Jacob Jensen was never what most would call normal by whatever it was they were comparing Jake against. He was a very small child and way too smart for his age. At five years old he was already a year ahead of his sister in school and constantly having to be rescued by her because he was a target for the older kids.
"It's too bad your son didn't inherit our gifts, but your daughter will be a strong sentinel by the time she's of age," his uncle told his parents one afternoon during a family picnic. Jake only heard this because he'd been more interested in the small laptop computer his mother had given him than he was in playing tag in the backyard with the older kids; plus it was never really fun if he just knew where everyone was. And for all his uncle's gifts and skills, the man apparently failed to keep track of those he didn't deem worthy.
"My son will be whatever he is meant to be," his mother responded and Jake felt his mother's love as if it was wrapped around him.
On the drive home that evening his mother had told both him and his sister that whatever gifts they possessed were theirs and theirs alone and that they and no one else would decide how they should use them. When his mother tucked him in that night she added, "You are special, Jake, very special. Don't let anyone ever tell you different." She laid her hand on his chest before leaning in to kiss him on the forehead. "You do what you feel is right in your heart," she said, straightening the blanket before leaving Jake to his dreams.
That was when he learned what a sentinel and a guide were. That his father and uncle were sentinels. That his dad could hear and see things few others could. That his father's gifts were why he knew when his mother was about to burn the lasagna the other night, or that Miss Ross' secret ingredient in her chocolate chip cookies was cinnamon. His mother was gifted with super powers like Jean Grey from his comics.
His mother had laughed at the comparison and said, "I can only talk to your father that way. It is how it works."
His mother was a guide. A strong one, the strongest one in the area. It was how she knew Billy had hit him during recess even though he'd never told anyone; not even his sister. That was the night he told his mom about his imaginary pet, the little yellow kitten he played with. The kitten wasn't always there, just when he was hurt or sad.
"I know, honey, I saw you with him the other day."
Jake bolted up in bed. "But no one else can see him," he insisted. "I asked."
His mother gave a soft laugh that always made Jake smile and hugged him gently. "He's only for you, my son. And not all guides have the ability to see what is not theirs to see."
The next day his mother gave him a stuffed yellow-brown cat that Jake promptly named Cat. Cat went everywhere with him and that way when the real cat was around people would just think he was talking to his stuffed animal.
He learned all sorts of things after that night's talk with his mother and over the next five years. If he was ever to be a sentinel or guide, he would have a strong base knowledge of the skills; including how to hide what he was if he wanted.
When Jake was ten his parents and sister died in a car crash after an eighteen wheeler slid across the icy road and into oncoming traffic. The police report said that his father had sped up and put the family car between the truck and a school bus loaded with children. The only fatalities at the scene were his family and the truck driver. His father was lauded as a hero.
Jake had been home with the flu when he felt his family die. He had screamed his already sore throat bloody until his neighbor had called the police. His aunt had left him home alone hours before, even though she was supposed to stay with him until his parents returned home. The police had called an ambulance and the EMTs had taken him to the hospital where there were only strangers, until his aunt and uncle finally came for him the next morning. He'd spent the night alone in the hospital crying and holding tightly to Cat.
His things were roughly packed and Jake only had a few minutes to grab a picture of his family. His imaginary cat followed him close by even as he never let go of the stuffed one. The house was sold and a trust fund, as his parents' will had directed, was set up for Jake.
Jake's uncle had thought maybe Jake was a guide after the explosion of noise he had made and was therefore not as worthless as he first thought. His aunt had disagreed saying that it was probably just backwash from the connection her sister had formed with her children.
He thought his aunt had been like his mother until that night--soft and nice and warm. Until she said, "If he continues on in school like he is we should only need to bother with him for five or six more years."
He pretended not to overhear the conversation his aunt and uncle had about him, but he knew now. His aunt wasn't soft and warm. He knew what she hid inside, under that fake outer facing persona. It was dark and mean to outsiders, and Jake had been deemed an outsider.
His aunt had taken him in only because it was her duty to watch over her fallen sister's family. Jake wished his father had had a brother or sister as maybe they would have wanted him more. His uncle ignored him just as he had before his parents and sister had died in the car crash.
His sisters loved the story of fate and love. Carlos liked the part about his mother taking out the bad guys who were trying to kill his father. He loved all the stories. His oldest sister was a guide like their father and their grandmother. Her talents were already strong and leaning toward that of a healer. His other two sisters did not seem to posses the gifts of either sentinel or guide--at least not yet, but to his family those traits were secondary to that of being just family. Children were precious and the gifts fate gave were fickle and often liked to skip generations just to keep families on their toes. At least that was what his grandfather always told him.
Carlos' gifts had come online gradually, starting around the age of three. By the time he was eight his vision and hearing were almost as strong as his mother's and he could see his spirit guide. He was not amused when it looked like a small cat because what did he have in common with a kitten?
"It will grow with you," his mother had smiled at him and with delight added, "Mi pequeno puma."
Carlos had huffed and made a face at the nickname. He was not little and the kitten had yet to show its real self. Some days the little cat would disappear and others it would sit and stare at him as if expecting him to be doing something.
When Carlos was thirteen his world exploded, or so it felt. The power of his gifts, which his parents believed had settled, seemed to double with the intense pain that ripped through his body. His spirit guide disappeared for almost week. He asked his father why his spirit guide would leave him and the answer had worried him more.
"Perhaps your guide needs him more at this moment than you do."
"Does he not have one of his own?" he asked.
His father ruffled his hair. "Of course, maybe it is visiting you while yours is with him." His father looked around Carlos' bedroom. "Tell me what you see."
Carlos sat up in the bed. "My bed, toys, books, stuffed animals, my GI Joes, and," Carlos paused and scanned the shelf again. "A tiny owl." He climbed off the bed and walked towards the tiny bird that was perched on his bookshelf. "Do you belong to my guide?"
The owl hooted and Carlos turned to look at his father. "I cannot see him, Carlos. Not all guides are as talented as your sister."
"Malena!" Carlos yelled, his eyes still focused on the tiny owl.
His sister came into the room at a run because Carlos never yelled. He could feel her approach. "Does he belong to my guide?" he asked, softly, his attention back on the owl.
"Perhaps," his sister answered. "A cougar and an owl. Now wouldn't that be an interesting match."
Malena knelt down in front of him. "He belongs to a guide, yes. A strong one if the spirit can be here and you do not actually sense the person he belongs to. Do you sense a presence nearby?" she asked.
Carlos closed his eyes for a second and breathed in out a few times before shaking his head no.
"You will find him," Malena told him, straightening up and ruffling his hair.
Carlos tried to dodge away from the hand in his hair but his sister always seemed to be quicker. "Your sentinel is here," he said, trying to distract her.
"I know," she replied with a grin. "Mother is being overprotective again."
He went back to looking at the owl. "I'll find you," he promised, softly.
His training came from books and observations. He learned to hide. Began putting his full focus on his college studies. Computers came easy to him, they always had, it was like he spoke their language. He felt he was better with inanimate objects than actual humans. He blamed his aunt and uncle for that.
Jake glared at the large cat that was glaring right back at him. "I know you want me to go down that street towards the damn owl, but I'm not. The freaking owl can hoot all it wants. I'm still going to ignore him. And the irony that I have an owl spirit animal is not lost on me." Jake realized that he'd opened his gifts up and quickly slammed the doors shut and walked in the opposite direction the cat had been leading him.
This wasn't the first time in the last few years that this had happened. Carlos was sure his guide was close by but after the first couple of times, he had stopped running off in search. He knew, deep down, that it just wasn't time yet but that didn't stop him from wanting to catch a glimpse of the other person.
The large cat gave a very loud, angry hiss.
"It's my choice," he said, knowing he didn't need to speak to the cat out loud for it to hear him. "Go back to your sentinel. I'm opting out of this whole sentinel and guide thing." At least as far as the army was concerned.
The cat gave another angry hiss and flicked its tail but disappeared from sight. Jake just decided that he wouldn't mention that the cat's stuffed counterpart was in his pack, buried at the bottom.
"Is he dead?" he asked.
His spirit animal leaned into him and then disappeared. Carlos took that to mean no.
"Cougar!" his commanding officer--Major Clay--barked, using the nickname that had stuck after a guide on base had seen his spirit animal and called him that. "Get your ass moving and find your perch."
Over the next few years the owl would reappear for a few seconds here or there and then disappear just as fast as it appeared. It was like his guide used his gifts only when absolutely necessary.
Cougar lifted his rifle and not for the first time wondered what type of distance and accuracy he could truly get if he had a guide.
Welcome to The Losers, Cougar thought, waiting for Clay's order to take the target down.
It would be a shame to have made it through all the special ops training and hoopla that came with it just to die at the hands of some moron here to teach them the best ways to confirm logistics and communications while on a mission. Maybe he should have taken the job with the Criminal Investigation Division because these next four days were going to be a total waste of time. Just because systems had been upgraded to new software and some items on the screen might have changed did not mean a four day session was needed.
Jake looked around the room. Okay, maybe the session was needed for some of them. Especially if the person actually worked in Logistics. He looked around again. There were twenty students in the room and sixteen of them held office jobs. Jake didn't have anything personal against office drones, they were needed. He'd even been one and it had given him insight on how things worked behind the scenes and not out in the field. Of the remaining four, himself included, he knew three were field agents. The fourth looked like a cross between the two and Jake recognized that as being typical of a CID agent--trying to blend with everyone around them.
"Crime doesn't pay," he scribbled across his notepad.
There was a soft chuckle from behind him that he knew came from the long-haired, hat-wearing, Spanish man he'd identified as definitely not office personnel. The man had somehow taken a seat on the top row and no one else had sat on that row or even near him. Jake was the closest person to him, next row down and three seats over. After that everyone else had opted for the first five rows leaving several empty rows between Jake and the rest of the class.
Jake knew why he had picked the back and it had nothing to do with being bored and everything to do with staying away from as many people as he could. The instructor called lunch and Jake didn't think the break could have come soon enough.
Jake spared the Spanish man a glance. "It's not nice to read over other people's shoulders," he said as the other man walked past.
"Shouldn't write so big," was the soft reply.
Jake looked down at his notepad and the text his teachers had always called tiny and back up at the other man. Ah. "Sniper," he said without making it sound like a guess and hoping sniper was right. He didn't want to have to deal with a sentinel. "Who'd you piss off to get tossed in here?"
The guy didn't answer, just grinned before saying, "Field Tech."
"Among other things," Jake replied. "What about him?" Jake used his head to identify one of the other non-office drones.
"Huh," Jake said, glancing back over at said asshole. "He the reason you've been sentenced to this harsh punishment?"
The guy gave him an appraising look then shook his head. "Is possible."
Jake tilted his head and then glanced down at his watch. They had fifty-nine minutes left. "Gotta run," he said, slipping past the sniper and hopefully not sentinel and out the door. "See you when our punishment reconvenes."
Jake jogged to his car and grabbed his laptop and then made for the closest coffee shop slash café. He was just lucky that this training had not been held on base. Five minutes later he was in a dark corner, laptop open, coffee within hand's reach, waiting for the pager to do its buzzing light show that would signal his lunch was ready for pick up at the counter.
He spent the next thirty minutes eating and hacking, and taking in as much of his computer as he could so he'd be able to get through the next four hours without going through tech withdrawal. It also gave him a few minutes to read up on the other people in the class. Before he left the café he grabbed the largest frozen mocha coffee they had and one of the gooey cinnamon rolls that had been taunting him since he saw them through the little bakery window.
Apparently Roman's high school sweetheart had been a guide and had broken it off with him when she was in college because she met her sentinel. It probably didn't help that Roman actually introduced the two of them. Not that Cougar was supposed to know any of that, but he did have really good hearing and people often forgot about that when he was sitting across the room and not in their line of sight.
Cougar climbed off his bike and stretched out his senses scanning the area. There was someone madly typing on a computer several parking spots down and two people trying to get their last minute cigarette finished. He hoped the smokers weren't going to be in his classroom but he didn't see his luck holding on that one.
He was the first one into the room and grabbed a seat in the top row of the theater-style auditorium. Whatever vibes, as Pooch called them, he was giving off kept everyone away until a blond-haired man wearing lightly tinted glasses slid into the row directly below his but kept several seats between them.
Cougar watched the man as he slouched into the seat, pulled out a notepad and pen and instead of taking notes started writing nonsense. It took Cougar about half a page to realize the man was writing computer code without the aid of a computer in front of him. The man switched back and forth from his computer code to doodling little cartoons of the people in the training session. The doodles soon evolved to include little observations about the people.
