Lunch ended too soon and also not soon enough. As Joker fetched his bucket of bath things, Crow went over to the cage door. A panel opened up next to it, and he input some kind of code; a moment later, a strange, translucent sort of drapery unfurled around the cage, darkening the sides and leaving light to pour in up top. The crowds vanished from view. Joker relaxed a little, looking around. The top of that administration building still loomed, but at least he didn’t have to see faceless people. Much as Joker loved attention, those cognitions creeped the hell out him.
When Crow returned and draped himself down, seated on his cushion, one arm leaning on the table, he knew he couldn’t delay it any longer. He avoided meeting Crow’s eye as he set his bathing things on a dry rock next to the pool, but he could feel Crow staring at him. Excitement deepened his breath, nerves made his hands shake, and fear fluttered in his belly. He dared to shoot him a glance. Crow’s pose was languid, but while he couldn’t see his face under the helm from here, there was a certain sharpness to the angle of his head. Joker lowered his gaze.
I want to see him looking at me, he thought, and knew he was doomed.
“Can… I ask you for something else?” he murmured.
“What is it?”
“Can you take off your mask?” He slipped a hand up the side of his neck. “If you get to see my body, I should get to see your face.”
Crow paused for a long moment. Then, voice low, he said, “Let me touch you from the waist up.”
You greedy bastard. “Neck up.”
“Neck up, you weird pervert, or you can keep the mask on.”
“Hmph. Fine.” Another pause; then he lifted his hands to the sides of his helm. Joker held his breath as he watched him pull the top with its curled horns off from the neck brace-like bottom and shake out his hair. He set the horned helm on the table, out of the way; then he pinned Joker again with his rapt stare.
God, he was handsome. The light shone on his auburn hair in a way that made it look smooth as silk, that called for long fingers to sift through their strands. Unfairly, it had fallen perfectly around the hexagonal guards at the sides of his head, framing his smooth cheeks and soft lips and graceful chin. His red eyes burned with desire, no more masked than he was now, and it ignited warmth in Joker about four inches below his navel. The intensity of Crow’s stare—the way it was focused wholly on him—was the stuff of dirty daydreams.
He swallowed hard. Focus, focus. Don’t let him know he’s got you going. Your body is your only bargaining chip with him. Joker took a deep breath, raked a hand through his own hair, and set his gaze slightly above and to the left of Crow’s face. Enough to see him see, but not enough to be obvious.
He settled his fingers at his throat, where his costume top’s clasps lay hidden. One by one, he worked them open, letting his chest peek through inch by inch. When he was done, he let it hang there, open but not parted, and slid his gloved fingers onto his hips and around his waistband, then up the lapels of his coat to briefly cup his chest. Once his hands were level with his collar, he tugged on his right glove, first down out of habit, then up to just past the first knuckle of his thumb. A glance at Crow to make sure he was still paying attention proved to be a mistake; their eyes met, and Joker’s breath caught in his throat at how captivated his captor looked. A pleasant tingle washed over his skin, and he licked his lips.
Then, without breaking eye contact, he bit the tip of his right glove and slowly, s l o w l y peeled his hand out of it. Crow made a low, lusty noise deep in his throat and shifted his legs, and Joker resisted a smile. Instead, he turned himself to a 3/4th angle and repeated the process with his left glove—only this time, he trailed his tongue up his palm, up to the tip of his finger, before baring his teeth and squeezing down on the end of his glove. He went slow pulling it off at first, and when it passed the threshold of resistance, he ripped it off the rest of the way, whipping his head back. Crow shifted again, tension riding up his entire profile. Joker smiled for real this time, but kept it hidden behind his gloves for the moment before he half-turned and tossed them to one side.
When he turned back, he faced Crow directly, chest rising and falling with a gradually quickening rhythm. Crow never tore his eyes away, watching him with such intensity that Joker had to squeeze his own eyes shut to keep himself from getting carried away. He crossed his arms in an X over his chest, hands on his shoulders, head tilted away, in a show of faux shyness. Lips kept slightly parted, he turned his lapels back and loosened his coat; one side slipped off his shoulder, then the other, baring the muscular upper arms beneath. His fingers kept its descent off his arms unhurried, and he pressed his thighs together, demure as a virginal maiden. When his coat finally reached his elbows, he clutched it tight there for a moment, eyes shut, lips pursed. Then he let his eyes flutter open, and gazing at Crow from the corner of his eye, he let his arms drift down to his sides. It fell with fluid grace, and he caught it by the neck with the fingers of his right hand. Turning to show himself to Crow in profile, he hugged the coat to his chest; then he folded it, one hesitant crease at a time.
