July 4th weekend. The one weekend the entire team wished they were overseas in some collapsing safe house, away from any sort of civilization imaginable. Well, all of them except Jake. For some reason, the man was programmed just a little bit...off.
Fireworks were at the top of the list of things all of them wished we not an actual thing. Even Jake could admit that he wasn’t a huge fan of the big displays that left even their most well adjusted ranks wondering whether it was festivities or if they were under mortar fire.
It wasn’t the fireworks or even the patriotism that Jake joined the bandwagon for. It was that he was an overgrown frat boy at heart. Jake drank hard for three days straight. He ran around in red, white, and blue boxers or swim trunks. He had an Uncle Sam beer helmet. He had a pair of glasses specially made, and one year he even dyed his goatee and sideburns red, white, and blue.
Jake wasn’t any more patriotic than the next guy who’d seen all the shit the good old U S of A had done to the rest of the world and even taken part in it. However, Jake did enjoy a good party when it came down to it, which turned out to be a significant problem for everyone around him.
“I’ve checked the cars twice, the attic, and the basement,” Pooch said, walking into the kitchen with a bowl full of car keys that he’d taken from everyone in the house.
“I checked the main floor, and Roque took the upstairs,” Clay said, dumping an entire bucket of matches and lighters onto the counter.
“Yours too,” Cougar said, eyeing the pile.
“I’m not giving up cigarettes because we have a loose cannon on our hands,” Clay complained.
Cougar just gave him a steady look from beneath his hat.
“Fine, but if this plan fails, I’m holding all of you accountable for my nicotine withdrawal,” he warned, taking his favorite lighter out of his pocket. It was the only way. Jake had been known to pickpocket before.
“He’s wily, but he isn’t outsmarting us this year,” Roque said, dropping a basket of small explosives onto the counter.
“These are yours,” Pooch noted.
“Last year, he stole some of these babies to make the confetti bomb,” Roque clarified. A collective shiver went through the group of men. Roque didn’t give up his explosives for just anything, but after the yard and back of the house being covered in confetti for months it was worth it. That isn’t even mentioning what they’d looked like post confetti bombing.
“Where is Jensen exactly?” Pooch asked, looking around them like he might appear out of nowhere.
“Bathtub,” Cougar said, placing several innocuous looking items on the counter.
“Got it. He’s gonna be a while,” Pooch said, picking up the wire cutters and a ball of string. “Dude, why does he have to be an evil genius when it comes to stupid shit? Why can’t he just have a beer and pass out like the rest of us?”
“It’s all that time on the internet,” Roque said, picking up a ruler and frowning at it like he couldn’t make out what Jake might use it for.
“I think he’s just wired wrong,” Clay said, shaking his head at the soup can with both a missing bottom and top.
“Ammo,” Cougar said, slinging a massive duffel bag onto the counter.
“Ammo,” he repeated, unzipping the bag. It was already filled with boxes of ammo, but everyone started digging into their pockets for reserve clips.
“Okay, Pooch and Roque, bring this stuff to the designated place. Cougar, you’re on Jensen duty,” Clay ordered.
“I’m holding down the fort,” Clay responded.
Pooch rolled his eyes, but he gathered everything up and headed out to the car. Roque took what was left and followed him.
“What are the chances this goes wrong anyway?” Clay asked when it was just him and Cougar.
“It will, but maybe this year there won’t be significant property damage,” Cougar said, tipping his hat and walking up to the room he shared with Jake.
He sat down on his own bed and read a book while Jensen took one of his notoriously long showers. If all went well, Roque and Pooch would be back before Jake was out of the shower, so they could replace the tracker Cougar had had to remove from the vehicle, so Jake couldn’t track the package. That had been their mistake a few years ago.
“That was de-light-ful,” Jake said, walking into the bedroom in the skimpiest towel he could manage to wrap around his waist. It barely covered his junk, and it parted dangerously where it was folded into itself. Instead, he used a much larger towel to dry his short hair.
