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Holding On, Holding Out

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It’s the third time they’ve fucked. Cougar’s got Jensen up against the wall of the bathroom in the suite at the sheik’s mansion in Doha. Like before, it’s quick and dirty, and silent, so the others don’t hear.

Jensen strains a little in his grip, muscles flexing as Cougar bites his neck, but he’s not really trying to push Cougar off. Jensen may be the team geek but he’s taller than Cougar and well-muscled. Cougar knows: watching from under the brim of his hat while Jensen works out is a favorite pastime.

Tomorrow’s the mission to Max’s stronghold island, and none of them figure there’s much chance they’re coming back from this one. Losers luck can only carry them so far and Cougar knows the plan’s fucked, but what can they do? Max has to be stopped, and when it’s a crazy plan or the end of the world, even swimming through an underwater pipeline into the den of a supervillain seems like it’s worth a try.

Cougar gets a hand down Jensen’s pants and on his cock, and Jensen puts his head back and moans, glasses reflecting the flickering fluorescent light above. Cougar slaps a hand across his mouth and works his cock harder and Jensen whimpers against Cougar’s palm and pushes up into his hand. Cougar knows what he likes so he whispers hot, dirty español in his ear and jerks him a little roughly, and that does it. Jensen arches helplessly, coming all over himself and Cougar’s hand.

Jensen gasps in air, chest heaving, as Cougar gentles him through the last of it. He’s so turned on now he’s half crazy, licking and sucking on Jensen’s throat and rubbing off against his thigh. Jensen pulls him in for a proper kiss, their first real kiss, and it tastes of longing and fear and desperation.

“Let me,” Jensen whispers hoarsely, turning Cougar to press him back against the tiled wall in turn, and he goes down, nuzzling Cougar’s cock through his jeans. Cougar makes a noise in his throat and lets his head fall back, eyes closed.

Jensen undoes Cougar’s jeans and pulls his pants down to mid-thigh, then takes hold of Cougar’s cock. Cougar hisses through his teeth at the touch of his hand and Jensen, the bastard, holds Cougar’s cock out of the way, jerking him a little while he leans in and mouths his balls. Cougar gives a strangled groan and jams his forearm into his mouth.

Abandoning his balls, Jensen sucks gently on the head of Cougar’s cock, pushing his tongue into the slit and licking the sensitive spot below the head. Cougar’s hips jerk and his breathing speeds up. Then Jensen goes down, sucking, taking as much of him in as he can, not teasing now. Cougar can’t stop pushing into his mouth and trying to go up on his toes, and Jensen growls softly, pinning him there and making him take it. He looks down at Jensen's bobbing head and slides his fingers into the spiky blond hair, not tugging, just resting his hand there. Jensen likes that.

Cougar’s making ragged sounds around his arm now, gasping and wet, and Jensen holds him in place with his weight against Cougar’s legs, nudging his thighs as wide as they’ll go and getting a finger in behind his balls to tease his hole. Cougar bucks and comes hard down Jensen’s throat, legs quivering, and if Jensen wasn’t still holding him up he’d be on the floor.

They slide down together afterward, huddled in a heap on the cool tiles, hearts racing and breath coming fast.

“When this is over, I’m gonna have you in a proper bed.” Jensen’s voice is husky.

Cougar smiles up at him, a little sadly. “Si. A good plan.”

Jensen snorts. “Unlike some others I could name.” He pushes back to his knees and cleans himself up, grabbing a washcloth from the vanity and passing it to Cougar. Jensen hauls himself to his feet and gives Cougar a hand. “C’mon, better get some sleep if we can.”

Si, sleep,” Cougar says. “Sleep, and then Max dies, and then there is fucking in a goddamned bed.”

“You betcha,” Jensen says, smirking, then his grin fades as he turns away.

Cougar watches him slip out to join the others. He guesses they should talk about this thing growing between them, but then, odds are stacked against them surviving tomorrow.

Maybe next time. In bed. If there’s a bed next time. If there’s a next time.

~~~~~~

Dios, what a way to go – bleeding out and clutching a nuke. Cougar’s OK with it, though. He’s said adios to Jensen, he’s told the angelitos Max slaughtered he’ll see them soon enough even if he has to do a stint of KP in Purgatory first. He’s made his peace.

The white light bathes him and of course it’s the nuke, must be, just weird that he can see it before he’s vaporized.

And then he’s gone.

Cougar comes to on a hard metal floor in dim light with people shouting, urgent, and he’s being moved and jostled and fuck, fuck, his stomach hurts.

There’s something in his arm, a needle. More voices, blurred faces swimming in his vision. He blacks out briefly as he’s slid onto a table, then there are vague glimpses of metal walls, bright lights, and madre de Dios, the pain.

He’s always thought Purgatory would be gray, dull and quiet, so this must be Hell. Snipers don’t get a free pass into Heaven. The devils push a plastic mask over his nose and mouth and there’s another needle in his arm, and he doesn’t want to let go—Christ knows what they’ll do once they’ve sedated him—but the drugs drag him under and down, deep down, under the pain, spiraling down into darkness.

~~~~~~

It still hurts when he wakes, but not as badly. His mouth’s dry as the Sonoran desert and tastes like a creosote bush. He’s full of pain medication – he recognises it from past hospital stays. If this is Hell, they’re more devious than he’d have thought. But what else can it be?

He cracks an eye open, wincing at the lights even though they’re down low.

“Hey, he’s conscious, doc.” A male voice, older, from the end of his bed.

Agua,” Cougar croaks.

“Yeah, I don’t think so. Not when you’ve been chest-shot and gut-shot. You damn near died. Try this.”

Ice chips on his tongue; he sucks on them thirstily. “More.”

Someone new beside him, a doctor. White coat, dark hair, taking his pulse, listening to his chest. She tilts his head back and he sees she’s Asian. A bright light flashes in his eyes and he winces away.

“Man, I hate when they do that,” the guy at the foot of his bed says.

The doctor ignores him. “I’m Dr. Lam,” she says. “Can you tell me your name?”

“Coug . . . Carlos. Sergeant Carlos Alvarez.” Cougar looks around. Semi-darkness, more beds, IV stands and beeping machinery. A shadowed figure near the end of his bed. “Where am I? Why am I not dead?”

“Yeah, and that’d be my cue. Thanks doc, I’ll take it from here.”

“You have 15 minutes, General O’Neill. No more.”

They change places, and Cougar sees the guy’s older, silver-haired, tough-looking. He’s wearing Air Force Dress blues.

“You ever watch Star Trek?” the General says. It must be a trick.

“No,” Cougar lies.

The General sags a little, disappointed. “Damn. I’m never gonna get to use that Scotty joke.”

Cougar frowns. Definitely a trick. He narrows his eyes, missing his hat to hide behind. He looks anxiously about. It’s on the night stand to his left and he lets out a breath. Perhaps this is not Hell, after all.

