Against the Dying of the Light

by Julnick


Do not go gentle into that good night,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Dylan Thomas


Lunch had *not* gone smoothly. Tem wrenched his shoulder out of John's grasp.

"Don't EVER reprimand me in front of other people again," he snarled.

John's reply was dangerously soft. "Perhaps, young man, you'll consider the offer next time I ask to see you in private."

"Fuck you!"

John's expression darkened. "You are making our guests uncomfortable, Temoko." The use of his full name should have been warning enough to silence him, but Tem was beyond rational thought. He was trembling with rage.

"They're not uncomfortable." He snatched a glass from the counter and hurled it at the far wall of the kitchen. The shattering of crystal fell into deathly silence. "*Now* they're uncomfortable," he hissed.

John and Tem stood very still for several minutes, locked in a silent battle. Then without warning, John grabbed his partner by the upper arm and nearly hauled him off his feet. Tem stumbled, off-balance just long enough for John to open the drawer and pull out the wooden spoon. He flipped it over in his palm, sliding his hand down to the base.

With the long, rod-like handle, he laid three hard strokes across the seat of Tem's slacks, then another two on his thighs when he covered his bottom with his hands.

The strokes were so hard, in fact, that Tem was shocked the damned thing hadn't broken. It left a deep, stinging ache that he couldn't ease, even with desperate rubbing. Tears of pain, rage and frustration welled up in his eyes and trickled down his face.

Several seconds passed before it occurred to Tem to worry about what their guests would think. Then another few seconds before he realized that the entire process had made virtually no sound.

Now, the only thing that he could hear was his ragged breath and his own pounding heartbeat. He swallowed and made a swipe at the tears. John's hand was still painfully tight on his bicep, and his expression was closed and unreadable.

"Clean up and excuse yourself. Then go upstairs and stay *on* the bed until I tell you otherwise. Clear?"

Tem nodded and John released him. Tem rubbed his arm, certain he'd have bruises, then turned to the sink and splashed cold water on his face. He stilled his shaking hands and dried his face with a dishtowel, frustrated and embarrassed. He knew they'd be able to tell.

John gave him a gentle shove. "You look fine," he said gruffly.

Ordinarily, it was comforting to Tem to know how well John could read him. But this time it only irritated him. He didn't want to be comforted, he wanted to be angry. He bit back a nasty retort and strode confidently back out into the rarely used dining room, peripherally aware of John's presence behind him.

Ryan and Mike, who'd been speaking softly, looked up at his entrance. Mike looked sympathetically apprehensive. Ryan gave Tem a sad, gentle smile.

Tem, his eyes still stinging with the smart of his chastisement, forced a pleasant smile of his own.

"If you'll excuse me, I'm not feeling that well, I'm going to have a lie down."

"We should be leaving anyway," Ryan said in his soft, peaceful way. They began to rise, but Tem motioned them down.

"No! Really. Stay. For coffee and biscuits at least," he said quickly.

Mike looked uncertain, but Ryan sank back down into his chair, his eyes on Tem.

"Sure, Tem," he said easily, nodding to John. He leaned back, knit his fingers across his abdomen and smiled beatifically. The sun setting behind him created a glowing halo around his body.

Give him a few more pounds and a bit less hair and he'd be Buddha himself, Tem thought.

Glancing at Ryan, Mike settled into his seat as well, looking more like a skittish animal than a holy man. But Ryan's subtle touch on his leg seemed to ground him.

Tem took a deep breath. It wasn't a full pardon, but he'd take a stay over immediate execution. John had moved to Tem's right. Tem did an about face, casting him a withering glance before heading for the bedroom.

John sighed.

"Michael," Ryan murmured. "Why don't you go start some coffee and let the grown-ups talk..." His eyes twinkled.

Michael gave him a mildly exasperated look, slipped out of his chair and disappeared into the kitchen.

