Disclaimer: I own nothing. Seriously.
A/N: I blame VampireNaomi for this. How could a joke on msn develop into something like this is beyond me, and hadn't she bribed me into posting this it would still be collecting dust in my HD. But oh, well, she held her half of her bargain, so fair's fair. As the summary says, it's my take on Buchelli's background, waaay before GK3 happened. I'd like to point out that I'm not at all close-minded about homosexuality like the fic seems to suggest, but hey, I was writing from the point of view of a Catholic priest in the 70's. Not much choice there. Maybe it wasn't even worth pointing it out, but since it's a kind of mindset I know very well and can't stand I decided I should mention it. XD
Naples, Italy, March 1975
The door of the church closed heavily behind him, causing the candle flames to flicker, but Father Buchelli didn't even notice it as he rested his back against the door and drew in several deep breaths, his eyes shut. Had he bothered to open them, he would have been grateful of the fact the church was seemingly empty: should anyone see him in that state, still panting after almost running all the way to the church and with his hair ruffled and his face clammy with sweat, they could have wondered what had happened to the usually collected and reserved young priest who had been helping old Father Donati for the past year.
But even if they did wonder what could it be to upset him that greatly, could anyone guess…?
The mere thought made his blood run cold. Buchelli burrowed his face in his hands, an anguished moan leaving his lips. His knees suddenly felt too weak to support him, and he could barely take the few steps that separated him from the confessional. He had to confess his sin and hope he could be absolved. He knew well what the consequences for him could be, but now he didn't care – all he cared for was confessing himself and pleading for absolution. Whatever consequences there might be, he'd face them: it would be a small price to pay for interior peace.
He staggered to the confessional and almost collapsed on his knees. The ritual words – ignosce mihi pater quia peccavi, forgive me father for I have sinned – tumbled from his lips like an avalanche while his head pounded and his voice threatened to break as he trembled like a lamb caught in a storm. And wasn't it what he was, a lost lamb whose only hope was that the shepherd would let him return to the fold?
He felt no shame while confessing his sin, he felt nothing at all as words came from his lips on their own accord. He had always found so much comfort in emptying himself through confession. This time was no exception, and every fiber of his being welcomed the comfort of emptiness as he spoke; he would have spoken even if anyone had been inside the confessional, because he simply could not bear that shameful secret anymore.
He told his confessor everything, everything that had led to that afternoon's events: the unholy attraction he had realized he felt for other men when he was little more than a boy, his terror and shame at the realization and his decision to enter the seminary once he was old enough. A priestly life would keep him safe from sin and temptation, he had thought, and for a time it had seemed to work. He had always been scared of the unholy desires and feelings he felt: he could not understand them, and the only thing he knew was that they were wrong, an abomination in the eyes of God. Focused on a life of prayer and study, he had little time to indulge in the thought of any kind of earthly pleasure, and it had been a relief.
But it hadn't lasted, not after meeting that man at the homeless shelter that he visited almost every day. He was young too, maybe a couple of years older than he was, and he worked as a cook every evening so that everyone who asked for it could receive a hot meal. He knew each homeless who went there, and once he was done cooking and everyone was enjoying the meal he would speak to the them, asking them if there was anything they could need – blankets, clothes, anything – and then doing his best to get them what they needed.
He was so at ease in that place that one could have thought it was his home, the homeless who went there to eat or seek some company being his family, and he had pretty much taken Buchelli under his wing when he had arrived. Buchelli had finished his novitiate barely a couple of months before, and he had just been transferred to Naples, where he knew nobody. Father Donati had a violent cold the day he had arrived, so Buchelli had barely had enough time to get off the train before he had been sent to help in the homeless shelter… and once there, for a few minutes he could only stand there at the entrance feeling somewhat intimidated by how the place buzzed with activity and without really knowing what to do, who he should speak to.
