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Choir Boy

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Jake likes Mass.

It's quiet and soothing, and the congregation murmuring in unison is pleasing to his soul on some level he understands about as much as the Latin they use.

It all started one night Cougar'd gotten blackout drunk and wandered off. Usually Jake, Pooch, and Cougar went out together and looked after each other, but Pooch had left early on account of a stomachache and Jake had promised to keep an eye on Cougar. He was doing doubles, which meant he was drinking for oblivion, and Jake knew better than to take his eyes off Cougar even for a second, but sometimes things got weird between them when Jake kept that close an eye. Besides, there was a woman he thought was giving him a look, though by the time he'd made his way over to her, she was walking away from the bar arm in arm with another woman, and Jake couldn't do anything but sigh.

And of course, when he turned around, Cougar was gone.

He wasn't hard to find – Jake ran out the front door and could see him wandering crookedly down the street – but he seemed to want to be alone, so Jake kept his distance.

Half a mile later, he went into a huge, ominous-looking basilica, and Jake was just curious enough to follow. The inside was dimly lit – candles, mostly – and there were a few lonely people in the pews, sitting or kneeling with their heads bowed. Cougar was kneeling in front of a rack of candles, half of which were lit, a completely random smattering that made Jake think of old sci-fi movies with their random control board lights.

Jake watched for a while, curious, and a couple of minutes later, Cougar did some complicated gesture with his hands, pausing a moment with his hands clasped before standing up and turning around to face Jake. Jake would've tried to hide, if there was anywhere to do it in the wide-open space, but Cougar just walked over to him and they walked back to their hotel together in silence.

After that, Cougar gave Jake a look when he was going to go to church. Sometimes it was a little head nod, sometimes it was a questioning eyebrow raise, but Jake always went. Cougar seemed at peace in the church, and Jake wanted a little bit of that. Even if he couldn't have it for himself, it was nice to see Cougar have it.

And that's half the reason Jake's here, trying not to be a tourist and stare at the huge stained glass windows and turn around and goggle at the huge choir in the loft. The other is that they've become family, the Losers, so that Pooch and Jolene serve Thanksgiving dinner for all of them, and Clay hosts Christmas at his place, complete with stockings and extravagant gifts for all the kids (Pooch, Jake, and Cougar, as well as Pooch Jr. and Emma), and Easter is spent – Jake only on this one, because the rest of the Losers have grudges against religion – with Cougar's family. They go to Mass in the early morning, then to the egg hunt/picnic/bonnet thingee that the church hosts, and then home to the biggest brunch spread Jake has ever seen.

This is his third Easter Mass, and he enjoys it immensely. He's a fan of pomp and circumstance and ritual, and the music makes his hair stand on end sometimes. The choir can do the most amazing things with their voices.

The congregation sings along, too, droning a little because most of them can't hold a tune, and Jake strains to hear Cougar, because he just has a feeling Cougar has a sweet, smooth singing voice. Two of his sisters and his oldest brother are in the choir, and they sing around the house a lot too.

Jake can't help thinking about it as he hums the Easter hymns the whole flight home, and when they finally park Cougar's battered old truck in their garage, Jake asks.

"Will you sing for me?"

Cougar's eyes go very wide and Jake wonders if he's hit on something Cougar's afraid of. It would be the first thing, ever, so Jake is intensely curious.


Jake shrugs. "Your whole family sings, I just…"

Jake's words stutter to a stop as Cougar lowers his head, using his hat to shade his entire face from Jake's view. "Hey," Jake says, feeling bad for having unwittingly stumbling on something Cougar can't do to perfection. "Have you even tried? I bet you're actually better than you think."

Cougar shakes his head vigorously.

Jake's stubbornness kicks in now, though, and he can't help it. He turns the key in the ignition and flips the radio on. It's still on the old country station Jake listens to when he hasn't seen Clay in a while and feels nostalgic. Johnny Cash just always brings Clay to mind. Conway Twitty is on, though, just finishing up I'd Love to Lay You Down before Willie Nelson's classic Blue Eyes Crying in the Rain starts, and Jake starts singing along at the top of his lungs, giving Cougar the biggest puppy eyes he's ever given, sticking out his lip in his best impression of Emma trying to get her mom to let her bring home another kitten.