*****

Tem sat down heavily on the bed and winced. He heard Wolf's plodding footsteps come down the hall and a giant, black head appeared in the doorway. The dog whined softly.

"Come on, then," Tem sighed, patting the bed beside him.

Wolf lolled his long, pink tongue at him and trotted over to the bed, launching himself onto it, and nearly knocking Tem over with a friendly head-butt.

Tem fended him off, smiling faintly. But his anger still simmered in his belly. He gazed out of the glass doors, past the small deck at the forest beyond the yard. Absently curling his fingers in Wolf's fur, he reviewed the events of the past fifteen minutes in his head. Again and again. Growing more frustrated and furious at each round. With a final glance at the long shadows darkening the trees, he shoved himself off the bed, changed to jeans and a soft, old shirt and whistled softly to the dog.

*****

Tem made no effort to mask his footsteps as he stamped down the stairs. John gritted his teeth and set down his coffee cup, steeling himself for a confrontation, but Ryan reached out a hand to him.

"Later," he murmured, looking into John's eyes.

John hesitated, then nodded. He closed his eyes briefly as the front door opened and closed with a heavy thud, then sighed heavily.

"Just a little time," Ryan said gently.

Michael came back in from the kitchen with a glass of water and settled into his chair, glancing between the other two men. He set down the water.

"I'll help with the dishes," he said, with forced cheerfulness. Ryan smiled.

*****

The scream was inhuman. John's gut turned to ice, and the dish he'd been holding slipped from his fingers, the shattering crash echoing off the walls of the sink. Before he could move, he heard Tem scream something incoherent. In his voice was sheer terror and desperation such that John had never heard before.

John was out the front door before he knew where he was going. He stopped on the stoop, scanning the line of trees, his heart pounding. Howls and yelps mingled with Tem's shouts. The sound was coming from the side of the house. He took the distance in three strides.

"Tem!" Strong arms suddenly held him from running forward.

"No!" A voice shouted in his ear.

Someone else was running past him. Ryan. He was picking up stones as he ran. John struggled, trying to free himself from Mike's arms.

"No! No!" cried the desperate voice in his ear. Tears were streaming down John's face.

Tem, covered with blood, was simultaneously dragging Wolf away from and kicking at a giant, tawny mountain lion.

The cougar had its jaws locked on Wolf's neck and was gaining a slow advantage in the deadly tug-of war. Periodically, a kick would land true and the animal would let go of Wolf and make a lunge at Tem. Tem made use of these times to drag Wolf a few steps closer to the driveway before the cat latched onto Wolf again. The dog was struggling weakly and making mewling yelps but seemed too far gone to run or even regain his feet.

When Ryan was within twenty feet, he began throwing the rocks, slowing to a walk. The first one caught the puma on the shoulder and was ignored. The second clipped its ear. That earned him a glare and a growl and gained Tem a few more feet. Ryan's accuracy was improving with each step. Another stone connected solidly with skull and another with the side of the cat's face.

Finally, the mountain lion let go of Wolf completely and turned on Ryan. Mike's arms tightened painfully around John's body. "No..." he breathed.

John was frozen. He stared helplessly as the cougar advanced. For several seconds, no one moved. Then, out of nowhere, a stone ricocheted off the puma's flank. It turned, roaring. Tem was scrabbling for another rock when a second one hit, with a hollow thunk, directly on the pink nose.

The puma roared, looked from Tem to Ryan, then slowly turned and sauntered back into the trees. As it retreated, Ryan cautiously moved toward Tem who had tied his shirt around Wolf's throat and was dragging the limp form toward the driveway, rocking and keening softly as he moved.

Ryan reached him just as the mountain lion disappeared completely from view. He pulled at Tem's shoulder, but Tem shrugged him off. Ryan was speaking quietly, but John couldn't understand the words. He pulled again against Mike's grip, but the man's arms were tight around his body.

"Let me go," he hissed.

