Title: Cheating at Solitaire

Author: Katjen

Rating: PG 13 - language

Summary: Sequel to Bad Touch.

Disclaimer: Not mine, Marvel's.

Note: The song is "Devil's Broom" by the fantastic Joseph Arthur from Our Shadows Will Remain.

Note#2: Rewrite completed 1/7/07

o0o

He kills the Harley and sits quietly in the ten o'clock darkness of a Sunday night alone in a parking lot in Westchester New York. The air is still, not a breeze, not a sound, just his own wheezing breath as he slowly un-hunches from over the bars of the bike.

He closes his eyes and breathes deep, testing to see how badly he is actually hurt, and decides that the twinge of pain in his chest is not so terrible that he can't stand it for a few hours. He doesn't want to go back to the mansion yet, not after what happened. He's too tired, too humiliated.

He carefully climbs off the bike, clutching his ribs protectively and swearing under his breath as the twinge becomes a flare.

He's been sloppy lately. Unforgivably so.

Time was ten times out of ten he'd escape a scrape without a nick, but these last few weeks...

He's been off balance. And as a result he nearly got himself blown up during tonight's training session.

By his own fucking card.

He takes a measured breath and slowly makes his way towards Harry's telling himself he can handle anything as long as what he wants is still on the other side of that door. What he needs, what he's been waiting for all day today even before what happened this morning is waiting for him, and he ignores the white-hot flash of pain in his side as he forces himself to straighten, push open the door, and step inside.

Honeyed light and body heat immediately welcome him with a soft warmth he can feel on his face and through his clothes. People are laughing, clinking glasses together, their voices tumbling over each other making a kind of music that is familiar to him now. The man with the belly laugh on his right, the black woman with her sexy slow s's in the far booth and the guy who always sounds like he's delivering a monologue no matter who he's talking to near the door melting together into a medley of thoughts and opinions, come-on's and questions. He knows most of their faces by now and they know his. They nod, smile if they catch his eye. He is a part of this place now, a fixture like the lone pool table at the back, the smoky jukebox that plays the kind of songs that speak to him, blues and jazz and singer/songwriters with ragged straining voices howling pain and lust and everything in between. Already he can feel the women in the room automatically shifting in his direction like compasses, their knees soft curved arrows aimed at him from under tables, their eyes tracing his features and asking him to look.

He doesn't mind the attention. He's used to it, their interest, and even if he did resent it, he'd still come. He likes it here. The lamplight is soft and welcoming, the drinks are hard and they come quickly and that's exactly what he wants, what he needs, what he's been waiting for.

"What's yer poison kid?"

"What isn't mon ami?

Same question, same answer every night. Hasn't gotten old yet. Harry grins every time, slides him a shot, and he downs it the second it meets his fingertips.

Tonight he swallows hard, almost choking in his eagerness to get that burning down down down deep into his cold cold insides. Harry thinks it's funny, that he's green, that he hasn't been knocking them back since well before his 21st. He mistakes his urgency for some kind of post-teenage rebellion. He certainly looks the part, all leather and slouching insouciance, but this is something he's cultivated, this you can look if you want, this you can touch if you want, I'll let you emanating from him like the scent of whiskey and cigarettes. What this version of himself that he shows the world, that he parades down the streets and alleyways, in bars and discos, says is you have no idea what I'm thinking, I could snap any second. It turns them on, this not knowing just how much of a bad boy he really is. They all want to find out.

A brunette at the other end of the bar watches him drag the back of his scarred had across his mouth and he licks his lower lip once - slowly for her benefit, and Harry winks in her direction, looks at him with raised eyebrows and you lucky bastard...

He stares at the bottom of his glass.

You have no idea what I'm thinking...

Liquor and women.

Teenage rebellion.

He's over that. All he's really looking for when he comes here is a little anesthetic for his aching heart, a little tonic to chase these feelings away, these feelings and these memories that haunt him, that confuse and torment him until all he can do to stop it is sit here night after night, courting numbness with dollar bills, dulling the sharp edges of these past few months until he is broke and stupid and can barely remember his name let alone her face.

