Going to Ground
Disclaimer – All publicly recognizable characters, settings etc. are the property of their respective owners. The original characters and plot are the property of the author. No money is being made from this work. No copyright infringement is intended
Thanks to peaceful_sands, Cougar's Catnip and Jodi for the beta and read throughs. Also thanks for Cougar's Catnip for the title.
** L ** L **
Their latest attempt at finding some kind of legitimate information on Max had ended in abject failure and Pooch had threatened to kill Clay in his sleep if he didn't stop pushing them around the globe. They all needed some rest, he'd said in his most reasonable voice, but Clay heard the steely undercurrent and decided that an angry, resentful Pooch was not something he wanted to deal with.
“Fine,” he'd grumbled, “I guess we may as well take a break. No point burning ourselves out. Two weeks rest, then we get back to hunting that son of a bitch down, 'kay?”
Jensen and Cougar had eagerly nodded and hightailed it for the closest airport. Pooch had whooped and thumped Clay on the back, then driven home to see Jolene and the baby.
Aisha had given Clay a contemptuous glance and muttered, “Anyone would think you want to spend the rest of your life chasing that bastard. Taking vacations won't help you get your life back, you pathetic sap.” Then she'd vanished without another word. Clay didn't know where she'd gone and honestly didn't care. He was beginning to think that she was more trouble than she was worth, her prowess in the sack notwithstanding.
Shaking his head and wondering how this had become his life, Clay had grabbed his few belongings and made tracks for Las Vegas. The most excessive city in the USA had always treated him well, and he smiled as he thought of how easy it was to get laid there. An abundance of lonely and possibly volatile women made the place a Mecca for him, and he willingly followed its siren call whenever he had the chance.
** L ** L **
Jensen had 'liberated' some funds from a bank in the Cayman Islands. When Cougar had cocked a questioning eyebrow at him, he'd just smiled and said, “Relax, they'll never miss it and even if they do, they're involved in so much shady stuff they won't notify any authorities about it, they'd just land themselves in trouble they don't want or need. Besides, they'll never track the route I used to get into their backdoor, and if they do, they deserve to catch me.”
Cougar sometimes doubted Jensen's sanity, and despaired of his taste in clothes but he had total faith in and huge respect for the younger man's technical abilities. As yet, there hadn't been a system that Jensen couldn't crack sooner or later, and he was practically a ghost in the virtual world, diving in and out of places with top-secret security with impunity and never leaving any traces. So Cougar had just tipped his hat over his eyes and allowed Jensen to excitedly book two first-class plane tickets to 'somewhere warm'.
That 'somewhere' had turned out to be a beachfront villa in Barbados.
The young woman on the check-in desk had smiled apologetically as she explained that somehow a room with a single king-sized bed had been reserved for them. Jensen had nodded enthusiastically and said, “Yeah, that's right.”
Cougar had loitered behind the taller man, his hat pulled down over his eyes, checking out the other guests. It was the middle of tourist season and they seemed to be surrounded by honeymooning and retired couples, with the odd wealthy family giving the kids a treat thrown in. He and Jensen didn't exactly blend in with their military bearing and lack of female other halves, and he wished the receptionist would hurry up with the check in, so that they could go and relax in private.
The woman smiled understandingly at Jensen and handed over the room key. As the two men walked away from her desk she sighed, it was true, all the good men were married and all the handsome men were gay. Life was unfair sometimes.
** L ** L **
Jensen looked around their room and whistled appreciatively. “God, it's amazing what you can get if you have the right amount of money, huh, Cougs?”
Cougar grunted and threw his hat onto a low coffee table. It was a spectacular villa. They looked directly out over the sapphire-hued ocean, and he could trace patterns in the fine white sand with his toes while he was still sitting in one of the comfortable armchairs if he pulled it close enough to the patio doors.
The room was luxuriously furnished with low, inviting chairs and one long couch that Cougar decided to claim as his. He'd stuffed a book into his bag and that couch would be a good spot to try to read some of it, assuming Jensen was ever quiet enough for him to concentrate on it.
The young hacker was exclaiming happily about how awesome the room was, and hurried past Cougar into the bedroom. As per usual, he was a ball of manic energy, Cougar could practically feel it crackling off of his skin as he brushed past him. A delighted whoop came from the bedroom and Jensen reappeared in the doorway, “Cougs, you gotta come see this!”
Cougar strolled slowly into the other room, deliberately taking his time, trying to get Jensen to see that there was no rush to do anything right now. The young hacker was as hyped up and strung-out as Cougar had ever seen him. The sniper frowned a little, huh, he hadn't really noticed how bad Jensen had gotten over the last few weeks. He'd been so busy trying to follow Clay's orders and then there was that little incident with him getting himself shot, he'd failed to see how much more wound-up and over worked Jensen had become.
