So, this happened. Part 2 of 3. And then maybe Cougar will stop haunting me. (LOLJK, NEVER LEAVE.) Also, you guys have been awesome with the feedback, so, thank you!

Title: your heart is a shaken fist, part 2/3
Author: dress without sleeves / ohladybegood
Rating: R, for language and violence, also some sexytimes (what more could you possibly want?)
Characters, Pairings: Roque/Clay angsty bromance of the decade, Pooch/Jolene, Aisha/Clay, eventually Cougar/Jensen (WTVS IT'S PRACTICALLY CANNON)
Summary: Cougar doesn't talk a lot, but he sees everything.

your heart is a shaken fist

2.

.x.

this word is not enough but it will
have to do. it's a single
vowel in this metallic
silence, a mouth that says
O again and again
- margaret atwood, variations on the word love

.x.

The three days before the mission that will ruin Cougar's life are spent in bars, drinking and playing Blind Man's Bluff with Pooch, Jensen, and Roque. Clay's pre-game ritual is a mystery to all of them; he disappears into his hotel room and doesn't come out until the day of. If he were any other man, Cougar would think that he was praying; but he is not another man, and so Cougar suspects that he is drinking.

Clay is friendly with his team, but they are not friends. They joke about his taste in women, and he and Pooch swap comments about Jolene taking over the world, and Cougar thinks that sometimes he looks at Jensen with the expression of a proud, bewildered brother or uncle (never father: this is a word that they have all learned not to touch), but it is everything at a distance. Clay's best friend is Roque, and so the scarred man is the only one who has ever seen him drunk and hungover and sloppy. But Roque keeps his mouth shut, and Clay's weaknesses are kept at a distance.

Clay is a good leader. Cougar will follow him because he trusts a man who has the sense to acknowledge his weaknesses and fight them tooth and nail.

In the three days before the mission that will ruin his life, Cougar gets laid twice, writes home once, and spends a collected six hours in church. Jensen asks to come, but Cougar reminds him that you cannot talk in a church.

"You can whisper!"

"No," Cougar corrects, and glances meaningfully at his weapon. "You cannot."

So he goes alone.

He kneels at the altar and closes his eyes. This place is the only place that he allows himself to think of Santa Maria, the only place he allows himself to remember standing silently as an entire town was ground into dust by the heel of his country's boot. They do not talk about it, Clay and Roque and Pooch and Jensen and Cougar. They do not mention it ever, ever, not when drunk and not when high and not when bleeding or panicked or concussed. That place is as drowned as its people, that memory swept away by the same river that ran red with Wade's handiwork.

And theirs too. Even if they did not pull their triggers, they stood by and watched it happen and said nothing, and this is why Santa Maria is as much Cougar's fault as it is Wade's.

"Vaya con Dios, angelitos," he murmurs, lighting one candle for each pair if eyes that had looked to him, pleading, begging, weeping with their fear. One candle for each of those little faces that he had turned away from.

This is why he does not tell his family about his work. He cannot lie to them, but he cannot tell them this truth, either, and so he says nothing.

.x.

When it falls apart, everything moves fast, like a sentence without spaces. When it falls apart, it looks like a movie or a comic book, with big explosions and blurred lines, everything drawn in yellow-red light. When it falls apart, it does so in fractions:

One half a set of siblings, and the quarter of a minute it takes for the pervert with his hands on his zipper to die after Cougar's bullet pierces his skin. A third of a man in a fifth of a cell, skin falling off in chunks. Yes, and then: four and a half minutes to get them all out, then three and a quarter, then two and fifteen seconds when the bus is on fire, and at last, a whole number, twenty feet.

That is how high the chopper stuffed with the kids they'd ruined their lives for climbed before it was shot down in a ball of smoke and fire.

