Title: Turn It Off
Fandom: The Book of Mormon, a Broadway musical
Pairing: Elder McKinley/Elder Price
Word Count: Total: 18,171, Part 2: 9,393
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 20, 2011: Yeah *shrugs* Not much else to say today. Angst abounds, hijinks ensue what can I say? Just another day in the life of Arnold the reluctant matchmaking Prophet. ;)
Enjoy and please remember... comments and reviews are love!
Turn It Off - Part 2
Arnold spent all night with his head buried in the Bible, plotting plots and tossing them away just as quickly. There were two major problems that needed dealing with if Arnold wanted Kevin to stay - which he did - and he didn't have a whole lot of time to find answers to them. The first was that that being gay was wrong. After Kevin's impassioned speech to Elder McKinley, Arnold was on board with the idea that that was a bunch of rubbish. So, if Arnold wanted Kevin to stay, then he'd have to find a way to make it OK for him to be gay here, so he wouldn't feel the need to run away to Ohio or New York or wherever. There had to be something, had to be a way to fix that, to make it OK, he just couldn't think of what it could be. He poured over the Book of Mormon, the New Testament, the Old Testament. And when he got frustrated with it all and just wanted to quit and throw the books out the window, he even went back over the Book of Arnold, laughing over some of the earlier stories he'd told. The wizard Moroni from the Starship Enterprise, huh? Not my best work. Not only mixing fandoms, but mixing whole genres. Smooth, Arnold... smooth.
And that was when it hit him.
When Kevin came back to the room and found him maniacally cackling at his desk, writing in his journal as fast as his hand could keep up with his plotting, Kevin just raised an eyebrow and edged past him, said, "I don't think I even want to know."
Arnold looked up, smiled brightly at Kevin, "It's nothing, partner! Just some things I want to include in the next version of the Book. Some stuff that came up that we didn't deal with in any of the earlier copies."
Kevin smiled indulgently, like he might have at a child, "OK, Arnold. We'll take a look at it when you're done, then."
Oh... oh, that wouldn't do. Kevin couldn't see this until it was ready. Arnold twitched, finally blurted out, "No! You can't! Uh..." Eventually he lamely finished with, "It's a surprise."
"A surprise, huh?" Kevin smiled at him - really smiled.
And Jesus Christ, if it didn't make Arnold's heart flip-flop every time Kevin smiled like that, really smiled, just at him, like he was the most important thing in the world at the moment... then Arnold would eat his own book. Not that he was gay or anything. It was just that when Kevin smiled at anyone like that, it made that person feel like he could take on the world and win. And... well... wasn't that what they'd been doing here? Taking on the world and winning? Arnold wasn't ready to give that up, yet. He wasn't ready to give Kevin up, yet. He was supposed to have him for one more year and he wanted that year - more, if he could manage it.
Arnold just nodded, "Yeah, a surprise."
Kevin laughed, sat down on the bed to take his shoes off, "Well, all right then. A surprise it'll be."
They sat in silence for a few minutes, Arnold's pencil scratching across paper and the soft shushing noises of cloth-on-cloth as Kevin got changed for bed the only substantial sounds in the room. Finally, Arnold couldn't take it anymore and turned to face Kevin, blurted out, "Kevin... I just wanted you to know... you can talk to me about anything. Anything at all. You're my best friend, OK?"
Kevin smiled, that indulgent smile again, as he pulled back the covers of his bed, "OK, Arnold. I'll remember that."
Arnold shook his head, put his pencil down and walked over to where Kevin was standing. He took one of Kevin's hands in his, "Kevin... I really mean it. Anything, anytime. If you need to talk... even if you think it's something really bad, something that I won't understand I may not be able to fix it, but I'll listen, OK?"
Kevin patted his hand, smiled again, though his eyes were confused as he said, "I heard you the first time, buddy, but thanks, again. If anything comes up, I'll keep that in mind. OK?"
Arnold wanted to say more but he couldn't, not without giving himself away. Damn. So, he just smiled nervously and let go of Kevin's hand, "OK. Good. I'll just... you know... go back to the umm... yeah." He then fled back to his desk and picked up his pencil again, started scratching away at the paper, already feeling silly for having said something in the first place.
Such a long time passed before Kevin spoke again that Arnold had been sure he'd fallen asleep, had even turned off the overheard light for him. So Arnold jumped and almost screamed when his companion proved that that wasn't the case. Kevin said, "Arnold... There actually is something I want to say to you." He sat up then, turned on his bedside lamp. When Arnold turned to face him, Kevin smiled again, one of those real, stomach flopping ones, "What I want to say is, 'Thank you.' We've done so much good here and it's all because you had the courage to go your own way. I... I admire that. I admire you. And I wanted to thank you for it before I forgot."
Arnold blushed, ducked his head, and said, "Aw... gee... You don't have to..."
Kevin's smile widened at Arnold's response, "Yes, I do. You deserve it, Arnold. Don't forget that. Even if your father isn't proud of you, I am." And with that, he turned off his bedside lamp and laid back down to go to sleep.
In the wee hours of the morning, when Arnold was really sure that Kevin was asleep, he tucked his journal under his arm and left the mission house, ready to put the first part of his plan into action. And for that... he'd need... he'd need... Nabulungi! Her name was Nabulungi! He'd need Nabulungi's help.
Now that Arnold knew what he was looking at, every time he saw Kevin and John sitting together, laughing, talking up a storm, all apparent innocence but really anything but, he wanted to race over there and scream his head off, grab Kevin and hide him away from the other man. It wasn't fair. Kevin was his mission companion. Maybe that changed things if they weren't Mormons anymore. Maybe that changed things if this was no longer technically a mission. Arnold didn't care. His life had changed for the better the day that Kevin had been thrown kicking and screaming into it and, in spite of what Kevin had said, Arnold knew that he'd never have managed half the things he had here without him. He needed his companion. He needed his best friend. He wasn't giving him up without a fight.
