“Bless me Father for I have sinned. It’s been two weeks since my last confession, and…”
“These are my sins:...”
Lincoln picked up a stubby white candle from the box on the floor and left a donation of a dollar stained red in the collection cup next to rows of flickering votives before him. He dug deep into his jacket for his lighter, his hands shaking so bad that it took a few anxious seconds to light the wick.
Watery blood dripped from his fingers as he placed the blue votive on the altar of St. Mary. He wasn’t a religious man although his mother used to take him to Mass when he was a child, but he thought that he might become a convert.
The sounds of gunshots still echoed in his head and his right arm twinged from his only injury. He knew that he should have been killed. Something, someone, saved him from his horrible mistake, kept him alive to take care of his son and remind him of what was important.
Lincoln cleared his throat, the sound echoing across the empty church. “God, uh, I know I’ve never really talked to you before but-.” A door slammed shut behind him and he startled, whipping away from the altar.
“Is somebody in here?” A man’s voice echoed down the nave.
Lincoln froze, his heart hammering. Hurried footsteps came near and he looked for somewhere to hide. The last thing he needed was for some priest to call the cops on him, not after literally dodging a bullet.
The small chapel was lit only by the candles, the corners shadowed and enclosed on three sides in stone. Lincoln realized to his chagrin that it was made specifically so that one would have nowhere to hide, not from the open arms of Mother Mary. He’d have to face whoever it was rounding the corner.
“I hate to say that the doors to the church are closed,” the man said as he came into view. His pale face seemed to hover in the darkness, sustained by his priestly dark pants and shirt. His steps slowed. “But it’s late and I have to lock up.”
The priest was young, slender, and tall. His broad shoulders were wet from the rain and his mass of curly hair was pitch black, sticking to the nape of his neck and crown of his high forehead. A long fingered hand went up to the white clerical collar around his neck when he saw Lincoln dripping wet and bleeding in the candlelight.
Lincoln licked his dry lips. “I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to-,”
“Are you bleeding?” The priest interrupted, hurrying to his side.
Lincoln shrank away. “It’s nothing.”
“It doesn’t look like nothing,” the priest argued.
Striking blue eyes pinned Lincoln to the spot and he moved only to flinch when the young man prodded the gash in his bicep. The priest’s hand was warm on his skin and Lincoln shivered.
That seemed to make up the young man’s mind and he pulled Lincoln out of the chapel with surprising strength. “Come over to the rectory and I’ll try to clean that up. We could both use a hot cup of coffee.”
There was no real reason for Lincoln to follow but as he was rushed past rows of pews and through the sanctuary he couldn’t think of a protest. Somehow, he felt safe in the church, around the priest, and didn’t want to go home just yet.
They exited through a side door and passed through the damp gated garden separating the church from the old stone rectory. Lincoln was stunned still at the rush of street noise, the church had been so quiet, and for a moment he heard the hollow explosions of gunfire again.
A hand tightening around his wrist distracted him from the memory and he shook his head to dispel the last of the reverberations. Lincoln could see from the street light that the priest was staring at him strangely.
“What’s your name?” Lincoln asked.
The priest continued his stride, his grip steadfast and guiding Lincoln forward. “I’m Father Michael.”
“Like the angel,” Lincoln thought aloud.
Father Michael let him go to unlock the door to the rectory and flashed him a grin. “Um, yeah.”
Lincoln’s skin tingled where the priest’s hand used to be. He had an irrational urge to grab the man and put it back there. Instead, he swallowed it back, followed through the doorway and up a short landing into a large kitchen.
Father Michael pulled out a chair for him at a crescent shaped table nestled against one wall and gestured for him to sit. Lincoln did so, refusing assistance as he carefully took off his jacket. He felt thoroughly reprimanded at the look the priest gave him and his wound.
“So if I ask you how you got this are you going to tell me?” Father Michael left his side to rifle around the kitchen cabinets and pulled out a first aid kit.
Lincoln said the first thing that came to his mind. “I’m not a good man, Father, and I was doing something I shouldn’t.”
He watched the priest blink at the answer, look at Lincoln again in what seemed to be a different light and take the seat across from him, his expression thoughtful.
