OK, so remember that fic that I thought was lost? Well, it's no longer lost. It's finished. ^_^ And hm. Well, it's not quite as schmoopy puppy love as I initially thought, but there is some of that, at least and the ending is awful schmoopy. *unsure but game smile* *coughs* Anyway, Book of Mormon fic #2, set nominally within the same universe as "No Exit," but you don't have to read that one to understand what's going on in this one. ^_^
Title: Turn It Off
Fandom: The Book of Mormon, a Broadway musical
Pairing: Elder McKinley/Elder Price
Word Count: Total: 18,171, Part 1: 8,778
Warnings: SPOILERS!. Slash, angst, reference to what General Butt F'ing Naked did to Elder Price.
Disclaimer: Neither the musical nor the boys belong to me, if they did, Elder McKinley would have a boyfriend by the end of the show and it would probably be Elder Price. ^_~ ((Book of Mormon was written by Trey Parker, Matt Stone and Robert Lopez.))
Summary: "Where's your 'nifty, little Mormon trick,' now, huh? What good is it if you can't use it when you need it most?"
July 19, 2011: Basically this story picks up somewhere soon after the musical leaves off. The Church has abandoned our poor missionaries and they've started spreading the Book of Arnold as the new word. Elder Price is having more than a small crisis of faith and Elder McKinley is doing his best to help which unfortunately isn't good enough. Angst and shenanigans ensues. ^_^
Enjoy and please remember... comments and reviews are love!
Turn It Off - Part 1
If you had asked Arnold Cunningham one year ago what he would be doing today... he wouldn't have been able to answer. He didn't know. He hadn't even thought he would be graduating with the rest of his mission class, had been certain that he was going to fail before he even had a chance to try. But he hadn't. He hadn't failed. Not only had he graduated, but he'd been sent on a mission with - of all people! - Kevin Price. Even now, even after all that had happened, he still held a small glow of worship for his mission companion. Kevin had left him, yes, had had a true crisis of faith, too, but he'd come back. He'd come back and with his help and support, Arnold had managed to save everyone in Nobunaga- wait. Notoedres- no, that wasn't right. Nederlander? Oh, man. - in her town. Maybe they hadn't done it in quite the approved way... and maybe they'd broken a few rules while they were at it... and maybe they no longer had the official support of the Mormon church... but the people were happy and they treated each other well and things were slowly getting better! That had to count for something. At least Kevin thought so, had said so more than once. And Arnold believed him. Kevin knew things like that.
Which brought Arnold back to the thoughts that had driven him out here to walk to begin with. His mission partner had been... well... distracted, lately. Not himself. He wouldn't tell Arnold what was wrong, wouldn't even admit that something was wrong, but something clearly was. He wasn't sleeping well, for one thing. Arnold had heard him moaning in his sleep the other night, thought he might have been having the Spooky Mormon Hell Dream - but could he even have it anymore if they weren't technically Mormons? With a growl of frustration, Arnold slapped his hands against his cheeks, "Stop getting distracted. Think, Arnold. Think."
That had always been his problem - getting distracted. Arnold had always found it difficult to focus, especially in school, but this was different. This was his best friend. He had to focus, had to see if there was some way he could help...
As Arnold came around the corner leading back to the mission house, he heard a voice. He wasn't totally sure, but he thought it might be Elder McKinley. What was he doing out here? Dropping down behind the bushes, he edged a little closer to try to get a better look.
Sure enough, it was Elder McKinley. He was pacing back and forth, hands frantically waving around as he walked. He looked upset. Arnold snorted, Seems to be going around, I guess. After watching for a little longer, Arnold was finally able to make out some of what the other young man was saying.
"-just turn it off. It's always been so easy before. Just... find the switch and ~Click!~ Gone. Just... off. So why isn't it working this time?" He then sat down hard on a nearby rock and buried his face in his hands, let out a small scream of what Arnold guessed was frustration.
Well, that was... weird. He remembered when he and Kevin had first gotten here. Elder McKinley had been the one to try to make them feel better about what had happened that day, told them they could make the bad feelings disappear by just not feeling them. That had never worked for Arnold before, but for Kevin, he'd been willing to try again. So, what bad feeling was Ryan McKinley trying so hard to escape? He guessed it didn't really matter. Arnold had to focus on Kevin. He'd let Elder Thomas know that his mission companion needed help. He'd take care of it. Satisfied with that solution, Arnold resumed his walk and his thinking. He'd get to the bottom of this whether Kevin wanted him to or not.
A week later, Arnold was no closer to finding an answer to Kevin's problem - or finding out what Kevin's problem even was, for that matter - than he'd been before he started. It was frustrating. He'd talked to NoVacancy- no. NoSpeakEnglish? Damn it. One of these days he was going to get it right. - her about it, but she hadn't noticed anything wrong. She'd just shrugged, said that she had faith that Arnold would figure it out because Arnold was the prophet.
Well... that was just the problem, wasn't it? As much as he was enjoying the attention and as much as he loved what it was doing for their little community, he knew he wasn't a prophet. He just made stuff up that people enjoyed listening to. Half of it wasn't even original. And the half that was... well... most of it had been Kevin's ideas. And now that Kevin wasn't being his usual brilliantly helpful self Arnold didn't know what to do. He needed Kevin, needed Elder Price's unshakable faith. So, whatever he had to do to help his friend, he was going to do. He needed him too much to do otherwise.