Cougar gets there first, but the flames are hot, not just hot but searing, and the smell of flesh is chokes him with fat fingers. They are not dead, not all of them. It was not an instant incineration. Cougar can hear them, he can hear them screaming, but he can't get there, he can't reach them. And if he could, he still could not savethem, he still could not piece them back together, no matter how many lessons Mirabel gave him about keeping his hands steady.

"Vayan vayan vayan vayan," he mumbles, grasping his hat with both hands and pulling it as low over his eyes as he can. He can't move, but he can't be still, he can't just sit there while twenty-five angels burn alive. "Vayan con Dios, vayan, vayan." He is begging and he is praying and he is demanding, and everything else is blurry and grey except for the fire that makes his skin flush and his knees burn where he is too close. "."

He is no longer making sense; he no longer saying anything. But he keeps speaking, keeps whispering to himself, perhaps to drown out the sound of sizzling flesh and fading moans and perhaps to lead them out of the flames and into the cool grass he is kneeling on.

Someone else is screaming, a deep voice, a voice rough and tattered, moans, "nonoNONONONONONO," and it takes Cougar a moment to realize that it is Clay, unflappable Clay. He is straining against Roque's fingers and spitting blood. "NONONONONONO—"

Roque has tears on his face and a dull, shuttered look in his eyes. "You can't save them, Frank!" he is shouting, and the last moan from the wreckage drifts into an ellipses and then nothing, then silence. "There's nothing you can do."

Pooch is standing to the side, rubbing his fingers over his wedding ring and squeezing his eyes closed, praying, though Cougar suspects his prayers are addressed to Jolene and not to God. "Oh God," Pooch is murmuring as he leans over and vomits. "Oh God, I'm sorry, oh God."

Cougar doesn't look at Jensen, who has not made a sound. He is standing just behind Cougar, not taking his eyes off the wreckage, mouth in a thin, tight line. He is shaking.

Eventually the fires burn out. The sun sinks behind the mountains, ashamed and tired and sad, and purple night whispers like a salve across the jungle and the grass and the sky. But they do not move, these losers. Not until the sun tries again, crawling from her bed back to her podium of clouds.

They throw their dog-tags into the wreckage. Pooch throws up again, perhaps thinking of the child in his wife's stomach, growing to be as flammable as the twenty-five that burned all up into ashes.

Clay's jaw sets and never looses; Roque's scar seems to deepen and his fingers clench into fists that never open. Even Jensen doesn't say much. Cougar can't find it in himself to say anything at all.

.x.

Jensen talks twice as much, after, and they all forgive him, because he is talking to drown out the crackle of fire and echo of screams.

Cougar swallows the words that want to do the same. He swallows them and listens to the echoes, because if he doesn't then he may one day forget.

He has made this promise twice already, but kneeling in front of the burned plane with his eyes stinging and his knees blistering from heat, he lowers his head and makes it again:

"No se olvidará, angelitos. Prometo."

.x.

And then: nothing.

Cougar half-expects a brief blaze of furious retribution that ends in death, and he is hungry for it, he thinks it might be the most merciful thing after all. But Clay disappears into his hotel room and Roque goes with him, and all Pooch can do is stare at his wedding ring.

And Jensen talks, about everything, about his niece most of all. He starts buying t-shirts and hacking into security cameras and her school file. He doesn't get laid.

The memory of the crash fades, but doesn't dull or lessen. There is just more time between the blisters on his knees and the fire that licked them into being.

And then one day, Clay emerges, spitting blood like he had then, the name Max curled like smoke on his lips. He talks about revenge. He talks about patriotism. He talks about right and wrong.

Roque stands behind him, silent, arms crossed over his chest. Argument is written in his eyes, but Roque cannot leave Clay, because Roque hasno one else.

"No," Pooch says simply after Clay outlines a plan that amounts to sneaking back into the United States and blowing shit up until someone notices.

Clay falls silent, lost. He is not used to hearing no, not from them.

