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Discovering Things out of Darkness
#1 - Miracles in the Flesh
King James Bible, Galatians 2:20:
"I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me."
Paul went to the washroom to wash his hands. He had dug through what felt like tons of old, grimy paper. Most of it was newspaper cuttings: yellow, faded and barely readable, and his hands had been smudged with ink, not to mention less appetizing material. Once again he resolved to ask Keel why the Sodalitas Quaerito couldn't afford a better office than a run-down warehouse with a leaking tin roof, no radiators and office equipment that wasn't worth the name.
No, he'd better ask Evelyn, he decided, a bitter twist to his mouth. From her, he might at least get an answer.
Okay, that might be unfair. Still, Keel's habit to keep all information close to his chest annoyed Paul to no end. Evelyn had been helpful, had talked to him even when he'd kept his silence, had made him feel at home immediately. Paul wasn't very communicative, never had been. The orphanage had taught him the blessings of silence early on. For his whole childhood, Paul had been constantly surrounded by far too many children: always talking, shouting, crying, whispering to each other... day and night. The grown-ups, mostly priests, had kept a caring, although strict regime, and strongly encouraged silence as a requirement in class and a cherished objective during Mass as well as one's own prayer. Paul had fond memories of late afternoons in Father Calero's study: the priest writing; himself reading one of the leatherbound thick volumes of the orphanage's library, listening to the slight scratching of Poppi's pen, the rustling of turning pages, and the soft chime of the clock.
He hated being forced to talk when talking was clearly unnecessary, but nonetheless he had an overwhelming desire to learn more about the people he now worked with, the 'brotherhood' he worked for. He wanted to know everything about the collection of records of paranormal phenomena the Sodalitas Quaerito had in its archives, and the earlier cases his co-workers had investigated.
Alva Keel remained an enigma. He was a curious mixture of talkative and closed off. He rarely instigated a conversation on his own, but when asked, could talk for hours -- without saying much, and never saying anything at all about himself. Paul still didn't know whether Keel's story concerning why he had embarked on his own journey towards the paranormal had been the truth or an imaginary tale spun on the spur of the moment. Offering true memories or not, the older man had felt just like Paul how wide the chasm between them had become, how close Paul had been to breaking all ties with Keel and his organization.
Recording bird songs, and suddenly hearing the voice of his mother somewhere on the tape... Paul didn't know what to believe. The tale lacked the life-shattering impact he'd expected. No true, unrefutable miracle, nothing tangible, instead just something he, during his investigations for the Church, would have dismissed almost immediately. Still, it had started a man, a Cambridge pre-med student, a future surgeon, on a quest for the virtually unknown, leaving his planned future broken on the wayside. True, Keel had a reputation in certain circles, and definitely knew how to fascinate an audience, but the 'serious' professors laughed behind his back and dismissed his hypotheses as sheer nonsense. Paul still remembered the embarrassment he'd felt when Raina Bauer had asked him if he knew the man confronting her father by bringing up a questionable hypothesis. He'd almost lied, but just in time had remembered Poppi's lectures on how St. Pete had disowned Christ three times, and... Raina had still asked for his help. But then, she had been dead.
And Keel didn't have any characteristics one might attribute to Jesus Christ.
So far, they had been astonishingly lucky in all their investigations. Most of the time, the people had been so desperate that they'd welcomed their help, not even wanting to know exactly why they'd been offering it. No, these people would have, most likely, welcomed any kind of help.
One day, though, the police officer on the scene wouldn't be so forthcoming about the details of a gruesome murder, or the neighbors wouldn't be willing to talk about the family next door. Paul dreaded that day. In all his former investigations, he'd been sent only to places and people who had known that he was coming, who had expected him eagerly and hoped for his assistance. With the power of the Archdiocese of Boston behind him, he'd been welcome, not a delusional freak or sensation-seeking tourist. His last two brushes with the police had stripped him of that feeling of safety and belonging. Both times, he'd been treated with suspicion that had soon given way to open hostility.
Weeks later, he still didn't know why Keel had come for him in Denver, had walked in with a sheaf of legal papers and obtained his release as effortlessly as a magician waving his wand. The Sodalitas was short on money (notoriously short, Evelyn had told him), but Keel had flown after him. Keel had even opened up a little, and... well, Paul decided to take the other man's words for the truth, at least for the time being. All of his anger had been deprived of a basis when Keel had first offered a glimpse into his carefully guarded past (truth? or lie?), then even wanted to give him a lift to the airport. The other man had been so -- different in that short moment in time. Perhaps he'd simply realized he'd gone too far, and had been trying to make amends.
