He watched them, his entire team, watched as they came together, first because they had to but then because they wanted to. They could each request a transfer, find somewhere else to go (if anyone else would take them, there was a reason they were there to begin with), but they didn’t. Each day, bright and early, they were there to listen to his orders. Clay was up in the catwalk of the newest warehouse they had situated themselves in. It was the ass end of Almaty, Kazakhstan. Trying to kill some new sheikh that the American government couldn’t publicly admit they wanted dead. Roque was out with Pooch, reconning the area the sheik was supposed to be, streets, the hotel itself, all the details. Jensen and Cougar were set up across from each other on a table, Jensen’s computer equipment on one side, Cougar’s gun on the other, in pieces right now for cleaning.
Clay watched them silently. They were the two iffiest members. The general had given him Jensen simply for a place to put him. His dad was military, so it wouldn’t look good for the kid to be kicked out on his ass. Jensen had arrived at his figurative doorstep with a file the size of a book full of past disciplinary action. Clay was still working on the right balance with keeping Jensen in line but he was getting there, figuring out the right buttons to push to get Jensen’s best work out of him.
Cougar was a bit more of an issue. It was impossible to read the man, he was used to staying still and quiet. He did what Clay wanted but there was an edge there. Something inside of Cougar just waiting to snap. Sometimes, when they were on an op and Cougar was tucked away in his nest, Clay’s shoulders itched. Cougar’s file had been thick but for different reasons then Jensen. Psych reports. A child had gotten killed. There had been shrinks, other commanders had been freaked out for the same reasons Clay was but they couldn’t deal with it.
Clay hadn’t known how any of this team would work together. He knew Roque, had brought him in himself. Pooch was the best balanced of any of them, Clay had requested him when given his own team. But Jensen and Cougar were his wild cards, so he kept them close. Kept on eye on them, until he was surer of how they were fitting in, how they would work in the field.
Jensen talked as he worked, from the beginning he had talked. Clay had stopped paying attention to it a long time ago when it looked like no matter how often he was ordered, he wouldn’t shut up. Roque still tried but everyone else adjusted to it, it became a comforting sort of background noise. Situation normal, Jensen’s running his mouth. This time Clay couldn’t hear the words, but he could hear the sound of his voice, the intonations. Jensen didn’t generally talk for conversation, but to Clay’s surprise, Jensen suddenly stopped talking and Cougar responded. Nothing more then a word or two, Clay couldn’t even hear the sound of his voice. But whatever he said made Jensen laugh and then keep on talking as if the moment had never happened. As if it wasn’t the biggest step in the mechanics of this team that anyone had taken.
From there, Clay knew he didn’t have to watch them so closely. Slowly he came to realize that watching them was generally pointless, they’d come up with their own balance. Roque was drawing his attention again. He’d known Roque before, knew the man was unstable but Clay thought he could control him. The next time he had a chance to step back and take in the whole team again, they’d gone through hell and back. They’d done it, proved they could work as a team. Proved they were a team. Finally.
Clay sat in the back of the C-37 taking them home. Roque and Pooch were passed out. Jensen’s head was on Cougar’s shoulder but they were still both awake. Clay’s eyes were shuttered and if either noticed the attention, it didn’t show. Jensen was talking, but quietly now. Just for Cougar. His hands were moving too, gesturing to emphasize the important words, illustrate whatever he was saying. Cougar wasn’t saying anything but as Clay watched Cougar nudged Jensen’s leg with his knee, at one point, shrugged at something else. His face was hidden by the always present hat but there was looseness to his posture that wasn’t normally there. Clay had missed something, too busy keeping Roque from going on a fucking murdering spree. Jensen’s eyes closed but his lips kept on moving, making himself laugh. Cougar’s shoulders were shaking and Clay realized he was laughing too.
It didn’t all quite come together until they were in Tunis. An apartment this time. Jensen was sprawled across the floor in front of his computer, stripped down to his underwear. Usually Clay yelled at him for that, especially when they were all stuck together but it was too hot that for once he didn’t bother. When the others got back, Pooch dropped the food by the table and went to go sit in the window, passing out beers as he went, Rogue leaned on the counter with his own beer. Clay wasn’t sure where they’d gotten it but didn’t particularly care, it felt good against the back of his neck until Rogue told him to fucking drink the thing or pass it over if he was going to waste it.
Clay flicked him off but started to drink, taking a look at his team around the glass as he did so. They were at a standstill, they had to kill the day before they could make their move. Pooch was perched, looking out at the city, probably composing an email to Jolene. Cougar was sitting next to Jensen, pulling out his weapon and going through the motions of cleaning it. Cougar was mildly paranoid about his guns getting clogged with sand.
