Jake is absentmindedly tapping out the beat to Don’t Stop Believing on his leg, staring out the window - Cougar banned him using his laptop after dark, and he hasn’t replaced the phone he crushed on yesterday’s mission yet - when a glimmer of light catches his eye in the woods. “Cougs, stop the truck!”
Cougar, unphased by Jake after all this time, smoothly brings the vehicle to a stop on the shoulder.
Jake bails out the passenger door.
Cougar follows with a long suffering sigh. “Jake.”
The blond shakes his head and points.
Cougar takes in the light - possibly a fire - from the woods and nods in understanding. They had scouted the hell out of this route and they shouldn’t have passed another living soul until early the next morning. They make it to a little clearing about half a mile off the road and barely have time to register a redheaded woman and a sandy haired man warming their hands over a fire before they’re shoved unceremoniously into the clearing from behind.
Jake sprawls, face first, into the dirt. Cougar rolls with it and immediately comes back up in a crouch, gun pointed at their assailant.
A pretty, fierce looking brunette in tac gear has a shotgun aimed steadily at them. The two at the fire are now behind them, also with guns trained.
Jake rolls over and blinks up at the brunette. “Maria?”
‘Maria’ blinks. “Who are you?”
Jake’s face goes stony in a way that never bodes well. “Shoot her, Cougs.”
Cougar pulls the hammer back on his revolver. “Alma Gemela?”
Jake nods. “Wearing her face, but that sure as hell isn’t her.”
Safeties click off on the two guns behind them.
“Who the hell are you?” The redhead demands.
Jake points to the brunette. “Her Soulmate.”
Jake shoves into a sitting position and looks at her over his shoulder with a grin. “The one and only.”
Natasha studies him for a moment, then deliberately shifts her aim to the brunette. Clint follows her lead without hesitation.
The brunette tosses the shotgun at her feet, steps back, and lifts her hands with a sheepish smile. “I can explain.”
Natasha raises an eyebrow. “I suggest you make it a fast explanation.”
She opens her mouth, closes it again, then changes. Maria’s features bleed away to reveal green skin and pointed ears.
Jake gapes and points. “Alien.”
The green man nods. “Skrull.”
Natasha rolls her eyes and holsters her weapon. “What the hell, Talos? Where the hell is Maria?”
The Skrull shrugs. “Somewhere with Fury? Flying around on vacation or something. Soren and I have been impersonating them for a while. No one told me she had a Soulmate we might run into.”
Jake winces. “Uh… she might kinda think I’m… uh, dead?”
Natasha rolls his eyes. “She’s not that stupid.”
“She just assumed you had a damn good reason for not wanting to be found,” Clint says, tone vaguely accusing.
Jake winces again. “I thought I did. But… alien. Not so sure now. What the hell did she get herself into?”
“SHIELD,” Natasha answers simply.
“She’s Deputy Director,” Clint supplies helpfully.
Jake throws himself back into the dirt and throws his arm across his face. “She’s gonna kill me. Murder me good and dead and no one will ever find my body because she’s motherfucking SHIELD. Cougs, I am so screwed. Even you can’t save me from Maria.”
Cougar just looks at him.
Jake sighs. “Yeah, you probably wouldn’t even if you could. And, hell, I’d deserve it.”
Cougar rolls his eyes and holsters his revolver, then shoves to his feet and hauls Jake up by his collar, pulling him in close. “Eres mío, estemos de acuerdo o no.”
Jake rests his head against Cougar’s. “Wanna meet her? If we can find her…”
Jakes releases a breath and relaxes.
“Oh shit!” Clint exclaims. “You guys are a Triad, aren’t you?”
Natasha smacks him upside the back of his head. “Shut up, Clint.” She points at Talos. “However you get ahold of them, call Maria and tell her we have something of hers.”
Talos opens his mouth like he might protest, then shuts it again, shrugs, and steps away, pulling some type of communicator out of his pocket. He comes back about two minutes later. “They said to meet them at the upstate New York facility in two days.”
Natasha nods, then looks at Jake. “Car?”
Jake jerks a thumb over his shoulder. “Truck, up on the road.”
They break camp quickly, and then make the short hike back to the truck. Natasha gives Talos a Look. “You should probably go back to looking human.”
He starts to Shift.
“Not Maria,” Jake growls.
Talos shrugs and Shifts into a tiny Asian woman none of them recognize. Other than Jake’s usual endless prattle, and Talos’ surprising habit of not only keeping up with, but debating with, the tech, the drive to the New York facility is uneventful.
Fury’s ship is already on the landing strip behind the facility when they arrive.