"Pooch," he begins, voice a growl, "don't you want to—"

"No," Pooch says again, firmer this time, standing up. "No, Clay, I don't. What happened was—what happened was murder. Because we are dead. As far as the U.S. Army is concerned, we are buried six feet under. And you know what that makes my family? You know what that makes Jolene?"

Roque's lips form a tight line. "A widow?"

"Still no," Pooch answers. "It makes her safe." They all turn to look at him and he sets his jaw. "Being dead means that this Max guy has no reason to go looking for her or Jensen's niece or . . . whoever else they think they can hurt us with. I'm a dead man, Clay, and if it keeps my wife safe then I'm stayin' that way."

The room is quiet. Jensen's eye is ticking and he's bouncing his knee, nervous energy flowing off him in waves. He looks at Cougar and then at the ground and then at Cougar again.

"Twenty-five little fucking kids, Pooch," Clay says at last, in a voice so low Cougar can barely hear it. "Twenty-five fucking children, and you want to just . . . let it go? You want to walk?"

Pooch stands. He pulls a jacket over his shoulders as he walks toward the door. His voice hitches when he speaks. "Killing Max ain't gonna do shit for those kids, and you know it," he says with one hand on the door handle. "You're just pissed he beat you. But I got a wife and a baby to stay dead for, Clay. Who the fuck have you got?"

.x.

Later, Jensen wakes him up with one finger on his lips. "This is gonna be really fucking weird, dude, so let's pretend that we're in some open space bar with a lot of smokin' hot Bolivian babes around us and not alone in your bedroom in the middle of the night, because I think this new location gives it less of a gay edge and more of like, a bros-before-hos thing."

Cougar raises his eyebrows. "Okay," he says, after a pause.

Jensen takes a breath. "My sister's gonna get my life insurance and it's gonna put Bethy through college, man. And Sophie . . . Sophie, shit, she's so fuckin' strong she could walk through a brick wall and come out spotless. And she doesn't . . . she doesn't fuckin' need me, okay, she just—we're family, is all. I was always the one who needed like a fuckin' . . . keeper, or something, and you're . . . fuck, man, I don't know, you're just like the best one I've found so far, okay? You just . . . Jesus, Cougs, you gotta know what I'm sayin' right now, man, because I can't like . . . be any gayer without, whatever, you know. I just, I need you, okay? I actually fucking need you, and the twisted thing is that you need someone, too, maybe me, or maybe not essentially me but someone like me, you know, someone who can get you out of your fucking head sometimes, because I hear you dreaming at night, man, you're like—Jesus, I don't know. Do you understand what I'm saying here? You're just . . . shit. You're my best friend, Cougar, that's all."

Cougar looks up at him. Something breaks. Cougar doesn't know what. Something small and tiny but important, some little screw that has the whole machine coming down. Something just fucking breaks as Jensen looks away and mumbles, "I don't care if we go after Max or stay in Bolivia for the rest of our lives. I'll stay with Clay as long as you do." He clears his throat. "And that's . . . that's all I wanted to say."

Cougar thinks of Sole again, and there it is, that little loose screw rattling around and killing him. He thinks of Sole, and of Santa Maria, and of twenty-five burning angels. And then of Jensen, the brightest fucking thing he's ever seen.

There are a lot of words he wants to say in that moment, promises he wants to make, but Cougar is all out of promises. So instead he takes Jensen's hand and squeezes it and murmurs, "I saw a sign. In a doll factory. Help wanted."

Jensen looks up quickly, eyes finding Cougar's, and in them the sniper can see pain and fear and worry and relief, stark and grasping. His lips tip into a tiny smile. He opens his mouth a couple of times, reaching out as if he is going to touch Cougar's shoulder, but eventually he drops his hand and nods. "Dolls, fuck yeah," he says, standing and moving towards the door. He hesitates before going out. "Thanks, Cougs. I don't know what . . . just, y'know. Thanks."

He leaves without looking back. Cougar lies back against his pillow and doesn't sleep for a long time.

