“Jensen, Jake Jensen. I am a communication specialist, a hacker extraordinaire and your humble servant.”
Jake bowed down in a badly imitated salute to the various monitors set up in front of him. He heard whispers behind him but didn't care because they would all becoming his minions. It was just a matter of time, Jake thought, rubbing his hands like a villain.
“What are you doing?”
Jake whirled around and fluttered his eyelashes at Pooch, who looked a bit annoyed, but mostly tired.
"I'm making the introductions," he replied with a smile. When his friend didn't appreciate his usual humor, Jake asked, "You OK?"
Pooch sighed and nodded.
"Jolene is with Clay." He gulped and passed a hand on his face. "I just needed to some air."
Jake squeezed his shoulder.
"I know it's hard, we just need to..."
He made a gesture with his hand, his throat closing up at the memories, the sounds he heard.
"Yeah, I know. Thanks." Pooch started to leave when he raised a hand, remembering something.
"Right, I didn't just come here to tell that. General Roque assigned us our room. Yours is next to us." Pooch informed, his face relaxing a little bit.
Jake lit up.
"Is it sound-proofed? Because I don't want to be woken up by you two crazy kids."
His friend rolled his eyes, but Jake congratulated himself when he saw the little smile on his lips.
"Whatever, kid." Pooch waved and left Jake laughing at his own joke. As soon as the pilot disappeared, Jake's smile fell and he looked back at his computers.
A few weeks ago, two kaijus attacked the city near their Shatterdome. There had been a lot of casualties. The General, Clay and Max's Jaeger, was almost completely crushed. Max died, Clay survived but fell into a coma. Doctors said that when the drift link broke during Max's death, it was so intense it put too much strain on Clay's brain. Just after that, they were announced that their Shatterdome was shutting down. They were all split and transferred to other Shatterdomes. Luckily, Jake was sent to the same Shatterdome as Pooch, Jolene and Clay.
With a sigh, Jake decided not to let the gloom and doom get to him. He extended his arm to press the on button and smiled when the familiar booting sound of the monitor came to his ears.
Later that day, when Jake finally finished everything he needed to be able to work fully, he looked for his room. Apparently, his other neighbor was a someone called Carlos Alvarez. When he knocked at the door, no one answered. Jake thought he'd try the next day. He liked knowing who was sleeping next to him.
The morning after, Jake finally met Carlos in the mess hall at breakfast. And hot damn, Carlos ("Please, call me Cougar") was Jake's type to a T. He was doomed.
A few months later.
Jake looked around before slipping inside the training room. The silence was only broken by the sounds of hits and grunts of the two fighters on the tatami mats. Jake spotted Pooch and Jolene whispering on the other side of the room. The other trainees, future pilots and current ones, were watching the fight with awe for the newbies and boredom for the more experienced. He walked to his friends, ready to get on the gossip. A smack loud enough made Jake wince and turn around. Clay was holding his cheek with a hand. Instead of the murderous look he would reserve for some people, he was sporting a smug smirk.
Aisha, the other fighter, seemed frozen, but a second later she grinned as if she just understood the joke. She looked terrifying.
“Alright, let’s go,” She said. She moved her hands up in a defense stance, and Clay imitated her. They started to circle each other until Aisha made the first move. Clay blocked her fist, so she followed with a kick. Clay evaded, grinning. The intensity of the fight was knocked up a notch. Clay and Aisha exchanged blows like there were dancing… or having sex. Jake was almost sure they already sleeping together.
When Jake arrived next to Jolene, he whispered curiously, “What’s the score?”
“Close. Aisha is good, but Clay has more experience.”
Jake hummed. He stared at Clay. The man threw him a glance before he evaded an attack from Aisha. Jake smiled and slurped his cold coffee, the noise loud in the religious silence of the training room. Clay tensed and groaned suddenly when Aisha took advantage of his moment of hesitation. She swiped at his feet, making him lose his balance. He fell roughly on his back with a thud. The woman didn’t waste any time and pounced on him, blocking his legs with her body and put her arm on his throat.
For a beat, nobody knew how to react, but then the referee announced the score: Clay 2, Aisha 3, and people cheered. Jake was sure half of the people cheering were only doing so because they hated Clay, not because they were actually happy that Aisha won.
The woman smiled, quite proud of herself and stood. She offered a hand to Clay. Everyone held their breath to see how the man was going to react. But he took her hand, chuckling. Jake groaned when he saw the glint in his eyes. He turned to Jolene and Pooch who shrugged.
“I bet they’re gonna get it on tonight.” Pooch said.
“Boys,” Jolene sighed. “Don’t bet on something you cannot win.”
“Oh yeah? What’s your bet?”
Jolene looked at her fingers.
“I bet they already slept together.”
Pooch snorted, clearly not believing his wife. Director Roque arrived at the edge of the tatami mats and clapped to get everyone’s attention.
“Congratulations Aisha. Everyone, the show’s over, get back to work.”
He walked to Clay and Aisha to talk with them. When Pooch, Jolene and Jake walked past Clay, the man glared at Jake. The latter smiled shamelessly, brought his hand to his mouth and sent him a kiss. Clay scowled and looked away. Jake loved getting Clay riled up. It was always fun to see him brooding even more intensively.