Cougar rolls his eyes but starts singing along too softly for Jake to really hear. Jake keeps going, gesticulating along with the song because he's got to surprise Cougar enough to actually hear a couple of words before he stops singing. Cougar grins as he's singing, getting into it, smiling fondly at Jake, a "the things I do for you" sort of grin that Jake gets from him a lot.

Jake turns the radio off and stops singing suddenly, and gets exactly one and a half syllables out of Cougar before he gets a very nasty look.

It's enough, though, and Jake puts a hand on Cougar's arm excitedly. "Dude! You can't match pitch!"

Cougar's scowl deepens, and normally Jake would be nervous about pulling back a bloody stump, but this is a thing he actually knows how to fix. He's too excited to be concerned for his welfare. "No, that's fantastic, Cougs, because I can teach you that! That's the easiest thing in the world!"

The scowl lessens, but Cougar looks distrustful and a little timid. God help him, Jake thinks he looks cute. "How?"

"It's easy," Jake says, turning the car off. "Let's go in, we need somewhere comfortable."

When they get inside, Jake settles himself on the couch, sitting sideways with his back against the arm and opening his legs wide. "Here, Cougs," he says, patting the couch. Cougar rolls his eyes fondly, but sits between Jake's legs, his own sprawled out in front of him, one off the side of the couch. Jake pulls him in snug, resting Cougar's back on his chest, and clears his throat. "Okay, now, I'm going to sing a pitch, and I want you to match it."

He sings a note, somewhere in the middle of his range, something he can hold for a while. Cougar tries a pitch, somewhere way too high, and then corrects to something lower, but still too high.

"Better," Jake says, squeezing Cougar's biceps. The one thing about this trick is that there's nowhere for him to put his hands. "Keep it up." He goes back to singing the pitch and Cougar gets closer and closer, circling the pitch but not quite matching it.

"Good," Jake says. "Now start there, and really listen to the vibrations in your chest. You'll feel it when they match the vibrations in mine."

They try that for a little while, but Cougar gets more and more agitated, still unable to get the exact pitch Jake's humming. "Okay, wait," Jake says, rolling his eyes because this is going to get weird, but he has a feeling fixing this problem for Cougar is going to be worth it. "Take your shirt off."

Jake grabs his own shirt and pulls it off over his head, hoping Cougar won't get weird. Cougar rarely gets weird, but it still makes Jake nervous when he does stuff like this, that Cougar's going to give him a hard time.

Cougar stiffens a little, and for a split second, Jake is sure he's going to get off the couch and walk away – and maybe punch Jake for good measure. But then he takes his hat off, spilling his hair everywhere, and pulls up his shirt, stripping out of it with a graceful ease that makes Jake jealous.

"Okay," Jake says, trying to control his breathing because his heart is suddenly beating faster, and he's pretty sure Cougar can feel it, it's thumping so loudly. "Now feel the vibrations, let the pitch settle in."

Cougar leans back again, more relaxed this time, and Jake's mouth ends up next to Cougar's ear. Jake hums his pitch, keeping his volume down so that it rumbles more in his chest than goes into Cougar's ear.

Cougar narrows down the pitch much faster this time, and when he gets close, he takes a deep breath and curves his back so he's pressed against Jake's chest. He sings louder, bending the pitch downward, the vibrations between their rib cages getting more and more frantic the closer Cougar gets. When he gets it right, the frantic waves settle into unison, and he can feel Cougar's muscles relax.

Jake changes his pitch, lowering it a ways, and Cougar finds him much quicker.

"So there you go," Jake says. "Now you know how to match pitch."

"Mmmhmm," Cougar says, grinding himself backward against Jake like he's a body pillow. "We should practice some more."