Cougar is silent, tense. Jake is literally bouncing, jittering with nerves.
A shadow falls over Jake, and a slim hand offers a damp paper towel. “You know you’re gonna keep getting your ass kicked if you keep mouthing off to those jerks, right?”
Jake presses the paper towel to his bleeding lip thankfully, then her words register and he beams up at the pretty brunette standing over him. “Yeah, but I had to keep at it until I met you.”
She gapes down at him, then smiles fondly. “You’re gonna be trouble, aren’t you?”
Jake shrugs apologetically. “Probably.”
She sits down next to him, close enough their shoulders brush. “I don’t mind. I’m Maria.”
“Army?” Maria asks skeptically.
Jake shrugs. “With my skills, my other option is office drone, and we both know I can’t sit still that long.”
Maria frowns, then nudges her way into his side, tucking her head under his chin to hide her expression. “You can do anything you want, Jake. I just… what if you get hurt?”
“Then I come home for a while and you nurse me back to health.”
She laughs, she can’t help it.
“You have to admit I’ve gotten better at holding my own over the last couple years.”
“No,” Maria corrects, “you haven’t. You just got bigger. And I taught you how to fight meaner.”
Jake shrugs. “Potato, tomato.”
Maria rolls her eyes. “You’re so weird.”
“You love me.”
She turns her head and brushes a kiss across his chest. “More than you know.”
He squeezes her tight.
She goes to his Basic graduation then his AIT graduation.
He somehow manages to swing time off for her high school graduation.
They get married, just his sister and her college roommate as witnesses, winter break of her freshman year of college.
Between her senior year of high school and the three years it takes her to finish her Masters, Jake manages to swing two doctorates. She can’t convince him to go to either of his graduation ceremonies, but he shows up in full uniform with flowers for hers.
Eventually, true to her prediction, he mouths off to the wrong person, and lands himself with a unit he calls ‘the Losers’. Special Forces and a special brand of Crazy, based on what little information she can get out of him.
She’s a wreck the first time he goes on a mission where more than a month passes before she hears from him. By the third time, she’s mastered compartmentalizing. The fourth time, approaching month two of Jake being incommunicado, SHIELD approaches her. She’s finished the Academy and on her first solo mission when Jake finally calls. He sounds exhausted, and her heart aches.
“Our unit got a new sniper. You gotta meet him, Maria,” Jake mumbles.
“Can’t wait,” she smiles softly, even though he can’t see it.
A round of gunshots goes off in the distant background.
“What was that?”
“T.V.” She answers.
“A little too cliche for my tastes,” she answers, muting her end of the call long enough to pull the trigger on her rifle.
“I miss you,” he slurs.
She unmutes the phone. “I miss you too. Get some sleep, handsome. Call me tomorrow.”
“Love you more.”
She’s been with SHIELD a year when they finally manage to swing a few days together. She can tell Jake isn’t telling her something, but she hasn’t told him about SHIELD, so she doesn’t call him on it.
Maria calls in more favors than she technically has to find out he’s alive. For the first time in years, she allows herself to cry. Natasha finds her on the floor of the officers’ locker room and coaxes the story out of her.
Natasha’s eyes go soft in a way Maria has never seen from her before, and the next thing she knows, Natasha is calling in favors of her own, and before she can fully process the situation, they’re looking for some CIA spook called ‘Max’.
Jake and his people find the asshole before Maria does, and it takes a direct order from Fury to keep Maria from taking a jet to L.A.
“Jensen!” Clay’s bark startles Jake away from his computer screen. “New guy - get him kitted up.”
Jake snaps a sloppy salute and unfolds himself from his computer chair, then has to sit back down. The guy that followed the Colonel in is short and olive skinned with a leather hat pulled down over his dark eyes. He looks absolutely nothing like Maria, but he carries himself with the same easy grace and exudes the same ‘I will fuck you up’ vibe and Jake goes a little weak in the knees. He’s aware he has a type, but ruthlessly squashes the hope that flames up in him at the sight of the sniper.
He puts on a happy face, and does what he does best - talk. “Hello, short, dark, and handsome! Welcome to the Losers. We’re a crazy bunch of assholes, but now we’re your crazy bunch of assholes. Did they give you to us ‘cause you’re just that good or ‘cause you pissed someone off? I’m here ‘cause I pissed someone off. Never have known when to keep my mouth shut. Just makes me more lovable to the right people, though, right? I-”
“Jensen!” Roque materializes out of thin air and smacks him upside the back of the head. “Just give the poor man a comm, asshole.”
Jensen blushes, and hands over a comm. “Sorry. No filter.”
The guy shrugs.
