Roque stares at the sergeant's file. Jensen, if it's the same kid he's thinking about from the Academy.
"Got a new sergeant coming in," he says, and slides Clay the file. "Jensen."
Clay looks up before he's even opened it, grins like he thinks Roque's joking.
Roque motions to the file. "Have a look."
Clay opens the file and that grin turns down to the photo. "He stuck with the glasses."
"Guess he got over the hang up."
"Kid was always smart."
"He was always talking."
Roque doesn't add anything more beyond that. Clay will get to the rest of it eventually. Roque had thought better of Jensen, had hoped Jensen would take his advice to heart, but his record, while it has its highlights, is also piss-fucking-poor. Apparently, that makes everyone a perfect candidate for the Losers.
Roque knows when Clay spots it — remarks from COs and superior officers. Jensen's record is filled with notes of, he gets the job done but …
Clay's grin falls away, and he's shaking his head by the end of it. "He's already been approved. I guess we'll see if he's the same kid."
"And if he is?"
Clay shrugs. "We'll play it by ear." Clay's tried-and-true method of doing things.
"Reporting for duty, sir."
Roque's not completely out of sight. What's in view is the large-ass Bowie that he's cleaning, the blade catching the light, re-directing the shaft of it to the ground. Jensen flicks a look at it, tries to be subtle, but Roque catches it.
"Sgt. Jensen," Clay says, giving Jensen a once over. "At ease."
Jensen's hair was longer at the Academy, but the buzz cut doesn't hide the fact that it's the same kid. Roque wants to ask him why the fuck he didn't listen, but he's going to wait until Clay's finished first. They still have a mission to complete with shit equipment and a team that's just as useless.
There's no point in asking Jensen if he remembers them, so Clay moves straight into delivering the SITREP, making Jensen aware of what they have available, and the timeline that they have to report mission accomplished.
Jensen nods, answers, "Yes, sir," and when he's dismissed, he grabs up his bag and leaves without another word.
When he's gone, Clay turns to Roque with a grin. "He remembers."
"That doesn't help us any," Roque reminds him, but that's not gonna stop Clay from believing the best in the kid.
Roque, for the most part, keeps his distance. This isn't a reunion, and there are lives more important than the one Clay's trying to reconnect with. Too much soft fucking heart.
So he's not surprised when Wilder reports that, "Jensen got knocked on his ass."
At first, it's easy to believe that Duke did it, which makes it not a big fucking deal. They have charges to set and more recon to do after that. When Roque hears, "The Colonel's right hook's what got him," he stalks toward the tent.
"You gonna tell me what happened?" he asks, first thing, as he grabs the kit for Clay's busted knuckles.
Clay's hands are riddled with the tiny scars from drunk-off-his-ass bar fights, and no amount of training will make him stop throwing a punch to a man's face instead of his solar plexus.
"Jensen was out of line," Clay says, gruff, which is a sign all its own. "I put him back in it."
Clay hisses in a breath when Roque dabs the cuts with the sterile wipes. "That's a waste of resources, Captain."
"I'll requisition for more."
They fall silent. Nothing more needs to be said. Not between the two of them anyway.
Jensen hasn't moved away from the sat comm since Clay laid him on his ass. Roque brings a canteen and shoves it between Jensen and the machine.
"Uh," Jensen says, staring at it.
"You drink it."
"Right. I just—" Jensen shakes his head and takes a swig from the canteen. "Thanks."
Roque nods and screws the cap back on, getting a good long look at the bruise covering half of Jensen's face. Clay caught him off guard, but Jensen's talking fine, and it doesn't look like Clay hit him hard enough to jar a tooth loose. "You didn't take my advice."
Jensen hunches his shoulders, shifts closer to the sat comm and farther away from Roque. "I'm not dead yet, so I think I took 'be careful' to heart." Which means he does remember. That's almost more disappointing.
What Jensen should've remembered is: "Don't fuck this up."
Jensen's eyes slide Roque's way, and he's got a twitch like he's fighting against a smile. "You never told me that. It was all about going to class and staying on the straight and narrow."
"Don't fuck it up was what you were supposed to learn from taking my advice."
