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It was his turn now.

He entered the stage, the limelight reflecting on his naked torso and brown skinny jeans, loud music pounding in his ears as he walked confident into his leather boots to the centre of the scene, he counted in his head and felt the music surrounding his body, while beginning to exhibit sensual moves around the pole, his slightly sweated muscles straining with the effort. He knew for sure a lot of the customers were looking at him, he might not have been the most attractive dancer in the club but he sure was above the average, and he also got his fair share of followers, though he only had eyes for what he considered his greatest admirer, who once, after the show, was so kind to leave him a little gift he always wore, a rubber necklace with a little round stone hanging from the middle. He adored that necklace, because first of all, it was something he absolutely loved, because no one ever cared enough about him to give him anything for free, because it was kind, because it was simple, because it was unpretending.

He finished his dance and roamed with his eyes around the room in search of that man.

He was sat at the table he usually reserved in the low mid section, sipping from his third drink, an Opal Black Jazz, the air around him aloof and dark and heavy, Mercutio had no idea how a man with that halo could have been so kind as to give him a present, moreover he had to be shy because he received it from the owner's hands, not his. The shadowed man stared back at him, gloved hands entwined in his lap, legs crossed with grace, hair touching his shoulders and a straight back, he had a certain presence when he was in a room, or in this case, in a club.

Mercutio bowed and sent kisses to the crowd below, gathering the little tips he got from wealthier or more excited customers. He exited the scene and went straight behind the curtains to where he showered and changed, contrary to everyone's believing he had the fortune to find a decent job with sociable people, a big mama type of boss who protected them from too much harassment and listened to their complaints about some overjoyed dude who stalked them home occasionally. No denying it, sometimes they had unpleasant walks home or notes in their mailbox but they were efficiently dealt with, if you know what I mean.

The money he needed was worth the effort for all he cared. Valentine was worth it, he deserved to go to school and graduate, to have a normal life for his age, to go to College and get a degree then a job that will earn him enough money to avoid the miserable life Mercutio was leading. He really wished for his little brother to have what he didn't. To live better, to feel better.

He passed by the owner's office to get tonight's pay and headed off home where he had to prepare Val breakfast for the morning and then go to sleep: he had another job to attend to.

Mercutio grabbed his bag and paced out from the back door, almost jumping among the garbage here and there, setting a rapid pace and crossing the six blocks that separated him from his bed.

Once he arrived in front of the apartment building he pulled out the keys and stepped in before the old man could catch him. Too late. It was as though the click of the keys summoned him; he was too tired to deal with this shit, he had things to do, places to be. He heard the bed calling out for him to use it.

“Do you think this is the time to be coming home? There are people sleeping, don't you have common sense, who do you think you are? You can't come back at these impossible hours, you are creating a fuss every bloody time and the neighbours are complaining about--” Blah blah blah blah blah

When he closed the door he felt spent, leaned back on it and slid down to the floor, touching it with the back of his head and breathed in and out evenly. Counting to twenty he was back on his feet and headed to the kitchen, putting out bowl, cereals, milk, juice, biscuits, butter and cheese; he scribbled down a post-it and glanced at the time on his phone before flung himself on the undone bed.

 

The alarm went off at exactly at ten past nine, then the second alarm. And the third, too. He admitted he might have had some problems waking up in the morning but he was dealing with it, sure of that. However his day had just started; he got up groggy and sleepy and headed to his morning shower, munched on some toast and dashed out to work, bag on his shoulder and chewing on his bubble gum at some point along the way.

He got there in time, put on his apron and got behind the cashier counter and greet goodbye to the night-shifter; Romeo was a drop-out from school, an impulsive decision he regretted from his core, but a nice person after all, just a little misfortune. See, the boy fell in love with this Rosaline girl who instead didn't want him, however he kept on courting her until one day she told the poor boy she wouldn't date a man who had no money of his own, so Romeo applied for this cashier job and has worked here for two years now.

When Mercutio wasn't busy checking clients out at the counter, he helped storing packages in the back, lifting and moving back and forth, and so on.

He got off from work at about half-past eight, just in time to dash to the club. He wanted to see if that gorgeous man was still waiting for him. Even though he didn't miss once, Mercutio always had this faint feeling, like the man could vanish in thin air just as suddenly as he appeared. Despite his young age, Mercutio often considered himself as someone older inside, exhausted, but he kept on working hard, so that he could give Val everything he could, much like a father. After changing in his habitual outfit, tight pants and black boots, he was startled when, whipping around, he bumped his nose into someone, that someone being “Hello, I-I'm Tybalt...” the man stuttered out and fidgeted, tormenting his hands “...s-sorry, I didn't mean to- y-you...” the man quieted down still visibly stiff and nervous, when he got no answer from a confused Mercutio, he dashed out from the backstage, followed suit by Juliet.

