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Puppet on a String

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There’s this thing Jake sees in his dreams. It’s big, grey, and ugly, haphazardly spotted but not like a piebald, nothing like a natural coat. More like decay, necrosis. The walking definition of disease. It’s kind of like… well, like the Hulk; towering, loud, terrifying. Blocking rationality, blocking the signals in his brain, making him an animal, a slave to instinct. 

 

Sometimes it chases him, through alleys and across busy streets, car horns blaring at them in their cat and mouse game, too bright, reflective off his sweat-slick glasses. Damn thing would bear down on him on the playground or at the movies, anywhere he’d try to run, hide, and fit in. It never mattered who was around or who saw it. It wasn’t like Pennywise the Clown, it fucking existed even if you weren’t staring right at it. 

 

Sometimes it ate him. Those nights were bad. 

 

Sometimes it made him watch as it destroyed his friends and family. Those nights were even worse.

 

Cougar used to coax the story out of him. If Cougar had been awake or awakened by Jake’s distress or on watch, he’d turn his intense brown eyes on Jake and force him to talk about it. Once, after a particularly bad night, Jensen had nearly lost it, had actually thrown a shoe at Cougar in frustration for needling him and forcing him to talk about his dreams when all he’d wanted to do was talk about video games or TV shows or trivia or anything but that damned spotted monster. That’s when Cougar had explained that some more traditional Mexican families were superstitious about dreams, how they had to be given voice, or else they’d haunt you. Cougar hadn’t inherited that kind of superstitious thinking, not exactly, but he also believed it was better to be safe than sorry. Else how could he have survived as long as he had?

 

Like he ever talked about his shit. Fucking hypocritical fucker. 

 

Whether brought on by PTSD or just plain life experience, Jake’s never cared. The damn dreams had plagued him since before he’d gone to boot camp, since he was a kid being beaten by his father on the regular, so what the hell does it matter? They just are.  

 

After Bolivia, after Roque, they’d gotten worse. After Max was gone, though, things got better for a while. He’d gone home to his sister and his niece, taken an under-the-table job in network management for an anti-government agency - because after everything that had happened, after clearing their names, after losing Clay and Roque and goddamn Cougar, Jensen doesn’t trust the government as far as he can throw them - and he’d been… happy. Ish. Digging into the C.I.A.’s secrets is fun, no doubt, (and also, fuck them), but he misses the unit he’d spent five years with. Roque had been pushed to his limit, Clay’d paid for his revenge with his life, and Cougar… 

 

Well. Jake misses his best friend something fierce

 

But he has his family. Jess and Beth are there, half an hour’s drive from where Jensen’d bought a nice house on a nice street in a nice neighborhood, the picture of domestic contentment. Jolene, Pooch, and the pup live two and a half hours away, and they see each other often enough. So overall, life is pretty good. 

 

But now the nightmares are back, and Jake’s gotta say, he’s not a fan. Almost a decade has gone by, and suddenly they’re back? And fucking Cougar’d never talked about his nightmares – Jake knows he had them, they all fucking did – and n=2 doesn’t count as data but god damn if Cougs hadn’t died and Jake’s dumb ass is still here. So maybe there’s something to the whole ‘talk about your bad dreams’ shit and Jake should be seeking out… what, therapy? He’s fucking been there, done that, has the tramp stamp to prove it and everything.

 

After a month of hell-riddled sleep, he decides to spend a weekend with his sister and niece. It’s summer, so he’ll get to spend a lot of time with little Beth, who is hardly little anymore, rapidly approaching adulthood and in need of someone to wrangle her. Without a father figure, Jess has been feeling like she’s in over her head.

 

Jake, though… Jake is not great when it comes to this sort of thing, at being a family man. He hadn’t exactly had good role models growing up, and had honestly thought he’d die in combat some day. Not that he’d be opposed to trying. ‘Normal’ had always been a nice thought, if seemingly unrealistic. 

 

He still comes to visit and does his best, which is what counts, and it keeps the demons at bay for the most part. Still, he doesn’t want to be dependent upon his family for all of his emotional support needs. That’s putting too much on them. 

 

He needs a fucking hobby.

 

After a week of staying in their guest bedroom, Jake wakes up gasping in the early morning hours after yet another fucking nightmare, this time one where his sister and niece had been tortured to death while Jake was tied down and made to watch. He forces himself out of bed and grabs a glass of water, then morosely stares at the wall for an unknown period of time. 

 

Sometime around five a.m., Jess comes downstairs and sits next to him on the couch. The only sound is the ticking of the clock on the living room wall. Jess puts her arm around Jake and pulls him down to her shoulder, runs his fingers through his hair, longer now than it used to be, not spiked but soft, silky, kind of flopping over his face in a sometimes-coquettish way - or so he fancies. He sighs and relaxes, and the silence is companionable for a long while.

 

But he’d known she couldn’t let it lie. She’s his sister, after all. These apples might have blown far away from the tree in like, an F5 or something, but they flew there together.

 

“Tell me about it.”

 

“I don’t wanna,” he says, turning to her shoulder and mumbling.

 

“Maybe you should, Jake. How long has it been bothering you?”

 

He’s silent for several moments. Thinks about lying. Telling her nothing’s wrong, though she wouldn’t buy that. Telling her it’s no big deal.

 

In the end, he opts for honesty. There’s no Cougar to talk to anymore. Hasn’t been for a long time.

 

“Couple months now.”

 

“That why you came here?”

 

“Hey! I resent that. I want to spend time with you guys.”

 

She snorts unattractively, so much like him it hurts sometimes. Cougs used to laugh at him for that, and Pooch would swear he’d seen snot fly across the room. “Usually you spend a long weekend. Not a full week with no end in sight.”

 

“So what, you kickin’ me out?”

 

“Don’t be ridiculous. Any more than you already are,” she amends. “I’m glad you’re here. Beth is, too. Goodness knows I need some help keepin’ an eye on her. But this isn’t about me, Jake.” She pulls away and looks at him imploringly, begging with her worried eyes to tell him what’s wrong. And he wants to tell her, but he’s not even sure what to say.

 

What is wrong?

 

“It’s nothing major,” he says reluctantly. “It’s just… feels like throwback hour.” He rubs the back of his neck subconsciously, suddenly feeling stupid. “Those nightmares I had back when we were kids… they never left me. Not until after Max. Then I had a few years of peace, finally felt like I had my fucking head on straight. But they’re coming back, more and more often. And I feel so… alone, I guess.”

 

Jess purses her lips, looks less than impressed. “Have you even dated anyone in the last eight and a half years?”

 

Jake rolls his eyes; of course she’d go there. “How is that even relevant?”

 

“I know you had a thing for him, Jake,” she says gently, like she’s letting him down easy.

 

He bangs his head against the back of the couch. It’s fluffy so it’s not a very effective maneuver. “Jesus, you’re going there? Really?”

 

“You’ve gotta move on sometime.” Which yeah, okay, that’s reasonable, but it’s not the issue here. Is it? Just because he still misses Cougar, will always miss Cougar, doesn’t mean he’s carrying a flame for a guy nearly a decade gone. That would be pathetic. Like, Captain America in Endgame levels of pathetic. Anyone with a brain could see that he should've moved on and gotten with Bucky. Problem is, Jake doesn't have another or new best friend to call home.

 

“I haven’t found anyone interesting.”

 

“Have you tried?”

 

No. “Maybe.”

 

“Uh-huh.” She sounds skeptical; of course she does. He can’t hide fucking anything from his twin sister. How the hell does she even know about Cougar? No one had ever known about that.

 

“Just let it go, Jess. It’s bigger than romantic partnership.”

 

“How the hell am I supposed to take care of my baby brother if he won’t tell me what’s going on then?”

 

“I’m seven minutes younger than you,” he grumbles.

 

“You need to get out there and date.”

 

There’s a hint of steel in her tone, of finality. She’s not going to take no for an answer on this. More stubborn than Cougar sometimes. 

 

“Fine.” He doesn’t have the energy to argue about it. “But don’t you dare set me up with your single mom friends.”

 

She raises an eyebrow and gives him a warning look. Uh-oh. “Is there something wrong with single moms? Don’t want a woman who’s all used-up, is that it?”

 

“Oh, for fuck’s… come off it, Jessica.”

 

Surprisingly, she laughs. It’s a pretty sound. He fucking loves her. 

 

“Then you tell me,” she says, still amused. “I don’t know how to date anyone these days, either.”

 

“Fucking shit, you don’t date. Hypocrites. I’m surrounded by hypocrites.”

 

“Fine,” she says with an exasperated frown. “I’ll go with you.”

 

“You can’t date your own brother.”

 

“On a double date, you little shit. Or speed dating!”

 

Jensen groans. “I guess it’s all the same. Sure, why not.”

 

Jess pumps her fist in victory. “Then I’ll set it up!”

 

“Glad you’re so excited about it,” he mutters, lying on his back as Jess gets up from the sofa. It hurts every time he stretches and he’s not getting any younger. 

 

“I’m going back to sleep for a few hours. Don’t let the existential dread get you, bro.”

 

“Yep,” he says sarcastically. “Existential crises absolutely listen to reason, that’s why I’m here, happy and well-adjusted.”

 

“Good night!” she responds sweetly. 

 

He puts the pillow over his head and wonders how the hell he’d gotten here.

 

***

 

 

The dating thing is… weird. Jess picks a service that specifically introduces bisexuals in order to ‘broaden your possibilities!’ as the ad had put it. He and Jess are both mostly into men, but intelligence and kindness are far more important than what is or isn’t hanging between a significant other’s legs. 

 

But everyone is so weird . There are a lot of single parents, of course, which doesn’t bother Jensen on its face, he’s just not sure he’d make a good dad. He adores kids, always has, but raising one? God, what a nightmare. He’d fuck a kid up without even meaning to - in fact, that’s kind of his view on parenthood in general, fucking your kids up in your own special way. So much responsibility. Awesome, in its own way, but he’d rather be the fun uncle, so it’s kind of a… limiting reagent, if he had to put a name to it. 

 

There’s a cute accountant with no kids in her mid-thirties, big career type, smart as hell, donates to charity, blah blah blah. He’s tempted, it’s just… she doesn’t do anything for him. On paper, she’s perfect, but he doesn’t feel… it. The Thing(™).

 

It’s depressing.

 

When he sits across the table from Jess, she grins at him with a sparkle in her eye. 