Paul switched off the faucet in the washroom and stared into the mirror. Keel had exuded an almost desperate intensity that day. What did he fear? For Paul to turn out like Gretchen Albright and Danielle Franklin's murderer? What did it mean that both Paul and the boy had seen "God is now here" instead of "God is nowhere"? He couldn't believe that Danielle Franklin had been a bad person. Afterwards, he had talked to her daughter and her neighbor. He had heard nothing that could have substantiated the sobbing young man's story that she and the other people in Keel's files had been in league with Tommy's "darkness". She'd been an average American housewife. She had baked for the church meetings. She had driven the neighbors' kids to school on occasion. She had patiently listened to said neighbor's tearful breakdowns whenever the young woman next door had been hit by her husband. She had generally been considered... nice. Friendly. Normal. Not driven by a strange urge to destroy or bring pain, suffering and death into the world. Paul hadn't been able to find the other three persons who had supposedly seen the words 'all wrong' as well, and still didn't even know where to start looking.
He sighed and for a moment rested his head against the cool tiles behind him. It all seemed so useless.
He raised his head again and gazed into the mirror once more. The same tired face stared back. He'd never seen Tommy -- or Tommy's spirit -- again since that last cryptic warning. And whoever his mysterious father might turn out to be some day, he hadn't heard anything from him, and couldn't imagine meeting him in a café some time in the near future. Danielle's journal had said "... and the water in the fountain turns red." Yes, but what did that mean? Would that be due to his own actions, or to those of his father, or was it supposed to be a more abstract warning? He couldn't say, and the not-knowing drove him crazy. So he preferred to not think about it. He also tried not to dwell on the fact that he'd almost learned of Danielle's most recent dream, had perhaps even led her to her death. He shouldn't have agreed to meet her later on, instead he should have made her tell him on the phone immediately. Danielle Franklin had gone to her car to drive to the police station and had encountered her murderer there -- she'd taken all her knowledge to the grave.
Kenneth Webster had proven to be another dead end. The man had stubbornly claimed to not remember anything about his first vision in 1978, about the hemography, about Paul; said he'd never dreamt of anything similar after 1980, and had most likely just imagined the blood forming words as well as mistaking simple nightmares as some kind of 'visions'. Even confronted with the photo and his affidavit made in 1986, Webster had remained uncooperative. Nothing had been able to sway him.
So, about two weeks after Danielle Franklin's death, Paul had returned to Boston and had immediately taken on the case of levitation Keel had happily presented him with.
And everything had continued on just as always. Keel kept to himself, Paul kept his own council, and Evelyn kept the connection alive between them by forcing them to interact just a little bit beyond the professional.
Paul had wanted to go to the cinema with Evelyn tonight. Nothing as potentially explosive as a date, just two friends enjoying a night out. A couple of days ago, he had mentioned how much he'd like to see a certain movie, and Evelyn had chimed in immediately. After establishing that they both knew and liked the director's style, a lively discussion had ensued, and they'd taken the spur-of-the-moment decision to watch it together on Friday night. As it could be safely considered the opposite of mainstream cinema, they'd been sure the theater wouldn't exactly be overrun with screaming teenagers, and had bought two tickets in advance.
Now -- Evelyn couldn't go. A friend of hers needed surgery, and she had promised to visit him in the hospital after the procedure. Paul had gotten the impression that the patient was either a former colleague or someone Evelyn had met during her own extensive surgeries that had resulted in the steel plate in her head, but he hadn't wanted to ask. Be as it may, she now had other plans for the evening. They hadn't truly had time to talk today before Evelyn had rushed off, but Paul was now the proud owner of two tickets to "Wings Of Desire", and he was still debating over whether or not asking Keel to accompany him. He barely knew anything about the man. Did Keel even want to go to the cinema? Especially into a rather obscure German movie shot in black-and-white? About angels, of all things?
And he also still didn't know whether he wanted to spend more time in the other man's company, or better avoid him whenever possible. Sometimes, it almost felt like Keel was...
But that was surely ludicrous.
