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Phoenix retained his last shreds of dignity through petty "theft." Little things, insignificant things, swiped though what he lied to himself by calling manipulation.

Little things, insignificant things, from Kris. He stole good chunks of money every restaurant trip by knowing he'd never be able to cover the bill alone; he stole clothes for Trucy by commenting off-handedly that she was growing up too fast; he stole hours upon hours away from Kris's life by wearing it down with conversations, questions, and compliments. Inch by inch. 

If he called it "manipulation," it was intentional. If he didn't call it "desperation," it wasn't pathetic. Even though he couldn't stop and expect to survive... 

Right? 

He couldn't risk winning a game of Connect Four against Kris, but he could block him at every turn, throw his every resource and faculty into pure defense. Bring himself down and bring the inevitable winner down with him. Drag the game out in silence. Make Kris suffer for having the guts to agree to play at all. 

The clock struck midnight well before Kris finally won. Phoenix broke the silence with a stiff golf clap, not slow in movement but taking his hands so far apart between claps that the anticipation alone was annoying. He could see Kris cringe at how new and sudden the noise became each and every time. 

Six years together, and Kris had never been over this late before. Or, rather, this early? Midnight was technically the start of morning. It was the beginning of a new day. 

Phoenix pushed himself up against the back of the couch. Kris, across from him, pushed up his glasses. 

"So...you finally won." Phoenix said. 

"So it seems." 

"Is this goodnight, then?" 

"Apparently." 

Phoenix managed a smile. "Drive safe." 

Kris sneered. The true nature of what he'd stolen this time came to light: "I don't drive this late. It's too dangerous." 

The smile stayed plastered on Phoenix's face. Loose, tired, and much too sinister. No going home to your big familiar bed tonight, Kris. Tonight, you sleep on Phoenix's unwashed sheets and mismatched pillowcases in his messy bedroom. 

"Aw, that's a shame." Phoenix stood. Hands in his pockets and a distinct slouch. He drank in the sight of Kris sitting on the floor and the sensation of looking down at him until Kris joined him on his feet. 

He said, "Truly," and brushed his bangs back. "However, you'll find that I'm a model house guest. If you're lucky, I might even make breakfast tomorrow." 

Phoenix didn't hear his own hollow chuckle. He'd begun swaying where he stood and mistook the reason. He also failed to realize why he suddenly craved a drink - specifically, an alcoholic drink that hadn't a chance of being poisoned behind his back. 

"You know where the bedroom is." Phoenix said, already turning towards the kitchen. His usual nightly routine was drinking himself silly on the couch and he saw no need to change that on Kris's account. 

When he came back with wine bottles and rounded the couch to sit, he was mildly surprised to see Kris already curled up in his seat. The band previously keeping his braid together was on the table, all that straw-blonde hair splayed out and hung over the edge of the arm rest. Despite a slight lean into the cushion, Kris remained mostly on his back with his hands crossed over his chest. His eyes flickered open and up to Phoenix in a way that reminded the latter of mummies in horror movies. 

Smart play, Kris. Lose your time but take the couch. 

There's a price to pay for striking back. 

At least, that's what Phoenix made a point of telling himself. The image of being so hapless that a half-unconscious man on his couch was enough to ban him from his own living room was just too damn real. If he did retreat to his bed, no doubt he'd just cry in it. 

Theft was all the dignity he had left. And this tired, cruel excuse for a friend on his couch didn't have much left to steal like this. 

One more penny in the jar. One more straw on the camel's back. One more push from Sisyphus up the hill. Nothing came close to even rivaling the price of his badge, but it was all he had. 

Phoenix blinked, Kris blinked back. Something about Kris's expression shifted then. Maybe his eyebrow lifted, or maybe he tilted his head back slightly. Or both. Phoenix attributed it to an illusion born of his wavering sight. He saw things in the dark when he was tired. 

He'd steal body heat next. 

Phoenix set the wine within reach on the coffee table and pulled enough bitter apathy together to plop down on Kris's lap. 

Kris grunted in less surprise than Phoenix had been expecting. He rolled his shoulders back and pushed his head upright, struggled to get in a reasonable position in which to host an adult male's entire weight. Phoenix only laid back with all the innocent trust he was supposed to have, all the sloppiness and stupidity Kris had come to know him for. 