"Wait," Mike whispered. John struggled uselessly against the restraint.

Finally, Tem turned, distracted, allowing Ryan to run his hands over his blood-slicked arms and torso. He twisted back out of reach in moments, but Ryan dropped his hands and didn't try to turn him again.

"Okay," he said, and Mike's arms dropped from John's body.

John bolted toward Tem and Ryan. On reaching them, he pulled Tem backward, searching his body with his hands and eyes. Tem pushed him away and grabbed Wolf again.

Ryan was carefully lifting the dog's hindquarters, blood now leaving dark stains on his shirt and pants. He and Tem began making progress toward the driveway. John watched, numb. He could see gaping wounds on Wolf's shoulder and flank. The thick, black fur was sticky and matted. Blood was shining on Ryan's arms.

"John," he said gently. "Get my keys, they're in the basket."

John stared at him, following them mechanically. His face was tingling. The last rays of the setting sun began to fade into a gathering grey dusk.

"John..."

The soft voice came to him through a haze.

"My keys..."

Mike pounded up to them, panting. He had an armful of towels, gauze and elastic bandages.

"Mike, get my keys," Ryan said quickly. For the first time since he'd known him, John heard a note of command in Ryan's voice. He blinked. Mike ran.

"Tem, we need to get some pressure bandages on these. Do you remember field medicine?" Ryan was speaking again. John tried to focus.

Tem looked at Ryan. His eyes were wild, but he nodded. John shook himself and knelt beside Wolf as they lowered him to the ground. Tem and Ryan worked together quickly, pressing folded towels to the wounds and tying them tightly with strips of other towels and elastic bandages. John held and pressed when they told him to. In minutes they were carrying the heavy dog once more.

Mike had their SUV running in the driveway and the hatch open by the time they arrived. He clambered into the back and helped ease Wolf onto the floor. Then he climbed over the back seats to make room for Tem to jump up into the vehicle with Wolf. John hesitated, then pulled himself into the cramped back space as well. He dropped the rear window and settled himself between Wolf's still body and the wall of the car.

His chest was tight and aching, he felt tears stinging his eyes as he gently touched an unwounded section of fur. He glanced over the body to Tem who was still rocking, Wolf's head clasped loosely between his hands, his lips moving rapidly and silently. His eyes were staring. John looked into their depths, pained, he found only a dead, emptiness before the car lurched onto the rugged path down the mountain.

*****

Ryan sat quietly in the far corner of the waiting room, his ankle resting on his opposite knee, a magazine open on his thigh. He hadn't turned the page for twenty minutes.

Mike sat in the chair beside him, feet tucked up, arms wrapped tightly around his shins. He was ghostly pale, his eyes were fixed on a point on the floor. Ryan reached over and stroked the younger man's hair.

Tem had paced for the first ten minutes after being forcibly removed from the surgical area. Now he leaned against the wall, one foot flat against it, hugging himself with his right arm, his left forearm pressed against the waistline of his blood-blackened jeans.

He'd shrugged off all of John's attempts to touch him, and moved to the opposite wall every time John tried to come near.

John felt sick. Tears pricked at his eyes, but he forced them back and took a shuddering breath. He settled for leaning against the wall across from Tem, and watching him discreetly.

A woman in scrubs came to the front desk. John glanced up, cold anticipation gripping his belly. But she didn't look at them, only pulled a file folder from one of the drawers and disappeared back into the rear of the hospital.

John looked back at Tem. His usually tan skin was bleached, looking almost grey under the fluorescent lights. He blinked. His eyes seemed slightly unfocussed.

"Tem?"

Ryan looked up from his magazine, Mike slowly turned his head toward the sound of John's voice.

"Tem?" John said again, a new worry beginning to gnaw at his stomach. Around the edges of the darkened blood on Tem's jeans, was a widening scarlet halo. John glanced at the floor as a drop of blood separated from Tem's elbow and splattered into the red stain at his feet.

