by shukyou (主教)
Ray glared daggers over the tops of his glasses. “Not once in human history has that been a compelling argument. Even back when Vine did exist.”
Impervious as always to the weapons of his best friend’s expressions, Marcus kept that stupid, shit-eating grin plastered across his face. “Then do it for me. Come on!”
It was stupid. It was so stupid. It happened like this every single time. It was like a script, and every time Ray knew he shouldn’t play along, and every single stupid time he found himself opening his mouth and saying, “Hand me the phone and you do it.”
Marcus’ grin grew impossibly wider as he handed over his iPhone, cushioned in a heavy-duty shatterproof case. He ran his hands through his hair, slicking back the shaggy black locks, then hiked up his pants for good measure. “Just don’t miss a second of this, man.”
Ray never did.
Ten minutes later, they passed a shed that Ray didn’t think anything of, until Marcus grabbed his shirt and yanked him sideways, nearly knocking him off his feet. Ray barely had time to find his balance before he was inside a gardening shed that really wasn’t meant to hold more than the two lawn mowers they were straddling. Marcus slammed the door shut as quietly as he could, and the two of them stood there, practically chest to chest, trying not to gasp like they’d just run half a mile from mall security. Despite the December chill, Ray could feel the heat of Marcus’ body near his, making it hard to think.
About the time Ray felt his heart rate start to tick back to normal, Marcus exhaled. “I think they gave up,” he said under his breath, leaning toward as though he might have put his ear against the shed door, if he could have reached.
“Or they’re waiting just outside,” said Ray, who held in his hand the phone with half of the criminal evidence. Marcus was holding the other half: the severed head of Rudolph the Red-Nosed Mall Decoration. Even as they’d had the security guards in hot pursuit, Marcus had sworn between gasp of air that he hadn’t known it would come off. Ray almost believed him.
Marcus screwed up his face as he thought about this for a second, then opened the door anyway and peeked out. “Coast is clear!” he announced, hopping out.
Ray followed him a second later, ducking so he didn’t hit a heavy patch of cobwebs in the shed corner. Ray was nearly a full foot taller than Marcus, and thus had to worry about things that happened at a greater altitude. Emerging, he looked down to see that Marcus was still sporting the evidence of the decapitation like some Nordic Perseus. “Are you just going to haul that thing around?” asked Ray.
“Maybe,” said Marcus with a shrug. “Or maybe…” As his sentence trailed off, the corners of his lips curled up into a mischievous smile. Ray tried to sigh as pointedly as he could, but it didn’t help.
“You’re not supposed to be up there,” Ray said, which seemed a stupid thing to tell someone who was already halfway up a flagpole, but he was filming now, and he wanted his objection preserved for posterity.
“It’s Mardi Gras,” Marcus called back, as though that explained everything.
“Yeah, four weeks from now.” Ray’s nerves couldn’t bear to watch as Marcus climbed to his possible doom, so he watched through the slightly lagging rectangle of the phone’s camera, which somehow made things a little better. He could just see the headlines now: Local Man Falls, Breaks Every Bone In His Stupid Body During Filmed Bid At Going Viral. He supposed headlines didn’t usually editorialize that much, but he bet they’d make an exception.
Marcus somehow managed to shrug and hold on to the flagpole at once, which was quite a trick. They’d actually first met in a gymnastics class at the Y, when ten-year-old Marcus had discovered that eight-year-old Ray was so desperate for friendship that he’d basically do anything the older boy said. The only thing that had changed in the ensuing decade of their friendship was their heights.
Five minutes later, they were on the run again, with Ray silently thanking how many sprint drills his basketball coach had made him do. This security guard had even less staying power than most of his fellow walkie-talkie jockeys (as Marcus was apt to call them), though, so they didn’t even have to go that far. A quick duck behind a heavy set of bushes outside a local vet’s office, and they were as good as gone.
Ray hunched down a little, to make sure that the top of his head didn’t somehow peek out over the foliage. Logically, he knew there was no way he was tall enough for that to be true, but he’d learned long ago to listen to his paranoid instincts. After all, they were the ones that had given them a thirty-second head start from the base of the flagpole.
“Did you get it?” asked Marcus after a moment.
“I don’t know,” said Ray, handing Marcus the phone. This felt like a strange conversation to have while a twig was poking him in the cheek, but he had to admit, he’d had weirder.
