The Nature of Things in Eternity

If I think about it again

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And I Viola
bloody Spock
Title: And I Viola
Fandom: Twelfth Night
Characters/Pairings: Olivia/Cesario, Viola/Orsino, pre-story Sebastian/Antonio
Summary: Viola must get a grip on herself
Notes: Originally written for lost_spook, it has taken on a life of its own.
Word Count: 1343

As Viola comes into the inner chambers, she watches Olivia for a moment before she clears her throat to deliver the Duke’s message. The other girl’s movements remind her of something but before she can put her finger on it, the moment’s gone and Cesario begins to speak.
He knows exactly what to say because the Duke feels about Olivia just as Viola feels about him. The lady smiles at her speech and she dares to think her mission has succeeded. But Olivia is in love with the lips and form of the one who speaks the words.
At the end of the hallway, she turns a corner and watches Olivia watching her walk away.

She feels more like a girl when she’s Cesario, as if having balls is enough to show her who she is. He is a person separate from, but part of, her. She thought it would be a simple matter of imitating her brother, but to her surprise a completely different person emerges, a man to whom poetry and comfort come easily – two things Sebastian could never pull off. She feels tears well up in her eyes – if she had hoped to bring her brother back, this is not how she will manage it.

The second time she approaches, she finally understands what makes her so familiar. Olivia wanders exactly like a ship lost at sea. Viola knows how it feels to be stalled and waiting for a wind or a star to guide her, but her brother’s gone and never coming back. Olivia’s lucky, she thinks bitterly. At least she got the finality of a body.
Viola is so sympathetic to this image of a little girl lost that it takes her quite by surprise when she grabs Cesario around the waist and tries to kiss him. Frightened but always charming, he insists that this is neither the time nor the place and he’s just trying to do his job. Finally, Olivia forces a ring from her hand to his and brushes his cheek before she turns to go.
With dismay, Viola recognizes that last look in her eyes – it’s the same she’s felt on her own face countless times. This is the hopeful look of someone willing to take every facet of a person and make it into a thing worth loving. She experiences the same thing with Orsino and it takes all her power to shake it away. Why on earth should Olivia bother if she doesn’t know how wrong it is?

On the ship, Viola had insisted on that she learn to fight alongside her brother. The sailor had been reluctant to teach her, but Sebastian just laughed, his voice hearty even then, and asked why shouldn’t this squirt be able to defend herself?
Now that she has the chance, she doesn’t want to raise a sword against anyone. It is not her own honor she’s defending, but that of a fictional character and two buffoons. The man in front of her was full of brag and bluster, but now she can see him shaking in his boots. Viola doesn’t know what they said about Cesario, but it makes her sick to his stomach. But even though she wants to, needs to, Cesario does not let her drop the sword. Instead, she holds it as gently as a writing quill and focuses on making sure that neither of them gets hurt. She slips back and lets Cesario lead this dance.

Once she emerges from this year of artifice, she just feels like a guy in drag. With a pang, she realizes that she will never again feel comfortable in her own skin.
She and Sebastian take turns telling their story until both their throats are raw and aching. She keeps glancing over at the other woman, who seems to be taking it pretty well. Whether Olivia blames her or not, Viola feels awful inside. Sebastian didn’t lie to the world as much, except when he let himself be dragged into a chapel. But even that ended happily and Olivia bestows looks on him that she once reserved for Cesario. Next to her, Orsino smiles like a man who’s just noticed something wonderful that was always in front of him.
In celebration, the four of them go to a play and watch from Orsino’s private box. Viola pays special attention to the actors performing as women. She wonders if they feel as uncertain as she when they undress at the end of the night. She supposes they must be used to it by now. Sebasian glances at her, worried, and she forces herself to laugh at the next pratfalls.
When Thisbe dies, she cannot hold back the sobs that have been building in her chest for the past few months. She feels a sympathetic hand patting hers and looks up to see Olivia, who looks like she knows exactly what’s been going through her head.

She misses Cesario even though she has Sebastian again, because nothing can compare to practically being his body, sharing his mind. The freedom her chest feels when she removes the bindings, is not as much of a relief as she expected. Olivia’s brother is still dead and Viola fears she will never be forgiven for getting all the pieces of her life in place.
I could be your brother, she wants to offer, and considers saying it hundreds of times. Then again, Olivia already has the man that Viola pretended to be and Viola has the man she wanted from the beginning. They’re happy now, can even learn to live without each other.
But Sebastian never loved Olivia, even as they were married. His sister can taste the bitter flavor of heartbreak whenever she catches sight of Antonio, off to the side in whatever room Sebastian is in. Viola knows that she can never be her brother and Antonio doesn’t expect her to be. Still, she invites him to a game of rummy with the Duke and herself, so at least he won’t be alone.
All of them are missing something vital with Cesario vanished back into fantasy. Viola notices it when her husband kisses her neck and his eyes trail down to the bulge that has been gone for months. His lips are not as sweet as she imagined when they were forbidden. Orsino’s wife feels she can never be as close to him as his best friend was, but she has no reason to complain.

Cesario was used to smoking with the Duke and being “one of the guys” but Viola now finds herself delegated to the duties of wife. She holds her needle like a sword and embroiders sailing ships and dragons. She shows her sampler to Olivia, who laughs and goes back to outlining her gentle rose pattern in yellow thread.
Olivia is tired of the funereal drapery covering her home, so Viola helps her make a series of black evening dresses. They cover the waist, hem, and sleeves with sequins that neither of them admits are secretly tears.
Despite her name, Viola hates all string instruments. Instead, she plays piano and clarinet. She loses herself in the music and all the years fall away. She’s just a happy girl playing her favorite Chopin pieces in time with the waves. Sometimes she can feel Olivia watching her and she dives into the Revolutionary Etude with even more fervor. She doesn’t know, nor care, if Olivia can tell she’s sending her a message about their private revolution.

Olivia and I, Viola, she writes in her journal again and again, amazed at how the six letters intersect and reflect each other. It could have been so perfect, she thinks, but then she knows it couldn’t be.
She sees the lines of regret painted all over Olivia’s face but the next moment she’s sure she imagined it as her sister-in-law laughs without a care in the world. It’s her own melancholy she must have seen reflected in another face. Viola does not mention it, but she never forgets it either.

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Oh, thank you! So glad you had fun writing something, too.

This is really great - such an interesting look at Viola and the tangled relationships of the play. It's lovely.

I am so glad you appreciate it! I love tangled relationships.

Earlier in the year, I saw a version where the cast was almost entirely genderbent, besides Antonio for some reason - he had amazing abs and was sharing longing glances with Sebastian for the entire thing. Also, Olivia was actually played by a girl. The production had some things confusing about it, but on the whole it was excellent.

And Shakespeare's relationships are frequently very tangled! :-)

It sounds intriguing. I've only seen it once on stage, a long time ago. I think it may have been a college production, but it was still quite good - and set in the 1920s, which was interesting.

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