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Life's a Gamble


Kearny walked across the snow-covered campus, admiring the magical feeling the newly fallen snow gave the bare trees. He hummed 'It's Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas' quietly as he walked. There were still a few weeks to go, since it was still the beginning of December, but the snow gave a festive feeling to the world, and Kea felt justified in giving his boyfriend of two months the Christmas gift a few weeks early. They'd known each other a month before they started dating, although there was still a lot they didn't know about each other. Then again, that was what relationships were all about.

Smiling to himself, Kea entered the door of Ayers' dorm building. He really hoped that Ayers liked the gift he'd gotten. Ayers had said that Kea shouldn't get him anything, but then, Brian had said that, too, and he'd gotten upset when Kea hadn't gotten him anything as he'd asked. Kea hadn't finally decided if he was going to get Ayers something or not when he saw the perfect gift in the store. He decided that Ayers would probably be happy to get a gift, even if he hadn't asked for one. Perhaps especially when he got one, doubly so this one, assuming it really was as perfect for him as Kea thought it was.

Well, Kea would know what Ayers thought of it soon enough, since he was already standing in front of his door. He knocked, and Ayers called for him to enter.

Ayers was curled up on his couch, watching a movie on the TV. He turned it off when Kea entered. "Hey, handsome, come to cuddle away from the snow?"

Kearny joined him on the couch and curled up against him. "Merry Christmas," he whispered quietly, nuzzling his boyfriend. He pulled out a small box and handed it over. "Got you something."

"Kea, what-" Ayers sighed and took the box. "You didn't have to, I told you, you didn't have to get me anything."

"Repeatedly." Kearny gave a slight shrug. "I know I didn't have to, that's why I did."

Ayers sighed, but unwrapped the small box. Please tell me he didn't get me jewelry, Ayers hoped silently. This is just a fancy box for one 'coupon for kinky sex,' or something, right? But it wasn't. Ayers gasped as he snapped open the cover on the long jewelry box, light catching on the ornament inside. The bracelet was a very intricate, yet manly, piece set with turquoise and onyx in silver. It was beautiful, and definitely something Ayers would wear on special occasions, although a bit fancy to wear around the house. There was only one problem. Kearny had bought it for him.

"Kea, why did you-" he stumbled to a stop when he saw the look on his boyfriend's face.

"I saw it and I thought of you, that's all. It doesn't—doesn't mean anything. I just wanted to do something nice for you for a change. You're always buying me stuff."

"I like to buy you things. You don't have to pay me back."

"I'm not paying you back. Can't I just buy something for my boyfriend, once?"

This was dangerous territory. "You can, it's just-"

"It's just what?" Kea snapped. "Don't you like it?"

"Kea," Ayers ran a hand through Kea's hair, "I love it, it's beautiful, just like you." The compliment didn't put Kea at ease as Ayers had hoped. "It's not that I don't like your gift, and it's not that I don't appreciate the gesture, it's just that I don't want you wasting money on me."

Kea pulled away from him completely. "I don't think you're a waste of money." Brian was a waste of money.

"But you have-" Ayers started. He didn't want to insult Kea and his fiscal responsibility, but there were way more important things his boyfriend should be buying than an expensive Christmas gift. His college education, for one.

"I have what?" Kea demanded.

"You have important things that you should be saving for-" Ayers tried.

"You're important to me," Kearny interrupted.

"Yeah, I know, but I won't always be there and-"

"And what? Are you breaking up with me? Is that it?"

"No!" Ayers nearly shouted, startled at the conclusion. "No, I'm not. It's just that you need to support yourself beca-"

"Because some day you won't be there with all your rich-boy fortune?" Kea interrupted again. "It that what this is?"

Ayers opened his mouth to say something, but Kea stood up and started to put his shoes on.

"Look, just—forget it. I'll go home now. I just thought- fuck, it doesn't even matter. See you later." He slammed the door behind him.

