Feitan should have suspected something was off from the start. He's the type of person who doesn't like to talk and doesn't like to be talked to, and he does a great job of radiating that aura. Even when he's in a public space, people instinctively know better than to pay him any more mind than a passing glance or a nod. He figured, at first, that this blond guy was just a drunk idiot who couldn't take a hint.
The only reason Feitan didn't tell him to fuck off right away was because his bubbly attitude combined with the short blond hair reminds him of Shalnark. Troupe members aren't supposed to snap at each other, so the resemblance alone kept him quiet. Then it got weird.
For the exact reasons nobody dares to speak to Feitan, nobody has ever flirted with him before, either. Now, Feitan sits here, legitimately speechless rather than willfully silent, as this poor imitation of his friend showers him in... weird praise. That's all Feitan can really think of it.
"Hmm... but, come to think of it, you probably have a boyfriend already, huh?" the guy, who still hasn't introduced himself, assumes. "Do you like guys who are bigger and stronger than you? Or do you wanna try to find someone you can really dominate?"
An image of Phinks comes to mind at the first question, and Feitan is too occupied with laughing to himself to bother thinking about the second.
"Aw, that's an adorable sound! Let me hear more of your voice!"
The words have the opposite effect on Feitan as intended, causing his mood to drop back down to neutrality. He goes back to pretending he's alone as he nurses his drink, slowed down by his attempts to understand what this guy is getting at. Feitan knows the concept of flirting, yes, but maybe he just isn't capable of trusting enough to buy into any of it.
He only starts to suspect something when someone who appears to be a friend of this man-- whose name Feitan learns is Moxie-- starts trying and failing to get his attention. The new guy is clearly weirded out by Feitan having Moxie's literally undivided attention, and then he starts asking what the thing in his neck is. Feitan scoffs to himself, hops out of his seat, yanks the needle out from the back of Moxie's neck, and starts scanning the room for Shalnark.
As expected, Feitan quickly spots him frowning slightly at his phone as the display cuts out from Black Voice being interrupted. Feitan ignores Moxie starting to ask questions behind him and makes a beeline for Shalnark, stopping in front of him just in time for him to look away from his phone. He smiles at Feitan like what he just set in motion wasn't weird at all.
"You sure are a tough nut to crack, huh? I didn't get any info from that," he says.
What could Shalnark possibly need from him, and what the hell made him think some flirty stranger could get it out of him easier than a Troupe member?
"I just wanted to see if you're into guys," he answers-- again, like it's nothing. "Or, was he just not your type?"
"Why are you poking around? Have you been doing this to everyone?" Feitan asks, narrowing his eyes up at Shalnark but not quite glaring at him yet.
"Well... I wouldn't worry about it. If you're not interested, you're not interested," Shalnark says with a light shrug. He holds his hand out for the needle Feitan still has. Feitan decides to keep it and walks away without another word.
"Huh..? Hey, Feitan, I need that!" Shalnark calls over the chatter of the bar, and Feitan can already barely hear him by the time he's halfway to the exit. "It's not like you can do anything with it!"
Shalnark isn't weak by any means, but he's certainly not meant for combat like Feitan is. He's sharp, but Feitan's senses and physical abilities are sharper. He can barely keep up as Feitan leads him wherever he feels like going, just following the wind and surely making Shalnark think he's taking him somewhere in particular. They both like being in control of people; Feitan wonders how Shalnark feels being strung along like this.
Unfortunately, Feitan both overestimated Shalnark's patience and forgot about Autopilot. He turns a corner and at once is cut off by a dead-eyed Shalnark who catches him handily before reverting back to normal. The needle is still in Feitan's hand. Shalnark probably set his Autopilot command to simply catch him to avoid automatically breaking Feitan's hand to take the needle from him.
"Come on... was it that bad?"
Shalnark is a bit out of breath and probably already in pain from Autopilot. Feitan actually can't believe he used it just for this. Shalnark's hand rests on Feitan's, still closed around the needle, and waits for him to give it up.
"Answer me, Feitan..."
