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Beginner's Luck

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“What the fuck,” Gokudera growls, grating the curse in his throat like it might change the line of cards Yamamoto has just spread out in front of him, coupling the movement with a sheepish grin that does nothing at all to calm Gokudera’s rising irritation. “This is bullshit.”

“I guess it’s beginner’s luck,” Yamamoto says, adding a laugh that claims innocence in spite of his sixth straight win. “Or the cards just like me.”

“Fuck you,” Gokudera informs him, tossing his own three Kings -- and he should have won with that, it should have been guaranteed -- aside in the face of Yamamoto’s straight so he can scramble to his feet in an uncoordinated rush of frustration. He’s lost most of his clothes already -- socks before he realized he should hoard them one at a time, both shirts, jewelry and belt separately in spite of the growing awareness that he was stalling an inevitable outcome. All he has left now are his boxers and the jeans over them, and he’s losing the latter even as he considers his situation, hands feeling strangely bare without their usual burden of metal and leather. “Just shut the fuck up, you aren’t even supposed to be any good at this game.”

“I’ve never played before,” Yamamoto says, not for the first time, as Gokudera kicks his feet free of his jeans and balls the denim up into a tangle in his hands. Yamamoto’s watching his face, holding his attention steady at Gokudera’s eyes without even a flicker of focus at the skin now laid bare, so Gokudera can’t explain why he’s starting to flush into self-consciousness, why he can feel the pale of his uncovered shoulders going warm with embarrassment. “I’ve just gotten lucky, I’m sure it’ll wear off soon.”

“Shut up,” Gokudera says again, because Yamamoto wasn’t supposed to be lucky, he was supposed to be the open book he always is, his smile was supposed to be a dead giveaway allowing for Gokudera’s complete victory. But he’s smiled through the entire game, at pairs of twos the same as for the straight he has just produced, the obviously sincere happiness in his expression enough to persuade Gokudera to fold on two separate hands when he would have won if he had stuck it out. It’s infuriating, even more so than it usually is, and now he’s making excuses that just make Gokudera further aware of how irrational he’s being.

He throws the jeans at Yamamoto’s head, gets himself a startled laugh for his trouble, and drops back to sit cross-legged as he deals out another hand of cards. Yamamoto emerges from the tangle of denim smiling and doesn’t bother to smooth his hair before reaching for his cards. Gokudera glowers at the dark strands for a minute before looking down at his hand; it seems like it might do more good than the alternative.

It’s not a bad hand to start. He has a handful of high cards, the possibility of a flush if he’s lucky on his draw; he’s not, particularly, but a pair of aces isn’t bad, or wouldn’t be if he were up against someone not apparently preternaturally gifted in the ways of poker as well as those of baseball, swordplay, and being incredibly irritating in every possible way. Gokudera eyes Yamamoto from under the shadow of his hair, tries to read anything off the easy smile at his lips other than idiotic contentment, and fails.

“Pair,” he growls, tasting preemptive defeat like ashes on his tongue as he shows his cards. “What do you have, a straight flush or something else absurd?” He’s reaching out to brace a hand on the floor, starting to push to his feet in expectation of his absolute loss, when:

“I lose,” Yamamoto says, tossing his cards sideways to mix face-down with the other discarded hands. “Nothing.”

Gokudera goes still, balanced on one knee on his way to standing. “What?”

“You won,” Yamamoto says, smile as utterly unshaken as it has been through his victories. He’s shrugging his overshirt off, flicking it out to land -- of course -- dead-center atop Gokudera’s discarded clothes. “Another hand?”