Crow not only ate it all up, he licked the plate and demanded seconds, all without a word. It was amazing, really, how eloquent a stare could be: a little twist of the hips, a flex of the hands, a flash of tongue on his lips, and the lust in his piercing gaze became a duet of desire and need. It made him gorgeous, and it made Joker feel gorgeous. He could just take him in his arms right now and…
He shuddered, the tiny movement racing up his spine. Crow half-sighed, half-groaned. He, too, looked like he was thinking something along the lines of he could just take him in his arms right now and—and Joker didn’t dislike the new ending Crow was writing in his head, or maybe more accurately in his pants. He drew a deep breath to calm himself; then he set down his coat and finally, finally, pulled his top apart. Crow made another noise, this time more groan than sigh, as Joker let his bare chest shine. The top he folded and set down, too, but this time he kept his arms low so Crow could appreciate his pectorals and abs.
Once he was topless, he took a momentary breather, both to calm himself and to let Crow drink in his appearance. He’d left on his mask—he intended on removing that last—but aside from that, he was now bare from the waist up. How long had it been since he started stripping? It felt like an eternity ago, and he was only half done. Crow had to be fit to nut himself. Or so he thought as a joke, but then the idea of him orgasming just from Joker’s show made another, sultrier and more insistent shudder course up his body, prickling his arm hairs and hardening his nipples. To cover it up, he interlocked his hands and stretched his arms, first in front of him, then over his head. He allowed himself a peek at Crow; one hand gripping the table, the other hand’s thumbnail between his teeth and fit to tear, his entire body was taut as an over-tuned piano string and just as liable to snap. Joker arched his back as he stretched that much harder and higher.
With a ballerina’s grace, he extended one leg and folded himself in half, fingertips touching his sole. Like this, he couldn’t see Crow’s reactions, so he trusted in himself and his natural sensuality as he caressed his boot from bottom to top. Once he reached the top, he loosened it and slipped it off, then repeated with the other, and set them neatly next to his folded coat and top. From there, he trailed his bare fingers up his long, long legs as he stood upright, until finally they hitched themselves in the waistband of his pants.
This time, he didn’t dare to look at Crow. Instead, he focused solely on the deft dance of his fingers as he caressed the buttons at his crotch and snapped them open: one, two, three. He burrowed his fingers beneath his waistband, loosening his pants as he held his drawers in place—
“Joker,” Crow moaned.
—fuck, fuck fuck fuuuuck, Joker nearly moaned too. Worst yet, that—nngh, yes, that was his cock twitching with far more honesty than he could allow himself. He’d let this go on for far too long. In whipping Crow up in a desperately thirsty lather, he himself was on the verge of dropping all pretense along with his pants and straight-up begging his captor to pin him to something, anything, and pound his ass with all the passion that threatened to scorch them both. Wasn’t that fucked up.
Sweat prickled his face and collar. He half-turned, tugged at his pants, and then half-turned again, so that when his hardening dick sprang free, all (“all”) Crow got to see was his ass. He arched himself down, down, down, once again bending himself in half as he slid his pants and drawers off together, then arched his heels as he stepped out of them. Still bent over, he folded his pants and set them to one side, but when he stood up again, he kept his drawers in hand.
He glanced over his shoulder at Crow, who looked liable to break that damn table in half, possibly by throwing the both of them on top of it. The inferno in Crow’s unwavering gaze made Joker’s cock twitch again, and he bit his lower lip hard to keep from betraying himself. Then, meeting and holding that smoldering stare, he held his drawers up—up—up—and let go, letting them drift down and drape on top of the rest of his clothes.
Then he let himself smirk. Crow stilled as if struck to stone at the sight. Joker raked one hand through his hair again and set the other on his thigh, almost onto his ass. He looked forward and crowned his clothing pile with his mask. When he sashayed into the water, he put a grinding swing into his hips as he traced circles in his sweaty skin.
Because god help him, he wanted Crow to want him. He wanted him to go back to wherever he roomed, stumble in a lusty haze into his shower, and rub one out to the memory of this strip show so hard he chafed his dick. He wanted to coil himself around Crow and moan his name—no, scream it, as Crow gave himself over entirely to desire and thrust into him without pause or hesitation until they both climaxed at the top of their lungs, nails carving bloody trails into each other’s backs.
