Jake’s not even a year old when simple faded handwriting appears on his collarbone. It's such a stark black against his pale freckled skin that it almost appears to glow like letters on a computer screen.
“Hello,” it says.
The absolute worst part is that the irony doesn't set in until he’s older— fifteen, in fact— rubbing alcohol into the areas on his neck where his father’s class ring had pinched and broken skin. He had swallowed and the bruise above his Adam’s apple throbbed painfully. To assess any further damage, he’d pulled down his collar.
It was so funny that he could be so unloved right now and fall in love with practically anybody in the future.
He laughed. He laughed and laughed until his laughter turned into deep, hiccupy sobs and someone slammed their open palm against the wall to shut him up.
Carlos had been born with his soul-mark. It was a little flash of almost pencil-light block letters right over his backside. The words “Sorry, it’s just stupid fucking nicknames,” raised on his left hip like a brand.
His mother had cried, was something that his older brother had told them later on. They had been trying to catch lighting bugs on the lake’s lazy banks before the sun had set entirely. Carlos, with his inquisitive brown eyes and quick hands, had nearly filled up the jam jar his aunt had given him. His brother’s only held two.
Diego was more impatient than Carlos, but also very kind and gentle. He couldn't have asked for a better older brother.
And when Diego dies nine years later in a car crash, the only one who didn't make it out of the wreckage caused by a stranger’s wreckless drunk driving, Carlos can't understand why he wasn’t allotted more time.
But that was the future, and this was the past. Carlos was dirtying his pant cuffs by wading through the murky water to look for the glass jar Diego had thrown in frustration. He'd been about to call it quits when his naked foot slid on a particularly slippery rock, and he fell backwards into the pond and heard a muffled snap.
Diego panicked and pulled him out of the water in an overly dramatic way. At least, that’s what Carlos though until he saw the red slipping from his back onto Diego’s fingers.
He wailed and wailed on his aunt’s dining room table, hastily cleared off to make room for the bleeding and thrashing nine year old which it currently held. Auntie Marisol was on the phone with a doctor in the other room and Diego was holding a cloth napkin to the wound while his and Carlos’s littler cousins warily peeked over the tabletop with morbid curiosity.
“You're life is very dangerous, brother,” Diego said shakily, pressing the cloth into his back in a way that was too harsh for comfort, ”Mama knew it’d be like this. When you were born, she had been crying.”
It wasn't so bad. Carlos had gotten out of it all two days later with only seven stitches and a tetanus shot to show for it. What really had stuck with him, though, besides the cashew-shaped scar that had cut through his soul-mark like a censor, was what his brother had said in his moment of weakness.
It stuck with him through Diego’s death, his enlistment, and all the way to Bolivia.
Jensen had been with teams before.
He had been kicked out if teams before also, though the Army had officially called it “relocating”. It made sense, because a tech specialist with his level of expertise was routinely sought after in Special Ops. but also, most people couldn't stand him. Jensen had an inkling that he was just getting thrown at the wall until something stuck and his commanding officer was a stubborn enough son of a bitch to not request a transfer after they’d had enough of Jensen’s constant stream of chatter.
That all being said, it wasn't too bad.
Talking kept Jake safe. It kept him sane. Being annoying was better than being all-out hated, so he jabbered on and on until it became too much and he was shuffled onto the next place.
Another more private thing was that if he came in as an open book, spouting off useless nonsense like facts about orangutans and Wikipedia-level knowledge of the occult, most people didn't so much as greet him than say “what the fuck,” when he walked in a room, and that was alright. It was something he could deal with, over wondering if every stiff-lipped Sargent obsessed with formality was the person the universe meant for him to be with (most people in Jake’s line of work usually greeted him with ‘yo’ or ‘hey’ if they could get past his intense personality, except for the more finicky higher-ups). The best defense was a good offense, as the saying went.
It's how he got shackled with the Losers, anyways.
