Title: Swindler

Author: Phaedra Lermontov

LiveJournal: http://7veilsphaedra.livejournal.com

Pairing: Hakkai/Gojyo

Rating: Adult themes in adult language. Yaoi. Not worksafe.

Summary: Hakkai doesn't  leave much to chance.  Sometimes, he has no choice.

Word-Count: 4,634

Disclaimer: This Saiyuki  fanfiction story is based on characters and situations created and owned by Kazuya Minekura. No money is being made and no copyright or trademark infringement is intended.

 

Swindler

 

The plan had been to die.

 

It didn't work.

 

Usually, his strategies skated under everyone's radar, to the point where they even thought it was their idea. Those who didn't were often diverted with a few cheerful words, self-deprecating grins, and soothing gestures, or, if circumstances hadn't quite tweaked in the tidiest possible manner, they grumbled about luck --- their bad luck, his dumb luck. As far as Hakkai was concerned, luck and chaos went hand-in-hand. He had little patience for the sloppiness of chance. Nor was much creative intelligence needed for him to see the patterns which people called fate, to gather those seemingly random threads that directed it, and re-weave them for his benefit. It only took the right information, a sense of propriety --- by which he really meant a smokescreen --- and a little effort to line everything up; then everything neatly fell into place, almost as though he had nothing to do with it at all. Hakkai was fit to burst with neat little tricks.

 

But his life-force was supposed to have dissolved into the muck along with his guts, his ideals and every last remaining trace of his humanity. Instead, the drunken water-sprite had stumbled over him like a whiff of primitive magic, and blew the former schoolteacher's carefully constructed theories about fate into subatomic particles.

 

Sha Gojyo had staunched the wound with his own hands at first --- no one could ever accuse him of being impractical; then he jerry-rigged a bandage from his one good shirt. This was what Hakkai suspected; Hakkai didn't know for sure because, by that time, Hakkai had passed out. Somehow he must've been hauled all the way to the guy's rustic sublet where he was coaxed back to life --- gently, patiently and persistently coaxed as it turned out, somewhat like seduction.

 

Not that he reckoned he was a troublesome invalid, but why do any of this at all? Why scoop him off the forest floor, drag him home, clean him up, and look after him while his body healed? Why let him sleep on the better half of the double-bed, or receive the choicest offerings from that humble kitchen? And even if personal routines in that household weren't that delicately balanced, why disrupt them in the first place? --- For a complete stranger, no less! --- Someone who could be anyone, someone who could be a Cho Gonou.

 

When asked, Gojyo simply shook those shimmering maroon locks that he hadn't had time to trim for weeks, and said, "I dunno. Just felt like it, I guess. Ever do something just 'cause you feel like it?"

 

No, Hakkai couldn't recall that he ever had.

 

Not even the retribution extracted from Hyakugan Maoh and his clan was pure passion alone. He knew the names and faces of his targets, right down to the last infant. His progress through the village and castle was meticulously plotted. He observed himself reduce others into fatal body-zones and the precise blows or strokes required to dispatch them, that one a slashed carotid artery, this one a severed brainstem, the other one a hook under the sternum and rapid jerk upward. He was so absorbed in calculation and maneuver, his body responding like fluid instead of flesh, it seemed as though he floated in a separate time-space continuum where his opponents moved too slowly, too stupidly, too bereft of grace. It was cold mental detachment, not passion, the sense of standing apart, watching himself dance through one grisly Valse Macabre after another, right up to the moment he reached Kana'an.

 

For one moment, she reconnected him to his humanity, the softness and gentleness that had once been his nature. He was throbbing with it, the purity and vulnerability of his love for her. She was saying things to him, things he didn't really catch, couldn't quite grasp, being too immersed in pure feeling. There was that one last tender glance before she plunged his knife into her womb.  

 

Her hands. His knife. Her womb.

 

Then it all fell apart. His iron-clad justifications, the entire process of rationalization which had seemed so resolute, even the ideals he had to uphold so desperately, all evaporated. Just like that. Nothing could withstand that shock of full-frontal reality.

