Disclaimer: I don't own Kuroshitsuji, "rooks and romanticide," or "Romeo and Juliet." But the fact that the toys aren't mine has never stopped me from playing with them, haha. ;3

Author's Note: "Go hence and have more talk of these sad things," said the Undertaker. "Okay," said Moony.

So yeah, much like "closer," this is fanfiction for Obstinate Fate/White Silver and Mercury's brilliant fanfic, "rooks and romanticide." I feel a little guilty tacking a fanfic to the end of such an amazing masterpiece, but… well, that's the whole point of fanfiction, isn't it? XD; In any case, I hope you all enjoy.

Warnings: This will make little sense if you haven't read "rooks and romanticide." In related news, as this takes place after "r&r"'s closing chapter, it contains spoilers for everything up to the end of said fanfic. SebaCiel, one-sided Ciel/Lizzie. Grell and Lizzie's debut as buddy-cops. Fail editing. Gratuitous overuse of Shakespearian quotes. Other literary allusions, because I am pretentious like that. Likely confusing, for equally pretentious reasons. I am a fan of the color purple. C:

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Epilogue

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Love give me strength!

And strength shall help afford.

–Juliet Capulet

XXX

i. In New London, the sky weeps.

Whimpers of thunder roil through the gray, churning clouds and pollution-tainted air. In the cypress-shrouded distance, life, as always, marches on; here, all has stopped but the trembling trees. Death rules with a gentle hand, and those subjects under his reign are watched over by angelic guardians and gothic columns of marble. Teardrops from beyond the veil pearl like liquid diamond atop the curved cheeks of carved effigies; they twist and trail down the elaborate ornamentation of moss-swathed urns. The wind sighs, lachrymose on its breath, and rustles the silvery drape of nearby willows. Dappled dew crafts a curtain of starlight and sadness upon those hanging vines; through the rippling mercury of leaves and foliage, a freshly turned grave is locked within a prison of delicate ebony ironwork.

The rain darkens precious poetry engraved upon pale stone. At its base, packed soil becomes sludge, black and slippery as oil; the silk ribbon wound around a bouquet of sweet-scented lilies falls loose, allowing the flowers to scatter. Their pale, satin petals are soon smeared with mud, despite the storm's tireless efforts to wash the mess away…

Too little, too late. Some messes are irreparable; lost purity unsalvageable; a thing once lost unable to be returned. The end.

And yet…

In the cemetery, Death rules with a gentle hand. But by the might and grace of that tender touch, nothing on the sacred grounds ever truly dies: blossoms flourish, trees grow tall, and memories are lovingly preserved in the hearts and minds of those who walk through the arched gateway. A haunting of the purest sort: the statues see and the breezes sing; the flora feels and the forgotten demanded attention.

Romeo…

In the gloom of the willow, beside a monument for a missing mother and a headstone for an absent father, a still-white memorial glitters, bejeweled with tears from above. Cold gusts whistle around the roughened edges of the marker; rain drums like unseen fingers, branches wave like beckoning hands. And all the while, the buried whispers:

Romeo, Romeo—wherefore art thou, Romeo?

ii. He cuts his hair soon After.

He tells himself it's a commemorative gesture; he tells himself it's a tiny tribute. He places his shorn ponytail in a chestnut box beside a few tattered tomes and runs a quivering finger over the charred handle of a smoke-damaged pistol. Everything has changed, he reasons. So why shouldn't he?

But that's a lie.

He feels his stomach flip-flop as he stares down at his bound locks: stray scarlet stands curling and spilling and shifting to fill the enclosed space, pooling higher and higher and looking so very much like—

He closes the chest. Locks it.

Outside, a raven caws.

