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It all starts innocently enough.

"Good job, Elder Price!" Elder McKinley says, smiling proudly. "I'm sure the children will be very excited."

It's just a pile of brightly colored paper tablemats, but Kevin did spend all morning making them, and it's nice to have Elder McKinley's approval. Or approval at all. It's nice to do a good job, is what he means.

Before he can reply, though, Elder McKinley scoops up all of the tablemats and sweeps off to whatever activity he does on Wednesday afternoons. Bible study prep meetings, Kevin's mind helpfully supplies. He frowns. He only remembers because he ran into Elder McKinley meeting with Mafala about the adult group's session one Wednesday. That's it.

But that doesn't explain his strange desire to run after McKinley and make sure that he really does appreciate the placemats. Kevin Price does not fish for compliments, not even when he works really hard. He does not.

*****

The second time isn't nearly so innocent. A pair of Elder McKinley's pants ripped, and Kevin was able to surprise him with a knowledge of basic sewing skills. Of course, McKinley himself could have repaired them (the man is very skilled with a needle), but he's got a pile of new paperwork to fill out from the mission president (who will most likely have a permanent grudge against District Nine) and the look of relief on his face is totally worth Kevin putting aside his pride and taking on the role of tailor for the evening. The other elders are out proselytizing, which, honestly, is something that Kevin should be doing, but there's only so much he can take of being on guard against certain ex-warlords and their too-enthusiastic-and-often-physical greetings each day, and Elder McKinley seems to understand, because he always lets Kevin come up with an excuse to stay behind at the mission hut for the after-dinner shift.

"You've got everything you need?" Elder McKinley asks solicitously, smiling gratefully down at Kevin. Kevin's head snaps up, almost colliding with Elder McKinley's, and the other man backs up quickly. "Oh, I'm sorry, Elder. I didn't mean to startle you."

Kevin shakes his head, grinning. "No problem. I'm just really focused on threading this needle."

McKinley's smile twists suspiciously, and he's grinning too when he says "I'm sure you are."

Kevin is... not entirely sure what to do with that. So he just beams before returning to his work, tieing off the thread the way his mom taught him.

"Thank you so much for doing this," Elder McKinley says, walking over to his desk in the corner. "I swear, with everything happening around here, I hardly have the time to breath, much less take care of any extra problems that arise."

"Of course, Elder McKinley," Kevin replies, making the first stitch and making a pleased sound when his knot holds. "Good thing I'm here, right?"

Out of the corner of his eye, he sees McKinley pause in his writing. "Certainly, Elder Price," he replies. He hesitated, though, and Kevin doesn't really like what that may mean.

"So," he says, straightening out the fabric under his hands, "how exactly did you tear these?" It's only a hole in the seam, where the factory stitching came undone, and fairly easy to fix, but it's right up the inseam, about where McKinley's upper thigh would be, if he were wearing them. Kevin's face suddenly flushes, and he pulls back his hands as if he's been burned. What on earth could he have been doing to rip the fabric there?

"Oh, you know, normal wear and tear," McKinley says mildly. But then he laughs, muffling the sound with his hand, and continues, "and I may have tried to demonstrate a split for the ten through thirteen year olds at Sunday School yesterday."

Oh. Kevin laughs. "That's maybe not the best idea in pants like these."

"I know, I know," Elder McKinley acknowledges, turning to the next page, and Kevin's reminded that he's supposed to be working, too. "But I can't exactly wear sweatpants to teach, now can I?"

Kevin stops. "Do you have sweatpants?" Is that... no, bringing other clothes is against the rules. But he must have brought them with him when he came over. He's been breaking the rules since before I even got here!

Elder McKinley stops again. "Only for dancing, Elder, I promise. And I only wear them at night, when I practice." He sounds almost apologetic, but his words give Kevin an image he's not likely to forget: Elder McKinley, sweaty and panting, wearing sweatpants and nothing else, practicing his dancing while everyone else is asleep. He's suddenly very glad that there's now two layers of dark fabric over his lap.

Wait. What?

Since when has sweat been a turn-on? Since when has he gotten turned on at all? But that’s what this has to be, right? It’s like his skin is on fire, as if he’s in a hell dream, but definitely, definitely not. And there’s something twisting in his stomach, the way fear would if fear felt good. Blood rushes in his ears, and he’s sure his face is so hot he could cook off it. What on earth is happening to me?

"Elder Price, is something wrong?"

Kevin jumps, dropping the needle in his hands. "Uh, what? No, of course not! I'm just fine, thanks. Um... why do you ask?"

He knows his face is burning, and McKinley sends him a quizzitive look before gesturing to the pants.

"You stopped working," he answers. "Not that that's... well, if you're not going to proselytize, you should be doing something productive."

"Oh, yes. Of course." He hurriedly picks up the needle again and starts sewing, very pointedly not thinking about where the fabric under his hands has been. He can't forget that this, staying in and not having to face- well. Not having to proselytize as much is a privilege. "I was just... confused."

"Oh," McKinley says knowingly, "confused. Well, you know what to do, Elder; just tu-" He stops mid-word, making a face strange enough that Kevin almost laughs.

"What?" he asks. "Were you going to tell me to turn it off?"

"I... I must admit I was," Elder McKinley says, smoothing out the papers in front of him. "I forgot I said I wouldn't do that anymore."

"It looks like it threw you for a bit of a loop," Kevin says, smirking a little. It's a rare thing to see Elder McKinley taken off guard, and he probably enjoys it more than he should. But then the other elder keeps talking, and Kevin hurriedly returns to his work, needle flying in and out of the fabric.

"Well, yes, but you know what they say, 'practice makes perfect," he chirps, flipping over a page with a flourish. "Anyway, what are you confused about, Elder Price? If we're not going to turn it off, the alternative is turning it on, right?"

Kevin can feel his blush up to the roots of his hair.

"Uh, right, of course."

McKinley quirks an eyebrow. "So?" he asks.

"So..." Kevin keeps his gaze very firmly on the needle flicking in and out under his capable hands. "I'm almost done?"

"That's wonderful, Elder, but what are you confused about? If it's this distracting, we really should talk about it."

"Hey, would you look at that!" Kevin ties off his last stitch, neatly turning the pants right-side-out again. "I just finished. You can have your pants back now." He really doesn't think he can be blamed for almost throwing the slacks at Elder McKinley's face; who makes good decisions under pressure?

"Um, so, I'm just going to... shower. I'm going to shower before everyone gets back, and I'm sorry for letting myself get distracted but it'll be okay tomorrow and I'm definitely going to pray about it and I hope you get your paperwork done quickly," he says, averting his eyes from McKinley's clearly confused expression.

"Now wait just a minute, Elder Price; I have to make sure you did a good job, don't I?" he says. "I'm sure your shower can wait a moment."

"Uh..." Kevin clears his throat, clasping his hands behind him. "If you say so, Elder."

McKinley nods sharply. "I do."

So Kevin stands in the middle of the living room, trying his darndest not to notice how Elder McKinley's lithe fingers sweep over the seam of the pants, tugging at the fabric and gently tracing up the line of stitches.

They're just pants, he scolds himself. Just... fabric. But there's something about it that's wickedly distracting, and it really makes Kevin want to get into the coldest shower possible as soon as he possibly can.

And then Elder McKinley looks up, and he absolutely beams, and he says, "Wow, Elder Price, you've done a wonderful job! I couldn't do better myself!"

Kevin may or may not have had an incredibly strong urge to kiss him just then. Which is very, very wrong, of course, and very alarming, and so despite the thought that maybe Elder McKinley wouldn't mind so much, he panics, and runs to his bedroom instead of answering.

*****

The problem doesn't go away, not even when Kevin decides to be completely honest with himself and acknowledge the fact that he may- no, that he is attracted to boys. Well, a boy. Elder McKinley, anyway.

That means he's not gay, though. He's not attracted to any of the others. It's just McKinley. Which, of course, is in and of itself kind of worrying, but at least he's not gay.

He's a big enough man to admit that after everything he's been through here in Uganda that his mental state is probably not... normal. But he's working on it, and Arnold has a surprising number of self-help references (from back when he went to several therapists about his lying and picked up a lot of different pamphlets, which he brought with him because Arnold never, ever, ever lets anything go), and so if it helps him cope to think around the fact that a guy is turning him on, he'll go with it.

But this is not at all how he expected his mission to go.

*****

It turns out that it’s not just McKinley, though. After a hearty congratulations from his teammates after winning an impromptu soccer game with the village boys, one day, Kevin suddenly realizes that getting compliments is most definitely a thing for him. A thing that gets his blood racing, a heat settling in his gut, and an inappropriate reaction growing in his pants.

Well.

That's not a development he wasn't expecting at all. Ever.