 

Some of the things Kana'an had told him only just started to penetrate, her rejection of the passivity the demon used against her to sate its lust, to gestate his offspring. None of her reassurances could assuage Hakkai's fixed idea that she had really killed herself because he had become what she hated most, violent, murderous, demonic. It was as though the Centipede Demon's spawn had been planted in his own gut where it slowly, parasitically ate him alive. He supposed he had gotten a taste of what the Kappa had meant about doing something because he felt like it; for never before had he so much wanted to die, so lost in the minus wave.

 

The choice, however, had been taken away from him.

 

After his body had healed up a bit, he dropped some of the legacy of the demon's violation, of the villagers' betrayal and her suicide.  Gojyo's warmth and unconditional acceptance worked, like his element, like running water on rocks, to steadily wear away the edges of his anguish.

 

There was still something very lonely and painful about Hakkai's new situation. His reluctance, this tentative fear, this state of half-hope and half-mistrust rising from grief and disillusionment, it was like being half-alive.

 

But Gojyo wouldn't hear of him leaving, "I saw you climbing the stairs by the footbridge yesterday. You were like an old man, wheezing, puffing, clutching your stomach. You aren't ready to handle living on your own."

 

"I cannot continue to live off of you. It goes against my pride as a man."

 

"Relax, will ya? If it gets to be too much, I'll let you know. Besides, you haven't taken anything without replacing it at least a hundredfold."

 

"What do you mean?"

 

"It's kinda nice to come home now, y'know. The place is, I dunno, different, a real home: nicer, more inviting."

 

He sighed, "Cleaner?"  It seemed Hakkai had swept away more than dust and cobwebs.

 

"Yeah, that too."  A ghost or two seemed to have vanished as well.

 

After the Three Aspects laid the corpse of his innocence to rest, he released his loss.  He recognized what he wanted --- no, what he had craved from the intimacy once shared with Kana'an, the desire for her happiness, the sheer delight in her existence. He was willing to let some of that go. He knew when it happened, because it suddenly felt like there was room for other people in his heart, more space, more openness. Not to take her place, but to amplify the beauty her life had nurtured in his.

 

And there was something else, something new, something connected to the vitality that was slowly reawakening in his body. Hakkai first noticed it after he had gone to the market one morning in order to restock their dwindling larder. He had picked up a few beer, suffice to keep Gojyo cheerful, not plastered, and, perhaps with a game of cards, at home for the night. The clinking bottles, when he set them in the fridge to cool, had the same effect as a mermaid's melody.

 

He felt the heat off the man at his back, clapping a sturdy arm over his shoulders. "You really got us something to drink? I wasn't expecting that."

 

No, he wouldn't; normally, Hakkai's shoulders would've vibrated with disapproval. It was a relief not to be so rigid, so predictable. So much of a relief, he wondered why he needed to control everything so much.

 

Gojyo snatched one of the bottles off the shelf and popped off the cap.

 

Unusually aware of his proximity, the length of his thighs and the broadness of his back, Hakkai murmured in protest, "Now, now! They aren't even cold yet."

 

"Heh, don't care," Gojyo leered and took a long swig. Then he reached over and gave Hakkai an impulsive hug, mashing him against his chest, rumpling his tunic. "Thanks."

 

"My pleasure," Hakkai mumbled, trying to wrap his head around why his pulse raced, why he felt so breathless, why his heart was thumping like crazy.

 

This called for a new strategy. It was important to gather information, to observe his benefactor more closely, learn what made him tick.

 

Not much, it seemed.

 

Gojyo embodied the path of least resistance.  He laughed easily, riled easily, and geared every action toward simplicity and the bare minimum for survival. At home, his trail was marked everywhere, in cigarette burns, half-eaten crusts, empty coffee-cups and beer bottles, clothes scattered all over the floor. One smelly sock always seemed to end up draped over the mirror, like a paper streamer at a festival. But the most fascinating and disturbing thing to watch was his effort with women.

