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Absolution

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Benedicimi, padre, perch é  e ho peccado.
Bless me, Father, for I have sinned.

He thinks confessionals look the same the world over: small, dark, stagnant boxes.

He wonders if they are supposed to be reminiscent of coffins. Closing oneself in with one's sins, secrets, shame, and striving to repent before it's too late.

He has been under for three months. Under. Undercover.

The decision had been easy, too easy. There isn't anything left of him, so he has slipped into another being, become someone else. Someone who doesn't exist, except on paper.

Someone with no real past and no real future.

Living half of a life and the entirety of a lie.

Thou shalt not bear false witness.
Bless me, Father, for I have sinned.

He is lying to his children. He is lying to himself. He is lying to her.

In the dark, when his mind is spinning with wonder and worry, he remembers. He remembers sitting with Kathleen at the kitchen table late into the night.

Middle school.

Mythology.

His daughter had a fascination with it.

The stories, the folklore, the fables passed on and told with a moral in the end. He wished her fascination had carried over to her school work. The project due in the morning, his daughter fading before his eyes. He would've sent her to bed and finished it himself if he'd remembered a damn thing about mythology. He urged her on...

"Tell me again, honey. Tell me 'bout it…"

Kathleen lifted her heavy head from the table, her light eyes widened at his interest, and she told the stories over.

Pluto, he remembers, Roman god of the Underworld.

Under.

Ruler of the hidden, the occult, secrets, and lies, and things spoken only in the dark. He lived amidst the archaic stone streets of Rome for a decade and heard the ancient tales repeated. The gods were rulers of fate; of favor, fortune and their opposites. He no longer wonders what he has done to deserve the afflicted hand he has been dealt.

There are levels of Hell and he used to think he knew of them all.

Now, he knows better.

Bless me, Father, for I have sinned.

There is blood on his hands in every possible way.

He has washed and scrubbed until his own skin has broken open and bled and still he can't come clean.

He has taken lives, ended them with his bare hands.

Thou shalt not steal.
Bless me, Father, for I have sinned.

They tell him it's all part of the job.

It's all for the cause. Eddie Wagner's cause. The man who doesn't exist.

[What about his cause? What about his soul?]

He wonders if he is playing God - holding these lives in his hands, knowing how quickly, how easily he can snuff them out. He knows he is part of the game; as much as he likes to believe the contrary: that he is the player, not the pawn.

He wonders who holds his life and how close he is to his own end. He thinks he'll deserve it when it comes.

Thou shalt not kill.
Bless me, Father, for I have sinned.

He hasn't been to Mass in months. Eddie Wagner isn't a practicing Catholic, after all. He hasn't been either - not since he started to feel forsaken, forgotten, forlorn.

Not since he killed his wife.

Not since he is the reason she is dead.

Thou shall keep holy the Lord's day.
Bless me, Father, for I have sinned.

After the suffocating weight of grief has lessened, there is a terrible freedom he has found since his wife's death. He had tried to be a good husband, a father to their children, but the ring felt like a noose he hadn't realized was wrapped around his neck until she was gone.

He wonders what kind of monster it makes him.

Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor's wife.
Bless me, Father, for I have sinned.

She has never been anyone's wife.

He has no divine right to her, no claim to stake except the one he made the moment he met her. She is his partner. Her pull as strong now as it was a world away, a decade ago, and across the Atlantic. She draws him like the moon on the tide, ebbs and flows, depths and shallows, racing, crashing, breaking, and smoothing against the sand.

He has never touched her.

An emotional affair, Kathy called it.

An emotional affair.

If his late wife only knew.

He has never even touched her, because he knows that if (God help him when) he does, he will never be able to stop.

Endless. Ceaseless. Forever.

Thou shalt not commit adultery.
Bless me, Father, for I have sinned.

He is a god-damned bastard and he knows it.

Thou shalt not take the Lord's name in vain.
Bless me, Father, for I have sinned.

He can't help who he loves.

She wants to know why you don't tell her how you feel.

It's not something he has ever had any control over. He has tried - but there is something about it, about her, that has always felt preordained.

His mother would call it destiny, fate, call her his soulmate. She believes in that kind of thing.

He doesn't know. He doesn't know anything.

His mother arrived this afternoon with her carpet bag and her scarves around her neck. She arrived with a flourish of eccentricity and senility much stronger than he remembers.

It's been years since he spoke to her.

Kathleen called her to tell her about Kathy. His daughter shouldn't have had to, but he couldn't bring himself to talk to her then and he can't do it now.

Thou shall honor thy father and thy mother.
Bless me, Father, for I have sinned.

His mother gave him life over five decades ago. She gave his daughter her own internal cross to bear.

Today, she gave him the truth.

His mother fluttered around the kitchen as Kathleen tried to play hostess, trying to settle her grandmother. His mother was raving, ranting, and rambling about something he didn't understand.

"Have you seen it? On the news stations? Oh, we have to find her! She's in trouble. That's why you've come back."

"Gramma, Dad's been back from Italy for a while," Kathleen soothed, trying to make something make sense.

