Cougar was sitting at the table, re-reading the same paragraph for the tenth time, while his mind played over the events of earlier in the week once again. He couldn’t make it stop and he kept seeing Jake go down and not get back up. One second Jensen’s voice was chattering away mindlessly through the comms and then it was complete silence. At the time, his sole focus had been on stopping Jensen from bleeding out and keeping him alive, but later, watching an unconscious Jake hooked up to a bunch of machines, it had all hit him.
Cougar had left the hospital once he knew that Jake would make it. He ignored Pooch’s questioning looks and Clay’s concerned expressions and hadn’t gone back since. He had turned off his phone and locked himself up in the safe house and almost missed how easy things used to be before Jacob Jensen came strolling into his life. He tried his best to sleep, but found he couldn’t without Jensen there to curl against and keep the nightmares at bay, so Cougar had mostly spent the last four days pondering how deep he was into things.
It wasn’t like there weren't close calls in the past. They were Losers and shit tended to hit the fan around all of them. He and Jake always agreed that the job was the job and their relationship wasn’t allowed to interfere with that. And until the devil shot down a helicopter filled with children, Cougar had always managed just fine. It was never easy watching Jake get hurt, but since everything with Max had started, it had become almost impossible.
This incident was the second time in only a few months that Cougar had been convinced that Jake was going to die. Cougar’s whole world narrowed down to too much quiet and no brilliant blue eyes finding him in every room. He wasn’t sure how many prayers he recited, how many times he cursed at Jensen’s too-still form to keep breathing and wake up and he felt like he was losing that last string tethering him to the ground.
These close calls had terrified Cougar, but he didn’t particularly know what to do about it.
So he hid at the safe house. He knew Jake would’ve been confused and hurt when he woke up without Cougar there. He was well aware that he was the only one who could usually reel Jake in, especially when he was hurt. None of that could motivate him to leave the dilapidated house they were currently squatting in. He would have to get over it soon. Based on what Pooch had shouted at him, Jake had been moved out of ICU and as soon as they were sure that Jake was out of danger, they would need to spirit him out of there before too many more questions could be asked.
Cougar glanced up when he heard the door, expecting another Pooch grumbling session, only to find Jake standing there, far too pale for Cougar’s liking. He slumped against the wall, letting out a grunt of a breath, and said, “Oh good. Glad you’re not dead, asshole.”
Cougar was up and out of his seat as Jake started to slide to the floor and Cougar wrapped his arms around him tightly, propping him up, as he chided, “Idiota.”
“So everyone tells me,” Jake quipped. He pushed free of Cougar’s hands and said, “I’m mad at you.”
“Lo siento,” Cougar replied, bowing his head in contrition.
“No, I mean, I’m fucking pissed off,” Jensen responded. He pointed at Cougar and said, “Do not give me the face. I can’t handle the goddamn face right now, Cougs. Aw, shit. My stomach hurts too much for this. And my ribs ache like a bitch too – a part of me thinks you broke the ribs to get back at me for getting shot.”
Cougar glared at him and said, “CPR.”
“You do not get to be angry. I’m angry. I’m rightfully angry,” Jake replied. He gritted his teeth, hissing out softly, and went on, “Your irritation with me getting shot has to wait for another day.”
“Not just shot once,” Cougar replied, unable to stop from touching Jake’s chest and stomach and leg. Despite how close the chest shot had come to hitting Jake’s heart, it had been the shot to the leg, nicking the artery, that had nearly killed Jake before they could get him to help.
Some of the tension seeped out of Jake as he replied, “I know, Cougs, but I didn’t do it on purpose.”
“You nearly died,” Cougar said. He leaned in closer and added, “I nearly lost you.”
“Cougar,” Jake sighed.
Cougar didn’t want to fight with him when he was still looking so not-Jake-like. He guided Jake into one of the chairs. He asked, “Doctors know you left?”
“Jake,” Cougar chided. Jake simply shrugged and, even though he knew the answer, Cougar asked, “Did Pooch or Clay bring you back here?”
“Clay and Aisha are off doing god knows what and I sent Pooch to pick me some magazines and high-tailed it out of the hospital while he was gone.”
