A Fairy Tale by CC
The howl filled the night, a sound so full of despair and loneliness that it made him shiver in sympathy. Cougar resolutely turned away from the window and pulled down the shade. He absently switched on the TV hoping to drown the sound out with some mindless drivel that passed as entertainment, but the long, low howl haunted his memory. Something in that call tugged at his heart, coaxing him to go and find the one who roamed the night searching. He paced back and forth in a vain effort to distract himself. Pooch gave him an exasperated look on his fifth pass. "What the hell is going on with you, bro?"
Cougar stopped his pacing and shrugged helplessly. His eyes were drawn back to the window as another lonely howl wafted through the quiet night.
Pooch's gaze followed his and he cocked an eyebrow. "You're not thinking of going out there tonight are you?"
Cougar shook his head mutely and ducked his head, hiding his eyes behind the brim of his hat. He looked around the barren room for something to do. This was the part of missions he hated the most. Waiting was a big part of being a sniper and most of the time he didn't mind. When he was setting up a shot his mind was busy with calculations, but here there was nothing to do other than read, watch TV, sleep, or talk, but he had finished his latest book on the plane, there was nothing on TV he wanted to see, he wasn't tired and talking… well, at the best of times he had never been chatty, and tonight he just wasn't in the mood to try and explain his restlessness. Hell, he wasn't even sure he understood why that damn call was so unsettling. It was like an itch that he couldn't reach and it was about to drive him to do something he was sure he would regret. Cougar firmly told himself not to be stupid and crossed the room. He snatched his hat off, tossing it onto the bedside table before throwing himself down on the bed and shutting his eyes.
Jake curled up in a ball of utter misery. He wrapped his tail over his nose and tried to sleep, but his throat hurt and his eyes burned from unshed tears as the loneliness threatened to overwhelm him again. What had started as a lark and a chance to spend the summer bumming around Europe before he went to basic had deteriorated into an unending nightmare. He thought back to that night going over it again in his mind. Surely there was something he had missed, something he had overlooked…
Jake bounced down the midway taking in all of the sounds and action in the small carnival. The neon lights and canned music of the rides battled with the smell of burgers and cotton candy for attention, and carnies called from small booths enticing passersby to come and play their games of chance and skill. Jake snorted. 'Skill, my ass,' he thought sardonically. He had worked as a carnie for his uncle one summer and knew that the games were rigged. It was possible, with a stroke of luck, to win something, but you had to be a favorite of Lady Fortune and he wasn't willing to spend what little money he had on statistical impossibilities. He glanced around looking for the small group he had met at the youth hostel. When he didn't see them he shrugged and moved on down the walkway allowing the crowd to carry him forward. He didn't have much in common with the rest of them anyway.
He was one of the few Americans and the only one who was a computer science major, the other two being art and history majors respectively but it had been nice to hear the accent of home amidst all the others so when Michael suggested they all go out he tagged along. He wandered around, stopping now and then to watch a game or a ride, until he ended up on the edge of the carnival. It was quieter in the back corner and he noticed a small tent set up with a sign out front. 'Fortunes Told. Questions Answered.'
Two pretty girls exited, giggling over a paper one of them held in her hand. They brushed by him with just a brief glance and bounced down the walkway back toward the main section. Jake grinned and admired the view as he watched them walk away. He jumped guiltily as a hand settled on his shoulder. He turned to find an older woman watching him with an amused, knowing look in her dark eyes. Her long black hair was shot through with gleaming stands of silver and faint lines gave her face character. She was dressed in a flowing skirt in shades of green and her blue blouse dipped low showing the swell of her breasts. Jake blushed when she arched an eyebrow as his gaze settled on that enticing glimpse. She nodded and gestured for him to follow her into the tent. He stepped inside and looked around curiously.
The tent was a riot of colors and textures. The ground was covered with a black, crimson and gold Persian rug in some kind of floral pattern. A table, covered with white velvet, sat in the middle with three chairs placed around it and in the center of that was a small geode with amethyst crystals sparkling in the light from a candelabra which hung from a chain overhead. The walls and ceiling were draped with more cloth. It should have been claustrophobic, but all Jake felt was safe and strangely at home.
The woman took a seat and motioned to the chair on the opposite side of the table. He sank down wondering what was going on behind those ancient eyes that stared at him so intensely. She leaned over and took his hand, and suddenly the short hairs on the back of his neck rose as what felt like electricity crackled around them, arching back and forth between their bodies. He half rose in confusion and fear but her gaze froze him in place and he slowly sat back down.
