The Night Before
Greg was antsy. He'd been away from the front lines for nearly a week and it was starting to get to him. He couldn't help but wonder what the Tops were keeping from the troops. Reports kept saying there was no action, but Greg's gut insisted otherwise.
"You've been too long in this war," Sophie said, kissing his ear. They were lying together in his bunk at Edinburgh Base. One of the benefits of being a decorated field officer was getting solo quarters when you were base-bound. It was one thing he didn't complain about.
"We all have."
"Aye, and that's why we should take this respite as a blessin' for as long as it lasts."
"The longer it lasts--"
"The more worried you are. I get it." She sat up and rose from the bed, leaving the sheet with him. He rolled onto his side and watched her lithe and naked form as she headed toward the tiny en suite and its tinier shower. "You need a distraction," she called back over the sound of running water.
"I thought that's what this was," he called back lightly. He, too, rose and followed her. He stood in the door way and watched the shape of her body beyond the textured plastic shower door. He'd have joined her had there been room.
"I hope I'm more than that."
"Of course you are."
"Good." She turned to face him and he could see her smile refracted through the plastic. Her black hair clung wetly to her head and shoulders, water running rivulets to another dark patch between her legs. "Aw, don't you look pathetic out there," she teased.
He chuckled. "Thanks."
"Don't thank me yet. I have a plan for your distraction. Wait and see how that works out first."
That got his hopes, and parts of his anatomy, up. "Oh?"
"Down, laddie. You'll find out this evenin'."
It wasn't what he'd expected--correction, hoped for--but it was still a good distraction.
There were six of them around the table, drinks and eats were plentiful, and so far the cards had been kind to him. Although they'd been kindest to Sophie who had quite a large stack of credit chits in front of her. Greg wondered if this distraction of hers had been more for her than for him. She'd always been better than him at cards. Not that he begrudged either it or her winning streak. He'd learned the day they met that she was a dab hand at any card game you cared to name. She'd taken most of his cash that day, but he'd always felt he won the real prize.
Boffin Stamford tossed down his hand. "I fold. I've had the devil's own luck tonight." Even in defeat his face never lost its cheerful expression. He was that sort, it seemed. Always more ready to see the good than the bad, even when he was that close to broke.
"Me, too." Doc laid his cards face-down on the table and took a drink of his nearly empty glass of beer.
Oracle examined the table, the others seated around it, the backs of the cards that lay flat down and those that others held, and the fronts of the cards in his own hands. "I'm in." He chucked the appropriate chits into the ever-growing pile. "And I raise." He tossed in more, eliciting a variety of responses from those still in it and those already out.
Boffin Hooper sighed and shook her head. "That's me done in." She folded her hand.
That just left the three of them and it was Sophie's call. She looked over the table, much as Oracle had done. Her expression was so completely neutral she might have been watching paint dry. If she had a tell, Greg had never found it, and tonight was no exception. "I'll match that," she said, and suited action to words.
Was she bluffing? Did she have the cards? Greg wasn't fool enough to bet against her, but was he fool enough to call her? "Call." Apparently so.
The bets settled, he laid out his hand for the table to see. "Straight, six-high." It wasn't great, but neither was it shit.
"Ha!" barked Oracle. "Straight, nine-high." He showed his cards, a look of smug satisfaction on his face, which he turned towards Sophie expectantly.
Sophie smiled and Greg fought down a laugh. She didn't have a tell when she was playing, but when she knew she'd won? That was another story. Plus, he didn't mind losing if it was to her. If she was happy, he was happy. "Four Jacks," she said, laying them down one at a time.
"Damn," Oracle swore. "Again." He sat back with an annoyed huff.
Doc patted his shoulder in a mix of empathy and amusement. "I told you it wouldn't be as easy as you thought. This is a game of strategy and luck, not logic."
"I'll just take this." Sophie pulled her winnings to her.
Greg reached out and collected up the scattered cards. "Who's up for another round?"
"If you mean beers, I'm in," said Doc. "Otherwise, I'm done."
The others made murmurs of agreement.
Sophie shook her head at them. "Party poopers. All right. Another round of drinks instead of cards, and to show you what a good winner I am, this round is on me."
That got hearty agreement from everyone at the table.
"Greg, would you play the hunter?"
"Sure." He pushed back his chair and stood. He didn't make it two steps towards the bar when a familiar and unwelcome voice came over the base's Tannoy.
"Commander Lestrade, your presence is required in Command and Control. Immediately. Respond."
"Fuck. Sorry, gang." Greg crossed to the communication panel on the wall at one end of the bar. Before punching the button to reply, he turned to the bartender. "Janey, get the others another round would you? It's on Marqaurdson's tab."
"Thanks." Only with that obligation fulfilled did he turn his attention to the summons. He thumbed open the comm connection. "Lestrade responding. ETA ten minutes."
The Top's response was quick and irritated. "Make it seven."
"Understood." So much for his good mood and Sophie's distraction. At the same time, though, he couldn't deny that flutter of anticipation in his belly.
He turned and saw Sophie watching him. She raised a dark eyebrow in question and concern. He gave a small shrug in reply and mouthed, I'll let you know. Sophie nodded and he left the bar, the door sliding shut behind him.
Good news or bad news, something was up, and he was about to find out what it was.