The Many Tales of Blackjack: Jokers Wild

"Todd was born in February. Theeeeee 9th, I think?" Squick said. He looked at his cards and put one down, taking the trick from Cheshire.

"How do you know that?" Rook asked. Unlike the Jack-of-Crows, Todd White had never made a big to-do about his birthday.

"I had to drive him up to Manchester couple of years ago, back when he was just Prince." Squick explained. "He's got a sister up there, he visits her every year on their birthdays, he said. Dunno about parents, I don't think Todd's on speaking terms with them."

"Poor man." Hammond said quietly, and the table was silent for a moment. Cheshire still had her parents, in a roundabout way, as did Squick. But Hammond's were long since dead, and Rook knew nothing of her past. Cheshire broke the silence. "We should have a party for him then! When he gets back, or before he leaves."

"The Jack-of-Crows still has his little celebration, though attendance isn't compulsory any more." Rook added, in answer to Erin's question. "Just something at the Corpse Farm, he 'asked' me to help him with decorations."

Given that Rook had no artistic skill whatsoever, but worked in a morgue, one had to wonder what sort of decorations the Jack liked.

Erin joined in the long silence. Her parents were still alive, and so was her brother. Had she asked Heather, she probably could have gone to see them. But she hadn't even looked at a single picture of their faces. She clung instead to the memories of memories, the blouse mom had been wearing, green, or was it blue...? Memories of memories, not even a vision left in her head, just words that she had told herself to try and remember. Arthur, her baby brother, had been completely forgotten - in some ways, he hurt the most. Maybe it was a punishment of sorts, that if Erin recalled their faces as clearly as she recalled the toy, the stuffed glowworm she'd been nagging her mom for, she'd deserve to see them again. But she was more and more beginning to think they weren't hers anymore. That they never had been.

"Well," she said, voice muted. It was lucky she couldn't cry. "We should. Do something, anyway. I'm not sure if the Winter King would like a huge deal over his birthday. Perhaps we could do something sneaky?" She wiggled her wings. "Hide presents all over for him, or send them to him without explanation. Or sneak them into his house. Hopefully he won't think it's a trap or anything." Wasn't there a new messenger girl in town? Erin was dreadful with the local news.

"Glad to hear," Erin replied to Rook's report. "I am supposed to be making him a cake, I think. God's blood, though, I'll not be making it out of those Hedge Pumpkins he seems to eat. By the time I put in enough stuff to fix the taste, there'd be so many other things in it that it wouldn't be a Hedge Pumpkin cake."

"Aye, a surprise party!" Cheshire said, grinning from ear to ear and rubbing her hands together. "We can have cake and presents. And Rook can do decorating and it will be wonderful!"

"I'm not sure a party is quite such a good idea. And if anyone is decorating it, perhaps it is better that Erin and I do it?" Hammond said, though he couldn't quite prevent a gleam of avariciousness from his eyes at the prospect of decorating. He was an artist to the metallic bone. "Though I do like the idea of presents."

"I've rescued an Xbox I could give him." Squick recommended. "They threw it out but it was fixable, anyone know if Todd would want it?"

No one did.

"I could give him a..." Rook paused to consider. She didn't actually have anything to give. "This may require thinking."

"Erin can make a cake, maybe?" Squick said, grinning at the little moth. "I still have fond memories of the wedding cake."

There was general agreement to this.

"I dunno about a party either," Erin said, repeating her opinion as she took the trick. "If he hasn't told anyone his birthday then maybe he doesn't want it to be known. But presents and cake should be fun. We can figure out creative ways to sneak them to him."

She flushed slightly at the compliment. "Thank you," was all she could reply. She, in general, remembered the icing more than the cake. "Maybe I could whip up an ice cream cake."

"Does anyone know... anything about what he likes?" she asked, scratching her head. "He likes... women..." He liked Rose, no accounting for taste there. That was about the extent of her knowledge. She didn't know Todd very well - they had a sour moment before the wedding, which still smarted on occasion, though she could only hope the wedding had soothed everyone's nerves. But she was not on intimately friendly terms with the Winter King. This might require advanced reconnaissance, and by that she meant cheating via contracts. "I could try to find out, I guess."

"Sleeping." Cheshire said, which prompted everyone, including Rook, to look at her. The glaistig paused, not entirely used to being the center of attention in this way, but continued cheerfully. "Aye, he's always taking a nap or going off into the quiet."