With the sound off, Marcus watched the screen for several seconds, then sighed and shoved the phone into his back jeans pocket. “The light’s shit. You can’t even tell what’s happening.” Marcus grunted and kicked at the ground with the toe of his shoe. “I just look like some weird caped koala.”
“Maybe next time, you should carry the flag folded until you get to the top.” Ray knew he shouldn’t be encouraging this, but it pained him to leave a problem unsolved.
“I just wish we could’ve done another take.” Marcus shuffled out from behind the bushes.
Ray came a few seconds later, startling an elderly woman with a cat carrier. “Ma’am,” he greeted her with a little wave, as though this sort of thing happened all the time. At least in his world, it did.
“Anyway,” Marcus said a minute later as they crossed the street into the subdivision where he still lived with his parents, “we’ll have to think of something else.”
“Maybe something that couldn’t be used against us in a court of law?” Ray shrugged. “Just a thought.”
“You’re such a Boy Scout,” Marcus said, which was untrue either literally or metaphorically. “Internet fame does not lie through the straight and narrow. It lies through the crooked and vaguely pornographic! Which is also, by the way–”
“The title of my sex tape, yes.” Ray had no idea where Marcus had gotten that phrasing from, but he hoped it would pass quickly. All things Marcus did seemed to pass quickly, as Ray enabled them until Marcus got bored and moved on. He had a hard time concentrating on something for longer than a couple of months, and sometimes even a couple of weeks. The longest he’d ever committed to anything had been having a buzzcut, and had only been for how long it had taken to grow back out.
That was part of why Ray couldn’t really object to Marcus’ new goal of being an internet viral video sensation. It was coming up on two months of being his focus now, and soon it would pass. Then he’d go on to trying to get a job on a crab boat, or writing a pilot for a TV series based on Casablanca, or creating a Kickstarter for a dating service for snakes, or one of the other billion random ideas Ray knew better than to say anything about, lest Marcus get ideas.
Ray knew that it wasn’t even that Marcus wanted any of these things, especially not viral online fame. It was more that he wanted to want those things. He was searching for a purpose, and Ray couldn’t blame him. But he couldn’t give one to Marcus either. So he mostly just tagged along, willing to chance being there the moment something caught.
Marcus’ mom was outside, removing strands of Christmas lights from the trees. Marcus had once decided to set up a business designing spectacular Christmas light displays, only to get bored with it so quickly that he’d wound up paying other guys to take down what he’d put up. “Do you need some help with that, Mrs. Choi?” asked Ray.
“You arrived at just the right time,” said Mrs. Choi, who barely topped five feet. She pointed up to a high branch, and Ray pulled the strand of lights off it without even getting on his tiptoes. “What have you boys been up to today?”
“Just hanging out,” Marcus said, and Ray kept his fool mouth shut.
“I’m not funny,” Ray said.
“Then you can be the straight man,” said Marcus, who then snorted around his pretzel dog. “So to speak.”
Ray rolled his eyes. The sad thing was, he probably could have managed to keep his sexuality a secret from his best friend, had he not, following two solid adolescent years of ‘hot tips’ about girls from Marcus, outed himself as a last-ditch ploy to just make Marcus damn stop talking about feminine wiles and jiggly breasts. “And we’ll, what, talk about movies?” asked Ray as he sipped his frozen lemonade.
“Movies, TV shows, politics, I don’t know. Stuff.” Marcus gestured expansively. “There’s a lot of shit to talk about. Maybe it doesn’t even need to be on video. We could start a podcast. Have you ever thought about starting a podcast?” Without even waiting for an answer, Marcus continued, “You’ve got a great voice. We can call it something clever. Straight Eye for the Queer Guy. Something like that.”
Ray’s only answer was an arched eyebrow.
“Wouldn’t you love to come out to your mother with a hit podcast?” Marcus jabbed his pretzel dog semi-erotically toward Ray’s chest. “You could tell her, Mama, I may be a homosexual, but I’m making a thousand dollars a month because of it!”
“That just makes me sound like a gay prostitute.”
“Are you saying there’s something wrong with being a gay prostitute? God, Ray, you’re such a homophobe.” Marcus cackled as Ray extended a solemn middle finger in his direction. “Though, you know, I bet we could set up some sort of chat room, if you wanted to. Just jerk off every now and then and get people to buy you things from your Amazon wishlist.”
