"What you got?" A pair of kings nestled snugly in Ray's hand, smiling benevolently at an ace. Had to be worth something.
"Once again, a crowded home."
Unbelievable. The man was just -- "House."
"A crowded house," Fraser said.
Ray rested his forehead in his hand. "A full house," he corrected wearily.
Fraser placed his head in his hands, all fake chagrin for a moment. "Full house," he echoed as if committing it to memory. "Full house." He glanced to the side. "I'll take that air now, Ray," he said coolly.
Ray gestured with his hand, cupping emptiness. Empty emptiness. Vacuum. "I'm tapped out."
"I'll accept an IOU."
"An IOU on air?" He could just see himself writing it on a scrap of paper, and Fraser folding the scrap precisely in half and slipping it into a pocket.
"I want you to honor your wager." As if he wouldn't! As if he'd ever walk away from the table owing money and not pay it back. Fraser was crossing lines here.
"It's stupid." His protest was pro forma and Fraser simply smiled and stood, ending the conversation in a really fucking bad place, because the only thing more irritating than an arguing Fraser was one who wasn't arguing.
Which was probably why they ended up back at Ray's place a few hours later, dogless and dog tired, instead of going their separate ways, the argument on hold, not over. Their arguments never ended with him getting the last word.
Ray drank the last of his second bottle of beer and burped lustily. "Air," he said by way of apology and the first salvo. "Coming back out."
"So I heard." Fraser acquired a look of intense concentration and burped magnificently.
"Thank you, Ray."
He set the empty (full of air) bottle on the table and nudged Fraser's knee with his own, the couch creaking. "So, this air I owe you…"
"I can't give you air." He fanned the air with his hand. "It's everywhere. Just take some. Hell, take five hundred. Six."
"It isn't always there."
That prompted a well-thumbed memory to open in his head, only it was tangled with delightful kisses from beautiful women (only Fraser could describe a lip-lock that way), which spoiled it. Fraser's mouth. On his. Water, water, every fucking where…
"Buddy breathing," he said slowly, and hoped that he was going where Fraser wanted him to go.
"On that boat --"
"Whatever. On that sinking piece of junk. You gave me air." He swallowed, feeling absurdly shy about saying it, but went on doggedly. "Precious air. No: priceless."
Fraser pursed his lips in thought. "I suppose, looked at like that, yes, I did, and yes, it was."
"I could do that for you." The words kept trying to stick in his throat, but he was filled with the reckless obstinacy that had gotten him into trouble before. Many befores.
"If we're ever drowning again, I'd appreciate that, Ray."
Fraser was humoring him, which just sucked. He was the one with the oversized lungs, for Christ's sake. Ray pushed. Not a lot, just, yeah, just a nudge.
"So that's it then? We're quits?"
He was so satisfied to be proven right that the reproving tone of Fraser's voice just slid on by. "Thought not. So out with it, Fraser; what do I have to do to, uh, discharge my debt?"
When it came, when Fraser said it, he felt the lurch in his gut that he'd felt one Christmas when under the tree had been the present he'd wanted. Not a knock-off, looks-just-like, but the genuine, trademarked article, the one that had been on his wish list circled in red, dotted with asterisks, underlined three times. He'd broken it by January, and it turned out to be a cheap piece of plastic crap, but he'd never forgotten that moment.
"Well, you could kiss me."
Hello, four-wheel truck with hood mounted cannon that shot water and/or plastic bullets, complete with realistic engine noises (batteries required)…
Fraser's mouth was curved in a small smile but Ray didn't make the mistake of thinking even for one freaking second that Fraser was joking. He did sometimes, sure, even if no one laughed, but this wasn't one of the Fraser makes a funny, everyone duck their head moments.
Fraser meant it. Fuck. Crunch time. He'd known it would come one day; he'd beat off thinking about it more times than he could remember, and now it had, he was lost.
"Say again?" More of a croak than actual words, but Fraser understood him. Fraser, who never got lost.
"Were we to kiss, I'd imagine a certain amount of air would be exchanged."
