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The New Assignment

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Jake Jensen scowled at his reflection as he adjusted the collar of his boring button-down shirt, brushed the bangs of his solid-brown, non-gelled hair out of his face, and scrubbed wistfully at his clean-shaven jaw. He looked completely and utterly ridiculous, and there was nothing his sister could say or do to change his mind about the matter.

He squinted harder at the mirror, trying to find something about his bland appearance that displayed a speck of his personality, but wasn't successful. If not for the cut of the shirt, which showcased his lean, muscular build—thank you, Jessica—he looked like every other tech guy (or gal) trying to score a job in the CIA.

He heard a muffled noise on the other side of the door and decided to put his sister, who by his count had been waiting outside the door for no less than five minutes, out of her misery. It was her guest room he was standing in, after all. "You can come in, you know," he called.

The door popped open and Jessica Jensen poked her head in. "I just wanted to see how it was going," she said, somewhat guiltily.

"The clothes all fit but—' Jensen turned away from the mirror and threw out his arms to showcase his entire outfit, "—I look like an idiot."

"You do not!" Jessica countered as she stepped fully into the room. She eyed him critically, then brushed his bangs to the side of his forehead before tugging on the front of his shirt to center it. "You look very handsome."

"Considering you picked all this out, I think you're morally obliged to say that."

Jessica sighed in exasperation and dropped onto the edge of the bed. "C'mon, Jake. We talked about this."

Her tone was soft, almost pleading, and Jensen felt his own frustration dissipate… slightly.

"I know," he grumbled. Then he let out a deep (and somewhat dramatic) sigh before flopping down on the bed beside her and staring up at the slowly rotating ceiling fan. A beat later, he heard the mattress squeal again as his sister lay down beside him.

"It's not a permanent change," she said after a minute. "You're just giving them a chance to get to know the real you."

"Before they get distracted by everything else," Jensen added bitterly.

He winced as a bony elbow was driven into his ribs.

"I never said that!" Jessica retorted, rolling onto her side so she could glare at him. Undeterred, Jensen frowned right back at her while rubbing at his smarting ribs through the completely ridiculous button-down.

Jessica's eyes widened in concern and she was just reaching out to check his ribs when she saw the shit-eating grin that Jensen let slip onto his face.

"You're ridiculous," she grumbled, swatting his shoulder before throwing herself back on the bed.

It was obvious from the way she was holding herself that she had more to say, so Jensen waited her out, distracting himself from the silence by tracking the one slightly crooked blade of the fan. Thankfully, he only had to wait a few minutes until she spoke up again, "It was just a suggestion, you know. If you're really this unhappy, you shouldn't do it."

Jensen watched the fan blade revolve a few more times before he said, "It feels damn ridiculous." He paused to shrug, "But it can't hurt."

Jessica reached over and laid her hand on Jensen's, slotting her fingers between his like she'd done many times in the past. "Maybe this team is different," she said hopefully.

As much as Jensen wished that was the case, he very much doubted it. He'd been assigned to five teams in as many months, none of which he'd "meshed" with. He knew the agency was extremely close to putting him on desk duty, despite his impressive combat skills and physical acuity. His next assignment was probably his last chance at field duty.

Jessica didn't know all the details—national security and all—but she knew enough to know he'd had more than a few unsuccessful assignments in a row. She was unaware of the importance of this specific assignment, but had nonetheless suggested the change in his appearance, as well as a more reserved demeanor, until he was more settled on his new team. In one last attempt to avoid permanent desk duty, Jensen had agreed.

Jensen then heard a creak in the hallway and looked over at Jessica, who was fighting to keep a grin off her face. "We're being spied on," he stage-whispered.

The door burst open a split second later and his five-year-old niece launched herself into the room, giggling maniacally.

Jensen winced as Hannah landed right on his shins, but recovered fast enough to scoop her up and throw her fully onto Jessica, who grunted as Hannah crashed into her stomach. As his sister glared daggers at him, Hannah scrambled off her mother and nestled herself between the Jensen siblings on the bed.