“I think that’s the best confession I’ve ever heard.” Father Michael tended to the sluggish flow of blood making it way down Lincoln’s arm with a cotton swab. Lincoln flinched at the burn of alcohol and the Father smiled apologetically. “Then again, I haven’t heard many yet.”
Father Michael’s boyish grin reminded Lincoln of how very young the man must be. It unsettled him that the Father was being so careless with his safety.
“It’s the truth. You don’t know me. I could have been in the church stealing or waiting to rob you.”
Father Michael extended Lincoln’s arm across the table, his fingers settling in the sensitive crook of his elbow. The touch sent heat barreling through Lincoln’s body. He barely held in a gasp.
Thankfully, the priest didn’t notice. “I don’t have much. I think you would have been disappointed.”
“That’s not the point,” Lincoln rasped, trying to focus. Surprised and appalled at his reaction in equal measure, he tried to retreat back across the table only to feel that iron grip lock around his wrist, holding him still. He glared at the priest.
Father Michael looked undaunted and prodded deeper with an alcohol swab, from which Lincoln flinched again and ruined his tough guy image. The Father smirked as Lincoln growled in annoyance.
“It’s my job to help people in need,” Father Michael explained. The care he took in cleaning the wound, keeping Lincoln’s pain to a minimum, made Lincoln turn his head away in shame.
“You don’t even know my name.”
Father Michael tossed the bloody swabs and picked up a roll of gauze. His peaceful grin had yet to the leave the priest’s face. “Why don’t you tell it to me?”
Lincoln thought for a second of giving a false name but told the truth instead. It was a feeling – being truthful - that he was finding strangely addictive.
“Uh, it’s Lincoln.” He held his arm up to make it easier for Father Michael to wrap the gash, blushing when the priest’s smile widened in thanks. “I guess you can call me Linc, Father.”
Father Michael finished up, taping down the ends of the bandage. Lincoln wondered how quickly he could thank the priest and flee from the man’s vast kindness and sky blue eyes.
He moved to pull back his arm and again was thwarted as Michael laid a gentle hand on his own. That hand was more effective than a handcuff, kept him there with the tenderness of the priest’s touch. It left Lincoln feeling completely off-balance, unused to the easy kindness.
“You can just call me Michael.” The priest said, catching Lincoln’s eye. Michael stared unabashedly, looking for something that Lincoln wasn’t sure the young man would find. Then, after a minute he watched Michael lick his lips and look away, his neck flushed around his white collar. “How about some coffee, Linc?”
It was on the tip of Lincoln’s tongue to refuse, to go home to LJ and see if Lisa had actually come home for the night. But again, he settled for the truth. “That’d be nice.”
“For these and all the sins of the past I am truly sorry.”
“As a penance could you say six Our Fathers and fast for the rest of the day? And do you wish to do your contrition?”
“Yes, Father. Of course.”
Michael recognized Lincoln as the man slipped into some of the pews in the back. A small boy was holding his hand, probably the son, Lincoln Jr., that he’d mentioned the night they’d met. Lincoln had told him that he lived down the block from the church, no doubt the reason why he’d sought sanctuary there.
Michael never expected to see him again, but he’d hoped.
Lincoln’s strong jaw was shaved clean, his slacks and shirt pressed. His skin was tanned golden and he looked much healthier than he had that night. Michael wondered how his wound had healed.
Michael assisted the Head Priest, Father Henry Pope, through the Mass, reciting the Kyrie with the congregation. He could feel Lincoln’s eyes on him as he spread the linen over the main altar and placed the wafers and wine for that Sunday’s Communion. They both went to opposite ends of the church, Father Pope to the right and Michael to the left, and waited as lines formed to receive the body and blood of Christ.
He noticed that Lincoln crossed pews to end up in his line and quelled a surge of nervousness. Michael tried to focus on the symbolism of the moment, the repetitive motions of serving the bread and wiping the communal chalice after every member of the church, but his eyes strayed up occasionally to seek out Lincoln.
