Author: Meltha

Rating: R

Spoilers: For "Romeo and Juliet"

Distribution: Yuletide, the Blackberry Patch and If you're interested, please let me know.

Summary: There was more than one tragic love story in Verona.

Author's Note: Written for Lyra Sena for Yuletide 2006

Disclaimer: All characters are created by William Shakespeare, aka Billy the Bodacious Bard. No copyright infringement is intended, though I would be deeply curious to see who would actually file a lawsuit on this one. Ah, the joys of public domain.

The Madness of Love

Mercutio first met Romeo in hell. At least, that was where he had thought he was. Hell, after all, is a place that has no hope left in it. Mercutio had seen his father, his mother, his two older brothers and his little sister fall ill with plague, slowly slipping away each day. His God-fearing neighbors had turned their backs on them, fear stripping them of any semblance of humanity. Eventually, in their panic, the people of Verona nailed shut the doors of every effected house to prevent the spread of contagion or the escape of the doomed inhabitants. He had been surrounded by the continual stink of death, and hope had ceased to exist for him except as a dim memory.

For three weeks Mercutio had lived in that hell, watching helplessly as his family died one by one, but inexplicably the disease did not touch him. However, there was no food left in the house, and he had soon sunk to the level of eating rats, the only creatures to break the edict of quarantine. He began to grow delirious and weaker day by day, his mind becoming unhinged with famine, grief, and terror.

But hell was not to be his final resting place. At long last the door was pried open, and Friar Lawrence had stood silhouetted against daylight so blindingly bright that Mercutio had thought he might be God. The holy man had been horrified at what had been done during his absence to visit one of his superiors in Mantua, and the friar had come to put the dead to rest; he had not expected any survivors. In his shadow had stood a small boy, barely daring to peek around the voluminous folds of the friar's brown robes. Friar Lawrence had looked down, only just now realizing the child was there.

"Great saints! Romeo, thou must not enterest this place. What dost thou here? No, answer not, I have not time for thy idle prattle. Be a good child and run back to thy parents' house," he had said.

"Will he die?" he asked, frowning seriously.

"Fear not," he said kindly, bending to speak to him face to face with a consoling expression. "There are worse things than death, and those who have treated these poor souls with such contempt have far more to fear than this one does if he be called to his eternal home. But hie thee hence! There's a good lad."

With a long backward glance, the little boy ran along the cobbled streets. His eyes had briefly connected with Mercutio's bleary ones, and somehow in that moment a bond had been forged. Meanwhile, uttering Paternosters and Aves with an urgency that seemed to propel him with superhuman force, Friar Lawrence had carried the weak and ill Mercutio back to the church where he nursed him to health over several months.

Mercutio had been ten years old.

Over that slow recovery, once it was clear the danger of plague was passed, Romeo had resumed his regular visits to the church to see Friar Lawrence. Secretly, the friar half-hoped he might one day join the order, for the child seemed possessed of an amazing aptitude towards devotion, but he knew the hope was a vain one. Romeo was the only child of one of the wealthiest and most powerful families in Verona, and he was being raised to assume the vast responsibilities that he would one day inherit. Regardless, there was no fault to be found in Romeo's choice to visit the sick. The visits became daily, and as Mercutio's recovery progressed, the noise the two made in their games increased accordingly. One day the friar entered to find the two boys spiritedly batting a wadded piece of parchment back and forth between them in an impromptu version of tennis, climbing over furniture and all but hanging off the ceiling in their attempts to continue their volleys. Startled at his arrival, Mercutio missed his mark and accidentally smacked the make-shift ball directly at Friar Lawrence, succeeding in hitting him directly in the center of his shaved pate.

"Pardon, ghostly father," Mercutio said, horrified but somehow simultaneously obviously amused.

"I do believe," he said, bending to retrieve the paper and thus hiding the smile that was tugging at his mouth, "this is proof that young Mercutio is quite well now."

"Aye," Mercutio said, grinning. "I have beaten my worthy opponent six times in a row this morn, and if that be not proof, then there is none that will satisfy, save if I do beat him another six to make it a round dozen."

"I shall take thee at thy word," the friar said with a smile that quickly flitted away. "But this doth leave us with a quandary. Thou cannot livest here, child. I was granted leave to let thee stay in the church until such time as thou wast well, but my order will not permit me to give thee permanent sanctuary. Hast thou any other kin?"