He slaps the glass upside down on the bar and gestures loosely for another, pressing his other hand hard against his aching ribs when he moves the wrong way. Harry doesn't notice the flicker of pain cross his face, the sharp intake of breath. He chuckles, pours him a new one and he takes it greedily, desperately.

He thought he saw her today. This morning in the park.

Almost stopped his fucking heart.

He knocks it back, swallows hard, letting it hurt.

She was sitting under a tree reading a book. She wore a green bandanna over her hair that was caught suddenly by a gust of wind... deep reddish mahogany like firelight flickering across wood streaming against her cheeks, her neck, closing his throat. She put down her book, gathered her hair in her hands and twisted it into a ponytail. She felt him watching, she met his eyes.

Hers were green just like he'd needed them to be.

He looks at the overturned glasses flickering like jewels in the smoky lamplight.

It wasn't her.

She smiled and he saw that the mouth was wrong.

He swallows hard, making it hurt.

"'nother."

This morning wasn't the first time this has happened. Something strikes him – a girl's hip, her stance, her profile, the curve of her fucking ear in one case, her laugh - which is completely ridiculous because he doesn't think he ever heard her laugh once – and he gets lost in a memory he's been trying to forget. Like how she stared at the floor when she asked him to dance, her hair falling against her cheek, a streak of white dyed red and then pink and then orange by the revolving lights, how he wanted so badly to smooth it back, away from her eyes, astonished by her uncertainty and feeling so protective and warm towards her for it.

She had thought there was a chance of him saying no and he had wanted to tell her, no man will ever say no to you chere...

Chere...

Empty jewels on the bar lined up in a sloppy row one after the other after the other after the other as the singer's rusty-nail voice gasps his desperation over the speakers echoing in his ears and closing his eyes.

"Since you're gone ain't nobody else gonna save me..."

He should be face down in the pretzel bowl by now. He usually doesn't have to work so hard to reach oblivion.

"Cause I can't trade a bottle for an empty room..."

"More."

"I just pray that the lord is gonna come down and take me..."

Cold glass meets his lips and then that burning, burning, burning...

"Sweep me off this floor with the devil's broom..."

He slaps it down, leaving a trail of liquid on the bar, slides his finger through it, making lazy circles while Harry shakes his head with a smile, pours and pours and pours.

"Where are you..."

He feels warm suddenly, sleepy, the pain in his body has receded and the world has dimmed slightly, the world has dimmed and her face looking up at him, her face always looking up at him, the blood on her white white dress blurs but he's not quite there yet. He has faith in Harry though. Soon there will be no more thoughts of her at all, there'll just be the glass in his hand, the fire down his throat and the swaying hips of the brunette as she makes her way to him with a click click click of heels across the floor. Nothing else but the concrete, the things he can hear, taste and touch. Like a soft voice saying "hi". The smoky taste of his drink. A hand brushing his, skin on skin. No more ghosts of a girl he never knew anyway making him into someone he's never been.

Someone who can't let go.

He takes the drink, he turns his head. He says hello and doesn't mean it but she smiles, she smiles and thinks, he's mine. He entertains the idea of fucking her. Not so long ago he wouldn't have thought twice about it. A (possibly) cracked rib wouldn't have stopped him no matter how much it would kill but he's hesitating. His head is just starting to swim, she's starting to disappear, but the fact would still remain that the last woman who had lain naked beneath him had been her and all he would do tonight is chart the differences and think of her pale pale skin and then he'd be right back where he started which is the last thing he wants.

So he gets up without a word, he stumbles to the jukebox leaving the girl staring after him, confused and a little hurt. He leans against it, staring down at the track listings through the smudged window and watches the record change, finds himself trying to count the grooves before it starts spinning and then a song starts up, his song, the one he and Belle never danced to and he laughs and it hurts and he digs in his pocket for a quarter needing to change it, needing to change everything.