Corporal Jake Jensen looks at his CO and laughs. "You're kidding."
Well, not so much 'looks' as 'squints through one cracked-to-shit lens and the hole where the other one used to be,' but his eyes are pointed at something distinctly commanding and Clay-shaped. And yeah, the laughter sounds a little stranger than normal, but that's probably the perforated eardrum talking. Or maybe just the part of him that's trying not to whimper like a teacup poodle.
"You are kidding, right? Because that's just… That's not really funny at all, actually. Why are you kidding?"
Clayshape shakes his head. "Not kidding."
Special Forces regulations mandate that every spec op soldier know at least one foreign language, and even losers like them are no exception.
The CIA had cherry-picked them from various units, so their linguistic skills are all over the map – Clay speaks fluent Turkish (a nod, Jensen's always assumed, to the whole swarthy good looks thing he's got going), Roque flawless French (as befitting his Haitian heritage). And both have a crapload of crisis-management Arabic under their belts, though Clay's pronunciation is pretty much shit. Pooch, on the other hand, has a freakishly natural ear for language – Farsi, Pashto, two different Dari dialects – half of which he'd picked up eavesdropping on enemy chatter.
It's kind of incredible, if you ignore the 'universal translator' levels of improbable. He's like the thing that lives inside the Stargate.
Generally-speaking, Jensen kicks ass at languages. If languages had asses, his bootprints would be all over that shit. Programming languages, markup languages, full-fledged scifi/fantasy languages… The US Army, however, had completely failed to see the inherent value of fluent Ruby, Perl, or Klingon in the field – go figure – so off to defense language training he went.
He'd aced his DLABs, naturally. And, as the designated pasty white guy, he has a headful of Rosetta Stone Russian and a solid grasp on German. There's even some passable Punjabi thrown in for good measure (as past necessity – and protection of certain precious parts – has dictated). But…
"Spanish? Seriously, Colonel?"
Jensen's mind is practically half-machine, but this is a directive he doesn't understand. He knows enough to get by in a pinch – "Donde esta el baño," "Este caballero pagará por todo," the all-important "No el peño, por favor" (which he may or may not know in eight different languages). And when that won't cut it, "No hablo español" covers everything else. This is ridiculous. It's nonsensical. It's overkill, is what it is.
Granted, they kind of specialize in overkill, but this is unnecessary. Unnecessary overkill, so not necessary, because, Cougar.
"That's why we have a Cougar, right? To handle the Spanish! Cougar is Mister Spanish. Cougar is the most Spanish thing that Spanish has ever seen." Across the room, Cougar seems to be watching him from under his hat. Not that Jensen can be sure, fuzzy as everything is right now, but he's definitely getting that 'lone gazelle on the Serengeti' feeling. "If I learn Spanish, that negates his very existence. Is that what you want, Clay? For Cougar to lose his place on the team? In the service? In the very world in which we live? Except for, you know, the part where he's also a scary, scary sniper. That I can't do."
"And Cougar can't be everywhere," Clay rumbles. "He wasn't there for this."
Somewhere behind Clay, Cougar actually growls, and Jensen flashes back to the very pinch that had brought them here – his three-day stay in a Columbian warehouse, with the whips and the chains and none of it in that fun way, where all the "Yo soy norteamericano" in the world wouldn't have done him any good.
Though, once he'd made his daring escape, knowing how to ask about the bathroom had come in handy for the millionth or so time he'd felt the need to throw up.
"We need a contingency plan." Roque is closer than Clay, and Jensen can clearly make out the sight of him coring an apple with a knife the size of Texas. "You're it."
Clay nods along, crossing his arms. "But you do have a point. Which is why Mister Spanish here is gonna teach you."
Jensen looks over just in time to catch Cougar's blurry shrug. "Lo siento, mi amigo."
Pooch snickers and pulls the suture line too tight, and Jensen winces, and the whimper escapes its manly cage. "But why me?" he says, and even with the eardrum, it sounds an awful lot like a whine. Which means he's whining and whimpering now. Not to mention half-blind and bleeding through his Super Mario shirt.
Yeah, best day ever.
