Nature built Cougar to be an observant man. Reading people had never been hard. He could tell that Pooch was every inch the loving husband and family man. That Roque was fiercely loyal but quickly approaching a breaking point. Clay had the perfect team for him and was pretty much where he wanted to be in his life.
Then there was Jensen. Cougar had a pretty solid read on the kid, and kept a close eye. Beneath the bubbly surface, Jensen was hiding something. It came through in the occasional brittle smile and refusal to meet anyone’s eyes. In anxious nights channeled into RedBull fueled hackathons. Cougar wasn’t the only Loser who’d caught on. Clay would give Jensen worried glances, which caused Roque to give Clay worried glances. Pooch hung out with him a little more. Played a little longer and talked about family life a bit more. Asked for baby advice since Jensen had helped raise his niece.
A perfect opportunity to get to the bottom of it all came in the form of General Coleman. They’d just come back from a mission and were greeted by a smiling General.
“Merry Christmas, Losers!” Nodding a greeting, he gave them a lazy salute. .
“Not that I’m looking a gift anything in the mouth, but why is it Christmas in March?” Pooch asked.
“They want to send you out on a mission. In four hours.” The General barely finished speaking before the Losers burst into a cacophony of noise. “Hold up, hold up! They want to send you. I talked them out of it. Talked them so far out of it that you now have the next two weeks off. So get off my base and I don’t want to see you unless it’s a legitimate emergency.”
After packing, Jensen threw their bags into the back of Cougar’s beat up old truck. One drunken night, Jensen had lovingly named the truck Rusty Disgusty. Everyone on base could identify its unique wheezing rattle. She didn’t look or sound pretty, but she’d yet to let Cougar down.
Jensen navigated, directing Cougar to a small mountain town a few hours from the base. Cougar had never been, but Jensen knew the place well. Too well. “You live here.” He stated.
“Few years now. I had a decent nest egg saved up from certain computer based activities. The house was a birthday present to myself when I turned eighteen.” Jensen shrugged, pointing for Cougar to take a left turn. “I never actually told anyone. Never had a team I trusted enough until now.”
Cougar followed a winding gravel drive higher and higher through the mountains. Eventually, they came upon a small blue house nestled amongst a small copse of trees and bushes.
“Home, sweet home.” Jensen smiled as Cougar pulled the truck to a stop.
Lying on his back out in the grass later that week, Cougar remembered just how much he loved the night sky. For all the time he spent in some beautiful places, he never had the time, energy, or inclination to enjoy it. Not when surrounded by so much ugly human behavior. Not when contributing so much of that ugliness, either.
And so he found himself on his back in the back yard no one knew Jensen owned. Staring up at the sky, he counted the endless stars with each breath. His mind drifted to the others, and how long he and Jensen could keep this place secret from them. Would Jensen want to tell them all now that Cougar knew? A selfish little part of him wished and hoped and prayed that this would be just for them. Just for him and Jensen to share. He wanted to wrap Jensen in his arms and keep this forever. The past few days had shown Cougar everything he never knew he wanted. Bickering in the grocery store over whether to get healthy cereal or Jensen’s preferred sugary marshmallow nightmare. Laughing at the odd way Jensen organized his kitchen as they put the groceries away. Schooling Jensen on the proper way to scrub a burned pan (after a failed attempt at teaching how to cook the perfect scrambled eggs). Learning that Cougar was in no way able to learn the method Jensen used to sort his books and CDs.
He’d never known this kind of contentment with anyone. Not his family. Certainly not with any of his past lovers. Turning to the house as the squeaky screen door caught his attention, Cougar watched as Jensen crept closer and settled down next to him. Pillowing his head on Cougar’s shoulder, he curled into his side. “I needed to be close.”
Cougar shifted, turning more toward Jensen without dislodging him, and wrapped an arm around his shoulder to pull him in. “Then be close.”
“I know you know. That I’m hiding something.” Jensen’s voice was barely higher than a murmur. “I also know that Clay sent you with me to figure out what it is. But you haven’t asked yet. You haven’t pushed it. Which is typical of you, I might add. Playing the waiting game. That’s what I get for best friending a sniper. Anyway. I’ve been shit scared, terrified even, of finally saying it. Out loud. I figured you’d be the one to finally put the pieces together, but my nerves can’t take the waiting game like yours can.”
Cougar could feel Jensen trembling beside him. He tugged him closer and hummed. “Whatever you need to say, I knew you’d say it when you were ready.”
“I’ll never be ready for this, Cougs. You have no idea. It’s gotta be seen to be believed.” Jensen sighed and squeezed Cougar for a moment before rolling away and kneeling. Pushing up to his elbows, Cougar watched as fur sprouted all over Jensen’s body with a slick organic sound. He could hear bones crunch and change, hear the wet squish he never liked to think about.