That position lasted about two seconds before she flew upright and rested her elbows on Jensen's chest with her head propped up by her fists. "When you gonna be back, Uncle Jake?" she asked, fixing him with the widest and most pleading doe eyes he'd ever seen.

He reached out and ran his hand through her hair. "I don't know yet, sweetie."

"But you're gonna come back and visit us, when you are, right?" she asked hopefully.

"Wild horses couldn't keep me away," Jensen vowed, as he wrapped his arm around his niece and held her tight. He felt Jessica scooting in from the other side of the bed and felt her arm wrapping around the two of them.

Jensen was content to stay like that for a few more minutes, but the alarm on his phone had other plans.

He groaned, then released his grip on his niece. "I guess it's time to go to the airport."

"Can I go with, mom?" Hannah begged, flipping over to face Jessica. "Please, please, please, please, pleeeeeeease?"

"If you hurry and brush your teeth."

Hannah nodded about ten times in three seconds then dashed out of the room.

A wave of dread washed through Jensen's stomach as he sat up, but he forced a smile on his face for his sister's sake.

Suddenly, Jessica's arms were around him again, pulling him into a sideways hug. "It'll all work out," she said as she dropped her head against his shoulder. "I have a good feeling about this one."

For both their sakes, Jensen hoped she was right.

Colonel Franklin Clay was sitting in the conference room, paging through the thick file in front of him. For the fourth time this year, his team was in need of another tech. After the last one the agency had sent had had a mental breakdown on the op, risking both Pooch and Roque's lives, Clay had informed his supervisor that he would be picking the next tech and that that was not up for debate.

All the candidates he'd been presented with looked good on paper, but Corporal Jacob Jensen's file stood out among the rest. Despite having an impressive technology background and annihilating his competition on the computing portion of the interview, Corporal Jensen had also put up extremely high numbers on the PFT and his range proficiency, and had survived Special Ops training, which was unusual for someone in his field.

Most of the notes in the file read that Corporal Jensen was extremely well-qualified but just hadn't "meshed". It was only his last assignment where Jensen had been accused of not doing his job and endangering the lives of his team. According to the debrief and the corresponding medical examinations, Jensen had acquired two cracked ribs and a separated wrist while retrieving mission-critical information from a company server. The rest of the team had received nothing more than minor bruises.

Clay wasn't concerned about the first few reports—a lot of his team didn't play well with others, that's why they were so great at what they did—but the report of not doing his job was something that needed to be addressed first and foremost, if Corporal Jensen was going to be a serious contender for his team.

"Enter," Clay boomed when he heard a crisp knock. The door swung open and it took exactly two seconds for Corporal Jensen's eyes to widen, and for him to glance back at the number of the door.

"Is there a problem?" Clay asked.

"No, sir," Jensen quickly responded. "I just wasn't—"

Expecting to be interviewed directly by his potential CO. In Jensen's defense, it wasn't SOP, but Clay was also taking this opportunity to see how quickly the candidates adapted to a change in circumstance.

Jensen recovered faster than the two others Clay had already interviewed. "My mistake," the tech said before he slipped into the seat across from Clay and interlaced his hands on the table. He sat there silently, only once looking over at Clay.

The Colonel rose from his seat then walked around the table. He saw Jensen tense as he stepped behind him, but Clay just reached up and disconnected the camera dangling from the ceiling. Without saying a word, he returned to his side of the table and disconnected the one above him as well, before resuming his original seat.

"Now that that's settled," Clay flipped open the topmost file, "I want to talk to you about your last op."

Jensen's expression didn't shift in the slightest. "What do you want to know, sir?"

"The report says you didn't do your job in the allotted time, which put the rest of your team at risk." Clay had done his research on all his potential techs and had watched numerous videos of Jensen at a computer; he was easily the fastest the academy had churned out in a few years, which made the statement that he had been slow on the op that much more surprising.

"The report is correct, sir."

Clay had been expecting this much—welcomed it, actually. He didn't need someone on his team who caved at the first sight of trouble. What he did need, though, was the unredacted version of what had happened on Corporal Jensen's last mission, before he could truly consider the tech for his team.

