by Helena Handbasket
“All right!” Gojyo exclaimed, rubbing his hands together as Hakkai arrived with a tray of sake, glasses, and a cup of tea for Goku. “We all got the rules down, right? This is a Do or Die poker tourney. Everybody stays until only one guy has the cash. Dealer picks the game. If you’re broke and dealing, you can call a no-ante game like Yunnan Hold’em – blinds in effect. If you’re all-in, any escalating bets go to a side pot. Any questions?”
“Just shut up and deal,” Sanzo grumbled. He’d been roped into this little diversion against his will, but Hakkai had finally convinced him with the argument that Goku could use a little more socializing. Gojyo almost felt sorry for the kid, locked up in that stinking monastery 24-7, but not sorry enough to go easy on him. He was going to enjoy taking that monkey’s cash, ‘specially since it was fronted by the monk.
Gojyo tied his hair back as Hakkai settled into his chair. Their tiny apartment wasn’t exactly made for entertaining, but it could suit four people all right – as long as they were all sitting at the same table. “Ante up.” As the others threw their chips in, he shuffled the cards with practiced speed, and fired out five cards to each player. “We’ll start with a classic. Five card draw.”
Hakkai took one card, Goku two, Sanzo folded, and Gojyo took two, hoping to snag a second ace to go with his pair of tens. Hakkai folded. He must not have converted that inside straight, Gojyo thought smugly. Goku bet five, Sanzo took a drag of his cigarette, and Gojyo saw the bet and raised five. He would have raised more if Hakkai had still been in the mix, but he’d gotten his two pair, and he knew that if he kept the raise low enough, Goku would probably call – or even raise - even if he had jack shit.
Goku frowned uncertainly at his cards, chewing his lip. “Umm… What should I do, Hakkai?” He leaned over to show his hand to Hakkai, who regarded it with an impassive expression.
“Hey!” growled Gojyo. “No table talk!”
“It’s not table talk if I’m out of the game,” said Hakkai calmly. “Goku’s still new at this. I’m happy to help him when I’m ethically able to do so.”
Gojyo grumbled under his breath, while Hakkai whispered something to Goku.
Hakkai pursed his lips and nodded.
“No way, man,” countered Goku. “I think he’s bluffing.”
With a sigh and a roll of his eyes, Hakkai sat back and took a sip of sake, while Goku tossed a chip into the center of the table. “I call. Whatcha got, kappa?”
“You first,” Gojyo grinned, absolutely delighted that the kid had declined to follow Hakkai’s no-doubt sage advice.
“There. Get a load of that!” Goku laid down his cards. Ace of hearts, king of hearts, jack of hearts, eight of spades, and the deuce of clubs. “Howzabout that?”
“You’ve got absolutely nothing,” Sanzo snorted, reaching across the table to refill his cup of wine.
Goku’s face fell. “Nothing? What?”
Gojyo snickered. “Whaddya mean, nothing? He’s got a monkey flush.”
“How apropos!” chortled Hakkai.
“Does that mean I win?!”
“Nope. Sorry. Doesn’t beat my hand.” He laid down his two pair and scooped up the chips.
“So what does it beat?”
“I told you, idiot. Nothing,” Sanzo tactfully responded. “It’s a shit hand.”
“Oh,” Goku murmured, head sagging in disappointment
Hakkai offered him an encouraging smile. “Don’t worry. Perhaps you’ll have better luck in the next round.”
Gojyo couldn’t help but smile as Hakkai reached over and ruffled the monkey’s hair. He wasn’t a sap or anything, but you’d have to be one cold bastard not to find Hakkai’s gentle kindness just a little bit heartwarming. He glanced over at Sanzo, who was rolling his eyes in contempt. Point proven.
Meanwhile, Hakkai had taken up the cards and was shuffling them with nimble fingers. “I choose Chengdu Hi-Lo. Regular ante, no minimum, no blind.” He dealt out the cards, four to a player.
Gojyo peeked at his hand – deuce, nine, ten, ace. He was probably out of the running for a high hand unless some aces turned up, but in good shape for a low one if the community cards qualified. He glanced over at Hakkai, who was as unreadable as ever. That poker face was a work of art – Gojyo could stare at it all day, which was sort of a weird thing to think about your roommate, but it wasn’t the weirdest thing Gojyo had thought about him recently. That was one reason he’d thrown this poker night together: he’d spent most of his evenings over the past few weeks just staring at Hakkai – watching him do the dishes or darn socks – it didn’t fucking matter. There was just something about him that arrested his attention, distracted his thoughts. And now some of those thoughts were beginning to sneak into his dreams: very vivid, very nice dreams. And with no indication that the attraction was mutual, it was getting a little unhealthy. So Gojyo had reasoned that having a couple of other guys around for a night might get him back on track.
In the silence of the table, Hakkai looked at Goku expectantly.
“Um… I don’t know what to bet,” he muttered.
“I can’t help you this time, Goku. Just remember that the best and worst hands are the ones that win.”
“Okay. Um, I bet five.”
“I fold,” said Sanzo.
“It’s Hi-Lo, for fuck’s sake,” Gojyo grumbled. “Are you going to even try to enjoy this, you stinking monk?”
Gojyo huffed. “Fine. I see your five.”
“I see also.” Hakkai tossed out his chips and dealt three cards face up in the middle of the table: queen of diamonds, jack of diamonds, three of clubs. Shit. That flop wasn’t looking good for Gojyo’s low hand. Maybe he’d get a straight.
