Lazarus held Gabriel in his mind, savoring the conversation as his father dragged him home.
"I thought I was moving out!" he protested, but his words went unheard as he was thrown down on the floor, clipping his head on the edge of the table. He bit back the cry that leapt to his lips, closing his eyes against the pain.
"You can't go out into the world with an attitude like that. I will not tolerate my own son striking me," he growled, towering over Lazarus.
"Then stop hitting me! I'm not a dancing bear!"
"Someone's gotta discipline you, boy." Lazarus whimpered quietly, holding back the tears. He remembered when his father had once been encouraging and kindly; had he known how his father would end up, he would never have asked to play. "Get to bed." He scrambled to his feet, eager to be away from the man.
Before crawling into his bed and hiding from the world, he knelt at the side of his bed, eyes closed in the dark, begging God to send him some kind of salvation from his father.
"Hey!" James cried, running to catch up with Lazarus. He turned and watched his friend as he hurtled towards him. "Christ, you walk fast," he panted when he had caught up.
"Sorry," Lazarus muttered, not really meaning it.
"What's up with you?"
"Nothing..." he sighed, setting off in the direction of the Emerson's private woodland, "the usual, I guess."
"Yer pa been rough again?"
"Something like that."
"Why d'you always come here?" he asked as they walked together into the shade of the woodland.
"It's quiet. I like it here. That and maybe one day I'll be caught and shot for trespassing," he shrugged, swinging himself up into the boughs of a stout tree. James clambered up with him, sitting on a branch opposite him. Lazarus closed his eyes and bathed in the cool, dim green light, and James watched as his chest rose and fell peacefully, his features forming something close to a faint smile.
James waited a while, watching his friend quietly. In truth, he had always been infatuated with Lazarus. He was convinced he liked the teen in a way that wasn't quite friendship; the way he made his heart race when they walked close together, or even sitting silently like this. Lazarus had matured to manhood a full year before him, but he never shunned James for not growing up as quickly as him, as many of the other men in the village had.
He blinked, hardly able to believe the thoughts racing through his head as he gazed at Lazarus. They were alone, no one would see. No one would know. What was the harm in experimenting?
He shifted in his perch uncomfortably. No. He couldn't commit such a sin, he would be damned for sure. So it came as a surprise to him as his body seemed to act alone, not listening as his mind demanded it to stay put on his side of the tree. Using the branches on either side of Lazarus to support himself, he crawled over his friend, making almost no noise.
Lazarus opened his eyes, feeling the shadow creeping over him.
"What're you doin'?" he asked, frowning, not quite reading the look in James' eyes. James shrugged.
"I dunno," he smiled nervously, "Ever been kissed before?"
"Once, by a milkmaid," he murmured, wondering if there was some way he could get out of this awkward position. Lazarus raised an eyebrow.
"Alright... why're you over-" His words were cut off as James' lips crashed down on his own. Too shocked to move, he simply froze and waited for James to finish. "What the hell d'ya think you're doing?!" he yelped as James pulled back. He sat back on his heels, frowning at Lazarus, still frozen to the branch. Looking at the ground, he let his dark hair fall in his face, hiding his eyes as he answered.
"I dunno..." he half whispered. They were silent for a moment, embarrassed tension crackling in the warm air. "Sorry, I shouldn't've-" he shook his head and moved back, making to climb out of the tree. Lazarus pushed himself up and grabbed James' shirt, stopping him. He pushed James' hair out of his face and stared into his dark green eyes questioningly.
"What?" he asked, trying to hold his penetrating gaze, but he ended up looking at the ground, focusing on a lichen covered stone. Lazarus lifted James' head curiously, hesitating a moment before pushing their lips together again tentatively.