"Corporal, I'm not here to point fingers, but I need to know what really happened on your op."

"Sir, I—"

"Tell me your version, Corporal Jensen."

Jensen swallowed hard at the order, then began, "It was intel retrieval, sir. I was sent in to make a copy of the communications on the director's system. I had all the data but found something else of suspicion. I asked for more time but my comm wasn't transmitting. Williams ordered us to head out, and I tried to get what I could off the computer before leaving."

"That's when you were ambushed."

Jensen nodded.

"Made it out with two broken ribs and a separated wrist."

"Yes, sir."

"Where was the team?"

"They came back for me when I missed the rendezvous, but I was already out on my own volition."

"Colonel Williams reports the comm failure as well," Clay said, motioning to a portion of the page in front of him. Then he looked up at Jensen, who didn't look away as the two made eye contact. "It is rather unusual for the team's tech to be the one with the malfunctioning comm."

"It was unfortunate accident, sir. I won't let it happen again."

Clay mimicked Jensen's position—fingers interlaced and spine rigid—then leaned forward slightly. "Corporal Jensen, did your team turn your transmitter off?"

Jensen did his best not to appear unsettled by the question, but Clay wouldn't be in the position he was if he didn't notice the slight shift in his chair, and the small hitch in Jensen's breathing. Obviously that would need to be addressed if Jensen made the cut, but right now it clued Clay into the fact that the last mission report was a steaming pile of bullshit.

"Corporal, I swear to you nothing you say will leave the room, but I need to know what happened that night. In our line of work, I can't have someone on my team who can't perform."

That finally cracked Jensen's blank expression, but only for a brief second. "I ramble when I'm nervous," the tech said, his tone somewhat flatter than it had been previously. "Helps me focus. I was clogging up the comms." He took a quick breath then added in the same measured tone, "I take full responsibility for it, sir, and am actively working on improving myself."

Whether or not Jensen was actually rambling enough to jeopardize the mission, turning off comms was absolutely not the right call. Foster was a decent guy but was a little too results-oriented for Clay to be surprised about what Jensen had just said.

"And how did you break two ribs?"

"Was shot trying to escape."

Clay waited for Corporal Jensen to continue but, to his point earlier, he remained silent. "I assume it hit your vest, since a surgery wasn't reported?" he prompted, when Jensen still hadn't elaborated.

"Yes, sir."

"And your wrist?"

This time, Corporal Jensen seemed to sense more detail was wanted. "The impact knocked me out for a minute. Came to to find someone cuffing my wrists together. Separated it while fighting back."

"And both injuries are healed now?"

Jensen nodded. "Yes sir. Was cleared by two different doctors."

Clay looked at Jensen for a long moment then closed Jensen's file. "You're dismissed, Corporal."

Jensen's face fell for the briefest of seconds before he stood. "Thank you for this opportunity, sir," he said before he exited the room.

Through the glass inlays in the wall, Clay watched Jensen walk down the hallway and turn the far corner, before he himself walked out of the conference room and into the office of Vanessa Banks, the HR woman who was heading up the interviews.

"One mission trial with Jensen," Clay said, dropping Jensen's file on Vanessa's desk.

The dark-haired woman looked up from her computer screen and frowned up at him. "But sir, you have other interviews."

"We can revisit them after a one mission trial with Corporal Jensen."

Vanessa still looked unhappy at the change in plans but eventually she nodded. "Yes, sir. I'll have him report Friday at 0800."

"I got the assignment," Jensen informed his sister while the plane was being loaded. "I'm gonna be offline for a while. Let you know when I'm back."

Jessica must have heard the plane revving in the background since she didn't press for details. "Be safe," was all she said.

"Al-ways," Jensen drawled before locking his personal phone in the locker and making his way to the tarmac.

"Please tell me you brought another shirt," Clay said, the moment Jensen stepped off the cargo plane. The tech was wearing a long-sleeved, white button-down in the high-hundreds heat and eighty-five percent humidity.

"No, sir," Jensen said, wiping at the beads of sweat forming on his forehead. "No one told me where I was heading."

"It should have been in your briefing."