“One day,” Pooch commented, “Clay will just punch you in the face.”
Jake laughed, and looked at his friend with his eyebrows raised.
Wide-eyed, Jolene put a hand on his arm to stop him.
“Are you serious?”
“You have to tell us.” Pooch asked.
“Maybe one day.”
Jake winked, and resumed walking. They crossed the door and took the corridor to the mess hall.
“But you know, Clay loves me. Everyone thinks I’m adorable.”
Jake smiled and fluttered his lashes. Jolene snorted, and stopped when she spotted something in front of him. Jake wanted to know what it was but Jolene grabbed his hand and turned him around.
"Jolene?" He asked, confused. Her eyes was following something moving, or someone.
Pooch rolled his eyes, but he was smiling, so this mustn't be too bad.
"What is it?"
"Just... do you trust me?" Jolene asked.
Jake hesitated, because Jolene could be vicious with her pranks.
"I trust you..." he drawled, "but I'm not sure I should right now.
"Just, stay here. Don't turn around."
Jolene bypassed him, and Jake looked at Pooch clueless. The man shrugged and said nothing. Suddenly, hands came up in front of his eyes and Jake's heart stuttered.
"Who am I?" a voice whispered to his ears. Jake inhaled quickly because he knew that voice.
He cleared his throat, and tried, "Cougar?"
The man removed his hands, allowing Jake to turn around.
“Hi Jake.” Cougar greeted, chuckling.
"Hi, Cougar." Jake repeated stupidly, blinded by the other man's beauty.
Cougar smiled, revealing the little crinkles of his eyes. Dammit, his eyes, his wonderful eyes... Think, Jake, say something!
“Hm. You missed the fight. Which was. Great. Also… I thought you were Clay?”
“Is that a question?” Cougar asked with an amused twist to his lips. Lips he could kiss.
Distantly, as if he was underwater, he heard Jolene and Pooch giggling.
“No,” Jake shook his head. “Noooo, don’t worry, it's..." He paused, opened his mouth several times before saying, "I think I should- hm."
Not finding anything intelligent to say, Jake didn't continue. But Cougar was still looking at him. Jake felt his ears burning off from embarrassment. Luckily, Jolene and Pooch saved him.
“You missed one glorious fight.” Jolene said, laughter still in her voice.
“You could cut the sexual tension with a knife.” Pooch confirmed with a nod.
“I’m sorry I missed it.”
Jake almost choked on his saliva because did Cougar just ogle him? No, he must have been dreaming. Why would Cougar be interested? Jake opened his mouth to say something, but the man said he had work to do. He winked and turned away. Jake sighed (Not longingly, no matter what Pooch said). Slowly, Jake looked at Jolene. She looked appropriately guilty for a few seconds, then she bit her lips, trying not to smile. He glared at his friends when they thought it was a good idea to snicker.
“Oh, I’m sorry Jake, but you should’ve seen your face.”
Pooch was launched in another giggling fit. Jake furrowed his brows, feeling a little hurt by his friends' antics. They knew he liked Cougar. Ever since he found out who was his neighbor, Jake had inexorably lost against those brown eyes.
Coming to a new Shatterdome hadn't been. The other guys hadn't been particularly welcoming. When Jake first met Aisha, she was quite hostile, especially with Clay for no obvious reasons. After a while, though, she started to hang out with Jolene, meaning that she got to know Pooch, and Jake by extension.
One day, Cougar arrived in the mess hall, sat beside Aisha with a small smirk, and started to participate (silently) to their conversation. Aisha and him looked thick as thieves and Jake couldn't help but feel jealous. He knew he was pining like a teenager but he couldn't help it. Cougar was amazing. He liked everything about him. How he walked, the way he held himself, his silences as well as his smiles, how his eyes were more expressive than he probably thought. He loved how Cougar could just listen to anyone, not saying a word, you still felt you were listened to. Before the crush Jake was harboring became too much, he loved going to visit Cougar and talk his ear off. He was practically sure the man didn’t mind since he never threw out of his workshop exasperated.
Jake probably catalogued every smile, expression Cougar had when they were together; from shy to embarrassed, to confident and amused, to angry. He was sure he would able to guess what the man—
The man blinked, coming out of his thoughts. Jolene was smiling at him, calmer but still amused.
“Pooch left while you were daydreaming.”
The pilot walked closer to him.
“I'm sorry for I did."
"But," Jolene continued, "You need to tell him.”
“Need? No, I don’t need to.”
“Cougar is a very patient man, but even the most patient person will not wait much longer. Not here, not when Kaijus are still a threat.”
Jolene’s comment irritated him Sure, it was the end of the world, but it was one of his reasons not to rush this off. He didn’t want a desperate relationship where sex was the only thing you shared. He wanted the real thing, although even he realized that you couldn't go slow. The could die at any moment. Still, Jake was quite reluctant. Even if Cougar seemed interested, he didn’t want to risk it. He didn’t want to read it wrong, or alienate one of the men he liked most in his forsaken world, just because he couldn't control his urges.
Jake would rather not get heartbroken minutes when life was so unpredictable. He was perfectly fine staying friends with Cougar for now.