Paul would have liked to know more about Keel's private life. Did he even have one, he wondered? A girlfriend? An ex-wife? His mother was dead, and the little he had said of his family life strongly hinted that his relationship with his father hadn't been the best. Paul knew nothing of possible brothers or sisters, but it hadn't sounded like Keel had any of either. Did he return at night to an empty apartment? Did he have a pet? Somehow, Paul could imagine him well as a cat person. Perhaps with an ordinary striped gray house cat, one with light green eyes and a self-sufficient exterior.
Paul sighed again, louder this time. He knew he was just playing for time, and that was...
That way, Keel would be long gone when he'd finally have brought himself to step out of the washroom. He wouldn't encounter anything but the reality of a dark, cold warehouse with dirty walls and a creaking floor. And later, his own small dark apartment where he couldn't keep his eyes away from the door to the stairwell he still expected to bang open and admit... a dead boy. Who'd either escaped the darkness that had tried to possess him by dying to save Paul's life, or... fallen prey to said darkness. A pale boy whose words might as well be warnings given by a higher power, or lies told from a place Paul's Church called Hell.
No, anything was better than another sleepless night on the sofa, staring at the ceiling and trying to make sense of a wealth of contradictory clues that led him... exactly nowhere.
He'd ask Keel.
Paul sat in the green plush theater chair and stared sightlessly at the screen. They sat in the fourth row, and like predicted, were pretty much the only persons in here. A middle-aged couple had taken two seats down to the far left of them on the other side of the aisle, but that was it.
The movie was indeed in black-and-white, and in German, subtitled. And the beginning was as slow and measured as Evelyn had warned him. Paul's mind was occupied with something other than life in Berlin's streets at the moment, though.
Before the movie'd started, Keel had touched him again.
Just as carelessly as the last time on that parking lot in front of the police station in Denver. Again surely only a gesture to emphasize the man's passionate way of speaking. But -- Alva had touched him. First of all, Keel had gripped his arm before they had entered the foyer to stop him, had excused himself and stepped into the lavatory. So Paul had waited, suddenly too uncomfortable (too shy?) to go in there with him and make sure all the office's coffee wouldn't cut his enjoyment of the movie short. But Paul hadn't been able to imagine standing next to Keel at the urinal in a semi-public rest-room and... taking care of business. Not like this. Not with Keel looking, taking in everything as the man's dark eyes didn't seem to miss even the smallest clue not matter what Paul did.
Then, after returning from the washroom, Keel had insisted he needed a bottle of mineral water, and had made Paul wait for him again. While he'd drunk it, Paul had been searching for words to break the silence between them that had suddenly become unbearable, at the same time trying not to fidget under Keel's steady, unreadable gaze. He had wished desperately for the door to theater 4 to open, but they'd been early and the movie had still been rolling.
Then, as if by magic, the uncomfortable feeling had disappeared. After the last swallow of the water, Keel had been at his conversational best, smart and witty as always in that understated, intense manner of his, drawing parallels between the movie's topic and the Sodalitas' research that had startled several surprised grins out of Paul, and then... had reached out and touched Paul's chest. Twice.
Surely just emphasizing his point. It couldn't have been anything else. Or -- could it?
Paul barely took notice of what was happening on the screen.
A soft exclamation to his left -- Keel -- wrenched him out of his introspection. They both had their coats lying half over their laps, half on the seats next to them, and Keel's cell phone had dropped out of his coat pocket. It blinked greenishly on the floor for a second, then the display went out, accompanied by a shrill, cut-off beep. Keel made another low annoyed sound and bent forward trying to find it in the dark. Paul thought it might have fallen close to his own seat and reached over to help.
Then, time stopped.
At first, he wasn't even sure what his reaching hand had encountered. Due to Keel's impatient movement, the fingers that had been intended to feel for the phone on the floor next to Keel's legs had instead gotten tangled up in the man's thighs and now brushed something hot. Soft, but also hard. There.
Paul, mortified beyond imagination and blushing like a teenager, drew back his hand from Keel's groin. The words flooding to his mouth never got past his clenched teeth, were defeated utterly by Keel's involuntary, revealing moan.
"Alva, what...?" Paul couldn't think, didn't even know how that sentence was supposed to end. He wanted to die, he wanted to cover his ears, he wanted to pretend the last few seconds hadn't happened, no, scratch that, he wanted to turn back time these few seconds, he wanted...
