Gifts of Silver and Gold

by Julnick


Tem rolled over, opening one eye resentfully. "What? It's Saturday!"

John was holding a piece of paper in front of his face. "Weren't you going to pay this last week?"

Tem opened his other eye and winced. "Aw shit..."

"I wouldn't recommend using that kind of language considering your already precarious situation, dear. This ticket was supposed to be paid by the eighteenth. Now it's doubled."

"John...." It was too early in the morning not to whine. "I meant to pay it, I really did, I just forgot. There was so much going on!"

"Is that an excuse?" John's tone was icy. Tem cringed.

"No, sir," he said quietly, lowering his eyes.

"Get up, please."

"But, John..."

John raised his eyebrows and Tem closed his mouth. Slowly he dragged himself out of bed, chewing his lip as he watched John quickly pull the blankets up and sit down, patting his thigh.

Tem opened his mouth to make another plea but stopped as he caught John's expression. Sighing, he pushed his flannel pajama pants to his ankles and stepped out of them, then eased himself down across John's lap. He swallowed hard as he felt his boxers being peeled down to his thighs.

The first swat caught Tem off guard and he squeaked, jumping. Then he covered his mouth with his hand and screwed up his face as the hard, steady spanks continued to fall all over his bottom.

"This was a fifteen dollar ticket. A completely stupid and unnecessary ticket. Which you already got spanked for once. I should have thought you'd want to be done with it by now."

Tem squirmed and kicked slightly as two particularly hard spanks fell on the underside of his bottom. "I'm sorry, John! I just forgot. I'll take care of it today, I swear! Ow!"

"Today is a little late, young man. Today it is going to cost you thirty dollars instead of fifteen. That's an awfully expensive parking space, isn't it?"

Tem could only wriggle and yelp.

"It's about time you learn to take responsibility for things that need to be done. I'm not going to save you every time you make a mistake. You are going to have to face the consequences yourself and I expect you to handle them in a mature and expedient manner."

"Ow...ow...ow," Tem hissed. He hated it when John lectured during a spanking. "I'm really sorry! OUCH! Please, John! I'll pay for it!"

"Yes, you will," he replied calmly, not slowing in his assault on Tem's backside. "That isn't the issue. The issue is you being responsible for taking care of things when they are *supposed* to be taken care of."

Tem's eyes began to sting with tears. He bit his hand to keep from crying out loud. Ten more hard swats had him crying and heaving with ragged breaths. John slid his boxers back up and let him fall down onto his knees, burying his face in John's leg.

John stroked his hair soothingly for several minutes while Tem calmed down. Tentatively, Tem reached back and rubbed his tender bottom. "Some way to say good morning," he grumbled, pouting. John leaned forward and kissed the top of Tem's head.

"Good morning, sunshine."

Tem gave him a sour look.

"I need to go into town and finish some shopping. I want that check written and mailed before I get back, do you understand? And pick up your prescription while you're down there."

"Why can't you mail it while you're in town?" Tem said, petulantly, still rubbing his stinging backside.

"A: Because I'm not going into Lyons, which is where you need to pick up your meds anyway. And B: It's your ticket, you take care of it yourself. Clear?"

"Yes, sir," Tem said, letting only the faintest note of insolence slip into his tone. John gave him a look. He closed his mouth tightly.

When John had gone, Tem flopped facedown on the bed and sighed. His butt *hurt*. He touched it again, feeling the heat through his shorts. It wasn't as if he did it on purpose. He'd *meant* to pay the ticket. John got so worked up about such minor things. He rolled over and sat up, wincing. He'd take care of it after he showered.

*****

Running his fingers through his damp hair and scrubbing himself vigorously with the towel to try and warm himself, he stamped into the closet to find some warm clothes.

He glanced out the window as he went past. The landscape was brushed with powdery white snow. Only the dark green of the pine trees and the orange-green of the lichen-covered granite hillside lent any color to the composition. He shivered. John always thought the snow was beautiful. But Tem was an Aussie boy. To him it just looked *cold*.