He opened his senses slightly. The only thing he got from the blond was boredom mixed with the scents of coffee and something he couldn't place but that didn't bother his sense of smell or taste. It was curious but not worrisome. He quickly scanned the other eighteen people and the instructor. He got nothing off sixteen of them; the other two, every time he tried to get a read on them they tripped his something's not quite right with that person switch. Cougar knew he was a good judge of character with or without his senses, but he couldn't figure out what exactly was causing the uneasy feeling with the two suspects. It was like his sentinel senses were being disrupted by something. Maybe the training session wouldn't be as boring as he thought and it would give him a chance to hone his sentinel skills in a more urban setting. Plus this could be what Clay, his commanding officer, had been after when he'd set all this up, with the exception that it was supposed to be Pooch sitting in this room and not him.
Cougar glanced down and chuckled softly when he saw that the blond had written crime doesn't pay on his notepad. The man didn't turn around or acknowledge Cougar until the instructor had called lunch.
Just as he was passing the blond to get to the exit the other man said, "It's not nice to read over others shoulders."
"Shouldn't write so big," Cougar replied softly.
The blond gave him a weird look. Cougar was surprised when the other man called him a sniper rather than jumping to the conclusion, like most people, that because he had excellent vision he had to be a sentinel. He shrugged, deciding to play the game, and gave the blond a grin before saying, "Field Tech."
"Among other things," the man answered with a wide smile and that was when Cougar got his first real look at a set of very intelligent blue eyes hidden behind the tinted pair of reading glasses. "What about him?" The other man used his head to point to Sergeant Thompson--the man responsible for the brawl in the bar.
"Huh. He the reason you've been sentenced to this harsh punishment?"
Cougar smirked. "Is possible," he answered, though it wasn't completely true. Thompson really was an asshole, though.
"Gotta run," the man said, looking down at his watch, and Cougar really needed to find out the blond's name. "See you when our punishment reconvenes."
Cougar followed the blond to the coffee shop and when the woman behind the counter asked for a name to go with the order he got his wish. Jake. Now he just needed to figure out why Jake seemed important to him.
He glanced down at his own watch. The puzzle of Jake the Field Tech would just have to wait until after lunch. He walked further down the street and turned right at the second alley before jogging up a flight of outdoor stairs.
"You're late," barked his commanding officer.
"Give Cougs a break, Clay," Pooch said calmly, and Cougar liked their team's driver slash pilot slash if it's a mode of transportation I can fix and drive it. Pooch almost always radiated calm and peace and for that Cougar was always thankful for because most of the time it was the exact opposite of Clay.
"Lunch," he returned, taking the plate Pooch handed him.
"Eat and talk," Clay said, taking the chair opposite him. "You don't have time and we need to know if this is going to lead somewhere or if I need to pull strings and get you out."
"You got something?"
That thought might be the one responsible for the doodle on his page of the computer with an icepack on its head and a sad face on the monitor. If he didn't find something to entertain him soon, he was going to fall asleep. He hadn't had time to hack all twenty files during the lunch break, so he went back to his doodles of his classmates.
The instructor's name was Steven Portland. The little doodle was more a pocket protector with pens for eyes and the nose. Earlier he'd written degree online and now he drew a line through that and put State College, good grades, picked up teaching these classes because his daughter is sick. He'd stopped looking into Portland's background after that. It also no doubt explained the man's rumpled attire and obvious tiredness from probably spending the evening at the hospital with his daughter.
So while the session might be boring and something that, technically he didn't need, Jake knew he wasn't going to do anything to disrupt it.
Next on the doodle list was Maryann Tolt. Her little doodle had been standing on Sergeant stripes, with a Lieutenant's bar tossed behind it while reaching for a Major's oak leaf insignia. He'd written rank chaser by her doodle. What he found hadn't changed his opinions on that. He added, stay away from...far, far away.
He'd wanted to investigate the sniper behind him because the man intrigued him, but hadn't had the time. According to the class roster, the man was named Carlos Alvarez. He started a new doodle with a cowboy hat with arms taking aim with a rifle.
What had eaten the last few minutes of his time at lunch had been the file on one Eric Walston. The CID guy. The not so clean CID agent. Jake flipped the page on his notebook back to his crime doesn't pay and added apparently it does. He sketched out a stack of money with a badge pinned to the front. He stared down at the doodle for a second and then flipped to a clean page and started writing computer code again. He could feel himself getting agitated and when that happened, the shields he had built up to hide his guide abilities began to crack. Life was calm in the code.
He'd almost laughed, not his ordinary chuckle, but a laugh that would have shocked Pooch and Clay, when he'd seen Jake's image of his hat with a bolt-action rifle. It wasn't his baby--the SR-25 he used out in the field, but he gave the blond points for picking something old-fashioned that went with his hat.
He saw his spirit animal glide up the aisle between the left and center side of the auditorium towards him and Jake. There was a change in Jake's heartbeat for a second but Cougar glanced between his spirit guide and the blond in time to see Jake flipping the page of his notebook. He caught Jake's scribble of 'apparently it does' next to a doodle that Cougar was sure was supposed to be Eric Walston.
Cougar had no proof that Jake could see the very large cat now lounging at the end of the Jake's row of seats, for the blond had sunk further into his seat and was writing code faster than most people could type. Instead Cougar turned to look at Eric Walston. The man wasn't why he was here, at least he hadn't thought so, but if he was dirty maybe whatever Rachel Delray and Michael LaClaire had planned involved them getting a dirty CID agent on their payroll.
He switched his attention from Jake to his two targets. LaClaire was sitting towards the middle and just to the left of Walston. LaClaire looked to be your typical army grunt. He currently worked in Supply at the base and while records showed that nothing was missing; the crate of Heckler & Koch MP5K that Pooch had marked never made it to their real destination.
Delray was assigned to the same base's Transport Center. She had access to everything that it would take to mislabel something. What they still couldn't pinpoint was how the inventory showed green across the board; especially with all the checkpoints a shipment had to pass through.
Normally this type of case would not be handed to Clay's team but weapons meant for a SOCOM operation had not arrived and the teams involved had to proceed without full gear. The mission had been successful but the loss of lives on their side had caused the team leaders to insist on an inquiry. Clay had gotten the short straw on being the one to head the investigation.
It helped that Pooch had been with CID for three years before Clay had pinched him for his team. Unfortunately that meant that Clay's team often got picked for jobs that required investigation and infiltration skills.
The end of the session came quickly after that and Jake skirted past him and was out the door before words could be exchanged again. Cougar had wanted to talk to Jake again just to hear the other man speak. He'd have to try in the morning. Maybe see if couldn't run into him tomorrow at the coffee shop before the training session.
Cougar left the building and sat on his bike. He sent a quick text to Clay telling him he would be following Walston and Pooch would have to follow Delray alone. Both he and Pooch had nixed the idea of Clay following the female. Clay and female suspects never boded well for the team. Clay liked dangerous women and while Delray just seemed like an office drone they weren't taking any risks.
If he hacked his way into the personnel records again and started to look for the code that marked an individual as a sentinel, then Jake would find the sentinel the cougar belonged to. He knew, deep inside him, there was no way this, no, that his sentinel had lied on his records. At least Jake was ninety-five percent sure the man wouldn't lie--the spirit guide only gave him so much information--but Jake knew the sentinel was male. If he knew who the sentinel was Jake was sure that he would act differently around the person and Jake knew that would give him away. Frustration set in as his laptop did the job of a paperweight.
So instead he spent two and a half hours watching 24 reruns until he couldn't take picking apart Chloe's computer skills anymore. A problem he had with a lot of movies and TV shows that had hackers in them. He could only forgive so much and don't even get him started on Swordfish which had been playing on a different channel and he'd just flipped right on past it.
He tried to play Assassin's Creed but his need to know who was in his training classes with him kept rearing its head, especially after finding out Walston wasn't as clean as a CID agent should be. It sucked when you couldn't trust the cops. And since his thoughts kept turning away from the game, his character kept dying. He was almost sure he'd impaled his own character at least once and hadn't even been aware that was possible.
Jake gave up on the game and decided that he'd just focus on Walston. He'd follow where that thread took him. It was nearly three in the morning when Jake surfaced from his computer and looked down at his notebook. He hadn't stopped at Walston. Not once Walston had lead him to a man named Williams. Williams had been a Captain in the Army but had been dishonorably discharged. Jake hadn't pulled the discharge papers yet because Williams had led to LaClaire and LaClaire had lead him to Delray. Once he'd found the third dirty person in his class he kept looking. Delray lead him to another Captain at Fort Bragg and it looked like Jake had found a conspiracy. Okay, it was a weapons and army supplies for cash operation, but it involved transportation of stolen items to four different countries and it meant that troops were being shorted supplies. The big problem now was that he wasn't sure who to report the mess to and how to do it without admitting to the illegal acquisition of certain electronic files.
He'd checked into everyone in the class after that. If the animal guide belonged to someone doing illegal things Jake knew he would have blamed himself, believing he could have stopped his sentinel from crossing that line. Thirty minutes later he had cleared the rest of the class but was no less uneasy than when he had first unearthed the conspiracy.
Jake looked at the name on his computer screen one more time. At the military record in front him. It shone like a bright light and Jake was drawn to it. Drawn to the image of the man who stared back at him with dark hair and brown eyes that could see right into Jake. Well, he was a sniper. Jake had gotten that part right.
He didn't bother to turn. Just took off his glasses and rubbed at his eyes. The damn owl hooted again.
"Who the hell asked you," Jake said, flipping off the bird before crashing for the night.
His dreams were filled with images of a cougar that Jake desperately tried to avoid and a man that he, under any other circumstances, would have flirted with and given the chance, taken to bed. His dreams took it one more step and sexually frustrated didn't even come close to describing how Jake felt when he woke.
Cougar grimaced again at the thought of what he had heard between Walston and Delray. The sex had been a precursor to getting the CID agent on the payroll of whomever was leading the operation they were investigating. Walston had taken the bait.
"Sorry man," Pooch said. "But it did add credence to your lead."
Cougar pointed at the other man. "When the bug is in place, you are listening to the feed."
Pooch just laughed and Cougar went back to reading about the other people in the class. The summaries were bare, maybe half a page on each person and gave no real information. They mainly consisted of name, rank, address, skills, deployment, and a limited family history. Which really gave them nothing in the end.
He sorted through the information saving Jake's for last. Jacob Jensen was only a few years younger than him. They had grown up a city apart. Jake was currently assigned to the Sustainment Brigade and Jake's comment of 'Field Tech, among other things' barely scratched the surface of the man's computer skills and that was if the record was telling him the full truth. He was disappointed though when he saw the man wasn't a guide. Cougar wanted to say that it felt wrong but he chose not to voice that opinion aloud.
Would a guide have lied about his skills? Cougar thought about that for a second and knew the answer. Yes, because a guide could be more valuable than a sentinel just for their abilities to read a person, but Cougar had never heard of a guide who could shield or hide their abilities. Again, that didn't mean it wasn't possible. Cougar knew for a fact that he had downplayed all his own abilities for his military jacket, and knew several other sentinels who had done the same. It wasn't a good idea to put all your strengths and weaknesses in a file.
"He's obviously a hacker," Clay said, taking the page. "He's assigned to Fort Bragg and he's got the clearance." Which wasn't saying much because The Losers were stationed out of Fort Bragg but Clay carried on. "It's possible he's working for this crew. Responsible for why the data always shows clean."
Cougar ground out a one word reply to that as his own spirit animal hissed at Clay. "No."
Clay lifted an eyebrow. "I've never doubted your gifts as a sentinel, Cougar, but you cannot read minds. He's a suspect until proven otherwise."
"My senses tell me you are wrong."
"He's got the skills. He's in the class. You said he was flighty yesterday afternoon and he's even the reason we found Walston."
Cougar didn't need to snatch the paper back. He'd already memorized everything that was there. There was just something about the family history that made him believe it was a lie; as if there was something he was having trouble remembering.
There was a soft hoot and Cougar glanced to his left. The owl. He hadn't seen it in almost a year. He stood. "Got an errand to run before class," he said, not waiting for Clay or Pooch to say anything, and he ignored their conversation as he jogged down the stairs to his bike. He just had to hope that Jake would go to the same place for breakfast this morning as he did for lunch yesterday.
It didn't take Cougar long to get to the coffee shop and he wasn't disappointed. Jake was in line, computer clutched to his chest while he quietly hummed Journey's Don't Stop Believin'. What surprised Cougar was when Jake joined a man and a woman about his age at a table.
