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The dashboard melted (but we still had the radio)

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The first thing Jensen thinks, when he meets Carlos Alvarez, is oh my god that’s the most beautiful guy I’ve ever fucking seen.

His second thought, very clearly, is shit.

In his defense, he’s pretty concussed.

***

Jensen’s 2009 does not get off to a rousing and successful start. It’s somewhere around oh-three hundred, January 1st. The temperature's around nineteen degrees Fahrenheit, with the wind coming in from the south around eight miles an hour. Jake Jensen is twenty-three years old and he is sitting on his ass in a hole in the desert.

There is a compound belonging to some relatively high-level Afghani heroin traffickers about nine hundred yards off his twelve. Nothing has happened since 23:06, when someone came out with a ladder to replace a bulb on the perimeter fence. That was an action-packed seven minutes.

He’s got three radios, all within arm’s length. The first is tuned to his unit’s comm frequency. Everyone else is somewhere a hundred klicks or so behind him. Jensen radios in at the top of every hour, and so far, Sergeant Lancer, the RTO, has failed to appreciate jokes, haikus about sand, and Jensen’s general whimsy. The second radio’s tuned to listen in on the Very Bad Men who are currently the object of Jensen’s surveillance. There’s a running conversation in Farsi, which Jensen is dutifully recording. His Farsi's pretty shit but this is almost definitely less a conversation about drug manifests and shipping routes, and more along the lines of who’s getting kicked off Real World Persia this week.

The third radio’s a thing of beauty. It’s more like a Frankenstein’s monster of laptop, radio and code cracker all in one and it’s this month’s baby. Jensen loves it. It is almost, but not quite, worth sitting on his ass in the freezing desert for the chance to test it out. It scans for coded frequencies automatically, the cracker breaks the encryption, and the laptop records it all for happy posterity. He pets it with cold fingers, aluminum casing leeching away all the warmth. His baby’s cold. Neoprene external casing layer, next time.

Jensen gently sets down his binoculars, lifts up his NVGs to rub his eyes. He’s so cold he’s basically lost the capacity to care, which means he’s probably heading into the unsafer ranges of hypothermia. Not that there’s anything like a safe range of hypothermia, but it’s the difference between fuck fuck i’m the ambassador of Fuckitscoldistan and time to take off all these pesky life-preserving thermal layers and wander out among the polar bears. Not that there’s polar bears in Afghanistan, but it’s the principle of the thing. Jensen leans back against the cold, heat-reflecting foil wall of the surveillance dig and swallows, manages to scratch up enough spit to start talking. Quietly, though. There’s a compound full of angry heroin runners just over there, after all.

“Dear great organizing principal of the universe,” says Jensen, very seriously, because sometimes twenty-three year old pseudo-Spec Ops Corporal tech enthusiasts just have to vocalize these things and this is better than talking to himself. “This year, just to outline here, my general plan is to jump up one pay grade, find a new sushi place that’s as good as Yukio’s in Tokyo, customize a new Toughbook and finally, do my hands-down, gold-medal, hundred and ten percent damndest to stay alive.” He shifts a little, wiggles his numb toes. Stares up at the stars, so bright they’re almost a hallucination. “I will also stop pissing off ranking officers and getting sent out into the ass-end of Afghanistan,” then adds, considerately, “Which also has many much nicer parts that are unfortunately not located where I am right now.”

The lens on his NVGs is a little loose, because if Jensen had quality equipment, his life would just be too easy. He tugs them off his head, starts adjusting the casing. Exhales hard, just to see his breath steam in the air.

“And in conclusion,” says Jensen, very quietly, screwing the lens back into position, “If you are a good and benevolent organizing principal, and not the apathetic or non-existent thing you so probably are, you will send Megan Fox and a large flask, or alternately, make something interesting happen before I freeze to death or die of goddamn boredom.”

And he blinks, because that last part had the unsettling ring of truth to it, and when the hell had his life turned into that?