But he left Kevin and John alone when they were talking - even when he'd see Elder McKinley watching them, too, blue eyes wide and hurt, but trying so hard not to show it. Arnold didn't know what he'd have made of the situation if he didn't know what he knew, but as it was, it was even getting him upset. He knew he should feel disgusted - after all, it just wasn't natural to feel that way about another man. It was against Heavenly Father's plan. Hell, it was specifically warned against in Leviticus. So, he really should have been revolted by the mere thought... but instead he found himself almost routing for the pair like a teenaged girl cheering on her favorite soap opera couple. Some part of him - some really big part of him - wanted to see the two of them get together... and be happy.
Maybe that was it. He'd found a girl - a woman - whom he adored. He was truly happy for the first time in his life and he wanted that same happiness for his best friend. That wasn't so much to ask, was it? He just wanted his friend to be as happy as he was. And wasn't that the point of this whole thing? Making the world a better, brighter, happier place? Of course, it was.
After several days of watching Kevin, John and Elder McKinley dance around each other, Arnold finally got up the courage to tackle the second half of the problem. It wouldn't do at all if he made being gay OK one day, just to have the Ugandan government make it a capital offense the next. Then Kevin would have to leave anyway and that just wouldn't do. But taking care of that problem from within Uganda was going to be... tricky. No one in the government was going to listen to him and no one outside Uganda even knew this was happening.
Arnold knew a way to fix that. He just needed to get to a computer.
Though he was a bundle of nerves about it, Arnold had pulled John aside after dinner one night to ask. Not that the ex-Mormon was hard to talk to. He wasn't. He was kind and patient and just so... good. That was the whole problem, really. John Kimball was like Elder Price - too perfect for mere mortals to touch. Arnold could all too easily understand what Kevin had meant when he'd said that Elder Kimball had been the Elder Price of his class. Fortunately, he really had been. And when Arnold had stumbled over asking for what he needed, fighting off his stutter and his endlessly cracking voice, John was patient, gave him the time he needed to get out the questions. And the reward... oh, the reward...
John hadn't asked any questions, hadn't even pointed out that according to mission rules, Arnold shouldn't even be asking for what he was asking for. He'd just smiled and agreed to help Arnold get what he needed. And the next morning he kept his word.
Arnold stood in the local Peace Corps headquarters and just stared. It had been a year, a whole year, - more - since he'd seen such a beautiful sight. There were computers - three of them - and printers, faxes... scanners. After a year with no technology, it seemed like a little slice of Heaven and Arnold thanked Heavenly Father appropriately. He also thanked John, who laughed, clapped him on the shoulder and left him to his own devices while he went to take care of some paperwork. Arnold didn't ask what it was, only hoped desperately that it wasn't the necessary paperwork of acquiring a plane ticket for one Kevin Price.
Instead, he set up his papers in the copy machine and started them copying, and sat down at a computer and cracked his knuckles. After taking a deep breath to steady himself, he then laid his fingers reverently on the keyboard and began to type. It took a while for his fingers to relearn the way of it, but he got faster as he went, picked up more and more speed until he was typing nearly as quickly as he once had. He wouldn't have access to this webpage he was creating for long, so it would have to be simple, just something to get the message out. He'd have to rely on friends with whom he'd been long out of contact to pass it along and do whatever else needed doing.
Once he had the webpage set up, Arnold took a deep breath and logged into one of his favorite chatrooms and waited to be noticed. It didn't take long.
(02:23:15 EST) ArcunSolo enters the chat room, Cloud City.
PrincessLeia558 (02:24:16 EST): Arcun? No way! -pounce- Tell me I'm dreaming. No wait. I don't care. If I'm dreaming, I don't want to wake up.
ArcunSolo (02:25:03 EST): -laughs- You're not dreaming, Leia. It's really me.
CarlosCalrissian (02:25:34 EST): -punches Arcun in the shoulder- You sly, old dog! I thought you were halfway around the world! When the hell did you get back?
ArcunSolo (02:27:12 EST): I still am halfway around the world!
PrincessLeia558 (02:28:19 EST): Wait. You're still in Uganda? How the hell are you here, then? I thought computers were supposed to be a big no-no. -puzzled frown-
CarlosCalrissian (02:28:58 EST): The lady's got a point, Arcun.
ArcunSolo (02:30:21 EST): Look, guys, it's a long story and I really don't have time to tell the whole thing. I'm on a borrowed computer and I need your help. It's worth breaking the rules and it's kind of urgent.
CarlosCalrissian (02:31:26 EST): You want me to call in the rest of the gang? I think they're over at Lothlorien tonight...
ArcunSolo (02:33:35 EST): Carlos, there's really no time. You can fill them in later.
PrincessLeia558 (02:34:01 EST): Carlos, just shut up and let the man talk, OK? We're listening, Arcun. -scowls at Carlos- Both of us.
CarlosCalrissian (02:34:43 EST): -makes a zipping motion over his lips-
ArcunSolo (02:36:42 EST): -breathes a sigh of relief- Thanks, guys. OK. I started a Wikipedia article with most of what you need to know. It's here: ( .org/wiki/Uganda_Anti-Homosexuality_Bill ). Please read it and start spreading the word around. It's really... It's something that I want to stop from happening and I need help from outside Uganda to do it.
ArcunSolo (02:40:22 EST): Umm... guys? Hello?
PrincessLeia558 (02:40:59 EST): Still here, Arcun. Reading. This is awful!
CarlosCalrissian (02:42:02 EST): I, uh... hate to be the one to ask the obvious question here, but... Arcun... I thought your umm... your people don't believe in... wouldn't they think this was a good thing?
ArcunSolo (02:44:35 EST): I don't care what they would think! Two wrongs don't ever make a right and this is wrong, Carlos. Something like 80% of the people here are HIV+, dude, and that's all they'd need to condemn you. It'll basically give 'em an excuse to kill anyone they want. I need to stop this and I CAN'T DO IT ALONE. -flails-
PrincessLeia558 (02:46:52 EST): Carlos, shut up. Arcun, calm down. -cuddles- You're right. This is wrong and it needs to be stopped. We'll help. I know you probably won't be able to get back on a computer for a while, so I'll take over coordinating this. You've done the right thing, Arcun. We'll take it from here.