Ray exhaled sharply through his nose. “Why, in this situation, am I the one showing my penis to the world?”
“Oh, shit,” said Marcus, his eyes widening. “Oh shit, we should start a channel, just the two of us! Getting down and dirty for the good disposable-incomed people of the internet!”
“No,” snapped Ray.
“Come on, what’s the problem? You think I can’t gay for pay?” Marcus did a little wiggle with his lower half that was probably meant to be enticingly obscene, but just looked like he showing off just how bad he was at invisible hula-hooping.
Ray hopped off the low wall where he’d been sitting. “Hey, I just remembered, Mom wanted me to go get some stuff for her from the CVS before she gets home tonight. Text you later, okay?”
“Yeah, okay,” said Marcus, whose tone of voice betrayed his concern. He didn’t say any to stop Ray, though, and Ray tossed the near-melted remnants of his lemonade in the trash as he set off for home.
His mother hadn’t asked him to get a thing from anywhere, but he’d seen that they were running low on a number of things, including toothpaste and dish soap, and maybe it was time that he started doing things like this without being asked. It wasn’t like there was anything stopping him from being preemptively responsible like that. It had been just the two of them for pretty much his whole life, after all, and she’d done her best to raise him. She deserved better in return. She deserved steady, dependable. Maybe, for that matter, Ray did too.
He didn’t know what he was being so melodramatic about. Marcus had just touched a nerve. He hadn’t meant anything by the suggestion, or the joking around it. It was just another stupid idea of his, as fleeting as everything else in Marcus’ life. Sooner or later, it’d be gone.
“So what’s this supposed to be?” asked Ray, who of course hadn’t stayed mad. He hadn’t even been mad when he’d texted Marcus that night. He had a decade’s practice of forgiving Marcus for anything, so why start holding grudges now?
Marcus pointed to the phone, which he was holding out in front of them, selfie-style. Ray could see both their faces mirrored on the screen. “It’s a Valentine’s Day thing. Everyone in China is doing it.”
“And I just kiss you on the cheek?” Ray asked.
“Well, you start posing like we’re talking a selfie, but you’re already running the video. And then when we’re all set and posed, instead of snapping the picture, then you turn and kiss me on the cheek.” Marcus pointed to his cheek, in case Ray had suddenly lost all grip on anatomy.
“And what do you do?”
“It’s supposed to be a surprise,” Marcus explained, “so you turn right back to the camera and go back to posing like you’re taking a selfie, and I’ll be startled for a minute, then kiss you on the cheek, surprising you. Classic reversal! Instant viral sensation.”
Ray had to admit, the full explanation seemed a lot less homophobic than it had when Marcus had first proposed it. And seeing that Marcus was spending his Valentine’s Day keeping Ray company, instead of going out with one or two of the hundreds of girls who thought he was cute and charming, Ray supposed that going along with a silly meme was the least he could do. Besides, they sooner they got this over with, the sooner they could go back to watching Stranger Things.
“All right,” Ray said with a sigh, “where should we be?”
“Right here,” Marcus said, scooting next to Ray on the couch. There was less of a height difference between the two of them when they were sitting down, given how much of Ray’s body was his legs. Marcus took Ray’s closer arm and threw it around his own shoulders, then handed Ray the camera. “Like it’s your idea, see? Look, we’re going to take a Friendlentine’s Day selfie!”
Ray was sure that was entirely not a thing — or that if it was, it had a catchier name — but he was already sitting with his arm draped around Marcus’ shoulder, so why not? “Okay, here we are, taking a selfie,” he said with a complete lack of affect.
Marcus stuck out his tongue, and his image on the phone screen followed a split-second later. “Sound like you actually like me or something,” he said, elbowing Ray in the ribs.
“Okay,” Ray said, rolling his eyes as he tried again with a fraction more enthusiasm, “here we are, best friends on Valentine’s Day, taking a selfie.”
Marcus held up a peace sign, and Ray might have joined him in it, were both his hands not engaged. He wriggled a little and moved the phone, just like he really was trying to get the perfect framing. Friendlentine’s Day, right. Well, friendship being what it was, he turned his head and prepared to give Marcus a quick, startling kiss on his cheek.
He didn’t meet with Marcus’ cheek, though. His first thought was that despite the earlier very pointed visual, he had somehow managed to mis-locate the side of Marcus’ face. Then he realized he had missed it because Marcus had turned his head so that the kiss landed right on his lips.
