Join Date: Oct 2007
Location: Edmonton, Alberta, Canada
She bit her lip as she pulled her pazaak deck from her pack in a cloud of dust. She shot a sheepish look at Atton and attempted without success to brush years' worth of dirt and neglect from the cards. Not one had escaped the ravages of time and travel – bent and dog-eared, the deck looked disreputable indeed. Her old friend looked pained as he noted the damage.
“You should treat your side deck with more care than that. Your side deck is what you bring to the table. It’s what separates you from every two-bit wannabe huckster this side of Nar Shadda.” He grimaced as he watched her endeavour to smooth out a +3/-3 card that looked like it had been used to prop a blast door open. “Without that deck, you’re stuck with what’s dealt to ya.”
“I know, I know,” she said, feeling foolish. “It…it’s just that I haven’t played in a very long time.”
“Yeah, I know.”
She glanced up and caught his gaze, only for a moment, and then his nimble fingers were dancing over the game deck, shuffling the cards in a blur of motion. When he looked up again, his cocky grin was back in place.
“All right, let’s see how rusty you are.”
She lost the first four games happily.
Four, six, three, six, stand. Five, nine, four, four, flip the +/- 4 for 18. Stand. Lose to 19.
Time disappeared in the whir of shuffling cards and Atton’s casual banter. She floated in the sound of his voice.
Seven, one, one, four, three, five for 21.
After she dropped the fifth game in three straight sets, he gathered up the cards and sighed. “You’re not even trying,” he reproached.
“Maybe you’re just too good for me.”
He threw back his head and laughed. And she felt pleased with herself.
“Not even a shell-shocked Hutt is gonna believe that one, sweetheart. Now, c’mon, concentrate. You’re not even looking at your side deck. Come on!"
Puzzled at his change of tone, she complied. Her hand was actually pretty helpful – three +/- cards of various denominations, a -2 and a 2/4 switch – an interesting arsenal. She gave him a quick, hard smile. “All right flyboy, you asked for it.”
He laid down a 7 in front of her, and a 4 in front of himself. She nodded once, and he added a 6 to her pile and an 8 to his – 13 and 12. She nodded again – 8 and 7.
“I think I’ll stand here,” he grinned.
“Dammit!” She tossed down her precious -2 side cards to tie the set and glared at him.
He raised his hands in front of himself. “Hey now, sometimes luck is just luck!” She felt his low chuckle deep in her chest where it vibrated pleasantly, so she scowled and gestured for him to deal again.
Two, six, three, four, eight for 23, 2/4 switch card for 11, eight for 19. Stand.
This time, she won handily. He managed to steal one set before she took the hand. There was approval in his smile. “Much better. Now I know you’re paying attention.”
She allowed herself a small half-smile and shifted in her seat, trying to alleviate a persistent cramp that had been building up in her back. A flare of pain crackled from her hip to her shoulder and she gasped.
He looked up, his grey eyes taking in everything.
“You’ve changed your hair.”
“Your hair. It’s longer and not pinned back so severely. Do you want another card?”
She shook her head, trying to follow him. She glanced down at the 5 sitting before her. “Yes, of course, another.”
He dealt her another 5, and added a 3 to the 10 in front of himself. She nodded sharply, one hand massaging the ache in her back. He dealt a 4 to her and a 7 to himself. She sighed and nodded, grimacing as he dealt a 7 to her hand.
She focused on her side deck and placed a -6 card down and nodded to Atton again. This time, he dealt a 5 for the tie. She huffed with impatience and pinched the bridge of her nose as he shuffled again.
“Why did you hide from me?” she asked suddenly. A looming headache was becoming a dull roar behind her eyes.
His eyes seemed sad as he regarded her. “You’ve been hiding from me since day one,” he accused.
“I know…I know…but you know why, now. Don’t you?”
Eight and eight for 16. Plus four could give me the 20. Draw for three. Stand at 19.
His slow smile could have broken her heart. “I do.”