He pulled on jeans, a turtleneck and sweater, nearly toppling a small box onto his head as he pulled the sweater from the high shelf. He looked at it -- he'd nearly forgotten about this one.

Grabbing some socks, he went back out to the bedroom, box in hand. He sat on the bed, ignoring the twinge in his bottom, and tugged on his socks, smiling as he heard Wolf's lumbering footsteps coming down the hall. The giant dog trundled into the room and launched his great mass onto the bed. It heaved considerably under his weight. Tem grinned and rubbed the dog's head. Wolf lolled his tongue at him happily. Opening the box, Tem took out the contents and showed them to his furry companion. "What do you think? Think he'll like it?"

The dog panted and licked Tem's hand. Tem laughed and put the objects back in the box. "C'mon, let's go outside."

Wolf pounded down the stairs after Tem and waited impatiently for the man to tug on his boots and coat. As soon as the front door opened, he bounded out into the powdered sugar world.

Tem tramped out behind him, watching the dog nip playfully at the falling snow. He coughed as the icy cold hit his lungs. His breath puffed out before him like steam in the crisp, silent air. The entire world seemed to have gone to sleep, pulling a fluffy white blanket over itself. Even Wolf's happy yips were muffled in the stillness.

The snow squeaked under his boots as he walked across the driveway following Wolf down the narrow dirt road, all traces of travel now lost under the building layer of snowflakes.

Tem shoved his hands deeper into his pockets and shrugged his coat higher around his ears. Wolf bounded out of sight around the bend in the road. Tem gave him a few more minutes, until his ears were numb and the cold had nearly put out the fire on his bottom, then gave a sharp whistle. The dog reappeared and looked at Tem inquiringly.

"C'mon," he said impatiently. "It's fucking freezing, I'm not going to stand out here all day."

Wolf cocked his head then began to trot back up the hill. Tem turned back to the house, walking slowly. The dog caught up with him at the front step and he let him back into the mudroom where he shook, sending snow in every direction. Tem took off his coat and boots, yawning, and went down to the kitchen. He glanced into the living room as he passed; the Christmas tree was glittering in the faint grey light from the windows. Brightly wrapped packages were stacked under it, most of them for John's relatives. This was the first year the entire family was making an effort to get together. Tem had met them all at one point or another in the past, some of them more often than others.

There was a pile of boxes in the den still to be wrapped. Tem carried his bowl of cereal in and surveyed them while he ate. When he was finished, he carried the supplies out to the kitchen table, turned on some Christmas music and began to wrap presents, one of his favorite parts of the holiday.

As he delivered a pile of packages to the tree, he remembered the little box and ran upstairs. He brought it down and wrapped it carefully, then put it behind the tree where he and John put their presents for each other.

He was still wrapping when John came home with several bags.

"Did you get everything?" Tem asked.

"Yeah, I think this is it, I'll have to check the list one more time."

"You're a regular Santa."

John gave him a rueful smile and went into the den to drop the bags. "Tem," he called.

"Yeah?"

"You wrapped half the stuff in here."

"Yeah, I thought we should get it taken care of." He stuck his tongue out at the doorway and retracted it quickly as John reappeared. John didn't catch the reference.

"I'm impressed. Are you getting the right tags on all of them?"

"Yes, Daddy."

John swatted him.

"Ow!" Tem glared.

John sidled past him into the kitchen. "You eaten yet?"

"Cereal."

"And when was that?"

Tem hesitated.

"Uh huh." John pulled down the frying pan and began putting together cheese sandwiches for grilling.

"What's the plan for tomorrow?" Tem asked, disentangling himself from a strip of tape.

"We need to be at Sara's house at four, so we'll leave here around two; that should give us enough time even if the roads are bad. That means I expect you ready to go at one."