The Clay-shaped blob comes closer, so close Jensen can make out his features. Sort of. "It has to be you, and you know it," he says, and his voice is pitched so low that Jensen has to turn his good ear to the front. Somewhere in his cartel-battered brain, he does know – he's comms, he's tech ops, he knows this – and the reasoning shouldn't be so unexpected. "You're the only one he talks to."
Okay, not quite the reasoning he was expecting.
Clay puts a hand on his shoulder, the one that's not currently ripped to shreds. "How 'bout this. You tell me what he said, and I call the whole thing off."
Now that he can do. He can do that easy. What the hell had come out of Cougar's mouth? There'd been no bathrooms to speak of, they've clearly established that the man speaks the language, and he isn't the type to walk around worrying about his dick. Not Cougar. Cougar's dick is probably deadly. It's probably the dick all other dicks tell their sperm stories about. It's probably the baddest motherfucker in the land, locked and loaded and tucked into its own little guitar case like El Mariachi. With a hat.
It's entirely possible that he's gotten off track.
He shrugs off Clay's hand – which elicits a testy "The Pooch is working here" – and scowls. "That's dirty pool, Clay. I'm an injured man! I am a man who spent the last thirty-six hours being viciously beaten about the head and shoulders. In all likelihood, I have a concussion. Is this really the best time for pop quizzes? He could've said 'my hovercraft is full of eels,' for all I know!"
"Spanish it is," Clay answers. He leaves the room and takes Roque with him, and Jensen glares after them, and at Pooch's clearly-amused face, and in Cougar's general direction.
"Mi aerodeslizador está lleno de anguilas. But close."
Jensen drops his chin to his chest and lets the whimpers and whines do their own damn thing. "Shut up, Cougar."
"Callate," Cougar says, and tips his hat. "First lesson."
Jensen looks at the lone bullet between Cougar's long fingers, then to the mountain of ammo and clips on the table in front of him, and rolls his eyes. "Really, Cougs? Really?"
"Realmente." Cougar nods. "From the beginning."
"I know how to count, for christsakes, they teach you how to count in kindergarten." Jensen rolls his bad shoulder, trying to appease his itching stitches. "This is nuts. Don't you think this is nuts? I think this is nuts. There is physically not enough room in my head for this. Just watch. Watch. I swear to god, there'll be some critical Java update, I won't have any brain space left, and we'll all die a horrible dial-up death because my head is full of counting off your hollow points in another language."
Cougar raises an eyebrow, skipping the shell through his knuckles like a mercenary magician, and Jensen sighs. "Can we at least start somewhere relevant?" He waves a hand at his computer in concession. "There, okay. What do you call a laptop in Spanish?"
The answering smile is more smirk than anything. Always is. "Una laptop."
Jensen drops his forehead to the desk with a groan. "Why are we doing this?"
He waits for Cougar to spit out something about Clay, about contingencies, about orders, which is all stuff he knows good and goddamn well but really isn't helping his concussion. But nothing comes, and he twists his neck to the side and gets slammed with a set of dark eyes, shadowed by the hat and serious as shit.
"Because I cannot be everywhere," Cougar says quietly. He stares for a minute, playing visual chicken until Jensen blinks first, then reaches for an empty clip. "From the beginning."
Jensen sits up, wipes at his eyes, and watches him load the first round. "Uno."
Turns out he can only count to ten. The United States school system is a sad state of affairs.
Three weeks later, his stiches are gone, his head's a hell of a lot less fuzzy, and he can count to triple digits. He can also rattle off the time of day, the days of the week, the months of the year, and about a dozen different colors (which all conveniently correspond to whatever cleaning cloth Cougar's assigned to each gun).
Basically, if future freeing from the clutches of the Cabrera cartel involves being some drug lord's walking talking Outlook calendar, he's all set.
So when Clay wants a sit rep on Operation Español before the brief on their next assignment, Jensen can only cringe and wait to be ratted out as remedial. Which is fine, in the grand scheme of things. There'll be a whole lot of Clay's disapproving face (seriously, he has to practice that in the mirror at night) and another round of Cougar's disgusted face (it may have taken an hour or twelve for Jensen to stop going from "thirty-nine" to "quarantine," but that's gotta be one of the better words to know, right?), and then it'll all be over.