The guy Shalnark chose resembled him in both looks and personality-- hell, Shalnark could probably have forged that personality, too. And he even outright claimed to have been testing whether or not Feitan would be attracted to someone like that. In any other situation, Shalnark would certainly not use Autopilot just to catch up to Feitan, so he surmises he panicked due to Feitan's lack of response and couldn't stand to let him get away without discussing what happened.
So, a "crush", then. He really doesn't understand it, but he knows.
"What would you do if I stuck myself with this?" Feitan goads, unsatisfied with the fact that he had to extrapolate the reason behind Shalnark's behavior himself.
"Huh? Well, you're a Spider, so... I'd just pull it out."
"Pretend there aren't any rules. Then, what would you do?"
"... No rules?"
Feitan almost dares to expect something sappy, but that's only because he always tries to expect the unexpected.
"I'd play with you to my heart's content, of course," Shalnark answers with an honest smile.
Feitan finds it funny, and a satisfactory answer.
"Don't take this as permission," he warns as he finally hands the needle over to Shalnark. Shalnark stares down at it, keeping his eyes on it even as Feitan walks past him.
"Whenever you want to pretend... I'm up for it," Shalnark says before Feitan is out of earshot.
He'll have to keep him in mind.
The next time Feitan sees Shalnark, they're both in the rotation to guard the boss. They only actually have to do it for a day or two and can swap out with the other members whenever, but they're both fond of the boss and the time they get to spend with him, so they both have a tendency to stay with him until he insists they take some free time for themselves.
In this case, they're both procrastinating having free time while being near each other. Silently, both of them wait for the other to give in and go home first, testing each other's resolve to see this through. Chrollo has no idea what happened between Feitan and Shalnark, and so he sends them both on their ways at the same time once Franklin and Machi arrive to replace them in the rotation.
They go their separate ways, and they don't even so much as gesture to each other, yet they end up in the same alley next to a hotel that night anyway.
"Really, Feitan? Both of them this time?"
Feitan clicks his tongue; anyone not in the Troupe wouldn't have noticed he'd pickpocketed them. He holds both of Shalnark's needles up just to show his metaphorical hand.
"You already know I wasn't gonna use Black Voice without your permission. Right?"
"I have something else in mind," Feitan says. He turns and walks into the hotel rather than elaborating, and Shalnark has no choice but to follow him to get his needles back, at the very least.
When the clerk asks for payment for the room, Feitan looks smugly up at Shalnark, who pretends to be annoyed with him as he shells out way too much cash for a room they'll only be using for one night. His fault for believing in the use of money despite being a Spider, really. He lets Shalnark take the keys, but Feitan is still the one leading the way. Every time Shalnark attempts to walk at his side rather than behind him, Feitan speeds up. He expects Shalnark to give up once the stairs come into play, but they're both running by the time they get to their room. Feitan stops abruptly, having been paying attention to the room numbers, but Shalnark had instead been focused on Feitan and only stops once he's made it past him.
Again, Feitan gets to see Shalnark out of breath, considering he just raced him up three flights of stairs. The sound of his soft panting is a little mesmerizing. Feitan doesn't know how he didn't notice little details like these sooner. Then again, he's much more interested in what makes people tick as opposed to what he might find attractive in them.
Feitan already knows the majority of what makes Shalnark tick. Ambivalence-- specifically, anyone he respects ignoring him or refusing to acknowledge him-- is a big one. He's fine with following the boss's orders or he wouldn't belong in the Troupe, but Shalnark doesn't like feeling like he's being controlled. He's also actually secretly competitive. He's normally fine with sitting on the sidelines, but once he does get involved with something, it takes everything he has not to show any irritation if he doesn't come out on top. It's not just disappointment-- it's gritted teeth and twitching facial features as he tries so hard to keep up that cheery personality that normally comes so naturally to him.
Shalnark doesn't ever get to play with Feitan, but Feitan plays with Shalnark on a regular basis. He can't decide whether Shalnark's eternal good mood is a facade or not, and he'd be interested to see him break, but he's always careful not to take things too far. Shalnark's interest in Feitan is probably a desire for revenge: to turn the tables on him for once. His response that night when Feitan had his needle seems to confirm his theory.
