The first time Clay does it, Roque jerks and comes up swinging. He's too tense, burning with too much adrenaline, to read it as anything but a threat. He doesn't like things around his neck, near his face. He doesn't like the pressure of Clay's fingers on his skin.
Clay grabs Roque's sleeve at the elbow, neutralizing the next swing he was gonna take, and wrenches him forward, getting right into Roque's face. "Captain," gets Roque's attention, and then the softer, "Roque," that follows makes him take a moment to calm the fuck down. "Take a moment," Clay says. "Get yourself together."
Roque nods, once, sharp, and Clay lets him go, gives him all the space he needs until he's focused, eyes on the sky, waiting for their pick up.
Clay should've booted his ass out, but it's Thompson who gets transferred.
Roque never says sorry. It probably didn't help that his childhood was filled with them — sorry this, sorry that, and all his dad ever said was, "Yeah, you are. You're a sorry piece of shit."
They're holed down on site, waiting for their orders to proceed. Roque's fine, Cougar's fine, Allen's fine, and Butler is too busy listening on the comms. Five minutes in, Clay's pacing, walking ten paces from the humvee to stare at their target and then making an about face and returning to where Butler's positioned. If Clay starts drills, commanding officer or not, Roque might fuck him up a little.
Five minutes in, Cougar's still fine, Allen's still fine, and Butler's still fiddling. Clay's pacing is making Roque skittish, because he doesn't like nervous tics either. He checks the safety on his rifle and then slings it back.
"Yo, man," he says, low enough that the rest of the guys can't catch it, and sets a hand on Clay's shoulder, applies pressure before he makes his about face. "Take a moment. Get yourself together." He's not trying to be a smart ass, but those seem like the best words to say right now.
Clay turns with a grin, claps Roque on the shoulder and says, "Yeah," so it must've been the right answer.
"Jesus fuck," Clay mutters, but Jensen doesn't stop talking.
Roque pulls his KA-BAR and leans with it, right in Jensen's face, because enough is fucking enough. "Stop talking or I'm cutting out your fucking tongue."
Jensen shuts up and stares at the tip of the knife, which Roque has purposefully put dangerously close to the corner of his mouth. Jensen doesn't move, eyes narrowed, mouth drawn tight. Not five seconds pass.
"Yeah, right. That threat only works if you're serious. No one wants to deal with that kind of paperwork. We haven't even left base yet, so you can't use the option of friendly fire. Anyway"—Either Jensen's too stupid to know that Roque's serious or he's too stupid to know how dangerous a KA-BAR is, because he turns and looks at Clay—"my point is, your equipment sucks. I've never seen such crap since my dumpster diving years in college. Sir."
Clay can deal with the fucking paperwork on this one. Roque is about to lunge for Jensen, but before he can slice a part of Jensen's face, Clay grabs Roque and pulls him back, hand heavy on Roque's shoulder.
"Tell me what you need," Clay says.
One look lets Roque know that Clay's fucking serious. He doesn't put away the KA-BAR or relax, but he lets Clay's fingers stay on his shoulder.
"The answer is a lot, sir."
"Good. Start early on that Christmas list."
"Pooch, my man!" Jensen says, and they fist bump in the front seat.
Cougar looks stony-faced as always, but he's just as quick as Clay is to get out of the goddamn death trap of a jeep that Pooch put them in.
"You're fucking crazy," Roque mutters as he slides out after them.
He glances up just in time to see Clay's face and steps in his path before he goes for Pooch, jerking on Clay's arm but making it look like they're walking away together to run down a Plan G.
"Saved our asses," Roque reminds him, and fists a hand into Clay's shirt, forcing eye contact every time Clay tries to glance over his shoulder to glare at Pooch.
With the team behind him, Roque's gotta be careful, quick, and he raises his left hand to Clay's shoulder, squeezes with just enough pressure to get Clay to stop and focus.
"He got us out," Roque says.
"He could use some goddamn sense."
Roque snorts, because that's the stupidest thing Clay's ever said. Clay gives him a narrow-eyed stare, but when he catches on to the actual words that came out of his mouth, he grins, relaxing, shaking his head, exhaling a soft laugh.
"Which makes him perfect," Clay says.
Clay laughs again. "What a fucking team."
"The best you've got."
Roque relaxes his grip in Clay's shirt, drops his hand from Clay's shoulder, and ignores the way Clay's looking at him, hard and focused like he's just noticed something.
"Get yourself together," he says, and then walks back to the jeep to tell Pooch that he owes him a big one.
Roque might lose the eye. He doesn't want to think about it, because then he'll have to think about what next — like desk job or discharge or dealing with shit like disability when he can't even tell anyone how he lost the fucking eye, because they were never in Hala'ib. Which means, technically, that Roque didn't lose his eye to a scumbag trafficker that got lucky with a knife.
"It looks bad, boss," Cougar says quietly, but Roque can still hear them. He didn't lose his goddamn hearing. "But the eye's still there."
Which doesn't say shit about Roque's vision.
Jensen's smart, snaps, "Fuck," probably because the same thought runs through his head. "How the hell does this always happen to us?"
"Because we're Losers," Roque says with the pride that they should all have, because they get the impossible done.
"I'm getting you an eye patch. You're going to be a pirate at Sara's birthday party."
The joke is weak, but Roque's obligated to say, "Like fuck I am."
"That's my man," Jensen says. It's probably him who fist bumps Roque's boot.
With their solidarity re-confirmed, Clay starts spouting off orders. "Jensen, figure out where the hell our pick up is. Pooch, secure a ride out of this shit hole. Cougar, you're on watch."
Roque shuts his eyes, about to struggle up, too, because he's still got a fucking job to do, but Clay shoves him back down, says, "No," soft and ragged.
They stare each other down, the pressure of Clay's fingers on his shoulder and thigh tightening until it feels like the breath is strangling in Roque's lungs.
"Clay," he says slowly.
Clay shakes his head. "You're not gonna lose the eye."
As if it's that easy, like they can will another miracle out of their asses. The words don't matter, though. Not like the squeeze of Clay's hands, pushing out the thoughts that fuck everything up. Roque raises his own, sets it loose around Clay's wrist at first but digs in hard and slow 'til Clay shuts his eyes and releases an audible breath.
"Take a moment," Roque says.
Clay nods. "Get yourself together."
And they hold on to each other until they do.