“-no one would tell me where you were. I was worried about you,” Jake replied. He looked like he wanted to reach out to hold Cougar, but he stopped himself. He balled his hand into a fist at his side and said, “Drugs already make me fucking loopy, but then I had no idea what to think. You usually go into overprotective hovering mode when I cut my finger, so I couldn’t figure out what was going on. I thought something happened to you and maybe they were afraid to tell me.”
Cougar hated himself for the fear coming off Jake in waves. Cougar rested his hand on Jake’s shoulder and said, “I didn’t think about that.”
Jake shot him a knowing look, his features softening slightly, and he said, “No shit.” Jake clutched his stomach and said, “Can you get me some water please?”
Cougar grabbed him a bottle of water, opened the cap and handed it to the hacker. He watched Jake drink it down in long drags and held out his hand to re-cap the bottle when Jake was done. Cougar couldn’t stop himself from reaching out and brushing his fingers through Jake’s hair. He felt a little of the tightness in his chest ease as Jake’s eyes focused on him and he smiled softly at Cougar. He gripped Cougar’s tee-shirt between his fingers and said, “I’m okay, Cougs. I’m fine. Still here and not dead at all.”
“Nearly weren’t,” Cougar replied. He cupped Jake’s face in his hands, brushing his thumbs along Jake’s jaw and said, “You stopped breathing and I thought…”
Jake leaned forward and rested his forehead against Cougar’s. He said, “Sometimes our jobs really suck, man, but you don’t get to just disappear on me. We had a fucking deal.”
“I mean it. You can’t just disappear like that. I’m crazy enough without you avoiding me and not answering your phone. There’s a chance I left a bunch of angry, long-winded messages that you need to delete,” Jake stated and Cougar hated the lost look on his amante’s face.
Cougar kissed Jake gently and said, “I was scared that I had lost you.” He kissed Jake again, a little bit rougher this time, and when he pulled back, he said, “I don’t know what I would’ve done.”
Jake wrapped his arms around Cougar and pulled him into a tight hug. He pressed kisses to Cougar’s throat and said, “Asshole. So lucky I love you. And I’m sorry too. The second I felt the bullets hit, I knew you would not be pleased.”
“Figured as much.”
“Max has taken enough from us. He doesn’t get you too,” Cougar admitted, burying his face against Jake’s neck as his hand traveled up Jake’s chest. He felt raw and open in ways he wasn’t comfortable with, even with Jensen, but he took comfort in the steady thrum of Jensen’s heartbeat. He swore he would never take it for granted again.
“I love you, Cougs. I’m always gonna do everything I can to come back to you,” Jensen replied, his voice full of fondness and sincerity. All Cougar could do was hold on tighter, breathing in the familiar scent that was all Jake, and attempt to get his emotions in order. The harder he tried though, the more his mind traveled back to finding Jake curled up on the ground in a puddle of red from Jake’s blood loss.
“Te amo también,” Cougar responded. Cougar took in every inch of Jake – the too pale pallor of his skin, the dark circles under his eyes, the sunken in quality to his cheeks, and the way Jake’s jaw was tight from the pain – as his hands remapped every inch of Jake’s body, careful of the bandages and stitches holding Jake together.
Jake grabbed Cougar’s chin and said, “Stop it. I’m okay. I’ll say it as many times as it takes.”
“I want to leave,” Cougar announced. Jake looked stunned and slightly hurt. He started to push lamely at Cougar and Cougar kissed him. He corrected, “I want us to leave.”
“For awhile. Until you’re healed. Too many close calls and I can’t…” Cougar’s voice trailed off and he swallowed back the sob that wanted to escape. There had been plenty of near-misses in their history – it had always been a dangerous job – but lately things kept going in a direction that Cougar didn’t like. Everything had spiraled so far out of control and while he wanted vengeance for the niños, he wasn’t willing to sacrifice Jensen to get it.
Jake studied him appraisingly and Cougar met his gaze head-on. Based on whatever Jake saw in Cougar’s expression, he said, “I need my laptop. Gotta move some funds around first.”