The little boy was still at his side, his dark eyes wide open in wonder at the proceeding and Michael smiled to see Lincoln holding his hand in comfort. It seemed to take forever until they were both in front of him.
“Lincoln and little Lincoln,” he greeted warmly. The boy hid shyly behind his father.
“Father Michael.” Lincoln’s mouth twisted in a lazy smile and he kneeled.
Michael held out the wafer for Lincoln to take and blushed as the man ate it from his fingers. Most men took it and fed themselves.
His voice was hoarse,“The body of Christ.”
Lincoln muttered, “Amen.”
He tried to keep his hand steady as he tipped the blessed chalice up to Lincoln’s lips and let him drink. “The blood of Christ.”
Again Lincoln said, “Amen.” When he stood smoothly his son tugged on his sleeve. Michael took a deep breath, his heart pounding out of his chest.
“Daddy, I can have some?”
Lincoln glanced at Michael, running his fingers through Lincoln Junior's spiky hair in apology. “Not yet, son. We’ll go out for breakfast in a little while, okay?”
The boy pouted but gave a short nod and then the two of them were moving back to their pew before Michael could think of anything else to say. He’d never been so tongue tied and wondered what was wrong with him, what it was about Lincoln that made him so aware of the man.
After Communion, the Mass wrapped up quickly. There was the Song, Silence, and Prayer, for which Michael gratefully used to examine his reactions and pray to God for forgiveness of what he thought they might mean.
Father Pope moved to the front of the church after the dismissal to shake hands as the members left for the day. Michael stayed behind as usual to clean off the altar and hand off the items with the altar boy’s assistance.
He deliberately didn’t watch Lincoln and his son leave the church and therefore was surprised when the two of them approached him from the aisle.
“Hey, I wanted to introduce you to LJ.” Lincoln pulled his son out from behind him. “LJ, this is Father Michael.”
Michael bent down to shake the child’s hand. “Nice to meet you.” He followed LJ’s gaze, which was searching the church. “What’s wrong?”
The boy frowned. “Where’re your kids?”
Lincoln chuckled behind his hand and Michael smiled as he explained. “I don’t have any children. ‘Father’ is a title, like when you call someone ‘Doctor’ in a hospital. It’s one of many that let's people know that I work in a church. If you want, you can just call me Michael, like your dad does.”
LJ seemed to understand and looked to his father. “Dad, I want a title too.”
“Alright, we’ll try to think up something on the way home,” Lincoln replied with a grin. Michael hadn’t seen the man smile so much.
Behind them, the church was emptying out and Lincoln looked around before holding out his hand for Michael to shake.
“I just wanted to say thanks again for your help.” Lincoln’s other hand gently stroked his son’s head. “For listening and just, you know, being there. Maybe we should all get together and talk about Communion and stuff like that. See if LJ here is interested.”
Michael’s cheeks hurt from the smile on his face; it always made him happy to be able to share more with others, Lincoln especially, who he was going to see again soon.
He slipped a small card with the church’s number and his extension into Lincoln’s hand when he clasped it in his own.
“O my God, I am heartily sorry for having offended Thee. I detest all my sins because of Thy just punishments, but most of all because they have offended Thee, my God, who art all good and deserving of all my love.”
Michael was waiting for him at the door of the rectory when Lincoln arrived. The constant rain of the past few weeks had turned to snow. The sidewalk was slippery underneath his feet and Lincoln almost slid the rest of the way to the entrance.
The priest was bundled up in a black wool coat and hat. His smile made Lincoln feel like the sun had just risen although it was nearly midnight; he was getting very used it. They’d spoken on the phone a few times before and met up after church so that the Father’s could talk with LJ about Children’s Bible Study; Lincoln already decided to become a member, but he hadn’t been back in the rectory since that first night.
“I’m sorry I called so late,” Lincoln apologized.
“That’s fine. Come on in, the others are asleep.” Michael ushered him through the open door.
The first floor of the house was dark and they passed right through, up three flights of steps to the attic. It was set up as a bedroom with a dresser up against one wall, a desk and bookcase on the other, and an old twin bed against the windows.
Lincoln’s heart beat a little faster when he realized he was in Michael’s bedroom.