Tem wrinkled his nose. "I'm not that irresponsible, if you say we leave at two I'll be ready at two."

"Okay, then we leave at one."

Tem threw a bow at the back of his head.

*****

"Tem..."

Tem pried one eye open, took in the frowning visage before him and closed it again.

"Tem, look at me."

"What?" He groaned, still clinging to the warm comfort of sleep.

"Now."

Tem opened his eye again. John was holding a scrap of paper in front of his face. Tem moaned. "Aw shit... I forgot...."

"I can see that. Obviously our little discussion had no impact on you."

"No!" Tem opened both eyes, suddenly awake. "I got caught up in wrapping and I forgot to do it, I'll write the check right now!"

"Get up, please."

"No..."

John gave him a look.

Tem groaned and kicked off the sheets.

"Downstairs."

"John...." He gave it one more try even as he stumbled out of bed. John stared at him. Tem sighed and

As he thudded down the stairs and across the living room, Tem could feel John's hard stare on the back of his neck. Down the short hall into the kitchen, he stopped, crossing his arms over his chest and scowling. John walked past him and opened the drawer by the sink. Tem's heart thumped harder against his ribs. He'd known this would happen, but seeing the wooden spoon made it all so ... immediate.

"John, I'm sorry, I really am, I'll take care of it, I swear, please." He always promised himself he wouldn't beg, but somehow it always ended up happening. "Please, John...." The sad puppy eyes weren't doing him any good either. He wondered if he could work up a few tears.

"Save it, Tem."

Tem slouched as John pulled out a chair from the table and sat down, patting his thigh. Tem drag himself within reach, but he couldn't quite bring himself lie over John's lap, directly in harm's way.

"John, you punished me yesterday, I'm still sore...."

"And whose fault is that?"

"Yours," Tem wanted to say, but for once common sense interceded before he could get it out of his mouth. He shifted his weight in sullen silence.

"Pull down your pants, please."

Tem swallowed. Those words always turned his stomach to ice water. His belly tightened and his bottom clenched nervously as he slowly hooked his thumbs into his pants. "John..." It was a last ditch plea, and John wasn't having it. He grabbed Tem's waistband and yanked his pajamas and shorts to his knees in one swift motion. Entirely too quickly, Tem found himself staring at the grain of the wood slat floor. He took a breath to make another plea for leniency when the spoon connected solidly and he let the breath out in a yelp. "OW!"

John didn't bother to lecture this time; the spoon cracked down noisily all over Tem's bottom, quickly re-igniting the fire of the previous morning and awaking the lingering ache that had not quite faded since yesterday.

"Ah! Ow!" He twisted and kicked , the sting making his sinuses ache until tears rose in his eyes. "Ow! John! Please! Jesus, it hurts!"

"Good. Maybe this time it will make an impression." He continued mercilessly. Tem sobbed.

"It has! It's made an impression! John! Please, stop!"

"You made a mistake. Stop whining and accept the consequences."

Tem felt his teeth click as he snapped his mouth shut, stunned. John never spoke so harshly to him during a spanking.

It lasted several more minutes. Hurt and angry, Tem stubbornly held his silence, but tears had wet his face by the time John set the spoon on the table.

"Corner," John said flatly.

Tem slid off his lap and stumbled to the corner of the kitchen, fists clenched at his sides. The stinging burn of the spanking slowly faded, the deeper hurt of John's anger rising closer to the surface. He could hear John moving back and forth between the kitchen and the living room. Then he began clanging pans as he prepared breakfast. Tem sniffed.

"John?" He ventured finally.

"Yes?"

"I'm sorry."

"Okay."

Tem flinched. "Are you still pissed?"

John didn't answer for a long time, then said only "Come eat."

Tem didn't feel very much like eating. Tears were resting very close to the surface, and they were making his stomach tense and edgy. He tugged his pants up shoving down the surge of embarrassment. He eased himself onto the hard wooden chair, pulling a face and John set a plate of eggs and toast in front of him, then sat down across the table with his own plate.

