Dave was drunk. He was so drunk, but he was having so much fun. Fun had been his whole existence, for the last few days.
He was sitting up at the card table, sandwiched between two laughing girls, with identical smiles and identical tattoos on their wrists. Dave found the girls sexy.
Find a friend, Dave.
Fuck that, Dave wanted to hang out with the sexy girls.
But what about my Jordyn?
That made Dave hurt, but he immediately pushed the thought away. Already, forgetting was becoming easier to do, and Dave found he could flirt with virtually no guilt to deal with as a consequence.
"That's the pot to you, sir." The man in the gaudy uniform pushed red, white, blue and black poker chips over to Dave's corner of the table, and the girls applauded him.
"You're so wicked at this game, Davey," the blonder of the two girls crooned, kneading his shoulders.
"Yeah," her friend joined in, rubbing his forearms. "But tell me, where's your friend? Is he a guy? Is he as cute as you?"
"M-my-" Dave felt too drunk and too flustered to think straight. "My friend? Who do you mean?"
"Your companion." The girls flashed their identical smiles again, and held up their identical tattoos for Dave's inspection. "The one with a mark like yours."
"It is a guy, right? I bet he's a guy. And I bet he's hot, too!" She giggled, and Dave was mystified.
"I, I, uh-"
"Don't worry about it now, We'll come back to it later." The blonder girl poured Dave a fresh drink, then stood up to address the rest of the table. "Now, who's brave enough-"
"Or stupid enough!"
"To take on the King of the Card Table?"
"... I'll give it a go." The crowd around the table parted to let through the tall, thin man who'd spoken up. He took a seat opposite to Dave, and flashed him a toothy smile. His dark hair was slicked back into a pony tail.
"Oooo!" The girls either side of Dave taunted the new-comer in unison, and broke into peals of laughter. The dark-haired man was not turned off, however. If anything, his smile only seemed to widen. He had a very big, very flashy smile, Dave noticed. Full of teeth. Like an alligator.
"Any other players?" The card-dealer glanced around the table, but the crowd had fallen silent. "Very well. The game is Stud Poker, gentlemen. Five card stud." Dave threw down his ante, and he and Jeremy were dealt their cards; two cards face down, one card face up. Jeremy's face up card was a ten of diamonds. Not particularly threatening. He glanced at his own cards. And calculated.
"Fifty." He made his bet. The dark-haired man didn't even hesitate.
"I'll call." Another card each, face up. One of Dave's female companions giggled to her friend, and they shared a knowing smile. The dark-haired man just stared across the table at Dave, a predatory gleam in his eyes. This was his night. His lucky night. He could practically taste it. He smirked at Dave, who this time bet a hundred.
"I'll match your hundred. And raise you another hundred."
"Call." Dave sat back. The dealer gave them each another card. Another diamond for the dark-haired man. Shit. Dave sipped his drink. Something was changing inside of him. Earlier in the evening, he'd only wanted to have some alcohol-induced fun. But now...
There was something about this guy that made Dave want to beat him so badly. Maybe it was the way his oily hair gleamed in the overhead spotlights. Maybe it was the cheesy grin that showed off all of his yellowing teeth. He wasn't sure. But he didn't feel as drunk anymore.
"Two hundred." Dark-haired man tossed his chips into the pot, never taking his eyes off of Dave. The girls either side of him gasped mockingly, then for real, as Dave matched his chips and just as quickly added in another hundred of his own.
This time it was the dark-haired man who backed off. "I'll call." The dealer dealt them a fourth card face up. Yet another diamond for Jeremy, who was practically crowing. They bet, and were given one last card each, this one face down. Dave saw his opponent's eyes light up, and he began to doubt himself. But he pressed on, deciding to take a chance. He scanned his remaining chips quickly. The stack was considerably smaller than it had been before.
"Sir." The officials cut in quickly to stop the young, drunk man from making a fool of himself. "That's over twelve hundred dollars."
"Fine." The dark-haired man counted his own chips, coming up slightly short, and went all in as well. "And just to make thing's easier on you, I'll reveal my hand first." He laid them down, proudly. Someone in the crowd whistled. "Ace-high flush. Diamonds." Dave looked up at his opponent solemnly.
"Good game, man," he murmured. Then he grinned. "Just not quite good enough, I'm afraid." And he revealed his own cards. "Four of a kind."