A loud splash made Arnold stop in his tracks. What was...? He backtracked along the path until he reached the short turnoff to the lake. As he reached the last bend, he ducked down amidst the tall reeds to stay hidden. Habit, really. It was also a really good way to find things out that you weren't supposed to know.
Well... this looked interesting. It looked like the splash had been Kevin hitting the water. Elder McKinley was standing on the shore, laughing hysterically at the look of shocked horror on Kevin's face. Arnold was just about ready to jump to his mission companion's defense when he saw the look on Kevin's face change from horror to... well... sneakiness? Slyness? He might not have a name for it, but he recognized the look. It was a "Han Solo up to no good" look. Arnold laughed under his breath. Kevin as Han Solo. That would make Arnold Chewbacca, wouldn't it? Oh... no, wait. These days, that might make him Luke Skywalker. He smiled, held himself a little straighter. Arnold Cunningham as Luke Skywalker... that was a good one.
Arnold decided to wait, see how this played out. A few minutes later, he was glad he had. Kevin swam back to shore, reached a hand up out of the water to grab onto Elder McKinley's leg and gave it one good tug, and... SPLASH! Elder McKinley was in the water, too. When his head broke the surface, spluttering indignantly, Kevin's eyes turned merciless and he dunked the other missionary back under the water.
When a real splashing match ensued, Arnold couldn't keep silent any longer. He loved a good water fight. Earlier thoughts forgotten - again - he took a running start and leapt into the air. He yelled, "CANNONBALL!" and easily swamped the other two with the wave he created on impact. All work and no play makes Arnold a boring prophet, right?
"Mutumbo is dead. Dead of his AIDS."
Arnold stared at Chief Mafala. He... somehow, he'd never thought... Mafala seemed to be expecting him to say something, so Arnold stammered out the first thing that came to mind, "Are... are you sure?"
Nantucket... no. Nagasaki? Oh, the hell with it already. She stepped up and put a hand on Arnold's arm, said quietly, "He was sick for months. It was why he was so desperate when you first came here that he tried... what he did. But you knew this. It is the way of things, Elder Cunningham. It is the way of things here in Uganda."
Seeing that Arnold was in no shape to play the reassuring, magnanimous church leader, Kevin thanked the chief for bringing them the news and gently steered Arnold back into the mission house. Once he had Arnold seated inside, he said, "Why are you so surprised?"
Arnold gaped up at Kevin, finally got out, "Well... well... why aren't you?"
Kevin sighed, sat down across from Arnold at the table, "Arnold... you've seen the statistics. 80% of the Ugandans have AIDS. They don't even have treatments to slow the disease down. They're too expensive. That means that 80% of them are going to die. The teacher, the butcher, the doctor, Nabulungi's father, too. There's nothing we can do about that. Don't take it so hard, OK?"
Nabulungi! That's what her na- No. No, Arnold. Don't get distracted now. He looked up at Kevin, eyes hopeful that his mission companion might be stretching the truth, "Is... isn't there anything we can do to stop it?" When Kevin merely shook his head, Arnold exploded with, "But how could G-d let this happen?"
Kevin swallowed hard, slumped in his chair. When his voice emerged again, it was choked with emotion, "I'm not the one you should be asking."
Wait... wait... this... Arnold nearly jumped from his seat at this sign of Elder Price's wall finally cracking. That meant that Kevin might actually talk to him, tell him some of what was wrong. That was more important than anything. Grief over Mutumbo momentarily forgotten, Arnold leaned forward, "Kevin... best friend... why shouldn't I ask you? I trust you. Without you, we'd never have accomplished so much here."
Kevin got up so fast that he knocked his chair over backwards. As it crashed to the floor and everyone else turned to stare, Kevin turned wild eyes on Arnold. He clenched his fists, gritted out, "Trust me? You shouldn't. You really shouldn't. I'm not even sure G-d exists anymore, Arnold. Everything we've accomplished? That's a laugh. What have we really done? Nothing. People are happily dancing their way to the grave instead of trudging. That's all." He turned away, let out a bitter laugh, "Everything we see here? Everyone that gets sick and dies here? Our exile from our families for trying to do the right thing? If G-d is real... if he does exist... he's a right, fucking bastard, if you ask me." He then muttered something under his breath and stormed off, the door to the mission house slamming shut in his wake.
Arnold stared after his friend, far too shocked to do anything else. A quiet voice interrupted his shock a few minutes later - it was Elder McKinley, "Elder Cunningham... what does 'Hasa Diga, Eebowai' mean?"
Arnold hadn't had the guts to go after Kevin after that explosion of temper. It felt horribly like breaking Rule 72 - leaving his mission companion alone while on mission - but he just... he couldn't. If this was at the core of Elder Price's problems, then what had they really been doing here all these months? He knew he wasn't a prophet. Kevin knew he wasn't a prophet. But Kevin had helped spread the "Book of Arnold," anyway, had been the one to come up with the idea in the first place. What had he said? "If the Church won't help these people, someone has to, and Arnold... they listen to you. They listen to your words and those words help. So, let's use that."
They'd built a whole new church around those words, had converted all the Ugandans in their little town and started reaching out to others. And it was making a difference. It was helping. But... if Kevin didn't even believe in Heavenly Father, anymore, then why were they even doing it? How could they found a church if Heavenly Father wasn't at its heart? It didn't make sense. It didn't make any sense.
