"We had a deal."
"We did, that's true, and we still do—" Clay bites off the protest as soon as he catches the look in her eye, but it's too late. Usually is where he and women are concerned. Even if Jules isn't supposed to count in that particular area, and Christ, Jensen's going to kill him for this one.
This is Jensen's sister.
Juliana — Jules, when she's not furious with him or when she's furious with him and he's reckless enough not to care about his kneecaps — jerks her chin in the other direction, gesturing to where Cougar's still hovering over the still form on the bed.
Clay doesn't look. He's seen enough to last him a lifetime.
"I seem to remember," Jules says, "something about a deal, yes, but that can't be the same one you mean. Because that deal did not mention anything about my brother having bullet holes in him, so you can imagine my confusion. From my perspective, it looks like you blew our deal to hell and back, slapped some plaster and paint on it, and hoped I wouldn't notice."
Technically, the multiple holes is really an entrance and an exit wound, but even Clay isn't stupid enough to try arguing that one with her. She's giving him a look that's somewhere just below napalm on the level of Clay's least favorite ways to die.
Maybe just above it, actually. Jules has a temper.
If not for the part where Jensen is her brother and Aisha would kill him dead, Clay'd probably be in love.
"He's going to be fine, Jules," he says, gentling his voice a little. "You said so yourself."
"This time." Her voice catches on the words, and he grimaces. She doesn't see it or the guilt powering it. Clay curls his fingers tight into his palm and watches her return to her brother's side.
She's right. They had a deal.
The girl is quiet. Aisha's not sure what to do with that. She hadn't expected quiet, but then, she hadn't expected much of anything. She'd never thought she would meet Jensen's family and in the scenarios she had envisioned, it had been nothing like this.
Stone-faced, Aisha surveys Josephine and finds herself biting her cheek against the urge to smile. With a fatigue-wearing teddy bear in one hand and a crayon in the other, the girl is frowning at a blank piece of paper as if waiting for the picture to draw itself.
It's ... endearing.
Aisha's eyebrows tick upward, along with her opinion of the girl. "I'm watching you. I believe it's a standard part of the job description."
Josephine looks up. For a moment, the resemblance to her uncle is surreal. Aisha's seen that grin before — usually under gunfire and seconds from death — and she falters. Then the girl is speaking, "Trust me, lady, if you were watching me? I'd be more trouble than this." She goes back to her paper. "You were there, weren't you?"
Aisha pours herself a cup of coffee. "Yes." She sips and lets the bitter liquid invoke memories of gunfire, cement fragments tossed up by stray bullets, and the sound of Cougar's wounded cry as Jensen went down. "He saved someone's life."
"Uncle Pooch." Josephine pauses and then corrects in a dutiful tone, "Uncle Linwood." She puts crayon to paper, slowly sketching the shape of a Humvee. Aisha leans in to find the dimensions are accurate. Crudely drawn but accurate.
Minutes pass, and then Josephine's hand stills. Another minute and her voice, small and young, asks, "Is Uncle Jake gonna be okay?"
Aisha nods. "Yes."
"And Uncle Pooc—Linwood's okay too, right?"
Again, Aisha nods. She doesn't feel that Josephine would believe her otherwise.
"Good, I like him," Josephine says and then gives Aisha a little grin. "Did Uncle Cougar pitch a fit? 'Cause he won't leave anybody alone with Uncle Jake, not even Mommy. He must've thrown a huge fit."
Aisha smiles, the sound of a hoarse, horrified yell echoing in her ears. "We all did." It's as close as she'll come to telling the girl the truth. Some things children should never know.
Even the ones that do.
Pooch cooks. It's a comfort thing he picked up from his grandma. Shit goes down; the oven goes on. They've been at Jules' place about three days and he's filled every piece of Tupperware he can find with no end in sight.
They're going to need more Tupperware.
It's ass-o'clock in the morning and he's on a batch of something that's got no name on account of the fact he just made it up from the leftovers in Jules' pantry when he hears the shuffle of feet against floor.
"Shouldn't you be in bed?"
Jules bypasses the fridge and heads straight for the cabinet just next to it. She comes up with a bottle of something alcoholic. Pooch provides the glasses, grabbing one just as soon as she fills it. They settle in at the kitchen table with its cookie bounty.
He curls his fingers around his glass, holding on like it's his life's work, and contemplates eating a cookie or fifty. "So, yeah, this pretty much sucks all around, doesn't it?"
Jules flicks a gaze at him over the rim of her glass — Jensen's 'this-is-so-fucked-up' grin around her lips. "Pooch, if you're going to apologize to me again, I will hurt you."
"Yeah, well, someone's got to," he says. "I mean it was bad enough before Bolivia, but the move—"
New state, new city, new everything. Aisha's suggestion, but one they should've thought of anyway.
"And this. Yes. I know. It's fine, Pooch," Jules says, talking over him. She swirls her drink around in her glass. "Seriously, it is." It isn't, but Jules is a doctor. She's got the spoonful of sugar thing down cold. He almost believes her. "I'm just jittery."