Not that he has anything against Spanish. Spanish is a beautiful language. But since it clearly falls within the point-zero-one percent of things he fails spectacularly at, and Cougar being almost everywhere is close enough, and he's never going back to Columbia unless he's drugged and dragged by Juan Valdez, well…
If you take away the fact that he's part of an international black ops team that travels the world on a regular basis, when is speaking Spanish a skill that he'll ever really need again?
But Cougar just nods with an "Está todo bien", which isn't enough to go entirely over Jensen's head, and then Clay nods, too, clapping Jensen on his stitch-free shoulder and ignoring his what-the-fuck face entirely.
"Then wheels up at oh-eight-hundred," Clay says. "Next stop Bolivia."
So… right about now, then.
The orders are simple, and the op should be a cakewalk – wave to the big boss, wait for the world to go boom, and watch the motherfucker burn.
Since it's them, nothing ever goes according to plan. Their cakewalks always get complicated, without fail, but complicated he can deal with. It's the clusterfucks he can't stand, the shit that starts simple and ends in blood and broken bones and bad dreams for the rest of your life. Complicated just means they end up doing something like fleeing from a fireball in a shortbus with crappy shocks and walking twenty-five tiny humans two clicks through the Bolivian backwoods.
There's something slightly terrifying about the sight of Roque holding hands with a small child. But comical, too, like an elephant on ice skates – guaranteed to end badly, but pretty fucking funny while it lasts.
On the bright side, at least Cougar got to shoot people.
The bird's already touched down when they make it to the extraction point, and out of old habit, he glances back at their six. Cougar's bringing up the rear, carrying a girl about Beth's age and saying something to her with an honest-to-god grin, and for a split second, Jensen freezes – he can't remember the last time Cougar really smiled.
She's the last handed off to the helicopter, waving goodbye, and Cougar's still smiling as he waves back. "Muy bien, chicos, vamos a ir a dar una vuelta. Agarrarse fuerte, y coja se. Venga."
It's more words than Cougar averages in a week with other people present. Pooch looks over and raises an eyebrow, and Jensen shrugs in the universal sign of "Yeah, I got nothing." If he ever does get it, he'll never sound like Cougar – the hypnotic ease and roll and flow of it, the way it sounds a little like music.
Although, wow… even he can tell that there's something really wrong with the whole teddy bear exchange happening here. There's a distinct possibility that Clay has issues with more than Arabic.
The Bandit lifts off, Pooch says something about a court martial that, frankly, they're all thinking, and that's when the clusterfuck rears its ugly head.
"Guys," he says, adjusting his radio, "this is bad."
The rest is a blur shock and adrenaline, of shrieking metal and a shower of flames, the bear burning black in the wreckage. Cougar goes down on one knee and sweeps the hat from his head, Spanish spilling from his lips, his smile long gone.
Jensen doesn't have a clue what he's saying. And, just this once, that's just fucking fine with him.
Pooch leans over his plans and nods a little too patiently. "Yeah, you mentioned that."
"I mean, there's something to be said for a hot chick with childhood trauma," Jensen says. "That's, like, the story behind half the women I've ever been attracted to."
"I think it's different when the women aren't fictional."
"Point. But what the hell kind of kid collects human ears?" He drums a hand on the tabletop and glances twenty feet to the chopper, where Aisha's still systematically stripping guns while Cougar passes paint over the belly. "Maybe they were non-murdery ears. You know? Like food source fur or conflict-free diamonds."
Pooch raises an eyebrow. "Or maybe she's just batshit. Why the hell does it matter? You're wasting your time, anyway."
"Yeah, yeah ," Jensen says, and flops against the back of his chair. "There's her, and there's Clay, which means there's sex and serious fireworks in the near future." He passes a hand over his goatee and ponders the possibilities. "I'm gonna go with some sort of autoerotic asphyxiation on this one. Think she could strangle him to death with just her thighs?"
"Please," Pooch says, "homegirl's got issues. I'm thinking something large caliber, Lorena Bobbit-style."
