Dead Man's Hand

She drops one last chip on the pile, grinning like a chesshire cat. It isn't a smart move. Two fold and two remain, and it's no longer Yuffie Kisaragi versus the world, but Yuffie Kisaragi against the scrawny blonde who called her bluff. She places a naked hand on the cards, ready to move when he calls. The smoke fills the room, drifting across her eyes and creating a sultry temptress. But destiny has already called, and it's time to take the fall. It's the Dead Man's Hand against a straight, and nothing can be done. It's all over, and she fades away into the dark corners of her mind.

She'll never admit it, but Yuffie Kisaragi loves to gamble. So long as she has a couple of chips in her palm she's always all in, for better or worse. Life's a game to her, and she plays it with a passion, never folding until the last card falls. She flatters herself that it's bravery, but perhaps it's just recklessness- and she doesn't care enough to see the difference. Instead, she bets her fate on the toss of a coin, and throws her cares away with the dice.

She brushes her hair from her neck and ascends the stairs. Although she's a gambler, she isn't stupid, and the Casino's bright lights are too treacherous for her tastes. It reminds her of herself- bright and happy on the surface, but masking something hazy and sinister. She hears her opponents catcalling, but shakes it off with a sixteen carat smile. She has bigger fish to fry.

"You lost." he accuses, a hand falling to her wrist.

"So?" she grins, flicking her tongue out at him. He grins not with his mouth but with his eyes.

"No strategy. No poker face. What am I to do with you?" He asks the question, and his eyes tell the answer.

"Go down there and get my money back yourself, of course." she commands him. It's exactly what he wants to hear, and he drifts down the stairs with a malicious grin on his lips.

Even at the world's ending, his cards will fall close to his chest. No phantom thoughts stalk his impenetrable gaze, and no twitch reveals his grand designs. He knows when to drive forwards, and when to relent. He knows when to call, when to bluff, and when to let them get a little sloppy so he can break them all down in a single motion.

He's her ace in the hole.

An hour comes and goes. She whiles away the time with Solitaire. It will teach her patience, he says. It will teach her strategy. All it has taught her thus far is how to cheat at Solitaire. She rejects patience, and strategy bores her. If you can win, win. If you cannot, lose. This is how she plays.

A crash comes from downstairs, and she beams expectantly. Cid and Tifa emerge. Cid curses roundly at Lady Luck, Fate, Vincent's dealing and all else that comes to mind. Tifa laughs and shakes her head. She knew she would lose but played anyway. That is her attitude to all things, including love. Although, she has not lost yet, and this in itself might mean she has won. Love is not cards, after all.

Shortly after them comes the scrawny blonde. Cloud glares at her, and Yuffie remarks that he's looking a few chips short of a pile. He responds with silence, and she fears she's gone too far; but he laughs, and tells her he'll win next time. After all, Cloud always wins in the end, despite all the odds.

And then comes Vincent, her ace in the hole. He flashes a wily smirk that he learned from Yuffie herself, and joins her. He presses a pile of chips into her hands.

"Vincent, I can't believe you. You lose five hands in a row and then suddenly blitz us! What gives?" Cid yells, his cigarette hanging out of his mouth. Cid is simple. He believes that life, and the game, is all chance. He's wrong, but right in a way, and to him that's more than enough.

"Strategy, Cid." Amidst calls of cheating from the pilot, he draws his arm around Yuffie's waist. Vincent does not seek to win a single game, because a single game means nothing in the grand scheme of things. His long experience has taught him that. Instead, he wages war with his cards, losing where necessary but always planning ahead to the final hand.

They chatter a while more, and then disperse, because they all have obligations. Cid's wife is expecting, and Cloud and Tifa need to get to sleep before work. Their poker night draws to an end. Next week Yuffie will invite Red, Reeve and Barret. Red and Barret are fair game for anyone, but Yuffie never misses a chance to get one over on her boss. More often than not it means she loses against Red, who plays with an intelligence that no one can match. But it doesn't matter; she's just giving Reeve's money to someone who isn't Reeve, and still grins cheekily at him next day at the office.

There are five chairs at their poker table, but one always remains empty. This is not because Yuffie does not want to play against Vincent (although she doesn't, because he always gives her her chips back and it therefore isn't gambling). And it isn't because Vincent does not want to play against Yuffie (although he doesn't, because he simply cannot predict what she will do next).

It is because each time they play, there is a fifth member there in heart but not in body. She declines to play cards because she has more important things to do nowadays, and always did, they suppose. But she sits with them, once a week, personified in the ribbon they tied to the chair. She's one of them, after all.

Vincent and Yuffie retire to bed, flushed from victory. They have another game to play, and another war to fight; but that can wait for one night, and one game of cards. He turns to her, with his crimson eyes that burn as red as his heart.

"You will be the biggest gamble I ever take, Yuffie."

She nods and smiles. If he puts his money on her, she knows she can't lose. She has the Dead Man's Hand, after all.


End

A/N: Hmm...I really have no idea what to think of this. I don't think it was as good as Cages, but it has a certain charm of its own. And the Dead Man's Hand is a specific poker hand, but it has several meanings in the last sentence, which can be interpreted at will. I hope you enjoyed it.

This was my tenth review landmark oneshot for Black And White.