 

“What?” he asks, rolling his eyes.

 

“You look like you’re having fun.” She gives him a speculative once-over. “Find anyone interesting?” 

 

“Um…”

 

“I saw you looking at that redhead,” she continues, picking at her cuticle, all false nonchalance. “She seems nice.”

 

“She is,” he says sincerely. 

 

“Buuuut?” Jess asks, drawing it out. 

 

“I don’t know,” he admits. “Maybe.”

 

“Okay. She’s totally into you though. Just so you know.”

 

“Thanks, Jess,” he says, and means it.

 

After the third or fourth potential date, people he should be attracted to but feels nothing for, he’s at his wit’s end and barely pays attention to the last couple of prospects. Afterward, there’s punch and crackers so people can mingle and exchange numbers if they so choose. The accountant approaches him, and he half-heartedly flirts with her, wishing to heaven he could feel something, any thing. Five minutes of this torture pass before he excuses himself to the bathroom.

 

Jensen wants to scream at the mirror. What the hell is happening to him? 

 

Maybe it’s time for a little self-reflection. 

 

Once he puts his mind to the question, it doesn’t take him long to realize that these people just don’t have much shared life experience - corporate jobs on the up-and-up, no military experience at all, let alone the shit he’s been through. The second date, or the third, or maybe he’d get away with the fourth - his date would find out. Former fugitive, burned by the C.I.A. Involved in two major domestic terror incidents on United States soil. Sure, Jensen and crew had been exonerated, even given medals for their service. But who’s gonna want to date someone like that?

 

Jess is going to smack him upside the head and say, “Start with that pretty accountant and find out, dumbass.”

 

Jesus.

 

He pokes his head out of the door and sees that the accountant has left. Relief floods him, followed by a bucket of guilt. He catches Jess’ eye from across the room. She’s been talking to another one of his possible choices, some guy named Chad who’s a decade older than them. From what he’s seen so far, Chad might be worthy of his sister, laid back where they are energetic, content where they are ambitious. He’s happy for her; seeing her wide smile puts one on his face, too. 

 

But she rolls her eyes when she sees him peeking. He tries to wave it away - go on, I’ll wait for you - but she’s having none of it. Great, ruining his sister’s chances at finding happiness, too. 

 

Once a Loser, always a Loser.

 

She exchanges numbers with Chad, kisses his cheek, even, then grabs Jensen by the wrist and pulls him out to the parking lot, and Christ , she’s strong. 

 

“You are such a pain in the ass, you know that?”

 

“Don’t tell me what to do. You’re not my girlfriend.”

 

For a second, he thinks she’s going to hit him, but then she sighs and opens her car’s passenger door, bowing at him in a grand gesture. “Oh Lordship, I am your humble servant, not your girlfriend. I’d never deign to presume such high status. Please allow me to be your chauffeur.”

 

“You’re an asshole.”

 

She leans in and kisses him on the forehead. “And I’m officially renaming you Grumpy Dwarf.”

 

Jess tries her hardest to convince Jensen that he should get in touch with the redhead. He promises her that he’s just being morose, that he’ll think about it when he’s in a better headspace. Her sideways glance tells him that she knows better, but she’s dropping it for now. He loves her so damn much it hurts.

 

That pain gets him through the night without nightmares.

 

***

 

Jake feels a bit more like a human being the following morning. He gets up early and cooks his niece and sister breakfast. It’s Saturday and Jess is sleeping in for once. 

 

Beth comes tumbling down the stairs as soon as she smells bacon cooking, which would make her his favorite niece even if he had ten of them, because rubbing one’s face in bacon grease is a Jensen family tradition. 

 

“Uncle Jake! Why are you awake?”

 

“... It’s morning?” 

 

She rolls her eyes and steps in from behind to grab him in a big hug. The kid’s almost as tall as he is now, long and strong and lean from playing soccer. He fervently hopes that she gets that scholarship she’s been eyeing. The recruiters have been actively watching her, so Jake is hopeful. 

 

Anyway, she’s an eyeful. Gorgeous girl. He’s gonna murder any boy who gets within ten feet of her. 

 

She giggles at him, probably able to read his goddamn mind just like her mother. “Mom’s gonna miss you when you’re gone, you know. If you ever leave.”

 

He turns around from the stove and gives her an indignant stare. She ignores him and sits at the bar that separates the living room from the kitchen. “Oh, not you, too.” 

 

Beth just giggles some more, then throws her head back and laughs when the grease gets a bit too hot and lands on his forearm when he’s not paying attention. “You shouldn’t curse in front of the kid, you know.”

 

“Why am I related to you?” he laments, paying more attention to the bacon now that it’s decided to attack him.

 

A pregnant silence greets his rhetorical question. He’d been expecting her to make some witty remark in response, but he gets the feeling she’s deep in thought instead. He lets her have the time to consider what she wants to say while he continues wrangling the aggressive food. But the curses continue, because he’s a grown adult and he can do what damn well pleases, thank you very much.

 

“I know you’re leaving soon,” she says suddenly, dead serious and a little worried. “I just want you to be happy, Uncle Jake.”

 

He’s quiet for a few minutes, considering his response. It’s hard to remember sometimes that she’s nearly an adult, capable of understanding nuance and starting to read between the lines. 

 

“I’m sorry you can tell I’m not,” he finally says, deciding to be honest. “I don’t want to lay that at your feet.”

 

She scoffs again, so much like her mother. “Don’t be stupid.”

 

“Why not? What do you think got me this far?”

 

“Point,” she says. “Still… you’re avoiding the subject, you know.”

 

“Yeah,” he sighs. “I’m gonna go somewhere. Not sure where yet, but I know I need to get away from here for a while.”

 

“Mom told me it’s hard to adjust to civilian life after the military. That must be rough.”

 

You have no idea, kid. “I’ve done better than many, Beth. I’m lucky.”

 

“You’re strong ,” she insists. 

 

Jensen actually blushes, feels the hot blood rush to his face. “Who made you so smart, Bethy?” Well, empathetic is what he really means, but saying that might be too close to breakdown territory in this sudden state of vulnerability. That’s the downside to being honest.

 

“Mom,” she says, like it’s the most obvious thing in the world. “I got the good genes, from our side of the family.”

 

“Yeah,” Jake responds with a chuckle, “your dad wasn’t the brightest crayon in the litter, that’s for sure.”

 

“Well, clearly neither are you. Crayons go in a box , Jake.”

 

“And the litter is in the box.”

 

He can practically hear her roll her eyes. “When’s the bacon gonna be done? I’m starving.”

 

“Jeez, it takes a lot of work to create perfection. Go get your mom up. It’ll be served by the time her lazy ass makes it down here.”

 

She bounds back up the stairs, all youthful energy. She’s fucking great, too. Wherever he goes and whatever happens to him in this next stage of his life - for that’s what he needs, a fresh start, he can see that now - at least he’ll have them waiting back home. He wasn’t kidding when he’d said he’s been lucky.

 

***

 

Two days later, Jake’s on a plane to Brussels. 

 

Since the Losers’ unit had been mainly responsible for missions in South America, he figures it’s time to see Europe. Lovely ladies, dashing men, excellent cuisine, wine galore, the opportunity to see the sights for cheap… sounds like a grand old time. 

 

Jess had helped him plan the trip, or at least a loose itinerary - one never knows what one will find on an impromptu trip across western Europe, after all. She’d grinned at him knowingly when he mentioned his first stop. 

 

He’s not ashamed. Fucking waffles are the best, and he’ll stand by that until the day he dies. 

 

Turns out, the real thing blows the American version out of the water. It’s like heaven in his mouth. When that thought is followed by and the only thing better would be the heavy weight of a cock on my tongue , he knows it’s beyond time to get laid. 

 

Jensen gets a little slutty after that, and doesn’t care in the slightest. The girls are sweet, the guys handsome. It feels good to be intimate with someone after so long. He hadn’t exactly been celibate after going home, but his past and identity had hung over his head, and getting that close to someone had no longer appealed to him. Here, there is freedom in anonymity. No expectations, just an occasional night of passion. Combined with the wine, the countryside, the welcoming attitude of the people… even his terrible French accent, which at one point brings an entire room to its knees with laughter, it’s so bad… the weight he’s been carrying for so long starts to lift. 

 

He should’ve done this a long time ago.

 

Jake spends a lot of time in Italy and France before heading to Spain. Hearing the language is bittersweet because it reminds him so much of Cougs. The sniper been born in the States, the product of a Spanish businessman and a hardworking Mexican immigrant. The family had flown between Spain and Mexico often. He’d mostly identified as Mexican, simply because his mother had had so much extended family who were around all the time, but Cougar’d also been proud of his Spanish heritage. The funniest part about it had been that his accent - or so he’d explained to Jensen once with a rueful smile - was some odd mishmash of Mallorcan Spanish and its Mexican cousin that got him funny stares everywhere he went. 

 

He chuckles at the memory while sitting at an outdoor cafe somewhere in Barcelona. Maybe he’ll take a boat over to Mallorca and see the sights. Maybe he needs to put Cougar’s ghost to rest. He’d thought he had, but… Jess had planted that idea in his head, and she’s usually pretty perceptive. Might as well try, anyway. 

 

Jake’s leaning back in his chair people-watching when a face across the patio catches his eye. He sits up fast, nearly bumping into the table in his shock, because that… that can’t be. It’s impossible. 

 

But the man turns his head to the side, looking off into the distance, and it’s unmistakable. That sharp jaw, regal nose, even the chestnut color of his hair in the bright sun… that should be enough, but it’s not what seals the deal.

 

It’s the damn scar underneath his left ear. 

 

Jensen remembers that day like it was yesterday. It hadn’t been the closest Cougar had ever come to death, not by a longshot, but it was the scariest. The bullet had grazed him close enough to burn; Jensen could’ve sworn he had smelled it. Cougar had been running between cover positions about a hundred meters away, Jensen with his eyes pressed close to the binoculars, when a shot had rung loud and Cougar had dropped like a sack of potatoes. 

 

Jensen had nearly had a heart attack then and there. 

 

He’d jumped out of cover, to the dismay of his CO and SIC. Roque had undoubtedly saved his ass, harassing the sniper who’d hit Cougar long enough for Jensen to grab Cougar and pull him to cover. 

