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His Game

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                This was always Slick’s thing. She was always Slick’s problem and always Slick’s project, his love and his hate and his girl. There had to be boundaries. For Droog, at least. Diamonds was quite the classy fellow, and wouldn’t cut in on a dance where he wasn’t welcomed.

                It is a whole different matter when someone steps in on him.

                Pool was always his game, however. He wasn’t just a cue stick genius when it came to beating peoples’ heads in, or shoving what most people saw as a toy right through someone’s chest like a spear. He knew how to shoot (and not just guns). He enjoyed playing, but there weren’t many people who would play against him anymore. No one ever won. No one had won in years. So, he played himself. Like so many other things in a dangerous, capable, genius man’s life, he took to his favored activities alone. He would perfect trick shots in the bottom room of a properly sophisticated place that had put a table in just because he had mentioned it in passing once. Beautiful hardwood, red felt lining (because no one put green felt in a Crew-aligned bar, even if there was nothing official), a small diamond carved into each pocket. Inconspicuous but every bit his.

                He uses his own cue, and it matches the table’s colors. Rather, the table matches his colors. He can jump, scatter more than half of the balls into pockets when he breaks, put spin and curve into his shots. He can shoot perfectly from behind, even halfway through a very nice bottle of Cognac he’s been keeping all to himself, just like his game of pool. Droog faces the wall, lines up the shot in his head, and hits the last ball toward a side pocket from an angle. He hits it, but does not hear it sink in. He doesn’t hear it ricochet off of the felt-lined sides of the table, either. He turns.

                “Poetic,” he says.

                She is all curves and interest in a long evening gown sitting on the edge of his table, holding the eight ball up for examination. It’s just like every other eight ball in the world. It’s hers the way the table is his; an element for each of them to rule over. For Droog a playing field of skill, for Snowman the last, most important ball.

                “Evening, Diamonds,” she says, just as smooth as him. “Got a smoke?”

He slides a silver case out of his inner breast pocket, removes two, and hands her one. She slides hers into that elegant holder, he puts his between his lips and lights up, cups hers in his hand, and lights that one too.

“You don’t call me that.” He corrects her, and pulls tar and nicotine and supposedly little shards of glass into his lungs. It all comes out again, except maybe the glass, in a cloud of smoke through pursed lips. “Droog.”

Droog.” Snowman gestures with her cigarette holder—semantics, who needs them when you’re the universe? “Celebrating alone?”

“Who says I’m celebrating?”

“The jewelry heist. Everyone knows how much you like shiny things.” Her smoke comes out in perfect little rings, and he watches them closely. He watches the entire process closely: From the flaring of the cherry at the end of her smoke; her cheeks pulling in; her chest expanding—she doesn’t puff, she breathes deep; deflating as her lips part (painted black and glittering like the night sky, like her dress); and those circles of gaseous carcinogens. She looks back at him, drops the eight ball right where it had been headed with one gloved hand. The gloves go up to her elbows and are made of the same fabric as his tie, he knows from the way they don’t crease when she moves.

He thinks the same thing he always does: They could be the peak of perfection. He could be her king.

                “Why did you come here?” He straightens his sleeves even though they don’t need straightening, perfects the position of his diamond (shape and composition) cufflinks, and starts setting up another game. She doesn’t move when he finally gets around to the pocket Snowman guards. She still sits on his table with her legs crossed, smoking. Her hat is tilted back, bangs brushed across her face, bob cut sharply forward and hair every bit as black as her dress, her gloves, her lips, her heart.

                “Do you need something?” The woman smirks. Droog stares back, unshaken and unamused, eyes as narrow as usual, no more or less. He will not ask for his balls back. Slick can do that all he wants. “Snow,” he says. One word, commanding and requesting and low.

                “I came for some sophistication in my night.” She removes herself from the table gracefully. Droog is tall, but she is taller. Maybe without the heels they might have been eye-to-eye, but she wears stilettos. “The boys are wearing on my nerves. They are…difficult.”

                “Can’t be any harder to run than a planet.” Droog finishes setting up the triangle in the middle of the table, and is surprised to see Snowman chalking a cue, waiting. “Oh, yes—that didn’t work out for you.”

                He insults her because challenging her place as the most important thing ever to happen to the universe is the only way to get the most important thing in the universe’s attention.

                “Your jabs are adorable.” One gloved finger slides down her pool cue and she smiles. That he doesn’t bother her, bothers him. “You aren’t Slick. Stop trying.”

                Point, match. He is embarrassed, but refuses to show even the slightest hint of that. He simply shrugs, as if to say, Can’t tell me I’m wrong.