"With all due respect, sir, I assure you it wasn't." Jensen looked so miserable that Clay was actually inclined to believe him.

"We'll have that remedied next time, Corporal," Clay promised as he lead the way to their nondescript compact. "You have a preferred name?"

"Jensen is fine," the tech said as he threw his gear in the backseat then climbed into the passenger's seat.

On the way to the safe house, Clay attempted to induce the motor mouth that had caused Foster to turn off Jensen's comms—the kid was clearly refraining from saying too much, but Clay needed to know how bad the situation was to know if it could in fact be fixed. They drove with the radio off, but Jensen hardly said a word the entire trip, though Clay noticed his fingers tapping faster against the door handle as the drive went on.

Once they reached the safe house, Clay pointed out Jensen's room, then left to review the mission in the privacy of his own room. The crack under the door was large enough for him to hear Jensen quickly unpack his stuff, then plant himself at the kitchen table and begin typing up a storm.

At some point, Pooch and Cougar had greeted him. Jensen had paused long enough to stand up and presumably shake their hands, but was quick to get back to work.

Some time after that, Roque had said 'hello' but as he had with all the other new techs, gave Jensen his distance, until he was sure the new team member was here to stay.

After Jensen had spent twelve hours gathering intel and sharing it with the team, the team went out on their first mission, which went off without a hitch, mostly thanks to a critical piece of data Jensen had found, that had been copiously absent in the original data download.

The new tech had just smiled uneasily when Clay brought it up later and mumbled something about a team effort.

Clay asked for an extension on Jensen's assignment.

"They want me back," Jensen told his sister, when he was back at his apartment in Langley. Given how much time Jensen spent with them in Keene, Jessica frequently suggested Jake just move in, but Jensen had always refused, citing he'd drive them crazy. In reality, after the types of missions he'd seen, he sometimes needed time away from his family to readjust, before he could throw on a smile and be the greatest uncle ever—it said so on the mug he'd gotten for Christmas. Jessica must have read between the lines for she stopped being angry at his refusal, but never stopped asking, on the off-chance he'd change his mind.

"Jake, that's great!" she said, sounding positively thrilled.

"It's still a probationary mission so I'm not officially assigned to them." Thanks to national security, he could never tell her that he'd been released from three of his last five assignments after the first mission, so, really, his assignment being extended was a rather large step for him.

"Still, Jake, that's fantastic! I knew this assignment was going to be different." Then, as if using her sisterly powers to sense he was uncomfortable, she shifted topics. "Hannah tried out for the soccer team. Turns out she actually isn't half bad."

Jake grinned widely. "I can't wait to see her play."

Two missions later and Clay had yet to see Jensen speak enough to warrant turning off his comm. During the ops, the tech was quiet and professional, and only spoke up when he had a critical piece of intel. In fact, he and Cougar were fairly close to tied for who had spoken the fewest words out on the job.

In their downtime, though, Jensen seemed to be warming up to the rest of the team. He joined them in poker night, quickly learning that his super-cool tech wasn't something the rest of the team had wanted to gamble with, and had had to find more creative things to contribute. Obviously, he spoke, but always in very calculated amounts, even when he was excited about new weapons and upgrades to his tech.

The rest of the team seemed to be adjusting to him too. No one had burst into his room, as they had with the last tech, begging Clay to get rid of him. Pooch was decent to almost everyone, especially after they proved, as Jensen did, that they could handle themselves. Cougar was predictably silent, but Clay had seen the way he actually listened to Jensen when he spoke, which was Cougar's way of showing that he cared about what Jensen had to say; he hadn't given two shits about the drivel that had spewed from the mouth of the last tech. Roque had generally left Jensen to his own devices, until one day the SIC was complaining about having the last episode of his favorite show spoiled while buying groceries. Jensen had then offered to acquire the show, to which Clay had refused, on the ground that it could be traced.

Jensen looked personally offended and, the next morning, Clay had the last six episodes of the show he had been watching before their mission, but had never mentioned on the job because it was something of a guilty-pleasure, on his PDA. Apparently, Jensen had set Roque up too, for the second-in-command didn't leave his room for the majority of their day off.