“Nice hat,” the General says. He’s pulled up a chair and turned it around, sitting on it backwards, his arms folded on the back.

It reminds Cougar of Jensen and he has to close his eyes against the spike of pain. “Mis compañeros?”

“Yeah, I’m sorry Sergeant, but we were only able to retrieve you.”

“Retrieve?” Cougar stares at the General. None of this makes sense, none of it. But he will not believe that Jensen is . . . no, he will not think of it.

“This’ll be kind of hard for you to take in, Sergeant, but we literally beamed you up. Way up to a spaceship in orbit. But hey . . . I gather you guys were trying to stop those insane fuckers from destroying the world with sonic weapons of mass destruction, so maybe it’s not such a stretch for you after all.”

It makes no sense – it’s like one of Jensen’s sci-fi movies. But the General’s right – their lives have been strange for weeks. Months. And that flash of white light. Cougar has seen Star Trek. No one can spend time with Jake Jensen and Pooch without enduring countless arguments on the merits of The Original Series versus The Reboot. He knows who Scotty is.

Pooch, Jesus. He closes his eyes and prays Pooch is somewhere safe with Jolene, somewhere the CIA can’t touch them. Clay is lost, he knows that much, but Jensen . . .

“We are in space?” Cougar hears blank incredulity in his voice.

The General shakes his head. “Colorado. You’re in the infirmary now at our base, at the SGC.”

Cougar has no idea what SGC means. Fucking military acronyms. “Captain Jensen?”

The General shakes his head. “Sorry, Alvarez, but he’s MIA, presumed KIA. As is Lt. Colonel Clay  . . . I think you already know about Captain Roque.”

Cougar shuts his eyes and turns his head away. He takes a shaky breath, chest hurting, everything hurting. He tries to swallow but his mouth’s too dry. The General gives him some more ice chips, silently sympathetic. Cougar wonders how many friends he’s lost across the years. Too many.

Cougar’s voice is rough with things he can’t bear to say. “Roque can rot in Hell, and that she-devil Aisha.”

“Yeah, we’re only just piecing together what went down, but Stegler’s the one who called me in to get you out – through our Pentagon contacts. Stegler’s been filling us in. Your life-sign was flickering, and the island was crawling with life-signs but Stegler said they were unfriendlies so we prioritized you. If your teammates were on the island they were too deep in the complex, or shielded, or something – we couldn’t identify them. And then the damn bomb blew.” The General shakes his head. “Goddamn dirty tactical nuke, probably from Pakistan. Total mess, but luckily the worst fallout was in the sea. Still, you guys caused one hell of an international shitstorm.”

“Not us. That bitch Aisha and her jihadi boyfriend Fahd.” Cougar stops, takes a shaky breath. The pain in his guts is worse. “Nuke was Fahd’s.”

“Well, Sergeant, all I can say is thank Christ that Carter built in beaming failsafes to stop us sucking the damn bomb up along with you, or we’d be down one spaceship and I’d be extremely goddamn pissed.”

The doctor sticks her head around a curtain and frowns at them. “General O’Neill, that’s quite enough. He needs to rest.”

O’Neill stands up. He’s tall, and he doesn’t look so hard now, just weary. “Sorry, doc.” He turns back to Cougar. “I’ll be back tomorrow, Alvarez, with an NDA yea thick.” He holds his hands comically wide apart, like a fisherman’s tall story.

“We’ll see about that,” the doctor says sharply, and pulls him away.