"I didn't know who else to call," Jake said softly, his voice full of worry, as he slid into the booth. "And you're the only, you know," Jake waved a hand between the man and the woman, and Cougar took a better look at the couple; they were sentinel and guide. "That I talk too and," the woman put her hand on top of Jake's and Jake took a deep breath. "I've found something."
"You mean someone," the woman smiled but spoke just as quietly as Jake had.
Jake shook his head. "I don't want to talk about the mountain lion that's following me around, Becks," he said. "I need you to," he flipped open his computer and turned it around to face the couple. At the angle the screen was now turned Cougar could see the data.
The man paused and seemed to scan the restaurant for a second which had Jake reaching into his back pocket and pulling out something about the size of a small cellphone that was clearly not a phone. He put the not-phone on the table and with a, "Sorry, Will" flipped a switch on the side. The noise around Cougar almost stopped.
A WNG--a white noise generator. Highly illegal because it could be used to block a sentinel's senses, and smaller than any Cougar had ever seen. The girl put her hand on top of Will's but other than that slowly paged through the items on the computer screen. While he could no longer hear what they were saying he was still able to read Jake's lips and the computer screen. Cougar was impressed, Jake had found more information on their smugglers in under a day than the Losers had in the week they'd been assigned to the case.
The other sentinel closed the laptop and slid it back toward Jake. Jake nodded his head and then noticed his pager was flashing. When Jake departed to gather his food Cougar entered the coffee shop and slid into the booth opposite the other sentinel. This close to the WNG his skin prickled slightly with the dampening field the machine generated. He left his hands in sight. He didn't need sentinel hearing to hear the click of a safety being removed.
The woman tilted her head and gave him a long look before saying, "You're Jake's mountain lion."
"Cougar," Cougar corrected.
The woman gave him a pretty but knowing smile and then his skin seemed to tingle for a second. "Put the gun away, Will," the woman said. The tension lessened somewhat as the other sentinel's hands also appeared on top of the table. "It would not do," the woman continued, "for the Marshal Service to shoot an Army Special Operations Investigator."
"Damn," he muttered and carefully approached the table and wasn't all that surprised to find that Carlos Alvarez was sitting opposite Will.
He put his food down and slid into the booth. "I guess you're somewhat safe if Will didn't shoot you." Both sentinels made a sound that was either a grunt or a snort, either way it was a clear sign of amusement.
"So, umm, yeah. Guess that proves that," he commented, taking a quick pull from the straw of his drink. He snatched the WNG from the table and turned it off before looking over at Becky for help.
She gave him an optimistic smile and shook her head. "You're on your own," she said, sliding out of the booth, before leaning down to kiss Jake's cheek. "Stop avoiding. Call Grams."
Will followed Becky out of the booth. "We'll stay out of your case unless it leaves the army and hits my streets," Will added, giving Cougar a warning before nodding at Jake. "Call if you need us."
Jake watched them go as the owl hooted a happy little sound. "Traitor," he muttered at the bird before glancing over at Carlos to see the other man grinning at him. He slid out of the one side of the booth and into the other so that he could sit opposite the sentinel instead of right next to him. Sitting next to him, even for those few moments had made Jake want to drop his shields.
He watched as Carlos slid closer to the center of the bench and then tilted his head as if listening to something.
"Becks threatened you, right?"
"This is kind of their city and Becks' grandmother sort of adopted me. So," Jake stopped and picked up his breakfast sandwich. He needed a moment and shoving food into his mouth was a way to get that. He had been right, the mountain lion belonged to his sentinel. The sentinel sitting across from him this very instant.
He put the WNG back on the table and flipped it on again and then took two long pulls from the straw stuck in his coffee. "You give me an email address, or I can just use the one in your file, and I'll send you a copy of everything, Agent Alvarez. Or do SpecOp Investigators not have a title? How's that work anyway? You know what, never mind." Jake finished his sandwich. "Once this little forced training session is over we can part ways."
Carlos spoke for the first time. "You are a guide then? Your file does not indicate that."
He shrugged. "So the damn owl keeps reminding me," Jake replied but that did answer the question as to who requested the overview grab of his records.
"You wish to not have the gifts?"
Jake moved his empty plate to the side. "No. Yes. I mean, no, the gifts are mine and I very much want them. They don't belong to anyone else." And that was why he had put that "X" in the box next to "I am not a Guide nor do I possess Guide-like abilities" on his army paperwork. He wasn't a magical tool to be used by the army. Sentinels and guides might be recognized around the world but most normal, everyday people didn't understand what that truly meant. The gifts were still rare and still closely protected.
Jake had some very rare, very special guide gifts that were his and the few sentinels he had met in college were not worthy of them. So far, the handful of military sentinels weren't either. Will being the only exception and he was totally meant for Becks because no one else would have been able to keep pace with her.
He shrugged again. There was no use in denying that statement. "Look Carlos, you and your cat," he said, "we both have our lives. You seem to be doing great on your own..."
"Cougar," Carlos interrupted.
Jake rolled his eyes. "Yes, I do actually know what type of large cat that is."
Carlos gave a small shake of his head. "No, my name. My team calls me Cougar."
He looked between the spirit guide and the man, and as if able to read his next question Carlos answered, "They do not know. Some things we still do not speak of to the non-gifted. A guide on base called me that once and the name stuck."
Jake leaned back in the booth. Maybe Carlos did get it. That still didn't answer Jake's question of did he want a sentinel. Did he want all the changes that came with it? He was mostly happy with his life after all.
"It's time we leave or we'll be late," Jake said, reaching for the WNG.
Cougar halted him, a hand over Jake's and his whole body seemed to buzz with the single contact. "My parents say my senses became active when I was three." Cougar had done the math, that would be about the time Jake was born. "And I have seen the owl since I was thirteen," Cougar added. "He came to me the day my senses spiked and grew. The cougar left for a whole week."
He felt Jake's heartbeat increase and as if a switch was thrown he could then hear the racing beat even though the WNG was still on. He let go of Jake's hand and the sound stopped, replaced with the hum of the WNG. Jake was his guide even if the other man didn't want to acknowledge it.
Cougar was what most would call a stable sentinel as he never seemed to overtax his heightened senses. Never seemed to get lost in them. He was considered a great asset because he didn't need a partner. Need and want were two different things. Also, he didn't overtax his senses because he never used them to their fullest. He had often wondered what he could do if he found his guide. Now he knew he would at least be able to hear around a WNG.
"That would be when my parents and sister died."
Before Cougar could process that, Jake had his things and was out of the booth and out of the coffee place. Cougar quickly followed until he was in step with Jake. "I'm sorry for your loss," he said quietly. He wasn't sure if what he was about to say next would bring peace to Jake or not, but he'd just recognized Jake's last name and a part of a puzzle fell into place. The reason Jake's last name sounded familiar; the reason the family history sounded familiar in Jake's personnel file. "Two of my sisters were on that bus."
Jake's steps which had been smooth and at an even pace faltered and Cougar thought maybe he shouldn't have said anything. "I'm sorry," he offered again, not knowing what else to say.
"I," Jake stopped walking. "No, that's...well, not okay but you're the first person. Anyway. Class."
Cougar followed the guide. No, not the guide, his guide. He followed his guide and when Cougar glanced around briefly there were no signs of either of their spirit animals. He waited as Jake dropped off his laptop and stared forlornly at his now empty coffee cup. He tried not to smile but with the look on his guide's face he couldn't help it.
"There is always lunch," he said, trying to give his guide something to look forward to.
"Look," Jake stopped him before they could get into the building. "I'll give you as much as I can remember just so you have something to read. That way you'll look busy at a session that you are obvious not taking for the completion note in your personnel file."
"I need time to process." Jake looked at him, and all but begged. "Please."
Cougar was unhappy but gave the other man a nod. He fought instinct and instead of sitting next to Jake they took the same spots as the day before.
During the morning's fifteen minute break Jake left him several pages of neatly written tiny text. If this was what Jake could remember, Cougar wasn't sure if he wanted to know what Jake thought wasn't important enough to remember. He'd even started with a brief summary of his record and ended with Cougar's own information.
Walston, LaClaire, Delray, a dishonorably discharged Captain named Ronald Williams, and a Captain Travis Wade. There was a note by Williams and Wade's entries: looks like a not so clever hacker left digital fingerprints on these records...data may not be correct, more digging needed.
Cougar stared at the name Travis Wade. He didn't know a Travis Wade but he did know a Wade Travis. He'd supposedly left the army after the Seventh Group fiasco. He'd need to see a picture to verify they were one and the same. Cougar growled to himself, he knew he should have killed the other sentinel when he'd had a chance. Wade was a very bad man.
Now he just needed to convince Clay that Jensen wasn't involved and then convince Jake that he was a good sentinel. He needed to woo his guide.
Fate was a fickle bitch, he thought. Just when he least expected, it all came back. And worse, he could feel it, the tiny crack in his shields that he couldn't repair. That was no longer his to repair.
He glanced down at the code he'd just written. It was beautiful, if he wanted to create another backdoor into Chryon Security's satellite system. Maybe he'd use the code on Goliath Worldwide to sneak a peek at what they had in development. He flipped to another page and started writing again. He didn't stop until he felt a hand on his shoulder and the crack in his shield got a little bigger.
"Portland called the lunch break two minutes ago," Cougar said, softly.
Jake glanced up and noticed they were the only two in the auditorium. "Sorry, sometimes I get lost in the code."
"Like a zone?" Cougar inquired.
Jake had to think about that for a second. He guessed his little coding sessions could be similar to a sentinel when they got lost in one of their senses and needed help coming back to reality. Jake had never had a problem with losing himself so completely though. He was normally well aware of his surroundings. And he was right back to the thought about Cougar being his sentinel. Someone he could completely trust to watch his back. Someone with whom he could truly be himself.
"Yes," he admitted. "Maybe. I've never been so lost that I had to have someone pull me back." He gathered up his stuff and walked to the end of the row where he could walk next to Cougar to the exit. "I, I think it's because you're here."
Cougar gave his a soft smile and nodded. "We will talk at lunch," Cougar said. "Not here in the open."
Jake understood, they would talk when the WNG was on. When there was little chance of anyone actually hearing them. He knew that even if another sentinel and guide could break through the WNG that he built it would only be for a minute as the frequencies oscillated. Will and Becky had helped him test it. That was why there were only two in existence.
"Do you want to return to your café?"
He wanted another of those frozen coffees, but he really wanted pizza for lunch. "After lunch. Pizza?" he asked hopefully, popping open the trunk of his car for his laptop bag. "Wait," he hadn't thought about it, he was so used to dealing with non-sentinels. "Can you eat pizza? I mean food and spices and sentinel friendly and all that."
Oh god, he had an awful thought, I would suck at being a guide. I should have asked that earlier.
Jake turned to look at Cougar. "I should have asked that earlier," he voiced his last thought out loud.
"I normally have no problem with food," Cougar answered. "And pizza is fine. The place down from your café smelled very flavorful."
"Lead on then," Jake replied.
The pizza place was busy but they managed to score an empty booth near the back. Jake was once again thankful that this session had been held off base and civilian clothing had been suggested. He was enjoying the reprieve from norm.
He glanced at the menu. They could order by the slice or an entire pie. He was still trying to decide what to ask when Cougar spoke. "What would you like?"
"Umm, something with vegetables and a Pepsi," Jake answered. He normally ate sausage and veggie pizza but he'd eat whatever Cougar ordered.
Cougar nodded and went to place their order. That's when something hit Jake, as he recalled a story his mother had told him about how she had met his father. "Oh my God," he said, dropping his head into his hands. "Is this a date?"
When he got back to their table he sat down and waited for Jake to look up at him before speaking. "Do you wish this to be a date?"
Jake blinked at him before taking off the tinted glasses which gave Cougar a better view of Jake's blue eyes. "I," Jake started, his fingers gliding over the case of the laptop he had placed on the table between them before finishing his answer, "think so. This reminds me of a story my mother told me about her and my father. I hadn't thought about it in years. Part of me had given up hope of you just walking into my life. The other part of me has been walking in the opposite direction every time the cougar tried to make me follow it."
Cougar nodded and was even more hopeful that by the end of the week and this case he would have his guide. "Turn on your WNG, Jake," he said.
They had much to discuss and their lunch break wasn't that long. He wasn't sure where to start but he needed to test something first. He watched as Jake put the WNG on the table and flipped it on. All the ambient noise in the restaurant seemed to just fall away like he was in a bubble. It was like something tingled over his skin and spread out until it seemed to incase the booth they were in. He could no longer hear the group of college kids talking by the door or the chefs in the kitchen. It was unsettling while at the same time a little relaxing.
