House of Cards

Disclaimer: Weiss Kreuz, it's characters, indices etcetera belong to Takehito Koyasu, Kyoko Tsuchiya and Project Weiss. This fanfic was written for fun rather than profit and any resemblances to persons living or dead is purely coincidental. Except for the bit where Aya is clearly what Takehito Koyasu wishes he could be. And why would you want to be him? I wanna be Youji.

Author's Note: This is my first Weiss fic, written as a result of a lot of encouragement from my girlfriend, who goes by quietladybirman, and who I owe for getting me involved in this fandom. I also feel some acknowledgement should be given to Ian Fleming, whose writing inspired the plot. A note on currency is that 100,000 Japanese yen is approximately equal to 1,000 US dollars and 1,000,000 yen is worth about 10,000. The story takes place in between episodes 2 and 3 of Kapital.

Chapter One: Hard Eight

There is nothing in the world like the sound of a casino at nine on a Saturday night. Youji Kudou stood surrounded by the sound of a manmade waterfall, the roar of conversations, the grinding crash of the slot machines, the cries of joy and despair. He stood in the heart of this, beside one of the casino's three bars, where a group of businessmen stood watching the flow of winning and losing.

He pulled over a smartly dressed young waiter with the name 'Rei' printed on his nametag. "Vodka martini." He said loudly, "Shaken not stirred."

Ken Hidaka stared back at him, his mouth open, obviously fighting the urge to say a lot more than just, "Yes, sir."

While he was waiting for the drink, he gave his dark green coat, striped purple shirt and dark brown smart trousers one more check before using the reflection in the side of a fruit machine to make sure his sunglasses were keeping his hair back. His inspection complete, he paid Ken, and drank the clear drink in one go, his expression empty.

"Excellent." He grinned, "My compliments to the barman." He leaned in to give Ken a visibly extravagant tip and hissed, "Next time, no matter what I say, make it with gin and stir it."

"Thank you very much... sir." Ken said carefully as he vanished.

Youji smiled, keeping an eye on the businessmen in the slot machine reflection, and then strolled away through the thunder of money changing hands. He met the eyes of every waitress he passed on the way across the floor, adding their names to the roll-call in the back of his mind and remembering which ones looked back and which ones looked away. It kept his mind occupied as he passed between the rows and rows of slot machines before emerging into an area of the casino where winning took a little more skill than the ability to insert money and pull a lever.

He couldn't think of a card game that had as many different names as blackjack. Twenty-one, Vignt-et-un, pontoon and several others; whatever the name, the objective was simple: starting with two cards try to get a total that's as close to adding up to twenty-one as you can. If you go over, you bust and you lose. If the dealer ends with a higher total than you, you lose. But if the dealer busts or you have a higher score than them, you double your money. In principle, it was one of the simplest games in the world, but there was a lot more to it than just hoping you got dealt the right card.

But his thoughts about the game were quickly wiped away and he had to work on keeping a straight face as he arrived at the blackjack table. It was still a sight that threatened to make him laugh if he let it. Omi Tsukiyono. In a dress.

The problem had been one of several that had come up during the mission preparation. Omi was not old enough to come into the casino to gamble, and even though Kritiker could have obtained him a suitable ID saying he was, being constantly asked to prove his age would have attracted far more attention than Weiss wanted that night. It was Omi himself who had proposed the solution, and since none of the others had been able to think of a better idea, while Youji dressed and attempted to force styling clay into Ken's hair to make him look slightly less like he had only a passing acquaintance with hairbrushes, they had watched out of the corner of their eyes as Birman helped Omi dress. The result was amazing. Birman had even managed to find a wig that looked like dyed blonde hair showing darker roots and, between the simulated body shape beneath the dress, the makeup and Omi's naturally large eyes, he did a very good impression of a woman of, as Youji had phrased it, purchasable affection.

Now they could all get into the casino, there was another problem. Since Ken was taking drinks orders and Youji and Omi were at the tables, that left Aya watching the exterior. No problem in itself, but the casino had been equipped with the latest electronic monitoring equipment and was sure to pick up their radio signals. So that meant if Aya did need to communicate, he would need to come into the casino and drop off a message at a prearranged point that Ken could then relay to the others. No one liked this, there were too many things that could potentially go wrong, but there was no alternative.

Lastly, there had been the argument between Aya and Youji half an hour before they were all due to set off. It had concerned transport.

"I can't take the Seven," Youji explained. "It's too interesting and unique. I need to use your Porsche. For this to work, I need to convince them that I'm arrogant, overconfident, egotistical and have no imagination, and driving your car will do that perfectly."

"And what, Kudou," Aya said coldly, "will I be driving?"

The expression on Aya's face when Youji had shown him the borrowed Nissan Cube was something that Youji hoped he would never forget.