 

Gojyo gave off the impression that he was wide open, completely approachable. In reality, he was picky as hell. He wanted them for something specific, a night of fun, then to be shooed along with no attachments and no regrets. While Hakkai had mixed feelings about this --- it wasn't anything close to the way he chose to treat others --- he figured it was really none of his business. Possibly because Gojyo, himself, created his own fake personna, he hadn't quite caught onto the concept that the women he gravitated towards also indulged in false advertising. That presented problems. And the most confounding thing was how he managed to hone in on the one particular type every single time, the one who cost him most dearly.

 

It wasn't the loss of a few meager winnings that bothered Hakkai; Gojyo could give a woman everything he owned in the world and it wouldn't amount to more than he could earn another day. Nor was it the threat of physical harm; she could unleash the full fury of her disappointment upon him and her fists would just bounce off without so much as a bruise or scratch.

 

It was the inner pain that crept across his face and shaded his eyes, a dull gray colour, like a grounded fish. These girlfriends drove him into the past, a past so dark it eluded casual recollection; he never spoke of it. Hakkai was certain that someone there had dealt him a wound that still choked off Gojyo's will to live.

 

This gave him a corresponding cold, sickly feeling in his gut. Darkness prickled up his spine. Sometimes, if one of Gojyo's women was particularly strident and abusive, he found himself fingering the burnished cuffs along his ear.

 

The only time Gojyo ever stopped one of these tirades was during one of the few evenings Hakkai had joined him at the bar, when his date suddenly redirected her attack, "So you're the reason he hasn't got any time for me anymore!"

 

She implied more than with just her words.

 

"My, my!" Hakkai replied with a trademark inoffensive smile, "One wonders where a lady gets such ideas."

 

That was when her fingernails came out. Gojyo reached over and grabbed her wrist. He pulled up and held it high above her head, forcing her onto tiptoes so that her twists and kicks had no real force.

 

"Take it back to the barnyard, Betty," was all he said, his voice calm, dangerously low.

 

"Let go of me," she spat and he let go. She teetered on her heels, barely keeping upright, and angrily yanked on the hem of her qipao, which had ridden high. "And my name isn't Betty."

 

He slowly pulled a cigarette from his pack and flicked his lighter. "It is now."

 

For a moment, she looked about to rally for another round, but his eyes, or the narrow slit of them which could still be seen beneath their heavy lids, almost glowed. She wheeled and stormed off, with one last parting shout of, "Damned youkkai half-breed!"

 

Hakkai was struck by the misery in that cry; she had been as hurt as she was intent on lashing out. Why were people so determined to spread the pain? He was about to mention something, when he caught the reflection in his friend's eyes. He didn't have to. Gojyo already knew. It was just another one of his habits, like smoking, one of his traps.

 

Hakkai had to use the fireman's hold to carry him home that night --- tough going, when the muscles in his stomach hadn't completely healed. He sifted through his thoughts during that long, weaving walk, formed his plan as he dumped him onto the bed, rolled him over to the other side, and listened to his thunderous snores.

 

It took awhile before Gojyo caught onto the fact that he always woke up to a pot of coffee just ready to be brewed and a simple, but nourishing breakfast, that the house was always neat and orderly and the bed sheets had a crisp, clean feel to them. Even if he wasn't planning to come home for supper, a good portion of the meal had been set aside ready for a quick warm up. There were usually cold beers in the fridge, never enough to get hammered, but always enough for a pleasant buzz.  His chest of drawers held clean clothes, including socks. Matching socks! Without holes! And the place had to have been aired out during the day, because it smelled unusually fresh.

 

Gojyo was feeling more energetic and happy. He ate better, smoked and drank a lot less, stayed at home more often, and enjoyed full nights of sleep. He sought out the company of women to hurt and be hurt by less frequently. Slowly, almost imperceptibly --- at least to him --- his self-destructive habits were being replaced by healthier, more wholesome ones.

