Author's Note: Hetalia does not belong to me. The cardverse does not belong to me. My ideas do belong to me.
Bells ring throughout the Castle of Clubs, nearly all day long. Bells for the maids and bells for the footmen and bells for the cook ring. The servants run about on edge, listening for their bells, listening so hard that when a maid is called for, five come. They bow and scrape and never complain about the dismal, boring aspects of their jobs and lives. The people in the castle are afraid of upsetting the king.
It is generally decided that King Ivan is a fine enough ruler. The kingdom is prosperous and the people in the villages are happy. The taxes are reasonable. The relations with the other three kingdoms are good. However, speculation has it that all of the good came from the queen, a beautiful woman that had been forced into an arranged marriage.
The difference between the monarchs was that of night and day. Queen Elizabeta was known to be strong and witty, unafraid to speak her mind, kind to the servants, adoring of the people. King Ivan hid behind a veil of constant cheerfulness that easily gave way to anger and abusive of the people who worked for him.
Their differences were shown tenfold when it came to the Jack of the palace, the direct servant, a power behind the throne in all respects. Elizabeta had raised the boy – Roderich Edelstein – from poverty and slavery, while Ivan had bought him as a pretty piece of furniture. The queen took a liking to him and brought him up the ranks to be the man in uniform standing behind the throne. The king looked for every opportunity to demote him. He was encouraged by the queen to develop his natural affinity for the piano and do as he pleased in the castle. He was abused and beaten by the king who was jealous that his wife – who would not lay with him – would take such a liking in a pretty face.
The other servants in the palace did not know what to make of the Jack. They were afraid of getting too close and also falling out of favor with the king, but they were afraid of keeping too much of a distance that the queen would become angry. They were worried about the short temper he had developed from his beatings and didn't wish to displease him either – for despite the king's dislike of him, he was above the rest of them and they had to respect him. It was generally decided that it was best to leave all dealings with the man to those that were purely professional, no matter how many girls sighed over his looks and wished it did not have to be so.
Roderich's loneliness brought him to spend hours at the piano. And that was where he was when he first met the Joker.
His fingers were long and delicate and picked out the notes on the piano easily, spilling out rich, beautiful music all around the great music hall. Often the queen would sit behind him and listen, eyes closed and smiling. Sometimes the maids would gather at the door and sigh and giggle and throw roses at the piano while he played. But Roderich liked when he was alone and he could play for himself, for that was when the music was the loveliest.
He would play with his violet eyes closed, leaning into the keys and smiling like he did at no other time. But eventually it would have to stop and he would look up and listen and hear the bell that meant the king was calling him. So he stood and arranged his sheet music and moved to leave the room.
But this time, just as he reached the door, it closed. He frowned and reached for the handle, jiggling it, frowning deeper when he found it locked. Arms crossed across his chest and he glanced around, eyebrows furrowing down behind his glasses. "Hallo?" he called out, voice dying in the empty air.
"Play for me," came the whispered response, the curtains by the windows moving in some new breeze. The voice seemed to echo from all parts of the room and Roderich faltered, pressing up against the door. "Play for me," the voice insisted, a new edge to the sound.
Slowly, Roderich moved away from the door, glancing around the room. He couldn't see anyone. "Who's there..?"
There was the light sound of footsteps, then a body pressed up to him from behind, hands sliding down his sides. "Play for me, little Jack…" came the voice, softly in Roderich's ear. He turned his head to see who was there and frowned when he saw nothing, felt no one wrapped around him anymore.
Shaking his head slowly, then more vigorously to clear it, Roderich went for the door again. There was an exasperated hiss, then a hand locked around his wrist, just as he made to turn the handle. He turned his head, blinking in surprise up at the red eyes of a man dressed purely in black. This was strange to Roderich, as the people of Clubs dressed in green. There was a pause as the sight made him falter, then Roderich tried to pull his hand away. "Name yourself. You are on the king's property," he snapped.
A faint chuckle came from the man and he tugged Roderich away from the door, dragging him over to the piano and sitting him down, grip loosening, then gone completely, a breath on the back of his neck. "First you play."
Painfully aware of a red gaze drilling into the back of his head, Roderich slowly began to play again. His fingers faltered a few times, palms wet, goose bumps down his skin, but he carried on, and the piece was beautiful. When he was done there was a content sigh and he heard the click of the lock as the door opened again.
"Thank you, little Jack," came the voice, and it sounded smug, farther away than it had before. Roderich got quickly to his feet, casting around, trying to find the red eyes that had been staring at him all throughout the song.
"You said you would tell me who you are." Roderich's voice was irritable – it was his fallback, irritability. He was better than most people now, and if he could not be in their company, he would let them know.
There was a flash of white teeth, a blink of red eyes, then the man fully materialized again, sweeping into a mocking bow. "Joker," he responded before vanishing again, with his disappearance the feeling that Roderich was alone in the room.