Jolene sighed at his silence, and raised her hands.
“Right. If you sure, I won’t push again.”
She left him in the hall after squeezing his hand.
He was fine.
Life continued as usual: Kaijus attacked, the Jaegers were sent to kill them, the scientist predicted another attack a few weeks later, they waited, the Kaijus attacked and the Jaegers were sent to kill them.
It was dull after a while as it respected the same pattern over and over again. Jake snorted when dull crossed his mind. Younger, he would have been all over the Jaegers (the first time he saw the magnificent mechanical beasts, he thought he had been dreaming). They were the robots from his childhood, it was seeing the Gundams in real life, it had been awesome... until he lived his first Kaiju attack, and it became a lot less fun.
With the attacks happening closer to each other, the Apocalypse seemed only a few Kaiju attacks away. Jake sighed, feeling unusually defeated.
Well, of course he wasn’t fine. He lived in a world where aliens surged from the seas to kill them all. Although, he guessed he was lucky to be where he was and able to help.
Jake used to be into computer programming, when the first Kaiju attack happened, he felt he a slight change of career wouldn’t change. As a communication specialist slash glorified tech assistant, he helped coordinate the Jaegers outings and communication devices between the various departments in the Shatterdome. Of course, he had minions to help him do all the work. At least life at the Shatterdome was fun and had its full of surprises.
For all their animosity (of the sexual kind), Aisha and Clay worked perfectly together.
(“She finally got you,” Jake quipped with a cheeky grin when Aisha bragged about it. He received a glare and slap to the head as an answer. He didn’t care, Jolene owed him money.)
Their drift compatibility was through the roof. It was beautiful to see them fight with the General.
Pooch and Jolene were the disgustingly couple still in love after so many years together. It was sickening.
(Jake might be a little envious.)
And then, there was Cougar.
Cougar, who Jake learned (when he was snooping around), had been a Jaeger pilot before coming to this Shatterdome. He had been drift compatible with his brother and they piloted the Sharpshooter. After one perilous mission, Cougar's brother decided to leave the risky life of pilot to help build the wall on the Pacific.
However, Cougar still wanted to help the Jaeger program even though there were already talks of decommissioning it. So instead of leaving with his brother, he decided to stay and become a mechanic.
Cougar had also upgraded his hang out spots to Jake’s office when he was here (probably as a revenge for all the times Jake went to see him while he worked). It made him giddy and nervous at the same time because he could never say no to Cougar.
Granted, his office wasn’t private since it was an open space with a hundred of people milling around, working hard and keeping their heads down but it meant a lot to Jake.
After one of Canary Fly outing, Pooch and Jolene’s Jaeger, Cougar came to visit. Jake didn’t see or hear the mechanic coming up behind him until he turned around to grab a screwdriver and spotted the man.
“Christ,” Jake shouted, startled. He accidentally hit his mug, filled to the brim coffee. Jake watched as the mug fell in slow motion to the ground, breaking upon impact, and spilling his content on the ground and his shoes.
It was impressive and unnerving to hear the silence in an open space so big.
Jake looked at Cougar and opened his mouth to say something but the other man spoke first.
“Sorry, didn’t mean to startle you.”
He looked around almost nervously before coming back to Jake. Yep, everyone was looking at them now, Jake noticed.
“Right,” Jake said. He tried to remove his feet from the spilled coffee and grimaced when his shoe made a “slosh” sound. He surveyed his desk to see if he found a tissue or something to wipe the coffee.
Cougar was handing him a dirty rag. “Sorry again about that.”
Jake shrugged, taking the offering. Slowly, the usual noise began to come back, meaning that the open space finally decided to mind its own business and work again.
“It’s fine. The ground won’t hold it against me. At least it wasn’t … here.” Jake said showing his desk covered with computers, cards, circuitry and other electronic devices.
Cougar eyed the desk and smiled softly. Jake could almost make out a slight tinge of red on Cougar’s golden skin. His stomach made swoop at this sight.
The mechanic cleared his throat, clearly uncomfortable.
Jake blinked, feeling a bit weirded out. Cougar didn’t usually try to make conversation. He never told Jake to shut up (Clay) or switch himself off (Pooch when he was sometimes an asshole), but he also never really try to make conversation. The fact that he was initiating one was unusual.
“Nah, it’s fine.”
Feeling a bit more confident, Jake threw the other man a smile and crouched down to mop up the coffee. Since Cougar didn’t leave or say anything else, Jake spoke up to break the silence.
“Alright. Hm. Do you need something then?”
He felt so awkward, and knew he sounded like a douchebag.
“Yes, actually. I need your help with something. If you’re not busy that is…” Cougar added with a discreet but ill at ease smile.
Great, now Jake made it all weird. He sighed slightly and looked at the man.
“Sure, though I don’t know what help I’ll be with the mechanic.”
“Great. Thank you. Hm, now?”
“Please? It’s… urgent?”
Jake raised his eyebrows, surprised. This was the first time Cougar needed his help and the man did seem worried about something. He wondered why Cougar needed him in particular, and not the many experts in the Shatterdome. He was going to tell him just that but decided against it. The man seemed nervous, no, more tense and worried than nervous. His eyes were flickering around the open space as if he was expecting someone to listen to their conversation.