“Ju, what just happened?” the girl looked at him and giggled “That? Just shyness, I guess...” she put the empty tray under her arm and clipped her chin with her fingers “My cousin's like that with new people, I think it will just be a matter of time before he opens up.” “Wait, what? Are you-- bollocks, he can't be your cousin!?” she curled her lips and glared at him with a proud stare “Indeed he is.” She was smug, so pleased with herself, a real pain to look at.

Mercutio groaned like a wounded animal and slouched on the chair in front of the mirror where he did his stage make-up, head cradled in his hands, cursing whichever reason made him so pulled in by that man, basically they were strangers. Soon, though, he had to go on stage and he'd rather not smear his face, “Tybalt just needs time but he'll ask you out, he told me that.” Mercutio directed his most desperate puppy face at her and she rolled her eyes with a huff before shoving him on stage. In a matter of instants he modified his expression, moving wonderfully around.

He voided his head from Tybalt with some effort and tried to concentrate more on the dance, he was working after all.

 

Mercutio walked blankly to the convenience store, bought tissues, juice for Val and instant noodles for himself, the best diet he could afford with payments to do like rent, bills, school fees and textbooks and trips, bus tickets, train tickets, taxes, food. He was overwhelmed and it was just enough for him to get to the end of the month with two jobs and time spent helping Valentine out with homework when he could. As always he got home extremely tired but prepared breakfast for his brother and just then went to sleep.

Outside, hid behind a complex of rather poorly grown trees, a shadow lingered for a long time after the lights were out.

 

The alarm clock resounded within the bedroom walls, bouncing back in a slumberous Mercutio's ears, their fastidious ringing and ringing and ringing echoed again, he just wished one day he could smash those infernal devices to shreds. A simple desire for a simple man.

While his brain awoke memories of things such as work and breakfast he vibrated a throaty exasperated groan and blindly uncovered himself. Breakfast comes first.

A tongue of chill air licked at his skin and he went to the kitchen to grab at something to bite, whatever there was would do the trick. He was still sleepy and bumped with his thigh against the jamb, hissing and cursing “Fuck!” under his breath, grabbing the offended limb and squinting his eyes, leaning with his forearm, fist clenched, on the desk beside him. His focus went to pre-washed baby carrots bouncing in marshmallow cream to take away the pulsing ache, then straightened and walked away, “I'm alright, okay.”

He slouched on the chair, making himself a couple slices of toast, untoasted. Because he is a blunderer. Or he just likes it that way, it's not important at this point.

While munching on his breakfast he went across all the things he had to do that day, shower work lunch work club sleep. Easy as that. Snapping away from his thoughts, despite his staleness, he sprinted to the bathroom, being as thorough as possible and dressing up casually, meaning that he picked the clothes up in the dark of his window-sealed bedroom.

He was greeted at the entrance, Romeo was smiling and more cheerful today, he must have hooked up with someone last night. It was about time. He was happy that his friend was forgetting Rosaline, he never thought he would, so that was all the better for him and his life to move on. He had kind of pitied the man at first, and that girl added insult to injury, which Mercutio has never once approved. He believed she had been immature.

 

After he walked to the club for the last task of his day, arriving some time before, he got comfortable in a corner and dug a book he rented from inside his backpack and read, read, read, read, lost himself inside the pages, not noticing somebody nearing him in silence. Feeling moist breathing on his neck he jolted terrified and clapped instinctively his hand on the spot, whipping around eyes wide open. The book fell with a thump from his hands “Shit, sorry I'm so sorry! I didn't mean to scare you or anything--” the man stood a few inches from him, on his knees with his hands up as defence, frantic to apologise “Hey man, it's okay don't worry!” he assured him, clasping Tybalt's hands with his, watching as the man blush grew a shade of aggressive red and how his eyes glued to their hands focusing but quite not, mouth dry, his head felt light and fuzzy.

With a slight tremble, the man got up on his feet following Mercutio's lead and walked hurriedly away, blushing still. He stood there, dazzled by the display of coyness the other put up every time he was around him, and found himself thinking how cute the man was in spite of his considerable height and strong features. Slim he was, certainly, but still.

A few people started to fill in the tables, sitting each in different places. When the clock was around eleven a group of young girls showed up, cheering on one of them who was throwing a party, with the awkwardness of someone who goes there for the first and last time of their life. Yes, most likely a soon-to-be-wife unloading the tension before the wedding. It wasn't uncommon for these kinds of groups to come here and have fun, drinking streams of alcohol and getting so wasted to the borders of decency.

His shift started in a quarter of hour, so he had to change real fast because, arriving before the others, he was the first to dance tonight, and that also meant coming home earlier. Curling his lips in a smug smile he entered the scene with loud music playing, greeted by high-pitched screeches of delight, some feminine yells arose resembling a “Hottie!” and “Woohoo!”, to which he tried to resist shaking his head as hard as he could.