Cougar shook his head, but pretended not to notice.
“You should’ve joined me man. Coulda scratched your back if you know what I’m sayin’,” Jake said, throwing the large towel on his bed and walking toward the open window.
“You mean wash your back,” Cougar corrected him.
“No, I mean scratch. Was feeling pretty limber today, definitely think you coulda pinned me to the wall and well you know,” he said, spreading his legs wide so the breeze could air dry the rest of him.
Cougar shook his head again. They were very lucky that a large maple tree blocked the view of their window from the street, or the neighbors might have had something to say about Jake’s post shower habits.
“It’s about to get like eight times sexier in here, Cougar, just so you’re ready,” Jake said, turning around and whipping off the towel that really hadn’t been doing much in the first place, other than proving just how impossible small Jake’s waist was that a hand towel could fit around it.
Cougar didn’t bat an eye. It wasn’t like Jake’s dick was an uncommon sight around these parts. However, Jake had somehow managed to trim his pubes to resemble a flag which Cougar would definitely count as desecration. It was definitely impressive though.
“Murica! Cougs,” Jake said, imitating the most irritating of bros Cougar could imagine.
“That wasn’t an answer,” Cougar informed him, but made no further comment. Making something of it would just encourage Jake.
“Did I tell you about…”
“Pretty awesome, huh?” Jake continued, undeterred by Cougar’s monosyllabic responses.
“It was...impressive,” Cougar agreed, accepting a small peck on the lips as Jake passed him to get to his dresser.
“Damn right, it was,” Jake said, bending over to get into his bottom drawer.
“Did you shave your ass?” Cougar asked, squinting at Jake’s impossibly tight ass.
“Huh?” Jake asked innocently, turning too look at Cougar with big eyes.
“You never shave your ass. You say it itches too much,” Cougar said, shifting on the bed now.
“I don’t know what you’re talking about. It is swamp ass central out there today. I want my ass smooth as a baby’s bottom when things get soupy. Ain’t no soupy ass hair gonna ruin my holiday weekend,” Jake rambled.
Cougar frowned. It sounded very much like Jensen logic, but he didn’t trust it. Jensen was wily as Roque had put it. If he was up to something, he’d worked out every possible scenario. He had a story for each other them and at least a half a dozen contingency plans.
The problem with going up against a man who’s mind worked as fast as a computer was that none of them could predict all possible outcomes or even keep up with Jake. Unfortunately, Jake was in the best shape of all of them, and he was incredibly adept at causing trouble. They were at a severe disadvantage.
“You purchased a child’s pool for yourself. You will not have swamp ass if you sit in it,” Cougar reasoned. It was pointless really. Jake had been tortured before and never cracked. He wasn’t about to let his plans slip to Cougar even if Cougar used methods of distraction...which it was frankly too warm for even with the breeze coming through the window.
Sometimes, a soldier had to accept that something was going to explode, and you just had to try to mitigate the damage as much as possible. Of course, that was easier said than done when the thing possibly exploding was your partner, but Jake had only ever lost his goatee and eyebrows in the past, so hopefully that was a good sign.
Jake made a dismissive noise. “Cougar, as a member of the Special Forces, I am an expert on swamp ass, and you will not convince me that a kiddie pool will be enough to keep this refreshed,” Jake said, motioning to his still bare ass. “Just because you were born with the unnatural ability of remaining comfortable in the fires of Hell does not mean my Viking genetics were made for this sort of torment.”
“I’m telling you, descendant of Erik the Red. I can’t prove it yet, but I’m getting there.”
“You are getting nowhere. You are just getting closer to being able to forge the proper documents.”
“Yeah, what did I say?”
Jake squatted down to continue rummaging through the drawer, and Cougar gave up all pretenses and just enjoyed the view. There was the possibility he might not get another chance.
“Where are all of my America boxers?”
“I would not know,” Cougar insisted.
“Guess I’ll have to free ball.”
“What else is new.”