CarlosCalrissian (02:47:37 EST): She's right, man. We've got your back. We'll help. Of course, we will.
ArcunSolo (02:47:57 EST): You guuuuuuys...! -wobble eyes-
PrincessLeia558 (02:48:28 EST): Go, Arcun. Rest easy. Take care of your people. -kotc- And take care of yourself, too. We'll take care of this.
ArcunSolo (02:49:04 EST): Thank you, Leia. Thanks, Carlos. I won't forget this. -looks up- Oh shoot. John's back. I gotta go. -hugs- THANK YOU!
(02:49:15 EST) ArcunSolo exits the chat room, Cloud City.
Arnold shut down the chat room screen and quickly wiped the browser history as John walked back into the room. He didn't have time for much else, hoped his face didn't look as guilty as he feared it did. He'd done nothing wrong. He hadn't even lied. And John was no longer a Mormon. He probably wouldn't even condemn Arnold for what he'd done if he knew the truth, but Arnold wasn't taking any chances.
John smiled at him and said, "All done?"
Arnold nodded as he stood, sighing wistfully at having to walk away from this little slice of Heaven. Silently he promised those computers, I'll be back... someday... someday... He then grabbed his photocopies and followed John back out to the Jeep. He hadn't done much... he only hoped it would be enough.
Two weeks later, Arnold was starting to wonder if Kevin Price was just a figment of his imagination. He woke up almost every morning to find that Kevin had ducked out early yet again. Arnold sighed. Sure, the man was their liaison to the Peace Corps and that meant he was really busy these days, but it would have been nice to have breakfast with him every now and then. Arnold knew he wasn't purposefully being avoided but there was a part of him that always fretted that that was the case, worried that Kevin was off with John plotting ways to get rid of him so he could hang out with someone better.
Arnold looked around the room to take quick stock of where everyone was sitting. Mostly it was the usual small groups, enjoying their breakfasts and talking animatedly amongst themselves about the upcoming day. It was good to see everyone so excited. Well nearly everyone. Huh. Arnold frowned. Elder McKinley wasn't sitting in his usual place. He was sitting off by himself at a table in the corner, a mug of what Arnold hoped was herbal tea cradled in his hands. The other man was hunched over his mug, staring into it like it might hold the meaning of the Universe in its depths. He looked exhausted. He'd looked exhausted a lot over the last two weeks, actually. Arnold thought about it for a minute, then finally decided that someone should go talk to their mission leader and try to get to the bottom of his apparently sleepless nights. Someone like him.
Before he could carry his breakfast tray over to join the other man, however, someone's hand on his elbow pulled him up short. He turned to meet the worried eyes of Elder Thomas. Once the other Elder had his attention, he said, "I wouldn't do that if I were you."
Arnold frowned, said, "Why not?" He looked up at Elder McKinley again, "He looks kind of lonely sitting there by himself. And why is he sitting alone, anyway? Did he get sprayed by a skunk or something?"
Rather than laugh at Arnold's obvious ploy to lighten the unexpectedly somber tone of the conversation, Elder Thomas just shook his head sadly, "No, Elder Cunningham. He just he didn't sleep well last night, OK? And when he doesn't sleep well he can well he can be a little rough in the morning. If you give him an hour or so he'll be back to his usual charming self, but if you get in his face before then he'll be like this all day. So, just leave him alone, all right?"
Arnold frowned again, "But but, that's not what friends do, Elder Thomas. If your friend is upset, you help him. You talk to him. And Elder McKinley isn't just your friend, he's your mission companion. You should be over there doing that!"
Elder Thomas sighed, let his hand drop, "You think I haven't tried that before?" He snorted out a short laugh, "I guess there are some lessons you just have to learn the hard way. Fine. You want to go talk to him, go talk to him, but don't say I didn't warn you." When Arnold turned to walk away, Elder Thomas caught his arm once more, said, "And Elder Cunningham one last thing. Once you've managed to work him up into a massive bitch-fit - because you will - he's all yours for the day. Count me out."
With that last warning in his ears, Arnold almost changed his mind, almost turned and sat with Elder Church and Elder Neeley but when he looked back over at Elder McKinley, he just couldn't. The other elder looked like someone just told him his puppy died, or his Xbox was broken, or, or well, something bad had happened. Then again, knowing what Arnold knew something bad had happened. Kevin might be leaving. And if Arnold felt bad about that, how much worse must Elder McKinley feel, especially since he couldn't even talk to anyone about it? Arnold couldn't even imagine. But because he knew, at least a little bit, how Elder McKinley must be feeling, Arnold couldn't leave him sitting alone like that to stew in his unhappiness. He just couldn't.
Squaring his shoulders, Arnold carried his tray over to Elder McKinley's table and plunked it and himself down across from the other man. At the noise, Elder McKinley finally raised his eyes from his tea cup. And when he did, Arnold almost wished he hadn't. He didn't even have words to describe what he saw in the other man's eyes, but what he was seeing it made him want to weep. Before he'd even thought about what he was doing, Arnold had reached out a hand and laid it gently on Elder McKinley's arm. Elder McKinley jerked his arm away as though he'd been burned. The movement jostled the mug and Elder McKinley let out a quiet curse as dark liquid splashed across the tabletop between them. Arnold hastened to mop up the spill with some napkins while Elder McKinley righted the cup. And as Arnold deposited the sopping napkins onto his tray, he couldn't help but notice the smell and that it wasn't the smell of tea.
Eyes wide and horrified, Arnold whispered harshly across the table, "Elder McKinley are you drinking coffee?"
The other elder's face slid into a sneer and he said mockingly, "No, the new stock of herbal tea we got from the Peace Corps just smells remarkably like it." At Arnold's wide-eyed look, Elder McKinley rolled his eyes and said, "Oh, for goodness' sake, what difference does it make if I am?"