He looked around the room, found most of his fellow missionaries studiously avoiding his eyes. Everyone was accounted for except Kev- wait. Where was Elder McKinley? Arnold got up from the table, approached Elder Thomas, "Elder Thomas... Where is your mission companion?"
The other missionary ducked his head, shrugged his shoulders, "He... after you told us what that... that... phrase meant... He went outside after Elder Price, I think." At Arnold's quietly voiced, "Oh," Elder Thomas looked up at Arnold. He said, "Elder Cunningham... are we cowards, you and I? To leave our companions alone? I want to go after Ryan, but... I'm scared. I've looked up to Elder Price since missionary school. If he no longer believes in Heavenly Father... if even he can be subverted... what hope do the rest of us have?"
Arnold didn't have an answer for that, didn't even want to think too hard about the question. It was too close to what he'd been thinking himself, lately. But he did know one thing. He was no coward. Not anymore. And he was not breaking Rule 72. His mission companion- no. His best friend needed him. He was going after Kevin.
It didn't take Arnold long to find him - to find them, actually. They weren't that far from the mission house... in body, anyway. In spirit, though... Holy Heavenly Father, Batman. They couldn't have been further away if they tried. Arnold stayed hidden once again, didn't want either Elder Price or Elder McKinley to know they were being watched. He hid... and he listened, because, well... if Elder McKinley could get to the bottom of Kevin's crisis of faith, then Arnold wasn't above taking advantage of that.
Elder McKinley was holding Kevin and Kevin was resting his head on the other man's shoulder, his hands clutched tightly in the fabric of Elder McKinley's shirt. It looked... it almost looked like he'd been crying. But... that wasn't possible. Elder Price didn't cry. Did he? Arnold felt a bolt of shame at that. If Kevin was crying... if Kevin was so upset as to need to cry... Arnold should have been the one to comfort him. He was Kevin's best friend, his mission companion. Where had he been when Kevin so obviously needed him? Well, that piece of guilt was his alone to carry. He leaned closer, tried to make out what the pair was saying.
Kevin's were the first words he caught, "Where's your 'nifty, little Mormon trick,' now, huh? What good is it if you can't use it when you need it most?" Kevin's breath hitched and his fingers tightened in Elder McKinley's shirt.
Elder McKinley just held him a little tighter, rocked him gently, "I don't know. Kevin, I don't know. I've been asking myself that for months. Why now? Why you? I never wanted to drag you into this hell with me. G-d, I didn't want that." His voice dropped into a harsh whisper, "Why here of all places? Surely you've heard the whisperings in the villages? They're going to pass a law that makes it... makes this punishable by death! It isn't safe for you to even be seen with me like this, much less..." He blushed, "...much less anything else."
Arnold continued to stare. This was what Kevin had been hiding behind Elder Price's perfect mask? Oh, man... He forced down his instinctive need to jump up and separate the two of them and instead tried to listen with an open mind. This was Kevin freaking Price. He wouldn't be standing out here wrapped around Elder McKinley like an octopus without a damned good reason.
Kevin picked his head up, took a step back from Elder McKinley. Good, that was... that was better. At least he was only in contact with the other man via hands on his shoulders now. That could be interpreted in any number of ways- Oh my, G-d.
Kevin's eyes blazed and he shifted his grip from Elder McKinley's shoulders to his face, pulled him in closer and pressed their lips together. It was brief, only lasted a few seconds, and didn't involve anything more than lips touching lips... but, Jesus Christ... what was Kevin thinking? Arnold nearly leapt to his feet again, but Kevin was speaking now, words almost angry as he dropped his hands back to Elder McKinley's shoulders and gave him a hard shake, "Anything else, huh? Like that? Is that what you meant?"
Elder McKinley struggled against him, tried to pull away, but Kevin was stronger. Of course, Kevin was stronger. He was stronger than any of them, better than any of them... but how could he be when he had this hiding in his heart? This went against everything that Heavenly Father taught. Heavenly Father said it was wrong, it was perverse, it was unnatural, it was... it was... It was pulling Kevin to pieces. Arnold slumped. This must have been what was bothering Kevin all this time. But what the hell could Arnold do about this?
Elder McKinley finally managed to get enough leverage to push Kevin away from him. There was a deep flush in his cheeks and his eyes were wild, a little scared, "Don't you get it? We can't... we can't do this! We can't be this thing! Heavenly Father-"
Kevin cut in at that point, "Heavenly Father doesn't give a shit what we do here, Ryan. Don't you get that? If He did, if He were really up there watching us, then why did all this happen? Why does He let people live like this? Why does He let them die like this? Why did He tell the Church to abandon us here for actually daring to do something to help? Why?" That last word came out so plaintive... Jesus Christ, if Elder McKinley didn't hug him again, Arnold was gonna jump up and do it for him.
Thankfully, though, Elder McKinley got the message. He stepped closer and pulled Kevin back into his arms, gently rubbed his back as Kevin clung to him. After making a few shushing noises, he said, "Kevin... your current crisis of faith aside, you know that Heavenly Father is real. You're a Mormon. You have to believe that. It's what we are." Ryan paused for a minute, then said quietly, "This... this isn't really about the Africans, is it? And it isn't about the Church. I know you've been bothered about them, but that's not what has you this upset."
