Title : A Wolf Among Men
Fandom: The Losers
Pairing : Eventual Jensen/Cougar
Rating : R (for violence and swearing)
Word Count : approx. 6,550 words this chapter/ 64,500 total
Summary : A Mission goes wrong, the team live to fight another day, but the consequences stay with them.
Written for the Losers_Minibang prompt of Werewolf!AU. Maybe the boys were on a mission somewhere nasty and got bitten? How does this affect the dynamics? How does this change their behavior? And what about Aisha? Cougar/Jensen would be nice, but I'm not picky. Prompter: snowdarkred
Thanks must go to shotboxer for her help as beta and as Spanish translator. I really appreciated all her help with this.
Thanks also to M, H, MC who prodded and poked so I didn't give up hope of ever finishing (after all it's not quite the minibang I set out to write!)
Chapter 1 – Guarded
"It takes twenty years or more of peace to make a man; it takes only twenty seconds of war to destroy him." Badouin I (Belgian King)
Jensen slid back to rest against the cold, stone wall as he carefully edged his way down the corridor. Lit candles lined the walls, leaving pockets of darkness for him to hide in. "Tight fucking bastard . . . I know he's got electricity, so why the fuck didn't he install some proper lighting in this place!" he grumbled through the comms.
"Jensen! Keep your focus and don't under any circumstances draw attention to yourself!" Clay insisted from his location trying to head into the dungeons to rescue the captive American journalist with Roque. "We need you to find that information quickly and get out undetected because we can't get you and the journo out. We're counting on you to take care of yourself and remember, there's no Cougar watching your back until you're outside the building."
"Yeah, yeah, yeah, I know. Even Cougs can't see through four feet of solid stone! Maybe we should get you a superpower, Cougs. What do you think? Super Coug! He can see through walls and has the weaponry to penetrate solid steel? Good idea? . . . Somebody in the higher ups should get on to that . . . you know like in the X-men or something . . . not that that turned out very well, did it? I mean Logan and that other guy turned on them and wiped most of them out. Hmmm, mind you, I don't know that I'd want them to be experimenting on our Cougar and giving him special powers, he's already got a spidey sense for trouble and he's got his hat so he doesn't need anything else . . . that would just be overkill, working the part to death, don't you think?"
The combined growls of "Jensen!" that distinctly sounded like at least three of his four team-mates left Jensen sighing, "Hey, it was just a thought, no need to be like that . . . Pooch agrees with me, don't you, Pooch?"
"Concentrate, Jensen," came Pooch's half laughed reply. "No point in letting anyone know you're there before we have to."
"Grumble, grumble, grouch, that's all you people do. If I was quiet all the time, you'd miss me, you know. You wouldn't know that everything was okay on my end of the –" Jensen went suddenly quiet. He waited a beat, two, three, four and then continued, "See! At least if I'm speaking you know I'm okay when you can't see me. There is a point to my talk, I'm not just rambling inanely, you know."
"That's a point I could debate later," Roque grunted. "Now if you want to keep your teeth all the way back to U.S. soil, shut the fuck up, so the rest of us can concentrate!"
Jensen went quiet and proceeded along the corridor without saying anything, above the odd murmur to himself that his team-mates were more than used to ignoring, until he found the room he was looking for. "Location reached," he said a fraction louder. "Objective in sight." He remained quiet as he worked, just the occasional, "Come on, come on, baby girl, come to papa," to break the silence. It was quiet enough that the rest of the team could ignore it, used to tuning out the sounds of Jensen muttering sweet nothings as he tinkered with anything technical that stayed still long enough for him to take apart.
There was the sound of a howl in the distance, followed by a muttered, "Odio ese sonido"(1) from Cougar.
"With you there, brother," Pooch agreed quietly. "You okay up there, it's not like actually stalking you or anything, is it?"
"No, I am fine. It is nearer the castle. Clay, you will all need to be careful on exiting. I cannot be sure where the wolf is – I think I have heard only one, but it is difficult to be sure."
"Roger that. Is Jensen going to be alright getting out, can you tell?"
"He should be fine. I am watching for him."
"I know you're all missing me and I know you'll all love to hear this . . . Objective achieved, exit commenced," Jensen chirped cheerily through the comms. There was another howl, one that could be heard not only outside as it echoed round the grounds of the eerie castle, but also through their comms and it was closely followed by a quiet, "Oh Fuck!"