God, I better get an amazing room out of this, a part of him thought distantly.
The pool had its own plateau stairway, presumably for ease of climbing in and out. He soon reached waist-high water and exhaled a long sigh as its coldness tamed his burgeoning erection into flaccid obedience. For the best, but—nngh, guh. He shook his head and dove into deeper water to let it shock the rest of his lust out of him. Sadly, it worked; when he breached the water, the only thing he shivered from was the air chill.
He sat on one of the underwater plateaus, bringing the water to his shoulders, and splashed more on his face. Behind him, he could hear soft footfalls. He pretended not to notice and reached for the soap.
Crow blocked the way, kneeling on the edge between him and his things and reaching for the water. Joker pulled back, but didn’t lower, his hand, and watched as Crow splashed cold water on his own face several times. Then he passed him the bucket before plucking the towel out of it.
Joker accepted it in silence, took the soap and scrub-brush, and began to lather up the brush while Crow dried his face. Soon he put the towel back and moved to sit behind Joker; there, he immediately made good on his bonus and stroked Joker’s wet hair. Joker froze, then relaxed.
“You’re so insufferable,” Crow murmured.
He swallowed, but kept his tone even: “That’s unfair. You told me I should try to please you.”
“Such cheek,” he said with open affection, slipping his hand onto Joker’s cheek. He probably thought he was so clever. It exasperated Joker a little that he thought so, too. But then: “I really ought to punish you for it.”
He paused long enough for that comment to ring in the cool air. Then he set the soap down and started scrubbing himself. Some things you just didn’t risk engaging.
Crow caressed the side of his neck as he washed. He, too, said nothing further, seeming content with the moment as it had become. It wasn’t bad for Joker either—not bad at all—and after a moment, he began to hum a nostalgic tune, a song to sway the heart and whittle it down. A brisk breeze rustled through the trees in the enclosure. Strange; all of a sudden, the mood had gone from “raw me as hard as you can” to “let’s cuddle and spoon.” Probably it was just him, though. Also the general chill. It wasn’t cold cold but, having been given the chance, it definitely cooled their passions before they got the better of either of them. Weird for a zoo-themed Palace, in his opinion.
Eventually, he’d washed as much of himself as was above water. He dipped back into the pool to rinse off the soap, then surfaced with a gasp and pushed his hair back from his face. Crow’s gaze journeyed down his bare chest, down his wet stomach, down to where the water barely covered his groin, and meandered up again to his face. The glitter in his eyes warmed Joker from the inside out, and he hurried to settle back into his previous spot. He reached for the shampoo still in the bucket, but Crow rested his hand on top of it first.
“Sit on the edge,” he commanded. “I’ll wash your hair for you. That’s acceptable, right?”
Was it? Joker hesitated as he considered it. It fulfilled the requirement of staying neck up, and it wasn’t sexy, it was just… washing hair. Kind of an odd offer, though. “Do you have a hair kink or something?” he asked, dubious.
Crow burst out laughing. “God, no!” He stretched his clawed fingertips out to brush his cheek. The look in his eyes was almost tender and emphatically affectionate, and it made Joker’s heart flutter. “I just want an excuse to touch you more. I thought you knew that about me by now.”
He frowned, still uncertain. However, even though he knew it was a bad idea, he said, “Well… okay. Just don’t make it weird.”
“I wouldn’t dream of it,” he replied airily.
Joker snorted, but left the obvious lie alone. He slipped up to sit on the edge of the pool and began to soap the rest of himself up. As he did, Crow knelt behind him andslowly worked a glob of shampoo through his curls. A handful of water helped with the lathering, and—oh. Oh damn. Crow caressed it through, trailing his glove claws along Joker’s scalp. They left a pleasant tingling in their wake, and Joker paused and let his eyes drift shut.
“Does that feel good?” Crow murmured, keeping up the massage.
“Uh.” He swallowed hard, licked his lips. “Yeah. Actually.”
He leaned in as he traced twin lines behind Joker’s ears. “How good?” he whispered.
This felt distinctly like a trap, so Joker made a show of going back to scrubbing himself.
Not that it seemed to bother Crow. He leaned back, chuckling, as he worked his hands. “By the way, Joker. Have you ever heard of something called the suspension bridge effect?”