Suddenly, she was loath to give up any more of her side deck cards and her cautious play allowed him to win the next two sets. “Are you just going to give this to me?” he asked, concern in his eyes.
“I’m not giving it to you,” she protested. “I just…I just can’t …”
He stared at her with blatant disbelief, so she squared her shoulders and took a deep breath. “Fine. Just deal.”
She managed to win two sets in a row, but exhausted her side deck to do so. With no resources left, she gave up the winning set to Atton.
“There, you see?” She was startled at the petulant note that wound its way through her words. She resisted the urge to clamp her hands around her mouth and over the sound.
The exile reshuffled her side deck and dealt five more cards to herself – +/-2, +4, -3, +/-1 and +3. Her headache had drifted up over her skull and seemed to be setting up house in the right side of her face. She glowered at the cards. She glowered at him.
“I needed you.”
“No. You didn’t.”
“Didn’t you want me to find you?”
“No. I didn’t want you to need me.”
Six and nine is 15. Plus four, stand at 19. Nine and two, plus six, flip the +/- 3 for 20.
They tied three more sets before Atton stole a win. “That’s it. You made me work for that one!”
She bit down on her own simmering frustration as she took inventory of her depleted side deck – only two cards left. Atton had one in his.
A 9 floated down in front of her, a 4 in front of him. The barest twitch of her finger and a 7 joined her card and an 8 his. She laid down her +4 card for 20 and waited. Atton drew another 4 and then 10.
He said nothing, but watched her intently as he dealt again. Her skull felt like it was cracking open.
Eager to end this round, she drew aggressively – and gave Atton another set.
He dealt again, this time dropping a 10 in front of the exile and a 6 for himself. When he added a 9 to her hand she leaned back in her seat and watched him. He pulled a 5, then a 4 and another 2 – 17 and 19 were laid out on the table. Atton’s eyes didn’t leave hers as he drew the 3.
And fell to her knees.
She saw his face as she fell, his eyes full of pain.
It reminded her of something – some time – but it was ripped from her head by the agony that knifed down her back, through her hip and into her legs. She clutched at her head as her vision swam and shifted.
Atton was there beside her, his arms holding her up and his fingers in her hair. He whispered in her ear, but she couldn’t make any sense of his words.
“It’s not fair to lose is it?? You play well, you play smart, and still you can lose.”
His lips brushed her temples as she trembled on the cold, stone floor.
“But you can’t be angry at the cards, you know. We’re all dealt from the same deck. If you start being angry at the cards – or the other players – you’ll lose for sure.”
Her fingers clung to the front of his familiar jacket, scrabbling blindly for him. “Atton? Atton! Please, I can’t…I can’t…!”
“You have to, sweetheart. I’m sorry. I’m so sorry, but you have to.”
His arms felt solid around her. She tried to calm her thoughts, calm her voice. But the chains of panic kept winding their way around her mind, around her words.
“Let me stay with you here, Atton. Please.” She hated the note of pleading that twisted through her. But she couldn’t stop. “I thought I’d be all right without you. I thought I could go on. But every damned time I turn around, you’re not there. You’re driving me crazy!”
His fingertips stroked her face, trailed over her eyes and down her cheeks, following the trail of tears that flowed from her sightless eyes.
“I’m always here, Cora. Every time you look for me, I’m right here.” His voice vibrated through his chest and into her spine. “You’ll always be right here with me, playing pazaak, where they can’t reach you.”
“Atton. I can’t see you anymore. Why can’t I see you?”
She swore she could feel his breath ruffle through her hair, her long hair, silver curls matted to her face with blood and sweat.
“Remember to look at your side deck. The cards you bring to the table and the choices you make, that’s where you’re different. That’s where you can make a difference.”
“No. Please, no … Atton! Don’t leave me now…nooonononono!!”
Revan heard the scream and it pleased her.
"... I have never listened to anyone who criticized my taste in space travel, sideshows or gorillas. When this occurs, I pack up my dinosaurs and leave the room." - Ray Bradbury