Jensen laughs, soft, more of an exhale, but he's relaxed now as he nods. "Duly noted, sir."
Roque doesn't know what happened between Jensen and Clay and doesn't want to know. One, it's not any of his business, and two, whatever happened, he and Clay have cleared it.
"You want to be on this team," Roque says, his own version of moving forward, and Jensen looks up from what he's doing, looks almost young again, but no one with that world-weary, tired look in their eyes can be. "Prove it."
The smart answer is a nod, and that's what Jensen gives him, adam's apple bobbing when he swallows and averts his eyes. What's important is that he nods, and Roque leaves the canteen for him while he works on their comm.
Jensen doesn't have the equipment that he needs to fix it, so Roque, Duke, and Wilder have to move in blind and with a whole lot of fucking trust that Roque's not feeling. Everything has to be done manually, which means fuck-ups have to be kept to an absolute minimum.
The sniper takes them by surprise in a way that it doesn't, that shuts Roque down with, of fucking course, this happens.
Duke goes down, and Roque barely manages to jerk Wilder down with him to the floor so they can belly crawl out of the room.
"Taking enemy fire! Repeat! Enemy fire!" Wilder shouts, but there's no telling what Clay and Jensen are catching in the static or what support they'll be able to provide anyway. "Fuck," Wilder breathes, and then he twists round to look at Roque. "Is he—"
"Stay down, keep moving," Roque says.
Wilder's mouth twists up, but he shakes himself out of the shock — the ever-pressing reality of what they do — confirms with a nod and a, "Yes, sir."
"Blow—" But the static cuts out the rest of Clay's orders. Or warning.
Roque grimaces while Wilder asks for a repeat of orders. Nothing's getting through, so Roque's going to assume that Clay was giving them a go on their mission.
"Wilder," Roque snaps, and punches the bottom of Wilder's boot to get his attention. "Gonna blow it."
"Shit, are you fucking—"
"Yes," Roque says, holding up the detonator.
Wilder nods. Roque takes a breath.
They bolt to the stairs when Roque detonates the charges, tumble headlong from the blast. Roque's coughing up dust and dirt, blood spilling into his eye when he looks up. As a diversionary tactic, it's one of his worst. Too much of Clay's fucking influence.
"Wilder, report," he croaks, voice breaking on a cough, a persistent tickle in his throat that he can't choke down. "Wilder!"
"I don't fucking know how, but I'm alive."
"Can you walk?"
Roque turns, sees Wilder wincing when he gets to his feet. "I can hobble and hold my rifle."
Between the two of them, they have two good legs. It'll have to be good enough.
Roque helps Wilder step over the debris, get on semi-solid ground so whatever's wrong with his leg doesn't cost them any more than it's going to.
"What about the sniper?"
Only answer to that is: "Gonna have to trust the team to take care of it." Hope Clay called in suppression fire. Hope better and pray that it was approved. Roque's not going to take too many chances, though, and leads Wilder to the back of the building.
He fires in a wide spread, keeps himself covered behind the wall as much as possible as he waits for answering fire.
What he gets is a, "Yo! Friendlies! Stop shooting at us!"
Roque looks up to see Jensen manning the gun on top of the humvee, laying down fire to the west of their position. He drags Wilder's ass into the back, stares hard at the slow-dying grin that Clay flashes them from the front. Roque shakes his head. Clay flicks a look at the both of them and then nods.
Roque lays down fire on their six and leaves Wilder the detonator to blow the rest of the charges.
"Looks worse than it is," Jensen says, dabbing the blood off of Roque's brow.
Their eyes meet, but Jensen looks away first, swallows as he nods.
"So," Jensen says.
Roque waits for him to get to a point.
"You and uh, Clay."
Roque narrows his eyes, still waiting, hoping Jensen's not going to commit a fuck up of that magnitude.
Jensen flashes a nervous smile as he smoothes the butterfly bandages over Roque's forehead. "What a surprise meeting you guys out here in the desert?" It's punctuated with an odd lilt, more question than statement. Jensen licks his lips when Roque doesn't answer and moves straight into a documentary-level explanation of temperature differences and wildlife and how to find water. It sounds straight textbook.