Jensen was bouncing happily on the huge bed. The grin on his face would have been enough to fool most people, but Cougar looked closely and saw the tension behind it. He sighed, he had his work cut out this time, bringing Jensen down was going to take a while. “Cougs, look at the size of this thing, we could fit like, an entire team in this freakin' bed and still have room left over!” Jensen said, the worryingly manic expression back in his eyes. “'Course, I don't much fancy the idea of sharing with anyone but you these days, guess I'm kinda used to you using me as a surrogate teddy bear.”
Cougar rolled his eyes and nodded, “Si, it's a good bed.” Jensen bounced off it, landed lightly on his feet and headed for the en suite bathroom. His delighted whoop echoed around the tiled room and Cougar followed him, wondering what he'd found to coo over now.
As he walked into the bathroom Cougar couldn't help but gasp slightly. It was huge, tiled from floor to ceiling and had one of the largest baths he'd ever seen. Jensen was fiddling with dials on the side of it and grinning like a Cheshire Cat. “Look, just look at this, Cougs,” he cried, “our very own private jacuzzi bath. I'm in heaven, can we just stay here for the rest of our lives? Please?”
Cougar just smiled again and ran a hand down Jensen's back, feeling the tension knotting up his muscles and pursing his lips. “I think Clay would miss us after a while and come to drag our asses Stateside again.” Jensen said nothing, just sighed heavily. Cougar bit his lip, a sighing Jensen was not a good thing. It meant he was bottling things up, and that made him into a time bomb that could and would explode without warning. Cougar rubbed his broad back again and said, “Come on, you can play with the bath from heaven later. I need to get changed and find something to eat, I'm starving.”
Jensen turned and wrapped his arms around Cougar's waist, squeezing him in a tight hug. “You know the way to my heart, querido. I think we have about four restaurants to choose from, without even leaving the hotel. What are you in the mood for?”
“Room service,” Cougar replied firmly, returning to the bedroom and grabbing the phone.
Jensen grinned and wandered back into the living room, picking things up and putting them back down again a second later. Cougar watched him, his eyes troubled.
** L ** L **
An immaculately dressed waiter knocked on their door some time later and wheeled in their food on a gleaming trolley. Cougar tipped him and he withdrew.
Jensen grabbed a pastry from the trolley and stood at the patio door, looking out at the sea. Cougar hooked a finger into his belt and dragged him back to the nearest sofa, pulling him down to sit next to him. “Real food first, pastries later,” he muttered, prizing the morsel from Jensen's hand.
“Yes, mom,” Jensen quipped and grinned, then pressed a quick kiss to Cougar's neck.
After they'd eaten, Jensen leaned back on the sofa and groaned, “Oh God, I'm never eating again.”
Cougar laughed out loud and replied, “In an hour you'll be complaining that you're hungry.”
“I have a fast metabolism,” Jensen said in a dignified voice, “I need to eat regularly to keep my blood sugar level up.”
“Si, like you need any more sugar in you,” Cougar grumbled, pushing the trolley away with his foot.
Jensen turned and leered at him, “I know what I do need in me,” he said, waggling his eyebrows suggestively.
Cougar smiled and patted his arm, “Let your food settle first, huh?”
“God, you sound more like my mother every day,” Jensen huffed, pushing himself to his feet and striding out onto the beach. Cougar followed him and pressed himself up against his back, slipping both arms around his waist.
“This is a nice place,” the sniper said evenly, feeling the anxiety fairly thrumming through Jensen, his back was rigid and his shoulders were almost up around his ears. “I'm glad you booked it, you did good.”
Jensen visibly tried to relax a little, and threw a warm smile over his shoulder at Cougar. “It took a little creativity with their booking system. They seemed to think they were full, but I rearranged things and found space for us.”
“Having a computer genius as a boyfriend has its perks,” Cougar murmured into the blond hair.
Jensen's head dropped as he gazed at the sand beneath his bare feet. “Yeah, well, having a world class sniper as a boyfriend has its down-side.”
Cougar released Jensen and stepped back, waiting for the other man to turn and face him. Jensen stayed where he was, scuffing the sand into patterns, it took Cougar a moment to realize he was drawing numbers with his toes, binary, naturally. He read what Jensen drew but it was just gobbledegook, the hacker wasn't trying to be clever and hide a message for him there.
Cougar sighed, he knew Jensen wasn't really mad at him, if he was, there'd be lots more arm waving and yelling going on. He stood and waited. Snipers are by nature patient men, and Cougar had learned long ago that there was nothing to be done when Jensen got himself into a mood like this, it was easier to just wait out the storm and then deal with the aftermath.
Eventually, Jensen turned and looked at Cougar sheepishly. “Okay,” he muttered, taking off his glasses and rubbing his eyes, “yell at me.”