"Jensen, report?" Clay snapped.
"Um . . . you know that wolf that Cougar thought was outside the castle . . . well I think, maybe it's actually inside. . ." Jensen said quietly. "And I think it might just be blocking the exit route I was supposed to take and well, to be honest, I don't think I want to get too close to be absolutely certain of that fact because I have a feeling that might draw its attention this way and let's be honest here, guys, we've been camping in the woods for a week with minimal facilities . . . I'm not entirely convinced that I don't smell bad enough to attract a wolf from two floors up, let alone close enough for eye-contact." The sound of Jensen running down a corridor accompanied by a steady gush of air as he breathed was all they heard for a while.
The next break in comm. silence was for Roque to announce that he, Clay and the journalist were now outside and heading for the pickup point. "Jensen, report!" Clay snapped as he and Roque dragged the journalist along with them, already in sight of Pooch. "Are you outside the building yet?"
"Not yet, no! That's a negative!" Jensen panted, the sound of feet on stairs accompanying his answers. "Heading upward. Had a little difficulty finding my way past the wolf. It, uh, it moves pretty fast and it's pretty stealthy too. Saving breath now though, gonna shut up and run as . . . um . . . the wolf kind of . . . um . . . well, yeah pretty much definitely, actually has my scent."
"Shit! That's all we need. What are they doing with fucking wolves roaming the castle?" Clay growled. "Jensen, as soon as you can, give us a location so we can get on to working out retrieval, but just keep moving."
"Yessir! Great idea!" Jensen rounded another corner and came in sight of a set of spiral stairs. He dashed desperately for them and began to run upward again. "Tower, spiral stairs, south side – not sure whether it's east or west corner, I got kind of turned around inside. Heading up, hoping the stairs will slow that fucking wolf down. Motherfucker!"
"Jensen! No! There's no way out – the towers only have one flight of stairs. You're gonna get stuck up there!" Clay shouted.
"Uh, yeah, worked that out already, but it's okay, seriously I have a plan, I just need a bit of time, that's all. Wolfy hopefully won't manage the spiral stairs."
He barely had time to register the expletives that were his team-mates' replies as he pounded up the stairs. "Bit further, just a bit further, keep going, keep going," he panted to himself. "Slow down, you fucker!" he muttered louder as he heard the wolf scrabbling up the stairs behind him, grateful that it did seem to be having more difficulty managing the spiral stairs than it had the earlier straight set that he had dashed up.
"Yes!" he gasped as he saw ahead of him just what he'd been hoping for. He dashed straight into the room, turning frantically and shoving the heavy door closed behind him and dragging the sofa in front of it just before he heard the thud of the wolf's body hitting it. "Shit!"
"Jensen, report! Report! Damn you, report!" Clay shouted almost hysterically.
"'S okay, Colonel,'s okay. I've got room to breathe and I'll be on my way just as soon as I – Fuck!" Jensen fell silent as the door shook with the impact of something from the other side. "Okay, moving that up, I'll be coming out the window just as soon as I can get my gear attached!"
"You're exiting via the window?" Clay snapped back.
"Yes sir! Good thing I packed my gear, I guess. Leaving in three, two, one . . . oh, tah mah duh hwoon dahn!"( Mother humping son of a bitch - firefly) Jensen hurled himself through the window as the sofa began to shift with the power of impact from the other side and the door began to open inch by inch.
"Roque! Roque!" Clay shouted as he found himself suddenly bearing the weight of the journalist alone on the struggle to meet Pooch, his second in command already sprinting back towards the main castle complex. "Fuck this, does nobody listen to my orders?"
"Cougar! Cougar, do you have visual? I repeat do you have visual on Jensen?" Roque called as he ran back towards the castle's south towers.
"No. Moving to new position in sight of both towers now. No visuals available. Fuck!" The sound of Cougar's footsteps crunching over branches as he dashed through the undergrowth echoed loud and clear through the comms along with his almost under the breath insistences to himself, "Apurro, apurro." (2)
"Roque, Cougar, keep me updated. Jensen, if you can, tell me your position. Target and I have now reached rendez-vous and are able to be en route to provide assistance."
They were all surprised when it was Jensen who spoke next, "Down on the ground and safe for the minute. Still have objective secure. Can anyone give me directions from here?"