Kevin pulled away at that, turned his face away and angrily wiped at his eyes. His voice was harsh when he said, "I don't know what you're talking about."
Elder McKinley stepped up behind him, put his hands on Kevin's shoulders and after placing a gentle kiss on the back of Kevin's neck, said, "Yes, you do. You know exactly what I'm talking about. This is about what happened to you."
Kevin jerked away again then spun back to face Elder McKinley and Holy Moses, Arnold had never seen him so distraught, even when he'd found him in the caf jonesing off of twelve cups of coffee. There were high points of color in both his cheeks and his eyes were glazed, his breath now coming fast and shallow. When Elder McKinley moved to take a step closer, Kevin backed away again, held his hands up defensively. His voice shook when he answered, "Don't pretend you understand, Ryan. How could you possibly understand? You can't. You have no idea what you're talking about, so back off."
Elder McKinley winced, pulled his hands back against his chest. When he spoke, it was in a whisper, "You're right, Kevin. I can't understand what you've been through." In spite of himself, Elder McKinley's mouth then twisted into a bitter parody of a smile, "It's not an experience I would wish on my worst enemy and you're anything but." He shook himself, looked back up at Kevin, "But there is one thing I do know, even if I don't understand... Kevin, it wasn't your fault. It wasn't anything you did, OK? You have to understand that."
Kevin let out his own bitter laugh at that one, "Right right. None of this is my fault. It isn't as though my own stupid pride and arrogance had anything to do with what happened. In fact, now that I think about it, maybe this was a punishment. Maybe it was Heavenly Father's way of reminding me that this is a sin. Maybe it was His way of telling me I was getting too big for my britches, huh? And if so... what kind of sick fuck would let someone do that to his son just to teach him a lesson?"
Kevin laughed then, high and frantic, "I'll tell you. The same kind of sick fuck who would kill his son to erase the sins of a people who treated that son like garbage. The same kind of sick fuck that would ask another father to kill his son just to prove his loyalty. The same kind of sick fuck that would tell a man to lead a people to the Promised Land and then kill him before he gets to see it!" He laughed again, wrapped his arms around himself, "Well, let me tell you, Elder McKinley. If that's the Heavenly Father that we serve... then he sure as Hell doesn't deserve my worship. I'd rather believe that He doesn't exist." He spat out the last word like something vile, spun on his heel and took off through the undergrowth towards the village.
Kevin came back to the mission house very late that night and snuck into the room that he and Arnold shared without even a word. And, Heavenly Father help him, Arnold hadn't had the guts to open his mouth and say one bloody word, either. Not when Kevin still looked so upset. Not when he was still so angry. Not when Arnold was still so damned confused. There was something else going on here, some puzzle piece that he was missing. After thinking for hours, he still didn't know what Kevin and Elder McKinley had been talking about. What had happened to Kevin that was so bad that it put him in this much of a crisis? It was probably the same thing that had driven him to that caffeine indulging spree, but Arnold didn't know what had prompted that either. Well, until Arnold knew, he was keeping his mouth shut.
But there was one thing he could do. Once Kevin was settled into his bunk, Arnold started softly singing, "Hush now, little buddy, put your cares away..."
And when halfway through the song Kevin started crying quietly into his pillow, Arnold didn't say a word, just reached out his hand and took one of Kevin's in his, held it tight to his chest as he finished the song... and kept protective hold of it for the rest of the night.
The next morning, Kevin ducked away before Arnold had a chance to talk to him about the night before. By the time they ran into each other later that day, Elder Price was back in full presence, shining as a bright beacon of an example of what their church could be. It was as though the other day had never happened. Arnold tried to ask about it, tried to find that crack in Kevin's faade that he'd stumbled on the day before, but it was gone, smoothed over like it had never been. Other than Elder Price and Elder McKinley avoiding each other like they each thought the other had leprosy, it seemed like everything was back to normal. Arnold had no choice but to let it go.
They went back to their work, helping the Africans to plant crops from the meager supply of seeds they'd managed to procure, helping to build more secure housing, trying to find ways to protect the few clean water sources they had. And Arnold slowly forgot about Kevin's "problem" - though if one were to be fair, he didn't exactly want to remember, was glad of the opportunity to forget.
It wasn't until almost three months later - the one year anniversary of their arrival in Uganda - that Arnold was reminded of the ticking time bomb in their midst. Kevin had been working hard and tirelessly, trying to attract notice and attention for what they were accomplishing in this small Ugandan town. If they could get someone to take notice, someone like Doctors without Borders or the Peace Corps - hell even the 4-H would be a major score at this point - then maybe they could get some real help for these people they'd come to care for like family.
Well, Kevin had finally managed to call in a favor from someone he'd known in school, a man who had graduated three years earlier than they. He was attending Ohio State University pre-med now, and he worked closely with the local Peace Corps organization. When Kevin had explained their plight, asked if his friend knew anyone who might be able to help, John had said that he might and asked for some time to work his contacts. Kevin had thanked him, said that though time was a slim commodity these days, John could have as much of it as he needed if it would get them help but he'd been despondent for days after that. Not even Arnold had been able to cheer him up. Though the possible promise of help had given them all hope, Kevin alone among them hadn't really believed that his old friend would come through for them.