Cougar can’t move. He wants to turn onto his side, to curl up like a hurt child. He wants to weep but his eyes are dry and aching. He lies there, helpless, filled with pain and loss and grief, and after what seems like an age, the doctor returns and puts him out of his misery.

~~~~~~

There’s nothing left for Cougar on Earth, so once he’s healed up he joins the SGC. After a few weeks of training he’s assigned to a Gate team – snipers are always useful, on Earth or off-world. Plus, he’s got something called the ATA-gene – weakly, but apparently it’s a big deal anyway. Cougar doesn’t really give a shit.

His new team’s called SG-17 because the SGC has no imagination. Or maybe their luck’s been bad enough they can’t risk names like The Losers, names that give fate the finger. Maybe, in the end, nor could The Losers, and fate squashed them like so many bugs. Cougar tries to remember that they saved the world, although really, that was Fahd’s nuke. He doesn’t feel like a savior. He doesn’t feel much of anything.

His new team’s led by a Marine, Captain Pemberton, and there’s a Sergeant Rostov from Minnesota who’s a field medic. Their scientist is Dr. Han Chiu, a geologist. Chiu and Rostov are quiet guys, mostly focused on their work, and that suits Cougar: he doesn’t feel like talking. He gets on okay with Pemberton who’s been with the SGC for a few years and has plenty of tales to tell. His stories seem unreal to Cougar, but nothing’s been real for some time. All he can do is keep busy and maybe kill a Goa’uld or two. He’s never liked snakes.

Chiu’s specialty is naquada deposits and the SGC needs as much naquada as it can get. They’re not a first contact team so the missions are mostly quiet – pre-cleared planets, supposedly safe for exploration and science. Cougar knows life’s always waiting to stick it to you, though, no matter how dull things may seem, and on a temperate, forested planet at the base of a cliff they run into a platoon of Jaffa.

Pemberton’s injured by a staff weapon and Rostov’s caught up tending to him. Chiu’s taken cover in some ruins and Cougar has to pick off the Jaffa one by one from a perch up the cliff-face. It takes thirty  minutes to get them all. Right to the end they die startled, looking like they can’t believe anyone could make a shot from that distance. Cougar’s made longer shots, but not often. His hands are steady – turns out not caring very much helps your aim.

They’re stuck at Cheyenne while Pemberton heals, and Dr. Chiu’s mostly in the labs. Cougar visits Pemberton a few times in the infirmary, but SG-17’s been stood down and Rostov’s filling a gap in the infirmary staff, so it’s not like Pemberton really needs him to stop by. Cougar does anyway, nodding and smiling, but saying very little. Pemberton doesn’t seem to mind; sometimes they play backgammon, or cards.

The SGC puts Cougar on security duty in the interim. It should be low-risk guarding a heavily staffed installation like Cheyenne, but there’s a foothold crisis, a Goa’uld loose in the tunnels, and it’s all running and shouting and alarms with flashing lights, until SG1 corner the invader and dispatch it.

The ruckus brings home to Cougar how much he hates being trapped with an enemy, no good sight-lines without hitting your own people and the weight of the mountain pressing down all around. He wants to be outside – jungle, desert, even a damn ice-plain, as long as there’s light and air and the freedom to move and aim his rifle. It’s a huge relief when Pemberton’s well again, but Rostov’s not coming back; he’s been reassigned. So there’s a new team member – LT Corillo, keen as mustard and a karate black belt. He’s a talker, and it takes a while before he accepts Cougar isn’t. Cougar hunkers down, shelters under his hat. He can’t wear it on base – has to make do with a boonie – but it’s always in his pack and as soon as they’re off-world, on it goes. The others rib him, but the hat’s part of the team, now. A mascot.

One week between missions he’s on lightswitch duty with Dr. Lee in the alien tech lab and over coffee Cougar asks Lee to help him search for Pooch. No trace – the military record’s still marked KIA.

“They do that,” Lee says reassuringly. “Look, here’s yours.” Another KIA. “It’s a cover when they recruit you for the SGC or Atlantis. Or, ‘Black Ops’.” He puts geeky air-quotes around it.

“No, is not the SGC,” Cougar says. Pooch is still hiding. “Try his wife, please. Jolene.”

Jolene’s still on the grid. Lee finds a driver’s licence and tracks her utilities bill and voter registration. She still lives in Springfield. Cougar notes the address.

A month later, Pemberton takes him aside one day. They’re recruiting for Atlantis and Rostov – who’s out there already – recommended Cougar. The brass want him to do an interview with the legendary Colonel Sheppard. Cougar makes a face, but he says he’ll think about it.

Atlantis. He’s heard stories about Pegasus, of course. Monsters called the Wraith that suck you dry. Nanoviruses. The city’s a floating ship, a starship, and they say that she’s beautiful. They say she sings, if you have the gene. There’s still nothing holding him to Earth any more, but he wonders about Pooch.

He’s tempted to wear the hat to the interview with Colonel Sheppard, but he thinks he might actually want the post. Cougar’s hair’s not regulation of course – he wears it long and no one cares, not in the SGC. It helps him blend in, off-world. Sheppard’s hair’s not regulation either and Cougar eyes it, silently amused.

“Interesting file,” Sheppard says, leaning back. “They kind of press-ganged you into the program, right?” He grins. “I know how that feels.” Despite the joke he looks tired, and he reminds Cougar of Clay with the stubble and the lines around his eyes. Even the hair. He’s Air Force, like O’Neill. Cougar guesses when you’ve got a muy grande flying city, you need pilots. Not for the first time, he wonders if Pooch has the gene.

“You don’t say much, do you?”

Cougar shrugs. “Not much worth saying.”

Sheppard eyes him. “We don’t really need sharp-shooters, although they’re sometimes useful for extractions. But the Wraith take brute force. Automatic weapons. C4. One shot won’t put them down.”

Cougar nods. “Si. I heard.”

“You’ve got the right background to survive Pegasus, Alvarez. Black Ops with a small unit, thinking on your feet, SERE training. And you’re Gate-trained already. Then there’s the gene.”

Cougar nods again.

Sheppard raises his eyebrows. “And they call me laconic.” He sits back. “What do you want?”

Cougar manages not to shrug again, but it’s a close call and he thinks Sheppard sees it. The Colonel’s eyes narrow.

“I think I would like to go,” he says quietly.

“Yeah? Why?”

Cougar grimaces. People, they want you to be going toward something, wanting things. Not to be leaving shit behind. The Colonel’s eyes are greyish-hazel, an odd color, watching him carefully. Cougar takes a breath. “There is nothing for me here. I lost my team.”

Sheppard frowns. “Yeah. But SG-17–”

Cougar lifts a hand, gestures vaguely. “They are okay, but . . .”

“Not your team.” Sheppard considers him. “How would Atlantis be any different?”

Cougar gestures at the concrete walls, the bunker-like room. “Is not under a mountain.”

Sheppard smirks, looks around. “Yeah, good point.  This place creeps me out – it’s like a goddamn Genii bunker. The city’s . . . ,” his eyes get a faraway look, then he shakes his head, smiling. “Indescribable. But it’s sure as shit not underground.”

“Does she sing?” Cougar bites his tongue, wishing he hadn’t asked. Sheppard will think he’s loco.

The Colonel quirks a grin. “You heard about that, huh?” He scrubs a hand through his already unruly hair. “Yeah, Alvarez. If you’ve got the gene, the city sings. It takes a little getting used to.” He looks wistful for a moment, like he misses it.

The door bangs open and a guy with receding hair and a similar uniform to Sheppard’s rushes in. “Christ on a bike, Bill Lee’s going to blow up the entire damn mountain!” Sheppard raises an eyebrow. “I kid you not – the man’s a fool! And that Jumper they’ve got here, that he tinkers with? He’s fucked its scanners completely – it’ll take me and Radek hours of work to fix them. Not that the SGC’ll let us have it back even if we do.”

“It’s not one of ours, Rodney,” the Colonel says mildly. “They found it here in the Milky Way. You know the Ancients – always leaving their junk lying around.”

“Bastards,” the guy says, flopping down in a chair beside Sheppard. Dr. Rodney McKay – even Cougar’s heard of him. Mostly what a dick he is.

“Rodney, meet Sergeant Alvarez. Sergeant, this is Dr. McKay, the Atlantis Chief Science Officer.”

“Yes, yes, but when are you finished? I’m in desperate need of beer and pizza. Although, have you noticed that Earth cheese tastes weird now? Kind of oily? Is that us or was it always like that?”

“I think that’s mostly you, Rodney,” the Colonel says. “Me, I want a steak.”

“Yes, but even prime rib’s not going to top those dino-steaks you had on P8J-449.”

“They tasted good, but they were purple. Just for a change I’d like to eat food where I don’t have to shut my eyes.”

McKay stands impatiently, tugging at Sheppard’s sleeve. “Come on, I’ve got the latest Tomb Raider. Lara Croft? Seriously hot!”

Sheppard sighs, but gets up. “It’s too much like work. Let’s do the new Grand Theft Auto.” He gives Cougar an apologetic shrug. “I think we’re done here?” Then, unexpectedly, he reaches a hand across the table. Cougar shakes it, bemused; the guy’s not like any C.O. he’s ever known. “Think about it,” Sheppard says. “There’s a place for you in Atlantis if you want it.”

McKay snorts. “Or you could just toss a coin and leave it in the hands of chance. That’s what the Colonel here did.”

Sheppard grins and pats his pockets. He gets out a quarter and flips it to Cougar. “Worked for me,” he says, and gives a half-assed salute as McKay drags him out the door. Cougar stares after them, then down at the coin. He tosses it. Heads. Again. Heads. And again. Still heads.

A small tousled man sticks his head through the door. “Hello – I am Dr. Zelenka. By any chance, have you seen Dr. McKay? And Colonel Sheppard?”

Cougar gestures with his chin. “They went that way.” He tosses the coin again. Heads.

Zelenka nods. “Ah, I see the Colonel is using his old coin trick again.”

“It’s loaded?”

“Oh yes,” Zelenka says. “Very much so. He had several made for recruiting.” He grins. “It means he likes you, so perhaps we will see each other again.” He nods cheerfully, then disappears.

Cougar weighs the coin in his hand. Very well. But first, he will visit Jolene.