And then, abruptly, his mutant radio codebreaker baby clicks, and someone says, in a pretty impressively unimpressed tone that says officer officer officer, straight to Jensen’s hindbrain, “Lima Cargo, who the fuck’s on the comms? Acknowledge.”

Seven seconds later, the compound explodes.

This is probably all a coincidence.

***

There is a note in Jensen’s file, from a CO he served with a year and a half ago, saying, Corporal Jensen is somehow still living proof that someone can be completely insane and still excel in his chosen field.

Major Crake isn’t anything close to a diagnostic professional, and Jensen’s a lot of things but he’s not actually crazy, so that’s why the Major’s file contains a note saying, Major Crake should be nicer to his technical minions and also he banged your mom.

***

There are times, however, when Jensen thinks maybe Crake was actually kind of right. Because right now, Jensen’s running towards the compound, M4 in fire-ready stance, and this is almost definitely the stupidest thing he’s done yet this year. There is, however, lots of time left for stupider things. If he gets through this first.

He just has to get through this.

There’s a guy, behind a blown out piece of the compound wall, American, by his firing stance and the chatter of his machine gun. Jensen sees one of the compound guards dart around the corner of the outbuilding, and he brings his gun up, drops the guy with a quick efficient burst. The American whips his head around, zeroes in on Jensen. He’s got camo paint streaked down his cheeks, up to his shaved temples, and his dark eyes are narrow.

“Friendly!” says Jensen, quickly, and grins, because he doesn’t want to get shot while running towards burning buildings and bullets. At least, not by his own side. And yeah, it’s pretty goddamn likely they’d drop a team down on his head without telling him, because Spec Ops might be a tiny incestuous world, but the intel sharing is execrable. Jensen waves. “Go, go, I got you covered.”

The guy does a lightning-quick assessment, eyes darting fast from Jensen’s cover to gun to boots, and then he actually grins back, just for a second. “Copy,” he says. “Lima Delta, advise all, one friendly on the field, USA cover and a sweet hand at an M4.”

Jensen’s already got his radio on the right frequency, so he gets the weird double-speak echo and then The Officer’s voice comes back, clear and steady. “Lima Actual, solid copy. No one shoot him, boys.”

Jensen grins, and follows American in.

Everything gets a little blurred after that. There’s smoke and flames everywhere, a riot of noise and confusion and the occasional harsh chatter of gunfire, up ahead and over his shoulder. When two other guys—definitely friendlies, two older guys who look like they come as a matched set, Spec Ops Officer and XO— materialize on American’s six, Jensen sees his chance, and he yells, “Be right back,” as he ducks through the shattered wall of the main building.

And this is so goddamn dangerous, he thinks, as something grazes his arm hard enough to make him yelp, and maybe he is kind of crazy, but he doesn’t have far to go, and there, main server room, with blinking little hard drives and towers and monitors and all this beautiful intel is going to be slag in about five minutes when that fucking wall collapses, so Jensen gets to work.

It takes him about three and a half minutes, give or take a few seconds. Blood’s soaked though the sleeve of his jacket, dripping down his fingers. Jensen blinks, swipes at the sweat on his face. There are flames roaring up the hall, blocking the entry routes, so Jensen shoves his hard drives into his flack vest and books it.

Another explosion knocks his hard enough against the wall to make his skull rattle, but Jensen does a quick check for teeth and fractures—intact, none, excellent—and stumbles on, because he can sit down and be mild-to-moderately concussed if he wants, but this building’s coming down whether he’s in it or not. Jensen would really prefer the not option.

There’s an escape route maybe fifty yards down the corridor, where another wall’s been blown out—shitty desert masonry, and these guys need to have a serious word with their contractor— and Jensen leaps out into blessedly cold night air and straight into the firing line of an Afghani drug runner, because fuck Jensen’s entire life, that’s why.

The guy whips up his AK, his finger squeezes on the trigger, and Jensen has a quick, almost giddy second to think, is that all there is? He dives back, too late, brings his M4 up, too late, and then the guy’s head abruptly flashes red, laser-red, and he drops, perfect long-distance killshot.

There’s a sniper out there, somewhere in the dark. Hopefully with better NVGs than Jensen’s.