Arnold winced at the bitter tone in Elder McKinley's voice, "It it matters. Elder McKinley, you're not supposed to have caffeine. You could get in trouble."
Elder McKinley let out a bitter laugh, "Oh, that's rich, especially coming from you, Elder Cunningham. Tell me, who am I going to get into trouble with? The District Leader? The President of the Church? They washed their hands of us, remember? As far as we know, we're not even Mormons anymore. We're an embarrassment, a disgrace."
Arnold gaped at him for a full minute, unable to answer that bitterness with something flippant. Finally, he said, "You could get in trouble with Heavenly Father."
At that, a smile finally spread across Elder McKinley's face. Only, it wasn't a nice smile. It was cruel, bitter hateful. Arnold's breath caught when its full effect was turned on him. That just made the smile widen. Elder McKinley locked gazes with him, saluted him with his mug of coffee and downed what remained of it in one long swallow. He then deliberately placed the mug down on the table and stood. As he stared down at Arnold, that hurtful smile turned back into a sneer, "Heavenly Father and I haven't been on good speaking terms since I was ten, Elder Cunningham, so I don't really give a rat's ass what he thinks I should be drinking while on my mission. You know what though? Since you and he are such good buddies, maybe you'll ask him this for me: is it a greater sin to consume caffeine while on a mission or to use a computer? It's something I'm curious to know." With those his parting words, Elder McKinley turned away from the table and left.
Arnold just stared. How How had Elder McKinley even known what he'd been up to yesterday? Who told him? This whole conversation had just been wrong from start to finish. This Elder McKinley wasn't like this. He might be a little temperamental sometimes, but he wasn't he wasn't he wasn't deliberately cruel. That bitterness, that desolation, that utter lack of faith great Heavenly Father, where had that come from? And how could he hide it from them so well on a daily basis? Was this the result of Kevin's lack of faith rubbing off? No no, it couldn't be - not if it had been going on since Elder McKinley was ten. Jesus. Arnold hadn't been dealing well with the first ticking time bomb, he didn't even know where to start dealing with a second! For all he knew, the two of them would infect the entire mission before they were through!
Arnold barely noticed as someone patted his shoulder and then sat down across from him until the other person spoke, "I tried to warn you, Elder Cunningham."
Arnold blinked, came back to himself and spluttered, "What what on Earth, Elder Thomas? That wasn't Elder McKinley. Maybe Oh my G-d, maybe he's possessed!"
Elder Thomas smiled gently, patted his hand, "Some mornings I think he may as well be, but he's not, Elder Cunningham. No, you just had the pleasure of conversing with Ryan McKinley before he's 'turned it off' for the day. I don't blame you for finding that unsettling. Most people do."
"He He was so mean!" Arnold was almost embarrassed to feel his lower lip tremble, "What did I do that upset him so much?"
Elder Thomas patted him again, "Nothing, Elder Cunningham. You didn't do anything. Like I said, when he's like this, he doesn't take notice of who it is he's hurting, he just lashes out, and he'll shred whoever is unfortunate enough to be in his line of sight. It's why we all avoid him on these kinds of mornings." Sitting back in his chair, Elder Thomas shrugged, "If it's going to be bad, he'll usually give me a heads-up when we wake up so I can scoot out of his way. Then I warn everyone else and we all do our best to stay away until he's under control. If you give him that hour, he'll usually manage to turn off whatever's still riding him from the night before and he'll be back to his normal, charming self." At Arnold's horrified look, Elder Thomas shook his head, "And don't worry. I won't really leave you alone with him all day. In the beginning we used to trip on this kind of situation almost daily before we understood the routine. I got used to dodging his temper when he stayed like this all day. I can still do it. I'm not that out of practice."
Arnold shook his head, finally found his voice, "Do Do you mean that he has this inside him all the time? That he's just bottling it up so it won't bother anyone else? Elder Thomas, he said he and Heavenly Father haven't been on speaking terms since he was ten. Has he been like this since then? My G-d, how does he function? That Elder Thomas, this can't be healthy for him. We have to do something."
At that, Elder Thomas stood up, "Elder Cunningham, you're not listening. I've tried. Do you think I haven't? He's my mission companion. G-d help me, I love Ryan like a brother and I'd help him if I could, but I've tried everything. I'm out of ideas. I'm sorry." Giving Arnold's shoulder one final pat, Elder Thomas went back to his seat.
Well well that wasnt good enough. If there was one thing that Arnold knew it was that Kevin loved Elder McKinley. And if Kevin loved him, then Arnold kind of had to love him, too. Because if Elder McKinley was like Elder Thomas' brother, then Kevin was like Arnold's brother. And if Kevin was Arnold's brother, then Elder McKinley was kind of like his brother's girlfriend. Boyfriend. Something. Whatever. And if his brother's whatever was suffering, then Arnold wanted to help. And maybe helping Elder McKinley might help Kevin, too. But how? Maybe it was like eating a prickly pear. Maybe you just had to get past all the hard outer spiky parts to get at the soft part inside. Regardless, there had to be a way and Arnold was going to find it.
When Arnold caught up to Elder McKinley again, he was in his office, sorting through piles of paperwork. Normally, he did such activities with a cheerful grin, sometimes even hummed or whistled a little as he slowly whittled down the stacks. He'd always look up with an inviting smile and a twinkle in his eye, ask oh-so-politely if Arnold needed anything. His office was warm, welcoming, just like him. He was firm, but fair, someone you could go to with your problems. Not today. Today he was scowling, occasionally slamming a particularly offensive piece of paper down on its stack. And he didn't look up, didn't even acknowledge that there was someone standing in the doorway. Arnold really didn't want to go in there but that didn't mean he wouldn't.
He approached the desk slowly, hoping that Elder McKinley would at least look up he didn't. Finally Arnold cleared his throat, said quietly, "Elder McKinley? Do you have a minute?"