But (and Heavenly Father bless Arnold for this), amongst all the psychology pamphlets, there's one about sexuality that just so happens to mention that little things called 'kinks', desires that fall outside of the normal spectrum. Such as, for example, getting turned on at praise and compliments. It's not normal, but at least it's not unnatural.

Kevin had almost cried in relief when he found that part.

So, Kevin Price is attracted to a boy and is aroused by people telling him he's done a good job. Those are the facts, and he knows he has to face them. The real question, though, is what is he going to do with them?

He's going to earn as many compliments as he can from Elder McKinley, of course.

Like he said, who makes good decisions under pressure?

*****

He almost gets caught in the act, a month or so later. It's sort of a funny thing, really; McKinley just quietly takes him aside one night after dinner and asks him if there's something they need to pray about.

"What? I... why?" Kevin replies, genuinely confused.

"I just want to make sure you're okay," McKinley confesses, glancing towards the closed door of the bedroom they ducked into. "Some of the others have noticed, too, and... and if there's anything you're struggling with, then I want you to know that we can definitely turn the ol' light switch on, get all of it out, and then take it to Heavenly Father. All right?"

Kevin frowns, eyes narrowing. "What are you talking about?"

McKinley notices, holding his hands out placatingly. "We're just worried about you, Elder. You spend much more time alone than you used to, and you're... very eager to please. That's... I don't mean to say that's bad, but we're all equals here, and we want you to know there's nothing you have to prove to us anymore.”

Kevin winces; his first week in Uganda is definitely a sore spot for everyone involved. He had failed and everyone knew it, even the villagers who didn't know what a Mormon failing his mission looked like. Instead of leading the District Nine elders to a spiritual victory in Kitguli, he got his ass handed to him while the spotlight fell on Arnold. That hurt. It still hurts, even now that they really are all equals and their mission isn't a race to convert as many people as they can. "Quality, not quantity," Elder McKinley had said, after the mission president gave them a second chance, and they had stuck to that motto by giving their all to the Kitguli villagers, but Kevin... well. This isn't really about that, and as much as McKinley might encourage him to turn it on (and, really, how does he not know how incredibly inappropriate that sounds?) he knows it's his burden to bear, alone. He doesn't want McKinley thinking he's self-centered, or jealous of the others. At least, not as much as he was.

So he protests, saying "No, I know that. I'm not trying to prove myself, and I promise, I'm just fine, Elder. Thank you for your concern."

It is rather touching that McKinley is checking up on him like this, even though he'd probably do it for any of the others, too. Kevin likes to believe he's still special when he can.

Elder McKinley sends him a suspicious look. "Then why are you acting so... strangely?"

"Um..." Maybe he should have stuck with McKinley's view of things. It would make this conversation easier to avoid. "I'm not?"

The other elder huffs, crossing his arms. "Don't try that with me, Elder," he says. "I have had it up to here with turning it off, and that includes you dodging the question and pretending nothing's wrong. Out with it." He's almost glaring now, and when Kevin hesitates, he snaps "Don't you want to get it out and over with, so we can pray about it?"

"Trust me, praying won't work," Kevin replies. He'd seen enough of McKinley's struggle to know that praying the gay away doesn't work, and when it comes to the praise thing... he's got it under control. He does, really.

"So you admit there is something."

"Shoot."

Elder McKinley gives him that smooth eyebrow raise again, and Kevin can feel his cheeks flush.

"I wasn't lying," he says apologetically, even though there's nothing to be sorry for.

"Then what is going on with you?" McKinley presses, suddenly coming closer.

Kevin backs up a few steps, startled. McKinley keeps advancing, though, until Kevin feels the back of his knees hit one of the room's beds.

"I'm just worried about you, Elder," McKinley says, softly. "Is that so hard to accept?"

"Uh..." Kevin swallows, leaning backwards even though there's no place to go.

"I know I was... I was pretty rough on you your first week here," he admits, looking away again. This time, though, he looks small, dejected. It tugs at something in Kevin's chest, and he straightens up again, despite how close together it brings them. "I shouldn't have just... just dropped you the moment Elder Cunningham showed more promise. That was cruel of me, and I let my pride and ambition get ahead of my responsibilities." Every word sounds strained, like it's being pulled out of him with pliers, and suddenly Kevin comes to a realisation.

"You came to apologize," he says, understanding. "You pulled me aside because you think this is your fault."

And it is, kind of, but certainly not like that. It's chilling, though, the reminder that Elder McKinley has more important things to worry about, including his own peace of mind, than whether Kevin Price is doing all right one day. Or one month.

"You shouldn't have worried, Elder McKinley," he says, putting on his almost-unfamiliar Missionary Training Center smile. "I'm perfectly fine." I don't need your pity, anyway.

Elder McKinley blinks, taking a step back. "Oh," he says, softly. "All right." After a moment he clears his throat, looking down to the ground again. "I guess, um... you're free to go, Elder. I'm glad we had this talk."

Kevin nods, stepping past him and to the bedroom door. He just really, really wants to get out now, but then he hears McKinley step closer and say "Kevin-" and he stops in his tracks.

"How do you know my name?" he asks quietly, conversationally.

"Arnold told me."

"Ah." Of course he did.

"He, um... he also said there was something about after we, I turned on you and before the baptisms that... that should be addressed."

Kevin's hand tightens on the door handle.

"I don't know what you're talking about," he says. "Nothing happened." To his own ears his voice sounds tight and tense; not convincing in the least.

"Nothing at all?" Elder McKinley pushes gently, coming closer.

Kevin can't stand people being behind him anymore, not after the General; he has two choices: leave, or turn and face McKinley.

He runs.

*****

Not even Arnold knows the whole story of what happened. Kevin couldn't bring himself to tell him, merely stammering that he'd had another run-in with the general when Arnold had woken him up from a particularly violent nightmare. That's when Arnold had offered the pamphlets, and Kevin had taken them without another word.

But he's fine; he's working through it, and accepting what happened and everything that's changed since coming to Uganda is healthy, even if he hasn't said any of it out loud yet. He's working through it, and he's got everything under control.

Up until the fateful day he learns about why so many of the other elders have hell dreams.

It comes up casually, Elder Church mentioning how perfectly Elder Price's hell dream was timed to keep he and Arnold in Uganda to save the mission. Kevin stiffens in his chair; hell dreams aren't exactly his favorite subject. But then Arnold gives Elder Church a puzzled glance and asks "What's a hell dream?"

Everyone at the table turns to look at him, shocked.

"What?" he said, unconcernedly munching.

"Well, Elder, I... we assumed that everyone has had the hell dream at some point. I guess we're a little thrown that you... haven't," McKinley replies; he sounds jealous even to Kevin, who's pretty focused on trying to not seem affected himself.

"Huh. What is a hell dream, though?"

"It's not a hell dream; it's the hell dream," McKinley corrects, putting on his District Leader voice. "Whenever a Mormon sins gravely, or displeases Heavenly Father for whatever reason, they dream about what it would be like in hell. It's cold and dark and miserable down there, so it's rather memorable whenever I-"

"Wait, cold?" All eyes turn to Kevin, and he swallows. "Hell isn't cold. It's hot, and everything's on fire."

McKinley frowns. "No, I'm quite sure it's cold, and there's no light to speak of."

"But there's all the demons, and the pitchforks, and-" The other elders start murmuring amongst themselves. "Isn't it like that?" Kevin asks.

McKinley sighs, almost rolling his eyes. "Having been there every night for the past eight years or so," he says haughtily, "I can assure you that hell is nothing like what you're describing, Elder."

"My hell is white," Elder Neeley pipes up, then, and someone else starts to protest. "It's all white, and there's no sound or anything. I can't touch it, or speak, or do anything to the walls. I... it's not warm or cold, either. It's just... nothing."

That sets everyone off, and one by one the different versions of hell come out, with Elder McKinley's frustrated confusion and Arnold's concern visibly growing each time.

"In mine, I'm in the jungle, barefoot, and I can't stop running unless I want Lucifer to catch me and eat me."

"I'm naked in mine, and all my friends and family laugh at me when I try to tell them what's going on."

"I'm buried alive in mine."

"A bunch of men stab me over and over and beat me up."  

"I'm in the hospital," Elder Poptarts says, and everyone stops. He never talks about what happened with his sister, not unless McKinley makes him. It’s an unspoken rule that if he ever says anything about it, you stop what you're doing and listen.

But Arnold, of course, has no sense of tact, and so he laughs. "Those just sound like normal nightmares, you guys," he says. The elders all look at each other; Arnold can't possibly be right, but why else would their versions of hell not match up?

"You don't understand!" McKinley cries, finally, slamming his hands down on the table. "It's hell, Elder! I know it's hell! The Devil himself is there, condemning me for-"

"For being gay," Kevin finishes. McKinley visibly recoils, eyes wide, and Elder Church reaches out like he wants to stop him. But Kevin… Kevin’s had enough of hearing Elder McKinley tell him to ‘turn it on’ while he pretends like there’s nothing going on in his own head, and if there’s even the slightest chance that the God-sent hell dreams are just terrifying nightmares they’ve all come to associate with Heavenly Father, he’s going to fight this. So he continues, looking around the table for support.