They were all a little shocked, though, at how big a way John came through for them when he finally did. He'd brought their situation to the attention of the student chapter of the Peace Corps at Ohio State, many of whom were fellow Mormons - or would that be ex-fellow Mormons? Focus, Arnold! - and they'd been riled up enough by their mission's abandonment to get the attention of someone higher up. The Peace Corps was coming to visit that very week with supplies and, more importantly, with trained people who could help. It was a miracle. And the other elders told Kevin so every chance that they got.
Kevin took in their praise and adoration like it was his due and their duty, Elder Price back in his element, at last. And Arnold was so happy to see him happy that he didn't even care. If he'd known what that visit would bring, however... he might have paid a little more attention to the details.
John Kimball and the Peace Corps arrived on a bright Sunday morning. Auspicious, Arnold's mother would have said, that they arrived on the Lord's Day. Arnold's father would have said it was the opposite - a bad omen that they'd traveled for work purposes on the Sabbath. Arnold didn't care. He was just glad they were here. They brought food and medicine and good timber and clothes, everything the beleaguered elders would need to get Noctiluca- No. Nucleoli? Damn it. Napoleon? Double damn it. - her village back up and running again.
Arnold had insisted on being the one to help bring down the medical supplies. Chief Mafala was starting to show signs of some of the secondary illnesses associated with the AIDS virus and Arnold wanted to be the one to bring the doctors, the medicine, to the village. She'd be so happy... He'd left Elder Price and the rest to help organize the non-medical personnel and supplies. This was Kevin's windfall so Arnold figured that he deserved to reap most of the benefits, but this one... this one was Arnold's.
Though the other villagers were wary at first, she was so happy to see him - and to see who and what he'd brought - that she quickly won them over. The doctor especially was happy to see the medicines, dove into them like a kid in a candy store. He was just as happy to see the doctors that came with the medicine, was thrilled to be able to talk shop and get some help in the clinic, however briefly.
Over the next several days as things really started taking shape, Arnold visited the village more and more. He said it was because he wanted to see this miracle as it was happening... and that was true. But it was also true that Kevin seemed more and more preoccupied with picking John's brain about life back in America and it was bothering Arnold something fierce. Somehow... well, Arnold had gotten the idea along the way that since they'd broken from the Mormon church, kind of, that what they were doing here was building a life for all of them. He hadn't really thought about that distant someday in two years time - or a year and 9 months for Elders Thomas, McKinley and some of the others - when they'd be leaving Uganda behind and going home. Home... what did that even mean anymore? Home was where Nicaragua - Nickadams? Naloxone? - lived. And she lived here, in Uganda. Home was where Kevin lived... and it looked like Kevin wanted to leave. So... what was Arnold going to do if he had to make a choice between them? He didn't know. And so he fretted and he made a nuisance of himself, got underfoot where he probably didn't belong.
Arnold had finally been banished to the old clinic, helping to move the files into the sturdy prefab buildings that the Peace Corps had brought with them to house the new clinic. At least fetching and carrying was something he could manage without being too much in the way. Or so he'd thought. On his third trip, he well... tripped. The box of files in his hands spilled out onto the floor of the clinic and he was so frustrated by then that he nearly shouted out 'Hasa Diga, Eebowai,' before thinking better of it.
He got down on the floor and started meticulously picking up the files and stuffing papers back into them. They'd gotten all mixed up and after the first few Arnold could see that it was going to take forever if he had to do it alone. Fortune, however, smiled on him for once.
Elder McKinley dropped down next to him, put a hand on his shoulder and smiled reassuringly, "Elder Cunningham, perhaps I can help?"
Arnold just nodded vehemently, so relieved at the offer of help that he forgot all about why he should feel awkward around the other Elder. They worked in silence, trading files back and forth as they found papers that belonged to different ones. As they neared the bottom of the pile and the heavier items, Arnold let out a cheer. He picked up one of the x-ray files, but before he could take note of the name on it he froze, face twisted up in confusion at what he was seeing. What on Earth...? It was a person's bottom. And it looked like... Jesus Christ! Was that a... a book?
Out of the corner of his eye, he saw Elder McKinley's own eyes widen in horror. Before he had a chance to even ask, though, Elder McKinley had grabbed the x-ray out of his hand and shoved it into a file that he'd had sitting on his other side. His voice sounded breathy and a little panicked when he said, "I've got that one!" and Arnold was too surprised by his brusque behavior to call him on it. They filed the rest of the x-rays in awkward silence and when it came time to put the last of them back in the box so Arnold could finish carrying it, Elder McKinley surprised him again by taking it out of his arms and volunteering to take this one himself. He was then off and away before Arnold could even argue.
Curiouser and curiouser.
Arnold lingered in the new clinic once the work was done for the day. That incident with Elder McKinley had stuck with him, stayed in his mind, and he'd worried over it all day like a sore tooth. It had to be a joke x-ray. After all, how could someone get a book stuck up their...? Even though there was no one around, Arnold still ducked his head to hide his blush. It was just... Bizarre, even for a joke.
Once he was sure he was alone, Arnold went over to the new filing cabinets and started flipping through the x-ray files. There weren't that many - x-ray film was awfully expensive - so it shouldn't take too long to find it again.
And once he found it... Heavenly Father, Arnold almost wished he hadn't.
The name on the file - the file that Elder McKinley had been trying so desperately to hide from Arnold's sight - was "Kevin Price."