There was a relay of information between them all as Roque and Cougar tried to close in on Jensen's position to ensure the tech's safe retreat and that they would all make it to Pooch who had also moved the truck he was driving closer. "Will break cover with truck as soon as you are headed this way. I'll get as close as I can and then as soon as you're on board, we'll be out of here," Pooch assured the others.
The relay of information was interrupted by a howl of pure anger that they could all only assume was from the wolf that had been pursuing Jensen, followed by another string of expletives from the man himself, quickly followed by an explanation of sorts, "Fucking super strength asshole. He jumped from the window! He ijumped/i from the window! Hell! I need help, guys, seriously, I need help!" For the first time, the rest of the team could hear more than just anxiety in Jensen's voice; this time they knew he thought he wasn't going to make it.
It only served to make them all the more determined to prove him wrong. "Visual! I have visual," Roque exclaimed, already bringing his gun up and aiming just beyond Jensen's shoulder at the huge wolf that was in pursuit. "Keep running the same way, Jensen. Do not change direction; I have a clear visual past you to the wolf. If you keep moving, I can shoot it." It was an evil looking monster of a thing with wild eyes and fur filthy and dishevelled. Just as it seemed to be poised to leap, Roque fired, hitting it in the shoulder and knocking it off its course. It stumbled before regaining its feet. Its head flicked round as it sought the source of its pain, before settling back on Jensen as if it had decided that Jensen was in some way to blame.
Jensen was scrambling wildly across the terrain and they were all relieved to hear him pant, "Again, Roque, again! Hit him for me, please. . ." There was a desperate half-sob that he couldn't hide as he staggered and stumbled over the uneven ground.
"Mother—fucker!" Roque aimed and fired and hit the wolf again, but still it came on. He hit it again and it seemed to rear backward before leaping at Jensen. Its teeth sank deep into Jensen's shoulder, tearing at the flesh as it took both of them down to the ground, claws scrabbling and tearing through Jensen's clothes and into the flesh below. Jensen screamed.
Before Roque could fire again, Cougar burst through the last of the undergrowth from the opposite direction, squeezing off a succession of shots that impacted the wolf between the eyes, and drove straight to the centre of its brain.
Its body continued its forward progress taking both itself and Jensen to the ground, the tech tangled in its paws and claws, its fangs still deeply embedded within his flesh. "No!" Cougar cried, dashing forward towards his fallen team-mate. Roque was already down on his knees trying to push the huge wolf off of Jensen's body.
The tech didn't make a sound or attempt to move. It only made his team-mates more frantic in their urgent attempts to move the wolf's huge body. Between them, they pushed its bulk free of Jensen before turning their attention to its head and how to free Jensen from the clutch of its jaws.
Jensen picked that moment to prove he wasn't actually dead with a moan of returning consciousness and a twitch of muscles. Cougar picked up on the slight movement, catching hold of Jensen's hand in one of his and resting the other hand against Jensen's cheek, murmuring, "Quieto, mi amigo, esté quieto ." (3)
Cougar was quiet, his focus entirely on Jensen as Roque gave a status report to Clay and Pooch. Jensen moaned again, still not conscious but hovering on the edge, and Cougar leant closer, saying softly, "We are here with you, Jensen. We will take care of you. Trust me, my friend."
Suddenly the muscles in the wolf's jaw went slack and Roque was able to pull the wolf's head away to reveal the nasty mess of bitten flesh beneath. Pulling off his jacket, he yanked his t-shirt off, wadded it up to make a pad and pressed it down on the torn shoulder. Jensen flinched but still didn't regain full consciousness. Cougar took over holding the pad down while Roque pulled his shirt back on and gathered up both his own pack and Jensen's.
Neither man paid any attention to the wolf corpse beside them as they relayed information to Clay and Pooch and determined how close they could get the truck. Clay left Pooch to get as close as he could, while he ran to join the others and help move Jensen.
The journalist shouted an objection as Clay made to leave the truck, saying it was more important to get out now than to waste time on waiting for the rest of the team to return. Clay's reaction was the same as it had been every time since they'd reached the truck and got the man ensconced in a corner and he'd started demanding they leave immediately and get him airlifted to speed his return to the U.S. and a variety of other demands that were all met with a derisive snort from Clay.
The journalist turned his attention to Pooch offering him everything from monetary incentive to leave the team behind to military promotion. Pooch gave him a bland, "Fuck you!" and turned his attention back to the information coming through from the rest of the team, so it was somewhat of a surprise to find a gun pressed to his temple as the word, "Drive!" was murmured directly into his ear.