Jensen purses his lips. "That could explain the ears."
"Okay." Pooch pinches his nose between two fingers. "You tell me how to say 'ear' in Spanish and you can keep talking about this." Jensen opens his mouth, then closes it again, and Pooch nods. "Thought so."
Across the way, Cougar's put down the paint gun and started lettering, and Aisha gets up and grabs a brush, saying something to him in low, lyrical Spanish. Cougar looks her up and down and shoots a couple words back, and the two of them fall into step, stroking in paint and standing too close and swapping words Jensen doesn't understand.
"Oh, nice," he says. "Are you seeing this? He's talking to the crazy girl. Her, he talks to. It's like he can sense all the extra ears."
Pooch snorts. "So now she's crazy. What happened to that pant-busting crush?"
"That was before she had a box full of body parts!"
"Yeah, that's the reason." Pooch gives him a look he understands even less – kind of frustrated and exasperated and just a little pitying, the way you'd watch a puppy that won't pee on the paper. "Are we really gonna do this now?"
Jensen blinks. "What exactly are we doing?" Cougar says something slow and rumbly, the words sort of sliding off his tongue, and Aisha laughs and leans into his side, and the whole thing is so disturbing and hot and disturbingly hot that Jensen has to shake himself. "I honestly don't know what the hell is happening, but am I the only one strangely turned on right now?"
"See, that right there," Pooch says, and shakes his head. "That is why you're wasting your time."
Jensen's more confused than ever – which is saying a lot, at this juncture – when Aisha turns to look at him over her shoulder, and for the first time, it occurs to him that the laws of acoustics that allow him to hear her might just work both ways.
She turns back to Cougar and says something else, and it sounds… off. The same, but different.
Jensen pulls his eyebrows together, and Pooch chuckles.
"Portuguese," he says, and grins. "Now she's just fucking with you."
Three days after Clusterfuck: LA, Cougar's not talking to anyone at all.
Jensen finds him polishing one of his long-range sights, and falls back on the little he does know. He may be remedial, but he can talk shit in every language there is.
He folds himself to the floor at Cougar's feet, leaning back beside Cougar's knee.
"So this is fucked up, I get that," he says. "But that's on him, not us. The way Clay keeps apologizing… Well, that's mostly for Wheelchair Pooch, but it's also bullshit. Nobody made Roque sell us out but Roque."
There's a twitch against his shoulder, the only sign that he's hit a nerve, and it makes him ball his hands into fists. Roque had been a betraying bastard, yeah. But he'd been their brother for a lot longer, and now that the high of being alive has worn off, it's hard as hell to reconcile the two.
Jensen's not exactly weeping into his hankie, but it hurts. And he's not the one who'd had to take that kill shot.
"Nobody needs to feel guilty here, okay? And nobody needs to apologize for anything." He tilts his head to the side, but can't quite catch Cougar's eyes. "Except for that one guy who tried to shoot your hat, I'm sure he's very sorry. The hijo de puta."
Cougar doesn't say a word. But the long line of his leg presses into Jensen's side, solid and warm, and that's answer enough for now.
They run drills while he updates their comm encryptions and Cougar cleans his favorite rifle. It's random and repetitive and utterly ridiculous, when he really thinks about it, but they've finally fallen into a rhythm, the keystrokes give it a beat for his brain to follow, and it's the first time this hasn't felt like pulling teeth.
Besides, he's never been one to object to randomly breaking into song.
"Pollito," Cougar sings. The guy's got a surprisingly solid baritone.
"Chicken," Jensen sings back.
And okay, it's nice. The Spanish may be a struggle, but the company isn't. Even on his worst day, Cougar is one of his favorite people in the world – loyal and genuine and hysterical when he wants to be. A little on the quiet side, sure, but Jensen talks enough for the both of them. So he types, and Cougar cleans, and it starts to feel a little like before. Just with a bonus educational soundtrack.
Aisha comes in somewhere between 'pencil' and 'pen,' popping the top on a can of Coke and smiling the little smile that makes him fear for his extremities. Maybe she'd stabbed some poor bastard with a pen and is reliving all the fond, stabby memories.