"Off to sleep with someone, more like." Squick said, disgruntled. Whether this was because he'd still not entirely forgiven Todd for the wedding crisis, for all that had ended well, or because Squick was just jealous, was anyone's guess. "The guy's got like two or three girlfriends at any one time."

"Keeps him busy?" Rook suggested drily. She poked her long nose into the cards and then put down an ace of spades, which somehow seemed appropriate. Squick laughed, then stopped laughing when he realized he'd just lost the trick.

"He likes music." Hammond said. "He's asked me to fiddle with his stereo system a few times. Has quite a system in his hollow."

"What kind of music?" Rook asked. She liked industrial music, herself.

"Alternative Rock, I think?" Hammond said, momentarily out of his depth. If it didn't appear in a Hammer Horror movie or a West End musical, it was beyond his experience.

"He also likes sports." Cheshire said, a veritable fountain of information this evening. "He's really good at tennis and ice-skating."

"And all the high tech stuff in his hollow works? Very nice," Erin noted, impressed.

"It's a good start," she said, a little unsure of that herself, but figuring a little thanks was in order. After all, Erin was out of nubile single female friends to cater to the one interest she did know. "We could get him some new skates or CDs or mp3s or something. If we're sneaky we can hide them all over where we know he'll stumble onto them. It'd be fun to outfox the Winter King, don't you think?" She pondered for a bit where she could hide an ice cream cake, and decided more thought would be needed on that one. She watched Rook put down the Ace, wondering about the crow-woman's strategy, and then carefully put down a card to start the next trick. Hearts still hadn't been broken yet, and no sign of the Queen of Spades either. This was going to get interesting in a bit.

"How is Queen Aurora doing, Mr. Squick?" Erin asked, looking slightly abashed to have to ask about her own monarch from a member of the opposing court, motley-mate of the queen or no.

"There are some really nice ice skates where I work." Cheshire offered after a moment of thought. "They're all silvery, though not very foxy."

"We have two Wizened here." Rook said, smiling quietly. "I somehow doubt lining a pair of skates with fur is going to be too hard."

"Something to that, I guess." Squick said. He tilted his head off to one side, thinking about Erin's question. "Aurora's fine? She doesn't come visit us that much now that she's the Queen. Aaaaand now that she has Dana." Squick added, his smile accentuated by the Glasgow Grin carved on his face.

"She's doing pretty good, really. Stretching her wings." Squick said, tilting his head to the other side now, thinking of just how to phrase this. He continued in that slow voice of his. "Othello can be too much sometimes, but Dana beats him down whenever he gets out of line."

"Aurora's wondering why you never show up at Court, actually." Squick said, looking at Erin.

"Mr. Othello is always very enthusiastic," Erin said, Othello was an oddball, but she still thought very highly of him.

"Oh." Erin seemed to shrink a bit at Squick's question, feeling a bit like a bug under a magnifying glass. But what was she supposed to say? That when she'd stumbled out of the Hedge four years ago, she'd been the closest thing to a Loyalist, and people knew it? That her job as a Goblin under the Maestro had labeled her as scum to most the Freehold? That even now she didn't trust her own people, especially when it came to her precious mortal friends? That she couldn't feel like she even related to her own people?

She had never really thought herself missed, certainly.

"I, uh, um," Erin said unintelligibly, staring at her cards so she wouldn't have to look at anyone. "I didn't... I didn't know that I was wanted, there."

"Some people wonder why you aren't in our court." Rook said, her tone noncommital. Whether Rook herself fell in with those people was impossible to tell. "Someone whom even the Venatores fear... a perfect exemplar of Autumn."

Squick laughed, then gave Erin as friendly a smile as a boneless boogeyman with a glasgow grin could manage. "You were sorta-kinda responsible for putting her on the throne, you know. Aurora doesn't forget that sort of thing. You should come to the Court at least on occasion. Let Aurora show her thanks."

Erin puffed up into a big, indignant ball of fluff. Regardless of what Venatores claimed, it did not look the least bit intimidating. "Those jokers," she pouted. "I am not scary."

"I mean, I don't try to be," she was forced to restate.

"I don't know what she'd thank me for," Erin said, being forced to put down a heart. She didn't seem to see how what she had done wasn't expected. "If Queen Aurora wishes me there, I will come."


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