Disclaimer: The Champions and characters are the property of ITC Carlton. This fan fiction is for entertainment purposes only and no profit will be made from it. Thanks to Fiction2 for being my beta.

POKER

By

Rachael Jurassic

It was the first time she'd been in Craig's apartment. In the three months since they'd met they had worked together often but their relationship outside of work had been more difficult to establish. Richard, on the other hand, had known him for longer and was currently helping himself to the contents of Craig's fridge.

"You've got nothing in."

"Well, I didn't know you'd be leading a raiding party so I hadn't stocked up."

Richard emerged from the kitchen gnawing on a piece of cheese.

"This is some party. I noticed some ham in there but I think it's gone off."

Craig turned towards Sharron. "Do you want another drink?"

"Please."

As Craig poured her a whiskey she looked around his apartment. It looked as if it had been hastily tidied, presumably in the five minutes it had taken her to find a place to park. The furniture was stylish but there were few decorations, just Escher's 'Waterfall' and a photo of a USAF squadron. He did have a large drinks collection though.

"Don't I get one?" Richard asked, holding out his glass.

"Help yourself."

Craig handed Sharron her glass and disappeared into his bedroom. Moments later Richard turned to Sharron and, with a broad smile, raised a very large brandy to her.

"Chin-chin."

"Cheers."

Richard made her laugh. He was easier to get along with than Craig because she found him more open. Sure everyone had masks, she should know, but it was so hard to know what Craig was thinking. Richard, on the other hand, was an open book. She wondered if, in time, she'd be able to understand exactly what was on their minds.

They'd been talking earlier about what had happened to them in Tibet. Craig wasn't at all forthcoming. Well, neither was Richard really, if she was honest, but at least he seemed to be trying. And she knew he'd been thinking about it for the past few months.

Sharron had been wondering if the two of them experienced the same kind of feeling as she did when they were mentally aware of each other, but it was so hard to put into words. It wasn't that she noticed them all the time. It was in moments of quiet when she would gradually become aware of them. Nothing specific, just a feeling she couldn't quite put her finger on. In the end Richard had put it best. It was like when somebody stands close behind you. You can't hear or see them but something tells you they are there.

She looked up as Craig emerged from the bedroom. He was holding a pack of cards.

"Who's for poker?"

"Excellent," Sharron sat up and started clearing the table.

"Er, it's getting late Craig. I hadn't even planned on staying at all."

"Oh, come on Richard," Craig replied.

"It's half midnight!"

"I don't know what you're worried about kid; you'll be home for one."

Richard smiled weakly. "Thanks."

"It's not as much fun with two, Richard," Sharron added.

"But I always lose."

"We'll set a cap at fifty francs."

"Fifty francs!"

"Don't be tight, Richard," Craig interjected.

"I'm not being tight; I just don't want to lose fifty francs."

"All right, twenty."

Sharron had an idea. "Think of it as an experiment."

Richard looked mildly intrigued.

"We can use it to see how well we can read each other, or conversely whether or not we can block each other out."

"Sounds like a bloomin' expensive experiment to me."

"Deal him in," Sharron responded tersely as Craig sat at the table.

Reluctantly, Richard took a seat.

"Get your wallet out, Richard," Craig said as he shuffled. "What are we playing?"

"Like it matters," Richard said, grimly.

"5 card Stud," Sharron decided as Craig shuffled.

"You seem awfully keen Sharron, is there something you're not telling us?"

"Just deal the cards, Craig."

The first few hands went without incident. Nobody had particularly good cards and gradually Richard became less disgruntled. It was during the fifth hand that things got interesting. Richard raised.

"Whoa there buddy," Craig eyed him carefully.

Sharron, on the other hand, was concentrating. Just as Richard had put his money in she had picked up on a feeling of uncertainty and nerves. So, he was bluffing then. So she raised again. Craig thought for a long while, then folded. Surprisingly Richard raised a second time. This time though, the feeling was gone. Sharron called him and he showed his hand.

A full house. A full bloody house. Craig was laughing.

"Glad I got out of there. You ought to know Sharron, Richard rarely bluffs."

"Hey, shut up!" Richard shot back.

"It's true. You hate gambling."