Tem stared at the food.

John gave him a hard look. "Eat it."

Tem picked at it, spreading it around the plate. "What's wrong? You spanked the hell out of me. Why are you still pissed?

John set down his fork and looked at Tem across the table. "Don't curse. Did you pick up your prescription yesterday?"

Tem opened his mouth, his heart sinking. "Yes...

John pinned him with cool blue eyes. "Around what time was that?"

Tem scrambled. "Uh, eight?"

"Jack doesn't open up 'til nine."

Tem winced, he *knew* that. "I...left here at eight, maybe it was eight-thirty. Or so...." Fuck fuck fuck. John would have killed him for not getting the prescription, but now he was lying about it. This couldn't end well.

"You picked it up at nine?" John's eyes didn't flicker from Tem's face.

"About that... I guess... I wasn't wearing a watch," Tem said lamely.

"So where is it?"

Tem's heart pounded. Shit. "The watch?" His belly clenched as John's expression turned arctic. Shit.

"Go get it, please."

Tem sat silently for a moment, his mind racing. Short of an act of God, there was no way he was going to slip out of this noose. He closed his eyes for a moment. God didn't act.

"I..." Tem felt a shudder of icy pinpricks rush over his skin.

John pushed away from the table and went to a kitchen drawer. He pulled a white paper bag from it and tossed it across the table.

Tem's heart settled somewhere around his stomach. He was so very, very dead.

"It's a funny thing. I was down there this morning picking up some milk and Jack said he had this for you. Said you never came in yesterday."

Tem couldn't look up. Tears began to form in his eyes.

"The ticket was just money. It was irresponsible but not hazardous. Running out of your medication is flat-out dangerous. Do I have to take over that responsibility for you?"

"No, sir," he whispered, tears were beginning to blur his vision.

"I don't see how I can not. You can't afford to screw around with your meds. I am not going to spend another forty-eight hours in the hospital with you not knowing if you'll live or die just because you can't take responsibility for your own damn medication."

Tem winced. John never swore. Ever. He realized he was shivering and wrapped his arms around himself. "I'm sorry," was all he could think to say.

"And then..." John continued quietly. "You have the audacity to lie to me..." There was a long silence. Tem kept his head bowed. Finally, John spoke once more, his voice gentle. "Bring me the hairbrush, please."

Tem raised his eyes, his gut clenching hard. He felt bad enough not to plead, but for a moment he couldn't make his feet obey the command. He looked at his partner helplessly. He felt a tear spill, and turned his face away quickly.

"The hairbrush or the cane, Temoko. Now." His voice was soft but stern.

Tem took a shuddering breath and closed his eyes. He dug deep into himself, finding the tiny spark that kept him getting up every morning of training knowing the agony the day would bring him, the spark that carried him into combat against the mind-numbing fear. He found it and clung to it. Slowly turning, he moved himself through the living room and up the stairs to the bedroom. He opened the drawer in John's nightstand and took out the old, wooden hairbrush. He closed his eyes for a moment, a flood of guilty shame and fear hit him in the gut and he thought he was going to throw up. Fighting his body back into control, he took the brush in both his hands and very slowly made his way back to the kitchen.

John took the oval-backed brush from Tem's trembling hands, set it down and pulled a chair away from the table. He looked at Tem and his expression softened. "Come here." Tem stepped close enough for John to pull him into his arms. Tem clung to him.

"I'm sorry," he whispered into John's shoulder. "I was going to pick it up today before we left. I didn't mean to lie..."

John kissed his hair lightly. "Yeah...you did.

Tem buried his face in John's shoulder. "I'm sorry." His voice was muffled. "I... I don't know why I..."

John didn't answer; he just rubbed Tem's back. "What is it going to take, Tem?" He said eventually. "What do I have to do to get you to start accepting your responsibilities?"

