Everyone, everywhere in the world has a story to be told. Whether or not you think their story is important or interesting or even worth listening to at all, it's their story and no one else's and no one can ever take that away from them. Whether it's a good story, or an interesting story, or even a story with a moral -- well, that's up to them, and when all the cards are down, I don't think anyone has any room to point any fingers. We all play the hands we're given the best we can and stagger through our stories the best we can, like blind fish in the dark.

Of course, now he'd say that fish don't stagger and what does it matter if a blind fish is in the dark, it can't see anyway, even if it were broad daylight -- and well no, he wouldn't say that exactly, but he'd be thinking it and it'd be as plain as those little wire rimmed glasses he wears on his nose. You know, I don't think he needs those at all. I think he wears them for the same reason he wears that giant red overcoat -- because he thinks it looks cool. Which I guess is fine and dandy with me. I always did like red.


This is my story.

Damn. I've always wanted to say that.

This is my story and it's about poker and music and memories and living and dandelions and finding joy in every day, no matter what, and it's about one man so bent up inside he may as well have been a paper clip that someone took all the time to straighten out and then laid it on the floor and tap danced on like it was amateur night at the Luca Amphitheater. And it has action and adventure and copious amounts of illegal activities, like theft. But only if you think it's wrong to steal from fiends. I mean, what do they need it for anyway? Not like they can use the gil at bingo night in Bevelle or something -- Oh. And it's a story about me.

My name is Rikku, and I just don't think I'll ever win at five card stud.

. . . but then, maybe I did. Maybe we all did. Maybe in the end it's all bluffing, no matter what you've got in your hands, and maybe that's not so bad.

This is my story, and I'm only here to tell it.

. . . and I was serious about the poker.

The Shape of His Heart

By Gabi-hime )

Prologue: Gimme the Odds

"Maybe you should quit while you're ahead," he advised thoughtfully from where he sat in the window seat, legs dangling idly, his head leaned against the icy glass so it made a little spot of warm, muffy mist against the sharp edges of the frost. His mug of spiced cider was still steaming slightly as he nursed it, paying close attention to the table in front of me. Well, really he was paying close attention to the cards and not the table -- not even we could spend our time getting kicks from staring at the whorls in table oak -- no matter what Lulu says.

"To be able to quit while I'm ahead I totally have to be ahead first," I explained as I rolled my eyes back into my head. I could roll them so far back in my head it almost looked like I was having a seizure or speaking in tongues like a Yevonite with a snake in her pants. I'd practiced it in front of the mirror so many times as a kid that Brother used to tell me I'd crack the glass with my face. It always drives grown-ups and fuddy-duddies nuts -- like eye rolling always does -- and the zigzag holey abyss of my eyes seems to turn in on itself, like water going down the drain the wrong way. It's almost hypnotic when I see it in the mirror sometimes. It's always been like having my own secret eyebeams. Of sarcasm. It's awesome, no matter how much Pops complained about it -- Rikku, you roll your eyes at me one more time and I'm gonna slap you so hard they won't stop rolling until next June. Of course, Lulu says I roll my eyes too much. Trust her to be on the same side as Pops. Still, I bet if she'd had personal hypno-swirlies of mind control in her face, then she'd totally use them too. Of course, she kind of had personal hypno-swirlies of mind control on her chest, but it was really hard to say Lulu, you -have breasts- too much.

"Well, more than 'ahead' I meant 'quit while you're less behind that you will be five seconds from now.' That's kind of ahead," he offered helpfully, swinging his legs out of sync with one another so they thudded dully against the upholstered seat. Yeah, thanks Tidus. Big help. I'll be sure to call you next time I need expert poker advice.

"Kind of ahead like you're kind of a dope," I retorted, sticking my tongue out over my shoulder. What did he know? I was doing fine. I mean, I was sort of losing, but, well, not really. Not permanently. No way. I'm good at cards. Mostly. I always beat Brother at crazy eights. Never once lost. Ever. Stud poker is sort of like crazy eights because they both use cards and -- wait, okay, back up and strike that. Crazy eights isn't much like poker at all. But still, nine tenths of winning is believing that you'll win and by this point in the evening, that remaining one tenth had given me such a hard time that I was concentrating my brains out believing in me and the five cards spread out on the lacquered wood.

