Father O'Malley feels it the moment he first lays eyes on the young man – a shiver, a skittering chill up his spine, the slightest increase in the speed of his heartbeat. He pays it little mind at the time. The old stone walls of the monastery are prone to unpredictable gusts of wind, after all, though a gust of wind cannot explain the way his mouth goes dry the instant he looked into those deep, dark eyes.
There is no harm in finding the young man beautiful, O'Malley reminds himself. The Lord has filled the earth with beauty; O'Malley sees it every day, from the spray of sea foam on the rocks to the curl of petals on the rose bushes in the garden. The boy reminds O'Malley of the statue of St Sebastian that had once stood in the church, before Viking raiders had toppled it. (The saint's face remains beautiful and perfect, turned imploringly to Heaven, but his torso is cracked and his left arm missing entirely.)
The young monk's name is Declan. O'Malley knows little about his past, and doesn't much care; the monks have devoted themselves to the Lord, and their former lives are no longer relevent. The boy rarely speaks anyhow. He is quiet, thoughtful, prone to losing himself in contemplation; when this happens his brows knit together and and the corners of his full lips turn slightly downward. When he catches O'Malley watching him he smiles and O'Malley's stomach lurches.
The first dream comes a week after Declan's arrival. O'Malley wakes with sweat on his brow, blanket twisted around his legs; he remembers little, just a vague impression of warm flesh against his. He straightens the bedclothes while murmuring a prayer under his breath, ignoring the ache between his legs, focusing instead on the words and the scratch of the wool blankets against his fingers until his head clears.
Declan is the newest of the apprentice monks, and O'Malley tells himself he's watching for the young man's own good, keeping an eye on him to make sure he's comfortable in his new home and properly attending to his duties. He tells himself this but feels the lie of it in his heart. Declan is a quick learner, whether he's copying texts in the library or picking weeds in the gardens, and he never complains about the difficulty or tedium of the work. No, O'Malley watches because he wants to watch. He watches, and he keeps his distance.
"If you have a moment, Father," Declan says, "I wonder if I might trouble you with a question."
"Certainly," O'Malley says, trying to hide his surprise. He gives a furtive glance around the dining hall, but it's empty; most of the others are already in bed, but O'Malley had brought his darning down to the fireside, intending to work for an hour or so. He has never been totally alone with Declan before and is horribly aware of that fact.
"It may be my imagination," Declan continues. His dark eyes glitter in the firelight and for a moment he seems much older. "It's just that sometimes I get the impression you intentionally avoid me. If I've caused some offense-"
"No," O'Malley says, too quickly. He can't quite bring himself to meet Declan's eyes, looking instead at the wall behind him. "You've done no wrong. I'm afraid I've become more distant in recent months, since the raid..."
This is true. The Vikings had come the previous summer, before Declan's arrival, and left in their wake destruction and death. O'Malley had taken an arrow to the knee and survived only because Brother Connell's corpse had fallen on top of him, and the raiders had not much cared about him one way or the other. O'Malley dreams of it sometimes, the hours he spent crushed against the floor by his friend's stiffening body, smelling blood and smoke while his leg bled slowly out onto the stone. The dreams about Declan, while troubling in their own way, are a welcome relief.
"That's good to hear," Declan says, drawing O'Malley back into the present. "I've noticed, you know. You watch me sometimes, from a distance." He smiles, and there's something in that smile O'Malley hadn't expected, something dangerous and knowing. He steps closer and his hand brushes O'Malley's knee. "I've been watching you, too." Then Declan straightens abruptly. "Goodnight, Father," he says, and is gone.
O'Malley squeezes the darning egg in his hand until it hurts his fingers. "Lord protect me," he murmurs to the empty room.
Declan is watching him, and if O'Malley had never noticed before it seems obvious now, so obvious he's sure everyone knows. That dark gaze seems to burn into him wherever he goes. Sometimes Declan himself seems to appear out of nowhere, brushing past O'Malley in the hall, fingers lingering on his arm or elbow, smiling when he catches O'Malley's eye.