~~~~~~

It takes less time than he’d have thought for the transfer to go through. His team slap his back and congratulate him; Cougar figures they’ll be happier with someone chattier, anyway. He’s granted a week’s leave before the Daedalus ships out. Time to shop for things he’s told are commodities on the Atlantis black market, like chocolate, good coffee, and, weirdly, art supplies.

“The Colonel’s a good sort,” Chief Harriman tells him, “but it’s Major Lorne you really want to win over. He runs the work rosters.” Turns out there’s also a thriving trade in craft supplies, so he loads up on jewelry-making gear and beads, knitting wool and embroidery thread. He takes his backgammon set – if no one plays it there, he can teach them. Harriman tells him to him pack up his customized SR-25 sniper rifle for the Daedalus’s hold and the SGC will add ammo. Cougar’s  relieved: he’s fine with a P-90, but automatic weapons have no soul.

Cheyenne to Springfield, Massachusetts is too far to drive on a week’s leave, so Cougar flies to New York, rents a black Corvette, puts the top down and jams his hat on firmly. Pooch isn’t the only one who likes fast cars.

It’s an unassuming two-story wooden house in a quiet neighborhood, shaded by a big maple. Red geraniums in terracotta pots flank the front steps. Cougar knocks, waits, knocks again.

“Yes! Wait up!” A woman shouts from inside. “Jasmine, get your shoes on, we got to be at Rita’s in five minutes!”

The door opens on a pretty, thirty-something black woman with long, dark, curling hair. He’s never seen a photo – when you’re on the run from the CIA you don’t carry snapshots of people who might be targets.

“Jolene Porteous?”

“Yeah?” She’s eyeing him, cautious now. Back in the house a child’s voice calls out.

Jolene turns and shouts, “In the bathroom. You were cleaning them.” She turns back to Cougar, frowning. “I’m not buying anything, and I don’t want any goddamn pamphlets.”

“I am not selling,” Cougar says. He thinks he would cut an odd figure for a salesman in his hat and leather jacket, the sleek, dark Corvette at the curb. “I am Carlos Alvarez.”

“Yeah, fuck off, whoever you really are,” she says angrily, starting to close the door. He jams his foot in the crack and thanks God for good military boots. She’s strong.

“Really, I am Cougar. I did not die.” He touches the breast of his jacket. “I will get my ID, if you permit.” She stares at him, eyes narrowed. “I am not armed,” he says, gritting his teeth against the pressure on his toes. “My foot?” He gestures downwards and she pulls the door open another inch.

He shows her his driver’s licence, and the fake military ID that says he works at NORAD. She frowns over them then gives them back. “Anyone could’ve mocked those up,” she says. “Tell me where you were s’posed to have died, and how.”

“On New Jerusalem, a rock in the Persian Gulf owned by Max,” he says, and her eye twitches at the name. “I did not die when the nuke exploded. I cannot tell you how, but I was rescued.”

“Yeah, right, miracle rescue, yadda yadda.” She crosses her arms, mouth set. “If you’re for real, how come you never came looking for Pooch ’til now?”

“He is here?” Cougar peers past her but all he hears is children’s voices in another room.

“Answer the fucking question.”

“I was shot, bad, in the hospital a long time. Then,” he makes a helpless gesture, “I was . . . recruited. It is . . . complicado. Also I did not think Pooch would be here. He is hiding, no?”

“ ’course he’s not here, not after all that shit with M–” She calms herself with an effort. “And I’m sure as hell not gonna tell you where he’s at. Whoever the hell you are.”

Cougar sighs. This was a mistake – he’s left it too long. But he had never met Jolene so she was not a friend. She was your friend’s wife and you have not looked after her, his conscience admonishes. In his head he replies that his old life was swept away, filled with stargates and aliens, with spaceships and other worlds. It is no excuse, but he was always a loner, until . . . and he knew Pooch would not be here.

The child’s voice calls a muffled question and Jolene turns. “In the kitchen, honey. I’ll be right there!” She turns back. “I have to go.”

Cougar bows his head briefly. “My apologies, I should not have come.” He looks up and meets her eyes. “Tell him I am well.”

She frowns. “Where’re you based?”

He grimaces. “I cannot say, I am sorry. Is classified.”

Jolene rolls her eyes. “Oh yeah, I just bet it is. Man, I have had that classified bullshit up to here.” She slashes a finger across her throat, glaring. “If you are who you say, sounds like you got right back in bed with Max’s old cronies at the CIA, so fuck you, too. Pooch don’t need any more of that grief.” She steps back and slams the door in his face.

Cougar opens his mouth, fists clenched, but there’s nothing he can tell her. Nothing that wouldn’t put him in Leavenworth. Nothing she or Pooch would believe.

He stands there for a while feeling helpless, then he turns and makes his way back to the car. As he’s fumbling for the remote on the rental keyring, a gray metallic SUV backs out from beside the house, Jolene at the wheel and two curly-haired girls belted in on the back seat. The SUV stops, straddling the curb, and her window rolls down.

“I still think you’re full of it, mister,” she calls. “But. You got an email?”

Si, yes, one second.” He scrabbles to unlock the car, grabs the rental pamphlet and a pen and scrawls his military email on it, passing it through the window to her.

She reads it, snorts in disbelief, and drops it somewhere. “No promises. Last thing we need is any more of that–” her eyes flick back to the wide-eyed children “–secret squirrel stuff.”

Cougar nods solemnly and tips his hat with a finger. “Understood. Gracias, señora.”

Jolene’s window hisses shut. She revs the engine, checks the road, backs fully out and accelerates away.

He watches her go. Pooch will not believe her; he will think it is a CIA ploy.

Cougar sighs again and lowers himself into the Corvette. The email’s a front, of course – another NORAD cover – but anything sent there will eventually reach him in Pegasus through the regular databursts. He doesn’t expect to hear anything, though. And what if he did? He can say nothing about where he is and what he does. Jolene might accept that, angrily, but Pooch would not.