Cougar smiled slowly, “Why?”
“Because I just said having you as a boyfriend has a down-side,” Jensen replied, looking anywhere except into Cougar's eyes. A low chuckle escaped from Cougar, and Jensen looked surprised. “Why are you laughing? Why aren't you hurt and angry and telling me I'm useless at relationships before storming off to prop up the bar all night?”
Cougar winced, he didn't need reminding of that night, he still beat himself up about it on a daily basis. But, it had been a long time ago, back when they'd first gotten together, and neither really knew how to deal with the other's moods. He blew out a deep breath and said, “If being with me didn't have a down-side, I'd be amazed. And I'm laughing because you're funny, asking me to yell at you. You hate it when I yell at you, so it kind of amused me.”
Jensen smiled, but it was only a shadow of his usual grin, and his eyes were dark with emotion. He breathed deeply for a few moments, apparently sunk in thought. Suddenly he said, “How much longer do you think we can do this?”
“What?” asked Cougar, surprised by the question.
“This.” Jensen waved an arm around, encompassing the room and the ocean view, “how long can we go on just grabbing a few days or a couple of weeks to ourselves before we go back to chasing all over the damn globe after intel on Max. Intel that is, by the way, becoming more and more scarce and less and less reliable as time goes on.” He stopped, chewing his bottom lip, then continued in a small voice, “How many more times do we have to watch each other get hurt?”
Cougar's hand instinctively went to the almost-healed wound on his left side. It had been a lucky shot, and the bullet had torn a path through the soft tissue of his waist. Amazingly, it had done no real damage, but it had bled like a bitch and hurt worse than most of the other gunshot wounds Cougar had endured over his military career. And Jensen had been the only one with him at the time. Jensen had been the one who ripped his own shirt into shreds and tried desperately to staunch the bleeding. Jensen had been the one who had listened to Cougar moan and swear at the sudden pain. Jensen had been the one who had needed to be pulled off of Cougar so that Pooch could take over and get the wound stitched up. And Jensen had been the one who hadn't washed the blood off his hands until he knew categorically that Cougar was going to be okay.
The sniper swore bitterly at himself, dammit, he shouldn't have let it get this bad. He'd been so wrapped up in his own issues at once again getting hurt, and trying to scrape together the remnants of the ruined mission they'd been on when it happened, he hadn't really noticed that his boyfriend was silently freaking the hell out in front of him.
“Mierda,” Cougar muttered and cast helplessly around for words equal to the situation, finding none forthcoming, he spread his hands wide and said, “but I'm fine, really, it was only a scratch.”
“This time,” Jensen's voice was low and vicious, “this time it was only a scratch. What about next time, and the time after that, and the one after that? What about when Aisha finally snaps and kills Clay, what about when we have to take Pooch back to Jolene and explain to her why her husband and the father of her baby, died on our watch, chasing a fuckin' C.I.A ghost?” he stopped for breath, then said quietly, “What about when I have to bury you? Or the other way around, what does the one of us who's left do then?”
Cougar ran his hands through his hair, buying himself thinking time. Finally he grasped Jensen's wrist and tugged him into the living room, then pushed him down onto the low couch. Sitting beside him, he made sure their legs were touching as he said, “Look, I know what we're doing isn't the safest thing in the world. It sucks, and I wish to God we didn't have to do it, but what choice do we have? I can't promise I won't get hurt again, any more than you can, but I trust you to be damn good at what you do, and hopefully you trust me.”
He raised his eyebrows at the younger man and Jensen nodded, “God, yes, I trust you. But all this sneaking around in the shadows, staying off the grid, being chased by our own fuckin' people...it's just...God, it sounds childish, but it's not fair. We didn't do anything to deserve this.”
Cougar rubbed little circles on Jensen's rigid thigh, trying to think of the right words, “I know, but what else can we do?”
Jensen gazed down at his hands, fingers twisted together in agitation and said, “We can run.”
Cougar looked at him, eyes wide and surprised, “What?”
“We can run,” Jensen repeated, still fixated on his hands, “you and me, we can disappear. I can make it so that nobody ever really knows we existed. I'll make us new identities, new histories, new everything. It'd be a fresh start, clean slate, and all the other stupid clichés. What'ya think?”
Cougar blinked at him for a few moments, reeling from the words and wondering whether it was even possible to vanish so completely from the CIA's radar. Eventually he stammered, “No se...I don't know. How would we live? Where would we go?”
Jensen looked up with a crooked smile and said, “Um, you know how I raid certain bank accounts, and, er, borrow money from people who won't miss it?” Cougar nodded and he continued, “Well, each time I did it, I kind of put a little bit aside, in my own account, where nobody could find it.”
