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Meet Me in the Middle

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Hakkai shut the mathematics textbook with a snap. He had promised himself that he would not open the new parcel from Hong Kong until he had finished all the lesson plans for the students he tutored. Now, with that work done, the kitchen clean, and Gojyo off for the evening more than two hours gone, he could reward himself.

Although no one lived near, and the house was off the main road by several hundred yards, he carefully pulled all the curtains. Then he went to the bedroom, opened the wardrobe, and stood on tiptoe to pull the box from the back of the top shelf.

It had been easy to carry it into the house from town. Hakkai was forever ordering books and other things from bigger cities far away, and Gojyo rarely asked what was in the packages. This box had come home yesterday. Hakkai had cherished the knowledge of the secret in the wardrobe for more than 24 hours now, a warm spot against the cold knowledge that, come evening, Gojyo would be off to town, flirting with the girls at the bars, kissing them, sometimes going up to their rooms for more. On those evenings, he never came home until well past midnight, and Hakkai knew exactly what his friend had been doing.

It was simply that he had never expected that it would make him feel jealous.

Hakkai carried the box to the kitchen table and set it precisely before his chair. He fetched the old knife that he didn't mind using on paper and carefully slit the tape on the paper wrapping. He folded the paper back slowly to reveal a pasteboard carton, sealed with more tape, which had to be slit in turn. The lightweight cardboard box inside was glossy and dark brown and discreet, with the name of the shop embossed rather than printed. He pulled off the lid to reveal carefully folded white tissue paper, and now he hesitated. He realized that his breathing had changed. Who would have thought that such a mundane activity as opening a parcel could be arousing?

He finally opened the tissue, delicately. The black silk was even lovelier than it had looked in the catalog, which was now carefully hidden under the back corner of the mattress. He was glad that he had decided against the red ribbon: it would have looked cheap and gaudy. As it was, everything was quite tasteful: black silk, black lace, black ribbon, detachable black elastic garters for the stockings that he had not ordered yet, because he had not decided on what sort of shoes. He lifted the garment, feeling the rigid strips of the light boning. The underpants were in the bottom, shaped rather like a runner's shorts but with lush lace along the leg openings: "tap pants," the catalog description had read. They were cut more generously than they would have been for a woman, and yet they were still shockingly tiny for one used to men's boxer shorts.

The whole thing was much less extreme than the ensemble the actor had been wearing in the magazine that Gojyo had been perusing at the stationary shop two months ago. It had been for some sort of stage show, apparently. Hakkai didn't usually pay much attention to Gojyo's magazine reading. He had only noticed because Gojyo had cursed under his breath and then fallen silent.

"Gojyo?" he'd asked, and Gojyo had held the magazine close for a moment and then shown him. The slender actor with his mop of deep brown hair half over his eyes had looked quite attractive, if not really feminine, in his corset and stockings and high-heeled sandals. Hakkai had looked up to find Gojyo watching him.

"It's so damn wrong, but - kinda hot. Ain't it?"

His voice had sounded tense and almost worried, so Hakkai had hastened to agree that yes, it was an interesting photograph. It was not until Gojyo's next late night out that he had started to think seriously about what the incident might have meant, and not until the time after that had he resolved to do something about it.

Now he folded the outer wrapping very precisely and put it into the waste bin. The sturdy pasteboard box went into the lean-to at the back, to be re-used: it had no distinguishing markings. He carried the rest back to the bedroom and carefully undressed, putting his everyday clothing tidily into the laundry basket. Then he drew on the black silk panties and the lightly boned corset.

The fabric of the tap pants was cool and soft, almost like water against his skin. At first, the corset was not as snug as he had imagined, but it could be tightened with the ribbons laced up the back. He finally got it to where he wanted it, hooked the front closed again, and then slowly turned to look at himself in the mirror inside the door of the wardrobe.

It was very strange. He had considered that he might look like Kanan, and in some ways, he did. The snugness of the corset pushed his pectoral muscles together a bit so that along with the softness of the lace along the top, it seemed to give him the slightest illusion of a bosom. But his hair was too dark and too short, and the angularity of his shape did not at all resemble Kanan's rounded and deceptively fragile figure. Still, there was no point in pretending that the image in the mirror was not striking - and disturbing. The black silk was rich and gleaming against his pale skin, his legs looked attractively long, and the tiny lace-edged shorts molded explicitly over his crotch, leaving little to the imagination once the light hit the fabric just so.