“Not much of a talker?”
Jake grins. “That’s alright. I like a challenge. And anyone will tell you I talk enough for like five people, so you not talking might kinda even things out. Name?”
Clay strides back into their space. “Alvarez. Go by Cougar, though, right?”
The sniper nods.
“That is badass, man,” Jake gushes and makes some sort of claw gesture with his hands.
Cougar’s eyes are drawn to the dark glint of the metal band on his left hand.
Clay catches the gaze and shakes his head. “Don’t fucking ask us. None of us can figure out what kind of saint would put up with his ass and she’s the one thing he won’t talk about.”
“She’s safer that way, sir,” Jake says, immediately and wholly sobered.
Clay’s expression becomes ever so slightly less gruff. “I know, kid.”
A month goes by, and Cougar still hasn’t spoken a word to any of them. The sniper is silent with everyone, but more distant with Jake than the others, until he inevitably gives in to Jake’s relentless pestering.
Jake is a little in love with him regardless. He even writes Maria a letter about him, which he has to burn when they get pinned down somewhere they’re not supposed to be in Asia.
Three months into Cougar’s assignment to the Losers, they’re holed up at a safe house in Russia while Cougar nurses a wicked concussion.
Jake is at his bedside, keeping up a steady stream of quiet chatter. He tries to be quiet, at first, not wanting to cause Cougar any more of a headache, but within minutes of laying down, the sniper reaches over and squeezes Jake’s hand. Jake considers himself an expert in Cougar-tells and obliges, speaking quietly.
He surprises himself by talking about Maria. (Years down the road, they’ll all be shocked to realize she was less than three miles away from them, on her own mission, as Jake told the first person, ever, about her.)
Jake almost falls out of his chair when Cougar speaks. “Ella suena especial. Lucky to have you.”
The first thing Jake registers, once he gets past the shock, is that Cougar has a nice voice. The second thing he registers is the Words and his jaw drops. His mind flashes, rapid fire, back to the day they met and his usual verbal diarrhea. “You fucking asshole! There is no way in hell you didn’t know!”
Jake lowers his voice. “Sorry. But seriously… why didn’t you say anything? Did you not want…”
Cougar squeezes his hand, then brushes his thumb over Jake’s wedding ring. “Wanted, but…”
Jake rolls his eyes. “You fucking moron, we’re a Triad!”
Cougar’s eyes widen.
“Do you have a second Mark?”
“And it didn’t even cross your mind that we… come on Cougs, you’re smarter than that, man.”
Cougar actually flushes. “Lo siento.”
Jake laughs. “You’re an idiot.”
Jake prods his side gently. “Shove over.”
Cougar scoots enough for Jake to slide onto the bed next to him.
Jake keeps their hands entwined as he lays there. “Can’t wait for you to meet her, Cougs.” He frowns. “Wait, where the hell is your Mark? I talked a lot.”
Cougar rolls his eyes, then rolls over on his side, tugging up the back of his shirt.
Jake takes the hint and works the shirt up the sniper’s back and finds his own messy scrawl covering the majority of the expanse of cleared skin. “Damn.”
They find Maria on the runway, barking out orders to a group of scrambling SHIELD lackies who look suitably terrified. Jake grins at the sight. He really never should have believed that she was just working some admin job for Stark Industries - she was made for this.
She turns and catches sight of Jake. He wishes he could be surprised that the first thing she does is punch him. She makes up for it by immediately reeling him in by the collar and kissing him senseless.
When they need to breathe, she buries her face in his neck. “I missed you.”
Jake wraps his arms around her and holds on tight. “Missed you more.”
“We should really probably talk about not keeping secrets from each other.”
Cougar shuffles uncomfortably behind them.
Jake, recognizing the signs of Cougar about to flee, snaps his arm out and snags the other man’s sleeve, physically hauling him into the embrace. Maria, bless her, simply wraps an arm around the other man’s waist, even as she looks up at Jake with questions in her eyes. Jake just grins down at her. Understanding dawns in her eyes and she looks expectantly at Cougar.
Jake’s not even remotely surprised when the sniper doesn’t speak. He rolls his eyes. “Seriously, one of you has got to say something first. And that was not a challenge to see who can go longer without speaking.”
Maria grins, but takes mercy on him and looks directly at Cougar. “Guessing you’re the strong and silent to match sporadic and mouthy here?”
Cougar grins back. “Something like that. At least he’s pretty.”
Jake, despite knowing what both of their Words were before today, groans. “I hate you both.”
Maria kisses his cheek. “You love us both.”
Jake sighs and grins down at both of them sappily. “Yeah, I do.”