“That was one time Cougar! I had more important things to pack than underwear,” Jake insisted.
“Whatever you say.” Cougar went back to pretending to read as Jake finally put some clothing on.
Jake was his usual self the rest of the day. He was on his computers through the heat of the day while Pooch and Roque stocked the coolers with ice and beer. Clay sat in the kitchen rolling a cigarette between his fingers. Cougar could hear the neighbor’s kids having a water balloon fight in their backyard as he sat on the roof above the front porch that his bedroom window opened onto. The shade of the massive maple tree made it a pleasant place to relax and read.
It was an ordinary summer day. The cul-de-sac they lived on was lined with cars for the numerous barbecues that were taking place.
Cougar had been invited to five, which was the most any of them had been invited to. However, he’d been invited to the college girls’ house at the end of the block twice, but he wasn’t telling that to the guys. Unfortunately for his stomach, he was on Jensen duty. He couldn’t let the man out of his range of sight or sound until dusk when Roque took over.
He could just bring Jake with him, but if any of the neighbors had fireworks or mentioned them, Jake volunteered to be in charge, being an expert with everything that goes boom in his own words. It wasn’t safe to take him anywhere.
“Cougar, are you still lurking out there, or did you fall off the roof like that time we got locked out?” Jake called from their room.
“That was you who fell,” Cougar called back.
“Sure, in your version of the story, that’s what happened…”
“You mean the true version,” Cougar retorted.
Jake poked his head out the window. “Truth is a revolving door.”
“You are just saying things that you think sound deep,” Cougar said, patting the blanket beside him.
“What are the neighbors up to today?” Jake asked, coming to sit beside Cougar and leaning in until they propped each other up.
“Water balloon fight next door. Agnes forgot her hearing aides again, so she is shouting at George who is sitting on the porch beside her.”
“What’s she shouting about?”
“About forgetting to put in her hearing aides.”
“Sounds about right. What else is happening in our slice of the world?”
“You are asking if the coeds are having another wet t-shirt contest aren’t you?” Cougar asked, nudging Jake with his shoulder.
“What? No! I don’t have to go across the street for such base entertainment. I could just push you into the kiddie pool if I wanted to see a hot specimen dripping wet with their clothes clinging to them...but are they?” Jake wrapped his arm around Cougar’s waist.
“There are no wet t-shirt contests planned for today.”
“What is this neighborhood coming to? I think it’s time to move.”
“If you pull many more stunts we may have to,” Cougar said softly, but he slipped his arm around Jake’s waist as well.
“Shh, the neighbors love me.”
“You blew up Agnes’ rose garden last year.”
Cougar snorted, and Jake pinched his ass.
“You are trouble when you are not on mission,” Cougar told him.
“But you’re here to put out the fires.”
Cougar sighed, but he didn’t disagree. He gave Jake a tug and met him in a quick peck on the lips. They drifted into silence as they watched the neighborhood from their perch, and listened to Agnes ask George if he’d taken his fiber yet.
“I can’t believe you’re back stroking in the kiddie pool,” Pooch said, cracking open a beer as he sat down on one of the lawn chairs.
“Why is this so shocking?” Jake asked, wearing nothing but a red, white, and blue speedo.
“You’re twice as long as it for one,” Roque commented. He’d only threatened to stab the pool with one of his knives half a dozen times so far.
“You guys have no imagination,” Jake told them.
Clay grumbled something and took a long gulp of his beer.
“What’s his problem?” Jake asked.
“Withdrawal,” Cougar said.
“Why you quitting smoking, Colonel? One of your girlfriends is definitely going to kill you before cancer or lung disease. I have a spreadsheet,” Jake told him.
Clay grumbled harder.
“I see someone didn’t wake up with the spirit of patriotism,” Jake said, probably knowing full well that he was the cause of this grumbling and feeling no remorse whatsoever. Cougar didn’t really blame him. Clay was always in a mood.
“Cougar, come join me in the swimming pool,” Jake called, spreading his arms and legs out like a turtle stuck on its back.