 

He might have glanced over to Tybalt's table once or twice... or thrice... okay, four times, but he was handling it royally, though. The man who sat at the table all but recalled the blushing mess he met up close, drinking like one of those medieval Italian Lords he read about somewhere, maybe in a history book, sort of. From a distance, one would say he got a presence, or 'the moves' as Valentine would say. He didn't understand that kind of speech, how could someone who was not moving have 'the moves'? Youth made no sense to him these days. Or ever for what mattered.

He was at the point of the show where he was asked to or downright stripped of his already meagre clothing until he'd be standing solely in briefs. By a stroke of misfortune, the hit he gained in the morning had grown into a rather large purple bruise across his upper leg, more or less concealed by the heavy lights of the stage.

He was saved by the next stripper who entered patting him once on the shoulder, he went behind the curtains and huffed in delight, shaking his head to get a grip on himself and walked to the bag where he kept his clothes, opening it and putting on the red shirt before anything else. He was checking his wallet when he heard someone coughing to get his attention, he was alone in there so he was a bit startled and turned around, seeing Juliet side by side to Tybalt, at least a foot taller.

A prolonged silence blanketed the three, Mercutio shifting his gaze between the two confused, she elbowed his cousin in the ribs and pointed with her eyes towards him. “Hello!” initiated Mercutio, fortunately the man caught the hint and answered, from then the conversation seemed to sail, the girl backed away in silence, the gimps, she thought, are gonna drive me crazy.

Tybalt was still shy, and stuttered some words, but he was determined to get to know him better. The man's eyes drifted several times along his body, but only after a while did he notice the livid bruise on Mercutio's leg, settling on staring at it, which now made him shy. The shorter boy was about to open his mouth to say something that would distract his attention when Tybalt cut him off “How did you get that?” Mercutio was bewildered but told him how he bumped into the door “It's nothing, really, 's gonna heal in a few days...” he said patting his hand on the bruise “Ouch!” damn it, it hurt! “Does it hurt much?” Tybalt lowered his gaze once again and got an ice package from his bag, handing it over to Mercutio, “Massage, rest the area, and put this in on your skin.” said before going away, leaving a rather puzzled Mercutio behind. The door closed with a click. “O-Okay.”

 

A week and a half had passed since then and now Tybalt talked to him after every show, which Mercutio found to be even more pleasant than he expected it to be, the man being still unsteady sometimes but slowly opening up and having rather smooth conversations. It was for the most part just light gabbing about what things each of them liked, such as books, TV series, movies, animals, and such. Tybalt told him he owned a cat, showing him pictures, on Mercutio's demand, of an incredible silvery fur, a classic tabby pattern, and two beautiful azure eyes rimmed white in the lower lash, truly a sight. Another shared interest was books, an outrageous amount of books, they found a common ground in the horror and fantasy genre, the shorter boy thinking that classic literature's tragedies were the best after all, but Tybalt thought coming-of-age stories and psychology essays were shamefully underrated for the meaning they held. Mercutio had nothing to object to that.

Truth be told Mercutio wanted to never stop talking with him, he enjoyed those minutes spent blabbering about nothings, and sadly parting at the end.

He found himself longing for those relaxed moments spent playing and blushing and tiptoeing around each other, getting closer and closer because an inexplicable pull brought them, but never touching physically if not by clumsy accidents, lingering a fraction of second too much. They never mentioned it.

One day Tybalt asked him out. It was three weeks after they had started talking in the backstage.

“Would you... would you like to go out... with me... someday...” The man had bowed his head so low, he kept doing that thing with his hands, twisting the flesh on the fingers and pinching it until it became white. So, anxiety.

Mercutio directed a warm smile at him and cupped his cheeks, lifting his head to look up into his lost eyes. “Love to.” Tybalt's features bloomed in an instant and a tremble, possibly of joy shook him as his lips curled in a soft giggle. It was going to be damned amazing!

They settled to meet up for a coffee on Sunday, in the late afternoon, in front of the bakery shop with the glass doors which overlooks on the grey paved streets and the bus stop near the benches. Mercutio wore his beloved outfit, the one he wore when he was in a good mood and never failed to confirm that. In fact, lots of good things happened when he wore it, in hope today it wouldn't fail him.

He was so excited he woke up electrified and arrived an hour and a half earlier at their date. As he had nothing better to do, he played on his phone, trying to pass part of the time occupied in something that wasn't staring at the people in the streets that came and went as leaves in the autumn wind. Mercutio was about to beat his latest record when the screen lit up, ringing, the name glowed white and bright, Val.

