Chapter 2 - Healing
Clay banged heavily on the door to Jensen's room as he opened it. He wasn't that surprised by what he saw, Jensen sitting on the bed, knees drawn up as he balanced his laptop on his knees. As Jensen looked up and saw Clay standing in the doorway, he seemed to panic, pushing the laptop from his knees in a throw to the bed in front of his feet and trying to turn and stand and grab for something on the nightstand and hide it behind his back.
Clay had already seen it and recognized it for exactly what it was . . . some form of medication. He'd caught the name but didn't recognize it, Inderal. He walked calmly across the room and sat down on Cougar's bed, hoping to put Jensen a little more at ease. "Sit down, Jake." He saw the shudder that seemed to grip Jensen before he sat. "You working?"
"Yes sir. I read the reports and have started to look for details. I think there may be some of the information that is . . . umm . . . incorrect, sir." Where Jensen had seemed calm as Clay had entered the room, he looked anything but now. Fuck! Clay wanted to wrap him up and take him home to his own mother to be looked after properly. Jensen looked down at his hands, seeming to take in the tremor before looking up at Clay, who deliberately averted his eyes as if that wasn't what he'd been looking at. He looked back to see Jensen slipping them under his thighs as if to hide them from view.
"It wouldn't surprise me – I appreciate any information you can find me that's accurate. I'd rather have my own tech do the research when I can. Never do trust those guys up in the offices who've never had to set foot in the field. So it'll be good to hear what you come up with. While I think about it, I've arranged a medical for you at 0900 tomorrow with Dr Matthews. Cougar's got some stuff to pick up from base so he'll run you up there tomorrow and pick you up afterwards."
"He doesn't need to –"
Clay cut him short, "It's an order for you. He's going that way anyway. Talking of which, he'll be serving up in a few minutes, I expect to see you in the kitchen and then this afternoon, he's doing a supply run for food, I want you to go with him."
"But I'm in the –"
"I don't care if you're in the middle of climbing Everest, you'll go do the shopping with Cougar this afternoon." He growled in annoyance. Shit, the last tech had found any excuse to not work, looked for the easiest way out of everything and was a lazy fucker; this one seemed to be determined to cut himself off from everyone else in order to keep working. "Kitchen now!" he almost barked, relieved to see Jensen jump to obey. As he passed closer, Clay reached out to stop him with a hand before his chest, pausing him in his movement but not restraining him. "While I remember, you tell the Doc about whatever those meds are and then you report to me so that I know what we have to take into account when we're away for your safety. You do not lead him to believe that there are none, and you do not try to do without unless you get his permission for that, is that clear?"
Jensen nodded, bringing his hand from behind his back and shoving the packet into his pocket with a blush on his cheeks. "Jensen," Clay stopped him again, "If it's a problem, we deal with it accordingly until you're fit again."
Clay chatted at lunch, managing to draw laughter and a few comments from Cougar before the two of them turned to regaling Jensen with stories of Pooch and his cars and his wife Jolene and how to beware of his cardsharking ways. The stories of Roque were more carefully chosen as neither of them wanted to add to Jensen's already clear anxiety.
The rest of the day had gone smoothly enough for Clay to figure they could work everything out eventually. Jensen had gone to fetch supplies with Cougar without further complaint and when he'd spoken to Cougar later, he'd said that he'd got a few little bits of conversation out of the tech, not much but some. Jensen had made supper that evening, a pasta concoction that tasted good and was definitely filling. Roque still hadn't returned and so it was just the three of them and although Jensen still looked anxiously at the door as if worried by the prospect of the return of more of the team, he was polite enough and allowed himself to be drawn into a few safe topics of conversation as they ate.
Once everything was cleared up and Cougar and Clay looked all set to settle down in front of the TV and watch a baseball game, Jensen slipped away back to his room. Roque had turned up later that evening, been loud in his exclamations that Jensen could stay if he cooked like that. Nothing had drawn Jensen out of the room and Clay hadn't gone in to drag him out in case the kid was actually sleeping off some of the exhaustion and making a start on getting rid of the shadows below his eyes.
Cougar had been prepared to slip into the room as silently as possible later that evening, expecting Jensen to be asleep, so it was with some surprise that he found Jensen sat on his bed with the laptop balanced in front of him as he worked. He'd changed and climbed into bed himself with a quiet goodnight for Jensen which he was pleased the other man returned.
Cougar woke again in the early hours of the morning, drawn by the sound of keys still tapping and the slight light that Jensen's laptop was casting. He looked across at the tech before pushing himself up and crossing to Jensen's bed. He sat down near Jensen's feet and said, "Enough Jensen, you need to sleep."
"I'm working. Clay wanted infor-" Cougar stopped him, reaching instead for the laptop slowly. "But –" Jensen tried to object.