"Disconcerting but also nice?" Jake asked quietly and Cougar nodded in return. "Will said the same thing."
"Can I touch you again?" Cougar asked, as proper sentinel-guide etiquette demanded; as he should have asked before. It had always been the guide's choice and Cougar would not break that tradition.
He waited until Jake nodded before placing his hand over Jake's. The first thing that came back was Jake's heart beat. It faded for a second before he picked it up again. "There is something different about this generator?" he asked.
Jake nodded again. "Frequency oscillation. It keeps, well most," Jake shrugged, "sentinels from getting around it. I knew that some sentinels could beat a WNG and I needed something better."
"You built this?" he asked, letting his hearing roam a little further. If he focused he could hear the college kids again.
Cougar removed his hand from Jake's and picked up the device. It barely gave off a hum or vibration in his hand. "Your records do not say that," Cougar wasn't sure what he was actually trying to ask. "They did not say much. Why did you not select guide on your paperwork?"
He watched Jake fiddle with the straw wrapper before removing the straw and sliding it into the glass. "I have a couple of degrees that won't show up on my records," Jake answered. "As for the other, I didn't want to get tossed into Psyop or into Civil Affairs. It's where they often put guides who don't have sentinels."
Cougar saw the waiter coming and put the device under the table while he and Jake both thanked the man. He caught a moment of surprise from Jake at the pizza. He had added sausage and hoped that Jake wouldn't mind.
"How? Is that a sentinel thing?" Jake asked him.
He wasn't sure what Jake was talking about and said as much only for Jake to admit that this was his favorite type of pizza. "Mine too," Cougar admitted. "I was hoping you wouldn't mind."
Cougar put the device back up on the table. "I will tell you why I am in the training session," Cougar said. "And then you can tell me what you have found."
It had all been going great until the shooting had started. Shooting, bullets, screaming, and Jake making a mad dash to tackle Steven Portland to the ground before their instructor could be killed. Cougar had hissed at him for that and he'd just glared in return. Guide did not mean he wasn't a soldier. Plus, he didn't want Portland's already sick daughter being told her father had been killed in some random drive-by.
Jake wasn't sure who had been doing the shooting. "Who the hell was shooting?" he finally asked, his back against the side of the stone staircase that lead into the building. "Why are they shooting and at whom?"
Cougar didn't answer right away and thought the sentinel might be zoning. "Yo, Carlos," he said, using his sentinel's real name, and reaching up to put his hand on Cougar's arm. "You with me?"
"Convince me. English."
"I am with you, my guide," Cougar answered him even though he never turned his head, eyes never leaving whatever he was tracking.
Jake felt a small shiver run through him at the my guide thing and let the fact that Cougar didn't turn to look at him go; after all he wasn't injured and it seemed like Cougar had gone into protect the guide mode. "You know this whole wooing thing was going pretty good right up until the shooting," he said, just as the sound of sirens hit his own ears. "Oh yay, police."
At that Cougar finally did turn to look at him though he was spinning around again a second later and bringing his gun, which Jake knew only had two rounds left, up to point at a grumpy white man in a suit and a bald black man wearing cargo pants. Both men running toward them.
"Cougs," the black man said, coming up short when the gun was pointed at him and raising his hands.
Jake lowered his shields slightly and got pissed off vibes from the white guy. He got relief from the black guy. "Why is grumpy pissed off?" Jake asked.
Grumpy tried to step closer and Cougar shifted his aim. "Agent Alvarez," the man said, voice gruff with warning.
Jake stepped forward to put his hand on Cougar's arm to lower the gun and that drew the grumpy man's attention to him. He inched his shields down a little more and took a surface scan of the man. So this was Cougar's commanding officer, Franklin Clay, which meant the other person was Linwood Porteous, Pooch.
"Don't move, Lieutenant."
Jake ignored Clay. "Carlos," he said softly. "It's okay. You can lower the gun and I need to get Portland to the hospital and to his daughter." Jake dropped his shields a little more. "Please," he said, both a loud and using the link that had been there since the kitten had first appeared to him so long ago. Please, he said again with just the link, knowing Cougar was the only one who could hear him this time.
He sighed when Cougar lowered the gun. Jake didn't need the police shooting the good guys. With his shields lowered even this small amount he could feel the pain of the incident around him. He was out of practice at blocking and guessed that was going to have to change. For now though he focused on what was around him. There were four casualties, including Portland, and one fatality. One presence that had been there and then gone. Jake shoved that feeling in the deepest well in his mind he could find and hoped to forget the feeling. All the victims were from the training session.
"The shots look like two sets of controlled bursts all going in the same direction and all confined to the front of the building," Jake heard Pooch say.
He saw Cougar nod. "Two cars, two shooters," Cougar confirmed.
Jake ignored Clay and knelt down next to Portland to check the instructor one more time. The man's pulse was strong but he'd hit the ground hard and looked to have taken a fragment--cement or a bullet--to the leg. That plus the concussion from being knocked to the ground.
"Steven Portland," Jake told the EMTs as they began to load Portland on a gurney. "His daughter's at the Children's Center at Cape Fear."
Ever since Jake had tackled Portland to the ground Cougar knew he'd been acting a little territorial and a lot protective. Even in the short amount of time he'd known Jake he knew the other man could take care of himself. It was just that he hadn't waited this long just to lose his guide before they had even completed their bond.
He watched Jake carefully as he moved around the crime scene with the EMTs there to take Portland. Cougar was sure that after the bond, if one of them died the other would follow shortly thereafter. That was the nature of most sentinel-guide bonds.
"Cougar," Clay ordered. "Grab the hacker and let's go."
Jake turned his head and glared at Clay but started making his way back toward him. "That man is grumpy," Jake said. "Who's Emma and why did she try to blow up his car?"
Cougar wasn't sure how Jake knew the name of Clay's latest ex but he had a suspicion. It meant that Jake had more skills buried behind those shields of his and Cougar really did want to talk with his guide. He grinned and grabbed Jake's wrist.
Can you hear me? he tried sending through the small thread of the bond he could touch.
Jake nodded and Cougar grinned. We will talk, he said, in private once Clay is finished. And Emma is his ex.
"Not a happy breakup then," Jake muttered out loud and Cougar couldn't cover the bark of laughter that escaped.
Cougar hadn't worried about appearances this morning and had left his motorcycle back at their safe house since it was only a few blocks from Jake's café which was in turn within walking distance of the training session. "I will ride with the Lieutenant."
He didn't wait for a response before leading his guide to his car and asking for Jake's keys.
"Okay," Jake said, handing over the keys. "But I don't...what's? Fine."
Cougar grinned at the baffled look on Jake's face and the sound of confusion he made while putting the car in reverse to back out of the parking space. "It will be okay," he reassured.
"Uh huh. The idiots shot my computer. There is a bullet in the casing."
Cougar hit the brakes and grabbed the computer Jake was about to toss onto the backseat. There was indeed a bullet buried into the shell of the laptop's metal frame. "You are very lucky," Cougar whispered, wanting to immediately find the shooter and put him out of his misery.
Jake shrugged before lifting his fingers to rub at his temples. "Doesn't matter and can you stop with the thoughts of limb ripping violence? It's sort of giving me a headache."
Cougar breathed in Jake's scent and let the thoughts drift away while he finished pulling out. Half way to the apartment the Losers had been using as a base of operations they both seemed calm and as relaxed as either were going to get for the moment. Though that changed a little for him as the closer they got the less Cougar could feel Jake's presence. "Please don't," he asked, gripping the steering wheel. He shouldn't have done it, and he hadn't meant to but he had and it was too late. Jake would have to break the connection to stop it.
"You started the imprint, didn't you? During the shooting?"
Jake gave him a dirty look. "I get it now. Spanish is the language you revert to when you've done something you don't want to talk about. We're talking about this, Carlos. Granted I don't want to have this chat in front of your coworkers...and what the hell do they want with me anyway?"
Even though Jake sounded upset and a little angry Cougar felt the connection to Jake strengthen just a little. He escorted his guide up the stairs and into the apartment. When the door was closed he reported, "All clear and no one followed. If they put a tracker on his car it's passive."
Clay was standing in the middle of the living room turned operations center with his arms crossed over his chest. "Are you compromised, Alvarez?"
"You had an unauthorized meeting with the suspect twice now and both times we couldn't listen in."
Jake looked from him to Clay and back again. "Are you bugged?" Jake asked.
"So they were using eavesdropping tech? Shiny," Jake replied, looking around the room. Cougar knew his guide was taking everything in. Cataloguing it for later. He was beginning to wonder just how good a memory his guide really had.
"Hadn't exactly tested that before," Jake was saying. "Figured maybe, but wasn't sure. Good to know though. What were you using, E-Techs L20 or Goliath's MA4? 'cos, I gotta tell you the MA4 sucks."
"You, Lieutenant, are a hacker and a prime suspect in a case we're investigating," Clay stated, stopping Jake's talking with the accusation.
Cougar heard the jump in Jake's heart beat.
"That's such an overused word nowadays," Jake said, not bothering to look at Clay, his eyes still roaming the room. "And I don't think they were aiming for me but for Cougar."
"Yes," Cougar answered at the same time Clay said, "No."
"You gonna weigh in on that one," Jake asked, looking towards Pooch.
Pooch shook his head no and sat down at the table. "The Pooch is staying out of this."
Clay moved in his direction. "You will sit down in that chair and stay quiet Lieutenant Jensen," Clay told him, pointing to another chair next to the table. "When I want you to speak, you will. When I'm ready to arrest you for your court martial you can talk. Unless, right now you want to confess and tell us who you're working with."
Jake laughed. He didn't mean to but it happened. People always took in his appearance--the glasses, the slightly rumpled clothing, his less than military look what with the Star Wars t-shirt he was wearing. They thought military office drone. "You Major Grumpy Pants are not my CO. Right now you're on a mission that doesn't exist so you don't exist and you're not on base. And I'm not your suspect."
He started walking toward the door. "You know where I live, Cougar," he said when he was almost to the door. He didn't get it open though as Clay grabbed his arm and spun him into the wall. His head hit the wall with a soft thud as his arm was twisted around. Both hurt.
"You are not leaving here," Clay said, body leaning into him to hold him in place.
Cougar made a sound.
"Stand down, Cougar. That's an order."
"Earthquake, here?" he heard Pooch ask but paid the other man no attention as his sole focus was on his guide.
Jake hadn't struggled and that should have been a warning sign. His guide was able to shift just enough to get a hand around to touch Clay. "Let me go," Jake said calmly and it was a voice that Cougar knew people should fear.
"Let me go," Jake repeated, "and the pain in your chest will stop."
Clay barely got out "what pain" before he was clutching at his chest.
Cougar had already started moving towards Jake even as he heard Pooch yell for him to stop.
"Jake, stop," he said. "Please, my guide." But it was like it fell on deaf ears. He took a chance and grabbed the front of Jake's shirt and brought them together. Brought them together for what was supposed to be a single, quick kiss. It wasn't. Cougar poured everything he had into it. The kiss didn't stop even when Clay thudded to his ass on the floor or when Pooch slid back down into the chair at the dining room table after having stood up when Cougar started approaching Clay and Jake.
"This is why I stay the hell out of sentinel-guide business," he heard Pooch say and that was when Jake chuckled into the kiss.
I like Pooch, Jake told him. But Mr. Grumpy Pants needs a new attitude or a new girlfriend. Also, he's not telling you everything about this case.
"See," Jake said, leaning into Cougar, but continued to look at Clay. "You ran a personnel scan on all the people in the training session. You set off alarms."
"You are a hacker," Clay reminded him.
Jake rolled his eyes. "My files don't say that but if I was, I wouldn't have left little cyber footprints for people to follow back to me. You took the official route," Jake shrugged. "That almost always leaves a trail. One that drove your shooters right at my sentinel."
It took Jake three full seconds to realize what he'd just admitted out loud and he'd, they--he and Cougar--would deal with it when they had a moment. The kiss had told him everything he needed to know about Cougar. He was going to ignore the fact that both their spirit guides were lounging by the window. Spirit animals shouldn't be able to look smug.
"Wade is involved," Cougar stated, breaking Jake out of his personal realization.
"Travis Wade?" Jake asked.
"Wade Travis, 7th Group?" Pooch asked.
Cougar gave them both a shrug. "Will have to see the personnel file and hope there is a picture, but yes, I think so."
"He's a sentinel, isn't he?" Clay asked, having now moved to sit in the chair he had just moments ago ordered Jake to sit in at the dining table. He was rubbing at his head and, normally, Jake would apologize for the headache but he wasn't going to. Grumpy Pants sort of warranted it.