"Who says it's so bad to like men, anyway?" he says. These are good guys sitting here; they wouldn't turn their backs on McKinley for something as stupid as sexuality, right? "It's a personal thing, like your relationship with Heavenly Father. It's not like you're hurting anyone else, and if we're going to look at all the sins ever mentioned in the Bible, or the Book of Mormon, being gay has to be less bad than lying, and murdering. What is it, really? Just… liking guys instead of girls. They’re still people, so it’s not like bestiality or anything.” Poptarts goes a little green. “It’s not like the world needs more kids, so reproduction isn’t exactly a problem. If you want a family, you can adopt one, give a child a home. And, really, being gay is better than a pornography addiction.” Now someone gasps, but he keeps going. “Pornography actually hurts people. Being in a relationship doesn’t, unless it’s bad for all the reasons other relationships can be bad. Who says liking other guys is a sin? The Bible? The Book of Mormon? We’re already reinterpreting them. Why not do it again? The apostle Paul said ‘There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus,’ and I bet that if he were alive right now, he’d say ‘gay or straight’, too.”

Every single one of the elders looks down, and some of his enthusiasm fades. Are they really that convinced that being gay is a sin? "Come on, you guys, you can't think this is that big of a deal."

Then Elder McKinley stands, shoving his chair back. "Elder Price, stop this heresy at once," he commands, voice shaking. "Elders, dinner is over. I would advise you to retire immediately to your rooms for individual study, and I recommend reviewing Alma 39. You are dismissed." Quietly, one by one, each of the elders picks up his plate, carries it to the sink, and then disappears towards the bedrooms, until only Elder McKinley and Elder Price are left. It's painfully quiet, up until the moment Elder Price opens his mouth, to defend himself or defend Elder McKinley or ask what happened, he doesn't know, and McKinley just rounds on him with a glare the likes of which he's never seen on his face before.

"What on earth were you thinking?" he hisses.

"I'm just trying to-"

"To defend homosexuality? Elder Price, that's the worst thing you could have possibly done!"

"Why? It's not that bad!" Kevin's done with this. After everything he's seen, and all the new, dark sides of the world he's encountered, he just can't keep equating a harmless preference with something as bad as murder. "You can't keep pretending, Elder. It's not going to go away, and you said yourself you're not turning it off anymore."

Elder McKinley's face goes red. "This isn't about me!" he yells, and Kevin stops, sitting back in his chair.

"But you're... you're gay."

McKinley hesitates. "That doesn't matter right now, Elder. Do you know why we didn't get any baptisms at all before you came here?"

Kevin shakes his head. He had assumed it was because of the villagers' antagonistic attitude towards any and all religion, but apparently it had something to do with being gay; who knew?

McKinley sighs, glancing towards the hallway for just a second. "There's... we... All of the elders here have experienced... well, suffered from, I guess... gay thoughts." The last words are whispered, and it takes a second for Kevin to process them.

"Wait. Wait a minute, everyone here is gay?"

That almost makes the district leader smile. "If you insist on using that word, then, yes. Except for Poptarts; he's bisexual."

"...wow." Kevin's not really sure what to do with that. "How did you all end up together?"

Elder McKinley sighs, sitting back in his chair again. "I think it was a sort of segregation," he admits, scrubbing his face with one hand. "If you can't stop it, or crush it, you can try and contain it."

Kevin frowns. "But what about you? Didn't you turn it off?"

McKinley shakes his head, but he says, "I did. I... I was, apparently, the most successful one this year. They wanted me to help the others, I guess, or die trying. Better to sacrifice one cured elder than risk six separate missions being corrupted."

Kevin whistles in surprise, and McKinley nods.

"We all found out about each other the first month or so, and we directed all our energy towards... well." He stands, heading to the kitchen, and starts washing all the dishes left behind.

"Well...?" Kevin echoes, following him over.

"We had to come to terms with the fact that the Missionary Training Center thought we were expendable," McKinley says mildly. "It took more time and effort than you'd think."

"...oh."

"Yes."

The splashing of the water in the sink is the only sound in the silence that follows.

"I apologize for yelling," McKinley says abruptly, as he sets the last dish in their impromptu drying rack made of hangers. "But you can see how giving them false hope might... might not be the best for them. And you, Elder Price... there's something about you that makes me just want to-" he stops, smiling ruefully. "It makes me more emotional than I'd like."

Kevin has to consciously push his hopes down.

"I'm sorry that I'm a problem," he replies genuinely. Whoops. Maybe that was going a little too far.

McKinley turns fully to look at him, concerned. "What on earth do you mean?" he asks, and Kevin shakes his head.

"Nothing; I didn't mean anything." He has to save face; he can't tell Elder McKinley anything, because what if he ends up telling him everything?

But then, Elder McKinley… he just sighs. “Kevin, you know I don’t believe that. But I’m… I just don’t have… I can’t call you out right now. I’m sorry. If you want to talk, I’ll be here for you, but…” He stops, bites his lip, and then turns to look Kevin in the eye. “I’m going to stop chasing after you, okay? If you decide to trust me, then I’ll take it, but, whatever happened to you, I’m not going to force you to talk about it. Okay? You’re going to have to come to me. I can’t keep fighting for you. I’m sorry.”

Kevin looks away first. “Okay,” he says. “Of course. I can’t expect- I mean, there’s nothing to talk about. So, good decision, Elder; I’m sure you’ve got more important issues to deal with.”

“I do, actually,” Elder McKinley replies; he doesn’t sound proud. “I have to keep all these boys alive, and sane, in northern Uganda.”

Kevin nods. He of all people know how hard that can be.

"I'm sorry," he offers.

Elder McKinley brushes him off. "Just go get some sleep, Elder."

Kevin hesitates; he wants to do something, anything, to make things better. That's what he does, or did. He's Kevin Price, and he fixes things.

But he doesn't anymore. That's not his place. He's just another elder, not really part of any sort of church, following McKinley and Arnold's lead.

He goes to the entryway between the kitchen and the living room, ready to head off down the hallway and try to get some decent sleep for once, when Elder McKinley says, "Wait, Elder Price!"

He spins back around faster than even he thought he could. "Yeah, Elder McKinley?"

McKinley has his hands clasped in front on him like a little kid, and he's a little too close to cute when he says "I appreciate your efforts, Elder. To encourage the others, and, um, support them. Now, we can't condone anything, of course, but... it's nice for them to know that someone supports them. Thank you."

Kevin blushes bright red as a sickeningly familiar heat grows in the pit of his stomach, mixing with his hurt in a way that really should not be appealing, but somehow still is. “It’s nothing, Elder McKinley.”

McKinley frowns, giving him a bemused look, and says “It’s a good deal more than nothing, Kevin. But… well. Goodnight.”

Kevin barely manages to nod before scuttling off to the bedroom he shares with Arnold. Arnold isn’t there.

There’s a note on his companion’s bed, and he manages to puzzle out the words ‘Naba’ and ‘tomorrow’, along with Arnold’s distinctive signature. Well. Looks like Kevin gets the room to himself for the night. Without a moment of hesitation, he’s throwing himself down on his bed and unfastening his belt, getting a hand down his pants as fast as he can. Not even his memories of the general, always hovering in the back of his mind, can do anything to dampen the desire pumping through his blood.

This… he thinks, biting back a gasp, this is so wrong.

But Elder McKinley… gosh, just everything about him. Getting so angry, and then so protective of the others, and then being cute and saying his real name, goddamn it, and then… he just had to go and compliment him, didn’t he?

Kevin doesn’t even try to get undressed, throwing his head back with a hardly muffled groan as the district leader’s words echo in his head.

If only he could get him to say more. If only he could really, really impress him. If only he could find something really incredible. Maybe that would be enough…

Enough for what? For Elder McKinley to be attracted to him, too? For Elder McKinley to notice him, and give him more compliments, and always, always tell him how good he’s being and how hard he’s working, and oh, yes, he’d do anything for that, anything at all. Anything to hear Elder McKinley tell him he matters, that he’s proud of him, that he lo-

Kevin comes with a low moan, biting his lip, and presses his free hand to his mouth when he realizes what exactly he’s just done.

He’s just touched himself to the thought of Elder McKinley, his district leader, lov- caring for him in a decidedly non-Church sanctioned way. And, even though he is a part of the Church of Arnold, he’s not sure how far the original LDS rules will bend. He’s on his mission, for goodness’ sake!

He winces, sitting up to peel off his uniform and underwear.

As he holds the sullied fabric in his hands, he thinks Wow, and I thought I was in trouble before. He laughs.