 

Hakkai realized he would probably never be fully whole; Gojyo's emotional nature, enthralled to addictions, passing fancies, and sexual excitement, would always curl like great sea-eels around his limbs and rip the shore out from under his feet, but at least there were a few other patterns working on him now. All in all, his strategy was working out rather well. Just because he used covert tricks for his own purposes didn't mean that the results weren't mutually beneficial. The best swindles were the ones where the mark felt like he came out ahead.

 

"Jeez, you're like the wife I'll never have to marry," Gojyo announced one day, a few weeks after Gonou's judgment, as Hakkai prepared snacks for their mahjong night with Sanzo and Goku.

 

He chuckled.

 

"Seriously, man," his companion suddenly turned sober, "you don't have to do this. I mean, I appreciate it 'n' all, but it's not your job and it's not your problem."

 

"I know," he scowled, puzzled about the shift.

 

"Good, 'cause I don't want you to feel like you have to. You're not obligated, or something.  'Cause, far as I'm concerned, we're cool. Right?"

 

"I'm not sure what you mean."

 

"You don't owe me anything. No outstanding debts, 'kay?"

 

"Not to be disrespectful, but have you any idea how conceited that sounds? What makes you think I'm doing any of this for you?"

 

Hakkai caught only the tail-end of disappointment, like a whiff of smoke. It was replaced with an overly bright, "'Course you're not! Heh, and here I thought you were just doing it 'cause you were after my gorgeous body."

 

Hakkai's poker-face was as good as a confession, but a confession to what? The only thing he felt with any certainty was confusion. Had he been that obvious? He didn't plan to let the water-sprite laugh in his face over a secret crush he couldn't control more tightly. He whirled on his heel and marched into the washroom, locking the door.

 

While he splashed cold water on his face, he heard the other man stammer, "I---um, I never---I didn't mean---aw, Hakkai, don't take this the wrong way!"

 

Wrong way? Which way was he supposed to take it? It wasn't like he was offended. He opened the bathroom door and burst out laughing. Gojyo was writhing like a puppy who had had an accident on the floor.

 

"You just can't help yourself, can you?"

 

"Oh, you --- you wind-up artist!"

 

The only one he couldn't seem to fool was the monk. Gojyo and Goku were preoccupied arguing over the last bean-jam bun and Hakkai was tidying up some cups, when Sanzo's hand snaked out, grabbed his sleeve in an unusual transgression of personal space, "Don't think I can't see what you're doing. I know exactly what you're up to."

 

The former schoolteacher froze.

 

"I see." The meaningless phrase was a stalling tactic to let his head reel back over the evening's conversation and activities. He kept drawing blanks. "What is your problem exactly?"

 

"Haven't got any. Not yet," the monk growled, "but oppose or interfere with me, and I'll kill you faster than the Buddha-on-the-road."

 

Good, it looked like this had nothing to do with the little sleight-of-hand earlier on, which had left him in the table's east gate position.

 

"Then you have plans for me?"

 

"No."

 

"Oh! So it's Gojyo you have plans for?"

 

"No."

 

Hakkai blinked. "If you were to let me know what your intentions are, I would be able to avoid being an obstacle."

 

He waited for an explanation. He blinked again, "Alright, I'm so glad we straightened things out."

 

By the safety and normality of the kitchen sink, the mundane swish of dishwater and rinsing of cups, he took a few deep breaths. There were cataclysms that struck from out of the blue, catastrophes that couldn't be avoided no matter how well he planned. Some forces were out of his control. He still had trouble learning to accept that.

 

That night, Gojyo took a lot longer to come to bed and let out all kinds of heavy sighs when he finally did. He bumbled around the room and shuffled more than usual.

 

"What's wrong?" Hakkai asked.

 

"You're still awake? I didn't wake you up, did I?"

 

Hakkai reached over and turned on the bedside lamp. It created a circle of light around him, like a halo, "Gojyo?"