"No," Jake said at the same time Cougar said, "Yes."
Jake looked at Cougar. "False record?" Jake asked no one in particular. "I didn't really look much into him after following LaClaire to Delray. There are definitely cyber footprints but some were done using the UI and that means no hacker needed," Jake said the last bit while shooting Clay another dirty look that had Cougar smiling.
"Now can I borrow a computer?" Jake asked again.
This time Clay said yes.
The three Losers watched as Jake popped open the case of his laptop with a Swiss Army knife and gently removed the bullet. "Can you get anything from this," he asked Cougar, handing over the bullet.
Cougar took the round and sniffed at it before letting the tips of his fingers follow the ridges and groves. "It's familiar," he said, putting the bullet on the table.
By then Jake had the borrowed laptop apart and was connecting the two. "Thankfully," his guide said. "The bullet only seemed to crack the screen and damage the keyboard. Hard drive is still okay."
A minute later computer data was running across the screen. Cougar watched as Jake's fingers flew across the keyboard and access screens popped up and disappeared in a blink of an eye. Then Jake was turning the screen so that all the Losers could see it. "Travis Wade," he said. "A Canadian Captain assigned to Fort Bragg for a joint operation."
"Wade Travis," Cougar growled. "Asshole from the States. Bad sentinel."
"When was this record entered?" Clay asked.
Jake turned the laptop back. "This one has less cyberprints who ever input this record knew what they were doing. It's backstopped. Oh! Built off a copy of Wade Travis' own record. Clever. Eight months ago."
"About the time that mission went south and everyone on it was reported dead," Pooch said. "Can you tell who put the record in and what else they may have done?"
Tell them, Cougar sent to Jake. Then we'll leave. I am feeling anxious and that is not me.
The bond wants to finish, Jake confirmed for him.
"With the equipment here, no," Jake answered. "I'm not the bad guy, Major. Just a guy who got transferred and was the unlucky newbie to the department who got assigned to the training session."
"You lied on your military application," Clay reminded them. "You are a guide."
Cougar wasn't sure how Jake was going to react but the response made his heart jump. "I'll give you that one," Jake admitted. "But the army doesn't have the right to force a pairing on me and if you tell them what I did here they'll never believe you. I'm Carlos' guide. No one else's. He's my first priority."
Clay gave them both a look. A look that turned into a gleam. A gleam that Cougar recognized and he grabbed Jake's hand. Jake seemed to understand. He hit a few keystrokes and several flies popped open while the rest of the screen dimmed.
Cougar pulled Jake away from the table. "I am taking Jake home," he said. "We will meet in the morning."
"Understood," Clay said, the gleam still present.
"I locked the laptop," Jake stopped their forward motion for a second, "but you'll be able to read the all the files on the screen. I'll have something better for you tomorrow."
Jake enjoyed the bike ride to his apartment. His arms wrapped around Cougar, head resting on his sentinel's shoulder. It was almost dream-like and very relaxing. His shields weren't dropping but allowing for his sentinel to pass through them. If anything the crack was gone and his shields were getting stronger.
They didn't make it three steps up to Jake's walk-up apartment before a short, thin, still quite fit grayed-haired woman was demanding Jake to halt.
"Really young man," she said. "You thought you'd just sneak right past me."
Cougar stepped in front of Jake, his sentinel putting himself between Mrs. Potts and his guide. Jake would have laughed but he thought it was sweet and Mrs. Potts clearly thought it was romantic.
"Mrs. Potts, Carlos Alvarez. Carlos, Mrs. Potts. My, well, grandmother. This is Becks' grandmother I mean. The one that sort of adopted me. Where is Mr. Potts?"
That was nervous rambling if Jake had ever heard it.
"Playing golf or darts or whatever it is the other retired old coots do these days," Mrs. Potts answered before turning to Cougar. "It is nice to put a person to the animal that used to follow Jake around when he was not looking," she said, stepping closer to Cougar. She looked at Cougar as if she could see into his very soul and having had that look turned on him before, he knew that's exactly what it was. Jake could feel a slight shiver race through Cougar.
"The cougar is a nice fit for the owl. You two have fun," she said, shooing them upstairs. "No one will bother you tonight."
"Night, Grams," Jake called, grabbing Cougar's arm and pulling him up the stairs and into his apartment. "I, umm," he started to say. "Would apologize for that but she and her husband..."
"Are the old keepers of the area," Carlos finished for him. "There is no need to apologize," he continued, understandingly. "She is well within her rights. I did not even sense her until she wanted me to and she is simply looking out for her grandson."
Jake grinned and dropped his bag on his couch. "Welcome to my home," he said, stretching out his arms in a welcoming gesture. His apartment was neat though his coffee table looked like a computer store had thrown up on it.
He didn't know what to do next but he need not have worried as Cougar removed his hat and, for the lack of a better word, pounced. Jake barely kept himself from falling onto the floor. Instead he sort of collapsed into the oversized chair in his living room with Cougar straddling his legs.
"Hello," he said, looking straight into Cougar's brown eyes.
"Hello," Cougar responded, reaching up to remove Jake's glasses before leaning in and kissing him.
Jake fell into the kiss like he'd fallen into the chair--surprised and a little overwhelmed. He didn't care though, and didn't stop until his lungs began to protest the need for air and he remembered he needed to breathe.
"We need to talk," Jake said after catching his breath. "I, we," he corrected, "need to both go into this with full knowledge. If the bond finishes..."
"When," Cougar stated, his fingers gently massaging at Jake's neck and shoulders and Jake felt his body relaxing.
Jake leaned his head forward so it bumped lightly against Cougar's. "Til death," Jake said. "The bonds in my family have always been until death. I will take you with me and that's," Cougar put a finger to Jake's lip.
"It is the same with my family," Cougar answered. "I understand this. You have been my guide since I was thirteen. Maybe even earlier."
"I've been hiding," Jake admitted. "You saw what I did with Clay. When I was six my grandmother died. My mother's mother. She was like Mrs. Potts, the village elder of sorts. She warned me, or her ghost did, to hide. To learn all I could and hide. My mother knew and she never told my aunt or anyone else. At six I had more potential skills than my aunt actually does now, but they hurt."
"My gifts were already active," Cougar confirmed. "And we did not live that far apart." Cougar leaned into him, breathed in his scent before moving to kiss him lightly on the lips. "You are my guide. I am your sentinel. I go where you go," Cougar spoke. "You are my lifeline and I am yours. We are one as sentinel and guide."
Jake was so glad he was sitting down and he wasn't sure if he was panicking or not. Cougar had made the bond promise. It was like getting married! Oh god he was panicking and he couldn't control what he said which was okay because his mouth seemed to understand what he wanted.
"You are my sentinel and I am your guide. Together we walk this life as one."
He stretched and let his senses once again roam the body of his guide. Under the baggy clothes was an in shape, nicely muscled body that did not fit with the image Jake presented to the world. It was a good cover. He lightly traced a line over an old shrapnel wound on Jake's side before tracing the hickey he had left there earlier.
They both had wounds, but neither had secrets from the other, not anymore. Cougar knew his abilities were now tightly wound around Jake's and vice versa. He'd have to retest them to see what he was now capable of since he had a guide that could keep him tethered from getting lost in one of his senses. His sight had always been his greatest strength and his sense of taste his weakest. Right now though his sense of smell was telling him there was homemade chicken and dumplings, garlic bread and a chocolate...he sniffed again.
"It's not really a pie," Jake murmured, turning over to face Cougar. "It's more like this loaded brownie with nuts and frosting and peanut butter. It's yummy, right up your sweet tooth's alley."
Cougar leaned in and kissed Jake. "You are right up my alley too." And Cougar wasn't lying, Jake tasted like coffee and chocolate and cinnamon mixed together like some type of guide coffee cake.
"You are just hungry," Jake said, poking him in the stomach. "Because all you are doing is thinking about food and there is food, just out there." Both his and Jake's stomach chose that moment to make noise. "See!"
Cougar laughed and pulled Jake from the bed before heading towards the door.
"Sheet!" Jake called after him. "Do not open that door without clothes on. I will not be responsible if Grams is out there."
"I would sense her," Cougar said.
"Are you so sure about that?" Jake called back and Cougar stopped with his hand on the door knob. He grabbed the sheet Jake was holding out. It was just better to be safe than sorry when it came to Elders and he had this feeling that Jake's grandmother had a wicked sense of humor.
Cougar slowly opened the door and breathed a sigh of relief, there was no one there, just a wicker tray loaded with food. Jake already had plates and two glasses of water sitting on the table by the time he put the tray down. They divvied up the meal, leaving enough for leftovers.
"She loves to cook," Jake said, digging in. "And she always knows what a person likes, what they can tolerate, and can get them to try new things."
The meal had smelled delicious to his senses, it tasted even better. He would like to introduce Mrs. Potts to his family. He wanted to introduce Jake to his family. All of a sudden he felt nervous and just as he became aware of what the feeling was, it was gone. He glanced over at Jake and his guide was staring down at his pie.
"Sorry," Jake said softly. "Trying to get a hang of this. You are inside my shields. There will be leaks. I'll try..."
He stopped Jake in mid-sentence by leaning across the table and kissing his guide. "You are mine and I am yours," he reminded Jake. "We are one."
He felt Jake lean into him and then his guide let go of anything else he was holding back.
The sex before dinner, before he had truly let the bond form, had been mind blowing. After he let go of the rest of what he was trying to shield, or more to the point what he had still wanted to hide, the sex had been all encompassing.
While Cougar had been inspecting and cataloging and whatever else it was that sentinels did to his entire body--from the shrapnel wound to the birthmark that Jake did not discuss, ever. He had done the same thing with his own gifts, crawling through Cougar's mind like it was a book that he couldn't put down.
Cougar had sniffed, tasted, and touched every part of him, and at first he was nervous. Who would have thought that with one lick Cougar could make him hard. That one pass of a hand here and there and Cougar's lips wrapped around his hard cock could have him nearly bucking off the bed, and it only got better after that.
He felt his cheeks heat at the thought. And how happy he was that one of them had remembered to turn on the WNG because he wasn't explaining anything to Grams or Mr. Potts for that matter. His dreams of a repeat performance were cut short as a phone began to ring and vibrate from somewhere across the room.
"Make it go away," he muttered into Cougar's neck, licking over a hickey he had left on Cougar's neck the night before and feeling his sentinel shiver.
Cougar inched closer, wrapping their legs together, moving their lower bodies into alignment. Jake felt Cougar grab his ass and shift them, bringing them even closer and soon they were moving against each other in beautiful friction.
The phone started to ring again. Jake reached out with his mind for the device, he'd never actually tried this and his concentration wasn't the best right now because... Oh god, right there, he thought at Cougar, forgetting the phone until he heard something crash.
"Leave it," Cougar said, taking Jake's mouth for a kiss that neither truly broke until they had both ridden out their climaxes.
Jake had lost track of time but knew it wasn't seven yet because there was no sun trying to peek through his blinds and the damn phone was ringing again. He felt Cougar's laughter and it was even better than hearing it.
"Try fetching it again," Cougar told him, his finger tracing the blood vessels on Jake's chest.
Jake concentrated a moment and found it. He knew that Cougar was partially responsible for that as sentinel senses worked together with his own guide gifts. The phone sailed through the room a little faster than intended and nose dived into the bed. "Guess I'll have to work on that."
The phone started again.
"Persistent bastard, whoever it is," Jake told him, as his guide's hands slid up and down his sides.
Cougar glanced down at the little glowing screen and growled. "Clay," he said.
"And how is Mr. Grumpy?" Jake asked him, moving to sit up.
His lover deflated slightly before he said, "Buzz kill."
He felt Jake's concentration shift and watched as his guide closed his eyes. "He's not-so grumpy this morning," Jake reported. "More annoyed. Also Grams would like us to come to breakfast in twenty minutes. Just enough time for a quick shower."
"I will let Clay know we'll be down in an hour," he said, rolling off Jake while punching in the code to unlock his phone.
What he had done while Cougar had been in the shower was correct his personnel record. The guide box was now selected and no one would be the wiser. The two of them would have to go into personnel together to update their status as bonded. Cougar had helped him change the sheets and freshen up the apartment enough that company could be brought up. The WNG had been turned off and pocketed as he wasn't sharing that.
Clay and Pooch were leaning against a fugly yellow car when they walked out of the building. Cougar kept between him and Clay in a way that said this guide is mine. Jake knew their bond was still too new for this and normally a newly bonded sentinel and guide spent several days locked away from the rest of the world. Unfortunately, the bad guys had resorted to shooting at them and the rest of their together time would have to wait.