Goku bet another five, Sanzo chugged his sake, Gojyo reluctantly saw the five, mostly because he couldn’t bear to fold while the monkey was still in, and Hakkai saw. The turn was the five of spades. Everyone checked. Gojyo bit his lip. To get the low hand, this last community card would have to be an eight or lower, but an ace, two, three, or five would give him a pair, and a four would give him a straight. A six, seven or eight was all he could hope for. Hakkai cast him a smile before dealing the river. An eight of diamonds! Yes! He had the straight, and with his ace-deuce combo, nobody could beat his low.
Goku bet fifteen. Sanzo sniffed. Gojyo called and raised fifteen. Hakkai lifted his eyebrows, his eyes sparkling in that way they had, and raised another thirty. Okay, so what was the story? If Hakkai was going low, he’d either have to have a two-four or an ace-two. Or maybe he was going for the high hand. Worst case scenario, they’d split the pot. Who the fuck knew what Goku had? Who the fuck cared? Goku called, Sanzo chugged another glass of sake, and Gojyo called. It was time for the showdown.
Hakkai complacently laid down his hand, revealing the inside nine-ten of diamonds for the straight flush. Gojyo’s straight was worthless now, but that didn’t matter. Goku proudly displayed his king of diamonds, along with some piddly shit – a queen, a nine, and a deuce. The little shit had nothing better than a pair.
“Ha!” he exclaimed. “Nothing again. And nothing’s good in this game, right?” Apparently he hadn’t even noticed the pair.
“Only an eight-high nothing cuts it,” mumbled Sanzo. “You’ve got shit-all again. See why I keep folding?”
Through Goku’s plaintive protests, Gojyo presented his awesomely pathetic hand and smirked at Hakkai. “Guess we’re splitting this one.”
Hakkai smiled, and Gojyo felt himself shudder beneath its calculated gleam. “Guess so.” They each raked in their portion of the chips, their hands accidentally brushing against each other; the contact was brief, but it almost made Gojyo leap out of his chair. He closed his eyes to reassert his focus. This is just a friendly night of poker, he reminded himself. This is not the time to think about how hot Hakkai can be when he’s manipulative or vengeful or sweet or flirtatious or… get a fucking grip, man! Just think about Goku playing baseball or some shit. He took a deep breath, and the moment was at an end. Hakkai was just Hakkai, thank the gods, and no longer the intermittent target of lust that kept cropping up in his ill-disciplined brain. But then Hakkai smiled again and it was back to the gutter for Gojyo. Fuck, it was like the guy was doing it on purpose.
It was Goku’s turn to deal, and he stared at the cards as he inexpertly shuffled them. “Umm…” He paused for, like, forever.
“Just pick a game,” demanded Gojyo impatiently.
“Okay… Howzabout… Strip poker!”
“I fold,” said Sanzo.
Gojyo felt a headache coming on. “Okay. Sanzo, you can’t fold when he hasn’t even dealt yet. And Goku, ‘strip poker’ isn’t a game. It’s a betting scheme that’s played with a kind of poker. You can’t declare that.”
“Why not? Hakkai called no-blind-thingy on his deal. He picked the betting rules, so why can’t I?”
“Because you… we…”
“It’s okay, Goku,” said Hakkai in amusement. “Just say what kind of poker, and we’ll play.”
“Oh, what’s the harm? Haven’t you ever played strip poker before?”
“Well, sure,” Gojyo replied, scratching the back of his head, “but there were chicks there and stuff. Makes it more interesting.”
“I don’t know about that,” Hakkai chuckled.
“Wait, are you saying you’ve played strip poker with just guys? Isn’t that kinda…?”
“In a Catholic orphanage, you must learn to make your own fun.” Hakkai’s tone was matter-of-fact, and he looked at Gojyo with that not-quite-smile he used when gauging others’ reactions in the heat of a game.
Gojyo swallowed uncertainly and blinked back at him. Playing strip poker with Hakkai was appealing in a number of ways, not the least of which was that it provided a convenient excuse, an innocent façade to cover a shameless indulgence in sexual tension and desire. The slow, drawn-out reveal. The domination and submission associations with winning and losing. Sexually charged banter. Surreptitious glances. Strip poker with someone you wanted to fuck was about the best kind of torture there was.
“Hey, assholes. Can we save the Happy-Time-Self-Discovery-Hour for some other evening? Preferably one where I’m anywhere but here?”
And spending an evening with Sanzo was about the worst kind of torture there was. Much as Gojyo would like to take a crack at using his gambling prowess as an excuse to render Hakkai bare-ass naked, he sure as hell didn’t want to do it in front of a fucking monk and a little kid.
“We’re not playing strip poker,” he insisted. “It tarnishes the game.”
“Right,” Sanzo scoffed. “The hallowed pastime of drunkards and whores.”
Gojyo shook his head in disbelief. “I can’t believe you’re going along with this. Are you telling me you actually want to play strip poker?”
“No, I’m telling you I want to engage in any activity that pisses you off.” Sanzo’s piercing eyes shifted to Goku. “We’ll strip. Just pick a fucking game.”
“Okay,” said Goku, brow furrowed in thought. “I’ll go with the boring one. The one that Gojyo picked.”
“Boring?! Five card draw is only the purest, most fundamental poker game in existence.” Gojyo bristled in affront.
“Whatever,” shrugged Goku. “That one. Only you don’t get to turn in any cards. You get what you get.”
