Tears burn at Tybalt's eyes - it's only the bright sun, he tells himself, as he blinks them away furiously - and he gives Mercutio a shove.
Mercutio falls to the muddy ground in a graceful tangle of limbs, laughing as he goes. "Your face, Tybalt," he manages to get out, through his wheezes of laughter. Tybalt kicks him, but Mercutio only laughs harder.
It's a beautiful day, so Tybalt hadn't objected when Mercutio suggested they escape their lessons for the day to go exploring beyond the edges of the city. Mostly they'd found nothing but farmers' fields, but they had made their own entertainment with increasingly insulting character sketches of everyone they knew. Until Mercutio found the bur-plants.
Tybalt reaches gingerly back to feel the ball of burs Mercutio had put in his hair. He gives an experimental tug, but the burs are thoroughly entangled. "You pile of stinking shit," Tybalt snarls. It's going to take him forever to get them all out, or he'll have to go home like this and see the disdain and despair on his parents' faces as they are confronted yet again with their failure of a son. Why did he neglect to protect himself from this indignity? they will ask. Why did he not revenge himself appropriately?
Probably they'll order a servant to cut his tangled hair off, and Tybalt likes his hair. He plans to keep it for as long as he's allowed.
"Bastard," Tybalt says, bitterly, and stalks away to find a place that isn't muddy where he can sit and work at his hair. There's a promising rock not far off.
Behind him, he can hear Mercutio scramble to his feet, but Tybalt ignores him. The rock is low but dry and has a nearly-flat top, so Tybalt sits down, pointedly facing away from Mercutio, and reaches to his hair again. He starts by trying to pull the whole mass out at once, but that just makes him grimace momentarily with pain.
He has to take a moment to just sit and hate Mercutio. Then he starts again, this time with only a few strands of hair.
He hasn't gotten far when he feels another hand on his head, and before he can process he finds himself standing, breathing hard, knife drawn and pointed at Mercutio. "Don't touch me," he hisses.
Mercutio, unfazed, smiles a bright, false smile at Tybalt. "That blade would be much better used on you," he says, reaching out and tugging one lock of Tybalt's hair. Tybalt doesn't move. "I don't know how you're going to get all that out."
"I have to, thanks to you," Tybalt says. "Now leave me alone." He must make a sadly nonthreatening figure with his hair so ridiculous, because Mercutio just plucks the knife out of Tybalt's hand and pushes him back to the rock.
Tybalt tries to quell a rising tide of panic within him as he is sat unceremoniously down on the rock, Mercutio looming over him. "Don't you dare cut my hair," he says, hardening his voice to keep it from wavering shamefully. "I'll kill you if you cut off a single piece."
"You have such pretty hair," says Mercutio from behind him; soft words but a mocking tone. "Only a fool would fool with it."
He puts his hand on Tybalt's head again, but this time Tybalt is prepared for it, has been expecting it for long, agonizing moments. The hand is strangely gentle, simply strokes the crown of Tybalt's head a moment before retreating.
Then Tybalt's knife clatters to the rock beside him and he snatches it up quickly. He felt wrong, empty, naked with out it. He doesn't sheathe it, just grips the handle, fingers gripping painfully tight while Mercutio's hands return to his head.
Gentle still, Mercutio begins to pick apart the snarl of hair and bur. His fingers are deft, his movements careful and precise, and not once does he cause a painful pull as he works. Slowly the tension flows out of Tybalt, but he keeps his grip on his knife.
Neither of them speaks.
Tybalt watches high, wispy clouds drift slowly over the sky, shaping and reshaping themselves. He watches a small black beetle crawl up his leg, then flicks it off with the tip of his knife-blade when it reaches his knee. He watches the mud squelch underfoot as he taps his toe. And all the while Mercutio continues his careful picking apart of Tybalt's hair.
"Almost done," Mercutio says, and the sound of his voice breaks jaggedly into Tybalt's reverie. There's a pile of burs sitting tidily on the rock, and it looks tiny, inconsequential compared to how it felt when it was all in his hair. Mercutio's fingers move unimpeded through the length of Tybalt's hair now, smoothing it down, no more burs in the way. Tybalt doesn't move, though Mercutio's clearly reached the point where further care is unnecessary, and Mercutio doesn't stop.
Tybalt doesn't know what to do; he feels frozen in place by the soothing, repetitive touch. He wants to turn and shove Mercutio into the mud again, he wants Mercutio to never stop, he wants to scream wordlessly until his emotions cease clawing at the inside of his breastbone. He wants to know why Mercutio - angry, scornful, joking, often-cruel Mercutio - is doing this.
Tybalt draws in a ragged breath, as if to speak, then lets it out slowly. Their shadows grow longer beside them, and it's not long till they will have to get going if they are to be home by dark. And it is dangerous, being a lone Capulet on the nighttime streets of Verona.
"Have you finished yet?" Tybalt finally asks. The words come out abruptly. Mercutio's hands immediately withdraw.
"Your hair is once more fit for polite company," Mercutio says. "Though the rest of you never will be."
"Shut up, says Tybalt, relieved. He stands, turns to home, and begins walking. Mercutio joins him, casually tossing and catching a bur with one hand. There's a strand of hair caught in the bur, long and dark, and with every toss the hair reflects back a little of the golden sun.
They walk back to Verona together through the dying light.