There's a line of olive trees running up to the house. Big
plumes of foliage pushing upward, perfectly spaced by some
gardener fifty or a hundred years ago. Somewhere underneath
them there's a pair of servants pulling at the tether of some
animal he can't see. Then stonework, and the courtyard of the
He first came here . . . what? ten years ago? . . . with his
cousin, for reasons he can't remember now. When Montague's son
was a rug-rat, still in skirts and chased constantly by his
nurse through formal rooms where he should never have been
allowed. Swirl of white cloth and long, soft dark hair, and
his father swept velvet sleeves down and trapped him, then
pulled the boy into his lap and just held him while men talked.
Hard edges of wine in the room by the time the little one
dropped off, and by then all the torch-sconces were lit and the
nurse was long-snoring in some shadowed corner.
He didn't get a real sense of the house on his first visit. It
was only another palazzo of dark wood and old stone, similar
enough to his own that he knew to be cautious of it. But he
loved the outside of it. A perfect perspective line in living
wood ran up to the house. The prince his cousin liked it too,
he thought, though he didn't say.
He came back six years later, for reasons best not mentioned to
any of his kinsmen. He suspected that no one would approve of
the Prince's cousin getting buggered by retainers of a lower
house. His confessor had nearly turned inside out at the
single mention he's made of the incident. But he hadn't
regretted it. Had loved the rough linen against his chest and
the human smell in it, and the weight of the man on top of him,
fucking him into the mattress. Just one of Montague's poorer
cousins, a man who had no idea who he was. Who found him in
the square earlier that night. Both of them luminous black in
the light of the servants' torches.
Afterwards, he left the man sleeping and went creeping through
the house. Boots under his arm for silence, but he was well-
enough used to that. Silken feet on the parquet.
Montague came suddenly down the hallway with only a torch-
bearer and a secretary, ranting. He'd slid back into the
shadows and groped until he found velvet, then ducked behind
it. Pictured what would happen if they caught him. He'd keep
his head, and probably his hands, if only because Montague
couldn't afford a feud with the Prince, not then. But they
could send him back naked and beaten, thrown over the pommel of
some filthy guardsman's horse. Blood in trickles running down
his back. Rather an interesting thought, really. He didn't
tempt fate. He didn't even breathe for long minutes after the
light was gone.
And then soft fingers in the velvet found him. Closed around
his wrist and pulled him out, so gently that he wasn't sure he
was being held by something human. Into the moonlight in the
Wind in his hair. Suddenly aware of his unbuttoned doublet and
untucked shirt and stocking feet.
"Who are you, and why are you in my house?"
He couldn't see anything except a thin body in dark Montague
livery. Tall, but not very old. The voice was still a boy-
"I'm the Prince's cousin."
"And . . .?"
"And I was fucking the servants. Next question."
Quick flash of nearly-invisible humour. "You don't have
servants of your own? How sad for you."
"Oh, fuck you." Quick recoil, and then the boy stepped into
the light. Montague's brat, and he really was a child. Much
too young to be sworn at by the Prince's degenerate relatives.
He discovered he was shaking. For the first instants the boy
had held him, he'd thought a ghost had found him. Too many
things in the dark. Not all of them friendly. But lovely,
this little one. Unbelievably self-possessed in this moment.
"Can I go?" Moving back down the hall.
"Probably not. That's not the way out." Small pause. "The
house is locked up for the night. You can't get out like
that." Another pause. "I'll help you."
And that was Romeo. Twelve years old, already almost as tall
as his father, and the unquestioned precious child of the
household. Romeo who led him to his own rooms, found him
Montague livery, and helped him into it. Black and green,
edges of silver that denoted a beloved family member.
Expensive perfume in it.
"Thank you." He turned, looked at the solemn little being
perched on a chair. "I'll get this back to you."
"You don't have to." Beat. "But you should come tomorrow and
introduce yourself to my father. He wants me to have friends."
He stared at the boy. And wondered what it must be like to be
the only child of old parents in a house this dark. He'd met
the retainers earlier, but they were all older, and if they'd
lived with the household any length of time, then Old Montague
knew their habits well enough to keep them away from his
"Your father is not going to believe I just decided to present
myself." Sigh. "Why should I want to?"
"Because you're my friend."
"No I'm not. I'm a lunatic you found sneaking around in the
"You could be my friend." Pause. "Tell me a story."
"Tell me a story." Patiently. He'd already kicked his boots
off and pulled his feet up into the chair in front of him, and
in that moment he did look like a child.
He decided to scare the shit out of the boy and be on his way.
"What do you know about witches?"
"People burn them. There was one burned last year."
"Mmm. Do you know what they do?" Negative shake of the dark
head. "They make trouble. They poison wells by breathing on
them. That cold breath that comes up from the water? That's
a witch. Every new bucket's a risk. Not even if the water
that comes into your catch is so clear that you could see your
lover's face in it.
"Witches come into the stables at night and steal the horses.
Ride them out all over the hills and tie knots in their manes
to hang on by. You only wake in the morning and your horse in
its stall is shaking and foaming and al of its mane is knotted
"They come anywhere. Into your house, if you don't watch.
Into your mother's bed. Mess with her. Women like that, you
know? They breathe on you and then all your thoughts are
"Is that what happened to you?"
"What? I don't know. No. Maybe. God you ask a lot of
Shurg. "One more."
