Disclaimer: Not mine. I'm just playing. I'll put'em back when I'm done.

Rating: PG

Synopsis: A church, at night, in the rain, at the edge of the abyss, is sanctuary.

Author's note: Do not ask me where this one came from. I have no idea. It just struck me and I just had to write it. It's a one-shot and it may never be more than it is now. But, who knows. Maybe something more will come of it. :)

Father Joseph was in the middle of the act of closing down his church for the night, a fact he still mourned. In his humble opinion, a church was a sanctuary and a sanctuary should be open at all times so those lost souls out there could find their way home when the need arose. After all, hospitals did not close down for the night and asked deadly sick patients to please return during opening hours, now did they? And in Father Joseph's opinion, churches were much like hospitals. They catered to the illness of the soul as much as they gave those devout a place to be closer to God.

The mahogany cross with its intricate patterns carved delicately into the wood, which stood on its pedestal behind the altar, was something so beautiful to behold, and it completely surpassed his otherwise immense ability to understand human kind when he recalled the recent desecration. St. Mary's had been open to all at all times until only a few months ago. But now, after the vandalism, it had been deemed necessary to close and lock the doors after midnight and until eight the following morning.

It had taken weeks to restore the cross to its former glory and the church had felt empty and devoid of God's presence in its absence. The parish had still shown up to pray and Father Joseph had still been there every day to welcome them and perform the services, but the church had not felt whole again until the cross had been back in its rightful place.

He stopped briefly and looked up at the cross and couldn't help a smile. It was beautiful, majestic without being pompous, and unlike so many other churches like this, it lacked one essential key ingredient, namely the figure of Jesus. But Father Joseph had always thought that the cross on its own gave a much more soothing message than that of their crucified savior and he liked to believe that his parish shared his belief. At least none of them had ever voiced a complaint about the absence of the figure.

With that smile still on his lips, he crossed himself and bowed his head for a moment, then went about his business, putting out candles as he went, removing the altar wine cups left behind and depositing them on the small rolling tray to be removed once he was finished.

A few stray hymn books littered the pews and he made a round through them to pick them up and put them back on the shelves just inside the doors. Then he returned to the altar to extinguish the last two candles, the large ones on either side of the cross, but was interrupted in doing so when he heard the doors open.

In part worried just a little bit, he turned back to face the nave and await whoever might enter. He could hear the rain outside, felt the brief shudder of the rolling thunder barely heard through the thick walls of the church, and felt an almost vacuum of non-sound when the doors closed behind this late night visitor.

For a long moment nothing happened and Father Joseph actually began to consider that whoever had been at the door had reconsidered and gone back out into the rain, but then a figure stepped through the right-hand doors from the narthex. The first thing Father Joseph noticed was how tall the man was. The second thing that struck him was that he was not dressed for this weather. His sneakers were sopping wet, his jeans soaked and the dark-brown hoody, the hood pulled up, was dripping with moisture. Dark bangs halfway obscured the man's eyes and either despite of or because of his height, the young man's back was hunched, his shoulders pulled up, his hands buried in the pockets of his hoody.

"Good evening," Father Joseph said and smiled what he hoped was a welcoming smile. After the desecration it was hard for him to be completely open and inviting at this time of day, but he did try his best. It was part of his ordainment to be forgiving, after all. "What brings you to St. Mary's at this hour?"

Dark eyes regarded him while water continued to drip off his wet hair and clothes, and there was something about this young man's demeanor that made Father Joseph cautious. But then the young man reached up and brushed the hood back and with it the wet bangs obscuring his eyes and the air he gave off changed radically. "I need help," he rasped, his voice barely audible in the otherwise acoustic church. "I've done terrible things."

There was remorse there, and pain, and an abysmal fear that radiated off him like light of a lit beacon and Father Joseph's heart bled for him. "God forgives all who repent," he proclaimed quietly and took a step down from the chancel area. "Tell me your sins and I am sure you will be forgiven."

The young man swallowed and Father Joseph noticed how his gaze kept returning to the cross. "I don't deserve to be forgiven. I just need to tell someone," he whispered and this time his voice was clear as a bell. Then he fixed his gaze on Father Joseph and for a second there, it seemed like they were yellow.

Father Joseph blinked, but the illusion was gone in the blink of an eye. "Will you sit down? Can I get you a towel, perhaps?" he suggested, instantly choosing to ignore what he attributed to a reflection of his own concerns and fears.

The young man glanced at the pews, then shook his head lightly. "No, there's no time for that. I just ..." He grimaced as if he were in pain, and Father Joseph noticed that he had yet to pull his right hand out of the pocket. And he held himself at a slightly odd angle. His features tightened, then he drew in a deep breath, held it for a moment and then exhaled slowly. "I need absolution. I don't want to go to Hell." It was more a breath than actual words.

Judging by his looks, Father Joseph believed him to be around twenty-five, but the look in his eyes was ancient. He had seen too much already, experienced too much, and it had left a mark on him so dark, he feared he would go to Hell. Father Joseph waved at the front pew. "Please, sit down at least. Let me hear what you have to say and I will do my best to make sure you don't have to fear Hell."

His words provoked an odd reaction, though. The young man smiled almost serenely. "Oh, I don't think you've got anywhere near the power to prevent that," he said and there was an odd and very disturbing conviction in his tone that sent a shiver up Father Joseph's spine.

Instead of sitting as asked to, the young man stepped closer to the cross, his eyes once more glued to it. "Why would you think that you were destined for Hell?" Father Joseph asked. Something told him that there was so much more hiding underneath, something dark and disturbing. Was he a junkie? He didn't seem like it and Father Joseph had met enough junkies in his life to be able to recognize them. Was he a murderer? If so, it was not by design. Something bad had happened to this young man, something dark and evil, but he still sought sanctuary in a church.

For a long moment all he did was stand there and stare at the cross. Then he turned his head a little, just enough for Father Joseph to see the oddly serene smile on his lips. "Because I'm a monster," he whispered.

The End