The knock on the door sounds at six sharp, a throwback from the days before alarm clocks and digital read-outs and cell phones. Footsteps shuffle down the corridor and there are more knocks on more doors, the sound of water running in the communal bathroom at the end of the hall as the dormitory wakes up and starts its day.
Jared spills from his narrow bed, welcomes the brittle stab of pain as he drops to his hands and knees and presses his forehead to the cold floor. He kisses the ground three times, keeps his lips against the floor until his dreams dissolve and are replaced with purer thoughts.
Stiff-legged and yawning, Jared emerges from his room as the door across from his opens. Jensen's there, lines from his pillow crisscrossing his cheek and his t-shirt and shorts sleep-rumpled. There's a hitch in his step, only noticeable because Jared's looking for it.
The hallway is empty except for them, and Jared crosses to Jensen, whispers low into his ear. "You should loosen it."
Jensen never breaks his vow of silence, never utters a word for the first two hours of every morning. He raises his eyebrow, presses his full lips together until they're thin. He doesn't need to open his mouth to get his point across.
It's the barest of touches, hardly more than a hint of Jared's fingers along Jensen's thigh, a brush to the hard metal beneath the washed-soft fabric of Jensen's shorts. Still, it's enough to make Jensen hiss involuntarily.
"Pride is as much a sin as the rest of them," Jared reminds him, and then he returns to his room, drops to his hands and knees with enough force to make his palms and wrists ache before the door is even fully closed. He has to start all over again, kisses the floor three times.
The priests overseeing the seminarians' formation into the priesthood call them a Fraternity, a Brotherhood. Inflection like a proper noun. Like any other family, there are jealousies, gossip, secrets. Idle minds. Idle sins.
Jared knows the others talk about him, look down on his preference for the archaic and his inclination toward mysticism. His vow of poverty had been forced upon him by birth, hammered home with cheap sneakers, cracked-sidewalk fistfights and a series of government-subsidized apartments. He'd learned to believe in all the small miracles. A full stomach. A warm day in the middle of December. Taking a right hook to his mouth and not breaking a tooth.
It should matter to him. It doesn't. He has his faith and he has Jensen, quiet and intensely devout in all the ways that count, who also doesn't fit in with the rest but fits in with him.
Not all those miracles have been small.
"Is there something wrong with it?" Jared gestures to Jensen's plate, the barely picked-over food. They're in a corner of the dining hall. Empty seats are all around them and Jensen has his foot notched against Jared's beneath the table. A small secret. An idle sin.
Jensen shakes his head, flips a page in his psychology notebook. They have an exam in an hour. The irony isn't lost on Jared, that they need to study the science of the mind within the context of the salvation of the spirit. "God will provide," Jensen says, and offers up a smile that no one else ever gets to see. "He already has."
Jared had been fifteen-almost-sixteen when his mother had caught him in the basement laundry room, spin cycles clattering away and a neighbor boy's hand down his pants. He can remember the look on her face and the feeling of her gripping his neck as she'd dragged him to las abuelitas in their apartment block. The women who faithfully went to every midnight mass then came home and made their own sort of luck the way their mothers had taught them. They'd wept over him, loud and hoarse and theatrical, rubbed ash into his chest and blew cigar smoke into his ears to force the devil away. He'd slept with a cross fashioned out of chicken bones under his pillow for a year.
He can also remember the look on his mother's face when he'd told her he was going to seminary. She'd laughed and teased, told him that she'd always wished he'd make her a grandmother, become a doctor, but the pride was there, shining through her smile and the brightness in her eyes.
She was never gonna be a grandmother, and sometimes, Jared fears las abuelitas never did get rid of that devil.
The bells from the chapel fill Jared's ears and his evening lectures on liturgy and Summa Theologiae rattle around in his head.