Despite all that progress, Jensen was still sporting those ridiculous button-down shirts (both long- and short-sleeved, depending on the weather), unless he needed to be out in the field. Since it wasn't impacting the ops, Clay hadn't said anything about it, in hopes it would sort itself out as time passed. His perceived indifference gave the healthy separation between work and personal life, but it was hard to not notice how Jensen kept tugging on the hems of those shirts or at the collar, visibly uncomfortable in the way they hung. Still, Clay was decidedly not going to do anything about it, despite the one time he'd pulled footage of Jensen from the academy; there wasn't much there—obviously the computer tech's doing—but none of what remained showed Jensen in anything but a variety of truly god-awful T-shirts.

All this did was confirm Clay's theory that Jensen was doing this to fit in. No one, especially their team, had the time or energy for that.

After a "talk", which consisted of Clay practically ordering Jensen to wear something more comfortable, the tech came down to breakfast the following morning in a simple, black T-shirt.

Pooch groaned and slid Cougar a twenty across the table. The sniper just grinned lopsidedly and slid the folded bill into the band of his hat.

Jensen's eyes widened slightly at the exchange and he opened his mouth to say something—what exactly Clay wasn't sure but he was interested all the same—when Pooch just stood and clapped Jensen heartedly on the shoulder. "I was wondering if I was going to have to introduce my favorite red T-shirt into your laundry," he said. "It's too hot for all that format shit."

The corners of Jensen's mouth drifted up slightly and some of the tension leaked out of shoulders as he sat down at the table and accepted a plateful of eggs from Cougar.

"How did you know, man?" Pooch asked, turning back to Cougar as he dropped back into his own seat.

"He overheard us in the hallway last night," Clay interrupted, stealing the twenty out of Cougar's hat—which earned him a truly terrifying glare from the sniper—and handing it to Jensen on his way to the coffee.

As if prearranged, Jensen had been in the middle of brushing his decently-lengthed hair out of his face. It was a gesture Clay had seen frequently over the past few missions, which meant that, despite his haircut's unobtrusive look, it was obviously not the style Jensen was used to wearing.

"Barber," he ordered as he poured and downed a cup of sweet caffeine.

Eyes just a bit wider than normal, Jensen held the bill out to Cougar, who just shook his head and motioned for Jensen to keep it.

"I think he'd look good in thick, purple stripes," Pooch spoke up around a mouthful of bacon. "What say you, Cougs?"

"Not on my watch," Roque growled as he pushed past Pooch for the coffee.

"Purple's not my color, anyway," Jensen replied, before pocketing the money and digging into his eggs.

He did however show up for the next mission with spiky blond tips gelled vertical and the beginnings of a beard. He approached Clay cautiously, fully expecting a reprimand for his definitely non-standard haircut.

"Do you have something for me?" Clay asked, when the tech didn't speak up.

In an instant, Jensen snapped back to focus and retrieved a file folder from his bag. "All the intel I could find on Duran Enterprises." He handed the folder to Clay, who just nodded once.

"We'll meet at 1400 and discuss," Clay said before he tucked the folder under his arm and walked off.

Jensen stared at his CO's retreating figure, in slight disbelief Clay hadn't commented on his hairstyle. Sure, Clay had been the one who'd not-so-subtly told him to do something different, but the frosted tips were a far step away from a different, generic haircut. He'd taken the chance though, because if that what was going to cause him transferred, he'd rather find out now, before he really got settled in.

He'd have to see how it played out with everyone else later that day, but he couldn't help thinking Jessica might have been right about this team after all.

But then, Jensen's adjustment hit a bit of a speed bump.

After their fourth mission, Roque had had a few too many and decided they hadn't properly pranked the newbie. In Roque's slightly-skewed brain, it was his way of accepting Jensen as part of the team, but the way he went about it was less than ideal.

Unbeknownst to the rest of the team, he'd snuck into Jensen's room during the night and shaved off a part of Jensen's beard. He'd been trying to shave off more than just a few uneven patches, but in his slightly inebriated state, he didn't want to risk cutting the tech or waking him up.

