…TIL IT'S OVER

By Hedeia


"What are you doing?"

"Reading your piece."  John folded the paper down to look at me.  "It's excellent."

I dropped beside him on the couch.  "Really?  Not too long?  Glenn wanted to cut fifty words but I…"

"…put up a fight," John finished, lips quirking into a smile.  "Yes. I remember that well."

"My words are my babies," I said with dignity. "You can't just go chopping them up!"

John set the paper down on the coffee table - rearranging it neatly first, of course - and pulled me into his arms.  "No, it wasn't too long.  Tight and well done."

I beamed.  "I definitely prefer you to Glenn."

He nuzzled at my neck.  "I should hope so."

I shifted, snuggling against him.  "Worth the long hours?"

"No.  I don't like going to bed without you."  His hand slipped under my collar to rub gently.

"You didn't," I pointed out.  "You waited up."

"A minor point."  His voice was low enough to be a purr now.  "Those hours are far beyond an old man like me."

I snorted and stroked both hands down his chest.  "Let's see what you've got, old man…"


****************************



The phone rang for John right after dinner the next night, and I took advantage of his absence from the dinner-strewn kitchen to retire to the serenity of the living room - and the Yankee game. 

My boys were up at bat when my beloved reappeared.  "Sorry, honey."  He extended a hand.  "Let's go clean up." 

"After this inning," I suggested, eyes glued to the screen. 

"Tris…"

"I'll meet you inside," I compromised, flicking a hand toward the kitchen. 

"At the commercial," he said.  At least I think that's what he said.  I nodded distractedly, my attention on the pinstripes. 

I didn't take my eyes off said pinstripes until my view was suddenly and unceremoniously blocked, what seemed like seconds later, by a rather large and none-too-pleased-looking figure.

"John! I can't see."

"I'm waiting for you for the dishes."

"You could have just called me," I pointed out, craning my neck to see around him. 

"I did," he enunciated a bit too clearly.

Oh.

"Dishes?"

"I'll be in in a minute," I said.  "Promise?" I added when he didn't respond.

"Tris…"

"I'll be RIGHT in.  Really.  Why don't you finish punching up the column?" I suggested with sudden enthusiasm.  "Go work.  I'll do the dishes in a sec, as soon as this is…"  I winced as a cheer rose in the stadium for some act of baseball heroism I'd missed.

John lifted a brow at me.

I stared into his eyes with as much sincerity as I could, considering that all I could see of this very important game was a small patch of exposed television screen near his hip. 

"On your honor, Tris."

I held up three fingers.  "Boy Scouts'," I assured him fervently.


****************************************

The couch shifted under his weight as he lowered himself beside me.  I didn't need to look at him to know the dishes were done.

I leaned back without looking at him, settling against the warmth of his body.  "I'm sorry…"

He smoothed the hair off my forehead.  "You're heading toward some bad habits, Clark Kent."

I'd been running around on the story all week, it was true.  Our nightly routine wasn't quite its usual.

"I would have done them.  I'll do them tomorrow night…right after dinner," I continued when he didn't respond.

"I like cleaning up the kitchen with you.  Call me crazy," he said, arms comfortingly warm around me. 

"I've always said you're cr-hey!" I cried as he poked me in the ribs.

"It's only an expression, darling."  He said from behind me.  "No need to express your actual thoughts on my sanity…."

"You're mostly sane," I conceded.  "Except for your obsession with hygiene, and doing things Now Now Now and…all that other stuff," I sighed against him.  It was hard to hold a grudge when he always smelled so damned good. 

*******************************

I begged baseball fever the next night and ducked out of the kitchen after distracting John with a long thank-you-for-cooking kiss. 

…and was settled in, enjoying my unusual good luck, when the television was unceremoniously snapped off.  "That was the most exciting part!" I yelped

"And if you'd done the dishes half an hour ago, you would have been back long before this inning," John pointed out.  "Up, Tris."