The other Elder sighed, put down the papers in his hands and finally turned that steely blue gaze on Arnold. Arnold almost wished he hadn't. The cold look in those eyes was making him feel so small. Finally Elder McKinley broke their gaze and lifted a hand to rub at his temple, "Of course, Elder Cunningham. What do you need?"
Arnold shifted from foot to foot, nervously wrung his hands. He wanted to ask if Elder McKinley was all right, but he knew that the other man wasn't, knew it was a stupid question and he didn't want to give him a chance to exercise the sharp edge of his tongue again. Finally he settled on, "I didn't mean to upset you this morning. I was just I was surprised. You don't you aren't normally" He looked up then, eyes full of distress as he struggled to find a way put his concerns into words.
Elder McKinley met his eyes for a minute and Arnold could almost see the workings of his mind as he tried to decide how to meet that statement. In the end, he took pity on Arnold and told him that he'd just had a poor night's sleep and he was a little cranky. It was nothing for Arnold to trouble himself over and he'd try not to let it happen again. Elder McKinley then gave him one of his usual cheery smiles.
If only it had reached his eyes.
The rest of the day was rough, everyone feeling the edge of Elder McKinley's temper, even as he tried his best to get it back under control. And he was trying, Arnold could see it. He was trying so hard. Arnold was watching him as closely as he could without getting caught. Every time he said something hurtful, he'd get this pained, horrified look in his eyes like he hadn't meant it, like he couldn't believe he'd said it but he couldn't have stopped himself if he tried. By dinner time, Arnold was ready to set up a barricade around the other elder and guard it with a gun to keep everyone else away. He was sorry he'd started this. He was sorry he hadn't listened to Elder Thomas. But sorry wasn't going to change it.
Unfortunately, Kevin had been over at the Peace Corps office all day, helping to sort the newest supplies and he'd missed the day's drama. He didn't know that Elder McKinley was feeling "cranky," as he'd put it. He didn't know that something was wrong. He didn't know to watch his step. And Arnold was so busy feeling guilty about the whole mess that he completely forgot to warn him. So, when Kevin asked Elder McKinley, completely innocuously, Arnold was sure, if he'd given any thought to what they'd talked about two weeks ago Well, no one could have been prepared for Elder McKinley's answer or the public venue he spewed it out in.
It happened at dinner. Arnold, Kevin and Elders Thomas and McKinley had been sitting at a table eating quietly, not talking much. Well, most of them had been eating. Arnold didn't have the heart to point out that Elder McKinley was only barely picking at his food. He didn't want to be the one to touch off another explosion and he had a feeling that that would do it. So he just kept his mouth shut and hoped that after a good night of sleep Elder McKinley would be back to normal. Arnold also resolved that he was not going to kick this particular hornet's nest again without backup.
Arnold and Elder Thomas had gotten up to deposit their trays in the kitchen and were just heading back to the table when it happened. They never even heard the question - Arnold only figured out what it had to have been after the fact - but they sure as hell heard Elder McKinley's answer and so did every other missionary in the dining room.
Elder McKinley's eyes blazed and he stood up so fast that he knocked over his chair. Poor Kevin looked completely stunned. Elder McKinley just stood and glared at him for a minute, then slowly calmed. It was like watching a dog deliberately put his hackles down. It was deceptive. Having watched him all day, Arnold had figured out that that level of calm was prelude to the worst tongue lashings he'd ever seen.
And this was even worse. Elder McKinley smiled - that cold, cruel smile that didn't reach his eyes - and said into the silence, "Since you mention it, Elder Price, yes, I have had occasion to reflect on our conversation and I do have an answer for you."
Arnold didn't need Elder Thomas' deathgrip on his arm to tell him that what was coming was going to be bad. From the sick look in Elder McKinley's eyes, Arnold could already tell. Elder McKinley didn't want to do this, didn't want Kevin to be his latest victim today but that wasn't going to stop him. Elder McKinley took in a deep breath and said with false cheer, "I appreciate your offer to join you in ending my mission here early, but I'm going to have to decline. I still have some respect for this Church and some hope that when they see what we've accomplished here it will mitigate the initiating circumstances. Furthermore" Now he leaned forward, hands braced on the table to hiss his final words right into Kevin's face, "unlike some people, I'm not a coward. I don't walk out on people when they need me most, no matter how much easier it may make my life." He straightened after that, looked down his nose at Kevin for a long second, then sniffed and said, "So, I'm afraid I will have to respectfully decline your magnanimous offer." He turned on his heel, took three steps, then delivered his parting words over his shoulder, "I do wish you all the best, though, Elder Price. I hope Orlando is everything you've dreamed it would be, though I fear you'll be disappointed. I hear it's mostly paper mache and cardboard cutouts." He paused, then snickered softly, "On second thought, you should fit right in." He then turned back towards the door and marched briskly from the dining room.
Everyone left behind didn't seem to know who to stare at first: Elder Price, still sitting stunned at his table, the wake Elder McKinley had left behind as he stormed out, or Arnold and Elder Thomas clutching each other's hands, faces equal masks of horror. Elder Thomas broke out of his paralysis first. He freed his hands and spun Arnold in the direction of the door, "Go. You know this area better than me. Find him, sit on him if you have to, but don't let him do anything stupid. And talk to him. You have a way with words, Elder Cunningham. He may listen to you. I'll handle everyone else." He then gave him a firm push in that direction, "Go!" Arnold didn't need any further encouragement. He went.
Arnold caught up with Elder McKinley at the bridge. Really, it wasn't much of a bridge and the river wasn't much of a river. It was more of a brook. Most of the time it ran polluted and was undrinkable, the kind of sludge you wouldn't want within ten feet of yourself in any way if you could help it. It still made Arnold a little sick to think that Nabulungi's people were drinking from it and bathing in it just a year ago. Elder McKinley was standing on the bridge, hands clutching at the railing and staring down into the water, looking like he'd like to throw up what little he'd eaten at dinner.