 

One look at his best friend’s brown eyes had been enough for the relief to nearly knock him over. Jensen’s pretty sure that Cougar had learned in that moment exactly how Jake had felt, if he hadn’t already known, but Jensen hadn’t given a shit at the time, nor does he now. When it comes to Cougar, his only regret is having left him behind. 

 

That scar… he can’t take his eyes off it. This is either a hallucination, in which case Jensen’s next stop is the looney bin - do-not-pass-go-do-not-collect-two-hundred-dollars, thank-you-very-much - or it’s Carlos Alvarez in the flesh, alive and healthy by the looks of it. 

 

Jensen tries to swallow, but his mouth’s gone dry as brittle old bones. A million thoughts rush through his head at once. Should he make contact? Should he hide, slink off and drink himself into a stupor? Would Cougar even recognize him, nine years older, with the full beard he’s grown on his trip and tired eyes?

 

In the end, Cougar answers the question for him. Jake watches, transfixed, as he takes a long sip of his beer and swallows, adam’s apple bobbing up and down in some inexplicably pornographic way. He spends a moment staring contemplatively at the table before appearing to reach a decision.

 

And he gets up, looks straight at Jake , and walks toward him.

 

The saunter is the same, the sinuous grace of a predator crossed with a well-honed machine, that weird amalgamation of danger that had always been Cougar . Seeing it gives Jake feelings, like about a million of them, stacked on top of each other like pancakes. His mind is drenched in syrup, thoughts sticky and inaccessible. His heart is jackrabbiting in his throat, sensing the danger of a trained sniper focused on him and him alone, those instincts never having been put to rest. Not to mention it’s Cougar

 

Cougar who should be dead. Cougar who he’d buried long ago. 

 

Yeah, it’s full fight-or-flight time, except that he seems to be doing the very thing adrenaline is designed to stop someone from doing - freeze. His eyes are glazed, stuck, god fuck he’s gotta be staring death in the face right now. Literally. 

 

He opens his mouth to speak, something, anything , but Cougar gets to his table and sits down before he can, then leans forward and places a single finger over Jake’s mouth. This feels like the longest Jake’s been speechless since he’d hidden from those terrorists in the jungle eleven… no, twelve years ago.

 

Cougar chuckles, that rich sound that still gives Jensen goosebumps. “You’re gonna catch flies with your mouth open like that.”

 

Jake shuts it with a harsh click of teeth, keeping it shut when Cougar removes his finger and casually signals the waiter for another beer. 

 

He looks good. He’s wearing a thin white collared shirt underneath a black cardigan, and a gold necklace adorned with a crucifix, the same one he’d always worn in defiance of Army policy. His hair’s pulled back into a ponytail, still long, with little wisps that have escaped the tie in the slight breeze. There’s silver in his beard, a few more lines around his eyes than there used to be, but this only serves to make him appear more distinguished. He’s not old enough to be considered a silver fox just yet, but he’s aging gracefully, well on his way there. The only odd thing about the whole ensemble is the snakeskin pants. Which, okay, shouldn’t give Jensen the chills like this. They’d be tacky on anybody else, but on Cougar… 

 

Looks like even after disappearing, letting Jensen believe he was dead… after everything, the longing hasn’t gone away. 

 

So Jess had been right, and Jake isn’t anywhere near over Cougar. Damn.

 

Cougar keeps staring at him as though drinking in the sight, like he’d maybe missed Jake just as much as Jake had missed him… but that’s impossible, because why the hell hadn’t Cougar just fucking come to see him?

 

Jake’s angry and happy. He’s still painfully in love. He’s confused and hurt. He’s ecstatic. 

 

He’s a mess.

 

“I know what you’re gonna say,” Cougar says with a small smile. 

 

“Well, I don’t.” Jensen intends the words to sound as bitter and aggressive as he feels, but they sound bewildered and lost instead. Which is, to be fair, also how he feels.

 

“Cat got your tongue for once?”

 

Jensen puts his hands over his face and closes his eyes to shut out the apparent Twilight Zone that is now his life. He stays like that for several seconds, focusing on his breathing, before daring a peek. He’d fully expected Cougar to be gone, an apparition brought on by Jensen’s still-present longing and slightly messed-up brain, but nope - he’s not gonna have to check himself into a mental hospital just yet, because Cougar’s still fucking there, looking at him like he’s the answer to life’s problems, life, the universe, and everything, the number 42 itself, the best thing Cougar’s ever seen. 

 

“I just don’t know what to say,” he begins. “This is impossible. You’re here, sitting right fucking… Jesus, you’re right here … but you died. You had thirty seconds to escape that blast and you were shot, you… you were already… “ His voice cracks. “I’m not lookin’ a gift horse in the mouth here, you gotta know that, but this is so… it’s un fair. How dare you do this to me?”

 

Cougar has the grace to look ashamed. His skin flushes a little, and he looks down at the table. Jensen pastes on a fake smile as the waiter drops off their beverages. He takes a long swallow of beer before looking back at his ex-teammate and ex(?)-best friend, who’s wearing such a bittersweet look it nearly breaks Jensen’s fragile heart into pieces. 

 

“I can imagine you are angry,” Cougar starts, and Jensen chuckles sarcastically: you think ? “It’s nothing bad, I swear. It’s just…” He glances to the side, once more revealing his beautiful profile. He’s downright ethereal . It’s unreal. “I barely made it out of the blast zone. Found a hatch into an underground tunnel. Didn’t think I’d make it, but… I was far enough under, the radiation didn’t touch me. The blast knocked me out. I lost consciousness. Thought that was the end.”

 

“And?” Jensen prompts when it becomes clear Cougar’s not going to keep going on his own.

 

“I woke up in a hospital. No idea how. Still don’t know, but I suspect Aisha.” 

 

That makes sense. Aisha, like Clay, had been so focused on vengeance she couldn’t see the bigger picture, but she’d never been hateful toward any of them. In another life, she might’ve fit right in. She’d grown on Jensen for sure, though Cougar had never seemed to forgive her for shooting him. God, Cougar’s face when he’d patched up Jensen’s arm… had he ever shown so much frustrated anger?

 

“I was in bad shape, Jake. I was there for six months. Ten surgeries. I died twice. They brought me back.”

 

“Fuck,” Jake whispers. “Why didn’t you tell me?”

 

“Honestly, I didn’t know how to get ahold of you. I was still dead to the government as far as I knew. Who could I call?”

 

“You knew my sister’s address. You knew where I lived, where Pooch lived! That’s no excuse , Cougs!”

 

Jake realizes his voice has risen to unacceptable public levels when several people nearby turn to look at him. He bites his tongue hard enough to taste blood and looks down at the table, at his knuckles turning white with the tightness of his grip. 

 

“I know,” Cougar says quietly. “But I was out six months, and I thought… you moved on. Both of you. You wouldn’t want to see me, bring it all back.”

 

Jensen squeezes his eyes shut at the continued onslaught of what-the-fuckery. “You’re a moron,” he groans. “How could you even think I wouldn’t want... “

 

“Not sure,” Cougar responds, and Jake can tell it’s with genuine honesty. “I was in a bad way. Not just physically. Maybe I thought it was better for me to move on.”

 

That… really fucking hurts, but at the same time, Jake gets it. That kind of injury is enough to break a person, and without the support of his teammates and all the emotional baggage that comes with being out of the line of fire after being in it for so long… Cougar hadn’t been thinking right, but by the time he’d gotten out of that hole, it was too late. Moving on is sometimes the best a person can do. 

 

Proof: Jensen himself. 

 

Cougar’s looking at him with such tenderness Jake can’t even meet his eyes. “Can we start over?” he asks quietly. The hope in his voice nearly undoes Jake. “I should have tried harder. I know.”

 

Jensen sniffs back the sudden onslaught of tears that want to ruin his day. He’s looking at the table when he responds, “You know, I think this is the most I’ve ever heard you say at once.” Cougar makes a noise of assent. “Guess it’s easier to talk when it doesn’t feel like the world’s ending.”

 

“Guess so.”

 

They finish their beers in silence. Jensen watches the sky as the sun sets, losing himself in the colorful hues, the plays of blue and red and orange that blend to reflect his mood. He lets Cougar pay - fucking least the guy can do, after completely dismantling Jensen like he’s nothing more than a rifle - and then Cougar offers his hospitality for the evening. Jake’s hesitant, but Cougar can be very persuasive when he wants to be, and the truth is that Jake misses him so fucking much he doesn’t want to argue the point. Hell, he can’t really argue it, exhausted as he is. 

 

***

 

Cougar lives in a little flat only a few miles from the cafe. It’s sparsely decorated, nothing like Jensen’s junk heap of a place. The walls are a smooth cream color, adorned with tasteful art that goes together like maybe Cougar had been moonlighting as an interior decorator his whole life. The furniture matches the art and even has a feng shui vibe. 

 

Jensen fancies this is what it’s like to live in Cougar’s mind. Quiet. Humble. Just walking in feels like taking a weight off. Cougar deserves a solid punch or two to the gut for leaving Jake alone for a decade… but this is exactly what Jensen had needed, this peace he’s been missing for so long. It’s enough to make a guy believe in a higher power.

 

He carefully removes his shoes in the foyer before stepping on the luxurious white carpet. If this had been his home, he’d have destroyed it within the first week. He’s almost afraid to step over to the couch, the place is so pristine. Cougar’s bed is probably made military-style, too. 

 

“Well, you have always been a neat freak, so I shouldn’t be surprised.” 

 

Cougar sits at the other end of the couch and looks at him with a shrug. “Not here much.”

 

“Yeah? What do you do?”

 

“Hiking. Fishing. I head out to Palma every weekend to see family.”

 

“Right. I’m surprised you aren’t there instead of here.”

 

“It’s expensive.”

 

“So what are you doing for work?”

 

“Manage military security operations. Private contractor. They don’t ask questions about my past as long as I do my job.” 

 

Jensen has no doubt he does it well. “So what, no wife? Cougs, I figured you’d be married with three or four little ones by now. I remember how good you were with... “

 

Los angelitos ?” Cougar asks quietly. “They were sweet. We all deserved better than we got, especially them. But it’s Max, no? Not our fault.”

 

“Took me a long time to work through that,” Jensen says, staring at his hands, not sure what to do with them. Not ready to talk about this yet, either. It’s odd being with Cougar like this - a decade after his death, meeting as civilians. Hell, sitting on his plush couch like he’d never picked up a gun in his life, like he’d never watched a helicopter full of children crash to the ground. Surrounded by the scent of him, that inexplicable Cougar smell. So familiar and strange all at once.  

