The man sits on the floor in the poor lamp light, head bent over his work, and his senses breathing in the distinct scent of the heavy cloth spilled across his knees. Usually he works on his tent-making in the morning, but today they’d been speaking longer than he had expected, on special invitation, and who was he to say no when God opened the doors to them? After that he’d spent most of his afternoon, routine backwards, working on a letter in painstakingly careful Greek, an answer to the most recently message from the church at Laodicea.
This here is his element, though, despite it all, even if the light is poorer than it could be; this, his head bent over the tent as his fingers, rough from the needlework of recent years, move with smooth ease, despite his frequent protestations of oncoming old-age.
Timothy always smiles and says he isn’t as old as he claims to be.
The thought is both unwelcome and all too welcome, and it takes every ounce of his self-control not to look up from his work, all his self-control not to seek out the eager eyes of the young man that he can feel resting upon him more often than not. As it is, his ears drink up the sound of the lad shifting on the mat where he sits a little distance away, the sound of parchment moving softly in the boy’s hands as he proof reads the letter one last time, the rustling of it against his softer fingers catching up like a whisper in the older man’s ears; a hum, a beckoning.
But he doesn’t look.
He’s gone, but not that far gone.
He’s besotted, but not lost hold of his senses
Ahe, besotted, had the word even crossed his mind? He bends his face closer to his work in a most impractical way, jabbing fiercely at the tough material, the needle snapping in his fingers as he pushes too hard.
He catches his breath as the needle’s point gouges beneath his thumbnail, tries to swallow the automatic yelp of pain that springs from him, and sucks his thumb. The blood tastes bitter.
Timothy asks if he’s alright, all concern and worry, and the tent-maker just nods because he doesn’t trust himself to speak, not now that the word which caused all this has passed into his thoughts unbidden.
Persevere, persevere, perverse, persevere.
There’s a rustle of parchment, then the muted sound of bare feet walking, clothes shifting, and the young man kneels at his side.
“I’m fine,” the tent-maker snaps and he knows he sounds angry, is ashamed of his reaction and yet, regardless, cannot pull away when the boy takes hold of his hand to inspect it. He can’t say no despite, or because of, the hurt that blooms in the boy’s eyes when the man looks cross.
“It’s just a nick,” the man manages in a softer voice, though it almost kills him, and hates himself even more for the way his stomach reacts to the warm smile his gentleness is rewarded by.
The boy’s touch is so much, so much of everything. He has no idea, no idea at all, and—
The tent-maker would give anything to shift just a little, to reach just a fraction, to turn that gentleness into a meeting of hands and lips and—
If only the price weren’t his soul.
“You’ll survive,” says Timothy with a smile.
Paul only prays he’s right.