Captain Roque and Lieutenant Clay were the only unmarked soldiers in the whole squadron. The other two both had soul-marks, and Sgt. Porteous, the vehicles specialist, even had a wife at home. It said right in a little scribble on his file that the words, “Well, my name’s Jolene,” were stamped right across his ribcage. That meant he was either incredibly proud or incredibly defiant, and a cursory glance around the internet to confirm that Linwood Porteous was, in fact, married to a Jolene Jefferson five years ago in Massachusetts confirmed that he was the former rather than the latter.
The second one, though, had his mark status as ‘unlisted’, which technically meant he could be either marked or unmarked, but Jake knew how to read in between the lines. The guy probably had just lost his soulmate when he was young, maybe before he’d even met them, which was tough but explained why he was Special Ops. in the first place.
Most of the time, people with soul-marks weren't usually chosen for these types of careers. There are even recorded instances of people with unfulfilled soul-marks being refused to enlist. Jake had only met other soul-marked people in Special Ops. with really generic things scrawled on their bodies, like him, or with dead soulmates.
It's something Jake decided to tuck away in his mind for later until Sgt. Porteous was finished with his tour. They were stationed in a little bunker underground in Minneapolis, essentially a giant led box made during the Cold War to survive nukes, but there were rooms and a common area were Jake had been allowed to unload his tech, so it’d do.
“Should probably get you over to the kitchen,” Porteous had said, hovering back to give Jake some space around the fold out plastic table to get him and his toys situated, “get you introduced to the whole crew. And Roque’s cooking, so that won't be too bad.”
Jake got his hand free of a HDMI cable stuck to him with electrical tape and gave a thumbs up, “Give me one second, Sargent.”
Porteous rolled his eyes and said, “Look, kid, you can cool it with the titles and shit. Nobody here’s gonna write you up,”
Jake wiped his hands on his jeans and followed Porteous when he turned to lead them to the kitchen.
“What should I call you, then?” Jake asked inquisitively, “No offense, but Linwood’s kind of a mouthful and Porteous doesn't exactly roll off the tongue. What were your parents thinking?”
Jake expected a dark glare, but the young sargent just smiled and laughed.
“They probably thought a name like that’d keep me humble, or at least give my soulmate a head start,” he said, opening the kitchen door.
There were three men cramped up in the little kitchen. The one Jake recognized as the lieutenant was bent over a bowl of chili in his hands while leaning on the counter. Roque, with an eye scar and a metal ladle that made him look not any less terrifying, was glowering at the large pot on the stove. The sniper was cleaning his rifle on the little wooden table shoved into the corner.
“This the loudmouth?” Roque grunted, handing Porteous a bowl.
He accepted it gladly and passed the next one he was handed to Jensen, “That’s what his file says.”
Pivoting suddenly back to Jensen, Porteous started pointing people out.
“Betty Crocker over there is Roque, the sad white guy is Clay, and the scary motherfucker with the hat is Cougar.”
Everyone introduced themselves with their name, and then the sergeant pulled out a chair at the table for himself and smirked, “The fella’s here call me ‘Pooch’.”
At that, Jake lost it. He had almost done so with ‘Cougar’, but he’d held it together. After a minute or so of just full out hysterical laughing, Jake wipes under his glasses and says, “Sorry, it's just... stupid fucking nicknames,” and busts up again.
Pooch is immediately half-heartedly defending himself, explaining that there was a long story behind it and if Jensen would just shut the fuck up for a second and listen-
But Cougar is wide-eyed, almost to a point where you can see whites all around the irises. Nobody notices until he snaps the scope into his rifle and pushes away from his chair and the table, making a hasty escape.
“Cougs,” Roque starts after Cougar brushes past him, “what-”
“Not hungry,” he grumbles back but his throat is so dry that it comes out garbled. He doesn't stop walking until he was in his room.
When he gets there, his hands go up to his hair and he pulls at his scalp. What had he said to him, what had he said!
He took deep gulping breaths and sat down, willing himself to calm.
He had said “hello,” just like he had whenever he met a another team member.
So the new one—Jensen—probably didn't even know.
Carlos decided he was gonna keep it that way.
Things are good and absolutely fine until they're sent to South America.