“Look I can come back if -,”
Michael shrugged off his jacket and tossed it in a chair. He frowned for the first time that Lincoln had ever seen. “I wouldn’t have invited you over if I didn’t have the feeling that you needed to talk to someone right away. So take a seat and get comfortable.”
Lincoln thought to apologize for annoying him but figured that doing what the man said would be apology enough. He sat on the iron framed bed while Michael took the rolling desk chair.
They sat in silence as Lincoln tried to get his words together and he appreciated even more that Michael didn’t push.
“You’ve, uh, never met Lisa, she’s not really a church-going type, but she left me. Left us.” He stared at his hands, some part afraid that Michael might judge him.
“Oh no, why?” Michael’s concern was genuine. It gave Lincoln the courage to answer him candidly.
“We’ve never been the perfect couple and I don’t think we would have even stayed together this long if it wasn’t for LJ, but the tipping point was that she didn’t understand why I quit my job.”
The rolling chair squeaked a bit when Michael came closer. Lincoln could feel the priest’s body heat warring with the cold from the windows and unconsciously leaned towards it. He let himself get lost in his head, in the night he’d almost died and everything he hadn’t said to the priest about the circumstances.
“The things they had me doing, Michael. They weren’t right. The night we met, I was almost killed that night and nearly killed someone else. And all for money that I told myself was worth it because I was putting food on the table for LJ. I was securing his future.” Lincoln looked up at the priest and wondered if Michael could really understand.
The priest’s expression was solemn, passive, and Lincoln continued, looking down at his hands. “But nothing’s worth turning into a killer, right? Not if it risks leaving my son without a father. Not if I have another choice.”
Looking up again, Lincoln saw Michael nod, like he could relate, but Lincoln was certain that the priest had never done anything half as bad as what Lincoln had been hired to do. They had absolutely nothing in common but Lincoln wondered if that was the reason why he saught Michael’s advice and why he took comfort in his company.
However, what Lincoln couldn’t understand was why Michael seemed to enjoy being around him.
The priest reached out and put his hand on Lincoln’s shoulder. “You’re right. You always have another choice and it sounds like you did a good thing.”
Lincoln sighed. “Lisa didn’t think so.”
Michael gave Lincoln’s shoulder a pat. “Maybe she just needs time. I mean she wouldn’t leave LJ would she?”
Lincoln shrugged. “Yesterday, before she blew up on me, I would have said no and been positive of it. But now I wonder if I really know her at all.”
“You’re angry,” Michael consoled. “She’s angry. Give it time.”
“But see that’s the weird thing,” Lincoln said quietly. His forehead wrinkled in thought. “I’m not mad or sad or anything. I think I’m relieved. I think deep down I was waiting for her to go so that I wouldn’t have to worry about trying to make her happy. She never seemed to be anyway.”
Michael didn’t speak for long enough to worry Lincoln and make him wonder if he’d stepped over some line. Then the priest blinked and said, “Well, I’m still sorry that you two are over. I hope that LJ will understand.”
Michael was looking at some point over Lincoln’s shoulder and his expressive face was blank. Lincoln examined him closer. Michael’s words were perfect for the occasion, but his body language was all off and it bothered Lincoln more than he expected that Michael’s steady gaze wasn’t focused on him.
He’d opened his mouth to ask if Michael was okay when the priest spoke suddenly, his voice tight.
“Linc, why are you really here?”
Lincoln flinched at the blunt question. “What do you mean, I already told you why.”
Michael licked his lips. “Yes, and you told me that it really didn’t bother you. So why, when you’re obviously doing fine did you call me tonight?”
Confused, Lincoln shot off the bed. “Look man, I get it if you don’t want me around, but I asked if this was okay -.”
“I know Linc,” Michael said hastily, rising to put a gentle hand on Lincoln’s chest. Only once he’d encouraged Lincoln back down did he continue. “And it is okay, I want you around. You’re a good man who makes good decisions despite the repercussions. I’ve really liked our talks these past weeks and you and LJ both have become very good friends.”