Clay laughs from somewhere behind Roque, and Jensen looks up, quirks a grin. "I guess some things haven't changed."
"No, sir," Jensen says, but he's not looking at Clay when he drops his eyes, voice softening as he adds, "Not the important stuff."
Clay thumbs Roque's bandages. "Kid's not that bad."
Roque doesn't stop tugging off Clay's fatigues. "You wanna talk about this now?"
Clay answers with an irreverent grin. "You don't?"
Roque's tempted to answer that with a, Shut up, Clay, but he's not trying to prove which one of them can be a better five-year-old.
He sucks Clay's cock down 'til he's almost choking on it and doesn't try to figure anything out. There's just Clay and the sound and feel and weight of him and the throb in Roque's left leg, and the two of them right back where they started after every mission that hurts.
Nothing's getting easier for them, except this.
"What the fuck is this?" Roque's about to pick up the dinosaur-looking toy when Jensen lunges forward and snatches it off the hood of the humvee.
"Godzilla," Jensen says, holding the thing to his chest. "It helps me work."
Roque stares long enough to silently convey all measures of, what the fuck?
"Everyone's got a good luck charm," Jensen says, and nods toward Roque's hip. "Bet yours is that big knife you keep on you."
"A lot more useful than a toy."
Jensen starts waving it around. "He's not just a toy. He's Godzilla. He battles monsters and stomps cities—"
"Stomped," Roque says. "Exactly what's about to happen to your ass if you don't get it on fixing the humvee."
Jensen tucks Godzilla under his arm and shakes his head. "I don't know how many times I have to tell you and Clay that vehicles aren't the same as computers."
"You're all we've got."
Jensen looks up from peeking under the hood, gives Roque a look, but Roque turns away before it goes any further.
When he catches Jensen bent over the humvee, forehead on his arm and panting raggedly, he should be more surprised.
He keeps neutral and asks, "What are you doing?"
Jensen's head shoots up, classic deer-in-headlight, oh-shit caught. His bottom lip is slick when it pops free from the clutch of his teeth, shines like the sweat dotting his forehead, is as red as his cheeks are. That's not just heat.
"Uh," Jensen says. "Uh." He blinks. "Working on this, uh." He glances down, coughs, "Tire." Followed with another nod. "Looks a little—"
Roque shakes his head, cutting off the rest of the excuses, turns, and lets Jensen finish his business. Shit happens in the desert.
Roque doesn't think about how that seemed to be his mantra at the Academy, too.
Clay laughs. "Should have helped him finish."
"Last I checked, in the field, that's frowned upon."
Clay laughs harder, breath blowing hot down Roque's thigh, and Roque shudders, tipping his head back, tabling the conversation for later.
Roque looks at Jensen and only sees pieces of the 15-year-old boy he knew at the Academy. Fifteen to Roque's eighteen, and it wasn't somewhere Roque was ever going to go.
Obviously now, it's different. But it's hard not to think about Jensen as the kid. The one Clay nearly tossed into a locker because he wasn't paying attention and they were racing to class. The one looking for a team, who happened to find Clay and Roque instead. The one who made a lot of promises.
Also, the one with the toys, which Jensen's using to demonstrate how, "Dinosaurs make sweet love."
"What did I tell you?" Roque holds up his knife, pretends he's cleaning it, but it's a point of emphasis, and he can see that Jensen knows.
"You'll have my ass if I keep this up?"
Clay smirks, Roque narrows his eyes, and Jensen blanches, making an immediate about-face.
"Right, sir, getting back to work, sir." He puts away the action figures and comes up with a deck. "So how's about a game of cards?"
He introduces Blind Man's Bluff and wins Roque's Desert Eagle, which only reaffirms that they should've played poker. The recoil nearly knocks Jensen on his ass when he tries to use it.
"Maybe it's a sign," Clay says, low in Roque's ear.
Roque doesn't verbalize his threat. He glares at Clay and lets the Bowie speak for itself.
Their missions keep them keyed up and on constant high alert. It makes sense when Jensen starts fidgeting before he finally lets on, "I'm gonna—" and jabs a thumb behind him.
No one's really listening, or assumes he's gotta take a piss, and he's gone.
He's gone for a long time.