Gennaro had been the first one to approach him. He had explained him how everything worked and introduced him to each of workers and the homeless in the shelter, and in less than two hours he was behaving as though they had known each other for years. Buchelli had always been a fairly reserved man, and he had been surprised to realize that his behaviour didn't bother him at all. But, he had reasoned, it was only natural he would simply be grateful for it: he was in a city he had never even visited before, much bigger than the small town he came from, and he had no time at all to adjust. Gennaro had made him feel welcomed, and that had certainly helped.
From that moment on, no day passed by without him visiting the homeless shelter. It was his duty, of course, but he found it unexpectedly pleasant. Other than the satisfaction he took in helping the less fortunate – who sometimes seemed to be way more content than many 'fortunate' people he confessed in the church – he liked spending some time with the people working there. Most of them were laymen, like Gennaro, and while sometimes he could feel a tad uneasy – once one of the volunteers had accidentally cut his hand and uttered some profanities that had made him cringe while everyone else laughed – he did enjoy their company.
Most of all, he enjoyed Gennaro's company. The gratitude he had felt towards him on their first meeting was soon replaced by respect and admiration: even though he had started working at a young age and had never gotten to finish school he seemed to know more things than Buchelli had learned in all his years of study, and what struck the priest was how he didn't even seem aware of it. He was intelligent and witty, with an almost boyish charm that had made him the mascot of the place. Buchelli had never been one to bond easily with anyone, but it hadn't taken him much to warm up to Gennaro: any conversation with him on whatever subject – from trivial matters like that day's menu to religious dissertation – would be interesting and, if there was any disagreement, challenging, but never unfriendly.
But another thing Buchelli admired in him, though he was almost scared to admit it to himself, was his general attitude towards life. He was the kind of man who took whatever he wanted whenever he felt like it, the kind of man who didn't feel ashamed of his desires, whatever those may be, but simply did what was needed to satisfy them with a determination and a confidence Buchelli had never had.
In short, he was the kind of man Buchelli could never be. His education had been rigid: he could not simply reach out to take what he wanted, for it would be arrogant of him to think he had any right to anything God had not given him. He had to be humble and always grateful for what he had, never to demand for more; no riches nor pleasure of the flesh, nothing of what could be obtained in his mortal life should appeal him, for true happiness was to be found after death, in the Kingdom of Heaven – a kingdom he could access to if he proved himself worthy in that short, fallacious life.
There was a price for that – earthly desires were to be suppressed, especially unholy desires such as the ones he felt – but after all, he had been told since when he was a child, wasn't it a small price to pay for the reward of his immortal soul?
He had thought it was, and most of all he had thought he could actually suppress them, which was the reason why he hadn't immediately been worried when he had found himself anticipating his meetings and conversations with Gennaro... but after a few months, he had started to realize the unthinkable. At first he had tried to dismiss the thought, but in the end he could no longer fool himself. He had fought it then, God, he had! No day passed by that he didn't pray God to give him the strength to resist the temptation, to repress his unholy desire… but as time passed he was more and more aware of it, and it made him suffer like never before.
He had started to avoid Gennaro as much as he could, and if he had to stay close to him he was always careful to find an excuse so get away as soon as possible. The other man had noticed the change in his behaviour and he had been surprised and even hurt, even asking him if he had done anything wrong. Buchelli had reassured him that he hadn't, of course, and he had almost been terrified by the relief that had showed on Gennaro's face – both because it made him realize that the fact Gennaro valued his friendship meant much more to him than it should have and because he could see something different from just relief on his face when he looked at him that time, something closer to… to… no, it couldn't be!
He had immediately chased away the thought and muttered some excuse to get away as soon as he could, but that certainly hadn't solved his problems. If anything, it made them worse: from that moment on they rarely spoke to each other unless they had to, and even though he seemed hurt Gennaro had never asked again if anything was wrong… but now there was no denying the tension between them, and Buchelli was torn between regret for loss of what he had thought of as a friendship and something akin to horror at realizing that maybe it had never been a friendship at all, maybe that unholy attraction had always been between them, and they could never realize it.