.x.

They stay in Bolivia. Pooch gets a job fixing cars during the day, and at night he goes out and gets as drunk as he can before stumbling back to his hotel room to read through old emails. Jensen and Cougar get hired at the doll factory, and Cougar gets used to sitting next to Jensen and listening to him talk about fuckin' nothing, the hotel the girls the heat.

He comes to like it, to prefer it to the mumbling, static radio that's always playing. It calms him, gives him rhythm.

It even makes him laugh, sometimes.

.x.

Eight months. That's how long they sit rotting in Bolivia before Cougar gets the letter.

He recognizes the handwriting instantly: she draws the letter s from the bottom up. Cougar realizes that this address is the last thread his family has of him. It had never occurred to him that Sole would write letters to a dead man.

Carlos, he reads, hands trembling,

Hola. Te odio. Te amo. Te echo mucho de menos. Espero que estés aquí.

Tu muerte me destruyó. Destruyó toda la familia, especialmente Felicia. Ella piensa que te espantó con su discusión de la casamiento. Pero yo sabe la verdad: naciste con la sangre en tu boca, en tu alma, en tu manos. Todos de nosotros nacimos en sangre, de sangre, sangre que mancha. Nunca dejó atrás esta mancha, Carlos. Tu entera vida fue roja.

Siempre tuyo,

Soledad

.x.

After that, the letters come once a month. At first they're short, accusing reminders that he has left something behind, that his absence is a wound that festers.

But time kisses away the blisters on their knees, and sometimes he can read it in Sole's words: he reads laughter, he reads joy, he reads nostalgia. These things replace the terror and the grief and blind rage that had consumed her in the beginning.

Cougar doesn't tell anyone of the letters. He knows they are a security risk, and he knows it is unfair that he should get them when Jensen is forced to hack supermarket security cameras to hunt for Jolene and can't remember the color of his niece's eyes.

But his sister's words drown out the screaming that Cougar can't bring himself to silence, so he keeps them to himself and doesn't tell a soul.

.x.

Two years after they get stranded in Bolivia, he gets a letter telling him that Célia is marrying her lawyer. ("I'll say it in English," Sole writes scathingly, "that man is a know-it-all piece of shit.")

Cougar folds the letter up and keeps it in his pocket. He doesn't mention it to Jensen at work or to Pooch when they go out that night, but he can feel it burning a hole through his shirt.

Pooch tips back the last pull of his beer. "Fuck Bolivia, man," he mutters with a sigh, rubbing a hand over his scalp. "Seriously, no offense Cougar, but this fuckin' language is killin' me, man. What I wouldn't give to have someone swear at me in English, just one fuckin' time."

Cougar smiles at the table as a chorus of cheers erupts from the pool table across the bar. He and Pooch look up automatically as Jensen miraculously sinks a shot. The techie throws his hands into the air, victorious, and waves them around in a little dance.

Pooch snorts a laugh. "Homeboy can hustle," he says with a grin. "Look at our little boy, growin' up and stealin' people's shit."

Cougar rolls his eyes and grins in agreement. Jensen hustles pool for the attention, not the money. He'll keep a game going all night if the crowd around him keeps growing.

Through the crowd, Jensen looks up and catches his eye, beaming. Cougar nods at him.

Pooch breathes a sigh out of his nose. "Hey, listen. I'm gonna head back to the hotel. I'm fuckin' beat. This asshole brought in a minivan for me to work on today. Who the shit drives a minivan in this country? I hate the tourists almost as much as I hate the natives."

He stands up, tossing a handful of bills onto the table. "Pooch," Cougar says quietly as the other man shrugs on his jacket. Pooch stills, waiting. "If you could be near Jolene without her knowing. Would you do it?"

Pooch lets out a deep breath. He's quiet for a moment. "I don't know, man," he says as another cheer goes up from the pool table. "A selfish part of me wants to say yes. But what good would it do, really? What would it do except hurt like hell and put her at risk? I don't know if I could do that."