Gojyo was about to object – who the hell ever played five card no-draw? – but Hakkai silenced him with a hand on his arm, giving it his patented “Just let it go” squeeze. Mildly embarrassed by his disappointment when that warm grip retreated, Gojyo scooted his chair a little closer to the table, trying not to think about his physical reaction to a semi-nude Hakkai mere inches away, and how that would look if he were down to his underwear. Taking a deep breath, he reminded himself that it was only one hand. Once Goku’s stint as dealer was over, they’d be back to normal poker.
Goku laboriously dealt, his lips silently forming the number of cards he’d doled out.
“I fold,” said Sanzo without looking at his cards.
Not this time, asshole, Gojyo thought smugly. “You fold, you lose. You have to give up an article of clothing.”
“That’s how the game works,” Goku pointed out. “I’m the dealer, so I decide.”
“Fine.” With a huff of resentment, Sanzo picked up his cards for the first time that evening.
Gojyo and Hakkai each looked at their cards warily. They each wound up with a pair, but by some miracle the monkey had a full house. Grumbling, Gojyo removed his hair tie, while Hakkai took off his glasses, and Sanzo his scripture.
“Hey, that’s cheating!” Goku protested.
“Accessories count,” countered Gojyo. “Now pass the deck to the monk.”
Sanzo sighed wearily and lit a cigarette, not touching the cards. “Do I really have to do this?”
“Yes. Just deal, jerkwad.”
Sanzo narrowed his eyes, and it gave Gojyo a bad feeling. “Fine. Then I pick the game ‘Everyone gets one card, and whoever has the lowest one loses.’ The strip version.”
“What? That’s not a game.”
“I’m the dealer. That’s my game.”
The cards were dealt, and Gojyo got stuck with a losing six. It was too hot for his jacket anyway. He shrugged out of it with barely a grumble.
The next round, Gojyo lost to Hakkai’s boat in seven card stud, then got his money back and then some in a truly epic round of blind baseball. By the time Goku took charge of the cards, his pile of chips was severely depleted. “Strip… um… no-draw. Again.”
“Oh, come on.” Goku was making a mockery of Gojyo’s manly, de-gay-ifying night of poker.
“That’s what I want to play!”
Hakkai just smiled in amusement and sipped his wine.
Sanzo won that round with an improbable straight. Goku removed his hair ribbon, while Hakkai slowly unbuttoned his shirt, and Gojyo couldn’t help but watch as each fastening fell away to reveal the form-hugging undershirt beneath. It wasn’t as if he’d never seen Hakkai shirtless before – hell, he’d shoved his bare intestines back into his gut – but there was something so seductive about the way Hakkai unbuttoned that shirt… He must have been awfully popular at those orphanage poker games. Gojyo was broken out of his reverie by everyone looking at him expectantly. With a shrug, he kicked off one of his boots.
“Shoes? That’s bullshit,” said Goku.
Hakkai grinned. “No, no. Shoes are fair game. But they come as a pair.”
With a sigh, Gojyo removed his other boot and flung it across the room.
Sanzo’s deal. He looked down at his dwindling pile of chips, not nearly as small as Goku’s, but clearly diminished by the constant demands for ante from Gojyo and Hakkai’s real poker. “I pick bullshit one-card strip whatever again.”
“You’re an ass.”
“Yes, but I’m also the dealer. I hope you get a two.”
He dealt the cards, and sure enough, Gojyo got a deuce. With a sigh, he stripped off his long-sleeved shirt, exposing a threadbare tank top underneath.
Consternated, Gojyo snatched the deck away from Sanzo. This was not the casual evening he’d had in mind. The only hope was to end this farce as quickly as possible by bankrupting Sanzo and Goku and sending them packing. But Hakkai would have to be on board – it would take forever to get rid of Sanzo if he kept refusing to bet, but he was Hakkai’s big blind, so that could speed things up a bit.
“Yunnan Hold’em, boys and apes. Blinds are in effect.”
“What does that mean?” asked Goku.
“It means that since Hakkai’s to my left, he’s the small blind and he bets five. You’re to his left, so you’re the big blind and you pay ten. Me and Sanzo don’t have to ante.”
“Them’s the rules.”
As Hakkai moved to pick up his cards, Gojyo placed a hand over his to stop him, leaning in to whisper, “I’m looking to nip this strip poker thing in the bud. Drive up the bet to take a chunk out of the monkey on this hand, then hit Sanzo with the big blind on your deal.”
“Hey! No table talk!”
“It’s not table talk if we haven’t looked at our cards, you dope.” He turned back to Hakkai, who either didn’t notice or didn’t care that Gojyo’s hand was still covering his. “Once they’re out, whichever one of us has the least money goes all-in and throws the hand. Tourney over.”
Hakkai turned his head so swiftly that Gojyo felt the tip of his nose brush against his cheek before he could pull away. Hakkai scooted his chair closer and murmured, “You really want to end it? I was rather having fun.”
He could feel Hakkai’s smile against his cheek, and it made his heart race. Hakkai wasn’t flirting, not really, but Gojyo’s dick couldn’t tell the difference, and there was definitely a change in his demeanor.
“Please?” whispered Gojyo. “I’ll owe you one.”
Biting his lip, Gojyo desperately waited for a response, beyond caring what it was, anything for an excuse to keep their cheeks pressed together, to have his lips so tantalizingly close to Hakkai’s ear. But Hakkai just drew away with an enigmatic, non-committal smile and tossed in his forced bet.
Sanzo snorted. “Hey. If you guys want to make out, do it on your own time. There are children present.”