Jensen was gone. In his place, a worried looking wolf lowered its chin to rest on large paws with a small whimper. Cougar had suspected, but hadn’t wanted to presume. Allowing another person to know you were a Shifter was a big deal. Few people were Shifters, and it was dangerous to be too open. They still didn't much. More than one Shifter had disappeared without a trace for the sake of ‘testing’.
Cougar sat up, scooting closer to Jensen and leaning their foreheads together. “Thank you. For showing me. All I can ask is that you not get too mad at me for this.”
Jensen pulled back, preparing to dart off into the woods if need be. Cougar tossed his rings inside his upturned hat. He looked him in the eye as he Shifted, calmly and a little faster than Jensen had. Cougar’s lanky mountain lion twitched its whiskers and leaned forward to sniff at Jensen.
Jensen, who Shifted back and tackled Cougar to the damp grass. “You motherfucker! You knew what I was hiding, and you hid it from me too! You fucker! You fucker… You knew exactly what’s been happening and you let me suffer.”
Cougar rolled on top of Jensen, pinning him to the ground and nuzzling his neck before Shifting back. “No, Jake. I don’t know what you’re going through. Did I suspect you might be a Shifter? Yes. Do I know exactly what’s going on in your head? I never do.”
Jensen allowed Cougar to drape across him like a blanket, thumping his head against the ground and sighing. “You’re right. Did this,” he paused to wave a hand at Cougar. “Or the nickname come first? Because either way, that shit’s hilarious. I just… Do I have to say it? Can’t I just keep enjoying denial and not say this out loud? Because I’m really not looking forward to sounding all pathetic.”
Cougar leveled him with an unimpressed look, but rolled to the side and leaned into him all the same. “I would like for you to tell me. But I am not going to force you.”
“Why you gotta be so understanding? Makes it hard to be stupid around you. Or, makes it easy to be stupid. I don’t know. It’s just… Ok. Ok, here goes. You’re a cat. In like, every sense of the word apparently. You’re good with being on your own. Good with the whole loner thing. I’m a wolf. Not even a wolfy one at that. I’m more like some happy lap dog. That’s just how it is. You don’t need people, but I do. I need this team. I’ve tried not to. I tried so hard to not think of you guys as my pack, but I couldn't manage it.” Jensen hid his face behind a splayed hand, muffling his words a bit but powering through.
“Because! This isn’t going to last forever! Pooch has Jolene and the kids, Roque has one foot practically out the door as we speak. Clay gets away with a lot but one of these days he’s going to break the wrong rule and get himself thrown out of the Army.” Jensen lowered his hand, letting it rest against Cougar’s side.
“What about me?” Cougar asked.
Jensen heaved a sigh and closed his eyes. “Been trying real hard not to think about that one too much, Cougs. You’re the one it’ll hurt the most to lose.”
“I’m not going anywhere.” Cougar nudged in a little closer, trying to get Jensen to look at him.
“We’re Losers. We don’t get good luck.”
“I don’t need luck to know that I need you too.” With that, Cougar leaned in slowly, pressing a gentle kiss to the corner of Jensen’s lips. He slung an arm around his waist and pulled him closer. Jensen didn’t respond for a long second. Didn’t move, or kiss back, or even push Cougar away. Like he didn’t know when the punchline of the joke was going to come.
“Please tell me you’re serious about this. Please, please, please, don’t just be doing this because you don’t want me to be sad.” Jensen pleaded, finally opening his eyes to assess Cougar.
Cougar huffed fondly. “I don’t want you to be sad.”
“You know what I mean. What is this?” Jensen curled a fist in Cougar’s shirt.
“You and me. Same as it’s always been.” Cougar shrugged.
“This is not the same as it’s always been. Why’d you never say anything? Or do anything? You had to have known how I felt about you.” Jensen pulled back a few inches, propping himself up on an elbow.
“I did. You’d have run.”
“I... think you're right. How long?” Jensen wasn’t sure if he actually wanted the answer.
Cougar wobbled his head side to side, considering. “Mm. There’s no real moment. Long time now. I already had feelings for you when we glitter bombed General Coleman.”
“The glitter bomb? Dude, that’s been at least two years. If not more. And you just what? Pined for me all that time?”
“Figured this was worth the wait.”
Jensen was still for a few heartbeats before surging forward into a desperate kiss. Cougar let him take what he needed; let his fingers curl tighter into his shirt. Let Jensen’s knees slide against his own because he just couldn’t hold still. Let Jensen know that anything he needed was his on a silver platter. They were only interrupted by Cougar’s stomach growling, loud in the quiet of the night. Jensen laughed and pressed his forehead to Cougar’s shoulder. “So. What do we want for dinner?”