Pooch figured he hadn't been special-ops trained for nothing and a little subterfuge to make his captor think he was complying before applying his own elbow to the guy's face pretty much did the trick and by the time, Clay was confirming that they had Jensen and were heading out, Pooch had already been able to take out the guy and tie him up with his wrists attached to one of the ceiling crossbars. He'd gagged the guy as well but not before he'd heard the words, "Undercover CIA" to which he'd shrugged and continued with what he was doing.
He wasn't entirely sure how Clay was going to feel about the situation, if the guy really was CIA, when he picked the others up, but that was not his principal concern and yeah, Pooch figured journalist or agent didn't really matter, he was lucky not to be dead at the side of the road.
"Two are better than one; because they have a good reward for their labour. For if they fall, the one will lift up his fellow: but woe to him that is alone when he falleth; for he hath not another to help him up." – Unknown
It was awkward trying to cover any real amount of ground at speed with the weight of the still unconscious Jensen between them, but they moved as quickly as they could and Pooch was ready and waiting with the back doors open and the floor cleared so they could lift him in and settle him as best as possible.
Clay didn't spare more than a glance for the guy tied up in the corner, giving Pooch an appraising look and when it was met with a shrug, he didn't bother asking. There would be plenty of time for that later, Jensen's health was more important for the immediate future.
Roque had a knife out and was slicing through all the clothes covering Jensen's torso, exposing the jagged claw marks and the ripped and bloody mess left by the wolf's bite. Pooch was keeping the truck as steady as it was possible to do along the highland track, but the ground was rough and uneven, intermittently rocky and muddy, so there was going to be no way they could sew up Jensen's wounds in their current position. Clay closed his eyes for a moment before issuing the command to keep going, get them as far away as possible at the greatest speed. He knew it reduced Jensen's chances of survival because they weren't going to be able to do more than a rough clean of the wounds and bandaging in the hope it would be enough until they reached a safer location, but then again hanging around waiting for them all to be caught wasn't going to do any of them any good either and was a guarantee to ensuring Jensen died of his injuries.
"Fuck kid, you've got to hang on and fight this," he muttered to the still unconscious tech, watching as Roque and Cougar did their best to clean the wounds and staunch the flow of blood. "You two, everything you can, do it! I'm climbing up front with Pooch, I want a running status. Any deterioration at all you tell me, clear?"
"Sir!" came the response as Clay turned, sparing the still tied journalist a brief glance before he climbed in the front.
Sitting next to Pooch he hung on for dear life as they rounded a few nasty turns at breakneck speed, deciding to wait until they were on a slightly straighter stretch of track before daring to ask why Pooch had felt it necessary to go so far as tying up the guy they'd been sent to rescue. He had to admit that he hadn't liked the guy's attitude so far, but he wouldn't have gone so far as to actually tie him up or at least not for a while anyway. He did have some patience after all.
The road ahead settled down to 'fairly straight' and somehow Pooch seemed to drag even more speed from the clapped-out old truck they were in. Clay was impressed. With a breath to steady himself and still not sure it was the best time, he figured he'd start by praising his subordinate's achievements under the current situation before tackling the dangerous subjects. At least that way he hoped to keep Pooch's mind in the game of driving well and let him know that he was open to hearing the guy was at fault. In fact being absolutely honest he didn't have any real doubt the guy had asked for it. . . Pooch didn't have a temper like Roque's, wasn't inclined to suddenly rash behaviour and wasn't dumb as fuck when he didn't think through what he was doing like Jensen had at times been known to do.
"Good driving, soldier," he started only to receive a frown from Pooch.
"Boss, you seriously want to tell me I'm a good driver now . . . or do you want to know why I tied him up in the back and gagged him?" Pooch gave a nonchalant sniff as he finished speaking as if he wasn't really concerned anyway.
"Well, if you want to tell me why . . . that would be . . . good. But I trust your judgement, Pooch, you know that, right?" Clay realized that sounded somewhat defensive for a commanding officer, but before he had time to say anything more Pooch was replying.
Pooch laughed, "Yeah, right, whatever! I tied him up because he wanted me to get out of here and leave the rest of you behind . . . and he tried to get a little ioverly/i persuasive and I had other things on my mind than him."