His eyebrows shooting toward his hair, Cougar said, “En serio? Seriously? How much do you have?”
Jensen's smile was confident and self-assured again, “Enough, believe me, I've got enough.”
“Have you been planning this for a while?” Cougar asked shrewdly.
Flushing a little, Jensen ducked his head and muttered defensively, “Maybe. What do you think?”
“I don't know,” Cougar replied, standing up and pacing across the room, then back to Jensen again. “What about the others? Pooch, Clay? What about your sister and the little one? Do we just leave them without a word and vanish?”
“Would you?” Jensen's eyes were huge and somewhat scared but his voice was still sharp. “If I asked you to, would you up and leave without a word?”
Cougar gazed at him thoughtfully, chewing on his thumbnail. He thought of the chance of a new life with Jensen, of starting again without the constant need to check over his shoulder, without the nagging worry that Max could bring everything crashing down around their ears at any moment. He smiled at Jensen and said, “Yeah, I think I would.”
Jensen's smile was sad, “Me too. That's what scares me. I'd happily vanish today and never look back, and not feel guilty about it. I've got a secure email link to Jess and Hannah, I can use it a couple of times before anyone manages to get a trace on it, then delete it, so I could let them know what we're doing. And Clay? I figure he'll understand, if we don't go back. He'll be mad as hell and threaten to skin us alive, but he'll understand. And eventually he'll do the same, split from Pooch and get as far away from Aisha as possible and just...vanish. He's not as good as me, but he's more than capable of making himself a new identity somewhere. Pooch already has his life, he can go back to that, and just pray that nobody ever comes knocking at his door.”
Cougar massaged his temples, feeling a headache starting to threaten. This wasn't how he'd imagined their two weeks in the sun to pan out. But now Jensen had brought the subject up, the idea of truly escaping was becoming more and more appealing.
“But where would we go?” he muttered, more to himself than to Jensen. He thought of his own family in New Mexico, as much as he wanted to watch his nieces and nephews grow up, he knew going there would put them in danger, and that was something he wasn't willing to risk. “South America?” he mused, smoothing his fingers over his mustache thoughtfully.
Jensen made a strangled noise, and said, “No. No way.” His face was paler than normal and his eyes were stricken with remembered horror.
Cougar knew exactly what he was remembering, a burning chopper and so many innocent lives, snuffed out in an instant on the whim of a madman. He nodded and said, “Yeah, you're right, not South America. Then where?”
Jensen gulped a few times and shook his head, then said, “I was kind of thinking of the whole 'hiding in plain sight' thing. I know we need to vanish and if we stay in the US it'll be harder to be invisible, but I don't think I could stand to be on a different continent. Just in case Jess and Hannah do actually need me, I don't think I could cope with being too far away to help 'em.”
Cougar smiled and wrapped an arm around Jensen's shoulders, for all his fooling and techno-babble and 'look at me, I'm the crazy one of the group' front, the younger man had a good heart and it wasn't often that he let others see it. “Okay,” the sniper agreed, “ we stay in the US. Any particular state?”
“I don't know,” Jensen shook his head ruefully, “God, I didn't think I'd actually be having this conversation with you tonight. I was planning on a stroll on the beach and then a night of funky sex before a day of sunbathing tomorrow, and now I'm planning how we can drop off the face of the earth and become totally different people.”
Cougar shook his head firmly and said, “Not different people. Different names, that's all.”
Jensen smiled, just a quick twitch of his lips before he pressed them to Cougar's. “Yeah, that's what I meant to say. 'Cause I don't think I could cope if you suddenly changed and became this uber-talkative guy who doesn't like guns and spends his weekends arranging flowers and antiquing.”
Cougar made a disgusted face and said, “Don't worry, I won't be arranging flowers.”
“Antiques?” Jensen asked, nudging his lover in the ribs playfully.
Cougar growled at him and stole a quick kiss, leaving Jensen temporarily breathless. They stared at each other for a moment, before Jensen said softly, “Are we really going to do this?”
Breathing hard, Cougar thought furiously, then replied, “I've had enough of running all over the world. And I've had enough of being a target for anyone who happens to be on Max's payroll. We've done our share, we've helped Clay find intel that might one day be useful in bringing Max to light. We deserve a rest. You deserve a rest.”
“Wow, good speech, Cougs,” Jensen smiled weakly, “don't think I've heard you say that much for weeks.”
Cougar shrugged, “Don't need to talk most of the time, you do it for me.”
“Yeah, sorry 'bout that,” Jensen flushed.
“Doesn't matter,” Cougar replied briskly, “I like it. So, assuming that we do actually run, how about Vermont?” Seeing Jensen's surprised face, he continued, “We could get a place way up in the mountains, off the beaten track, hopefully nobody would come looking for us there. And if it's remote enough, there won't be too many people passing by the door who might by some tiny chance recognize us, so we might be able to stay off the grid for a while. And you'd be near Jess and Hannah if you needed to get to New Hampshire urgently. Any good?”