In any case, it had to end. For a while he had almost considered asking for advice to Father Donati, but he had quickly chased away the thought: the mere idea someone could know made his blood run cold. No, he would deal with it by himself. And if there was no way he could simply ignore it, then he would do everything to avoid any situation that could lead him to temptation: if he had to approach him, he was always very careful to do so when other people were with them.
It had seemed the best solution to him, but he hadn't taken fate, or misfortune, in consideration.
As Easter approached it was time for each priest to bless each house in his assigned zone that would request a blessing, as it happened every year, and today was the day. The idea he could knock to a door to see Gennaro opening it hadn't even crossed his mind, and thus he had been stunned and terrified at the same time when he had knocked to the door of the last house in his assigned zone to see him standing in front of him.
They had stared at each other for a few long moments, too surprised to speak. Gennaro had been the first one to recover and had stepped aside to let him in. For a moment Buchelli had hesitated, all his senses screaming to get away from there, but how could he? It was his duty to bless that home, and he could in no way come up with a reasonable explanation if he just fled without doing what he was supposed to do.
So he had ignored the way his hands were trembling as he stepped in – as the door closed behind him, he felt as if he had just been sealed in his tomb – and he had carried on with the ritual. He had blessed the house and uttered a prayer with Gennaro with the feeling he was somehow committing a sacrilege by just praying with the object of his impure desire, and then… then…
Then his memories of what had happened only that afternoon became a blur. He remembered he had been about to leave, and he remembered how Gennaro had held out his hand to shake his. Buchelli had returned the handshake almost instinctively; but their gazes had met, and he suddenly could not will himself to let go of that strong, calloused hand. And something had changed in Gennaro's gaze, and he had moved first, and Buchelli had done nothing to stop him, he couldn't stop him, he didn't want to.
And only a few instants his world had collapsed on itself. For so much time he had willed himself to think that his spirit was strong, and maybe it was, but the flesh was weak and the temptation was too much in the end: he had given in, forgetting everything he had learned as heaven and hell seemed to have traded places for a few, fleeting hours, the border between bliss and damnation blurring and disappearing. When he had finally recollected his clothes and walked outside as Gennaro slept his mind was still dazed and he could barely even comprehend the enormity of what he had done.
But it hadn't lasted. He was barely outside when fresh air hit his face and seemed to awaken his mind from the daze. The full realization of what he had done had dawned on him, and he had almost fled back to the church, his soul crumbling and blackening with shame. He had almost thrown himself in the confessional where he was now, his face burrowed in his hands as words left him like a poisoned river, his features twisted in an anguished expression as he recalled what had happened. He had come to forget where he was, the consequences that there could be for him once his confession was over, everything – all that mattered was getting that awful weight off his chest and pray for God to have mercy on him, mercy on his soul, he had tried to fight it, he had tried…!
Lost in his anguished thoughts, he hadn't even realized that his confessor had gotten out of his side of the confessional to stand next to him until he was finally snapped from that trance by the weight of a hand resting on his shoulder.
He had to look terrified as he glanced up from his kneeling position to see Father Mauro Donati standing over him, and he suddenly felt even worse, like he felt as a boy any time he thought he had disappointed his mother or his father. That man had always thought so highly of him – and what would he think of him now? Buchelli cringed inwardly, a part of him certain that Father Donati was about to tell him to leave the house of God for good, but on the older man's face he saw no anger or contempt.
"Do you wish to sit while we talk about this?" he asked, and despite the worry in his eyes he seemed as affectionate and understanding as always. Buchelli would have felt less ashamed and unworthy if he were to face his wrath. He lowered his eyes, whishing nothing more than hearing the words of absolution coming from him, no matter how unworthy of it he was.
"Ignosce mihi, pater, quia peccavi…" he murmured again, his voice shaking, but he could say no more as Father Donati knelt next to him and grabbed his hands. His grip was surprisingly strong for a man of his age, and Buchelli found himself holding them back like a castaway clinging to a piece of driftwood.