"That is not an inconspicuous vehicle for, well anyone," Jake commented when they were a few feet from Clay and Pooch.
Pooch laughed. He'd learned from Cougar that Pooch was almost always a happy-go-lucky type who had married his high school sweetheart--who just so happened to be able to scare the hell out of Clay. Pooch had a three year old daughter and there was a second child on the way and if the pictures he kept flashing at everyone were correct, there would soon be a little version of Pooch running around too.
"The old lady wouldn't let us in," Clay said, arms crossed. "Said we had to wait until we were escorted in."
Jake glanced back at the building and then smiled. "Please don't antagonize my grandmother," he said. "I'm not sure what she would do to you but I'm pretty sure we'd never find the body."
"Understood," Clay responded with a sharp nod. "So what else do you have for us Lieutenant?" Clay asked before turning to Cougar. "He's no longer a suspect so you can relax, Cougar; I am not going to arrest him or get between you and your guide."
Jake did a scan of Clay. What he had learned from Cougar told him that Clay was a hard ass, stubborn son of a bitch that cared for the people on his team. He was a good man who just didn't like to show it.
"Sure," Jake said. "Come on up."
"This is what I gave you yesterday," Jake told them. "But before we go any further. You know my little secret and I know you're hiding something from them about this case."
Cougar sat down next to Jake and waited for an answer. Pooch grabbed the arm of the couch while Clay dropped into the chair opposite them.
"I asked for this case. I had suspicions. We're the first SpecOp version of CID and I need to clean up some old business before the Losers get pulled into an old mess or blamed for one."
"This old mess have a name?" Cougar asked, already knowing he wasn't going to like the answer.
Cougar let out a growling hiss sound that was partially covered up by Pooch's demand of, "What the hell, man? He's dead, right?"
"I thought so at first," Clay said, leaning forward in the chair and putting his head in his hands before running them through his hair but not sitting back up. "Then there were things that made me think he wasn't."
"All of his files disappeared. There was never a body. Just blood, enough that no one could have bled that much and survived, and the knife with Roque's blood on it. Jensen confirmed it for me yesterday."
"I did what?" Jake asked, fingers once again moving across the keyboard in his lap and bringing up all the files from yesterday.
That's when Cougar saw it. The picture of Ronald Williams was William Roque. The man had betrayed them all and Cougar was going to kill him for it. He felt Jake's hand on his thigh.
I know, Cougar said, thoughts of dismemberment later.
Jake laughed and then covered his mouth with his hands. "Sorry," his guide said. "Guide thing. Inappropriate for the moment."
Cougar smirked at Jake before turning his head and baring his teeth in a feral grin at Clay. "He's going to wish he was dead when I find him."
Clay raised his hands. Surrendering to that fact because no one got between a sentinel and their guide. Not if they wanted to live.
Cougar had looked at the new CID agent before sliding further down into his seat and pulling his hat lower. Amber, was all he sent.
You have to give me more.
One of Clay's exes. This one was not quite divorced at the time. She shot Clay in the leg.
Wow, Jake said, I don't even know what to say to that.
Clay's taste in women is...dangerous.
Which meant the possible bomb threat on Clay's car had probably been a lot more real than was reported. Especially as Amber Mann had been the CID Agent sent to look at the vehicle. Cougar gave him a look when he asked about it. It was clearly something his sentinel would rather forget.
From their seats Jake didn't need Cougar's sentinel hearing to hear the interviews so he was focused on the CID interviews while Cougar listened to all the side conversations. Since Cougar had recognized the new CID agent and Jake wasn't getting anything nefarious from her even when she did spot Cougar sitting in the back, he put her in the not dirty column. So far all three of the suspects had sat separately, that was until Delray finished her interview and went and cozied up to Walston.
He wasn't sure what they were talking about until Walston turned around and focused on him. He shivered slightly at the attention particularly since he caught the thoughts of "need and take."
Agent Mann dismissed the session before she interviewed him and Cougar, informing everyone they would be contacted about the rescheduling of the session. They were all also to stay in the area until cleared for duty. It was a little conspicuous until she said, "For a loner, Agent Alvarez, you are sitting rather close to an unbonded guide. Should I be congratulating you?"
Jake sighed to himself. It meant Agent Mann hadn't pulled his records until this morning and this would work in both his and Cougar's favor in the future. "This session proved interesting in more ways than one," he answered for both of them.
"I will attach a comment to the case notes," Amber said, flipping to a clean page in her notebook. "Now, tell me what you really saw, Alvarez."
"Umm," Jake asked. "Before we get started can you tell me how Mr. Portland is doing?"
Amber gave him a look and then she must have realized that as a guide Jake would want to know the answer probably more than a non-gifted person. Most people believed it was ingrained into a guide to care about his or her tribe. It was kind of a load of bullshit because Jake had met guides who couldn't care less about society and the people in it. That said, he'd been the one to shove the man out of the way and he wanted to know.
"As of last night he is resting comfortably on the pull-out bed in his daughter's hospital room. He'll make a full recovery," Agent Mann told him.
Jake nodded and then let Cougar tell the agent everything he wanted her to know. From the color and make of the cars to where he thought they could find the four unaccounted for slugs. Though they would only find three as one had already been pulled from his laptop and he wasn't going to mention that one.
"Now tell me," she insisted at the end, "is Clay involved in this mess?"
Cougar didn't answer so Jake stepped closer so he could speak softly to her, only to have Cougar pull him back. "Umm, right," he said looking at Cougar and giving both the Agent and his sentinel an apologetic look before stepping into the Agent's personal space and away from Cougar for a moment. "I'd look into your fellow CID agent if I were you," he finished.
"What does that mean?"
"Look deeply, and you know that I can't say anymore without an order from my CO." Jake pulled the Sentinel or Guide in the Military Card, because their abilities often clashed with security clearances so they could not be forced to answer questions that could otherwise cause harm. It was the same card that could get them thrown into a single-person maximum security cell if they sold or spoke of what they knew.
He answered what he could about why he was in the training session and what he had seen. He also mentioned seeing Walston with Delray. He hoped Amber would follow that thread. Cougar was hoping being re-questioned by CID might further spook Walston; especially if he thought he was being investigated for misconduct.
"Coffee?" Jake begged.
"You have a problem," Cougar stated.
"Like you can talk," his guide poked him in the side. "I saw you eat that last piece of the not-brownie pie this morning."
Cougar shrugged. It was true.
At the café he ordered a small version of Jake's favorite blended coffee drink just to experience the flavors that made his guide so giddy while drinking it. It wasn't bad but Cougar preferred his coffee to be a little stronger. He was just taking a bite of his sandwich when the door to the café opened and his senses told him danger was close.
He knew Jake sensed something too as his guide was turning to look at the door. Bad sentinel indeed, Jake told him through their bond. I feel like I need a shower.
Cougar growled as Wade Travis approached their booth. They were all armed but Cougar knew Wade wouldn't shoot at either of them, he'd go for a civilian first.
"I see the rumors were right, Alvarez," Wade said, pulling a chair from a nearby table and swinging it around so he could sit at the edge of their booth. "You got yourself a guide."
That confirmed there was a leak within CID, and as much as Amber hated Clay, Cougar knew she wasn't the leak. It meant Walston had either managed to get into the system or there was another dirty CID agent.
"Travis," he growled. "What do you want?"
Travis grinned. "I actually came to talk to Jensen," he said. "You see I have transfer papers for him."
"Excuse me?" Jensen spoke for the first time.
Wade turned his full attention onto Jake and Cougar didn't like it. It raised his hackles and he wanted to reach across the table and snap Travis' neck.
"My unit is looking for a computer tech and your name came up, Lieutenant. The papers were inked just an hour ago. You are to come with me."
Cougar grabbed Wade's hand and squeezed. "My guide goes nowhere without me," he stated.
"According to his records," Wade said, pulling his hand from Cougar's grasp. "He's not bonded."
Cougar didn't like it as Jake leaned in closer to Wade so that he could whisper. "I have forty-eight hours to file those changes," Jake said. "Nor can I or my sentinel be held responsible if my sentinel kills someone for bond interference."
The sound of a safety being taken off was loud to Cougar's ears but it seemed that Wade hadn't even heard Jake pulling the gun out of his computer bag. "So," Jake continued, "I'd suggest you get up from our table before I shoot you because at this range even I can't miss."
Wade made a noise. "You're making a mistake, Lieutenant."
Jake gave Wade a look, that under any other circumstances would have made Cougar laugh, instead he was trying to keep the need to rip Wade apart tamped down so as to not bother his guide. As it was, he said through clenched teeth, "Do as my guide has so nicely asked."
Wade just grinned, but stood from the table. "You've gotten wordy, Alvarez." Wade said one more thing before he left the café and it was solely for Cougar's ears only. "We'll see if you can hold on to him."
Jake had the safety back on the gun and laptop out--apparently his guide had a collection of laptops like he had a collection of rifles. Jake's fingers were flowing across the keyboard while he talked to himself. Cougar reached across the table and took the WNG out of front pocket of Jake's pants and flicked it on.
"Any other time I'd have something to say about you reaching into my pants, but the orders are real," Jake grumbled. "We need to go to the base today."
Cougar was thinking the same thing. They could even use one of the sentinel-guide suites to get the orders delayed. He pulled out his cell phone and dialed Clay.
"Son of a bitch," Jake said, still looking at his the screen of his laptop. His guide looked up and then swung around the side of the booth so that they were sitting next to one another. Jake swung the laptop around. "I didn't like all the coincidences. They make me itch," Jake explained and pointed to the screen. "They were after Walston and me."
Cougar read what was on the screen and the hiss he made was echoed by his spirit animal that was sitting at the end of the table as if on guard duty. When he looked up he spotted Jake's owl sitting on the back of another booth on the opposite side of the aisle.
There was something coming and they could feel it too.
This whole training class had been a setup for the smuggling ring to acquire new personnel. Jake's new CO was taking payoffs and that's really how he had ended up there. So far the only good thing from the last few days had been meeting Cougar.
"Look, lady nurse, person, stop poking at me or my sentinel is going to come through that door and you'll be leaving on a gurney. He's a little stressed and you're beginning to annoy me," Jake said and wasn't even surprised when Cougar broke protocol and came into the room.
The nurse looked annoyed at them both. And okay, that really might be their own fault. Neither of them were taking this all that well. The forced shower where they had been separated and then changed into specially designed scrubs that didn't smell like either of them; though Jake would admit the scrubs were soft and felt comfortable but still none of it had been necessary. "You two are worse than my five year old twins," the nurse muttered but signed off on the last of the paperwork.
It was official. They even had new dogtags and everything. Jacob Jensen and Carlos Alvarez were a bonded sentinel and guide pair and for the next twenty-four hours would not be bothered as they went through the military's required bonding time for new partnerships. Their postings were on hold until the bond was settled and a decision could be made as to who was transferring where.
"Clay wants to talk to us before we enter the isolation suite," Cougar leaned into him, one finger running across Jake's new tags.
He nodded and Cougar left his side and waved Clay and Pooch into the room. "So, Jensen?"
"Yes, yes," Jake acquiesced, his legs swinging slightly while he sat on the hospital bed. "Fine, I was apparently somehow partially involved. Not my fault."
Pooch laughed then said, "Congrats on taming yourself a Cougar."
Jake saw Cougar raise an eyebrow but he laughed and thanked Pooch. Before he could stop Cougar, his sentinel pulled his WNG out of his pack and turned it on. "Cougar," Jake hissed, having not been ready to share that tech.
"Clay needs to talk to you off the record and this is as off the record as we can get," Cougar replied, walking back over to where Jake still sat on the hospital bed and lacing their fingers together.
Jake was not expecting the question that came out of Clay's mouth. He'd been expecting a demand for a device of his own, instead what he got was: "Is that hurting Cougar?"
He would have been pissed but that question did prove that Clay cared about those under his command. It also meant that Clay knew Cougar pretty well if he was asking Jake that question and not Cougar because Cougar would have waved it off if it had.
"No," Jake answered honestly.
Clay gave a sharp nod before continuing. "Do you know what we do?"
Jake shrugged. He'd put some things together and thought he got it now. "The Losers," he said. "Though that name...never mind. You are the first Internal Affairs or CID for SpecOps. You mask that fact by also being a more traditional SpecOps team."
"You have the training and skills I had not thought to add to my team, but would welcome. Enjoy your twenty-four," Clay finished, not waiting for an answer from Jake before turning on his heel and heading for the door.
"Wait," Jake said, pulling out a flash drive from his pack. "Just follow the links in each document. It's everything I've pieced together. I even tagged my personnel files, all of yours, and everyone's in the class. If someone goes snooping an alert will be sent. Just keep the drive in the computer I gave you."