He cries.

iii. For a while, he thinks, he'll travel. The others' (who had never truly cared for him before) can't be bothered to give a damn, now; they have their own troubles to occupy their reeling minds. The Beast, it seems, has been tamed by Reality, that harsh and heartless mistress. When she speaks, it is to her feet; when she moves, it is gingerly; when she sits, she is beset by twitches and tremors, as if expecting Life to deal another devastating blow for the sheer audacity she shows in continuing to breathe. The blonde one, always loopy, has lost whatever tentative grasp on lucidity and reason that he might once have possessed; he is rarely allowed out of his quarters, no matter what sounds he makes or obscenities he screams or fixtures he smashes. And William…

Well, William might have said something, had he the courage to broach the subject. But as he has recently learned, he is really quite skilled at running away. At abandoning his friends.

He packs enough to journey far. He knows it won't be far enough.

iv. Romeo… Romeo…

The crows collect atop mausoleums and pagodas, branches and benches. One shrieks; another jerks. The leafy awning flutters about like millions of glossed feathers, eyes of sunlight peeping through the natural canopy to warm outstretched wings. The air is beaten, the breezes stirred.

She watches, and is not afraid.

v. He doesn't believe in ghosts. Not really.

Not really.

If he cannot smell it, taste it, shoot it full of bullets, he refuses to acknowledge that a thing exists. In the past, he had always found that a reasonable rule of thumb, something quick and easy to soothe the frazzled brain in the blackness of night. But it is not night now, and his eerie stalkers are just as corporeal as himself.

Rooks are following him.

There—in an oak tree, its beady eyes bright. When he pauses on his path, cocking his head to the far left, the clever devil mirrors his human companion; it then makes a disgruntled noise, shuffles its scaly feet, and jabs a lacquered beak at the dirty gravel of the dust-covered road. High above, soaring back from whence he came: two more nacreous shadows of onyx, navy, and violet, screeching pointedly as they ride the winds to the not-so-distant city. Loitering on the street side, pecking at grub and garbage and—when he should venture too close— his leather boots and hidden toes, as if he is no better than a common worm. When he yells at them, they yell back; when he kicks at them, they hiss and dodge. When he seeks shelter in a crumbling tavern, they watch him through the windows: gazes as sharp as their talons and nearly as intimidating.

He orders a glass of claret. Notices the color. Pushes it away.

In the corner, two withered men are playing chess. Wrinkled brows have furrowed; knobby fingers quaver in concentration. Their queens, their pawns, their knights, their pints of ale have gone untouched… but four rooks lie discarded, cherry wood gleaming in the lamplight.

He returns to New London.

vi. He considers bypassing the churchyard. Then he ponders visiting. It is a resting place, after all— and what does he need, if not rest? A respite of some kind, any kind… perhaps where the birds are kinder.

He reaches the entrance of the necropolis. Curls a hand around the ivy-twined bars of a gateway that would make Saint Peter proud. Gazes in upon the lushness, the calmness, the serenity. A somber tranquility—the sort that… while reading…

…a rook alights upon the lattice.

His blood runs cold as the creature regards him. So cold. Cold as if shed, oozing from a shattered skull.

This field-bed is too cold for me to sleep…

The wind invites him. The rook brandishes a wing. An encouraging squawk, a familiar glance. But the bidding gestures go unnoticed, unanswered; his head is too full of whispers, and his eyes are too full of tears—too full, too much, too little, too late.

It was hard to leave the first time. It is hard to leave, now.

Still, he runs.

vii. Despite his post, despite his position, despite the mortal dangers he had oh-so-willingly thrown himself into day in and day out, the earl's final testament is not anything impressive. Sloppy, almost—an afterthought's afterthought: a scrawled scrap of parchment tossed atop his ledgers, left to be found when holy fires and pandemonium both died.

When he died.

Little is mentioned in the official will, for little needs to be said. He had known full-well that his family is smart enough to figure out how to divide his assets accordingly. (They are Phantomhives, after all—not those bumbling Michaelis fools.) The task of doling out the dead's property is hurried along by empty drawers and safe boxes full of work-related documentation; young though he was, the earl had never put much stock in sentimentally, and his lack of personal trinkets attests to that. Though she searches both her mind and his rooms, all she can come up with are the earrings of his mother and the rings from his father… but both had long-since been entombed within the earth, buried with the person who had worn them with such pride.