I pulled my hand back.  "After this inning.  Come on."

He pointed toward the kitchen.

I jumped annoyedly to my feet and headed for the set, trying to duck around John.  He caught me by the arms and gave me an extremely interested look.  "What do you think you're doing?"

"Turning the game back on," I said rashly.

John's eyes widened.  "Oh, really."

"John, I need to watch the…"

"You 'need' to go to the kitchen.  Now."

"John!"

"One."  He began ominously.  "Two…"

I stalked to the kitchen. 

And seethed there until John joined me.  He drew out a kitchen chair, wordlessly pointed at the sink.

"The world will not end if I don't do the dishes right away," I informed him.

"Right away?" John repeated.  "It's been hours since dinner."

"So?"

John gave me a look that I can only define as I Know You Are Trying to Wind Me Up, But I Am John Winter and I Do Not Get Wound Up, So There.

"So, we live in an apartment building in the middle of a city.  So, we take every precaution we can against six-legged infestation.  So, I cooked dinner tonight, which means you wash the dishes.  So, I told you to.  So," he finished, as I blushed hotly and glared, "I would advise you to change your tone if you have any intention of sitting down again before the World Series."

I opened my mouth…thought better of it, and closed it again.  Tears stung the back of my eyes.

"Wash, darling," John said.  "You're tired.  Get it done and we'll go to bed."

"I'm not tired…"

"Wash."

"I want to watch the game," I said, hearing how petulant I sounded but not quite able to stop.

"If you have any interest in tomorrow night's game, I'd get started on the dishes now."

"I want to watch *tonight's*."

John stood up and came over to me.  I turned my head away, somewhere between angry and embarrassed, and a little uncertain.  He reached across me and switched on the faucet, then turned me to face the sink.  "Get the dishes done," he said, not unkindly.  But any request was gone from his tone.

I swallowed hard, picked up a plate, and ran it halfheartedly under the stream of warm water.  Reached for the brillo.  Pulled open the dishwasher gingerly, afraid my frustration would vent itself in a slam.

John settled at the table, sheaf of papers in one hand, green pen in the other.  Not even the sight of him in his reading glasses, which usually did me in, softened me.

There weren't many dishes.  It wasn't a big job.  It wasn't messy. 

I tried to tell myself all those things, but I couldn't push down the annoyance that kept bubbling up, and had since I'd first been interrupted in front of the game.

Mechanically I rinsed a glass and propped it in the dishwasher.  I turned my attention back to the sink, scowled at the dishes left, and reached under the few remaining plates to pull up the drain plug.

Maybe harder than I meant to.

The crash made me jump.

"It was an accident," I said quickly.

John was behind me in an instant, pulling my hands out of the sink before I could pick up the shattered pieces of the plate.  "You all right?"

I nodded.  "It was an accident," I said again, then added under my breath, "I told you I shouldn't do the dishes."

John put a hand up to his forehead, rubbed briefly for a moment. 

I watched him, stomach fluttering a bit, waiting for the crash I'd been provoking all evening.

"Bed," was all he said. 

I fled.

****************************************

I changed and got into bed as quickly as I could, letting a hand stray toward the clock radio on my night table, then pulling it back.  The score didn't seem as important right then.  My stomach was clenched unpleasantly.  I turned off the light and lay on my back, hands behind my head, listening to the quiet clinking sounds of John finishing the dishes. 

It felt like a long time before he came into the bedroom.  I watched him undress in the semi-darkness. 

"There's Krazy Glue in the junk drawer," I whispered.

"Cracks are unhygienic," John replied. 

Right.

He slid into bed beside me. 

"It was an accident," I said quietly.

I was staring at the ceiling still but I could sense his nod.

"Are you going to spank me?" I asked.

"It was an accident.  Accidents happen."

"I was kind of banging.  I wasn't that careful."