But... but when had this happened? How had it happened? How had Arnold not known about it? Arnold pulled out the accompanying file, cursed under his breath when he realized it was written in one of the local dialects, not in English. All he could make out was the date. But that date was enough, because sweet Jesus, that date... That was the day the mission president had come for his visit. That was the day that he'd found Kevin in the caf, downing cup after cup of espresso. That was the day that he'd finally had the guts to treat Kevin the way that Kevin had always treated him... like crap. Like he was nothing.
That was the day that Kevin started falling apart.
Jesus. Christ. On. A. Crutch.
Arnold stood there shaking for several minutes, so confused and so racked with guilt that he didn't know which way to turn. He... he couldn't ask Kevin to tell him about it. That just wouldn't be fair. And Elder McKinley obviously knew and didn't plan to talk either, but who else was there that he could get the story from? Well... Wait. There was one other person that he could ask, because if this had happened and wasn't just a joke by the doctor, then there was only one person who could have done it. If Arnold hadn't been the head of the new church, if he hadn't written the Book of Arnold, he'd never have dared even go near that person. But he was and he had... and he was doing this for Kevin. He couldn't help his friend if he didn't know the whole story.
Arnold slid the file back into the cabinet and went in search of the General.
Two hours later, Arnold almost wished he hadn't had the courage to go seek out the truth. The General had been rather more forthcoming about the details of his and Kevin's encounter than Arnold was comfortable with, had almost seemed to relish reliving the memory. It made Arnold a little sick, reminded him that the General still needed some very careful handling and some very strict guidance with all that darkness inside him. But that was a problem for another day. Today's problem was Kevin.
A tiny voice inside Arnold whispered that maybe this was a good thing. After all, if Kevin had been having gay thoughts before - well, Kevin had said it himself - wouldn't this be enough to scare anyone off of that path? But the part of Arnold who had never been a good Mormon, the part of him that was a good friend that part of Arnold was conflicted. Because that kind of trauma was bad for anyone to carry around, no matter what else it might be good for, and Kevin didn't deserve that. Arnold was well aware that he was no more a therapist than Elder McKinley, but Kevin was his best friend he had to try.
As luck would have it, though - or not - Kevin wasn't at the mission house when Arnold got back from his talk with the General. Neither was Elder McKinley. Arnold didn't know what to make of that. He asked around and everyone claimed they hadn't seen either of them... but Elder Thomas wouldn't meet his eyes when he told him so. Arnold stared him down, easily able to recognize the lie when he'd told so many himself. Elder Thomas knew damned well where his mission companion was and he was going to share that information with Arnold whether he wanted to or not.
After a few moments of locking gazes with Arnold, the other man broke, told him where Kevin and Elder McKinley had gone. Arnold declared that Elder Thomas was coming with him, that they were going to get to the bottom of this once and for all. No matter how the other man protested, Arnold wasn't hearing of it. He had to do something to try to fix this mess.
They found the pair behind one of the prefab buildings the Peace Corps had brought with them - a storage house for grains and such. They were standing awfully close to each other, almost in each other's faces, and seemed to be having a pretty heated discussion, too. Arnold hushed Elder Thomas before he could call attention to their presence, forced him down behind the bushes so they could watch the pair unobserved.
A moment later, in a strange reversal of the last time Arnold had been in this position, the balance shifted. Elder McKinley was now the one doing the pursuing and it was Kevin who couldn't keep him far enough away. After a few minutes of this game of keep-away, Elder McKinley grew frustrated, grabbed Kevin by the shoulders and slammed him against the wall of the storehouse. He slid his hands down to grab Kevin's wrists and hold them out to the side so he couldn't push the other man away, pushed up against him and pressed their lips together. Even from this distance, Arnold could see that Kevin wasn't comfortable with that action, was in fact, somewhat scared by Elder McKinley's sudden aggression. Couldn't Elder McKinley see it? Jesus Christ, what was wrong with him?
Knowing what he now knew, it took everything Arnold had in him not to leap from the bushes and come to Kevin's defense. No one who'd been violated that way should be treated like this! Before he could do anything, though, Kevin's posture relaxed and his hands twitched. When he felt that relaxation, Elder McKinley released Kevin's wrists and instead slid his hands up to cup Kevin's face. Kevin let his hands drop forwards to rest on Elder McKinley's waist, eventually slid them around him to pull the other man closer. The kiss gentled, became mutual, tender... kind of sweet, actually.
Apparently Elder Thomas thought so, too, judging by the small sniffle and the happy sigh coming from Arnold's left. It didn't last, though. The two men parted lips, though Elder McKinley remained pressed up against Kevin and Kevin didn't seem to be in a hurry to let go, either. After a minute of staring into each other's eyes, Kevin leaned forward to rest his head against Elder McKinley's. Arnold was only barely able to make out what he said. It was, "You could come with me, you know."
Arnold's heart rate kicked up a notch. He'd been right. Kevin was thinking of leaving. What about their dreams to build a paradise planet here? Was he just going to abandon all that? Again?
Elder McKinley shook his head, "I can't. My mission isn't over for another eight months. If I leave early I could be forced out of the church. My soul is damned enough already without that, Kevin."
At those words, Kevin finally did push him away, started angrily pacing the clearing. When he turned back to face Elder McKinley he said, "So what is this, then? Don't you remember what you told me when I got here? According to the very church you cling to, it isn't even OK to have gay thoughts, remember? So, what do you call this? CPR practice?"
