Jefferson spoke Micah's name softly, but in the perfectly still church, he might have shouted.
Micah's head whipped around. The pale moonlight filtering through the windows made his eyes shine like a cornered animal, but he didn't otherwise move.
"Jefferson?" The breath of his name floated between them, and Micah took a tentative step forward. "What are you doing here?"
"Just thinking. Sometimes I come here when I can't sleep. What are you doing here?"
Another step closer. The movement cast his eyes back in shadow.
"I couldn't sleep either. But I walk when I can't sleep." He paused. "Why couldn't you rest?"
Jefferson could only stare at him for a moment, wondering if he had somehow called Micah to him with his thoughts. Or maybe he had forced him into existence somehow?
"I've been thinking about things." Jefferson paused. Micah was still standing in the aisle, looking at him. "Come here."
He obeyed without hesitation, sliding into the pew to stand before him. "Are you considering a new verse? You know I'll do anything to help."
"No. No verse tonight." His hand moved without thought and he reached out, almost touching Micah. He stopped himself and gestured to the pew instead. "Sit down."
Micah barely suppressed a shiver as he took a seat. "It's always so much colder in here," he whispered. He rubbed his hands together to warm them. "And I forget it's time for me to carry my gloves."
Jefferson couldn't take his gaze away from Micah's long fingers, and he realized that he had never seen Micah wear gloves. "It is colder in here," Jefferson agreed, his voice matching Micah's. "But you'll get used to it."
"Does the cold help you think?"
Jefferson chuckled. "No. Sometimes the cold will distract me from my thoughts, which is usually what I need. Why are you still awake? It's late."
Though the dim light made noting specifics impossible, there was enough illumination to see the way his lashes ducked as he contemplated his response. "Your gift. I'm afraid I'm still quite elated with your generosity. I couldn't... My mood isn't particularly conducive to restive thoughts."
"I feel as though the poem isn't a gift at all. A part of me believes the verse belonged to you as soon as I began to write."
He felt Micah's soft gasp as surely as he heard it. "I'm merely the impetus for the changes you're experiencing right now. But it's a tremendous honor to be considered such." Micah paused. "Jefferson."
Hearing his name fall from Micah's lips was like a punch to the gut, and his body began to stir again. His flesh tightened. He looked away from Micah's face in time to notice something dark and slippery pass in front of the window. It could have been a cloud moving in front of the moon, but the silver light wasn't disrupted at all. Jefferson licked his lips and forced his attention back to Micah.
"I feel as though I could write another this moment. So I can make another gift to you."
"Aren't we on a verse for verse exchange? I should be writing one for you."
"I am looking forward to hearing it. You do plan to recite it to me, don't you?"
"I'm quite excited about the opportunity, actually. The hard part will be trying to decide which to read first. Do you have a preference for the type of verse you prefer to hear?"
Jefferson shook his head. He had a feeling that he would like, and appreciate, anything Micah chose to read to him, regardless of the quality. Though he suspected the quality of Micah's verse would be quite high. Nobody as thoughtful and careful as Micah would write poor poetry.
"No preference. As long as it is a poem you're passionate about." Micah was still rubbing his hands together, the gesture thoughtless and automatic at this point. Jefferson caught his wrist. "Are you still cold?"
Micah's pulse fluttered against his fingertips, much faster than what he would have expected. It felt like a bird trying to escape its cage, deceptively strong in spite of a fragile appearance. "Yes," came the soft response. He wasn't pulling away. It almost felt like he was even nearer. "You would think for as much as I use my hands, I would be more careful about keeping them warm."
His skin felt like ice against Jefferson's fingers. He covered the back of Micah's hand with his palm, then took Micah's other hand. He cupped both hands between his, holding Micah lightly as the warmth seeped from him.
"You should be more careful. I shall be very upset if you get ill."
It was difficult to tell in dim lighting, but he thought Micah smiled. "So shall I. Ewan will make me return to Boston then, so Mother can nursemaid me."
Jefferson sat motionless while Micah spoke, waiting for him to resist the familiarity of Jefferson's touch. But he didn't attempt to pull away. He didn't even move. Jefferson increased the pressure against Micah's hands.
"But I am happy you ventured out of the warmth of your room tonight. Even if you did put yourself at a bit of a risk."
"I must confess...I'm beginning to suspect you would not allow such risk to befall me. I've not had a friend like you before. I... It's a boon I didn't anticipate in coming here."
Jefferson's heart twisted. Micah's voice was so small, he could barely hear him. He sounded lost in the darkness, overwhelmed by the night. "You never had a friend who would take care of you? Nobody who would help you?"
"No, why would they? I'm the youngest Yardley, with three brothers ahead of me to inherit long before I do. They gain nothing by being my friend."
"Micah...that's not true. There is plenty to gain by being your friend. Your life...your existence is not just as important as how much money you possess. You cannot be measured by your land, or your birth order, which was nothing more than a random accident. You're more than that."
Micah's long pause made him fear that he'd been a trifle too vehement in his declaration. That fear was heightened when Micah pulled his hands back and folded them in his lap, turning his head to gaze up at the pulpit.
"I envy you. Your life is so simple."
"It's not." Jefferson forced his disappointment down and crossed his arms. "But I've worked hard to make it appear that way. I haven't...had any friends, any real friends, since I left Boston. And...I did not exactly leave Boston by choice."
Micah sighed. "I know I shouldn't pry. It's none of my concern." He shifted his weight to settle more comfortably in the pew, and left their arms pressing against each other. "But I find myself dreadfully curious as to why you had to leave."
Jefferson studied Micah's profile. Friends were honest, if nothing else. He could not offer Micah the complete truth, but he knew Micah would be hurt if Jefferson attempted to shut him out again.
"Because I fell in love with the wrong person. Somebody who was not suitable."
His confession drew Micah's gaze back to him, and he felt a warm hand rest on his knee. "I'm sorry," he said, squeezing lightly. "I did not mean to dredge up such painful memories."
"You didn't dredge anything up," Jefferson assured him. "The memories are not painful anymore. It happened a long time ago. Almost twelve years now. I was young and exceptionally foolish--we both were. Still, society is not forgiving, even when you are young and foolish. Society also has a very long memory."
"I suppose it's inappropriate for me to say so, but I envy you this, as well."
"Why do you envy that?"
"Because you have at least experienced love." The weight on his knee disappeared, much to Jefferson's dismay. "I haven't."
"I would like to assure you that you're not missing out on anything. But even now, knowing what I know, I wouldn't have made any other choices."
"You don't think that makes me aberrant? My brothers tease me mercilessly about it."
"Aberrant? No, not at all. But how do you know you've never experienced love?"
Micah's arm rubbed against his as he lifted his shoulder in a shrug. "It seems like love is something too powerful not to be able to recognize its presence." He glanced at Jefferson, his mouth soft, his eyes softer. "How did you know? Am I wrong in surmising that's how it is?"
"No, that's exactly how it is. As for how you know..." Jefferson looked up to the ceiling and tried to gather his thoughts. "When you can't sleep because you are consumed with thoughts of the person. When you can't eat because you have lost your appetite. When simply catching a glimpse of...her is enough to make you smile all day. When your body tightens and feels electric, like a summer thunderstorm, at the briefest contact. That's when you start to know."