Religion wasn't something I was particularly interested in as we trailed along the countryside of Germany, but Al found a strange little comfort in it that I couldn't understand. Faith didn't hold much of a place in my life; science was my passion, something I could see, something I could feel, could make sense of. I could watch something being taken apart, could put it together again with logic and biology and chemistry; religion was a mystery with no possible answers until everything was Too Late. But then again, I wasn't there to comprehend something like the ramifications of spiritual neediness; I was his sibling, his protector, his...
I left the search for churches up to him, as he was very particular in his little practices. He would linger outside these Houses of the Holy for an hour, staring at the structure, at the stones, at multi-colored glass that depicted bleeding saviors and various martyred saints. He would look at the headstones that customarily surrounded grounds nearby, would read the names under pathways of moss, would brush his fingers over their curved tops before sitting beneath low-branched trees. He would take up residence on the steps, would linger in the pews, would light a small candle and make the cross against his face, before he would dare to look at his destination, the tall two-door box.
"Confessional", they called it, but I just call it the "Nosy Assholes Box"; I hated how you were supposed to go in there and tell everything you had done, confess all your sins, and there was this grand payoff on the other side. Instant absolution for a few words. Nothing couldn't be undone by simply letting some hidden old guy in on what went on in the darkest areas of your soul.
Al refused to listen to reason on this, preferring to rely on his own internal feelings that this was harmless, that this wouldn't turn out terrible, that it was a hobby, and so what if it made him feel better? It wasn't hurting anyone! Why wouldn't anyone listen to him?
And he knew. He knew I would relent. He knew I would cave, because it was Al, that was what I did when it came to him. So, I let him have his moments, let him enjoy his quirks, and lingered in the shadows of a religion that had forsaken me as much as I had forsaken it.
I normally sat outside on the stone steps, listening to the birds, waiting for the moments when he would burst out, ten times lighter and happier than when he disappeared into the depths, even if there was something darker lingering about his eyes. I always asked him what he said in there, always asked him what sort of things he wanted to get off his chest, and he smiled and always said, "If you were a priest, I would tell you, too. But since you're not..."
Curiosity was my master, and I, its happy little puppet, played into the depths of its claws too well. I watched as Al found a church in Stuttgart, framed by valleys and grass that reminded me of home (this was Home though, this was, and I will get this, will live it, will believe in it, dammit). Privacy was shattered as I counted to fifty, held my breath, and slipped into the building.
There was little inside that struck my eye; boring pews that were only five deep on each side, stained glass windows that I could see from outside, an altar of candles in little red votive holders, and the sharp musk of incense that never truly stopped. A wooden cross was plastered against one wall, the edges shined with varnish that glittered under the light from colored windows, and in the corner was a statue of the Blessed Mother, her face demure and down slightly, carved from plaster and painted in surreal colors.
It was a church, from the scents to the golden gilded box in the corner stand that held the Gifts. It was a home of faith and belief and dreams and wishes, but nothing solid. Nothing that could help the physical. A simple hospice for the weary spirit.
Beside the doors to the entrance was the box, large enough to stand in, wide enough for two people. It was wooden, decorated in some swirling design and stained dark enough to look almost burgundy. I could hear the voices coming from the depths, an exchange that drew me, that captivated me, that pulled me even closer on quiet, uneven steps.
"Bless me, Father, for I have sinned. It has been eight days since my last confession."
Trite words spoken with all the emotion of the nights when he told me he loved me while we held each other under the stars. I stared at the door, imagined I could see through it, could see him there with the rosary he bought at a local shop wrapped around his wrists and clasped between his hands like a pair of handcuffs, binding him. Owning him.
I could hear muttering, the whisper, the rituals, and I said nothing, couldn't, didn't want them to know. I stood, tiptoed, moving, moving, and then the words came clearer, sat in my heart, in my damn head, ringing like the bells overhead as the hour turned.
"...sleep with my brother."
He... told? He told someone? Told someone about how we would kiss, would touch, would break the rules but fuck if we cared because this was where we were meant to be? He told someone how I loved him, how I whispered it to him as I buried my lips against his ribs, as I took in his scent? He told someone...?
"And guilt? Is that what you feel? For your sins?"
"Because what you have done, it's..." A cough, a moment of composure, then a low hiss. "You need to stop this disgusting behavior."
I grabbed onto the pew, my fake fingers curling around, threatening the wood, my teeth clamping together. Was this what he was looking for? Absolution from our crimes? But-but we loved one another! He told me! He told me! And his eyes, his eyes had meant it!
I missed you, Brother! I can't go on without you! I need you! Love me, Brother! Love me!
"I...I don't think..."
"If you knew such acts were appropriate, you wouldn't be here. Wouldn't be confessing. Wouldn't be feeling guilt for this."
"You don't understand. I love him! He loves me!"
"It is a perverted love! Disgusting! Sinful! Do you understand the weight of what you're doing? Do you know the eternity that you're condemning both of you to?!"
And... and what did this asshole know? I knew my steps were loud, heard them rushing, heard them as my vision went red and I saw nothing and everything at once. My fist slammed open the door, the priest's door, fingers curling into his smock as he was pulled out, struggling. He yelled and screamed, but I stopped it, stopped the noise that was trying to turn my brother against me, that was trying to fill his head with this propaganda, that was trying to steal him away from me!
The sound of the cartilage cracking didn't bring me back, but Al's hand on my shoulder, his voice in my ear did, slammed me into the front driver's seat.
"Brother! Wha-what are you—?
My fingers loosened and the bloody man of God dropped to the floor in a groaning, crawling heap. I turned to face Al, stared at him with shameful eyes before I started to storm out of the building; the air was suffocating, was tight, was thick, and it made it hard to think. "If you didn't want to do it, you should have just told me," came my low growl, sounding so much harsher in my head than it did from my lips.
"I... Brother!" I could hear his frantic footsteps, chasing after me, feel his hand caught in my sleeve, feel his panting, his worry, his pain. Could feel his breath on my neck as he whispered, and it burned itself into my skin. "I wanted to do it."
"And then absolution from it." I tugged away, my voice bitter. "Like it never happened. Like I never happened."
"No!" The weight of his forehead was against my back, down between my shoulderblades, and he was whispering against the back of my coat. "No, I wanted to see if anyone would ever understand how I feel about you. I wanted to see if there was hope for us. I wanted to see if we were doing the right thing."
The Right Thing. It was all so relative, so debatable. What was right? What was correct? Had we ever done anything right in the first place, from trying to bring back our mother to trying to fix one another? Had we ever played by any rules before?
I turned around, arms wrapping around my brother, my lover, lips against his cheek. Behind us, I could see the priest, the coffee-ringed eye staring at us over the mess of his shattered nose. We were probably demons to him, brothers in arms, brothers in love, but I didn't give a damn. Wouldn't ever give a damn.
Religion wasn't science, and science was the only master at my core.
"If you love me, if you enjoy it, and if you wake up smiling the next day in my arms," I said quietly, "then that's all the 'right' we need." I broke away from my brother, tugging him towards the door. "Come on, Al. We have a lot to do."
And together, we went out into the world.