He stroked his fingers over his own ribs, and lower. Then he frowned at his image in the glass. Not yet.

There was another box on the shelf in the wardrobe, smaller, and made of wood. Hakkai got it down and opened it. On top was an assortment of squares of rich fabrics that he had collected at the tailor's shop in town last year in a fit of handicraft enthusiasm. Underneath was the actual treasure: a small collection of cosmetics. It had been easy to pick up a few things here and there on their various trips for Sanzo in the last few weeks, under the cover of buying more first aid supplies.

Hakkai's reverie was interrupted by the sound of footsteps on the front porch: more than one person, and there was something odd about the rhythm of the steps. He hastily shut the box and tucked it under the bed, then grabbed for his dressing gown as someone banged on the door.

"Cho-sensei?"

Hakkai didn't recognize the deep voice. He wrapped the robe about himself, tied the sash tightly, and even used the button and loop at the neck.

"Hey! Anybody home?"

"Just coming!" called Hakkai, jamming his slippers onto his feet. He strode out of the bedroom to the door, the silk slithering and slipping under the robe. A quick glance out the front window showed him two figures supporting a third slumped between them, long hair screening his face. Hakkai's heart clenched, and he threw open the door.

"What's happened?" he said, struggling to keep his voice steady. The faces of the two men standing upright, one big and tall and the other just big, were now vaguely familiar: drinking and gambling cronies of Gojyo's. Yes, the names finally came: "Tiger" Shan and Kee Kang.

"He's just stinking drunk. Started out real well, won a pile, then started in seriously with the booze," said Tiger.

"Yeah, one minute he was passin' out drinks, then bam, onto the floor and totally out of it," explained Kang. "We were just gonna take 'im upstairs to crash, but he said he had t' get home."

Gojyo nodded suddenly and lifted his head. His bleary eyes opened. "Home," he said, distinctly. Suddenly he focused on Hakkai and smiled sweetly. "Hey, Hakkai! 'm home!" Then his eyes fell closed and he went limp all over, nearly sliding out of his keepers' hands. They cursed and grabbed him again.

"What a lush he's turning out to be," said Tiger, morosely. "Third time this week, but this is th' worst I've ever seen him."

"We better put 'im t' bed," said Kang.

Speechless, Hakkai held the door open for them. "On the couch, there," he finally managed, and the two dragged Gojyo over and got him more or less settled, one arm trailing onto the floor. Hakkai had to resist the urge to rush over and tuck him up.

Kang started for the door, but Tiger stood scowling at Gojyo's still form for a moment, arms crossed. Finally he looked over at Hakkai: "Hey, sensei, I ain't any kind of big brain, but that guy ain't been right lately."

Hakkai sighed. "Shan-san, I'm afraid you're right. Thank you for bringing him home. May I offer both of you a beer?"

"Nah, I think we already drank up your grocery money, what with the way he was handin' out liquor. Take it easy, sensei."

Hakkai followed them to the door and shut it behind them, then stood leaning against it, listening to their heavy footsteps going down the stairs and off toward the road. Then he locked it and went back to Gojyo.

Gojyo's breathing was fine, his heartbeat slow but strong. He reeked of liquor and cigarettes. Hakkai unlaced and removed his boots, then gently rearranged him into a more comfortable position on the old sofa and covered him up with the blankets. He fetched a tin bucket from the lean-to and positioned it strategically on the floor next to the couch, near Gojyo's head.

Dead drunk again. Tiger was right. That had been typical for Gojyo before Hakkai had dropped into his life, but in the months afterward, it was rare for Gojyo to get much more than happily tipsy. And now, this. What had changed in the last few weeks?

Hakkai knelt down again and brushed a stray lock of hair from Gojyo's face. Gojyo smiled in his sleep, but whatever Gojyo was dreaming, it was not likely to involve his roommate. Hakkai knotted his hands together. The urge to touch Gojyo was almost overwhelming, but he could not, would not do that. Not while Gojyo was so helpless and unaware … .