Arnold approached slowly, quietly, like the other elder was some wild animal that might bolt if Arnold came at him too quickly. When Arnold stepped on the bridge and the planks creaked beneath him, Elder McKinley's head shot up and whipped around to stare in the direction of the noise. Arnold froze, like somehow he might go unseen in the middle of the bridge right out there in the open with Elder McKinley staring right at him as long as he didn't move. Stupid, stupid, stupid, Arnold!
Of course, Elder McKinley saw him. For one dreadful second, Arnold wasn't sure if the other man was going to laugh, cry or run. He gathered himself to tackle the smaller man if it came to that. It didn't. Elder McKinley snorted out a small laugh which quickly devolved into hysterics and he buried his face in his hands. Arnold winced but took that as an invitation to come closer. He awkwardly patted Elder McKinley's shoulder and said, "I'm sure he knows you didn't mean it."
Elder McKinley let out one last broken sounding laugh at that before pulling himself upright and taking a step back from Arnold. He shook his head, a sick smile on his face, "You're sure, are you? Well, that's a relief, Elder Cunningham. Why don't we just go back inside for a game of Go Fish, then?"
Arnold ducked his gaze for a minute before looking back up, "I Elder McKinley, can you just stop for a second? Think, will you? OK, so you had a bad night's sleep. Fine. I get that that can make you cranky, but it doesn't give you the right to rip apart your friends the way you've been doing. I mean, here I am, doing my best to help you and you keep attacking me! I'm not your enemy, OK? Just chill."
Elder McKinley swallowed hard, finding that it was his turn to look away, unable to meet the sincerity in Arnold's gaze. His next words were harsh, sounded like they'd been torn unwilling from his throat, "I know that. Elder Cunningham, don't you think I know that? I just I can't I'm sorry."
Understanding dawned. Arnold stared at the other elder, pity written in his gaze, "Oh, Elder McKinley did you have the spooky Hell dream last night? Is that what this is about? I I've never had it myself, but I hear it's really spooky."
"Did I Did I?" And something about that must have been really funny, because Elder McKinley started laughing then and nothing Arnold did or said after that could get him to stop. After another few minutes, however, Elder McKinley stopped on his own, took a step closer and gave Arnold a good hard shove, frustrated anger burning in his gaze, "Did I have the spooky Hell dream last night? You know what, Elder Cunningham? Fuck you. Of course I had the spooky Hell dream last night. I have the spooky Hell dream every night."
"Every night?" Oh dear, G-d, that was Kevin's voice. Arnold turned to look and sure enough, there was Kevin and Elder Thomas and all the other Mormons were right behind them. No one else looked as surprised by this revelation as Arnold and Kevin, though. Oh of course. They'd been here three months earlier than Kevin and Arnold. They'd probably already known. Kevin pushed past Arnold, gripped Elder McKinley's shoulders and gave him a hard shake, "For how long, Ryan?" When Elder McKinley looked away, Kevin shook him again, said more firmly, "How long?"
Elder McKinley let out one of those bitter laughs and something in his eyes crumbled. He made a token effort to break Kevin's grip, but Kevin wasn't letting go until he got an answer. Finally Elder McKinley slumped in his hold, defeat written in every line of his body as he said, "What do you really want to know, Kevin? Is it your fault? Well, you can rest easy on that score, my friend. It isn't. Remember Steve Blade? Fifth grade?" At the horrified look on Kevin's face, Elder McKinley's smile widened, "That's right. I've been having the Hell dream nightly since I was ten." At that point, he looked up to meet all the other missionaries' eyes in turn, "So you'll forgive me that I never showed the appropriate amount of sympathy when you each told me about the one or two times you had had it."
No one seemed to have an answer for that. Even Arnold's normally glib tongue deserted him. He'd heard about the Hell dream. How bad must Elder McKinley's have been last night to cause this much trouble the next day? Good G-d, how bad must it have been to stand out amongst 10 straight years of nightly Hell dreams? Arnold didn't want to think about it. He really didn't want to think about it.
Now Elder McKinley did free himself from Kevin's hold and backed a few paces away, rubbing his arms as though cold. And the looks that he and Kevin were sharing G-d, they were breaking Arnold's heart. He wanted to turn around and scream at the top of his lungs that everyone else should go away and give them some privacy, but he couldn't, because the others didn't know. Damn it. No you know what? Damn it all to heck. I've had enough of this.
Stepping up between them, Arnold put on his best prophet face and said firmly, "That's enough. Out of both of you. You know what? I've been watching this go on for months and I'm sick of it. So, I'm gonna do you both a favor and break this down for you, prophet-style."
At the twinned horrified looks on both elders faces, Arnold nearly ruined it all by laughing. That was just nerves talking, though. He'd never tried this on his fellow elders, only on the Africans. He didn't know if it would work, didn't know if either of them would let themselves play along for long enough, especially Kevin, but Arnold was out of options. He didn't have anything left to try.
He pulled the original type-written pages that Nabulungi had "texted" for him out of his back pocket and, without preamble, started to read, "And Lo! G-d said to the Mormon prophet Joseph Smith, 'And just so you know, you've got that bit in Leviticus all wrong.' And the Mormon prophet Joseph Smith said, 'Huh? What are you talking about, G-d? Do you mean that it's OK to have sex with your sister?' And Lo! G-d said to the Mormon prophet Joseph Smith, 'Uh no, Joseph. That part's still true. Plus, it's just nasty. Don't do it. You'll have screwed up babies with three arms and six legs.'"
Some of the other elders laughed at that, started to relax as they usually did when listening to Arnold tell one of his stories. Kevin and Elder McKinley, however, had tensed, both now looking like they'd like to run away. Well, Arnold wasn't finished, not by a long shot. This was some of his best work. Looking the two of them in the eye, he kept reading.