"You will find what you seek." Her voice was low and musical and shook Jake to the core. "But the way is hard and you will endure much pain and fear before you find him."
His eyes grew wide as he tried to process what she was saying. Confusion chased fear and doubt. "Wha..?"
She laughed and patted his hand. "Do not worry. I will help you."
His brow furrowed. "But I am not looking for…" He abruptly fell silent as she cocked her head and gave him a look not unlike his Nana had when she called him on his bullshit. He blushed again and looked down at their entwined hands.
"This is the end of the beginning and the beginning of the ending. Do not be afraid, Jake. You are strong and you can do this. I promise… it will be worth it."
The look of compassion on her lined face made tears well up in his eyes, but he still had no idea what she was talking about, only the gut deep realization that somehow it was important and real.
She let go of his hand and reached up, removing a necklace from around her neck. She held it out to him. "This is for you. It is very old. Keep it safe and use it well."
He took it and examined it curiously. The chain was gold and hanging from it dangled a tooth of some kind. "I can't accept this."
She frowned. "Please, you must. It has been passed down in my family for generations, but I am the last of my line and have no child of my own to give it to. I have been searching for the one who is to receive it for a very long time and that is you. Please, Jake, take it."
He looked up and searched her face. "How do you know my name?"
Her eyes sparkled in merriment and her sudden smile took his breath away, transforming her from stately matron to mischievous child in a flash. "The stars told me. Just as they told me that you are the one."
Somehow the rational scientist in him was calmed and he didn't question her. The questions would come much later. He looked back at the tooth. "What is it?"
"A wolf's tooth. The wolf is a symbol of loyalty, faithfulness, honesty and willingness to fight injustice." She fixed him with a challenging stare. "The stars have shown me that you have these qualities. Although…" She grinned at him. "They also say that you need to work on your patience and ability to follow orders. You must remember, Jake, the wolf is a pack animal. You need to find your pack. When you do, you will find your place, your purpose and your love."
The last thing he remembered was slipping the necklace over his head, then there was an explosion of sound and color and he felt like the floor dropped out from under him and he was falling.
He awoke in the forest, trapped in the body of a wolf with no idea how to turn back into himself and no memory of how he had gotten there. The first few days passed in a daze of fear and confusion until hunger and thirst brought focus.
His head was pillowed on his paws as he dozed away the afternoon when a passing scent caught his attention. His nose twitched and quivered as his brain fought to categorize the smell. He lifted his head and his ears swiveled back and forth to catch even the slightest rustle in the bushes. Whatever it was smelled delicious. His ears cupped forward as he caught a faint sound. Climbing silently to his feet, he took a cautious step. There it was again, leaves moving as a small body scurried along the forest floor in search of food. His body tensed and without thought he pounced, his jaws closing with a swift chomp around something furry. Instinctively he bit down and the rush of blood over his tongue caught him by surprise. Disgust warred with hunger as the flavor and heat burst over his taste buds. Hunger won out and he devoured the squirrel, trying desperately to think of something other than what he was doing. Once he was done, he sat down and carefully licked his muzzle clean. The few bites had only served to quiet the growl in his stomach and he knew he had to eat more. His body was big and required more than a few mouthfuls to fuel it. If he wanted to live, he was going to have to hunt. He padded into the forest in search of a drink to clean the last of the taste out of his mouth. Miles passed until at last he caught the sound of running water; he veered toward it, poking his nose into the bushes until he found a small stream. He slaked his thirst, and then sat down to try and remember everything he had ever read about large predators…
Cougar woke with a gasp, his heart racing as the image of blue eyes peeping at him through a bush chased him into the waking world. Swiveling to sit on the edge of the bed, he sat up and tried to catch his breath. He dropped his head into his hands and yawned. Exhaustion clouded his thoughts, but every time he tried to sleep that damn dream haunted him. At this rate he was rapidly becoming a danger to his team. With a deep sigh he decided it was time to talk to the Colonel. He glanced at the clock beside the bed, midnight, the witching hour; his chat with Clay would have to wait until morning. Warily he lay back down and stared into the darkness. As he slipped back into slumber he caught the sound of a faint howl in the distance.
The full moon shone down, dappling the forest with silver light, alternately hiding and revealing the surrounding area, Jake stared up into the night sky and sighed. The full moon had come and gone and come again, and still he was stuck in this form. He wanted, with an ache so intense it left him breathless, to be human again. He had tried everything he could think of to turn back but nothing had worked. True, there were things about being a wolf that were awesome, but the loneliness drowned out the wonder. He threw his head back and howled his despair and longing to the moon.