It's a dangerous game, and O'Malley knows he should put a stop to it, but that would mean acknowledging it first. If what he feels for the young man were only pure lust, it would be easy. O'Malley has confronted lust before; once recognized, it can be contained. But Declan makes him feel something else, a surge of warmth and fondness, that mingles with the lust and makes it something more complicated, harder to understand, and by extension harder to control.
One evening O'Malley finds himself standing before the votives, head bowed. He prays for guidance, and realizes he doesn't particularly expect to find any. He hears footsteps and is not at all surprised to see Declan entering the room, lowering the hood of his robe slowly, eyes boring into O'Malley's.
O'Malley's mouth goes dry and he shakes his head slightly at the other man without even realizing it. Declan ignores the gesture and stands beside him. For a moment O'Malley thinks Declan merely means to pray himself, but then he feels something unexpected – a tugging at his belt. Declan's fingers are twining with O'Malley's rosary, slowly and purposefully, and when O'Malley moves to push it away somehow he finds himself holding the other man's hand instead.
It's warm in his own, so warm. Declan's thumb brushes over the back of O'Malley's knuckles.
"We can't," O'Malley says, heart pounding, staring straight ahead at the candlelight. "You must know that."
"What do you think will happen if we do?" Declan's voice is low, his breathlessness betraying his excitement.
"If they knew-"
"They won't know."
"God will know."
"Then let God be the one to punish us."
"No," O'Malley says, firmly, letting go of Declan's hand. "You know as well as I do that this... this thing between us is wrong."
"It doesn't feel wrong to me," Declan says, and his firm hand closes on O'Malley's wrist. Like a shackle, O'Malley thinks, but one he has little desire to remove.
"Lust is a sin," O'Malley says, as if to remind himself.
"Is it?" Declan says, tilting his head questioningly. "And what of love?"
"Love!" The word catches O'Malley off guard. "This isn't..."
"Isn't it?" Declan asks, and kisses him. Briefly, and then he is gone, and O'Malley returns to his own cell as if in a dream.
The kiss changes everything. That moment of contact, of warmth, is all O'Malley can think about. "Love", Declan had said, which is ridiculous, but if this new desire to just be next to the other man, to be in his presence – if this isn't love then what is it?
But the darker desires are still there, as well. If he lets his thoughts stray he imagines touching Declan more intimately than an innocent brush of lips or hands. In O'Malley's dreams he pins the other man beneath him and does things he doesn't even fully understand.
In the daylight, though, he stops avoiding Declan. They rarely speak much, but work side by side, smiling when they catch each other's eye, finding a connection in their shared secret.
Spring gives way to summer, and the breezes blowing off the ocean bring less joy than in previous years; O'Malley spends many afternoons walking the cliff above the beach alone, praying for the horizon to remain clear of enemy sails. The brothers who had survived the previous year's raid undderstand his unease.
One midsummer night a thunderclap awakens O'Malley with a start. He is trembling, sweat on his brow, head still reeling with visions of blood and flame. It's hard to breathe; the stone walls of his cell seem stifling. O'Malley staggers to the room's tiny window and throws open the shutter, letting a spray of rain hit his face, gulping in fresh air and letting out an incoherent cry with the next roll of thunder. Somehow that shout makes him feel a bit better, a bit of the tightness leaving his chest.
"Are you all right?" asks a voice from behind him.
O'Malley turns slowly, brow knit in confusion. Declan stands in the doorway, concern plain on his face.
"Why are you here?" O'Malley asks.
"I couldn't sleep," Declan says with a shrug. "I took a walk and heard you shouting."
"Dreams," O'Malley says. "That's all." He pulls the shutter closed again and collapses on the edge of his cot. His sleeve is drenched with rain, now, and he just looks at it dumbly.
The door creaks shut, and O'Malley looks up in surprise as Declan sits beside him. "I'm all right," he insists. "You should go back to bed."
"Must I?" Declan asks, and O'Malley feels his blood suddenly run hot. They have never been so very alone. "Are you sure you wouldn't be better off talking to someone?"
"Just talking?" O'Malley asks dryly, prompting a smile.