Which is all a lie, he lied. It's a persona. I play this role because it's a tactic. And right now... Right now, I am winning. He enunciated his thoughts too clearly.

To his mild surprise and yet also to his relief, once Kris was comfortable, he settled back down. Phoenix let out a breath he didn't know he'd been holding, failing to admit to himself that he half-expected to be kicked off his own couch. His exhale turned into a lone yawn; he tilted his head back and rolled his shoulders into Kris underneath him, their not-quite-upright position no doubt more awkward for the man pressed against the armrest than himself. This'd get a rise out of him for sure. 

But it didn't. Kris only shifted his chin to rest on Phoenix's shoulder. An unusual reply. An unusual strategy... 

Oh, so this is war, is it? 

He turned his head to nuzzle Kris's cheek. He hadn't bathed in two days. No doubt this'd elicit something negative: some flinch, some cringe, some ounce of regret that would allow Phoenix to keep feeding himself the notion that this was a worthy idea. 

Instead, he got arms loosely around his midsection. Damn it, Kris was supposed to be the mattress here - how dare he make Phoenix the blanket? 

By now, Phoenix knew better than to struggle. Struggling only pulled him further under the water. He didn't notice one of Kris's hands leaving him; instead, he opted to keep nuzzling until another yawn overtook, aiming bad breath for Kris's face—

—only to have the nose of a bottle shoved into his mouth. 

Annoyed so easily? So desperate to make him stop that he resorted to sticking a bottle in his face?? Phoenix nearly smiled - until he realized that the bottle was open. 

Closed, it was just Kris admitting defeat by admitting annoyance. But open, it was liquid forced into his mouth without warning. He failed to swallow right and sputtered, coughed the nose of the bottle up, and felt it shoved right back in. 

The bottles hadn't been opened when he'd set them down. The tops were loose but they were not open. Kris had to deliberately twist the cap the rest of the way in order for this to happen. 

Phoenix struggled.

The hand still around him and the bottle down his throat kept him pinned. The harder he fought against, the further the bottle tipped his head back against Kris's collarbone, until he realized his neck was exposed. The heavy breaths that came of exertion only made him gulp faster, harder. His only recourse was to give up and wait for the bottle to empty. 

The lip of the bottle made a pop sound when Kris pulled it out, almost but not completely masked by Phoenix's gasp for air. The very next thing he did was painfully hiccup; it rattled his lungs and kept him pinned, and he raised a hand to settle it on his aching, panting chest. This time, he heard Kris twist the next cap off. 

Kris waited until Phoenix's panting died down. The respite was taunting at best, or maybe Kris was admiring the sounds of pain every time Phoenix hiccuped. 

Then the next bottle pressed against closed lips and Phoenix turned his head to the side. He knew it was only a matter of time before a hiccup opened his mouth, but it turned out a bit of wiggling and pushing was enough to bypass his lips and teeth even without one. 

Struggling was useless. Why was struggling always useless? 

At least he couldn't hiccup with his trachea busy. Or maybe suddenly gulping twice canceled itself out. Mom had always said that drinking upside-down was a surefire cure... 

While these excuses and thoughts ran through his mind, his body was limp. His eyes were dull and half-open, staring blank down at the hand rested on his abdomen. When Kris tilted his head back - unprompted this time - Phoenix felt a compulsion to keep his eyes on the hand until everything in view was ceiling. 

In desperation to control something, anything about the situation, Phoenix found himself taking control of how much he swallowed and when by pressing his tongue against the bottle's opening. Of course, it wasn't true control; if he tried to stop drinking altogether, or even if he slowed too much to be entertaining, no doubt Kris would go back to not giving him a choice. 

He had to take what he could get. Penny in the jar. Straw on the camel. Boulder up the hill. 

I don't have autonomy but I have my tongue. 

By then, he'd become accustomed to Kris's breath at the side of his neck. Like a frog in water - he hadn't noticed it intensifying, heating up, until it was boiling his flesh. Kris's tongue snaked over the side of his neck, and a slow but sharp tug on the bottle angled Phoenix's throat towards his waiting mouth. 

Phoenix shivered, twitched, and kicked - and as he expected, only got the bottle shoved further down his throat, cutting off any ability to control his drinking. 