Jensen discovered the missing patches in the mirror the following morning, and just shaved off what was left, under the assumption that his team was trying to send him a message. He felt rather disheartened as he did it, because he'd thought the team had finally accepted most of the weirder things about him… but if that was what was required to stay on the team, who otherwise seemed to have his back, it was a small price to pay.

"Aw, man," Pooch said as he entered the kitchen an hour later. He still reeked of alcohol and was still pretty drunk, judging by the way he rubbed at Jensen's bare jaw. "I liked the facial hair."

Jensen twisted out of Pooch's hold and elbowed him to the far side of the kitchen. "It was time to get rid of it," the tech mumbled as he pulled eggs out of the fridge and flipped on the stove.

Thankfully, Pooch didn't press and just began firing up the coffee pot.

Not five minutes later though, Roque began swearing up a storm from the other side of the house. Pooch's expression cleared in a beat and he grabbed for the gun strapped to the underside of the bar, while Jensen, whose weapon was in his room, just tightened his grip on the cast-iron pan.

Roque stormed out of room sixteen seconds later, his signature goatee completely gone. He locked eyes with Jensen and, very carefully, very slowly, asked, "Did you do this?"

"No, no, Roque, I didn't," Jensen was quick to reply. He wasn't ashamed to admit Roque scared the hell out of him on a good day—they'd reached sort of an equilibrium over the past few months, mostly by not interacting too regularly—but right now Roque looked angry enough to commit cold-blooded murder without a second thought.

By the time Jensen realized only one person on the team could have shaved off Roque's goatee without him waking, that person had stepped out of his room and planted himself between Roque and the kitchen.

"You?" Roque hissed, glaring daggers at Cougar.

"You went too far," was all the sniper said, as he calmly crossed his arms over his chest.

Roque stared at Cougar for a long moment and Jensen was seriously worried about the sniper's continued health. Beside him, Pooch slowly lowered his weapon, as his gaze danced between the Roque/Cougar showdown and the beardless Jensen and Roque. It wasn't long after that that Jensen saw the shift in his body language that knew he understood what had happened.

Finally, Roque looked away from Cougar and grumbled out a few choice words. "He looks twelve without it," he called before before he stomped into the bathroom and slammed the door behind him.

As Cougar turned around, Jensen couldn't keep the look of awe off his face. "You're insane," he finally mumbled. "It's just a beard."

"Roque doesn't mind," Cougar said, as he walked into the kitchen. That was when Jensen saw his awestruck expression mirrored in Pooch's face as well.

"I can shave it. It's not worth—"

"Your razor is already broken," Cougar interrupted. He then walked over to Jensen and wiggled the pan out of his grip. "And you're burning the eggs."

"It's back," Hannah said, as she ran her little fingers through his spiky hair, then down his chin to his neatly-trimmed beard.

Jensen smiled at her. "Yeah, it is."

Roque didn't speak to Cougar for two entire weeks but, after that, things slipped back into a shade of normal.

Though Jensen started wearing brighter and bolder shirts, some of which actually hurt Clay's eyes to look at for too long, he was still not as loud as the reports had made him out to be. But, Clay had spent all his chips on getting Jensen into not-heat-stroke-inducing T-shirts and a better hairstyle. Anything after this point would be actively construed as caring, which was not an adjective he needed to describe himself, thank you very much. And so he let Jensen remain somewhat quiet, as long as it didn't impact the missions or the team morale.

Finally, without Clay's influence, even that changed. On their eighth mission, Jensen had properly followed Pooch's instructions and built a pipe bomb, which had exploded beautifully.

As he showed up at rendezvous, where the rest of the Losers were waiting on the enclosed porch, the cloud of smoke was still visible in the sky behind him.

"Did you see that?!" he shouted, his eyes shining with excitement as he gestured at the cloud. "It was beautiful. The way it just—" he made a motion with his hands showing how the explosion had grown, "—and how it sounded—" he proceeded to make the sound effect while repeating his hand gesture.

Cackling gleefully, he spun in a full circle then turned back to face his team, who was staring wide-eyed at him.