*****

He dreams that night of Elder McKinley, of him holding his hand and brushing his hair, telling him how wonderful he is, how beautiful he is, how much he wants him, and it’s no wonder that he wakes up gasping, exhausted, and aroused.

The sun isn’t up yet, but it’s close to it, and Kevin, having no desire to repeat last night’s performance or think about his reaction to- to things this early in the morning, knows that he’ll have to hurry if he wants to hit the shower before the others wake up. He’s just getting his clothes together and figuring out whether it would be too much to wrap his towel around his hips over the pair of emergency boxers he pulled on last night when a knock sounds at his door. He freezes; the knock repeats itself.

It’s too early for Arnold to be up and about, and he probably wouldn’t bother with knocking, anyway, which means it’s one of the other elders (one of the other gay elders) or it’s… it doesn’t matter. He’s not in the mood to see anyone with his body in the condition it’s in.

But the person outside his door knocks a third time, so, desperately clutching his clean clothes to his chest and his towel providing extra protection around his hips, he opens the door.

“Elder McKinley,” he says, breathlessly. “What a… surprise.”

The district leader brushes off his awkward greeting, shoving his way into Kevin’s room without preamble.

“We need to talk, Kevin,” he says, and Kevin’s stomach drops.

“Um… can it wait?” he asks, desperate to both postpone the conversation and take care of his little problem.

“I would really rather not,” McKinley replies sharply.

“I really need to-”

“This is important, Elder,” McKinley hisses, and why is he calling him ‘Elder’ now when it was ‘Kevin’ only a second ago?

“I’m sorry, Elder McKinley, but I really have to go take a shower.”

At his words, Elder McKinley suddenly looks him over, blushing at the sight of Kevin’s bare chest. “Where are your temple garments?” he asks, and Kevin struggles to answer.

“Um… I got hot?” he tries, feeling incredibly out of his depth. Arnold’s the one who gets them out of things; Kevin couldn’t lie if he tried.

Elder McKinley looks even more pissed off now. “What are you keeping from me?” he asks. “I’m supposed to be your district leader, Ke- Elder, and I have to say you’re making it darn near impossible. I try to ask how you’re doing, I try to show you I’m there for you, I try to make sure you feel valued and supported by m- us, and you just… run away! Every single time, Elder! I’ve had enough of it! I will not let you leave this room until you feel cared for.”

Kevin’s pretty sure he stops breathing. ‘I’m sorry,’ he should say, or ‘Thank you.’ But apparently every ounce of blood in his body is either pounding through his heart or throbbing in his dick so he just says “What if I don’t want you to?” which is only a trick of phrasing away from being an outright lie.

Elder McKinley’s face falls. “You don’t want me to?” he echoes. He sounds… he sounds heartbroken.

“No, gosh, no, I don’t… geez, I’m a jerk. Of course I do. I don’t even know why I said that,” he replies, ducking his head.

Elder McKinley laughs nervously, wringing his hands. “Of course, Elder,” he says softly, looking away. “I’m sorry, I shouldn’t- that wasn’t the right way to go about… well. I’m just trying to help.”

He turns towards the door, looking anywhere but at Kevin, and Kevin knows he screwed up.

“No, Elder McKinley,” he says, “I really do want you to.”

McKinley sighs. “Then why won’t you let me?”

“I… um.” The thing is, he does have reasons. They’re pretty good reasons, too, but he can’t exactly tell Elder McKinley about them. He can’t tell him about the hell dreams, or what the general did, or that he’s realized that the only reason he and Elder Cunningham would be sent off to Uganda is because they were expected to fail, too, or that he’s got so much to keep under control he’s starting to think he might not be able to do it. He can’t, because… he just can’t. It’s not right for him to lay all of that on Elder McKinley, who already has so much to do, keeping everyone safe and on task.

But he can’t just say nothing, either. He can’t have Elder McKinley give up on him.

“Elder McKinley, I just… I’ve been having some problems with lust.”

Elder McKinley blinks. “...lust?”

Kevin can feel his blush traveling practically everywhere, and clutches at his folded uniform like it’ll help hide it. “Uh, yeah.”

It’s not the worst response he could have used, but it probably is the most embarrassing. Especially since Elder McKinley seems to have an intense realization, and his eyes flick over Kevin’s more-exposed-than-he’d-prefer body again with an expression he doesn’t understand.

“Is that why-” he starts. “Your little rant last night, about… and your garments, and… spending more time alone… Elder Price, are you having gay thoughts?”

“Uh, well…” Technically, no, but... “Yeah.”

Elder McKinley’s eyes grow so big they seem to take up half his face.

“Did you think we would judge you?”

Kevin frowns. That was not the question he was expecting. “Yeah, of course. Being gay is against- uh, what we’ve been taught, and you said to turn that stuff off.”

But Elder McKinley just shakes his head. “We all know being gay is no worse than being abused, or making a mistake and being in the wrong place at the wrong time. It’s not a choice, Elder Price, and we all know that now. But I am so, so sorry we ever made you feel like you couldn’t… like we wouldn’t accept you. Oh, Elder Price…”

Oh, gosh. Is he going to cry?

“If only I had known, I would have explained ‘turning it off’ better. We weren’t doing it because we think we’ve done something wrong. It’s just something we can’t acknowledge, especially not on our missions. We’re supposed to be giving ourselves fully to sharing the gospel, not worrying about… entanglements. I’m so sorry; I truly thought you understood.”

“Wow, you, uh… You sound like you’re actually… like it really matters.”

“Of course it matters! We’ve all talked about it, and the other elders and I really do want you to feel included here. You can’t feel like that if you think we’re going to judge you for being gay.”

Kevin nods, but his brow is still furrowed as he tries to reason through what exactly Elder McKinley is saying about his gay thoughts. Obviously neither of them are completely okay with it, seeing as Kevin still refuses to think of himself in that way, but he’s slowly changing his own mind, and something about what Elder McKinley is saying just doesn’t ring true. And that’s not to mention how confusing everything else in this conversation is.

“It’s fine, Elder,” he says, shifting awkwardly. “I understand I didn’t make the best first impression.”

Elder McKinley makes some sort of sound, like Kevin’s words physically hurt him. “That’s no reason for anything like this,” he says. “We all really care about you, Elder Price, no matter what happened in the past, and you can trust us, all right?”

Kevin half nods, half shrugs. He can hear someone stirring in the next room over, and unless he wants the entire mission hut to see him half-naked and somehow still hard (damn Elder McKinley and his earnestness), he really needs to go now.

“And, Kevin… I’ve noticed that your, um, self-esteem isn’t as high as it used to be. While the Church does not condone pride, I… it’s unsettling to see you feel bad about yourself. No matter what problems you’re going through, I still believe that you're a very strong person, and even though you’re doubting Heavenly Father, at least you have the courage to do that. Not many people can just face the idea that all their beliefs could be wrong they way you have. Your work is invaluable, especially when you stay behind and do the jobs no one else wants. I know we’re bending the rules a bit, you and I staying in most evenings, but I’m sure you have good reason, because I trust you, Elder. And lastly, Elder Price, I would just like to say that I truly… oh my.”

McKinley’s eyes are no longer on Kevin’s face, and he realizes with a jolt that the hand he’s been using to hold up the towel around his waist has loosened, and the towel has fallen away. He’s not naked, but he may as well be the way Elder McKinley’s gaze is glued to… well. His interest in his district leader’s compliments is far from subtle.

“Oh gosh,” Kevin says, scrambling to cover himself again. But when he chances a glance up, Elder McKinley hasn’t looked away. He doesn’t look embarrassed, or angry or indignant or disgusted or any of the things Kevin expects to see. His cheeks are flushed more than normal, but his eyes are wide, clear and open as the summer sky. His lips are parted, too, just enough to be absolutely sinful; pink, full, and striking, like there was something he wanted to say, something that he’s forgotten in the wake of a sight that stole his breath away. He looks… enthralled. Kevin swallows, his mouth suddenly dry, and McKinley's eyes snap to his throat. “Elder Price,” he starts, and Kevin… grasping desperately at his clothes and his towel, he runs.

The door to the bathroom slams behind him, and he slumps against it, falling to the floor with a soft thump. If his knees are in the same shape as his hands, they wouldn’t have held him for much longer anyway.

What was that? he thinks. What was that?

It was like… a nightmare and a dream come true, mixed together, with too much other sensory input for it to be either. Quickly, Kevin pinches himself, so hard that the fingerprints on his arm stay white after he lets go. And, as he watches blood rush back into his skin, he feels sharp waves of pain, radiating from that little innocuous spot on his forearm. He’s not dreaming.

He takes a shower, and brushes his teeth, and fixes his hair, the way he’s done every morning since coming to Uganda (except for the mornings when he couldn’t), acting purely on muscle memory as his head spins.

