Lazarus shivered, cursing the place he called home under his frosted breath. The window had been smashed by a couple of villagers who were convinced he was turning into ‘upper class scum like them lot up there’. He’d sacrificed a strip of his blanket to cover the hole and keep out the worst of the weather, but it wasn’t quite enough. He’d cocooned himself in the rest of his blanket, and as many layers of his clothes as he could put on in one go.
It didn’t stop the cold from nipping at him like the embarrassment of the last time he’d seen Gabriel. His face flushed needlessly at the very thought of him clinging to Gabriel as his nightmare of falling had occupied his mind. The blush only deepened as he realised at some point during that night, he had found a ledge to sit on. He had still been deep in the darkness, and there was no way of escaping but it was... different. It was good.
And yet... And yet it hadn’t seemed so wrong. It had been as though he were holding onto James, only in a different bed, with a different face. It had felt just the same. But still, Gabriel must not have appreciated it, and surely he had made it impossible to return there without humiliating both of them.
He huddled up in bed, pressing himself to the wall like a sulking child. He was trying to occupy his mind with tasks he should be getting on with instead of pitying himself.Perhaps I should practice the piano. Or clean. Or –
His thought was cut off abruptly by a sharp knock on the door. Expecting only his sister, or someone else come to chastise him for spending so much time with his ‘scum’ friend, he waddled over to the door, still swathed in his blanket as he answered it.
To his surprised – and near horror – it was none other than Gabriel himself.
“Shit,” he muttered after the long, heavy silence that had filled the gap after opening the door.
“May I come in?” Gabriel enquired. Lazarus stood back hastily, not wanting anyone from the village to see him here. The place seemed a little warmer with his presence, though it could hardly have been body heat, given the heavy dusting of snow that coated Gabriel’s attire. “Good God, it’s colder in here than it is outside, no wonder you’re wrapped up in blankets. Haven’t you got a fireplace or something?” He looked around for the recess in the wall that should serve as a fireplace.
Lazarus’ humiliation seemed to have slipped out of the broken window just like the heat he was trying to preserve – he started to laugh. “A fireplace? Youdoknow just how fuckin’ poor I am, don’t you?” He sat heavily on the bed, unable to stand properly for his mirth. Gabriel frowned.
“How can anyone live like this?” he asked, seemingly addressing no one in particular.
“A fair few of us don’t,” Lazarus replied bluntly when his fit of laughter had subsided, “I reckon this winter’ll wipe out maybe twenty or so. Mostly the sick and old, or very young.” Gabriel looked shocked. “Either way, we make do, don’t we? We’re still here, harassing the rich people for more money,” he continued with a shrug.
“You can’t stay here like this,” Gabriel said abruptly, looking around again at the mess, eyeing in particular the window covered with a piece of blanket. “I came here to tell you in person that what happened the other night, is fine, Lazarus. You were asleep, and it was really my mistake for disturbing your sleep.”
Lazarus stood and shuffled closer to Gabriel, the burning urge to touch his face driving him forward to embarrass himself again. He kept his hands clenched on the blanket, just about, staring into Gabriel’s dark eyes. He felt warm, and it was nothing to do with the temperature of his home. It felt like...
“The ledge,” Lazarus muttered hardly blinking as he worked it out. And then he was falling.