“Yeah,” Jensen replied faintly, “I mean, yes, I guess that'd be the kind of thing we should do. Get a farmhouse someplace and hole up for a while.”
Cougar nodded, then saw how Jensen's shoulders were starting to tense up and hunch around his ears again. “You okay?”
Jensen looked a little green around the gills, and swallowed before answering, “I'm okay, just...God, I never actually thought we'd ever really be contemplating doing this. It's just been an idea at the back of my mind for a while, I didn't think it'd ever be real. Never thought you'd ever come with me.”
Cougar grinned and bumped his shoulder against Jensen's. “If you go, I'll come with you.”
“God, you romantic devil,” Jensen chuckled, looking a little less sickly. “So, have we actually decided anything? My head's all messed up and spinning, are we running or staying?”
“At the moment, neither,” Cougar said firmly, pulling Jensen to his feet and steering him toward the bedroom. “Now, we're going to bed and sleeping on it. There's plenty of time to decide in the morning.”
“Okay,” Jensen leaned into Cougar's hands and allowed himself to be pushed onto the luxurious bed. “Does that mean we can have funky sex tonight?”
Cougar laughed and walked into the bathroom. “It means we can use this damn jacuzzi and try to get you a bit more relaxed.”
“Outstanding,” Jensen grinned and bounced into the bathroom, elbowing Cougar away from the jacuzzi controls and taking over himself.
Cougar's smile faded as he heard Clay's favorite word. The reality of leaving the only life he'd come to know came crashing down on him and he leaned against the wall, face sober and thoughtful. Jensen raised his eyebrows and Cougar shook off his sudden dark mood, smiling and trying to enjoy the bubbly water as much as the hacker did.
After they'd climbed out of the jacuzzi and slipped beneath the wondrously smooth cotton sheets, Jensen pulled Cougar close and said quietly, “If you don't want to go, you don't have to. I'll stay, I promise. And I'll never tell Clay that we talked about running.”
“Shh,” Cougar laid a hand over Jensen's mouth, “sleep now, think in the morning. Relax, cariño. We've got time, it's okay.”
Jensen nodded and buried his face in Cougar's hair, inhaling the scent of whatever it was that made the sniper smell so...Cougar-ish. As he fell asleep, Jensen knew he'd been telling the truth. If Cougar wanted to stay with Clay, off the grid and living in the shadows, Jensen would stay with him, and stand by him every second of every day. But he couldn't help the tiny, heartfelt prayer that he sent to any god who happened to be listening, asking quietly and desperately for the sniper to choose a life with him over a life full of danger and uncertainty.
He drifted off eventually, and dreamed of farmhouses in Vermont, which were idyllic and peaceful, until Clay came bursting through the door, baying for Jensen's blood, saying that he'd broken the team up, he'd betrayed them all. Another time it was Max himself, sneaking in through the backdoor and slitting Cougar's throat before Jensen had time to yell a warning. He woke gasping, drenched in sweat and clinging onto the sheets as though they'd save him from his own nightmares.
For once Cougar hadn't woken when Jensen stirred, so the hacker slid out of the bed unnoticed. Padding over to the window, he stared out at the darkened ocean, its gentle swells occasionally lit by the thin sliver of the new moon high overhead. He wasn't sure how long he stood there, hands braced on the window frame, nose almost pressed to the glass. The sea was hypnotic in its calm, ceaseless rhythm and he watched it, feeling as though he was detached from his body, floating somewhere, looking down on a troubled young man with worried eyes and frown lines on his forehead that had no right to be there so early in his life. “I'll make it work,” he whispered to his grave-faced reflection, “I'll make us vanish, nobody will ever find us. I can do it. Please let him trust that I can do it.”
His reflection said nothing, just stared back at him with those too-old eyes. He sighed and nodded, “Yeah, you're right, I've said my piece, now it's up to him to decide what he wants. You think he'll choose us?” Again his reflection was silent, and Jensen suddenly snarled at it, “Fat lot of help you are,” he muttered and turned away.
Cougar was still sleeping peacefully, his hair spread out over the pillows, the deep inky black standing out in stark contrast to the snowy white cotton. A smile tugged at Jensen's mouth, God, if he got to see Cougar like this every night, he'd count himself one of the luckiest men alive. Carefully slipping back under the sheets, his smile grew as the sniper shifted and flung an arm over his waist. As he lay there, waiting for sleep to return once more, Jensen heard the lilting strains of Doris Day's voice drifting through his mind. “Que sera, sera. Whatever will be, will be. The future's not ours to see, que sera, sera...” He smiled wryly, appreciating the truth of the lyrics. Before long he was asleep again, this time dreamlessly, Cougar's comforting weight across his body keeping the nightmares at bay.
