In the immediate wake of the Mission Presidency’s departure, an eerie sense of catharsis settled. It hung on them as pervasive and portentous as the inescapable heat, and nobody seemed ready to acknowledge that Elders Davis, Gale, and Zelder had gone with them.
Connor didn’t know whether to laugh or sob when Elder Cunningham broke the silence.
“Shut down. Whoa. So does that mean we’re, like, excommunicated—or what?”
“Not yet?” said Elder Price, curiously calm at the prospect, having just admitted that he was feeling agnostic. “We’d need to go back and face individual disciplinary councils. It would involve a lot of bureaucratic hassle for everybody.”
“I can tell you right now that’s what will happen to those three,” Connor offered grimly, waving in the direction of the speeding van. “Unless they’re deemed less at-fault than the rest of us, but something tells me we're all on the apostate list.”
Wearing a wry half-smile, Elder Price shuffled closer to Connor, inspecting his wheelie suitcase.
“Nobody’s more at-fault than me,” Elder Cunningham volunteered proudly, sounding every bit like he believed he deserved his non-existent medal. “Manning up means owning your mistakes, and I’m gonna own the—the hell out of this!”
“I don’t think that the part your President thinks is a mistake is actually a mistake,” said Nabalungi, tugging on Elder Cunningham’s elbow, of which she’d never let go. Back in Salt Lake, they would have been married by now.
“Fuckin’ right,” Kimbe offered, punching Nabalungi lightly in the shoulder. “Hey, Elder,” she said to Cunningham, with all the enviable enthusiasm of the newly-converted, “can we join the mission since those arseholes left?”
Elder Cunningham considered this for a moment, the knit of his brows more intense than usual.
Connor exchanged weary, furtive glances with Elder Price, determined not to burst out laughing.
“Well, I guess technically you’d be Sisters,” said Elder Cunningham, at length. “The Church allows that, so I don’t see why we shouldn’t. Equality and being nice to each other and everything.” He frowned at the young women, as if concerned. “How old are you?”
“I’m almost twenty!” Nabalungi said cheerfully. “And Kimbe here just turned twenty-three.”
“Yeah,” Kimbe added, poking Elder Cunningham right in the chest. “Older than you.”
“Then you’ll be the literal Elders,” Cunningham said. “But, only, you know, Sisters.”
“Unbelievable,” Connor muttered under his breath to Elder Price. “He makes it all look easy.”
“That’s the amazing thing about Arnold,” Price sighed with weary fondness. “Everything is.”
“Does that mean you’re our District Leader?” asked Nabalungi, starry-eyed. She kissed Elder Cunningham’s cheek, and Connor felt Elder Price twitch next to him. “You’re perfect for the job.”
“Wait just a minute,” said Elder Price, halting them with an authoritatively-raised hand. “Nobody stripped Elder McKinley of his title. We should include him in the decision.”
Connor closed his fingers tighter around the handle of his suitcase, turning to Elder Cunningham.
“I’ve failed District 9,” he said. “If you can own your mistakes, then I can own mine. Just a warning, District Leader Cunningham. The Elders you’ve got here are…a real handful.”
Elder Cunningham saluted Connor and Elder Price, his grin so wide that it hurt to look at him.
“I think that Na—” he paused, adopting a look of comically fierce concentration “—balungi and I are up to the challenge. Sister Kimbe can be my other councilor. This is so cool!”
“What a relief,” Elder Price quipped, nudging Connor’s elbow with his own. “I’m done courting that kind of responsibility. How about you?”
Done with that, Connor thought, nodding dazedly at him, but not done courting.
“The others have already gone inside,” said Nabalungi, nudging Elder Cunningham toward their quarters. “Maybe we should see about…reassigning companions?” she suggested hopefully.
“Nah, I’m not gonna do that,” said Cunningham, leading her and Kimbe inside. “People can pick their own. And there’s better rooms up for grabs, too!” he added, dashing ahead.