“Basically, when a woman walks with a man onto a suspension bridge, which then sways in the wind, the swaying causes her heart rate to rise out of fear. But since she’s with a man, she mistakes that racing heart for feelings of love towards her companion.” He laughed again, this time with a distinctly unnerving edge. “Isn’t that amazing? How easily someone can confuse love and fear…?”
“Don’t you think that means the two are fundamentally similar?”
“Joker… no,” he whispered, leaning in to his ear as his clawed fingers dug deeper into his hair, “Ren Amamiya… Do I make your heart pound?”
He didn’t speak. His heart, hammering frantically on the bars of his rib cage, said it all for him.
Crow chuckled again. “It’s fine if you don’t want to say. I just want you to dwell on it.” He leaned back. “I want it to possess your thoughts, day and night, like you possess mine…”
And there he left it. Crow fell into silence to focus on massaging Joker’s scalp, a sensation that remained so pleasant and soothing that he could have drowned in it. For his part, Joker hid the tremor of his hands by scrubbing until his skin was nearly raw.
When he was done, Crow rinsed his hands in the pool, then filled the bucket with water. He poured it over Joker’s head and shoulders, rinsing away the shampoo and soap in a river of suds. Twice he repeated this, even after Joker slipped back into shoulder-height water. After that though, he contented himself with brushing the backs of his fingers on Joker’s cheek, and then to watching when his captive dove and swam away towards the waterfall.
Joker knew this because he made no attempt to stop him or call him back, even after he surfaced. The waterfall provided some convenient cover, and he peeked around it to confirm Crow’s attention was still on him.
He pressed a hand to his chest and breathed. That had been… what was the opposite of intense? It’d been like sinking into a bed of cotton balls. A sensation like completely giving himself over to someone else. As much as he loved his thrills, it hadn’t been a bad feeling. And that made it dangerous, and that made it heady and thus appealing. God. Why did he have to get turned on by danger? Love and fear blurred hard indeed when you were into that.
He stepped under the waterfall and let it pour over him for a moment. After that, though, his bath was pretty much done. Glancing at Crow told him—yeah, of course he was still watching. Joker glanced up at the fake sky, then resolved himself and swam-walked for the shallows.
Crow kept watching as if entranced as he climbed out. Joker ignored it as well as any man could ignore his fetish in favor of picking up his towel and starting to dry off.
“The show’s over,” he added lightly.
Crow sighed. “All too soon.” He rolled onto his feet. “Very well.You’ll have your… private space.”
“You could sound happier about it,” he added sharply.
“You think I’m happy about any of this…?”
His eyes flicked down as he sighed. “No, I suppose not.” A beat. He composed himself, more or less, and added, “You have a splendid body, and you know well how to display it. I could scarcely tear my eyes from you.”
Joker turned away to hide his smile. “Oh?”
“…which makes me wonder how many times you’ve done this sort of thing, and for how many people.”
Danger. And not the sexy kind. “If I’ve done anything like this before, it was from before I met you.”
Crow paused. Then he chuckled. “And you’re hardly going to do it for anyone else, either. Fine.” He gently scraped the back of Joker’s neck, sending a shiver down his spine. “Feel free to sell that one to me again. I enjoyed it immensely.”
Joker buried his face in the towel, pretending to dry himself off with vigor. “Uh, by the way,” he said, muffled. “What about laundry?”
“Ah, that’s one thing you don’t need to worry about. Just will your costume on again and it’ll appear around you, whole and clean.”
Is that it? But as he looked down at himself and wished to be dressed, his costume, still folded near by, went up in blue flame, then wreathed him in the same. A moment later, and he was back in style, complete with mask.
“…Convenient,” he admitted.
Crow sighed wistfully. Then he said, “There are lots of little tricks like that you can pull in the Metaverse. It’s just a matter of taking the time to figure them out.”
Joker raised his eyebrows. “D’you feel like sharing any more?”
He smirked. “Only the first one’s free. What will you do for the rest?”
“How much would a kiss get me?”
To his bafflement, Crow blushed and recoiled as if scandalized. “A k-kiss?!”
“That’s—that’s out of the question!! You can’t just—sell a kiss! It’s unacceptable!”
“How many women have you kissed where you can make an offer like that like it’s nothing?!” he demanded, still red-faced. “Do you spread your legs for anyone who wants a fuck, too?! You… you Jezebel!!”