"Along with other things." Like promises, because he couldn't do casual with Fraser. Just couldn't. And for keeps, well, he couldn't do that either. He'd tried. So what was left? Nothing.
"Saliva, yes, and I recall this trapper my father knew who used to keep a piece of jerky tucked behind his back teeth in case he got hungry, who once kissed his dog in a moment of joie de vivre and -- but I don't think you want to hear how that ended. He had terrible breath, incidentally." Fraser smiled at him kindly. "Your breath is," he sniffed delicately, "quite pleasant. A little malty from the beer, but --"
"Delightful?" Ray couldn't help the bitter edge. Dammit, he'd told Fraser not to fall for her…
"Ah." Fraser sighed. "I truly didn't kiss her, Ray. She initiated the encounter and I simply --"
"Stood there and let her do it." Ray poked Fraser in the chest. "That a habit of yours when people kiss you?"
"It hasn't happened often enough for me to be able to assign a label such as that to it."
"Suppose I was to do it now? Would you just let me?"
"No, of course not."
"Of course not…" Ray felt flat, fizzless, frustrated,, his fantasies collapsing around him. Fraser's humor had clearly mutated. That woman had been a bad influence on him. You taught someone like Fraser, someone painfully honest and yet surprisingly tricky, to bluff, and this was what happened. People's hopes got raised and dashed and --
"As I hope you know, I would do all that I could to reciprocate."
"Sure you would. You want your winnings, right? Want your pound of air."
Fraser looked at him as if he was about as bright as Tweedledum and Tweedledee from the FBI, clutching their shiny badges like security blankets. "If I reciprocate, one could say that you'd be the winner, too."
Ray thought it over and couldn't see much wrong with Fraser's logic. He'd get Fraser's air, flowing into him, deep into him, filling all the empty places. He'd get to feel Fraser's mouth again, without the water in the way, without his lips being numb with cold and terror. "Okay. Sure. Kisses. I'll do it. I'll pay you in kisses."
He waited -- last chance, Fraser, last chance -- leaned in, slow, slow, and then paused, his mouth a whisper away from Fraser's. Fraser licked his lips, and Ray got off on that small sign of nerves, and let it calm him down, because this way big, this was huge. Not the first time he'd kissed a guy, no, but Fraser… Fraser was Canadian. Ray didn't do good at being polite when it came to sex. He did fast and greedy and hell (gasp, grunt), yes, yes, yes, but that didn't seem like Fraser's style. Not that a kiss meant sex. No. But he'd never kissed a man and not gone on to fuck him. In fact, he'd fucked men he'd never kissed, because what he was interested in hung between their legs, a long way south of their nose.
It hurt how much he wanted to kiss Fraser and not because of some stupid, fucking bet, either.
Speaking of which…
"Fraser? You cheated, right? That crowded home of yours? No way you built it on the level."
Fraser blinked once, a tell if ever there was one. "Ray, I'm shocked. I would never do that."
He touched his fingertips to the long clean line of Fraser's jaw, high, close to his ear. Curled them around it and found the tender skin just back of the bone, baby soft there, where his teeth would nip and scrape and leave unseen marks. "They'd ban you for life from every casino on the Strip, you know that?"
"For having a good memory and the ability to calculate odds in my head?" Fraser murmured, his eyes wide. Ray's finger was over a pulse beating fast in Fraser's neck. Fast and flurried and thank God for pulses because it was all he had to go on. Fraser's poker face was aces.
"For starters." For starters, he'd kiss until their lips were raw, like the cold and the wind did to them, more marks, more to look at afterwards and remember.
"Hmm." Fraser's face was all Ray could see this close, magnified, detailed. "Do you want to render our wager null and void?"
"Not a chance in hell. I pay my debts." And he took Fraser's mouth and kissed him, sighed into the mint-warmth and made Fraser taste of beer and him and did it again and again until he was breathless and Fraser had it all, and he was empty, waiting to be filled, like he had been since he met Fraser.
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