And that, right there, is the first time he meets Cougar. The impact of a bullet spinning the guy and his AK away from Jensen, and the tiny wink of red light from the spotter’s scope, two hundred yards out.

Jensen exhales, hard, clamps down on the wild swing of adrenaline. It’s really fucking hard. He’s practically vibrating. He flashes an a-okay sign in the guy’s general direction, mouths thank you awesome sniper and keeps moving.

***

“This,” Jensen says, very emphatically, “was awesome.”

They’re sitting on the hood of a custom-job Humvee, heavy treads, desert camo, big engine. The sun is coming up, weak, silvery winter sun that’s still the brightest thing in the world right now. Jensen’s holding a pressure bandage against his own shoulder, one-handed, while he stitches up American’s arm with his left hand. Ambidextry is awesome. Everything is awesome.

The guy—Pooch, Pooch—snorts, rubs at the blood and sweat and camo paint on his cheek. “Glad you think so, buddy.”

Jensen tips his head, peers over his cracked glasses, because Pooch is not getting it. “No way,” he says. “This day was terrible. This whole year was terrible. Like, just off to an awful, awful start, and I was sitting in a hole freezing my ass off, and then you guys come blasting in, and in about two hours, we have busted up the heroin supply chain in Northern Afghanistan and you and I have acquired bitching new scars to show our lady friends!” Jensen beams, shoves his NVGs higher on his head. The loose lens is somewhere back in the burning rubble, along with about twenty seriously bad men and approximately one hundred mil in unprocessed heroin. Bad guys 0, stupid NVGs 0, Jensen 1. Pooch just laughs.

“I think,” he says, carefully rotating his shoulder, “That maybe you’d better shut up now.” But it’s pretty fond, and Jensen beams, feeling that warm fuzzy glow which is absolutely friendship and has nothing at all to do with blood loss.

Officer and XO materialize out of the shadows, and they’re staring at him, looking a little wobbly, so Jensen squints, trying to make them stay still and focused. It doesn’t work too well. He nods, and it makes him dizzy, so he stops. Tries to smile, but facial muscles seem to be down for the count, which is weird. “Hi,” he says. “I have six and a half terabytes of intel on those guys—shipping, contacts, banking, porn preferences, the works. It’s great. You can have it. Can I be on your team?”

And Officer shoots XO a fast look, and Jensen grins, that’s definitely a grin, he felt that one. And then he passes out.

When he wakes up, he’s in the back of the humvee, jolting over something that’s definitely not a road, and his teeth would be rattling out of his skull if his head wasn't being held steady between someone’s legs. Someone’s big hands bracing his neck.

Jensen blinks, and a different guy’s face leans into his line of sight. “Sorry,” says the guy. Dark hair, wide dark eyes, flat solemn mouth. His fingers brush against Jensen’s neck, and Jensen thinks, only moderately concussed, oh my god oh my god that’s the most beautiful guy I’ve ever fucking seen.

And, shit.

***

January, 2009, there’s a new notation in Jensen’s file. Due to mission-critical assistance provided in the assault on the (redacted) compound in (redacted) on January (redacted, redacted) --and Jesus, security classification’s a bitch these days—I formally request the assignment (long-term, open-ended) of Corporal Jacob Anthony Jensen, SIN 134-54-7789, under my command, pending official approval. It’s signed Lieutenant Colonel Franklin Clay.

Jensen grins, and shoves his laptop under the hospital bed before the nurse can catch him with it.

***

And really, the thing is, Jensen was dying of boredom. It’d just been happening for so long that it seemed normal. And this—well.

This is like waking up again.

***

“I spy, with my little eye,” says Jensen, “Something that is green. Or brown. Greenish-brown.”

Pooch, who’s covering their six, glances over. “Jesus, I don’t know, could it be—the river? This river of highly dubious shit we're walking in?” It’s been a month and a half, and Pooch hasn’t tried to murder Jensen yet, so Jensen suspects they’re friends now.