Cougar shook his head, "Sleep. More work tomorrow. Turn it off now." He was relieved when Jensen did as he was told, although the look of resigned dejection on Jensen's face was a worry. He took the laptop and placed it on top of Jensen's chest of drawers before returning to his own bed. "Good night, Jensen," he said before rolling over and putting his back to the other man.
Cougar was pulled from sleep again about three in the morning, this time by a soft whimper from the other bed. He rolled over and looked at Jensen, wondering whether the younger man would accept being woken. It was a common enough thing in teams like theirs for team members to understand the nightmares that plagued each other's sleep and to be the ones to wake one another up without judgment. Cougar thought for a while about it, Jensen was different . . . too jumpy, too afraid of unfamiliar people and while the two of them had come to a slightly uneasy truce, Cougar knew he didn't really know Jensen well enough to predict his reaction.
He eventually decided to lie and wait to see if the nightmare passed or got worse and then choose a course of action. He watched as Jensen seemed to curl smaller, tension clear in every line of his body. Cougar started to sit up ready to move across to wake Jensen, unwilling to let the nightmare play out any longer and cause Jensen any more distress, but before he could Jensen rolled up to sitting with a frightened gasp, pulling himself into the corner as if to defend himself. The trembling that Cougar had seen earlier in his hands seemed to be back now as he took great heaving breaths. As Jensen's eyes settled on Cougar sitting on the other bed, he took another short gasp before growling, "Don't fucking think about doing anything. I'm not gonna let you –"
Cougar waved the accusation away and said, "Just checking you were gonna wake up. As you are, I shall go back to sleep." Cougar very deliberately laid back down and rolled over again, although he didn't shut his eyes, but instead lay listening to see what Jensen would do next. The short uneven breaths went on for a while before Jensen got up and left the room. Cougar's first instinct was to worry until he heard the bathroom door open and close and the sound of running water in the quiet of the house.
He had almost drifted back to sleep, when the room door opened again. He lay still waiting to hear Jensen settle, but instead he heard footsteps cross the room and then he heard Jensen moving something. It took him a moment to realize that Jensen was retrieving his laptop and heading back for the door. He rolled over quickly and said, "Put it down and go back to sleep."
"It's okay, man, seriously," Jensen stuttered out nervously. "I don't sleep that much, you know. I'll – I'll take the laptop out of here and leave you in peace."
"No, you will put the laptop down and go back to sleep."
"Look, just –"
"Corporal . . ." Cougar let the word hang, reminding Jensen of his rank and therefore his position in relation to the other men in the house. He hadn't been prepared for Jensen to pale so suddenly and he shot across the room to slip an arm under Jensen's, fully expecting him to pass out. He caught hold of Jensen's laptop with the other hand, hoping that he wouldn't drop either. Jensen flinched trying to pull away. "Stop, 's okay, you're okay." He led Jensen to the bed, lowering him down to it and then stepping back, taking the laptop with him.
"Leave me alone," Jensen hissed. "I – I –"
"You need sleep, Jensen," Cougar said softly. Finally Jensen lay down tucking himself as far back against the wall as he could, pulling the covers closer, but he didn't close his eyes, just lay watching Cougar. Cougar nodded and turned to set Jensen's laptop on his own chest of drawers, before getting back into his own bed and pulling the covers over. "Goodnight," he said quietly and closed his eyes.
Cougar lay deliberately still, letting his body appear relaxed and his breathing even out as if he was asleep. It was a familiar process for when he was positioning his long range shots, the only difference being he normally had his eyes open. He lay quiet and listened for a change in Jensen's breathing or for any sign of the other man trying to get back up again.
It took an age for Jensen to start moving and shifting, but as far as Cougar could tell he was just settling more comfortably as if actually considering going to sleep. When Jensen's breathing finally evened out into sleep, Cougar opened his eyes again and looked at his watch. It had taken more than an hour to reach this point. No wonder the tech had shadows under his eyes if this was all the sleep he was getting.
Cougar wondered if Jensen would be better if he could sleep alone, if his perusal of the store room had actually been more appraising, knowing that he didn't sleep well with someone else in the room. Then again, more realistically he needed to learn to adjust, it wasn't like they had luxuries like that on missions.
Jensen woke from nightmares two more times that Cougar heard before morning and when the tech got up after the second Cougar couldn't blame him, figured he knew how it felt. He left Jensen to pick up his laptop and head out of the room. It wasn't like Jensen was getting any decent amount of sleep and there wasn't enough night left before he'd have to get up anyway. Cougar decided he would tell the tech to talk to Doctor Matthews about it the following day as he drove him to his appointment. He also thought that perhaps he would spring some of his own momma's home remedies for sleeplessness and try those. If nothing else, they might help break down some of the walls between them, let Jensen see him as a friend and colleague who was to be trusted. He'd come to the conclusion there weren't many people Jensen trusted.