He doesn’t know what he’s thinking, except that he’s probably thought it through before, and that something is horribly, horribly wrong. Maybe Arnold, or somebody else who isn’t insane, wouldn’t think it’s so bad, but this thing, whatever the hell just happened, isn’t under control, and he can’t let Elder McKinley see.

But halfway through his morning routine (which did not have him touching himself in the communal shower, only by the grace of Heavenly Father and the arousal-killing power of abject fear of the unknown) Elder Church knocked on the door, not-so-kindly reminding him that there are six more elders in the house and that if he spends another half hour on his hair the rest of them will cut it off in his sleep.

So he fixes his hair more quickly than usual, and waves cheerfully at the line outside the bathroom, not really apologizing for taking so long, and he acts like everything is just fine and dandy (because to everyone else it is) until Poptarts grabs his arm as he’s leaving and asks “Have you seen Elder McKinley?”

He stops, and he can feel his smile flicker. “No?” he tries, self-consciously straightening his smart black tie. “I mean, no. Why?”

Poptarts frowns, almost pouting. “He wasn’t in our room when I woke up. It’s not like him to break the rules, even though… but I looked in the kitchen and all the usual places and I can’t find him anywhere.”

Obviously other elders’ bedrooms aren’t the usual places, then. “I’m sorry, Elder, I, uh, I haven’t seen him today. I’ll make sure to tell you if I do.”

Poptarts smiles gratefully, and Kevin makes for a quick escape. Hell, he really hates lying.

Striding with false confidence down to his room, it doesn’t occur to him that maybe Elder McKinley waited for him until his hand is turning the chipped golden doorknob and he sees the other elder sitting on his bed. And because he’s Kevin Price, and he makes horrible decisions under pressure, he freezes in the doorway of his own room.

“Elder Price,” McKinley says again, and when he stands and comes closer the only reason Kevin doesn’t run away is because he physically can’t. “I really would like to talk to you.”

Kevin clears his throat, hugging his towel to his chest. “Elder Poptarts is looking for you.” His voice cracks in the middle, and he wants to run, he really does, but Elder McKinley is in his room, and there’s nowhere else to go if he wants to be alone. And he needs to be alone, to bring this under control again. Even though he’s had a shower, and he thought that would have been enough, there’s lust and uncertainty and panic roiling in equal parts in the pit of his stomach and goddamn it, he can’t keep losing control!

But Elder McKinley just says “Elder Poptarts can wait,” quietly and firmly and like there’s nothing more important in the world than having this conversation right now.

Kevin tries to take a deep breath, but it probably comes out all shuddery or something. He can’t really tell, himself, because his heart is pounding so loud in his ears he can hear the swoosh of the blood in his veins.

But somehow, he’s smiling. He’s smiling as he pushes past McKinley to hang up his towel across his headboard. He’s smiling as he makes his bed, properly this time instead of just throwing the sheets up in his mad-dash for the bathroom like earlier. He’s still smiling as he bundles up his dirty clothes and stuffs them into an old grocery bag, ready to be washed. He’s still smiling even when he turns around and Elder McKinley is still there, watching him with an expression he’s not sure he likes, and asks him why he’s still here, since the day’s getting on and they all have work to do. But Elder McKinley just shakes his head, and he walks right up to Kevin, and he takes his hands carefully, like he thinks Kevin might break if he pushes too hard, and he says “I think that this is more important right now.”

He’s looking into Kevin’s eyes as he says it, as earnest as when he pleaded District 9’s case to the mission president, and to see that directed at him is finally what tips the scale.

Kevin stops smiling.

Elder McKinley takes a quick breath, squeezing his hands warmly as his chin starts to quiver and his eyes begin to burn, and he says “Oh, Elder Price…” again like seeing Kevin likes this hurts him just as much to watch, and it makes perfect sense then for Kevin to follow when he leads them to sit together on the bed, and for him to start to lean into Elder McKinley before the other man just straight up hugs him, and to collapse against him and cry into his shoulder, no matter how ridiculous it feels.

He just cries, for no reason and every reason, and he’s terrified and completely out of control but Elder McKinley is still there, rubbing his shoulder blade and humming something soothing and sweet even though he’s getting salty wet tears all over the man’s nice clean shirt. Elder McKinley doesn’t seem to mind, by some miracle, and by the time it hits Kevin that he’s holding him, he’s not sure he’d be able to sit up on his own anyway.

“I’m sorry,” he ventures, after the worst of it is over. His throat aches, and there’s something twisting in his chest that reminds him that his many problems aren’t going away, and he knows for a fact his hair got messed up by him nestling into Elder McKinley’s embrace, but he still feels better, more calm, and it’s not fair because that just means he gave Elder McKinley extra problems to be worried about and didn’t help with anything in return. Even now, sniffling instead of full-on sobbing, he can’t bring himself to sit up, to ask what time it is, to get himself cleaned up and back to work with a beaming grin. Out of everything he’s done since coming to Uganda, this is probably the most selfish thing he’s done.

Elder McKinley hums softly in reply, swaying back and forth oh-so-gently, and he says “There’s nothing to be sorry for, Elder Price. You’ve had it so rough; I’m proud of you for sticking it out this long.”

A guilt-tinged thrill shoots through him, but still Kevin can’t move. “But… what about ‘turning it off’?” he asks.

Elder McKinley chuckles, the feeling of it resounding in his chest, and Kevin would curl up with that sound if he could. “We said we weren’t going to do that anymore, didn’t we?”

We… his mind echoes, and he wants to ask, ‘who are “we”?’ because he’s never done anything worth being part of this team of brothers in the church, who have fought against what the church tells them they are, who stayed for the purpose of their mission, not the name and glory of it. Hell, they’re six gay missionaries sent to one of the most homophobic countries on Earth, according to the internet; just getting on the plane must have taken more courage than Kevin’s ever needed in his life. But he doesn’t ask, because while Elder McKinley probably can’t say that he’s a part of the district now enough for him to believe it, he’s not going to make the other man repeat himself a million times over just because Kevin can’t get the idea through his own thick skull.

“I… I guess,” he admits, sniffing. He feels pathetic, whining like this. He doesn’t even have it that bad. He just had to go through what everybody else did, plus the- what the general did. He shivers despite himself. Maybe that levels the playing field, but he’s certainly not going to tell anyone for pity. It’s hard to handle, yeah, but apparently that’s part of being a man: growing up and taking your problems with dignity.

Well. Whatever dignity he has left.

Finally, he makes himself sit up, regretting it the minute he does because then Elder McKinley can see his face, and he just knows he looks awful because he’s not a pretty crier. He ducks his head, trying to hide his red eyes and the way his nose scrunches up, but Elder McKinley just rests a gently hand on his cheek, and so, so carefully, his tilts his face up again.

“Feel better?” he asks, smiling softly.

Sheepishly, Kevin nods. He tries to get out another apology (what is it with the apologies today? It’s like he can’t stop) but McKinley shakes his head.

“No more of that,” he says briskly. “It’s nothing to be sorry for. I’m just glad I could be here. To help, I mean. I don’t like seeing any of my boys cry.”

Kevin’s torn between being happy, sad, and indignant that he’s included, but he figures he’s forced Elder McKinley to deal with enough of his emotions today. A knock sounds at the door, and he flinches, painfully aware of how not-ready he is to face today, and Elder McKinley gives him a sympathetic look. He stands, going to the door, and when he answers he stands firmly in the way so that whoever’s there doesn’t get to look inside. Kevin’s grateful, even though he’s pretty sure it’s just Poptarts until the person asks “Oh my gosh, is he okay?” with rapidly increasing volume. He flinches again, hunching his shoulders. He doesn’t have the energy to fend off his companion’s concern right now. But somehow Elder McKinley sends him on his way with a clean set of clothes and a firm order to leave them alone for a bit, and Kevin is pathetically relieved.

“Thanks,” he says as Elder McKinley returns to his spot beside him.

The older man smiles, wrapping one arm around his shoulder. “It’s no problem,” he replies, leaning his weight against Kevin’s admittedly broader shoulders. “But, Elder,” he continues, and Kevin tenses despite himself, “I do think we need to talk about… things.”

No, we don’t, he thinks. I can just go about my life, and you can let me keep things under control. But his tears must have taken his self-control with him. “Why?” he asks, and his voice croaks miserably. He blushes. God, as if he hadn’t already made a fool of himself.

“Because,” responds Elder McKinley, “I think that you’re strong enough to admit that crying isn’t the typical response to wanting to talk about your, um, lust issues. Unless you’re carrying that much guilt…?”

It takes him a moment to realize that the last statement is actually a question, and he’s shaking his head before he realizes how damning it is.

“All right, then,” McKinley says. “We’re going to have an actual conversation, just you and me, okay? And I’m going to find out why on earth you keep running from me.” He smiles lightly, like he’s trying to joke, and Kevin feels his own lips quirk up in response. Damn Elder McKinley and his good humor. “What about…” he starts, gesturing vaguely to the door.