"You know how we settle things in the Troupe," Feitan says as he walks into the room behind Shalnark. Shalnark faces him and actually looks serious for once.
"Heads," he chooses.
Feitan flips the coin. When he uncovers it from his arm, the result is the spiderweb-- tails. Shalnark actually swears and jerks his head away, inciting the exact opposite reaction in Feitan, who smiles and walks forward.
"I was wondering. What happens if you set your goal to be something that can't ever be attained?" Feitan asks, idly showing off by playing with the needles and keeping his guard up in case Shalnark tries to grab one. "What if you set your Autopilot to end once I get bored of you?"
"... Knowing you? I'd be free after a week or two, anyway."
"Well, you'd get boring quicker in that mode," Feitan concedes, and he sets the needles down on the nearest counter. Shalnark reaches for them, surely so as not to feel defenseless, but retracts his hand when he realizes that he'll be truly defenseless soon anyway.
"Can we at least set some ground rules before we start?" Shalnark asks, and he does a good job of keeping his nerves out of his voice, but Feitan can sense them anyway. Out of everyone in the Troupe, Feitan is the most attuned to sensing fear.
They're pretending there aren't any rules tonight, but that doesn't mean they aren't still friends, so Feitan relents for him.
"You won't be able to say any safe words. If you want to end this, just tap your foot twice against me."
Shalnark seems to work out what Feitan is talking about for a second.
"What, you're gonna gag me? I guess I should have expected that."
Shalnark doesn't seem to have a problem with anything so far, so Feitan leads him to the couch, finding the bed to be much too intimate much too quickly. The sudden mental image of Shalnark sinking into the mattress under him, all red and bound and enjoying everything despite himself, riles Feitan up enough to make him quickly sweep Shalnark's foot out from under him. He spins around just in time to land properly on the couch, the extra force causing him to bounce slightly, and by the time he's sitting still, Feitan is directly in front of him with his hands on Shalnark's knees.
Shalnark easily keeps his gaze, looking unfazed. Feitan pulls two cloths out of his coat, one to blindfold and one to gag, and sets them aside for the moment.
"The coin landed on tails, so do as I say," Feitan reiterates. "Put your hands behind your back."
Shalnark obeys and glances at the strips of cloth beside him.
"I'm not tying you up. You're going to keep them there yourself."
His expression gets a little tight, just a little fierce. Feitan contemplates whether to let him glare all he pleases or to order him to act submissive. He can always just change his mind later, so he lets him do what he wants for now.
Feitan partially unzips his coat to get his muffler out of the way, just for the psychological impact of Shalnark being able to fully see how amused Feitan is.
"Somebody I can really dominate, huh?" Feitan mocks, repeating Moxie's fabricated words from the night at the bar.
"I was just asking questions. You can't coax a good answer out of someone without providing a variety of examples."
Shalnark delivers the explanation well; he only falters on the last word or two as Feitan closes a hand around his throat. There's no fear of death here, and being choked doesn't seem to do it for Shalnark, so Feitan soon gets bored and retreats his hand. The fact that he stopped so easily seems to put Shalnark at ease. He was a fool to think there was anything to be afraid of from the start, anyway.
Feitan discards his coat and climbs onto Shalnark's lap just to get a reaction. He doesn't miss the way Shalnark's fingers twitch behind his back, the way he clearly has to remind himself that he's not allowed to grab him. He must be itching to take control back from him, but the coin didn't land in his favor.
"Am I allowed to speak?" Shalnark asks, pointedly glancing at the strips again.
"For now," Feitan answers, lazily following his eyes and pretending for a moment that the blindfold and gag are more interesting than Shalnark.
"Can you grind against me? I wanna get this started."
Ah, so this is how he's decided to take control. Feitan rules that out as an action he feels like doing just for that. Instead, Feitan drags the zipper on Shalnark's top down, following suit with the vest underneath and pushing both of them open. He doesn't bother taking them off of him, since that would give Shalnark an excuse to move his arms. Shalnark pretends to be unaffected and just pouts at him. He's good at cute expressions like that, even if there's a sort of dissonance between them and his real personality.