But Hakkai could dream, as well. He rose unsteadily to his feet, the black silk whispering against his skin under the camouflage of the bathrobe, and went back in the bedroom to fetch out his box of makeup again.

He grew steady again as he laid out the tiny vials and tubes. He had practiced this a number of times already, using the instructions from a woman's magazine that he had supposedly bought for one of the girls he tutored. He used three shades of eyeshadow, soft brown and rich plum on the lid, with pale bisque under the brow. The sable brown eyeliner was the most difficult part, especially given how poor his vision was on one side, and he felt quite pleased when he achieved an even line along each lid. The mascara was easy in comparison, and the rouge as simple as breathing. The lipstick was an absolute pleasure, really - a soft berry color that went on smoothly. Now that he looked at it on his face again, he decided that he would rather have something a bit darker, but still, this was very nice.

He blotted the lipstick with a bit of toilet tissue. His reflection really did look quite nice, but perhaps he ought to get hold of some powder and a brush. For now, he packed everything carefully into the box and covered it up again, then put it away and took another look at the whole effect in the larger mirror.

Shrugging the robe off his shoulders a bit, he studied his image again. A little imagination put Gojyo behind him, easing the robe off his shoulders. Of course, a negligee or a woman's silk kimono or something similar would be much more aesthetic. He eased the outer garment off farther, until it was trailing from his elbows, and turned slowly, looking back at himself over one shoulder.

And caught a sudden movement in the doorway beyond: a familiar lanky, long-haired figure.

Hakkai's first reaction was anger at his own carelessness and self-absorption. How had he missed the creak of springs of the old couch? The second was complete panic. He turned to face his roommate, his heart in his mouth.

Gojyo's bleary eyes slid over him without a trace of recognition, then swung back again. His slack features pulled themselves together, and he gave Hakkai a sweet, reassuring smile: "Hey, baby, it's OK."

Hakkai blinked at him disbelievingly. Gojyo blinked back, grimaced, and then looked apologetic. "'Scuse me, doll."

And then he staggered off to the bathroom.

Hakkai lost no time in shutting the bedroom door firmly between them and then leaned against it, his heart hammering. Had Gojyo really not recognized him? What should he do now? Turn off the light and pretend to be asleep? He listened to the familiar sounds from the bathroom as Gojyo finished with the toilet and flushed it, then turned the taps of the sink on for a couple of moments. Hakkai was just reaching for the light switch when the mundane noises from the bathroom stopped abruptly. He held his breath.

"What the hell was that!?"

Gojyo's voice from the bathroom was full of incredulous near-outrage. A moment later, his footsteps sounded outside the door. "Hakkai … ?"

Oh no. This was not how it was supposed to go. He wasn't ready for this.

"Hakkai!" Gojyo was rattling the doorknob and trying to open the door. Hakkai leaned back against it with all his strength. This is just ridiculous. You were doing this for him to see … weren't you?

Suddenly Gojyo gave up. "Crap," he said, distinctly. There was a vague slithering sound, as though he were sliding down to sit with his back against the door. "Brain's pickled," he mumbled.

Or at least, that's what Hakkai thought he said. Poor Gojyo. This was all so pointless.

"Gojyo?"

There was no reply.

"Gojyo. I'm opening the door."

Gojyo must have heard that, because when Hakkai eased the door open, Gojyo was coming to his feet, one hand on the door jamb. His eyes widened, and he looked Hakkai up and down with exaggerated care, apparently making sure his eyes weren't playing tricks on him. "Fuck, that was you."

Hakkai took a deep breath and tried to summon the sexy presence he'd had when posing for himself in the mirror. He placed one hand on his hip, cocked his head, and pursed his lips. "So, Gojyo … what do you think? Do you like what you see?"

He'd meant it to sound sultry, but there was a distinct wobble to his voice, especially on the word "like." But Gojyo was still looking at him, and he did not seem disgusted. Then again, he did still look dazed and confused.

Finally he said, very softly: "It's … kinda hot."

"But maybe it's also 'so damn wrong'?"

Gojyo flushed and opened his mouth, but no words came out. Hakkai's gut tightened, but he also felt grimly satisfied. He had been such a fool to expect this to work. It was all of piece with his life so far. He decided to cast the final bit of fuel onto the pyre of his hopes.

"You might at least say something. I did it for you, after all, Gojyo."