Jake returned to Cougar's side. "I'll talk your offer over with my sentinel," he said.
Clay just nodded again while Pooch gave them a thumbs up.
Jake grabbed at his head to deepen the kiss, fingers tangling in his long hair that he normally kept pulled back. He leaned in further until he knew they needed to take this to a bed.
He stripped them both and then began kissing his guide. He started with Jake's mouth before moving to his neck, then shoulders and lower before going to his knees in front of his guide. He licked and swirled his tongue around Jake's cock and enjoyed the feeling of Jake's hands in his hair and the sound of his guide's heart beat increasing. He stopped before Jake could climax and stood.
Cougar walked Jake backwards to the bed and made his guide comfortable before straddling Jake's waist and slowly lowering himself on his lover's hard cock.
"Oh god," Jake said softly, his hands grabbing at Cougar's waist.
"You are my guide," Cougar said, rocking forward. The feeling of Jake buried deep inside of him was something that he would always want.
"You are my sentinel," Jake said, bringing their lips together. "You are in my head and heart."
"You are in my head and heart," Cougar repeated, just as their climax rolled through them together.
When they woke they started working on figuring out how their gifts had changed. Cougar made Jake practice his telekinetic abilities he had. He moved Cougar's hat around the room but it always looked like it was wobbling. The WNG flew straight and level through the air. "I don't think I could lift a car or stop a bullet," Jake admitted. "And I think it's stronger with tech stuff...mostly because I'm more comfortable with the tech stuff."
Cougar's own abilities had increased. The suite's only window looked out into a park area that was used for both relaxation and rehabilitation. He was able to see all the way across the park to the person sitting on a bench reading a Harry Potter book to his kids. When Jake asked him to focus he could pick up the man's voice, something he had never been able to do before. His hearing had never been able to match his sight.
The two of them fell back into bed exhausted but he knew they still needed to talk. Cougar relaxed into Jake's hold, their legs tangled together as his head rested on Jake's shoulder. "I will leave the army," Cougar said, his hand rested over Jake's heart, which he felt quicken.
Through their bond he could feel Jake thinking. It was a new sensation but he knew he would miss it if it was ever gone.
"Tell me about Clay," Jake asked. "Show me the Losers."
Cougar moved to lay between Jake's legs. He lifted up on his arms slightly so he could look Jake in the eyes. "All I know," he said, "is yours."
He showed Jake his first meeting with Clay. His first mission with the Losers. Meeting Jolene, Pooch's wife. Saving Clay from Amber's anger. Laughing with his team, as well as running from danger. He showed him what he knew about the mission that supposedly went wrong, where William Roque had betrayed them by faking his death and running off with more than a hundred thousand dollars.
Minutes later Cougar fell asleep to the feeling of Jake's fingers in his hair.
His sentinel was agitated, he could feel it as if Cougar was actually pacing a cage. Their bond was fully settled within each of them. "You think Wade is out there waiting, don't you?"
"Yes." Cougar was glaring out the window toward the south, towards something he couldn't see because the building across the park was blocking it.
"Me too," Jake admitted. "I think we need to let it play out."
Jake frowned. "Stubborn sentinel," he said.
"Oh, don't start with that." He got up and walked to where his sentinel stood and wrapped his arms around him. "I know you don't want me out of your sight. I really don't want you out of mine, but the only way we're going to get this to work might be to let them take me."
"No," and this time Cougar sounded more resigned, so his answer actually sounded more like an 'I know'.
There was a knock at the door and the nurse waited for them both to approve entrance before the door opened. "There's a Major Clay and Agent Porteous here to see you," she stated, then stepped back as they both nodded.
Jake had known the moment they had pulled into the parking lot. He was positive Cougar had known before the car had even started down the driveway, as his sentinel would have already cataloged his teammates when he first joined the Losers.
"We found Roque," was the first thing Clay said when he entered the room. "You need to turn that little thing of yours on."
Jake pretended to turn it on. They had never turned it off, wanting to improve Cougar's skills of getting around it. Now it only worked on Cougar when he wanted it to. Jake knew he'd have to get Cougar and Will to talk, both sentinels were very much alike and now were, for the most part, part of the same family.
I will talk to Will after this is over, Cougar told him through the bond.
"Congratulations," Pooch said, sending a glare at Clay for being all-business from the start instead of being polite first and then diving into the business at hand. Pooch also handed Jake his satchel and computer that he had not been allowed to take into the suite with him. "And welcome to the Losers," Pooch finished.
"Thanks," Jake said, already opening up his laptop. "So where's this Roque guy?"
"Chryon," Clay said, sitting down opposite Jake and sliding a small black wallet his way. Jake opened it and did a double take. It was a set of credentials that stated he was a CID Agent with a badge and his picture. "We weren't able to get anything else, but we don't think Wade or Roque is the one pulling the strings for this operation."
Jake started typing. He was into Chryon's system before Clay could ask another question, but Pooch had to know, "How does that thing always have a signal?"
He laughed. "Engraves Tech satellite. I know the owner. But right now I'm using a Chryon satellite to hack," Jake paused. "I did not just use that word...their own systems."
A facial recognition program started running through all the employee personnel files; within five minutes they had a match, but it wasn't on Roque or Wade. Rachel Delray's photo stared back at them. Within twenty minutes they had found records for Roque and Wade. It looked like Roque had been working for Chryon a lot longer than he'd been believed dead.
Jake could feel the anger rolling off Clay as if it was a tidal wave about to hit land. The man did not take betrayal well, not that Jake blamed him. Jake reached out and touched Clay's arm and Clay seemed to calm somewhat.
"Your responsibility is to your sentinel, Jensen," Clay said, moving his arm but keeping his anger under better wraps.
"Well, the storm of betrayal," Jake looked at Clay, then looked over at Pooch, "and resigned disappointment was a little hard to handle on top of Cougar wanting to dismember the man using six shots from his rifle." He turned to look at his sentinel. "Can you do that?"
Jake got a chorus of yes' from the other three men.
He hated this plan as he watched Jake walk alone into the building even if his guide looked like he belonged there. Jake's black pants, untucked white shirt, and black tie that was askew made him look like the other two techs he was walking behind. Cougar watched as Jake ran a keycard through the reader and breathed a sigh of relief when the light went green.
Told you it would work, Jake said over the bond, trying to lighten the tension. Cougar did not respond.
Jake paused to tie his shoe and missed the elevator with the other geeks. He caught a second one that was empty. In and going up to fifteen, Jake said.
Cougar acknowledged Jake over the bond and repeated Jake's status to Clay and Pooch who were waiting in a nondescript SUV on the street level near Jake's exit point.
Exiting on fifteen, Jake told him and Cougar was glad that Chryon had adopted a similar floor plan for all their buildings. It was a security risk and something Cougar would have thought Chryon would know better but in this case it was working in the Losers' favor. It meant that the elevator banks faced the street and always opened out into a windowed foyer.
Jake gave him a thumbs up before walking into the office area that fronted the server room for the building. He saw Jake smile at the secretary and fumble with his ID card like a nervous e-geek talking to a girl might do. Just be happy it's up here and not in the basement, Jake offered the information like he thought that would settle Cougar.
Cougar growled softly over the bond. If it had been in the basement I would be with you and not over here.
What do you hear? Jake asked. Because I'm not sensing a soul and that just seems wrong.
Cougar focused in on his guide for a second and watched as the keycard once again let Jake past the security door. He let his senses spread out past Jake using his guide as an anchor. There was nothing. WNG? he speculated.
That might stop you from over there but it shouldn't stop me from sensing people and there should be at least one person in the server room. If they're smart and according to yesterday's schedule there was a drone sitting back here in an office space.
He lost sight of Jake and could barely hear the steady beat of Jake's heart once his guide had entered the second round of doors.
The offices are empty, Jake said and Cougar relayed. I feel like Ackbar right now.
Cougar couldn't help it, he grinned at the Star Wars reference but the grin dropped from his face when he could no longer hear Jake over the comms or with his sentinel hearing. He was very thankful their bond included a telepathic link; as it was he was having difficulty staying put in the building across the street. His sentinel instincts wanted him beside his guide but as a sniper his best position to protect Jake was here across the street with his rifle aimed to cover Jake on exit.
Jake continued to talk to him through the bond and he knew his guide had gotten the drive connected and was downloading shipping manifests, payroll and banking statements.
Someone's been trying to make changes to the records, Jake said, then made a humming noise. They did it in the last twelve hours too.
He and Jake came to the same conclusion at the same time. Right after Jake had officially been reassigned to the Losers. They've got moles in personnel, Cougar said.
Cougar felt a moment of panic come across the bond, but all he could do was hold his rifle in place in case it was needed.
Yep, Jake confirmed, Trap. Be ready. I'm coming out fast with three on my tail and I think I just met Roque as well. And here I thought Clay was grumpy.
Jake shot out of the office and headed for the bank of elevators. He slid the key through the electronic lock and put the metal elevator key into the slot. The emergency override had been activated and it would send the elevator back to the first floor. Now Jake just needed to get the doors open so he could slide down the cables to the second floor and out the back entrance to the waiting van.
The elevator doors weren't quite open when he turned to face the three guards and Roque. Jake's heartbeat was calming and Cougar could once again hear his guide's voice in his ears. Cougar saw him raise his arm and shape his hand like a gun. "I can kill you with my brain," he heard Jake say, "but sometimes it's just best to do it the old-fashioned way."
Down, Cougar ordered, and Jake dropped. Two quick pops had two of the three guards down and Jake made a run for the elevator and the central cable. Cougar fired again, shattering the glass near where Roque stood as well as taking out the third guard. He kept Roque pinned down until he heard Jake give his all clear.
Fifteen minutes later he was sitting in the back of the moving van next to his guide.
"Were you successful?" Clay asked, turning around in the front passenger seat while Pooch drove the van toward their backup safe house location.
Clay gave him an annoyed look. "Are they following?"
"Oh," Jake pulled up the GPS data. "Yep."
Clay grinned and slid back around in his seat. "Outstanding."
Is that his happy vibe? Jake asked. Because that's a little worrying.
Cougar didn't respond and he glanced over his shoulder to see his sentinel grinning. Oh, that's not worrying at all.
His lover just grinned wider and leaned into his shoulder. Welcome to the Losers, Cougar replied.
Jake went back to his computer. He hadn't really been in Chryon's mainframe to get information, he'd already done that through the satellite hack the day before. He had been there to give the appearance of that. That the Losers were behind in the game and trying to play catch up. What he'd really done was leave a computer virus in the mainframe. A pretty little program that was going to leak information to the FBI, NSA and a few other lettered agencies--minus the CIA because Jake was pretty sure they couldn't trust them. It wouldn't hurt any of the legitimate fieldwork Chryon was doing--guarding relief workers and such--but they definitely had a corruption issue and this would bring it out.
The virus also fed Jake the GPS information for all of Chryon's vehicles. There were three cars following them. That was also part of Clay's plan. Clay knew that neither Roque nor Wade could be the string-puller of this operation. Neither man had the skill or the contacts for that. Clay didn't want a middle man, he wanted the head of the operation. Best way to do that was to make it look like it was the other guy's idea to come here.
Jake had been able to dig around in all the files and connect a man named "Max" to Wade, LaClaire, and Roque. He hadn't been able to find much on this Max guy, couldn't even be sure it was a guy, but had been able to get a line on his accounts. A couple of which looked like old CIA accounts, which was why they ruled out leaking the information to that agency; they didn't need another rat ratting them out before they were ready. Jake attacked the cash. Since yesterday evening Max had been hemorrhaging money.
Early this morning Max's hacker had put a stop to most of the hemorrhaging. There were still a few trickles here and there but one by one they were being stopped. The hacker, whomever he or she was, was good. Very good, but Jake knew the hacker would most likely be out of a job soon. Or dead, depending on how Max reacted to losing nearly a billion dollars.
Jake may have made a large anonymous donation to the Children's Hospital where Steven Portland's daughter was being treated. Her family and a couple of other families from her wing were also getting a lovely trip to Disney World.
Cougar had told him that Clay would not be upset about "the misappropriation of misappropriated funds" as long as it was for a good cause and nothing could be traced back to them. He did tell Jake that he should let Clay know about it though. Jake had needed to replay part of that statement in his head twice to make sure he understood. Then he had sent Clay a text message. Waited for Clay to read the message and then erased it from Clay's phone. Clay had not batted an eye at the whole thing. Just grunted out a "good job, Jensen" and gone back to his breakfast.