At the same time I was kind of anti-believing in his cards.

And really, there was no way Mister Says Less Than A Mime in a Garden Full of Penguins could keep up his winning streak. There was no way. It was the law of averages. Eventually the coin was going to come up tails and I'd win a hand, unless he's been scarfing luck spheres when no one's looking. And then I'd get to breaking him apart and winning back all my money and gear from there. Ajano zuinhao cdyndc fedr dra vencd cdab, yht ajano tyo pakehc fedr dra vencd nyo uv mekrd. I hunkered down over my cards and stared daggers into their shiny matte backs. Zanarkand wasn't built in a day, but it could be won in one.

Or, you know, lost in one. Of course, that never occurred to me at the time. Maybe that's my problem.

"You know," he said softly, taking an easy drink from his saucer -- and from this point you should know that this is a different 'he' than More Blonde Than Usual who only ever talks softly when he's whispering to me about abducting Yunie and taking her to a fun fair or something, "It doesn't matter how long you stare. You aren't going to be able to see through to the suits on the other side."

You know, in retrospect I don't think Auron should be allowed to play poker. It's just not fair because he can make your spine shiver whenever he says a word. It doesn't even matter what word. It could be 'plumber,' or 'gargle,' or 'hosiery,' or even 'pumpernickel.' Just the way he says it, soft and so low it's probably on a different tonal register or something. I'm not president of the Auron fanclub or anything, I'm just being honest the way a girl has to be to know the field she's playing. In a way it was as much of an unfair advantage as that whole -having breasts- thing that Lulu had going for her. Cast scan on Auron and one of his skills will totally be listed as supple voice. It's right after Mental Break. Now that's something you don't want to be on the wrong end of.

"You have some place else to be?" I asked flippantly, waving my arms once before gesturing in the direction of the window seat where Tidus still sat, watching us play, or you know, watching me stall, "I dunno if you forgot or something, but there's a blizzard outside."

I didn't really expect an answer, but of course he gave me one.

"Bed," he said laconically, his good eye half sloped shut as if he were dozing already, one arm still tucked into the folds of his gi, slung like it was broken -- or like he had so little to worry from me and my hand that he didn't even need to turn over his cards. Talk about over-confidence, either that or he has been scarfing luck spheres. The other arm dangled over the back of his chair indolently, like a marker on the sizable buildup of gil at his feet from whenever he cleared his winnings from the table. Currently he had all my gil, three high potions, a phoenix pinion, my Celestial Targe and -- here's the really embarrassing part -- perched on top of the pile like an egg in a nest was Deus Ex Machina. Really, I just didn't know when to quit -- Pops always said so -- but then Silverado here could have been a gentleman about it. What was he going to do with my Targe anyway, wear it as a fashionable hat?

But, I had lost it, fair and square, so it was his to keep, fair and square. For now. For just until I won it all back from him and maybe took the muramasa besides. Wouldn't I look cute hauling around a sword as big as I am and playing rebel samurai? You have dishonored my temple! Now we must fight! Maybe with a little help from Tidus I could even learn to tap it over my shoulder in that slow, bored way that Unnaturally Crimson did when he was thinking about something. Yeah, maybe in a hundred thousand years after I've absorbed fifty jillion more strength spheres. Who wanted a great big enormous nihontou anyway? Not me. No way. Never. I just wanted my Targe back. And my claws. I'd have to win them back before this blizzard blizzed itself out or jeeze, I'd have to dig through my pack and hope I'd kept a second rate pair around and not traded them for fruity mixed drinks or twelve consecutive shoopuf rides.

"Aren't you just Captain Fun and Entertainment."

"I am a simple man with simple tastes, Rikku," there it was again -- supple voice. I'd say he was doing it on purpose to distract me or something, but he always talks like that, "Ante."