Gojyo's lips and tongue suddenly seemed to remember their function. "For me? Damn, Hakkai — " And he reached out one hand and brushed the back of it gently up Hakkai's silk-clad ribs.

Hakkai's breath went out of him. Gojyo's expression was still puzzled, but it was kind, and his gaze was sharpening. He stepped a little closer, his eyes flicking over every feature of Hakkai's face, and shook his head. "You didn't need t' do that."

"Wh … what do you mean?"

"You were already too damn pretty." And Gojyo reached around to cup the back of Hakkai's head and pull him into a kiss.

It was everything that he'd hoped it would be, and yet it was so much better. Hakkai wrapped one arm around his friend's waist and threaded the fingers of the other into Gojyo's hair, as he'd always longed to do. Gojyo's lips were firm and yet somehow yielding at the same time. His tongue teased gently along Hakkai's upper lip, and Hakkai opened to him at once. He tasted of smoke, and liquor, and himself.

He tasted of liquor.

Gojyo slumped between Tiger and Kang, long hair screening his face. Gojyo out cold, one arm trailing onto the floor.

Hakkai pulled back abruptly and slid his hand between their mouths.

"Hakkai? What — "

"Gojyo, I don't … I don't want you to do anything you'll regret!"

"What the hell? You just said … Shit, Hakkai, I wanna do this."

"Gojyo, you were barely conscious when your friends brought you home. They said you had passed out on the floor of the bar. And you said, when I first came here, 'This is the first and last time —"

"'— I take a dude to my bed.' Yeah, but who was that guy? You, buddy! I didn't know you wanted … but, fuck, it's you! And I am not that drunk!"

"Gojyo, you were unconscious — "

"Not that drunk, dammit! Look —"

Gojyo pulled his lighter from his pocket. Without looking at it, he tossed it up toward the ceiling, his eyes locked on Hakkai's face. As it came back down, he reached out and plucked it from the air effortlessly, apparently without looking at it directly.

"See? Not. That. Drunk."

"Oh," said Hakkai. He lost no time in threading both hands into Gojyo's crimson hair once more and then kissed him again.

"Mmmmph," responded Gojyo, indistinctly, and slid one arm around Hakkai's neck and the other around his waist. Gojyo's hand drifted down to Hakkai's backside and squeezed. Hakkai found himself pressing against Gojyo, rubbing himself shamelessly against that hard, wiry torso. He simply could not stop himself: electricity seems to be coursing throughout his body and limbs, making him twitch in this fashion. Gojyo broke off the kiss to chuckle, and then pressed his face into Hakkai's bare shoulder, at the base of his neck.

"You smell good," he murmured, voice husky, and slid his hand around between them to rub the palm over Hakkai's silk-covered cock.

Hakkai yelped in a most undignified fashion — even for a man clad in a corset and silk drawers— and then moaned as Gojyo's warm, firm hand kneaded his flesh through the thin fabric. Hakkai's hips thrust forward, seemingly of their own volition.

"Yeah, babe, you like that, don't'cha?" Gojyo murmured into his ear. It was amazing how smutty he made those simple words sound. Hakkai could feel Gojyo's answer to his own engorgement pressed against his hip, and it dimly occurred to him that he ought to be doing something about it at some point.

Gojyo was sucking on his earlobe now, and then suddenly his teeth closed on the skin. Hakkai's breath went from him as the sharp little pain seemed to travel from his ear to his crotch, and then he was coming harder than he had since … since … .

For the first time he could remember, he deliberately turned away from his memories. It was shockingly easy, with the almost painful waves of pleasure coming from his own body, Gojyo's warm breath on his ear, the light constriction of the corset around his ribs and belly. It was increasingly hard to stand, and he realized he was swaying on his feet.

"Aww, crap," said Gojyo's voice in his ear, but the words were warm and amused. "Made you cream your pretty panties, didn't I?" And his arm slipped under Hakkai's and around his back, to hold him up.

"S-sorry," breathed Hakkai, unevenly, as the last spasms jolted through him.

Gojyo gave his damp crotch a gentle pat. "Sorry? What the hell's that about?"

"You're still … ." Gojyo's erection was as hard as ever; he could feel it.

"So what? We'll work something out. Here, get those off — I'm getting uncomfortable just looking at 'em … ."