For weeks, she wishes fervently for a bauble—some possession beloved by her beloved, something to hold when the sadness became too much to bear. It is in the midst of these throes of desperation that the note is finally discovered: folded neatly and sealed with a stamp of blue wax. The butler is the one to call her attention to it, to provide her with a letter opener. Standing alone with the servant in the musty study, she regards the paper as a message from Heaven. Words from an angel. A gift from God.

The first of two.

By way of calligraphy scrawled in haste, her second present is bequeathed: instructions, directions, to a dusty corner of a bedroom bookshelf, where the family head had kept bound copies of favored publications. To his cousin, he has left a worn release of a Shakespearian play; she holds the book in one hand, and the slapdash note in the other. She stares at both, reading the celebrated title and his last words in kind:

Romeo and Juliet.

I will confess to you that I love him. –Act IV, scene i.

viii. Often, he finds himself in the library.

He feels as if he is searching for something. Restlessly, relentlessly. He is on a quest, but for whom and for what he is not certain. All the same, a library seems a good place to start such a pursuit; someone he had dearly loved had done his best thinking in this place. Plots. Plans. The battles of history, cautionary tales, records of victory and defeat, recorded in voices long-gone and inaudible.

Words, words, words—Hamlet said that. Or so he had been told; he didn't really like to read all that much, personally. All that he knew about books he'd learned from… from discussions. From late-night storytelling when he couldn't sleep, from brusque explanations when he'd barge into the leader of BLACK's not-so-secret safe haven. Though time is fleeting, art is long; the words, words, words remain, the only unchanging thing in the entirety of the world.

Messages from the past. From the dead.

What is it that he's hoping to find?

He sits on the couch for a moment. Touches rough spines. Separates favorite novels from passing fancies by the way they've been worn down—piles those special few beside him on a cushion, and wonders what makes them so great. The Archidoxes of Magic. Faust. The Raven. He recognizes that one; he's heard the first few lines recited. For a moment, he considers reading the rest, but when his fingers fall atop the paperback's cover… Well, the avian profile reminds him of others of the species: blackbirds and crows whirling about in his mind.

He pushes it aside, feeling faintly ill. Something else. Anything else.

Guidance. A message.

A play. Its corners are bent, its pages yellowed. He scrutinizes the title, and feels a faint fizzle of pride when he realizes that he already knows it. Perhaps he's more cultured than he'd once thought. The idea makes him smile, for in the back of his brain he can hear a teasing scoff; as if to prove that voice wrong, he flips the book open—

Or bid me go into a new-made grave,
And hide me with a dead man in his shroud

—slams the book shut.

The shadows are dancing. The candlelight glints off the gloss of a discarded pamphlet; the Raven flickers as his own eyes widen, chest heaves. The echo of rook wings, so loud in his ears—deafening, screeching, pleading…!

Wherefore art thou, Romeo…?

With a maddened sweep of his arm, novels, volumes, folios are shoved from tabletop, couch, and shelves; a candelabrum tumbles, its rosy flames hungrily lapping the carpet. He stomps the light out before the hideaway is allowed to emulate hallowed grounds. Plunged into sudden darkness, he can see nothing.

He can only smell clove.

ix. She doesn't believe in ghosts. Not really.

Not really.

But even if she did, she knows that these won't hurt her: what flits and flickers in the gap between daydreams and nightmares is not a monster, but an injured bird. Poor thing, sad creature—so lost and alone. What can she do but offer it comfort, even in the misty depths of her subconscious?

So that is what she gives it. Tries to tend to it, to stave off loneliness. But something is wrong, something is missing; she knows, and it knows that she knows. Yet what she is supposed to know… ah, there's the rub. And the answer she seeks is cloaked by too many questions: who are you? What are you? Where are you?

I do remember well where I should be, and there I am.

("Strange dream, that gives a dead man leave to think!" But… but…)

But what do you want?