“Tch. Yeah. Very perverted children who want to see a bunch of guys without their clothes on.” The quip couldn’t quite cover his annoyance that Sanzo was picking up on something, even if it was just on Gojyo’s end.
“Shut up, you guys!” Goku whined. “I’m not a kid.”
“Just a stupid monkey who wants to see us naked,” Gojyo shot back.
Goku scratched his head and shrugged, oblivious to the implication of Gojyo’s remark. “Not really. It’s just the only game I ever heard of. I wanted to try it.”
“So now you’ve tried it. Now shut up and pay your big blind.”
Sulkily, Goku tossed a few chips into the pot.
“I fold,” said Sanzo.
Gojyo looked at his cards, then dealt the flop, the turn and the river, with rounds of betting each time. He considered dropping out to ensure he’d be in a position to go all-in when the time came – he wasn’t sure whether Hakkai was on board with his plan – but he couldn’t pass up that beautiful full house, and he scooped up the pot in greedy triumph.
Hakkai came through in the next round, forcing Sanzo to give up ten times the usual ante before his predictable fold. This time Hakkai took the pot with a flush, and Goku wailed because he’d forgotten it wasn’t Hi-Lo, and he had a truly crappy hand.
As Goku sloppily gathered up the cards, Gojyo felt a pang of dread. He decided to try and head off any further rerouting of the game’s intent. “You wanna pick a real game this time?”
“Sure,” shrugged Goku, trying and failing to shove the cards into a neat stack. “What did we just play the last two hands?”
“Okay, that. Only strip. Sanzo’s the small blind, so he has to give up one item of clothing into the pot. You’re the big blind, Gojyo, so you have to give up two! Ha ha!”
“My, my, Goku, you certainly are picking this up quickly,” Hakkai laughed.
Gojyo couldn’t believe it – two articles of clothing on a big blind? This was the most complicated strip poker he’d ever played. “What the…? No way!”
“Them’s the rules, wiseass,” said Sanzo, primly rolling off one of his arm warmers and depositing it in the middle of the table. He stubbed out his cigarette and immediately lit another.
“Goddamnit.” Gojyo heaved his foot up onto his leg, and stripped off his sock, flinging it onto the table. When the second sock followed, Goku grimaced and pinched his nose. “Ew, Gojyo! Your socks smell.”
“Oh, I’m terribly sorry about that,” said Hakkai pleasantly, but with a hint of satisfaction that for once he wasn’t the only one having to endure the stench of Gojyo’s feet. He rose and retrieved a canister of air freshener from across the room, spraying it liberally onto the objectionable items. It didn’t really help – foot stink mixed with artificial flowers was even more nauseating. Gojyo chugged his sake, hoping that the vapors would burn away his sense of smell.
“So what else?” demanded Goku, glaring at Gojyo.
“Socks count as one, just like boots.”
Gojyo narrowed his eyes. “Then Sanzo’s other arm-thing should come off. They count as a pair too.”
The monk glared at him, but eventually relented, rolling down the second arm warmer. Only then did Gojyo grumblingly pull his tank top over his head. As he threw it into the pile, he glanced over to see if Hakkai was checking him out. No dice. Of course, since Gojyo lounged around the apartment shirtless half the time anyway, this level of nudity wasn’t exactly a novelty. Still, he couldn’t quite figure out what Hakkai’s deal was. If he’d figured out that Gojyo was secretly lusting after him, he hadn’t shown it. And he’d certainly not exhibited any evidence of mutual interest. But his behavior tonight was just… weird. Like he was deliberately pushing all of Gojyo’s “fuck me” buttons without giving anything away himself. Well, except for the fact that one of his childhood hobbies was to get naked with a bunch of guys on a regular basis. But maybe Hakkai was just torturing him. Maybe he was in trouble for something. With Hakkai, you never knew.
* * *
With a grin of satisfaction at the pile of clothes in the middle of the table, Goku dealt.
“Check,” said Sanzo.
Gojyo stared at him. “You’re actually planning to play?”
“I want my fucking arm warmers back.”
“Well, you have to call the big blind to stay in. Fork up another article of clothing.”
“Oh? Then I’m out.”
Gojyo rolled his eyes. “Fine. But it isn’t your turn to bet, anyway. It’s Hakkai’s.” He turned his head expectantly. “You fold, I presume?”
“Actually…” To Gojyo’s astonishment, Hakkai undid his belt and pulled it smoothly out of its loops. Then he pulled his t-shirt over his head and added it to the pot. “I call.”
Gojyo stared in bewilderment from Hakkai’s bare chest to his placid expression. Unlike Gojyo, Hakkai never went around shirtless. In fact, he kind of suspected that Hakkai was the sort of guy who gets into the shower and then takes his clothes off. But he seemed perfectly at ease, his only discomfort arising from the perplexed look Gojyo was directing at him.
“Is there a problem?”
Brow furrowed, Gojyo said, “Not really… It’s just… What are you doing? With the blinds in place, you could have gotten out of this round scot-free.”
Hakkai smiled and offered an innocent shrug. “Maybe I’ve got a really good hand.”
To call the blind, Goku eagerly gave up his shoes and socks, which didn’t smell much better than Gojyo’s, frankly. Hakkai confirmed this diagnosis with another subtle application of the air freshener.
The community cards came out, and nobody was stupid enough to raise. Hakkai took the pot again, this time getting three of a kind out of an unexpected pair in his pocket cards. As he raked in the pile of clothes, he was smiling like a dragon that had eaten a dog that had eaten a cat that had eaten a canary. The smug bastard.