Ayers sighed. If only Kea'd let him finish a full sentence, it probably wouldn't have gone so poorly.

Besides, he really did like the bracelet. He probably would have bought it himself if he'd been the one to see it, but Kea wasn't rich like him, didn't have doting, wealthy parents who couldn't have spent all their money in three lifetimes if they'd tried. Kea was struggling, paying his own way through college without financial help from his parents, and hadn't had a job in the three months Ayers had known him. He'd been so adamant about Kea not getting him a present because he wanted his boyfriend to be able to afford to stay in college. But instead of listening, Kearny went out and bought an incredibly expensive gift.

It wasn't that Ayers was ungrateful, it was just that he was worried for Kea. That and it reminded him an awful lot of last year.


Kea leaned against the door to his dorm room. He took a deep breath before opening it and stepping inside. He wiped at his nose briefly, trying to decide if he'd be lying to himself if he said the runny nose and teary eyes were from the cold. It could go either way, he decided as he drew a shaky breath.

He should have just listened to Ayers. Of course he didn't want anything, he'd said he didn't want anything, so little Kea had to go and fuck it all up by getting him something anyway. Stupid, stupid Kea. He'd just wanted to surprise Ayers, and maybe make him happy.

He should have known, should have listened.

Kea climbed into bed, and curled into the blankets, burrowing deeply into the pillow that still smelled of Ayers.

His last boyfriend had wanted everything, and Kearny hadn't hesitated to give, once he'd figured out what 'you don't have to' really meant. When he started to refuse he'd fucked up the whole relationship, even if it was pretty much over by then anyway. This time his boyfriend didn't want anything, and the one time Kea had given him something, he'd fucked up again. Maybe he was just doomed to not get anything right.

At least he hadn't waited until Christmas to give Ayers his gift. That whole scene would have been that much more painful on the actual holiday, or even right before break. Instead Kea had been so excited to see the look on Ayers' face, he'd given the gift almost as soon as he'd bought it. And the look on Ayers' face had been priceless. Although the look Kea had wanted was apparently not one he could buy. Not with presents, anyway.


Two days later it was Monday, and Ayers found his way into the Eatery for lunch with his friends. As he sat down at the table, Damien lifted his head up to greet Ayers, then stared silently for a moment before stuttering. "Holy shit, Ayers! You're naked!"

That got everyone's attention, including Ayers', who glanced down at his fully-clothed body in some confusion. Thomas looked up, grunted and returned to his laptop and curly fries, while Michelle, who had just arrived, gasped.

"Damien's right! Where's that thing you always wear, you know, the brown fuzzy whats-he-called that's always draped over your arm."

Ayers blinked. "Kea?"

"Yeah, you two are like attached at the hip or something."

Damien smirked. "Did you tire him out too much this weekend?"

"No, I, we—fought, I guess," Ayers nearly muttered.

"You fought?" said a new voice from behind Ayers. It was Greg, Ayers' oldest childhood friend. Ayers latched onto that. Greg could help, Greg had always been brilliant with sorting out relationship problems, even if Ayers hadn't listened to his advise on his last relationship. Ayers liked to think he'd grown since then.

Ayers latched onto his friend. "Greg! You have to help, I'm not even sure what I did, and I haven't seen Kea since Friday night."

"Two days without sex won't kill a man, you know," Damien interjected.

"Like you would know," put in Michelle.

Ayers opened his moth to retort, but Greg dragged him off to somewhere less public before he could say anything.

"Now, explain to me what happened," Greg said, once they were secluded at a rickety table in a dark corner.

They spent the next forty-five minutes talking about what had happened, and how Kea wouldn't even answer his phone. The conversation ended with Greg saying he'd go and talk to Kea later that day. Ayers thanked him, and ran off to class.


Later that evening found Kea huddled under his blankets again. He'd spent the weekend in his PJs, doing his homework, and wishing that Ayers would call.

Feeling sad and pathetic, Kea was trying to decide if it was early enough to go to sleep and hope that tomorrow was better when there was a knock at his door.