Then again, that cute innocence could be just as real as his uncaring cruelty, Feitan supposes. He truly doesn't know which trait is the most dominant. Maybe the fact that he's the hardest member of the Troupe to figure out is what makes Shalnark hold Feitan's interest. If he does unravel him and learn everything there is to know about him, won't Feitan get bored of him after all?
As long as Shalnark isn't acting the least bit submissive, Feitan doesn't think so.
"You really do look cute. Come closer! Snuggle up to me," Shalnark says, all smiles now. And he says it so innocuously, as if he isn't trying to control Feitan. Are all Manipulators like this?
Feitan is quick to grab one of the cloths and put an end to Shalnark's thinly veiled commands. He blinks at him silently, eyes all big and innocent because he knows he won that little battle, and Feitan decides the gag suits him. He climbs off of him and, resisting the powerful urge to first blindfold Shalnark and spin him around, commands him to walk to the bed. Shalnark stands and obeys, arms still behind his back. He just sits there and swings his legs for now, waiting for further command.
Shalnark being in such a good mood suddenly makes Feitan feel like he's already lost the whole war, and he pauses to think of something to strike back with. This would be so much easier if he could hurt Shalnark, but he's not doing that. Instead, he grabs the blindfold and walks over to him, wrapping it around his head a little sooner than planned. Then, he pushes Shalnark onto his back with a hand on his chest and climbs on top of him.
"When you said you would play with me to your heart's content, did you imagine something like this, but reversed? No, I guess you would make me do all the work," Feitan figures, remembering how Black Voice typically works. "But I think you're forgetting something. I torture people, Shalnark. And I don't have to hit you to do it."
Shalnark only tenses slightly. He's not really taking Feitan's threat seriously.
Feitan starts by ghosting his fingernails just barely across Shalnark's skin. He knows how the featherlight touches leave a more lasting impression than normal ones, tricking the blinded senses into feeling more than what Feitan is actually doing. He knows that where his fingers stop, Shalnark's skin feels insistent trails trickling down whatever path Feitan had set, only to crawl back up, as if lost and confused. Soon, he has Shalnark arching into the touch just to feel something solid. A victory, but it's not enough for Feitan to feel satisfied.
Disarming Shalnark of his words removes a lot of the challenge, but just trying to get him to genuinely submit is challenging enough on its own. It's not long before Shalnark moves fluidly with Feitan's hands, following him perfectly and rolling his hips up into him just once, clearly experimental.
"Do that again and I'll count it as you admitting defeat," Feitan warns, with enough smarm in his voice for Shalnark to hear his smug expression. Shalnark immediately stills completely, even ignoring Feitan's hands now.
"Good boy," he taunts as if there were any way for Shalnark to have won. Feitan sees goosebumps rising on Shalnark's arms and notices a slight change in his breathing. For a split second, Feitan tries to figure out why that would be an anger response, but quickly realizes with smug satisfaction that it isn't.
Why go through this whole song and dance if Shalnark likes something like that? It certainly conflicts with his refusal to let Feitan hold any power over him. Feitan takes it a little further, just to test the waters.
"People tell you how pretty you are, right? Not handsome, really, but all soft and cute like a bunny."
A bunny wouldn't be so lackadaisically cruel to anyone not in its little group, wouldn't be so callous under that cute exterior. Then again, Feitan has never dug into the psyche of a rabbit.
Feitan places both hands on Shalnark's face, holding his cheeks, and feels them starting to heat up.
"Do you want me to kiss you? It won't count against you."
It's a lie even if Feitan doesn't really intend it to be one. Of course it counts-- everything counts.
Regardless, Shalnark takes a moment but reluctantly nods.
"Where? I'll let you use a hand for this."
He's eager to get a hand out from under himself just for comfort's sake, sighing with relief as he does. He keeps Feitan waiting for a good while before finally lifting his hand. With just his index finger, Shalnark touches his cheek just above where Feitan's fingers lie. Feitan leans down and makes a horrible mistake. It was meant as a taunt, but the kiss is charged with an affection Feitan absolutely should not be capable of, even as a joke, and he almost misses the shiver that has Shalnark arching slightly because he's so shocked by his own actions.
