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He was the son of a preacher, and it defined the majority of his adolescence and his growing interest in the world around him. And as he grew older and began to settle into his skin, in the people around him too. ‘The feelings of the flesh are never a sin because of who said feelings belong to’, his father always said. And Chris knew it; he had put the sign up on the church proclaiming all were welcome himself. And yet to act on the urge to chase those feelings was, somehow. His father had never said it, directly, but it was implied and ingrained into him for as long as he could remember. To admit to the weaknesses of wanting to feel, to be felt, to hold and be held, was somehow a greater sin than any actual act of intimacy in that house, and so, every sought out touch became a secret one.

 

The first person he ever brought into his bedroom had been the very same to suggest climbing the garden wall outside his bedroom window to avoid detection, and he would be lying if he didn’t admit that the thrill of rebellion was the first seductress he ever fell in love with. They were all mischievous eyes and stifled laughter as they climbed next to Chris, tumbling into his bed softly as he followed, rolling around and giggling like children. They had lain together, had done nothing more than hair stroking and fumbling kisses and soft embraces, but it meant so much more, felt like so much more. He had melted into their arms and clung to them like a lifeline, shivering at their hands under his shirt and the warmth of their skin on his. His mind had raced with thoughts; ‘Is this even allowed? God why does this feel so good? They’re so warm. Does this always feel like this?’ Intimacy was intimacy no matter how clothed, and god, did it make something in him burn. It had been so much easier when he had gone without, that part of himself so starved that it no longer complained of hunger beyond the vague feeling that he was lacking something, but that was gone now. The hunger that had once been softly biting inside him turned ravenous, desperate for more, for anything and everything they or any other would give him. Flesh was no sin, but the gnawing need he felt for that touch was. He fell asleep that night wrapped in their arms, dropping off into dreams faster than he had in years, and yet he had also never felt more like a sinner- a monster- in his life. How could something that ached inside him like this, for the touch of another, ever be anything but a sin?

 

And then he was 17, and a girl in his year with enchanting grey eyes full of wisdom and short cropped hair that looked softer than anything had met his gaze at the party he had snuck out to go to. And they had laughed as they blasted music and sang along poorly right up until they had gotten to his street where she had turned it off and slowed to a crawl. He hadn't said much about his dad, but she must have read between the lines. Still, she had made it seem like the easiest thing in the world as they drove towards his home. She parked up the road away from his house and and they ran through the field laughing in the crisp midnight spring air. And when their hands met and intertwined as they ran towards the vague direction of his house, he pretended like such a simple act didn’t send a coursing rush through him making him feel both saintly and sinful.

When the house was in sight, the lights were still on downstairs, and the quiet dread that filled him, fueled panicked desperate thoughts of ‘no, not tonight, I feel so good I feel so warm I can’t just, I can’t give this up yet’, were quickly snuffed out as she tugs his hand, looks at him with her wise eyes and confident smirk as she runs towards the barn a ways away in the field. She found the ladder inside with practiced ease- that years later he would wonder at, before shrugging with laughter, that maybe she was full of knowledge of hidden things-, and beckoned him up to the loft with a confidence he was so entranced by that he was helpless but to follow.

 

She laid him out on the hay covered floor so lovingly, straddled his lap and let out such a soft purring laugh when she realized he was already hard. ‘Good’, she had whispered in his face, leaning down, hair curling over her forehead. ‘I’ve always had a soft spot for responsive lovers’. And the way she drawled the word ‘lovers’ had shot through him like lightning. Her lips had tasted so intoxicatingly sweet, and when her tongue plundered his mouth he felt drunk and high off the taste, the endorphins in his veins, the heat of her skin. When he gasped against her and begged, he had no idea what the was begging for; absolution, release, guidance, but she did, somehow. Another secret she had stolen from him, more knowledge of hidden things to rest in her eyes, her fingertips, her smirk. She rolled off him, propped herself up on the hay next to them. Spread her legs in front of him, skirt riding up her thighs for him to see she had been wearing nothing under it. And when his mouth went dry and all his racing his thoughts screeched to a halt she simply beckoned him with a finger and a quirk of her lips, and like the moment on the ladder, he followed unquestioningly.