"Aye," he replied, looking suddenly more forlorn than he had been in days, "but they do live far from here and I know them not. I have no others that I do know of."

Friar Lawrence nodded with a sigh.

"He may come to live with me," Romeo said immediately.

Mercutio blinked once in shock, then quickly knocked Romeo off his feet in a grateful embrace that soon degenerated into a good-natured wrestling-match on the floor of the chamber.

"Romeo, I am not sure if thy good father and lady mother would agree to such a proposal," the friar responded doubtfully, gently prying the two apart. In truth, Lord and Lady Montague were not well known in Verona for their charitable natures but rather for quick tempers. Their only match in that regard was the Capulets, and it was this that had kept the feud between them burning hotly for so long that no one could even remember how it had begun.

"Is't not written that we should 'knock, and the door shalt be opened'?" Romeo said wisely, his tone belying his nine years of age.

Friar Lawrence smiled down at him, wishing the world could see through the eyes of children sometimes.

"Indeed, thou mayest not receive an answer unless you ask. Go and see," he said.

To Friar Lawrence's great surprise and the two boys' elation, the Montagues agreed to house the orphaned boy as he seemed to provide their son with good spirits and kept him conveniently out of the way. For three years, Mercutio slept in the servants' quarters of the household. He was Romeo's playfellow, but he also developed a ravenous taste for the books his friend studied. He poured over them intently, absorbing their contents like a particularly thirsty sponge, and his wit, always quick, began to sparkle even more brightly with the added food that knowledge gave it.

But Mercutio's ordeal had not left him unmarked. There were times when he would wake in the night with horrifying screams, believing himself to be entombed alive with the dead once again. Usually the other servants would regard him as unlucky when these spells came upon him, refusing to come near him. Romeo, for his part, was disgusted by their behavior. Not one of these terrors ever visited Mercutio without Romeo hurrying to his side, holding his friend's hand and calming him with soothing words until at last he slept soundly once more. In time, Mercutio learned to suppress his fears, but sometimes even during the daylight a feeling that the world was tilting would happen for him, and he would be surrounded by the remembered smells of his old home, the vision of a rat running over his dead brother's face, the sound of the last breath his mother ever took. In those moments the only way he could hold on to a shred of his sanity was to jest, sometimes wildly, sometimes completely inappropriately, or else to clutch Romeo's hand in his as though he was the one safe harbor in a sea of rancid darkness.

By this time, Romeo had become a youth of Verona, well-admired and regarded as being distinctly comely. At twelve he was still too young for marriage, though many maidens of that age and of noble birth were led to the altar to take their vows either to love, honor, and obey their new husbands or as brides of the holy Church. Mercutio, now thirteen, was well aware of the whispers he himself aroused from the young beauties of the city when he walked past, but he tended to scoff at them rather than lose himself to any romantic thoughts that beribboned sleeves and velvet kirtles might induce. But his life was destined to change in a way he could never have foreseen.

The Prince of Verona, a man of great age who had never had children, suddenly died as he was walking through the vineyards that surrounded his city. At once, several warring factions came forth in an attempt to claim the crown, each thinking they had the divine right to lead Verona. In the end, and after more deaths than anyone could count, the bloodline was traced to a man named Escalus who had resided all his life in Milano. His relations in Verona had belonged to a disowned branch of the family tree, but he was undoubtedly the person most closely related to throne.

None of this brought so much as raised Mercutio's eyebrow until the morning when there was a loud knock on the front door followed by the abrupt entrance of a bunch of courtiers.

"Is there not a youth of the name Mercutio in this house?" asked one, surveying the rich room with a look of disdain.

"Aye," said old Giuseppe, the chief cook. "What hast the young popinjay done this time?"

"I will speak only to the master of this house," the finely dressed man had replied. "I am on business from Prince Escalus."

"I shall fetch him for ye," Giuseppe had replied, taking the time to cast a wary eye at Mercutio, who was standing behind the front door, before going up the stairs and into Lord Montague's study.

In less than a minute Lord Montague appeared, looking slightly afraid.

"Is there aught that the servant boy hast done wrong? Is so, I shall see to it he is properly beaten," Lord Montague said quickly.

"The youth Mercutio is one of the surviving blood kin of the Prince," the man replied. "The Prince wishes him to move to the palace at once as, until he does produce an heir of his own, this young man and one called Paris are the closest to the throne. Where might I find the young sir?"

"Here," Mercutio had said, stepping out from behind the door, "and I'll not go with ye for the wide world or more."