"Sure. What the hell."
"What's your name?"
"The guard's going to change in a minute or two. Come on.
I'll take you to the gates." Handed him a cloak and slipped
out, soft-footed. And so he'd draped the cloth over himself
and run after. Not thinking at all about Romeo's delight in
dressing him up, or the promise he hadn't really avoided making
to come back.
Comes up through the garden and vaults the wall, careful of his
sword. Only realizes as he's walking on the precarious edge of
the balcony that he'll have to leave the blade behind and
collect it later. Someone made him promise he'd go unarmed.
In Romeo's bedroom, there are cloaks and masks everywhere, and
a pair of jackets crumpled on the bed. Shimmering colours.
Montague loves this boy more than Mercutio's ever seen someone
love their child. You could buy half a kingdom with the money
they spend on his clothes. So he can lie in the rose garden in
them and moon and get dirty.
There's dirt smudged on one cheek now, just level with his
mouth, that can see when Romeo turns. "No one ever taught you
about doors, did they?"
"I don't believe in doors. They're bad luck."
Laughter. Romeo walks over, very carefully, then springs and
lets the loose cloak fall around Mercutio's shoulders. "You
look great. Mysterious. Sexy. Everyone will fall in love
with you and no one will notice me or the others at all."
He bows. "I live to serve."
"If you say so." Mercutio slicks a thumb and wipes the dirt
off that too-pale face. Romeo flinches like child. "Ugh."
"You should never be anything less than perfect." Silence.
"You might even want to get the garden dirt out from under your
nails before we leave."
Romeo sticks his tongue out and stalks off to the washbasin.
He's fantastically beautiful, and Mercutio's secretly thrilled
that he's at least temporarily forgotten that he's supposed to
be pining. Because Romeo's very good at that -- the paleness,
the not-eating, the fragmented rhymes he can generate on
command in praise of the latest love-object. And sometimes he
looks like it's really going to be the death of him.
Looks across the room in time to see him sighing into the
water-bowl. "Stop that."
"I'm sorry. I can't help it." Little sad grin.
He is *not* going to do this. Not tonight. Mercutio slides
over behind him and wraps both arms around Romeo's waist.
"You are *so* beautiful. No woman should ever touch you."
Sigh. "Thank you."
Kiss on the pale back of his neck. Soldier-cut short hair, for
some reason. He can't imagine who talked Romeo into that one.
The next head of the house of Montague can barely pick up a
sword; he doesn't need to be shaved for combat. "Do you love
"More than Rosaline?" Kisses him, hard. Still leaning over
his shoulder and glad for the advantage of his height.
Break, breathe. "Rosaline hates me."
Twists the younger man around so that they're chest to chest
and kisses him the way people are supposed to kiss something
that beautiful. Hard, but careful not to bruise. He pushes
Romeo back onto the bed, watches him fall into the air-filled
pile of cloaks. Then kneels on the floor and kisses the
clothed abdomen, using his lips to feel the small muscles that
shift under cloth layers, catches it in the jaw when the body
under his bucks upward suddenly.
"Beautiful." He finds the clasp on Romeo's belt and loosens
it, then frees up the doublet and the shirt under it. Finds
himself with an expanse of bare chest and belly to explore.
Warm, spicy body-smell, better than anything he's ever touched
or tasted. White, white skin. Tiny line of hair running up
his body's centre. He burrows his face down, bites and licks
and finds all the tender places on that skin. Tongues Romeo's
"Yesssss . . ."
Somewhere under his chin, he's getting some fairly good
evidence that it is good, and it's starting to strain the
limits of black stockings. It's flesh he's going to get to in
just a minute, and it's going to be amazing, but he needs to
tease for some reason first. So he rubs his open mouth over
the cloth, soaking it and nuzzling at the shape he can feel
And he's pushed back suddenly on his heels, achingly hard and
nothing touching him.
"You need to stop. We're not doing this." Romeo's shirt is
already down, his doublet done up. He's standing with his belt
in his hands.
Mercutio considers suggesting some things he could do with that
belt. Doesn't. He's miserable, suddenly, and cold. "Why
Romeo bends, then kneels, to put them face-to-face. "Because I
love you." And kisses him, utterly gently. Just the pale
brush of a tongue across his. "And we're not going to, so
He stays sitting on the floor, nursing his pride and willing
his erection to ease before he has to deal with it. Romeo
ignores him for the moment and goes back to sorting the
Mercutio remembers the first night he offered. He remembers
Romeo's shocked hands exploring the bruised places of his body,
and then tracing over the dark circles he was sporting under
his eyes at the time. It makes him sick sometimes, because
he's never seen anyone so innocent, and he can't always resist
trying to make him dirty.
"You're forgiven. Now forget it."
"God you're happy suddenly."
"Something's coming." Romeo turns, and the look on his face is
the one Mercutio usually sees on his own when he looks in a
mirror. Dead-certain, and a little manic.
"Pestilence and passion, I'm sure."
Romeo just grins at him. So he leaves him and crawls out and
sits on the terrace balustrade.
Somebody down in the garden turns to look up at him. Big dark
eyes and a body he can just remember. The retainer's eyes turn
a little wild at the edges.
Mercutio blows him a kiss. It's going to be dark in less than
an hour. And then he can hit the streets, and watch Romeo
dance, and somewhere in the evening it's going to be very