They’re standing hip-deep in a muddy river somewhere on the wrong side of the North Korean border, and someone is going to start shooting at them any minute now. Jensen’s trying to keep his gun and his equipment and his head above water. Roque and Clay are up ahead, and Cougar’s moving quiet through the treeline, a lithe dark shape with a big, beautiful gun.

The sun’s coming up, and it’s a beautiful day to be sneaking through the Demilitarized Zone.

Jensen realizes with a start, that he’s happy. Actually happy, and it’s novel enough to make him pause. And it’s not like he was ever unhappy, per se—Jensen makes his own fun, thank you very much— but. This is different. He can’t even say why, really. Just, like maybe he fits here, like there’s a Jensen-shaped hole in the world here that’s just been waiting for him to fall into it.

Good CO, good team, good-looking guy to surreptitiously watch. His life’s pretty good, even if he is up to his ass in god-knows-what’s in this river. Jensen nods, finally, and says, “I have found my place in the universe.”

From up ahead, Clay says, very dryly, “I’m very glad to hear that, Jensen. And right now, that place is up at point. Move your ass.”

***

It’s somewhere around oh-three hundred, somewhere in the long dark of the night, sometime in April, when Jensen snaps awake.

And he’s shared too many barracks and close quarters with too many guys not to know what that sound means. That’s the sound of a guy having a very bad night and trying to keep quiet about it.

Cougar snaps upright, finally, and sucks in air hard, too quiet to really be a gasp. He makes a very soft sound. Digs his fingers into his hair. “Lo siento,” he says.

Jensen’s got no idea whether Cougar’s actually talking to him or to someone else, someone a thousand miles and years away now, but— he can’t let it go like this. Very carefully, he scoots along his bed until he’s sitting up, facing Cougar’s bed across the gap. His fingers twitch, and he wants to reach out, because yeah, Cougar’s beautiful and Jensen maybe has something sort of like a thing for him, but this is something more than that—that tech-compulsive’s need, really, the one that’s under his skin, to take things apart and then make them better again.

Doesn’t work on people, Jensen thinks, a little fuzzy. Almost definitely wouldn’t work on Cougar, who’s got something raw enough inside him that he shakes himself awake at night. Jensen’s so tired that his eyes are burning. They’ve got a briefing at 0800 in Langley, and he still hasn’t finished his notes on circumventing the North Koreans’ security on the missile launch sites. But he leans forward, very carefully, and says, “So I’ve got a niece. Her name is Emma, she’s five years old, and she is so goddamn amazing.”

And Jensen just keeps going, talks until the sky outside gets light enough to see Cougar sitting up, resting his head in his hands. He’s breathing steady now, but his eyes are open, narrow. He’s awake.

In the car that morning, when Jensen’s focusing his mental energy on North Koreans and cascading system failures and staying awake without dying, Pooch makes a crack about Jensen being quiet, and the likelihood of said event coinciding with uncommonly cold weather patterns in Hell and the availability of Mephistopheles to provide sleigh rides. Then Cougar snakes out a leg and he kicks Pooch, very precisely, in the bone of his shin.

Pooch yelps, and stares like Cougar’s just offered up the worst sort of betrayal. Cougar shrugs, just a little. “Leg cramp,” he says.

Jensen would laugh, but they’re coming up on a red light, so there’s time for a fifteen-second nap.

***

The first time Jensen sleeps with Cougar, it's May 29th, they’re in a safehouse twenty miles outside Bogota and they’d just almost died again. This is the sixth time in two months and something maybe just snaps.

It’s kind of an accident, actually. Jensen wasn’t even really aware he was moving until he fisted Cougar’s shirt and knocked his hat off as he kissed him.

Cougar is beautiful. Jensen doesn’t actually remember much about it, too hopped up on adrenaline and military-grade amphetamines and every toxin his body dumps into his system to say augh stop trying to get me killed fuck you. He remembers getting Cougar’s shirt off, getting their pants down somewhere around their thighs. Remembers Cougar’s mouth hot against his collarbone, his legs wrapped around his hips. A spiderweb, a snowflake of scar tissue on Cougar’s left shoulder, between his tattoos, where Jensen dug his teeth in while they both shook themselves apart.