Over the next few days, Cougar worked on earning Jensen's trust. Little things to show that he wanted the tech to be a part of the team; ensuring he had peace to work, bringing him a snack or a drink when he had been working for long periods of time, insisting on Jensen's turning the laptop off at a reasonable hour and trying to sleep. When Jensen was between bouts of working, he would invite him out for a walk in the fresh air or a supply run. He'd taken note of how little Jensen ate when Roque was around, found himself being more talkative than normal in an attempt to draw Roque's attention away from their newest team-mate and then bringing Jensen something extra to eat when they were alone in their room. No matter his concerns, he didn't press for information, just offered support and unconditional friendship and wondered if he would ever see a genuine smile of friendship and trust on Jensen's face.
He kept watch over the medications that the doctor had given Jensen and made sure that he took them as advised and saw how over the days that followed Jensen's hands seemed to tremble less obviously.
While Jensen's actual nightmares did not seem to be improving, the routine of going to sleep when Cougar turned in meant that he was getting a little more sleep. Each evening, Cougar would appear with a cup of his momma's recipe for orange tea and discovering that Jensen had a sweet tooth he would sweeten it with a little honey. There were nights when he could almost swear he could see the tension dropping from Jensen's body as it would start to relax ready for sleep.
Jensen was good at hiding the majority of the nightmares, only the fact that Cougar was listening out for the slight hitch in breathing or any other sign that he was no longer asleep that meant the older man was hyper aware of each slight change. Every night there would be at least one major nightmare and that was the one that worried Cougar the most as he would turn the light on and find Jensen shivering in the dim light, covered in sweat and pale as a ghost. He would talk quietly about his momma's farm until Jensen had calmed and was back with him in the present, then wait until Jensen was ready to settle down again without ever pressing for more information, despite his thoughts that perhaps if Jensen talked it would banish the dreams.
Two days before they were due to leave on their mission, Clay drove Jensen to see the doctor again for an all-clear to travel. Neither the doctor nor he had been happy after the first check-up to find that the reports they'd been sent about Jensen's previous injuries and how far along he was in recovering had been inaccurate. The doctor had limited Jensen's physical activity to walking, although he'd agreed to a couple of long walks a day to maintain both fitness and to try and encourage his body to wear itself out ready for sleep.
Clay wasn't sure how he'd done it, but the medic seemed to have earnt Jensen's trust, something he knew he and his team hadn't fully managed yet. He was surprised to be called in to the office while Jensen was there, but appreciated the information that came out of it. He was able to set the doctor's mind at rest as to what the mission would entail; it was a small job on US soil: information retrieval that wouldn't involve Jensen in doing anything more than hacking the computer systems to ensure Roque could enter the building with ease. The doctor seemed happy enough to clear Jensen with the sole provisos that he return to see him once the mission was over to work out a program to rebuild his fitness and that he do as little extra lifting as possible but that he was okay to carry his pack. Clay was glad that he got the clearance; he'd been impressed with the information Jensen had tracked down already, it was far superior to anything the brass had given him about the job and had actually proved some of their information was out-of-date and dangerously inaccurate when they were planning to infiltrate the building.
Just as they were about to leave, Clay asked for a personal chat with the doctor, sending Jensen out ahead of him before closing the door and moving back to sit down again. "You're sure he's okay to travel?" Clay started. "The kid ain't sleeping right, has nightmares and everything and he doesn't eat anywhere near enough for a soldier!"
"Clay, Franklin . . . those kinds of things take time to heal. What you're doing now is giving him that time and a framework that makes the healing possible. He's put a couple of pounds of weight on since his first visit, that means he has to be eating better than he was . . . it takes time and this way is actually safer than trying to immediately change to the kind of diet he should be on, particularly while he isn't being so active. Whatever you're doing on that score must be working."
"Cougar keeps taking him snacks, healthy ones for the most part, although the kid seems partial to sugar, between meals."
"Alvarez is a good man and he's got the right idea."
"Kid won't . . . can't function with Roque there."
"Tell me someone who can, the man terrifies most people he meets – seriously I always feel like I'm taking my life into my hands when I have to give the guy his medical. Where does the guy not have a concealed weapon? Clay, you were the one who told me what you thought had gone on in the old team. You were the one not happy with the med report so you brought him to me, so don't pretend like you don't know why the kid is like he is and don't pretend that you don't know what he's having to work through. Time and consistency from your team and he'll get there. Now get lost and let me get on before I tell him you've got the clap! Oh and get him to spend a bit of time with Pooch; he's another good man, like Alvarez, easier to trust. He'll come round to Roque eventually; maybe get Roque to help with the training program when you all get back."