Despite himself, and his damn curiosity, Jake accepted. He gave a last swipe on the coffee spill and threw the filled up rag on the clean part of the ground.
"Thank you." Cougar smiled, relieved. Jake replied with a charming smile of his own.
“Lead the way, then.”
Jake totally imagined the little quirk on Cougar’s lips. With a nod, the man invited Jake to follow him outside the open space. They went to the elevator, and Cougar selected the sublevel 2, where the hangar and Cougar’s workshop were.
Cougar led him to his “private” workshop, which surprised him. He thought it would be something to do with the Jaegers. The man looked at him before ducking behind the door, ushering him inside and closing behind him. Jake had only been in Cougar’s workshop about twice since they came to the Shatterdome. So he was kind of flattered to be invited here, he thought giddily. It was an honor to be there because he knew Cougar didn’t invite a lot of people. He was almost sure he was one of the few people to have seen it (except Director Roque).
He looked around as soon as the door closed, drinking avidly what his eyes were seeing; the workbenches with electronics thrown askew, mechanical parts filling the spaces between with various tools. Jake couldn’t even name half of them. Then his eyes traveled on the wall, where shelves were fixed almost in artful way until he spotted Clay, sitting on a chair and smirking at him.
Jake frowned at the sight, because Clay looked amused and that was already weird in and of itself.
Jake turned to Cougar.
“I think you forgot to throw out some trash, Coug’.” Jake saw Cougar pressing his lips into a thin line, his eyes crinkling a little bit on the edge.
If Jake hadn’t been already in lo- crushing on Cougar, he would’ve been falling right about now.
“Jensen, your wittiness never ceases to amaze,” Clay said drily, with his damn sexy voice, which Jake hated like he hated spinach (which was a lot, let me assure you). “What if I was here for something important?”
Clay raised that damn eyebrow, and stood. Jake decided he was not intimated slash awed by Clay. That man was a menace, always “accidentally” breaking Jake’s things and dumping them on his bed.
“Let me think…” Jake was too caught up on the moment and Cougar was being so discreet, that’s why he decided to blurt out quite cheekily, “You know, if you wanted a threesome, you could’ve asked.”
Clay’s expression sharpened suddenly, making him look like a hound smelling blood and Jake’s smirk slightly faltered. But he knew he couldn’t flinch. Clay was a predator and he could smell fear from a mile away.
Cougar coughed then, a hand in front of his mouth, and Jake literally felt his face paling. Damn it, way to make a good impression on your crush, dummy.
“Well, if you don’t mind me, I’m game.” Aisha commented, coming out the only dark spot in the workshop.
Jake had to stop himself from startling.
“Sure,” he replied smoothly when in fact he wasn’t feeling as confident. An awkward silence fell and Jake cleared his throat.
“So, apart from that, what do you need me to do?” He turned to Cougar but the man shrugged.
Clay sighed and walked to him. He lifted his hand and opened it in front of Jake. Inside Clay’s palm was some sort of device crushed to smithereens. His curiosity getting over his lack of confidence, he looked closer and saw that it was a mike. Jake rolled his eyes. Yep, that’s what he was talking about.
“Is that one of mine? Why did you crush it you Neanderthal? Every time. How many times do I have to tell you to be careful with those? They’re fragile little things that cost millions!”
Not waiting for an answer from that man, Jake picked the crushed device and furrowed his brow, trying to see the details of its innards.
Someone tapped on his shoulder. Jake looked up. Cougar was handed him a magnifying glass. Sheepishly, he took it with a small smile. In the corner of his eyes, he saw Aisha coming up to Clay and whispering to his ear. They were both looking at Jake and Cougar (probably thinking up ways to traumatized them for life). Clay smirked at something Aisha said, who looked the image of perfect innocence. Jake grumbled a bit and decided to forget his conspiring friends and study the mike.
He scowled and turned it around. Weird. It did look similar enough to what he installed on the Jaegers. Pliers appeared in front of him, and once again it was Cougar who gave him the tool. Warmed by those small gestures, Jake promised himself he’d thank Cougar properly (not with a kiss, you stupid useless mind) later.
With the pliers, Jake grabbed one part of the shell which was still relatively intact and removed it.
“Wait… that’s not ours.” Jake said then when he saw a piece that he’d never put into a mike. There were a tracker and transmitter.
As if he cast some spell, everyone in the room tensed.
Jake looked around and started to feel uneasy when he saw their somber faces. Aisha turned to Clay with narrowed eyes.
“You were right.” She sounded surprised.
Clay huffed and rolled his eyes, condescending.
“So… who put it there?” Jake asked. Cougar was the one to answer.
“We think someone’s been listening to us. We don’t for how long or why. Maybe they want to tamper with the Jaegers?”
Jake couldn’t help but snort.
“Who would do that? That’s stupid! The Jaegers are here to protect people.”
This was ludicrous. No one in his right mind would do that. The spying game wasn’t worth it anymore since the Kaiju started their attacks. If the human race wanted to survive, they needed to band together and face the threat as allies. There was nothing to gain for any country in tampering with the Jaegers.