Jake hums and haws about Cougar being the only one who doesn't give him the time of day until Clay takes Cougar aside, pinching the bridge of his nose and asking if he’d just humor the kid until he shut up long enough for them all to get through one game of poker.
Cougar doesn't so much as pout as he does jut out his chin and say, “Is that an order?”
Clay blinks surprisedly at him before setting his face and saying, “If you're gonna act like that, then yes, Alvarez. It is.”
He stalks back to the bar table and retrieves the hand Pooch dealt him. Cougar scowls and finds a place at the bar to finish his bar to finish his beer. A little while later, a giggly young woman departs from her group of friends and asks to buy him another drink.
And as far as distractions go, it works, for the night.
But the next, Carlos finds to his great displeasure that somebody had moved his (albeit sparse, except for the guns) things and replaced them with Pooch’s. He's not too surprised to find his duffle bag, rifle, and little travel bag with his toothbrush and shampoo piled on top of the other full sized bed in the room Jensen had previously been sharing with Pooch.
It's whatever. He's still annoyed, but that's what he gets for going home with a lady rather than coming back to his room. It wasn't technically against the rules, but he should've known better after he and Clay’s talk.
Jensen’s shirtless in his own bed, pausing whatever he’d been doing on his laptop to sputter that none of this was his fault, and Clay had come in at three that morning to make Pooch move his shit.
Cougar barely hears him, just states at the word “hello” stamped across Jensen’s collarbone in Cougar’s own handwriting before turning on his heels and slamming himself up in the bathroom.
A shower does nothing, really, but Cougar still touches himself through it. He braces his arm on the gritty tile wall and wills himself to think about the woman he’d been with last night, but spills into his hand with the thought of biting Jensen’s chest until the writing on it bruises.
Cougar makes the best of it.
From Brazil to Chile to Paraguay, the brief stint in Thailand that had been bogus, and the time that they had to spend on an Air Force base in Florida, of all places, Jensen and he are roomed together. Cougar was careful to never let his guard down completely, but quit leaving the room when they were completely alone and not working.
In Florida, Jake’s calling his sister every waking moment to try and convince her to drive down and visit, since they're not technically working but still can’t leave the base. It gets to a point where the calls annoy Cougar where he almost breaks Clay’s rules and leaves just to show Jensen how much he dislikes what happening, but then his niece pops into the Skype window and Cougar pauses.
It's not just because Jensen squeals when she's on the screen like an idiot, but also because, this time, she's crying.
Jensen’s niece was a dark little thing with a mop of light hair and a lisp. Cougar liked her because he liked kids, but he’d never talked to her or even seen her apart from the photos and videos Jake excitedly showed everyone of her playing soccer.
Cougar leans to look at the screen and almost gasps when he sees her soul-mark, angry and red, on her temple near her coily hairline that simply reads "Edith".
It reminds him immediately of Diego, who had gotten his soul uncommonly late at twelve with the words “tienes dieciocho pesos?” written shakily behind his ear. His mother had cuffed Cougar’s ear at eleven when he said that it meant Diego’s soulmate was a prostitute. When a homeless young woman who Diego had been supporting to go to rehab showed up at the funeral with the words “Me llamo Diego, y usted?” as colorless raised scar tissue on her skinny wrists, Cougar had barely been surprised.
“It came in during recess,” Jake’s sister, a shorter and plumper woman who still had the blonde hair and strong nose of her brother, “had to call me in from work. She was inconsolable.”
“It’s ugly,” the little girl said, nuzzling her face into her mother’s shoulder.
Jake scoffed, “It’s so not- hey, Cougar! Tell me if you think Beth’s soul-mark looks gross or not.“
He comes over and peers down at the screen, no longer pretending to not look.
It was unsteady. Probably the scrawl of a child, which meant that they'd meet young. It also was also small and dark, which made it noticeable but barely.
“If it wasn't all red like that, I wouldn't even know,” Cougar lied.
Jake looked up at him and beamed, mouthing ‘thank you’ before turning back to the webcam.