 

Cougar nods slightly. “Me, too. But I did.”

 

Jensen clears his throat. “You smile more,” he mumbles. “Talk more, too. Hell, you seem downright happy.”

 

“Time changes people, Jake,” Cougar responds gently. And there’s the crux of his unease, really. Maybe he doesn’t belong here. As much as he feels like this is right, that this is what he’s supposed to be doing, that he was maybe - heaven help him - led here, he can’t impose on Cougar’s life like this. Just fucking look what leaving the team has done for him.

 

He stares at his hands, wondering at the way they shake. Not once had they done that while lining up a shot. Like killing a man is easier than talking to his own best friend. “Never answered my question.”

 

“About a wife?”

 

“Duh.”

 

Cougar raises an eyebrow and gives Jensen his patented ‘Jake is being a dumbass again’ look, and lord help him but he’s missed it. Seems like only yesterday Cougs was giving him the same look when he… well. When it was time to go. When Cougar had wanted him to go. It fucking stings. Still. 

 

At any rate, Jensen can usually figure out what he’s being a dumbass about. Not this time around, though. 

 

“What’s the face for?” he asks, scratching his head like it’ll help him figure it out somehow. “What did I miss?”

 

“Jake,” Cougar sighs. “Why do you think I went back to Spain instead of Mexico?”

 

“Uh… I don’t know?” He really, honestly doesn’t. 

 

Hermano , how well did we know each other?”

 

“Well, I mean, there was that one time we double-teamed a girl, so… pretty well, I think.”

 

Cougar’s nostrils flare, though the rest of his face remains neutral. Whether that’s out of exasperation or humor or… whatever, Jake’s not sure. It’s been a long time since he’s had to read Cougar’s language. Sue him if he’s out of practice.

 

“Give me a hint,” he begs, really wanting to understand.

 

Cougar shakes his head, and there’s definitely a glint of amusement in his eyes. “How did you not know I’m gay?” he asks softly.

 

The ceiling might as well have crashed down on Jensen’s head. He feels poleaxed, buried under rubble. He’d thought there was no way today could hold any more surprises. Apparently he’d been wrong. Like, Cougar. Ladies’ man Cougar, destroyer-of-hearts-the-world-over Cougar. Sexy bad boy Cougar. 

 

“You’re… “ 

 

“Yes,” Cougar says simply. Like this kind of proclamation has anything to do with simple.

 

“But you’ve been with… “

 

“Yes. Keeping up appearances, mostly. I like women okay. Spain is better than Mexico. Less pressure to be someone I’m not.”

 

Jensen’s eyes squeeze shut. He has absolutely fucking lost it, like, is this really fucking happening? “I’m still not sure you’re not a hallucination, and that little tidbit of information did not help matters.”

 

“I’m real,” Cougar says, voice laced with amusement. “As real as any of us are, at least.”

 

Oh no. No no no you don’t. Bringing up philosophy I taught you. Man, what a day.”

 

“Never talked much. I always listened, though. Others thought you just ran your mouth for no reason. But what you had to say was important. It mattered to me.”

 

Jensen had been wondering where his breaking point lies, and now he has his answer. The tears stream down his face unbidden, unwelcome, and unstoppable. When his breath starts to stutter and he can no longer fight back the urge to keen like a toddler, he grabs Cougar by the collar and pulls him in. Cougar goes willingly, wraps his arms around Jensen’s back and holds him tight while he shakes apart. 

 

“I’m sorry, Jake. So much.”

 

“How could you do this to me?” Jake whines between hitching breaths. “Come back from the dead and not tell me. I’d have never known if I hadn’t run into you. You asshole .” He’s angry, so angry, and they both know it, but he tightens his grip in Cougar’s shirt and climbs into his lap, curling himself into a ball in order to fit. 

 

“Maybe it’s meant to be, Jake,” Cougar says against his hair. “Always gonna happen like this.”

 

It’s so strange to hear Cougar mirror his thoughts so closely. Jake’s not used to that anymore. His occasional sobs and heavy breathing are all that fill the air for several minutes as he mulls this over. What does Cougar mean by that? Just that they were made to find each other again, that’s gotta be it. Not like they’re… soulmates or whatever, like some crazy fanfiction trope. 

 

What if they are, though? They could practically read each other’s minds before, and now they’ve found each other again, and… well, Cougar hadn’t tracked him down the way he would if he’d really wanted Jake, so… maybe they’re not… but god, fuck, how Jake wants. ..

 

Cougar nudges him gently, breaking him out of the spiral of his thoughts. “You should sleep.”

 

“It’s not even nine,” Jake argues before yawning for about fifteen seconds. Fuck, he’s exhausted. The last time he remembers feeling this strung out was that one time in Argentina where he’d been shot a few scant millimeters from his femoral artery and had to stumble up and down what had felt like eighty million hills before rescue. 

 

“Sleep when you have to. You don’t have to run yourself into the ground anymore.”

 

Is that what he’s been doing? Running himself ragged? Sure, he doesn’t sleep much, but he’s always been that way, mind working too hard and fast to let sleep overtake him easily. Is that’s what’s causing the nightmares? Seems kinda counterproductive, brain.

 

“Sleep, Jake,” Cougar says in a firmer voice. “I’ll give you my bed. Come on.”

 

Jake really, really wants to argue that - it’s so unfair to Cougar to kick him out of his own damn bed - but he’s too fucking tired to even keep his eyes open at this point. Even if he could, since they’re mostly crusted shut from the frankly embarrassing amount of tears he’d shed. Shit, he hasn’t cried like that since… well. Since Cougar had died. 

 

Cougar half stands up with Jake in his arms, but he puts a stop to that right away. “I can get there myself, thank you,” he grumbles, then starts walking in no particular direction. 

 

When he mistakes the bathroom door for the bedroom, he turns to look at Cougar, who’s following him. “What the… Do you have a bedroom?”

 

“You passed it.”

 

Jensen’s brow furrows in confusion. “I did?”

 

Cougar’s amusement is palpable. He takes Jake by the wrist and leads him a few steps back, where the bedroom door is wide open on the right side of the hall. 

 

“Oh,” Jake says stupidly.

 

“Yeah. Oh.”

 

Cougar leads him to the bed and helps him undress down to his boxer-briefs. Then he pulls the blanket up to Jensen’s chin before turning around to make his escape. 

 

Jensen reaches out and pulls him back before he can. “Stay?”

 

Cougar’s hesitance is clear even without Jensen’s glasses. 

 

“Really. I’m not gonna believe this is real otherwise.” He doesn’t add the rest - that his brain is likely to assume it’s all been a hallucination and send the grey creature after him again. Probably after dream-Cougar, too. The thought makes him want to vomit.

 

The bittersweet, tender look is on Cougar’s face again. He’s still obviously hesitant, but Jensen had always been good at wearing him down. They’d both been good at that. And right now, Jensen can’t even find it in himself to be ashamed for manipulating Cougar like this. No one could possibly blame him, could they? He just… wants some real rest before having to look this thing in the face.

 

“Cougs…” 

 

“Yeah, okay,” Cougar murmurs. “Let me turn everything off.”

 

Jake’s almost asleep when Cougar climbs into bed with him, stripped down to his own boxers. They don’t quite touch, but Jensen’s aware of Cougar in a way he’s never been before, viscerally. The heat of him is a comfort Jensen has needed for a long time. It takes a lot of willpower to avoid reaching out and pulling Cougar toward him like a warm security blanket.

 

“I’m still mad at you,” Jensen says sleepily. 

 

“I know.”

 

“I have every right to be.”

 

“I know,” Cougar repeats before reaching out to rub Jensen’s back and neck. Un fair . “We’ll talk later.”

 

“Later,” Jensen mutters, then falls off the edge of consciousness. 

 

***

 

Jensen wakes up in a flood of emotions that are only slightly blunted from the previous evening. Cougar’s making breakfast in the kitchen, bacon and something sweet - probably waffles, because Jensen is a spoiled sonofabitch, and Cougar is undoubtedly going to spoil him in his quest for forgiveness. 

 

Like Jake hasn’t already forgiven him. He should know better.

 

Still. Waffles. And bacon .

 

Knowing Cougar, he’s gonna feel guilty as hell for some time. And he should, but he also shouldn’t, that’s the thing. It’s more complicated than saying he should’ve done X or Y, like there was a right answer. The whole thing had been shit from the moment they’d seen those poor little mules to the moment Max had finally, finally eaten dirt. 

 

Was he thinking straight after all that? Hell no. So he’d be a hypocrite to expect it from Cougar.

 

Stretching, he considers the current situation. Sleep helps Jensen process emotions, and his primary conclusion so far is threefold:

 

  1. He’s angry and he’s relieved in turn, and that is perfectly valid. (Never let it be said that Jensen can’t handle emotion like an adult.)
  2. More importantly, Cougar seems happy, more than Jake’s ever seen him.
  3. Therefore, Jake should leave him to it. The fact that he’s alive is miracle enough.

 

He climbs out of bed and showers. It’s late, and he needs to renew his room at the hotel, so he takes care of that over the phone. Considers calling Pooch with the news, decides against it. He does, however, call his sister, who is more than ecstatic. 

 

Irritatingly, she is also ready to pressure him into asking Cougar out.

 

“C’mon! This might be your only shot.”

 

“You’re kidding me, right?” he asks, utterly incredulous. Maybe he should’ve seen it coming, but seriously, what the fuck, Jess? “I find the guy alive after a decade and spend one night with him, stewing in anger - like, I don’t know how you think I feel right now, but it’s not all sunshine and roses here - and you want me to ask him on a date ? You’ve lost your mind.”

 

“Blah blah blah. Grab the bull by the horns, bro! He’s there. You love him - don’t try to pretend otherwise. I know you.”

 

“A decade, Jess.”

 

She sighs in defeat. “You’re gonna regret this. I know you.”

 

“I’m not doing what’s best for me. I’m doing what’s best for him.”

 

“And who are you to decide what’s best for him?”

 

Jake throws up his hands even though his sister can’t see him. “You’re not here. You can’t see him. He’s happy , Jess. Different than when I knew him. He even talks. Out loud!”

 

“Well, if he’s different than when you knew him before, get to know him now!”

 

“Holy hell, you’re annoying,” he mutters as Cougar makes his way down the hall, probably to grab Jake for breakfast. “Anyway, gotta go, nice talkin’ to you, love you.”