He was beaten that night for his tardiness and angrily promised himself that he would never come across the Joker again.
At nights, Roderich sat by the window in his bedroom, staring outside and thinking about home. His village had been ransacked when he was a boy and the woman and children taken into slavery. To this day, he had little idea what had happened to his mother. Sometimes he sent people out to look for her and it sounded as if she might have ended up in Hearts with some sub-royal family there. He himself had been passed from seller to seller until he was brought up to the king and bought as a pretty footman. He supposed his life was alright now, but he missed home desperately.
His gaze would shift to look into his reflection and he would frown, poking at his pale face and pinching at his high cheeks. He peered out through his glasses, taking them off and widening his strangely violet eyes. Then he would stand and take off his overcoat and frown down at his skinny frame, look up and tug at his muddy hair. At the end of it all he would be left feeling discouraged, looking the same as he had looked before.
For a moment, he closed his eyes, sighing out, exhaling the work from the day. When he opened them again, there was the Joker, staring at him with his red eyes, leaning back against the window, arms crossed, one pale eyebrow raised.
Roderich was silent as he stared at the man, then he shook his head, turning away and going to sit on his bed. "Get out of my room, Joker," he said quietly, pulling off his shoes and the cravat around his neck. He kept his head tilted down, waiting for the other to leave before continuing.
There was a soft rustle and the Joker came up in front of Roderich, cupping the other's chin and tilting his face up, looking pensive. Roderich stared up into the red eyes, stayed still as a cold hand brushed over his cheek. "The pretty Jack is sad," was decided after a moment, and the Joker sat down next to Roderich.
"I don't see how my emotional state is any of your business." Roderich turned his face away again and tugged off black gloves. He froze as he felt arms sliding around his waist and a pointed chin resting on his shoulder, icy breath tickling his neck.
"I was asking to be polite," Joker's voice said, murmuring. "I know why you are sad. I've watched you. I like to keep watch on my property." Roderich froze as he felt a hand slip up his shirt, cold fingers curling against his skin.
He wriggled, pulling away from the Joker and staring at him, thinking that he caught a flickering of horns and tail before they vanished and he was sure that they had been imagined. Carefully, he hardened his gaze into an angry glare, properly miffed by the intruder in his bedroom. "I most certainly do not belong to you," he responded, practically spitting out the words.
A soft chuckle was his answer as the Joker moved closer to him again, pressing their faces closer together. "Play for me, little Jack," he said, voice light. "You gave yourself to me that night." He leaned even closer, one hand going to curl behind Roderich's neck, holding him still as he pressed a kiss to his lips. "For a face card, you know so little…" He stood up, starting to fade out of sight. "I will be close."
Then he was gone and Roderich stared out across the room, fingers curled into the green silk of his bed sheets. His heart pounded through the night, reacting wildly to the strange man who didn't wear the color of any proper card suit. An outcast. A Joker.
Roderich was not blind to the affections that the queen had for him. He knew that she shooed all the maids away when she had time to listen to him play. A few times he could swear that he caught sight of her out of the corners of his eyes while he was going about his duties or, occasionally, changing his clothes. He would accept the gifts and cakes she got for him with a smile and a bow of his head. He returned none of her feelings, but he neither encouraged nor discouraged them.
As the Jack, he was caught in a constant power struggle between the two dissonant monarchs. He needed to keep the good graces of the queen, as she was his biggest supporter in the court. However, he was well aware that her interest in him was what caused all the trouble with the king. The royal marriage was far from perfect. It was arranged and he had heard from the queen herself that it was not consummated.
If he had to choose one person in the palace that he could call a friend, he supposed it would in fact be Queen Elizabeta. Sometimes he found the moves she would make on him annoying, but she talked to him about things that were important to her. Sometimes he found that the two of them could laugh together. Once he told her the story of his village and just how he had ended up working at the palace. She had hugged him tightly and promised that she would find his mother.
Of course, as things tend to do, the affections came to a head one day. Roderich stood up from the piano after a rather long playing session and listened for the bells of the castle. Hearing nothing, he headed towards the door, meaning to get himself some lunch.
Two small hands grabbed onto his wrist and he looked back to see the green eyes of his queen staring back at him, fingers curled tightly around the cuff of his sleeve. Roderich pursed his lips and tugged his hand away from her, offering a low bow. "My apologies. I neglected to ask if you needed anything, my lady."
Elizabeta smiled and shook her head, hands falling to clasp in front of her, pale against her dark green skirts. "You don't have to ask any such thing. But I do need something from you."
Roderich straightened, nodding a little. "Of course. Whatever you need, if I can assist you, I will."