The meeting with their contact had ended and Clay told the team to scatter and meet back up the hotel later in the evening so Cougar had hours to kill. When he saw a small carnival he decided to check it out, if nothing else it would help pass the time until he could go back to the room. Cougar wandered down the walkway watching for tails, but so far there had been no one in particular that caught his admittedly paranoid attention. As the afternoon wore on he started to relax. He stopped at the shooting booth, but sneered at the condition of their guns. Granted they were just BBs, but no weapon should ever be kept in such disrepair. He set the gun down in disgust and walked away. Eventually he found himself at the back of the midway. Curious he peeked into a small tent a fortuneteller had set up on the edge of the area. His Tia Carmen was a curandera, and he had a profound respect for the woman, so he was more open to such things then the rest of his teammates, and since they were not with him to tease he decided to have his fortune told. Just for fun…
As he stepped into the tent he saw her sitting quietly in a chair watching him with a smile of welcome as if she had been waiting for him. She cocked her head to one side like a little bird and her eyes crinkled with mirth.
"Come in, Carlos. I do not bite… much." She grinned mischievously.
He hesitated a moment when she called him by name, but he sensed nothing evil in her so he joined her at the table and sat down. His Tia also often had knowledge that others didn't. He bowed his head in respect and removed his hat, holding it in his lap. "Buenos tardes." He studied her face. There was wisdom in those dark eyes and lines that spoke of many smiles and few frowns. Silver strands shot through her long dark hair that flowed as free as a senorita to curl around her shoulders and over her bosom. She was dressed in a crimson top and a long black skirt decorated with silver embroidered vines and leaves snaking around the hem. Glinting around her neck was a chain of silver with the symbol of the moon nestled in the cleft of her throat. Long earrings of tiny bells hung from her ears and chimed softly when she moved.
She in turn studied him. "Yes, it is you. You're late." she murmured at last.
"Que?" He stopped as she took his hand and a tingle shot through his arm. He jerked back instinctively and rubbed his palm.
She arched an eyebrow and held her hand out again expectantly. "Calma, Carlos. You know very well I mean you no harm." Her tone held a slight hint of scolding and again he was reminded of his tia. This woman was a true curandera, not some charlatan.
Almost reluctantly he placed his hand back in hers. A faint cautionary voice in the back of his head told him that his life was about to change forever. Whether it was for better or worse remained to be seen. There was, however, no point in trying to avoid destiny. It never worked and forewarned was forearmed.
She smiled in triumph. "Cougar they call you and like the puma you have great courage and power. You will need it. He will need it. You are the key and the balance. You will ground him and he will make you fly. You must hold on tightly and let go freely. It will be everything you ever wanted and everything you don't. But," she paused and shot him a look of challenge, "It will be worth it… I promise.
Cougar fought the urge to groan and slam his head into the table in frustration. Why could these ladies never just speak plainly? It made his head hurt and his gut churn. He snorted as she broke out in giggles at his pained expression.
"If I simply told you then you would learn nothing, Carlito."
"Madre de Dios! You even sound like her," he groused.
She grinned mischievously for a brief moment, her eyes twinkling with mischief, but all too soon her merriment faded and she continued in a more serious tone of voice. "The Cougar is a symbol of leadership, courage, power, swiftness and balance. These qualities you have, but you hide your heart. The wolf will keep it safe for you."
He stopped breathing for a moment as her gaze pierced through all the layers of self-protection he had built up over the years. In that moment she had seen all his inner longings, desires and dreams, and it was as if he was suddenly stripped naked as he sat there. He ducked his head, fighting the instinct to cover himself.
"Trust is never easy, but the reward will be worth the effort, never doubt that." She released his hand, and handed him a necklace with a small vial hanging from the chain. "Kiss of the Moon. You will know what to do with it when the time comes. Until then, keep it safe and follow your heart. He is waiting for you. Go now and find him."
Cougar woke in the forest filled with a driving need to find… something. He didn't feel groggy or drugged, but he had only vague memories of how he had gotten here. The images were chaotic and fragmented, but two stood out, vivid in their starkness- a silver moon and blue eyes peeping through the bushes. He sat up and looked around the tiny clearing for some clue as to where he was and what had happened to him. It was quiet, just the sound of the wind rustling the leaves and the distant call of birds. The sunlight filtered down through the trees casting scattered beams of light across the forest floor and the ground was covered in moss and soft grass. A few intrepid flowers perfumed the air; their intoxicating scent mingling with the pine and Cougar found himself sniffing appreciatively. Despite his confusion he felt at peace here in this hidden glade and all his worries simply drained away.