He didn't answer.  It was standard John.  When I first started working for him his style puzzled me.  I could handle screaming editors.  That was a snap.  I'd walk out of their offices seething and self-righteous, attributing the problems to their horrid personalities and inability to communicate rather than any mistakes I'd made.  John, though…

John was different.

He wasn't a yeller, for one.  He wasn't a blamer.  He'd never hurled a Reporters' Guild award at me, either.

(They're heavy. Ow.)

It's all based in the John-logic (rather tricky for the uninitiated, but I hear they might be offering a course at the New School this semester…).  When you flip out on, say, an innocent and angelic reporter under your command, he just turns around and blames you.  There's precious little learning, growing, or Barney-singing.  But John's calm surety was different.  In the face of it all this innocent reporter could do was look inward at his own actions, forced to take a good, hard look at himself. 

I know what you're thinking.  That it sucks.

You're right.

Back in the present, I shifted, frustrated and guilty.  "Well, what do you want me to do?" I asked irritably, but it didn't come out as sarcastically as I'd intended.

Probably because I'd started crying.

John held out his arms and I burrowed in. 

"Calm down.  You're not going to get worked up at this hour," he said, firmly enough that I believed him.

I settled against him, sniffling.  He tangled his fingers gently in my hair.

"And you can do dish duty for a week."

"What?"

"What I just said," John said calmly.

"Not fair," I muttered against him.

"Isn't it?"  John's arm was comfortingly heavy across my back.  "Do you think it's fair to pull a scene like this tonight?"

"I just wanted to watch the game."

"You just wanted to push me," John said simply, holding me close enough to take the sting out of his speech.  "We're not going to do battle over the dishes.  I'm not asking anything unreasonable of you."

"I know."  I twisted in his arms but he tugged me back against him. 

"A week. You'll survive. You would have done them half those days, anyway."

A minor point.


****************************************

I dawdled at the kitchen table after dinner, re-shredding my napkin and, when John stood up, propping my feet daringly on his chair.

"Coffee?" I suggested.

"Very funny."

Saved by the bell!  I grabbed the phone on the first ring.

My love fixed me with a number of Johnish looks while his mother filled me in long distance on the Sarasota social scene. 

John glanced at the sink full of dishes…at me…back at the sink.

"And then Sadie did what? You don't say…" I chatted innocently, cradling the portable phone as I strolled inside and flopped on the blue chair.

"Well, Early Bird is Early Bird, Addie, you've got to stand up for your…hey!"  I jumped slightly as familiar fingers tapped me on the head.

John was standing above me, looking distinctly unthrilled.  He held out a hand for the phone.

"Your son is demanding to speak to you," I informed the elder Winter, then glared at John as he snapped his fingers in the direction of the kitchen, scooping the phone from me with his other hand.

"Mom? How are you?…yes, I know he's wonderful, Mother…" John rolled his eyes at me and I gave him my most angelic smile. 

He responded with a rather ominous Just Wait Until I'm Off the Phone look…

"You're not being fair!" I protested as I was led unceremoniously into the kitchen and planted in front of the sink.

"And I don't think you're being particularly fair either," he said calmly.  "I know how busy you were on that piece and I didn't pressure you, but it's time to get back to normal around here." 

I rolled my eyes.

"Do you think I should do your share of the housework?" he asked gently. 

"Of course not!"

"What about having to hound you about your share?"

I shrugged.

"I don't much like being the heavy here, Tris.  There are so many more things I'd rather do with you than argue about the dishes."

So talk about something else!  I didn't say aloud.

"If I have to be the unpopular one, I can do it."

"I know," I sighed.  "I'm sorry."

"You're still on dish duty for a week," he said.

"That doesn't make any sense! If you want to get back on our normal schedule, I should only do them every OTHER day!"

"We just tried that, didn't we?"

I glared at him.

"Stop it; your face will freeze that way."  He kissed me and I made a noble attempt not to kiss back, but, well, I'm only human…

"The sooner you get them done, the sooner they'll be done," he pointed out, logic somewhere between vintage John Winter and classic Yogi Berra.