Frowning, he swiped his thumb on the touch screen, bringing it to his ear. “Hello?” “You busy?” “Why, what's up?” “I don't get it!” “What?” “Fucking maths!” “Val! Language! What's the problem?” “I don't understand any of it and I've got a test in two days!” Hesitation pooled in his lungs and wasn't able to coax his tongue to form any words but eventually he unblocked. “Hold up, I'm coming.” He closed the call, looking in the contact's list for Tybalt's number. It rang a few times. “Hello?” “Hello, hi, um... this is Mercutio...” “Yes, it's me.” “Look, I, um... my brother just called me, I'm sorry but I need to go home.” “...oh.” “I'm so, so, so, so, sorry, really, I'll make it up to you, promise!” “Promise.” “Yes, promise. Bye!”

Mercutio hung up and slid the phone in his pocket, sprinting homeward.

 

“It's impossible, how am I supposed to find this fudging primitive of a fudging function by fudging deriving--” “That's exactly why you keep getting it wrong. Look, you need to derive this function here, the integral is the operation to go back to the function you had at the beginning. That, is the primitive function.” “Then why the heck am I doing it in the first place?” “Because, because, because the primitive function is not just one but an infinite quantity, they all differ by a constant, the letter c there, see?” “So... this goes like this... and this should instead go like... done!” “Understood everything?”

Valentine nodded without lifting his gaze up from the paper and scribbled some more, catching a cookie from the box nearby, Mercutio watched and upon standing up, tousled his already messy hair, eliciting an indignant noise blown from the nose. He curled his lips in a snicker. “Alright, alright!” The boy was about to go to his bedroom when the young stopped him, pointing an index at him. “You. Were. On a date.” As he saw Mercutio cock his head and blink in an expression of 'so what?' “You fucker. Should've gone with him. I could have waited until evening.”

The ginger's face softened, an imperceptible curl of his lip and going back to his room.

“No, it couldn't.”

 

It was a long time to go back to since time he had been invited on a date by someone, all but forgetting how it felt to be in a thrill for days, choosing the best outfit then discarding the idea few hours later. Was it better casual or classy, practical or fashionable, colourful, large, trendy, geeky, leather, cotton, sweatshirts, boots, jumpers, wool, shorts. And the hair? Natural messy or sprayed back, which was best, which was a no-go, which could sparkle an interest, which was cuter, or not, he didn't, couldn't worry his worn out mind on those matters. That's the reason he had the intention to meet with Tybalt as though it was a routine day.

The hitching throb inside subsided only to invest him in short sets of waves, scorching hot and blistering cold the moment he met him. When he was intended to met him.

Mercutio walked into the club, going straight to Tybalt's wonted table, placing a paper note and securing it under the pepper shaker. Giving a last glance at it, he took his leave and went to change.

He saw Tybalt walk into the hall, his drink already sitting on the table. He sat down and the lights darkened in the room, reflectors brightening the stage up from underneath. Mercutio entered on his hands and knees and a rose between his teeth, soft sensual music bouncing around, some of the youngest customers whistled excited, some had their fingers tingling to touch flesh. Tybalt sipped from the straw from his drink.

Mercutio's show for tonight had been solely focused on him slinking around the stage on all fours, occasionally resting on his back and caressing his own body to set the crowd aflame. At some point he took a water bottle and poured in on himself, wet clothes showing off every single muscle hotly straining and hair damp and sticking together in differently shadowed strands, dripping down his strong jaw and along the slenderness of his neck as it pooled in the hollows of his pronounced collarbone.

Upon finishing, Mercutio winked in the other's direction, if he could only see his blush. As soon as he disappeared behind the curtains an round of applause in appreciation clapped loud and clear, and Tybalt approached breathless, flushed and huffing. “Mercutio, that's so sweet.” Tybalt revealed the paper note which read 'this is for you'. They looked up at each other smiling softly. “I heard there's a botanic garden, I could pick you up at half past eight?”

 

Mercutio was beaming at every new exotic flower they encountered along the way, pointing here and there ecstatic at one's size, or at another's shape of flowers, look at this beauty and let's go to the bonsai ward, do they harvest fruit trees, let's go see that while dragging Tybalt who seemed to be untouched by the enthusiasm if not for a soft curl of lips.

The natural paths tangled into one another and signs showed visitors around the place, soil crunching beneath their feet.

After a while Mercutio calmed down and proposed they go grab a bite before he fainted of hunger, so they start heading to a nice little kiosk brushing shoulders at some point along the way, both of them enjoying the warmth without acknowledging it out of fear the other would pull away, and that sweet dizziness that made them insecure.

Mercutio was thinking about all the amazing things he had seen until now and speculated on what else was there yet to be seen but stumbled upon a rock and clung to Tybalt's arm, who turned to support him. Mercutio looked up and found himself ridiculously near the man's face, the both of them gazed into each other's eyes disoriented while it charged with intent. Mercutio flushed bright red and straightened up awkward as hell, muttering an apology, thanks to him they didn't fall! He cursed himself internally for being so clumsy, the places where Tybalt had held him felt funny, a bit colder than the rest of his body like they were craving another touch from the man. His face heated up more and more the farther he thought about it.