Later he was never sure just how long he sat there enjoying the morning, but eventually the sense of urgency crept back and pricked him into movement. He climbed to his feet not sure which way to go. Something bumped his chest as he stood and he looked down in confusion. A tiny bottle dangled from a silver chain and he knew that this was as vital to him as his next breath. Following an inner prompting he removed the necklace and held it at arm's length by the clasp. The bottle spun back and forth until it stilled, pointing toward what looked like a game trail. Cougar shrugged, one way was as good as another. He replaced the necklace around his neck and set out.
Jake lifted his head and sniffed the air. There was a scent he couldn't identify on the breeze and something about it made his heart race. It teased and tantalized his senses, filling his soul with a sudden surge of indefinable longing. He had to find it… whatever it was. He set off, following his nose.
Cougar hiked through the day only stopping briefly for a drink when he found a small spring. The beauty of the area tempted him to linger, but as the day dwindled toward nightfall the feeling of anticipation intensified, and he could not fight the urge to move on.
Jake stopped abruptly when he saw someone walking toward him. It had been almost two months since he had seen another human being and he suddenly felt shy. He wormed his way into a clump of bushes and studied the approaching man. He was wearing well-worn jeans, a white, long sleeved shirt pushed up to his elbows, and a black cowboy hat and over one shoulder he carried an olive green backpack. He was almost as tall as Jake had been in human form, with long black hair tied back in a ponytail, golden tanned skin and a neat mustache and goatee. His dark eyes scanned the forest as he walked with a long, loose stride. The man moved with a fluid grace that reminded Jake of a large cat. He stopped and looked around as if he had arrived at a chosen destination. He shrugged his pack off his shoulder, dropping it to the ground with a dull thud. Then he turned his head and looked straight into Jake's eyes. He smiled and held out his hand.
It was almost dark when Cougar stopped in sudden recognition. This was the place he had seen in his dreams. The quiet rush of his breath was the only sound to break the stillness. Then he heard a slight rustle. He turned his head and there they were, a pair of eyes the color of the sky on a perfect summer day, peeking shyly at him from behind a bush. His heart leapt in his chest, and without even considering his actions he held his hand out in welcome.
Jake's nose quivered as the man's scent caressed his nostrils. This was it, the smell he had been following all day. It was intoxicating… spicy-sweet, and musky with a hint of something that spoke of home and safety. He suddenly had an insane urge to run to the man and throw himself into his arms, but inviting as that thought was, he was a stranger and Jake was afraid of his reception. He tentatively crawled out from under the bush and waited, his tail wagging uncertainly.
Cougar held his breath as the wolf stepped out so he could see it clearly. He was a big animal- strong, healthy and beautiful with gold tipped overcoat darkening to cinnamon around the tips of his ears and tail, and a creamy white undercoat. Brilliant blue eyes studied Cougar as he wagged his tail. Behind him, the setting sun kissed the wolf's fur with a golden glow. Then he sat down, cocked his head, ears up and forward, and yipped softly as if saying hello. Cougar grinned and stepped forward. When the wolf scrambled to his feet and took a step back at his approach, Cougar stopped and crouched down, resting back on his heels. "Hola, Lobo."
The man's voice was low and soothing, and he had a very sexy Spanish accent. Jake's ears perked up and he sat down again with a soft plunk. His tail stirred the leaves and he sneezed at the scent. His new companion chuckled softly.
Cougar leaned forward curiously as a glint of metal in the wolf's ruff caught his attention. "What's this? Looks like something is caught in your fur." He laughed as the wolf's eyes crossed and he tried to look down to see what Cougar was talking about. Cougar reached out and gently lifted the chain and as his hand brushed against the pendant there was an explosion of color and sound in his head, and for a moment or an eternity, he wasn't sure which, he felt like he had been dropped into the center of a tolling bell. Memories flooded his mind and he fell on his ass with a gasp. He stared at the wolf, eyes wide with shock and amazement.
Jake shook his head dazedly. His memories returned in a rush leaving him reeling and trying to make sense of the flood of information. He threw his head back and howled in confusion.
"Kiss of the Moon. You will know what to do with it when the time comes. Until then, keep it safe and follow your heart. He is waiting for you. Go now and find him." Her words echoed in his heart and Cougar reached down to clutch the necklace with the precious vial in his hand. The wolf howled and he knew that call. This was the one that had haunted his nights for weeks. But if his suspicion was right, this was not really a wolf at all. He took her gift off with a shaky hand and removed the tiny stopper. The wolf stared at him as he held it out. "Stick out your tongue," Cougar urged him. He chuckled wryly when the wolf drew his head back and looked at the vial suspiciously. "Trust me… please," he pleaded.