They manage to make it through 'window' and 'door' before she hides her mouth behind her hand.
Cougar doesn't seem to notice. Which just means that he has noticed – because Cougar notices everything – and hasn't deemed it worth his time. "Maestro."
Jensen stops typing and tries not to squirm. "Teacher."
"Floor," he answers, and slams his laptop shut. "Alright, what?"
Aisha raises her hands. "Nothing. It's just been a long time since I heard that. Made me all nostalgic."
"I thought Cougar made it up," he says, and she chokes on her Coke. "Take it I thought wrong."
"You're adorable. I'm almost sorry I shot you." She wipes at her mouth, which is smiling again. It takes everything he's got not to cover his ears. "It's an old nursery rhyme," she says. "They use it to teach Spanish in classrooms. To preschoolers."
She leaves laughing, laughing, and he whips around to gape at Cougar, who just shrugs.
"Your kindergarten did not work," he says. "I had to go backwards."
They manage to track Max to Mombasa. Max manages to track them tracking him. Tricky bastard.
The new henchmen don't have Wade's entire IQ combined, and Wade had not been a particularly smart man. But smart means exactly squat when there are automatic weapons involved, so he and Pooch put their guns down and their hands up as instructed.
He spots Cougar creeping down the hallway and cringes – fuck knows what happened to Cougar's rifle, but he's currently holding the same submachine piece of shit as henchmen one through four. And if there's one thing in the world Cougar hates, it's room brooms.
At the moment, Jensen's right there with him. There's a solid wall at their backs, and even Cougar's freakish accuracy won't mean a damn thing with an MP5. In short, there's very little chance of getting out of this without catching an ass full of lead.
And all this time he'd been worried about his dick.
Beneath the brim of his hat, Cougar winks.
Jensen's brain gleefully goes "Oh oh, I know that one!" while he grabs Pooch by the back of the neck and pancakes, submachine fire sweeping over their heads.
After Aisha's put a bullet between Max's eyes and a few considerably lower – damn, he owes Pooch a .45 – Clay gives Cougar a nod and a "Nicely done," and Jensen is insulted on his behalf.
"That's it?" he says. "I don't think you realize the magnitude of what just happened here. So damn it, listen to me good. I'm going home lead-free tonight, saved in time, thank god my ass is still alive. And do you know why?"
"Oh, don’t," Pooch groans, but Jensen's on a roll now.
"Because Spanish saved my life tonight," he croons, hooking an arm around Cougar's neck, "sugar bear…"
He smacks a wet kiss on Cougar's cheek, and Cougar stiffens and shrugs him off and stalks away without a word. Jensen stares after him, open-mouthed – if Cougar can't handle a little Elton, their whole relationship has very little hope for the future.
Pooch shakes his head. "Nice, J."
"What?" he says. "Wrong key?" He turns to Clay, who's just standing there with his hands on his hips and staring at the floor, and starts to think that maybe he's missing something. "Seriously, what."
Aisha grins, which would be disturbing enough without the bloody blowback freckles spattered all over her face. "I keep thinking that you can't actually be this big a dumbass," she says, "but you really are, aren't you?"
He looks around at all three of them and wonders why he's not in on the joke. But mostly he wonders about what the hell he's apparently done to Cougar, and why he has a funny feeling that it isn't funny at all.
"A couple context clues would be awesome," he says. "But generally-speaking? Pretty much."
The thing about snipers is that they know how to hide. Not that prepubescent, peek-a-boo, olly olly oxen free shit, but really hide. And stay hidden. They're taught to camouflage and conceal, not just to take out their target, but to cover their own asses.
Jensen's well aware that Cougar's a crack shot, always has been. But he's beginning to see just how good a sniper he is. He'd switched to silent running for the whole flight stateside, then slipped out while they unloaded the first round of gear, and Jensen hasn't seen him since.
It's not like Cougar's never shut down before, gone to ground when shit got too heavy. But Cougar's never hidden from him.
So once he's filed the falsified flight log, he comes back to the hangar, crosses to the table where the three stooges are taking ammo inventory, and clears his throat.