Feitan actually has to pull back and collect himself for a moment. There are a lot of things Feitan is, and so many more that he isn't. He isn't soft, or merciful, or tender, or loving. He doesn't know things like that, and that's not just something he says. He truly has no experience whatsoever with what he just did, and he's shocked by how good it felt despite his instincts screaming that it's wrong. But what would be the "right" thing to do? Bite Shalnark?
His mind swimming, Feitan actually leans down to act on that thought, but he stops in surprise when he feels Shalnark's hand on his shoulder. He's freed the other without permission and he's using it to lift the blindfold. Feitan makes another mistake by taking in the look in his eye-- surprised and dazed and vulnerable yet somehow warm-- and yet another by yanking the gag down and kissing Shalnark.
He feels the urge to run away. This was supposed to be a fun little game of power where Feitan had planned to make Shalnark hit a breaking point. As soon as he pulls away, Shalnark threads a hand into his hair and kisses Feitan on the cheek exactly like he'd done to Shalnark; and then, it's Feitan who breaks.
Completely on impulse, Feitan flips the two of them over so his back hits the bed with a bounce and Shalnark has to catch himself so as not to fall on top of him.
"Fuck the coin. Do what you want," he says. Shalnark smiles, one eye still covered by the blindfold and the gag hanging loosely around his neck. Feitan was so close-- how did he fuck this up?
"You're really gonna let me play with you?" Shalnark asks, looking over his shoulder at where his needles lie on the counter. Feitan brings his heel down on the back of Shalnark's knee hard enough to make it buckle and he catches himself on his forearm, now looming lopsidedly over Feitan.
"No. Not that. Whatever we're doing right now."
Feitan truly has no idea what this is, and asking for more of it confuses and humiliates him. Shalnark doesn't have a third needle, does he?
"Hmm..." Shalnark stares at him, expressionless for a moment before he's smiling again. "Do you want some love, Feitan?"
"Don't call it that," Feitan quietly snaps.
"What's wrong? What else would you call this?"
He presses his lips to Feitan's temple, a sensation he's never experienced before in his life, and Feitan can't help reacting how he usually does when threatened: by hitting whatever is threatening him. Without even being conscious of it, he slaps Shalnark across the face, his hand freezing in the air after he realizes what he did. Shalnark's head turned from the impact, but his eyes are calm and unaffected as can be as they stay trained on Feitan. He can see gears turning behind that blank stare and realizes suddenly how vulnerable he's made himself to Shalnark. He starts panicking, starts genuinely asking himself if he's going to have to kill Shalnark, all because he can't handle affection.
"Hey," Shalnark says softly, trying to bring Feitan back to his right mind. "The game's over for now, okay? We can just play some other time."
Is Shalnark about to get up and leave? That thought bothers Feitan just as much as the idea of continuing. He tackles Shalnark onto his back with both hands fisted in his open shirt just to prevent him from leaving. He feels hands-- gentle, tender hands-- creep up his thighs to rest on his hips.
"Stop. Whatever you're doing, stop that."
"You're the one who said you wanted more..."
Shalnark pauses for a moment, which gives Feitan enough time to start to collect himself now that he's not trapped under Shalnark. He can't move like this, so he can't go get his needles. He's not dangerous. Feitan keeps telling himself that, as if the possibility of Shalnark using Black Voice on him were even an issue.
"Give it a try for me? Please? You can stay on top like this," Shalnark offers.
Now who's the bunny, all tense and terrified by nothing, liable to suddenly flee at any moment? Feitan scowls at himself and tugs at the fabric in his hands. Shalnark cooperates to let Feitan take his shirts the rest of the way off.
"Here, you want me to give in? I think I'm willing to do anything to see that look again," Shalnark says, and he rolls his hips up like before, when Feitan told him he would take a repeat of that action as a sign of defeat. Feitan knows he hasn't won at all.
