Every impulse that we strive to strangle broods in the mind and poisons us. The body sins once and is done with its sin, for action is a mode of purification. Nothing remains then but the recollection of a pleasure, or the luxury of a regret.
~ Oscar Wilde, The Picture of Dorian Gray

His body is hot against hers; a slow burn like the shame running rivulets down her face. She hears nothing but the cadence of sweet tones-- his whispers humid on the shell of her ear. It's when the words pierce her with too much understanding that she feels herself crumpling and only his hands, their heat piercing the thinness of her clothes, prevent her knees from failing.

His tongue drips with ugly words that do not suit his pretty mouth. She does not want to be reminded of her piteousness. She does not want to hear what she already knows from a stranger's tongue. His lips brush her jaw and her spine tingles while his fingers press firmly against her belly. She flinches from his touch only to find she has molded herself against him. She is aware, as he promises her comfort, relief, or a night of feeling truly desired, of his hard body wrapped around hers. How many times had she dreamed of being touched liked this? How many nights had she imagined Joker's hands on her, just like this?

The bare hand strokes her neck, fingertips sliding down slowly until obstructed by the scarf draped loosely around her. A sob catches in her throat at the painful remembrance and she struggles weakly against the hands roaming her body; the hands reminding her of every curve, of every line that every other man finds desirable except for him. She chokes on the lump rising in her throat and the whispers start anew. The fight is leaving her, leaking from the corners of her eyes while Black promises her he can make her forget. He can be the drug that will ease the pain-- a nepenthe to an otherwise sleepless night.

The night is suddenly arctic and only his body, only his presence keeps her from curling in a ball on the floor. Only his hands guiding her keep her from running. She wipes away her tears and his mouth curves sympathetically. He does not mock her for trying to recover a little dignity. He does not try to kiss her or offer words of false comfort. He does not lie about his intentions.

She grits her teeth, too outraged for words, and nods. She sniffs back the angry tears threatening to explode, wiping away the moisture cooling on her flushed cheek with the back of her trembling hands. She nods again, meeting his dark eyes and noticing his looks for the first time. He is taller than Joker, his shoulders broader and his mouth curves in ways that are at times so caring and yet the capacity for cruelty lingers close beneath the surface. He is amused by her reaction and does nothing to hide the pleasure of knowing his suit has been won. She should be outraged by his ego, by his absolute confidence, but his honesty is in his favor tonight and it is dishonesty in one she has trusted for so long that prompts her hand to entwine itself in his.

She leads him back to her tent without words, without fear of who may see them, and half hopes someone will see them though the camp is blessedly silent. She wastes no time in throwing the scarf to the dusty floor and he is amused by her small display of anger. His eyes follow the quick movement of her hands undoing the buttons of her coat. His fingers are there to push the material off her bare shoulders and he places the garment carefully over a chest with more delicacy than she expects.

He grins in a hungry sort of way, baring the edge of white canines and her stomach flutters with the nervousness of her decision. She turns away and it is the sight of her empty bed that weakens her resolve. She chooses to face him instead, turning her back to the white sheets and presses her hands flat against his chest. His pulse betrays no such misgivings, rising evenly with each breath. She is pushing herself forward on her toes, mouth tilted up to reach for his. It is never so evident as it is now of the height difference between them. His mouth turns, cruelness in the edges, and she realizes he is not lowering his face to meet hers. His hands slide down her hips, bare hand low enough to slip against her thigh. She pushes away from him and climbs onto the mattress.

He will not pretend and neither will she.

"A creature as beautiful as you," he breathes along her shoulder, "can have just about any man she wants." His fingers slide down her arm, pause and trace lines up and down the back of her bodice. "How long have you waited for one who refused to pay tribute to such charms?" His hand slides down her waist, curving, twisting it's path to her lower belly. A dull spark flares beneath his touch.

"It's been like this for ages," she admits, curving her body into his warmth. She pulls away, and stretches out on the cold mattress. His hands run down her legs, down to her boots and swiftly untie the laces. "He never tells me what I want to hear," she says. Black slips her chilly feet free of her shoes. His fingers pull away the thin stockings clinging to her legs. "He's been distant, ever since father left us the circus," she says accusingly, lifting herself on one arm to look at him. Black's smile fades.

"Father?" he asks and she knows she has already said too much.

"Our patron," she spits out, relishing the way her tone is not lost on him. "He helped us develop our limbs-- gave us new bodies...," she continues. She bends her knee to demonstrate and Black accepts the invitation. He slides his hand along the ceramic, pushing her thigh apart slowly. She wonders what that touch must feel like.

"This is father's hallmark?" His finger pauses on the seal forever branding her. She lowers her body to the mattress, turns to her side, too embarrassed to watch. His thumb rubs circles against her thigh.

"Yes," she sighs next to the pillow. "We are all father's possessions." She feels a measure of relief at finally voicing this long suppressed resentment. She pushes away the bubbling memories of painful conversation that took place not an hour before.

"Does father have a name?" Black asks, fingers skimming the edge of her panties. He slides the material down her hip, and for a moment the bodice is too restricting; for a moment she cannot breathe.

"Why," she manages to voice intelligibly despite the long digits stroking her most intimate place over her half lowered panties. He shifts above her, his bare hand pressing into the mattress not far from where her fist clenches the sheets.

"I don't know him in the least and how can I greet him without knowing his name." He sounds almost genuine. For a moment he sounds like a lover with honorable intentions. But deep down she knows he will never greet father. There will be no courtship nor asking for her hand. He made his intentions clear enough. "It's okay if you tell me, right?" his left hand removes the barrier between them. His glove is soft against her, the heat of his fingers dimmed, but still detectable through the fabric.

His left hand, she realizes and moans. His right hand stays pressed against the mattress next to hers. He will not touch her with more than this left hand she realizes and she is grateful. He has seen through her and he does not fault her for picturing another man's face behind the back of her lids each time her eyes clench shut.

Heat pools between her thighs and her fingers clench against the sheets, picturing the bed indented next to her under cold ceramic weight.

"Father," she breathes. Her response turns guttural under the pressure of his thumb rubbing circles against her pearl. Her hips undulate, dancing in rhythm to his languorous pace. His knee presses into the mattress between her outstretched legs. His breath is warm against her breast.

"Unless you prefer not to pretend..." His finger slips lower, toying with the folds to that hidden part of her.

"Gelwin!" she whimpers, twisting her body against the first intrusion. "The Baron Gelwin," she mutters and gazes with half-lidded eyes at the image watching her from the frame across the room.