Determined to learn, she drifts through the days… Her mother calls it slovenly, chastises her for childish behavior, but does not forbid her from indulging in these naps. The marchioness assumes (and rightly so) that this is how her daughter has chosen to cope with her grief; it will, like everything, pass. Pass like the minutes, the hours, the weeks… so difficult to keep track of whilst unconscious. But time is fleeting, and art is long, and her dreams are masterpieces of mystery: slumber, deep and near-dreamless, sans the sad, black rook who warbles and whines. A familiar voice, so familiar… not the voice of the animal, but of… of…

Where is my Romeo?

She spends her days in her intended's room. No, not in her fiancée's house—the one whom she'd been intended for and the man that she is expected to marry are now two different people. An insult added to injury; saline tears poured into a gaping wound. To soften the sting, she gussies herself in midnight gossamer: bandages her bruises in black whilst trying to mend the pieces. She can avoid her future husband during the mourning period, at least… To be especially fair, she avoids everyone else, as well.

The doors are locked. The windows too. The manor's fortifications remain as strong as ever: each turret guarded, every hedge heavily protected. There is no way for anyone to get in, lest they have wings.

With love's light wings did I o'er-perch these walls;
For stony limits cannot hold love out.

She is awakened by the sound of cawing.

Her eyes flutter in time to the morose, trilled notes; her neck, when she lifts it, is sore and crooked. A pile of parchment had served as her pillow, and now will serve as her nursemaid: the customary morning salutation is replaced by a single line of chilling verse, penned with a passion where her cheek had lain.

My grave is like to be my wedding bed.

She looks to the casement, but finds nothing but a feather.

x. He cannot sleep.

Wherefore art…

He tosses in bed, writhes atop his mattress. Pillows are punched, eiderdown discarded, sheets kicked into bunches and folds and piles. Through the gloom of the witching hour, the white of his linens glow—wraithlike images at the foot of his bed, clinging desperately at his feet. Beyond, a gale is brewing: the winds howl and shriek as they twirl the weathervane and slam persistently against the ramparts. Greenery claws at the gilded panes; whispers squirm though crack in the glass.

O Romeo, Romeo!

"Shut up!" he snarls into the storm, curling into a weary ball against his headboard. Beneath his eyes are bags as dark as the silhouettes on the wall; the shadows writhe when he does, as if in agony. "Why are you doing this to me? What do you want…?"

The play rests open on his nightstand. He'd left it there when he could take no more; act one, scene two, and he'd read it three times.

One fire burns out another's burning,
One pain is lessen'd by another's anguish!

Exhausted and exasperated, he drags shuddering hands over his gaunt face. He is losing it. Has lost it? This has to end. Has to. Something has to end. But hadn't it already ended? Death was the end. A bullet through the brain was the end. The flame of revenge had been swallowed by the blazes of a camouflaged hell; the pain of forbidden love enervated by the realization that the departed cannot ever…

Where is my Romeo?

…cannot ever be together.

Bleary eyes grow wide. A rasped breath escapes chapped lips, and a clenched heart skips a beat as realization strikes hard—batters against his temple like the butt of a gifted gun.

Give me my Romeo!

xi. Of all the issues in her life, she pays the least attention to insomnia. She is, after all, not surprised by its decision to visit; she has spent the last twelve hours dozing. Should she sleep any longer, she too might become a corpse.

Throughout the twilight city, stars and streetlights are flickering into life; households become proper homes as fathers return from work, mothers from market, children from play. All that is dead and inanimate comes to an eerie still—buggies and carriages, shop doors and bells. But that doesn't bother her, for her business is not with the lively, but with the lifeless.

The flower vendor locks his store behind her as she wanders down the steps to his stall, cradling the last bouquet of the day. He had been fresh out of lilies, and purchasing roses felt trite… Instead, she has selected an arrangement of forget-me-nots and myrtle, and in-so-doing feels that these were the best choice all along. Their color, scent, and beauty expresses her feelings far more eloquently than words, words, words. Even still, she has one thing that she feels the need to add.