Well. It WAS baseball season.

******************************************

He wasn't being awful.

Okay, he was never awful.

But he wasn't even being John-awful.  Not even close.  What he was being was his usual wonderful self, demonstrating the kind of patience and serenity most people would need lobotomies to emulate.  It just comes naturally to John.

What he saw in a loose cannon like me, I sometimes wondered.

The strange part of the story is that somewhere between the day on the couch where John read my story and the night he assigned me a week of dish duty, a battleground was laid. 

The only problem was my opponent.

You see, John doesn't do battle.

I know, it's hard for me to believe too!  Especially since charging into situations with guns blazing was one of my specialties.

So there I was, alone on the battlefield, and let me tell you, it's a sucky place to be.  Oh, I know the theory and all, and battering yourself against an implacable wall, and all that jazz. 

And I've been like this far less in recent years, even less lately, but sometimes - no, I'm never really sure why - I turn around and there I am, in battle by myself.

It usually takes a little while for my head to clear enough to see there's no one across from me.  So for the time being, I fumed at John, most of the time for the simple reason that he hadn't done anything fume-worthy yet.  Saint John of the Serene, who folds his underwear before sex.

I loved him so much it hurt sometimes, but a part of me I seemed unable to control was determined to draw him into this battle.  It wasn't a matter of winning.  He wasn't even on the field.

******************************************

I made dinner the next night, turned the CD player up in the living room.  When Bach failed to soothe me, I replaced him with Peggy Lee.  And then with DMX. 

John frowned slightly as he locked the door behind him.  "Tris, we have neighbors," he admonished, lowering the volume.

"I like this song," I scowled.

"Your musical tastes are your business," John said soothingly.  "But preserving the middle ears of the rest of the building is important too."  He turned the music down a bit more, wincing only slightly at the language.

"How was your day?"

I shrugged.

"Dinner smells delicious."  He leaned in for a kiss.

I kept my bad mood in check through dinner, cutting my chicken into small pieces, pushing them around my plate. 

John put a hand over mine, gently stilling me.  "What's the matter?"

I shrugged.

He moved his hand to my shoulder and squeezed.  "Two shrugs in one night?"

"I'm a little tired," I lied.

"Okay."  He lifted my hand to his lips, kissed my fingers.  "Try to eat some more."

I paused mid-shoulder lift, before I could add a third shrug to the mix.

"I'm not very hungry…"

John ignored me, started telling me a story about the new intern at his magazine, a young guy named Passion Flower who would only type on wheat-free, gluten-free, cruelty-free paper he made himself from grass, pigeon feathers and soy milk.  I wasn't sure how much was embellished, but the tale distracted me through three quarters of my chicken and most of my rice. 

We cleared the table together and I paused in front of the sink, heat behind my eyes. 

***********************************************************

Part of me couldn't understand it.

It was hardly a big deal.  I did the dishes every other night anyway.  He cooked, I washed.  I cooked, he washed. 

But the other part called John every name in the book - under its breath of course - on the way to work. 

He was driving me crazy.

Then the other part would start nagging me again. 

How John stayed in the room with me, writing or polishing the silver or just being there, while I washed.  He didn't have to do that.

It was hardly a massive chore. 

I knew he was making a point.  And if there's one thing John can do, it's get his point across.  Across a newsroom, across a boardroom table, and sometimes across rather sensitive regions of my person.  But he gets it across.

But I'd dug my teeth in and I couldn't seem to get them out.

****************************************************

I made it to the fourth night of my sentence. 

I stood in front of the dishes and suddenly believed every cliché about boiling blood.  The hot, angry feeling stirred up from my stomach and into my throat. 

I wasn't washing dishes anymore.  This was ridiculous.

"My stomach hurts," I said, wincing hard and holding the counter for support.

John glanced up.  "All right?" he asked.