“I know cats dislike water, but it’s hot out...I’m drowning. Oh help me, Cougs! I’m sinking…” Jake flailed wildly and attempted to sink, but the water really wasn’t deep enough.
Cougar shook his head and sat down in the chair beside Pooch. He accepted a beer from Roque and stretched out to finally relax. Jake was occupied, and nothing had caught fire yet.
“Who wants steaks?” Pooch asked, tossing a beer to Jake as well when he finished his flailing.
There was a chorus of agreement as Pooch got up to grab the food he’d been preparing for days. Roque went with him to help, and Clay eventually left as well.
“You sure you don’t wan to come in?” Jake asked.
“No.” Cougar shook his head and crossed his legs at the ankle to prove he would be staying put.
“Suit yourself, but I am completely refreshed and swamp ass free. Can you say the same?”
Cougar shrugged. If he wasn’t used to stewing in his own sweat at this point, he was going to die a sweaty and unhappy man because desert and jungle were their only destinations these days.
Cougar tipped his head back and relaxed as the sun slowly drifted toward the horizon, and the neighborhood parties carried on into the evening. Jake splashed in the water, sometimes splashing Cougar “by accident,” but Cougar didn’t mind.
When the food was cooked, Jake ate his steaks and ribs in his Speedo, adjusting himself with saucy fingers and praising Pooch’s culinary genius loudly. Cougar tried to make him use a napkin, but all attempts were rebuffed. Still, Cougar tried to clean the BBQ sauce off of Jensen’s lap as discreetly as possible.
“Well, it’s been real boys, but I think I need to put something else on before it gets chilly out here,” Jake said once they were all pleasantly full and more than a little lethargic.
“Jensen, just put on some pants because I don’t need to see your patriot junk anymore.”
“Did Cougar tell you about…”
“No,” Cougar said before Jake could finish the sentence. No one needed to see the flag pubes...no one.
“No appreciation for art,” Jake complained, getting up and going into the house.
Pooch passed out another round of beers, and everyone found somewhere to stretch out while they digested. Conversation was minimal as they just relaxed and enjoyed their beer.
Cougar was dozing lightly in his lawn chair when Pooch made a slightly startled noise. “Jake’s taking a bit of time isn’t he? Whose shift is it?” he asked.
Everyone pointed at Roque who was playing with one of the knives he’d refused to give up to the purge.
“What? I was not about to watch him shower and get dressed. That’s Cougar’s department.”
“He’s in the kitchen,” Clay pointed to the large kitchen window.
“What’s he doing next to the stove—”
“Gas stove!” Clay shouted, jumping out of his seat at the same time everyone else did.
There was a flash in the kitchen, and all four of them made a mad dash for the backdoor, praying they weren’t running to their deaths. Just as Clay was pulling the door open, something red, white, and blue and definitely on fire burst through the open door on...roller skates.
Cougar stepped back as he watched Jake come careening out the door on one skate. He wore nothing but a red, white, and blue jock strap and an Uncle Same helmet. He also had on a pair of pasties that had sparklers coming out of them, which were lit as were the pair coming out of the helmet...and the one sticking out of Jake’s bare, shaved ass.
“Happy birthday, America!” he shouted as he cut a sharp turn and darted up the path toward the driveway and road.
“Get him,” Clay shouted as they all changed directions to chase after Jake.
“He seriously has a sparkler coming out of his ass, Colonel. What the fuck are we supposed to do with him?” Pooch asked.
“I am not taking that thing out,” Roque complained, jogging with the rest of them as they watched Jake glide down the driveway and into the street.
“I swear to god, if I have to talk to the police because of this…”
Jake was on one leg again as he coasted down the street with more speed than was fair for someone on a pair of patriotic roller skates. Not even in-line skates, but the kind you’d find at a roller derby match...which Jake may have taken part in when the local teams were down a few girls.
They really had no hope of catching him if he didn’t want to be caught, and it was frankly embarrassing to be outmaneuvered by a mostly naked man with a sparkler coming out of his ass.
