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The Many Tales of Blackjack: Rabbit Season

   
The Many Tales of Blackjack: Rabbit Season

December 14th, 2006
Late Evening


Sometimes, even rituals can change. For years now, Saturday nights at Sergei's had been a ritual that both Erin and Sergei had followed religiously. It always went the same. Erin would come by, bearing food in quantities enough to feed an army. Sergei would greet her at the door, and then Erin would cook, while Sergei hovered around feeling guilty about not helping more. They would have dinner, Erin's persistent attempt to turn Sergei into something spherical foiled by the fact that he tried not to let her cook for him more than a few times a week. Then they would sit on the couch and watch television, some sports program or the latest science fiction serial.

But even rituals can change. Nowadays, when Erin showed up at the door, Sergei still opened it, and he still took her bags from her.

"Hello, angel." Sergei said, leaning down to kiss Erin on the lips. He grinned from ear to ear as he took the bags to the kitchen.

That was new.

Erin leaned up on her toes and into the kiss. She grinned almost as wide as he did when he broke away, though there was an element of pouting in there too. Today's dinner had been prepared beforehand, and was tucked into serving dishes, still piping hot. There were advantages to having secret doors between the two houses.

She wouldn't let him take one of the bags, though, scuttling in with it by herself and keeping it closed. That was also new.

"Are you hungry, my little leveret?" Erin asked, coming up to stand beside him as he peeked into the bags he had taken. Dinner tonight seemed to be mutton, in attempted Kazakh style, although somewhere in there Kazakhstan had collided with the Middle East and been covered with spices and honey. Erin had taken one look at things like 'fermented camel's milk' and chucked authenticity out the window. "How is work? How is life?"

"A dead man would be hungry, the way you cook, Erin." Sergei said, opening the bags and peering into them. As usual, he had no idea what Erin had cooked up, but took it on faith that it would be mind-bendingly delicious. "What is this?"

"Work is busy. The water freezes and all the pipes burst, so plenty of repairs for me to do." The lanky Russian shrugged. "Life is... more complicated." He looked at Erin shrewdly, a small smile on his face even so. "What did you do to Sasha?"

"Spiced lamb kebabs, manti dumplings, and naan with honey," Erin said, going for the kettle. "And hot tea to keep us nice and warm tonight. Complicated how, my little hare?" she asked.

"Sasha? Why, what about him?" Erin said, her fingers curling around her cheeks. They both knew, but it was much more fun to let it play out.

"He has a new girlfriend." Sergei said, and this sounded like a silly rationale even to Sergei. Back before they'd ever met Erin, the Russian mobster had never had great difficulty with women. Now, more handsome and athletic than he'd ever been, and with a bit of faerie glamour on his tongue, saying that Sasha had a new girlfriend was almost as noteworthy as saying that thunderstorms were expected. "I was wondering if this was like with Jameson."

"What's in that?" Sergei said abruptly, looking at the one bag that Erin didn't let go of. Mostly, this was to make this conversation seem a bit less awkward.

"No..." Erin replied, though she had a sneaking suspicion this was her fault all the same. "He doesn't need me to tell him to chase after women. Why do you ask? Is there something wrong with her? Is he neglecting you over a girl, Seryozha?" She grinned, putting her arms around his neck as he sat down at the table. "He's a rotten influence on you anyway. I'll keep you company instead, so you won't get lonely."

"It's something for later," Erin explained, without explaining. She brushed it off, as if it weren't important, in hopes he'd forget about it during dinner. "What are we watching tonight?"

"He is not usually so smug about it." Sergei said, trying to pinpoint just what about Sasha's latest paramour tipped him off. Sergei was not completely oblivious to other people, however much he could act like it sometimes. "It's odd."

"But I have you, angel, so I am not complaining." Sergei tilted his head back to nuzzle Erin's arms for a moment, running his fingers up and down them. "I thought we could watch a movie tonight. It's an adaptation of Tales from Earthsea. Interested?"

"Hrumph. Well I dunno what he thinks he's so smug about," Erin huffed, honestly. Personally she was wondering if she should embrace it or ignore it. She didn't really expect this to last very long, given that Heather didn't put up with crap and that Sasha was... Sasha. Maybe she should wait for it to all just blow over. But then, it might be fun hanging out before the inevitable explosion and the inability to have the pair in the same room together. "You think she'll be around for more than a month?"

"It sounds interesting," Erin replied chipperly enough to the movie.

Sergei wasn't completely oblivious to other people, but he sucked a bit at reading them. Perhaps he might have noticed Erin staring at him all through dinner, grinning huge and flexing her fingers - but to be fair, it was hard to notice her staring when her eyes were blank marble, and Erin stared at him all the time...

"I have no idea." Sergei said honestly. His friendship with Sasha was an odd sort of thing, given that Sergei was dismal at handling people, while Sasha was, as Erin had memorably thought... Sasha. Then again, perhaps this was why Aleksander liked his rabbity friend, and Sergei seemed to see something worthwhile in the other Russian. They trusted each other with their lives. They wouldn't trust each other with a five-pound note, mind.

Dinner passed quietly, in large part because Sergei was busy worshipping at the altar of Erin's cooking. It could have started a religion all on her own. Even after Erin had named them, he still had no idea what half of these things were, admittedly. Manti dumplings? And what was a naan? But it tasted good, and so Sergei didn't complain as Erin made strange things with names he could only barely wrap his brain around.

"Angel, you are a wonder." Sergei said, finishing off the last of the meal. His appetite was better these days than it had been in the early days, when Erin had first known him. Even now, he still ate small portions, but that was just how Sergei was. "I'll go wash the dishes, you can make yourself comfortable on the couch? I'll be there in a minute."

"No, I'll help you," Erin said, scuttling off into the kitchen before he could argue. Not that this particular bit of the ritual was much different either. Erin seemed to think that all work was her work, and getting her to settle wasn't easy. Especially if you were her boyfriend. For someone she felt definite guilt over sparing sometimes, she was determined to spoil him rotten. But tonight she had a definite strategy, and wanted him to settle on the couch first.

To this end she "forgot" her bag until they had gotten in front of the TV, and doubled back to go get it. Upon bringing it back she sequestered it behind the couch, where he couldn't spot it easily, and leaned over the back of the sofa to hand him one of the items from it. It was an odd little mask, almost childish in its simplicity - a black oval with two slits for eyes, a carved triangle for the forehead and nose, and a pair of rabbit ears. It was polished to be reflective as obsidian.

In the moments between him puzzling over it and him actually turning to ask her what it was, Erin snuck up behind him and got her hands on his shoulders, kneading and stroking them with her flexible fingers.

"You are now under my power," she murmured mischievously into his ear.




 

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