The moment of truth.  "All right?" It was sort of our code.  John could ask me that in public and no one but us knew that it meant "Tell me now if you're about to engage in some really, really revolting reverse peristalsis."  It was, at times, a get out of jail free pass.  Or at least a get out of jail until my stomach settled pass.

I wasn't supposed to abuse it.

Guilt was making my stomach hurt more.

It wasn't really insincere then…right?

"It hurts," I insisted.

He came over to me, rubbed my belly gently. 

"John…"

He kissed my temple.  "Go get into bed," he said and I went quickly before he asked any more questions.

I hate self-fulfilling prophecies.

By the time John joined me in bed I was curled on my side, knees drawn up, nursing a seriously twisting stomach, a stomach that clenched with every clatter and clack of dishes I could hear John washing.

He slipped under the covers beside me.

I couldn't look at him.

He shook the hair from my forehead, stroked my cheek with the back of my hand.

"Was it worth it?" he asked. 

My eyes watered.  "I…"

John tilted my chin softly until we were eye to eye.  "Another week of dish duty, Tris," he said matter-of-factly.

"What?"

"Another week.  And we're going to keep going until you do it right."

It was unfair. It was more than unfair.  I swallowed around the lump in my throat. "I'll do them tomorrow."

"You will.  And for another week.  No," he put up a hand when I opened my mouth to protest.  "Without argument, without games.  And if you have something to say about this…and I'm sure you do…it's going to wait until the morning.  We're going to sleep now."

"But it's not f-" I quieted, quickly, as John reached around me deftly to deliver a very solid swat.

"That's enough. Let it go."

I put one hand behind me to rub.  I hated the dishes, hated everything.

"And you can consider yourself lucky not to be spanked for messing me around with matters of your health, Tris," he added, in what was for John a rather sharp tone. 

A tear slid sideways down my cheek.  John nudged it off with his thumb before it could drip into my ear.

"My stomach does hurt," I whispered. 

"I know it does now.  Does it need to?" he asked.

I didn't answer.  Another tear slid to my pillow.

John kissed my face, turned me around, spooned his body behind mine and covered my hand on my belly, circling gently.  "Relax and it will feel better."

"John…"

"Breathe, Tris."

There was no arguing with that voice. 

I breathed, in time with the slow circles he drew along my aching midsection.  Gradually I softened against him.  His body was warm and hard behind mine, holding me securely.


*******************************************

"We have dinner plans with Benny and May on Saturday," I pointed out after dinner that night.  "I can't do dishes then. Are you going to extend my sentence another night?"

"I told them we won't be able to make it," John said, serene as ever, wiping down the counter.

"What? What did you tell them?"

"That we won't be able to make it," John repeated.  "I'd like us to stay close to home for the time being."

"That's not fair," I said angrily.  "It's not. It's not your…"

"Not my decision?"

I swallowed hard.  Point taken.

"I can do the stupid dishes an extra day."

"You can start with tonight."

I took the sponge off the counter and threw it into the sink.  Hard.

"Not impressed, Tris," John said mildly.  "Dishes. Right now."  He turned.

"Where are you going?"

"It's obviously distracting if I stay here," John said.  "I'm going to do some work in the living room."

"John!"

"I'll be right inside.  You're not dragging this out tonight.  Come on, Tris."

I watched him leave, torn between throwing something heavy at him and running after him.  I wanted him to hold me.

And I could have cheerfully killed him.

Damn it, if we had any doors left in the place I'd slam them all.

I settled for kicking the baseboard where a door would have been.  Hard.

I should have known John wouldn't go for that.

*********************************************

I squatted, careful to keep my hot rear off the hard floor, and scrubbed at the black mark my shoe left on the white paint.  Tears dripped off my cheeks. 

John dropped to his haunches beside me, a matching sponge in his hand.

"They're just dishes," I said hoarsely.

"And you're just going to do them," he said quietly.

"I'm tired," I said miserably, swiping a sudsy arm across my face, then cursing when the soap stung my eyes. 