** L ** L **
Neither of them stirred until late the next morning, both of them taking the opportunity to sleep in whenever they got the chance. Cougar eventually yawned and stretched, blinking the sleep from his eyes and dragging his fingers through the tangles in his hair. Jensen moaned gently beside him, throwing an arm over his eyes, “Wanna sleep some more, mom...” he muttered vaguely and started snoring again. Cougar snorted with laughter and went to the bathroom. When he returned after taking a quick shower, Jensen was awake and sitting on the edge of the bed.
“Morning,” Cougar smiled, throwing his wet towel at the hacker, who missed it and ended up with it draped over his head.
“Mornin',” Jensen replied indistinctly from under the towel. Cougar laughed and pulled it off the hacker's head, then grinned at the grumpy expression on Jensen's face. “Why're you so happy?” the blond slurred, “Come back to bed, s'too early.”
“No, I'm hungry,” Cougar said and pulled his lover to his feet, pointing him toward the bathroom. “Go. Shower, bathe, whatever, I'll call room service.”
“Are we ever going to leave this room?” Jensen grumbled as he got to his feet, “Or are we going to have every meal in here for the whole two weeks?”
Cougar smiled again and swatted Jensen's ass as he passed him. “Go.”
** L ** L **
Jensen groaned out loud when he saw the breakfast Cougar had ordered. Throwing his damp towel to the floor, he grabbed a croissant and a cup of coffee and closed his eyes in bliss as he munched the soft buttery pastry. Cougar was doing that snorty-laughter thing again and Jensen knew he probably looked like an idiot. Just for a brief moment though, he didn't care, the food was too good to just wolf down in his usual fashion, this deserved to be savored.
Cougar was watching him with a half-smile on his face. Jensen grinned sheepishly in return and finished the croissant. “Good choice for breakfast, man,” he said, diving for another cup of coffee and a pain au chocolat.
Slowly sipping his own coffee and taking slow bites of his pastry, Cougar said, “Careful, you keep eating like that and you'll be out of shape in no time. And I guess you're gonna need to be in shape to decorate a farmhouse in Vermont,” he kept his eyes on his breakfast, deliberately not looking at Jensen in case the younger man had changed his mind about the whole running issue.
Jensen gaped at him, food and coffee forgotten. “Seriously? You're coming?” Cougar risked a glance at the hacker and nodded once. The smile that spread across Jensen's face was easily as bright as the sun at midday. “Fuck,” he breathed, “I didn't think you'd say yes.”
Cougar shook his head in fond exasperation, “I already said, if you go, I'll come with you. What more do I need to do, write it in blood?”
“I didn't think you meant it,” Jensen said softly, tearing his pain au chocolat into pieces. He jumped as Cougar reached out and smacked the back of his head. “Ow! What was that for?”
“For being an idiot,” Cougar muttered, “since when do I say stuff I don't mean?”
“True,” Jensen conceded, “shit, we're actually doing this.”
“Yeah, we are,” Cougar replied, then bit his lip, “but, there's one thing I need to do before we go anywhere.”
“What?” Jensen was inclined to agree to anything at the moment, he felt like he was flying.
“I know you were talking about leaving without saying a word to anyone,” Cougar drawled slowly, “but I need to talk to Clay.”
“Yeah,” Jensen said, screwing up his face, “I don't think I can do the 'vanish without a word' thing either.”
Cougar nodded, “He's a bastard and he's dragged us half way around the world on a wild goose chase, but he was a good CO. And he's the only reason the Army didn't discharge me on psych grounds years ago. The Losers was my last chance, Clay was the only one who'd take me on a team. Said I either shaped up and learned to play nice with others or he'd throw me out of the Army himself. I owe him a goodbye, at least.”
Jensen flushed and said, “I know, I kind of looked at your file ages ago. If it makes you feel any better, he was my last chance too. I'd pissed off so many of my COs, they were all clamoring for me to be discharged, or at least disciplined for misuse of military property. Clay said I could either be some two-bit hacker or the best tech op in the army, and door number one wasn't an option. And he said if I hacked NASA again he'd beat the shit out of me and hang me upside down from the nearest tree for a day, so yeah, I think I owe him a goodbye and thanks for all the threats, too.”
“And then what?” Cougar ate some more breakfast as a way to cover his nervousness at the thought of no longer having someone to look to for orders. Not that he was incapable of thinking for himself, far from it. But after so many years of being told when to get up, when to eat, what to wear, how to act, it was second nature to expect orders to come from somewhere. Being out in the world, entirely alone, was almost a frightening thought. Of course, he wouldn't be alone, Jensen would be there. That notion alone was enough to cheer him up and he drank the rest of his coffee happily.