Clay gave up first, putting his hands on his knees and panting. Jake took the opportunity to skate just out of his reach shouting about freedom ringing.
Roque made a dive for him, but in a feat of athleticism, Jake managed to jump over Roque as he went down to the pavement.
Pooch gave up before he got injured. This left Cougar to try to herd Jake back toward their house before the police showed up. The coeds were already filtering out of their house and taking pictures of the spectacle which Jake was eating up and posing ridiculously for as he continued to skate circles around Cougar.
“Jacob,” Cougar tried to get his attention, but Jake was too busy making an ass of himself.
Pooch made a halfhearted attempt to grab Jake as he sped by again, but Jake was too good on skates. Pooch threw his hands up in the air as Cougar ran right for Jake, only to twist his ankle and fall to the pavement.
That got Jake’s attention. “Cougar!” he cried, skating right for him. He bent over, sparkler looking like a weird tail. “Shit, you okay?” Jake asked.
“Ankle,” Cougar groaned, holding his right ankle.
“Fuck, let me help you up,” Jake told him, taking Cougar’s hand.
Cougar grabbed him and stayed put.
“Hey, I’m trying to—no! You will not take me alive! Freedom! America will not be defeated,” Jake shouted as Pooch, Roque, and Clay grabbed hold of him and began dragging him back toward their house, still sparkling.
Cougar got to his feet and brushed off his pants before following them at an easy pace.
“You can’t snuff out freedom!” Jake shouted, spewing absolute nonsense as they dragged him back to their backyard.
Jake continued to struggle as they pulled the pasties off of him and the sparklers on his helmet. Cougar had the honor of removing the other one which Jake made particularly difficult by wiggling his as and telling Cougar that he “couldn’t catch freedom.” Cougar slapped his ass and removed the offending sparkler which was attached to a modified butt plug while Jake yelped.
“Idiot, you could’ve severely hurt yourself,” Cougar told him as they finally let Jake go.
Jake accused the of all sorts of abuse as Roque lifted him up and threw him back into the kiddie pool.
“Now stay in the damn pool, and don’t set yourself or anything else on fire,” Roque told him.
“But—” Jake promptly shut his mouth when Roque removed a knife and went to stab the inflatable pool. “Staying in the pool,” Jake said, raising his hands in surrender.
Pooch collapsed into a chair after putting the sparklers out. Clay had already used the ass sparkler to light a cigarette and was sitting on the back steps. Roque chugged an entire beer before opening another as he too sat down.
Cougar took two beers out of the cooler and went to the pool and sat down right beside Jake.
“Traitor,” Jake whispered, even as he accepted the beer.
“I like your ass too much for you to give it burns,” Cougar said, shrugging.
“Fine, I guess that’s an acceptable answer,” Jake told him, splashing Cougar’s chest with water. “Yes, wet t-shirt contest after all,” he proclaimed, splashing Cougar faster. “Mmm, yeah cowboy,” Jake continued.
Cougar’s whole white tank top was soaked and doing little to hide his body beneath it, and Jake was howling like he was getting a strip show even though he was the one splashing Cougar like an over excited dog in a puddle. Cougar shook his head and began to pull the garment over his head.
“Ow ow! Freedom!” Jake shouted, waving his beer as Cougar threw the wet shirt at Jake’s face, and it hit him with a slap. “Pants, pants, pants,” Jake chanted as he waved the shirt over his head.
“Christ!” Roque complained, but Jake was undeterred, reaching for Cougar’s belt.
Cougar caught his fingers. “Later,” he said softly, holding Jake’s hand until Jake let go and just moved to sit against Cougar. He was still wearing his skates, but he didn’t seem to notice as he rested his head against Cougar’s shoulder and soon began to snore as his beer tipped in his hand and spilled into the pool.
Cougar just shook his head and wrapped his arm around Jake’s shoulders. All things considered, it was a successful Independence Day.