He whimpered and held still. The world was well-blurred by then, and his senses dulled. Maybe if he just held still he'd lose his ability to feel the nips and kisses at his throat. For his cooperation, Kris returned the bottle to a place where Phoenix could control its flow, put the angle back, and even let him decrease the tilt slightly. His nips and kisses moved to the side of Phoenix's neck and jaw instead. 

The bottle had about a third of its alcohol left. Phoenix forgot if he'd brought a third, and then forgot if this was the third or not. His eyes fell shut. He held his own head back by going limp on Kris's chest. The rhythm of stopping, starting, and gulping down more alcohol became, for seconds that felt much longer than seconds, his only tether to waking reality. 

Until Kris's voice buzzed at his ear near the end of the bottle. 

"That's right... Drink deeper than that, Wright. There you go..." A chill ran down Phoenix's spine, dragging a shiver behind it that felt not unlike when a limb falls asleep. He tried to whimper and choked on the bottle, for once being the one to get it too far down himself. Kris chuckled in his ear and pulled it out a bit, letting him lick up the last traces of alcohol from around the rim.  

Phoenix's mouth stayed open. He took deep breaths, too hazy and clouded to pant anymore. Kris nibbled at his jawline while getting the cap off the final bottle. 

"Good..." Kris purred, "Drink this one just like that." The moment the rim of the bottle touched Phoenix's tongue, he closed his lips around and got in position it to keep control of the flow. To keep control of something. 

To keep the bottle from being forced down.  

Distantly, he knew that Kris was being gentler with his neck now; he used long, steady licks and planted wet kisses, teeth nowhere near the skin. He had a soothing loop of starting low, working his way up Phoenix's jaw, to his ear, and then murmuring something - then staring the loop over again. 

"Exactly like that... Good." 

"Slow down a bit. You'll give yourself hiccups again if you're not careful..." 

"I'm...impressed...at how far you've been able to take this down your throat, Wright." 

His words barely registered but their overall implications were not lost on him, even in this state. He paid more attention to them than Kris's hand crawling up his stomach, over his chest, and only realized where it was when it zipped his sweater down an inch. 

Phoenix made half a noise of protest but let it die. He liked the bottle where it was, no further in. 

"That's it... Like that..." 

Kris's hand rose all the way up to Phoenix's throat and he tensed in an active effort to not fight back. After a delayed moment, he feared that the tension alone would be enough to ram the bottle further into him, but Kris seemed to recognize his efforts: he gave a soft laugh, and even commended Phoenix's restraint with a light tickling brush of long, painted nails over sensitive flesh. 

"Don't worry... Don't worry." More breath than voice. Quiet. Phoenix had to lean into him to hear him better. "If I cut off your air...I cut off your drinking. I don't want that... You keep suckling the bottle... You're doing it just right." 

His hand squeezed slightly, then released. Experimenting. Phoenix's fingers twitched, his own hand close enough to Kris's to grab at it, but he kept it limp on his chest. 

"It's alright... Just...keep drinking... I won't hurt you if you just keep..." 

He squeezed again. As promised, not cutting off Phoenix's air - just tightening enough to feel every movement. 

"I just want to feel you swallow." 

Phoenix no longer had the energy to stop leaning further into Kris's whispering. He no longer had the mental capacity to ponder if it was even possible. His body gave up on tension and the moment he was limp again, Kris took full possession of his throat a second time, lowering his hand to two-thirds down. His tongue prodded at the nape under Phoenix’s chin where each swallow started. 

All other sensations went dark long before that did. The bottle didn't seem any less full until it was completely empty. 

The last thing Phoenix did was stick his tongue into the bottle in search of any final drops, and he was not conscious of it. 

____ 

He woke up alone on the couch with an empty bottle in his hand, his hair a mess without his hat, and no proof that the previous night wasn't a nightmare. His sweater was fully zipped. He checked for bruises in the mirror. 

None. 

His eyes lifted from the undamaged skin of his neck up to Kristoph, now standing behind him as clean and pleasant as ever. Kris had his hands behind his back and a smile like he hadn't been tricked into staying overnight via a Connect Four game. 

And honestly, Phoenix's memory past the first bottle was dubious at best. 

He nearly fell forwards when Kris clapped a companionable hand against his shoulder. "I made breakfast," he said, looking at Phoenix in the mirror rather than his actual face. Phoenix, on the other hand, looked at Kris directly. "What did I say? I'm an excellent house guest."