There's a small dip in the floor beside Jared's bed, and he imagines it's from generations of knees, hours and hours of men not at all like him sending prayers up to heaven. Jared counts his Hail Mary's, thumbs the rosary loosely looped around his tented hands, drowns himself in the easy repetition of it. He doesn't look up when the door opens and a soft footstep sounds at his back. Only leans back slightly as Jensen kneels behind him, winds his arms around him and slides his hands alongside Jared's, tangled in the rosary.
Jared switches to Latin for Jensen's benefit on the next repetition and Jensen joins him, voice low and hoarse. His breath is warm on Jared's neck and it makes Jared shiver, not bothering to hide it. They pray with the same inflection, rhythm like a steady, strong heartbeat. This is the only time Jared likes the sound of his own voice, when it's tangled up in Jensen's softer, lower one.
Together, they repeat the prayer ten more times, prepayment for sins they have not yet committed. Jensen's fingers slide along Jared's, slot into the spaces between them. They're rougher than Jared's, calloused and scarred, carry the signs of petty pains and continual labor, the constant trials he puts his body through with the hopes that it will scour his soul until it's clean.
Jensen's mouth is pressed to the side of Jared's neck, lips moving in sync with Jared's words. It curls into a smile when Jared finishes, mutters the final amen and lets the rosary fall to the bed. The heat of Jensen's body disappears from Jared's back as he moves away. In his peripheral vision, Jensen places his Roman collar on the bedside table, and there's the soft rustle as Jensen removes his cassock, neatly folds it and places it on the bed, a dark blot against Jared's white blankets.
"I need it," Jensen whispers. He's not begging. This is a statement of fact and Jared stands, hands shaking as he works his own buttons loose, unfastens his belt and slips out from under the weight of his cassock. Like Jensen, he folds it and lays it on the bed. He treats the rest of his clothes with less care, leaves them in a rumpled heap on the floor and then turns to face Jensen.
Jared has faith. He believes in things he cannot see, in saints long buried and a god that is benevolent and fearsome. But Jensen is right here, warm and vital and so beautiful that Jared staggers at the sight of him, has to bite the inside of his cheek and sways as his whole body pulses with need.
Miles of bare skin on display, broken only by the metal cilice that's cinched tightly around Jensen's thigh. Jensen's hands are flat on the wall above his bowed head, his feet are spread wide and his back is set in a graceful, sinuous curve. He's breathing quickly, ribs punching out against his skin. The fasting is beginning to take a toll.
Jared keeps the discipline hidden under his mattress. A slightly bigger secret. He takes it out, untangles the slim leather cords tipped with metal. His vision is hazy and his hands and feet feel numb, like they belong to someone else. Jensen's mumbling under his breath, and it could be Latin or English, maybe a combination of the two, but Jared's thoughts are too slow to keep up with it.
Everything zeros in, resolves into sharp focus with the first snap of the discipline against Jensen's back. Jensen's hands curl into fists against the wall with the second lash and his muttering stops with the third.
"You're holding back," Jensen says. "Don't."
It's a mitigation, a dance between not enough and too much, and if Jared fails, Jensen will do it himself, inflict real damage. The pattern of thin scars on his back is proof of that. The next hit is good, a hard snap of metal on Jensen's skin and it makes Jensen shudder, hiss out a quiet, "Serviam."
One more and this last one is harder than Jared intended. His pulse is pounding in his ears and his cock is so hard it hurts and the handle of the discipline is slippery in his sweaty palm. A welt swells on Jensen's back, dark blood beading up in the center of it, dripping down and following the tracks of Jensen's scars. The path it takes is fascinating.
Jensen's muscles pull tight, his whole body going rigid. "Jared. Fuck. Fuck."
The sound of his name breaks Jared and the flail falls from his hand. Two steps collapse the space separating them, and Jared wraps his arms low around Jensen's waist, his chest covering Jensen's back, blood and sweat between them. He kisses the nape of Jensen's neck, licks at salty skin while his hand wanders lower to find the hot length of Jensen's cock and circles it with his fingers, slicks his palm with Jensen's precome to ease the way.