"Ego te absolvo a peccatis tuis," Father Donati said, freeing one hand from his grasp and making a sign of the cross over him while he finished the formula "in nomine Patris et Filii et Spiritus Sancti. Amen."
I absolve you from your sins, in the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit – he had absolved him. It was not enough to make him feel any less guilty and ashamed, it could never be enough, but it did make him feel as if a weight had been lifted from him, some of his terror dissolving.
Still, despite the relief there was a more practical part of him that realized that Father Donati hadn't respected the usual ritual – he had gotten out of the confessional and he had not given him any penance before the absolution. He glanced up at the elder priest, who on the other hand seemed to have just read his thoughts. "You've tormented yourself more than enough," he said quietly before he reached to take something from his pocket "here."
It took Buchelli a few instants to understand why he was handing him a tissue. He reached up to touch his face, and he was mildly surprised to feel the wetness under his fingers. When had he started crying? He hadn't even realized it. "I…" he murmured, not really knowing what to say. His head pounded.
Father Donati didn't press on for him to say anything – he just pressed the tissue against Buchelli's hand until he recoiled and took it, using it to wipe his eyes and face. "You look like you've been slicing onion all day. You should put some ice on your eyes, and get some rest," he said with a small smile, getting up and helping him back on his feet as well. Buchelli gladly accepted his help – he had barely realized until that moment how weak he felt – but he still wouldn't raise his gaze to meet his elder's. If only he had been given a penance, then maybe he could feel worthy of so much indulgence.
"But if you wish to, would you pray with me now?" Father Donati's voice snapped him from his anguished musings, and for a moment Buchelli almost wondered if he could read his thoughts. He nodded, unable to gather his voice to reply.
"Good," Father Donati went to kneel in front of the altar, and Buchelli followed him. "Pater noster, qui es in caelis…"
Praying felt familiar and comforting, almost as comforting as confessing himself had been, and when they finished he had gotten back enough voice to speak rather than murmur. "Thank you, father."
"It is not me you have to thank – thank He who taught us not to judge to not be judged," Father Donati got back on his feet with a low murmur on how his knees were giving up on him before he turned to put a hand on his shoulder "now, do you wish to speak further of it?"
Buchelli swallowed. Did he really want to talk about it, really talk about it rather than just confessing? And what if someone knew, what if Father Donati…?
His elder seemed to once again read his thoughts. "You don't have to worry – everything you told me is under the secret of the confessional. You sealed my lips the moment you opened yours," he gave him a small smile "and you have my word that if you wish to join me in my office to speak about it again, nobody will know. Nobody but me, yourself and the Almighty. But if you do not wish to, or if you want to rest before…"
Buchelli shook his head: he simply couldn't picture himself getting any kind of rest, not in his current state of mind. He felt as though the most part of something rotten had just been pulled out of his body, but the a part of it was still there… and if he didn't try to remove it now, he might never again have the courage to do so, to face it. "Yes, I… if it isn't a bother…" he said, his voice wavering just a little.
"Not at all. Follow me."
Buchelli blinked as he saw Father Donati producing a bottle of wine that had probably been meant for mass form under his desk. "One of my weaknesses," he said with a small chuckle, filling two glasses and handing one to him. Buchelli took it and sipped some wine while Father Donati did the same. There was a brief silence, eventually broken by the older man.
Buchelli glanced up at him, his grip on the glass tightening. "Father, I'm… deeply ashamed and regretful of what happened. I swear by all that's holy-" he trailed off as Father Donati held up his hand.
"I'd be very grateful if you didn't swear on anything, Vittorio. Especially not so rashly. It's never a good idea to make oaths we're not certain we can keep."
Did he really think that he could commit the same… the same sin twice? No, he couldn't really think that! "Father, this is an oath I know I will keep. I'll never again break my vows, I'll never again let the-" he had been about to say 'the devil', but then the memory of Gennaro's smiling face flashed in front of his eyes and he found himself unable to utter that word "I'll never again let this unnatural… desire get the best of me."
