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Lancaster County

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This was a moment where he could have used a lion's heart. Beneath the fist and the cut of words of a united enemy front, Lewis had given a noble resistance, but had quickly succumbed to the sheer numbers. Come on. Three, mangy-faced teenagers against one, peace-loving Nixon? No contest, really. Mostly because, at the sound of a knuckle happily splitting open on his jaw, fracturing his face with a fiery punch of pain, he saw little point to it all. Either he could grit his teeth and fight like a dog, lose, and have no energy to run—or he could make a more intelligent choice. But in light of the circumstances—blood dripping down over the ridge of his lip and through the cleft of his chin, every soft part of his body pummeled and his ankle throbbing in pain—there were no other choices but to curl up and wait for it to pass. So much for that brilliant strategy, goes the thought.

"Shit," Lewis gurgles out. That noise of pain earns him another sharp smack in the face. The blows themselves have weakened, but they strike places that already hurt, and he sees sparks fly behind his eyes and tastes odd things. Goddamn, but getting the shit beat out of you is almost Shakespearean.

He takes a boot to the back. They sneer. Nixon would laugh at the absolute absurdity of them—beating up a kid just because there's a dirty rumor attached to his name. True or not, who gives up a perfectly good Saturday to stalk and attack a kid younger than you? Only a few years before, during the Depression, wasting even one day that could have earned you some work was a crime against your family. Against your country, even. But here they are, chasing down the new, rich kid in town and calling him all sorts of colloquial things. None of which are flattering or clever and only satisfy their own insecurities.

There's a little irony in the fact that there's grass pressing against his face, fresh, cool dirt smearing across his face as he takes a firm beating. He'd come here for the summer to experience the simplicity of country life, and here he is, facedown and definitely experiencing it.

Eventually, they lose interest. They have to. Not even these guys can derive much entertainment out of a victim who will not cry out, beg, or even move. Lewis waits it out and when they finally go, kicking the dirt as they leave, he sits up. He then allows himself a disgusted puff of air. He drags the back of his fist along his nose, grimacing at the generous trail of blood it leaves. A few more splats of red fall onto his pants, and he swears under his breath.

He stands and continues walking as he had before he'd been so rudely interrupted. He knows the fury his aunt will look up on him with, seeing perfectly good khaki pants tainted by his own blood, a nice shirt ruined by a needless scuffle. Not that it matters, that bitch. Not like they ever had to worry about money or running out of it within the century. Sure, there were times when they couldn't afford a new painting for the living room, or a new set of china—but that was the worst of it. Lewis Nixon had never needed to pick cotton or grapes to stay alive and never would. But right now, he needed a good excuse. So, walking on in the full sun, he wipes the blood from his face as best he could and starts formulating a story.

Nowhere in that story had he thought to add a boy with hair the color of wheat at fiery sunset, but here he enters, sitting on the side of the road and watching Lewis walk by. Apparently just out to observe the summer scenery, bare toes stretched out, arms resting on his knees, squinting into the sun.

His figure grows closer until he can see the faint splash of freckles on his face, the worn dust of his clothing, the half-wild curl of his hair ruffled by wind and a youth spent freely. Well—more freely than any Nixon son, he supposes. Lewis stops in front of him and waits for a greeting. He's been watching him as soon as he came into sight—he could feel that—and now a pair of blue-green eyes watch him silently at close range.

It's almost infuriating, actually. The boy, roughly his own age by the looks of him, only tilts his head at him, considering him with the quietest little laugh in his eyes.

Lewis scrunches his face at him sourly. "What?" he demands. "You want a go, too? Well, shit. I don't care. Damage's been done."

The boy continues to stare silently for a moment, his small, drawn mouth twitching in amusement. Finally, he shakes his head. Lew has been wondering if he were only a mute, but is pleasantly proven wrong a moment later. "No, you look like you've got more than you know what to do with," he answers, twirling a blade of grass in his fingertips. With a twitch of the mouth and a momentary glance at the ground Lewis will come to know so well it almost becomes a rhythm—weird music, even—he collects his words and looks back up.

Suspicious, Lewis only scowls at him. "Yeah?" he prompts, when the green-blue of his eyes circles his face, no doubt inspecting the bruises and cuts he's incurred. "What do you want? If you don't have anything to say, then—"

"No, sorry," he answers, and rises off the ground. Thin, willowy limbs unfold into a tall, lanky creature with a flash of copper red hair, a slightly horsy face, and a thin, pursed mouth framed by dimples. He smiles with restraint at Nixon. Down at him. Lew doesn't like that he's got a good couple of inches on him, and he almost turns away and leaves. He's been harassed, beat, and made otherwise unwelcome—he doesn't need to stare at this strange kid's thin lips the color of summer peaches.

But the stranger sticks out his hand and smiles the best he can. It seems to catch on a fishhook on one side of his mouth. "Richard Winters," he introduces himself. "But call me Dick."

Lew turns back to face him and notices the crooked attempt at warmth. Somehow that halfway gawky teenager of a smile matched to a halfway gawky redhead, decorated by a splash of freckles, endears him enough to offer a hand in return.

"Nixon, Lewis Nixon," he answers. They clasp hands and shake briefly. For Nixon, it's a hollow imitation of his father, but for Dick, it's sincere and polite. He can feel that in the pressure of a farm-worn hand around his own. "Call me whatever."

"Good to know." Dick says and smiles. And immediately, that is it. They fall into step next to each other, and the red-headed native said nothing more about the ugly bruises and how he'd earned them, and Nixon did not ask if he'd been hanging around and seen more than he'd let on. They stroll off along the road as friendship begins as quiet and cautiously but unflinching as when Dick asks how Nixon came to be here. He answers, grinning lewdly, "My mother had this short dress, and my father was so far gone—"

Dick laughs.

"I meant—what brings you to Lancaster?"

He glances steadily back and forth from this new companion and the road beneath his feet as he speaks. "Well, it's nearly the same story—my father's still pretty far gone, you can say. Wanted me gone for the summer—experience new places and all that. My mother's always wanted to 'go the countryside,' " he says, almost grimacing at her choice of words, "but you're not going to see her doing anything but sitting by the window and gossiping about the women back home. And you're probably not going to see me shooting the shit with the locals, either."

Lew cocks an eyebrow at him. The bruises' truer colors are suddenly clearer to Dick. For a moment, there is a glimmer of comprehension and vivid amusement so sharp and clear it should belong on a boy much older. He catches sight of it before those pumpkin-red eyelashes blink closed and upon opening again disguise it. Then he twists one side of his mouth at him.

"Good to know," is all he says on the subject and they change it.

"Ever been swimming before, then?" Dick asks. They are walking together with no destination, and he hopes to steer it somewhere.

Lew, of course, smirks fiercely and makes the smart remark, "For God's sake, Dick, I'm rich and sheltered, not a prisoner in my own home."

"A pool is nothing like the real thing."

"Have you been to a pool?" Lew asks.

Dick's mouth tangles a little. "Well, have you ever been to the real thing?"

Lew grins and slaps him on the shoulder, bending forward to laugh. "I like this kid already," he half-mutters to himself.