“See? And Cougar’s soul-mark is big and ugly, so he knows what he's talking about,” Jake added, causing Cougar to freeze.
“Can I see it?” Beth asks. Her mother shushes her.
“No, I'm sorry, it’s on my butt,” Cougar says seriously before cracking a wide smile.
Beth giggles and covers her mouth with her hands, “Seriously?”
Cougar hums and nods his head.
“Have you seen it, Uncle Jake?” she asks.
Jake laughs loudly, though his ears turn a little pink.
“No, jitterbug,” Jake replies, “why would I look at his butt?”
“I’ve seen mom’s butt before, when she gets out of the shower,” Beth said before her mother clasped a hand over her mouth.
“Alllright, think that’s it for today!” she said, Beth trying to wriggle free out of her arms, ”Nice talking with you, Jake, and it was good to meet you...”
“Cougar,” Cougar says.
She smiles before ending the call. After that, they're friends, and Cougar thinks it's probably easier to exist that way.
Jake doesn't ask about his soul-mark in the same way he doesn't ask about Cougar’s hat: it’s just a part of him, and that's fine. Jensen’s overwhelming curiosity doesn't seem to extend to the realm of other people unless he wants to sleep with them. It's something that Cougar grits his teeth over when he realizes it but also eventually learns to accept.
They go on missions together and they sleep in the same room, now out of preference instead of obligation, and they even go on leave together once after Cougar lets it slip that he isn't doing anything for Thanksgiving.
If Jake’s soul-mark wasn't in such a glaringly obvious place, Cougar might’ve almost forgotten about it.
Almost. It's Bolivia that finally makes him forget. It just seems like such a waste of worry.
Jake’s probably already seen it, anyways, on the nights where Cougar has to sleep only in his underwear because the nightmares make him sweat. Or when he's shirtless and buried in between some woman’s legs while Jake is in the other side of the room doing the same thing.
He at least feels Jake’s hand once, bumping over the cashew shaped scar that anyone else would mistake for a keloid when he’s shaking Cougar awake and telling him it’s time for work.
If Jensen’s figured it out, he’s said nothing, so Cougar doesn't ask.
Meanwhile, Jake’s trying his hardest not to see. He knows that the crash has changed Cougar. It’s changed them all, but he’s spending the most time with Cougar.
One morning, he goes to wake Cougar up for work, and in the dim light of the morning without his glasses, Jake can make out a little raised scar in the shape of a ‘c’.
His soulmate’s dead. Jake always assumed, but never knew for certain.
A more selfish part of him doesn't stop his hand when it goes down to stroke the letter. It's smooth and warm, and then his thumb grazes to the side and he feels something different.
Before Jake can do anything else, Cougar’s eyes snap open and Jake snatches away his hand.
“Work,” he says around the knot starting to form in his throat.
Cougar nods and pulls on a shirt, and they never speak of it again.
After they get Max’s money and the hell out of LA, Cougar’s antsy. Hell, they all are but Cougar’s especially so and Cougar’s never nervous, even when everyone else is. The words “suicide mission” are starting to sound more and more like “the end” now that they've got Max in a corner. Nobody exactly knows what to expect tomorrow.
It’s what makes Jake bold. He corners Cougar in the back of a shipping container and shoves his face into the crook of his neck and his hands to the meat of his ass, kneading flesh while he breathes in as much of his best friend as he can.
Cougar doesn't choke, exactly, but it's a near thing. He's shoving Jake off after barely a second.
“I want this,” Jake tries, “before it was too late. I want-” he swallows.
For the first time in his life, he's at a loss for words.
Cougar’s eyes are blown wide and his cheeks are flush. Damn, Jake’s never seen him like that before. He moves in again but Cougar puts his hand in the middle of his chest before he gets too close.
“You don't,” Cougar says. It's not a question.
“I do,” Jake insists, hips keening forward to try and showsCougar exactly how much he does want it.
Cougar’s other hand goes to his shoulder and his thumb presses down hard on his collarbone. Jake’s eyes widen.