"I understand," Father Donati took another sip of wine, observing him thoughtfully before he spoke again, and Buchelli shifted under his gaze "is that man someone who comes in this church?"
"I can't name him, father," Buchelli said quickly, his face flushing with shame "I have no right to confess anyone's sins by my own."
"Of course not. That question was badly put. In any case, I could guess he's someone you see often."
Buchelli lowered his head. "He is," he admitted weakly.
"Just as I feared. And do you think you'll be able to stand having to see him often?"
"I'll fight temptation with all I have, father. I won't allow myself to-"
"You already tried and failed to fight temptation, Vittorio. How can you be certain you'll have better success next time?" Father Donati asked plainly, and Buchelli winced. His elder clearly noticed his discomfort, for his voice softened again. "Son, you have to understand that what truly matters to me is your well-being. What happened upset you terribly – could you stand it if it happened again? And even if it never did, what good would it make you having to be constantly reminded of what happened, to fight temptation every day? Don't you fear it could be too much of a burden for you to carry for… for how much time, Vittorio? Months? Years?"
"I…" Buchelli swallowed "I wouldn't have taken my vows if I weren't ready for a life of sacrifice, Father," he said, but his voice was somewhat weak. Father Donati was right, he realized: now that he tried to actually picture having to face Gennaro again, the mere thought frightened him. What would he do? What would he say? How could he live with him close without going insane?
"Of course, and we are supposed to overcome any trial God puts in our way – but this would only bring you senseless sufferance. Do you really want to inflict it upon yourself? It would be a far too harsh penance."
There was a moment of silence before Buchelli glanced up at him again, suddenly looking everything like a cornered animal. "No," he whispered "I don't. But what else should I do? There are duties I have to attend to, and…"
"Not if you move to another place."
"To another place…?" Buchelli repeated, and for a moment he looked almost hopeful. It was a possibility that hadn't even crossed his mind, but it was perfect! It would give him a chance to start anew, to forget what had happened – no, to come to terms with it: he knew he could never forget what he had done – and stay well away from temptation. After all, he mused, one of the reasons why he had found himself so drawn to Gennaro was that he had become a point of reference to him. Buchelli came from a small, quiet town where everyone knew each other and there was little to no trouble, and he had been almost overwhelmed by how much bigger, crowded and filled with issues a larger city such as Naples was. If he could be moved back to a small, quiet place…
"Yes, another place. I was thinking of Rome."
So much for a small, quiet place. Buchelli's jaw fell open. "Rome?" he repeated, thinking that maybe he hadn't heard well.
Father Donati seemed amused by his reaction. "Why not? I have a good friend in Vatican, Father Grenna. I'm sure someone as bright as yourself are could give much to the Church if given the right means."
"Father, I don't think I deserve…" Buchelli fumbled to find the right words, but he trailed off as father Donati raised a hand.
"No, let me finish. You're one of the best theology students I've met: I heard very well of you when you were still a novice, and knew there was a good reason for that by the first week you were here. You might think you don't deserve this chance, but I think you do. You could become a brilliant scholar if given the right means. Vittorio," he looked straight in Buchelli's eyes "if you want me to proceed, all I need to do is a phone call and you'll be transferred in Rome – away from… temptation, and with all the knowledge Vatican has to offer within your reach. But there is one thing I need to know before I go ahead."
"What is it?" Buchelli breathed, still stunned by the thought of moving to Rome of all places.
The other man leant forward. "I need to know if you really think you were called to religious life."
Buchelli's eyes widened. Was he about to send him away from the Church after all? No, he couldn't! What would become of him outside of Church? "Father, I assure you that my call for priestly life is genuine," he said quickly, an anxious expression on his face "the flesh may be weak, but I can assure you that my faith never faltered and… and…" words seemed to refuse got come out of his throat now, and he felt like he couldn't breathe for a moment. He fell silent and swallowed, barely taking notice of his own sweaty palms as he drew in a long breath. "Please," he murmured in the end, his voice trembling.