                “You playing or not?”

                “No. The stick matches my dress. I thought I might stand here and look ravishing for you.”

                Droog looks up, bent over the table and poised to break the triangle. Inexplicably, his mouth cracks into a smile. She might, with a hand on her side-canted hips, the other on a pool stick. She may be posing for him, his weapon of choice in hand, alone in a room looking stunning and antagonizing him.

                “Might be,” he answers through a smirk, and breaks the stack. “Looks a bit like that from here.”

                “I’ll play,” the former royal says, and strides to the table the same way she would walk down a red carpet. She accomplishes so much in the space of a few steps. Her dress is perfectly tailored—probably Stitch’s doing—and Droog isn’t sure if he better appreciates the fashion or what’s under it for a moment. Snowman leans over the table, and he watches the new way her body curves while she lines up a shot and splits the ten and thirteen into different pockets. “You’ve been spending too much time with Pickle Inspector.” The woman stands to her full height, and Droog frowned. “You’re beginning to ogle.”

                Droog scoffs. It is all he can do after being caught, all he can do to buy time. “I….” He could admit it, he had been caught, but what guy didn’t gawk at Snowman? “…have not been spending time with the Inspector,” he decides to say, and easily makes his next strike. He never misses. “Nor do I ogle.” Another solid-color spins into a pocket. “I appreciate.”

                “Of course, Droog. My mistake.”

                She plays well, taking her time. His shots are quick, because he doesn’t need to measure them anymore. No trick shots, Droog doesn’t try to impress her. He doesn’t need to, because she wouldn’t have popped in if she weren’t already impressed with him.

                He absolutely thrashes her. Her defeat is prolonged only as long as she can stall by more or less striking poses around the table. He knows, though—he knows she isn’t putting on a show for him. This is just Snowman, the queen, naturally stunning and leaking sensuality with every casual move. It’s all for herself. It’s never for him, or Slick. Well…maybe Slick. Sometimes, Droog thinks, just maybe Slick.

                He takes one of her arms like a gentleman and puts the bottle of Cognac in her other hand. She’s a lady, but even ladies can drink straight from the bottle. They go upstairs, and draw every eye in the place. Pool isn’t her thing, even Snowman couldn’t beat Diamonds Droog on his own turf, but she can dance. He can, too, but not like her. He has a body made for this, for smooth, graceful, purposeful movements, but she has him beat because Snowman has a body made to glow. Her gown sways with her body, her heels click on the floor and she is as perfectly balanced and capable in them as she would have been in ballet flats.

                People will hear about this. The way Droog puts his hands on her hips, the queen of the Felt and former queen of Derse, Spades Slick’s main squeeze. They’ll whisper about how he holds her hand, out to the side while they press together. His arm on her waist, the way he leans when he dips her. They won’t talk about how she sets her head on his shoulder because he’s actually tall enough for that to happen, how she leads when they dance, or her lips that press to his neck. Those things will go conspicuously unmentioned, like her hair on his cheek and the way she laughs when he unexpectedly spins her. She wanted a little class in her evening. He gives it to her and in return Droog doesn’t have to celebrate a successful and lucrative life of crime alone, if just for an evening.

                The tall, strikingly beautiful woman rests against her date, leaning against the pool table again. His arm is still around her waist, and they lean on each other as much as the table. He doesn’t go at her mouth, looking to feel shark teeth in his lips and tongue. He watches her magnesium flare eyes instead.

                “I’m leaving,” she finally says, around three in the morning. It’s a fair warning from a woman who comes and goes silently and completely as she pleases, moving across space and timelines the way normal people move through rooms. “Thank you for the distraction, Diamonds.”

                She tips her head against his, and he kisses her gloved knuckles. The satin is smooth under his lips, he runs his thumb over her hand and wrist. He does not want to let go, but he does, and curves his long fingers against the side of her face, stroking her skin softly. Distraction? That was all he could ever be, good company for a night, playing pool and dancing. Yet, he hopes she’ll come to him again, just for those things. They make an excellent pair. Surely she sees that.

                “Droog,” he corrects. He finally leans forward, and she is gone. No puff of smoke, no sound. One moment there is a warm, curvy body pressed next to him on a pool table, soft in his hands. The next he’s kissing air that might never had held a person at all. The only signs that the night happened at all will be the way his boss lays into him when word comes around, but he can take Slick. Take him and put him up against a wall and wreck him so badly Snowman will truly be impressed, the next time she needs a distraction.

Then he might wreck her, too.