"And Lo! G-d said to the Mormon prophet Joseph Smith, 'I meant the part about not lying with a man the way you do with a woman. You've got that part totally wrong,'" Arnold paused, then, looked up. The missionaries behind him had fallen silent, shocked already at what Arnold might be about to say and no doubt confused as heck about why he was even bringing it up. He ignored the silence and just spoke his words to the two men in front of him, the only two who really mattered, "And the Mormon prophet Joseph Smith said, 'But it seems pretty self-explanatory, G-d.' And Lo! G-d said to the Mormon prophet Joseph Smith, 'That's because you over-think everything. See, when I said you don't lie with a man the way you do with a woman, I was just talking common sense. It's you know mechanics. The parts aren't the same, so the lying can't be the same. I just wasn't gonna go into details because the Bible's not supposed to be a sex ed manual. Not my department. That's what the Kama Sutra's for.'"
He'd touched a nerve, Arnold could tell. Elder McKinley was whispering harshly into Kevin's ear and Kevin was whispering harshly back. The conversation was getting pretty heated and Arnold thought he caught something about someone "putting him up to this." Well, that had to stop. He snapped his fingers in their faces and said, "Hey! Hey! Knock it off. This is important. Pay attention." And the two were so shocked by Arnold's tone that they actually did as asked.
Arnold smiled as he continued, "'And the Mormon prophet Joseph Smith was very confused about this. He asked, 'But Heavenly Father, what about all the wasted seed? I thought we were supposed to be fruitful and multiply?' And Lo! G-d just about snorted his beverage out of his nose at that question. Then G-d said to the Mormon prophet Joseph Smith, 'Trust me, Joseph. You've been fruitful enough. In another 100 years there won't be enough room on the whole planet for all the freaking babies you're gonna have. In another 200 years you're probably gonna have to find a whole new planet just to fit everyone. In fact, you could probably knock off the multiplying and divide for a little while, if you know what I'm saying.' When it became obvious that the Mormon prophet Joseph Smith did not know what G-d was saying, G-d told him not to worry about it because he'd be dead by then, anyway, it wouldn't be his problem and G-d would just take it up with the next prophet."
Arnold looked up again, then, right into Kevin's eyes, imploring him to understand as he spoke the last words of his newest story, "And from that day forward, homosexuality was no longer considered a sin. In fact, it was a great way to get homes for all of the extra babies lying around that the heterosexual couples couldn't seem to stop having because they were too dumb to figure out birth control."
Elder McKinley was so pale by then that he looked like he might faint at any second. Kevin didn't look much better. The other elders behind him remained silent. In fact it was just way too quiet, period. Arnold was used to lots of chatter and amused laughter after telling one of his stories to the Africans. This was just kind of creepy. Finally, he leaned forward and punched Kevin lightly in the arm, said, "Heh 'Surprise!'"
Kevin's mouth worked for a second, no sound emerging. After another silent moment, he finally got out, "Arnold what did you do?"
Arnold beamed, bounced a little on his toes, "Oh, nothing. I just had Nabulungi type up this little story to add into the Book of Arnold for me. She and the other Africans are distributing it to the other towns we're helping. General Butt F'ing Naked was really excited to help spread the word on this one, too. He, uh looked positively gleeful about it, actually." There was an awkward pause, then Arnold cleared his throat and continued, "And I heard about that new law, too. And since it doesn't jive with our religion anymore or the paradise planet we're trying to build here, I started my team back in the States working on that one. They're recruiting and making petitions and organizing protests, rallies and fundraisers as we speak. I think one of them even knows someone in the UN. So, I expect that'll be taken care of shortly."
Elder McKinley was shaking his head, a look caught halfway between horror and amusement on his face. When he finally started laughing, it was a broken sound, wet with tears. Through his laughter, he ground out, "My G-d, you're a pair, aren't you?" When Arnold opened his mouth to argue, Elder McKinley cut him off, "Elder Cunningham, you're not a prophet! Kevin, you're not the President of the Church! Just because Elder Cunningham made up a story about it doesn't make this any more OK!"
Kevin grabbed Elder McKinley's waving hands in his and tried to hush him, tried to get in a word around his growing hysterics, but Elder McKinley wasn't having it. He tore his hands free and yelled, "Don't you get it? I'm going to Hell for what I am. And if you keep following me down this road, no matter what Elder Cunningham says, you're going to end up going with me." He let out a small sob then, turned away, "You already had a small taste of Hell, Kevin and they went easy on you. You couldn't handle what they do to people like you couldn't. I don't want that for you. And your only hope to avoid it is to cleave to the Church and stay the hell away from me, but I can't get you to see that!" He slumped, turned pleading eyes on Kevin, "Why don't you see that?"
Kevin looked back and forth between Arnold's supportive gaze and Elder McKinley's anguished one, his own expression torn. One by one, the other elders stepped up next to Arnold and Elder Thomas, a silent wall of support. Arnold couldn't have been more proud if he really had been their prophet. Come on, Kevin. Do the right thing, here. Someone has to help him and I think you're the only one who can.
Kevin seemed to reach a decision then, turned back to Elder McKinley and got right into his personal space, slid his arms around the smaller man's waist and pulled him close. There was a smattering of gasping behind him and out of the corner of his eyes, Arnold caught Elder Thomas biting his sleeve so he didn't make any noise. He smiled and gave the other elder his arm to grab onto. Elder Thomas took immediate advantage. Oh, ouch. Yup. Gonna have bruises there tomorrow. Still, he just patted the other elder's hand reassuringly.
And Kevin ignored the pleading looks that Elder McKinley threw his way, ignored the tears starting to track down the other man's cheeks, ignored everything but the fact that Elder McKinley wasn't pushing him away. He smiled softly down at him and said, "Because I think you're wrong, Ryan. I don't know whether or not Arnold is right about the specifics on this one, but I think he's dead on about the basic idea. Heavenly Father made us this way - you pointed that out to me once yourself - and Heavenly Father doesn't make mistakes. If he made us this way, then it's because he wants us to be this way. And there's one thing that Arnold said that jives pretty well for me - I think the church got it wrong. You need it in the context of the Mormon Church to believe, though? Fine. If they could be wrong about black people, why not about this? All it takes is the word of a Church President to change the word of G-d. So, why couldn't He be speaking through Arnold, instead? Joseph Smith wasn't a Church President when G-d started speaking to him, you know. For all we know, Arnold's destined to be President of the Mormon Church one day. He's sure getting enough practical experience here in Uganda."