Recalling himself to the present, Youji looked over Omi's shoulder and was pleased to see that Omi had won more than he had lost, though his cautious playing had kept the total around the same. Youji put his hand on Omi's shoulder and kept his eyes on the fall of the cards. In the half hour since Omi had started playing, the dealer had progressed half way through the mixture of six packs of cards in the shoe. He lit a cigarette, and spent the next five hands smoking it, trying to keep track of the fall of the cards.

Then Omi reached up and gave his hand a squeeze. "What is it, Kiyomi?" He asked.

"I'm bored of this." Omi pouted in a good impression of any of the girls from the shop, "I'm afraid I'm going to lose my money if I bet. Why can't you just play?"

Youji smiled. "Sure. Take your chips and watch me. I'll show you how it's done."

He sat down in the vacant chair and nodded to the dealer. He felt his heart beat faster but refused to let it show on his face. Like every other member of Weiss, he knew that the best way to victory was to rig the game, and that is what they had just done. This was where the mission really started. Youji was playing to win.

They all knew about the Imperial Casino. For months the papers had been full of reports about it, how it was the first true American-style casino ever to be built in Japan, how it was going to bring jobs, money and tourism to the some of the rundown areas of Tokyo. Ken had once told Youji that one of the things the nuns had taught him – and they had, apparently, been legion – was that money was the root of all evil, so perhaps he was not as surprised as he might have been when the casino had appeared on a briefing tape.

The Imperial Casino had been open for three months, and in that time there had been more than twenty missing persons cases associated with it. No evidence of a connection had been proved, but each of the twenty people had won large amounts of money at the casino the night they disappeared. Kritiker believed that one or more of the eight casino owners were responsible, and Weiss' mission was to discover which of the syndicate members were ordering the killings.

Kritiker believed that the crimes almost certainly involved the Japanese members of the syndicate, but to take no chances, the mission was to take place on a night where all eight were meeting at the casino. Of the other five owners, two were American, one was Russian, one Indian and one Chinese. Since the casino was open that night, and full of security personnel and innocent potential witnesses, the only plan that seemed workable was to win a large amount of money in the hope of drawing out the targets.

The three Japanese syndics had appeared on the screen separately. Masaru Amane, who was reported to be an enthusiastic gambler; Takuya Mori, who had the political connections which had made building the casino possible and – Youji had stared carefully over his sunglasses at this point – Michiko Kuroda, the only daughter of a former aristocrat whose fortune had been in land. The pictures were those that had appeared in the press, they gave no clue to which, if any, might be a killer.

Winning the money, Youji had insisted, would be easy. There was a lot more to gambling than simple luck. If Amane was as keen a gambler as Kritiker believed, Youji would simply find a way to challenge him to a high-stakes poker game and win enough to draw attention to himself. After a short negotiation, Manx had agreed to pay out one hundred thousand yen to fund the game, but the rest, Youji would have to obtain himself. Youji, who had been expecting as much, had simply smiled and told her that with Omi's help he could easily make up the rest.

"Card counting, Youji-kun?" Omi had asked.

"It'll be easy for you." Youji had told him confidently, "There are six decks of cards in a shoe, all you have to do is keep track of which cards have been dealt. You can use that to work out when it's most likely that lots of high cards are about to be dealt so it's more likely that you can get a high score and a winning hand. We've got a week, I can teach you. It'll be just like maths homework."

This was Omi's final exam. Youji had seen how quickly the boy had learned, but he knew well enough that anything could happen on a mission. In theory there were a greater percentage of high cards in the remaining deck, so Youji had a greater chance of beating the dealer. To make it seem less suspicious, Omi would not be the one reaping the benefits of his counting, and Youji knew there was more to winning at blackjack than a good memory and mental arithmetic. It was up to him now. He started with a bet of twenty thousand yen.

Eighteen. A good start. The dealer flipped over his second card to reveal a score of fifteen and hit. He hit a seven and busted. A very good start.

The second hand he bet all forty thousand yen and he was dealt a twenty. He smiled across at the dealer. The dealer kept his face absolutely level as he flipped over his card and Youji found himself staring at an ace and a ten. He had to force himself not to shake, force his expression to remain empty as he felt Omi place a hand on his shoulder, gripping tightly, and watched his forty thousand yen raked away towards the dealer.

But Youji knew he had to keep going. Behind his sunglasses he closed his eyes and forced himself to focus. Beyond that, he gave no sign of his sudden doubt, sudden fear, and in an instant he had forced it all away and pushed another forty thousand yen forward.

Eleven, which a hit brought up to twenty. The dealer drew nineteen.

Over the next half an hour, Youji won a lot of money, even if he said so himself. Thanks to Omi, the odds were more than in his favour, so he won and went on winning. As he played, every now and then he would feel Omi's grip on his shoulder as the patterns of probability that only the boy genius could see lined up in the dealer's favour.

At the end of that half hour, Youji had half a million yen sitting on the table in front of him when he felt his shoulder nudged by a passing waiter. Glancing to his left beneath his glasses he saw a group of men in suits moving slowly but inevitably towards his table.

That meant there was only time for one more hand.