Jensen moved just enough that his elbow was in Cougar’s way. Gently, Cougar relocated it and Jensen flopped his whole arm over Cougar’s leg. Cougar’s response was to stretch his leg over Jensen’s back which made the younger man whine but he didn’t put any other effort into moving.
Alarm bells went off in his head.
But there was no chance to corner either of them until they were done with the mission, dropped off in Germany to await further orders. Clay found Cougar first, to his surprise but he was used to surprise and plans changing and didn’t let it stop him from carrying out this particular job.
“What are you two doing?” Cougar arched an eyebrow but Clay didn’t miss how he shifted backwards defensively. “It’s dangerous to fuck a teammate and you. Know. That.”
“Not your business.”
“Yes. It is. I am this team’s leader and I need everyone to be fucking professional.”
“We’re not doing anything, boss,” Jensen interrupted, appearing from no where. They did more then talk to each other it seemed, though Clay knew that it wasn’t right to dismiss Jensen like that. He had just as much special ops training as the rest of them, he just didn’t have reason to show it as often. “Swear. And you could have just asked.”
Clay scowled at them both and stormed away, feeling like he’d just given them ideas but they had to know, had to understand what a liability it was. If nothing else, if they got caught, they were out. He’d lose almost half his team and he had worked fucking hard to make this what it was. But DADT only mattered as long as they were actually employed by the United States government. After Bolivia and Max, there was no one to report to. All bets were off. When Clay gathered his team at the cemetery, he wasn’t surprised to see the way they drifted together, he’d known they had found work together, or Jensen’s pout at Cougar kissing the girls. Jensen pouted whenever the attention was taken from him though whether the pout this time was because of Cougar or the woman was up in the air.
When the op started he was distracted by Aisha, couldn’t keep as close an eye on them, or any of them it turned out, as he wanted. Sure their ability to communicate silently was still disturbing but it didn’t mean anything. That was how they had always been. After LA he knew his men needed a break, he could see that. Jensen and Pooch needed a chance to be with their families and Cougar just needed to be away. Clay and Aisha had gone down to the Caribbean, first to relax and then to plan. Now they needed to decide the next step. Clay had nothing else but the mission but he wouldn’t drag the rest of his men into it. It’d be hard with just him and Aisha but he suspected they would be able to cause some damage.
He watched them all as they showed up at the small little resort, cottages placed for apart to give each enough privacy. Perfect for them. He and Aisha had already been there a week alternating between the bed and information gathering. Clay was stretched out on a beach chair as they showed up. First Pooch, aviators in place and a big wide grin. He looked relaxed in a way since he hadn’t since their last official leave before Bolivia. And then Jensen and Cougar. Together. Which by itself wasn’t too bad. He had heard Jensen talking about going to Mexico together. Jensen had even mentioned it to Clay, that he didn’t like Cougar being alone.
But now Jensen was wearing Cougar’s hat.
There was nothing else. Nothing blatant, years in the military had done their indoctrination work, no touches or long lingering stares, but the hat was screaming at him. The hat was Cougar’s. The only one ever allowed to touch it had been Jensen but to take it and wear it was a whole new ball game.
They claimed the remaining chair since Pooch had spread out all across his. Jensen sat down on one end and Cougar settling himself so he was in Jensen’s shadow.
Aisha sauntered out of the cottage to finally join them. Clay didn’t mind watching her, she gave him less of a headache then his men did when she wasn’t feeling homicidal.
“What’s with the hat?”
Cougar didn’t react but Jensen smirked. “I won a bet.”
Aisha arched an eyebrow at him as she slid onto the chair beside Clay. “And you won the hat?”
“Fuck no, the real prize was a hell of a lot better. This was just a perk.” There was a hint of a smirk on Cougar’s lips now. If Clay hadn’t been watching and hadn’t known what to look for, he would have missed it.
Pooch laughed. “Guess you two finally realized don’t ask don’t tell don’t mean shit, huh?” Jensen fell off the chair laughing, Clay noticed Cougar shifting and realized the sniper had pushed him. Clay realized he was blushing. Jensen stayed sprawled out on the sand but set the hat back down on Cougar’s head.
The cottage was only a two bedroom little thing. Clay knew that Jensen could easily snag them a second but old habits or something led them to all silently agreeing to stay together. He and Aisha already had their room picked out and it was down to the other three. There wasn’t even a discussion. Pooch flopped onto the couch and the other two took the other bedroom. Jensen talked but then situation normal, Jensen talked. The words were nominally directed at Pooch and Cougar but no responses were needed.
“How long as my team been able to communicate silently?” Clay sighed once he and Aisha were alone.
She smirked. “As long as I’ve known them.”
He snorted. “Figures.” All his watching and he still missed everything.