She was the first patron saint he would ever worship. The first to tell him, show him, how to kneel for her, how to worship the temple that was another’s body. She pushed his head between her legs, murmured words of guidance and rewarded him with a combination of praise and gasps and curses that were downright addictive, that he so desperately needed more of or he was sure he would fly apart at the seams. It only made him work harder, listen closer, swipe his tongue and crook his fingers faster. And gods above, the moment that Chris looked up at her as he sucked on her clit was the first religious experience he’d ever had. Her hands tightened in his hair and her thighs shivered so prettily around his head and she moaned for him, he did that, and he watched the pleasure overtake her face and she smiled and laughed breathlessly as he went harder and harder until she cried out his name and god in heaven, he never heard something so beautiful, never heard his name sound so good, never felt so wanted and useful and unbearably aroused. It was no wonder then that when she pulled his face away from her thighs and moved to kiss him, to return the favor, that they realized he had followed her into release completely untouched. And she had merely laughed brightly, with him rather than at him, raked her fingers through his hair and purred in his ear about what she would teach him next time.

 

She awoke something in him that night, some bottomless hunger that opened beneath his feet, consuming his every waking thought for weeks, and he dove in that pit headfirst, hoping to whatever gods that may or may not exist that there was more of what he felt that cool spring night within it.

 

His father had preached a multitude of scripture in his church. Had always told Chris, ‘Everyone got it a little right,’ that ‘There’s beauty in all deities and their creations,’ that ‘No one worshipper or their patron was correct, for they *all* were right’. It was only natural then, for Chris to find beauty in all gods, in all their creations, all their patrons. He traveled thousands of miles from that house, into the heavens themselves as he searched for his place among the stars. How ironic it was, that years of being a preacher's son had left him further from heaven than ever, yet he found nothing but holiness as soon as he left. He soaked in the sweat of men who smelled like the flowers and earth they tilled and grew growing up, who tasted addictively tangy and left him craving more. Surely these were children of Demeter, with their warm eyes and lean arms. He tasted the tang of sea salt and dubiously legal liqueurs on the skin of women who undoubtedly worshipped to and were worshipped back by the sea, with laughs like sirens and strong thighs that begged to be wrapped around willing bodies and drag them under the waves, and oh did he go willingly. He ensconced himself in the sure embrace of the disciples of the forge, the fire, the unknown, delighting in the diversity in their shapes, sizes, features. They molded him into their image with careful hands, teasing tones, and wonderfully open minds and laughed as he marveled at the beauty they had seen in him and pulled forth from him until he saw it too. All these gods, these patrons and high priests that showed him the wonders of the flesh, the storms of passion and intimacy and love that heaven and earth dreamt such a sweet vision of, and still he was hungry for more. For salvation, for patron saints to call his, for saints to call him theirs. For the ones he could worship to without limit and give all that was within him and know that they would accept his offerings and give him all of that passion and need and want back, and more. To find belonging, to be claimed, to be theirs.

 

Years passed and he earned a reputation of being a generous lover, a patient lover, one that doesn’t bed many but always is sure to leave those he does satisfied. And if they ask why he spends so long between their thighs, why he’s always putting their pleasure on a pedestal (‘An altar’, he doesn’t correct them. ‘An altar to worship to, leave his offerings upon, arranged with care for his patrons to draw from whenever they needed or pleased’), he answers that he simply likes to make people feel good, which isn’t a lie so much as a half truth, and they snort and say that that’s a character quality that’ll get him far in life. ‘And it is enough’, he thinks. ‘their pleasure is enough’, he convinces himself, ‘enough to live upon’ he insists.