As she strolls towards the cemetery, she fishes a ribbon from the depths of her tasseled handbag. This she weaves around the blossoms' stems, adding a silvery bow to her gift… as well as a place to slip a single ebony feather.

If I may trust the flattering truth of sleep…

She doesn't believe in ghosts, but she does believe in angels. Her angel desires something, and it has everything to do with a rook.

xii. He wonders vaguely if it is the fate of the entire household to die young or go crazy. Quinton, his brother, the blonde, the Joker, himself… He rams his shovel into the grave soil with gusto, and pauses to ponder his predicament. Beside him looms a rather impressive pile of dirt, nearly up to his shoulder; it'd be rather difficult to pass off his endeavors as an attempt to plant some flowers. In retrospect, he wonders if it might not have been wiser to start with the Michaelis plot, and deal with the Phantomhive's land in the dark. But it is rather too late to decide that now. Besides, this brat is the one who won't shut up.

Romeo…

A shiver races down his spine, cooling his sweaty body faster than any shower or icy gust. How disturbing it is, how placating—a sound not heard with the ears, but with the soul. The wind tugs on his trousers and shirttails like children's hands; the willow waves its fronds in encouragement, urging him on.

He obeys. How can he do anything else? Bathed in the golden rays of dusk, he digs and digs—deeper into earth, deeper into his memories, deeper into himself. Love. It always comes down to love, doesn't it? Rosalie, Charysse, Victoria. Ciel Phantomhive. Sebastian Michaelis. No one would ever do anything if not for love. He certainly wouldn't be here if he didn't love…

Is love a tender thing? It is too rough,
Too rude, too boist'rous; and it pricks like thorn.

A grumble, a sigh. He wipes his brow on a ruined cuff, then thrusts his spade downward again.

Thud.

xiii. Thud.

Thud.

She freezes, she gasps; in the distance, she can hear the beating of a tell-tale heart— a hollow sound, a desperate sound, ringing rhythmically through the evening air. Steady. Sober. But wait… Lest that heart be beating in her own ears, should it be quite so loud? She has been frequenting the cemetery often enough, in recent weeks, to distinguish the epicenter of the phenomenon—some dozen yards beyond her vision, veiled by vitrified vines. Though that did mark the plot where she'd left her heart all those eons ago, last she'd seen him he'd been blackened and broken… forever silenced. Perhaps it isn't a heart at all, then; might it instead be the pounding of a palm against a lid of cedar…? No, no—this isn't a poem by Poe. This isn't a tale by Gothe. There is no magic in this world; miracles, it is said, are past. No. Dead men tell no tales, and neither are they capable of breaking free of ornamented coffins.

Hitching up her skirts, she tosses her bouquet aside; her hand makes a grab for the pistol in her purse. She is a Phantomhive not by name, perhaps, but certainly by blood, and she has been trained in the military arts for as long as any male lead. Should someone be caught defiling the place where her beloved sleeps, they would be made bitingly aware of those skills. With a poise and grace that only a woman of highest pedigree could possess, she slinks into the brush; gun at the ready, eyes trained for a target, she emerges near the outskirts of the gothic enclosure.

For a moment, she thinks she may scream— not from fear, but from fury. No longer safe, sanctified, and sheltered, her dear one's casket has been inexpertly excavated; mounds of soil have swallowed the greenery, obscuring two tombstones and leaving a third coated in grime. Half-hidden in the hole, a shadow moves and grunts and tugs… the thumping had been the sound of a shovel beating against the coffin, forcing loose its hinges and locks. With a deafening crack, the weakened wood gives way; she watches, bosom swelling, as the stranger wrenches back the lid.

She cocks her weapon. She takes aim.

And he, unaware, smilingly murmurs:

"Ah, dear Juliet, why art thou yet so fair?"

A heartbeat again. A hollow sound, a desperate sound, ringing rhythmically through the evening air. Erratic. Fueled by adrenaline. And it is her own, this time, she knows—a liquid rushing through crisscrossed veins that flushes her flesh and weakens her knees. Her foot falters; her heel crushes a twig.