His opponent gaped incredulously as the crowd burst into applause. Dave laughed in triumph, and was double-hugged by the blonde girls, feeling truly happy for the first time since he'd woken up dead.
Jeremy groaned, and put his head in his hands.
"Come on, buddy. Pay up."
"What do you mean, you can't?"
Dave watched the gaming official and the man he'd identified as Jeremy Gates argue back and forth. It was interesting him. "Uh, what's going on, exactly?"
"This runt." The official poked Jeremy in the back, who winced. "Can't pay you the money he owes you." He turned back to Jeremy. "You owe this guy thirteen hundred and fifty dollars, buddy. Time to pay up!"
"I told you already!" Jeremy cringed. "I can't!"
"Don't make us beat it out of you." The official raised his fist menacingly, and Jeremy shrank back. He was a stinking weasel, but Dave almost felt sorry for him.
"N-no. No, wait!" Dave watched, fascinated, as Jeremy held his wrist up to the official, who in return took a step back with an appalled look on his face. Dave couldn't see what all the fuss was about. All he saw was a little tattoo.
Must be some sort of craze up here, he guessed.
"Are you insane?" The gaming official barked incredulously, eying Jeremy. "You owe this guy over thirteen hundred dollars!"
"Your friend will be this guy's property for a whole month!"
"I know!" Jeremy looked like he was about to rip his hair out. Dave felt more confusion than ever.
"Wait, what are you talking about?" But neither man paid him any attention.
"And your friend would agree to this?"
"He will, I-" Jeremy broke off, and sighed. "I'll just have to talk to him about it first."
"You know that if it starts to fade, there's nothing we can do to stop it?"
"And you still want to risk it?"
"It's not like I have a fucking choice!"
"Fine." The official shook his head slowly. "Whoever came up with this method of payment is insane. Either that, or a sadistic monster." And with that he turned to Dave, who all of a sudden felt very put on the spot. "Well ,son, do you agree to his method of payment?"
"H-huh?" Dave's mind went blank. "Oh, well, uh..."
"Please." And then Jeremy was begging him, and Dave felt mild embarrassment mix uneasily with disgust. "Please, it's all I have to give you! He's a gorgeous man. He is! Really! You'll love him!"
"Uh-" Dave was about to protest but then Jeremy looked as though he was about to cry, and Dave knew if that happened, he would be so disgusted that he would probably kick Jeremy in his fucking balls. It was something he wanted to avoid, if possible. "Okay. Uh, sure. It's a deal." The gaming official sighed, and Jeremy beamed.
"Oh, thank you! Thank you so much! I promise you, you won't regret this. You won't be fucking disappointed!"
"I still think this is sick," the official murmured to himself, and turned away. Dave looked on after him.
"What did he mean-"
"Oh, don't even worry about him. Fucking ignorant prick! It'll be fine." Now that the official was gone, Jeremy suddenly became very chatty. This guy has an ego as big as fucking Russia, Dave realized. "Listen, just come by the apartment tomorrow. This is the address." He threw a card with something scrawled on it at Dave, and Dave couldn't help but wonder how many times this had happened before. "Come by, and you can meet him, okay? And then, then we can just get this over and done with."
"Ah." Dave read the address on the card. "If you say so."
Back in his room the oblivious Kurt was asleep, and dreaming. Little did he know, the dream was actually a memory.
"Hey," he murmured, picking up his guitar. "I wrote a song the other day. Do you want to hear it?" The man he was speaking to, who was medium height with gorgeous brown eyes and long hair, smiled warmly and sat down beside him. Kurt shifted, and smiled back. He liked it when this man sat next to him. It made him feel... nice.
"I'd love to, Kurt," the man murmured back in a voice that was so kind and so familiar. "But before you start, I just need to ask you something." A warm hand on Kurt's hand stopped him from strumming the guitar, and he looked up into the deep brown eyes boring into his mind, making him feel weak.
"Ask me what?"
"Are you happy, Kurt?" He sounded so concerned. Kurt wondered what would make a person sound so concerned.
"I, I suppose so." He frowned. "But why do you ask?"
"B-because." And then he became awkward and shy. "I don't want you to hurt yourself. You won't ever hurt yourself, will you?"
"No. Of course not."
Kurt hesitated slightly, and hoped his friend didn't notice. "Yeah, man. I swear." And the brown-eyed man smiled again, and Kurt felt good.