“Do you want to see more after we eat?” Mercutio snapped away from his conjectures. “Eh? Oh yes please, I'd love to.” He simply nodded.

 

“Look at that!” His eyes almost sparkled when he caught sight of it. “It's an Anemone, it says here.” He drifted above all the information on the card-stock, then just decided to move along onto something else entirely, Tybalt followed suit barely glancing at it, anticipation. Its meaning.

Mercutio hissed a curse and cradled the back of his hand with the other, pinching it until the skin turned white as the flesh itched and throbbed. “Fuckin' wasp!” He felt the burning pain spread wide in his arm, a shudder lavishing at his neck and ear. “Fuck, fuck!” Hissing again, squinting his eyes so tight he saw white spots behind his eyelids, clenching his jaws in a snarl. Fuck.

Tybalt put his hands around his shoulders and led him to the bathroom, applying cold water to the sting. “Stay here.” And he disappeared behind the door, returning a short while later with an ice package.

“I am having an orgasm.” Mercutio said with a sigh if relief, smirking at the reddish blush on Tybalt, he loved seeing him react to his uncommitted flirting. Nevertheless he kept his head low in embarrassment, he had ruined their first and second date, his clumsiness was growing exponentially, how could he be so incapable? Even though he felt awful, a glance at Tybalt and the man looked just so mortified, so dejected as he tormented his fingers and bit his lower lip. Mercutio took pity on him and tried to reassure him he didn't do anything wrong, it wasn't his fault that the damn thing decided to go and sting him out of the blue.

The trip home was silent as Mercutio worked his head around a way to say something useful in order to lighten the mood. The car pulled over in front of the apartment building and he unfastened his seat belt. “Don't worry too much...” And before getting out of the car he leaned over to place a fleeting kiss on Tybalt's cheek. Nearly running he got his keys out and banged the door closed, leaving a quite perplexed Tybalt in the car.

On the inside, his guts fluttered , he was ecstatic and could not in any way keep still at all, therefore he threw himself on the bed and gripped the sheets, abdomen spasming and legs flailing uncontrollably, clenching his arms to his sides, burying his face in his palms. “What's happening?” Mercutio whipped around, still as stone. “Nothing. You saw nothing.” “So...” Val trailed off putting in as much drama as possible. As if he did not know was exactly going on. “...how's your boyfriend?” Mercutio jolted to sit on the bed, flushed, eyebrows knit together. “He's not my boyfriend!” I wish.

Val laughed out heartily, going back to his room. “If you say so.” The man groaned and threw a pillow at him. “Almost!” His little brother shouted from behind the closed door. “Next time I'll get you, you jerk!”

 

The first time Mercutio saw him like that was on a normal day, he was early for work and had to change roads because the one he usually took was closed off for maintenance. He deflected to secondary streets, he knew them well but disliked them for being a den of ill-willed people. Dared he not walk without precaution, a bottle of chili-pepper spray tucked in the back pocket of this bag and another one in the front pocket of his sweater, wincing at every movement or sound coming from outside his sight range.

Walking past an alley, he acknowledged a familiar shape, tall and slender with dark hair touching his shoulders, doubling over when another man, a stranger, landed a knee in his abdomen, a pained grunt being punched out of his lungs. The taller shadow recovered quickly enough, lounging to punch the other's temple so hard that the man turned two times on himself while falling ruinously in the mud. The man straightened, panting, and used the back of his hand to clean the side of his mouth from a streak of saliva, wobbling lightly on the left. Mercutio felt like the soil had just parted beneath his very feet, falling into the nothing and suddenly it wasn't nothing anymore. He had a terrible omen about all of this, but his thoughts dissolved as smoke when Tybalt walked out of the dark alley. Mercutio really just couldn't bear it, shaking his head and backing soundlessly away from the man.

As soon as he was able to use his legs at his will he bolted, followed suit by Tybalt who caught up to him, grabbing his shoulders and facing him. “Mercutio, I can explain.” But he was having none of it. “Get away from me!” He shrugged the man off roughly, taking a few steps away, his voice softened but the disappointment was so clear it rung in Tybalt's ears for hours on end. “I don't know who you are.” Then he left.

He wasn't at the club that night. Nor the following. Or the next following. On the fourth day he found a paper note in the pocket of his stage trousers, upon unwrapping it he read in printed letters.

WATCH YOUR BACK, SLUT.

 

Mercutio came back home that morning only to find his little brother bent on the books at the kitchen table, sipping forgetfully on a steamy mug, his favourite, the one their parents brought him from a trip in England, printed in black there were moustaches, little horns and written 'Handsome Little Devil'. His second favourite lied in the sink, waiting to be washed. “Hi, got a test?” He sighed dumping the bag on the floor near the fridge, its usual spot. “Yeah.” Val answered without looking up from the textbook, getting another mouthful of coffee. Mercutio walked past him and tousled his ash-blonde locks, eliciting a nasal sound of protest from the boy, smiling.

