The Games We Play
rating: +18+x

The two agents eyed one another from across the table, their faces unreadable. The woman wore a pair of felt reindeer antlers, while the man rocked a Santa hat. A small crowd had gathered, half watching the game as they shared the latest gossip. In the background, the buzz of the party continued unabated.

Each player held two cards. On the table, face up were suits of odd values. Three swords. Five staves. A king wielding a club.

The woman knotted her thick unibrow in concentration as she touched a card in her hand, hesitated, touched the second card, then moved back to the first card. She laid it down, her eyes fixated on the other player. A pair of vases.

The other player, a man with a short blonde beard, allowed himself a moment to smile. The woman cringed, knowing what was coming next.

The man laid down his card. Seven coins. "Settebello," he said a half-hair too loud, swiping the cards from the table. The crowd gave a murmur of approval before returning to its gossip.

"That's -" the blonde man began.

"Yeah, yeah, eleven," the woman interrupted, slumping in her seat. The game over, life returned to her. She sighed, then sat up. "Good game, Damian," she said, offering her hand.

Damian rolled his head back, leaning over the back of his chair. "Leila, Leila, Leila," he said, "you're too dismally gracious for this! Where's the fun in winning if I don't get to gloat? Where's the salt?"

Leila grinned. "It's my secret weapon. Don't tell anyone," she said as she got up.

Damian waved as Leila left to talk to the cute administrator who had transferred from -28. The crowd that surrounded the table awkwardly broke into knots of two and three, all facing away from him. He took a moment to savor his victory, taking a long sip from his beer.

"So what's this called?" came a voice from behind Damian. He turned in his seat to see Ross. This was technically her first day - taken up half by training seminars and capped with the annual Unspecified Winter Holiday Celebration. Perhaps not the most typical way to begin a career, but the Site-64 Social Committee waited for no mortal.

"Scopa," he said, "You know it?" He indicated the empty seat across from him and began to shuffle the cards.

His life might one day rest in this woman's questionably steady hands. At the very least, it seemed like a good idea to see if she could bluff. Plus, he thought, she was quite cute.

"I watched you play a few rounds - I think I get the gist," she said, taking the seat. She paused a moment. "Plus I looked up the instructions on my phone."

Damian nodded and began to deal. Three cards to him, three to her, four on the table.

He frowned, looked at the cards, then across the table. His eyes met Ross'. For a moment, he was lost in the subtle gradations of green and amber, the beautiful infinity of her gaze.

He realized he was staring and quickly averted his gaze. So did she.

"Your turn," he mumbled.

Well, he thought, shit.

"Wait," Beatrice asked, her voice high with disbelief, "you've never played poker before?" She took another sip from the beer. With her free hand, she shooed a moth from her face. The insect fluttered away into the dark that surrounded the back porch.

Damian shrugged in that adorable hunched way that he always did when he was embarrassed. The fact that he wasn't wearing a shirt didn't hurt.

"I just- it's never been a priority," he said, quickly taking a swig from his beer. Ross tried and failed to hide a smirk. Crickets filled the momentary gap in the conversation.

"Besides," he continued, "it's great for 'Never Have I Ever'" He tipped the neck of his bottle towards Beatrice, emphasizing the point.

Beatrice rolled her eyes. "No one over the age of twenty plays 'Never Have I Ever,'" she said, her tone authoritative on the matter.

She took another swig, spilling a little. A small rivulet of the cheap beer made its way down her faded Rink Sphinxes t-shirt, leaving a trail as it flowed onto her bare thigh. She didn't shift her gaze from Damian's eyes, darting this way and that.

"Besides," she said, pointing her bottle neck at him, "It'll make all those bits in James Bond make sense. You'll be able to tell a flush from a full house."

Damian raised his hands defensively. "Alright, alright, let's do it, then. Show me how to do a poker," he said, grin spreading across his face, "but if I win, I get to gloat this time. For at least a year."

Beatrice nodded. "Sure, but if I win…" she said, her voice trailing off. She gave a coy smile.

Damian sat for a moment, his face expectant. After a beat of silence, he started. "Oh," he said, "oh! Sure, yeah. Sounds like a win-win." His tone was entirely earnest.

Beatrice stared at Damian for a second, then burst out laughing, almost doubling over. After a minute, she slowed down to mere chuckles. "Ah, God," she said, wiping a tear from her eye, "I don't know why that was so funny."