Elder McKinley flushed, took a step closer, hand outstretched, then seemed to think better of it and pulled his hand back in. He shifted nervously for a moment before answering, "It... I..." He finally exploded with, "I don't know, Kevin! I know..." He dropped his voice almost to a whisper, stepped closer, "I know I care about you. I know I don't want you to go. I know I want more from you than a few stolen kisses and moonlit walks holding hands. I want more. But... but it's not permissible. We can't have more. We shouldn't even have this much. I know what happens to people who try and I don't want that for you." He shivered, finally said quietly, "Kevin... I don't know what to do." With those last words, a tear slipped unheeded from Elder McKinley's eye.
Elder Thomas sniffled beside Arnold again, let out a small whimper. Arnold turned and slapped a hand over the other man's mouth to shush him then turned back to watching his companion and Elder McKinley. Kevin closed the distance between them, reached up a hand to brush Elder McKinley's hair from his forehead, then pulled the smaller man back into his arms, "Ryan... Ryan, don't you get it? I can't live like this anymore. I can't stay here. There are too many memories, too much pain and death and I just can't do it anymore. I can't go on pretending it's all OK when it's not. I want to go home."
Elder McKinley frowned and slowly reached his arms around Kevin to answer the other man's embrace and said, "Kevin I know you think that running away is the answer, but it isn't. It never is. You've been doing so well and it's getting better. I see it, even if you don't. If you run away now Kevin, you're stronger than that, better than that. You're a force to be reckoned with when you put your mind to it, so just put your mind to it, already!"
Kevin sighed and shook his head, "Ryan, it's more than that. It isn't just for personal reasons that I want to leave." Taking a deep breath, he said, "I know I fake it well, but I don't know how much longer I can Ryan, I don't believe in the Mormon church anymore. I haven't for a really long time. I have a problem with so much of what the Book of Mormon tells us I mean, really - G-d needs a planet to live on? How does that make sense? The President of the Church speaks directly to G-d? Come on. I have a real problem believing that the president of the Church speaks for Him when so many presidents seem to claim that G-d coincidentally supports their every political agenda. I don't Ryan, none of it makes sense. Our whole religion just doesn't make sense. And I feel like a complete hypocrite for staying here and pretending to be carrying on my mission when really I just don't believe anymore. The Book of Mormon, the Book of Arnold they're all just made up stories to keep people in line and on the path of what the human authors of those books believe is righteous."
Elder McKinley's frown deepened, "So, what you're saying is that even if you stay here in body, you'll be leaving in spirit leaving the Church."
Kevin nodded against Elder McKinley's head, said quietly, "That's exactly what I'm saying. The Church I have trouble believing just about everything they say these days. I don't trust them anymore, Ryan. And it's a funny thing, but once I acknowledged that, once I took that step away from the church in my mind Ryan, I stopped having the Spooky Hell Dream. I'm at peace with myself - and with G-d - in a way I haven't been since I was a very young child. That's that's pretty telling to me."
Halfway through that speech Elder McKinley jerked in Kevin's arms, made a token effort to pull away, but Kevin wasn't about to allow that and just held on tighter. When Elder McKinley settled down again, he let out a bitter little laugh that seemed awfully out of place for this conversation before burying his head in Kevin's chest and muttering, "No more Spooky Hell Dream, huh? Well, that's one positive thing, at least. We should all be so lucky." At Kevin's confused noise, Elder McKinley shrugged and said, "Never mind. I'm happy for you - that G-d's forgiven you for your transgressions - but if that's the case then I'm even more confused that you'd want to tempt that forgiveness by staying with me. Maybe you should go. Get away from temptation before I drag you under, again."
Kevin made a noise of frustration and gave the man in his arms a small shake, "That's what I've been trying to tell you, Ryan. I don't think G-d was ever the problem here. I think the Mormon Church is." At Elder McKinley's incredulous look, Kevin said, "Think about it. All that we've accomplished here we've done with our own two hands and our own backs, our own sweat and tears. The Church had nothing to do with it, remember? They washed their hands of us months ago. But in spite of that we've made miracles here. Every miracle that has happened here, we've brought about. Together."
Kevin huffed out a short laugh, cradled Elder McKinley closer, "Don't you see? That's not a burden, not a curse... Ryan, it's a gift. Heavenly Father created us, gave us these hands, these eyes, these hearts, to do good with, to create our own miracles. And if He's the one who gave us these hearts... then don't you think he also planned for ours to find each other? Don't you think... don't you think it's possible that all this time we've gotten it wrong somehow? Because the way I see it, a G-d that's all-knowing, a G-d that's all-loving... the G-d of our Father, Jesus Christ how could He ever say that love in any form is wrong? Maybe... Maybe Heavenly Father isn't the sick, twisted asshole in this equation. Maybe the church is. Because this..." Kevin tilted Elder McKinley's face up towards his and placed a gentle kiss on the corner of his lips, "...This is too beautiful to be wrong. Ryan... please tell me you see that. Please."
Arnold found himself leaning forwards, holding his breath in anticipation of the coming answer, because what Kevin was saying - in spite of some of his words carrying a vicious sting for the "author of the Book of Arnold" - Jesus, it felt so right. Maybe all this time the church had gotten it wrong. After all, a mere 33 years earlier the church would have said it was wrong for he and Nefertiti to be together... and now it was A-OK. Arnold didn't know what to think anymore, but he'd be the first to admit that, even now, he was ridiculously easily swayed by anything Elder Price said. Unfortunately for Kevin, Arnold's opinion wasn't the one that mattered here.