Jake cocked his head and stared deep into the man's brown eyes. Eyes the color of molasses, honey and rich caramel, eyes filled with a look of … something that despite his fear, called to him and calmed his heart. For a moment more he contemplated running away, but his companion's expression was so earnest and Jake desperately wanted to trust him, so he squeezed his eyes shut and opened his mouth as requested. Afterward he could never truly describe the flavor that burst over his tongue except to say it was like sunshine and honey and all the sweetness of flowers after rain. His fur rippled as if in a high wind and suddenly he felt like he was on fire. He writhed in pain as muscle and bone rearranged itself and when at last it was over he lay panting on the forest floor moaning. He cautiously opened his eyes and looked down. "Oh! Thank God, opposable thumbs!"
Cougar watched in wonder, as there was a blinding flash of light and the wolf morphed into a man. He was handsome and well built with short, blond hair. When he opened his eyes, Cougar saw they were the same brilliant blue as when he had been a wolf. He was dressed in a pair of jeans and a tight black tee shirt with the words 'Cougar Bait' in blue emblazoned across the chest. Cougar smirked as he imagined what the man's reaction to his name would be.
Jake slumped back in relief. "Oh my God, thank you! But… how?" He stopped and stared at the other man in confusion.
Cougar held the vial up. "A woman gave me this and said I would know what to do when the time came." He shrugged. "Es mágico." He glanced around as the sun dipped behind the tree line and the light dimmed. "Dark soon."
Jake nodded. "Yeah, I… I know a place we could camp for the night," he said hopefully.
Cougar nodded. "Lead on."
Jake led the way to a small clearing beside a stream. A large tree had fallen and provided a backdrop that would reflect the heat of a fire back toward them as well as providing fuel and a semblance of shelter. He gestured to the area. "You think this will do for the night?"
"Si, es bueno." Cougar broke off some branches while Jake cleared an area for a fire. Once they got a blaze going, the two settled down to compare notes.
Jake inched a little closer to the fire as he studied his new companion curiously. "I'm Jake Jensen. You said a woman gave you that vial?" He smiled grimly when the other man nodded. "It was a woman who gave me this." He held up the wolf's tooth. "A fortune teller I met at a carnival a couple of months ago."
Cougar cocked his head as he considered how much to share with Jake. "Carlos Alvarez, but they call me Cougar." He grinned as Jake glanced down at his shirt and blushed. "I think we both met the same woman."
Jake nodded and looked down at his clenched hands. "Did she… um... say anything to you? About all this?"
"Si. A little bit. Mostly cryptic." He grimaced. "Curanderas are not noted for being forthcoming."
"What's a cu..ran..dera?" Jake rolled the unfamiliar word out slowly. He leaned forward and held his hands out to the fire, then scooted a bit closer to soak up more heat.
Cougar didn't answer for a moment, uncertain how to explain something so complex. He shrugged. "Wise woman, shaman, healer. Take your pick. Some might even say witch although that would be a bruja. She isn't evil though. Just…," he paused, "mysterious." He reached for his pack and dug around until he came up with his canteen and two MREs. He tossed one to Jake and tore the other box open. Opening the entrée he poured a small amount of water in and set it on the ground to heat, then he took a sip of the tepid water and passed the canteen to his companion. He grinned as Jake moaned obscenely at the sight of his small package of M&M's.
"Dude, I will give you my first born if you let me have those." Jake's blue eyes begged shamelessly. "Seriously. Anything you want, man. It's yours." His eyes were plastered to the treat as he copied Carlos' preparations with his own entrée.
Cougar smirked and lifted one eyebrow as he ran his eyes over the other man. "Anything, huh?"
For a second Jake stared blankly, then a light blush stained his cheeks, but he grinned back cheekily. "I haven't had chocolate in over two months, dude, so what do you think?"
Cougar smiled and tossed the package to Jake, who fell on it like a starving wolf. He chuckled softly at the look of sheer ecstasy on his new friend's face, as Jake popped a small handful in his mouth and groaned in appreciation.
