It starts in Bolivia. Everything fucking starts in Bolivia. Everything ended there too, of course, but endings are kind of really shitty beginnings anyway, so there's that.
Maybe it's not even a beginning so much as it's upsetting the apple cart. Jensen's seen scary shit in his job, those kids as mules isn't even the worst of it, and maybe neither is the way they died either, but it hits him in the gut. It throws everything up into the air and Jensen can't find ground anymore.
Most of those kids are (were) younger than his niece. He's never let himself think about that before, but now it's all he can do. He thinks of those kids and he thinks of JoJo and, god, he wants to get the fuck home so he can hug the kid and make Jules promise to never, ever let her out of her sight.
Jensen goes to work, sits by Cougar, makes those goddamn dolls and just does not feel the itch under his skin. He doesn't, except he does, and it's there anyway so, feeling or not feeling he knows it's there. As real and as present a reminder as any of the tattoos he's gotten over the years.
He feels kind of like an asshole about it. A bunch of kids die because some CIA spook thinks he owns the world or something. Twenty-five kids dead and what's Jensen doing about it?
He knows Clay's working on it, Jensen's been helping, and he knows they'll find Max sooner or later. They won't stop until they do. Avenging those kids won't be good enough, nothing will ever be good enough, but it's something. If it were his niece and a Bolivian team hiding in LA somewhere—yeah, Jensen knows it wouldn't be enough, but vengeance is something. Knowing Max could never do it to someone else's kid would be something better.
He doesn't think they'll ever be able to tell the families the truth, isn't sure it would be any kind of comfort if they did, but he has to believe they will succeed and that it would be.
At least, he tries to believe it. It doesn't get him far. The longer they're in Bolivia the worse it gets. He laughs, he jokes, and he plays at being the Jensen everyone knows and—mostly—it's not that far from the truth, but Cougar can see the difference and Jensen knows it.
Jensen can feel the worry in the way Cougar watches him. He plays the same role he always has, so does Cougar, but the truth is there when no one's looking. When Jensen lets his shoulders slump and rubs the spot on his hip where his favorite tattoo is.
Jensen was fourteen when he got it. His first. It's kind of stupid looking, the guy was old and his hands weren't that steady, but it's his family tree. Not the one with the aunts and uncles they never see and who didn't give a damn when their parents died (rainy nights, arguments, and one glass of Jack too many making for a really bad wake up call for your kids), but the one that counts. Him, his sister, and the more recently added niece.
He added her name (or at least her nickname since JoJo fits a lot better than Josephine) three days after Jules sent the first picture. They were in Hong Kong on a layover, heading somewhere Jensen will never admit to being, and he'd had tracked down an equally ancient, equally arthritic artist in Hong Kong to add a tiny branch with his niece's name. It's still small, nothing compared to the rest of his ink, but it's his and sometimes he rubs his thumb over that spot, feeling like it was just done yesterday, and thinks about adding another name. One next to his.
He thinks about it every night in Bolivia, trying to ward off the unsettled chill that comes with seeing that chopper explode every time he closes his eyes. Then comes the night that he dreams of JoJo being one of them, of trying to tell his sister that her little girl died because of an asshole like Max, and wakes up in a cold sweat.
He's halfway out of the bed, going for his gun to hunt that fucker down, when Cougar's hand snakes around his arm and yanks him back. Every part of Jensen is itching with the urge to get the fuck out of here, to go out there and do something and his arm comes up in a swing that Cougar stops too.
Stops them both and just holds on until Jensen's head clears enough that he recognizes the face staring at him in the dark. He blinks and shakes his head, muttering under his breath.
Cougar nods in satisfaction, then pulls him down onto the bed with him. Jensen goes, mostly, but he just lies there and says, "We're gonna kill him, right? Because I really need to know this guy is going to be so very dead. Preferably I'd like for him to be dead right now, but I can handle a few months, maybe a little longer, just as long as he's suffering. God, I need him to be suffering, you know?"
Cougar's thumb brushes the tat on his hip, sliding over JoJo's name, and Jensen knows he's thinking the same thing. Twenty five families grieving for someone just like the tiny terror and Cougar's hand presses into the tat, enough to hurt, and it's good. Chases away the itch for a second, lets Jensen's head clear.
Cougar bends down, kissing the spot, slides fingers over it in a soothing motion and Jensen reaches down to pull him up again. He brings Cougar's face to his and leans in to kiss him. Cougar makes a noise, soft and rasping, and pushes him down again. Jensen goes, lying flat, but doesn't settle. He can't. It probably sounds stupid and melodramatic, but fuck that shit, his life's been stupid melodrama for months now, he's allowed to wax poetic about it.
In fact, he's probably seriously fucking overdue.
Cougar straddles Jensen's legs, his knees pressing into the old, sagging mattress they sleep on, and lays one hand flat against Jensen's belly. His fingers press into Jensen's skin and dig just enough that Jensen can't ignore him and the ghosts can't crowd in again. That's all he does. They're not going to have sex right now, Jensen's dick just isn't into it, but that's fine. This isn't about that anyway.
He lies there, settled, and looks up at Cougar. Cougar stares back down. After a while, he eases down until he's spread out across Jensen. The hand that had been on his stomach now sliding back and forth over Jensen's hip, thumb brushing over JoJo's name.
He's still there when Jensen starts to drift off, the comforting weight of him easing Jensen downward into sleep, and he's there when Jensen wakes up.
When they get back to the States and they have a minute, Jensen finds a guy downtown. He looks at the work for a long moment, as if he can see the hands that were there before him or maybe he's just planning it out in his head, whatever, then when he's ready, he adds Cougar's name.
Some day, Jensen thinks that maybe he'll get another tattoo. He keeps meaning to add a little petunia next to JoJo's name, but that's not the one he means.
He doesn't know what, yet, but maybe Cougar will think of it for him. Something they can get together, maybe all of them can, twenty-five ghosts is a lot to carry alone. Jensen stretches out as the needle works Cougar into his skin, letting the pain remind him that he doesn't have to.
He's not alone.