“Come on,” said Elder Price, startling Connor out of his reverie by taking his suitcase. “Let me get that for you,” he added, seeming to linger over contact with Connor’s shaking hands.
“Oh,” said Connor, readily striding after him, dizzy with the swiftness of change. “Oh, right.”
By the time they’d caught up with the trio, Nabalungi and Kimbe had already claimed one of the two vacant rooms. Elders Church and Thomas had reassigned themselves as companions, which left Connor feeling vaguely hurt; Elders Neeley and Michaels had done likewise.
Elder Price was processing this information with his usual shrewd and calculating approach.
“Maybe the District Leader should get his own room,” he suggested to Elder Cunningham.
Connor knew a veiled invitation when he saw one, and he wasn’t about to blow this chance. Unless the opportunity should arise, in which case—
“I’ll room with Elder Price,” he interjected with as much assertiveness as he could muster.
“Kevin’s always complaining he can’t sleep,” Cunningham agreed. “Yeah! Maybe I should.”
“You just saved my life,” Elder Price said to Connor, between painfully clenched teeth. “I love the guy to death, but his snoring’s worse than your hell dreams and mine combined.”
“I mean, where was I supposed to sleep?” Connor hissed bitterly, backpedaling in a hopeless fit of nerves. “The—the shitty common room sofa covered in Pop-Tart crumbs?”
“There you go,” Elder price replied encouragingly. “Let it all out. Feels good, doesn’t it?”
Oh, the things I imagine would feel good, Connor thought, realizing they stood closer than ever for the sake of whispering in tones that everyone else could probably hear anyway. Swearing’s the least of them.
“Yeah, so you should take Arnold’s bed,” said Elder Price. “I’m down a roommate.”
Connor swallowed hard, nodding before he could lose his nerve again. “Okay. I’ll do that.”
“And a companion, it looks like,” Elder Price went on, grinning. “I was kind of a dick to him.”
“But you guys seem tighter than ever,” Connor protested weakly. “I wouldn’t want to—”
Without hesitation, Kevin tilted his head and brushed their lips together. His fingers trembled at Connor’s wrists, clasping and letting go. Which of them had moved Connor's suitcase? How had they even ended up like this?
“Never mind,” Connor croaked, leaning into the longed-for contact with conviction. “I want to.”
“I was too shocked to...” Elder Price cleared his throat. “When you tried to—well, that day I came back covered in...” He swallowed, kissing Connor more firmly. “You know. That was not my finest moment or my best day.”
“I know, Elder,” Connor said, grateful that the others were too distracted with helping Nabalungi and Kimbe convince Elder Cunningham that District 9 shouldn’t include temple garments in its new dress code, likely because they didn’t want to wear them.
“Can you do me a favor,” Price asked tersely, almost bashful, “and not call me that anymore?”
“Only if you’ll use my name, too,” Connor challenged. “It’s no worse than saying Arnold.”
“Come to bed with me?” asked Kevin, in an awkward rush. “Wait, no, I meant—come to the bedroom with me. We can get you settled.”
How Connor expected to get settled when so much tension vibrated between them was irrelevant. Kevin fucking Price was propositioning him, and if merging their hell dreams was the culmination of his middle-finger to the Mission President, Connor could get behind that.
They drew a few bewildered glances in their hasty, suitcase-dragging retreat, although Kimbe winked and gave them a suspiciously knowing double thumbs-up. Once they’d slammed the bedroom door, Kevin dropped the suitcase and grabbed Connor instead.
“I’m not gonna be shy about this,” muttered Kevin, like a self-help mantra on repeat, unbuttoning his shirt between them, “I am not…”
“Don’t get ahead of yourself,” Connor said gently, loosening Kevin’s tie. The untidy knot slid apart at his slightest bidding, already so much worse for wear that he wondered what Kevin had been through. “We can take it easy.”
“Yeah,” said Kevin, vehemently, turning his attention on Connor’s tie. “We deserve easy, too.”
