"Bless me father, for I have sinned again," John Silver said.
Father Flint didn't doubt it. That blue-eyed earnest innocence was a cover. Beneath the thick black curls and expressive mouth was a ruffian of the highest order. Flint knew this, because he was a ruffian and could spot a fellow professional liar at fifty yards.
Flint waved one hand at the confessionals with a long-suffering sigh. It had only been forty eight hours and here John was, back again. What mischief could the young man have gotten into in so short a time?
Flint could imagine, didn’t actually want to know, was honour bound to listen anyway.
When they were both seated in the false privacy of the booths, each knowing the other's identity after all, Flint cleared his throat. He made the sign of the Cross.
"In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen."
He heard Silver take a deep breath. "Bless me father, for I have sinned. It has been two days since my last confession. I have used the Lord's name in vain."
Who didn't, Flint thought.
"I have told lies to my landlord about the rent."
A weekly occurrence.
"I have masturbated."
Flint rolled his eyes.
"I have had impure thoughts."
Flint waited to see if this was all the sins. When no more were forthcoming, he said, "These are minor sins, and if you are truly penitent, you shall be forgiven."
"But I am not," John said. "I am not sorry for my thoughts for they gave me great pleasure. And I am not sorry that those thoughts led to masturbation for that gave me great pleasure also. And I am not sorry about the rent, because that apartment is barely fit for pigs to live in and I should not be overcharged for a shithole which has lacked hot water for over two weeks."
Flint's lips compressed and he sought for the right words. Had he ever received the right training he would probably know what they were. Instead, he said, "The rent I understand but you're not supposed to enjoy wanking!"
John gave a soft laugh. "Perhaps you've never tried it to dismiss it out of hand, so to speak. Though don't tell me you deny yourself that too. No women, nor men, yet not even your own hand?"
If the young man were not so damn attractive Flint would have refused to deal with him. But John was so pretty and Flint saw in him something of himself, someone shrewd and determined and in need of somewhere to channel his energy before it became destructive. So he'd taken John under his wing, and confessions had become more frequent and here they were, with Flint considering dragging John from the booth and giving him a backhand or two for his cheek.
As Flint sought to control himself, John said, "I have another confession to make."
"Yes?" Flint ground out the word from behind clenched teeth.
"The subject of my impure thoughts was you."
That knocked the wind from Flint.
"Father?" John asked when the silence dragged on.
"That – that is a very grave sin," Flint began.
"Is it?" John's tone was thoughtful. "Is it worse than pretending to be a priest?"
Flint was out of the booth in a second, flinging back the door to the adjoining booth and hauling John out by his shabby blue coat, sending John to his knees. One fist was clenched in the worn material, the other paused above John's face.
"Are you going to hit me?" John was scared but covering his fear with defiance. Flint admired his tenacity.
Flint remained motionless a few moments more, his anger turning to fear of his own, his arm muscles protesting. He lowered his fist, let go of John's coat. He took a step back. John got to his feet, brushing at his clothes.
"You know then," Flint said, his tone as broken as his spirit.
"I suspected. I know a liar when I see one."
That almost drew a laugh from Flint. John tipped his head, "I made some inquiries."
Why he'd thought to, or how the little shit had managed to make the right inquires was a mystery. Flint had been careful about revealing any personal details, had stuck to the story of the dead missionary whose identity he'd stolen. James McGraw, wanted criminal, had become Father Jimmy Flint. It had given him a taste of the peace he longed for, along with time to plan the revenge he yearned for; which desire won out was yet to be determined.
"I found Miranda," John said and in a heartbeat he was shoved down into a pew, the wood pressing against his back, Flint's hands digging into his shoulders.
"If you've hurt her –"
"No," John insisted, "she's safe, I swear it!"
Flint stared into the panic-stricken eyes, chose to believe this was the truth, released him.
John sat up, straightening his clothes. "Jesus!"
"Language," Flint bellowed out of habit.
Flint focussed on not strangling John Silver – if that was his real name either. When he felt he was as calm as he was going to get, he asked, "What do you want?"
"A penthouse apartment and world peace," John said glibly. "But if you mean from you, James McGraw, I want your co-operation."
Not money. No blackmail, no threat to expose him was forthcoming as Flint had feared. "Go on."
John, regaining his bluster, stood. "I know where the money is. The money that you were framed for having taken. What better revenge than to actually steal it?"
"Better would be to expose the true guilty party," Flint said. "If you've spoken with Miranda then you know my – that Thomas died over this fraud. I don't just want money. I want justice."
John considered this. "I wondered if that might be the case. It might be possible, if you are willing to get your hands dirty. If wearing the collar hasn't drained your bloodlust. Though given you've nearly decked me twice already…"
Flint reached up and touched the white band at his throat. It would be strange, to take it off and throw off the trappings of the church, but he would remove it if he embarked on a quest for revenge. His hypocrisy would only go so far.
"I am willing," Flint said. "But what's in it for you?"
"A cut of the money. We can expose the villain of your story but we must truly steal at least some of the money and split it amongst ourselves," John said. "Um, there are a couple of people you need to meet. They are already very interested in this endeavour."
John shrugged. "Two. Three."
Three or four at least, Flint translated. But he didn't need a share of the money, so what did he care if the thieves bickered over it. All he wanted was that bastard humiliated and imprisoned, the man Flint knew was more responsible for Thomas's death than the man who had pulled the trigger.
"So, do we have a deal?"
John held out his hand and Flint shook off the shudder that ran through him at making a deal with this devilish young man in this holy space. He clasped John's hand. The pact was made.
"One more confession before you stop being Father Flint," John said. "I wasn't lying about those impure thoughts. Nor that they were about you."
Flint scowled. "You are in the House of God," he reminded him, but his heart was no longer in the charade.
"Love is love," John said, stepping in close. "God should not look unkindly on it, whatever form it takes."
Flint looked down at him, wondering what part of the game this was. John had been playing him from the start, a long con that rivalled his own. Yet he saw no hint of deceit in John's clear gaze, only pent-up passion.
Flint knew a thing or two about pent-up passion for he had been celibate since Thomas's death. He lifted one trembling hand and stroked his knuckles against John's cheek. John did not flinch, nor did he smile and lift his own hand to caress Flint's knuckles as Thomas used to. Instead, John closed his eyes, leaning into the touch like a cat.
"One very last confession," John said, voice husky. "I've always rather had a thing for priests and nuns. A religious kink, no doubt somehow connected to the daily beatings from the loving nuns at the orphanage."
Were there really still orphanages these days? Awful ones run by abusive nuns? Was this another lie? Was the religious kink real? Flint didn't care.
"Then you'll be wanting me to keep the robe?" Flint said, half-joking.
John leaned in. "Oh yes. Bless me father, for I am about to sin."
"We are all sinners," Flint said. "But we do what we must and we ought to choose love when we can."
Silver's lips met Flint's and in the glow of the candlelight, amongst the lingering scent of incense, with the stained glass saints looking down in disapproval, a new partnership was born.