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30 Days of OTP

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Things were remarkably—no, disturbingly—quiet at the safe house. Gunfire rattled in the distance. A video game was paused on the flat screen TV in the shabby open-concept living area Cougar and Jensen were calling home, the mute symbol flashed in the lower right corner. It hadn't been the distant sounds of gang violence or the rare rise and fall of a siren that had woken Cougar. It hadn't been the video game. The quiet had shaken him right out of sleep.

He prowled a few steps deeper into the living area, hand on the gun shoved into the waistband of his jeans. He'd been on his feet maybe twenty seconds and sweat was already beading under his arms and trickling down his ribs. A curl of slightly cooler air touched his cheek and he tracked it back to the open balcony door. Outside.

It wasn't really dark at night, even out in the slums where streetlights were a pipe dream. The ambient orange halo from the city dimmed the stars and weakened the night until it was a sullen ghost of its former self. A single candle flickered in a green jar on the rusting patio table, shedding its own little circle of light.

Jensen was slouched in a lawn chair held together with twisted wire coat hangers, flipping cards onto the the tabletop. Solitaire.

"Playing with yourself?" Cougar took his chances and hopped up on the crumbling railing, facing him. The suggestion of a breeze tickled the sweat on his bare back.

"Usually am." Jensen scraped the cards up off the table in one motion and clumsily jammed them together, forcing them back into the basic shape of a pack. He looked old in the wavering light. His scruff and stubble had become a beard, his cheeks were hollowed out.

"Hey." Cougar swiped the cards from him. Easy even on a good day. "You can't complain if you never ask." He shuffled the deck quickly, settling the cards into place, then put it down on the table. The dark and light masks on the back of the deck stared up at him.

"Two of hearts. Roque had the two of hearts," Jensen said. He passed Cougar a card off the top of the pack. "Pooch had the three. You had the eight of spades."

"Don't remember what you had?" Cougar slapped the card to his forehead.

"Didn't look."

"Two of diamonds. You owe me that piece you took off that General. I won that game."

"Except I hawked it in Bolivia to pay for food." Jensen pulled a card off the deck but didn't put it up.

"So what are we betting?" They didn't have much. Waiting on word from Clay here in Puerto Rico wasn't supposed to turn into two weeks getting by with odd jobs, two weeks turning into three.

"I didn't know we were playing." Jensen slouched down further in the chair and, grudgingly, put the card on his forehead. Jack of Hearts. Damn it.

"If I win, you shave." Cougar put his hands on the table, ignoring the way the metal creaked. "It's like living with that guy... the one who went to sleep."

"Rip Van Winkle?" Jensen snorted softly. "If I win—" He stopped and gestured vaguely. "I don't know. We call it even on the last game."

"If you win, I'll play that stupid game in there with you. Super-Shooting-Fast-Driver or whatever it's called."

"Bullet Drive. And I will kick your ass." Jensen narrowed his eyes as though he was trying to suss out Cougar's end game. "Blind Man's Bluff is like the opposite of real life, you know."

Jensen was smart. He didn't always come across that way, and Cougar knew that had to be deliberate. But Jensen was painfully smart, at least about most things. He made jumps that left Cougar backtracking in his own head. "It is?"

"Yeah." Jensen pointed at the card soaking up sweat on Cougar's forehead. "I can see your card. I know what you're holding. Can't see my own."

"Any time you want to see my cards—" Cougar pulled the card down and put it on the table, face up, gesturing for Cougar to do the same. "—you ask. I'm not hiding anything."

Jensen put his card down but he was looking at Cougar's face instead, studying him with calculating intensity that made Cougar feel like the man on the wrong end of a sniper rifle. Then, finally, he glanced at the cards. Jack of Hearts. Nine of Clubs.

"Guess I better get inside and kick your ass." He held out his hand to Cougar, who took it and pulled him to his feet.

"You have to shave first. Even though I lose." Cougar couldn't get past the beard, now that he was paying attention. "Enough things are wrong without you wearing roadkill on your face."

Jensen picked up the cards and gave them to Cougar. "Fine. But if it turns out this was actually my lucky beard and you didn't let me keep it, I'm going to be extremely disappointed. This took me nearly two months."

Cougar looked down at the cards in his hand again. Jensen must have found them in the box with the video games. They should have been thrown out. Maybe burned. If he let himself, he could remember that day by the river with the same perfect clarity as Jensen.

Blind Man's Bluff. Roque's cards had been in plain sight all along. He'd just been playing a different game. Cougar turned toward the city, bending the deck between his thumb and fingers until the top card slipped and they flew out into the half-dark like birds. A rare breath of wind caught them and carried them far away from each other.