“Imagine that,” Connor said, shedding his shirt with a swiftness that made Kevin swallow hard.
Not to be outdone, Kevin kept his hands to himself long enough for them to finish undressing.
“For what it’s worth, you’re the only person who’s ever made me want to be…um, easy.”
Connor staggered back until he hit the edge of the mattress, wordlessly collapsing on it. Kevin was more than just a sight for sore, affection-starved eyes; he was acceptance freely offered, he was home.
“Kevin,” Connor said, scooting further so that he could lie back, reaching for him, “come here.”
They struggled to arrange themselves on the tiny mattress without either one pushing the other off. Only once Kevin’s weight was on him, overwhelmed by the impossible warmth of Kevin’s skin, did Connor think that maybe pushing the beds together would have been wise.
“Don’t know what I’m doing,” Kevin whispered, pressing closer in desperation. “What even…”
“Like you think I do?” Connor blurted, but he clung to Kevin all the same. “Hilarious.”
“You’re the one with romantic fantasies,” Kevin said, breathy in a way that hit all of Connor’s buttons. “What did, ah—in those daydreams, what did your friend Steve try to—”
“Kiss me,” said Connor, too far gone to be ashamed of begging. “Just that, so—please.”
Kevin nodded, cupping Connor’s cheek, obliging his curt, breathless request without delay. He tugged the covers over them, pulling Connor closer with a perfect, shivery sigh against Connor’s mouth.
“Oh fuck,” Connor whimpered, more appalled at his first use of the word than at what was about to happen. “I’m…I’m…”
Even though it was too soon, he licked into Kevin’s mouth and blissfully shuddered against him.
“Me too,” Kevin gasped, and, yeah, he wasn’t lying. He was loud about it. Clingy, too, as if he was terrified to let himself experience that much pleasure. “Oh fuck, oh God—”
“Glad you managed that in English,” Connor teased softly, holding him tight. “Shhh.”
“Shut up,” Kevin whimpered, still shaking in Connor’s arms even though he was obviously as wrung-out as Connor. He buried his face in Connor’s hair and mumbled something.
“Hey,” Connor soothed, wonderingly rubbing circles between Kevin’s shoulder blades. “What?”
“I want to uncrush it,” said Kevin, fervently, lifting his head to stare wild-eyed at Connor.
“You—huh?” Connor replied, finding it impossible to think with that gaze fixed on him.
“The box that’s gay,” Kevin clarified, turning adorably pink. “That is, um. Your heart.”
To keep from tearing up, Connor kissed him so hard that they couldn’t breathe. It didn’t work.
Sudden, raucous banging on the door did nothing to salvage the moment. They froze, mortified, and then had no choice but to cling to one another in fits of tearful, disbelieving laughter as the perpetrator persisted.
“Hey!” Arnold shouted. “Hey, if you two are acting on your gay thoughts in there, it’s totally cool! Nothing in my religion says that being gay is bad! Switching it off is out. Revering the clitoris—and, oops, uh, whatever you guys are doing—are in!”
Connor was too overwhelmed to respond. Fortunately, his companion had things under control.
“Each other!” Kevin shouted. “We really appreciate it, Elder, but would you mind going away?”
“It’s kind of wrinkled,” Connor said, flushing when Kevin blinked at him. “My heart,” he went on, bumping his nose against Kevin’s for emphasis. “Are you sure you want it?”
Kevin kissed Connor’s forehead, deftly rearranging Connor’s mussed hair. “Yes. I want you.”
I more than want you, Connor thought, closing his eyes. I’m fucking smitten.
“No matter what the future holds,” he cautioned, “you’re the one thing I refuse to let go of.”
Arms tightening around Connor’s shoulders, Kevin coaxed him into another doubt-melting kiss.
“If you think I’d let go of you—or Arnold, or anyone else—after all of this? You’re nuts.”
Connor smiled, raking a hand through Kevin’s somehow flawless hair just because he could.