I sighed, digging my toes into the rug, "We shoulda stayed with draw poker. It's more fun."

"If you will recall, we switched from draw poker to stud poker because you kept palming cards," said the long suffering. He should really change his name to Auron - Martyr of the People. I dunno. Maybe he deserves it for putting up with me and Tidus for about a jillion hours of our lives. It can't really be what he thinks of as a good time no matter how self-satisfied he looks. He probably likes reading really boring books about dead guys or bushido or the history of sake or something. Anyway, coming in at number one on the 'Ways Auron Wants To Spend a Quiet Evening at Lake Macalania' Hit Parade is so not going to be playing poker with the local genius beauty Al Bhed spokesgirl. Yeah, I dunno what's wrong with him either. I mean, I'd sign up for that three times in a row.

"I wasn't palming cards!" I cried indignantly, slapping the table because this seemed like the thing to do to make myself seem more credible. I had been, sort of. Yeah. Okay. I was totally palming cards, but a girl has to take stock of her own special advantages. I mean, he was using supple voice, so by all rights, Rikku, -thief extraordinare- had to at least try to palm a few cards, "Some of them just fell into the top of my shorts and I was trying to get them out."

"Three aces just happened to fall into your shorts?" he asked drily, taking another slow sip. He always carried his own brew around with him. I should really try it some time. Hey! Maybe I could win that off of him. I can totally see me using a jug of alcohol way more than a big honking sword. Of course, to win it off of him I had to actually start winning. Details, details. Pops always said, 'Ed'c dra meddma drehkc dryd kad oui.' Details and the devil and all that.

"How did you know they were aces anyway? They could have been twos or something."

"I was watching you the entire time," he laid the gloved hand that he'd been dangling over the back of his chair on the table by his cards and it settled like a bird coming to rest -- really kind of pretty to watch. Or it would've been, if he hadn't been beating the pants off of me at poker at the time. Smug bastard. He had to be enjoying this. I know I'd be enjoying this. Well, I wasn't going down without a fight. Hajan keja ib. Pops always said I didn't know when to quit.

"Wow, Tidus, Auron's been staring at my shorts this entire time! Did you know he was such a big old pervo?"

"No, but somehow I am not surprised. He did hang out with my old man a lot, and my old man was a huge pervert. But then, maybe he wouldn't stare at your shorts if you didn't keep trying to stuff cards into them."

Yeah, again, thanks Tidus. Way thanks for all your help. Except not.

Entirely nonplussed, Auron issued his ultimatum, "Ante. If you are unable to ante, then we will call this a night."

Obviously my clever stalling wasn't working too well. I stared down at my cards. I had a good hand. Honestly, I had a really good hand. I had the queen of spades and the queen of diamonds showing, and I knew that the queen of clubs was my second card in the hole. I knew because it has a particular nick in the top of it from where it got stuck on something. Maybe my belt buckle last time I was trying to palm it into my pants -- not that I resorted to palming all the time or anything. Just when it's necessary. You know, after I've bet and lost all my gear and money. But then, Lady Luck was smiling on me this time. I had three queens. Auron only had a pair of deuces. Even if you don't know jack about poker, you should know that three queens way beat a pair of deuces. I had this hand in the bag. But -- and here was the kicker -- I could only play if I had something to bet. If I couldn't ante, then Tall, Dark, and Unconcerned was just going to shovel all my stuff into his bag and then go and get some beauty rest. It was just something my pride couldn't take. Especially if he gave me back Deus Ex Machina and my targe in the morning. It's the principle of the thing. I didn't want him to give them back. I wanted to win them back.

And besides, maybe I'd get some of whatever he keeps in that jug of his. People just assume it's sake. Maybe it's like, Bevelle Old Stout or something. Or you know, milk. Maybe behemoth milk.

Bottom line, I had to ante. And I didn't really have anything left to ante.