It’s a relief when he reaches the freeway and can floor the gas pedal and leave it all behind. Soon, he will leave Earth behind as well. It is for the best.

~~~~~~

The city does sing. En verdad, she hums, at the edge of his hearing. It’s a little overwhelming at first, but it’s not bad, not like that time he caught the edge of a grenade blast – his ears rang for a week, then. Cougar gets used to it. What he can’t get used to is Atlantis’s beauty: the tall silver towers piercing the sky, the wide ocean, pink sunsets and dawns with the sea calm as glass, the brilliant alien stars at night.

His first weeks go by in a rush of training, settling into barracks, meeting Atlantis’s military contingent. He eats with the other NCOs, which is something of a problem. Snipers operate alone, or in small teams – he earned his rank through his skills, not by climbing the NCO ladder. The others know he’s different, and Cougar doesn’t banter or tell tall tales; it’s not in him. He gets a rep as stand-offish, which he is, and for thinking he’s better than the rest, which is mostly unjustified. Sure, there are a few dicks and idiotas – it’s the military – but Cougar’s surprised by how few. Maybe Pegasus kills them off, but he thinks Major Lorne and Colonel Sheppard see a lot more than people realize, and troublemakers either straighten up pronto or get a quick trip back to Earth.

He gets by, but he doesn’t make friends. He’s pleasant, he works hard, he reads all the training manuals they give him, and he’s not bored.

He misses his team. If they were here he’d have family. Pooch and Jensen would argue about bullshit and wind everyone up until Clay slapped them down. If they were here with him, Cougar would have a place with brothers who knew what the set of his shoulders or the angle of his hat meant. People who got him, who read him like Braille, who had his back.

Not Roque or Aisha. They were traitors, diablos; he spits on their memory. They did not deserve to die so cleanly. Cougar thinks of the training videos he has seen. If he could, he would feed Roque and Aisha to the Wraith until they were empty life-sucked husks.

Basta – he shakes off his vengeful musings. It is pointless to dwell on the past with Clay and Jensen dead and gone, and Pooch lying low. He must move on.

They put him on AR-10, which specialises in extractions. Cougar’s role, as ever, is surveillance, infiltration, covering fire and target neutralization. The team’s led by Meyer, an Israeli Major with a dry sense of humor who’s rumored to be a Mossad spy. Cougar thinks that’s mierda, but apparently the internationals get debriefed by their military when they take leave on Earth. Meyer takes his leaves with the Athosians – he’s in some sort of marriage with two sisters, Leita and Saena, and has a young son. He’s second wave – a Captain initially, but Pegasus takes its toll on officers and men alike, so he’s been field promoted. Cougar likes him. Then there’s ‘Ninja’ Fujikura, a gunnery sergeant from Seattle and their heavy weaponry and explosives expert. He DJs dances in the mess hall and owns every foot-tapping tune in two galaxies on a cluster of iPods. He picks Cougar’s brains about Latin beats and copies the CDs he brought with him. Last, there’s doc Weaver who’s got degrees in electronic engineering and programming. He’s short and thin, with mouse-brown hair, freckles and a nervous stammer. He’s nothing like Jensen, which should be a comfort, but isn’t.

Meyer and Cougar are the ATA-positives on the team. Meyer’s their chief pilot if the mission needs a Jumper, but Cougar gets pilot training as well – everyone does, with the gene. He finds he likes flying, even though it makes him think of Pooch.

They get scrambled to rescue AR-1, Sheppard’s team, who’re pinned down by hostile wildlife and cut off from the Gate. No one’s clear what the situation is—the radio transmission was patchy—so they go through the Gate in a cloaked Jumper. AR-1 are trapped in some caves and the hostiles are a pair of giant lizards. Giant flying lizards, that spit corrosive venom and have huge taloned feet.

“Fucking dragons!” Fujikura crows, aiming his camera out the Jumper’s front view screen as they dodge and weave, opting for shield rather than cloak, although seeing the Jumper enrages the beasts. It draws them away from AR-1, though, which was what Meyer intended.

“I do not want to waste a drone on them,” Meyer says. “Put the camera away, Ninja. I’ll reverse the Jumper, re-cloak and then you and Alvarez can take them down with P-90 fire. You will need to hit them hard, and keep that damn venom out of my Jumper.”

“They may have depleted their venom-sacs, Major,” Weaver says. “They haven’t spat anything for a few minutes.”

“Do not take any chances,” Meyer orders. “As soon as I turn her, lower the hatch and start firing.”

Fujikura throws the camera to Meyer. “Get this on film, doc: AR-10, dragon slayers!”

It’s a job for brutal weaponry, not finesse, and Cougar’s almost sorry to fire on the . . . ah, Dios, call them dragons then. They wound the smaller beast and it flaps off toward the distant hills, one leg trailing awkwardly. The other follows, its strange, mournful screech of a cry echoing back across the plain.

“Probably a mated pair,” Weaver says, still filming. “The xenobiologists’ll be pissed we scared them off.”

“Hey, we still fought a dragon, even if it’s not dead,”  Fujikura says. “Not many people can say that. Sir, can we paint a dragon on the Jumper?”

“We don’t own the damn thing, Ninja,” Meyer says, decloaking and setting them down by the cave where AR-1 are emerging cautiously, guns trained on the sky. “And you know the Colonel does not like anyone messing with his Jumpers.”

Sheppard and the big guy, Dex, are supporting Dr. McKay between them. His leg’s been burned by a splash of venom and he’s obviously in pain.

“Hey, great to see you guys,” Sheppard says. “And especially the Jumper.”

“Yes, well, trust you not to bring one to the Planet of the Giant Flying Lizards,” McKay gripes. There are beads of sweat on his forehead and he’s pale, gritting his teeth. “Because trekking across hostile terrain infested with homicidal reptiles is always a brilliant plan.”

“C’mon, Rodney, they’re dragons! It’s shitty one of them winged you, but you’re gonna be able to tell people that burn on your leg was from a goddamn dragon! How cool is that?”

“Way cool, sir,” Fujikura says, grinning. Cougar snorts, and Sheppard helps McKay up the ramp and onto a bench seat, sitting close beside him and letting Meyer keep the pilot’s chair.

Cougar exchanges nods with Teyla Emmagan and Ronon Dex as they board, and turns to look after the distant flying animals before closing the hatch. Dragons, madre de Dios. Jensen would have been ecstatic.

~~~~~~

The emails arrive in the weekly databurst three months after Cougar reaches Atlantis. He finds several in his inbox, mixed with the usual messages about yoga on the pier, the quilting circle and a flyer for Fujikura’s dance party – this Sunday featuring Tunisian pop.

From: 388174395741@nobodyherebutuschickens.net
Sent: Monday, 6 November 2006 1:17 a.m.
To: carlos.alvarez@norad.mil
Subject: fuck off
FUCK OFF AND LEAVE JOLENE ALONE OR I WILL FUCK YOUR SHIT UP.

Cougar stares at the screen. Pooch, damn. Maybe it took a while before Jolene saw him again, or before she remembered the email address..

From: 492829405938@nobodyherebutuschickens.net
Sent: Monday, 6 November 2006 3:44 a.m.
To: carlos.alvarez@norad.mil
Subject: Re: fuck off
WHO THE FUCK ARE YOU REALLY? MESSIN WITH PEOPLE’S HEADS.  NOT COOL.

Cougar wonders if it’s the vagaries of time zones between Earth and Pegasus, or if Pooch has insomnia now. Probably both.