"Bite thy tongue!" Lord Montague hissed at him, barely refraining from adding "fool" at the end. "The Prince wishes thy acquaintance, and it is not for the likes of thee to sayest aught but 'aye' to him!"

By now Romeo stood at the top of the stairs, taking in the scene with rising agitation.

"Who would dare separate me from my friend?" he asked, descending quickly.

"The Prince," his father said, giving him a look to silence him. "They are kin."

"The Prince is thy kin?" Romeo asked Mercutio in surprise. "Why hast thou ne'er said this to me?"

"I knew as much of this as a drab knows of chastity," he returned.

"Watch thy tongue before the Prince's men!" Lord Montague said, shocked.

"I must watch my tongue, yet they may use theirs to drag me off down the road to I know not what? If they use their tongues to pelt me out the door, I should say theirs would be far dirtier than mine," Mercutio rejoined quickly.

The courtier gave him a sharp look but said nothing in response to these words, stating only, "He is to report to the palace by midday with his belongings. Good day."

With that, they had left, and without a word to the two boys, Lord Montague ordered the head maid to pack Mercutio's things within the hour, then left abruptly.

"I'll not quit thee," Mercutio said determinedly. "Let this Paris fellow be the heir; I want it not."

"You have no choice, good Mercutio," Romeo said sadly, putting an arm around his neck. "Fate decides what course we follow, and we are but poor ships caught in her currents."

"I'm no sailor, and I'll not be steered by such a bawd as fate," Mercutio said, sitting down firmly on the tiled floor. "My anchor is here, and here I shall stay unless they pull me up and drag me to dry-dock, and if they do, they'd best be cautious lest this boat's keel bruise them roundly about the shins."

"Mercutio, this is no gaggle of unruly boys who are goading thee to see what quick returns thy wit should make. This is the Prince," Romeo said, sitting beside him.

Mercutio sighed deeply. "I know. For once I have an adversary who, though no doubt dull-witted compared to my brilliance, is more powerful than I. But I have no desire to leave this place, Romeo," he said sadly, grasping his friend's hand. "What shall I do without thee?"

"Or I without thee?" Romeo answered in tones equally unhappy.

Without a thought of what the consequences might be, Mercutio's impetuous nature took hold. For one brief moment he brought his lips to Romeo's, who, though startled, did not shrink back. It was over as quickly as it had begun, and Mercutio, he who could punch razor-sharp holes into the romanticized dreams of any moping fool, blushed a bright pink before he got to his feet and ran quickly to the kitchens. He left later that day without another word.

Though Romeo and Mercutio did not enjoy the constant companionship they had once had, they saw one another regularly. Neither spoke of their one kiss, but though Romeo apparently seemed to have forgotten it, Mercutio found himself nearly obsessed and deeply troubled. He soon realized there was more to his feelings for his friend than mere friendship, and not without rising panic did he come to the conclusion he preferred youths to maids, not only as his companions but as far more. By the time he was fifteen, he had visited a brothel, and despite the quite abundant physical charms of the girl he had chosen, he had come out the door as unsullied as snow on a mountaintop.

He dared not say a word to Romeo about his feelings. He was forever mooning over some maiden or other, and Mercutio had no desire to repel him, but the feelings he had when they were near made him nearly go mad. Another year passed, and in a desperate attempt to regain his sanity, Mercutio turned his eyes to a youth who was a paragon of beauty and accomplishment, if perhaps a slave of Dame Fashion: Tybalt. For over a month Mercutio abjured Romeo's company in favor of his, and there was much there that could please the eyes, to be sure. One day he was bold enough to let his hand skitter lightly over Tybalt's own in a moment of conversation, and the result was surprising.

"Tell me, Mercutio," he had breathed softly, bringing his lips close to his ear. "Was that touch mere accident?"

"No," he had responded quietly, looking away.

Abruptly, Tybalt had left the square where they had been speaking, and with a meaningful glance over his shoulder, he strode away. Mercutio had followed him moments later, and faster than he had realized was possible, he had been in Tybalt's bedchamber. The door was bolted, and when Mercutio left again hours later, he was decidedly no longer an innocent.

The next day Mercutio had attempted to speak with Tybalt again, only to have an annoyed look cross the other man's face.

"What is't you want?" Tybalt had said as though he were addressing a complete stranger.

