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High Up in the Trees

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~~~***~~~

Cougar glanced out at the landscape. No matter how many times he climbed up to this spot it would still take his breath away. Jake had been right, he loved it out here. He wasn't sure Jake had thought he'd climb one of the trees, but truly, Jake should have known better.

This was the best spot. He was perched in one of the tallest trees he had ever seen, and by far the tallest he had ever climbed, he could see quite far. He could see the city he now called home in one direction, mountains in another, and further out a second city. He could even see the transportation tubes that connected the cities to one another.

Even after six weeks he still felt that Nona and its surrounding suburb-like cities were more natural feeling than what was on Earth. Even with all the technology, the feeling he got as he walked from place to place or even rode the transportation tubes was that it was all built within the confines of the natural formations around it. There was some of your typical city noise --people talking here and there, dogs barking, but it was all still calmer.

From where he sat he could only hear the rushing water from the Amber Falls and the few animals that moved in the tree below him. It was peaceful in its own way. Almost dying had left him with nightmares that were as close to PTSD as he ever wanted to get. Waking on an alien world had, when being honest with himself, actually made it worse because if you took away the alien world then Cougar knew he would not have woken. He tried to hide that from Jake, he didn't want his friend feeling any unnecessary guilt.

He had watched as his friend had changed some of his behavior when he was out in public, even if Jake didn't realize he was doing it. He stood up straighter, babbled less, acknowledged people, even spent more time away from his computers; Cougar had thought Jake had a lot of tech gadgets on Earth, but Jake had a whole room filled with gadgets and computers here. But lately, Cougar was seeing the rest of what made Jake, Jake.

Being a sort of - to use Jake's description - runaway alien prince had actually shaken Cougar's understanding of his friend. And like Jake, Cougar had considered the younger man his closest friend. It had taken him several weeks to understand that Jake was trying to figure himself out now as well. Jake was no longer without a family; he was no longer Corporal Jacob Jensen.

"They expect me to act like my sister, but at some point they will remember I'm the outlandish one. The one that played on Earth for the last decade," Jake had told him and then smiled. "Besides, the position of Potentate is passed from female to female. So, that's all on Jenia and then my awesome little niece when she's born."

Cougar got the feeling that sometimes Jake didn't even know who he was or how he wanted to go about his day. That Jake was adjusting just as much as he was even though Jake had been born here. He had moved to Earth when he was young so he could understand his father, fell in love with the planet, and when his grandmother --his mother's mother-- decided it was time to step down, at an age of one hundred and thirteen, Jake had not moved back to Nona with the rest of his family. Instead he had chosen to continue with the career he had just started.

The one thing Cougar had learned after meeting Jake's grandmother, was that Jake's whizzing about from task to task and restless energy, while partially inherited from his human father, mostly came from his grandmother. The former Potentate was feisty, flirty, and gave Cougar an insight into what Jake would be like in a hundred years.

Jake's father, James, had sat Cougar down and explained about being human on Nona. That the longer he stayed, the more his body would adapt to the slightly heavier gravity and since he had arrived severely injured his body had been healed using one of the healing chambers. It meant Cougar's body had undergone a few medical miracles and procedures that to this day James still did not understand though it likened to the fact that Cougar had probably gained back ten to twelve years of his life. This Cougar knew to be true, muscles and joints that used to pain him now felt like they did when he had been in his twenties. But more importantly, James had told him, "Whether you have romantic feelings towards my son or not, Carlos, you will always be welcome in our home."

Cougar was still unsure about his feelings for Jake. He knew Jake had been his friend since almost the first time they had met. It was like Jake was a natural counterbalance to himself. He cared for the other man a lot; loved him even but he wasn't ...or was he... Even before coming here they had spent most of their free time together. Neither had dated much. The Losers had been on the move too often to have any sort of permanent relationship. It had always been a mystery as to how Pooch had managed to pull that off --maybe it was all in the luck of finding Jolene.

When he had really thought about it Cougar couldn't remember the last time he'd taken a woman or man back to his or her place or a hotel. Normally it was him and Jake. Clay had either been busy with the Brass or off with some crazy woman who would later try to kill him. Pooch either went to see Jolene or talked to her for hours on the phone. As for Roque, no one had wanted to know who or what he was doing on his off hours. Maybe if they had ... it was no use pondering what ifs. So in the end, Cougar had come to the conclusion that maybe he and Jake had already been in a relationship, just that neither one of them had realized it or ever thought to act on it.

Now they could. Cougar closed his eyes and breathed in the clean air that gently rustled the leaves near him. He was coming to terms with living on another planet. When he opened his eyes he was looking out at the Amber Falls. Cougar had thought it meant the water would be orange but it wasn't; not exactly. The rushing water fell over rocks that looked like amber-colored crystal. It even had a shimmer to it that added to the illusion of glass or crystal. The water itself, when not at the base of the falls was clear at the shallow sides but carried the amber-like color of the sand below it.

The rocks the water had been rushing over for thousands of years were smooth to the touch. There were a few furrows cut into the bedrock here and there from where the mouth of the falls stretched and receded and stretched again through time. It added to the illusion of the water color. There was even a channel over to one side that now formed from a small waterfall that was fed by continuous run off that had been turned into a slide. If one was willing to travel nearly eighty feet down through the almost three hundred feet channel.