“And then, I guess we just do...normal stuff. Whatever normal people do. Jobs and that kind of thing. Maybe get a dog. Can we get a dog, Cougs? Please?” Jensen looked beseechingly at him and Cougar laughed.
“Si, okay, whatever you want. But you're looking after it.”
Jensen actually fist pumped the air and said, “Yep. Definitely. Absolutely. Dog, excellent.”
“But first, we call Clay and you make us disappear without a trace,” Cougar said firmly.
Jensen sobered and nodded his agreement. “The whole vanishing thing will take me a while. There's a lot of tracks to cover and then I have to make us new identities from scratch.”
Cougar leaned back in his chair and stretched out his legs, “No problem, we have this place for two weeks, right? And we can always dip into your retirement fund if we need to stay longer.”
“Hmm, using me for my money already are you?” Jensen purred, running a hand down Cougar's arm. “Or are you just after my body?”
“Either. Or both,” Cougar answered from under his hat, which he'd tipped forward over his eyes. “Get to work.”
“God, you're a real killjoy sometimes, you know that, Cougs?” Jensen grouched as he sloped off to retrieve his laptop, but his million watt smile was back and Cougar felt the knot of worry in his stomach ease slightly. If anyone could pull this feat of technical brilliance off, it was Jensen.
** L ** L **
In the end it took Jensen all of the two weeks they'd already paid for at the hotel to get their new identities in place, and erase all traces of their former selves. It helped that the CIA had already killed them, so Jensen was just tidying up the loose ends of their lives, so to speak.
After many tortuous and long winded arguments, Jensen finally gave in and agreed not to make his new name Alice Cooper the Second. Cougar refused point blank to make his new first name either Machete or El, although he had liked Desperado. Eventually, they looked down at Jensen's laptop and saw two drivers license pictures staring back at them. The blond was a guy named Jake Evans and the Hispanic one was Carlos Mondego, they'd decided that it was easier to keep their first names, as they could react naturally to them, rather than having to school themselves to answer to something new.
“Welcome to the first day of the rest of our lives,” Jensen muttered, stretching out his aching back and cracking his knuckles, sitting hunched over his laptop for hours on end had not done him any favors.
“Yeah,” Cougar said quietly, still taking in the fact that his face was on the computer screen, but none of the details next to it were his. Only now, they were. It was a hard thing to accept.
“I guess it's time to call Clay,” Jensen said, throwing an arm over Cougar's shoulders and squeezing him gently. His lover's brown eyes were fixed on the computer and his jaw was clenched. “Hey, it's okay,” he said, sliding his hands to Cougar's neck and massaging the tense muscles. Cougar hissed as he dug his thumbs into a particularly knotted up area, then relaxed as they started to unravel. “You with me?” Jensen murmured into his ear, and he nodded.
Jensen released Cougar's shoulders and grabbed his cell phone. Taking a deep breath he dialed Clay's number and made sure the phone was on loudspeaker. The familiar gruff voice answered immediately, “Jensen? Where are you? You're late.”
“And hello to you too, Clay,” Jensen muttered, rolling his eyes at Cougar.
“Whatever, get your asses back here asap. I don't care how much fun you're having, we got work to do,” Clay growled.
“Boss,” Cougar said quietly, and they heard Clay stop moving around and start listening. When Cougar spoke, Clay listened, it was part of what made them a good team for so long. “Boss, we're not coming back,” Cougar continued, “we've had enough, both of us. We're out.”
They heard Clay sigh heavily, then he said, “I wondered how long it'd take you.”
“Wondered how long what would take us?” Jensen asked, confused.
“To realize that you're wasting your lives chasing after Max,” Clay replied baldly.
Jensen bit his lip, looking a little ashamed, “We're not scared, Clay, we're not running away from Max...”
“I know you're not,” Clay interrupted, “never thought that you were. But enough is enough, you both deserve to enjoy your lives, and sticking with me will only get you killed. You got someplace to go?”
“Not yet,” Cougar replied, “will soon though. With all due respect, Boss, I'm not telling you where we're going.”
“I don't want to know,” Clay said sharply, “I don't want to know anything, you just get your shit together and get out. The less anyone knows, the safer you'll be, at least for a while.”
“Um, Clay,” Jensen began haltingly, “er, you know, you kind of saved my ass God knows how many times back in the day, and I, er, I'm grateful. Thanks.”
“No problem,” Clay said, in a softer voice than Jensen had ever imagined he possessed, “you're a good soldier, you both are. Now all you gotta do is look out for each other.
“Boss,” Cougar said, anxious to give Clay his own thanks, “you're the only one who gave me a chance. They would have kicked me out but for you. So, gracias.”