As the little branch snaps, so does the intruder's pale neck: whipping 'round with a flurry of crimson hair. Electric emerald eyes widen, wild and frightened, and the spade slips from fingers that quickly reach for the stars. (And when I shall die, take him and cut him out in little stars, and he will make the face of heaven so fine that all the world will be in love with night.) As she fights to regain her bearings, he fights to regain the use of words—an excuse, a reason, anything but the grotesque truth, for who in Heaven or Hell would believe him?

If only he knew…

When she next turns to regard the stranger, it is not with a gaze stoked by murderous intent. In fact, she hardly seems angry at all: not a quake, not a quaver. She is cautious, yes, but also calm and curious. For a long while, she watches him, inching warily forward… Her stare (darting towards the tomb), her frown (soft as other features), her unwavering aim promises the intruder one chance—a single opportunity for survival. A question.

"Wherefore art Romeo?"

xiv. The blackness of late hours cloaks the pair with more skill than any shroud; her pistol is replaced by a lantern, and she lights the way like a fairy. ("O, so light a foot!" the redhead dares to tease.) Their conversation had been brief, once the rooks began to cry— either they are both crazy or both sane, but whatever-which-way, they are in this together. ("Art thou mad?" "Not mad, but bound more than a mad-man is.") Sides do not matter. Families do not matter. Names do not matter.

"What's in a name?" he reminds with a groan, laboring to lift a fragile body from its bed. "That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet." The passage is punctuated by the gentle sound of a crown kissing timber; she offers her shawl, looking pointedly away. She does not wish to remember her own one as he is, ashen and scarred and torn. Instead, he will live eternally in her mind as he once was: healthy and whole and strong. It is an image that she will protect, just as she will protect him.

Him and his desires.

"Wisely and slow," she warns, velvet voice low, as the rickety wheelbarrow is shoved into motion. The clatter of cart over gravel and pebbles muffles the chatter of jawbone and teeth. It is a bumpy journey to the Other Side. "They stumble that run fast."

xv. Sad hours seem long.

She is a lady, and not fit for manual labor; instead, she keeps a weather eye upon the city, charged to make certain that its residents remain as sound in their slumber as the dead far below. He, as before, works the axe and spade. Lady moon is at her zenith, and her maidenly radiance far-brighter than that which their paltry candle and tiny gas lamp can provide. Even still, they keep both lit, and they flitter about in the darkness like wandering souls.

Ten o'clock. Eleven o'clock. Twelve o'clock. One.

"Here comes Romeo, here comes Romeo…" he mutters to himself, tired eyes drifting from his chore to the pushcart. The shovel scrapes against rock and root; the noise of it intermingles with stretches of silence, equally as grating. She is not sure if it is wise to speak; wisdom has rarely been the concern of those with undeserved authority.

"…thou art not quickly moved to strike," he conversationally mentions, pausing to pant and smooth back matted locks. She, in turn, levels him a wry glance—jade-hued irises very much like his own. Not only in color, but in conviction. In disillusionment.

"Women grow by men," she faintly responds, and it tells him enough. He wonders fleetingly if her gun is a match for his own: lighter now than once before, lacking what some might consider pivotal innards. But was a heart not of more vital importance?

xvi. Two strikes from the clock tower. Two strikes with the shovel.

Thud. Thud.

They exchange breathless glances, nerves jumping with each spike of sound. It feels almost as if they're knocking, asking permission to be let in… but no, they would not have come if they'd thought it an intrusion. They are here because they had been invited. ("Passion lends them power, time means, to meet," she'd breathed in reverence, and he, thinking of rooks and romantics, had nodded in pained agreement.)

It is always darkest before the dawn; the skilled artisan's laboring goes unseen and unappreciated at four in the morning. To them, the opulent coffin lid is nothing more than shape and blackness: as the birds, as the night, as his family's bloodstained crest. Black as the melancholy that had gripped the soul of a desperate man, his innermost thoughts taken hostage by swift mischief. Once upon a time, he had been the one to help that man— to break through the cloying gloom, to shed warmth with his own special brilliance. (Rosalie, Charysse, Victoria.) And so, it is his task again. Too little, too late, perhaps, but better late than never; with the lady's sputtering candle, he offers what light he can. Once more, he breaks through the blackness.