 

“Jake - “

 

He ends the call before she can get any further, then takes a deep breath because - fuck, Cougar. Now she’s got him thinking about it. How inappropriate would that be? Really fucking inappropriate, if you ask him. 

 

But nobody’s fucking asking him, are they?

 

Blah blah blah, indeed. 

 

There’s a knock on his door, followed by a mumbled, “Jensen? Breakfast.” 

 

“Coming, dear!” he chirps, then falls back on the bed, head in hands, when Cougar’s footsteps disappear toward the kitchen. It’s hard to believe how much his life has been upended in the last twelve hours. What even is his life at this point? Somewhere between a tragedy and an action flick. Maybe with like, some kind of existential comedy. And his sister thinks she’s Cupid, apparently.

 

Jake gets up before Cougar comes looking for him. As much as he’d like some time to process all of this, Cougar’s here now, and waiting for him. 

 

Breakfast is, as Jensen had predicted, fucking delicious. Forgiveness has never tasted so divine. Somewhere along his travels, Cougs had picked up a recipe for real Belgian waffles. Cougs is the best. 

 

Once he’s had his fill, Jensen leans back in the breakfast nook’s small chair, rubbing his tummy like he’s calming a fussy baby. Cougar’s staring at him without shame, wearing his usual emotionless mask, except that the laugh lines at the corners of his eyes give him away. 

 

“What?” Jake sighs, wondering what the hell the former sniper is thinking.

 

“A man can’t look at his best friend?”

 

Jake focuses all his attention on Cougar, honing in like a weapon himself. Cougar sees it and smiles a Mona Lisa smile. “You’re lookin’ at me like you’re hungry. And we just ate.”

 

“So?” Cougar asks with eyebrows raised.

 

“So?” Jensen parries. Apparently Cougar is going by Jess’ playbook, too. Is it a conspiracy or something? Hell, maybe it fucking is, knowing his sister. Or maybe she really is Cupid. 

 

“You think I didn’t miss you?” Cougar asks, softer now, more serious. 

 

Jake shakes his head. Not in denial, though, more like disbelief that this conversation is even happening. “You couldn’t have missed me that much. Let’s be honest here.”

 

Cougar closes his eyes, leans his head against the back of the chair. “Told you. Missed my window.”

 

“Yeah,” Jake concedes, “I get that. I do. But picture how I’m feeling right now. You rejected me, didn’t even tell me you were alive . Don’t you think you owed me that much?”

 

“Maybe,” Cougar responds, eyes still closed. “I don’t think it was that simple.”

 

They’re getting nowhere. “This is just a shit situation.”

 

“Don’t you think maybe God led you here?”

 

Jake scoffs, because what? Never mind that he’d been wondering the same thing. “That is patently ridiculous, and you know it. Stop messing with me.”

 

“Maybe I’m not messing with you.”

 

Cougar’s looking at him again, with his fathomless, deep brown eyes Jensen could drown in. Jesus, he can’t even keep eye contact. Like Cougar has control of him somehow, working him like a puppet, controlling the lightning between his very nerve fibers. 

 

“Could swear we used to be able to communicate,” he mumbles at the table. 

 

“Jake.” Cougar says, moving with slow confidence to stand between Jensen and the table. He’s right there, so close that Jake would have to strain his neck to look at him. He stares at Cougar’s midsection instead, refusing to be moved, at least until Cougar’s calloused hand reaches down to grip his chin and oh-so-gently raise it. Jensen is helpless to stop it, once more frozen in place. Proof of his whole puppet analogy. He’s vaguely proud of himself for thinking it. 

 

His throat clicks as he swallows. Speech won’t come. Breath barely will. Cougar’s heat is so close, the clean scent of him overwhelming. His biceps strain through his thin T-shirt, lithe form still muscled and strong after all these years and all those brushes with death before that. Jensen’s positive Cougar can feel his own heart racing, can probably hear the rush and roar of blood through his vessels. 

 

“Your sister found me.”

 

And there it is. Of course she did. “When?” Jake asks quietly, feeling the burn of betrayal rise through him like bile. “That why she helped me put together this itinerary?” So much is making sense now. 

 

“Two years ago. And yes.”

 

“Why would she not… Ah, fuck,” he sighs, defeated. 

 

“I asked her not to. She said you were happy.”

 

And he had been, hadn’t he? Or thought so, anyway. “And now that I’m not happy anymore, you thought you’d, what… come crawling back into my life? Shining armor, big strong phallic weapon and all? All you’re missing is the stud to throw me over the back of.”

 

“My cousin has a few,” Cougar quips. 

 

A scratchy laugh escapes without his consent. “Oh, boy. You’re both a piece of work, you know that?”

 

“Told you I’m sorry. Was doing the best I could. I’m not perfect.”

 

“You guys are assholes. Serious assholes.” Jensen stands up, pushing Cougar out of his space. “I need to take a walk and clear my head. Don’t come after me.”

 

“Of course,” Cougar soothes. “Take as much time as you need. I’ll be right here.”

 

Jake slams the door on the way out and immediately feels like a child. Seriously, what the hell else did he expect Cougar to do? Jess, well. He’ll have words with her later. But Cougar… as much as he hates to admit it, Cougar’s right. Jake still can’t really find fault in his actions. Cougar’d wanted to move on, which he had every right to do, then Jess had convinced him that Jake had moved on when the opportunity to reach out was forced upon him. 

 

Doesn’t make it hurt any fucking less, though. 

 

Or maybe he’s being a whiny bitch, considering Cougar seems… strangely comfortable. Like maybe he’d be up for something new, to open a door that Jake is beginning to suspect had been there all along. So now, now , he’s gone from Cougar being dead to Cougar being alive to Cougar possibly wanting… what, a relationship? A night of passion? Some comfort, a memory of his best friend he can cherish before Jake goes back to the States? To sow some wild oats? Is Jake an oat, an unresolved fantasy?

 

What does Cougar want? 

 

What does Jake want?

 

Well, that doesn’t matter. What Jake needs is time to figure it out. There’s just so much to unpack.

 

***

 

In the end, Jake resolves to spend one more night there, to enjoy his time with Cougar and make the most of the fact that he’s been handed a miraculous gift before heading home. He’s come to Europe, seen the sights, had his fill. Nothing will top this anyway. 

 

Cougar spends the evening with Jensen on his little balcony, four stories up. There are two rickety old chairs next to a scratched-up end table, but it’s a surprisingly comfortable setup, and soon enough, Jensen is relaxing with his third beer of the night. They talk off and on, both of them consumed by their thoughts and soaking up each other’s company. 

 

Even with his lingering resentment, Jake feels happier than he has in a long time. He tells lots of stories about Beth and Jess, while Cougar regales him with tales from his uncle’s farm and his parents’ estate. (‘Regale’ is a bit hyperbolic - Cougs might be more talkative, but that doesn’t mean he’s exactly talkative. ) His family permanently lives in Mallorca now, having chosen not to go back to the States, even after Cougar had been posthumously exonerated. They’d told Cougar that the government had failed their boy, and Cougar had agreed. On that, he and Jensen still have common ground. 

 

Generally, if Cougar doesn’t want someone to know what he’s doing, they won’t know it. Jensen wonders if Cougar had gone soft on that skill or if he intends to let Jensen catch his piercing gaze whenever there’s a lull in conversation. He suspects that Cougar knows he’s taking off in the morning. Back home now that he’s gotten closure. 

 

They sleep the same as the previous night, and Jake can’t lie about how good it feels, not just to have someone in his bed, but to have Cougar in his bed. It’s not like they hadn’t shared cots or even put together their bedrolls for warmth on occasion, but this is different. Cougar clearly feels safe enough with him to sleep soundly. His hypervigilant sniper actually lets sleep claim him like some kind of… normal person, or whatever. Someone who had never watched their entire unit die while helpless to stop it. It makes Jake feel more comfortable, too, and he sleeps another night of dreamless sleep. 

 

Maybe it’s that, or maybe it’s inertia, but when Cougar asks him to stay - “one more night” - Jensen relents and brings his bag from the hotel. Cougs takes him out on a not-date to his favorite panaderia in Barcelona. He likes the place for the sightlines, and the churros aren’t too bad, either. Jensen is practically forced to try a bite of every Spanish dessert in existence, and prefers the pestiños out of everything. It winds up feeling more like a tapas meal, only with a truckload of sugar and cream, and he ends up with a stomach ache from all the sweetness. Cougar lets him lie down on the couch and turns on football. They watch the game, silently, companionably, except for the occasional unhappy rumble of Jensen’s stomach and Cougar’s amused contemplation thereof. 

 

He doesn’t know how Cougar does it. One day turns into two, two into four, four into eight. His sister contacts him seven days in via secured channel - because both Jensens are a little paranoid and a lot not-stupid - and, right, he’d forgotten all about the meddling. Buried it, more like. 

 

He picks up his tablet and carries it into the bedroom - his and Cougar’s now, somehow, a thought that starts a symphony of butterflies in his midsection, and maybe it’s best not to look that in the face just yet, either. Cougar’s sharp eyes follow him from the living room where they’d been working on different projects in comfortable silence, but he doesn’t ask questions. Fucker probably knows exactly what’s up, even though they haven’t talked about it at all beyond that first day. 

 

“Hey bro! Long time no talk!” Jess chirps as soon as he opens the connection. She glances around at what little of Jensen’s environment she can see, notices that he’s sitting on Cougar’s bed, and then squeals. “Is that why I haven’t heard from you? You dirty dog!”

 

Jensen wants to scream. He loves her so much, so much, but he’s avoided thinking about this because the betrayal still boils his blood. 

 

Sensing the mood, she grows quiet. “Jake?” she asks hesitantly.

 

Might as well get straight to the point, right? 

 

“He told me.” 

 

Jess’ face burns hot for two seconds before growing pale, so pale he’s worried she’ll pass out. “Oh,” she breathes. 

 

“I don’t know what you expected to happen. Did you really think he wouldn’t tell me?” 

 

“I… guess it never occurred to me?”

 

“You were just so excited to be meddling in my personal affairs that getting caught never occurred to you. Right.”

 

“Jake - “

 

“You know, I thought you were better than this. I thought we were closer than this.”