 

"Aw, nothing," his friend looked seriously uncomfortable. "It's just---it's just--"

 

A spasm of concern contracted around Hakkai's chest. Their conversation that afternoon, did Gojyo feel awkward about it? Did it bother him that Hakkai was attracted to him?

 

This made no sense. Hakkai had never acted upon that attraction, not invasively really, not in the sense of making a pass at him. Until that day, he had never let out so much as a sidelong glance or a whisper.

 

The thought that his companion might now feel too strange to share his sleeping space filled him with self-recrimination.

 

He was no coward. Even if it left him bereft, he had to know the truth. He pulled himself into the center of the bed, rested his back against the headboard, moved the blankets out of the way, and patted the side of the mattress next to him. "Sit. Spit it out."

 

Gojyo looked at the space he just cleared like it was poisonous or about to explode. Oh gods! It had to be exactly what Hakkai feared.

 

Then, with startling speed and grace, Gojyo rocketed over. The mattress-springs bounced under his descent. He carefully kept his face turned away from Hakkai, rested his elbows on his knees. He ran long, lean fingers through his hair and looked the very picture of a man torturing himself with speeches he would rather leave unspoken.

 

"I can't do this anymore," he said, his voice almost cracking under the strain. He finally turned to face him, "Sleep in the same bed with you, that is."

 

Hakkai couldn't understand how his own voice sounded so thin and distant and cold when his face was burning up so fiercely. "Oh?"

 

Gojyo shuffled some more. "I'm just really scared that, one of these mornings, I'm gonna wake up and ---  I'm gonna wake up! And--"

 

Gojyo didn't just feel awkward; he was actually afraid of him, afraid of what he might do to him. What a nightmare! Did he really give off the impression of being the kind of person who would violate another in his sleep? It must be the youkkai in him. What had his demonic nature been up to, when his physical body had taken naps? It must've been unbelievable to conjure this reaction. He couldn't bear it. Hot, molten shame poured over Hakkai.

 

"Yeah, you're really gonna hate me for this," Gojyo took another deep breath. "But if I keep sleeping with you, I will embarrass myself."

 

Hold on. That didn't sound right. "What?"

 

"Yeah, like I said, I'm going to find myself, I dunno, humping you or something. Then you'll have to kill me. It's all I can do not to jump your bones when I wake up sometimes. It's gotten to the point where I'm afraid I'm gonna do it in my sleep."

 

Hakkai shook his head a little, as though to clear it. If he was hearing properly, Gojyo had just handed him a checkmate, a royal flush! --- And so unexpected, so far ahead of schedule that Hakkai hadn't even formulated it as part of his strategy yet. His mouth had to be hanging open. If he didn't shut it soon, he was going to laugh, which under the circumstances, would be the worst thing he could do. He sealed his lips so fast, they almost let off a clap.

 

"See? I knew this would upset you. Pretty big shock, hunh? Hey, if it's any consolation, I never expected it myself, always thought I was straight as nails. Falling for another guy was the last thing I ever planned, but I never expected to meet you either."

 

Gojyo slapped his palms against his thighs as though he had just reached a resolution, "The bed is yours. I'm just as comfortable on the couch."

 

Before he stood up to leave, Hakkai reached over and seized his wrist. "Not so fast."

 

He had never seen his friend look so grim, so stressed. This had taken a lot out of him. Who knew how long he had been sitting on it. A different kind of spasm gripped Hakkai, now that his heart felt so much lighter, not to mention his head. If it weren't for Gojyo's distress, he wouldn't be able to contain his hilarity. He could barely manage as it was.

 

"Yes, well, this is your bed," Hakkai cleared his throat, and sounded very serious as he slid out from under the covers. "If anyone is to give it up, that would be me."

 

He slung his leg over Gojyo's thighs and lifted his hips to straddle them. Then he laced his fingers between that neck and all that soft, bright hair. "That is, if you really want me to."

 

 

The water-sprite choked, "Are you shitting me?"

 

Hakkai smiled sweetly, then took a swipe across his lips with his tongue.