“Today’s work?” McKinley scoffs. “I hardly think the word of God itself is entirely dependent on the two of us having perfect attendance. Besides, we can count this as a sick day if it makes you feel better.”

“Okay.” He wishes it didn’t, but it does, and he’s very appreciative of how Elder McKinley is willing to let his easy compliance go without comment.

Elder McKinley clears his throat, sitting back to give them a few extra inches of space. “Now, if we’re going to have a good conversation, we need to start on an even footing. And, if you don’t mind, I think using our titles is a bit limiting, anyway. So, how about we use our first names? I’m Connor.”

Kevin blinks. “But that’s against the rules,” he replies reflexively.

Elder McKinley - Connor - smiles, almost teasingly. “So is breaking rule 72, and cursing, and drinking coffee, and not proselytizing at all hours of the day. I don’t think we need to worry about rules right now, do you?”

Fair point. “I guess not.”

“Good. Now, Kevin, would you prefer I ask questions and you give answers, or should we try a sort of guessing game? Twenty questions of what’s happening inside Kevin Price’s head?”

Kevin bites back a shy grin. He’s not shy, dammit, and this conversation is supposed to be terrifying. “We can do that.”

“Twenty questions it is,” Connor replies, eyes sparkling even in the dim light of the bedroom. “So… why did you not want to talk to me? Am I that intimidating?”

Slowly, Kevin shakes his head. He’s not lying, really. His feelings make talking to Elder McKinley intimidating, and the man himself is downright terrifying when he’s emotional, but Kevin’s pretty sure that he’s asking as an authority figure, and in that case, Kevin’s not scared of him at all. He’s one of the nicest leaders of anything Kevin’s ever worked with, and if that’s all he was, Kevin would probably trust him with everything. But he’s not, so Kevin doesn’t. It’s surprisingly simple, when he lays it out like that. Too bad he can’t explain it that way.

“Then why?” McKinley asks, frowning just enough to wrinkle the space between his eyebrows. “What are you afraid of?”

“Who says I’m afraid?” Kevin counters. After all, he hasn’t been that obvious, has he?

“People don’t generally run if they’re angry,” McKinley replies, a twist of a smirk at the corner of his mouth.

It’s incredibly distracting to have him so close. Kevin’s not sure he’ll be able to focus. “Well, no,” he admits, “but maybe… I don’t know, maybe I just…” He means to say something like ‘I couldn’t stand your face anymore,’ which, while not wrong, is true for vastly different reasons than how Elder McKinley would take it, and would be really hurtful because of that. He remembers how the other man had looked when he just suggested that he might not want to accept his… duty-bound leader’s affection, and it still stings enough for him to avoid anything that might provoke that reaction again.

Luckily Elder McKi- no, Connor, doesn’t seem to want to hear his lame excuses. “Maybe, but probably not, right?”

Kevin sighs. “No.”

Connor smiles. “Good. See? Honesty is the key to open communication. Now, you were afraid. Is it just of me, or is it the other elders, too?”

Kevin almost laughs. If ‘being afraid’ includes jumping whenever someone closes a door, purposely avoiding whichever elders have the dubious honor of working with Elder Butt-fucking-Naked that day, or making sure there’s at least a foot of space between him and anyone else at all times, then yes, he’s afraid. If it means the way he’s afraid of Elder McKinley, the way he’s afraid of what he represents, then no, he’s not afraid. Neither answer is really a good option, though. Though, considering all the clues he’s accidentally given Mckinley today, what with his unfortunate erection and the admission of gay thoughts, he’s probably closer to figuring out his little crush than anything else.

“Um… it’s just you, Elder.”

McKinley frowns. “Connor,” he corrects gently, “and, Kevin, forgive me if I’m wrong, but… are you afraid because I’m… prompting your gay thoughts?”

Kevin hesitates. It’s now or never, be brave or be a pathetic loser crushing on his district leader. A district leader who lets him break the rules, who lets him cry on his shoulder, who told him that he wouldn’t judge him for his gay thoughts, who’s willing to put everything aside to listen to him. He doesn’t deserve this; the least he can do is be honest.

“Yeah.”

Connor doesn’t reply, and Kevin looks away. When Kevin finally gains the courage to look at him again, his eyes are wide, like before, before he took his shower, and he’s got one hand at his mouth like he gasped even though Kevin didn’t hear anything. It just draws Kevin’s attention to his lips, though, and he has to turn away.

“Well,” he says, and maybe it’s supposed to be firm or understanding, Kevin doesn’t know, but he just hears how breathy and delighted he sounds, and something clenches tightly in his gut.

“You don’t… care?” he asks, a little too close to breathless himself.

“Oh, no, I do care. I most certainly care. But I don’t mind, not by any means.” Then Connor beams, and whatever air left, hiding somewhere in the deepest recesses of his lungs, decides it’s time to leave. “Kevin, I didn’t… I… you should have told me.”

“It’s, uh, kind of an embarrassing thing to just bring up,” he replies. He really wants to duck his head again, or look away, or do anything that might help him get a hold of himself again, but Elder McKinley just looks happy and it’s enchanting.

“It’s not embarrassing if we both did it,” he says. “I’ve had gay thoughts about you from the moment I first saw you.”

And, for the first time, Kevin understands people who do the most idiotic things for love.

But then he actually hears what Connor said, and the dawning smile on his face starts to die.

“I haven’t had gay thoughts about you for that long,” he admits. “It’s… a recent development.”

“Oh.” McKinley’s face doesn’t fall, but it’s pretty damn close, and Kevin wishes he hadn’t said anything. “Well, still, you’ve had gay thoughts about me, and I’ve definitely had them about you, so there’s nothing to be embarrassed about.” He sounds delighted about it, actually. Which is just a little bit weird, considering how intensely devoted the district leader has been to the ‘turn it off’ motto in the past. But if he’s happy about Kevin falling for him, Kevin certainly isn’t going to complain. “I’m happy to be your sexual awakening,” Connor continues brightly. “Unless you’ve felt this way before.”

“No, gosh, no,” Kevin says, smiling a little despite himself. “I’ve never felt this way about anybody before.” He winces; his tone was way too emotional for Connor to have any doubt as to what he means.

Connor blinks, his brilliant grin softening into something a little puzzled, and a little hopeful. “What do you mean?” he asks, leaning towards him.

“I, uh…” Kevin starts. It’s a very strange feeling, to want to lean forward and back at the same time, and if anyone had asked if he would feel it before this exact moment he would have laughed, but he’s feeling it, and it’s taking way too much effort to not just jump up and avoid the thing altogether. “I mean that I… that, um, you… I like you? A lot. More than a lot. I really, really like you. And, uh, you definitely helped cause my… awakening, I guess. This may sound kind of weird, but I don’t really get turned on? Not like most people seem to, anyway. But you do. Turn me on, I mean. Geez, this is… wow, this is incredibly awkward. Anyway, you and, um, compliments are the main things that really, uh, get me going. And… I don’t really know how far your definition of ‘gay thoughts’ goes, but mine kind of includes really romantic stuff? Like, uh, holding hands and buying puppies together, and stuff like that. You know, what normal couples do. Straight ones. Like my parents. Not that I’m saying we need to get married right away or anything, or, uh, at all, if you don’t want to. Gosh, I need to just… okay. I really like you, and I think you’re… attractive, and that’s why I’ve been running away after we talk.”

Kevin wants nothing more in that moment than to go find a nice pit in the ground and bury himself alive in it. What happened to confident Kevin, the guy who could always ask for directions or give a speech or do the things no one else dared? What happened to make him this stuttering, pathetic, whiny loser who can’t even confess his feelings correctly?

It was an entirely rhetorical question, of course, but his subconscious answers anyway. Uganda happened. Which… well, it’s true. Uganda, and the general, and Arnold, and Connor, all of them working together in absolutely perfect harmony to crush what was Kevin’s foundation, his pride in himself, and force him to do things in new ways. More pathetic ways, obviously, but nobody could say his little monologue wasn’t genuine. Yeah… he’s definitely more genuine now, and maybe he doesn’t have a purpose or a belief set or stable mental health but he’s working on it, and for maybe the first time he’s giving his all, and that’s all anybody can ask of him. He clears his throat and straightens up a bit more on the bed, making himself meet Connor’s eyes. “So, I don’t know for sure what you want, but I just really want to say that I think you’re the most remarkable guy I’ve ever met, and if you wanted to pursue anything, I would r-”

And then he stops. Because Elder McKinley is kissing him, and kissing is not conducive to normal speech.

Wait. Kissing?

Oh my god. Eld- Connor’s lips are pressed firmly against his, and as Kevin blinks (why aren’t my eyes closed? Why am I just staring like a creep?), his strong hands come up to cradle Kevin’s cheeks.