After, Cougar pulls up his BDUs, tugs his hat back into place. Shows his teeth at Jensen. It’s maybe a smile, but Jensen can’t see his eyes, so he can’t really tell.

When he’s gone, Jensen leans against the wall, feels the low vibration of traffic outside. Blows out a long breath. Stupid stupid stupid, he thinks. Won’t be doing that again.

That was the first time.

***

The second and third times are accidents too. By the fourth time, it’s routine.

That’s bad.

***

The eleventh time—Jensen is absolutely not counting—it's July, they’re somewhere north of Arkangel, above the Arctic Circle and it doesn’t even count because they didn’t technically sleep with each other. Just burrowed the thermal bags close enough to share each other’s air.

Through the translucent plastic of the bivouac cover, Jensen can see the aurora borealis. He’s never been far enough north to see it before, billowing overhead like some enormous radar-green dust cloud, the hour or so it's dark enough to see

He’s mostly zoning out, staring straight up with half-closed eyes, when Cougar shifts in his sleep, his lips almost touching Jensen’s ear. “Beautiful,” he says, just the slightest breath of sound. Then he’s breathing even again, sleeping deeper.

Jensen’s still awake when the sun comes up.

***

Gay panic is highly overrated. Besides, Jensen got that shit out of the way when he was fourteen.

***

“Oh, Jay,” says his sister. “Oh honey, no.”

And this, this right here, is why he never talks about this shit with Jane, because she always over-reacts.

Well, maybe it’s only a little over-reaction. Jensen might have gotten the technical skills and the hand-eye coordination, but Jane walked away with communication, prior planning and all the goddamn common sense.

They’re sitting on the grass in Jane’s little backyard. It’s late summer in New Hampshire, technically the only vacation time Jensen’s going to have state-side for the foreseeable future, so they are spending the time wisely. Mostly that means comics and Shark Week on the Discovery Channel. This, however, is the designated Fresh Air Break. The sun is shining, Emma’s running along the fence, a little blond wisp chasing a soccer ball. “Jesus,” says Jane, watching her. “She wants to start hockey in the fall. I’ll never be able to keep up with her.” They’ve got a stack of comics—Fables and Hellblazer for Jane, Transmetropolitan and Watchmen and Streets of Gotham for Jensen, Captain America Reborn because Jane swears the art’s starting to look like him —and a case of Pabst Blue Ribbon because they are the brother-sister team of American class. Jensen sighs, takes a long drink. Adds the can to the small mountain they’re building. A monument to piss-poor judgement and also awful taste in beer.

Meanwhile, Jane is still talking. “--and you add it to the fact that half the time you're in combat zones, and well, I'm not sure about the availability of condoms in the middle of the Iranian desert-"

"Oh my god, please," says Jensen. It is not a whine. It is absolutely not a whine. It is a manly tone of protest. "Jane, I am begging. Begging you to stop."

Jane narrows her eyes, and shifts towards him. On a trained combatant, Jensen would be bracing for an incoming punch. On his sister, it means another lecture line of attack. And she is eviscerating.

"Jay," she says, and oh god, that tone takes him back about twenty years, when he used to put camo paint on her Barbies with magic marker. "You didn't listen to me when we were teenagers, and as I recall-"

Jensen drops his head to his knees.

"-I told you Travis Dale, Johnny Quentin and what’s-his-stupid-face were not anything like boyfriend material, especially since Johnny spent the previous eight months trying to sleep with me," Jane finishes smoothly. "Also, I'm your big sister and you're kind of an idiot about these things."

"You are thirteen months older," says Jensen, still not looking up.

"So you should be used to it by now," says Jane. "Besides, jerkoff, I'm not the one who picked up a sniper boyfriend in the middle of a combat zone." She leans forward on her elbows, eyes bright. "Now, the important stuff. Is he good in the sack?"

“Okay, that’s enough fresh air now,” says Jensen, with great dignity. “Time for more sharks.”