"I don't like seeing you so upset," Declan explains earnestly.
O'Malley sighs. "You've heard already about the attack last summer." When Declan nods, he continues "A dozen of my brothers died that day. For what? A handful of coins? We never kept any real treasures here, but I suppose the Northmen had no way of knowing that. They took what they could carry and cut down anyone who stood in their way."
"I can only imagine how horrible that must have been," Declan says. His hand comes to rest on O'Malley's knee, and O'Malley jerks back reflexively.
"I lay under my best friend's corpse for hours, scarcely able to breathe, while they ransacked the place. Afterward I spent weeks sure the wound to my leg would fester and kill me, but no. It healed, and cleanly, too." He pulls the skirt of his robe up, showing Declan the white line of scar tissue, barely visible in the dark room. "A dozen better men, more devoted and more worthy, died that day, and I lived."
"And you felt doubt," Declan murmurs. "You had doubt in your heart before you ever met me."
"Weakness," O'Malley says, his throat tightening. "My head tells me that God works in ways I cannot hope to comprehend, and that there is surely some greater purpose, some reason I survived. But in my heart I can't help but feel... uncertain."
"And I've made that worse, haven't I?"
"Certainly," O'Malley says. "But I don't think I mind."
This time he's the one to lean in and press a kiss to Declan's waiting mouth, twining his fingers in the front of the younger man's robe. He feels Declan's hands on his shoulders and lets himself fall back onto the bed. A sudden clash of thunder makes them both jump; Declan laughs, low and nervous, and O'Malley tries not to let himself think about what would happen to them if anyone knew. The storm outside continues to rage but shows no sign of striking them down for their sins, at least not yet.
Declan stands and O'Malley watches him undress in the fleeting flashes of lightning, wishing he could see better. He's aching with the desire for Declan's hands on him, and his wish is granted soon enough. O'Malley has been celibate for over twenty years and the instant Declan climbs onto the cot beside him he's afraid he's going to spend himself at the first touch of bare skin on his.
"You're beautiful," he sighs, kissing Declan's shoulder. "I don't understand what you see in an old man like me."
"I just want you to be happy," he says. "Since the moment I first saw you, the sadness in your eyes--" Declan's hand slides up the inside of O'Malley's thigh, prompting a gasp. Declan hesitates. "If you don't want this..."
"I do," O'Malley sighs against the top of Declan's head. "More than anything."
Saying it out loud feels like a commitment, and he feels the last of his doubts slip away. He lets his hands roam Declan's smooth, muscular back, and when Declan's hand closes around his manhood he groans and digs his fingernails in.
Declan's touch is gentle and sure; O'Malley suspects he has some experience with this. He bites his lip as the younger man settles into a rhythm, afraid of making some telltale sound not swallowed by the storm.
"Father," Declan whispers, and the sound of his title on those lips at a time like this makes him breathe faster. "May I use my mouth on you?"
That the boy could even have considered something so base and filthy sends O'Malley's head reeling. "Yes," he hears himself say, and is ashamed of the desperation in his own voice. "Oh, please, yes."
But Declan doesn't follow through right away. First he presses his lips to the center of O'Malley's breastbone; his chest heaves under the touch. O'Malley squeezes his eyes shut, hoping to make the moment last, but Declan's tongue running up the underside of his erection undoes him instantly, and O'Malley jams his fist into his mouth to keep from crying out, spending himself scant moments after that mouth closes around him.
"You've done this before," O'Malley says between panting breaths as Declan moves to lie beside him, barely squeezing onto the narrow cot. His lips are wet and red and O'Malley can't stop looking at them.
"Yes," Declan admits. "My father suspected, but I was never actually caught. That's why they sent me here."
"I'm afraid I lack your skill," O'Malley says, very aware of the hard length pressed against his thigh.
"Don't worry," Declan says, "Just touch me."
He does, awkwardly at first, amazed at how much he loves the feel of the cock in his hand. O'Malley has never touched another man like this, hasn't even touched himself in years, and he drinks it all in, the feel of soft warm skin over that hardness a marvel, the little puffing gasps of air Declan exhales against his neck sweeter than he could have imagined.