Elder McKinley leaned up into Kevin's embrace, pursued that butterfly kiss in spite of his obvious reticence. When they parted again, he let out a whimper, buried his face in Kevin's shirt, "You... Kevin, do you really think that or are you just saying it to get what you want?" At Kevin's flinch, Elder McKinley shook his head, "Just a few months ago, you were convinced that G-d wasn't worth your worship. Now, you expect me to believe that you're equally convinced that He deserves the credit for us? You've twisted so much of the Book this last year to suit your own needs, how do I know this isn't more of the same? 'Even the Devil can quote scripture to suit his purposes,' right? And if all of this is a ploy to get me to go home with you, how will that make anything better? If you go home, especially like this and especially with me Kevin, how do you expect to fit back into life in Utah if we do this?"
Kevin hesitated for a moment, then released Elder McKinley and moved away, unable to even face him as he said quietly, "I... don't."
"What?" Elder McKinley yelled back, "What do you mean you don't?"
Kevin moved back over and hushed the other man, eyes frantically looking around. Arnold kept a hand over Elder Thomas' mouth, just as desperate not to be heard as Kevin was. Finally, Kevin hissed out, "Would you keep your voice down? Who knows who might be out here?" When Elder McKinley nodded, Kevin let him go, answered quietly, "I'm not going back to Utah, Ryan. There's too much... I just can't, OK? That's what I've been trying to tell you. I've been talking to John. What I didn't tell Elder Cunningham... what I didn't tell any of you, is that the reason none of you remembered him is that he left the Mormon church shortly after returning from his mission. See, he was the golden boy, the brightest, most promising student in his class, the..." Kevin paused, let out a self-deprecating laugh, "He was the Elder Price of his year, as it were. So when he left... it was a scandal. It was hushed up very quickly - very quickly - and he was all but erased from our community. That's what the church does with those who disagree with it." Kevin sighed, shook his head, finally said, "He said he'd be willing to help me, get me in touch with people who could get me a job, a loan to get through college if my parents won't- oh, hell, we both know they won't support me if I do this. Anyway, he's willing to help with all that. He said he knows what it's like."
Elder McKinley stared at him for a minute, then ground out, "Is he gay, too?"
Kevin stared at the smaller man for a minute, eyes almost comically wide. After another minute, he snorted out a laugh. At Elder McKinley's disgruntled expression, Kevin laughed harder, finally pulled Ryan into his arms again and kissed him briefly on the lips. When Elder McKinley didn't respond except to continue to frown, Kevin finally said, "Ryan... are you jealous?"
Spluttering indignantly, Elder McKinley said, "I am not. I'm happy for you. Really. Leave all your responsibilities behind and all your friends to rot in this Hell and go off to Ohio with your John, then. Have a fabulous, gay, sin-filled old life in some big, slummy city and leave me be, if that's what you really want."
Kevin sighed, leaned his forehead against Elder McKinley's, "Ryan... John's not gay, all right? He just no longer believes in the church doctrine. He's a friend and he wants to help." Kevin took one step back from Elder McKinley and gave his shoulders a soft shake, "Enough of this. Ryan, I'm not telling you this to upset you. I'm telling you this because I care about- no. No, I'm telling you this because I love you. I want you to come with me, to be with me. I want to build a life with you... but we can't do that as Mormons. You said it yourself - it's not even OK to have gay thoughts according to the church. So, if you want to be with me, leaving the Mormon Church is the only way to do it. I want that. I want it for myself. I want it for you. I want it for us. But if you don't... well. I can't and I won't force you, but I thought... I don't know. I guess I thought you'd want it, too."
Elder McKinley was silent for a long moment and Arnold found himself holding his breath in anticipation, but even he couldn't say what he hoped that Elder McKinley would decide. So, it was something of a shock when Elder McKinley's quietly voiced, "Kevin... I need to think about this," was so disappointing that Arnold almost responded with a "No!" of his own.
Kevin took another step back, said, "I... I understand. Take whatever time you need. Just... Ryan... don't take too long, OK? John's only going to be here for another month. I'd like to leave with him when he goes... with or without you." And with those quietly spoken words, Kevin turned and left the clearing. And what wasn't a shock was that once he was gone, Elder McKinley sat down hard on the ground, buried his face in his hands and started to cry.
Arnold finally let Elder Thomas go, gave him a nudge in Elder McKinley's direction. Arnold had bigger fish to fry.
Elder McKinley: *throws hands in the air* Oh, I give up, already.
R-chan: What? I left you alone this chapter, didn't I?
Elder McKinley: This chapter? D:
R-chan: Uh oops.
Questions, comments, prickly pears?
Elder McKinley: I'm not even gonna.
R-chan: Trust me, it'll makes sense next chapter.
Elder McKinley: *rae* You mean the chapter where you don't leave me alone?
R-chan: Yes, exactly. *nodnod*
Elder McKinley: Aw, heck. *whimper*
Elder Price: *cuddles Elder McKinley, glares at the fic author*
Elder McKinley: *sigh* Guess you were right to be worried after all, weren't you?
Elder Price: *scowls*