John ran cool water over a folded square of paper towel and wiped my eyes gently.  I gave in to his ministrations, then opened my eyes to a sink still full of dishes.

"John…"

He stroked my back.  "You're not going to get out of this.  You're not going to drag it out anymore."

Years ago, it had drawn me to John with magnetic force.  He was the only person who could do this to me.  Who could do this for me.

We didn't have power struggles, he'd said. 

We didn't have to. 

Because we'd made that decision already. 

John looped his arms around me from behind, pulled me back against him.  I gave in to it, sank against him. 

"I'm sorry," I whispered into his neck.

He rocked me, supporting both of us.

*********************************************

I curled up on him that night, utterly worn out. 

When I woke up I was sprawled diagonally across the bed, alone.  I could hear John in the shower. 

He emerged wrapped in a towel, touched my forehead with cool damp fingers.  "Time to get up."

I winced.  "It's Saturday."

"Shower, honey.  Come on."

I dressed and nibbled half-heartedly at toast.  John materialized in sneakers, jogging lightly in place.

I gave him a wary glance.  "Where are we going?"

"Park," he said cheerfully.  "Sneakers!"

He's a one-word man sometimes, this love of mine.

I wriggled unenthusiastically into sneakers.  John tossed me a bottle of Poland Spring from the fridge. 

There was a slight morning breeze dispelling the heat.  John tucked my hand into his elbow as we walked east, the appealing expanse of green beckoning as we drew closer.  I tilted my head against his shoulder for a moment and he kissed my forehead. 

"We walk too much," I complained as John pulled me with far too much energy along winding paths, through the softly rolling grass, avoiding roller-bladers as best as he could. 

First KP, now the chain gang.  I was a prisoner.

A fat pigeon pecked around my feet as I slumped on a bench.  John appeared with juice and a hot pretzel from a nearby truck.  I watched him warily.  It smelled heavenly but that much salt would probably kill me on the spot.

I should have guessed, though.

I sat quietly, watching a small child chase a kite with her nanny, as John meticulously pulled every piece of salt from the pretzel. 

I blinked, eyes suddenly damp.

The wind was very strong that morning.

*****************************************

"I said a week and I meant a week."  We faced each other in the kitchen.  "Are we going to do this again tonight, Tris?  You weren't very happy with how it turned out last night, as I recall."

I blushed.  "I've washed for a week already."

"And we reset the schedule on Tuesday.  Do we need to discuss this every night?  Would it help if I told you we're going to keep doing this until you can wash the dishes without argument?"

I paused at that. 

"Fair warning, Tris.  I've been very patient.  You are going to finish out this punishment and you're going to do it without any more attitude.  Do you understand?"

I glared.

"Tristram."

Those syllables drew me up short, as they always did.

"Yes," I said.

"Yes…" he prompted.

"Yes, I understand," I said sullenly. 

"Thank you."  John pointed to the sink.  "You have twenty minutes.  Run off the dishwasher when you're done, please.  Then come find me in the little room."

I gave him an uncertain look.  He pushed me very gently toward the sink.  "Now."

It was a light night.  I finished in ten minutes, poured soap powder very slowly into the dishwasher, set the controls.  Twelve minutes.  I propped my hips against the counter.  Stared out the window at a woman walking three terriers.  Refilled the Brita. 

I traced the grain of the countertop, thinking. 

John was being mean.

I never doubted he loved me.  And I never doubted his superior ability to approach the world in a calm and rational manner.  And it wasn't just the calm.  I'd known plenty of calm people with far less ability to deal than I had.  Some of the calmest people out there are just repressed balls of crazy, you know.  Calmness is part of his Johnishness, it's not its definition.

I rested my chin in my hand.  My head felt weary.

John was being mean.

He didn't like being a nag.  He'd told me that before. 

I'd worked all hours the week of my big story.  I'd left John to deal with the apartment and everything therein, the pesky details of our shared life.