Cougar looks back down at his napkin. He begins folding it into the shape of a rifle, small and familiar in his hands. He nods. "You are a good man," he says, quietly, and Pooch laughs.

"Nah. I'm just scared of what Jolene would do if she found out I was alive and nearby and never told her."

He winces a smile and disappears into the other bar patrons. Cougar knows that he leaves by the soft whistle of air that sweeps past the door as it opens.

Later, when he and Jensen are standing outside their hotel rooms, Jensen half-leaning into his doorway as he finishes recounting the Tale of How He Owned Everyone, Ever, With His Mad Skills, Cougar clears his throat.

Jensen falls silent immediately, waiting. Wordlessly, Cougar reaches into his pocket and hands Jensen Sole's letter.

The blonde man reads through it. After a few minutes, he looks up. "Dude, your sister should meet my sister. They could totally judge people together, because from the looks of this, they're both really good at it."

Cougar rolls his eyes and Jensen shrugs. "I don't know, man. It seems like a risk. Clay won't like it." Cougar leans against his door and folds his arms over his chest, pushing his hat up with one finger. "Yeah," Jensen grins, "I guess you don't really give a shit. Well, I mean, fuck, man, if I had a way to go see Bethy and Sophie, I'd do it."

Cougar nods and takes back the letter. He hesitates for a second at the door as Jensen slips his room key in and disappears into the darkened room next to Cougar's. After a few seconds, his head pops out again. "What time are we leavin'?"

.x.

Cougar doesn't know what Jensen tells Clay that they're doing; it doesn't matter. He'd probably have just gone with the truth, because Clay might be spiraling into a black hole of MaxMaxMax, but he's still their leader and he wouldn't have tried to stop them from going.

Roque's a different story, because Roque has been getting itchy lately, wanting a fight. Roque is like Clay: they both need something to hit, something to take down. But he is also not like Clay: whatever he hits doesn't need to necessarily be what's responsible.

"I kind of figured," Pooch says as he drops them off at the airport. "With the bar thing. Well. Good luck, man. And congratulations to your sister."

They hug. As he steps on the plane, Cougar wonders if he will step off as Carlos, like he had always done before. But as the plane leaves the ground, he knows he won't. Carlos died in a plane wreck along with the twenty-five angels he'd unwittingly sacrificed. And even if he hadn't, Carlos didn't have what it took to withstand the excruciating impossibility of day-to-day living; Cougar had to stay Cougar because being Carlos would kill him.

"Is it going to be cooler in Mexico than it was in good old Bow-livia?" Jensen asks cheerfully, reclining in his chair. "'Cause I'll tell you what, this guy is ready for some motherfucking snow. Or even just like, a nice breeze would be all right. I'm not mad at this air conditioning, either."

He takes out his computer and disappears into a pair of headphones. Cougar looks out the window and thinks of home.

.x.

"Nope. Still hot as a motherfucker," Jensen says, dumping a water bottle over his head and letting it drip down into his shirt. Cougar watches the little trails the water carves along his skin before tearing his eyes away to look back through his binoculars. Célia looks perfect as she walks down the aisle, beaming beneath her veil.

They are on the roof of the hotel across from the church where his sister is this moment marrying Orlando Marquez. They sit there throughout the night, through the entire service and then after, when everyone goes outside for dinner and dancing. His family is beautiful, Cougar thinks as he and Jensen open some bears and relax in their lawn chairs.

With the alcohol buzzing nicely through him, he doesn't feel apart from the women across the street. He feels right there with them, and he clinks his bottle against Jensen's in toast.

"Your sister's a babe," Jensen says cheerfully, and grins at Cougar's mutinous glare. "Whoa, easy, Trigger Fingers. I respect the sanctity of the left hand and the short Mexican with the dress."

Cougar raises his eyebrows. "The priest?" he asks, frowning.