Shalnark stays just where he is and doesn't try to lean up and close in on Feitan. Instead, he takes Feitan's hand and slowly brings it to his face, pressing a soft, chaste kiss to his knuckles. Somehow, and maybe it's even a coincidence, but Feitan relaxes. Suddenly, he's willingly handing the reins over to Shalnark, hypnotized by the mere touch of his lips.
As much as Feitan wants this, he still needs to maintain some ounce of leverage, so he takes Shalnark's offer and stays where he is. Even once the two of them are undressed and Shalnark sits up to press his lips against Feitan's neck now, Feitan just holds still in his lap. It takes a lot of convincing, a lot of deliberating, for him to eventually let Shalnark slowly lower him to lie back on the bed.
Feitan ends up on his front just from squirming; he keeps instinctively trying to get away from Shalnark's efforts but manages to keep himself in place, just twisting and tangling himself in the sheets a few times instead. Shalnark is more than fine with the position and, once he's done prepping him, lifts Feitan onto his knees and waits a moment to see if he wants to change positions. Feitan just looks back at him, knowing how hideously vulnerable he must look right now, especially considering the way Shalnark grins at him.
Feitan lured Shalnark to the hotel intending to dominate him here-- hell, he even won the coin toss! But now, here he lies, letting Shalnark take complete control over him. It's so fucking impossible to catch his breath with Shalnark peppering Feitan's shoulder blades with kisses like he loves him or something.
It has to be a taunt, the way Shalnark won't even fuck him properly. He rocks into him so deeply, so slowly, just to make Feitan feel every little sensation. He wants to hate it, but it's like a fucking drug. It's like poison with the sweetest taste in the world. He can't get enough of it, even as it clashes harshly with his very nature. What's worse, Feitan hasn't even been focused enough to pay attention to Shalnark, no doubt missing many an opportunity to learn about him. All he can focus on is the warm affection Shalnark keeps washing over him, like it's carrying Feitan off into the sea. He can feel the shore getting further away and he knows damn well he can't swim.
He's happy to drown in it, to let it steal his breath away. He tells himself it's fine because it's only once, but the idea of more of this in the future, of Shalnark just pulling him aside every so often to kiss him or to drag him to bed, has him trembling. Just an hour ago, the roles would have been reversed, but now Feitan imagines Shalnark cornering him against a wall the moment they're alone and he forgets how to want anything else.
Feitan is a little stunned by his realization. He's never wanted to consider being in any kind of relationship. The very few people he's been with were impulsive flings that Feitan made sure never to see again after a single night of neglecting to even introduce himself. But Shalnark is somebody he knows-- someone he's known for years and will continue to know until one of them dies. He thinks about Shalnark pestering him to go on dates with him. He thinks about the rest of the Troupe acknowledging their relationship, probably mostly neutral on it aside from some teasing. He thinks about how fucking amazing that sweet kiss to his temple felt.
He feels so warm. Someone so cold, inside and out, feels warm. Feitan has lived his entire life in a metaphorical tundra, isolated miles away from society, and then it was like Shalnark kicked his door down and huddled up with him next to the fireplace like in some shitty romance novel. He'd been struggling not to push Shalnark away, not to lash out at him in his confusion, but now Feitan decides he isn't letting go of that warmth for fear that he may now be capable of freezing to death.
When Shalnark is done with him, he gets out of bed and Feitan's heart starts racing in panic, traces of anger and betrayal threatening to bubble up, but he returns in mere seconds, having retrieved his phone from his pants. Feitan moves closer to glance at the screen and see he's answering a text from the new girl, Shizuku, who has a question for him. Shalnark's arm automatically wraps around Feitan's shoulders as if they've done this before, his thumb idly stroking Feitan's bicep.
Now that he's calmed down, Feitan's mind is much clearer. He's not stuck in that overpowering, affection-induced haze that had him acting all fucking submissive, but he rests his head on Shalnark's chest nonetheless.
Several threats die on Feitan's tongue regarding telling anyone about what happened or even just ever mentioning it to Feitan himself, but he can't bring himself to mean them, so he doesn't waste his breath. Shalnark can do what he wants. Feitan guesses that includes breaking him.