Worse, he was pretty sure the Black market for Kaijus bits wouldn’t like it, they’d lost their livelihood. But the serious expression they were all sporting worried him nonetheless. Clay and Jake weren’t the best buddies in the world, but the man could be trusted. He wasn’t one to speak without proof.
Jake looked back at the crushed mike slash transmitter slash tracker and sighed. He didn’t like where this was going.
“If someone put it there, then this is a breach of security.”
“So all the Jaegers are compromised?”
“No,” Clay replied gruffly, in a bad mood suddenly.
“Only ours.” Aisha informed him.
Jake sighed and massaged his temples.
“Why are you coming to me?”
“Clay trusts you.” Aisha said.
“Jake, you’re the only who could find out what this is.”
Both men shared a look. He removed his glasses to rub his eyes, and nodded, .
“Alright. What can I do?”
“Find out who is behind it.”
“You want me to look for the guy, or woman” Jake added looking at Aisha. She raised a brow, and he thought safer to avoid her. “Who put that in?”
Jake rolled his eyes.
“Fucking always”, he muttered. “Fine. But tefore I start, I need to know: who would want to hurt the two of you?”
“I’m pretty sure this is to hurt him.” She gestured toward her drift partner.
“Alright, who would want to hurt you Clay?”
“Me.” Aisha commented cheekily. Jake blinked and looked at Cougar but the man seemed as confused as he was.
“Why though? Aren’t you… together?” Jake asked. Aisha chuckled and leaned on Clay, kissing his neck chastely. The older man sighed, pretended to be annoyed (he was not, Jake realized, shocked.)
“We’re… working on it.” Clay simply stated.
“Long short story: Clay killed my father who was a Colombian drug dealer. I wanted revenge. I found Clay and like he said, we found another way of dealing with this.”
Aisha barred her teeth in a predatory look.
Jake closed his jaw with a click. That explained a lot of things... although that didn't explain how they became so close. There was a story behind that and he was so ready to hear it. But maybe later. After all, there was a more pressing matter at hand.
“Alright.” Jake said, “Barring Aisha, who else?”
Clay’s slight smile fell, and his eyes darkened.
The name hit him like a sledgehammer to the chest. He looked at Clay’s face but the man didn’t even have a smug smile on his lips. He wasn’t kidding.
“Are you sure? Max is—”
“Dead, I remember, I was there,” Clay interrupted. Jake sighed and passed a hand in his hair.
“We never found his body, just…” the man reminded him.
“Body parts crushed to million pieces, and completely charred.”
What if Max had been alive at that moment, and they left him there to die? He had to admit, it could be possible, with about 1 chance out of millions. But it didn’t mean it was possible. Max was dead.
“Now? We act like nothing happened. If Max, or whoever, planted this is listening,” he said gesturing to the communication device. “we want them to think we’re still under no suspicion. You, on the other hand, you have access and the means to prove it.”
“So basically, you want me to search through the Government trop secret documents?”
Clay’s eyes crinkled a bit at that, his smile sharp as a sword edge.
“Your favorite pastime.”
Jake laughed a little.
“Fine, I’ll do it.”
For a second, Clay showed a tired but relieved face before he became neutral again. He clapped Jake’s back loudly. JAke winced a bit and watched Aisha and Clay leave the workshop. He then turned to Cougar and tried to smile charmingly.
“So, I’m gonna work.”
Cougar had an amused to twist to his lips.
“Sure. See you later, Jake.”
He almost stumbled when he heard Cougar say his first name. Cougar had now decided to get friendlier.
And he did worse. So much worse than that.
To be fair, Jake did ask Cougar to show him where the tracker had been hidden in the Jaeger. And being this close to the man, brushing him every time he walked around made his heart flutter and his nervousness flare up. Damn, he had never been like that before. He was usually much more smooth than that, he was flirt and a bit of dork and his dates liked it. Why did Cougar had that effect on him? It was mind-blowing.
“Clay found it here.” Cougar showed a trapdoor on the floor, just in front of the pilots’ stations. He took out a little tool, slid it into a small hole, twisted it and lifted the trapdoor. Jake leaned over it and gulped.
Whoever planned this had someone on Cougar’s team or even the guards who had access to the Jaegers, because they knew exactly where to put it so that no one would even think to look. It was dark, deep, tight, with only enough space to spare for one person. Cougar told him that only mechanics or the Jaeger experts would go there.
“Wait a second. How did Clay know about this?”
Cougar cleared his throat, looking quite embarrassed.
Jake raised his eyebrows in incredulity.
“And with Aisha.” Cougar completed after a few minutes of silence. Jake closed briefly his eyes. Nope, he could’ve lived without knowing that all his life.
Cougar closed the door and stood. Jake hadn’t realized he had moved so close to the other man. When Cougar stood beside him, Jake could almost feel the mechanic’s breath on his lips. They looked at each other and there was a sort of understanding passing between them. Cougar’s eyes flickered at his lips and Jake’s heartbeat quickened suddenly. Heat, excitation, and dread pooled at the bottom of his stomach. He could just… lean in and...
“Jake Jensen is called to the Director’s office. Jake Jensen is called to the Director’s office.”