It gets him exactly nowhere, but that's what a god-given ability to run off at the mouth was made for.
"So," he starts, "what am I not getting here?"
Pooch looks up and raises an eyebrow. "How much time do you have?"
"That's funny. You're a funny, funny guy. Let's see how funny you are when you find a certain hairless head under your pillow."
"Shit," Pooch says, patting down his pockets and only pulling out one of LJ's pacifiers. "Not Mojito, man."
Jensen shrugs. "Them's the breaks. Play nice or the puppy gets it." He claps his hands together and spreads his arms wide. "Now who wants to do the honors? Cougar's pissed, that much is obvious. And for some reason, Cougar's pissed at me. Not cool, team, not cool at all. When Cougar's pissed, people tend to sprout extra holes. I think you can see why I'm not thrilled with this turn of events. Even less cool? The way everybody here seems to know what the problem is, and I still don't have a clue."
"Yeah," Aisha says, managing to look amused and unimpressed all at once. "Can't imagine why that is."
"Leave it alone," Clay says. "He'll come around."
Jensen shakes his head. "Does not compute. Like, I literally do not understand what you just said."
Clay levels him with a look, and seeing it kind of freaks him out more than anything has so far.
"It's not our place, Jensen."
"Not your place?" he parrots. "You started it!"
His brain is sending all sorts of mayday signals to his mouth, because yelling at your CO is maybe the worst idea in the history of bad ideas, but this isn't army business, and his mouth barely listens to his brain at the best of times, and the thought of him and Cougar not being him and Cougar anymore, because of something he's done that he doesn't even know he's done, is giving him honest-to-god heart palpitations.
"You're the one who ordered up the language lessons, Clay. And since I'm only in one piece right now because I managed to learn one little word, I'd say that's a pretty damn good place to start."
Clay plants his hands on his hips and stays silent until Aisha puts a boot to his ass. "Woman, I swear," he says, and sighs. "It wasn't an order. The Spanish. It was a requisition."
Jensen blinks. "Say what now?"
"After Columbia… Cougar asked for a language mandate, and I made it happen." He scratches at the back of his neck, looking guilty as hell and more than a little miserable. "Jesus, Jensen, he practically begged me."
"Bullshit," Jensen snorts. "Cougar doesn't beg, it's beneath him."
"Cougar doesn't beg," Pooch says, nodding, "but he did for you."
Jensen stops to let that sink in, but it just stays there, floating around in his ears and sounding all sorts of insane. Cougar had seen shit in combat that Jensen can't even imagine, had shit done to him that left scars inside and out, and it had only made him stubborn and stoic and steady. Fuck if Cougar begged for anybody.
"Let's pretend for a moment that you haven't lost your collective minds. It still doesn't make any sense. How is he pissed at me because I knew the fucking word? That's what he wanted, right? Wasn't that the whole point?"
Pooch looks away, and Clay looks away, and Aisha looks at them both and rolls her eyes. "Correct me if I'm wrong here, but I think it's what you did after that's the problem."
"Of all the cryptic shit," Jensen says, throwing his hands up. What does anybody do after they don't die? He'd picked himself up and dusted himself off and danced a happy fucking jig, complete with victory tune, and… Oh. Ohhh.
The thought hits him like a sledgehammer, and Aisha groans, as if to put a very fine, very stabbity point on it.
"The man's in love with you, moron."
"Yeah, I got that, thanks," he snaps, and sinks to a stool. And hey, there's a sentence he never thought he'd hear. Out of the mouths of psychopaths. But the line is bouncing around in his brain, her voice slowly becoming his, and he may have a full-on heart attack at this point, because it sounds strange and new and unexpected, it just doesn't sound wrong.
"He's your friend, remember that," Clay says, and Pooch puts his head in his hands while Aisha stares at Clay in disgust.
"Seriously?" she says. "You, too?"
She shakes her head and walks away, muttering about morons. Clay watches her go and turns back to Jensen in confusion, and it's Pooch who kicks him this time.
"Oh," Clay mumbles. Seems to be going around. "Well okay, then. I'm just gonna… Yeah."