“I go where you go,” Jake replied with a shrug. He motioned to himself and added, “Besides, I’m not really going to be much use in the field for awhile. Took all my energy to get from the cab into the house today…and I definitely don’t want you out there without me to back you up. So, fine. I’m in. Wanna go to Bora-Bora? Always thought it sounded cool.”
He sighed. “Right. No Bora-Bora. You’re gonna make us go to some hot-as-balls backwater town in Texas or something, aren’t you? “
“I just want quiet and you,” Cougar replied.
“You get to deal with Clay. And by deal with, I do not mean shooting or threatening to shoot anyone. We’ll need to make sure Pooch gets back to Jolene too – can’t leave him stuck with the Death to Max fan club while we’re gone. Seems too mean.”
Cougar shook his head and pressed a kiss to Jake’s pulse point. He ran his fingers through Jake’s hair and said, “Gracias.”
Jake leaned forward, resting his forehead against Cougar’s shoulder, and said, “Pretty sure living in sin with you won’t be some hardship on my part.”
Cougar glanced over at Jake who was curled up and sleeping soundly in the passenger seat and reached out to touch his thigh. He had needed more contact with Jake since he left the hospital, reminding himself that his partner was still alive and with him. The minute the plans were in place, something had unfurled inside Cougar, like he could breathe again, and he felt more like himself than he had since he had found Jake hurt.
Cougar was pretty sure everyone else had noticed it too because no one had put up much of a fuss when Jensen announced that he had gotten a ticket for Pooch to go home and that he and Cougar were hitting the road for awhile. Pooch had shot Cougar a knowing look before grinning and running off to contact Jolene. Aisha had shrugged in response. While Clay had looked Jake over and said, “Check in once a month and let me know when you’re healed.”
Cougar had expected more of a fight and, from the way Jake reacted, he had too. Instead, Jake grinned at Clay and said, “Hurts like a bitch, sir. Might be months.”
“Uh-huh,” Clay had replied with a chuckle. He had clapped Jake on the back as he turned his attention to Cougar and said, “Cougar, see that you keep my Tech Op alive.”
“I always do,” Cougar had responded with a shrug.
Cougar felt Jake slide back to wakefulness before he heard the grunt. Jake glanced at him, covered Cougar’s hand with his own, and asked, “We there yet?”
Jake’s bottom lip jutted out and he replied petulantly, “I can’t believe you really picked Texas. You’re a vindictive shithead. Like I got shot on purpose.”
Cougar turned on the radio in response and focused on the road until a few minutes later he was turning down a dead-end street and parking at the end in front of an old brick building.
Jake waved his hands in front of him and said, “Home sweet home.”
Jake started to get out of the car, but Cougar rushed around, growling at him. Jake sighed and said, “I’ve got crutches. I should be fine.”
“You left the hospital a few days ago. You’re not fine,” Cougar argued, holding out his hand.
Jake glared at it for a moment, but took it. He leaned into Cougar and said, “I’m okay. Not going anywhere. I’ll say it as many times as you need.”
Cougar pressed a quick kiss to Jake’s lips and said, “Venga.”
The other houses that surrounded this one appeared to be in various shades of dilapidation, missing shutters, peeling paint, and rain gutters half hanging off the homes. The brick building in front of them, their new home, looked like it had once been one big house but had been turned into multiple small apartments.
Cougar hopped up the front step, holding out his hand to help Jake, and when he opened the door, it nearly fell off its hinges.
“We’ll need to secure that,” Jake said. He took a deep breath and said, “And something tells me the windows too. It smells like mildew in here.”
Cougar stepped into the small living room and took in the space. It had come furnished, but they appeared to be slim pickings. Cougar had never been one to complain, used to making do with much less. Jake, however, was still recovering and he would need a place to actually rest.
Cougar glanced at the small kitchen and couldn’t find too much to grumble about, especially considering the rest of the place. Despite the dirty tiles and rust-stained sink, there was a window overlooking the yard and there was more than enough room for him to cook a decent meal.
Cougar could tell Jake wasn’t that impressed, but he seemed happy. He put down their bags and turned to Jensen, quirking his eyebrow.