"Uh, I bet," I let my eyes roll around the room like I was still playing I Spy with Brother when we were kids. I spy with my little eye, something that is . . . yellow! That's just sand again, dorkas. Pick something else. Rumt ouin duhkia, Rikku. I cannot spy -anything- else. That was Home for you, nothing but sand and arrogance and togetherness and machina and sweat and work and a place to have birthdays and -- but, I didn't wanna think about that right now, couldn't afford to with Mister Samurai Showdown staring at me over his glasses like I was a bug in a jar. Clearly, he did not think I could ante and was counting on this. I had to find something to bet and fast. Finally, my eye fell on Tidus. The second he saw me settle, his eyes widened and he brought his hands up in defense, but I got it out before he could, "I bet Tidus's blitzball!"

"Hey, you can't bet my ball!" he cried indignantly, "You already lost all your stuff. I don't want you to start losing mine too! If I want to lose all my crap to Auron in poker, then I at least want to get to play him myself."

"You don't even know how to play," I argued, but as he did not seem convinced, I changed tactics, "I only need it for this one hand. Come on. Help a girl out when she's down! That's what friends are for, right Tidus? Right? Don't be a stuffed butt guado. It won't hurt you, right, to loan me your ball for five seconds? Of course it won't. Come on," I wheedled, squirming unhappily in my seat. I really had no idea what I was going to do if he didn't loan me his blitzball -- well, I had one last resort, but I really didn't want to have to fall back on it, since it's way way embarrassing.

Tidus crossed his arms, and got all stubborn sulky, "No way. I don't trust you. If I loan you my ball, I don't think I'll ever see it again."

"Oh, I'm sure I'd let you see it from time to time," said Auron calmly, rattling his gloved fingertips against the grain of the oak once, to punctuate.

"See? I told you. No way, Rikku. No dice. No deal," Tidus shook his head emphatically, like it was a sure bet that I was going to lose his ball to Ol' Geriatric. I crossed my own arms and slouched down in my chair sulkily. Oh ye of little faith.

"Gee thanks there, Auron. You were really a big help."

He chuckled once, smoky like peat or like butter in whiskey -- and you know, now that I think about it, butter in whiskey would probably be way gross, "The pleasure is all mine."

That smug bastard. He was enjoying this.

"Ante," he repeated like a broken record, "If you are unable to ante, then the game is over."

Second verse, same as the first. I had heard him fine the first time. He was just rubbing it in. Sadistic old fart. He had me right where he wanted me. It was my first really winning hand of the night, and he was as safe as sand in the desert. He knew I had a good hand and couldn't do jack about it. He was going to win by proxy, and that I just could not stand.

He started to sweep the remaining gil from the table placidly, quite sure I had nothing else to pull, but then I slammed my fist down so hard it really kind of hurt my hand, but I didn't want to ruin my moment so I thought about Kimahri chasing butterflies instead, "Hold it right there, buster."

Obviously, Sir Auron, bosshog guardian of Spira and one of the three who'd brought the Calm was not used to being called 'buster,' even when he was unfairly beating the living daylights out of someone at poker. Supple voice. He should have been disqualified from the start.

But then, I just never know when to quit.

"I'll ante," I said, nodding smartly. Now it was all or nothing. I was gonna to win here and win big, but you can't collect on the good stuff unless you're willing to take a few risks to get it. Nobody can accuse me of being a scaredy cat. I mean, lightning excepted. It's just not playing fair to pull lightning on a girl. Lightning aside, I'm not afraid of laying it on the line when the time comes.

He leaned half-interested over the table and propped his chin on his gloved hand, "Oh?" he asked idly, as if this were not an unpredictable development and he might possibly be able to fit my ante in between relaxed sips of alcohol and those self satisfied grunts he invariably replied to all questions with.

"I will!" I nodded again, slapping the table for emphasis.

"Then ante."

Clearly he was still not concerned. He was underestimating Rikku's ability to pull rabbits out of her hat. Obviously. Heck on rabbits. I can pull chocobos. I can pull shoopufs.

"I'll wager," I took a deep breath. There was no going back now, so I had to be sure of the hand I was playing. Three queens beat two deuces. I was golden. It was golden. I was going to stick it to him once and for all. There was nothing to worry about. I laid it on the line, "My right leg."