Like a valve turned, Lincoln’s anger was gone when he heard the real affection in Michael’s voice. He knew that Michael would never lie to him, just as he knew that the priest was perceptive if he could pick up on something that Lincoln still wasn’t so sure about. But he’d already taken one chance when he told Lisa the truth and another in the span of twenty-four hours seemed almost possible.
Michael’s hand on his chest felt like it was burning through his sweater. Lincoln wondered if the priest could feel how fast his heart began to beat, how his heart skipped a little at the shy hopeful look on Michael’s face.
“I guess what I’m asking is if…,” Michael trailed off when Lincoln took the hand on his chest and held it between his own.
“If there’s another reason that I wanted to see you?” Lincoln’s stomach clenched at Michael’s wide eyed stare, he could feel the younger man’s pulse quickening through his wrist. “I think that I have a confession to make.”
He watched Michael blink at the word, his eyes go soft and concerned and clueless. It was endearing. Lincoln tugged gently on the wrist in his possession and Michael stumbled as they came nose to nose.
Michael’s eyes were huge but dilating in excitement and he didn’t lean away when Lincoln spoke words onto his lips or breathed deep his scent of mint and old books.
A part of Lincoln wanted Michael to stop him, to remind him of how good the priest really was. “Tell me that you don’t want this.”
The other part of Lincoln, a larger part, guided his hands up Michael’s arms, down his strong cloth covered chest and torso. Michael’s thin hips fit perfectly in his hands and made his cock stir.
He could feel Michael shudder under his palms, his voice barely audible. “I don’t – want you to stop.”
“Thank God,” Lincoln muttered as he took his first taste of Michael’s mouth.
When the young priest’s hands came up to frame his face and return the kiss, Lincoln swore that he could hear angels sing.
“I firmly resolve, with the help of Thy grace, to confess my sins, to do penance, and to avoid the near occasion of sin. Amen.”
“May the Almighty God have mercy on you, and forgiving your sins, bring you to life everlasting.”
Michael felt strange looking at himself in civilian clothes. He wore them often enough, when he met with the other Father’s to play basketball at the YMCA or when he went grocery shopping on the weekends, but Michael thought he looked particularly strange when he went to meet Lincoln. Or, a voice in his head supplied, that could be the guilt distorting his image.
They’d been sleeping together for nearly three months and Michael still felt guilty. He knew that he always would. He could quote, passage by passage why what he was doing was wrong - even more so since he refused to stop.
Because underneath all of the guilt and recriminations, once he’d kissed Lincoln and felt those broad hands on his body, it felt like something had snapped into place deep inside. It felt like Lincoln and he were inevitable from the first night they’d met. There was a calling between the two of them that was just as strong as the call Michael had to serve the church and twisted or not, Michael couldn’t feel damned for that.
Not when those callings felt so much like love.
On Saturday, his only day off, Michael would go over to Lincoln’s for dinner. They’d entertain LJ for a while, put him to bed, and then sit around talking. Their relationship hadn’t changed in that aspect, Lincoln still treated him like a confidante and Michael did all he could to give advice. It was only late at night when hands started to wander that they always stumbled their way into Lincoln’s bedroom.
Michael still remembered how careful Lincoln was with him the first time.
“I’ll make this good for you, I swear,” he’d said as he stripped off Michael’s clothing.
“Of course you will,” Michael assured with his heart in his throat. He had blushed, full-body, as Lincoln lavished attention on him, laying him back on the bed like a China doll and kissing every spot he touched. He’d bitten his lips bloody trying to stay quiet, remembering that LJ was just down the hall.
Lincoln stripped out of his clothes only after Michael had nearly gone mad trying to tear them off.
“Tell me what you want me to do,” Lincoln whispered against his neck. His naked body was gorgeous, all bulky muscle and long bones. He was just a few inches away, but Lincoln moved back every time Michael reached to feel him.
Michael could barely speak. He hadn’t know that it was possible to be so hard, so frustrated sexually. “I can’t. I don’t know.”
A soft bite to the pulsating tendon in his neck made Michael let out an embarrassing whine.
“You know.” Lincoln laved the small hurt with his tongue. “Tell me, Michael. Please.”