He beats a hasty retreat, following in Aisha's footsteps, and Pooch drops down next to Jensen and nudges him with an elbow.
"Sure, swell. And gay, apparently. So there's that." Jensen blows out a breath and blinks hard. "Sorry. You asked, I told."
"You love who you love, J," Pooch says, and his eyes are the sort of serious he rarely shows. "Don't be sorry for that."
And there it is. But it's not new, not really – he does love Cougar. Of course he loves Cougar. Besides Jill and Beth and his first Linux build, Cougar's kind of the thing he loves most in the world, that ridiculous ride-or-die love that never makes you wonder why. It just never really occurred to him to think about how.
He fishes Mojito out of his flak jacket and strokes the soft patch between his ears. "Just to clarify," he says wearily, "you've known this for a while now."
Pooch nods, watching his hand like a hawk. "The Pooch sees all, the Pooch knows all."
"And the thing before, when you said I was wasting my time –"
"Totally talking about your big gay man love."
"Right." He hands the little dog back to his master and sighs. "So share with the class, all-seeing Pooch… is it just me, or is Clay's pronunciation shit at Spanish and Arabic?"
Pooch slips Mojito into his pocket and snorts. "Please. Clay's pronunciation is shit at just about everything."
He spots the top of Cougar's hat two hangars over, on the wing of a twin engine Cessna.
Hauling himself up is harder than he thought it would be – he wrenches his bad shoulder and loses his grip twice, and the running start is pretty damn disastrous – so he's breathing hard and hurting more than a little by the time he clears the top.
"Oh hi," he says, hands on his knees. "Fancy meeting you here."
Sprawled along the base and propped against the cabin, Cougar just raises an eyebrow, and Jensen straightens and squints.
"Really? You ride to the rescue when it's weapon-wielding psychos, that you'll do, but I can't get a hand when I'm about to break my own neck? No no, then it's just me against the wing."
Cougar crosses his legs at the ankle, and Jensen crosses his arms in return (mostly to adjust his sore shoulder), and they stare each other down across the distance.
Which is pointless, really. Cougar never blinks first.
"You wanna tell me what's going on?"
He watches Cougar shift in that imperceptible way that sharpshooters do – a foot here, a finger there, micromovements in the space of a breath. "You spoke with them."
Jensen nods. "Yeah."
"Then why would I?"
"Because maybe I want to hear it from you," he says. "You could've told me, y'know?"
Cougar shrugs. "You would not have done it, not without the order."
There's a minute there, a solid sixty seconds, when Jensen is completely, utterly speechless. And he can't even take the time to ponder the magnitude of that, because the whole world shrinks to the rush in his blood and the beat in his brain, racing like a spark along a fuse, and then everything sort of explodes.
"Are you kidding me with this?" he shouts, and Cougar looks as close to startled as Jensen's ever seen him. "The order was the problem. I didn't want to follow the fucking order. But if you'd asked me, if you'd told me what the deal was, if you'd bothered to say 'by the way, Jensen, it's kind of important to me that you not die because you can't count to twenty,' then fuck you, I would have. I would've followed you."
He pauses to simmer down, to step back, to stop shaking before he falls off the fucking plane. "It probably would've been more 'hablas español or I kill you myself,' but you get the general idea."
Cougar cracks the world's smallest smile, and Jensen shoves a hand through his hair.
"Look, I'm never gonna object to you trying to keep me alive. I happen to be extremely fond of living, so that's always been a plus in my book. But can we not play dumb here? That wasn't what I meant, and you know it." He shakes his head and drops his shoulders, making sure to hold Cougar's gaze. "Why didn't you just tell me?"
"Bastante." Cougar rocks to his feet, quick and fluid and graceful, which would be annoying if it weren't so damn amazing to watch. "No tiene caso –"
"Whoa, hey, hold up there, Dangerkitty." Jensen catches him as he tries to go past. "See, I'm still a special ed case. Which is my fault, don't get me wrong, I'm clearly the suck in this equation. And since I do suck so very much, if you tell me in Spanish, it's cheating. Like, whatever it is that you said just now? Doesn't actually count."