"Yeah, whatever. The priest. I'm just sayin'. Clearly your family's got some A-plus DNA, 'cause the lot of you look like something off Televisa."

Cougar snorts. Jensen's Spanish was abysmal. He had the most horrifying accent Cougar had ever heard. But despite not being able to stumble through a simple greeting, the techie had found a sudden and unstoppable love for the telenovelas broadcast on Televisa. Cougar wasn't sure if he understood the actual language or if the visuals were enough to explain the story, but he hadn't pressed. Jensen loved a lot of things that didn't make sense.

He settles against his lawn chair and brings his binoculars back to his face, listening with one ear to Jensen talk about genetics and panda sex. He sweeps the dancing crowd to look at everyone: Felicia and Angélica and Mirabel and Lucía and Rosaura and Alma and Ernesta and Dorotea and Sole. They are all dressed in bridesmaid yellow, bunched together at a table like a bouquet of sunflowers, watching with wide smiles as Célia dances with her new esposo. He sees Alma reach across the table to swat a fly; then Lucía pretends to try to resuscitate it. Rosaura's laugh is so loud he can hear it from here, if only faintly.

There are ten holes where his heart used to be, but sitting here, Jensen's prattle washing over him, he feels his sisters pour in and fill them up, if only for a little while.

.x.

"I did not know how to tell you this before," Cougar announces, leaning his head against the hotel bed's headrest. They have another five hours to kill before they need to be at the airport. " Your mother was a goat."

Jensen chokes on an ice cube and shoots Cougar a glare. "You lying motherfucker. I might not speak the language, but there's no way I missed a plot point that big. A goat starts walking around with a baby on its back, that's something you notice."

He turns to squint at the TV screen, where a man and a woman are engaging in a tug-o-war of shouting and kissing against a wall. "You do not trust my translations?" Cougar asks, raising a warning eyebrow.

"Not even a little. I know you're a fuckin' cheater, down to your bones."

Cougar grins. He shakes his head.

"Don't give me that shit," Jensen warns, pointing a finger. "You can go to church all you want. Jesus knows what you've done."

Cougar looks away, because it is true, and the silence settles on them both. Jensen clears his throat. "Shit, man," he murmurs, taking a step towards the bed, hand going to the back of his head. "I didn't mean . . . fuck. I didn't mean that." Cougar shrugs. He stands up and slings his suitcase over his shoulder.

Without looking at Jensen, he opens the hotel room door. "Let's go," he instructs quietly. "We'll be late."

.x.

Jensen is edgy on the plane back to Bolivia, bouncing his knee and shooting Cougar glances. But he doesn't apologize again, doesn't try to re-gather his words and swallow them back up, because both men understand some things are true, whether or not they remain unspoken.

.x.

Two days after they touch back down in Bolivia, Pooch presents Cougar with a joint and they smoke it in his hotel room by the window. Cougar pulls his hat low over his eyes and breathes in deeply, letting the smoke weave around him.

"Are you glad you went?" Pooch asks, a tinge of longing in his voice. Cougar shrugs. "Was it weird having Jensen there?"

Cougar thinks about it. He does not know how to explain that Jensen's constant chatter keeps the nightmares away, keeps his tattered mind from completely unravelling. So instead he shrugs again. "Yes," he says simply. "And no."

Yes: Jensen does not belong to Mexico, does not belong to his sister's wedding, does not belong to Carlos. But no: because Jensen belongs to Cougar, and this is something that nobody talks about but everybody knows.

Pooch is quiet for a minute. Then he says, not meeting Cougar's eyes, "So what did he say to piss you off? 'Cause he always gets quiet and sulky when you're fighting. He wouldn't even help me get free porn off the TV last night."

Cougar opens his eyes against the fabric of his hat. It's dark, the light filtered through the brown-colored straw. Jesus knows what you've done. "Nothing," he says, honestly enough.

