Title: Card Games and Skeleton Keys
Challenge: 10 Tarots
Prompt: The Tower (XVI) Represents sudden change, chaos, and the prelude to a great fall.
Summary: [Joker, Jokers / Alice, Follows 'Lock and Key' and 'Keys and Doors'] This time it's Alice who proposes a game.
Rating: PG-13
Notes: Roughly Joker 9 or so. Part I of ?

. o . o . o . o . o . o .

Beware of the door with too many keys
Portuguese Proverb

. o . o . o . o . o . o .

Part I

There was no hesitation.

Her footsteps slowed only slightly in the crossing between forest and prison. Thrown off balance by the sudden wave of stone rippling into existence around her, she fumbled briefly before catching herself just as quickly. One hand resting lightly against a wall as the girl waited for the change to finish. Then, with a single cautious glance towards the scattering of broken toys littering the dark corridor, she stepped forward.

It was the first time Alice had deliberately come into the prison, and Joker was nearly beside himself with curiosity.

"Why hello, young miss." Peeking out from one of the prison's many winding halls, he sidled casually up beside the girl. His hands clasped politely behind his back as he joined her. And, a wide, cheerful grin taking form on his lips as he tilted his head, leaning to get a better look at her from under the shadowed brim of his Warden's cap. He gave a muted chuckle. "You've come an awful long way for a game of cards, Alice, lost again?"

"No."

That she didn't deny entering the prison of her own freewill only made his grin grow.

"I mean, I wouldn't mind a game of cards later. Maybe. But I'm notlost." Alice paused, looking at him for a long, silent moment before adding a polite nod in his direction. "...White-san."

His good eye twinkled in amusement.

"You're getting quite good at that." He told her proudly, rewarding the girl with a bright flash of teeth.

"It's not that hard." She retorted evenly, brushing the praise aside with a quick, curt shake of her head. "You're both very different."

"Still, it is a first." Swinging his riding crop up from where he had tucked it in his belt, he used it to tip his cap in a mockery of a bow. "Most don't bother to differentiate. We're bothJoker... But then, you know that already."

Alice scowled. Turquoise eyes rekindling with a familiar spark of defiance as she straightened up stubbornly.

"So, if not cards..." He gestured abstractly towards the prison around them. A soft, taunting lilt to his words as he regarded her knowingly. "How can I entertain you today, Alice?"

"I want to see my sister." She hesitated slightly. "Please."

"Of course! As you wish." It was to her credit that she didn't flinch as he stepped closer. Clasping a friendly hand on her shoulder, he laughed lightly down at her. "I wouldn't dream of keeping you away."

"I don't want to interrupt you if you're working." She demurred softly; her words in direct contrast to the way her eyes roved sharply over the rows of darkened, empty cells lining the hall. Alice raised a brow. "You areworking, aren't you?"

Touching a hand to his warden's uniform, he merely grinned.

"I think I can manage taking a short break. This is special case." He told the girl evenly. "We wouldn't want you to get lost... Right, Joker?"

There was a low, disgusted snort.

"Who's working? If anyone deserves a break around here it's me." Leaning against the corridor wall opposite them, and looking for all the world as though he'd been there the whole time, Joker gave his counterpart a hard look.

"Ehh? How rude, Joker. I-"

"Don't start with me." Joker shot back coarsely, muttering darkly under his breath before turning his gaze on the girl. His lips curled into a smirk. "Besides, I could use some entertainment."

Alice glared indignantly.

"After all..." Sauntering over to the pair, the prison warden tucked his thumbs in his belt loops in a way that set his keyring rattling tauntingly, continuing with a lazy drawl. "...Only the most dangerous criminals are kept in solitary."

"Nee-san's not dangerous!" Alice snapped at him, hands fisting at her sides before remembering herself. Her lips pressed into a thin line.

He broke into raucous laughter at the outburst.

"Joker..." Shaking his head in disapproval at his partner's behavior, the politer of the two quickly moved to placate the girl with a gentle smile. "Of course she's notdangerous. If she were truly dangerous there'd be no reason for her to be locked up in the first place, now would there?"

He pat her reassuringly on the back, even as Alice shivered at the implication and pulled away, starting off down the corridor once more.

The prison path remained unchanged. It was only a short walk, with each hall looking exactly like the last. The rows of cell blocks seemingly continuing without end, even as they all inevitably led to a single destination. The whole of it empty as usual save for the three of them... and save for the lone figure garbed in ruffled violet sitting as sedately as ever in her cell.

