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Crosses of Fire

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It wasn't like Science was invulnerable to it: to the deceitful, gleaming comfort that Religion offered its lovers. But Science wondered if any of them understood, if any of them knew Religion quite as thoroughly as Science did. They flocked to Religion's door with such impossible hopes, hopes of salvation and eternity and forgiveness. The stupidity of it was that they all thought Religion was sincere, that those whispered promises and sweet nothings actually meant something, that they were true.

But Science knew better, didn't it? It had discovered those lies for itself.

Religion was a whore. For all its apparent constancy, it was unable to resist temptation -- a single look of desperation, of penitence, was enough to lure it away from Science's side. Science had even watched, a few times, as Religion had taken other lovers -- watched them go limp and unresisting under Religion's skilled hands, their eyes dipping closed, their logic crumbling.

Science knew the pleasure of it well enough. When Religion touched it, Science couldn't help surrendering, couldn't help giving itself up, centuries of argument and counter-argument collapsing like a house of cards, written proofs going up in flames, stubborn equations erased in an instant of blinding, exquisite bliss.

Perhaps Science was conceited to think that Religion found their encounters just as satisfying. Perhaps it was pride, foolish pride, that made Science see a hint of surrender in Religion's eyes. Surely the gold of those commandments grew a little tarnished with every moan, every touch -- surely that dogma faded, momentarily, into the incandescence of desire. When Religion gasped against Science's shoulder, it seemed that Religion had finally abandoned its masks, finally admitted to its own impossibility. Its incongruity.

Perhaps they were meant to destroy each other. Mutually assured destruction, yes, in which they dismantled each other with a hatred that bordered on lust.

Why was their hate so gentle, then? Why didn't Religion's hands claw at Science's skin? Why were they so hesitant, so unsteady, the way they never were with the others -- why were they almost reverent, as though Science were sacred ground? Was it just another act? Science knew that Religion was the amoral one -- that Religion was baser, dirtier, than Science had ever been. After all, Religion pretended to wear a different face for each of its lovers -- barefoot and subservient for some, bloody and terrifying for others -- deceit within deceit, and all in the name of gaining more followers, more sycophants.

Science, on the other hand, was constant. It never wandered far from its glittering equations, and it never lowered itself to seducing those that were not already enchanted by it. The only thing that could make Science flinch, make it feel outside of the Moebius curl of question after question -- the only thing that could make Science break, was Religion.

When Religion returned home that night, the scent of others was upon it, as the scent of semen and sweat would linger on a prostitute.

Science didn't look up from its desk. A single lamp shone upon its notes, upon its hands where they had begun to tremble.

"I hope you enjoyed selling yourself." Why was Science even saying this? What would it matter?

"Of course I did." Religion, no longer pretending at purity, allowed its voice to darken. None of Religion's supplicants ever heard it sound like this -- flawed and almost-bitter, almost-sweet. Science could hear the rustle of Religion's clothes as they were discarded, the quiet footsteps that approached Science's chair. "Would you like to buy me, too?"

Science closed its eyes. Those were Religion's fingers settling on its shoulder, familiar and unbearably cool, as if speaking of places far away, of a refuge where there was no doubt. But Science couldn't abandon doubt. Science was doubt itself. "I can't afford you."

Religion's fingers tightened. "Can't you? You've afforded me several times already. And at length. Why, are you jealous today? Jealous of where I've been, who I've touched?"

"I have no need for jealousy." It was almost true. Strange, that Science hadn't understood lying until it had met Religion. Hadn't understood the necessity of it.

"But do you have a need for me?" Religion's mouth brushed Science's ear, knowing and wicked. "You do, don't you? Were you thinking of me while you sat here, pretending at asceticism? Were you thinking of me while you penned your equations -- were you thinking of opening me up, of making me sigh?"

Science grit its teeth. "Stop it." It shrugged Religion's hands off, or tried to -- but Religion only laughed, stepping around Science's chair, sliding onto Science's lap with the ease of practice. "Get off me."

"Get you off, you mean." Religion's skin was bare under Science's hands -- and when had Science started touching it, anyway? "You're so pathetic, sometimes -- so lonely, lost in your world of ideas, as if they can give you peace. But they can't. I can."

"And what would you offer me? The drug of complacency? Of stupidity?"

"My drug, as you put it, works well enough on others. It soothes their pain. Brings them pleasure." Religion's hands were sliding under Science's shirt, curling around Science's throat. Half-threat. Half-promise. "They don't even know how."

"That's why you drug them, isn't it? So that they won't know you. Won't see you. So that they'll fall under your spell, and think that they comprehend the universe, but all the while you remain untouched, unknown."

"And you imagine that you know me, do you? When the others don't?"

"I know you," Science growled. "I know every inch of you. Every lying, duplicitous, arrogant inch..."

Science's palms slid over Religion's thighs, up and in between and slow and thorough, a scientist's touch, a touch that revealed mysteries. Religion arched and gasped. "Yes..."

"You want this, don't you? What I give you -- you want -- "

"Yes -- "

"To be understood, to be taken apart, not to be held above -- high and -- untarnished -- not to be -- "

"Tarnish me." Religion's mouth was open now, over Science's jaw, hot and infinitely soft. "Break me open, make sense of me, like you do of everything else. Do you know -- do you even know -- and you think you're jealous, but every time I see you working on those equations of yours, so focused and so... Every time, I feel -- I feel -- "

Science was past the threshold now, past the last threshold of sense and rationality, past the last door of logical thought. Religion's words, frantic and raw, trembled in the air just as Religion's hands trembled on Science's skin -- and this was the uncertainty Science craved, the lack of assurance that Religion didn't reveal to anyone else.

"You're mine," Science hissed into Religion's ear, even as Religion quivered and shook. "You're mine, aren't you, because nobody knows -- knows you, like I do -- "

Religion's heat, Religion's voice, surrounded Science and defeated it. Perhaps this was an act of war, after all -- no love-making between them, just this blind, fevered fucking, this obliteration of both their worlds. The chair creaked beneath them as Religion rose and fell, lost in its surrender just as Science was lost in the truth of it, the truth of Religion's face, for once without masks, without pretense.

I'm losing myself, Science thought, its hands cupping Religion's face, sweat and skin and what might have been tears. I'm finding you.

"Yes," Religion answered -- a hushed, broken whisper -- and Science realized that it had spoken aloud. "Yes."