Emma shrieks as she bowls him over.

***

The problem with Cougar, Jensen thinks, later that night after far too many beers and almost, but not quite, too many sharks, is that it would be very, very easy to get completely fucked in the head over him.

***

He has to revise that thought sometime in November, when Cougar’s coughing up blood and Jensen is grimly crouching behind the woefully inadequate cover of a burned-out Citroen, in a freight yard somewhere on the outskirts of Tirana. There are some pissed-as-fuck Albanian gangsters who aren’t going home until they’re both perforated, and Jensen is running out of ammo.

“Cavalry can show up any damn time now,” he half-yells at his throat mike, even though he hasn’t had a response in more than eight minutes, because Jensen can fix radios and he can shoot Albanian human traffickers, but he can’t do both at once.

And then Cougar passes him the last clip, and their fingers brush for just a second. Jensen glances over, and Cougar’s staring back, levelly, so calm and so fucking steady, even with blood on his mouth and shrapnel somewhere in his chest. And fuck, Jensen’s such a goddamn idiot, because he is stupid in love with Cougar and he doesn’t even know what to do.

He has got to stop having these life-altering realizations when he’s being shot at.

And then, somewhere behind him, there’s the roar of a big engine, and Jensen has half a second to think, please don’t be more of these motherfuckers before Pooch comes plowing though what’s left of the chain-link fence.

***

So as it happens, there’s no uncomplicated way to ask your on-the-downlow, mildly unbalanced, Spec Ops steady lay whether he loves you back.

***

Jensen wakes up when a wave sloshes against his face. He yells, kind of, thinks helicopter helicopter oh my god and then his chest bursts with pain and Jensen greys out. He comes back, puking seawater, trying to clear his throat and lungs. And someone’s behind him, holding him, heavy legs kicking against Jensen’s as he treads water, and then Roque growls in his ear, “Breathe.”

Jensen manages to get one long breath, two, before he’s coughing again, and oh fuck, that was more the stabby kind of pain than the lit on fire kind, and that’s not good. That’s the kind of distinction you really don’t want to be making when you’re currently treading water a mile and half above seafloor, somewhere in the Southeast Pacific.

Jensen gets a tiny sip of air, good beautiful oxygen, and tells himself that this is better than rocketing into the Pacific in three tons of burning scrap metal, because Pooch wasn’t on hand when he and Roque had to bug out, and Roque’s not flight certified and Jensen was too busy being mostly-unconscious. And what kind of motherfucking chopper has a waterproof GPS beacon but no life rafts these days?

He also might have been saying all this out loud, because Roque’s arm tightens across his shoulders. “Think they might have taken it out to make room for guns, Jensen.”

“Fucking Columbians,” says Jensen, as viciously as he can. “You know what? I am so goddamn glad you stole their helicopter, Captain. I hope it was their favourite. I hope it had a pet name and that they loved it very much.”

And then Roque jerks hard again, and Jensen gets another face full of water. When he finally gasps clear, he manages, “Would you please stop moving please? Because every time we move, there is kind of significant pain here.”

Roque says, “Jensen, shut up,” and very carefully keeps kicking.

Jensen doesn’t think he says anything else, but apparently he’s gasping in an excessively loud way, because Roque’s arms tighten around him, just a little. “Jensen,” says Roque. His voice is very, very calm. “Jensen, I need you to stay still. Jensen, there is a motherfucking shark headbutting my legs, and if I don’t keep booting his face, he is going to start biting real quick.”

“Don’t look at me,” Jensen manages. “I’m bleeding internally.”

“Jensen,” says Roque. “I need you you to stay still here, okay? Jensen, you’ve got three broken ribs, and that was before the chopper crashed. If you puncture your fucking lung, Jensen, I am going to be fucking annoyed.”

And Roque’s tone is so perfectly funny that Jensen laughs until he can’t breathe anymore, and he has to gasp his way back. The corners of his vision are going grey when he finally gets his lungs to fill again, and that’s bad. That is so fucking bad. Roque’s arm tightens around him again.