From: 8374871356118@nobodyherebutuschickens.net
Sent: Tuesday, 7 November 2006 2:51 a.m.
To: carlos.alvarez@norad.mil
Subject: Re: fuck off
THINK YOU CAN HIDE? THINK AGAIN.

Man, Pooch is pissed – he should never have tried to see Jolene. In fact, Pooch sounds un poco paranoid. Cougar notices his email address keeps changing. Looks like he took a leaf out of Jensen’s book.

From: 569608046096@nobodyherebutuschickens.net
Sent: Thursday, 9 November 2006 0:32 a.m.
To: carlos.alvarez@norad.mil
Subject: Re: fuck off
OK I WAS DRUNK LAST NIGHT BUT FUCK YOU, YOU NAME-STEALING FUCKER.

Dios. It’s obviously winding Pooch up that he hasn’t replied, but it’s not like Cougar can explain about the weekly databurst. Due to him being in another damn galaxy.

From: 928475953363@nobodyherebutuschickens.net
Sent: Friday, 10 November 2006 0:14 a.m.
To: carlos.alvarez@norad.mil
Subject: Re: fuck off
WHO ARE YOU? I DON’T BELIEVE IT. COUGAR’S FUCKING DEAD.

Despite the shouty caps this one doesn’t sound angry. It sounds sad.

From: 199475859237@nobodyherebutuschickens.net
Sent: Friday, 10 November 2006 4:19 a.m.
To: carlos.alvarez@norad.mil
Subject: Re: fuck off
ANSWER YOUR FUCKING EMAILS YOU JACKASS. ALSO, NORAD MY ASS.

Cougar’s mouth twists – yeah, it’s a pretty thin cover story. No one’d buy it if the truth wasn’t impossible to believe.

The last email in the cluster is dated two days ago.

From: 73692038465@nobodyherebutuschickens.net
Sent: Saturday, 11 November 2006 1:01 a.m.
To: carlos.alvarez@norad.mil
Subject: Re: fuck off
PLAYING HARD TO GET, HUH? OK IT’S ON.

Mierda, that sounds ominous. But what can Pooch do and still stay off the CIA’s radar? Not much, surely.

Cougar bites his lip, frowning. Should he reply? He’s starting to feel he could maybe move on and leave Earth in the past. Plus there’s no point trying to convince Pooch that he’s Cougar when he can’t say what he’s doing or where he is. He sighs, then closes his laptop without replying. He must think on this.  

He’s out of his quarters on his way to the mess when his radio buzzes. He stops dead when he realizes it’s Dr. Weir. “Sergeant Alvarez, could you come to the conference room, please?” 

Unlike most commanders, her orders still feel a little like questions. He knows they’re not. “Yes, Ma’am,” he says, and speeds up. Is it a rescue mission? AR-1 aren’t off-world today.

The conference room is crowded.  Dr. Weir stands at the end of the table, her hands clasped, looking severe. Dr. Zelenka is seated at the table with his laptop open and Dr. Beckett sits beside him, peering at the screen. Colonel Sheppard is leaning against the far wall, his arms crossed. He raises a ‘what the fuck’ eyebrow at Cougar.

On the other side of the table Dr. McKay is pacing up and down, his face thunderous. Zelenka looks up from his laptop.

“Ah, Sergeant Alvarez. As you know, the weekly databurst came today.” Cougar nods, worried. They know about his weird emails? How? He wishes for a second that he hadn’t worn the hat, but no one in Atlantis has ever given him grief about it.

“Yes, yes, get on with it, Radek. We haven’t got all day!” says McKay, crossing his arms and glaring at Cougar.

Zelenka turns the laptop and beckons Cougar over. It’s an email, all right, and Cougar sees the familiar all-caps with a sinking feeling. “This was in my inbox. It came to my address, and to Dr. McKay. Also identical emails came to Colonel Sheppard, Dr. Beckett and Dr. Weir.”

From: 349038568767@secretsquirrel.net
Sent: Sunday, 12 July 2006 4:22 a.m.
To: radek.zelenka@norad.mil
Subject: hello y’all
IF CARLOS ALVAREZ IS THERE TELL HIM TO ANSWER HIS DAMN EMAILS
IN YO SYSTEM READIN YO STUFF MOTHERFUCKERS
WORMHOLE XTREME FTW BUT WHAT THE FUCK IS A WRAITH? THIS SOME GHOSTBUSTERS SHIT?

Cougar stares at it. That does not sound much like Pooch. He hates Ghostbusters.

“Do you know who this is from, Sergeant?” Weir’s frowning at him.

Cougar grimaces. “I think . . . from an old teammate. Most likely he has . . . ah, PTSD?” It’s no excuse and he knows it.

“Yeah?” McKay is leaning across the table, scowling. “Well it hasn’t slowed him down any. How in hell did he hack the SGC so as to get not only email addresses but also the listing of all of Atlantis’s senior staff? It’s a massive security breach and as he points out oh so obnoxiously, he’s in our goddamn system reading our stuff. He knows about the Wraith!”

Cougar feels something give way inside him. He feels unmoored, a little dizzy. “ . . . él está muerto,” he hears himself whisper.

“Oh great, here comes the foreign mumbo jumbo for g–”

“Rodney, that’s enough.” Weir’s voice cuts like a knife. Through a daze, Cougar sees Sheppard’s moved to stand beside McKay, sees he’s put a restraining hand on McKay’s arm. “Who is dead, Sergeant?”

“Another teammate. I thought Pooch had sent these . . . but he could not, he is not a hacker.”

“Why d’you think the other guy’s dead, Alvarez? The one who could do this.” It’s Colonel Sheppard, eyes narrowed.

Cougar shrugs. “He was blown up. By a nuke.”

The Colonel’s eyebrows go up. “Okay, that’ll do it.”

McKay snorts. “Yeah, not so much. You’ve survived at least two nukes, you self-sacrificing f–” Sheppard’s hand tightens on his arm and McKay subsides, looking surly.

The Colonel fixes Cougar with a hard stare. “I’m afraid we’re gonna need the name of this teammate, Alvarez. Dr. McKay’s right: this is a pretty serious security breach.”

They wait, watching him. Cougar licks his lips. “What will happen to him, if he is . . .”  He cannot bring himself to say it. To believe it. Not dead.

“I’m afraid that’s not your concern, Sergeant,” Weir says coolly. No promises. “His name?”

Cougar looks back at the email on Zelenka’s laptop, which now screams Jensen at him from every line. Jensen at his reckless, childish, annoying worst, giving Big Brother the finger, pulling the tiger’s tail. Idiota.