He wanted to hear this sound again.
//But it is a sin,// his mind babbled, //it is against God's teachings, it is wrong, it is so wrong, "you shall not lie with a male as one lies with a female; it is an abomination," I can't...//
"Paul, don't." These hissed words were even worse. The low light in the theater might not have been enough to show where the phone had fallen at the height of their feet, but it was definitely enough to reveal the stone mask that had been Alva Keel's face. Eyes closed, mouth pressed into a thin line, harsh, fast, panting breath.
If not for the other two person in the cinema, Paul was convinced a low, vicious torrent of words would have spewed forward from those tightly compressed lips, Keel would have jumped to his feet, would have said enough things the whole subject would have been turned around on its axis until up would have been down and vice versa, and they'd have had a loud fight not even marginally connected to the... thing... that had happened right now. But right here, right now in this situation, Keel couldn't use words to his advantage. He hadn't forgotten their possible audience, and didn't dare (or did not have the willpower?) to get up quickly and leave in silence.
He wasn't able but to sit in his seat like a figure carved out of stone. Christ must have looked like this, on his last night as a free man, confronted with his last temptation, offered everything he desired if he could just... give in.
Paul felt frozen, as if his mind had locked up entirely. He was just able to see, but not to compute. As if of its own free will, his hand reached out again.
He remembered he had touched Jeremiah like this, that last night before he'd been taken away to Virginia by an elderly aunt who'd finally decided to acknowledge her last living relative and get him away from the orphanage where he'd lived his entire life after his mother's death. Jemy had had blond hair and green eyes, and Paul had had sweaty, nervous hands, just like now, and afterwards, in the cold, sticky afterwards, they'd both felt so horribly guilty. And a week later, Paul hadn't been able to eat without getting sick to his stomach, and had finally crept off to confession. He'd chosen his time carefully, though, and had ended up with a short, sympathetic lecture by Brother Livius who'd set him free with fifty Ave-Marias and the same amount of the Lord's Prayer. That had been... what? Ten, fifteen years ago?
What was he doing?!
Still, he couldn't stop, couldn't help himself, and watched like a person removed from the action how his hand covered Alva Keel's lap, stroked the slightly tented cloth, first barely there, then harder, and finally scrambled for the zipper.
A hand like steel closed around his wrist and shattered the comfortable dreamlike state his mind swam in. He turned, his stomach dropping into nothingness.
Alva's eyes were open now, dark, slightly wild pools in the flickering light from the screen, the normally so animate face still frozen, but cracking under a pressure foreign to the man. "Paul. You. Cannot. Do..." Paul twisted his wrist and almost freed himself. The heel of his hand pressed into hot hardness. A gasp, and the ice shattered further. Paul felt his own mouth fall open as he saw Keel bite his lower lip viciously. Still, relentless, Keel's voice continued, interrupted in the middle by a sharply indrawn breath: "I won't let you do this, you don't want to..."
"Don't tell me what I want, Alva," Paul whispered back furiously, still barely knowing what he was doing, and why. He still refused to think, only wanted to feel. His hand tingled. His wrist ached. The fingers clamped around it relaxed a little, but still didn't let go. "I am not part of a chess set you can move to your own liking. Don't even pretend you don't want this, don't try to spare my delicate, church-grown sensibilities. You've been all but begging for me to notice you back these last weeks. Don't think I haven't seen how much you want to touch me. Jesus Christ, you can't keep you hands off me, now, can you?!" A gasp. The hand around his let go, weakly. "Evelyn told me you haven't been to the movies as long as she's known you; you hate the commercialism, you said to her." He rotated his wrist a little, pressed a bit more. "Still, you said immediately yes when I asked you..."
"Evi has no idea what I do or do not do in my private life, and has twisted an innocuous statement of mine into..." Paul had found the zipper again and now tried to get a better grip on it. The flesh under has hand swelled more and more, and the pure feel of it made his own breath come shorter. So foreign, and yet so strangely familiar. What was he doing?! "Paul, listen to me! Paul, I know you, you don't..."