"Nee-san." Breaking away from the Jokers, Alice quickly moved forward, her hands automatically moving to wrap around the cold iron bars of the cell door.

Her sister, remained as she was, seated primly with her skirts spread around her. Silent. Unmoving. Reactionless.

"See? Such a wonderfully, polite prisoner..." Flinching at the cheerful observation, Alice turned to look back over her shoulder. "I'm sure Black-kun was only teasing when he called her dangerous, right?"

" 'Right' nothing." Sneering at the nickname, Joker crossed his arms with a huff of displeasure. "A criminal is a criminal. That's all there is to it."

"And I keep telling you that it was a mistake that she was locked up in the first place! Nee-san isn't a criminal!"

Alice received a low snort of amusement for her trouble as Joker jerked his head toward the locked cell. "Those bars say otherwise, jou-chan."

Unable to contradict him, she shifted a pleading gaze towards his partner. "White-san?

"Even if you ask me..." The Joker in question trailed off with a wry grin. Stepping forward, he flicked a finger against the iron deadbolt sealing the cell pointedly. "Even I can't do anything without the proper key."

Shoulders dipping in disappointment, Alice bit her lip. Her hands tightened uselessly around the cell bars.

"Perhaps you'd care to try unlocking it again?" There was a soft, coaxing touch to her elbow as a set of the warden's master keys was pressed eagerly in her direction. "I can lend you my keys again if you'd like Alice."

"Oi, oi, who's being the tease now, White-san." Leaning back against the cell on the opposite side of the hall, Joker gave disdainful snicker. His own keyring jostling as he moved. The sharp metallic sound echoed eerily in the silence of the prison. "We bothknow those don't work."

"Are you offering to let her try yours instead, Joker?"

"Fuck you." Ignoring Alice's brief hopeful look, Joker snarled. His posture hardening against the amused gleam in his partner's eye as he glared back. "My keys stay with me. There's no way I'm-"

"What if I played you for them?"

Both Jokers froze in place, going deathly still before slowly, incredulously, turning their attention back to the girl standing solemnly at the cell door.

"What if I played you for them?" Alice repeated, more firmly this time. Her gaze traveling between the pair of Jokers and her sister's cell in a brief moment of half-formed calculation, before she straightened stubbornly. She locked eyes with the bitter tongued warden. "You like games too, don't you Black-san?"

"Hnn?" Crossed arms going lax, Joker pushed himself slowly back to his feet. Tilting his head to get a better look at her, he nudged his cap up with the tip of a finger. "You want to try playing me?"

"Cards." She nodded sharply. "If I win you let me use your keys."

"... You says some pretty ballsy things sometimes, don't you?" Amused snort not quite able mask the gleam of interest in his eye, he crossed the thin expanse of hallway with a slow swagger. His lips splitting into a crooked grin as he leered down at her. "Looking to play punishment games with me, jou-chan?"

Not bothering to dignify him with a response, Alice crossed her arms defiantly, returning his taunt with a harsh, glare.

He merely chuckled in amusement.

Glaring harder at him, Alice opened her mouth to retort only to be interrupted by a playful sigh of disappointment from the opposite direction; and, blinking, she turned to watch as 'White-san' twirled his own set of keys lazily on a finger.

"Ahh... If I'd known you'd playme for them, I might have hung onto these a little longer..." He gave her a winning smile, looking every inch the welcoming ringmaster as he tipped his cap teasingly at the girl. "Oh well, we'll always have the Seasons, I suppose... Right, Alice?"

And, before she could answer, the keys were gone, vanishing in one last theatrical twirl as a familiar, well worn deck of cards took their place.

There was low, derisive snort from her other side.

"So? What game are you feeling brave enough to challenge me to? Or do I get to pick?" Redirecting her attention back towards him, Joker leaned his riding crop casually on his shoulder, eying her with smug confidence. "How 'bout it? Gonna try your luck with a round of Black Jack?"

"Clover & Heart." Alice countered firmly. She was terrible at Black Jack and they knew it. "All the usual rules apply."

"Fine by me." He shot back, unflustered.

And, with a final glance towards the occupant of the cell, the girl nodded, sealing the agreement.

"Whose deal?" Alice asked, staring at the pair of them. Entirely unsurprised as 'Black-san' straightened, neatening up his uniform with a sharp tug to his lapels before extending a hand to his partner.

He took up the deck of cards with a smirk.

"Mine."