Kearny dragged himself out of bed, and over to the door. He glanced through the peephole; it was Greg. Disappointed that it wasn't Ayers, although he hadn't really expected it to be, Kea debated not opening the door, when Greg knocked again, calling through the door, "Kea, let me in, I'd like to talk with you. Ayers sent me."

It was the magic A-word that opened the door for him, since Kea didn't really feel like talking.

"Hey," Greg leaned against the doorway. "How are you?"

"Terrible." Kea turned and moved away from the door. "Was it really that awful that I got him a gift? He hasn't even called!" He made a large gesture with his arm, and then collapsed onto the bed.

"He-? Kea, where's your phone?"

Kea patted his jeans pocket. "Right he-" he stopped short, and his eyes widened. Kea scrambled over to the pants he'd discarded Friday night and not looked at since, hastily searching the pockets. The phone was in one, fortunately. Unfortunately it had somehow gotten set to silent. It showed twelve missed calls, eleven of which, on closer inspection, were from Ayers.

Kea groaned and tossed the phone on the bed. "Arg! Now he probably thinks I'm avoiding him! This just makes it worse!" He followed the phone back onto the bed. "I should have listened to him and not gotten him anything. I thought he was just being nice, or that he thought he had everything. I didn't know it was because he has a phobia of getting gifts."

Greg sighed. "What did you get him?" although Ayers had told him.

"Some stupid bracelet I thought he'd like."

"And how much did this bracelet cost?"

Kea glared at him. "Lots."

"Could you afford it?"

The glare turned to a look of disgust. "Why the fuck would I buy something I couldn't afford?"

Greg shrugged. "Ayers' last boyfriend did."

Kea had been getting riled up for a good rant, but this stopped him short. "What?"

"Ayers' last boyfriend was an asshole, who used him for money. Last Christmas he bought Ayers a gift he could barely afford, and that only if he didn't pay his tuition for the next semester. He then had the gall to blame the whole thing on Ayers, and get him to pay tuition. 'You always get me such expensive things, I just feel like I need to keep up with you,' kind of thing. Ayers still didn't catch on until he learned his boy was a crack-addict, and even then it took catching him high, drunk and screwing another guy before Ayers had finally had enough."

Kea stared at him, his mouth working, but nothing came out.

"You've got to be careful when you're rich, people are always wanting to use you." Greg shifted to a more sympathetic tone. "Ayers is just worried about you, you're paying tuition without any help whatsoever, you don't even have any loans. And you've been without a job for months. Ayers likes you enough that he wants to help, but he's terrified that you might be using him like the last guy. And then you go and spend hundreds of dollars on a bracelet, money which you should be saving for tuition, instead of buying a gift for a boyfriend who could have bought a dozen like it and still considered the amount pocket change."

Kea stared at him for a moment. Then he started to snicker. "Is that what this is really about? That I can't afford the gift? And here I thought, I thought-" Kea was laughed so hard his eyes were tearing up. He gasped for breath and waved his hand in the air. "That's precious." Kea sniggered a bit more, slowly bringing himself under control; finally he took a deep breath and stood up. "Where is he?"

"Probably moping about in his room."

"Great, thanks, Greg." Kea ushered him out the door, and left himself, grabbing something off his desk as he went.


Ayers was enjoying a cup of hot chocolate, wondering how Greg's talk with Kea was going, when he heard a knock at his door. Hoping it was Greg coming to clear things up, Ayers answered it without looking though the peephole. Kearny was standing there.

"Sorry, my phone was on silent all weekend, and I just talked with Greg, here look at this," Kea said quickly, and then thrust something into Ayers' hands.

"It's your checkbook?" Ayers wondered why it was so important that he look at Kea's finances, but slowly opened the first page. Holy shit! He couldn't be seeing correctly, Ayers flipped a few pages, his eyes widening with each one.

Kea was just standing there, waiting for Ayers' reaction.