Jake shivered suddenly, looking up as he felt eyes watching him. He met Carlos' gaze briefly, then ducked his head as another blush crept up his neck and over his cheeks. He wasn't quite sure how to respond to look in the other man's eyes, but he was pretty sure that pouncing on him was right out. No matter how tempting that thought might be. He firmly turned his attention to his first hot meal in months. Tearing open the package he spooned the stew into his mouth and savored the rich flavor of gravy, meat, and vegetables. He grinned, it sure beat raw squirrel that was for sure. The two men quietly finished eating before resuming their conversation.
Once they were done, Cougar packed away the debris from dinner and turned back to Jake. "How did you end up as a wolf?"
Jake shrugged and shook his head. "I'm not sure. One second I was talking to that lady and the next thing I knew I was here and..." he paused and shuddered. "I was stuck. I had no idea where I was, how I got here, or what was happening to me. I still don't, but what I am really worried about is...," he took a deep breath and turned a bleak gaze on Cougar, "is it going to happen again?" He looked down at his hands and sighed.
Carlos looked down at the vial lying on his chest. He picked it up and shook it, pleased to hear the quiet slosh of liquid. "There is still a small amount, so if you do change, I will turn you back again. I think our best bet is to get back and find her."
Jake looked up hopefully. "Our? You'll go with me?"
Cougar shot him a look of exasperation. "Of course. I have questions too, amigo. What? Did you think I would just take off? She sent me to find you, and for better or for worse I am part of this too." He smiled at the look of profound gratitude and relief Jake gave him.
Jake frowned suddenly and sniffed. He glanced up at the sky, noting the racing clouds that crossed the moon's face, and a scowl crossed his face. "Shit. It's gonna rain."
The first few drops spattered the fire, hissing as they encountered the hot coals. Cougar sent Jake to grab four long sticks while he scrambled for his pack and pulled out his poncho. They barely got the shelter set up before the heavens opened and the deluge put the fire out.
Cougar swore as a steady stream of icy water dripped down the back of his neck. He tried to wiggle away but there just wasn't enough room on his side to avoid the misery.
A flash of lightning gave enough light for Jake to see the poncho dip down from the weight of the water and douse Cougar's back. "Come here."
Cougar glanced over miserably. "Que?"
"Come here," Jake repeated. "It's not so wet on this side." He patted the ground beside him.
Another dousing convinced Cougar to scramble over to Jake's side. Violent shivers wracked his frame and Jake shot him a look before pulling him against his chest, sharing his body warmth and the only dry spot under the small shelter.
Jake was putting off heat like a furnace and Cougar slowly relaxed into his companion's embrace. It had been a long time since anyone other than his team had touched him, let alone cuddled with him, but hypothermia would put him out of commission so he really had no choice but to accept the contact, or so he told himself, ignoring the insidious little whisper in the back of his head. The whisper that wouldn't let him forget how lonely he had been and how good it felt to be close to someone. Finally, after what felt like hours, the shivers slowed and then ceased. He sighed in relief as he warmed up and his muscles unlocked. "Gracias," he whispered.
"De nada," came the quiet reply.
Jake buried his cold nose in Cougar's long, silky hair and tried to relax enough to sleep. It was hard to ignore how good it felt to be next to someone, to feel the warmth of his body, his breath, and to hear his heart beat in a slow steady rhythm. Cougar's scent curled around them, musk and cordite and spicy-sweet like cinnamon and chocolate, it was intoxicating, enticing. He took a deep breath, the smell imprinting in his mind, and slowly a feeling of safety and something indefinable crept over him. Until he had been changed into a wolf he hadn't really realized just how lonely he had been, but two months alone had brought it so obviously to his attention that now he didn't think he could stand to go back to being a loner again, every time he even thought of it he ached inside. He sighed and snuggled closer, resolutely closed his eyes and told himself to go to sleep.
The storm passed sometime right before dawn and the two men woke to bird song and sunshine. Jake heaved a sigh of relief, he had not looked forward to slogging through a rainy day. They crawled out from under the poncho and glanced around their camp site. The big tree had done a good job protecting them from the wind, and even though the rainfall had been heavy, the sandy ground had drained fast so it was damp but not soggy.
Jake stretched and ambled off to gather some wood for a fire while Cougar packed up the poncho. He had just finished putting his pack in order when Jake returned and handed him the load of broken branches and tinder. Jake walked down to the small stream and rinsed his hands, then returned once more and crouched down on his heels to watch his companion.
After starting the small fire, Cougar produced another MRE. He shrugged in apology at the meager offering.
Jake grinned and accepted his half of the meal. "Ya know what I missed the most?"
Cougar looked up from his breakfast and lifted an eyebrow.
"Caffeine," Jake said. He waited a beat and then smiled. "And chocolate."