Crack.

xvii. Firelight, as always, becomes him.

He wonders briefly what his comrade must have looked like, head haloed in rich burgundy, lying pale and still beside his fallen friend as the world around them burned. So beautiful, too beautiful: silken locks dancing in the popping heat, pale skin caressed by the kiss of blushing embers. Tongues of flame, like an ardent lover, licking eager trails down a lithe neck, down sylphlike thighs…

But the sparks of that inferno have long-since been extinguished, much like the spark of life that had once leapt in the chests of both he and the one in the wheelbarrow. There is no sizzling incandescence to illuminate them now—just the meager gleam of one smoldering taper. Still, it is enough. It is enough to distinguish the pasty pallor of their cheeks, the faint blue of dried lips, the frayed ends of singed hair. A disfigured effigy had toppled between the gunslingers and the greedy fingers of fire; they had been burnt, yes, but not beyond recognition. Even now, they are both beautiful, so beautiful, too beautiful.

The lady does not close her eyes this time, for she has no qualms or concerns with the average cadaver. Instead, she regards the heir of her enemy with eyes of sympathy and compassion, doleful as the gaze of Mother Mary. With a noiseless flourish, she raises her shawl; he places the second corpse beside the first, and feels his raw throat constrict when the two bodies fit perfectly together, as if pieces from the same puzzle.

At the sight, the stole is hastily replaced— hands jerking with nerves and squirming embarrassment. This is something private, something personal. He doesn't want to see any more. He considers apologizing for the look he took. But then he notices the lady's bewildered brow, and the steely gray that smears the lowest lines of the horizon. To his companion, he offers a shake of his head; to the sky, he offers a bitter glare. Art may be long, but time is fleeting. They have none of it to waste.

xviii. Should they bury a Phantomhive in Michaelis earth, the moldering bodies of long-deceased ancestors' would not only roll, but likely try to roll away. To place a Michaelis beneath the ground with murdered Phantomhives would be far too time consuming—they might as well summon a devil and ask directly to be cursed. Such a course would likely be quicker, and generate the same results. For a moment or three, he ponders bringing the lovers back to their end, back to St. Mikael's— to burn the blasphemed ruins until ashes have become ashes, and dust has become dust. Until they are nothing more than bits and bones, identical to the last. No one will separate them, then. But no, she rejoins, they had already tried to sleep there; their rest had been disturbed once, and would surely be again, if they were to cause such a scene. Besides, that church is Michaelis territory. St. Vincent's, then? It belongs to the Phantomhive's…

Neutrality is difficult to come by in a city ravaged by war. And how horrible, how heartbreaking, that love has yet to save and salvage; two more bodies for the trenches, and even now the soldiers march on. Shakespeare had made a mistake when composing his celebrated drama: tragedy does not unite estranged families. Tragedy does nothing but bring more sadness and pain, shattered shards of bullets and spirits scattered across the roadsides. The roadsides, riddled with gangs and still color-coded, like the citizenry, shops, and residents. There is nothing on land that does not bear one crest or another.

So nothing on land will do.

xix. He doesn't ask where she found the rowboat. He doesn't particularly care—they will leave the owner generous monetary compensation, once they have finished their task. They will also leave before said owner has a chance to find them standing guiltily on the pier. But then, should a person discover two mud-encrusted nobles with elaborately crafted weaponry and a cart full of corpses attempting to commandeer one's skiff, that person may yet decide to leave them be. If they are smart, anyway. Or sensible.

