blithe words of love.
It was unclear who had first uncovered the body, but whoever did screamed such a deafening scream that it seemed to wake up the whole city. All of Verona, for the third and final time, congregated at the city square, and in the weak light of the morning saw Juliette Capulet's body lying dead on the scaffold, a deep burgundy pool of blood gathering around her, clutching the handle of her bloodied dagger, her tear-stained countenance peaceful. In her other hand was a large white butterfly, fluttering serenely on her palm.
A/N: Farewell, young lovers. Yours was cute while it lasted.
A little simile-analogy: Keeping Romeo and Juliet from each other is like preventing a storm from coming by dancing Le Bal and balancing a stuffed chicken on your head. It's delusional and, I suspect, impossible. Even in fanfiction.