"He know that?" Pooch asks, and then sighs. He twists uncomfortably and stares hard out the window when he says, "You gotta put him out of his misery some time."

Cougar pushes up his hat and turns his head to look at Pooch. The bald man meets his eyes. "Cougar," Pooch says, voice quiet, "I know you ain't blind."

"No," Cougar agrees. He looks away. He does not want to talk about this with Pooch. He does not want to talk about this with anybody.

"I'm just sayin'. It ain't ever a bad thing to be loved, man."

Cougar laughs quietly, because life has taught him the exact opposite. It is always a bad thing to be loved: to be loved by your sisters means that they will lose you, and it will kill them; to be loved by your team means you will do unspeakable things for them, and it will kill you. To be loved by someone else is—

Cougar is used to looking at the world from the safe distance of his rifle scope. To be loved by someone else would make everything too close, and he's not sure he can put the rifle down anymore.

.x.

The night of the party at the doll factory, Jensen gets too drunk for anybody's good and hunts him down. He smells like tequila and Cheetos and Jensen as he pulls Cougar outside and shoves him against the wall. He doesn't kiss him: he just stands close enough that Cougar will have to hit him to get away, and they both know that Cougar will not hit him.

"Look, I talk a lot, okay," Jensen begins, slurring slightly. "And I say shit that doesn't—that no one else cares about. I know. But I can't . . . I can't shut up, man, it's not in my, like, nature, or whatever, I'm just a chatty motherfucker. Talking, it like, calms me down. It helps me think. It fills up the silences that I can't— what I mean is, I'm fuckin' sorry about the whole Jesus thing. It just slipped out, and I didn't think. I just. Sometimes I say things that I know are going to hurt people but I say them anyway because sometimes I want to hurt people, not because people are bad but because I am, you know? It's in my DNA or something, my Dad was an asshole and now I am too."

Cougar waits.

"Look, when I was little, my Dad, he . . . well fuck, it just wasn't The Brady Bunch at my house, okay? And Sophie, she tried to protect me, but with my fuckin' mouth, you know how it goes. But what I mean is, I learned to use it, you know? Get people to focus on what I want them to focus on, get them to give me things I haven't asked for yet. And I know that everyone thinks I'm this, like, harmless—don't look at me like that, I know you do, everyone does, but don't—don't let your guard down is all I'm saying, 'cause I'm an asshole when I'm scared, and Jesus, Cougar, being around you makes me—"

Cougar doesn't want to hear what Jensen's about to say, so he takes the other man's face between his hands and kisses him, hard. Jensen stills, surprised, and then tentatively kisses back, threading his hands into Cougar's shirt.

Cougar pulls away. Jensen keeps his eyes closed. "Okay?" Cougar asks. What he means is, do you understand?

Jensen nods, swallowing. "Yeah," he says, voice rough. "I wish . . . " He sighs. "You know, right? You know about me?"

If he were another man, maybe Cougar would have kissed him again and said something like, I know everything about you. If he were another man, Cougar might have murmured, I know about you because I know about me. If he were another man, Cougar might have made a promise.

"Yes," he says, and Jensen sags beside him against the wall. They both slide down to sit in the dark alley, with the sounds of the bar and the street swallowing them. Eventually, Jensen passes out; but Cougar stays awake, keeping watch.

It is hard to look at Jensen when he is this close, when they are this close, but he makes himself do it anyway.

"Prometo," he murmurs into the dark as the weight of Jensen's shoulder leans into his old.

"Prometo," he says again, but he's not sure exactly what it is he's promising.

(end part 2)

(Translations:

Hello. I hate you. I love you. I miss you. I wish you were here.

Your death destroyed me. It destroyed the whole family, especially Felicia. She thinks she scared you off with her talk of marriage. But I know the truth: you were born with blood in your mouth, in your soul, on your hands. We are all born in blood, of blood, blood that stains. You never left behind that stain, Carlos. Your entire life was red.

Always,

Sole)

part one