“Oh for Christ’s sake,” says McKay, throwing up his hands. “If he’s that good – if he can hack into the SGC and spam our network from another fucking galaxy, he’s not going to Guantanamo Bay or Leavenworth. He’s coming here. If he’s that damn good at programing, I want him on my team!”

~~~~~~

It is Jensen, but of course he’s a paranoid fuck and won’t sign an NDA. Nor will he meet with O’Neill or go anywhere near Cheyenne Mountain. Cougar’s allowed to send him emails, but he’s untraceable. Even McKay and Zelenka can’t follow his trail through a welter of cut-outs, dead ends and false leads.

He’ll only agree to meet Cougar at the derelict movie theatre in Wisconsin where the team reconvened after the Goliath mission. Neither of them puts the address of the meet in their emails, and Jensen’s obviously trusting him not to tell anyone where he’s going. You better come alone, Cougs, Jensen writes. I’ll know if you don’t.

It’s irrelevant, of course, and Weir and Sheppard don’t even ask him to say where the meet is. With Cougar’s sub-q transmitter implant and technology gained from space travel and aliens, they don’t need to. They’re humoring Jensen. He may be a counter-surveillance whizz-kid in Earth terms but he’s no match for the SGC. Cougar will be tracked from space every moment he’s on-planet. He knows he’s the bait in a Jensen-trap but he reckons he’ll be forgiven. Jensen will love this shit.

Cougar steps back through the wormhole to Earth. He travels to Wisconsin and finds the old theatre easily enough, relieved it’s still there and hasn’t been bulldozed for a strip mall. The boarded-up side door has been left unlocked, so he slips in. He half expects Jensen to jump him the moment he’s inside, and not in a good way. Jensen’s probably got least one gun and he’s been on the lam since Max bought it, with just Pooch to watch his back. Life-sucking aliens aside, Cougar’s had it easier: still in the military, still in a team.

So Jensen’s clearly paranoid as shit, and maybe pissed at Cougar for not being dead. Angry, like him, about the wasted time, the wasted grief. Angry, most of all, at not having known. Jensen hates not knowing.

He finds Jensen sitting on the old wooden stage, twisted around to watch the side door and so he can work on a laptop that’s open beside him. He freezes when Cougar enters, then looks up.

“Cougs?” he says, like he still can’t believe it.

Cougar shrugs and spreads his hands; it seems like a good idea to let Jensen see he’s not armed. “Si.”

Jensen eases down off the stage and pauses, staring. He seems taller than he was in Cougar’s memory, dressed in glossy black bike leathers, a helmet sitting on the stage beside the laptop. He’s wearing a black leather jacket, a plain black tee with no geeky logo, the familiar round glasses. He's tan, and his hair’s paler, the messy spikes sun-bleached. He looks like a contract killer.

Jensen drifts toward him, feral in the dim light from a high-up row of grimy windows. Cougar must have moved too, but he’s not aware of it, his eyes fixed on Jensen’s face. They stop an arm’s-length away.

Jensen blows out a breath. His hands twitch. “Scanning software didn’t pick up a wire, but I gotta frisk you.”

Si. Is okay.” Cougar holds his arms out from his sides. “I am not with the CIA.”

“Thrilled to hear it,” Jensen says, patting him down, big hands resting a fraction too long on his ass, sliding up his inside leg to cup him briefly. Is this some kind of foreplay? Jensen grins. “Couldn’t resist.” Cougar gives him a look.

Jensen checks his pockets, flicks through his wallet, snorts at the NORAD ID, then finds the ancient signalling device. It doesn’t look like much, a smooth, featureless gray-blue ovoid. It’s thought-operated, linked to another up in geosynchronous orbit, on the Daedalus.

“What’s this?”

Cougar shrugs. “Nada. A lucky piece.” It doesn’t feel good to lie, but he needs time to evaluate Jensen before coming clean. It’s not like Jensen isn’t doing the same.

“Stay there, okay?” Cougar nods. Jensen takes the signaller over to his laptop and hits a few keys, peering at it. “Well, it’s inert, so I guess it’s not transmitting.” He turns it over in his hands, curious. “Although some of the crap on that SGC website . . .” He looks up, then flips the signaller to Cougar. Cougar pockets it. “I figure all that sci-fi wet dream stuff’s gotta be some sort of front. Is it NASA? That’d be cool.”

Jensen prowls back over to Cougar again. “It’s more likely to be the bad guys, though.” He runs a finger down Cougar’s cheek, tilts his chin up. His voice is soft, and his eyes are fixed on Cougar’s mouth. “So what’s SGC stand for? Strategic Guidance Command? Skynet Ground Control? Space Gun Central?”

“No,” Cougar says. He can barely speak. “Is not the bad guys. I would not–”

Jensen leans in and kisses him. Just a soft press at first, then his tongue, licking across Cougar’s lower lip. Cougar parts his lips and Jensen grabs him, gets a hand behind his head and another on his ass and really goes to town, opening his mouth hungrily. Cougar’s arms are around him and he’s kissing back, moaning. O Dios, it’s good. Distantly, Cougar notices his hat’s gone, knocked to the floor.

They break it off, gasping and clinging to each other. “Fucker,” Jensen mutters, sounding breathless and messed up. His hand fists the back of Cougar’s jacket convulsively for a moment, then he slides it up and cradles Cougar’s head, pulling him in tight. Cougar presses his nose into the folds of Jensen’s leather jacket and breathes deeply.

“You . . .” Jensen says again, his voice rough. “I thought you were dead.”

Cougar can’t speak, he just tightens his grip. Pensé que estabas muerto, así.

Then they’re kissing some more, all raw desperation, grappling each other angrily, scrabbling to pull up shirts, to get skin on skin.

“Not here,” Cougar gasps.

Jensen groans. “Where, then. ’cause I got to–”

“Across the road. Hotel.”

Jensen snorts. “That place? It’s almost as run down as this joint.”

Cougar gives him the eyebrow. “I was promised a bed.”

~~~~~~

They cross the street quickly. Cougar guesses the SGC could be watching by sattelite feed but he doubts they’d bother. They’ll be tracking his sub-q, probably scanning his and Jensen’s lifesigns, but it’s not as intrusive as visual surveillance. Cougar doesn’t care. DADT’s on the way out and he and Jensen long since torpedoed their Earth-based military careers.

The hotel foyer’s dingy, with a weird, unpleasant smell. Cougar books the room and pays, Jensen lurking in the shadows of the stairwell. The guy at the front desk doesn’t give a damn, just takes the cash and pushes over a key. It’s weird handling money again – Cougar had to get some issued at the Mountain before leaving for Wisconsin. He’s got an account on Earth they pay his salary into, but no cards, and it’s not like he’s staying.

Inside the room, Jensen dumps his helmet and laptop on the table and pulls off the leather jacket, throwing it on the floor and kicking off his boots. He arches around, reaching to grab a pistol that had been tucked in the waistband of his pants, setting it beside the helmet.