"Okay. Alright then. I'm sorry, I just had to ask."
"It's okay. Nice of you to be concerned."
"Now... how about playing that new song you just wrote, hmm?" Kurt smiled and nodded, happy to oblige, happy to make his friend happy. He began to strum...
But that was as far as the dream went, because then he was rudely shaken awake by Jeremy. "What?" he muttered blearily as he opened his eyes. "What the hell's your problem, man?" It only took one good look at the guilty expression on Jeremy's face, and Kurt guessed the truth.
"You lost," he said flatly.
"After you said you wouldn't." Kurt's voice began to rise.
"Please, there was this guy... I was so close..."
"No!" Kurt leaped off of the bed. "One week Jeremy, you couldn't even wait a week before ordering me back to bed again! And after you promised! So no, I'm not doing it, I won't!"
"Kurt. You know what will happen if you don't," he said quietly, and Kurt glare at him.
"The marks will fade..."
"Stop it, Jeremy. I'm serious."
"And She'll come for us. She'll take us away."
"Jeremy, just stop it!" Kurt shouted, and Jeremy fell silent. "How much money?"
"You have to understand, I was so close-"
"Fuck you! How much, Jeremy?"
He wouldn't look at Kurt as he answered. "Thirteen hundred dollars."
Kurt exploded. "For the love of Christ, Jeremy!" He cringed.
"I'm sorry. I'm sorry. I didn't know what else to do! There was-"
"I know," Kurt snarled, cutting him off spitefully. "There was nothing else you could do, right? How about putting your own ass on the line instead of mine, for a change." Before Jeremy could think of a response, Kurt turned on his heels and went to storm out of the room.
"Hey! Where are you going?"
"To get some pain meds," he snapped over his shoulder. "If this guy's gonna be fucking me for an entire fucking month, I'm guessing that it's going to hurt."
But Kurt had already left the room.
Siri gazed at Dave incredulously after hearing his story. "Do you have any idea what this means?"
"No," he groaned, exasperated. "But he was begging me to do it, so I did. What exactly did I agree to?"
"Oh dear." Siri sighed. "Your first week in the Afterlife, and you've already bargained for someone else's soul." Dave's eyes went wide.
"What did you say?"
"A soul. You own some person's soul. For a whole month, so it would seem. Didn't they explain it to you?" Dave shook his head. His face was steadily growing paler as Siri continued explaining. "When somebody here owes another person money, or anything else, really, they can flash their tattoo, which means ownership of their friend's soul is transferred for as long as the debt depicts. The larger the debt, the longer you keep the soul, to do with whatever you wish. It's quite horrible, frankly. But it happens. Especially in circumstances such as this - gamboling."
"But... but what friend? Who is this friend? And, and what's with the fucking tattoos everyone's got?"
"Everybody has somebody. It's always two together, that's how it's always been. Originally, long before you or I existed, the plan was that each of the deceased would meet their destined soulmate, but of course, it didn't work. Now, it's just anybody pairing up with anybody, and hoping they can get along." Siri shuddered. "In the case of this Jeremy person, he's using his ownership pf his companion's soul as currency. As a safety net to get him out of debt, and of trouble."
"That's so awful," murmured Dave, aghast. "I, I won't do this."
"You have to." Siri was insistent. "If you don't-" She shuddered again, and moved on. "Trust me. It will be better for everyone involved to just get this over and done with as soon as possible."
"But, but I-"
"It's too late, I'm afraid." Siri's eyes became distant for a moment, then suddenly sharpened, hardened. "Show me your wrist, Dave!"
"Your wrist. Show me your wrist." She grasped his arm with slender but steely strong fingers, and turned it over, studying his wrist carefully. She traced a vein with her finger, making Dave shiver. Her touch was cold. "Did you even try to make a friend, today?"
"I..." Dave swallowed heavily. "No. I, I kind of got distracted."
"This Jeremy. Does he know you're still Alone?"
"I, um, don't know."
"I doubt he knows you're Alone." She answered her own question, barely acknowledging Dave. "He never would have agreed to this if he did. Just promise me that if you see anything on your wrist, anything at all, that you'll show me, okay?"
"Wait. What sort of thing?"
"You'll know when you see it. If you see it. Until then," she hesitated, eyes deep and locked on Dave's. "Just be careful, okay?"