"Yes, I seem to remember mentioning that earlier. Having said that..." Richard scooped up the rather large pot and dragged it towards himself. He was beginning to look more cheerful. His luck didn't hold.

That experience had been a harsh lesson, that there were limits to her powers. Normally she would have associated an anxious feeling with Richard but apparently Craig got nervous playing poker and that was good to know. She decided to revert back to her normal playing style. She would have trouble with Craig but Richard had so many tells it wouldn't take long to get him out of the game.

Half an hour later she was staring at the King in her hand maintaining her best poker face. In front of her she had a Queen and ten. She looked at her two colleagues.

Richard was showing a pair of sevens and Craig a ten and three. Richard bet high. Sharron followed. Craig folded and dealt a nine to Sharron and a Jack to Richard. Still with the highest hand Richard bet high again. Sharron wasn't too worried and matched him. Craig dealt the final card.

"A three for Richard, no help there," he said as he laid the card down, "and a King to the lady. Oh boy."

Richard stared at her intently but she knew she wasn't giving anything away.

"So, what do you think Richard, you think she's got a Jack?"

"Shut up, Craig."

"Your bet."

"I know, I know."

Sharron watched the exchange with interest. If Richard had a seven it was all over. He'd been betting high from the start, which might indicate that he had, but Sharron knew better. As he thought he played with his bottom lip, a sure sign he was stressed. Admittedly, even if he had three sevens a Jack in her hand would beat him anyway.

Richard bet high.

Craig whistled, raising an eyebrow in mock alarm.

Richard shot him an angry look.

Sharron raised.

Richard paused again, looking from his hand to the small pile of coins in front of him. As he did so he absentmindedly wiped his mouth with the back of his hand.

'Gotcha!' thought Sharron.

"All in." Richard pushed what remained of his money into the pot.

"Oh my, oh my," Craig butted in again. It didn't disturb Sharron though, she knew exactly what she was doing. She matched Richard's bet.

"Well?" she asked.

Richard threw an Ace on to the table in disgust.

"Unlucky, kid." Craig didn't bother to hide his smile.

Sharron slowly turned over her King.

"What?" Richard cried, "I thought you'd at least have a straight."

"Nope, just a pair of Kings, which beats your hockey sticks any day."

"My what?"

"I'm getting a bad feeling about this," added Craig as Sharron dragged the money towards her side of the table.

"Well, that's me out. I'm having another drink." Richard got up and walked over to the drinks cabinet. He selected the bottle of brandy, taking it with him to the sofa as he poured himself a healthy measure.

"So, just you and me," Craig said, with a wink.

Sharron stared at him for a moment before breaking into the slightest of smiles. As she picked up her hand she felt it again, that feeling of uncertainty. This was going to be interesting.

Five minutes later the final round of betting began. He had a potential straight. She was pretty sure he didn't have one but it was going to be interesting finding out. He was definitely nervous and without Richard in the game she didn't have to worry about confusing their emotions. Craig had too good of a poker face to rely on him giving anything away so she'd reverted to using the mental link. The question was; what was she giving away in return?

"Do you want another drink?" Craig asked.

"I'm all right; I can wait till the end of the hand."

Craig nodded. Sharron had two sixes face up so she had the first bet. She thought she'd make him wait.

"I think I'll try that ham." Richard levered himself off the couch.

"Are you going to bet?" Craig asked.

"I'm thinking," she replied.

Sharron was enjoying this. She got the impression that Craig didn't like to lose and that was playing into her hands.

"Oh my God, Craig! How long have you had this?" Richard emerged from the kitchen holding the ham.

"Richard we're trying to play poker here."

"Just smell it." Richard shoved the meat under Craig's nose. Sharron noticed him flinch ever so slightly.

"It's not that bad."

"How long?"

"Er, just before we went to Prague."

"The Krostov case? That was a month ago. Oh," Richard craned his head, "do you have a straight?"

Craig hastily hid his cards.

"Get lost Richard. And throw the ham away, will you?"

Richard looked over at Sharron's cards.

"Well, well, well. Two sixes against a possible straight. This is all so much more fun when I'm not the one losing money." He looked meaningfully at Craig.