“Paradise is ours, Cougs,” Jensen replied, opening his arms wide and nearly falling over. Cougar was suddenly there to steady him, shaking his head and Jake sniffed exaggeratedly. “Seriously stinks in here. I’m thinking the former renters were probably making meth in the bathroom and that’s why I got such a good deal on this place.”
“It’s only while you heal,” Cougar replied.
Jake nodded. He grabbed a hold of Cougar’s arm, squeezing gently, and added, “I’ll stay here as long as you want. You know that, right?”
“Si,” Cougar replied, yanking Jensen against him and hugging him. He said, “You should rest while I clean up a bit.”
Jake shook his head and said, “First we’re grabbing something to eat and then we’re going to IKEA. There’s one about thirty minutes away because we are not keeping this shit.”
Jake pointed to the red chair in the corner with half its stuffing showing. It looked like it had gone a few rounds with a dog and lost, but it was sturdy enough. Jake reached out to touch it the way a person would a spooked animal and replied, “How would that even be comfortable? Why keep that? Was it a real selling point to this place?”
“Jake,” Cougar repeated.
“Nope. Not a fucking chance. We are not keeping that chair and there is no way I’m going to be able to rest on that couch. Can you catch rabies from a couch?”
“You might be able to fool the others with your I’m-so-adaptable crap, but I know you, Cougs,” Jake said. He rested his hands on Cougar’s shoulders and said, “You wanted to do this, so let’s do it right, okay? Like a real place, not just some crappy safe house. We don’t have to spend a fortune, but a spot to sit and hang out would be nice. Preferably without fear that it will spontaneously combust.”
Cougar couldn’t fight back the small smile that crept onto his face. He wrapped his arms around Jensen, pulling him in for a kiss, and whispered, “Okay.”
“And my guess is the bed situation will be much worse. I actually pray they didn’t leave behind a mattress…wait, did you say okay?”
Cougar nodded. “We’ll buy a few things and make it a home.”
Jake grinned at him before squirming free of Cougar’s grip. He started talking a mile-a-minute about decorating and ambiance. Jake hobbled down the hall and Cougar followed behind him. When Jake opened the door, it fell off the hinges completely, nearly knocking Jake to the ground. Normally, Cougar would’ve found that situation hysterical, but Jake was still too fragile and watching Jake nearly go down wasn’t something he could handle.
He rushed over, wrenching Jake up before he hit the floor, and brushed his fingers through Jake’s hair. He asked, “You okay?”
“Death by door. Not pleasant,” Jake commented. He glanced at Cougar and said, “Shit. Sorry. Not dead. Nowhere near dead. Completely fine and on road to recovery, so can we please get out of here and buy some furniture that won’t kill us? And I’m such an amazing boyfriend that I’ll totally buy you some Swedish meatballs for your trouble.”
“And people say the romance is dead between us,” Cougar quipped.
“Who says that? You want me to woo you? Be prepared to get fucking wooed,” Jake replied. He clutched his side and said, “But not tonight, honey.”
Cougar said, “You should stay here and rest while I get us food and pick up furniture.”
“I’m not passing up on IKEA to hang out in this death trap alone. No way.”
Cougar shook his head, part exasperation and fondness evident on his face, and said, “Fine. Let’s go. And make sure to bring your pills.”
“So you wanna be starting something…gotta to be starting something…”
Cougar groaned as he turned on his side, but Jensen’s singing continued, “…too high to get over…too low to get under…”
Cougar sat up and glanced at the clock. It was almost unheard of for Jake to be up before him so that meant he had never made it to bed in the first place. Cougar threw on his tee-shirt and boxers before making his way into the living room.
The place had come a long way in the month they had been living there. It almost felt like a real home, an interesting mix of his and Jake’s personalities displayed in cheap furniture.
Cougar padded across the floor and wrapped his arms around Jake from behind, who nearly jumped a foot into the air, sending his mug crashing to the floor. He clutched his chest and said, “Holy shit. Why do you insist on doing that to me?”
