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End Game

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“It says here, two to four players or teams,” Sam observes, and Caleb, reading over her shoulder, says, “Oh. Yeah.”

“Even if we wait for Chloe and Frank to get back we’ll have an odd number,” Adam says.

Caleb looks up from the rules at Dr. Bright. It’s a little odd, seeing his therapist sitting on the floor of a sparsely furnished safehouse and excited to be playing a board game. Her pleasant surprise at this particular game has been the most positive emotion he’s felt in what feels like a very long time. “We don’t all have to play. I can sit out.”

Dr. Bright hesitates, then shrugs. “I don’t think it matters in this case.”

“Dr. Bright!” Adam exclaims. “Are you suggesting we bend the rules?”

From the kitchen, Mark snorts loudly.

“We can just go in turns,” Sam points out. She passes the rule sheet over to Caleb, who passes it to Adam and resumes reading over his shoulder. “Since Mark is making sure Chloe and Frank don’t go hungry tonight -” a significant but lacking in any real admonishment look in Caleb’s direction “- he can sit out this round. There’s four of us without him. He and the others can play next round.”

“That sounds fair,” Dr. Bright says.

“Sure,” Mark calls. “Leave me out of the decision that affects my next half hour!”

Sam smiles. The tension is there, Caleb can feel it, but she’s hopeful. “Don’t be so dramatic!” she yells back.

“You got it?” Adam murmurs.

Caleb skims the last few lines. “I think so.”

Dr. Bright has already set up the rest of the game neatly. She looks almost at ease despite the situation, cross legged with a small satisfied smile. “Since it’s your first time, I’ll try to go easy on you.”

Another snort from the kitchen. “Don’t make promises you can’t keep, Joanie.”

“Is this a bad time to mention that English isn’t my best subject?” Caleb asks, picking up a green counter with a grin that’s a little too pleased if Adam’s raised eyebrows are any indication. “Green’s my lucky color.”

Adam takes red. “Uh-huh.”

Dr. Bright and Sam take their pieces, and Sam glances at the rules again. “Okay, so we spin for -”

The door opens and Chloe walks in mid-sentence. “- have been dangerous. What if Damien had been there?”

“I know,” Frank says “And I’m sorry. But he wasn’t there and I’m just glad you’re okay.”

Dr. Bright glances at them sharply. “No trouble?”

Chloe shakes her head and hands off a small pile of folders. “No. I was just surprised when Frank showed up.” She shoots him a stern look that doesn’t last. She sighs, relief mingling with leftover concern. “But it all went off without a hitch.”

Mark pops his head through the doorway. “Hey, almost done with your food. Someone ate the leftovers before you showed up.”

Caleb rubs a hand over the back of his neck sheepishly. “Sorry.”

“No!” Chloe gasps. “Caleb? I’m shocked!”

Frank, with a semi-amused headshake at Caleb, ambles towards the kitchen and Chloe follows. Their exit is greeted by Mark with quiet conversation and Sam settles back into the relaxed position Caleb hadn’t really noticed her abandoning.

“Okay, so we spin to determine our positions,” she says.

“How the hell did they come with a title like Huggermugger?” Caleb mutters as Sam takes first spin.

“It’s a real word,” Dr. Bright says, gesturing for someone to spin ahead of her. “It means secret. Fittingly, the goal of the game is to discover a secret word. It also means confused or disorderly.”

Caleb shakes his head. “Well, I can see why it fell out of use.”

“Five,” Adam says under his breath.

Caleb spins, then Dr. Bright, and they all place their pieces around the edges of the board.

“You know,” Sam says, “I just realized that Dr. Bright has two advantages over us. First, she’s already played. Second, this game looks ancient. The questions are going to be dated.”

Dr. Bright leans back. “Are you saying I’m old, Sam?”

“Uh-oh,” Caleb sing-songs.

The corners of Sam’s mouth twitch, but her poker face is otherwise admirable. “Technically speaking…”

“I’m pretty sure trash talking is standard competition fare,” Chloe says, plate in hand as she settles on the couch, Frank and Mark on her heels.

“Oh, yeah,” Mark says. “Definitely. You’re doing great, Sam.”

Sam smiles back at him, a little gooey around the edges, and Adam elbows Caleb with a grin of his own. Caleb rolls his eyes good-naturedly before he looks back to the board.

“So, highest goes first?” He scans the numbers. “Adam?”

“Right.” Adam spins the wheel again. “And maybe now’s a good time to mention that English is one of my best subjects.”

Frank leans back against the couch cushions. He rests an ankle on the opposite knee and balances his plate on his calf. “Dinner and a show!” he says with relish, making a show of rubbing his hands together.

Chloe lifts a hand to her mouth, giggling mostly politely through a mouthful of food, and Caleb takes a quiet breath. There are underlying problems. Somewhere out there, a crazy guy with insane powers is hunting his boyfriend. But right now, Dr. Bright looks nothing like a psychological professional and Adam has a determined glint in his eye. Right now, the emotions in the room are lightening to the point that it doesn’t feel so hard to breathe. For now that has to be enough.