He starts to smile, but his hand on Cougar's chest is holding him in place and he can feel every breath beneath his fingers and all of the sudden his face won't work.
Cougar narrows his eyes like he's tracking a target, licks his lip like he's lining up a shot.
"And what is it you think you know?"
He looks shadowy and stone-faced and just a little scary, and Jensen falters for the first time since he'd fumbled his way up here and tries not to flail under the scrutiny. "That you really wanted to cover my ass, but you may also want to do other things with it?"
Cougar clenches his jaw, and Jensen panics – what if all-seeing Pooch and half-seeing Clay and crazy-ass Aisha had it all wrong, and he'd been the only one right about this?
As if that's ever happened before.
"I know us, okay?" He steps 'til they're toe to toe, slides his hand down Cougar's side, and his slight height edge is enough to tip Cougar's head back, just the tiniest bit, so his eyes clear the hat's line of shade.
It's a risk, cornering Cougar like this. But everything worth anything always is.
He reaches up and comes down with a handful of leather, and it must be love, if Cougar's letting him touch the hat.
"I don't know when this started or what to call it or how the whole thing is gonna work," he says. "I don't know a whole hell of a lot, to be honest with you. But I know you and me."
Those dark eyes flash with razor-sharp focus, and for a split second, all Jensen knows is what it's like to be prey. Then Cougar growls low and grabs for him, crashing their mouths together, and he tangles his hand in Cougar's hair as everything tingles and tightens and twists in his gut, because damn if this isn't the best way anyone's ever found to shut him up.
It's weird, but in the best way possible – how he doesn't have to bend, how the arms wrapped around him are solid and sinewy and strong as all hell, how nothing's soft but the lips on his and the line of Cougar's cheek beneath his thumb.
His fingers flex at Cougar's hip, inch up his back to rest between his shoulder blades and pull him in, press him impossibly close, line up all their angles and hollows until they fit.
This, this is a language they both speak fluently.
Cougar leans back but doesn't let go, his hands balled at the back of Jensen's shirt. Jensen would look at him, wants to, but he can't see a damn thing through the fog on his glasses, and Cougar blowing on the damn things is only making him shiver. "Good, yeah," he says, pulling the frames free to wipe the lenses clear, "I think that went well."
The last word comes out on a crack, and he has to clear his throat. Even half-blind and punch drunk, Cougar's smile is the brightest thing he's ever seen.
"Cargado de agua, y muerto de sed."
"I have no idea what that means," he says, and slides his glasses back on. "You are a horrible teacher." Cougar glares, and he shrugs. "Maestro, whatever, I don't know how you live with yourself. Also, that thing that you're doing with your face right now? Works better when you aren't feeling me up."
Cougar chuckles, and Jensen blows out a big breath, relieved they can still do this after… well, that.
"Wow, I am keyed. Have you done this a lot? Is it always like this? Because it's pretty damn new to me, and I'm feeling a little high. Like, up all night, twelve pack of Red Bull, best hackathon of my life high. We should really take advantage of this before it wears off. I think I need to sing or screw or something. Or oh, oh, we should totally try the Spanish now. See what sinks in."
He's never quite seen this look from Cougar, all confused and disturbed and turned on. "Cariño –"
"Wait wait, I think I can kill two birds with one stone." He flips the hat to his own head, sweeps a finger along the brim, and watches Cougar's eyes spark like flint. "Because this feeling, this… this joy is something new, my arms enfolding you, never knew this thrill before…"
Cougar blinks, all confusion now. "Que demonios?"
"Who ever thought I'd be holding you close to me, whispering it's you I adore," Jensen warbles, more Michael Bublé than Dean Martin, but whatever. "Think we could tango up here without busting our asses?"
"Creo que falta un tornillo tu."
"Nevermind," he mutters. "Besame! Besame mucho…"
"Querido." Cougar slips the hat from Jensen's head and the glasses from his nose, sets his mouth a millimeter away. "Callate."
Jensen swallows and shudders and shuts up, with a nod that makes their lips brush.
"I already know that one," he says, and smirks. "How 'bout you teach me something new."