“Gross!” cried Goku as Hakkai took up Gojyo’s socks and began slipping them onto his bare feet. “You’re actually willing to touch those things?”
“If I’m not wearing them, I can’t very well bet them, now can I?” He slipped Goku’s socks on over Gojyo’s and removed the laces from Goku’s boots so that he could slip his feet far enough inside that it qualified as “wearing.” He carefully threaded his belt back through the loops, then donned Gojyo’s tank top, pulling his own t-shirt on over it.
Just as he reached for the arm warmers, however, Sanzo growled, “Hey.”
“I’ll give you all of my chips if you give those things back.”
Gojyo was about to protest when he remembered that bankrupting Sanzo was the lynchpin of his strategy.
“Deal,” said Hakkai brightly, handing them over as Sanzo pushed his chips toward him. He took the disordered pile and began neatly stacking his windfall.
It was Sanzo’s turn to deal. “Same game. Let’s skip the antes and keep with that blind thing.” He began to deal as Gojyo and Hakkai reached for their chips. “Nope. We’re sticking with strip.”
Gojyo furrowed his brow and glanced ruefully down at his barely-clad form. Grumbling, he flung his belt onto the table. Hakkai took off Goku’s shoes and socks and returned them to the pot. After Sanzo dealt the cards, Goku squinted at his hand for an indecisive moment before taking off his wristbands, then his shirt, the sleeveless mock turtleneck beneath it reminding Gojyo of just how skinny that kid was.
“I fold,” Sanzo pronounced.
Though this was hardly a surprise, Gojyo snorted and lit up a cigarette. “Are you clinically allergic to fun or something? You chose this game.”
“And I choose not to play.”
Gojyo shook his head. It was his own damn fault for thinking that maybe Sanzo would lighten up for once in his life. He glared at his two cards. They were promising, but not promising enough to give up his pants to see this through. “I’m out.”
“I guess it’s just you and me, Goku,” Hakkai smiled as Sanzo dealt out the flop.
Out of the game, Gojyo peeked over Hakkai’s shoulder. He already had two pair, but his expression was concerned, making Goku’s eyes light up with glee. “I raise one,” Hakkai said, depositing Gojyo’s socks on the table.
“Okay!” exclaimed Goku, wriggling out of his turtleneck. He was surprisingly muscular for such a scrawny-looking brat.
Sanzo dealt the turn, eyes darting uncertainly at Goku’s bare skin. He was clearly starting to get uncomfortable, and Gojyo thought it served him fucking right.
Hakkai tilted his head contemplatively, as if he couldn’t see the boat floating right in front of him, regardless of what the river might bring. He wavered for a moment, plucking at his shirt, then, his expression suddenly shifting as if he had just realized other people were around, he exclaimed, “Oh! Yes, I raise one. Definitely raise.” He stripped off his t-shirt and threw it in the pile.
The monkey’s eyes widened with greed, and Gojyo caught on. He already knew that Hakkai was a master of the subtle bluff, with a poker face that could withstand a tsunami, but subtle wouldn’t work on Goku. Hakkai was pretending to bluff as Goku might bluff – desperately and unconvincingly. He was luring the kid in to meet the raise under the innocent misapprehension that his victory would be a foregone conclusion. Gojyo decided to help him out, staring at his cards for a moment before saying, “Really? You sure about that, Hakkai?”
“Yes, I’m sure,” he replied with overdramatic meaning, elbowing Gojyo for added effect.
Gojyo pretended to catch on to the ruse. “Ooooh. Oh, yeah, um… sorry. Didn’t see the matchups before.”
Hakkai nodded in satisfaction, hamming it up in a way that would have been utterly transparent to anyone that hadn’t learned the rules of poker an hour ago. Sanzo pinched the bridge of his nose and threw back another glass of sake, but thankfully he said nothing.
“In fact,” Hakkai amended, whipping off his belt and tossing it in the pile, “I raise two.”
Goku was sure he had a winning hand, but was running out of clothes to bet. He looked down at his beltless pants uncertainly.
“I’ve been meaning to tell you,” prompted Hakkai. “Those are lovely necklaces you’re wearing. Wherever did you get them?”
Goku’s hands shot to his throat, where something that looked like a dried prune had been strung along with a few prayer beads on a leather thong. A second fashion statement appeared to be a chicken bone on a piece of string. “Thanks! I made them myself!” He fingered the hideous objects. “I can bet these, right?”
“Accessories count,” Hakkai replied, almost ruefully.
Nice save, buddy, Gojyo thought. As much as he wanted to get this over with, he wasn’t exactly thrilled at the prospect of a naked Goku capering around his living room.
Sanzo rolled his eyes and dealt the last card. Hakkai’s face fell at the reveal – it gave him four of a kind. “I Fold,” he declared abruptly, laying down his cards. It was ridiculous. Even if he hadn’t had the best hold’em hand ever, nobody folds when they don’t have to lay anything down to stay in the game. But Hakkai had predicted that Goku wouldn’t realize this, and he was right.
As Goku started enthusiastically pulling on socks and shirts and wristbands and belts and shoes, Sanzo graced Hakkai with a brief nod of gratitude, while Gojyo shook his head in bewilderment.
“Oh! We seem to be out of sake,” Hakkai exclaimed, tipping the bottle upside-down. “I’ll go fetch another round, shall I?”
He rose and went to the kitchen, and Gojyo’s gaze followed him, tuning out Goku’s gleeful crowing over his great victory. Gojyo mumbled something about helping and hurried after him.