"I-I thought…," Mercutio stammered, not knowing how to finish his thought. What had he wanted? Love songs and garlands of flowers? Eternal vows and sonnets? Neither of them was in love with the other, and in the glaring light of day it was obvious that Tybalt was no friend but only one who had wanted a conquest. Mercutio had simply been a pastime to him. "I want nothing."

"Good, for that is what ye shall receive," Tybalt said, then added in quiet voice. "Not a word, do you understand? Get you back to your Montague-loving friends, for I have had all the use of ye I wish."

Mercutio had glared, and that was the end of things. From that day forth he hated Tybalt, though not because he had turned him away, but because he had not been able to expunge Romeo's form from his thoughts. He had hoped if he took a lover it would cure him of his desire for his friend, but if anything it had increased it. Within days he was back at Romeo's side, knowing full well that he would never have his love, and knowing equally as well that he would never have his own heart back. His gibes became more bitter, his attacks on the sentiment of love more angry, and Benvolio at one point took him aside and asked if some fair Verona maiden had broken his friend's heart.

"No maiden has done this to me," Mercutio shot back at once. "I swear it. Any who lets himself be caught in the sights of Cupid's bow and becomes but a swooning flower petal, filled with sighs and tears, he does not deserve to be called a man, I say."

"Thou had best not sayest this before our friend Romeo," Benvolio said with a wry expression. "His heart lies with Rosaline."

"His heart lies with her, aye, but has he?" Mercutio said with grin.

"Nay, her virtue is doubtless safe, for the lady will have none of him," Benvolio responded. "In truth, I fear, for he is pining away."

"Pining, is he? And what is pining but to be a pine, what is a pine but a tree, what is a tree but a great, hard column that thrusts upward, or perhaps it thrusts down into Mother Earth. What a horrible thing it is, this 'pining,' for it is surely a thing most unnatural to plow one's mother so. Has Romeo become Oedipus? Knows he not how that play ends? Things never end happily when daggers are plunged into the hero," Mercutio said as he walked on tiptoe along the edge of the city fountain, pretending to walk a tightrope as his mind balanced precariously for a moment between sanity and insanity. "We must convert him from his pagan thoughts before disaster occurs."

"Mercutio," Benvolio said, shaking his head, "is there nothing that can make thy thoughts run in a straight course?"

"Moi?" Mercutio said, a hand to his chest with feigned shock. "I do hope not. T'would be most dull. My wits run round in circles and spirals like the Milky Way. What would happen if their orbits shifted? Chaos! Confusion! Destruction most total! Judgment Day! Nay, friend, wish not the stars of my nature out of orbit or else thou wilt find me a man who is not Mercutio, but rather one whom I know not, and as I know not this stranger who is me but not me, and there is none to introduce us, Prudence says I should decline his companionship as he may turn out to be a rogue."

"A greater rogue than thee?" asked Benvolio. "Is't possible?"

"All things are possible, except, perhaps, that Romeo should be out of love. Look thee, here he comes," Mercutio said, spying his friend and object of desire entering the square. The sun was glinting off his curling hair, making it look like gold, and at that moment he turned his head and, catching sight of his friends, smiled weakly at them. At once, Mercutio took a bad step and toppled headlong into the fountain, coming up bubbling and spouting water along with an impressive array of curses in several languages. Benvolio laughed heartily, but Romeo only moved quickly to help his friend from the basin.

"Art thou all to rights?" Romeo asked, but his voice dragged with sorrow.

"No," Mercutio said, "but I am no worse than I was ere this second baptism, so no harm was done me. Thou, though, lookest as though a good dousing might be in order to bring round thy good senses. What ails thee?"

"Love," Romeo said sullenly, sitting on the fountain's edge.

"Ah, then thou art ailed by nothing," Mercutio said, wringing out his hat and sitting beside him. "Love is nothing, and as it is nothing, it cannot do thee harm."

Romeo looked at him sharply, his gaze piercing through him almost angrily.

"If thou dost not know how to love, Mercutio, then that is thy deformity. If you knew what it is to feel as I feel and know thy love is not returned a jot, an iota, an atomie, then thou wouldst know how deeply your 'nothing' can cut to the bone," he said.

Mercutio colored, trying not to remember the truth in Romeo's words or the irony that the one he would have held as his beloved would say them. He shivered suddenly.

"It is cold," Mercutio muttered.

"Well, thou art soaked to the skin, so that is no wonder," Benvolio said with a laugh. "Thou needs must change thy garments or thou wilt catch chill. Come now, the wind is getting bitter."

