The question is why

“Where have you been?” Dan asked.

Bran shrugged, walking over to the couch and slumping down on it, throwing his legs up over the arm of it. “Downtown.”

He hadn’t told Dan about Rudolph. It was weird – he’d told the older man all about Daniel and hadn’t done it the other way around. If he mentioned him now though, he’d have to mention that fact. Bran didn’t feel like explaining that. Especially since he couldn’t explain his interest in the card player.

The one secret he’d kept from his best friend.

Dan grunted in response to his answer, satisfied enough with it. He tossed him over a soda. Bran caught it, making a face at the shaken can. He pointed it in Dan’s direction, miming opening it. Dan didn’t flinch and Bran didn’t follow through.

“Do you want to play cards?” Bran asked.

Dan rose an eyebrow. “Cards?”

“Yeah, come on. I want to see that brain of yours work, you giant.”

Dan was taller and broader of shoulder than him, though he was also much more book learned than Bran too. What Dan was good at and what he was terrible at surprised most people. Bran was too familiar with him to be surprised. But they hadn’t played cards since they were boys. Simple games, nothing like what Rudolph had taught him.

Maybe Dan would be good at this. Or not. Or maybe Bran wanted to do this to get a bit more practice in. Maybe he would surprise the gambler next time they saw each other.

Dan got up from his desk and moved over to the couch, shoving Bran upright as he sat down where Bran’s head just was. “Fine. What’s the game?”

“It’s called Time Stasis.”

“Never heard of it.”

“Me neither, before. I think it’s a newer one. Looked like fun though. I got the rules down.”

Bran didn’t feel guilty about keeping his acquaintanceship with Rudolph a secret from his best friend. Though his lack of keeping new things to himself should have been a sign that there was something odd about the fact he had.

The one secret.

Always win

“Bran! What brings you here at this time of day? Come to lose your money?”

Bran narrowed his eyes at the speaker. His dark brown hair was bound back into a long ponytail which accentuated the couple of scars which rested on both sides of his face. The rest of his physique did not seem at all marred by those marks, in fact many would say that it made him look even more handsome. He looked over at the person who pulled over another wooden stool to the table he was at.

“I don’t have the time-” Bran started, only to join the man in front of the shop. “How are things?”

Rudolph flashed off a grin. He had stark black hair which was cut close to his face including a short beard and mustache hair. The older man looked like he would be right at home in a gambling hall, according to Bran. Rudolph wouldn’t likely deny it either. A deck of cards always found itself in his hands. Bran found it strange he would come here to see him. There was nothing in this direction to interest Bran, other than Rudolph. Rudolph just seemed to know more then he let on and that interested the young man. As it would interest anyone his age to discover something hidden.

“Oh, the same, the same.” Rudolph shuffled the cards, dealing as though Bran had agreed to play. “How is Daniel? I see he has pushed a little more restraint on you. You two still messing about?”

Bran could not resist the smile that came to his lips. He picked up his cards. “Yeah, we’re still hanging out. You saying I’ve mellowed out?”

“No, not at all!” Rudolph placed the deck down and started the game. “How’s school? You still failing?”

“As if!” Bran drew two more cards. “Dude, failing would mean I would have to go back!” He shook his head as Rudolph discarded and drew. “Anyways….” He sighed at his next card. “Dan would murder me if I failed. He says he spent too much time during mid-school hauling my ass out of the dirt he isn’t about to now that it’s bigger.”

Rudolph snorted, setting down his cards and signaling to a waitress for a drink. “He would be the only one to notice.”

Bran narrowed his eyes, though his smile did not fade. “What’s that supposed to mean?”

“I mean, no girl would look twice at you, so it would take someone who’s known you forever to tell.” Rudolph grabbed Bran’s cards and started to tally his points.

Bran scowled. “Shows what you know.”

“What? Does Bran have a girlfriend?” Rudolph widened his eyes in mock surprise.

“As if! There are plenty of girl’s willing to fall to my charm if I wanted them.”

“And you’re what, too busy?” Rudolph dealt the next hand.

“Hardly, it’s just-” Bran stopped, shrugging. “It seems it’s either school, practice, or pranks… I really’d rather not cut into my own time.”

Rudolph frowned, deeper in thought than he usually appeared. “Practice…. at the artillery range? You still doing that?”

“Of course!” Bran felt insulted at Rudolph’s tone.

“Now, now.” The older man set down the next cards with a shake of his head. “I see you aren’t paying attention….”

Bran blinked and looked back at his cards, setting a few down with a smirk. “You’re going to beat me anyways, Rudolph. Is this all you do?”

“No.” Bran couldn’t help but snicker at that. Rudolph rose an eyebrow at him. “It’s just all you catch me at.”

“What happens when you lose?”

Rudolph laughed. “I turn back time.”