Cougar loses his jacket and boots, peels off his socks, then looks up. Jensen’s staring at him again, hands on his fly, the buttons half undone. Cougar growls and is on him in two strides, pulling Jensen’s head down, mouth open. He can feel tears wet on his face and he can’t get close enough. There’s been so much between them – death, enemies, secrets, the icy intergalactic void of space. Too much. He wants it gone.

He pulls back reluctantly, then strips Jensen and kicks off his own jeans while Jensen removes his shirt and drags him down to the creaking double bed, legs tangled, his mouth rough on Cougar’s throat.

“So, a bed,” Jensen says, looming over him with a predator’s grin.

“Of sorts,” Cougar says. He arches, rubbing his cock against Jensen’s. “It will do.”

Fuck.” Jensen holds him down and grinds against him, biting and sucking like he’s desperate to leave marks. Cougar doesn’t care; he wants it. He’s crazy with want, mad with it. He grabs Jensen’s hips in a bruising grip and ruts against him. Jensen growls and pushes into it.

Cougar grabs his ass and their cocks slide slick against stomach and thigh. Someone’s whimpering.

Si, si, por favor, bastardo,” Cougar gasps, furious. He wants to swallow Jensen whole, to be swallowed.

Jensen groans. “You got a fucking nerve calling me a bastard you cocksucking son of a . . . ah fuck, do that again, oh, I want–” and he gets one big deft hand around their cocks and starts jerking them.

Cougar cannot breathe, can only push into Jensen’s callused hand and grunt. “Oh . . . oh.” He shudders, his head back. His legs are wrapped around Jensen’s, locking them together.

“Cougs, I, I . . . ” and Jensen is coming, his cock wet against Cougar’s belly, shaking in his arms, chest heaving. Cougar whines and pushes into the slippery mess, his mouth open on Jensen’s neck. All he can sense is Jensen, the sweet, rank, salty taste and smell of him, and it pushes him over, makes him arch and pulse, and Jensen holds him through it until he’s quiet.

After, he thinks Jensen’s asleep, but he’s not. Jensen groans and rolls onto his back, then gets up and takes a piss, comes back wiping himself cursorily down with a threadbare hand-towel he then throws to Cougar. He doesn’t come back to bed, instead dropping into the single armchair, frowning at the window like he could see through the hideous striped curtains.

“Okay, I’ll go first,” he says finally, turning to look at Cougar, who’s pushed himself up to sit cross-legged against the head of the bed. Cougar nods.

“The sheik fucked us over,” Jensen says. “He was in with Aisha and Fahd. I got away through the pipeline, but there was no ship waiting, just me treading water in the big old empty Persian Gulf.”

Cougar frowns. “But the nuke, you were too close–”

“Yeah,” Jensen says. “And then I hear that goddamn tilt-rotor.” He grins, remembering. “Pooch. He’d seen all the shit with Max’s threats on TV and he didn’t trust the sheik, so he flew back in for us. Picked me up and he knew the sheik’d still try to blow us up, so he had parafoils for us both. By the time the Qatari batteries fired on the plane we were well away, landed in the dunes and crossing the border into Saudi. They blew that plane up so bad they couldn’t tell we weren’t still in it.” He grins and opens his hands in a taa-daa. “Jake Jensen: officially dead. For the second time.”

“So, you and Pooch . . .” Cougar says slowly.

“Yeah,” says Jensen. “We been chilling out, lying low in Antigua. Kind of boring but so long as I got the internet and cable, a few games, I can deal.” He shrugs. “Jolene’s there now, at the villa. She got a chance to slip away with the girls. Pooch’s setting up a tourist flight company there, in St. John’s.”

“They’re okay?” Cougar studies Jensen’s face.

“Yeah, they’ll be fine. Stegler dropped by, one time. Tried to recruit us for some CIA horseshit. We told him to fuck off.”

“Stegler,” Cougar says, like it’s a curse.

There’s silence for a while. Cougar gets up and finds two beers in the mini-fridge. He tosses a can to Jensen, sits on the bed and pops his own, drinking thirstily.

“So?” Jensen eyes him, brows raised. “C’mon, how did you cheat death?” He gestures at Cougar’s chest with his beer. “Last thing I remember is you being shot three or four places, bleeding like a stuck pig all over the nuke. I can see the damn scars on you so I wasn’t hallucinating. What the hell happened?”

Cougar tilts his head back and finishes his beer. He looks down at the empty can, sighs, crumples it in his fist. He looks up at Jensen. “You will not believe me.”

Jensen spreads his hands. “Hey, Cougs, this is us. Try me.”

“It is not so simple,” Cougar says. He stands and holds out his hand. “Come, get dressed and I will show you.”

Jensen raises his eyebrows. “Dressed? We don’t see each other for months on end. I think you’re dead. We have a wham-bam hello-ma’am reunion fuck—not that it wasn’t outstanding—and we finally got ourselves an actual goddamn bed. And you wanna get dressed? No round two?” He gestures at the room. “I mean, Cougs, are we really gonna waste this palatial love-palace?”

Cougar waggles his hand, and Jensen lets himself be hauled to his feet. “Just one little kiss,” Jensen says softly, pulling him in close. “C’mon, Cougs.”

Some hours later, after Cougar’s blown Jensen and then fucked him through the sagging mattress, after kisses and showers and naps and more beers, after take-out pizza and what can only be called cuddling, Cougar finally gets Jensen into his clothes.

“I dunno about this ‘showing me stuff’ shit, Cougs,” Jensen says doubtfully, pulling on his jacket and sticking the dark glasses on top of his head. “You told Jolene what you did was classified up the wazoo and you got a NORAD email fake as Milli Vanilli. Tell me one more time you’re not with the fucking CIA or I’m going nowhere.”

“I am not with the CIA, Jensen,” Cougar says. “But is hard to explain. Is better to show you.” He puts on his hat, then smiles up at Jensen. “One for the road?”

Jensen’s lips meet his and Cougar thinks now at the ancient signalling device in his pocket.

As the white beam dissolves them, Jensen’s eyes slam open.

~~~~~~

“Aliens!” Jensen stumbles back, wild-eyed, the moment they rematerialize, “Cougs! We’ve been abducted by aliens!”

Cougar makes an apologetic face at Colonel Caldwell who’s watching them, amused. “At ease, Captain Jensen. I’m Colonel Stephen Caldwell, Commander of the Daedalus. Welcome aboard.”

“So no aliens?” Jensen says, disappointed.

“Oh,” replies Caldwell, an edge to his voice, “we’ve got aliens.”

“Cougs!” Jensen half shouts, grabbing Cougar by the arm and lurching over to the huge viewing window framing the spinning blue globe of Earth. He stares down, rapt, then turns and punches Cougar in the arm. “You fucker! You’ve been holding out on me!”

 

~~~~~~

the end