Prelude - The First Card Drawn
By: Koorino Megumi

This is for a 1000-word drabble challenge, written in honor of Ari Powwel's birthday. If you know who the characters are, there are no other spoilers. Enjoy!

"You're late," Ryouko said accusingly, eyeing the man with wild red hair as he headed across the field toward her, hands in his pockets and as laid back as you pleased.

Kousuke grinned shamelessly. "I knew you'd wait."

Ryouko made a face, turning away from him and idly tossing a ball in the air. "Don't do that again." A quick glance, and the ball went speeding behind her to nail the other right in the face, smashing his glasses into his nose.

"Ow, hey!" Kousuke protested, struggling to fix his glasses as the ball fell to the ground, rolling in the grass a bit before coming to a stop.

Ryouko turned to him and grinned triumphantly for a moment, tossing up a second ball and catching it a few times. On the fourth throw, she brought it to her body, her expression growing serious again. "So what did you need to talk to me about?" she asked, adding with a hint of curiosity in her voice, "You know meeting outside of school like this isn't safe."

"When is it ever safe?" Kousuke offered by way of response, as flippant as usual.

She could see right through his attempt to hide the severity of a situation that concerned him enough to call her out here on a Saturday night. Ryouko frowned. "New information on the Hunters?" she asked.

Kousuke made a face. "Something like that." Then he grinned again, not willing to give up on making light of the situation.

Ryouko twitched. She tossed the ball up and caught it, holding it out before her in a pantomime of aiming.

Kousuke's eyes widened, and he put his hands up in protest. "Ryouko," he whined, "That's not fair."

"Hmph." They both knew he had a knife on him and could stop the ball if he really wanted, but they also knew he wouldn't do it, even if she tried to bean him. Ryouko tossed the ball into the air again, catching it as it fell. "So, are you going to get on with this, or is it going to get so late that you have to buy me dinner?"

Kousuke winced, frowning and finally growing serious. Ryouko paused, holding onto the ball. "I got a call earlier," he offered, sitting on the park bench behind him and fiddling idly with a deck of cards.

"From Rutherford?" Ryouko asked.

"Nope," Kousuke replied, looking up at her over his glasses and smirking, "It was an invitation to a game."

Ryouko's eyes widened. "Why you?" she breathed.

The other man shrugged, shuffling the cards. "I guess it's my turn." He drew a card, smirking faintly as he looked at it and then sliding it back into the deck. "My chance to tempt fate."

"And you're just going to go along with what they want?" Ryouko demanded, stiffening, her fist tightening around the ball.

Kousuke looked up from his cards, eyes flashing. "They must know I won't turn down a game."

"Tch. Idiot." She was holding the ball so tightly now that her hand was starting to shake.

Kousuke reclined against the bench, the deck of cards disappearing into a pocket as he put his hands behind his head. "I don't want you to be part of this," he stated simply.

Ryouko blinked. The sentiment wasn't a surprise, but there was something wrong with his logic--and Kousuke's logic was never lacking. "Then why are you telling me?"

Kousuke smirked faintly. "You're as good as ever. Rutherford was right when he said we'd need you." He frowned as he seemed to realize what he'd said, however. But he continued anyway, trying to sound unconcerned. "They want to meet me on Narumi-otouto's roof. Lunch, on Monday."

Ryouko raised an eyebrow. "You think they have something in mind."

It was a statement, not a question, but Kousuke gave a shrug in response anyway. "I don't want to take any extra chances."

"It's not like you to worry about those two," Ryouko replied skeptically, her eyes on the other man even as his gaze was to the side in his false nonchalance. She had a feeling she knew where this was going, and she wanted him to know it.

"Heh." Kousuke turned back to her, grinning again. "I'm not."

"And you know that telling me this just means I'll be there," Ryouko added.

Kousuke nodded, pulling out the deck of cards again, resuming his shuffling. "You would have been anyway."

Ryouko couldn't help smirking herself now. She had been right, of course. "So you wanted to make sure I was warned."

He paused, looking up at her again. "Don't interfere with this, Ryouko. I cheat, but that's just me. I'd never let anyone play for me, and you know it."

All the amusement drained out of her face at those words. "But you're planning to walk right into a trap!" she burst out.

The ball bounced harmlessly off the bench right next to Kousuke's head. He hadn't flinched as it came toward him, but now that her aim had been off, he turned to look at it in surprise, as if expecting to see another target there. Ryouko's fist clenched. He didn't believe he'd upset her enough to throw blindly. "You know the lives we lead," he said in confusion, picking up the ball and tossing it back to her.

"You don't have to live it like this," Ryouko replied tightly, catching the ball only to lower it to her side, "You never had to!"

Silence passed between them for a moment as they both stared at each other, neither really believing the words that had left her mouth. Finally Kousuke stood, turning away from her. "We had this conversation before," he stated flatly.

Ryouko watched him, heart aching, but he didn't look at her. She lowered her gaze. "Are you going to run away from me again?" she asked, voice low and harsh.

"You'd catch me."

Ryouko twitched, his attempt at a joke just making her tighten her fist. "I didn't practice because of you."

It was a lie, or she wouldn't have bothered to say it. Kousuke laughed, but the sound was a little bitter. "See you Monday at lunch." And then he walked away.

"Kousuke!" Ryouko cried. She wanted to run up and kick him in the head, demanding that he come back here this instant, but for some reason, her legs wouldn't move. His laughter faded into the distance, and once it was gone, Ryouko finally took a step forward, chucking the ball at the bench, right where his head had been a moment before.

The ball hit the wood and fell harmlessly to the seat, but the sound as it landed wasn't quite right. Stepping closer, Ryouko found that a card had been left there. She picked up the ball, taking a look, and her breath caught in her throat.

It was the king of hearts--two faces, each holding a sword and with a hand over his heart. Her hand shook as she held it, and she almost tore the card in two.

She pocketed it instead and walked away.