Cougar snorted and reached for one of the packages that came in the MRE. He ripped it open and tossed Jake tiny packets of coffee, cream, and sugar.
Jake caught them and stared at the offering for a second, then looked up at his companion with a look of such gratitude it almost took Cougar's breath away. "Oh my God, I love you. Seriously dude, you're a God among men and I wanna have your babies."
Cougar stared at him bemused for a moment and then snorted in amusement.
Jake chuckled and then poured some water into the canteen cup, added the coffee, and set it near the fire to heat. He dumped in sugar and a packet of cream and stirred. When it was steaming he picked it up and held it a moment with his nose buried in the cup. Although his new friend was just a blur, since his glasses were now steamed up, he grinned in Cougar's direction and took his first sip of coffee since this whole nightmare had started.
Cougar watched him quietly, and decided he rather liked Jake's smile. It lit up his whole face. He smiled as Jake closed his eyes, utterly blissed out as the bittersweet taste exploded over his taste buds. As he had with the M&M's the night before, Jake groaned in appreciation. He took his time with his cup, seemingly not in any hurry to leave.
Cougar took the opportunity to study his companion. For all the man seemed to have bounced back from his ordeal with cheerful abandon, the wariness of the wolf was still there. If you knew where to look, there was a hint of desperation in his eyes and a subtle tension in his body, as if he was just waiting for the other shoe to drop. Something about that vulnerability aroused Cougar's protective instincts, but he ruthlessly shoved those feelings to the back of his mind and turned his thoughts to the day's travel. Right now they desperately needed to figure out where they were, how to get back and how to find the woman. Later, when they were safe, they could figure out the rest of this... mess. A thought occurred to him and he said abruptly, "I heard you."
Jake looked up from his coffee cup with a quizzical look on his face. "What?"
"I heard you. Howling at night." A light blush spread over his cheeks as he hurried on. "If you were close enough for me to hear you in my room, then you must know the way back to town, si?"
Jake shook his head slowly. "I didn't see any town."
"Maybe not but you were close."
Jake cocked his head to one side. "Are you sure it wasn't just some random...?" he stopped as Cougar shook his head.
"No. It was you. I am sure of it."
Cougar's eyes were dark and intense as they watched him expectantly. Jake thought hard, trying to remember which way he had wandered. A feeling of pressure built behind his eyes as if a headache was coming on. Then with an almost audible pop the feeling dissipated. He was about to speak when a feminine chuckle interrupted their conversation. Both men turned and the woman they needed to find was standing there beside the tree, amusement clearly written all over her face.
"You called?" she asked with a slight smile.
Jake leapt to his feet, hands fisted and shaking. "You!"
Cougar stood and placed a calming hand on his shoulder. "Easy, amigo."
"I'm sorry, Jake. You were only supposed to be out for a week or two. " Her gaze shifted to Cougar for a brief second and then turned back to Jake. "I... miscalculated his level of, umm, stubbornness."
Cougar stepped forward putting his body between Jake and the woman. "We need straight answers." His tone left no room for arguing on her part.
She nodded, then walked over and sank down next to the fire. "Sit, this will take awhile." She waited until the two men sat down, smiling slightly as she noted the subconscious way they sat close to each other, the subtle positioning of their bodies to give emotional and, if needed, physical support to the other. The amusing part was that they didn't even seem aware that they were doing it.
Jake leaned forward resting his hands on his knees. "Who are you?" His blue eyes were filled with frustration and, despite his obvious irritation, curiosity. "And why did you do this to me..." He looked over at Cougar and added, "... to us?"
"My name is Camirea. And I told you why when we met. You are my heir, Jake."
His breath shot out in a huff. "Heir? What the fuck are you talking about? Heir to what exactly? And why me? I never met you before, why the hell would you want me to be your..." He sputtered to a halt as Cougar laid a hand on his knee.
"Tranquilo, Jake." He dropped another log on the fire and settled back sitting cross-legged. He gave Jake a slight smile. "One question at a time, eh?"
Jake sighed. "Fine. Heir to what?"
Camirea smiled. "It will be easiest for you to understand if I tell you of my family first. Long ago my many-times great grandmother did a good turn for one of the fair folk and in return she was given that necklace you now wear. It grants the bearer the gift of shifting. In every generation one person in my family was chosen to carry it. It has been passed from parent to child for generations. But I have no child to carry on my legacy. So I consulted the stars and the message I received was to pass it on to one outside the family. You are that man, Jake. However the stars also spoke of another, to be the partner of the new bearer." She stopped and looked at Cougar. "He is the one the prophecy referred to. As to why you?" She closed her eyes for a moment. "I don't know. The stars say you're the one, and that he will help you."