The job ran like clockwork and Clay made sure that as far as the team was concerned the credit went to Jensen. It seemed to unnerve the young man at first, have him warily separating himself from the tentative friendship with Cougar until Cougar and Pooch both managed to convince him that they were delighted to have things work out smoothly. Pooch was more than happy to regale him with stories of their previous tech's failings and how much better he was. Cougar agreed quietly on a regular basis, thankful that Pooch was building bridges and that it wasn't him having to do all the talking.
It took a while but when Jensen began to ask questions about the departure of their old tech, Pooch was willing to talk about the final straw, watching sadly as Cougar stood and left the room and putting a hand out to settle Jensen back in his seat as he stood anxiously, aware of a tension in the room. Pooch didn't leave out the details of how the tech's attitude had led to arguments in the team on more than one job, how his failure to do his job properly had turned more than one job sour, but how he'd been more than willing to pass the buck or try because Clay had seen through it time and again. Then Pooch grimly described the final mission, the incomplete information that was basically just what Clay had been given through official channels, how the tech had claimed that he'd not been able to find anything else out and how Cougar had almost been killed as he'd not only failed as a tech but also put the rest of the team at risk on the ground as well. He'd gone off comms and in trying to keep track of him and keep him safe, Cougar's position had been compromised and he hadn't had chance to save himself before he was captured. He'd been badly beaten before Pooch, Roque and Clay had managed to get him out. There'd been no more chances, Clay had hauled the tech before the brass, where he was court-martialed and had now left the army with a dishonorable discharge.
Jensen sat in silence, working his way through the information, piece by piece. "I shouldn't . . . I shouldn't have asked," he finally said, "I'm sorry."
"Jensen, man, it's okay. It's natural to be curious about your team-mates' past. Now you know," Pooch smiled. "We're all just glad you're nothing like him."
Jensen's eyes flicked anxiously to the door, "Cougar . . . I should . . ."
"Cougs is fine. He doesn't need to listen to what went wrong, but seriously man, he doesn't have a problem with you knowing about it."
Clay sent Roque on a visit to the doc to discuss appropriate physical training for Jensen to rebuild his strength, the man returning with a sheaf of papers and a plan in mind. Roque had taken matters into his own hands immediately, deciding also that he was too busy to be spending that amount of time with Jensen and not on his other duties and so roping Cougar and Pooch into the process as well.
He sat Jensen down at the kitchen table and began to run through what he wanted to happen, deciding that long runs could be left with either Pooch or Cougar depending on who had the most time on their hands, while he would work on technical training and on making sure that Jensen didn't do himself any injuries as they rebuilt his strength and stamina.
By the time they were preparing to leave on their fourth mission, Clay knew that Jensen was now part of the team. They knew how he worked and he understood their dynamics much better than he had at first. They were not out of the woods yet, but trust was building. Jensen was beginning to come out of his shell and to joke with the others. He was always more comfortable when Cougar was around, but again Clay wasn't worried by that. Cougar was a good grounding influence for them all.
Jensen was more than reliable on the technical front and despite a slight tendency when they were pre-Mission to have his attention on more than one thing at a time, Clay had come to realize he was thorough and he always checked and double-checked his information if there was time.
The doctor was pleased, Jensen's fitness was improving, his weight was almost back to what it should be and he'd got the truth out of the young man about some of the multitude of injuries listed in his file; reinforcing what Clay had suspected that the rest of the team had treated him as an easy target. He was still taking meds to keep the panic attacks at bay, but th doctor was confident that they'd be able to reduce them before too much longer.
It was just a couple of nights before their departure, when Jensen's now familiar nightmare hit, but this time it dragged on and on and he didn't seem to be pulling free. Cougar had left his own bed and moved over to break the nightmare's hold on his bunkmate.
He shook Jensen firmly, calling his name, catching the younger man as he shot upward when he finally woke. Jensen breathed out the word, "Fuck!" long and slow.
Cougar decided he'd had enough of watching the same torment night after night. So with determination, he took hold of Jensen's chin and turned his head so their eyes met. "This has to stop. You
need to talk about it. I am listening."
He wasn't really expecting Jensen to start to talk so easily, but it was another sign of how much had changed over the last few months. Jensen told him of the torment that he'd experienced since joining the army, the mistreatment and pain he'd suffered and how he never thought he'd find a team that would have his back.
When Jensen's words drew to a close, Cougar knew he was angry on the younger man's behalf. He said, "We are not that kind of team. We will always have your back."
Jensen nodded before adding, "I've been losing this game a long time. I guess it's going to take me a while to get used to not losing any more."