With a startled gasp, Jake came back to reality as the call finished to come through the speakers. He took a step backward, still looking at Cougar. His pupils were blown wide with desire. If that wasn’t proof, Jake couldn’t even fool himself anymore.
“Go,” Cougar whispered as if he didn’t want to break the moment. “We’ll talk later.”
He smiled, and Jake could only admire.
When Jake finally broke away from Cougar’s eyes (beautiful, beautiful eyes), he ran to Roque’s office. Clay and Aisha were already there. He looked at them in askance but none of them answered him. They looked quite chastised. Roque seemed to be in a mood. In fact, Roque tore Jake a new one for not coming to him when Clay told him about the tracker. Jake said nothing while Roque listed all the reasons why they shouldn’t speculate on this, why they shouldn’t keep a breach of security that big secret.
It was a shame that one of his best people were doing secretive shit like behind his back, next time he would suspend their asses!
(“Because you expect us to do it again?” Jake couldn’t help but ask.
The look Roque sent him might have killed him if Aisha didn’t snigger next to him, and their director decided to aim his eyes - weapon of massive destruction - on the woman.
Jake didn’t even feel sorry.)
Finally, after minutes of uncomfortable silence where Clay, Aisha and Jake were stared down like scolded children, Roque dismissed them, ordering them not to get involved anymore in this case. They all dutifully agreed and left his office. As soon as they were out of earshot of the man, Clay dragged them to his room.
“Oh, right, I forgot about the threesome. Who wants to start?” Jake said deadpanned.
“I do,” Aisha replied, biting her lips and making a show of looking Jake from head to toe. “I’m sure you’ll be able to satisfy me.”
Beside him, Clay groaned, and leaned on the desk near the bed. Jake on the other hand was thrilled to find someone like him (when Cougar wasn’t here to transform him into a nervous teenager).
“Alright, kids, stop it.” Clay intervened. “Jensen, did you find anything?”
“In what? The ten seconds since I started this thing? No.”
“If you weren’t making googly eyes at Cougar every second, maybe you would have.” Clay replied harshly.
Irritated, Jake frowned.
“Seriously? I was doing just that before Roque called me into his office. I thought this was a secret?” Clay gritted his teeth and was going to say something, probably scalding to Jake, but Aisha stepped in between them, looking straight in Clay’s eyes.
They looked at each other and suddenly he seemed to deflate. Jake was kind of impressed she could do that. Usually, if Clay was angry enough, he would go on and on about what he thought you did wrong (even when it wasn’t justified). Clay sighed, and looked back at Jake when Aisha moved to the side. She sent a small smile to Jake.
“I know people wondered how Max and I could be drift compatible. To me, it was obvious, but I guess it was obvious only to Max and I. Do you know why?”
Mutely, Jake shook his head. The other man was right. At the time, it had been weird when they successfully drifted together. Both men couldn’t be more different. Clay was a soldier; gruff, authoritative, quick tempered, whereas Max seemed more refined, but also more arrogant. Where Clay would get dirty to help people stuck under the rubble, Max would barely touch them, only directing them to nearest person that wasn’t him. Seeing Clay and Max working together had been strange, but they became a symbol of sort; even people so different from each other could work together to defeat the Kaijus.
Now that he thought about it, Max didn’t like people much.
“Max and I were drift compatible because we were similar.” Clay continued, eyes distant. “Maybe too much, that’s why I couldn’t stand the man and why he hated my guts.”
He rubbed his forehead.
“We were both angry, disillusioned army men. The higher-ups screwed us both for different reasons and they lost our… let’s say, trust.”
Clay paused, his eyes becoming clearer.
“We were both bitter men because of the army, and in that sense, we were the same. Even though I don’t trust people of authority and, or power, I still want to protect people. Max… didn’t. He hated humanity. He thought that humanity was what brought the Kaijus here.”
“That’s insane.” Jake commented, stunned by what the other man was telling.
Clay chuckled bitterly.
“Are you sure he could’ve survived that crash?”
“Truthfully? I don’t know. I felt the drift shutting off abruptly, there was pain, so much pain. I don’t remember if it was mine or his.”
Clay grimaced and massaged his left hand.
Phantom pain from the last moments of the drift. Jake could only imagine what it was like to be drift compatible with someone. He wasn’t sure he wanted to know the pain of losing the link that brutally. What he knew was only theory; neuronal connections, brain waves and other notions much more complicated. But he didn’t know what it was like to see and be so intimately the other that your minds and bodies were working in unison; like you were one.
“Let’s go Clay,” Aisha said, taking his hand.
Clay looked at Jake and nodded before following Aisha down the corridor.
The following days were tough. Two new Kaiju attacks happened, destroying a wing of the Shatterdome. Part of the dormitories’ roof crumbled and one of the server rooms was completely blown out. Some servers burst, making the network crash, cutting power to some devices run by this part, including communication. Jake had been swamped by all this work so he didn’t have time to take care of Clay’s request. It was even more difficult to do it when Roque followed his every move.
Since that day in his office, Roque had been watching them like a hawk. He probably suspected they wouldn’t let it go, and Jake blamed him for being right. He knew them too well. One of the positive things out of this mess was that Cougar also came more often. They talked more (well, Jake talked more and Cougar listened, but he was pretty sure the mechanic didn’t mind), it was much less awkward and much more flirtatious. Jake liked where it was going but he still wasn’t entirely sure it was the right moment.