“It’s too early for Michael Jackson,” Cougar responded, resting his forehead between Jake’s shoulder blades and breathing him in. His hands slid under the front of Jake’s shirt and roamed along the muscles, gently brushing over the puckered scars.
Jake took Cougar’s hand and lifted it to his lips. He said, “Didn’t mean to wake you.”
“When was the last time you slept?”
“I couldn’t sleep. These new meds the doctor forced me on for this infection in my leg are making me jumpy,” Jake replied.
“You took your pills though?”
“Yes, mother, I did,” Jake replied, picking up the bottle of pills and shaking it for effect. “I told Beatrice her garden gave me cooties, but she told me I was an idiot and made me put down sod. Great neighbor we got.”
“You love her.”
Jake shrugged and turned around. He pulled Cougar in by the elastic on his boxers and said, “Don’t worry. Love you more.”
Cougar kissed him and replied, “Lie down and rest. Por favor.”
“I wanted to finish up the dishes from last night. I know what a grumpy cat you are if you find dishes in the sink.”
Cougar sighed and said, “You’re sick. You need to take it easy.”
“It’s just an infection. You heard the doctor too. It was not my fault – sometimes this shit happens.”
“It happens to you too often,” Cougar scolded.
Jake motioned to the coffee pot and said, “I put a fresh pot on. We need to get to the grocery store too. I know how you get if you don’t have cream for your coffee, so I took mine black this morning.”
Cougar cupped the back of Jake’s neck, his thumb brushing over the hairs at the nape, and said, “Get settled on the couch and pick a movie. I’ll make some toast.”
Jake nuzzled against him, pressing kisses to Cougar’s throat, and said, “You’re too good to me, Cougs.”
He rested his hand against the back of Jake’s forehead and frowned. “You’re still too warm.”
“I need you to stay that way,” Cougar replied. He kissed Jensen, catching Jake’s lower lip between his teeth and biting, garnering him a mewling noise from the back of Jake’s throat.
Jake didn’t break the kiss, but used one hand to tug Cougar forward with him while his other one groped Cougar’s ass. He said, “Couch. Now.”
“Jake…” Cougar managed, pulling back and resting his hand on Jake’s shoulder.
Jake fell back onto the couch and dragged Cougar down into his lap, diving back in for another kiss and all Cougar could think about was covering every inch of Jake’s body with his mouth. Jake’s hands moved into Cougar’s hair, fumbling with the hair tie and Cougar swatted him away.
“You know I have a thing for the hair, Cougs,” Jake replied breathlessly, earning him a smirk from Cougar. Jake grinned and said, “Such a tease.”
Cougar leaned back and removed the hair tie, allowing his hair to cascade down his shoulders. Jake pulled him closer, cupping Cougar’s face before bumping their foreheads together. Jake said, “God I love you.”
Cougar reached out and removed Jake’s glasses, settling them down on the coffee table while Jake mouthed at Cougar’s throat. Cougar tilted his head to give Jake more access and shuddered when Jake’s teeth grazed his skin, fighting back the moan that wanted to escape. Cougar turned his head and covered Jake’s mouth with his own. It felt like Jake was kissing Cougar with everything he had, like Cougar was the cure to all his pain, and Cougar knew he would never deserve this, but he had no plans to ever give it up.
Cougar opened the front door and called out, “I’m home.”
Jake appeared around the corner, his hand wrapped up in tissues, and said, “Hey. Oooh…groceries. Please tell me you got my Pop Tarts.”
Cougar’s eyes narrowed on the tissue that was stained red and Jake shrugged. “Me versus an onion and the onion won.”
“Jake…” Cougar replied, dropping the bags on the floor and wrapping his hand around Jake’s wrist tightly. He dragged Jake toward the kitchen, pushing aside the cutting board and veggies that were left out, and shoved Jake’s hand under the faucet as he turned the spigot on.
Cougar pointed at him and said, “Leave it under the water while I grab the first aid kit.”
“In our room. I was attempting to handle it myself. Just hurts like hell. And it’s possible my sister has a point about me being a big baby.”
