Good for the Soul
Good for the Soul
Summary: Face goes to confession. Takes place in August 1973.
Bishop David Magill entered the church in the pale dawn light of a warm August morning. It was his habit, even in his exalted position, to hear confession several mornings a week. This was a practice he'd kept since his days as a curate, fresh out of seminary. He felt he owed it to his flock.
Choosing his confessional at random from the dozen or so available in the large church, he settled himself comfortably and awaited his first `lost soul'.
Templeton Peck smiled as he watched the elderly cleric enter the church. It was nice to know that the respected old man was still a creature of habit. He'd heard young Alvin Brenner's petty confessions often enough during his years in the orphanage. Now, however, he had something more important to say.
He quietly crossed the street and entered the church, making sure he wasn't observed. Slipping into a pew, he knelt, watching surreptitiously as the bishop chose his box for the day. Seemingly lost in prayer, he let several other people go ahead of him while he got up the courage to follow through with his intentions.
Bishop Magill sighed inwardly as he listened to yet another litany of inconsequential `sins'. He didn't know what he was hoping for - certainly not a juicy scandal like adultery or murder. But surely people had better things to do than come to confession out of a mistaken sense of obligation.
He assigned a formulaic penance for the current confession of cheating at cards and shortchanging customers, and pronounced absolution, then waited for his next visitor.
It wasn't long before he heard the door on the other side click shut, and the rustle of fabric as the newcomer knelt, and a well-beloved voice pronounce the opening formula:
`Forgive me, Father, for I have sinned.'
A sharp intake of breath from the other side of the screen told Face that his voice had been recognized.
He wasn't surprised. Their story had been all over the news for months now. He could only hope and pray that the man who had been his mentor over the years had not turned against him. The old priest's next words would tell him all he needed to know.
`Templeton, my boy?!!'
Face bowed his head in relief as love sounded clearly in the simple phrase.
The heartbreak and relief in the young man's voice tore at Magill's soul. He'd watched the young man grow up, suffering unspeakable abuse, capped by the loss of the woman he'd planned to marry. He had a sneaking suspicion that Templeton had joined the Army on the rebound, as it were.
`What have you to confess, my son?'
`I...I went to Viet Nam hoping to die, Father,' Face said nervously, fearing he'd shock the man he loved almost like a father. When no comment was forthcoming, he continued.
`I was hurting so badly, Father. I didn't know if I believed in God anymore. All I knew was that I didn't want to live anymore.' He paused. `Little did I know that God had other plans.'
Bishop Magill smiled at that. He'd read the teenager's letters. Technically, he couldn't approve, but if this Hannibal person could give his boy the love he deserved, who was he to condemn it? Surely, God was more open-minded than many people gave Him credit for being.
`Anything else, my boy?'
`You know me, Father,' Face said. `I did my share of scamming and such over there.' He heard the snort, and could picture the good bishop shaking his head in fond disbelief. `But it was mostly for the good of others, Father; I swear! The civilians around the base, my fellow grunts, and especially for my unit.
`I'm not proud of it, Father. But it gave us an edge in the survival game, and I'd do it again without hesitation.'
Magill smiled at the implied challenge, and let it go. He didn't ask about the killing the young man most assuredly had done; it was part and parcel of being a soldier. Instead, he turned to the question that had been bothering him for months.
`And what about Hanoi?'
Face sighed. This was the question he had been dreading.
`Yes, we did it, Father. But it was a set-up, I promise you. Hannibal's CO hated him for some reason, so he took it out on the entire unit. We wouldn't have done it if we hadn't believed we were under orders.
`You know what happens to young men like me in prison, Father. Hannibal wasn't about to let that happen. Or let his men take the fall for something that didn't concern them. So, we broke out. It's taken us this long to get across the country to Los Angeles and settle down. This is my first chance to see you.'
The pain in the young man's voice was noticed by Magill. He nodded as Peck went on.
`We can't have a normal life, Father. But we're going to do our best to make our living honestly, by helping others who have nowhere else to turn. And we hope to clear our names someday.'
It was Magill's turn to sigh. A bud of pride and hope started to bloom in his heart as he heard the conviction in his favorite orphan's voice.
`There is no penance I can assign that is greater than the one you have imposed on yourself. Go in peace, Templeton, my son. Stay in touch, as you can. You will always be welcome here. And you have sanctuary here, should you and your friends ever have need of it.'
His absolution was answered by a whispered `Thank you', and the sound of an opening door.
The California sun was fully risen as Templeton Peck trotted down the church steps and across the street. A tall, silver-haired figure appeared to greet him.
`Well, did you make contact, Tem?'
Face looked up at Hannibal, his face wreathed in smiles.
`Yeah,' he said, the relief evident in his voice.
Hannibal nodded, glad to know that things had gone well. He was aware of how much the thought of disappointing Bishop Magill had weighed on his lover, and knew the younger man would have been devastated if he'd been rebuffed. It occurred to him, too, that the good bishop might make a useful contact, but that was beside the point. What mattered was that his young companion was content.
He slipped an arm around Face's waist as they turned for home.
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