The rest of the team's preoccupied, so Roque volunteers himself to find their comm expert, make sure he didn't lose his dick to a scorpion or camel spider.
He spots Jensen's blond mop of hair peeking out from the back of the humvee, draws closer, and hears Jensen moan, the sound quickly muffled like he's choking on it. Roque strides forward and knows this isn't going to be another one of those almosts that caught them at the Academy.
"Uh." Jensen blinks like he's not holding his cock in his fist or has Roque's Desert Eagle between his thighs.
"That better not be loaded."
"It's." Jensen swallows, grimaces, erection flagging, but Roque only gives it his peripheral attention. His eyes are on Jensen's face, holding Jensen's gaze.
"Is it loaded?" Roque carefully leaves off the title, but that doesn't diminish the command in his voice.
Jensen shakes his head, the flush that's creeping up his neck turning his cheeks bright red. "No. No, sir. It's, uh." Jensen swallows. "Dude, can you gimme a minute?"
"A minute?" Roque's about to say more, but the rest of the words sour like a bad joke. Or a hand feels like a cheesy line Clay would say, so he lets, "Or," hang in the air between them, gives it weight when he steps forward, pulls himself into the back, crowding into Jensen's space.
Jensen makes a soft, choked sound, eyes squeezed shut, cock twitching in the opening of his fist. "Are you—" His throat bobs. He parts his lips but cuts himself off with a shake of his head and swallows again. When he raises his head, he won't open his eyes to look at Roque and see for himself. "Are you—" But a shudder interrupts him this time.
So Roque reaches forward, moves the Desert Eagle out of the way — because you don't treat a gun as good as this like that — and curls his fingers around Jensen's half-hard cock. Jensen gasps, eyes flying open. They stay wide and fixed on Roque's face when Roque twists his fist, gun calluses catching on the head of Jensen's cock.
"Yes," Roque says, just so they're clear, just so Jensen knows.
He's not a kid anymore. Not a fuck up either.
"Oh god," Jensen moans, and then he's squeezing his eyes shut as he arches, hand snapping tight around Roque's arm, clinging long after he's come down. "I—"
Roque's never seen Jensen at a loss for words before. Not unless he tells Jensen to shut up.
When Jensen finally opens his eyes, Roque recognizes that look. He and Clay left him once. Words can't fill that kind of gap. So Roque shifts forward, fingers still loose around Jensen's cock, and tells him, "Yes," again, follows it with a quick, light kiss.
Jensen buries his face in the crook of Roque's neck and shudders.
Later, when they're on a chopper headed home for a short leave, Jensen says, "So." He looks between Clay and Roque, and Roque doesn't know what the fuck those waggling eyebrows are supposed to mean.
Clay grins. "We'll get a case of beer and have a barbecue."
Jensen nods, but he doesn't seem to get it, so Roque nudges his boot, kicks it harder when Jensen doesn't immediately look up. He catches Jensen's eye, stares long and hard until a grin stretches slow and wide across Jensen's face. It's clear enough then that he's part of the 'we.'
That chopper ride — several of them, hundreds — should have been what Roque held on to when he left Clay in the middle of the Rurrenabaque streets.
"You're losing me, Clay!" should have held more weight, but Clay had stared like he hadn't known what that meant.
He finds Jensen in bed, stripped down to his boxers, hair flat from sweat, his back covered in a thin sheen. He's got a niece back at home, a family. Does Clay remember that the team they've got, the most solid one yet, have lives outside of SITREPs and mission accomplished?
"We can't keep doing this anymore," Roque says one night when it's just him and Jensen and the lights shining in through the window. For the first time, he doesn't know where the hell Clay's head is at.
"By this, you don't mean sex, right? You mean—" Jensen takes a look at Roque's face and stops smiling, sits up and clicks on the lamp. "Obviously something more serious."
"Aisha's gonna be a problem."
Later, Jensen's eyes glazed but his shoulder patched, he says, "Truer words never spoken, man."
Roque holds Jensen's hand, because as he said, they're not soldiers anymore, and with Jensen's knuckles pressed to his forehead, he breathes out, figures there's one way to get them back home. Gotta finish this last mission first.