He stood at the counter, silent and still. Trying to figure out what the fuck his mother was talking about when she reached for her bag and pulled out a manila folder.

Its contents spilled out onto the floor and his daughter bent to pick them up.

Newspaper clippings.

His mother reached for them, but his daughter's fair skin blanched. Her light eyes widened and filled and she looked like she was choking on thin air.

"Gramma."

"Leen."

He reached for his daughter, for her arm, but she jumped as though he had burned her.

"Dad, it's okay. I'll take care of it," Kathleen rushed breathlessly, gathering the newspaper to her chest and crumpling them in the process.

"Kathleen, we need those! We need them to help us!" His mother's lithe fingers reached for the bundle in Kathleen's arms.

"Gram! Gramma, listen to me," Kathleen started desperately, tensely.

Suddenly, he felt like he couldn't breathe.

Something was wrong.

Something wasn't right.

His daughter was too insistent, his mother too agitated.

"Kathleen! We need those to help us find Olivia!"

He dropped the glass he had been holding and grasped his daughter's wrist in his hand.

"Leen," he rumbled, surprised he could make any sound at all.

His daughter's full eyes spilled down her cheeks and she shook her head vehemently.

"Daddy," she whispered, as if she were buying herself time before the inevitable.

"Kathleen Louise." His child's full name.

"Dad, please."

His daughter started to tremble before his eyes, in the middle of the kitchen, in the dying evening light.

"I was gonna tell you," she whispered brokenly, "just not like this."

He couldn't imagine...

"Tell me what?"

"Elliot, don't you know?" He determinedly ignored his mother's gaze as he watched Kathleen.

She shifted the scraps of newspaper in her arms, seemingly searching for one or another that might break whatever it was to him easier. He knows now despite his daughter's care something has broken inside of him.

He knows now.

He knows.

He doesn't remember much more. His mother's voice. His daughter's sobs..."Mom made us promise we wouldn't tell."

It's inconceivable.

Kathy knew.

He'd been under then, too. For a stretch of time years ago, from late May to June to July. He had been deep undercover, living someone else's life while she nearly lost her own.

It's unfathomable.

He can't breathe as he runs, taking the stairs two at a time. He can't breathe as he pounds his fist hard into her door. He can't breathe as he waits, as he waits for her. He can't breathe as she opens the door, as she takes him in with her gorgeous dark eyes and her tousled hair as though she has just run her fingers through it in a hurry when he unceremoniously nearly broke down her door.

"Elliot."

She gasps his name in her perfect velvet voice and he can't breathe.

He can't breathe when she pulls him inside her dimly lit apartment.

She smells like spearmint gum or toothpaste and fuck if he knows what time it is. She could have been asleep, but he knows he has made enough noise to wake the dead.

She's not dead. She is right here. She is alive, and beautiful, and he can't breathe.

He feels the way she pulls him, moves him, steers him toward her couch as if she knows he can't trust himself to stand much longer.

He can't trust himself with anything much longer except this, except that she has to know.

"Liv," he rasps her name, his voice sears against his parched throat. "Liv."

It is a mantra, a hymn of praise.

Live.

She is alive.

She has lived. He hasn't. Not without her.

"Elliot, what's-?" She starts warily, worriedly as though he has lost his mind and maybe he has or maybe he has found it.

"I didn't know."

He watches her tilt her head in utter confusion as though she really does think he has finally gone off the deep end and he reaches for her, a life preserver in the depths.

"I swear to God, Liv," he growls, shaking his head and leaning closer to her now. His hands find their resting place against her waist and she doesn't shy away or pull back and he only wants to bring her closer.

"I didn't know," he repeats.

There is so much more he wants to say. He wants to tell her he never should have left. He never would have let him touch a hair on her head. He never would have left her. Never. If he'd been here...if he'd been here it wouldn't have happened. He wants to scream and cry and kill for her, but it's not his place. The grief is not his to own, the anger not his with which to burn.

He thinks there will be time later.

He prays.

She watches him with the same expression of curious caution with which he watches her. Her dark eyes hold more than two decades of life, their life. He wonders if she knows he has loved her for every minute.

He prays.

He sinks to his knees before her, the motion of his body brings hers closer, closer still. He slips his arms around her waist, holding her as she holds him. He leans against her, presses his mouth to her stomach and kisses her there. He feels the way her body contracts as her breath catches. He feels her fingers tremble against his back, press into his shoulder before he kisses her again.

Surely loving this woman isn't what God meant when He asked believers not to worship anything before Him.

Bless me, Father, for I have sinned.

"El," she whispers his name.

"I love you," he whispers in reply.

Later, when she lays nearly asleep in his arms, after he has kissed her thousands of times, he whispers into the dark. "I'm sorry."

He feels her fingertips drift over his rough jaw, the apple of his cheek.

"I love you," she breathes and he knows.

All at once, he knows. It isn't God's absolution he has been seeking.

It is hers.

He watches her eyelashes flutter against her cheeks as she sleeps, as she dreams, and he prays.

He prays to God because loving her has never been and could never be a sin. She is not a penance. She is a blessing. She is a miracle.

He prays to God and for the first time in longer than he can remember, he feels forgiven.