Shrugging his jacket off he went to his room, kicking his shoes off and slumping on the chair, leaning backwards in exhaustion. A flapping noise distracted him. He found, clipped with a little square of tape, a paper note on the outside of his window glass. He untucked it, reading the printed letters.

YOU WEREN'T HOME.

Mercutio was so surprised, sure he had been stalked home but never has he ever received menaces such as these. First at work, then home, he feared what would come later. It wasn't even possible to ask for a few days off without risking of nicking his barely sufficient finances.

The doorbell rung insistent, jolting him awake.

Upon opening, a rather disgruntled Tybalt looked at him with his head lowered and eyes pleading for something Mercutio was not sure he'd have the heart to give him.

“I'm sorry. You don't even know know much.”

“Is that why you're here?”

Mercutio opened the door more to let him in, going to the kitchen to place himself leaning back on the counter, arms as leverage to his sides.

Tybalt was pinching his wrists, twisting the flesh raw and white. “Stop that.” His eyes hardened and eyebrows furrowed. He absolutely hated when he did that.

Scraping his forehead between his index and thumb, he avoided his gaze by averting it to the right, lids half-closed; should he forgive him, even though the man was a good person he had lied to him, was he going to just let it go.

While he reflected, the taller man took a step forward. “I am so, so sorry I lied.” Mercutio's eyebrow shot up of his own volition, skeptic.

“Are you?”

“I should not have lied to you, I understand that.”

Mercutio sneered, of course you shouldn't have. Not to me. “Of course you do.”

Dejected, the man was about to leave. “Is that it?” Tybalt turned once again to face the shorter man, cupping his cheeks while swiping his thumbs gently on his features, his eyes intent in the other's, he seemed to lean down towards his lips but when they were a breath away from each other Mercutio put two fingers on Tybalt's lips and pushed him away. “Not that easy, I haven't forgiven you yet.”

“You said yet.”

“I know what I said, I just said it.”

Tybalt slid his hands to hold his upper arms, while an uncomfortable feeling Mercutio rested his on the other's chest, finding inexplicable interest in how his fingers tapped on it.

He let himself breathe a sigh that chased the tension away, resting his head under Tybalt's chin to hear the warm skin thump at a fastened rhythm. Mercutio snuggled in closer, relaxing against the man who had hands colder than the rest of his body. A kiss was too much, but he did not want to punish him more than necessary by denying him a simple hug.

A hug was an efficient gesture to tell he was cross, but he will forgive him eventually.

“What's this?” He was pointing at the paper note with his chin, looking upon to it. “Nothing, don't mind it.” The shorter was beginning to panic, as much as he's like someone to protect him and care about him Tybalt's reaction to this would be a stir on the Fortune wheel he definitely tried to avoid.

“I know it sounds hypocritical right now but you can tell me what's wrong so that we can fix it, you know.” Mercutio smiled up to him first, then patted his chest slightly backing away.

A rippling sound came came to their ears; tickled by curiosity, Mercutio decided to go see outside, horrifying at the fire being kindled in his front yard, a clearly readable DIE set aflame, blazing. In a corner of the street, on the unlit side of a street lamp a hooded person watched the scene, hands tucked in his front pocket. Upon seeing Mercutio get out on the balcony they disappeared behind the corner, leaving the boy wondering who were they and why would they do something like that and while all of these questions crowded in his mind together with a million others, Tybalt had run downstairs, putting off the flames.

Tybalt has taken on himself the duty of watching upon Mercutio's safety, accompanying him everywhere he needed to, whenever he needed to. As Mercutio questioned him if he had work to do the man answered that he needn't work because his parents left him a conspicuous heritage to live with. A nip of envy punched in his ribcage, and he thought that given he had the money it was only fair for Tybalt to make an effort and take care of him, but later this nonsense descended in Mercutio loathing himself for his selfishness. He knew for sure that he wasn't God, he knew for sure that he was nobody to decide what people deserved and whatnot. In the kindest way possible the shorter man tried to decline the man's offer but stubborn in the head as he was, a no was unacceptable.

Mercutio found himself pliant.

After nearly a week it begun to seem like routine to them; it started when Mercutio asked if he could shuffle through his radio channel, then, feeling bold he put one of his own CDs from his personal collection, amused by the similarities in taste.

 

“Are you still wearing my necklace?”

“Of course I am, I simply love it! What?” When he saw the doubtful expression on Tybalt he turned in his car seat. “Nothing, I just thought that you must have had plenty of gifts...” The shorter man's lips stretched around a smile. “And?” Tybalt shrugged. “And you're beautiful.”