Ryan jumped up just as John began across the tile floor. Mike looked from one to the another, fear bright in his eyes. "What's wrong?" he asked, but John didn't hear him, he was already at Tem's side. He grabbed Tem's shoulders.

"Tem!" He searched Tem's torso with his eyes and found nothing but minor scratches. Tem turned his head drunkenly to look at him and began to slide down the wall, his left arm dropping to his side. It was slicked red with bright, fresh blood. John pulled Tem into his arms and sank to the floor under his dead weight. Ryan grabbed Tem's left arm, turning it. Nothing.

Desperately, John slid his hand down Tem's left side and jerked away as he reached the waistband of Tem's jeans. Just under the line of the torn denim, a deep gash opened his flesh from his flank to the middle of his abdomen, oozing blood and showing something soft and pink behind the muscle. For a sick, dizzy moment, John didn't know if he was going to vomit or faint. He clung to Tem's limp body, vaguely aware of someone shouting and people moving around him before he was pulled away.

*****

There were sirens and more people. Hands pulled him up. Ryan's voice. But he didn't understand. He couldn't think. He wrapped his hands around his head and began to rock quickly, grating sobs shaking his body.

"We're going to the hospital, John. Okay? You have to get up. Come on..." The gentle voice edged its way through the nightmare. John struggled to grab hold of it. Calm, soothing.

"Okay... Okay..." he whispered breathlessly, but he couldn't move. Couldn't stop rocking. Just keep rocking. Tears choked him. He couldn't breathe. "Okay," he sobbed.

*****

Tem swallowed with difficulty, his throat ached he felt like he'd swallowed cotton. His tongue overfilled his dry mouth. Sensations seemed to be coming back to him through a misty haze. The dull pressure in his head was crystallizing into thrumming pain. Something was touching his face. He took another step out of the fog and flinched back at the feel of the tubing snaking across his face and into his nostrils. He moved his right arm to brush it away, but his muscles were sluggish and uncoordinated. A firm hand circled his wrist and pressed his arm back down against a loosely woven cover.

Jay held Tem's arm down lightly. "It's okay," he murmured, waiting patiently for Tem to orient himself. "It's okay, you're in the hospital. Everything is okay."

Tem opened his eyes, and glanced about, his emerald gaze unfocussed, his face drawn with confusion. Then he fixed his eyes on Jay. Jay felt an icy knife slice his belly as Tem's defenses melted into an expression of naked joy and relief and love, then the knife twisted as Jay saw the true recognition turn that expression to cool stone. Tem's gaze shifted and he stared pointedly at Jay's hand, still on Tem's right wrist. Jay slowly opened his fingers and lifted his hand.

Tem swallowed, allowing only a shadow of discomfort show on his face. His throat worked.

"Don't try to talk," Jay said quickly. "Wolf is okay. He's at the vet, they're keeping him for a while, but he's stable, he'll recover." He watched Tem absorb the information. Tem's gaze flickered down then back up to Jay.

"The cougar... Do you remember what happened?" There was a barely perceptible nod. "You were hurt, you lost a lot of blood. But you're going to be okay..." Jay trailed off. He didn't want to answer the next question. The silence lengthened, straining. Tem slid his hand up to his belly, resting his palm over the sutured wound. He swallowed and coughed, grimacing.

"Where's John?" Tem's voice sounded weak and rusty, at odds with the steel in his eyes.

Jay was silent for a moment more. "He..." Jay couldn't give him any satisfying answer. "Is sleeping," he finished, finally.

"Is he...hurt?" Jay wasn't sure if the hitch the words and the flicker of agony in the eyes were due to the pain of speech itself, or the heartache of giving voice to the possibility.

Jay forced himself to meet Tem's gaze. "He..." Jay sighed. "He wasn't hurt by the cougar." Tem's expression was hardening further. "He was scared badly when he saw you were hurt. I gave him something to calm him down..."