"Is this really yours?"

"No, dumbass." Kea took the book back and rapped him on the head with it. "It belongs to the other Kearny MacNamara that lives in my dorm room."

"But I thought—"

"What? That I was some poor, pathetic hard-working farm boy?"

Ayers blushed and looked away. "Maybe."

Kea sighed. "I can't be too hard on you, because I didn't tell you, and I hope you're not mad at me about it, but I assure you that I can definitely afford to buy you a bracelet."

"But you're so-"

"So what?"

"So middle-class."

Kea laughed, "I am middle-class, born and raised. But," he held up a hand to forestall any comments, "I won the lottery."

"Really? When?"

"On my 18th birthday, my friends bothered people at school to give a dollar to buy me lottery tickets, they raised close to fifty dollars, don't ask me how, I spent the whole day bright red and studying my shoes. Then we went and spent it all on the powerball, and stayed up watching TV until they called the numbers. I actually won on the ticket that my dad got me when he ran to the store before dinner. It was the best birthday present ever."

"So why didn't you tell me?"

"Well, I didn't really realize you didn't know." Kea blushed. "I told everyone back first semester freshman year, but-"

Ayers nodded. "I didn't transfer until this fall, I get it. But why don't you ever mention it?"

Kea sighed. "It's brought me no end of trouble. My first boyfriend was the worst; only wanted me for my money, although he never asked for anything, he just said 'you don't have to' and got really upset when I didn't." Kea gave a half-smile. "It's strange, but the mere fact that you told me you didn't want anything made me feel obligated to get you something."

"And the more I insisted…"

"The more I thought you were using reverse psychology on me."

Ayers grimaced. "I'd never do that, I'm too upfront of a person."

"Well, I know that now. And you're too rich to be lying about being gay just to get at my money."


"An asshole, like I said. He just wanted my money, claimed that's not what he was after, and I believed him because I'd known him and had a crush on him forever. Then I went to this party with my cousin, and Brian was there- with a girl." Kea gave a wicked smile. "So I stopped buying him things. Eventually he asked me about it and I said I was just taking him at his word about not wanting stuff. He asked me if it was about 'waiting until he was ready to have sex.' I laughed and told him I wouldn't let him touch me with a ten-foot poll, let alone the significantly shorter one he'd stuck inside any girl he could, so long as it wouldn't get back to me. He was so stunned, it was hilarious."

"Vindictive, much?"

"Don't cheat on me and you won't have to figure out how vindictive."

"I wouldn't. Not, not after-"

"Greg told me some about it."

Ayers shrugged. "I figured it would come up when he talked to you. This time last year I was happy with Kevin, secretly planning a vacation to a cabin for the week between Christmas and New Year's. Three days after we got there is when he went into withdrawal symptoms." Ayers shrugged again. "I believed him when he said that he wanted to get clean for me, or at least I was ready to give him a second chance. He blew that when I stopped in on a mutual acquaintance to find him high and being fucked into the floor by some other guy."

"What did you do?"

"I ended up taking the rest of the semester off, and then transferred colleges to here, so I could both start over and be near Greg, who was the one who told me to ditch Kevin early on, and the only one who knew all of what happened." Ayers sighed. "Sheesh, what a pair we make. Both used and abused and untrusting."

"I think we can work around it."

There was a long moment of silence.

"Well, now that we know we won't be using each other for money, I'd like to thank you properly for the Christmas gift, Kea."

"Oh? Now what exactly did you have in mind, Ayers?"

"A quiet game of Scrabble, I know how you love to play."

Kea rolled his eyes. "Yeah, but only on an ivory and jade set. I hate games that don't cause at least one species to go extinct, let alone that cost less than an African country."

"Phft, you're so needy, all you want is more, more, more."

There was a brief pause.

Then Kea asked, "is there any particular reason you're not over here kissing me?"

"See? It's never enough with you. More money, more dead animals, more kissing, more mpf-"