He had been taking a relaxed sip from his saucer when I'd made my declaration, and he must have snorted some into his nose or swallowed some the wrong way because be sputtered and coughed, spraying a fine mist of sake all over me, all over the cards, and certainly all over the table. Ha! At least I'd gotten a reaction this time. The look on his face that I caught there for a moment was priceless. He was honestly confounded. Like he had no idea how to react. Ah, victory is sweet. Somewhere behind me I heard Tidus hooting like this was the funniest thing he'd seen all year. Yeah, it probably was. I mean, Auron speechless has to beat out Wakka in drag.

Thank you. And for my next trick, I will make Seymour Guado disappear right in front of everyone's eyes! Just one good Supernova and then Yunie could dance her fanny off sending him.

Of course, that staggered look didn't hang around on his face for long. He tidied it away to the same place he puts all of his other expressions that don't seem to fit the caption " . . . " or "Interesting" or any other one word definitive pronouncements on the state of the world, and then raised a careful eyebrow.

"What would I want with your leg?"

I braced both my hands on my hips, "Hey!" I cried indignantly, "It's a good leg!"

"It is a good leg," I heard Tidus agreeing honestly behind me, "You can't deny that. She stays in good shape."

Well, it was nice to have him in my corner again. I guess he was excited because I hadn't bet his leg or something. I guess any kind of assurance is better than nothing. Cammehk ouin haekrpun'c lrelgah ec paddan dryh cammehk ouin ufh. It figures.

"It's a great leg!" I amended, hands still on my hips.

"But why would I want it?" he repeated slowly, as if he were trying very patiently to get a very obvious point across to a pair of brain addled nursery school kids. Well, maybe Tidus. Not me. I'm third grade at least.

"Why wouldn't you want it?" asked Tidus incredulously, in that same 'teaching a one legged chocobo how to dance' voice, then he paused and seemed to consider something, "Hey, you know, I've always wondered about you and my old man -- "

Auron sighed audibly -- the kind of disgruntled sigh that you sometimes hear coming out of old tired nanny goats -- and turned the attention of his one dark eye very pointedly at me, "I'll wager four hundred gil against your leg."

"My leg is worth more than four hundred gil!" I swung it up on the table in an attempt to get my point across, my bare heel flush with his hand of cards. I mean, there was no reason to be insulting. It was worth seven hundred at least. Maybe more with my shoe and my sock included, but I hadn't thrown those into the bargain. I pointed first at my kneecap and then at my nicely muscled calf, and finally at my dainty little ankle. I may not -have breasts- like Lulu, but everybody's got something they're a little proud of. I guess you could say I'm kind of cute. You know, if you're into sticky little Al Bhed girls.

"Fine. A thousand gil against your right leg."

Hey, maybe sticky little Al Bhed girls were one of Auron's kinks. I guess you never can tell by looking. Then again, maybe it was just that he thought my feet smelled and was offering me a thousand gil to get them away from him. I swung my leg off the table again and sat on it, like this would keep him from taking it if I lost.

Ha. If I lost. Not very likely.


"Now declare."

I did, flipping my cards over expertly with pert little fingers and there they were, my three little queens, pretty as princesses all in a row. They beat Old Cold Fish Smugness and his pair of deuces so far into the ground that they might actually flower in spring next year. It was a good feeling, victory. It was a good feeling that warmed your heart cockles so you curled your toes in the rug in happiness because damn, hadn't you just shown him. It was a good feeling for about two seconds.

Yeah, my queens beat the stuffing out of his pair of deuces. Too bad his deuces had brought their brothers, and even if you're really bad at math, you should know that three queens can't stand against four of a kind.

He just chuckled again, slow and easy, and then he took another drink.

Pops was right. I just don't know when to quit.


Silk and sows ears everybody. I started writing this on a bet, but man, I'm just totally taken with it now XD. Yeah, it does have an extended plot, so stay tuned. Very Auron/Rikku, but I'm not retarded, I promise.

Anyway, there it was. I hope you like it, and as always, reviews are welcome.