Her eyes go toward the bedroom where Jensen's still out cold and Cougar's keeping vigil.
"I can deal with all of it," she adds, "I just need them to be okay."
"And you're not talking about the bullet wounds." Pooch grabs one cookie, thinks about it, and goes back for another. It's a two-cookie subject they're on. "We're not supposed to talk about that, remember?"
Jules snorts and finishes off her drink. "Maybe you aren't. Having walked in on the two of them? I'm entitled."
Pooch winces. "God."
"That's what Jake said." She waves the bottle closer. "Gimme that, will you? If I'm going to talk about how, weirdly, my brother's big gay romance has become the touchstone of all that's pure and right in mine and JoJo's world, I need to be drunker than this."
"You aren't the only one, kiddo," Pooch says, pouring another round and ignoring the sniffle Jules buries in her glass.
"You should be asleep."
With a sigh, Jo stands up. She has got to work on her covert ops. Sneaking past Mom and Uncle Pooch is one thing, but Uncle Cougar's another entirely.
He's watching her from the bed where he's got his arms wrapped around Uncle Jake. With him grinning at her, it almost looks normal. Just like every other morning she's snuck in here (making enough noise so, you know, they can put on pants and stuff, 'cause her tender eyes) and climbed into bed with them.
Well, not the new apartment, but back in the old house she did it lots. Now, though, Uncle Jake's still kind of drugged and stuff and Uncle Cougar's being too careful and so she is, too, when she climbs up on the bed with them.
"Uh huh." Jo nods. "So should Mom, Uncle Pooch—" Mom's not here and Uncle Cougar won't tell, and besides, Uncle Pooch said she could call him that — he did — and Uncle Cougar's kind of laughing at her. "Uncle Clay and, uh." She stops. "I don't know what to call her yet. Anyway, she's sort of asleep. I think she can see through her eyelids."
"Only sometimes," Uncle Cougar says.
Jo makes a face. "With me and Uncle Jake, right?"
He shrugs, holding out an arm in invitation. She doesn't have to be asked twice. Flinging her bear into Uncle Cougar's lap — it's okay, he's Airborne — she scrambles around on the mattress to join him. Uncle Cougar 'oofs' a bit as she snuggles close and kind of jabs him with her elbow.
"Uncle Pooch is baking," she says, yawning a little.
"Nope." Jo smiles as he squeezes her shoulders in approval. "I saved you some from last time, though."
She snuggles closer and reaches out to lay a hand on her uncle's. His fingers don't move, but they're warmer than the last time she touched them (when everyone first got here and Mom yelled at Uncle Cougar and then at Uncle Clay and all but threw Ms. Aisha out a window), and that's good. "He's better."
Uncle Cougar nods and strokes her hair.
"He'll wake up soon," she decides. "And you can tell him I'm getting good."
Uncle Cougar laughs softly. "Sí."
"Mom says I'm getting better. Mrs. Garcia across the hall says I don't even have an accent anymore. She's from Gua-dalaj-ara. She watches me sometimes after school and we practice." It takes her forever, but she gets the word out, and Uncle Cougar's grin is, like, Uncle Jake huge. She rolls her eyes. "I'm being good, I swear. I haven't even tried to tie her up or anything."
"Go to sleep, JoJo."
Okay, so she's like nine and totally too old for that nickname, but she likes how it sounds when Uncle Cougar says it, so he's allowed. Even if he's cheating, 'cause Uncle Jake says everything sounds better when Uncle Cougar says it, and Uncle Jake is right.
She's not allowed to tell him, though. Mom says he's insufferable when she tells him stuff like that. Jo's not sure what insufferable means, but it's probably not good.
She wraps an arm around Uncle Cougar and cuddles closer. "When you guys get married, can I be the flower girl?"
Waking from a fitful sleep in JoJo's bed, Jules makes another coffee run.
It's closing in on dawn, there are Losers sprawled all around her tiny apartment. She misses her house. She misses her little house in Springfield with a yard and the swing on the porch that'd never even worked that she hated with a passion and swore she'd never miss — and none of them can sleep.
At least they're doing a better job of faking it than she is. Pooch gave up baking about an hour ago, crashing out on the couch instead, but she's not stupid enough to believe he's actually sleeping. He's got an arm tossed across his eyes and his posture screams sleep, but he's not. Dozing at best.
Clay and that bi—Aisha (she's going to get over it, soon, but as much as she wants to shoot Jake sometimes, people who actually do get hated for a while, rocket launching rescues or no rocket launching rescues; it's a thing) might be the closest. They're curled together on an air mattress by the balcony, Aisha sprawled across Clay's chest, facing the balcony door.
Jules' foot touches a creaky board and Aisha's head shifts. Just a little, but Jules can see the look. She doesn't know what to make of Aisha. Shooting Jake and the required hate aside, she can't figure the woman out.
She's pieced together enough from what Jensen's said and what Cougar hasn't to know Aisha is a problem. A question.