And then he goes very still. “Jensen, can you float on your own for a minute?”

The actual answer is highly unlikely, no, but Roque’s not asking for kicks, and he rasps out, “Fuck yes, Captain. Take your time. Bring me some sushi.”

“The little motherfucker’s got my boot,” says Roque, very calmly. Then he lets go, very carefully, pulls his ka-bar, and drops under the water. Jensen stares down. This shit’s a lot more fun when it’s on Discovery Channel and not Jensen’s actual life.

A few seconds pass, and then blood starts drifting up.

When Roque resurfaces, Jensen says, “Well, now there’s definitely more sharks coming.”

Roque rolls his eyes. “Yes, Jensen. Next time I’ll let the fucking shark chew both our balls off and then I get to explain to your fucking boyfriend how I got castrated and you got dead. That's a beautiful plan.”

And Jensen starts coughing again, but for once it’s not from imminent partial lung collapse. Roque latches on to him again. “Jesus Christ, are you serious?” He pulls Jensen back against his chest, and yeah, open airways, those are the best. “One,” says Roque, “No, you are not discreet. Not even a little. Two, watching you motherfuckers moon after each other is getting fucking old, so maybe you should work out your interpersonal issues before I bang your fucking heads together.” Roque digs his fingers in for emphasis. “And three, I am not telling our fucking sniper I got his steady lay killed, because he has clear psychiatric issues and I need more than a thousand-yard head start to outrun a bullet. Are we absolutely crystal clear here, Jensen?”

“Hooah,” Jensen says, and it’s January 1st, 2010, and he’s floating somewhere in the Pacific with Roque, and all he wants is to see Cougar again. Just once more. He had a year but it’s not enough, not even close, and maybe they can get through this without fucking everything up.

That’s all he wants. It’s not much, Jensen thinks, and he blinks hard. It’s not too much to want, not in the grand scheme of things.

And then something spasms in his chest, hard, and Jensen suddenly can’t breathe at all.

Roque pulls him back hard against his chest, puts his mouth to his ear. “Don’t you fucking go, Jensen.” He can hardly hear it over the roar in his ears, his heart jackrabbitting in his chest, and Jensen breathes out, “Tell him I said something good.”

“Tell him yourself,” Roque bites out, and then there’s a sound, and it’s either his heart or a HH-3F Pelican rescue chopper. Hard to say.

***

Jensen blinks awake with a holy jesus huge tube in his chest, an oxygen mask strapped to his face, and Clay glaring down at him. He decides he is not psychologically equipped to deal with this right now and blacks out again.

***

The next time Jensen wakes up, he is on the good drugs. Pure premium A-plus-plus military-grade smack, and everything is amazing.

He’s really got to stop starting every new year in the hospital, though. That’s going to get old really fast.

Roque and Pooch, or at least two Roque and Pooch-shaped objects are there, and Jensen says, “Well, that was a fun adventure. Did everyone else have a good time too?”

Pooch, or Pooch-shaped object—god, you cannot trust drugs these days— rolls his eyes, and says, “The Colonel contemplated leaving both of you in Bogotá, just so you know. He also suggests overland rescues are easier to coordinate.” The he grins. “Never flown a Pelican before. One more off the bucket list. How you feeling?”

“So super good,” Jensen half-sings. “Open airways and fully patched lungs, these are a few of my favourite things. Time to spring me now? Yes yes yes?”

In reply, Roque dumps one of his size-eleven standard-issue combat boots in Jensen’s lap. There’s about thirty serrated shark teeth embedded in the Kevlar. “Start digging,” he says.

Jensen beams.

***

Of course, drugs wear off, and real life kicks you in the teeth, and seizing the fucking day seems a lot easier when you’re about to drown or be eaten by sharks somewhere in the Equatorial Pacific.

Jensen’s pretty sure his life isn’t normal.

And okay, when it comes down to it, bullets and angry Columbians and Afghani heroin traffickers and motherfucking sharks are one thing. Cougar is something entirely different.