"But I was stuck... for two damn months. I tried, but I couldn't turn back. What the hell good is it if I can't control it?" Jake waved his hands in frustration. "I'm sorry, but I can't do this." He took the necklace off and held it out to her.
"I will teach you! Jake, please. I know you have no reason to, but please trust me. I will show you how to control it." The look of desperation in her dark eyes was so sad that Cougar held his breath as he waited to see how Jake would respond to her plea.
Jake bowed his head and sighed. He stared at the necklace he still held loosely. "I am still mad at you," he said conversationally.
"I know, and I am sorry." A feeling of hope crept its way into her heart.
Jake glanced over at Cougar nervously and took a deep breath as if coming to a decision. He jerked his chin toward Cougar. "I'm... drawn to him. Is that your doing? 'Cause if so, that's a pretty shitty thing to do to both of us." His gaze was fierce as he stared at her.
Camirea shook her head frantically. "No, I swear it! I did not bespell you. Whatever you twain feel for each other is natural. I would not meddle with that."
Cougar let out his breath in a soft sigh and glanced over at the other man. Despite Jake's jokes over the chocolate and coffee, he had thought he was alone in his attraction, but perhaps Jake had only been half kidding. It made Cougar wonder.
Jake looked over and caught Cougar watching him. A faint blush colored Carlos' cheeks as he looked away but not before Jake was able to see the interest in his brown eyes. Jake tensed and took a chance before he could change his mind. "Carlos?" He waited until the other man met his eyes again. "You feel it too?" Every nerve was on fire while he waited for the response. Then, as Cougar gave a quick, sharp nod, Jake's muscles suddenly relaxed and he slumped down and dropped his head into his hands. He muttered something under his breath.
Cougar leaned forward to catch what Jake was saying. "Que?"
"I said... I don't believe in magic," Jake said plaintively.
Cougar barked out a harsh laugh. "You just spent two months as a wolf and you say you don't believe in magic?"
"No, I don't. I must be having some weird fucked up dream. I drank too much before I fell asleep. Yep, that's gotta be it. Wake the fuck up, Jake!" He squeezed his eyes shut and reached down pinching himself hard. His sky blue eyes flew open as he yelped. "Ow! Fuck. You're still here." He dropped his head into his hands again and resumed muttering under his breath.
Cougar chuckled wryly at his antics and rolled his eyes. He looked over at Camirea who was busy trying to hide her smile behind her hand. He shared a grin with her. "Now what?"
She smiled. "Now I teach him how to use his gift."
One year later...
Jake stepped into the terminal and looked around for his new teammates. An elusive odor wafted past his nose, cinnamon and chocolate baseline overlaid with gun oil, cordite and rich leather. He turned toward the scent and followed his nose, shouldering his way through the crowd as quickly as possible. It had been too long since his last visit with his partner and he was eager to see him. As he broke through the throng milling around the baggage claim he saw a pair of dark eyes glittering beneath a familiar hat and a slight smirk gracing the sniper's lips as he leaned against a pillar in the corner. Jake felt a twitch in the muscles of his low back and knew if he wolfed out now his tail would be wagging. He bounced over and grinned at his lover. "Hey, Carlos."
Cougar nodded. "Jake." He reached down and grabbed one of Jake's duffle bags off the turnstile and slung it over his shoulder. "Any more?"
Jake reached out and snagged another bag as it went past. "Just this one."
Jake followed Carlos out to his jeep. "So are we meeting the rest of the team tonight?"
Cougar shook his head. "Tomorrow."
"So where are we going now?"
"Mi casa." He shot Jake a smoldering look.
Jake's smile lit up his face. "Cool. You gonna buy me dinner too?"
Clay studied the newest team member as he entered the room right behind Cougar. The man was tall, broad shouldered and well built. His sky blue eyes sparkled behind his glasses and he had an easy smile. Cougar had sworn to Clay that this man would be an asset to the team, both as a tech and comm man and for a hidden talent. He hadn't elaborated on just what that talent might be, only said Clay would have to see for himself. But Clay trusted Cougar so he signed off on the transfer and now he sat back in his chair and waited for them to enter his office. When they approached the desk he grinned at the hacker. "Welcome to the Losers, Corporal Jensen."
Cougar chuckled as he watched Jake chase his tail while he waited for Pooch to toss the ball across the field. He looked up as Clay came to the door and whistled. "Time to go, Losers."