 

Gojyo fell back on the blankets and let out a whoop of sheer bliss, one leg kicking up for the free, unadulterated joy of it. Before Hakkai could follow him, he swooped up and rolled him over, parking himself between his legs. At this angle, their mutual desire was completely obvious. He held himself up over the other man's torso, a huge grin plastered across his face, pouring his eyes over the fine bone structure of his friend's face, while he slowly rubbed their growing erections together.

 

Hakkai couldn't help himself; he threw his head back and let out a long moan. A corresponding gasp of surprise and delight fell from the other man's lips. Hakkai grabbed his collar and growled out a warning, "Gojyo!"

 

Gojyo had to laugh, "I don't know what the fuck I'm supposed to do. Any suggestions?"

 

"Not a clue, but I can tell you this: keep this up and I'm going to make a mess in my pyjamas. You don't want to be around if I mess up my pants!"

 

"No, I guess not. Can I--?  Do you mind if I--?"

 

"Knock yourself out."

 

Gojyo pulled on the string that cinched up Hakkai's cotton pyjama bottoms and carefully drew the waistband down. He slid his hands under the pyjama top and pushed the cloth away from his chest. The scar on his stomach was still a livid red. Gojyo leaned over and whispered his lips over it, light as moth wings. Hakkai hissed. It felt like there was something in there still, like the cavity hadn't been irrigated completely before he was stitched up. 

 

He caught Gojyo's attention by tugging on his shirt. "This keeps getting in the way." 

 

"Oh, right." Gojyo stood up and stripped. Hakkai shrugged his clothes the rest of the way off and shifted into a better position on the bed.

 

After that, it was about the velvet surface of skin, hands skating over the ridges of well-cut muscles, of lips and tongues devouring each other, leaving moist trails over nipples and downward.

 

Somehow, Gojyo figured out that Hakkai needed to be stretched and lubricated for penetration to be bearable. The feeling of that thick cock pushing into his body for the first time was a little too intense; Gojyo instantly stopped at Hakkai's hiss of pain and pulled his mouth into a deep kiss, sucking his lips and rubbing his teeth across them. Before he could redirect his senses, he found the water-sprite buried up to the hilt inside him. Then, after a few slow thrusts, he discovered how incredible it felt when his prostrate was massaged.

 

When they finally came, not even that outburst of energy was enough to wear them out. Hakkai figured this was one of the advantages of being half-youkkai; their physical bodies could not only withstand more tension, but had a lot more stamina.

 

So, he returned the favour by topping Gojyo. The almost ridiculous glee, the writhing and wild shouted oaths, which poured out of the water-sprite when he discovered the pleasure of that left Hakkai feeling as giddy as a kid. No one had ever responded to him with such a lack of inhibition, with such unreserved spontaneous pleasure. He felt like the remaining band of anguish that had gripped and constricted his heart burst at long last, yet another experience of gratitude that this person had inspired in him.

 

They argued a little over who got to be on the bottom next. Although when Hakkai suggested they draw cards with the high one winning, Gojyo said, "Nah, it's just a little too convenient how you always seem to win."

 

Hakkai shrugged, shot him a self-deprecating grin, and said, "Just my dumb luck, I guess."

 

"Or something," Gojyo grumbled and made the unprecedented suggestion (for him) of a compromise, so they agreed to take turns.

 

"Maybe I should've let you sleep on the couch," Hakkai murmured as Gojyo lit up a smoke.

 

"Nag, nag, nag! Now that I've put out, princess, are you going to stop keeping house for me?"

 

Even though he had grown accustomed to Gojyo's style of banter, this merited a scowl. "Maybe I should start keeping a tally. I wonder how many blow-jobs you would owe me by now."

 

"Heh, go ahead! That's the kind of debt I'm always happy to pay."

 

Hakkai reached over and let his hand drift down the length of Gojyo's chest. As he drifted off to sleep, the one last thought which sparked in his mind was how, whenever the water-sprite was involved, the things controlled by fate, or chance, or any power besides his own always made him feel like a winner.

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