Oh my gosh, he thinks. I should be doing something. So when Connor opens his eyes and starts to pull away, Kevin reaches up to grab his wrists without thinking and pulls him right back in. Connor squeaks, but then his eyes slide closed again, and so do Kevin’s this time, and then they’re moving somehow, lips connecting in ways he didn’t know could happen, and then Connor opens his mouth and uses his tongue, and it’s gross and kind of disturbing but damn if it doesn’t feel like Heaven on earth. His hands travel from Connor’s wrists up to his shoulders, one settling behind his neck and the other weaving into his soft red hair. It makes Connor tilt his face up to him, and he uses the chance to try some of the things Connor did just now, softly kissing and licking into the other man’s mouth. He’s worried about whether he’s doing a good job for all of two seconds until Connor moans, and everything else in the world ceases to exist.

He’s not sure how long it lasts, but by the time he pulls back, gasping for air but only willing to part enough to rest his forehead against Connor’s, it feels like the room’s temperature has increased by about a million degrees, he’s got the world’s most painful erection tenting his slacks, and Connor is about the color of a bad sunburn, which in and of itself is far, far more attractive than it has any right to be.

“Wow,” Kevin whispers, and Connor giggles.

“Wow,” he agrees, then tilts his chin up to connect their lips again.

Kevin hums appreciatively, then pulls back before he can lose all his wits. “Wait, wait,” he says, trying to sit back. But Connor’s hands don’t fall away; they just drop to his shoulders, keeping him close, and he asks “What is it? Is something wrong?”

Kevin wants to say no, but… but they’re in uniform. They’re sitting in a bedroom in their mission house. They’re in Uganda. They’re Mormon missionaries who just had a very intense, very taboo make out session. During proselytizing hours. “No, but, uh…” Is my voice always this rough? “What about… rules?”

Connor hesitates. “Do you care about the rules?” he asks, looking up at Kevin earnestly. “Because, I have to say, I’ve been following the rules for my entire life, and I think that, since the Church of Arnold seems to be more forgiving than the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, I am fully prepared to throw every fear I’ve ever had to the wind for a chance to do this with you. What do you say?”

What could he say in response to that?

“Yes. Yes, please, I… whatever you want.” He knows he sounds desperate. He knows he sounds pitiful, and he realizes a second too late that he didn’t answer Connor’s question about the rules, but for once, for one, beautiful, unforgettable moment, he doesn’t care.

And then Connor kisses him again, again! and now it doesn’t matter, because Connor doesn’t care either, and they can not care together. Kevin isn’t sure how he’s lived without this until now.

“Oh, god,” he moans, and he realizes exactly how it sounds when Connor pulls back, eyes wide, but Connor just did something with his tongue that he didn’t even know was possible and how else is he supposed to react?

Connor opens his mouth, maybe to say something, or ask him to talk, Kevin doesn’t know; he takes Connor’s face in his hands and kisses him as hard as he knows how. He can’t talk right now. If he’s made to stop, he might actually die; he’s never wanted anything this much in his life. It’s a person, a real, live, living, breathing, beautiful person, panting and moaning at his touch. It’s Elder McKinley, and maybe that should remind him of how profane his actions are, but it doesn’t. At this moment, connected in the most intimate way with someone, with Connor, he thinks he might be able to believe in God again.

Connor starts to push back, then, gently but firm enough that Kevin finds himself on his back on the bed, with Connor leaning over him, grinning. It stretches his lips, already red and full from kissing, and with his hair all tousled and his tie askew he looks… he looks sinful. But he doesn’t immediately fall on Kevin, not the way he expects. He throws one leg over Kevin’s hips, settling back on his knees, and watches him for a moment, seeming both inordinately pleased with himself and at a complete loss. It’s a weird expression, considering how stable he seems to be most of the time. Kevin’s chest tightens suddenly. Maybe he misunderstood something. Maybe Connor’s rethinking the whole thing. Maybe now that Kevin’s not in control of the kiss Connor wants to change his mind.

“Don’t… don’t leave,” he says, the words falling from his lips brokenly. Connor’s lips twist down in confusion, and Kevin closes his eyes. Maybe he can’t look while he does it, but Kevin Price is no longer above begging. “Please.”

“Oh, Kevin,” Connor says, and from the shift of the mattress beneath him Kevin can feel him leaning forward. “I’m not going to leave.”

Kevin opens his eyes, just enough to peek up. Connor is so, so close, he can hardly see anything but his beautiful, soft, kind blue eyes. “Promise?” Promises don’t mean anything, he knows, but he can’t help but feel that Connor would try his best to keep his.

Instead of answering, Connor just leans in, closing the distance between them. He doesn’t kiss the way Kevin did him just now, fierce and fast and greedy. Connor gives with this kiss, and it’s as gentle and firm and sweet as Elder McKinley himself is, as he leads them all everyday. The kiss is unmistakably Connor’s, and Kevin feels like he might come in his pants just from that.

“I promise,” Connor whispers, and then he leans a little to the left and kisses down Kevin’s jaw, a move that leaves him panting, and biting his lip to hold back some probably embarrassing sounds. “I promise I won’t leave,” he repeats, turning to Kevin’s neck and nipping lightly, and then all the self-restraint wouldn’t be able to hide his whimper. Connor meets his eyes just long enough to grin before returning to his neck, licking and sucking, and Kevin gasps desperately. “I promise I’ll stay, as long as you want me.”

“Connor…” he says, and Connor kisses him on the lips again.

“Kevin, look at me.”

He does.

“I really, really like you, too,” Connor says, all too earnest. “And whatever you want, I’ll… we can do it. Okay?”

Kevin can’t keep himself from smiling. “Okay.”

And then Connor really goes to town. It’s only when Kevin’s shirt and garment are both off and there are fingers fumbling with his belt buckle that he stops, sitting up faster than he should.

“Wait,” he gasps. “Um… what about you?”

“M- me?” Connor asks, seeming a bit put out that Kevin’s pushed him away.

“Yeah,” Kevin replies, “you.”

Connor gives him a look, one that plainly says ‘Use your words,’ but before Kevin can answer, his eyes light up. “You mean you want to… well.” He sits back, leaning on his arms and throwing his head back just enough for Kevin to have the most wonderful view of his neck, fettered as it still is by his tie and collar. “Do your worst,” he says happily.

Kevin has never made good decisions under pressure, so he really thinks he can’t be blamed by the fact that he gets a little carried away and rips a few buttons off of Connor’s uniform shirt. But Connor doesn’t seem to mind, so Kevin decides he won’t, either. Besides, he can always sew them back on.

“So, ah! Compliments, you said?” Connor gasps, moaning deliciously as Kevin kisses down his pale neck. He doesn’t really know what he’s doing, but playing copycat doesn’t seem to bother Connor any. In fact, if his vocal reaction is anything to go by, Kevin’s not doing a bad job at all. “I can do compliments. Kevin, your lips are the most… oh… the most beautiful, luscious lips I’ve ever seen in my life.”

Kevin pulls back just enough to frown. “No, not like that.”

“What?” Connor asks, pouting. Kevin can’t resist kissing him again, now that he knows he can. “What’s wrong with that? It’s true.”

Kevin blushes. “There’s nothing wrong with it, and thank you, but I meant more like… like, saying I’m doing a good job.” He’s a little surprised at his own coherency, but at least he sounds a little less like an idiot now. He understands how Arnold can literally trip over his own feet at the mention of Nabulungi’s name, now.

Connor doesn’t move for a second. “Praise, you mean?”

“...yeah,” Kevin admits, rubbing at the back of his neck. “I know it’s conceited, but…”

Connor waves him off, grinning in delight. “No, that’s fine, it’s just a little… well, unconventional. I kind of assumed you’d be more of a vanilla guy, but… wow, Kevin Price has a kink. I don’t suppose you want me to tie you up or anything while I’m at it?”

Holy crap. “Geez, Connor,” Kevin says, pressing one hand firmly to his crotch. “You can’t just say things like that.” He didn’t even know that was a turn on until it passed Connor’s lips.

Connor’s eyes get impossibly wide. “Oh my gosh,” he says, “you actually… oh em gosh.”

“Um… Can we pretend I never said that?” Confessing attraction is one thing; accidentally confessing a desire for being tied up during sex? Definitely not a good first time conversation.

But Connor’s got that expression again, the one where he looks like he’s just seen the most beautiful thing in the world. And he’s looking right at Kevin.

“Kevin Price…” he says. It’s so soft, his tone borders on reverent. Pride overcoming his embarrassment, Kevin preens. Just a little; he’s learning not to, but Connor likes him. They’re making out. He’s pretty sure a little preening is understandable.

And then he’s suddenly on his back again, the air whooshing out of his lungs, and Connor practically attacking him, his lips and hands everywhere at once. He opens his mouth to ask what, or why, or maybe what have I done to deserve this? and only a filthy moan escapes. He bites it back, but Connor doesn’t seem to notice. And then Kevin doesn’t have any room in his head for guilt because Connor slips a hand between them and presses between his legs, and-

he screams, he must have, why else would his throat hurt and the air leave his lungs and his body tense so sharply? until Connor whispers “Breathe, honey,” into his ear, and he gasps.