 

But lords above and below, when he finds his gods, he realizes just how wrong he was. How he had been feeding off of breadcrumbs and water droplets compared to the communion feast he knows now. He realizes being on his knees has never felt so holy.

He finds a sort of peace that religion can only dream to describe when he’s praying at the temples of his lovers bodies. When his hands ghost up toned thighs, soft stomachs, padded hips; skin so smooth they’re like marble statues of the old Pantheon gods except they’re both oh so warm and they tremble oh so sweetly around his head, under his fingers. Their moans are both such beautiful gospel, his name on their lips chanted like a prayer even when he’s the one on his knees at the altar and damn him to all the fires of the underworlds if he’s addicted to the music of it. He knows now that this cannot be a sin; no act that feels so right, so sacred, could ever be a sin. That the vulnerability they show him with the trust that he won’t betray it, that the intimacy he feels and shares with them is nothing short of divine. And if this is what sin is then he understands with every fiber of his being why angels fall from supposed grace. The fine hair he feels under his palms may as well be the finest silks that priests could only dream of making their prayer robes out of. And gods, the scent of them may as well be the finest incense that he just aches to set aflame and let burn until he knows nothing but the scent of them, the feel of them, the sound of them.

Raking their hands through his hair lights him up like rays of sun through stained glass windows; sharp and soft beams of multifaceted pleasure streaming through into his prayer, lighting him up and exposing him in their colorful array and he helpless but to bask in it, wants the whole congregation to see how holy he feels when he’s on his knees for them, praying to them with everything he has. He’s so warm, so lost in it, and gazing up into the eyes of the deities he worships only wraps him further in their holy scripture. He feels bound by it, wrapped in it, unable to pull away and for years religion had felt like a punishing chain but here, here it’s like the finest velvet ropes that wrap around him oh so gently, pull him closer, let him see just how close to godliness he can get as the Gods he kneels before tugs his hair, gasp his name, praise him. Treat him like he* is the most holy among them, their highest priest, their most favorite prodigy that serves them with all he has. They see him; see how much he adores worshipping them, see how he comes undone as his tongue curls around his wishes, his pleas for them, his begs for mercy and ownership and belonging and they adore him for it. Take all the intimacy and vulnerability that he gives them and clutch them to their chests like their most sacred texts. They give him praise that tastes like the sweetest nectar and wrap around him like they’ll never let him go, never let any other god treasure him like they do. He’s theirs theirs theirs and their staked claim on his faith shakes him to his core, lays him bare in heavens light and wraps him in a warmth no scripture could ever capture the depth of.

And it’s when the deities he worship reach their highest peak before crashing down in his arms, knowing he’ll catch them, as he laps at the ambrosia of their slick, their sweat, their skin, that he reaches nirvana. He’s baptized in their release; thrown under the surface of the holy waters and laughs as he drowns in it, knowing they will pull him free before he is truly lost, knowing he is never safer than under their gaze, their hands, their thighs. Half the time he worships them in the afterglow, all perfunctory kisses and swipes of the tongue, he realizes he’s followed his patrons into their sweet release without realizing. His patrons -lord have mercy, *his* patrons, he has patrons that are *his* at long last- coo at him, scratch his scalp with gentle fingers, tell him he’s been so good for them, has offered such lovely livations to them that he simply must accept their gifts, their praise, their favors; let them crawl between his own legs and let his patron saints worship him in return for all that he gives them. He has never felt so holy, so sacred, so loved.

 

Chris has grown around religion his entire life. He has a reasonably solid grasp on what it means for something to be sacred, worshipped, holy. And he can say with confidence that there is no scripture, holy book, or sacred prayer like this. No temple quite like these to step into and hope to god he never leaves. No other gods in the galaxy that he could kneel before and pray to, beg to, worship to, quite like them. And his patrons murmur their agreements in his ears, pull him closer, leave the lights on for him always, whenever he decides he needs their gospel once more.