A weird silence draped over them, prolonging and more and more, but only the moment Tybalt unclenched his jaw and cast a furtive glance on the man he so much liked a soft touch of lips left them breathless. He had taken the first step, giving in into his longing; it became slow, mouths open sending heated sips of air into the other, his hands cupped on the taller man's neck encouraging shivers with tickling fingers, warm palms swiping over warmer skin and faint wet sounds of tongues when one got a little too greedy. Lost in the hot sliding and rustling of clothes nothing was there they could hear beside their own huffs, forming bubbles of condensed air as fingers migrated to tangle into wild strands of hair, tugging ever so softly at it. A gentle tapping interrupted them, both turning bewildered, eyes wide, to see Juliet knock on the car window and mimicking something. Reddish embarrassment spread wide on Tybalt and Mercutio, but the latter was wearing a deep V-cut which showed his blush going from his collar bone to hairline, peaking on his ears. Those were livid, for God's sake! Fumbling for his bag he got out, waving his hand, the man just smiling awkward at him before “I’ll go park the car.” And saying bye to Juliet while starting the engine.

Both of them walked to the back entrance mostly in silence “Ju, listen I am terribly sorry about before...” Between laughter the girl told him that on the contrary, she was glad it had been him Tybalt had a crush on. Mercutio did not know how could he have blushed more, but he sure did, a new flame of heat licking at him. He was happy to hear that the girl sort of approved, she meant a lot to him since she had been the first he befriended at the club, but after that all his colleagues opened up, who slowly who more cheerily because everyone loved Juliet there and Mercutio was no exception. It also was tough to get over the fact that the very man he’d been dating for almost a month and a half, that same man who introduced himself as an introverted mess turned out to be a handful. It was definitely not what he expected the man to be, a constantly cross, defensive, easily triggered, rough, insensitive person. Never had Tybalt turned these sides of him on Mercutio, ever. He sort of shifted into an adorable cookie when he was with him, always concerned about Mercutio first, always thinking about what he would like, nervous and unsure every little step he took and it probably was the reason Mercutio fell for him in the first place. Too cute to handle. Too rough to leave him be.

A few weeks later, submerged in their own routines, both came about to an idea Mercutio prompted, quite frankly, he offered with no little doubtfulness but Tybalt proved himself eager to accept, so there they were in Tybalt's wide flat, pizza delivered on the table and drinks in hand and TV on, a huge pile of movies to choose from, and Mercutio chose his favorite, The Phantom of the Opera, the one with Lloyd's music and Gerard Butler, he loved that; always made him sing and cry simultaneously.

By the end of it, Tybalt had hugged him close to his chest, trying to warm him up because he had begun weeping like a little girl the moment Raoul, Christie and the Phantom were in the basement of the theatre, but he had been tying himself back from the scene where the Phantom discovers the other two promising to each other behind his back. Should not have watched it, what would Tybalt think of him now?

Instead, they got up, Tybalt taking his hand and leading him to the bathroom where Mercutio was able to wash his face, eyes stinging red from the salt in his tears while he continued to sniff up, the water a welcome relief on his heated up face... now he felt a little bit better.

 

Another note lied on the doorknob, secured with a square of tape, the wind flapping it violently: Mercutio didn't like what he read. Nothing was going to happen to Val, not now nor ever!

He run down into the streets, breath becoming heavy as he went, not a soul around he wanted to just scream at all this madness and scream more and again and again until his throat dried raw and no sound anymore could be heard.

Turning into a corner he bumped against a body. A woman's. “How did you like my notes?” Mercutio was petrified on the spot. “What?” “You took my husband, my children, my family, my house, my everything and none of this has ever touched you in the slightest.” “You must be out of your mind, what are you talking about?” “Shut up, shut up, shut up!” She was hysteric, voice pitching up and her face contorted in the dim light of the street lamps. “My husband. He left. Because of you. I tracked you down and left those...” A laugh creeped its way out, Mercutio was having shivers, what was all of this about? “...silly notes. It was all your fault!” “Listen to me, I never did what you're telling me, I swear!” “Why should I believe you?” She was right, she was wounded and let down, just like Mercutio had been for a long time. “Why should I believe you?” The woman repeated impatient. “I don't know, but I swear to you I never did anything, I don't even know your husband!” She fumbled in her pocket and fished out a knife, she tried to stab Mercutio repeatedly but the man would not go down without putting up dignified fight, so he grabbed her wrists and tightened, and tightened and then knocked her out. The phone, he needed to call the police, right now and Tybalt, yeah, also Tybalt and Val, no not him he had other things to care abou-- ow!

Mercutio hissed and clenched a fist around his upper leg, a slimy feeling oozing through the fabric; he gathered some will and pushed the buttons on the phone, the ringing echoed and then a voice answered he told the voice, a kind voice and then Tybalt was there, when did he arrive has he called him he didn't remember he just clung to him.