"Overly persuasive?" Clay growled the words, looking over his shoulder at the still suspended journalist, grinning maliciously as Pooch hit a bump in the road and the journalist was jostled unable to keep his balance and knocking his head against the side of the truck, before his glance slid anxiously to where the rest of his team were working on Jensen.
"Said he was CIA, under cover and tried to persuade me to follow his orders by holding a gun to my head." Pooch slipped one hand from the wheel and down the side of his seat where he retrieved the gun he'd taken from the supposedly undercover agent and handed it to Clay, before turning his full attention back to the track ahead, figuring that he was pretty confident Clay would more than support his actions.
Clay took the gun, turned it over as if to examine it from all sides, before sliding it into the glove compartment and then making his way over the seat into the back of the truck again. He settled himself as comfortably as possible in front of the agent and withdrew a knife from a sheath at his side. He turned it over a couple of times, examining it in the same way he'd looked at the gun moments before, then lifted his eyes to glare at the man before him. "So . . . undercover CIA right? Says it all that you'd be posing as some hack out here in the middle of nowhere and that you'd fuck up bad enough to get caught and need us to come and rescue you . . . I'd excuse you all of that, I really would . . . but what I can't ever forgive is the fact that you seem to think that my men are expendable. See that man lying there, he's a damn sight more useful to me and his fucking country alive than you could ever be . . . so I guess what I'm telling you is, you better have a really good excuse for holding a gun on one of my men and for trying to i'persuade'/i him to leave the rest of us behind because when I take this gag off, that's what I'm going to want to hear."
The guy nodded and so Clay lifted the huge knife towards the side of his mouth, slipping the point under the edge of the gag. Clay smirked as he saw the guy hold his breath and keep deathly still, as with a fractional movement the gag shredded and fell away but Clay left the knife resting against the man's cheek. "I'm listening . . . make it good!"
The guy gulped and then stammered out, "I – I have in – inform-mation. Vital information!"
Clay sneered as he shook his head. "Not good enough. That man there," he tilted his head in Jensen's direction. "He had vital information. He brought us out Viktor's hard drive contents. That's what you call vital information. You got something better than that?"
"Um . . . it's . . . confidential," the guy tried to put more weight behind his words, tried to boost both his own confidence and the authority he had over the men in the vehicle with him.
"Don't give a fuck! You threatened one of my men . . . all of my men's safety actually and I really don't like people who do that, so I guess that means I really don't fucking like you. Let me make this clear, I am going to untie you . . . I am going to let you live – for now, but you even think of breathing out of line and I will feed you your own intestines! Are we clear?"
"Yes," came the reply.
"So when we get back, there will be no mention of the fact that you were tied up by my man there, instead my team will receive the glowing report they deserve for the rescue of yourself and the retrieval of all that nice yummy hard drive data and the codes to access the information which I have no doubt Jensen will provide when he recovers. I'm not asking for anything they don't already deserve. If I find a single word of complaint has been even thought, let alone uttered, then we will find out where you are and make you really fucking sorry we risked our asses to get you out of that mess."
The agent nodded a quick confirmation of agreement, before Clay added, "And where the fuck did you get the gun?"
"It was mine. . . No bullets left," the guy admitted. "I'm sorry about your man," he tilted his head in Jensen's direction. "You should know . . . the word in the area was that no one who got bitten survived."
Clay hummed disapproval at the suggestion that Jensen wasn't going to make it before saying, "I would imagine that was for the folk who were savaged to death by it. Wolf didn't get that far. It's just a bite and a few claw marks." His words didn't carry the conviction he wanted them to and the look in Cougar's eyes as he glanced up at him was one of hurt and appeal, although right then, Clay had no idea what he could do to help. He slipped his knife up and released the agent's hands, adding a sharp, "Stay put unless you've got something useful to add to the situation."
"No, I'm sorry," he said seemingly regretful. "I am sorry, I know what you think but it was never about you and your men."
Clay shook his head in disgust as he added, "It never fucking is."
They'd got far enough away to stop and patch Jensen up with the truck stationery. He'd drifted close to consciousness a few times, emerging incoherently out of it just a couple, but it had done nothing to settle everyone else's anxiety. His temperature had been steadily rising despite the fact that none of the wounds seemed to be infected so far. If anything the claw marks looked like they were already calming, sealing themselves and looking far less raw and violent than they had when first exposed. The bite itself had stopped seeping blood and appeared clean. Cougar's stitches were holding.