Cougar chucked a towel at Jake’s head as he hurried to the room. He grabbed the field kit and started pulling out the antiseptic and bandages. He bumped Jake with his hip as he leaned over to turn the water off. He motioned to the towel and Jake patted his skin dry. Jake flexed his hand and said, “Not so bad.”
Cougar grabbed his hand and held it up to the light. He sighed and said, “Doesn’t need stitches.”
“Doesn’t even hurt anymore,” Jake lied. Cougar glowered at him in response, so Jake just nudged Cougar’s cheek with his nose and said, “Just kiss it better and I’ll be good to go.”
Cougar inhaled sharply and said, “You’re not allowed in the kitchen anymore.”
“You and your rules,” Jake replied, pressing a kiss to the corner of Cougar’s mouth. “Pretty soon you’ll have me wearing bubble wrap and a helmet every time I get out of bed.”
Cougar grabbed a fistful of Jakes shirt and pulled him in for a kiss. It was hot and needy, but just as Jensen’s arms wound around him, Cougar pulled away. He said, “All kissed better. Get the groceries and try not to kill yourself doing it.”
Cougar and Jake had lived out of each other’s pockets for years. Even before their relationship had shifted to more than friends, they had always shared rooms on base and at the safe houses. Cougar had thought he had known everything there was to learn about his partner, but staying at this place had brought out a different side to Jake.
He was attempting to embrace domesticity to a level Cougar hadn’t expected. Cougar knew it was for him, always had known there wasn’t anything Jake wouldn’t give him if Cougar needed it, but this was almost too much.
Cougar opened the front, took in the scene before him, and almost turned around and left. He thought maybe he had entered the wrong apartment or was stuck in one of those shows Jake loved where a person ended up in a different universe. Cougar looked around skeptically and questioned, “Are those curtains?”
“The sun gets in here in the morning and it turns this place into a goddamn oven. Figured these would help.”
“I ordered them online. Don’t worry. My sister helped me pick them out so they won’t glow in the dark or reveal a dirty limerick when the light hits them,” Jake said, pushing the next bit of the fabric down so that he could iron it.
“And you’re ironing?”
“Yes, Cougar. I’m not a complete Neanderthal. My sister made me learn all sorts of things that I promptly tried to forget,” Jake said. He pointed to the table and said, “I got you a surprise too.”
“You didn’t have to.”
Jake put down the iron and folded his arms over his chest. He said, “Of course I didn’t have to. I wanted to.”
Jake closed the distance between them and Cougar couldn’t help but smile that the leg had finally seemed to heal completely. Jake bent down and kissed Cougar, a lazy, exploring kind that tended to leave Cougar weak in the knees, even if he would never admit it. But based on the smug look on Jensen’s face when he pulled back, he knew. Wasn’t too surprising. Cougar had long ago accepted that Jake had managed to break down every wall that Cougar had built up over the years. And Cougar didn’t mind – actually made him love his hacker more.
“It’s a thank you.”
“I know I gave you a lot of shit for abandoning me at the hospital, but I appreciate all you’ve done for me the past few months. I know you had to carry most of the load, especially early on when this place was practically collapsing in on itself, and I didn’t want you to think that I didn’t notice. So thank you. Now open your gift.”
Cougar moved over to the table and examined it, shooting Jensen a look. Jake rolled his eyes and said, “It’s not a bomb, asshole. Just open it.”
Cougar peered into the box and picked up the package inside. Jake sidled up next to him and said, “I saw you eyeing them when we were in the store and I figured if we’re doing this domestic thing, who wouldn’t need good kitchen knives?”
Cougar chuckled and said, “Gracias.”
“If you don’t like them-“
“-I like them.”
“Okay. Good. And thank you for putting up with me and not leaving me on the side of the road when I wouldn’t stop whining.”
Cougar said, “I wouldn’t leave you.”
Jake smiled at him and said, “I know that I’m not always easy, Cougs, and-“
“-Cállate,” Cougar said, covering Jake’s mouth with his own in more of an inhalation of breath than a kiss. He placed his hand on Jake’s chest and thought about how they had gotten to this place. The scars were still fresh on Jake’s skin and he could easily get lost in that memory of watching Jake’s lips go blue and watching his chest stop moving.