"I serve you," Jared says, and it comes out more reverent than any other prayer that has ever passed through his vocal chords. His mind. His heart. He drags his mouth down Jensen's neck, across his wide shoulders, trails his tongue along the dip of his spine, follows the marks that Jensen has branded into his skin, a history of sins and the pain that's meant to drive them away. The taste of Jensen's blood fills his mouth, bright and almost sweet.
Jensen becomes harder in his hand, warm flesh straining as he pushes into Jared's grip and Jared spins him around to get at his mouth, and Jensen molds his lips to his, opening up right away and sucking on his tongue. He shoves Jensen against the wall, holds Jensen's arms at an angle like some parody of the crucifixion and grinds into him. Jensen tilts his head to the side, offers his throat for Jared to kiss and nip, worry between his teeth.
"I need you," Jensen says, and it's another statement of fact. He brings his strength to bear, tilts away from the wall and pushes against Jared's grip until he's lowering them to the floor, straddling Jared's hips.
There's the bite of metal on Jared's waist and he fumbles with the cilice still around Jensen's thigh, searching for the clasp.
"No," Jensen says, his eyes coming into focus.
"Just you," Jared breathes, and sits up to tip Jensen's balance, tumbles him backward and forces Jensen's legs wider with his body. "I only want you. Nothing else." He crawls down Jensen's prone form, nuzzles at his cock and breathes in the essential scent of him. He takes Jensen's cock into his mouth and suckles at the crown, dips his tongue into the slit. It's distraction enough for Jared to unhook it, send it skittering across the floor. Jensen slides his hand into Jared's hair and tugs at it, payback and forgiveness all rolled into one.
Jared fucks his mouth down on Jensen's cock, writes secret messages on the underside of it with his tongue, pulls off to pay the same sort of attention to the ring of bruises and shallow punctures marks around Jensen's thigh. He sucks on the flesh as he works his hand up and down on Jensen's cock, wants to replace the bruises with those of his making, bites hard and then bites again. Jensen's hips shoot up from the floor and he has to shove his fingers into his mouth to stifle his groan as his orgasm hits. Hot spunk splashes on Jared's hand and Jensen's lower stomach and for a moment, Jensen is dismantled, without the usual barriers he keeps in place. His worry-lines relax and the guilt has melted away, replaced by something peaceful, a light so bright and heartbreaking that Jared can barely stand to look at him.
Jensen pulls on Jared's hair again, yanks Jared up to kiss him, holds him close with legs wrapped around Jared's waist.
"Fill me up," Jensen says, breathless and insistent. He moves his body beneath Jared's, sets his heels to Jared's thighs and levers himself upward.
There's no prep, nothing but Jensen's sweat and Jared's precome to slick the way. There never has been. Jensen needs it to hurt. The penance has to exist within the sin. Inextricable and necessary.
With one steady push, Jared breaches him. Jensen's rim is a tight, painful drag around his cock, his fingers digging into the meat of Jared's shoulders, his legs locking Jared down and they're mouths glued together. Jared swallows down Jensen's small whimpers as they move, a matched rhythm they know and understand as well as versicle and response. Jensen's body opens up around Jared's cock, makes room for him as if it's been designed to do exactly that, every clench and shiver something that Jared feels in his bones.
The chapel bells begin to ring as Jared comes, as he empties his cock deep inside of Jensen's body and keeps fucking into him until they're sloppy with it, soaked with sweat and spunk.
"Nine o'clock, and all's well," Jensen says and shifts, making Jared's cock slip free. Jared rolls to his back, the cool floor jarring on his overheated skin.
"Not yet," Jared says, and staggers to his feet. He crosses the room and plants his hands on the wall. A smear of Jensen's blood remains on the painted cinderblock, and Jared bends forward, kisses it three times and licks his lips. "Don't hold back."
Jared kneels on the velvet bench, makes the sign of the cross and opens his mouth to receive communion. The body of Christ is dry as ash on his tongue, and the sip of blood he takes is thin and sour. Jensen's blood tastes much better.