“It’s not about that! I swear to God,” he says, suddenly embarrassed because he hadn't even considered that Cougar would give a shit about soul-marks or anything like that.
Cougar’s eyes dip low, and he almost looks sad, “It’s not?”
“It’s not!” He insisted, suddenly angry, “Look, I know your soulmate’s dead so it's different for you, but I’ve tried looking. And whoever they are, they're not you.”
Cougar’s eyes flash, “My soulmate isn't dead.”
The anger fizzles out of Jensen almost as quickly as it appears.
“What?” he asks.
Cougar’s already pushing past him to the door, and Jake just stares at his little corner, confused and alone.
He’s eventually shot because, well, obviously, and Pooch’s got him on a table with a baby’s chew toy in his mouth to keep him from biting his tongue off when he works the bullet out.
Everyone else looks pretty dejected, too. Clay especially so, under the scrutinizing gaze of Roque. Cougar looks sick, though. He's hovering around Pooch and Jake, only letting up when he's in the way of Pooch’s elbows.
“Te amo," Cougar eventually says, hands brushing softly against the gauze wrapped around Jensen’s thigh as they bump around in the back of Pooch’s van.
Jake smiles at him through the haze of a fucking bullet wound, “I don't even know what you said, man, but thanks.”
Cougar smiles and laughs to himself a little hysterically, but eventually pulls his hat over his eyes and leans over Jake. That's how they sleep.
Later, Pooch has a shot in both legs and the edges where Jake isn't healed are numbed with painkillers. There's an airplane and a bomb and a Daniel Craig looking assassin. Also, they're about to be executed, gun to the back of the head, until they’re not and the plane fucking explodes. Jake and Cougar look at each other momentarily before grabbing Pooch under the armpits and dragging him back behind a wall of oil drums.
“If you don't make it out of this, then I'll make sure Jolene names the baby after me,” Jake cracks after he’s pretty sure Aisha has a rocket launcher-
But he’s pulled back down behind the oil drums when there's more gunfire that narrowly avoided his head. Back into Cougar’s chest before there's an explosion.
Jake looks into his eyes and sees a million emotions flash by at once before Cougar grips him in a tight hug.
“Usted fueron siempre mi alma gemela, “ he says.
Pooch spits out, “Forreal?”
Aisha shouts and they move.
They're piss drunk before the baby’s even actually born, but luckily the cars only a little bit away. Another yellow fucking Hummer, sacrificing stealth for style, but they've earned it. They've all earned it.
“Hey, hey,” Jake says, narrowly avoiding getting hit in the head when the Hummer rocks again, smacking both he and Cougar on the shoulder. Jesus, they were like two miles away from their teammate’s wife giving birth and Clay and Aisha couldn't keep their hands off each other.
Not like he and Cougar had been any better. Since they got one over on Max, they've been getting sappy. Currently, Jake and Cougar’s legs were tangled up while they held each other’s hands, only pausing to take swings from the champagne bottle.
“Want to see something?” Cougar said.
Jake nodded dumbly and Cougar leaned in, kissed him, and winked before untangling their legs.
“Where’re you going?” Jake asked, overbalancing when the Hummer shook and he leaned over to compensate.
Cougar grabbed his arm and adjusted him before putting his hat in Jake's head and snatching the bottle from his hands. He hoisted himself up on the back bumper, standing next to Jake and leaning forward until he was poised over the open sunroof.
He's tipping the bottle into the sunroof when Aisha’s foot catches him in the jaw and Jake, without thinking, dives forward to catch him in his arms. He catches him by the shoulder and the bottom of his shirt and then he just sees it.
Of course he recognizes his own handwriting and the first fucking thing he had said to Cougar that made him hate Jake, so he hauls Cougar up into his knees and is almost ready to throttle him.
“You idiot, you idiot,” he said in between kisses, “you fucking dumbass. We could've saved so much time.”
Cougar’s still too drunk to know what Jake’s talking about, but he hadn't been kissed with this much ferocity since Jake had confessed his feelings for him, so he lets himself be kissed.