Ray pulled back, startled, but Marcus kept his face right where it was, his mouth fixed in a determined line.
Thoughts of murder flooded Ray’s mind. That was it, that had been too far, Marcus had ruined their entire friendship for the sake of two stupid seconds of video. Because of course he had. No, it wasn’t the buzz cut that had lasted longest in Marcus’ life; it was Ray. So it was only natural that he, like everything else, would eventually pass out of Marcus’ sphere of interest.
Except Marcus wasn’t laughing. In fact, it didn’t seem like he was making fun of Ray at all. He was just staring at Ray with an intensity Ray had never seen on his face before, and Ray looked down to realize that Marcus’ hand was resting warmly on his thigh.
Ray looked at that for a moment, then looked back at Marcus. “You better not be fucking joking,” he said, his voice breathy.
“Not joking,” Marcus said.
“You better not be fucking joking,” Ray repeated, just to make sure.
“Not joking,” Marcus said, the corner of his mouth wavering into half a nervous smile. “Swear to God.”
It occured to Ray then that his phone-holding hand had barely moved through all this, meaning that all of it had been caught on camera. He thought about moving his thumb and turning the screen off, then decided it and its battery could go promptly to hell as he dropped it on the carpet and tackled Marcus for another kiss.
Marcus fell back hard against the sofa cushions, but he deserved it. That bastard, he deserved all of this, Ray thought as he kissed him hard, thrusting his tongue into Marcus’ mouth. So what if Marcus was the all-knowing authority on being with girls; they were in Ray’s territory now, and Ray was the master here. …At least, in theory. The truth was that he’d never even gotten this far with another actual, non-imaginary human being. But he was willing to bank on the probability that he’d thought about it more than Marcus had, and that was enough to give him the confidence he needed to press forward.
“You are such a bastard,” Ray growled as he kissed at Marcus’ soft, pale neck. He settled himself so he wasn’t resting too much of his weight against Marcus’ body, but he got his knee square between Marcus’ parted thighs, then leaned forward so that his own thigh was pressing against Marcus’ denim-covered crotch. Holy hell, it didn’t take much pressure there to feel exactly how hard Marcus already was. If this was one of his schemes, then holy hell, he was committing to the bit.
Marcus reached for Ray’s shirt and pulled it out from where he’d tucked it into his trousers, getting his hands on the bare skin of Ray’s stomach. “Maybe,” Marcus admitted with a breathy laugh.
“No, definitely.” Ray bit down lightly on the skin of Marcus’ neck, just above where the collar of his shirt would hit. He deserved this too. “You are a bastard, and a jerk, and you have the attention span of a goldfish, and … and shut up and kiss me.”
“I’m not talking!” Marcus protested, but he grabbed Ray’s sides and pulled him down for another deep, hard kiss. Fuck, he was a good kisser, just like he’d always bragged about being. Leave it to a bastard like Marcus to live up to his own hype.
Marcus’ fingers were cold, but they felt good against Ray’s overeheated skin. It felt like the temperature had climbed to a thousand degrees in the converted basement apartment beneath the Chois’ house, and Ray could feel himself starting to sweat. “Take my shirt off,” he told Marcus.
Marcus didn’t hesitate. He grabbed at the hem of Ray’s shirt and pulled upwards, getting it over his head and exposing his lean, brown torso. Ray lifted his hands from where they pinned Marcus just long enough to let his sleeves be tugged off them. He could see that Marcus was getting hot too, but Ray was okay with letting the bastard sweat a little longer.
He didn’t know why he was hung up on ‘bastard’ so much tonight, but there it was. Marcus was a bastard, because he had done this at all, because he had done this like he did, because he hadn’t done it sooner. He was a bastard asshole jerkface buttmunch wonderful best friend dickhead, and he was a fantastic kisser. And maybe, just maybe, he was willing to keep Ray in his life a little bit longer.
Ray let his fingers slip down to the waistband of Marcus’ pants, then undid the top button of his jeans. “This okay?” he asked, his lips brushing Marcus’ as he spoke.
“Oh, yeah,” Marcus said, giving an enthusiastic nod. “Yeah, this is very okay.”
“Okay,” Ray said. He slid his hand inside of Marcus’ jeans, right to a short, thick, uncut cock that was rock-hard and just waiting for him. As he let his long fingers wrap around its shaft, Marcus gasped and exhaled loudly. Ray could feel a spurt of precome wet his hand, making his grip around Marcus’ cock even slicker.