The queen moved towards him, staring up at his eyes unblinkingly. Roderich was not a tall man, and when she was directly in front of him, the top of her head came up to his eyelevel. She wore no gloves, and her bare hands moved to cup the man's cheeks, holding his face still for her quiet scrutiny. "As I would expect," she said after a moment. "You are so loyal and good, of course."
Having no time to react, Roderich stood there when Elizabeta's lips came down on his. He was still standing in shock when the queen was pulled away and a thump as she hit the wall. Opening his eyes, he stared at the scene of the queen of Clubs pinned to the wall by the Joker, the man's face dark with rage.
"You do not touch my property…" Joker hissed, fingers curling into Elizabeta's dress and pressing her harder into the wall. "He belongs to me. He is mine."
Finally coming to his senses, Roderich rushed over and tugged on the Joker's shirt, trying to pull him away from his queen. "Joker… Joker, stop. Joker, please, you can't just manhandle royalty…"
He flinched back as the furious eyes were turned on him, but was relieved to see the death grip that had been imposed on the queen's dress loosen. Slowly, the Joker's whole body turned to him and he advanced a couple steps before the same grip came to grab onto his shirt. Now he could feel the angry trembling running down the other's body.
"You are mine, Jack Roderich…" the Joker whispered, red eyes flashing. He leaned down and stole a hungry kiss from the Clubs man before pulling back, looking him over. "Don't you forget it. And don't forget that I am always close."
Roderich stared at the spot that the Joker disappeared from and ignored Elizabeta coming and shaking him and asking him if he was alright.
The king had spies throughout the castle. He didn't trust anyone and he had to know everything. Roderich was as aware of this as anyone else and it was with heavy feet that he dragged himself to Ivan's quarters at the sound of his summoning bell.
He met Ivan in his office just outside the bedroom, knocking on the door and stepping inside. Despite what he knew was coming, he held his chin up, gloved hands clasped behind his back. "You called for me, your majesty."
Looking up from the desk he sat up, Ivan regarded his Jack with cold eyes. "I did. Don't stand by the door, now. Come in, come in."
Moving farther into the room, Roderich let the door close behind him. With that barrier between them and the rest of the palace, the pretense dropped. Ivan stared at Roderich with hostility and dislike, Roderich at Ivan with defensiveness and the slightest bit of fear. There was silence in the room for a long while, the king content to let it linger, the Jack refusing to break it himself. He stood still, perfectly straight, staring at the wall over his liege's head.
Finally, Ivan set down his pen and got to his feet. His footsteps were loud as he walked over to Roderich, circling him slowly. "I heard something very interesting today, Jack of Clubs."
"I have no doubt. Many interesting things happen in our world." Roderich kept his voice calm, his eyes staring ahead of himself without wavering.
A hand came down on his shoulder, fingers curling hard into it. "This interesting thing happened in my own castle. My sources tell me that a certain knave of mine kissed my queen, and not politely on the hand, as he should do and is polite."
Roderich's lips turned down. He was at an impasse. There was no way he could turn in the queen for what really happened. What could happen to her was far worse, for her and for the people. He had to protect his lady, even if the information was not quite correct. "I think you may wish to check your sources, your majesty. They are failing you."
A slap resounded around the room and Roderich let his head follow through, otherwise not reacting. The stinging on the side of his face was normal. Expected.
"My sources are solid." There was another slap, to the other side. Roderich let his fingers curl into his palms, hissing out to stay as silent as possible. A pause and he could feel the king looking him over, before he decided and, with a nod, gave the order to take off his shirt.
Roderich pulled off his coat, cravat, and shirt, looking down at the ground and staying still as he listened to Ivan moving about the room. He was prepared for when the first strike of the whip came down on his bare back. For ten lashes he was able to keep himself silent, and for the next ten he could muffle the cries. But by fifty he had screamed himself hoarse. When they finally ended, he dropped to his knees and shook.
"Leave now," Ivan commanded, and Roderich forced himself to his feet and redressed, ignoring the blood seeping into his shirt. He stumbled out of the room and tipped over, caught at the last moment by strong arms.
He was unconscious before he could look up and see who was helping him. But the Joker carried him to his bed and kissed his wounds, the magic he had starting them healing. He bound them and crawled into bed beside the Jack, falling asleep with the little brunette curled up in his arms.
It was easy enough for the Joker to pull a few strings. He got Roderich off work for a few days. Made sure that no one would enter the room and disturb his precious possession. Practically nursed the Jack back to health – and that was not a job that a Joker took on lightly. It was work that was beneath him. But still he did it.
Roderich was delirious the first few times that he woke up. The Joker would stand by him and drum his fingers on the headboard and groan and wonder why the hell he wouldn't just heal faster already. He wished that the king's room didn't have magical wards on it and he could have just prevented this whole mess. He had plans, a Joker always has plans, and they are always secret. He wanted things and the object of his desire being weaker than usual just ruined them.