Gokudera narrows his eyes, suspicion uncoiling into his veins with every inhale, but Yamamoto’s smile doesn’t budge, his gaze doesn’t flicker, and after a moment Gokudera reaches for the stack of cards to deal out another round. It’s better for him this time, a pair right to start, and then he draws into a full house, the best hand he’s had of the night. Yamamoto’s eyebrows go up when Gokudera shows his cards -- “Wow,” sounding a lot less frustrated than Gokudera would like, “That’s amazing, Gokudera!” -- and he sets his own aside, loss assumed without announcement. Gokudera gets a look at them this time -- two pairs, enough to win most hands -- but there’s no trace of disappointment on Yamamoto’s face as he emerges from his t-shirt all tan skin and lean shoulders. Gokudera can see the flex of muscle under that skin, the evidence of athleticism enough to suggest coordination even without the proof of baseball games Gokudera’s passed by or the combat he’s watched with his heart in his throat.

He looks back at the cards.

“Another” he says and doesn’t ask. They could stop, probably he should stop; he’s almost out of betting material, after all, and Yamamoto taking anything else off would be more dangerous than Gokudera wants to admit. But the air feels heavy, time stretching long on tension, and when he moves it’s to deal out another hand unprotested.

“Maybe it’s your lucky streak now,” Yamamoto suggests as he collects a handful of cards, considers them with that vague smile that Gokudera is starting to think has nothing at all to do with poker.

“Shut up,” Gokudera says, glaring at Yamamoto instead of at the unpromising cards in his hand. “I don’t need luck to win against an idiot like you.”

Given that Yamamoto claims a loss to the pair of threes Gokudera is able to manage, apparently this show of bravado is correct. It’s not much comfort, even less so when Yamamoto strips off belt and jeans at once like some passive-aggressive commentary on Gokudera’s own deliberate stalling as he ran out of clothing. Yamamoto’s legs are as bad as his shoulders, longer than they should be and gold in the illumination of Gokudera’s apartment, and then there’s his underwear. Gokudera was expecting boxers, if in a design less elegantly simple than his own simple black; he wouldn’t be surprised by a tacky baseball print, at this point. But apparently Yamamoto favors boxer-briefs instead, and if the lack of any kind of pattern is surprising Gokudera doesn’t have much space to ponder it after Yamamoto bends over to step out of his jeans and demonstrates exactly how well this particular piece of clothing fits him. Gokudera can feel his flush spread over his cheeks, down his shoulders, sweep through his entire body with something that is hot like embarrassment but electric with something else, and then he looks down at the cards to aggressively shuffle them before Yamamoto looks back at him.

“One more,” he says, needlessly because his bare shoulders and Yamamoto’s bare everything are more than enough to demonstrate how perilously close they are both coming to running out of betting material. “Winner takes all.”

“Yeah,” Yamamoto says, meaningless agreement, and takes his cards.

Gokudera hesitates over his hand. It’s not that it’s a difficult decision to make; he has a pair to start, can hold to that and hope for another or a three of a kind. He’s just moving to discard the three singles when Yamamoto drops his entire hand and reaches for the deck.

“No good,” he says without looking up at the incredulous expression Gokudera is giving him. “Maybe I’ll get lucky on this draw.”

“Idiot,” Gokudera says, but Yamamoto’s drawn his new hand and he’s pulling cards himself. It’s no improvement over his first; there’s just the pair left to him, two eights and Yamamoto across from him smiling that dumb dreamy smile at his brand-new hand.

“One pair,” Gokudera says without looking away from Yamamoto’s face, tosses his cards face-up in front of them. “Show me.”

“You win,” Yamamoto says without even glancing at Gokudera’s cards. His fingers brace against his new hand of five, his wrist twists to set them aside face-down. “Guess my luck ran out.”

Gokudera moves fast. His hand snaps out, fingers closing and tightening against Yamamoto’s wrist; the cards drop, slide across the floor, and Gokudera reaches for them without letting Yamamoto’s hand go, flips them face-up with haste born of certainty. A two, a six, another two, a Jack; and then the last flips over, shows a pair of hearts in plain red ink, and Gokudera turns on Yamamoto’s apologetic smile with fury in his veins.