"I don't know," Tem whispered, his face burning with shame. "You don't have to do this, you don't have to care of me all the time, I know I'm a burden, I...ah!"

John pushed Tem back a step to stare into his eyes, his expression hard. Tem rubbed at the fiercely stinging handprint John had just left on his ass. "Don't even think about going there, boy," John said sternly. He pulled a chair from the table. "Drop your pants."

Tem's eyes widened and he gulped a shuddering breath.

*****

Tem sulked into the pillow, feeling sorry for himself. His backside was still brutally sore. He was going to have to go to John's sister's house, be cordial and polite to all John's family and try not to flinch every time he sat down. Fucking meds. And if he hadn't lied about it...stupid. He punched the pillow miserably.

"Tem?" John called from the base of the stairs.

"What?"

"You need to get ready, hon."

Tem sighed. His head was stuffy from his tears, he scrubbed his hands over his face and gingerly pushed himself off the bed. In the bathroom mirror, his face was flushed and his eyes were still rimmed with red. He undressed and, feeling childish, turned to examine his backside in the mirror. His skin was still red and hot and tender to his lightest touch. Several faint bruises were already forming. He was going to hurt for a while. He sighed again and stepped into the shower, turning the water hot enough to sting and bowed his head under it. He deserved it.

John was in the bedroom when Tem came out of the bathroom, gently drying himself with a towel. John was wearing dark slacks and a sport jacket and pulling his shirt cuffs down irritably. He hated dress shirts.

Tem scoured his short hair until it was relatively dry and smoothed it down with his hands. He walked past John, tossing the towel onto the bed. John swatted him lightly. "Bathroom, Tem."

Tem gritted his teeth and glared at the back of John's head but picked up the towel and hung it over the shower door.

"And lose the attitude," John said, smoothing his jacket and turning to his partner. "It's Christmas. You love Christmas."

"My ass fucking hurts."

John's voice took on a distinct edge. "I would watch myself if I were you, little boy."

Tem scowled but didn't respond.

John sat on the edge of the bed and took a jar of cream from the nightstand. He patted the comforter. "Lie down."

Tem approached slowly, still frowning and not taking his eyes off John. He wasn't ready to trust him not to swat him again.

"C'mon, I'm not going to bite... Unless you ask nicely...." A slight smile tugged at the corner of his mouth and his eyes twinkled.

Tem bit his lip, refusing to smile. He might have dug his own hole, but he wasn't ready to let go of his resentment. He crawled onto the bed and flopped down on his belly.

John opened the jar and began to spread the cool cream over Tem's bottom. Tem sighed, letting himself relax. It *did* feel good. Eventually, John stopped and Tem felt his weight shift as he set the cream on the bed stand again. Then he felt a soft breath on his neck as John kissed him lightly.

"John!" He hissed, squirming. His neck was high on his list of favorite places for John's lips to be.

"Mmm?" John kissed him again with more strength, sliding his hands under Tem's chest.

Tem struggled to turn onto his back, wincing as his butt touched the bed. He gasped as John's lips brushed his ear. "What happened to leaving at one?" He demanded breathlessly.

John smiled as he slid his hands upward, teasing sensitive spots until Tem wriggled under him. "Two ... is fine..." he breathed, kissing him deeply.

*****

Tem was feeling much more in the Christmas spirit by the time they left, in spite of having to sit on a sore butt for the hour and a half long drive to John's sister's house.

By the time they got to the main highway, it was apparent that the roads weren't going to be a problem. John pulled off into a small town about halfway there and let Tem wander about for a while to "stretch his legs." Tem suspected he was just feeling guilty, watching his partner squirm. The sun was shining brightly on the white snow. Tem breathed deeply, and the air smelled distinctly of winter. It was an indefinable smell, but recognizable nonetheless. He sighed happily. It was Christmas.