"Richard, throw the ham and have another drink for God's sake."

Richard threw him a mock salute and disappeared back into the kitchen.

"So?" Craig asked.

Sharron smiled and pushed a franc into the pot.

"Worried, Craig?" Richard interjected as he walked back to the couch.

"Ignore him, Sharron. He thinks he's funny."

Sharron laughed quietly while watching her opponent. This was a whole other side to Craig. He was worried.

Normally he acted as if nothing could faze him and when she picked up on any stray emotions he was cool and calm. Most people thought of him as confident, if they were being kind, and arrogant, if they weren't. She had to admit that had been her first impression as well. But she was beginning to realise there was more to him than that. She supposed she shouldn't be surprised, nobody could be confident all the time, he just looked as if he was.

"I'll raise."

Craig added two francs. Richard mumbled something and then fell silent.

"All right." Sharron matched his bet.

Craig was getting increasingly agitated and it was becoming clear that he wanted her out of the hand. He had nothing. But was he going to risk raising again?

"Two and a half," he countered.

Sharron found it hard this time to keep the smile off her face as she added more money to the already substantial pot. She watched as Craig counted what he had left, which was not a lot.

"Fine, I'll fold." Craig threw his cards into the centre. "Good grief. How do you keep winning with cards like that?"

"It's called skill."

"It's called reading my damned mind."

"Well, what's stopping you reading mine?"

"I don't know, but I'm not getting anything. All I'm getting is a feeling of being drunk, which is odd because I've only had a couple."

Sharron looked over at the couch where Richard was now lying motionless.

"Oh for crying out loud!" Craig exclaimed.

"I think he's asleep now so maybe you'll get a break."

"Well at least my brandy will."

"Are you going to deal?"

Craig sighed and dealt the cards. Sharron had about five times the money he did so it was only a matter of time. But to give him his due he kept fighting, even making a bit of a comeback before losing it all in the next hand. Half an hour later Craig was staring defeat in the face.

"All in." He pushed his final few centimes into the centre of the table with a sigh. He had two Jacks but he wasn't holding out much hope.

Sharron smiled ruefully. "Three nines."

Craig sat back staring at the money that used to be his.

"You've played this before, haven't you?"

"A bit."

"Sure," he replied, skeptically.

"My family used to holiday in Monte Carlo," Sharron admitted.

Craig put his head into his hands. "Why am I not surprised?"

"Could you really not pick up on what I was feeling?"

"No, nothing. Even after sleeping beauty over there had dropped off."

"Odd isn't it? Sometimes it's so strong, other times I get nothing at all."

"Mmm."

"I supposed it's normal you pick up Richard more, you've known him longer."

"I guess."

It was clear that Craig was still reluctant to discuss their newfound abilities. She couldn't blame him really, she'd found the past months difficult as well. Everything had changed so suddenly. She found herself linked to two men she hardly knew and yet in other ways she knew them intimately. She had to admit that she didn't always find that thought comforting. How far would it go, eventually? That was a question she asked herself constantly but there was never an answer. How could there be? From what Richard had said, the old man had been far from forthcoming. She suspected the same questions bothered Craig and Richard but she had always found that men didn't readily talk about such things so she'd have to be patient.

"I'd better be off," she said.

"I can get you a bag for your money."

Sharron laughed as Craig fetched her coat.

"What are you going to do with him?" She nodded towards Richard, still asleep on the couch.

"I guess I'll leave him there."

"Well, at least get him a blanket."

"Er..."

"Where are they?"

Craig disappeared into his room returning moments later with a couple of sheets. Sharron took them from him and started tucking Richard in.

"You're so sweet," Craig said with a laugh.

Sharron shook her head as she pulled on her coat.

"Get him a glass of water."

"Yes, ma'am." Craig put the brandy bottle back in his cabinet and returned with water.

"And don't shave his eyebrows."

"What?"

"I have three brothers. I know what you're like."

Craig laughed. "Three brothers eh? Now that explains a lot."

"What's that supposed to mean?"

"Goodnight, Sharron."

"Goodnight, Craig," she replied as he held open the door. "See you tomorrow," she added, as the door clicked shut.

The End