Cougar had done it twice. He'd even managed to keep his eyes open the second the time. He watched now as two teens stood at the channel's slide entrance. The girl nodded her head, the boy shook his. She leaned over, kissed him quickly on the lips and jumped into the slide. The boy stood there for a second before he lifted his fingers to touch his lips, his eyes following the girl as she slid down the channel. Then, as if throwing caution to the wind, he too jumped into the channel, following her down. Young love and teenage impulses, Cougar smiled, some things were the same no matter where you were.

"I know you miss Earth."

Cougar did not jump, but it was close. When Jake wanted to be, the man could be as quiet as a mouse. There wasn't a risk of him falling, not with how the branches were intertwined to form an almost perfect sitting place.

Jake settled in beside him and laughed softly for a second but then stopped.

"You are not a mouse," Cougar said, shifting to get a better look at Jake. A Jake who looked more human than Cougar knew him to be. He hated when Jake hid.

"You are thinking very loudly at me," Jake told him even as Jake's human appearance melted away.

"Because you are being an idiot."

Jake shrugged. "But you do miss Earth?"

"I do not miss being dead," he answered; the young lovers now forgotten. If he had stayed on Earth he would be dead. If he returned to Earth it would be with a new identity and alone. Cougar liked neither option. "It is like moving from Spain to America when I was a boy. There were things that needed adjusting to."

Jake was quiet --almost too quiet-- and Cougar shifted about again so his full attention could be on his friend.

"I am adjusting," Cougar remarked. "There are things I miss. There are things I don't. The Army had been my life and now it is gone. I am still discovering what to do with my days. This has been my longest vacation in fifteen years."

~~~***~~~

Jake nodded. He wasn't sure he believed Cougar. Then Cougar pushed him lightly in the arm causing him to sway slightly. "You are over-thinking, stop," he was told.

"I," Jake started only to stop when Cougar raised an eyebrow. Cougar was right, he was over-thinking. He would find something for Cougar do to so the other man didn't feel like there was nothing here for him. Instead of thinking, over-thinking or anything else, he said, "I understand Nanie took you down the slide again."

Cougar grinned and looked over at the channel again. Jake knew Cougar had let his grandmother --call me Nanie, after all, you are family-- talk him into taking that wild ride again. He even knew that she had told him to keep his eyes open during the drop. He was sure she had pulled the whole the view is great from the drop ruse. And okay, the view was awesome, but scary as hell too.

"The view on the drop was fantastic," Cougar said, confirming what Jake already knew. "She is a hard lady to resist."

Jake laughed. "You have no idea.

They sat in silence for another five minutes and then Jake couldn't take it anymore. "I want to, I should," he began. Wow, he thought, he sucked at this and he'd even rehearsed.

Cougar gave him a look that said as much to him. It was one of the reasons he had been drawn to the other man. He tried again. "I want to apologize," he said. "Not for saving you," he clarified, he would never apologize for that. "That I would do again without a second thought. But for making you uncomfortable. I know I sprung the other thing on you. I know you kissed me," he didn't even know that he was touching his cheek when he said that, "but I want you to know that..."

Jake didn't get a chance to finish, Cougar leaned over and kissed him again. This time on the lips. It was a nice kiss; not too short, not too long and left him speechless.

He bit his bottom lip when Cougar pulled away. "So, umm ... Okay, I have nothing now."

Cougar chuckled. "We shall wait for you to reboot."

Jake was sure that was the best call Cougar had ever made. He didn't know what this kiss meant anymore than the first one. It was definitely different than the first one, but the first one had been the first one! This one was the first one on the lips, almost a little more than that. Jake felt his mind cycling like a hard drive and he was positive he was blushing.

He glanced over at Cougar to see the other man's lips twitching towards a smirk. He was definitely blushing. In his more human appearance he had been able to control that, but when he dropped all the masks he couldn't control that very well. And he knew Cougar didn't like him to hide. The other man had made that perfectly clear.

Safer topics, he thought. "You really shouldn't let Nanie talk you into things, or the next thing you know she'll have you jumping over one of the zero gravity platforms. It's all fun until you," he paused. The background buzz he normally always got from Cougar changed slightly. "She already talked you into it, didn't she?"

Cougar grinned and Jake sighed. "When?" he asked.

"Tomorrow," Cougar answered. "Mid-morning."

Jake tilted his head to the side as he realized he was supposed to meet Nanie tomorrow morning. "I think, I think that she's, maybe, umm..."

"Chaperoning us on a date tomorrow," Cougar finished for him and Jake could hear the laughter in Cougar's voice.

Jake nodded, "Yes." He glanced up at Cougar and made a face. "Don't be smug," he said, and Cougar's only response was to laugh and then lean over and kiss him again.

~~~***~~~

Cougar broke the kiss and now the two of them were sitting so close to the other that he could feel the warmth of Jake's body through their clothes. They watched as the sun began to set, as its last rays of the day hit the Amber Falls and made the rock and water almost glow. The sight was awe-inspiring, calming, romantic, and beautiful.

As they started to climb down Cougar mentioned, "We best not tell her we were up in a tree kissing while watching the sun set over the falls then."

He heard Jake's laughter from around the tree and joined in. They both seemed to snicker almost the entire way down. It was like as soon as they stopped one of them would start again.

He was alive. He was free to be whomever he wanted to be. New world, new sights, new chances, Cougar thought jumping the last few feet to the ground. He was ready to truly live now.

~end~