"Thou may come to my home to borrow raiment," Romeo said.

"Then, with a good will, I will bid thee both adieu, for I do have business in town with a gentleman who urges a proposition regarding land. I shall see thee on the morrow," Benvolio said, then left.

Romeo and Mercutio were walking along the main thoroughfare together in silence for some time before Romeo finally looked over at Mercutio.

"What art thou thinking?" Romeo asked.

"I am thinking of another time when thou said I was to come home with thee," Mercutio said. "Twas indeed the happiest day of my life when thou offered me shelter."

"And I was made happy by it as well," Romeo said with a smile. "Often I do wish that thy fortunes had not turned for the better and thou had stayed with me rather than become the kinsman of a prince."

"I wished that too," Mercutio said, then sneezed mightily. "At times I still wish it."

Their steps slowed a bit as the lingering autumn sun of Italy coloring the walls of the houses in colors of gold and orange and peach.

"I have always felt," Romeo said, his voice sounding almost other-worldly, "that this is the time of day when anything at all could happen. We are perched between one thing and the next, neither day nor night, and the outlines of everything become clearer and sharper for a few moments."

For once, rather than mocking Romeo's romantic nature, Mercutio merely nodded in agreement.

"Romeo," he said after a brief pause, "dost thou truly love Rosaline?"

There was a much longer pause before Romeo said finally, "I believe so."

"If thy other declarations of love have been likewise passionate, I can understand why the Lady Rosaline is cold," Mercutio said with a smile. "What meanest thou?"

"She is very fair," Romeo said, considering.

"Aye," Mercutio agreed. "So are others in Verona. What else is there in her that sparks thy desire?"

"Is't not enough?" Romeo asked, and it seemed to be a real question, doubt lacing his words.

"It may be, I suppose," Mercutio said, "but this great love thou speakest of, if it is built on nothing but a clear skin and a sparkling eye and a well-formed thigh—and color not at that, for I know full well thou hast explored that spot in your mind if not reality—then it seems a most paltry sort of love."

"And what wouldst thou call a strong one, then?" Romeo asked.

"Oh, one that waits patiently for the other to realize it. One that burns slowly at night until it eclipses the rise of the sun with its fire. One that can propel a man through life like a strong wind in the sails of ship. One that is desire and friendship and camaraderie rolled into one: that should be a strong one," Mercutio said.

"One that…," Romeo paused and swallowed softly, then looked at his friend, "one that begins with the sweetest kiss?"

Mercutio gazed at him mutely, dumb-struck, then said, "It may well be."

"One that lingers on the lips for years, making the receiver wonder if he imagined it, if it were mere folly to think of love?" Romeo asked, his eyes locking with Mercutio's once more.

"Yes," Mercutio said, his breath drying up.

"This would be desire and friendship and camaraderie?" Romeo said, and there was color in his cheeks.

"Play not with me, Romeo," Mercutio said, and there was a note of pleading in his voice.

"Rosaline wants none of me," Romeo said, and there was sadness once more in his tone. "But I have thought, wondered, if it would be the same if I offered my love to another."

Mercutio realized they had come to an empty vineyard, the workers long since having gone back to their homes, and twilight was descending rapidly over the landscape. Quickly, he pulled Romeo with him off the road and into the thickly clustered vines.

"To whom wouldst thou offer thy love if thou couldst?" Mercutio asked, his hand still resting on Romeo's chest.

"I am sad, Mercutio," Romeo said softly, his own hand reaching up to touch his friend's face. "I know not if I could offer thee love of the kind I think thou mayest want."

"But wouldst thou offer me," Mercutio asked, and then swallowed as his mouth had gone quite dry, "wouldst offer me thy lust this night?"

Even in the dim light of the vineyard, Romeo's face could be seen to turn redder yet. He leaned closer into Mercutio's chest, resting his face against his still soaked jerkin, unable to look up at him. But Mercutio felt the nodding of his head in assent.

"Wilt have me?" Romeo asked, still not able to look at him.

"Thou hast had me since that night I was taken out of hell," Mercutio said, his words thick and hoarse as his hands began to work at the strings of Romeo's doublet. "Stars above, how I want thee!"

"I have never… not with a maid, not with a man," Romeo admitted, shame coloring his words.

"Well, I have," Mercutio said, a bit of bravado in his voice. "O, my Romeo, at least for this one night mine, what delights I have in store for thee!"