 

“Jake, I - “

 

“No. Fucking listen to me for once in your life !” Her eyes are wide, and Jensen realizes, too late, that he’s shouting. Loud enough for the neighbors to hear, probably, and forget about Cougar. “Listen,” he repeats at a normal volume, breathing deep, trying to remain calm. “You went behind my back. You didn’t tell me the most important person in my life, the person I buried along with a part of myself, that he was alive. Out there. You thought that what, your ego was more important? Than closure for me?” 

 

He can feel the blood in his face, can feel his nostrils flaring with the effort of holding it all in. 

 

“He asked me not to,” Jess answers, gentle, again cushioning the blow. Ever the protective sister. “I wasn’t going to go against his wishes. I didn’t contact him again until after we went out on our date night.”

 

“You wanted to make sure I was well and truly broken, then.”

 

“No,” she responds, jaw stubbornly clenched as always when she’s digging in, “I knew you wanted a normal life. Away from all of this. Cougar thought the same, you know that.”

 

“‘Away from all this.’ From my friends, you mean? From the people who mean the most to me in the whole world?”

 

Jess’ face goes from white to fire-engine red in a heartbeat. Less than. “Just who the hell am I, then? Big fuckin’ nobody?”

 

“Somebody who sure did me wrong,” he answers in a steady voice. 

 

She wants to fight more, too, but deflates quickly. Jensen hopes it’s because she knows she’s in the wrong. “I just thought… you’d be like him. Wanting to move on. You had moved on.”

 

“But that was my choice, Jess. Mine . You took that away from me. How the hell did you even find him, anyway?”

 

“You’re not the only one who can game the system, you know. I’m not less talented than you just because I don’t have your fancy army shit.” She waves her arms to encompass whatever that means. 

 

“But why look? Why bother?”

 

“Honestly, it was kind of an accident. Why does it even matter? It worked out, didn’t it? It’s working?”

 

“I don’t know what you want to work out , Jess.”

 

Her face twists in annoyance. “Yes, you do. Stop acting like a fool.” A pause, then, “Go get him, Jake. You have your chance now, both of you. Carpe diem .”

 

Jake shakes his head. “I was having a great day. Not thinking about it. Whatever there is to think about, which I’m not even sure I understand. And here you are, reminding me that my sister thinks she knows better about my own choices than I do. Can I just go and figure things out on my own, like I should’ve been able to do from the beginning?”

 

Jess takes a deep breath, lets it out slow. “I’m sorry, Jake. I was doing the best I could.”

 

“Yeah, there’s a lot of that going around.”

 

They exchange a muted goodbye. Jensen doesn’t even feel bad about it. She’ll have to work a lot harder for his forgiveness than Cougar. 

 

***

 

Jensen is thirteen days into his stay at Cougar’s flat when Cougar makes his move. 

 

Jensen’s stuffed and happy once the food has settled in his stomach and he has nothing on the agenda besides lounging on the couch. Like living the good life and maybe, this time, letting it happen for a while. 

 

“Jake,” Cougar suddenly says. “I want you to come here.”

 

They’re already sitting on the couch, less than a foot separating them. There’s not much room between ‘there’ and ‘here.’

 

“I, uh…”

 

“Here,” Cougar says a bit more forcefully, so Jake swallows with a click and scoots a few inches toward Cougar. This close, he can feel the heat coming off his body. He wonders, idly, if Cougar has always run this hot. 

 

“What…” Jake closes his eyes, takes a breath, and tries again. “What do you want here, Cougs?”

 

“I want you to know me.”

 

That’s… even more confusing. “I do know you. Or I used to, at least. Until you went and died on me,” he adds bitterly.

 

To his surprise, Cougar reaches out and runs delicate fingers through his hair. His eyes are bright and soft, his expression gentle, open. Jake licks his lips and watches Cougar follow the motion. Interesting.

 

“Cougs, I…”

 

Cougar shuts him up with a searing kiss. He leans in and takes charge, angling his head so they fit together perfectly. Jake doesn’t know what to do with himself for a long few seconds, until his brain finally finishes rebooting and he realizes Cougar is kissing him and gets with the program.

 

Jake’s always been passionate, in just about every way a person can be passionate, and this is no exception. He gives as good as he gets, pushes for even more, but Cougar knows just how and when to pull back to stay in control, forcing Jake to lean forward and chase him. He slows the pace, tightens his grip in Jensen’s hair and controls the angle of his head, inexorably moving him into the position he wants. Jensen wants to taste him, wants to suck on his tongue and lick into his mouth and just know him, know him, like Cougar had said, from the inside out, but Cougar holds his grip and stays out of reach, just sharing breath with his former best friend and teammate. It’s somehow the most intimate thing Jensen’s ever done in his life.

 

It’s not until he gives up and lets it happen that Cougar dives back in. Jake finally gets a real taste of Cougar, the sweet potato pie he’d made for dinner and the coffee and croissant de almendra he’d had for dessert. Sugary, sweet, so damn sweet , like how had Jensen not known that Cougar was like this, that he breathed not fire and gun oil but soft caramel and chocolate and that Jake could actually fucking taste how much he loves him. 

 

It takes a considerable amount of lightheadedness before he’s willing to let go for breath, and Cougar finally gives him the reins. 

 

Reluctantly, he pulls back and opens his eyes. His heart’s about to beat out of his chest, confusion and apprehension and desire flooding his veins, overwhelming him. He can’t meet Cougar’s eyes, is stuck staring at his hands, frozen in his lap from when Cougar had grabbed him by the hair. 

 

“This is so… so fucked up.”

 

Cougar reaches out, lifts his chin again, forces Jake to look something full in the face for once in his damn life. “Why is that?”

 

Why is that . “Because you just… Why now?” he asks, low and shaky. “How can you just… If you felt… Why didn’t you find me, Cougs?”

 

“It would have been selfish. Time just… passed us by.” He shrugs. “Don’t worry so much, Jake. That is over. We’re here now.”

 

He looks at Jensen all patient, waiting for him to accept the words. Like a hypnotist, almost; Jensen is caught in the dark pools of his eyes, drowning. He’s wanted it since he met Cougs all those years ago, nearly half a damn lifetime. 

 

“Give in,” Cougar murmurs, gently pulling Jensen toward him so that their foreheads touch. “Let me love you.”

 

Well, what else is he supposed to do? Say no to the best thing that’s ever happened to him? 

 

“I always wanted this,” he says into the empty air between them, the few scant inches of it. “I always…” 

 

Why can’t he say it?

 

“From Catalonia, yes.” The beginning, then.

 

“You knew?”

 

“I knew,” Cougar confirms.

 

“Why didn’t you tell me?”

 

“Would have messed things up.”

 

A hot puff of air escapes Jensen’s mouth, a breath of exasperation and fondness and… well, and everything he can’t bring himself to say yet. 

 

“Are we stupid, do you think?”

 

Cougar licks his lips. Jensen’s eyes follow it like the fabled moth to flame, echoing Cougar’s earlier compulsion. “I promised myself that if I got the chance… when Jessica called me… now you’re here, I have to make the most of it. I… “ he sighs, clearly fighting for the words. Still struggling with the words, if less than before. Jake’s not sure if Cougar has realized that he’s started running fingers through his hair again. “Then, I’d have killed a hundred men to keep you safe. Today… there’s no limit.”

 

And ain’t that a fucking statement. Jake doesn’t even know what to do with that, just sits there with his eyes closed and his mouth open and his mind, Jesus , full of so much he’s numb with it. 

 

“I promised myself,” Cougar repeats, pulling him closer, whispering against his lips. “It’s past time.”

 

Jensen takes a deep breath to steady himself and takes the plunge. “Well past.”

 

***

 

He should’ve known how gentle Cougar would be, should’ve realized it when he’d given Jake the most tender look Jake had ever seen outside of… well, maybe the way his mom had looked at him as a little boy. Before the alcohol had gotten ahold of her and dad started abusing them and she’d lost the spark that’d made her who she was. 

 

Later, he’ll blame this line of thought on what comes out of his big mouth. Not that Jake’s ever been great at keeping his mouth shut in any situation, let alone sexual ones, let alone emotionally charged moments. But still. It’s ridiculous how deep a hole he can dig himself without even trying. 

 

Cougar’s got Jake in the bedroom somehow - he doesn’t remember, because all he can think of is Cougar’s firm jaw, soft lips, the sweet curve of his hip, the muscles of his ass and how badly he wants to see all of it, feel all of it. Cougar won’t let him, though, tosses him down on the bed like Jake doesn’t have two inches and fifty pounds on him and then climbs up his body in a straddle, leaning down and trapping Jake’s hands above his head by the wrists. Jake’s focused on Cougar’s lips and the way his pulse jumps underneath the fragile skin of his neck and the goddamn intensity of his gaze like it can see right through his skin and into his soul when Cougar’s hands slide up and his fingers settle naturally between Jensen’s own like they belong there. It makes his heart clench painfully, longing for… in all honesty, whatever it is Cougar’s willing to give him. He could take Jensen’s very essence and keep it in his pocket; hell, Jake wants him to. 

 

Weird that the thought doesn’t bother him. In another life, he’d find this kind of behavior pathetic and needy. The way he’d told Bethy not to be. 

 

Well, he’s still a strong, independent guy who don’t need no stinkin’ man, but… maybe that’s not a bad thing, if that man is Cougar. Maybe it just takes the right person to lean on, to take the load off. Maybe need isn’t pathetic in its own right. Like everything, context is important.

 

Jake is a mess of firing nerves, completely consumed by whatever magic Cougar wields, but the fingers, good God in heaven, the fingers between his own do something to him that he couldn’t articulate even if he controlled language itself. Cougar bites his neck, his ear, chuckles low and rich when it makes Jensen shiver, and then those fingers squeeze, and Jake’s heart cracks open, spilling its contents in his blood like a drug pharmaceutical companies could only dream of bottling.

 

“Yes, daddy. Please ,” he murmurs, entirely unaware of what his mouth is doing. He might’ve remained unaware, too, if Cougar hadn’t sat straight up in Jensen’s lap with his mouth hanging open. 

 

Oh. 

 

Oh god

 

Did he just destroy this before it even got a chance to take off?

 

Jake licks his suddenly dry lips. His mouth opens, once again of its own accord, but nothing escapes, just a whining breath that sounds pathetic to his own ears. Nothing for it then but to close his eyes and wait for death by sheer embarrassment. 