A few of the other missionaries laughed at that and Arnold blushed. He didn't want to be President of the Church. He just wanted his friends to be happy, wanted them to have better lives than what they had now. Then again... maybe Joseph Smith had started that way, too. President of the Church, huh...? Kinda has a nice ring to it, actually...
Arnold forced himself to pay attention when Kevin started speaking again, found that it wasn't so hard to do when Kevin's words were so wonderful. Kevin smiled down at Elder McKinley and said, "Ryan... I guess I can be a little slow. I need to learn my lessons more than once, sometimes." He leaned forward, touched his forehead to Elder McKinley's and said, "What I'm trying to say is that when the Peace Corps leaves... I won't. I'm staying here. With you." He looked up at Arnold then, gave him one of those pure smiles that made Arnold's heart flip-flop, and he added, quietly, "With you."
And damn it if Arnold didn't almost start bawling right then and there. Instead, he gave in to Elder Thomas' little whimpering noises, turned and let the smaller man cling to him, muffling his happy tears in Arnold's chest. He patted Elder Thomas on the back and smiled up at Kevin, made a small shooing motion to redirect his attention where it needed to be.
When Kevin turned back towards Elder McKinley, he raised a hand to cup the other man's face, "Well? What do you think, love? Are you willing to let go of this guilt? Willing to take a chance that I'm right?" Earnest brown eyes met widened blue as Kevin said quietly, "Are you willing to live the life that Heavenly Father wanted to you to live all along?"
Elder McKinley stared up into Kevin's eyes for what felt like hours. Arnold found himself holding his breath along with several of the other missionaries as he waited on the other man's answer. After what seemed like forever, Elder McKinley's eyes softened, a small smile spread around his lips and he raised his own hands up to cup Kevin's face, pulled him down for a butterfly brush of a kiss and whispered simply... "Yes."
The missionaries let out a thunderous cheer as Kevin lifted Elder McKinley in his arms and swung him around, all but crowing out his delight. Elder McKinley laughed, bent his head to claim another kiss, deeper this time. When Kevin finally put him down, he pressed several more kisses to his face, his mouth, his neck. Breathless with the joy of it, he said, "Fuck the devil, Ryan. He's not going to have you on my watch. You're mine."
Something swam in the depths of Elder McKinley's eyes then, some comment that would no doubt ruin the moment, but for once he bit it back and said instead, "OK, Kevin. You win. I'm yours. Even if I have to leave the church to do it... I don't care. I'd take Heaven on Earth for a single lifetime with you over Heaven in Heaven for eternity without you any day."
And as they stood there, eyes practically glowing with happiness, Arnold was the one who eventually broke the moment with a loud, "Holy guacamole! I knew I forgot something!" As everyone turned to look at him, he clapped a hand over his mouth and frantically pulled out a pencil to jot down some notes on the bottom of his newest parable.
Elder McKinley extricated himself from Kevin's arms and as Arnold finished writing, he pulled the papers from the other man's hands to read what he'd written. When he got through to the end, he started to laugh, real laughter this time, not a hint of bitterness. He handed the papers off to Kevin and took Arnold's face in his hands, leaned forward to place a gentle kiss on his forehead. He then enfolded him into a tight hug, said quietly, "Thank you, Elder Cunningham. It may be a pipe dream... but thank you."
Arnold pushed his own awkwardness aside long enough to hug him back and said, "Ryan... I think if you're gonna be my brother-in-law, you can call me Arnold."
~And Lo! G-d said to the Mormon prophet Joseph Smith, "You, uh... do realize that this also means that gay people can get married, right?"~
Elder McKinley: Huh. Well. Hmm.
R-chan: Did I not promise you a happy ending?
Elder McKinley: Yeah you did.
R-chan: *arches an eyebrow* And is this not happy enough for you?
Elder McKinley: Oh! *eyes snap up to the fic author and he starts waving his hands frantically* It's plenty happy! Plenty. No problems there! *nervous laughter*
R-chan: *rolls eyes* So what's the problem?
Elder McKinley: *blush* N-n-nothing.
R-chan: *twitch* I recognize that particular "nothing." Jeez, you boys are like rabbits! Don't you ever quit?
Elder Price: *grumps* How the hell can you quit something you never got to start in the first place?
R-chan: Eh? But what about the last- ?
Elder McKinley: *makes frantic shushing motions*
R-chan: *wide eyes* Oooooooooh Riiiiiiight. That wasn't hiiiiiiiim.
Elder Price: Who wasn't me?
Elder McKinley: *more frantic shushing motions*
R-chan: Eh-heh. *patpats Elder Price* You know what? Don't worry about it. I'll, uh I'll just get right on that one, OK?
Elder McKinley: *slumps, relieved*
R-chan: *mutters at Elder McKinley as she walks past* I don't have a problem doing this for you but you better start coming up with an explanation now, because if you don't, I'm gonna have you tell him the truth.
Elder McKinley: Explanation? For what?
R-chan: *eg* Your, uh experience. *grin grows fangs* *evil laughter*
Elder McKinley: D: Noooooooooooooooooooooooo!
Nuriko: *patpats Elder McKinley* Shouldn't have pushed, dear. That never ends well.
Elder McKinley: Who the hell are you?
Claude: *snerts* Don't ask. He'll just delight in tormenting you. You get used to him eventually.
Elder McKinley: Eh? And who are you?
Claude: *rolls eyes* Really, kid. Just worry about yourself. If I read this right, you'll have plenty of years to worry about us.
Elder McKinley: Nooooooooooo. *sobs*
Questions, Comments, Watermelon? ^_^