They were sleeping in shifts, one of them always keeping guard while the other watched over Jensen. Cougar refused to leave Jensen's side and would just bunk down alongside his younger team-mate when it came round to his turn to sleep. The rest of the team ignored it, used to Cougar's protective streak and the thick run of guilt that always weighed their sniper down when he had been watching their backs but one of them managed to get hurt anyway.
Cougar and Roque were sleeping when the agent decided to comment on it, only to find himself being dragged outside by the scruff of his neck by Clay. Slammed against a tree with his tiptoes barely touching the floor, the agent's eyes were wild as apologies dropped from his lips. "What a shame you died of the injuries Viktor caused!" Clay sneered as he held his gun to the agent's temple then slowly let it drift down to rest against the agent's stomach. "We all know gut shots in the field; terrible things, slow and painful but pretty certain way to die!"
The agent babbled a further round of apologies and pleas for mercy before Clay snapped, "My men are a team, one hurts they all hurt. They watch each other's backs so when Jensen gets hurt when Cougar is watching over him, Cougar is hurt just as bad even though we all know it wasn't his fault, either of their faults. Wrong place, wrong time but this is how they deal. They stay close and watch over each other until they're whole again. You wouldn't know the first thing about team work, about having anybody else's back, so don't fucking dream you're in a position to be able to judge!" Clay let go and the man stumbled to his knees. Clay spat, the huge globule of saliva landing deliberately right alongside the agent's hand which he withdrew quickly as Clay turned and strode back to the truck.
Swinging up inside, Clay looked at Pooch, who was still standing guard outside surveying the perimeter, "Up front now, we're moving out as soon as he gets back on board. I've had more than enough of this fucking country to last a lifetime."
Pooch swung into the front of the truck and immediately turned the engine on. The agent returned to the back of the truck and looked warily in at Clay, who was deliberately not returning the gaze. Roque and Cougar had immediately sat up at the sound of the engine starting, reaching for their weapons as they did so. The agent found himself at the end of two high-powered assault rifles and a smirk from Clay. "Let him back in, guys. We're moving out. Let's get Jensen to civilization, huh?"
The weapons were lowered and the agent resumed his place tight in the corner in silence.
Cougar turned to start checking on Jensen again, hand resting on his forehead. He frowned across at Clay as he said, "Temperature still rising. He's too hot." Clay just shrugged, soaked another cloth in water and handed it over. There was nothing else they could do until they reached somewhere with some sort of medical help.
It took another two days to get somewhere that really counted, somewhere built up enough to be called a town and to actually have something approaching a medical facility and by then Jensen's wounds were healing. His temperature was still ridiculously high but for periods he was awake and lucid and grouchy as hell. The claw tracks had almost disappeared and the bite wound was knitting nicely with no immediate sign of infection, nothing that gave any indication of why Jensen's temperature was so high.
He seemed to need to sleep a lot more than he usually did, but given the state of his injuries the rest of the team weren't surprised at that. So when they finally did find a doctor to look at Jensen, he said maybe there was an infection, maybe Jensen was just a little odd; although they couldn't be entirely sure something hadn't got lost in translation at that point, for as much as they all had a tendency to agree that Jensen definitely was odd, no little about it, that didn't seem like the kind of thing a doctor would say to account for such a high temperature. Clearly Jensen was well on the way to recovery and when the antibiotics that the doctor had given him only started to make him vomit without bringing his temperature down any, nobody was inclined to insist he took them. After all, serial vomiting was likely to do more damage to the healing wounds at that point than anything else that Jensen had been going through.
And so it was that by the time they were on board a flight back to the U.S., nobody thought it necessary to say anything to the army medics at the other end. Jensen still had moments where he seemed confused but they were far enough apart that the rest of the team didn't notice anything seriously amiss. His temperature still seemed to fluctuate between normal and too high, but a cooling icepack to the back of his neck, knees and under his arms when it was really bad soon calmed everything back down again. And as for his newly acquired hyper-sensitivity to loud sounds and what he described as strong smells, well that was all in his imagination according to Roque.
Cougar found himself sniffing round more than once, trying to find the 'strong, offensive odors' that Jensen would be moaning about and only managing to find vague whiffs of things that were neither strong nor overly offensive. As for the noises that had Jensen flinching and wincing, Cougar knew for a fact they weren't as loud as Jensen seemed to think, but he promised himself that as soon as they were back to their own base, he'd make sure Jensen got checked out by their own medic and in the meantime, he was more than willing to ensure that Jensen was allowed to rest in quiet, darkened rooms and he would stand guard to make sure they stayed that way.