Before the words were even out of his mouth, Jay felt a whisper of ice trace his spine. There was fury behind the mask of calm and feral rage in Tem's eyes. Jay shifted, subtly moving himself out of easy reach from the bed.

"You drugged him?" Tem's voice sounded stronger, softer, barely more than a whisper, but it filled the small room.

Jay countered the creeping unease with his own anger. Keeping his tone even, he said, "He's my brother, Tem. I wouldn't do anything that would hurt him. Not in *any* way." He met Tem's glare coolly until Tem broke the contact and glanced at the door.

"Why did you come here?"

Jay studied him. "I didn't think you should wake up alone..."

"Why do you care?" The green eyes focussed on him intently. "You don't like me."

"We have a history, that doesn't mean..." Jay began, then stopped as Tem shifted and hissed.

"I'm not talking about our history... I'm talking about John. I've never been good enough for him... Yes?"

Jay opened his mouth then closed it again. "No, Tem... It's never been about that..."

*****

Jay opened the door and slipped into the quiet of the darkened room beyond, closing out the bustle of the emergency room. He leaned against the door for a moment, letting his eyes adjust to the dim light.

"You doped me." The familiar voice was flat. Jay pressed the heels of his hands to his eyes. He took an unsteady breath.

"You aren't serious..." He looked at his brother who was sitting on the edge of the bed. John gave him a deadly look. "You were half out of your damn mind," he said irritably, crossing to the bed. He sat down. More gently, he asked, "Want to tell me what happened? The details were sketchy when you came in."

John turned to him. His eyes were haunted. "It was my fault."

Jay considered his approach for a moment. "You control mountain lions, now? Maybe you're still in shock, you should lie down." He raised an eyebrow at his brother, but John didn't rise to the bait. Jay winced slightly under the glare.

"I've become my father," he said finally. Jay stared at him.

"You're not like Dad..."

John held his gaze for several long, uncomfortable seconds. "You're not sure."

*****

Feeling beaten to the core, Jay let himself into Tem's room again. Tem turned his head slowly, eyes assessing, reaching judgement, and turning away.

"Where's John?" His voice was hard. Jay took a deep breath.

"I don't know. He left the hospital. I don't know where he went."

Tem turned back to Jay. "You don't know?" The words were an icy blade.

"I don't know."

Tem struggled to sit up. Jay started to restrain him, then stopped. "What did he tell you?" Tem demanded, hissing as he slid his feet to the floor. He grabbed for his T-shirt. Jay hesitated. Tem turned on him, teeth bared. "What did he say?" The words hung in the air like darkening storm clouds. Jay shivered.

"He said he's become his father."

Tem's eyes became unfocussed for a moment. Very softly, he said, "I know where he is..."

*****

Tem looked up at the house. Brick and yellowed cream paint. The windows were dark, shaded fading brown drapes. Tem swallowed, his skin was pale. "You grew up here... It all happened here..." he whispered. Jay looked at him. He had a strong feeling that Tem wasn't speaking to him. He fought back the sick, anxious fear that he thought he'd outgrown as he looked up at the house he'd spent half his childhood in. Tem was already at the door.

*****

Tem grasped the doorknob and turned it. There was no resistance and he pushed it forward, opening into the entryway. The smell assaulted his mind. Stale cigarette smoke and linoleum and the odor of old man.

Tem stepped into the hall, gritting his teeth. There was a scraping thud from the back of the house and Tem turned.

As he walked along the stringy, threadbare, green shag carpet of the hallway, he fought to close his mind to the years of screams and pain and fear that he could only imagine the walls had absorbed. The air itself felt tainted; it tasted bitter in his mouth. There was another sound ahead of him. A muffled slap, muted by the walls. Tem quickened his pace.

