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The Last Time We Met

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Joe lays out the cards, his motions practiced and methodical. The soft click of well-worn cardstock against the coffee table is soothing and familiar. It helps him drown out the other bodies moving and talking around him. Luka excitedly explaining the worth of a new ring to Ahim, how she haggled the price down to a fraction. Marvelous teaching Gai how to throw darts with his weighted bracelet on, then laughing at him and beating on his back when the child misses. Don is the only quiet one, fussing over some project on his little work table, though he does pause every so often to berate himself aloud when he makes a mistake.

For once Joe refuses, or maybe he's simply unable, to take comfort in the sounds of his comrades. He doesn't feel like he deserves it. Doesn't even want it. Deep down inside something is missing. Try as he might he can't seem to ignore it, can't seem to fill it with quiet affection for his friends. Not anymore, not after all that's happened.

So he lays out his cards in a familiar spread, trying to clear his head with a simple game of solitaire. Queen over King. Jack over Queen.

"Full house, I win!" Sid throws down his hand in triumph, slapping his knee before reaching for the tiny, two person pot.

Joe chuckles softly, stopping Sid's hand before he can grab the zagins. He smirks lightly, just a slight upward curve at the corner of his mouth, and sets down his royal straight flush. Sid gapes at the hand, and Joe ducks his head down, trying to hide his smile. "Sorry, sempai."

"Bastard!" Sid smacks the table, the zagins rattling angrily, and gestures forcefully with one hand for Joe to take his winnings. "How do you always manage to beat me? It's not fair, I always win on leave. And pirates cheat!"

Joe pockets the zagins and collects the cards, shuffling them gently just so he has something to do with his hands. "You're heading off tomorrow, right? When do you get back?"

Sid nods and leans back in his chair, reaching into his breast pocket for his little tin of rolled cigarettes and his box of matches. He strikes a match against the sole of his boot, and Joe watches as the end of the cigarette flares for a moment before calming down to a glowing ember.

Sid drags, deep and slow, speaking as he exhales. "About a Standard week, you'll already be planet side with the S.O. task force when I get back."

Joe looks down at the cards he's still shuffling, his ears feeling hot around the edges. "I still wish you were coming with us. I... we could use you."

Joe looks up again as Sid moves his chair around the table, setting it down next to him. He gently tales the deck from Joe's hands, and Joe is surprised to find his fingers trembling. Sid takes both Joe's hands between his palms, rubbing them carefully, like Joe is simply chilled, and not terrified.

"You'll be fine," Sid leans in to rub his nose against Joe's ear, breathing him in, words soft and voice soothing. "You've trained so hard for this."

Joe sighs, his breath coming out stuttered, and leans into Sid as he starts kissing along his neck, greedily searching for comfort, for a distraction from his nerves. Sid readily obliges, turning Joe head to kiss him properly. Slow and lazy, a kiss between two people that have their wholes lives to share together.

Joe blinks rapidly, his vision oddly hazy, the cards blurring and bleeding together, making it harder for him to see what card goes where. His hands are shaking, almost fumbling as he draws, and he curses almost silently, moving his lips without sound.

Before his tears fall someone flops down on the stool opposite him, and Joe doesn't have to look up to know it's Marvelous. He just has that way about him, a presence in his movements, a radiance in his posture. He clashes with the memory still tugging at Joe's peripheral, the reds too bright, the ego too proud.

But when Joe looks up he sees Marvelous smiling the same smile Sid always gave him when he was scared or upset, cocky as always, but tempered with understanding and sympathy.

Marvelous doesn't comment on the tears that are so obviously shining in Joe's eyes. He simply gathers up the cards and shuffles, handing the deck over to Joe. "Deal me in."

Joe smirks, a gentle upturn at the corner of his mouth, and shakes his head as he deals. "You always lose."

Marvelous gathers his cards, his face already giving away his hand. He meets Joe's eyes over the edge of his cards. "I know."