Cheater,” he growls, reaches out to grab for Yamamoto’s shirt except that there’s no fabric, of course there’s no fabric, but he can’t abort the movement; his fingers touch bare skin instead, drag hard against Yamamoto’s chest, and Yamamoto takes a startled inhale, filling his lungs with adrenaline as Gokudera tries to remember what he was saying. “You--you let me win.”

“It’s not cheating,” Yamamoto protests, tipping backwards under the force of Gokudera’s hand. Gokudera fumbles his touch up, gets his fingers closed on Yamamoto’s shoulder, and when he pushes this time Yamamoto falls backwards, the capitulation satisfying even as Gokudera’s lingering hold drags him down too.

“I don’t want to win because you felt sorry for me,” Gokudera growls. His knee is digging against the floor, the resistance bruisingly painful against the bone, but he’s not thinking about that; Yamamoto is staring up at him from the floor, eyes wide and hair askew, and there’s not enough clothing between them and Gokudera really has to not think about that at all. “Did you win that first hand too?” Yamamoto hesitates; the pause is answer enough even before his gaze skids away to land at Gokudera’s shoulder. Gokudera doesn’t wait for more.

Fuck you,” he says, spitting the syllables into miniature explosions against the inside of his teeth. “Why would you do that?”

“You would have made me leave,” Yamamoto says to his collarbone before his eyes flicker back up to Gokudera’s, his mouth setting itself into a line of not-quite-apology. “You’d have gotten irritated and thrown me out.”

“I’m about to throw you out now,” Gokudera informs him with no trace of politeness on his tongue at all.

“Yeah,” Yamamoto agrees. “But now you’re angry.”

What?” Gokudera growls. “You’re making less sense than usual, idiot.”

“I like you when you’re angry,” Yamamoto says, like that makes any sense at all, like the soft smile at his lips is a reasonable reaction to the scowl on Gokudera’s. “I mean, I like you all the time, but you’re so you when you’re angry.”

Gokudera’s brain stutters, skids out on the ice-slick incomprehensibility of Yamamoto’s words. “Don’t be stupid,” he demands, ordering the impossible. “That doesn’t even make sense, how can I be more me? And what do you mean, you like me all the time, that’s ridiculous, no one likes someone else all the time.”

“I do,” Yamamoto volunteers. He’s not striking the sparks Gokudera wants, isn’t going stiff and tight-lipped on anger; he just keeps giving, surrendering to Gokudera’s push and smiling at Gokudera’s insults and radiating warmth when Gokudera needs the safety of an explosion to force him back from the way he’s leaning in closer, the way he can feel his tight-wound frustration going weird and liquid in his chest. “I like you like that.”

“Shut up,” Gokudera says, trying not to look at Yamamoto’s mouth, trying instead to watch the clear gold of Yamamoto’s eyes as the other boy’s attention, once unmoored, drifts over his shoulder, skims his cheek, slides down and across to linger too-heavy at his mouth. “Don’t be an idiot.”

“Okay,” Yamamoto says without any sign of listening. “Hey, Gokudera?”

“Shut up,” Gokudera says without any hope of being obeyed.

Yamamoto swallows. This time Gokudera can see the deliberate downward flick of his gaze, the way his eyelashes dip to shadow his eyes as he stares at Gokudera’s mouth. “Can I kiss you?”

“Don’t be an idiot,” Gokudera says, “I’m going to kiss you” and does, catches Yamamoto’s startled laugh on his lips and Yamamoto’s sigh on his tongue. Yamamoto’s hand comes up, lands against Gokudera’s hip to catch and hold at him, but Gokudera doesn’t need the encouragement; he’s leaning closer already, pinning Yamamoto against the floor with the press of his body as if the other is making the least attempt to draw away, as if Yamamoto hasn’t gone instantly pliant to the force of Gokudera’s touch on him and the demand of Gokudera’s mouth against his lips.

In spite of the cards, Gokudera feels like he’s won.