Maundy Thursday
by Jain

Based on a poem by Wilfred Owen.

There was a new altar boy. Owen didn't recognize him, and certainly it seemed impossible that he might be from one of the sturdy, dark local families, as Owen himself was. His skin was translucent in the dim light, white-blond hair shiny as silk, grey eyes cool and assessing. Even the faded robes he and the other lads wore looked different on him, clinging to his slim frame with a borrowed elegance.

Owen barely noticed the steady succession of supplicants, going row by row, section by section, to the front where the boy drew his eyes like a dancing flame. He shone in their midst--dour men shuffling forward with a deferential air; their wives meek with Sabbath piety, though Monday would see them gossiping animatedly and cuffing their offspring for a host of real or imagined transgressions. Those very children, breathless with the effort of remaining still and silent, fresh-faced and beautiful and yet somehow common in light of the boy's glow. They all knelt before him to do homage to the crucifix in his hand, and the boy seemed to take it as his own due.

Then it was the turn of his pew. Owen imagined he could feel the weight of an unfamiliar gaze taking his measure. He stumbled slightly as he neared the altar, and the boy's face contracted faintly in an aristocratic sneer.

Owen flushed in response, only to burn even hotter as he knelt before the boy. His flaming face was at a height with the boy's waist. If Owen looked carefully--and, God help him, he did--he could imagine that the folds of the flowing robe were resolving themselves into meaningful creases, and that there, there... He squirmed inwardly, his trousers suddenly and indecorously tight. A quick glance revealed the boy to be smiling at his discomfiture.

Then the boy held up the burnished silver crucifix, and, after a moment's hesitation, Owen leaned forward and kissed not the image of Christ but the boy's surprisingly warm hand. His eyes darted upwards as he did so, heart pounding frantically. He must be mad--the boy might raise a fuss; Owen was in church in full view of all his family and neighbors. And, even so, his mouth clung to that hand, the pulse at the thumb's base shivering against his lips.

The boy didn't so much as twitch. His finger traced along the seam of Owen's lips...its soft pressure like the whisper of a kiss...slipped just inside, and was gone, leaving Owen with the taste of clean, young skin and old silver.

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