 

Mercutio had little issues from time to time but both Juliet and Val had helped him out by taking his mind off of it. This one time Val talked nonstop about scholarships he could get and he had an idea of going to a certain College, but he needed to provide to some of the fees and wanted to get a part-time job, Mercutio made him promise not to work until he had graduated, that he would think about every little thing and not to worry about the taxes because no Val I can pay those without having to live under a bridge while you're in a comfortable dorm, no I am not lying yes alright I am what are you saying I can't go live with Tybalt and for the heckteenth we're only been dating so far, don't you dare speak to me like that young man I won't have you concerned about situations I am entitled to handle you hear me and do not walk away on me while I am talking to you we are not finish--

His leg ached a bit, and he went back to the kitchen, sitting down at the table with heavy breathing he loathed fighting with his little brother; he grabbed his phone and called the first person he thought about. “Can I crash at yours in a bit?” “Sure, I'll pick you up--” “Don't worry I'm already on my way, just wanted to make sure you were home.”

The doorbell was looking at him, it intimidated him, that thing was evil for sure. That's why he stayed in front of Tybalt's door for a solid eight minutes without pushing that devilish button. Look at it, it's glaring daggers how am I supposed to push it if it looks like it's about to bite my finger off-- “How long have you been standing there?” “Eh, what? I, er, have just arrived.” “Come in, do you fancy a drink, coffee, tea, juice?” “Wha-- juice? I'm twenty-nine, don't you dare offer me juice!” Tybalt simply looked at him over his shoulder. The boy lowered his head waving a hand. “Juice is alright.” Chuckling, the both of them sat down and with a bit of coaxing Mercutio vented out, his voice pitching up as he rose from his chair as it fell back due to the sheer force, pacing around the kitchen stiffly while chewing on his nails. Tracing back into every word he and Val exchanged, getting flustered and nervous, providing excuses for his answers and for whatever else he considered worth saying. Mercutio's eyes started watering with the effort of conveying all his feelings and rubbing a hand on his face to quiet himself a little.

Tybalt lifted a hand to Mercutio’s cheek, the other resting on the shorter's hip leaning in to kiss gently. When he retreated he stared deeply into Mercutio eyes, swaying fleetingly to his lips and going back to his green eyes, a forest's undergrowth on which the leaves filtrated softened light, while caressing his whole body through the fabrics with ghostly fingers, his first love making was blushing, averting eyes as much as he could, the joy of it and the intimacy and voice in the ears and hands clenching in hair and gelid sheets, waist trembling with innocent want, the hurt of it, all the doubts that piled up in his eyes kissed away from every inch of his being by Tybalt, he was gentle, he wouldn’t have expected that, he thought his first time wouldn’t be this perfect. And loving. He wanted all and give it back tenfold, their bodies pressed together, as pieces of clothing fell from their bodies one at a time, feeling empty and frozen as if touching gave them breaths, as if it was nondetachable from their own existences. Mercutio averted his eyes but Tybalt put his fingers into Mercutio’s fair locks and whispered to him “Look at me, please.” Mercutio slowly shifted beneath Tybalt’s body and tried a few times before gathering the courage to look at him, into his eyes, his soft gaze engulfed that of Mercutio and they were not void anymore. Pushing his hips forward and resting flush against heated and trembling flesh, kissing the darkened cheeks and the parted lips as gasps were being choked out in pleasure of the intrusion. Tybalt started slowlier than both of them truly craved, Mercutio being grateful for it as he adjusted, arching his hips to meet the man's and conveying to him it was alright to pick up a little the pace, spiraling down into a whirlwind of kisses and sounds only the intimacy of the moment could bring to the surface.

 

(Six years later...)

The club was pleasantly full, and Mercutio greeted everyone with a sway of hips. Juliet often chatted with him in the backstage, gossiping about funny customers' reactions. Most of them were hilarious, like drooling in their own beer, or tripped off the seat while ogling at the strippers, or else, once a girl, a legend for them, high on alcohol had placed her cheetah-spotted heels upon her head. That was Mercutio's favourite story. “Thank you for coming tonight!” He greeted directing a wink at Tybalt.

Mercutio was sitting on the sofa, with his boyfriend leaning between his legs while he kneaded his hair, picking two or three strands of hair and braiding them together. It was utterly unthinkable until few years ago that he stood a chance in asking such a thing, but maybe Mercutio's pleading eyes and a little dirty promise were enough to drive him over the edge and make him submit to it. If somebody asked Tybalt he would say, without a trace of doubt, that he had been forced into it with blackmailing or similarly invented threats. In the meanwhile he was quite enjoying the careful fingers massaging his scalp, and the cheerful voice coming from behind where Mercutio talked to him about his day and how Val had received the letter the company he had been hired in, promoting him to Department Manager, so proud of his little brother that man.