It was early one evening when Clay returned from a debriefing with senior officers with a perplexed look on his face. He spent a solid hour watching his men move about their business before seeming to come to a decision.
"Roque, Cougar, outside now. We need to talk," he said curtly, waiting for them to start walking before following them and closing the door behind them. He paused a moment, looking them both up and down, before saying, "Did you miss any significant details out of your mission report? I want to know now!"
Both men's expressions stayed blank with just a hint of confusion. "Apart from the wolf, who else got shot?" Clay persisted.
"No one," Roque said simply.
"Nadie;(4) no one."
Clay frowned. "Did you see anything else suspicious? Any sign of anyone else being there?" Again both men looked blank, giving twin replies of "Nothing" and "Nada". The two soldiers waited, neither sure what information Clay was seeking.
A moment or two later Clay spoke again, "Okay, there are some details that will be outstanding from that mission. We'll need to try and figure out what happened after we left. Look for the minute don't say anything to Jensen. Kid had enough to deal with out there and . . . I'm pretty sure he didn't shoot anyone. I figure he was too busy outrunning a wolf to be shooting anyone."
It was Roque who finally asked what information Clay had been given. "Who's dead?"
Clay shrugged, "The Boss, Viktor. He was found right by where you two had Jensen, three gunshots to the side and two straight between the eyes. No mention of the wolf."
Roque grunted, "Got what was coming to him if you ask me, but don't know anything about who did it. Sure wasn't us, we had our hands full with that freakin' huge wolf, believe me!"
Cougar seemed to pale considerably, before muttering, "Hombre-lobo," (5) turning and walking away without a further word. He headed straight back in to where they had left Pooch and Jensen, marching straight over to his bunkmate and grabbing his chin, tilting his head to look into his eyes and resting his other hand on Jensen's forehead, ignoring Jensen's hands as they flapped at him and tried to push him away with accompanying sounds of protest. He seemed to be searching for something and it was the desperate look in his eyes that had Jensen subsiding and letting him finish his checking.
"¿Estás bien? ¿Te sientes raro en alguna parte?" (6) Cougar whispered, sounding almost afraid of what the answer might be.
"Cougs . . . English, dude!" Jensen replied softly.
Cougar hung his head, whispering again, "Sorry, do – do you feel alright?"
"Sure, I do. Hey man, what's the matter? Are you okay?" Jensen reached a hand out to pull his friend closer, to reassure him but Cougar just shook his head, pulled away and walked out of the room. Jensen spared a bemused look for Pooch before following Cougar.
He found him in the room they were currently sharing, slumped on his bed with his hat pulled down to cover his face. "Cougs," Jensen said quietly. "Talk to me."
There was a slight shake to the hat and Jensen gave a soft sigh, "You're worrying me . . . one minute, everything's fine, the next Clay calls you out of the room and before I know it you're back and checking out my temperature and everything. What did Clay say about me?"
"Nada. Was not about you. He just . . . he said something and it . . . it reminded me . . ." Cougar fell silent, head and hat tilting even further as if he was determined that no one should catch the least glimpse of his facial expression.
Jensen knew that Cougar had seen horrendous things in his past, had lost enough to push him close to the edge of a breakdown and that it was only since beginning to work with Clay that he had been able to accept his place in a team and that he had learnt to treat that place with great value, taking any injury to his team-mates as personal failure. Jensen also knew that while Cougar respected him as a soldier, he simultaneously thought of him as young and innocent and in need of protection.
"Cougs. . . look at me. See. Let yourself see it, please. I'm fine, I'm over it. Let it go now. It was no one's fault but the idiot who decided to let a wolf wander around his castle and seriously you . . . for you, I'm so thankful you were there. Roque helped, but you were the one who saved me. You killed it."
Cougar's head came up enough that Jensen could just barely see his eyes although they were still in the shadow of his hat's brim. "Thank you," Jensen said firmly.
"I wish I could have been there sooner, saved you," Cougar said sadly.
Jensen frowned, but instead nudged Cougar gently and said, "You did, dude. You did."
(1) I hate that sound.
(2) Hurry, hurry.
(3) Be still, my friend, be still.
(4) No one
(6) Are you well? Do you feel strange at all?