When Roderich finally awoke fully, he found the white-haired man sprawled across the other side of the bed. He looked down at his chest, covered with fresh white bandages. He rolled his shoulders, wincing at the pulling of raw, fresh skin down his back, but found it healing well. And he peered curiously at the man beside him, watching as red eyes opened and the other sat up, stretching and yawning and letting his shirt ride up over a stomach of hard muscles.
"I believe I owe you a thank you," Roderich said quietly, playing with the sheets of his bed. He watched as the Joker's head turned towards him, watched as he was blinked at, saw a slow grin spread across the others face.
"Oh yes you do. I've been waiting on you for days. Don't you realize it's supposed to be the other way around?" The Joker got to his feet and pressed a hand to Roderich's forehead. "You scared me there, little Jack. You shouldn't get into things that make your master worry."
"You were worried about me?" Roderich blinked up at the Joker's face, pulling his lower lip into his mouth. He felt more at ease with the other man around than he had before, relaxed. He managed a faint smile for him, settling back into the pillows.
"Mh." Sitting back down next to Roderich, the Joker looked him over. "I went through all the trouble to get you. All the trouble to assert my claim. Then some nut job royal – and there are two of those bastards in this castle, it isn't always like that – decided to try and whip you to death. I wasn't pleased."
Roderich nodded a little, deciding not to be bothered with the Joker's insistence of his ownership of his personage. He twisted his waist from side to side, trying to keep up freedom of movement. The only pain he let show was a slight wince, but it was obvious that the healing process was coming along. "Thank you."
Smiling, the Joker leaned in and pressed a kiss to Roderich's lips. He sighed contentedly and fell back across the pillows. "I made a good choice. I got a pretty little Jack."
Roderich's face flushed slightly and he pressed a hand to his lips. "Is this going to become a regular occurrence?"
There was a flash of white as he smiled and nodded. "Oh, yes. It will be. So get used to it. And next time, you are going to kiss me back. Because that makes it even better. You got it?"
"I got it." Roderich leaned in and pressed his own lips to Joker's, and arms went around waist and arms went around neck and bodies were pressed together – carefully, as Roderich was still in some pain. Legs became tangled and shared kisses became more heated until outer clothes came off and underclothes came off and Jack and Joker melted into each other.
Afterwards, Roderich lay with his head on the Joker's chest, eyes partially closed, relaxed with the feel of the other stroking his hair. He could see many scars on the man's chest, scars everywhere, and he realized just how strong, just how much of a fighter he was. He smiled and was proud of him and glad that he was here now.
After reveling in the moment for some time, Roderich looked up into the red eyes that were regarding him pleasurably, thin lips that were curled up in a smile.
"I have played for you," Roderich said softly, moving one hand to rest on the Joker's stomach. There was a murmur of assent and a nod, joined by a bonus smirk. "Now you said you would tell me who you are."
Violet eyes stared into red for a moment and the Joker chuckled, leaning down to kiss the top of Roderich's head. "Clever little Jack," he whispered, fingers going back to stroking and running through his hair. "I am Joker. I am the trickster of the land of Cards. The disaster of Diamonds, the curse of Clubs, the scourge of Spades, the haunter of Hearts. I am the brother to the King of Hearts. And I am Gilbert."
"Gilbert…" Roderich whispered, testing the name on his tongue. The other smiled and nodded, twining his fingers through those of the Jack.
"Use it well, love of mine," Gilbert whispered, smile curling up more, arms tightening around Roderich. And the two kissed again before submitting to the call of night and falling asleep once more.
Bells ring throughout the Castle of Clubs, nearly all day long. Bells for the maids and bells for the footmen and bells for the cook ring. The servants run about on edge, listening for their bells, listening so hard that when a maid is called for, five come. They bow and scrape and never complain about the dismal, boring aspects of their jobs and lives. The people in the castle are afraid of upsetting the Joker.
It is generally decided that King Ivan is the true ruler. He signs the paperwork and gives proclamations and keeps the relations with the other three kingdoms. He continues to do acts of good under the strict guidance of his queen, a beautiful woman in an arranged, unconsummated marriage. The kingdom thrives and no one in the villages is unhappy.
In the castle, however, it is speculated that there are those with slightly more power. The powers behind the throne. It is rare to see them out and about, but it is known that they are the Jack and the Joker. One was a slave who was brought into the land of royals by female affections, the other a prince who made a destiny of his own. Through a strange twist of fate, they were married. And for reasons no one outside of those specifically involved could say, the queen seemed willing to do as the Joker asked of her.
Sometimes the maids would still catch sight of the Jack at the piano, leaning into the music, a smile across his face. There they would see a figure in black behind him, watching his every movements, pulling him into his arms when he was done. Everyone would crowd around to see when this happened, but the door would mysteriously close, on its own accord, locked.
After all, Jokers had their plans, and their plans were always secret.
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