Gojyo's face was flushed, his eyes sleepy and hot at the same time. Hakkai, boneless and vulnerable with the aftereffects of orgasm, felt his eyes dampen: how like Gojyo to be worrying about something like that, with his own needs unmet. He pulled away reluctantly and carefully peeled off the silk tap pants, managing to get most of his come off with them. "I think I need a towel. "

"Hell, why get one dirty? Here, use this —" Gojyo started to unbutton his own shirt. Hakkai opened his mouth to say something about the inappropriateness of using one of Gojyo's better shirts that way, then stopped himself. The shirt would need to be washed anyway. And why worry about that, when Gojyo's bare chest was being revealed so nearby? He took the offered shirt and mopped at himself absently, letting his eyes roam over the graceful line's of Gojyo's collarbones, the flat disks of his pectoral muscles.

Gojyo grinned and ran a hand through his hair, flexing his shoulders, making a show of it. Hakkai drew a deep breath, wadded the silk shorts up with the smeared shirt, and tossed them at the laundry basket. Without looking to see whether they had landed where they should, he stepped forward and ran his palms from Gojyo's shoulders down over his friend's chest, feeling the nipples harden beneath his hands. Gojyo hummed appreciatively and put his arms around Hakkai, pulling him close for another kiss. Hakkai could feel Gojyo's heat through the silk and bone of the corset, as well as the denim-clad bulge of his cock pressing against his own flagging erection.

He moved his hands down over Gojyo's abdomen, feeling the soft smoothness of skin over hard abdominal muscles and then encountering the waistband of the jeans. It was difficult to work the button through the stiff buttonhole in such a tight space, but easier when Gojyo realized what Hakkai was doing and moved to accommodate his efforts. There, now, the button was undone, and now the zip. Hakkai smoothed one hand down inside Gojyo's boxers, feeling the soft trail of down that led from his navel into the coarser hair at his groin, with the hard, hot length of his erection firmly against it.

"Ah, yeah, that's nice," murmured Gojyo, pressing forward with his hips.

"Let's … let's go to bed," said Hakkai. He never thought he would hear himself saying this to Gojyo. He was so filled with happiness that it was hard to breathe.

"You got it," said Gojyo. Spinning them around toward the bed, he dropped backward onto the mattress, pulling Hakkai down with him. Hakkai slithered out of his grasp and knelt on the floor between Gojyo's knees, pulling down his jeans and the boxers with them. His erection sprang free, flushed deep red and moist at the tip. Hakkai stared at it, mesmerized: he had to force himself to finish the job of getting Gojyo's jeans and shorts off over his feet.

"Hey," said Gojyo, reaching down to ruffled Hakkai's hair. "You don't hafta. I can just …" He grasped himself and gave his cock a stroke. "It's OK, see? Just havin' you there is —"

"No, Gojyo," said Hakkai, firmly. "Stop. You won't believe how long I've been wanting to try this." He tugged gently at Gojyo's wrist.

"For sure?" Gojyo let Hakkai remove his hand. "OK." He pulled one knee up, resting that foot on the edge of the bed, giving Hakkai plenty of room. Hakkai inhaled, smelling Gojyo's salty musk, and leaned forward to lick up his length. "Oh, yeah … ," sighed Gojyo, and his toes curled.

Something darkly sweet swelled and bloomed in Hakkai's chest. In all his dreams of changing their friendship into something more, he had never considered how powerful it would make him feel to have strong, beautiful Gojyo responding so helplessly to his touch. He wrapped one hand around Gojyo's shaft and started to stroke him, mouthing and sucking at the head. Gojyo groaned and cursed, rocking his hips to Hakkai's rhythm with surprising restraint at first. Encouraged, Hakkai picked up the pace. All at once, Gojyo's movements grew erratic. "Losin' it, Hakkai, damn … !"

His spend spurted up over his stomach, splashing Hakkai's mouth and chin. Hakkai licked his lips. It was not that bad, really. He resolved that next time, he would try having Gojyo come in his mouth.

"Did I get you, man?" said Gojyo, raising himself up on one elbow.

"It doesn't matter," said Hakkai. Gojyo's face was so lovely, flushed like that. "Why don't you just lie down? I'll get you a damp towel."