The Thames, like the town, is lethargic before daybreak; no vessels to molest her sinuous body, no fowls to foul her sloping shores. No eyes of light twinkle upon her rippling surface, now: she, too, is asleep, and enjoying the liquidity of blissful dreams. What does a river dream about, he wonders? Whatever her peaceful fantasy, she has submerged herself in it: there is no rushing, no storming, no floundering. There is only breathing: in, out. In, out. Ebbing and flowing, easy and ceaseless. With quiet hands, she caresses the shafts of the dock—paws at them like pillows, resting the frothy head of wave after wave against those algae-encrusted pillars. Riding the soothing surges, the little ship bobs.

There is a baptismal feeling to this rite, he thinks, as he lowers the elder body into the boat. Water is cleansing. Water is purifying. Water, and this river, belong to no one— belong to everyone. So many secrets lurk beneath the blue-green glass and murky plumes of this aqueous sanctuary… what's two more?

With equal grace, he places the smaller corpse beside the first. The slant and angle of the skiff's planked sides urges the pair to embrace; hip to hip and breast to breast. The earl's head lolls against a jutted shoulder, and their wounds nearly kiss. He swallows thickly, his knees on the wharf and his hands atop their own. With precise, ginger movements, he laces brittle digits— locks the two together by flesh and unspoken prayer. Like children before bed, he tucks the woven shawl around them; she, in turn, fishes a corked vial of kerosene from her bag. Their taper has gone out. Her lantern is spitting, gasping. She hands the spare bottle of fluid to her companion.

The sky is the color of a loaded gun.

A pungent shower of oil leaves shimmering flecks of flammability upon the borrowed stole. Somewhere in the distance, the first gull of morning has uttered a screech of welcome to the impending dawn. He lights himself two clove cigarettes— one to keep, the other to give. He tosses it, and the smoking match that ignites them, into the undulating vessel.

"These violent delights have violent ends
And in their triumph die, like fire and powder,
Which as they kiss consume."

As she speaks, she unties the ropes. He pushes them to sea.

xx. They watch the cradled couple as they drift into the distance, embraced in all ways by the accepting arms of the deep. They nod and dip on the glittering horizon, a beacon of hope for other lost souls— and the flames of their ardor glows even more brightly than the rising ruby sun. When they are but a far-away flare, the burning rays of first light fully envelope their cremated craft; for a moment, it is too much for a mortal gaze. They squint, they blink…

They are gone.

Atop the oscillating waters, vibrant eyes of pink and gold are winking into waking; beneath eyes of mournful green, dappled spray sparkles like sapphire, intermingling with streaks of warm, liquid salt. Lissome legs dangling from the ledge of the quay, she sucks in a staccato breath and sighs. Her ears ring, but only with silence; the plaintive pleas are gone. No rooks chirrup in the distance. There is only her heartbeat, and his heartbeat, and the heartbeat of the river as it flows to meet the ocean.

"A glooming peace this morning with it brings…"

The proclamation whispers through the shimmering haze like fog and fancy. She does not notice how close he has crept until he has crouched down beside her, and his willowy fingers have brushed the round of her cheek. Dried earth and water blend; both pull away with a touch of mud upon their skin.

"Poor soul, thy face is much abused with tears," he murmurs, and hunts in his jacket for a handkerchief. As the folded linen slides from an inner pocket, the emblazoning that festoons its middle flashes like coal and vermillion; he hesitates, fearing he has offended.

But she, to his surprise, responds with a flattered beam, and extends an elegant hand to accept the gift. In exchange, she offers her own—blues and silvers as the sea, doily edges like maritime foam.

"Live, and be prosperous," she tells him kindly, standing as she presses her new kerchief to her bosom. Beneath the beaded corset of her gown, blood is pumping and air is rushing. She feels weightless and alive. The chains and shackles that for so long have bound her beloved to duty and despair have been broken… and now she, too, is free. It is time that they both spread their wings, be they the wings of crows or angels. "And farewell, good fellow."

Like the blessed little boat, they vanish in a blaze of morning light.

xxi. Romeo, Romeo, wherefore art thou, Romeo?

Here, here will I remain.

XXX

Heaven is here

Where Juliet lives

–Romeo Montague

XXX