Father Donati sighed. "Vittorio, I have no intention to close the doors of the church to you. I have no right to close these doors to anyone. I'm simply asking because I need to know this is indeed what you want. Without the call, this is not an easy life to lead… and I have seen many men who couldn't stand it in the end. You're still young, and you're still in time to change your mind. Have you thought about it thoroughly?"
"Yes," Buchelli's voice was firm once more "I have. It is my firm intention to spend my life serving God and the Church."
"I see," Father Donati observed him intently for a few more instants before he finally nodded "if that's your resolution, I'm certain you have your reasons. I take it you're willing to leave for Rome soon?"
"I'm ready to leave in any moment you think would be fitting."
"But you'd prefer to leave as soon as possible, wouldn't you?"
For what felt like the millionth time that evening, Buchelli wondered if that man could read his thoughts… or maybe he could simply picture how much he dreaded having to face Gennaro again. "Yes," he finally admitted. He felt a slight stab of something he refused to classify as pain at the thought that he would never see Gennaro again, but he ignored it.
"So be it. I'll arrange for you to be transferred as soon as possible. Until that moment…" he paused "you tell me, Vittorio. Do you wish to meet that man once more before you leave, maybe to explain…?"
The mere thought was enough to make Buchelli's blood run cold. "No," he said, an almost pleading note in his voice.
Please, don't make me face him again. I don't know what I'd do.
Much to his relief, Father Donati only nodded. "Very well. I'm sure we could come up with something to keep you busy for a couple of weeks."
Buchelli couldn't hold back a sigh of utter relief. "Thank you, father," he said shakily as he slumped back on his seat, light-headed and boneless. The enormity of what had happened that day was making his head spin.
In the end, they didn't need to come up with anything to justify Father Buchelli's sudden elusiveness in the couple of weeks before he was transferred: he fell ill the very same evening of his confession. It was nothing life threatening, just fever, though in the worst moments he had muttered something about burning in hell for his sins in his sleep.
It had probably been a psychosomatic illness, a reaction of his body to the terrible amount of stress, but – Father Donati would have never thought he would someday say a such thing of any kind of illness – it had almost been a blessing: it had given Buchelli a perfect excuse to stay secluded for a while, and then it had begun to fade as the day of his departure approached. By the day it was time for him to leave he was perfectly fine, if a little pale, and Father Donati could see how determinated he was to leave what had happened behind. He could only hope he would manage.
Father Donati was snapped from his thoughts as Buchelli spoke up. He had stayed silent most of the time, shifting the suitcase containing his few possessions from one hand to the other, only speaking now that they were standing in front of the train that would bring him to Rome, and to Vatican. "Yes?"
Buchelli turned to look at him with a grateful expression on his face, and for a moment Father Donati could have sworn his eyes were a little damp. "I will never thank you enough for this chance, and for… for everything."
"As I already said it's not me you have to thank. But if you think I managed to do you any good, do pray for me sometimes," Father Donati smiled as he reached out for Buchelli's hand "as I will pray for you."
Buchelli immediately took his hand. "You will always be in my prayers," he promised. He seemed about to add something else, but before he could a loud whistle made both men turn to the train.
"You better go, or you might have to walk all the way to Rome," Father Donati chuckled as Buchelli got on the train with his luggage "I'll anxiously wait for news from you. I'm sure you'll make good use of the means you'll be given. May God be with you, and bless you."
"And with you, too," was all Buchelli could utter before the train's doors closed. He saw Father Donati smiling and waving at him one last time before he turned to leave. Buchelli followed him with his gaze as he disappeared from sight in the crowd that filled the station. He finally sighed, took his luggage and went to look for a seat as the train began to move, bringing him away from Naples, from Father Donati, from Gennaro, and heading to an uncertain, unknown the future.
To the Vatican.