"What'd you do with my shirt, huh?" said Gojyo, subsiding onto the bed again. "Or my shorts. You don't have t' fuss over me."

"What if I want to?" said Hakkai, but he pulled Gojyo's shorts out of the discarded jeans and used them to clean Gojyo up.

"C'mere," said Gojyo, weaving his fingers into the corset's laces and pulling. He shifted back on the bed to make room for Hakkai, who tossed the smeared boxers into the laundry and climbed up next to him. They lay on their sides, facing one another, drowsy and contented and smelling of sex and sweat. Gojyo continued to toy with the corset's lacing, undoing the knotted bow and then starting to slip the ribbons from their loops.

"Don't," said Hakkai, mildly. "Just undo the hooks, here in front: it will be faster." Gojyo chuckled and complied, helping Hakkai draw the loosened garment out from under his body. He then gently pushed and pulled Hakkai until he could spoon up behind up, wrapping one arm over him and nuzzling and kissing the back of his neck.

"I suppose I should take my makeup off," said Hakkai.

Gojyo laughed, a warm little gust against the back of Hakkai's neck. "That sounds so wrong."

"Well, it will stain the pillowcase otherwise." Hakkai pulled himself out of Gojyo's embrace and stood up. He imagined that he must made a very debauched figure, standing there, with the last remains of his erection, his tousled hair, and his smeared makeup, but Gojyo's sleepy gaze held only warm approval and affection strong enough that perhaps one could even call it —

"Gojyo, where are you going?"

"Back to bed."

"On the sofa? Couldn't you just stay here?"

"Bed's a little small."

"I don't mind, but if you wouldn't be comfortable …"

"I'd be just fine. OK. Lemme take a piss first, and I'll be snug as a bug in a rug."

Hakkai gave him a moment, picking up his discarded bathrobe before following him. Gojyo was dutifully washing his hands, still as naked as the day he was born. Hakkai grabbed a flannel and gave himself a brief wipe down, aware of Gojyo's amused and appreciative gaze as he did so. After he dried off and wrapped himself in his bathrobe, he dug out a pot of cold cream and wiped away the makeup. "Better?" he asked.

Gojyo looked at him. head tilted to one side. "Yeah," he said, his voice husky, and then he yawned. "Shit. Sorry."

Hakkai smiled. "I'm sleepy too."

In the bedroom, Gojyo watched him pull on his pajamas. "Eh. Guess I should get my sweatpants?"

"I'm just more comfortable this way, but if you'd rather not … ?"

"No, I'll get 'em."

Hakkai waited for him to come back, shivering a little as his tiredness got a proper hold on him. "You should get in bed first," he said. "I'll be getting up early."

Gojyo sighed and slid under the covers. "That sucks. Couldn't you sleep in, for once?"

"Maybe a little," Hakkai conceded. He turned out the light and eased in next to Gojyo. His friend was radiating heat like a small furnace. Hakkai relaxed gratefully into the warmth and turned on his side. Gojyo spooned up behind him again. "Gojyo … ?

"Hmm?"

"Why were you so drunk tonight? For that matter, why have you been drinking so much lately?"

"Oh." Gojyo was still for a moment, and then he chuckled against Hakkai's shoulder.

"What's so funny?"

"Eh heh. Well, see, I was gettin' really down in the dumps the last few weeks because there was this hottie I wanted. And I didn't have the guts to say anything. See, this babe had it all goin' on: good-lookin', smart as a whip, fantastic cook, you name it. And me … nothin' but a half-breed punk."

Hakkai felt a seeping chill in his gut. "I don't see why that's funny."

"So tonight — I got totally baked, tryin' not t' think about it. Under the table and dreamin'. I don't even remember who dragged me home … .

"Tiger and Kang."

"I owe 'em, then. And then I woke up here, and I saw … well, I saw that m'dream had come true."

All the cold, all the doubt, was washed away. Hakkai blushed, even though the room was completely dark, and laughed, "Oh, Gojyo."

"Yeah, so that's the joke."

"Thank you for sharing that with me."

Silence.

"Gojyo?"

The only response was a faint snore. "Well," said Hakkai, very softly, "I guess I can't argue with that."

He closed his eyes and drifted down to join Gojyo in the soft, welcoming dark.