I missed washing dishes with John.  Always right after dinner.  No bugs, no fuss, no fighting.  Just a few minutes at the sink, talking about our days, clearing up from dinner.

A clean sink, a clear counter, and a clean slate for the next day.

My eyes felt hot again.  Commander of my own one-sided battle.  After all these years I could identify both the struggle and its futility; it was in ending where I came to trouble.

I peered around the doorway.  I couldn't see John; he was probably already in the little room.  It was part guest room, part office.  We'd had to pull down huge Winnie the Pooh decals when we moved in - it had been a nursery for the previous dwellers.  But now it was whatever we needed it to be, with a computer and the omnipresent bookshelves.

Twenty minutes…twenty-two…twenty-three…I waited twenty-nine minutes and pushed open the door to the little room.  John was sitting on the edge of the guest bed.

He met my eyes without a word and patted his knees.  There was no mistaking the gesture.

"What?" I cried, outraged.  I shook my head.  "You tricked me.  You were just pushing me."

"Who's pushing whom, Tris?" John asked with interest, casting a pointed glance at the big clock on the wall.

My face flushed.  "I did the dishes. It's not fair."

John looked at me very steadily.

I fumbled with the doorknob.

He raised his eyebrows.  There's a lot he doesn't say, my John, but I know him pretty damned well.  And I knew that making him wait longer would be extremely unwise.

Tentatively I moved toward him.

I walked what felt like a thousand tiny steps before he reached out and hooked an arm around my waist, taking the decision thankfully away. 

He made short work of the garments on the lower half of my body, drew me across his knees, waiting, as he always did, until I was settled in position.

"You are making things very difficult for yourself," he said.  "I wouldn't be happy with anyone who caused you this much distress…you included."

"I did the dishes," I muttered into the bedspread.

"I told you twenty minutes," John said above me.  "Who's pushing whom, Tris?"

"You told me that to trick me!" I snapped.  "Ow!" I yelped as his descended hard, several times.

"You have been giving me an attitude all week.  You have taken this absolutely as far as it's going to go, young man.  It ends now."

I was blinking back tears when he paused.  "Who's pushing whom, Tris?"

I didn't answer.

"Nine minutes," he rested his hand on my already heated backside.  "Was it worth it?"

I hate when he asks that.

Usually because I know damned well why he's asking it, and just as well why the answer is no. 

He slapped sharply, several times, rhythmic.  Like a countdown.

His large hand gentled, rubbing slightly.  "Who's pushing whom, Tris?" he repeated.

I clutched fistfuls of the comforter we'd chosen together, gritting my teeth.

He swatted me a few more times.  Four, five, six.  "John, please…" I gasped.

"Who's pushing whom, Tris?"  he asked.

I gritted my teeth, tears starting to rise in my chest, catching in my throat.

Each fresh smack reignited the fire that spread across my hips and the tops of my thighs. 

Seven…eight….nine.

"I did!" I screamed finally.  "I pushed you!" I started to cry in earnest, forestalling further explanations.  Those stupid nine minutes.

He stopped, righted me, and I crawled onto his lap, shaky and suddenly tired.

"You're not going to win this," he told me quietly, settling me against him.  "Not because I'm mean or because there's anything to lose, but because there's no battle here."

I rubbed my head against his shoulder and he kissed my hair. 

"Let it go.  It's all right."  He rocked me.  "I have the utmost faith in you, darling.  You can do anything.  Including a few dishes." 

I calmed down, leaning against him, feeling my head start to clear.  "I'm sorry about the nine minutes," I sniffed.

He ruffled my hair gently.  "Bet you're glad now it wasn't an hour, hm?"

I smiled in spite of myself.  "I have some self-preservation instinct, I guess…"

His eyes were soft and warm.  He rubbed my stinging backside gently.  "You're getting there."

*******************************************

The Yankees didn't win the pennant.

But, I reasoned as I fitted the last plate into the dishwasher, closing it with a satisfying click, and completing my sentence, maybe winning is overrated.


END.