Aisha seems to sense the scrutiny, turning her head further. It's enough that they can make eye contact. They're going to talk some day. Talk about Clay, Pooch, Cougar, and what they mean to Jake and JoJo. It's not going to be a fun conversation and she's not foolish enough to believe she's any kind of real threat to Aisha, but things need to be said.
For now, the silent understanding that passes between them is enough. It won't be forever, but for now, it'll do.
Cougar's waiting when Jensen opens his eyes. Cougar feels the change before he sees it, tipping his head like he's testing the wind. When he looks, Cougar catches sight of that telltale flicker of Jensen's lashes, the barest hint of movement, and he can breathe again.
Still, the tiny, buried knot of terror in his chest doesn't really ease until he hears Jensen's groggy groaned, "I feel like shit."
No sweeter words in any language, despite the laugh that escapes him.
"Yeah, yeah, I know," Jensen continues, "I feel only slightly better than I look."
Cougar presses a kiss into Jensen's hair. He murmurs a reply, barely audible, that's mostly mindless endearments, pleased by the way Jensen reaches for him in the same instant he turns for another kiss.
"You can stop it now," Jensen says. He's squinting, grinning, and Cougar doesn't need further explanation to know what he means. Not that Jensen is going to hold back on the explanation. It's never stopped him before.
"Stop?" Cougar says, giving in.
"Yeah, the whole self-flagellation kick you're on? Probably been at it since the second I got shot, am I right? Probably going on and on about how your magic sniper skills not alerting you to a not-dead-body-totally-faking about to put a bullet in Pooch or whatever, which is fucking ridiculous, by the way. Shit happens." Jensen slides a hand back and forth over Cougar's arm, repetitive and annoyingly comforting. "Shit happens to happen to us a lot. It was just my kick at the can this time."
Cougar sets his jaw and doesn't answer that. He's not ready to hear it. Can't hear it. Not with the memory of Jensen's slow crumple flashing behind his eyes with every blink.
"Seriously, Cougs," Jensen yawns. "I'm fine, you're fine, the people who did this are so very not fine, and Aisha will continue to redefine and reinvent fine long after the heat death of the universe, so you know, fine."
No, not fine. Not fine at all. Cougar tightens his grip on Jensen, pressing his cheek against Jensen's hair and tries to shut out the world. They've been sold out, beaten, and betrayed again. He's seen Pooch fall, now Jensen, and he won't allow it again.
This is not fine.
"You can stop freaking out now," Jensen laughs. He pushes at Cougar's arm and tugs in the same breath, but Cougar won't let him go. Can't. Can't ever. "Seriously, Cougs, I know you're doing the whole type-A, Cougar special, but tell your hindbrain to stop yelling mine and chill for a second. You know what happens if Jules catches us fooling around?"
Cougar snorts, laughing despite himself. "She gets loud?"
"She gets loud and she gets mean. You sleep on the couch, she sleeps in here, and I don't even get a lollipop," Jensen huffs. "I like lollipops." He tips his head back, leering. "Specifically the Cougar-flavored ones." Cougar gets barely a second to think about an answer before Jensen is moving on, hand waving expansively with every word. "Seriously, man, I am so having that while I'm in here. No point in getting shot heroically if a guy can't milk it for all it's worth,and don't roll your eyes at me. I'm serious."
Cougar's answer to that is a soft hum of laughter, even as it cuts to the core. He knows Jensen will be fine, knew he always would be, but he'll live with this for a while. The memory of a voice gone quiet and a body gone limp.
He can't say it will never happen again. Cougar's long past the point of those dreams. He can't say it won't happen again, but if it does, at least he won't be here to see it. He'll die before he ever lets it happen again.
"He was gonna die, Cougs," Jensen says, quiet. "I couldn't let that happen and neither would you." His hand curls around Cougar's, fingers holding tight. "Besides, I knew you guys would have my back."
" Preferiría tu culo," Cougar says, squeezing back just as tightly.
" Eso iría contra la recomendación médica ," Jules says. She looks at him, nods, and looks at her brother. "You even think of pulling a stunt like this again and I swear to God, Jake, I will end you."
"Nuh uh," Jensen says, hand on Cougar's thigh. "I've got connections."
Jules smirks. "So do I. My kid's got your boyfriend wrapped."
Jensen looks up at Cougar. Cougar shrugs. "She's good."
"So am I!" Jensen protests.
"She's got freckles, pigtails, and she can cry on command." Jules slips into the room just long enough to check Jensen's bandages, peering beneath them with a critical eye. "That pwns all."
"Don't pout, big brother," she adds. "Ruins the dashing hero thing you've been working." With a glance Cougar's way, she raises her eyebrows. "He even took off the hat ... briefly. There was a moment, quite tragic all around really. Should've seen it."
"Next time," Jensen says, yelping when Cougar pinches him. "Right, right, no next time. Next time— Aw, shit, I'm coming up empty, Cougs. What about next time?"
Cougar shrugs. "Duck."