Once the most urgent problems were solved, Jake delegated his other tasks to other people so that he could focus of the Maybe-maybe-not Max problem. He started to look for records on the General the day of the fight that landed Clay in a hospital bed for months, and killed (or not) Max.
He was so deep in his reading that he didn’t hear footsteps coming up behind him.
“What are you doing?” a voice suddenly asked next to his ear. Jake jumped and brandished his keyboard toward his attacker. Pooch and Jolene looked at him with amusement.
“Don’t do that.” Jake protested.
“You can let go of the keyboard,” Jolene suggested, mirth in her tone.
Pooch smirked and tried to get the keyboard out of Jake’s hands. But the man saw him coming and evaded him with a “ha-ha”.
Jolene sighed and walks between them before Pooch could retaliate.
“Sorry Jolene.” Jake said with a high pitch voice. When she closed her eyes, slightly annoyed, Jake stuck his tongue out to Pooch, who fake-gasped.
“Jo-” The man started.
“No. No. I don’t want to deal with this. Not yet. I need coffee.”
With a dismissing wave, Jolene left them alone.
Wrong move, Jolene.
Jake dreaded the next few seconds. Pooch turned to him and pounced. Jake just barely stopped him from crushing him against his desk and tried to reverse the situation. They struggled a bit until Pooch’s training got the better of him. Finally, Pooch sat on Jake’s bum, and had his head in a headlock.
“Yield.” Pooch whispered in his ears.
“Never.” Jake said with a strangled voice. He tried to dislodge Pooch but the man had thighs made of steel.
Jake grumbled and made a last desperate attempt to escape; he surged forward, trying to get grab the chair lying in front of him. It took Pooch by surprise, who stumbled a bit. Jake laughed and grabbed the chair.
At the same moment, Pooch gripped his ankles and dragged him back. Jake lost the chair. He put his hands on the ground and tried to stop from sliding anymore. But the slick surface didn’t have any asperity, and he couldn’t get any purchase. Pooch laughed out loud when he got Jake under him (again).
“So… what do you say now, Jensen?”
Jake let his head droop on the ground and sighed loudly.
“You’re an asshole.”
One of his minions walked by them, and looked at them weirdly. Jake maturely decided to stick his tongue out and call him a traitor when the minion scurried away.
“Coward.” Jake said. “The lot of you are cowards!” He repeated louder.
“You know, they don’t have to obey you.”
“Yes, they do, I’m their master.”
Jake felt Pooch laughing rather than heard because of the wiggling on his butt.
“I’m gonna tell Jolene.”
“Really? What are you gonna tell? That you got your ass kicked? Yeah, you should tell her, she’ll love it.”
Jake smiled, turned his head back to look at Pooch. The man raised an unimpressed eyebrow, waiting for whatever Jake was going to tell him.
“Nah, I’m gonna tell her you like my butt better than hers.”
Pooch rolled his eyes.
“Sure. Tell her. She’ll believe you when you won’t trip over your feet every time Cougar smiles.”
Jake grumbled, “Fine, you win. Can you move now? You’re heavy.”
“I’m not heavy, it’s all in the muscles baby.”
Jake let a gagging sound, and Pooch stood, not missing the opportunity to slap Jake’s butt.
He whirled around, “Come on. That butt doesn’t belong to you.”
Pooch sat on Jake’s chair and swirled to his desk. Jake stood and swiped his clothes off imaginary dust (when not so imaginary when his hand came out almost gray. Gross). He looked for a rag when he noticed that some people were piled up behind them, pretending to be working. All ten of them.
“It’s called bonding,” Jake indicated rather put out by their incredulous expression, verging on scared. “But you wouldn’t know that because you have no friends.”
He heard a “Dude, rude.” and a “I don’t call that bonding.” but it was somewhat effective as they started to shuffle away slowly. When he turned around to mock them with Pooch, he stopped dead in his tracks.
Pooch was currently reading one of the reports of the outing with the General and Canary that cost the lives of hundreds of people, including Max.
“Pooch,” Jake started.
“What is this?”
The man, his friend, turned slowly to Jake.
“Tell me Jensen, what is this? Why are you dredging up the past?”
“I… it’s just…”
Jake didn’t know what to say. Pooch wasn’t supposed to know. Clay was going to kill him. Pooch narrowed his eyes and suddenly stood up.
“Did Clay put you up to this?”
“What no! Well, yes, but that’s not what you think it is!”
“Oh really? What is this then? I know Clay is clearly delusional because he thinks Max is still alive, but you helping him is taking the cake.”
Pooch’s voice got louder as he continued to talk.
“Dammit Jake, you smarter than that, smarter than to feed onto a man’s delusions!”
“Shhh, please, Pooch, we can talk about it.”
“No. I promised Aisha not to say anything, but this goes too far if you even believe him.”
“Wait, where are you going?” Jake asked when Pooch sidestepped him to leave the open space. “Come on, Pooch, don’t screw the pooch.” He feebly tried to joke.
“I’m doing this for your own security.”
“What? No, don’t go to Roque, please.”
Pooch shook his head.