"You have to go," O'Malley murmurs as the gray light of dawn begins to seep through the crack in the shutters. The storm has long since rolled off, but he hasn't really slept, just dozed with Declan nestled in his arms.
"I would rather not," the younger man sighs. "I'd like to stay here with you, discussing the nature of Heaven."
"You're a romantic," O'Mally says, unable to stifle a smile. "I'm sure you would tell me that Heaven exists and that we touched it last night."
"Didn't we?" Declan says, but he slips off the cot, and O'Malley lets himself enjoy the sight of him stretching before he begins to dress. "I'll come to you again, some other night, if you'll have me."
"Of course," O'Malley says. "But you know we must be cautious."
Declan nods in agreement, and comes back to the bed before he departs, kissing O'Malley briefly.
"I do love you," O'Malley says, running his fingers through Declan's hair.
"And I you," Declan says. His smile turns mischevious. "Perhaps I'll speak to you later today."
O'Malley goes through the day in a daze, using the storm as an excuse for his lack of sleep. He's nearly forgotten Declan's parting words hours later as he sits in the confessional box, until he hears a familiar voice through the screen.
"Bless me, Father," Declan murmurs. His voice is low, almost a purr, and it sends a warm shiver up O'Malley's spine. "I've been a bad, bad boy."
He proceeds to tell O'Mally in graphic detail exactly what they had just done to each other the night before, until O'Malley can't stand it any longer and takes himself in hand, and they each touch themselves with the wall of the confessional between them.
It's easily the most sinful thing O'Malley has ever done, and he no longer particularly cares.
"I can't imagine a Heaven without you in it," O'Malley says. He and Declan stand on the cliffside overlooking the ocean; here, away from the monastery walls, O'Malley dares to take Declan's hand in his own. "And if I end up in Hell, I'm quite convinced that you were worth it."
"I've never understood why the Church is so sure it has the answers," Declan admits. "There seems to be so much it doesn't understand." He gives O'Malley's hand a squeeze. "You might have guessed I've never particularly wanted to become a monk." He gazes off across the choppy sea, where gray clouds blur the line of the horizon. He falls quiet for several minutes, and O'Malley finds himself admiring his thoughtful profile.
"Sometimes," O'Malley finally says, "I wonder if Heaven and Hell are really our only options." He's surprised to hear himself say this out loud, even to Declan – the little fancies he's sometimes had over the years could easily be deemed blasphemy if told to the wrong person. "Perhaps we'll find ourselves somewhere else entirely. The only thing we can do is enjoy this time that we have, and hope that whatever happens, we'll be together."
A blond, blue-eyed man, probably in his mid-forties, reads a newspaper alone in a coffee shop, wearing a well-tailored gray suit, briefcase leaning against one leg. He takes a sip from his cup and glances from the paper to his watch, then starts to gather his things.
As he pushes his way toward the door he bumps into someone. A younger man, dark-haired, wearing a t-shirt and hoodie, with a laptop bag slung across one shoulder; he has the look of a college student. The businessman mutters an apology, but as their eyes meet, a spark of recognition passes between them.
"Do I know you?" the younger man asks, and the screen fades to black.
"Wait, what was that?" Alpa asks. He's sprawled on the couch with his head on Lance's knee, frowning at the TV. "Did that just seriously imply that they got reincarnated and found each other again? Reincarnation? After two hours of Christian imagery? The hell?"
"I always thought it was romantic," Lance says, running his fingers through Alpa's hair. "You didn't like it?"
"I don't know, man." Alpa sighs, sitting up and leaning against his boyfriend's shoulder. "I mean, Kirk was great, Tobey was great – he deserved that Oscar nom. But it's like, there was an hour of setup and then it suddenly turned into a solid 45 minutes of softcore porn with really good sets and lighting."
"That might be part of the appeal," Lance says, laughing. "You can jerk it to Kirk Lazarus' bare ass and tell everyone that you watched this artsy historical drama."
"The only skinny white ass I wanna jerk it to is yours," Alpa says, leaning in for a kiss as the end credits continue to roll.