Joker stared. “…Gonna ignore that last comment,” he decided. “But by some chance, have you never been kissed before?”
“S-so what if I haven’t?!” He folded his arms and turned away in a huff. “One’s first kiss is supposed to be special! You can’t give it away to just anyone in just any way!!”
Joker stared harder at the man who had lied to, betrayed, almost murdered, kidnapped, caged, and sexually coerced him, declaring in all seriousness like a blushing tsundere maiden that his first kiss should be special. Then he turned around, strode over to the plateau wall, and slammed a fist against it as he slumped, shaking.
He’s too adorable!! Is this what they call gap moé?! he wondered furiously, other hand covering his mouth. I can’t handle it!!
Crow was yelling at him some more. What was he saying? Shit. Probably something else precious. Shit. He was so fucked.
Bracing both hands on the wall, Joker sucked in a deep breath through his nose and stood up straight. Seven seconds of holding it later, he let it out through his mouth for eight. Then he nodded once, tucked his hands into his pockets, and sauntered back over to Crow.
“Sorry, I wasn’t paying attention,” he said, blasé. “So, kisses are no good. Does this mean sex in general is out? If you’ve never been kissed, I’m guessing you’re a virgin, too.”
“You guess correctly,” he said stiffly, grimacing in irritation. “Are you going to laugh about that, too?”
“No. I’m just surprised. You really did only want to touch me.”
A shadow of unhappiness flitted across Crow’s face as he glanced away. “I’m not… uninterested… in sex. With you,” he said with difficulty. “But it...”
“Should be special,” Joker finished. “It’s okay. I get it. Your first time… your first kiss… you want to cherish it.”
Crow met his gaze, then glanced away again, lips slightly parted, cheeks faintly pink, one hand up to brush his hair back. In that moment, he looked so unsure, so vulnerable… so beautiful. Joker resisted the urge to close the distance between them and pull him into his arms. He didn’t think this was an act or a trap, but that didn’t mean Crow wouldn’t take advantage if he sensed weakness.
It was good, though. For one, this was a real relief. If Crow had hang-ups about his firsts, then he wouldn’t demand those things from him. For another…
For another, if he played his cards right, it might well be possible to seduce his way out of here.
He’d have to leave that for a last resort, though. Joker was sure he could do it; he was significantly less sure he could do it without falling for Crow, too.
“What about a massage?” he offered. “I’m pretty good at those.” Thanks to Ms. Kawakami, he didn’t add. Crow was already unreasonably jealous without bringing up someone he might know.
“I’m not… I don’t…” He shook his head violently, then glared at Joker with open hostility. “No. I’m not exposing my back to you. You’d take advantage in a heartbeat.”
“That seems unfair.”
“I know you’d run from me if given half a chance. You’ve made it repeatedly clear your top priority is escape,” Crow replied, eyes narrowing. “I won’t let you. You’re mine. I won’t let you go.”
Joker sighed. “Right, right.” He paused in thought. “Then how about something like this?” With even steps, he approached his captor, who tensed. When they were less than a foot apart, Joker stopped and met Crow’s suspicious stare; then he swept his coat back and sank to one knee. He reached for one of Crow’s hands and brought it to his face. “How may I serve you today…” He gazed up at him, lips grazing his knuckles. “…Master Crow?”
Crow’s eyes flew wide. A couple of seconds later, they settled as he smiled and turned his hand to stroke Joker’s face. “Hmm… I don’t dislike it.” He traced his thumb over Joker’s lips. Joker held his gaze and layered his hand over Crow’s; Crow’s smile grew. “Yes, there is a distinct appeal. But for now, I still have to get your personal room processed. It may take a couple of days, so you’re aware. Do you have anything you’d like in particular for it?”
“A light,” he murmured, “for reading. A table, maybe. A cubby for the futon. Extra pillows to go with it. Bookshelves. Maybe a portable stove or space heater? It gets cold in here.”
“Hmmm… Furnishings will cost you extra… but the rest, I’ll see what I can arrange.”
Joker let the side of his mouth pull up in a teasing smirk. “Thank you, Master.”
Crow chuckled, slipped his hand under Joker’s chin, and tilted his head up. “I look forward,” he purred, leaning in almost nose to nose with his captive, “to when I’ve broken you in enough that you call me Master for real.”
Joker’s smirk peeled away from his teeth. Gap? More like a canyon.