“Sorry, Jake. I have to.”
The elevator doors closed in front of Pooch, sending him to Roque’s office.
That escalated quickly. Jake grimaced and sighed. Clay was going to have his ass for sure now.
“What happens now?” Cougar asked, looking at Clay, Aisha, and Jake one by one.
Jake didn’t want to look up. He knew Clay was mad at him. He had been throwing daggers at him since he joined them in Cougar’s private workshop.
“What happens is we’re fucked. Roque suspended us,” Clay said scalding, pointing at himself, Aisha and Jake. “We have no resources thanks to Jake.”
“Hey!” Jake protested, standing up to face Clay. “This is not my fault!”
“You were careless with this! How the hell did you get hired as communication specialist when you cannot even keep one little secret!”
Jake laughed hard.
“Right, because mister thinks a dead man is after him! A guy, I might add, you hated. What’s to say you weren’t the one to leave him to die in the rubble? I really want to know.”
Clay’s face twisted angrily and advanced on Jake, who took a step back. An angry Clay was scary sight.
“Stop fighting! Now!”
Clay and Jake looked at Jolene. Pooch was closing the door, glowering at them.
“I’m pretty sure Roque heard you from his office with all the screaming the two of you have been doing.” She continued. “Now, we’re all adults and I’m sure we can discuss this.”
Clay smiled unpleasantly sweet.
“Sure, when you traitors leave, we can do this.”
“Listen, man,” Pooch started but Clay shushed him.
“Don’t talk. I don’t want to hear your excuses. Now you’re the only Jaeger to protect this Shatterdome. Congrats, our lives are in your hands.”
Pooch shook his head, clearly pitying Clay. The other saw it and didn’t like it. He took a step toward Pooch but this time Aisha put herself in his path.
He growled to her to let him pass but she didn’t move. Clay closed his hand in a fist, his knuckles whitening.
“Clay,” Cougar intervened, “We should listen. They wouldn’t come here to gloat. Right, guys?”
Damnit, the look Cougar was throwing them made Jake all flustered. He looked like a mama cougar ready to slit the throats of anyone who tried to hurt her cubs.
“No, we’re not here for that. After that meeting,” Jolene said, hesitating on the word “meeting”, “Roque told us that the higher ups decided to decommission all Jaegers, except for the Shatterdome in Sydney.”
“Why?” Jake asked, curious.
“There’s no money left and the Jaeger program is a money pit with still a lot of casualties.
“So what, we give up?”
“No, they’re preparing something which apparently will prevent any more Kaiju attacks.”
Everyone fell silent after Pooch’s revelation. If they really found a solution to stop the Kaijus once and for all, did that mean that the war would end? Jake wasn’t sure he wanted to believe it. He almost forgot what it was like to live without Kaiju attacks. If it was true, he could probably go back to his family, maybe watch his niece play soccer, ask Cougar to come with him.
Jake looked up to watch the mechanic. The man felt his gaze on him, and smiled a little.
Yeah. He would do that.
“What about Max? Or the possible Max?” Aisha asked suddenly.
They all looked at each other before looking at Clay. The man still seemed angry, but he straightened when he felt their eyes on him.
“Well, since some of us are suspended,” he started, “and they’re unemployed, we have time on our hands, don’t you think.”
Pooch pressed his lips together, but surprised everyone when he said yes.
“It might not be Max, but someone has been taping you. It’s worth finding out who.”
“All in?” Jolene asked, raising her hand in the air.
Clay and Aisha followed suit immediately. Pooch seemed a bit reluctant but raised his hand. Jake looked at Cougar, and saw the man hesitating.
“You know, we’d be in need of a sharp shooter slash mechanic on our team.” Jake piped up. The other man raised an eyebrow.
“Come on, Cougar, this is going to be fun!”
Cougar snored, and nodded slowly, a slight smile on his lips.
He raised his hand, and Jake imitated him.
“Alright, you all know what to do. Gather the stuff you need, and we’re a go.”
After he received everyone’s confirmation, Clay nodded and left, Aisha following closely. Pooch squeezed Jake’s shoulder before leaving with Jolene as well.
Jake didn’t want to leave yet so he lingered a bit while Cougar started to clean up the workshop.
“You know, we should have a name.” Jake suggested.
“A name? For what?”
“Like the A-Team?” Cougar suggested with a smile.
“Well, yes, but since it’s already a classic, we don’t want to be confused with them.”
“Oh, yeah? So what are we?”
Cougar walked leisurely towards Jake. For a second he felt like a prey, the way Cougar came to him, slow and liquid.
“Hm, I mean.” Jake stuttered, when Cougar stopped just a few inches from his face. Jake had all his attention, it was electrifying.
“We’re suspended, they’re unemployed, we’re kinda losers here, right.” Jake joked, unsure of himself.
“The Losers, then?” Cougar said, and Jake was speechless.
(Not because Cougar found their name but because the man was way too close from Jake and his brain froze.)
“Sure.” Jake said, his voice slightly squeaking. He cleared his throat.
“What now?” Cougar asked, his eyes never leaving Jake’s face.
“I guess we could….” Jake started but Cougar cut him off with a kiss.
Yeah, Jake thought, that works too.