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which too untimely here did scorn the earth

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Mercutio closes his eyes to the bittersweet sight of Romeo's familiar, beloved face contorted with grief—he did care, after all, if too little, too late.

He opens them to Tybalt's equally familiar face: that pale aquiline sculpture with its ship's prow of a nose, that mobile mouth that frowned more often than it smiled, the quirked brows that hinted at some deeply buried sense of irony.

There is no simple word like beloved for what he feels for Tybalt's face, that tightening in his chest of mingled hatred and reluctant fondness, the rush of excitement whenever they cross blades or words. Mercutio has always won, before, the better fighter on both battlefields.

"So soon," he whispers, looking down at his hands for a moment. It has grown dark so quickly, the only light a pale blue glow, like moonlight, although a moment ago it was midday.

His hands are covered with blood, almost black in the dim light. He looks up again at Tybalt. "I always knew you were impatient, but I didn't think you'd miss me already." He summons up half a smile, although his mouth tastes coppery and his lips feel slow. "I'd offer you a kiss in welcome, but..."

Tybalt tilts his head to one side, expressionless, like a crow considering a choice bit of meat. It is an unsettling thought. Tybalt is unsettling, this Tybalt who does not flare to anger as he ought, who seems to waver before his eyes like a heat-vision. Who wears black, a black that eats the light, although it flickers with a thousand silver stars.

Tybalt, Mercutio thinks, with a sensation of chill that seems to seep through his veins, had never worn black. Green, yes, and red the deep dark color of old blood; midnight blue once or twice, with distaste. Silver and white and gray, fox fur and silk. But black, never. It had always struck Mercutio as strange, before, that one so dour and prone to melancholic fits should so assiduously avoid dressing to match his temper. He had mocked him for it so many times. How could he forget?

And Tybalt had not been so pale, his hair not so long or straight; his skin had not seemed to glow from within with an icy light.

This is not Tybalt.

Mercutio licks his lips; they are dry, and his tongue, once silver, feels heavy as lead. There is an ache in his gut where Tybalt's knife sank deep. It grows and spreads; he cannot move his limbs.

"You are not Tybalt."

The pale stranger with Tybalt's face shakes his head, slowly, and then tilts it again, as if listening to a distant sound. "He is not here yet," he says, in a cool voice that holds nothing of Tybalt's choleric fire, "but he will be soon."

"Well," Mercutio says, with a bravado he doesn't quite feel, "I'm not waiting around for him."

It's not Romeo he thinks of when Death kisses him—Romeo's lips soft and laughing from a stolen kiss in jest, the scent of the Capulet girl's perfume still clinging to him. It's a long-ago summer day on a riverbank with cicadas shrilling in the bushes and Tybalt sprawled on the grass, all gangly limbs and tangled hair: the moment when his lips had parted, before surprise turned to disgust and he shoved Mercutio away. Such a little thing, to end a friendship before it even grew, to turn a bud to a gall that would hatch only wasps. Merely a kiss; nothing at all. As little a thing as a dance between a boy and a girl at a ball.

Mercutio sinks his hands into the cool silk of Death's hair and kisses back with all the skill he knows. He thinks that perhaps it is surprise he feels in the press of those cold inhuman lips. Good. Let him feel the flame, let him remember this one soul. It is the only immortality left to Mercutio now.

And as the light fades he closes his eyes, and thinks of summer, and what might have been.