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The Second Proposal

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"Excellent form," Buck said, knowing the observation would irritate Robert. "Great ... breaststroke."

Robert kicked him in the shin, the assault only slightly eased by the lake water that slowed Robert's foot. "That's my wife you're talking about, Frobisher."

"Breaststroke, I said. Good God, man." Buck ducked underwater, grabbing a handful of the smooth, flat pebbles scattered across the bottom of the lake. When he surfaced, Robert was watching him with open suspicion, as though Buck had gone under to get a better look at Caroline's, er, form. "And she isn't your wife yet, Fraser-"

"My future wife, then." Robert tried to kick Buck again, but this time Buck was ready, and he dove backwards through the water to avoid the blow. "My very-near-future wife. My almost-immediate-future wife-"

Buck skimmed an arm across the surface of the lake, sending up a spray of water that neatly interrupted Robert's tirade.

"As I was saying," he continued, "she isn't your wife yet, but seeing as she will be, I think there's something you've forgotten to ask me."

He discarded a few pebbles that were too round, letting them sink down through the water to resettle in the sand. His two remaining pebbles were perfect - just flat enough, just round enough - and he pulled back his arm and let one fly, watching it skip across the surface of the lake. Unfortunately, his aim had been a little off, and instead of skipping clear across to the opposite shore, the pebble fell into Caroline's wake and disappeared with a tiny splash.

She rolled over and upright, seeking the source of the splash. Ordinarily, this would be the point where Robert kicked him again, but with Caroline watching, Robert was on best behavior; he just waved, and Buck followed suit with a smaller, more apologetic wave.

"Stop waving at my very-soon-to-be wife," Robert said, smiling pleasantly as Caroline waved back.

The urge to push Robert's head under the water was nearly overwhelming, but Buck resisted. They weren't the teenagers they'd been when they'd met; he was pushing twenty-one, and Robert was soon to be a married man. They had to act like adults, and adults didn't dunk other adults, not even if said other adults were being particularly bull-headed.

Buck rolled his one remaining pebble around in his hand, getting a feel for its shape and weight. This one would make it across, he was sure of it. "Fraser?"

Caroline had switched to a slow, precise backstroke, and Robert was ignoring him almost entirely. "Hmmm?"

"Are you going to ask me?" Buck pulled back his arm, aiming well away from Caroline.

"Actually, Buck," Robert said, his tone almost regretful, "I've been meaning to tell you-"

Buck clenched his hand around the pebble. "What?"

Robert shrugged, still watching Caroline. "I'm going to ask my best friend from school, back in Yellowknife - he'd be horribly offended if I didn't. You understand, don't you?"

Buck's fingers flew open on some startled reflex, and the perfect pebble sank to the lake bottom.

That was it.

He tackled Robert, the force of that tackle taking them clear to the lake bottom. Robert kicked and flailed, repeatedly smacking Buck on the head with more force than was probably necessary, and that was unfair, entirely unfair; Buck was too busy pinning Robert down to hit back, and the water kept buoying them up toward the surface, so the most he could do was return kick for kick and hope something connected-

Before he could get a solid blow in, they surfaced, and Robert whacked him on the head one more time without lake water to cushion the blow. "What the hell is wrong with you, Frobisher?"

Buck whacked him right back. "I'll be damned if some fool from Yellowknife is going to be your best man instead of me, that's what!"

"I don't have any friends in Yellowknife!" Robert smacked the water, which was better, really, because if he'd smacked Buck a second time, they would've gone back under. "I was joking, you ignorant-"

"Well, go ahead, then," Buck said, folding his arms. His hair was plastered to his forehead, dripping water down into his eyes; that made it damned hard to look imposing, but he still had to try. "Ask me."

"This is absurd, Frobisher," Robert muttered, swiping his own hair back from his face. "I think I had an easier time proposing - at least Caroline didn't try to drown me beforehand."

"That's as it should be." Buck tilted his chin up, hoping it added to his imposing air. "Well?"

Robert sighed. "If you'd like to be my best man, Frobisher, I suppose you'd better."

Buck made an exasperated gesture with both arms. "Is that how you proposed, man? 'If you'd like to be my wife, I suppose you'd better'?"

"Well, it's not as though I'm going to get down on one knee," Robert snapped, looking half-tempted to hit Buck again. "No matter how well you do laundry, you're still not my wife-"

"If you continue on in this manner, I'm afraid I'll be forced to dunk you again," Buck threatened, taking a step toward Robert.

A huge wave splashed over them, leaving them both sputtering and half-blind. When Buck managed to rub his eyes dry enough to see, Caroline was staring back at him - well, at them - and she was giving them the most evil look Buck had ever seen on a woman, bar none.

"Are you done?" Her tone was absolutely scathing. Buck was starting to think that maybe he'd gotten the better end of the deal; Caroline soon-to-be-Fraser was quite possibly the scariest woman he'd ever met. "The temperature is starting to drop. We should get out of the water."

Without waiting for either of them to agree with her, she stalked past them, rising up out of the water in a rather majestic fashion.

Maybe Buck hadn't gotten the better end of the deal, after all.

"Come on," Robert said, slinging a companionable - if somewhat slimy - arm around Buck's shoulders. "She's probably right about the temperature. She usually is." Before Buck could reply, Robert cuffed him on the back of the head. "And keep your eyes in your head, man. That's my-"

"Soon-to-be very-near-future almost-immediate wife, I know," Buck said, and headed for shore.