Michael wanted to touch himself but he’d really never done so before. He’d been taught to ignore his arousal. He knew that wasn’t the way that all of his faith believed but he’d been brought up in a strict house and had never been tempted enough to risk getting caught.
Yet this pulsing ache was unbearable. He'd opened his mouth and let whatever was on his mind slip out.
“Please touch me, kiss me everywhere. I- I think,” he stuttered. “I think I want your mouth on me.”
Lincoln’s wet mouth trailed down his chest. “Do you want me to suck you?”
Michael’s body jerked at the question, his body shook beyond his control. “Yes,” he hissed. “Please, Lincoln.”
So Lincoln did. And it felt so amazing that Michael bit bloody teeth marks into his own arm muffling his screams. He’d nearly bitten off his own tongue when Lincoln breached his body for the first time.
Their love making was good, more than good - incredible, but it was what Lincoln said as they made love that pulled Michael under every time.
“You’re so beautiful, Michael,” Lincoln murmured as eased his way into Michael’s ass.
Michael had felt too full and the stretch burned so deep that he wondered if he’d ever recover. It wasn’t painless but Lincoln had fingered him for so long that Michael knew he was receiving the least of how much he could have been hurt.
“You’re taking me in so easy, but you’re so tight inside. I’m so lucky that you’re letting me do this. That you want me as much as I want you.”
Michael didn’t let Lincoln stop until he was fully encased in his body, his hips flush. Then he tried to catch his breath and stifled a shout when Lincoln shifted against something that brought tears of pleasure to his eyes.
Lincoln did it again and again and Michael howled into a pillow, dug his fingers into Lincoln’s waist to keep him right there.
Lincoln slowed, stopped, and Michael felt like he was going to die. “I wanna take this slow,” his lover slurred with lust. “Take you all night just like this until you don’t even notice that I’m in here.”
Michael pleaded with him, almost to tears. “Please, please, just do it. I want to feel you.” He would have gone on begging but Lincoln kissed him silent, thrusting hard and deep just the way he wanted.
Michael luxuriated in the feel of slick skin like silk pressed as close as they could get, wrapped his legs around Lincoln and held onto his lover’s strong shoulders, felt the muscles work through his palms.
Lincoln’s face was red and sweaty when he finally pulled away for air. His mouth was glistening with their saliva and Michael wanted to kiss him until they passed out. That was until Lincoln started to speak again.
“Love feeling you fall apart like this. Can’t wait until you’re inside me just like this. You’ll feel so good.”
Michael felt Lincoln’s hands tipping his hips up, driving right into a spot that caused bright lights, like the glory of Heaven, spark behind his eyes. Then he saw nothing at all.
“May the Almighty and Merciful God grant you pardon, absolution, and remission of your sins.”
Lincoln arrived at the church early every Sunday morning to drop LJ off at Bible Study. His son had taken to the new church schedule like a fish to water and really seemed to enjoy playing and learning with the other children. Father Pope spoke recently to him about Christening LJ and soon after planning his Confirmation where he could finally partake in Communion.
Lisa called after almost five months of hearing nothing from her. It was only a call from her mother three days after she’d left that kept Lincoln from calling the police. She was with someone else and didn’t want to get back together but, of course, wanted to see her son. They were working out shared custody on their own and it seemed to be working. She even dropped LJ off at church.
He’d landed a pathetically normal job in an office through another church member. It was boring and monotonous but Lincoln had already lived the alternatives and didn’t want a repeat.
Lincoln felt like things were finally falling into place. Even in his relationship with Michael.
After dropping LJ off in the basement, he wandered through the now familiar halls of the church until he reached the Assistant Pastor’s office. The door was open, the way it always was, and Michael was sitting at an old oak desk surrounded with research texts.
The morning sunlight floated through the cheap textured window behind Michael and created a glowing corona around his dark hair. It made him look like the Holy man he was; Lincoln’s very own saint.
He knocked on the doorframe and his lover’s smile when he looked up completed the picture of salvation.
Michael’s heart was always open wide, St. Mary incarnate.
“Your sins are forgiven. Go in Peace.”
“Thank you Michael.”