And yeah, okay, no one ever said the bravery citations in Jensen’s file ever applied to anything except the bullets and the bad guys, and maybe the sharks, because when Jensen wakes up and Cougar’s there, he blurts out, “So, I think we need to stop.”

***

Jensen is not hiding. He is absolutely not hiding. He is recuperating, and if he wants to do that while demonstrating his best stealth tactics at his sister’s suburban home in small-town New Hampshire, well, that’s his prerogative.

And okay, he’s not answering his official phone. Or his civilian phone. Or any one of his seven emails, four of which don’t officially exist.

Jane had been red-eyed and pissed the first couple of days he’d been back, as soon as she saw the bruises and the scar from the chest tube. Now she just rolls her eyes at him. “I gotta take Emma to hockey,” she says. “Will you be okay for an hour? You have your cell phone? Call me if you need anything. No, not Red Bull. Or beer.”

Thirteen months older and so totally his mother.

It’s quiet, then, and Jensen’s contemplating all the shark documentaries on the DVR that have suddenly lost their appeal when there’s a knock at the door. And that’s weird, and unexpected, especially this early in the morning, and Jensen puts one hand down to the gun he hasn’t got, because he’s in Batman boxers. And then he tells himself to stop being a paranoid lunatic, and he limps over to answer the door.

And apparently paranoid lunatic was the correct choice, because Pooch is standing on the stoop. Pooch is supposed to be in Damascus.

“Buddy,” says Jensen, “If you need a satellite hacked or your wireless router set up, I am officially on medical stand-down for the next million weeks.”

Somewhere above him, there’s the sound of breaking glass. Jensen’s head snaps up.

“Sorry,” says Pooch, and he even sounds half-apologetic. “I was just the distraction.”

Jensen drops his head into his hands. “Pooch, you are the absolute worst.”

By the time Jensen makes it up the stairs, Cougar is carefully sweeping up the glass from the broken skylight with his boot. He levels a glare at Jensen.

Jensen just feels exhausted, because no one should have to face down their pseudo-ex armed only with broken ribs, Super Friends boxers and all the glass shards you can grab. He contemplates it for an idle second, and then says, “You know, some people just come in through the front door.”

Cougar glares. And then he says, “You stopped talking to me.” Implied in his tone are also the facts that Cougar is demonstrating remarkable restraint by not punching Jensen in his broken ribs and that Jensen can repay this act of grace by feeling free to explain himself right the fuck now. Cougar can say a lot with just his tone of voice.

And Jensen just feels so goddamn helpless, because how the fuck do you tell your teammate, oh, by the way, I’m completely fucked in love with you and I think it’s in the speak-now-or-forever-hold-it way and maybe most of all, please don’t make me say it because you are going to fucking take me apart.

Cougar’s eyes narrow, and he just looks at Jensen for one of those long, no-breath moments. And maybe Jensen’s getting good at this communicating without words thing too, just maybe— because Cougar’s eyes slowly go dark and soft.

And then he says, “You’re a goddamn idiot.” Then he grabs Jensen by his too-thin t-shirt and pulls him in. He’s very careful, though. Frames his big hands around Jensen’s jaw, and kisses him, very softly, on the mouth.

Cougar stares at him, and Jensen stares back, because this is the guy who showed Jensen where he kept the razor blades in his hair in case anyone ever tried to grab it in a fight, who makes Jensen walk barefoot with him over gravel to stay conditioned in case they ever need to run without boots. Cougar can gauge the wind speed by watching dust motes in the air and he knows all the words to Johnny Cash’s Man in Black and I Would Like to See You Again and he can order beer and whiskey chasers in six languages he can’t actually speak, and he doesn’t drink whiskey but Jensen likes it. He has two bullet scars, one in his shoulder from the countersniper team in Kazakhstan, one a graze on his ribs from a North Korean border guard. Cougar’s parents are dead and he brings marigolds to their graves every November they’re stateside. And Jensen knows all of that, but he apparently didn’t know this.

Cougar tilts his head, speculative, and Jensen blinks. “Apparently I’m a goddamn idiot.”

Cougar just snorts. Kisses him again.