The closer they grew, the harder it became to pretend. Months were flying past them, the summer dying as autumn claimed the land. Lazarus barely noticed as Gabriel came to trust him more as a friend than an acquaintance. Each concert he played blurred into one, as did every blow he received for each mistake he made.

They sat among the dead leaves, ignoring that the boughs of their tree were damp from the rainfall the night before. Neither of them cared about the thunder rumbling overhead as they sat together, their limbs tangled and their lips locked. More rain splashed down, dripping over the two of them, but they didn't seem to register this, focused only on every moment they had with each other. The harder it was to keep up their act, the more their time alone in the woods meant. The only thing either of them seemed able to do was to propel themselves further and further into sin with every touch, every breath, every thrust.

"It's late," James sighed, watching as a few puffy flakes of snow drifted down, melting the moment they touched the sodden branches of the tree.

"Oh, but... it's the first snow fall of the season," Lazarus beamed, watching the white flecks dancing down into the ground with a childish amusement, "let's stay a while longer, hmm?" James couldn't bring himself to argue with him; the look in his eyes was hard to resist. There was something about Lazarus that managed to remain as innocent as an infant. Small things like the first flowers of spring, or the falling leaves in the autumn amused him.

Though they both knew that Lazarus hadn't wanted to stay simply to watch the snow; despite his fascination with the flakes landing on his skin, he only wanted to stay there a little longer to steal another kiss or two and remain in James' arms.

James didn't often protest to this, but he knew what awaited Lazarus when he returned home late. He saw every bruise, watched each wince flicker across his lover's face as he moved the wrong way and set off a new wave of pain.

His father had become harsher, punishing him harder and more frequently, suspecting his son's interest in music fading and jeopardizing their steadying income. Fearing the slide back into poverty, he lashed out more than ever and used as much emotional blackmail regarding his mother and sister as he could get away with. James never saw it happening, but he saw the aftermath. Lazarus had become temperamental, prone to fits of anger or depression. His fights with his father had become more than words a long time ago, but they were increasingly violent. The skinny boy had a surprisingly hard punch and had left his father hobbling around irritably for days.

When he wasn't fighting with his father or with James, he was practicing the piano at Gabriel's manor, his once awkward friendship with the rich boy growing smoother. He was so used to masking his accent now that he found himself slipping into it almost every day. James didn't let it show, but it irked him when his lover kept inadvertently pointing out the growing distance between them. James' parents were still trading in small villages like their own, whereas Lazarus was playing to ever larger audiences. There had even been talk of travelling farther than one or two towns away.

"C'mon," he sighed, pushing the thoughts to the back of his head, "we'll catch cold out here if we ain't careful," he stood and offered a hand to help Lazarus up. He pushed his brown hair back with an exasperated glance at Lazarus as he walked vaguely in the direction of the village like a zombie. Their hands found each other as they moved, clamping together like magnets. Neither of them spoke. Neither of them did say very much on the walks home anymore.

"I think I've found a house I can move into," Lazarus said eventually, breaking the fragile quiet between them, "I can afford the rent if I don't eat," he laughed dryly.

"Where abouts?"

"Not far from here. I thought near the edge of the woods would be best," he shrugged, dropping James' hand as they emerged from the woodland.

"Easier to see you," James nodded, considering the possibilities with a poorly hidden smile. Lazarus grinned. "I could move in, if ya wanted. Y'know. Help with the rent an' all."

"D'ya think that would be possible?"

"Dunno... don't see why not. Your sis might be a bit weird about it though..."

"I think she's getting over it."

"She still looks at us funny when we're near each other, Lazarus," James mumbled sadly, though he realized that it was better to have an awkward glance thrown in their direction than to be outed and rejected, or worse, beaten for their unnatural infatuation.

"As long as we keep to the woodland or the house, we'll be fine," it was Lazarus' turn to comfort, but out in the main village as they were, all he could do was sweep James' concerns aside with carefully chosen words. Their increasingly reckless love had become an addiction to the both of them, and hooked as they were, it was far too easy to throw caution to the wind. They had had many close shaves over the last few months.

"So anyways, what d'ya think? Moving in together..." Lazarus trailed off with an absent smile. Thoughtlessly, he leant in and kissed James' lips warmly, though he didn't resist as James pushed him off again.

"Not out here!" he hissed.

"Shame," Lazarus mumbled with a pout and a playful smile.

"I'll see what I can do about moving in," James said, ignoring Lazarus' attempt to draw him back in, "you get more money than me though."

"It doesn't matter. When I move out and get away from my dad, I'll get to keep all of what I earn, not just a penny here and there. That'll be a day worth celebrating, don't you think?" he asked his hand lifting to James' rear. James pushed him off once more, with a pained expression. He wanted to give in to Lazarus, but he couldn't. "Though of course, I'll give some of it to mother and Annabelle," he continued to ramble about how his father deserved every blow he received, James nodding and murmuring an ‘mhm' wherever it was needed as he steered Lazarus back towards his house.

"I know, I know. Your pa's a bastard, I got it," he grumbled quietly, looking up to see Annabelle waiting outside for Lazarus, "now shut up and quit whining. You'll be outta there in no time." Lazarus nodded and fell silent, greeting his sister with a warm embrace. She half smiled at James over her brother's shoulder, watching as he walked away without another word to either of them.

"C'mon," Annabelle smiled, "he's still out, you're safe tonight."

"Huh," he grunted dubiously, following her inside.


The End

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