 

“Jake,” Cougar breathes, and hmm , there’s a quality to the tone that pulls Jensen back into the moment. He cracks an eye open and sees, to his delighted surprise, that Cougar’s face is lit up with not just desire, but wonder, too, open and joyful, happy and slightly amused and so fucking turned on. “Baby,” he whispers, leaning back down to nuzzle Jake’s nose with his own, and thank all that is good and pure for clothes, because if Jake had been naked and pressed against Cougar’s skin, he’d have shot right then.

 

Cougar lets go of Jake’s hands, which sucks because how fucking amazing was that , and then he wraps his arms under Jake’s and lifts, which definitely does not suck because holy shit is Cougar strong, like maybe he could toss Jensen across the room like a sock puppet. Jake ends up in Cougar’s lap, chest against his lips. Cougar breathes in through his nose like he’s scenting, and maybe Jake wasn’t in heat before, but if not, he definitely is now. 

 

“Daddy,” he groans, feeling the shame and humiliation flow through his veins. His cock is hard enough to cut diamonds, though, and the way Cougar rips his Captain America t-shirt in two makes it beyond worth it. “You too,” he insists, tugging at Cougar’s own much sexier button-down. 

 

“Bad,” Cougar says firmly, the way he’d talk to a dog in training. He slaps Jensen’s hand to drive the point home, then grabs them both and holds them behind Jensen’s now-naked back. “Keep them there.”

 

Jake already feels like he’s run a mile or so, sweat trailing down his skin and breath coming in pained gasps. It’s so hard, so hard not to touch Cougar, to reach out and rip his shirt off like Cougar’d done, to display that sun-browned skin he desperately wants to see and feel and taste, but he obeys because he trusts Cougar to take care of him.

 

“So good for me,” Cougar murmurs before he nips at one of Jake’s nipples, then grabs it with his teeth and sucks, pulling it away from Jake’s body. God, how badly Jake wants to run his fingers through Cougar’s dark, silky locks, to pull him away or push him in and beg for more, he isn’t sure, he just wants to touch . It’s killing him.

 

Like Cougs can read his mind, he shakes his head just a bit, pulling the nipple, and hums hmm-mmm . The tingling sensation lights his skin on fire. 

 

“Jesus, Cougs, Cougs …” Jake blows out a shaky breath and starts losing track of time while Cougar lavishes his chest with kisses and licks and little nips, always right on the edge of too much and not enough. He doesn’t quite suck hard enough to leave hickies, not yet, but Jake suspects that Cougar is holding back and will want to mark him, claim him as his own at some point. He’s always been possessive of his property like that, and damn if that word doesn’t shake Jensen to his very core in all the best ways.

 

After an indeterminate amount of time, Cougar slides his hands from Jensen’s hips down to cup his ass. Jensen realizes that he’s been rocking back and forth in Cougar’s lap, desperately trying to get some friction through his thick jeans. Cougar holds him tight, lifts him a bit so his hips can’t rock anymore. 

 

Jensen whines, throws his head back to display his neck in submission, anything to get Cougar to touch him. Cougar just holds him steady, waiting until Jensen gives in. It takes a while, but finally he goes limp in Cougar’s arms, leans in and rests his forehead on Cougar’s.

 

“Mmm.” Cougar hums like he’s pleased. “I like it when you listen.” There’s wry amusement in his voice, like maybe he’s surprised that Jensen was capable of doing such a thing. Jake might be offended if he wasn’t shivering with need, arms still grasped tightly behind his back. “In a minute, you’re going to get undressed,” Cougar continues, “and put the blindfold on.”

 

Jake lifts his head and stares down at Cougar. “There’s… there’s a blindfold?” Holy shit, Cougar’s a freak. Add that to the list of things he’d never thought possible. 

 

“It’s on the side table.”

 

Jake continues to stare. “You sneaky dog. You planned this.”

 

Cougar snorts. “Cougars are cats, not dogs. I remember you saying you couldn’t trust cats, yes?”

 

“Uh… well, I mean… “ He gestures his head toward Cougar, since he still hasn’t gotten permission to move his arms from behind his back. 

 

Do you trust me, Jake?” Cougar asks, suddenly dead serious. 

 

Jake closes his eyes and bites his lip. “Can’t believe you have to ask that.”

 

“Then shut your mouth,” Cougar replies with a chuckle. “Do as I said.”

 

He does, dismounting from Cougar’s lap and nearly falling backwards with excitement. He glares at Cougar, daring him to laugh, but Cougar’s just smiling that fond, slightly exasperated smile Jake’s quickly gotten used to again, except that now he knows what it really means. 

 

The blindfold is comfortable as hell but well-made; he can’t see a damn thing once it’s tied tightly behind his head. He wills himself to relax into the mattress, though it’s hard not to feel self-conscious with Cougar still fully clothed and drinking in the sight of Jake’s naked body, his hard-on jutting out proudly, flushed and ready for anything Cougar has planned. 

 

He listens to the swish of Cougar’s slacks as he walks around the bed to stand beside Jake’s head. Jake turns his face toward him like he’s a plant and Cougar’s the goddamn sun. 

 

“I need you to tell me if you want me to stop,” Cougar says. “Do you have a word or signal?”

 

Stop works just fine.”

 

“Okay. Relax and let me make you feel good. That’s all you’ve gotta do. Can you do that for me, sweetheart?”

 

Jake shivers. Cougar just called him sweetheart. Holy shit. 

 

“Yes, daddy,” he responds, all sweet and shy. A blush blooms on his cheeks when Cougar leans down and kisses his forehead, salt-and-pepper beard scratchy against his skin.

 

Once again, Jake loses awareness of time. All he knows is pained ecstasy, the aching need building within his core, exacerbated by Cougar’s teasing touches, the brush of his lips and tongue and teeth from his neck to his toes. Cougar’s clothing rubs roughly against his body when he climbs on top, contrasting with the wet heat of breath. Jake nearly dies of laughter when Cougar sucks a toe into his mouth, but the laugh quickly turns to a moan when Cougar runs a gentle finger down the midline of his foot. Holy hell, he hadn’t realized how good, how erotic that could feel. 

 

Jake’s begging, anything and everything he can think of flowing out of his mouth, sometimes senseless, wordless pleas. After a time, who knows how long, he’s forgotten the meaning of language and is all sound, vibrations and pent-up energy and all the frustrated pleasure he can no longer articulate, and - 

 

Cougar finally touches him where he’s living-breathing-dying to be touched, just a few light strokes, and Jensen comes like he hasn’t since he was sixteen. It’s like flying, a little, and falling and crashing, boneless and spent and so, so wonderfully empty of anything but peace. 

 

His situational awareness is apparently less than stellar right now, because the next thing Jake knows is that he’s clean and Cougar’s arms are wrapped around him with Jake tightly tucked underneath his chin. He’s once again made himself small, small enough to fit in the shelter of Cougar’s lithe body. When Jake reaches out to rest a hand on Cougar’s chest, the beat within is steady, proof that the heart he’d thought long gone is still here. 

 

“This is a miracle,” he says. “You’re really here.”

 

“Just getting that, are you?”

 

“I mean it, Cougs.” Jake lifts himself onto an elbow and looks Cougar in the eyes. “Thought I’d lost you for good. I wasn’t even past it… didn’t know that, but maybe I just got used to it. This is… everything I could’ve ever asked for.”

 

“So you’re happy?”

 

“Happier than I’ve been in forever.”

 

“It’s gonna get better,” Cougar promises, and that there is an intriguing thought that Jensen is going to have to consider soon. 

 

Or now, as the case may be, since Cougar’s standing up and working the buttons of his shirt. Jensen stares without shame, admiring every inch of exposed skin, the outline of muscles that haven’t gone to waste in the intervening years. Cougs still seems as hard and fit as he was when he’d been in the army, still, in his forties, one of the sexiest men alive.

 

And when he removes his boxers to display his half-hard cock, Jensen’s mouth waters. It’s beautiful, uncircumcised and perfect, at the upper end of average length, if Jake had to guess. It’ll fit perfectly in either hole. And it’s not like he’d never seen the thing - they’ve had sex in the same room several times, with the same girl at the same time once, but it’d never been hard and eager all for him, that’s the thing. Or maybe it had been and Jensen just hadn’t known it. Either way. 

 

“Oh god,” he breathes. “You’re gonna let me touch that, right? Please say I can touch it.”

 

“Later,” Cougar says, then pushes Jake down onto his back again. “Today is about you, amor.

 

“Oh no,” Jake insists before Cougar can shut him up with a kiss. “You’re getting yours today, too.”

 

“Never said I wasn’t.”

 

… Oh. 

 

Cougar kisses him the same way he had earlier, like Jake has no say in the matter and has to do what Cougar says. Which is exactly what he wants, so it works out. He’s still too fucked-out from earlier to fight against the inevitable anyway. 

 

Jake might be thirty-six now, but his body knows what’s up, can appreciate Cougar the way he deserves to be appreciated. He’s half-hard again, too, and as soon as Cougar’s cock rubs against his own that quickly changes to full hardness. It’s less desperate now, sweeter, a slower burn. Cougs is probably going to ramp that intensity right back up.

 

And yeah, just like Jake had figured, Cougar goes straight to work, mouth leaving his and going straight to his cock. Jake yells, shocked and still a bit sensitive. His hips come off the bed of their own accord, but of course Cougar’s having none of that. He pushes Jake down and slowly, inch by inch, takes his cock in his mouth. It doesn’t take him long to warm up to its size - which is impressive, since Jake’s not a small boy by a longshot - but Cougar works his mouth at a snail’s pace, adding suction and using his tongue like he was born doin’ it. When he pulls back and puts pressure underneath the head with his tongue, then looks up at Jensen with those fucking eyes - fuck, it’s filthy

 

Stunned, Jensen asks, “How many dicks have you sucked in your life?”

 

Cougar just grins and slides back down, maintaining eye contact. And Jensen’s come not that long ago, but he’s already not far from it. Everything Cougar does just gets better and better, from the kissing to the teasing to the touching to this how-the-fuck-is-it-so-good blowjob. So when Jake hears the bottle cap open just as Cougar buries his nose in pubic hair, he’s finally sure that Cougar had died, and so had Jake, and the last ten years were a nightmare and heaven finally came and got him - 

 

Cougar pulls off with a nasty slurping sound that gives Jake shivers. He’s kissing Jake’s neck and murmuring shhh while entering him with a slick finger. Jake realizes he’s been saying all this out loud, talking shit because he has no control of his verbal faculties when he’s having the best sex of his life, thank you very much, Carlos Alvarez. 