The town was decorated in red and green banners and garlands. John surveyed them with a distant look on his face. Tem knew his Christmases had been less than joyous growing up. It wasn't a time of year that he shared Tem's enthusiasm for. But Tem was determined to change the grasp John's past still had on him. He walked around the car and slid his arms around John's chest.

John stiffened slightly, but the street was deserted and finally he put his arms around Tem and nuzzled his hair lightly. "Merry Christmas, baby."

Tem looked up into his eyes. "It is, you know, a very merry Christmas, because I have you." He grinned and kissed John lightly. John rolled his eyes.

"Ah, you have a future in Hallmark."

"Grinch," Tem said lightly, smiling to take the sting out of the word. But John's expression changed and he immediately regretted it.

"And every Who down in Who-ville is awaiting our arrival. Let's go." His tone was even, but Tem could see hurt in his eyes. He slouched into his seat, feeling guilty.

They were both silent as John pulled back onto the main highway. Finally, Tem said, "I'm sorry."

"For what?"

"You're not a grinch."

John gave a soft laugh. "Thanks...."

"I wasn't trying to hurt your feelings...."

John was quiet for a moment. "You didn't hurt my feelings."

"I know you don't like Christmas. You have good reasons, I wasn't trying to make light of them..."

"Tem! It's okay!" He was beginning to sound exasperated. Tem fell silent.

"I'm sorry," he said again, several minutes later.

John sighed. "I'm not upset. There's nothing to be worried about, okay? Why are you so edgy today?"

Tem slumped lower into his seat and looked out at the trees flashing by the car. "I want to change this for you. I want to make new memories, with you... With us..."

John smiled faintly. "You already are, baby."

Tem stared at John's profile for a long time. Finally, John glanced at him quizzically. "What're you looking at?" He asked.

"I love you."

John's expression showed uncertainty and concern, but the corner of his mouth quirked upward. "I love you, too...."

*****

Sara's house was warm and smelled of candles, pine and cooking food. Tem patiently greeted each of the relatives and grinned as a gaggle of children came trundling toward him chorusing, "Uncle Tem! Uncle Tem!" He grinned, kneeling on the floor and letting the wave of little bodies crash over him, nearly bowling him over.

"Hey, kids! What's happening?" He hugged whichever children were in reach, while others climbed over his back.

John smiled and ruffled Tem's hair before going down into the living room to do his social duty to the family.

"You guys want to help me get presents out of the car?" Tem asked, trying to disengage tiny arms from around his neck.

The suggestion was greeted with a cacophony of affirmative cries and hoots of joy. The wave of bobbing heads moved toward the front door and spilled out into the driveway. Tem shook his head, smiling, and followed them out into the brilliant white snow.

The presents quickly piled up under the large tree, spreading out into the living room. The children contented themselves with sifting the packages into piles according to the gift tags, and Tem joined the adults, smiling and being conversational, at least for John's sake. For his *own* sake. He had something to prove.

Dinner went smoothly; even Jay refrained from barbed comments at Tem's expense. Tem was surprised, but he remained polite in return and was rewarded with a discreet, approving smile from John as they helped clear the dinner dishes that made his heart stutter in his chest.

Then it was time for the presents. The children scrambled about in their Sunday best clothes, crawling underneath and behind the tree, quite oblivious to needles and sap, much to their parents' dismay. Most of the couples received a single gift to share between them, so the adult piles were smaller than those of the children, who received a gift from each couple -- or individual in the case of the single members of the family. For a while, chaos reigned supreme as the children tore into their gifts with fervor. Tem and John sat beside each other on the couch, examining each tag and opening each gift carefully, then catching the attention of the giver and thanking them before moving to the next package. Tem stacked the unwrapped presents neatly on the floor by his feet and folded the boxes and wrapping paper into a neat pile at the end of the couch.