Sometimes Cougar thought this escape was a mistake. It was true that Jensen would’ve needed to recuperate no matter what, but they could have sent him home to his sister to heal. Instead, Jensen had granted Cougar this time together and Cougar wondered how he would be able to go back to the daily grind of their life on the hunt for Max. Despite the back aches from odd jobs he took, the bugs as big as his hand that constantly found their way into the apartment, or the smell in the bathroom that they could never quite remove, Cougar found that he was happier each day. And that could be a problem for someone who was never meant for normal.
“Where’d your head go?” Jake asked.
Jake smiled tenderly as his hands raked through Cougar’s hair. He said, “Love you, too.”
Cougar was humming under his breath as he finished up the tamales. He knocked on the window with his knuckles to get Jake’s attention where he was working in the small garden. Jake lifted his hand to let Cougar know he heard him but his eyes never left the weeds he was pulling.
Cougar watched him working, the muscles in his back moving easily, and enjoyed the view. The little old lady who lived next door to them had decided that the fresh air would be good for Jake when they had first moved in. Every day, rain or shine, she would have Jake out there helping her with her garden, complaining about being too old to do it herself.
At first Cougar had worried, especially since Jake was still recovering from nearly dying, but he couldn’t deny the color it brought back to Jake’s cheeks. Or the way his muscles filled back out and the weight went back on. And they tended to eat like kings with the haul that Mrs. Morgan forced them to take.
Cougar heard the door open and the familiar sounds of Jake’s feet moving toward him. Jake’s arms slid around him from behind as lips pressed against the base of Cougar’s neck. He said, “Tell me I have time for a shower.”
“Dinner will get cold,” Cougar replied. A kiss to his throat and Cougar swatted Jake away with one hand. He said, “Quickly.”
Jake let go and ran out of the kitchen. Cougar considered complaining about the running, but it was good to see Jake moving the way he used to. Instead, Cougar shook his head in amusement as he finished up the food and set the table. He had just sat down when Jake appeared in sweats and a tee-shirt, droplets of water still evident on his neck.
“It smells great,” Jake commented, sitting down next to Cougar at the table. Jake let his knee rest against Cougar’s and said, “You spoil me, Cougs.”
“You worked hard out there today.”
“I know better than to piss Beatrice off. She’s more dangerous than any terrorist cell we’ve gone up against in the past,” Jake replied.
They ate in companionable silence, but Cougar could see Jake shooting him looks every once-in-awhile, like he was debating saying something. Cougar knew better than to force Jake to speak. The hacker was always talking, rarely shut up, but Cougar had learned a long time ago, that the important things were usually worked up to. The more useless information that got wrapped into conversations, the more likely it was that Jake was trying to figure out how to share something.
Sure enough, just as Cougar was about to clear the table, Jake reached out and wrapped his fingers around Cougar’s wrist.
“I heard from Clay today. They’ve got a lead on Max. A good one. At least from what I’ve been able to make out from the corrupted files Aisha sent me.”
Cougar nodded. He knew this day would come sooner or later. As much as Clay had agreed to let them leave and come back when Jake was ready, the man wasn’t going to be patient forever. And Cougar knew that they couldn’t stay here like this permanently. Max knew who they were and that they were coming for him. It painted a target on them and their families so Max had to be dealt with, even if it was the last thing Cougar wanted to do.
Jake watched him as he processed the information and went on, “We both knew this wasn’t permanent. Just until I was back on my feet, right?”
“And I’m fine. Have been for weeks,” Jake replied. Cougar remained silent and ducked his head. Jake sighed and said, “Shit, Cougs. I need you to tell me what you want to do.”
“I hate Max. I wish death upon him as much as the next person, but I’ve thought a lot about this, and maybe it makes me a selfish prick, but stopping that piece of shit means nothing to me if it costs me you. Or Jolene and Jimmy end up losing Pooch.”