He glanced into the rooms as he passed. The furniture was gone. Most everything had already been packed into boxes and moved out. A few things still lay strewn across the floors, items not yet sorted, not yet distributed to family members. A vacuum cleaner in one room was still plugged into the wall. Cleaning supplies in the bathroom. A house in the midst of preparation for sale.

There was another slap. Tem glanced around, pinpointing it behind a closed door. He approached slowly, noting for the first time that the wood of the door frame was gouged and scarred with old marks. He traced one of the deeper gashes with his finger, his eyebrows drawing. A slapping thud sounded loudly through the door, breaking Tem's concentration, and he opened it quickly onto another empty room save for a couple of open boxes and a Formica-topped bar built into the back wall. John sat cross-legged on the floor, his back to the door. He was naked to the waist. Tem froze.

John's back was laced with red welts. In places, the broad bands of red ended in raised rectangles. Some of them trickled blood. Fighting sick terror, Tem slowly circled around until he could see John's face. There were more welts on his sides, his ribs, his belly, his arms. A cut was rising to a bruise on his left cheekbone. Tem took a slow breath through his mouth and sank to a crouch. Cradled in his partner's lap was a worn leather belt with a tarnished brass buckle. John raised his eyes, a sad, ironic smile tilting the corners of his mouth.

"He kept it," he rasped. Tears rose up in his eyes and his body began to shake. Tem sank down onto his knees and leaned forward awkwardly, drawing John into his arms, trying to avoid the web of cuts on the trembling body.

"Oh, John..." he breathed. "No..."

"I'm him..." John whimpered into Tem's shoulder. "I've become *him*." He pulled away and Tem let him go, sitting back to look into John's eyes.

John began to roll the belt around his hand, shortening the slack, leaving the buckle free to swing.

"No..." Tem said, reaching for John's hand, but John pulled away, shaking his head.

"I've, I've hurt you..."

Tem grabbed John's hand and held it down firmly. "You've never hurt me," he said evenly.

John pulled his hand free and stumbled to his feet. Tem rose with him his breath catching at the stab of pain every movement was costing him.

"I hurt you. The way he hurt me. I swore. I would never become him. And then I did. And you almost died." His voice was becoming frantic. He wrapped the belt around his hand until the buckle framed his fist with metal. His eyes were haunted and distant. Tem felt icy fear spreading through his gut.

"If you ever have hurt me, John, you're about to make it worse..." John shook his head. "You've never done to me what your father did to you. You've never beaten me. Never, John."

"I have!" John cried desperately, tears spilling down his face. "I have!"

"You've spanked me, John. Your father *beat* you. Not spanked. He *beat* you. I bet you've never had a *spanking* in your life!"

John shook his head. "I hurt you... I beat you..." He raised his fist and closed his eyes. Tem lunged forward, catching John's wrist a hairsbreadth from his already bleeding face. Tem bit down on his rage and loosened his grip on John's wrist before he cracked bones.

"Give me the fucking belt," he hissed.

John's eyes widened with fear. Tem snatched the leather and untangled it roughly from John's fingers. Grabbing John's arm, he shoved him over to the bar and pushed him down. He doubled the belt over in his hand, choking up on the buckle until only leather hung free.

"You need to be punished? Tell me." He waited. John began to cry softly. Tem waited.

"I need to be punished..." John choked out finally. "Please..."

Tem pushed John down hard until his body touched the bar and his hands grabbed the far side of the counter-top. "You tell me when you've had enough."

He stepped back and John didn't move. Tem took a deep breath, holding onto the hot anger and swung hard. The belt cracked against the seat of John's pants. John jumped slightly, but made no sound and no movement but to tuck his chin into his chest, hiding his face.

Tem continued. The licks were hard and fast. He reached ten without a reaction from John. By fifteen, John was flinching. Twenty, he was trembling and squirming. At thirty, he cried out and Tem let his arm drop.

"Enough?" Tem asked, his voice still hard.

