|Jingle Boy by Alicia Cameron|
Even after The Fall, a new world that struggled with changes also fought to keep some of the old traditions alive. Wren’s life as a slave has left him with years of painful memories, including those of terrible holiday gifts meant to hurt and humiliate. Wren’s new master, Jere, has treated him far kinder since inheriting him, but when their first Christmas together comes upon them, the promise-dipped threat of a Christmas present makes Wren question how long such kindness will last. (M/M)
A few hours passed, and Wren heard the familiar sound of the door opening. He reminded himself not to rush up to answer it, or to take his master’s coat, or even to leave the comfortable, soft bed that he had grown so familiar with. It was an odd change, but Jere had insisted at some point that he didn’t need to be greeted and brought in so formally. Wren couldn’t bring himself to argue the point, especially when the wind blew in at below freezing temperatures.
Instead, he listened through the walls to the muffled sound of a jacket unzipping, a closet opening, some hangers shifting about as the coat was hung there. He heard footsteps, light and quick, as Jere’s always were, and sat up as he heard them approach his door.
Jere knocked lightly, despite the door being open, a smile on his face and a bit of snow still clinging to him. The sparkling white flakes contrasted with his blond hair, darkened only slightly by melting snow.
“Are you busy?” his master asked.
After all this time, Jere had never stopped speaking to him as though they were flatmates. “Not if you need me, sir.”
Jere’s nose wrinkled a bit at the phrasing, and Wren was surprised he didn’t comment on it. Instead, he smiled again, big and a bit mischievous.
“Come out here then, I have something for you.”
Trying to tamp down the trepidation, Wren set his book down and followed his master out into the hallway. He felt the blood drain from his face and his blue eyes going wide with fear. “Wh-what is it? Sir?”
“It’s a surprise!” Jere grinned back at him, seeming to pause a bit when he saw Wren’s wary look and pale skin. “It’s just a little something—for the holidays. A gift, for you, though I’ll enjoy it a bit as well, I think.”
“Get up, boy, I have a gift for you!”
Wren was roused from his half-sleep by a kick that landed solidly across his ribcage, aggravating the bruised tissue left over from the last beating. “Yes, master,” he gasped, struggling to get to his feet, and crawling quickly when he couldn’t quite make it.
“It’s for you, but I think I’ll enjoy it more!” Burghe laughed, hauling Wren to his feet by dark brown hair that had been left long to make it a better handle. Wren was shoved toward the dining room.
Wren said nothing, just walked where he was directed. He had no idea what this “gift” was, only that it would be painful and humiliating and awful, like everything else in his life. Like everything else in the past five years had been. Perhaps this would be the one that would kill him. Death was the only gift he would ask for, but nobody ever asked what he wanted.