No longer able to stand not seeing his soon-to-be-lover's face, his hands wound into Romeo's hair, and the curls that were somehow so nearly girlish and so strikingly handsome wove through his fingers as he lifted his face upwards and claimed his mouth passionately. No more was this the tentative, chaste kiss of their goodbye, but a devouring, desperate mating of lips. Teeth clicked against each other in their blind desire to become closer, but this was soon not enough, and hands moved to each other's garments, loosening and pulling, clothes nearly painful in the desire to feel skin against skin. They were naked in moments, though it felt like years, lying on a rough bed of their discarded clothing, but neither minded the uncomfortable accomodations. Overhead the moon was full and bright, allowing them to see and to touch as though they made love by clear daylight. Soon their soft moans turned into cries that were loud enough that, had anyone passed, they would have been discovered, but neither cared to muzzle their joy at their coupling. At last, Mercutio poured his years of want and need and utter certainty that this moment would never come into every motion he made, and with a final cry, accompanied by a hailstorm of kisses that left their marks on many sweetly bruised bits of flesh, they both stilled. In exhaustion, Romeo rested his head on Mercutio's sweat-slicked chest, listening to the pounding of his heart that slowly became a regular, steady beat. Mercutio wrapped his arms around Romeo as though he feared he might be taken from him, and they slept beneath the quietly whispering leaves of the grape vines.

Dawn came, and the light fell through the vineyard to land in dappled patterns on the skin of the two youths.

"Good morrow," Mercutio said softly into Romeo's ear, his foot lazily yet sensually stroking the length of his lover's calves. "I do hope thou hast slept well."

Romeo opened his eyes slowly, not seeming to remember where he was at first, then suddenly sat upright.

"Have we been here all night?" Romeo asked in shock.

"Aye," Mercutio said, folding his hands behind his head and taking a deep breath of morning air in pure satisfaction. "I believe we both needed a visit with Queen Mab to recover ourselves."

"But, what of my mother and father, the Prince, the servants?" Romeo stammered as he began searching for his clothes. "What shall we say to them?"

"Whatever our friends do say when they have spent a night with bawds: they had fallen asleep at a tavern and woke to find it morning," Mercutio said. "A coin or two to the correct proprietor will be a cure for loose tongues."

"That was not where they were?" Romeo said, stopping in surprise during his headlong flight to collect his doublet from an overhanging branch.

"Thou believed that?" Mercutio said, grinning. "I truly have debauched an innocent."

Romeo blushed again, but Mercutio was on his feet in an instant, still stark naked and apparently not the least bit ashamed of it, and went to gather Romeo into an embrace, only to find that he backed away.

"I have not lied to thee," Romeo said quietly but not unkindly. "I love Rosaline, and I needed to know someone could find me to be their desire."

Mercutio took a step back, looking stricken for a heartbeat, then quickly put on his usual joking air.

"Then thou knowest indeed that at least one person who walks the Earth found thee desirable enough to tumble thee in the dirt of Count Onnestino's vineyards," Mercutio said, almost succeeding in sounding off-handed. "Twas a good night, and right fine sport. I have no complaints. I trust thou dost not either?"

"Nay," Romeo said, giving him a smile. "Thou hast opened up the world to me marvelous much, friend, and I thank thee for it. I have learned much. I do believe I shall be much less shy with Rosaline now."

"That is well," Mercutio said, handing him his shoe, the last piece of clothing he had been unable to find. "Thou had best go to thy house and tell the denizens thereof that thou art unharmed. The Prince is used to my coming home at all hours and bothers me not. Off with thee!"

"Mercutio, thou art well, yes?" Romeo asked, looking at him doubtfully.

"I am as well as I have ever been, and I shall see thee later this day. Hie thee quickly, though, or else they shalt send out a search party for thee," Mercutio said airily.

"Much thanks to thee again," Romeo said with another smile, then darted through the vines.

When Mercutio was certain that he had heard his footsteps die away on the path, he slowly collapsed to his knees in the dirt, a loud sob shaking his chest as he wept as though his heart would break.

"I see now," he said, turning up his grime and tear-streaked face and speaking to the sky above, his sobs turning into harsh, broken laughter. "It is true what they say; when the gods wish to punish us, they grant our prayers."

Mercutio had not long to mourn. In less than two days he would be dead, and Romeo would join him soon thereafter. Though many say that no story of love denied has more sadness in it than that of Romeo and his Juliet, if all had been known, there was one that could rival it.