John took a shuddering breath and began to raise his head, nodded quickly then sobbed and tucked his chin again. His body shook as he cried helplessly. Tem stepped away from him, trembling, waiting.

Finally, the tears stopped. Slowly, John loosened his grip on the counter-top and pushed himself to his elbows. He sniffed and took a shuddering breath, then wiped gingerly at his face with hand. Uncertainly, he turned to Tem and his expression changed.

*****

Tem was staring at the belt as if it were a poisonous snake that would strike if he so much as blinked. His face was a mask of horrified disgust. Slowly, he raised his eyes to look at John.

"Oh my god..." he said, his voice twisting with an anguished sob. "Oh my god..."

John stepped toward him, concern for Tem pushing away the heartache of before, numbing the sting of the whipping. "Tem?"

"I'm so sorry," Tem whimpered. "Oh my god, John, I'm so sorry..." He dropped the belt like a hot coal and backed away. John continued forward.

"Tem... It's okay... Baby? You didn't hurt me..."

Tem sobbed and sank to the floor, covering his face. "I hit you... I hit you... Like your dad... In this house... Oh my god..." His words dissolved into incoherent sobs.

John dropped to the floor beside Tem, wrapping him in his arms. "Baby, no... Shhh... Tem... I need you to listen. Please? Please calm down so you can hear me."

Tem rocked in John's arms, but slowly brought his crying under control.

"Tem, you spanked me. My dad never spanked me. He beat me. Look." He gestured to the welts on his chest and arms. "This is what he did to me. You didn't do that."

"I did... I just did it to your ass..." Tem moaned, beginning to sob again.

John ground his teeth. "No you didn't," he insisted. "For one thing, I'm not bleeding or concussed... Or traumatized, for that matter. For another thing, I *asked* you to do it. I'm not a kid anymore. I'm an adult. I made the choice, I asked you to help. So you did. Thank you."

Tem was shaking his head. He opened his mouth to say something else, but John took his chin and pulled his face around to meet his eyes. "I asked you to do it. And you stopped when I said I'd had enough. That is the difference, Tem. My father never did that. He injured me and he had the power to start and to stop. Not me." Tem glanced away, staring at the floor for several seconds. "It's different, Tem. You're not like my father."

When Tem met John's eyes again, there was something strange behind them. "You really think so?" His voice sounded plaintive and vulnerable, but there was something under it. Beneath the words. Beneath the tone. John leaned back slightly and looked at him, his forehead furrowing, eyes narrowing with suspicion.

Tem glanced down and pressed a hand to his side, wincing. "I should get back to the hospital," he said softly, pushing himself to his feet. He walked out the door without turning around.

*****

Tem stopped abruptly beyond the doorway, staring into the cold hard face that alike so alike and so chillingly different from the one he'd just left. Tem set his own face into a glacial mask.

"I think you picked the wrong profession, Temoko."

"I've no idea what you're talking about, Jakob," he replied without emotion. Then he glided past the man without another word and let himself out of the house before the very energy of the place made him lose hold of his stomach all over the appropriately puke-green shag carpet.

*****

John eased himself off the floor, wincing. The crisis past, he was now feeling the effects of every lick of that belt across his bottom as well as the self-inflicted wounds stinging his chest and back and the rapidly swelling bruises on his face. He picked up his shirt and pulled it on, wincing.

He started to put the belt into one of the boxes then stopped. He folded it over, choking up on the buckle until only leather hung free and ran the length through his fingers. He looked at it for a long moment then rolled it neatly and turned toward the door.

"OH Jesus!" he exclaimed, gasping. "You just about gave me a heart attack!"

Jay leaned against the doorframe and crossed his arms. He looked down, his eyes focussing pointedly on the belt for a moment, then travelling back up to his brother's face.

John felt warmth creep over his face and up his ears. "You saw." It wasn't a question.

"Enough."

"I..."