His computer beeped at him. "A Chryon plane with a hinky flight plan just landed at a private airfield about thirty miles from here."
"Max," Clay said, and sounded pleased. "Let's head that way."
Pooch stopped his aimless driving to a safe house that didn't really exist and took a left and then hopped onto a road that would take them to the airport. The cars following them would think this had been the Losers' plan--get the data and get out of town.
"Roque?" Clay asked, not turning around in his seat.
Cougar knew that Clay wanted to talk with the man that had once been his friend and their teammate, but Cougar didn't think that was going to happen. Whatever friendship had been there, whatever team camaraderie there had been had died for Cougar when Roque betrayed them for money. If Roque tried anything, there wouldn't be much of him to put back together.
He was getting more territorial over people--his team, his family, and both he and Jake knew that was because of the bond. Cougar wasn't overly worried about it. He had always known that when he found his guide he wasn't going to let the other man go once he had him.
Cougar glanced behind him and through the small back window of the van. "Not in the vehicle closest to us," he said. "Wade is relaying our location to the others. He's trying to stay far back, probably at the furthest reach of his vision in hopes of not being spotted."
Wade had made a grave error; he had threatened Jensen. He had threatened the bond that he had with his guide. Cougar had marked Wade by scent, sound, and smell that day in the café. He would know if the other sentinel got within a mile of his guide.
"There are two Chryon cars at the airport," Jake said, his typing picking up speed. "LaClaire and Delray's cellphones are pinging off a tower near the airport. Oh, and Agent Mann just picked up Walston trying to flee the state and then country from the regional airport."
Pooch had been quiet since they'd left Chryon's building. "This isn't going to end well," he said, eyes focused on the road. "The Pooch has a feeling someone is going to get shot."
"No doubt," Clay agreed. "All in the job."
That's not foreboding at all, Jake sent him.
Wade's spirit animal, a tiger, looked wrong; like it had embraced its darker side and was reveling in it. It was a reflection of Wade. The tiger had a scar down its side from the fight it had tried to start with Carlos' cougar. There was also a chunk missing from one of its ears from where his own owl had entered the fray. Until that moment Jake had never known that spirit animals could attack and damage one another.
Clay was lying on the ground with broken ribs and bleeding from a head wound inflicted by Roque. Roque was still taunting Clay for getting caught so easily. The one thing that was different from the last time Jake had seen Roque was a large, angry cut that had been crudely stitched running over the man's right eye--forehead to cheek. "I'll be paying Cougar back for this," Roque said standing up and getting in one last kick to Clay's midsection before two Chryon goons dragged Clay over to the rest of them.
Whose trap are we in right now? Jake asked through the bond, not expecting an answer. Because I'm confused.
All he got from Cougar was a quick amused acknowledgement while his sentinel stayed focused on Wade and the newcomer, Max. Max was dressed in a designer suit, no hair out of place and pair of dark shades. He looked like a business man out to make a deal and he made Jake's whole body crawl like ants and other things attacking and biting. He was unpleasant to be around, unpleasant to try and read. One word to describe him would have been evil. The bond was open so he knew what Cougar's senses were telling him about the man. He was dangerous, evil, and didn't care if the people he paid lived or died.
"You have managed to fuck up my plans in a few short days," Max said, glancing down at all of them. "That's okay, I needed to set a few people up to take the fall for this little failure and you will all do nicely."
Max glanced his way and Jake didn't like that look. "Mr. Jensen will be coming with me, I seem to be short a hacker now." Max lifted his hand as if to say 'get on with it.'
Wade pulled Jake to his feet, moving the gun from Jake's head to his side just above his kidneys. "Wade," Max said looking at the other sentinel. "Looks like you're getting that guide after all. Just try not to strangle this one until I get my money back."
"Struggle," Wade warned, "and after I shoot you I'll drive over to your place and take out that the old couple you call family."
Jake did not like this at all but he refrained from doing anything that could get someone else hurt or killed. He knew, deep down, that Wade was a dead man walking.
He knew now that Jake's read on Roque was right. That Roque had managed to fool all of the military's psychologists, that he'd even been able to fool his team of five years, but Roque was a psychopath. He enjoyed the pain and suffering he inflicted. Cougar shuddered to think about the couple of assignments where Roque's kills had been a little too messy but no one had questioned it because they had trusted Roque. Cougar wanted to berate himself because he hadn't noticed Roque lying.
Don't harangue yourself, Jake easily slipped into his mind. He'd lost sight of his guide as Wade had walked them around the building toward the plane, though he could hear still hear Jake's heartbeat. Roque believed everything he was saying at the time. So, technically he wasn't exactly lying.
"What happened to you, Roque?" Pooch asked, through clenched teeth. Cougar knew the bleeding at least had slowed, even though there was pain still etched across Pooch's face.
Roque laughed. "Nothing that lots of money couldn't solve."
Max cleared his throat. "Let's get this show rolling, shall we," he ordered. "I've got places to be, shipments to relocate, and a small country to take over."
"Stop playing possum, Clay," Roque said, moving away from Cougar to squat down in front of Clay. "I'm going to make you watch as I kill them. You always did care too much for those under your command. I'm going to enjoy this."
Clay rolled up to his knees. "The FBI has you on camera," Clay said, calmly. "It's over Roque. The army knows you're alive. Your anonymity is gone now. You are a wanted man."
"Just shoot them and get it over with," Max ordered, before turning on his heel and walking toward the plane.
Cougar ignored the taunt of the Chryon guard who tried to take his hat and grinned as the countdown in his head hit zero and he looked off to the right. The guard gave him a weird look and turned to look where Cougar was looking. There were two large explosions, one to the right of the airfield where their van would have been and the other beside one of the Chryon vehicles. The black SUV was launched into the air and came down with a fiery crash.
He had lowered his hearing and sight for the explosions, not wanting to be caught blinded and deaf by his own gifts, but when Cougar tried to find Jake through the noise his guide's heartbeat wasn't there.
Jake! Jake's spirit animal winked out of sight. One second it was there and the next it was gone. Jake!
Max and Roque both flattened themselves to the ground as another explosion rocked a set of shipping crates to the ground.
Cougar rolled to his feet while also pulling a small knife from his boot. He had the plastic cuff off in seconds and was already removing the one from Pooch's hands and then Clay's.
There was no answer and that wasn't part of the plan. Cougar took off into the smoke and debris.
As a matter of fact his chest hurt too and it was kind of hard to breathe and Jake felt himself beginning to panic. An explosion sounded nearby and the panic increased, and then there was a cougar running at him. The spirit animal turned into his sentinel and the dead weight of Wade's body was pushed off his chest.
Cougar's hands started roaming his body looking for injuries. His broken glasses were removed from his face and hands gently ran through his spikey hair. "Jake?" Cougar asked him and his sentinel sounded distressed.
"I killed him with my brain," Jake said remorsefully. He hadn't wanted to do it. Well, he had wanted Wade dead but he'd wanted to do it with a gun or a knife, not with his guide abilities. Not with the abilities that had led him to his sentinel. What he had done was, well, he might joke about it by making a movie reference here or there, but it was not something he'd ever wanted to actually do.
"You had no choice," Cougar said, straddling his body and leaning down much like a real cat would do that was about to pounce or lick you to death. Cougar kissed him. "You are blocking our bond and I want my guide back," Cougar demanded.
I want you, my guide, broke through the wall that was keeping them separated.
Jake grabbed Cougar and rolled them to the side just as a Chryon goon started firing at them. He picked up Wade's gun and fired, hitting the guard in the chest twice before he was able to process that the guard was wearing a vest and went for the leg and then the head.
"We need to move," Jake said. "Where are the others?"
Yes, my sentinel.
The bond snapped back into place and Jake sighed. "Your rifle is on top of the building," Jake said, reminding them both that there was a plan.
Cougar was already running toward the building as Jake picked up the fallen Chryon goon's gun and went to find Pooch and Clay. Let's not tell Clay about how Wade died.
Bond interference is all Cougar said, and then Jake felt Cougar switch into sniper mode.
Jake slid around the corner to see Roque and Clay fighting and Pooch pinned down by several security guards. There was no sign of Max. With the bond opened again he and Cougar were in sync as they took out the guards. The plane started to turn around on the dirt so it could attempt a take off. Roque ran for the plane while trying to make a last ditch effort to kill Clay by throwing a knife at Clay's midsection. Clay rolled out of the way and opened fire, hitting Roque in the thigh. Roque didn't stop moving and leapt onto the bottom step of the ladder door of the plane as it taxied past.
"Get Cougar to take the plane out," Clay ordered Jake, and Jake passed the order along.
The right engine burst into flames and the plane spun around. A second later the left engine exploded. Roque made the choice and jumped from the plane before the whole thing had a chance to explode.
Max? he asked.
Jake closed his eyes and concentrated. He scanned and when he opened his eyes he saw his owl flying in circles over the maze of crates just off the runway. Carlos' cougar was pacing nearby as well. He didn't even need to tell Cougar; his sentinel started shooting in a pattern and before they knew it Max was coming out of hiding with his arms raised.
It was over except for the clean-up.
"You won't be able to hold me," Jake heard Max tell Clay as his new CO put cuffs on the super villain.
You read too many comic books, Cougar commented, but he could feel amusement and love over the bond.
Then Cougar was standing next to him. Never, he replied, offering his sentinel a smile.
You need a shower, Cougar said, wrinkling his nose. You smell like Wade.
I'd rather do more than shower.
Shower first, then the more, Cougar answered, but still leaned in to kiss him.
Jake went and found a first aid kit and was working on Pooch's wound when the fire department, along with the police and CID, arrived.
Five minutes later he was sitting in the back of an ambulance with his sentinel as the EMT--another guide whose sentinel was driving the ambulance--checked him over. Pooch was already en route to the base hospital where his wife was going to meet them. He wasn't sure who had called Jolene but his guess was that it was Agent Mann who seemed to only have an issue with Clay.
Whatever Clay had done to Agent Mann to truly piss her off, because the last he had seen of them she was tearing into him, Jake never wanted to know. He was just thankful that she realized that Cougar was barely holding it together and if they didn't want more fatalities she should get them out of there.
He wasn't touching that and he was quite positive he didn't want to know how Jolene knew Clay's ex. Sometimes Jolene really did frighten him.
The sentinel-guide suite was just what he needed. A place to scrub away Wade from his guide and to reaffirm their bond. He was not upset with Jake for what he had done to Wade and he wanted their bond to sing between them. He needed to make sure that Jake knew he would never turn his back on him and never fear him.
It was true that he had wanted to rip Wade apart himself but he would never want his guide not to defend himself. The fact that the coroner would probably find that Wade had died of some type of cardiac arrest and have questions about why a, for all anyone knew, healthy sentinel would just drop dead where he stood. Well, the base coroner was just going to have unanswered questions as he and Jake would only say that Wade had attempted bond interference and had just dropped, unresponsive and not breathing to the ground.
Cougar reached out for Jake and relaxed into both the physical and telepathic bond of his guide.
The Losers were on stand down until everything with Chryon and Max could be straightened out. Max and Roque had been transported to Fort Leavenworth. Roque had not taken a deal to turn on Max and the two men were having to be kept separated to prevent them from planning an escape. Roque's court martial was set to start in two weeks and three different agencies wanted Max's head, not to mention a couple of other countries.
Just over half of the misplaced army supplies and weapons had been recovered and CID was working on finding the rest.
Jake took the bowl of homemade coffee ice cream from Cougar. "How many of Grams' cookies did you eat while you were getting my ice cream?" he asked.
"Not as many as I would like," Cougar said, sitting down next to him. "Your grandmother and my father are chatting in the kitchen."
"You mean they're protecting the cookies so everyone else can have some," Jake interpreted.
Cougar only shrugged his shoulders. The family gathering was hectic and maddening and awesome. Will and Becks were hitting it off with Cougar's sister Melena and her sentinel, Daniel.
Jolene and Pooch were sitting with Cougar's other sisters talking baby stuff and cars, and he wasn't sure how those went together. He said as much to Cougar and Cougar's response was a whispered, "They've started taking notes."
Jake turned around and sure enough there were notepads and pens. "Huh."
Clay had been read the "you now have a bonded sentinel and guide on your team don't make us flay you alive" spiel by both his Grams and Cougar's mother. He'd gotten the stare from Becks as well.
"I get it," Clay said with a huff after the third time.
Jake and Cougar just grinned and leaned over and kissed each other.
I love you, my guide.
And I love you, my sentinel.
Jake's second official mission with the Losers was getting Pooch to the ER when Jolene went into labor. It seemed more hectic than the last mission.
Life in the Losers was never going to be dull.