But Connor’s hand doesn’t leave its new position or ease up in the least, only begins to rub back and forth, making Kevin jerk up into his touch.
“Connor!” he cries. “Connor, Connor, I- Connor, please….”

And Connor pulls his hand away. “Is that… too much?” he asks, brow furrowing in familiar concern.

“Yes,” Kevin replies. “Yes, I’m sorry, I… I can’t.”

Connor smiles. “If you don’t want me to touch, it’s fine. But we are going to need to talk about this later, okay?”

“Why?” Kevin doesn’t bother to hide his whine.

“Kevin…” Connor gives him a look, like he can see right through him and is saddened by what he finds. “You know most people wouldn’t have asked me to stop just now, don’t you?”

Kevin swallows, and nods.

“You don’t have to tell me,” Connor says, “but I’m still going to ask, okay?”

“...okay.” At least I don’t have to answer, he tells himself. But he knows he’s going to anyway.

Connor nods. And then he sits back. “Well.”

“Well…?”

“Well, I don’t really know what to do now, since I can’t touch you. I, uh, I’m at a bit of a loss.”

Kevin pushes himself up again, folding his hands in his lap. “Just because I don’t… um. That doesn’t mean you can’t.”

Now it’s Connor’s turn to blush. “I don’t know, Kevin, it doesn’t really seem fair. Besides, I’d rather not do anything with you just… watching, you know.”

“Who says I’d just watch?” He doesn’t really realize how flirtatious it sounds until Connor’s eyes widen bigger than he’s ever seen them.

“W-” Connor has to clear his throat. “Well. If you… I mean… um.”

Kevin smirks. Finally, he’s not the one stammering and sputtering at the idea of sex. “Can I try something?” he asks.

Connor nods, blinking in surprise, and Kevin carefully draws Connor closer to him then pushes him down, so he’s the one the straddling Connor’s hips. Connor makes some sort of noise as his back hits the mattress, but Kevin doesn’t stop, leaning in for another toe-curling kiss. He slides his hand down Connor’s smooth chest after a moment, and almost jumps in surprise when the man beneath him arches into his touch. He realizes then that Connor’s been holding himself still, trying to not touch Kevin too much, or at least not where it counts. It’s overwhelming how grateful it makes him.

“Tell me if I’m doing it right,” he whispers, and then his hands slip down to Connor’s belt. It’s surprisingly easy to get the belt off, the pants unbuttoned, and the zipper down. It’s only when he’s confronted with Connor’s temple garments, painfully tented and far-too-thin, that he stops. He knows in his head that Connor must want this, at least physically, but he can’t help the sudden fear that maybe he’s going too far. “Connor-”

“Please,” he moans, and with that Kevin can pull down the garment, and throw both it and Connor’s slacks off the side of the bed.

Kevin sets his hands on Connor’s hips, and forces himself to take a deep breath. “You’ll tell me if I mess up?” he asks again, and Connor nods frantically.

“Yes!” he gasps. “I’ll… I’ll talk you through it. Whatever ‘it’ is. Just… please, Kevin.”

Kevin sets his chin. “Right. Okay.” And then he leans in.

He has to scoot farther down the bed to get the angle right, and he quickly learns that his jaw is going to hurt like a son of a gun at the end of this, but the sound Elder McKinley makes when he finally gets his mouth around his cock is probably the most amazing thing he’s ever heard in his entire life.

“Oh my gosh, Kevin,” he says, and Kevin hums in agreement. It isn’t actually so bad, even with the taste and everything. He thinks he might actually like giving head, up until when Elder McKinley’s hand slips into his hair and pushes down, and, god, he decides he loves giving head. “Kevin…” Connor moans. “Kevin, I… I am so, so glad you’re having gay thoughts, gosh. You’re so… mm! You’re so good at this, I can’t believe you haven’t done this before.”

Kevin looks up, indignant, but then the hand in his hair strokes soothingly, and McKinley says “Of course you haven’t, but that… that’s even better, isn’t it? It means you’re m- oh, gosh, that you’re made for this. You’re… you’re so good at this, Kevin. Gosh, you’re… and you’re letting me put my hand in your hair. What if I forced you down? Would you like that?”

Kevin has to push down firmly between his legs at that.

“I bet you would,” Connor continues, breathless, and Kevin almost smiles as his grip on Kevin’s hair tightens. “You would, because you would do anything to make… to make your district leader happy, wouldn’t you? Oh, Kevin… You’re so d- dedicated. Determined. And, ah! Enthusiastic.”

Kevin has to pull off to grin. “Thank you, Elder McKinley,” he says, grinning down at the man’s hip. It’s a very nice hip, he thinks, and he kisses it before getting back to work.

“Oh!” Connor cries, and his hips jerk up. Kevin gags, but Connor doesn’t seem to notice. He’s glad for that, even though his eyes start to water and he really needs to cough. He thinks Connor would try to stop him if he had noticed, and he’s determined to see this through. Besides… it felt better than he wants to admit.

“Are we back to titles, then?” Connor asks, voice shaking. “All right, Elder. You’re doing a wonderful job, an… an absolutely wonderful job. Goodness, it’s like… you’re v- ah! very good with your tongue, Elder, I… I have to say. Mm, I never… even in my wildest, oh gosh, dreams I wouldn’t have imagined this. You were… I thought you’d be too pure to… well. And now… oh, Kevin… No, Elder Price. You’re… you’re doing this, and you’re doing it so well, I can’t believe I even thought you pure in the first place.” His hand clenches tighter, simultaneously pushing Kevin down further and yanking on his hair, and he himself moans, the sound muffled in a way he wouldn’t think was attractive except for the reaction it brings.

“You’re so, oh, so good…” McKinley gasps, hips thrusting again, and the muscles under Kevin’s hands tense like a tightrope. “So good, ah! I can’t… I… Kevin!” And then he’s coming, filling Kevin’s mouth with something too bitter to swallow. He pulls back quickly, wiping come from the corner of his mouth, but he’s unable to tear his eyes away from the sight of Connor in the throes of ecstasy. A second too late, he remembers to stroke him through it, and his touch has Connor arching up into his hand. He strokes him, ignoring the sticky mess his hand is making, until Connor’s grip in his hair relaxes, and his hand slides down to Kevin’s cheek. “Come on up here, you,” he says with a lazy smile. Kevin does, and Connor immediately pulls him in for a kiss.

“You’re sure you don’t want me to do anything?” he whispers, their lips close enough to brush together at the words.

Kevin’s cheeks burn, and despite his earlier hesitation, he finds himself nodding.

Elder McKinley’s eyes sweep over his face for a moment, and then he leans in and whispers “I promise I’ll be careful.”

His touch isn’t as firm this time, but it only takes a few light caresses over the fabric of his slacks for him to come, muffling his cry in Connor’s shoulder.

It takes him a moment to realize that Connor is saying something, is holding him close and murmuring “There you go, just like that. Just take deep breaths, it’s okay. It’s okay.”

He huffs a laugh. He just had an orgasm, not a panic attack, but he lets the words sooth him anyway. Using up the last of his strength, he rolls off and onto his side, wrapping one hand around McKinley’s arm. He yawns, and Connor turns his head to kiss him.

“You…” he says, kissing the tip of his nose, “are the most amazing person I have ever had the good fortune to meet.”

Kevin ducks his head, grinning when he feels Connor kiss the top of his head, too. “Uh, you too.”

Then Connor sighs, turning back to face the ceiling. “Well,” he says, a sharp exhale.

Kevin nods.

“That was… um, certainly an adventure.”

Kevin bites back a laugh. “I’m not sure that’s what I would call it.” And oh, his voice sounds awful, like he has a bad cold or something. That’s not going to be easy to hide.

Connor picks up on it, too, turning his head again to send Kevin a look of concern. “Are you okay?” he asks. He reaches for Kevin’s hand, and Kevin jerks away just in time.

“You don’t want to do that,” he says.

Connor frowns, but before he can say anything, Kevin holds up his free hand, still covered in come.

“Oh.” Connor makes a face. “Just wipe it off. I want to hold your hand.”

So Kevin does, resigning himself to having to wash both two of his uniform outfits and his set of sheets, before taking McKinley’s hand in his. It’s very warm, and his grip is pleasantly grounding as Kevin rests his forehead on Connor’s shoulder.

“We’re really going to need to talk,” Connor says.

“I know,” Kevin says. He’s going to have a lot to say, but for now, it’s okay.

“But Kevin…”

He looks up. Connor smiles.

“Thank you.”

“For…?”

His smiles brightens, and he presses another kiss to Kevin’s forehead. “You did a wonderful job.”