Riley’s attendance at mass had become a daily routine.
At first, he’d convinced himself to go so that no further strain would be added to the relationship between his parents. Tensions remained high, even after four years incarcerated-- they’d continue to look at him with empty eyes.
All he wanted was a second chance; an opportunity to redeem himself, to start a new life. He knew full well he was at fault, he was there-- he saw himself become a complete fuck up. There was no need to tell him twice, or to remind him of that fact constantly.
Which was why Riley was surprised to find such a second chance in the church, of all places. And not in the traditional sense.
Their monsignor had passed in his absence; being replaced recently with a new, younger priest. He was a tall man, towering over Riley, appearing even taller due to his lean build and long hair. Far from what he imagined a priest to look like.
Despite everything, Riley was taken aback by how welcoming and understanding Father John was towards him, even considering his past, and his obviously wavering faith. However, the priest made any effort possible to help him with probation-- even offering to hold their AA meetings on the island, saving him trips to the mainland.
It was an opportunity he couldn’t pass up; not only for convenience, but because of something else.
Father John was the only person who didn’t stare at him with hurt, with regret, with distaste and disdain. It was refreshing, even. Riley craved it-- the basic decency to treat him like a fucking human being-- even if he often felt as if he didn’t deserve it.
To their mutual surprise, their relationship had escalated in ways Riley thought not possible. He’d admit there had always been a connection between them, a mutual trust and bond-- but never in his wildest dreams would Riley believe it possible for John to reciprocate his feelings.
Every night they’d lay together, and Riley would hold his hand-- staring as the man slept, as he too would drift off into comfortable, dreamless sleep. It was the only relief he’d had since the incident-- the only way he’d be able to close his eyes and not see the horror of his actions.
They’d even shared a kiss; only a handful of occasions, as it was clear guilt hung heavy upon the priest as consequence.
Riley understood. He’d always understand; John was a man of God, there was no changing that-- unless it was a decision he and he alone chose to make. Either way, they enjoyed each other’s company, in whatever form it took.
Which led Riley to today-- sitting at mass, beside his parents as per the norm--
But no Father John in sight.
Riley’s younger brother-- the altar boy, and the only one to know of his relationship with the priest, pulled him aside-- he too contained ever growing concern for the man’s wearabouts. The older Flynn left the church promptly, spare keys in hand-- heading out back towards the priest’s homestead.
On the third unanswered knock, Riley intervened.
Flooding the room with light, there was an unnerving lack of sound and presence. Riley immediately began to feel panic rising in his chest as he searched his surroundings, finding no sign of the priest in question. A muffled clutter caught his attention, emanating from the bedroom-- before a voice finally reached him.
The young man blinked, confused as to what he saw before him. The priest sat hunched over the end of the bed, wearing his casual attire-- a blanket wrapped around him, with only his face on view.
Riley immediately took a seat beside him, placing a hand on his back. John’s eyes followed him, and at such close proximity, he could see the priest’s face flushed, inflicted with apparent illness. He didn’t think twice to place the back of his hand to John’s forehead; receiving nothing but heat and sweat in return.
“You’re burning up.”
John waved him off dismissively. “It’s nothing I won’t recover from, I assure you.”
“Why didn’t you tell me you were unwell?” Riley cocked his head to the side, sensing doubts.
“I didn’t think it was anything serious, at least, until a few hours ago.” The older man averted his eyes momentarily. “I need you to promise you’ll remain calm. Can you do that for me?”
Calm was the last feeling he could possibly experience right now. The mere fact alone that John would say such a thing already had the younger man on edge.
“If it’s that serious then I can go into town and get--”
“This stays between us.” John’s gaze was intense, hand on his thigh, keeping him from retreating. “Please.”
Riley licked his lips, swallowing thickly. He’d never seen the priest in such a panicked state, so he wasn’t going to say no.
John let out a gradual sigh, hands relaxing their hold on the blanket draped over him, allowing it to slip to the floor. The sight revealed something new, something that the priest was clearly intent on hiding-- and something that Riley did not recognise in the slightest.
There was no mistaking it.
From beneath the long, black locks of hair, there were two fluffy ebony ears peeking through-- the same appearance as that of a common house cat. They flinched, darting around at every slight sound or movement they made-- a bizarre sight to behold.
The reality of what he was seeing finally sunk in.
Riley was only able to pull his gaze away long enough to return to the priest’s flushed expression; clear embarrassment upon his face, and dignity waning.
For the first time in years, Riley found himself speechless.