"Shhhh!" A furious whisper came from behind them. The elderly couple might not be able to hear what they were talking about, but clearly objected to any kind of conversation during the movie. Keel's mouth clamped shut with an audible click, and his face transformed again. Paul practically saw the moment Alva Keel gave up resistance and let his defenses down. The dark head fell against the plush headrest, the clenched fists relaxed, the thighs fell open a bit further, and the swollen mouth trembled a little under each panting breath.
His own mouth was suddenly flooded with saliva. He swallowed reflexively and ordered his frozen hand to move. The noise of the zipper being pulled down was drowned out by the tram passing by a dark-haired, balding man on screen. Keel's whimper almost made Paul come in his pants.
He moved a little in his own seat, wishing he'd worn looser underwear, the moment Keel's swollen erection jumped into his hand. Hot. So hard, and such soft skin. Slight wetness at the tip. And another gratifying, quickly bitten-off moan from the other seat. He fumbled a little, wishing he hadn't taken the seat to the right. Keel might be left-handed, but he wasn't. He'd never... touched... himself with nothing but his left hand before, and had even less experience in touching another person's... cock than his own.
Still, the tactile experience was overwhelming. Add to that the strange twists and hot little explosions he felt his his own stomach and groin each time he moved his hand on Alva's cock. He felt his own mouth fall open, his vision dim, heard his own panting breaths in his ears, couldn't say which small noise came from him and which from Alva. He pressed a little harder, felt the veins under the thin hot skin, the spreading slickness, rubbed even faster, more and more frantic, barely paying any attention to their surroundings. Totally caught up in this strange race -- who would come first, Alva from being touched, or him, from doing the touching. Faster, and harder, faster, faster...
And he bit his own lip so deeply he tasted blood the moment Alva came all over his hand. The hot sensation in his own groin spread, and he felt his own climax ripped from him the heartbeat Alva coated his hand in warm slickness.
For a long moment, he couldn't move. Then reality intruded, and he withdrew his sticky hand so fast he ripped one finger on the teeth of the zipper. Keel refused to look at him, tried to get his own breath back under control. Paul didn't know what to do with his own hand. Finally, stiff and awkward, he fumbled for a tissue with his right, found it and wiped off his fingers. In his haste, he dropped it and scrambled desperately at his feet, not willing to leave behind any kind of evidence to his temporary madness.
The little screaming, reproaching voice in his head returned, easily drowning out the sounds of the movie. //What have you done, boy, don't you know that to do so is a sin against God and his teachings, and aren't you ashamed of this weakness of the flesh? How could you...//
His fingers touched wet tissue and cold plastic. Keel's cell phone. He'd found it.
He straightened up again. Keel finally looked at him. Paul didn't know what the other man read in his face, but judging by the immediate freezing up of Keel's features, even worse than before, it hadn't been something good. He lowered his eyes. A rasping sound, a slightly trembling hand that despite all self control couldn't contain said trembling -- Keel had pulled up his zipper, then immediately set his coat over his lap. His lips were pressed together. His profile looked as approachable as the sandstone reliefs at the portal of St. Francis.
Paul raised his hands to his face, lowered his aching head into it. As if burned, he let them fall to his lap at once. His left hand smelled of Keel's come. Desperately, he reached for his own coat and hid the slowly cooling wetness between his legs.
He had one and a half hours, perhaps a bit more, to come up with... what? A line of defense? A wall of his own? Enough time to will a fiction into being, a fiction that nothing had happened at all?
Paul stared fixedly at the screen. It took him five minutes to realize that he was biting the joint of his left middle finger, and that he could... still... taste...
He bit down as hard as he could. The pain was just the first part of his penance. He'd call Evelyn tomorrow and tell her he'd have to do some leg work for the next days, and postpone researching levitation cases in the Sodalitas Quaerito's files until the weekend.
He should have just kept silent about the tickets.
His stomach churned. His own small, dark apartment sounded like a haven right now, and ghosts like less unsettling company.
"Miracles" story by allaire mikháil, 4.488 words, Alva Keel/Paul Callan, first time, PWP, Callan POV, rated R, set after episode 1.06 "The Hand of God". Spoilers for episodes 1.01 to 1.06. First in the Discovering Things out of Darkness series.
The show and its characters belong to Richard Hatem, David Greenwalt, Zack Estrin and several other people as well as to ABC, not that ABC deserves them. Cancelling the show after merely broadcasting 6 (!) episodes of 13 is a slap in the face of all its loyal fans. This story belongs to me.
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