He caught up with Hakkai as he was placing the empty bottle in the sink. “What did you that for?” he hissed. “You would have taken that hand. And if the monkey was on the verge of nakedness himself, maybe he’d lay off this strip poker bullshit.”
Hakkai just looked up at him implacably. “I seriously doubt it. And I just disinfected those chairs this morning.”
“Yeah, okay, but what about you and me? We’re gonna end up in our birthday suits after another couple of rounds.” He gestured at his bare chest, then at the flimsy tank top currently worn by Hakkai. It had shrunk after too many washings, and didn’t even reach his waistband, which… Gojyo noticed for the first time how low those pants were riding now that his belt was gone. Hakkai’s hipbones were clearly visible, and it looked as if it would only take a gentle tug to remove the garment entirely. For a moment this prospect short-circuited Gojyo’s brain, but then he actually looked at the pants.
“Hey!” He exclaimed. “Are those mine?”
Unapologetic, Hakkai replied, “Yes they are. I ran out of clean ones, and I was supposed to do the laundry today, but then somebody decided to invite guests over at the last minute, so I had to clean the house instead. Is this a problem?”
Gojyo was a bit flustered. “No, no, of course not.” A quick evaluation of the situation made everything clear. That was it. He was in trouble after all. “You’re welcome to them,” he said weakly.
Hakkai nodded and crouched down to retrieve a bottle of sake from the lower cupboard, and damn did those pants ride low. Like, really low. Like, ‘Pleased to meet you, I’m The-Upper-One-Third-of-Hakkai’s-Sweet-Ass’ low. Gojyo stared. Hakkai was going commando? In his pants? So much for his pitch-perfect etiquette.
But Gojyo found that he didn’t really mind. There was something about seeing Hakkai decked out in his shirt and his pants that was kinda… hot. And anyway, Gojyo’d gone commando in those pants plenty of times. Yesterday, in fact. He blinked. Holy shit. He and Hakkai were now some kind of khaki-mediated dick-buddies. He thought about the way the fabric of those pants was a little bit rough, so if you walked in just the right way they rubbed against you, potentially turning a stroll in the park into a hands-free party-of-one. And now they were rubbing against Hakkai, who was crouching there, ass half-exposed and inviting. Gojyo stiffened painfully. He looked down at Hakkai, thinking how easy it would be to crouch down behind him, to lean in and help him rummage through the cluttered shelf, and how that lean would bring his bare chest into contact with Hakkai’s back, and the bulge in his pants would press just slightly against the sensitive skin where back meets ass. Totally credible as incidental contact, but Gojyo would get to press his dick against Hakkai, and Hakkai would know just what was happening, but would be free to ignore it if that wasn’t a direction he was interested in heading. A totally muss-free proposition.
Briefly, Gojyo was tempted, but something made him pause. He knew, now, that he was in the dog house, so it was possible that Hakkai was just exacting payback. But could he really have predicted that just the sight of him in those pants would ramp Gojyo up into a hormonal frenzy? And could he have somehow orchestrated the critical lack-of-belt and wearing-Gojyo’s-shirt factor? Sure the guy was smart, but he wasn’t a telepathic puppet-master or anything. And maybe it was just nothing, after all. Hakkai had a legitimate excuse: he’d missed out on laundry day, and those were the cleanest pants in the house. Damn it. As much as Gojyo would like to test the waters, it just wasn’t worth the risk.
“Huh? Wha?” He jumped backwards, snapped out of his thoughts, but his eyes were inexorably drawn to the waistline of Hakkai’s sagging trousers.
Hakkai waved the sake bottle in front of his face. “Would you mind carrying this in? I’m going to get a fresh ashtray.”
Holding the bottle like a sacred relic, Gojyo plodded back into the living room, helped himself to a glass, downed it, and poured a second before handing it over to an impatient Sanzo. Hakkai returned a few moments later, swapping out the brimming ashtray for a clean one.
Gojyo surreptitiously followed his movements, watching as he hitched up his pants before he sat down. This actually made things worse, as the pants were even looser now, the excess fabric slagging towards Gojyo, who had to work really hard to avoid staring at the rounded curve of Hakkai’s partially-exposed ass.
Sanzo, too, had noticed the hitch, but from the other side of the table, he was poorly positioned to lay eyes on the crescent moon. “You lost weight or something, Hakkai?”
Hakkai blinked momentarily, trying to figure out what had prompted such a seemingly random statement, and then he just laughed. “Not at all. I had to borrow these from Gojyo, but he prefers them baggy, and I’m afraid they’re a bit large on me.”
Arching an eyebrow, Sanzo emitted a punctuated exhalation that was about the closest approximation to a laugh he had ever produced. “You know, since the first day I met you guys, I’ve wondered how long it would take you to get into each others’ pants.”
Goku erupted in a fit of snorting giggles. “Ha! That was funny, Sanzo.”
The monk took an expressionless sip of sake. “I prefer the term scathing.”
“You’re both wrong,” Gojyo growled. “It’s obnoxious and irrelevant. You can sit there joking that me and Hakkai have gone queer, but it doesn’t change the fact that you guys are the ones conspiring to get everyone’s clothes off, not us. If anyone looks suspiciously gay, it’s you.”
Sanzo rolled his eyes. “Oh, lighten up. It’s not like I really think you want to get into Hakkai’s pants.”
Gojyo relaxed a bit, recognizing that his personal turmoil had probably made him overreact to Sanzo’s quip. “Thank you, I…”
“It’s impossible. Your ass is too big.”