Ray raised himself up on his elbows just enough to see Marcus’ face, and at first he didn’t know what to make of the expression he saw there. Marcus looked nervous again, but not in the same way he had before. Then, he’d been holding his breath; now, he was breathing in short huffs through his parted lips, looking like he was trying to manage being in a cage with a lion. Ray was confused for a moment — he was hardly a lion, and despite their size difference, he posed no real physical threat to Marcus, who was sturdy enough for a variety of physical antics caught on tape.
But no, that wasn’t quite right. Ray was a lion here, in that he could at any moment rip Marcus’ heart out. He’d seen Marcus a lot of ways before, but he’d never seen him so stripped bare. This was a lot of trust on both sides, and Ray was determined to make sure it was worth it.
He slipped his hand out of Marcus’ pants for a second, and Marcus’ eyes went wide with disappointment before Ray kissed him. “Trust me,” Ray promised against Marcus’ mouth, and Marcus nodded. Ray undid his own pants and pushed them off his hips, kicking them and his underwear to the floor as best he could. He was totally naked now, on top of Marcus, and just as hard as his best friend was. It felt only fair to match vulnerability with his own.
Ray had large hands, and so it was little effort to take both Marcus’ cock and his own in a single hand, squeezing them together as he wrapped his fingers around them. Marcus gasped hard, letting his mouth fall open as he craned his head back. “Oh fuck,” he murmured. “Fuck, you’re … you’re hard too.”
“Of course I’m hard,” Ray answered with a laugh. “You think you could get me like this and I wouldn’t be?”
“I don’t know!” Marcus laughed along with him. “Maybe I’m not your type.”
Ray cocked on eyebrow. “You think I’d put up with your bullshit if you weren’t my type?”
“That is totally fair,” Marcus said, before he reached for the back of Ray’s head and pulled him down into another kiss.
Together they stayed like that for a while, just kissing as Ray rubbed the circle of his fingers up and down their twinned shafts. Their cocks were different sizes and shapes, just like the two of them, but when they were that close, it didn’t matter. They managed to make each other fit, just like they always had.
After a while, Ray broke from the kiss to suck at Marcus’ earlobe. As he did, he moved his knees until his hips had a little more freedom of motion. There, he began to thrust, letting the length of his shaft rub up against Marcus’ cock. He wanted to move harder, to fuck his hand with greater intensity, and he heard Marcus groan that same sort of need. “I think we should get some oil,” Marcus said. “Some oil or some lube or … something. Something for next time.”
Next time. There would be a next time. This didn’t have to be everything at once — it didn’t have to be the single take, it didn’t have to go viral on the first try — because there would be more. They could practice, and that would make it perfect.
“Yeah,” Ray whispered in Marcus’ ear. “Next time I’ll be ready. So you better be.”
Marcus moaned at that, as his cock jumped in Ray’s hand, and Ray laughed. It felt good like this, to laugh, to be hard, to joke and to be serious at the same time, to be with a loved one on Valentine’s Day. Or Friendlentine’s Day, which was still the stupidest-sounding thing Ray had ever heard, and he loved it anyway.
As Ray came, he made sure to gasp right in Marcus’ ear, making Marcus spill only seconds later. Joined at their cocks, they shared their climax rubbing up against one another, until both their cocks were slick with come. Naked, Ray got their shared seed all over his belly, but more of it spilled on Marcus’ shirt and jeans. Maybe he deserved that too. Ray liked to think so.
At last, Ray collapsed half on top of Marcus, half on the couch next to him. For a long moment, the only sound was their shared breathing. Ray had heard Marcus pant like this before, after running from so many things. It was strange to think that they weren’t running anymore.
Then the phone on the floor chimed.
Ray’s eyes went wide and Marcus tried to peer over the edge of the couch. “Was that recording the whole time?” Marcus asked.
“I mean,” Ray said, “I didn’t stop it.”
Marcus just laughed. “Damn,” he said, “now that’s the shit that goes viral.”
Ray resisted the temptation to grab one of the couch pillows and smother his — best friend? new boyfriend? filmmaking partner? all of the above? Instead, he leaned down and gave Marcus another deep, long kiss. It wasn’t perfect, but he’d get it right soon. Maybe even the very next take.