Jay cut him off. "Don't explain." He sighed. "Tem told me to wait outside. He knew this was where you'd be. He would know how to handle you..."

John ached for the bitter tone, the pain in Jay's face. "I'm sorry..."

Jay shook his head brusquely. He stared into John's eyes for a moment. "When we were kids... You were my mirror. You... were my soul. You completed me."

"Me too," John said softly.

"Then you came out." The silence was heavy. "I guess I knew. But I didn't want to. I didn't want to realize that you had taken a step away from me..."

"I didn't choose..."

"I know," Jay said curtly. "I'm not saying it was a choice. But it was a... shift in... everything. Something I could accept but I could never understand. I could never go to that place with you. It was the first time that I realized that there were things we'd never share."

John was quiet. Jay stared at a point on the far wall. "It opened a rift that we would never be able to cross. We would never be one soul again..." The silence swelled once more in the space between them. John looked at the few feet that separated them and it suddenly felt like much more than physical distance.

"Then... The spanking thing," Jay's voice sounded strained. John winced. "I'll never understand. Acceptance is the best I can do. And I have tried, John. I've tried to accept, but I... I thought if I could believe that it was just Tem. It was his idea, his thing, you just... You were passive in it... I thought..." His gaze flickered to the belt again, then back to the wall. "But Dad... My mind threw all these walls against it. I couldn't think about it. I couldn't make it okay. And now... Today... It wasn't Tem's thing... It was you..." His voice broke, his eyes were glistening.

John was fighting back tears. His throat was too tight to speak. He just shook his head.

"I love you, John. I will always love you, you're my brother. I would give you my life. But..." His throat worked and he took a quick breath. John felt the tears spill over and slide down his face. "I'm losing you..." Tears were falling down Jay's face now, as well. "I've lost you."

John wanted to say something, he wanted to reassure, contradict, do anything to close that yawning chasm between them. But he couldn't speak, and Jay turned around and walked out of the room.

*****

Tem tested the scar. It was still tender, but it was holding well without the stitches. He gave John a small, quick smile.

"Better?"

"Better," Tem nodded, stretching, enjoying the feel of his body mending, re-knitting torn tissues. "Well enough for anything we might want to do..." He raised an eyebrow mischievously, but John's smile was half-hearted.

"Good."

Tem looked at him for a long moment. "What's wrong?"

"Nothing," John said automatically, then shook himself. "A lot of things."

Tem waited.

"Jay."

Tem nodded his understanding and said nothing.

They sat quietly for a few minutes. Finally, Tem asked, softly, "Why did you keep your dad's belt?"

John looked at him, then down at the table, he felt a warm flush creeping up his face. "Because... You used it." Tem looked at him, confused. John shifted uncomfortably. "In a way he never did."

"Oh," Tem murmured, his face clearing. He looked thoughtful. John tried to read the newspaper and found himself rereading the same section for the third time without realizing it before Tem distracted him. He looked up as Tem rose.

"You know," Tem said, crossing to the kitchen sink. "Spanking your top is a very serious offense." He pulled out a drawer and rummaged. "It's in the bylaws..."

John watched him, sadly. "Tem, I really don't feel like..."

Tem turned, his eyes were very serious. "I really think you should." He took the wooden spoon out of the drawer and closed it, then went back to his chair and pulled it into the center of the kitchen. He looked into John's eyes again. "Please..."

John sighed and set down the newspaper. "I don't know if you're well enough..."

"I'm fine."

John hesitated, uncertain.

Tem set the spoon down and pulled John to his feet and into a hug, his breath was warm on John's ear as he spoke.

"Don't worry. If you make me spank you again, I swear I'll make that last one look like a cakewalk... *Sir*." John pulled back to look at Tem's face. Tem's eyes were bright, his expression innocent. John wasn't sure that he'd seen a twitch at the corners of Tem's mouth. Tem reached for thespoon and pressed it into John's hand.


~ Julnick

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