John was very quiet, looking distant, but with a faint smile on his face as he watched the children unwrapping their gifts and, those who could read, shouting thank yous to each giver. One tiny girl in a deep green velvet dress, white tights and patent leather mary janes, ran over to John and hugged him tightly, the new teddy bear from him and Tem clutched in her hand. John's smile widened as he returned the gesture, then she clambered over him to Tem and repeated the performance, whispering in his ear, "Thank you, Uncle Tem."

Tem grinned and let her down off his lap, watching her run back to her pile of packages. John's hand slipped into his between them on the couch, hidden from the other members of the family. Tem looked at his partner, his heart warm.

John leaned close to Tem's ear. "Merry Christmas, baby."

Tem smiled. "Merry Christmas," he whispered back.

*****

It was dark by the time they had made their good-byes, packed the car with their gifts and headed back out onto the highway. Tem leaned back against his seat, feeling warm and content. His belly was still full and his heart was still glowing with the love and merriment of a family Christmas. He sighed, looking at the glowing instrument panel, then out at the featureless darkness beyond his window.

*****

He opened his eyes. Cold air was wafting over him. John closed his door and walked around to the passenger side, opening Tem's door and letting another blast of cold into the car. Tem yawned and stretched.

"C'mon, hon. We're home."

"Mmm...."

John leaned into the car and unfastened Tem's seat belt. He held out his hand. "Come on. Get in the house before you freeze."

Sleepy, Tem stumbled out into the crunchy snow and leaned against John's chest.

"Tem...."

"Mmmm... You're warm...."

John looked skyward. "Tem... Stand up on your own or I'm dropping you in the snow."

Tem pouted but shifted his weight onto his feet. "What about the presents?"

"We can bring them in in the morning, it's too cold right now."

Tem followed John into the house, kicked off his shoes and hung up his coat.

"Let's open presents!" He said, revived by the brisk night air.

John looked at him. "Let's do it in the morning, hon. You're tired."

"I'm not tired, I slept the whole way home!"

"Okay, *I'm* tired."

"Just one... Please..." Tem wheedled, giving him his best sad puppy eyes. John sighed.

"Okay. One!"

Tem grinned and threw his arms around John's neck, kissing him quickly. "I love you."

John gave a resigned shake of his head. "I love you, too." Then he disentangled himself and headed into the kitchen, yawning, while Tem plugged in the Christmas tree and turned off the overhead lights, leaving the room in a dappled, multicolored glow.

Wolf trundled into the living room, nuzzling Tem for attention. Tem sat down and scrubbed the dog's massive head. "We're gonna do it, boy. Tonight..." He whispered. The dog licked his face. Tem blinked and wiped the track of wetness from his cheek. "Shh..." He grinned. Wolf flopped down on the floor, settling his head on his giant forepaws and watching Tem with deep, brown eyes.

Tem was pulling the presents out from behind the tree when John returned carrying two mugs of tea. He sat down on the couch and set one mug on the end table and handed the other to Tem, who was still kneeling on the floor. Tem took it and set it down impatiently. He picked up a small package. "Here. Open this one."

The silver paper glittered, reflecting the rainbow of lights in its faintly embossed swirls. Tem pulled himself onto one knee and held the package in front of John. He had carefully wrapped the lid and the box separately, and John looked at him quizzically before slowly lifting the shining lid away and looking inside. His mouth opened slightly as he absently set the lid down beside him. Inside the box, nestled in folds of emerald silk, two gold bands gleamed in the soft light.

Tem bit his lip, his heart beating hard in his chest. John breathed faintly. His eyes were the color of sapphires in the dimness of the room. With one hand, he gently picked one of the rings from the cloth and stared at it.

"If you'll have me," Tem whispered, barely trusting his voice.

John looked up at him, his face unreadable. Tem swallowed. The moment lengthened and Tem was on the verge of a nervous apology for his presumptuousness when John's mouth closed firmly over his, chasing all shadows of doubt from his mind.


~ Julnick

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