 

“You are still talking, you know,” Cougs states just before he crooks a finger and hits that spot, making Jensen arch off the bed and gasp. 

 

Panting through the lightning flowing through his nervous system, Jake finally thinks of something to say. “Don’t tell me you’re surprised.”

 

“Surprise? No. I’m flattered. Maybe shouldn’t be. It’s you, after all.”

 

Cougar adds another finger and Jake’s eyes roll in the back of his head. “Well that’s good, because I’m pretty sure I can’t shut up. So you’re gonna get a hell of a - Jesus fuck, yes - a hell of a, a, fuck . I can’t, I can’t, please , Cougs…” 

 

Cougar adds another finger, lets Jensen get used to it, then goes back to assaulting his prostate. Jake bounces between no filter and completely nonverbal, brain unable to make up its mind because Cougar is fucking disassembling him piece by piece. 

 

Cougar chuckles, breath hot at Jake’s ear. “You gave me the blueprint, cabrón .”

 

“... I did… what?” he pants. At this point, he can’t focus on more than one thing at a time. Sexual ADD, characterized by a complete inability to keep one’s train of thought during the best sex they’ve ever had. He’s coining it, adding it to the DSM, and getting mad money for it. 

 

“I’ve watched you.” 

 

And Jesus, the thought of Cougar being a voyeur for the express purpose of discovering Jensen’s secret buttons is so fucking hot it’s unbelievable. 

 

“You’re a… a... “ Pervert , he means to say, but all that comes out is a long, exhausted groan. 

 

Cougar doesn’t say anything, just kisses his nose and then swallows his cock again, all the while using his fingers to drive Jensen insane like whoa

 

“I can’t, Cougs, I can’t anymore, you’ve gotta… what is it, three now? Three, it’s enough, I need… “

 

Cougar pulls off his cock again and shuts him up with a kiss just as he pulls his fingers out and thrusts in, again slow and agonizing. Jensen makes an inhuman noise and squeezes his pelvic floor muscles as tight as he can, inwardly celebrating at the way it makes Cougar grunt. Suddenly hungry, he opens his mouth wide and sucks Cougar’s tongue, tasting his own precome. He’s not even sure how Cougs does it, takes control of the kiss again without Jake even realizing. The guy is fucking magic. There’s no other explanation. 

 

Cougar works him up slowly with lots of kisses and caresses, but once he starts pounding Jake into the mattress, the game’s over, because he’s not being nice anymore. He’s taking it, what’s his and what has always been his, and then Jake asks for it out loud, for the real thing, for a brand or a tattoo or Cougar taking his fucking knife to Jake’s skin and carving his name there, anything to be claimed. 

 

Cougar’s possessive streak can’t take that kind of stress. He’s obviously approaching orgasm with every word Jensen says, and once again, Jake celebrates the fact that he can crack that tightly-held control. 

 

In the end, though, Cougar breaks him down. He kisses Jensen like it’s the end of the world, the last kiss either of them will ever have, then reaches between them to grab Jake’s sensitive cock. He strokes it tight and slow, waits until Jake’s right at the edge, and whispers “Come for me, baby boy. I love you,” against his lips. 

 

The tingling starts in his toes and rises up his body in waves, overwhelming him until he’s out of breath and pulling away from Cougar to try to get air. Cougar fucks him right through it, doesn’t slow down or stop, just murmurs, “Take it like a good boy,” when Jake starts struggling with oversensitivity. And somehow that works, makes him just accept the pleasure riding the knife-edge of pain as Cougs finishes in his ass with a few hard, out of control thrusts. 

 

Cougar collapses on top of him, finally spent. When he softens enough to slip out, Jake hums in contentment at the feel of come on his thighs and the back of his balls, that unmistakable proof that he’s been well-used. Cougar makes a nest with his arms and looks at Jake with a chuckle. 

 

“You were so good, baby. So perfect.”

 

Jake blushes again, both loving and hating the way his face and neck turn bright red at the praise. “So you really don’t mind me calling you… that?” he asks tentatively. 

 

“Daddy?” Jake groans in response, realizing how very filthy that sounds. It only makes Cougar chuckle again. “No. I like it,” he says in a conspiratorial voice. “You belong to me. I take care of you. Always did.”

 

“I know. You looked out for me because I was a mess.”

 

Cougar purses his lips, gives a few seconds to ponder this statement, then makes a wavy hand gesture that has the hilarious side effect of moving him around on his arms like a bobblehead. “Little yes, little no.”

 

“Pfft,” Jensen says, like that’s an argument. “I was good at my job. Not good at much else. Not a fan of the killing.”

 

“You were good at that, though,” Cougar points out. “We wouldn’t have made it out otherwise.”

 

Jake supposes that’s a good point. “Alright, I can give you that. But the rest of it? You remember that barfight in… where were we, Tijuana? Arresting some big drug kingpin. I think that was the place.”

 

“Oh, yeah, never forgetting that. Cartel almost got you. I am amending my vote. You are a dumbass.”

 

Jensen just pulls him down for a kiss, then rolls Cougar off of him so that they’re facing each other on their sides. He’ll get out of the wet spot soon, but right now his legs feel like jelly and probably will for a while.

 

“Y’know, this is good. This is great. Always wanted a daddy.”

 

Cougar rolls his eyes and shakes his head with an exaggerated sigh. “Now you’ve gotta make it weird.”

 

“Nah. I’m your baby boy. You can’t take it back.”

 

“Wouldn’t dream of it.”

 

***

 

Jake takes him home for a visit. They’ve decided to stay in Spain, since he can do his job from anywhere in the world and Cougar is so relaxed and happy where he is. But everyone will want to see him and bring him back into the fold, and Jake had argued that it would do him some good. Cougar hadn’t even protested, since now that he has his novio there’s no reason to stay away.

 

Pooch nearly punches Cougar in the face when he shows up at his door, which Jake should’ve seen coming. He’d just been so excited to watch the reunion it hadn’t occurred to him that it might go differently for the two of them. Pooch hadn’t been in love with Cougar for years, and they hadn’t been as close as he and Jensen. 

 

Pooch’s nostrils are flaring and his fists are up; Jolene is holding him back somehow with the kid in a headlock at the same time. Jensen can’t help but laugh at the picture they make. Seems like everyone’s in trouble today. 

 

“Boy, go in and get your shit together,” she tells her son. “If I catch you peekin’ in on little Lenore undressing again, I’m gonna send you to boys’ school for a year. Now go.”

 

The pup stalks off with a pout and Jolene turns to her husband, who’s still breathing heavily. “You’ve gotta be kidding me. Your old teammate comes back from the dead and this is your reaction? I swear, men are just emotionally constipated assholes.”

 

Jess, who has come along for the reunion, laughs before she sees the glare Jensen throws her way. She’s not out of the woods yet for what she did, and Jensen’s on the verge of saying something about women and their damn meddling when Cougar whistles loud enough to hurt his ears. 

 

“Since everybody is going to be rude to each other, we might as well do it inside where the neighbors can’t see, yes?”

 

It breaks the tension enough to get everyone indoors, and Pooch eventually relents after Cougar explains his side of the story. He’s not happy about it, but like Jake, he understands the importance of moving on. 

 

“So what are you gonna do now, Cougs?” Pooch finally asks. Jolene ushers everyone to the kitchen table so she can feed them dinner, southern-style chicken and biscuits that are out of this world. 

 

Jake takes a bite of his and leaves this part up to Cougar. They haven’t acted particularly attached, not the way they’d like to - yes, even Cougar; the bastard has no room to pretend otherwise after hanging on to Jensen like a barnacle at the fair last week. He’s going to let Cougs tell as much as he’s comfortable with, though the basics will amount to Jensen and I are dating at the very least.

 

He hopes Cougs doesn’t mention Jake’s whispered put a baby in me from last night, but there isn’t much chance of that happening, so thank goodness one of them isn’t a fan of overshare because that shit would just be embarrassing.

 

“I’m staying in Spain.”

 

“Oh? Not coming back to live in the States then?”

 

“Nah. Jensen thought Spain was a better fit for me.”

 

“Jensen thought so, huh? And since when does Jensen make the decisions around here?”

 

“Since he and I started dating.”

 

Pooch, who has unfortunately just taken a sip of fruit punch, spits it out all over Jensen’s chicken. “You what?”

 

“Aww, come on, man! That was the best chicken and biscuits this side of the Mason-Dixon.”

 

“Don’t worry, princess, Jolene’s got you. Now, say that one more time?” Pooch asks incredulously.

 

“Well, I make them, usually,” Cougar amends. “But this one I agreed on.”

 

Jolene takes Jake’s plate and pats him on the back. “Congratulations,” she says, and Jensen squeezes her hand in thanks for both the compliment and the meal.

 

Pooch still seems skeptical, but when Jensen and Cougar turn toward each other with matching smirks and kiss right there in the middle of his own kitchen, he mutters, “How the hell did I miss that?” 

 

“Don’t feel too bad,” Jensen says sympathetically. “I missed it, too. Well, not how I felt, obviously. But I didn’t know Cougs felt the same.”

 

Cougar, the smug bastard, knew all of it, but he keeps his mouth shut.

 

Jess, however, can’t seem to, because she’s Jake’s twin sister and they are frighteningly similar sometimes. “Oh, I knew. Should’ve noticed Jake’s face when he looked at Cougar. Couldn’t have been more obvious.”

 

“Jessica, I’m still mad at you,” Jake says. “But also… thank you,” he adds grudgingly. 

 

“I really am sorry for keeping it from you guys.”

 

“Don’t be too hard on her,” Cougar says. “It was me, too.”

 

“And that part’s over. This part’s now, and I’m not letting it go to waste,” Jensen says, kissing Cougar on the cheek before digging into his new plate of food. 

 

“So you’re going to Spain, too?” Pooch asks. “Y’all just gonna leave me here in White People Land?” 

 

Jolene smacks him alongside the head on the way to her own seat. “Like you’d leave.”

 

“Yeah, but still. Spain, man. Beautiful views.”

 

Jolene narrows her eyes. “If you’re talking about the women, I’d suggest you stop right there.”

 

Jensen takes Cougar’s hand and squeezes. “We’ll visit as often as we can,” he promises. 

 

Cougar raises his beer glass and says, “To new beginnings!”

 

“To new beginnings!” everyone says, and drinks.