Cougar turned to look at Jake and said, “We told Clay-“
“-I know what we told Clay, but you have to know that if you want us to disappear, I’d make it happen. I know what a bad place you were in four months ago And this has been…I thought I’d be bored out of my fucking skull, but this domestic thing has been nice. I like having our own little place and you cooking us dinner and shopping for things like curtains and even working on the garden. And I know us waking up and falling asleep next to each other isn’t a new thing, but I sure haven’t missed the constant worry that Max or his flunkies might slaughter us all in our sleep.”
Cougar arched an eyebrow. “What are you saying?”
“I love you and you come first. Whatever you want to do, I’ll do,” Jake stated.
Cougar practically launched himself at Jake, straddling the man in his chair and kissing him passionately, his fingers caressing Jake’s cheeks gently, trying to express everything he felt the only way he ever really knew how. Jake’s arms wrapped around him tightly, pulling him closer, and a low hum escaped from his throat.
When they pulled back, Jake ran his fingers through Cougar’s hair and asked, “That mean you want to stay?”
“My home is where you are.”
“We go back,” Cougar stated, taking Jake’s hand and kissing his knuckles. A part of him wanted nothing more than to stay here permanently with Jake, but it wasn’t them. At least not yet. Maybe someday, God willing, they would finish things with Max and both get to find some quiet place to live out the rest of their lives together.
Jake ran his other hand up Cougar’s back and said, “Figured, but I needed you to know-“
“-I know. I always know.”
Jake smiled tenderly and said, “So back to the day-to-day grind of bringing Max down, huh? I’ll miss this, but I get it.”
Cougar nodded as he let go of Jake’s hand. He wrapped his arms around Jake’s neck and said, “We’ll still be together.”
Jake offered Cougar a fond look and said, “You’re kinda stuck with me at this point, Cougs. You even tried to leave and I’d just follow you.”
“Same here,” Cougar replied, pressing a quick kiss to Jake’s mouth. He caressed Jake’s jaw and added, “Neither of us would forgive ourselves if we didn’t see this thing with Max through, if we didn’t back up our friends…”
Jake nodded. He nuzzled Cougar’s neck and said quietly, “I know you’re right. I just remember what you were like after I got shot and-“
“-no nearly dying on me this time,” Cougar insisted.
Jake rolled his eyes and said, “But it’s so much fun.”
Cougar pinched him and Jake yelped. Jake kissed him again and asked, “We’re doing this? Giving up the simple life for guns blazing?”
“You’d have to remember your gun.”
“Forget it one time-“
“-fine. Forget it three times and suddenly, it’s a problem,” Jake replied with a huff, though he grinned at Cougar.
Cougar slid out of Jake’s lap and stood up. He asked, “When would we have to leave?”
“A day or two,” Jake replied. He stretched out his arms and said, “Gotta say. I’m gonna miss this.”
Cougar pulled Jake out of his chair and melted into his personal space. The two of them had always just fit with each other, long before the relationship moved to what it was now. He framed Jake’s face in his hands and said, “We finish this with Max and then we come back.”
“We’ll get a real place of our own, but I figure you’d want to be closer to your sister too.”
“Oh thank Christ. No offense to Texas, but this is not where I want to get old.”
Cougar snorted. He said, “We’d need a second bedroom so Jill could stay over and I’d prefer a bigger kitchen. Maybe a yard so you can plant your own garden.”
The smile Jake offered Cougar was blinding. He said, “You’ve thought about this, huh?”
“Yeah, but that’s a long leap from-“
“-I’ll even let you force me to spend the day at IKEA.”
“Gardens and IKEA? You really know how to spoil a guy, Cougar,” Jake replied. He ran his hand over his face and said, “Well, that’s it. Never have been able to refuse you anything, but the offer of Swedish Meatballs is too much for me to pass up.”
Cougar pulled Jake toward their bedroom. In a few days, they would be back up to their eyeballs in the mess and chaos that always found the losers. And Cougar knew there was still a chance that one or both of them wouldn’t make it out of this mess alive...still remembered all too clearly the reason they had ended up taking this break in the first place.
But Cougar also knew exactly what he was fighting for again beyond revenge. He wanted this life with Jake by his side and he would do whatever it took to make sure the both of them got back here.