“Ha, ha, ha!” Goku doubled over laughing. “Sanzo’s on a roll!”
Gojyo shook his head at the sheer worthlessness of talking to those two. “What? This jackass tells two jokes in his entire life, and that counts as a roll?”
“He sure burned you.”
Hakkai leaned forward to break up the argument, exposing even more of his ass in the process. “Let’s get on with the game, shall we?”
Doing his damnedest not to stare, Gojyo dealt a hand of Chengdu Hi-Lo and nailed Goku on the big blind again. His funds were almost depleted. Goku and Hakkai both went for the high hand, coming out with three of a kind and a straight respectively. Gojyo’s low hand was weak – three-five-six on the board with a seven-eight in his hand, but another combo gave him a flush, so he won both the high and low hands, claiming the entire pot for himself. Hakkai won a chunk of it back on his deal. With Sanzo out of the running, Gojyo was the big blind, and after a battle of raises, Hakkai came away with a straight flush and the prize. Gojyo didn’t care about the loss because Goku was almost broke – just one more hand should do it.
The kid perused the group thoughtfully, taking in his own wealth of clothing and Sanzo’s full state of dress, and contrasting it with the sparse garments left to Gojyo and Hakkai. “I’m sick of this blind thing,” he said. “Let’s just go with regular ante – one garment each. Five card draw.”
“Ah, back to the classics,” sighed Hakkai.
Gojyo felt something nudge his leg under the table. What the fuck? Was Hakkai trying to play footsie? He peeked hopefully under the table, but it was wishful thinking. Rather than Hakkai’s bare feet, he saw Goku’s outstretched boot, upon which lay Gojyo’s own grungy socks. Either the kid was feeling a bit guilty for ruining Gojyo’s big poker night, or he really didn’t want to see Gojyo with his pants off; either option was just fine and dandy with Gojyo. He surreptitiously grabbed the offering, gave Goku a quick nod of thanks, and tossed the socks on top of Sanzo’s arm warmers, Goku’s necklace, and Gojyo’s tank top – recently stripped off by Hakkai, who was now all but naked. Gojyo couldn’t help but dart his eyes to the side now and then, taking in the curve of shoulder into pectorals, those killer abs disrupted by the scar, still livid and red, the contrast between sharp hipbones and rounded flesh, and the spot at the front, where the waistband had folded down to reveal just the barest glimpse of hair. That was what got him. Gojyo closed his eyes, his senses overwhelmed with the imagined scent of intermingled sweat and sex. He fucking loved that smell, and right now he just wanted to bury his entire face in that little nook where Hakkai’s leg met his balls and inhale. In his mind, he reached out with his tongue to steal a quick taste, and he relished the surprised buck of Hakkai’s hips.
“Your bet, dickwad.”
“I believe he means you, Gojyo.”
His eyes shot open, and he glanced around the table, where three sets of eyes were turned on him expectantly. Holy shit, he couldn’t believe he’d gotten so carried away. Clearing his throat, he said, “What was the bet again?”
“We all checked.”
“Okay, fine. Check.” Painfully aware of how hard he was, Gojyo crossed his legs and scooted closer to the table.
Since nobody had raised, Sanzo had stayed in the game for once, and the bastard actually won on three of a kind. He primly returned his arm warmers to their proper place, and shoved the rest of his winnings onto the floor, not wanting them to touch his person. He took up the cards and said, “I’m sick of this strip shit. Just regular poker. That Chengdu thing. High only.” As he dealt the hand, he fixed Gojyo with a look that commanded, “End this,” and Gojyo wondered whether the monk’s readiness to surrender his pot to Hakkai had been a deliberate ploy to get himself the hell out of there as soon as possible.
For once, Gojyo was happy to oblige Sanzo’s wishes. Goku was all-in by the flop, and in the final round, once the river had turned, Hakkai went all-in as well. When they showed their hands, Hakkai had a pair, Goku had three of a kind, and Gojyo had a full house. Goku emitted an “Aw!” of disappointment, while Hakkai hurriedly buried his unrevealed cards in the deck. Gojyo had to give Sanzo credit – high hand Chengdu was the perfect game to deplete Goku’s money as rapidly as possible, while still allowing Hakkai to fake a bad hand.
Sanzo rose abruptly. “It’s getting late, Goku. Let’s go.”
“Aw, but I wanna…”
“No. Now take off any clothing that doesn’t belong to you and get over here.”
Reluctantly, Goku slid out of Hakkai’s t-shirt and both their belts, and trudged towards the door.
Turning at the threshold, Sanzo said, “Thanks for the wine, Hakkai. And Gojyo? You might want to get Hakkai out of your pants. The look doesn't suit him.”
Gojyo scratched his head, but Hakkai just issued a chuckle that petered off until silence pervaded the room. Suddenly, things were really, really awkward. The smart thing, Gojyo knew, would be to hit the sack, jerk off, and try not to think about how completely around the bend he’d gone, all because of a monkey, strip poker and some stupid pants. They sat looking at each other for several moments until Gojyo said, “Feel like another hand?” Sometimes, he just wasn’t that bright.
“Why not?” said Hakkai with an offhand shrug.
Gojyo dealt the cards, while Hakkai refilled their glasses. It was weird playing side by side with just the two of them, but neither made a move to the opposite side of the table. Gojyo glanced at the empty pot. Here it was. The perfect excuse. He might as well give it a shot. “You’re out of cash,” he pointed out hesitantly. “Wanna finish off the strip battle royale?”