“S'okay, Cougs,” Clay rumbled, his deep voice sounding suddenly older and more tired, “you're the best sniper I ever saw, wasn't about to let the Army waste somebody like you,” he paused, as though embarrassed by the sudden display of emotion. When he spoke again, it was in his old 'colonel' voice, brisk and commanding, “Okay then, thanks for letting me know. Do you want me to tell Pooch?”
“Is he with you?” Jensen asked.
“Yeah, he's here,” Clay replied, “I'll get him.”
There was a brief silence, and a murmured conversation, then Pooch said, “Hey guys, so you finally got some sense knocked into you, huh?”
Cougar smiled and fingered his healing wound, “Pooch, lo siento. We're not running out on you, we just...”
“You just gotta do what's right for you,” Pooch said firmly, “it's about damn time. You two take care of each other, okay? And I know you probably never will, but if ever you need a place to crash, Jolene and I will always be happy to see you.”
“Pooch,” Jensen said quickly, “get out, huh? Don't go getting yourself killed looking for Max, go home and have that apple pie life you've always wanted.”
“Yeah, maybe,” Pooch breathed into the phone, “been thinkin' about it recently. Now you two are gone, I might...” he trailed off then continued, his voice a little thicker than before, “I'm gonna miss you guys. But don't stay in touch, don't contact any of us, just get out and have a good time. Don't give the fuckin' CIA any way to track you down.”
“We won't,” Jensen smiled, “same goes for you. If you can get Jolene to move out of Springfield, you might be safer.”
Pooch laughed, and Cougar felt a lump form in his throat at the thought of never seeing that carefree grin again, “You know, Jay, you might just have a point there,” he laughed again, then said quietly, “okay, I better go. You two be safe. Look after each other. And in a totally manly, heterosexual way, I love you both, and if you ever tell anyone I said that I'll hunt you down myself.”
Jensen choked out a laugh and said, “Don't worry, your secret's safe with us. You stay safe too, and get away from Aisha as fast as you can. That chick's crazy and she'll get you and Clay both killed,” he added softly, “love you too, bro.”
Cougar took a deep breath and said, “Be careful, get out as soon as you can, go home and watch the little one grow up. Vaya con Dios, hermano.”
“See ya,” Pooch said, and was gone.
“Okay,” Clay said, obviously having taken the phone from Pooch, “I guess that's everything. I figure neither of you want to speak to Aisha.” He chuckled and Cougar clenched his fists, God, they needed to get this over with. “Didn't think so. Well, look after each other and I hope to God I never hear from either of you again.”
“Si, be safe, Boss,” Cougar whispered.
“Bye, Clay,” Jensen said huskily.
“Adios,” Clay said, and hung up.
They stood there for a minute, both staring at the phone. As ever, Jensen spoke first, “Well, I guess that's that.” Cougar nodded, his throat too tight to speak. Jensen pulled him into a rough hug, and said, “Come on, querido, we just got out. We're out.”
“Si,” Cougar said and heaved a huge sigh, “fuck, that was a bad phone call.”
“Yep, but it's done now,” Jensen said briskly, “time to find us somewhere to live.” With that he turned back to the laptop and pulled up a website for a Vermont real estate agent.
Cougar rubbed a hand over his face, not quite believing that this had all actually happened. Jensen looked over his shoulder with a crooked grin and said, “Come on, dude, I'm not picking a house all on my own, you have to help.”
“Si,” Cougar smiled and leaned down to look at the laptop. If this was the start of the rest of his life, he figured it could be worse.
** L ** L **
Cougar stretched out his legs and leaned back into the porch swing. The sun was setting and everything was bathed in a warm, comforting glow. Jensen was out in the paddock schooling one of the horses, he'd been anti-horse when they first bought the farmhouse and the adjoining land, but now he adored them and couldn't stay away.
He sighed, feeling more at peace with the world, and with himself, than he had for years. Leaving Clay and Pooch had been nothing less than heartbreaking, if he was honest. But that had been two years ago, and the pain of it was starting to fade.
Between them, he and Jensen had carved out a little life for themselves here in this remote corner of the world. Nobody bothered them. Most people didn't even know there was a farm there, it was invisible from the road. So far, Max and his cronies hadn't come a'knocking at their door, but Cougar still kept a loaded handgun under the bed, and he knew Jensen did the same. He smiled to himself, old habits were hard to break, especially the habits that had kept you alive for a long period of time.
Cougar tipped his hat down over his face and dozed. Jensen looked up at the house and saw him. He smiled, being an ex-sniper hadn't been easy for Cougar, but he was finally starting to accept it and just relax. Jensen looked out over their small patch of land and felt a tiny glow of pride. They'd done it. They'd gotten out, they'd made a new life and they were still alive. He really couldn't ask for more than that.