"Uh," Jensen quickly backtracked, his excitement falling off his expression in a split second. "It was really cool, sorry," he amended in a much more level tone.

And the tech looked so borderline dejected, Clay couldn't help but speak up, despite every bone in his body begging him to stay out of it.

"Do you have something to say, Corporal?" he asked, earning surprised looked from each member of his team. He pretended not to notice Roque, Cougar or Pooch and just focused on Jensen, who raised his eyebrows slightly in question.

Clay didn't speak again. It was the perfect opening for the kid to come clean to the team, if he was in fact a talker. Clay wasn't going to push the needle one way or the other; he'd intervened enough as is.

Jensen took a deep breath, in what was clearly a 'here goes nothing' gesture, then began, "So I talk—like, a lot. It annoys a lot of people, which is why I tried not to do it around you guys to start with, but it's kinda a hallmark of my personality so it's really hard for me to do—but I can try to keep holding it back if it annoys you. I like you guys—platonically, please don't make it weird—so if that's what it takes for me to stay here, I can do it." The words practically exploded out of his mouth and were so fast the rest of the team had a hard time understanding what he'd said.

After they'd finally processed the wall of words, Roque, Clay and Pooch looked in unison toward Clay, who just shrugged. "He speaks."

Pooch then looked back at Jensen, who was watching them, obviously anxious but trying his best not to look it. "Well, okay then," was all the transpo expert said.

Jensen's gaze flicked over to Cougar, who just shrugged. He then turned to Roque, who after a brief moment, said, "As long as you keep getting me my show, I can deal."

Jensen nodded fervently then turned to Clay, awaiting the final bit of confirmation. Clay was never one to do what was expected of him and just stood there silently. Apparently Jensen realized that was all he was going to get for he let out a huge sigh of relief. "That's really great to hear."

He took another deep breath and stepped onto the porch. "Cos I've had a lot I've been holding back on these last couple months while I've been pretending to be strong and silent—well, strong I still am, silent not so much—" His voice only diminished slightly in volume as he entered the house behind Pooch and Roque and the glass plastic security door banged closed behind them.

"He's not going to stop, is he?" Cougar asked Clay, once Jensen was out of earshot.

"Doesn't seem like it."

Cougar just nodded, and if Clay wasn't mistaken, might have even smiled for half a second. "Good."

Clay made Jensen's assignment permanent that night.

Four months later…

The burlap bag was lifted roughly off Jensen's head. He blinked as his eyes adjusted to the dim lighting and, after a minute, he realized he was in a warehouse of sorts. Unfortunately, he was still duct taped to the same uncomfortable metal chair as he had been earlier.

A bald man was looming over him, in a gesture that was meant to be threatening. Jensen however had bunked with Roque recently—there was no competition between the two experiences.

"Old abandoned warehouse?" Jensen asked, turning his head as far as he could from left to right. "That's so 2008. Bad guys now are—"

He doubled over as a fist landed in his solar plexus, leaving him coughing and gagging. As soon as he could catch a breath, he was upright again, leveling the man with his most disinterested expression.

"So are you the guy they call when things go badly? Or is that someone else? If it's not you, can we just get to the—"

The meaty fist smacked into his jaw, sending his head whipping around.

Head still turned to the right, Jensen froze as something cold and metallic was pressed beneath his jaw.

"Shut up," the man warned, running the blade along Jensen's throat. He wasn't pressing hard enough to draw blood, but was hard enough to be threatening. That Jensen could worry about.

But then, the walkie on the man's shoulder squawked a stream of Russian Jensen didn't understand, nor did he need to. He heard a commotion outside the loading dock and read the concern in the man's expression.

"What is that?" the man demanded, gesturing with the knife toward the door. It was a rookie mistake, that could be useful, if only Jensen could free himself from the duct tape.

Before he could slide his wrist free, though, the man turned back to him and pointed the knife at Jensen's chest. "Answer me!" he roared.

That was when Jensen was a red dot appear on the man's chest, right over his heart.

"That," Jensen said, motioning with his head toward the dot and smiling so widely he reopened his previously split lip, "is my team."