Hakkai tilted his head, self-consciously tugging the baggy pants into a slightly less revealing position. “If you like.”
So far so good, but there was no need to push it. Besides, if he removed his pants now, the facts of the situation would be pretty fucking obvious. “I’m sick of taking clothes on and off. Howzabout we just keep track, and the loser pays up at the end.”
They each anted up one theoretical article of clothing, and Gojyo had to admit to himself that this wasn’t really fair, since he knew that Hakkai wasn’t wearing anything under those pants. At least he still had his briefs. Gojyo took two cards, trying to suppress his grin of triumph at the royal flush that floated his way. Hakkai took no cards and checked.
Gojyo smiled. “You know, I’d raise you here, but there’d be no point. You’re all-in.”
Blinking mildly, Hakkai said, “Am I?”
“Yep. I know for a fact that those baggy pants of mine are the only stitch of clothing you’ve got on.”
“True,” Hakkai admitted, pouring them each a fresh glass of sake, “but you’re forgetting something.”
“Oh yeah? What’s that?”
Hakkai leaned forward, hand on his chin, his penetrating eyes arresting Gojyo’s gaze. Slowly, he extended his index finger and tapped his left ear meaningfully. “Accessories count.”
Gojyo’s eyes widened. “Your limiters? You’d take them off?”
“Only if I lose.”
Swallowing hard, Gojyo deliberated. He’d only seen Hakkai’s demon form once, and it had been both the most frightening and the most beautiful thing he had ever witnessed. Victory would mean not just Hakkai’s naked flesh, but Hakkai’s naked essence, and right now that was pretty fucking tempting. He took a drink of sake. The thing was, Hakkai had been in control that time, but just barely. Demon natures tended to lash out at the first glimpse of freedom if they were bottled for up too long. And a lot of the demons in the area had been acting pretty damned aggressive recently.
“What do you think would happen?” he asked.
Sensing his trepidation, Hakkai laughed merrily and took a drink of wine. “You wouldn’t be in any danger, if that’s what you’re asking. I do not harbor any hidden ill-will towards you. But you still might not like what I would do.”
Gojyo’s breath caught at the flash of mischief in his gentle eyes. “And, what would that be?”
Hakkai drew in a deep breath and exhaled. “Well, I can’t be sure, but I would probably tear the rest of your clothes off and take you there and then.” His laugh was jarringly self-deprecating. “I can be impetuous at times.”
Gojyo spat out his wine, some of which landed on Hakkai, who glanced at the droplets on his fingers and brought them to his lips. Wow. Okay, if Hakkai was just torturing Gojyo to get back at him for the laundry, he’d just crossed the line into evil. But Gojyo almost didn’t care at this point, because those eyes made it perfectly clear that regardless of what regular Hakkai was thinking, demon Hakkai wanted to fuck him, and would do so at the earliest opportunity. Was this an excuse for Hakkai to let loose without feeling guilty, or a warning that Gojyo should back off? Of course, with Gojyo, most warnings had the opposite of their intended effect.
But still, he faced a dilemma. Hakkai hated taking off his limiters, Gojyo knew that, but he wouldn’t have brought it up if he weren’t willing to do it, and there was something strangely exhilarating about the thought of giving himself over to a being who was so much stronger, so much faster, so much more fundamentally powerful. On the other hand, it wouldn’t be the Hakkai he knew, the Hakkai he wanted. But the Hakkai he wanted wasn’t the offer on the table. If he went for the jackpot, he could wind up with nothing. And if Hakkai fucked him in demon form, he could hardly object to a repeat performance in his human one, could he? Gojyo regarded his placid features, crisscrossed by the invisible ghosts of twisting vines. There was something incredibly hot about that fierce beast that lived beneath his skin, and just once, Gojyo wouldn’t mind getting a taste of what that kind of pure, animal passion was like.
At last, he said, “Well, that doesn’t sound so bad.”
Hakkai smiled as if this was just the answer he had hoped for. “Oh, one other thing,” he added, speaking in so light a tone that he might have been discussing the weather. “One problem with my demon form is that I have trouble controlling my strength. You’d be quite sore afterwards.”
“Sore?” Gojyo’s mind raced, already conjuring phantom sensations of the exquisite pleasure-pain, of claw marks on his chest, scars he could cherish rather than revile, of the lingering ache that would keep the memory of that ecstasy alive. He wished he’d known a lot earlier on that Hakkai’s demon-self was such a slut.
“Yes,” Hakkai confirmed. “So sore, in fact, that we wouldn’t be able to do it again for… oh, for at least a week.”
Gojyo’s eager expression fell. “A week?”
“And then there’s the little matter of the…” He tapped the side of his mouth meaningfully.
“The what?” Gojyo was clueless, still trying to wrap his mind around finally getting his hands on Hakkai and having to wait an entire week for the encore.
“The fangs,” said Hakkai sheepishly. “They make… certain activities… very precarious, unpleasant at best. At worst? Well, at least eunuchs are in fashion these days.”
That was it. That decided him. Gojyo tossed down his cards – the single greatest poker hand of his entire life – and said, “I fold.” Standing, he dropped his pants and took a step forward, shivering slightly in the room’s suddenly cool air.
Hakkai rose calmly to face him. They were standing nose to nose, breath intermingling. Hakkai leaned forward, cheek brushing against cheek, and whispered into his ear, “I win.” As he drew away, he turned his head to let his lips trail gently against Gojyo’s cheek.