"I'll get the cards," Damian said, rising with a smile. As he headed for the back door, he ruffled Beatrice's hair. She responded with a swat at his butt.

He disappeared into the house. Ross leaned back and sighed into the night. "Ah, God," she said to no one in particular.

"This is eerie," Beatrice said, her eyes flitting from corner to corner of the apartment's tiny dining room. The rain pelted against the window in rhythmic gusts.

Damian shrugged. "Yeah, I'm pretty much just waiting for my phone to go off. There's no real way to enjoy this," he said. He took a gulping bite of the mushroom and anchovy pizza.

"It feels like a cosmic joke, y'know? Or maybe HR knows and they're just screwing with us?" Beatrice said, tapping her foot.

The last three times the couple had made plans for a date, some last-second emergency had called one or both of them away. Some new development with Anderson, Wilson requiring backup on a new creature, generalized mayhem. Two canceled reservations at Chikaleny's. At least the third time it had only been a vague idea to see a Hospital Bombers concert. Damian hadn't been too broken up about missing it.

This time, though, they made no plans. The universe, or at least HR, had rewarded the discretion by not mess with them this time around.

They were free, they were wild. And they had no idea what to do next.

After determining that no proper date restaurant had an opening at any point tonight, and neither was really feeling the other's suggestions, they decided on Spicy Crust Pizza. It felt a bit strange, ordering from work, but with the only other option being Little Caesar's, it was an easy call.

And with the rain, there wasn't anywhere to go anyway. So here they were, tired and semi-stranded at Damian's apartment, waiting for the other shoe to drop. "All time off'd and nowhere to go," Damian had joked. Beatrice had given a halfhearted chuckle.

For a while, they sat there, not talking, each lost in their own thoughts. Damian chilled as he recognized the silence - it wasn't the quiet of anger or even contemplation, just nothing to say.

"Hey," he said, wiping his hands with the thin paper napkins before wadding it into a ball, "Wanna learn a card game?"

"Hmm?" Beatrice asked. A pause, then her face perked up. "Oh, sure, yeah, let's do it!"

Damian hopped up to fetch the playing cards from the living room. As he picked them up, he heard Beatrice in the other room. "What's it called?" she shouted, her voice barely coming through the thrum of rain.

"Pasur," he shouted back.

"Remember that retreat they had all the West Coast MTF people go on? The one I drove to Olympia for in March?" he said, returning with the cards, "Razmara, the chief for Gamma-35, she showed me this one. It's pretty fun."

He sat down opposite Beatrice and began to shuffle the cards. Beatrice rubbed her hands together. "Hope you're ready to get crushed," she said, grinning.

Damian squinted. "I haven't even explained the rules yet!" he protested

Beatrice shrugged. "Just helping you prepare for the inevitable," she replied, her tone breezy.

In response, Damian stuck out his tongue. Ross broke into a laugh. Damian smiled as he felt the familiar rhythm return.

The two agents eyed one another from across the table, their faces unreadable. The woman wore the toothpaste green gown all patients were provided, camouflaging her against the similarly-colored bedsheets. Her partner was dressed in civilian clothes, having been discharged the day before. He cast a shadow over the bed, sitting between it and the setting sun outside.

Beatrice held two cards in her remaining hand. After a brief consideration, she laid them down on the bedspread and selected one, placing it on the table. A seven of spades. She held her breath as she waited for Damian to lay down the final card of his hand.

"Bea," he said, shaking his head, "I'm really sorry." Her heart sank as she realized she had miscalculated.

"No-" she started as he placed his card. The seven of coins. He swept both cards off the table.

"Scopa," he said, almost apologetically, "Also, settebello."

He couldn't completely conceal the smirk of triumph, though.

Beatrice flung herself back onto her pillow as dramatically as she could manage. "There ought to be a thing against beating the wounded at cards. You should go easy on me," she said, glowering at Damian.

"Would you have wanted that?" he asked, leaning back in his chair.

"No," she admitted, "definitely not." She played the final card of her hand, a five of swords.

Damian dealt each of them a new hand. As he placed the cards in front her, she gave a contented sigh. Her eyes went from Damian to the cards, then back to Damian.

Damian tilted his head. "What's up, Bea?" he asked.

She shook her head and smiled. "Nothing," she said, "Just this. It's… just thank you. I love you."

He smiled and nodded. "I love you too, Bea," he said. And they played and played and played as the sunlight faded and turned to night outside.

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