A little look into the pasts of Schuldig and Crawford, as I tend to write them now: basically this contradicts 99% of When the Pawn Hits, but that's not how I see Schuldig and Crawford's pasts now, anyway. Eh. Whatever. Read and Review, because I thrive on it. I guess that's it.

Deck of Cards

Crawford slides the pack of cards across the white plastic tray table. "Cut the deck," he says. Schuldig presses his fore and index fingers on the top of the duck, then cuts the deck at random, sliding it back to rest in front of Crawford. Crawford rolls up his sleeves and begins to shuffle, smooth and practiced motions. He looks like he's done this before. A lot of times before. Schuldig watches him intently.

"I used to spend a lot of time with my father in Vegas," Crawford says as he slides the cards together, easy and swift. Schuldig doesn't much have to ask questions anymore. He nods. What Crawford said makes sense. "I made him a very rich man. Cut the deck again." Again, Crawford slides the deck over the hospital tray table and Schuldig spends a little more time, this second time, before he cuts the deck once more. He likes the crisp sound of the cards being shuffled together. Crawford's hands are reassuringly confident in their every motion. Schuldig toys with the corner of the blanket. "You know how to play poker?" Crawford lifts a brow.

"Sure," Schuldig says. He doesn't. So Crawford teaches him. Schuldig doesn't see what the point is for Crawford to play cards with anyone, seriously, but it's a distraction, and it's more interesting than reading. One of the reasons he thinks Crawford spends so much time on him is because he's eager to learn. Eager in his own way.

"It's not an art," Crawford tells him. "It's just a game. The point is to play it well. The point is to win." That's the way Crawford views most things. The fun isn't in the game itself but in the winning of the game. Schuldig loses every time. He chalks that up to the fact that Crawford has an unfair advantage, naturally. Crawford can see the cards coming.

"I don't see why we have to play," Schuldig says, losing for the fifth time. "I mean, I don't see why you have to play." Crawford's lips quirk at the edges. The backs of the cards are red, very red. In the white room, it's oddly relaxing to have something so brightly colored to remind you of life.

"It's the same reason you play anything," Crawford says. "To win. Or to learn how to win." Schuldig shakes his head, shrugs.

It doesn't make sense to me.

Not yet, Crawford tells him.

Well anyway, Schuldig says, sighing, too tired to move his lips, unsure of his hearing as the day wears on, I'm bored with this game. Can we learn another?

You might like war, Crawford muses, and he begins to shuffle again. Schuldig drums his fingers against the tray table lazily, still watching Crawford shuffle.

What am I going in for tomorrow? Schuldig asks impulsively, while waiting for Crawford to finish pretending he believed in chance, the luck of the draw.

They're operating on your eardrums again, Crawford explains. Even his mental voice is matter-of-fact. Even that doesn't waste a single second of anyone's precious time. It should be the last of those. You'll need a hearing aid in your right ear for a while as that one's worse, but it should be off in a few years. And on Wednesday, it's for the scarring in your intestine

OK, Schuldig tries to think easy like Crawford's hands are moving: so easy. It's hard, though. Angry is easy; calm is nearly impossible. Real calm. A poker face. He gets the feeling, though, that Crawford's going to teach him all about poker faces once he's well enough to get the Hell out of all the hospitals. The first one had been a small place in South Africa, a horrible, filthy place that Schuldig hates to this day, but it had been necessary, Crawford told him then. There, he'd gotten his right eye fixed, and he hadn't had to stay long, anyway. He'd accepted it all because Crawford knew what he was doing then. He accepts it because Crawford knows what he's doing now. He'll accept it in the future if he has to because Crawford will always know what he's doing, always. And the second hospital had been a little better than the first, a clean place in Sweden with tight-lipped doctors and hard beds. It was when Schuldig had started hating the color white. Schuldig hates the color white. Schuldig doesn't remember what they did in the second hospital, but it had to do with his ears, he thinks. The third hospital is where he is now. Germany again; he hates Germany. They're going to cut open his stomach again, they're going to peer around inside him. They're going to help him hear as much as he can because Estet knows that a mind is not enough if there's no functioning body to protect it. Crawford knows that, too.

You should be out, Crawford goes on, by the end of the week. That's news.

Really? Schuldig asks.

Yes. Crawford slides half the deck of cards over to Schuldig. Your hand.

What am I doing?

Just putting down your top card. Crawford says. The higher card wins. First off Schuldig takes Crawford's king with an ace. He feels like he likes this game better. Crawford's jack takes Schuldig's nine. Crawford's four takes Schuldig's two. They keep playing after that mechanically, Schuldig knowing Crawford will win, Crawford knowing Crawford will win.

Where's Vegas? Schuldig asks.

In America, Crawford says, It's what America is all about. Idiots losing their money.

But you didn't lose your money, Schuldig says.

No. I didn't. It was my father's money. We only lost when we had to, for show. Schuldig grins at the idea.

I'd like to go to Vegas, Schuldig says.

Maybe, Crawford says. We have a lot to do first. Schuldig's queen takes Crawford's ten. Schuldig slips the two cards on the bottom of his deck. When you get out of this hospital there's an apartment for us in Japan.

I've never been to Japan.

It's a clean city, Crawford says, it's all right. I?ve been there twice.

What sort of apartment is it? Crawford's ten takes Schuldig's seven.

I don't know. A big one. We're going to work in Japan. We won't spend much time in the apartment, I don't think.

Oh.

When we get out, I'm going to teach you how to use a gun. What sort of gun would you like? Crawford takes Schuldig's queen with a king. Schuldig wrinkles his nose.

I don't know, Schuldig says. A big one?

That's incredibly messy, Crawford says. He sets his cards down for a moment, thoughtfully, and tugs his gun out of his armpit holster. It's small, compact, deadly. Schuldig has seen guns before but this one shines, polished and very well cared for. Schuldig tilts his head to the side and inspects the gun, but he doesn't reach his hand out to touch it. He gets the feeling that he shouldn't get fingerprints on this, that that's the sort of thing that will piss Crawford off. Schuldig has been with Crawford for two years now; Schuldig is ten years old. Even though he's spent most of those two years in hospitals or traveling, he knows Crawford pretty well by now, while not really knowing him at all. What he knows is how Crawford acts and reacts, not what Crawford is thinking and feeling. Schuldig has to make all his judgements based on actions and reactions and he finds it unsettling. But I suppose I can get you a gun bigger than this one. Crawford puts the gun back inside its holster and picks up his deck again. Crawford takes Schuldig's king, which was once Crawford's king, back, with the ace of spades.

Schuldig minds, and he doesn't mind. All he knows is, he can't take his eyes off that gun.