THE WEAKEST LINK
SUMMARY: The universe in form of a chatty Cougar, a crazy ex-girlfriend, and Romanian bear traps sets out to thoroughly ruin Jensen's day (Pre-movie; eventual Jensen/Cougar; language, light violence).
AUTHOR'S NOTE: Nothing's mine. And beware. English is not my first language, but I hope the story is readable.
Cougar was laughing. Not uproariously or particularly loudly, but it was definitely more than his usual soft chuckle. Jensen was aware that he was gaping, but he couldn't help himself. He never had heard this laugh before. And he had never seen Cougar talk this much before. The sniper was downright chatty tonight. It was almost scary. And sexy. Damn, but the sniper had a very nice laugh. The way his dark eyes crinkled at the corners and his lips were curling was most distracting. If he focused only on Cougar and ignored everything else, this evening was almost bearable.
Another loud and fairly obnoxious laugh destroyed his fantasy. Jensen gritted his teeth and grabbed his beer bottle tighter. He originally had planned to spend a relaxed evening at the bar with Cougar. Their last mission in the rainforest of Brazil had been a clusterfuck of the highest order and he had been looking forward to a little private and quiet time with his best friend. The surprising arrival of some buddies from the sniper's former team had derailed Jensen's plan. Cougar had invited the three guys and apparently they had a lot to catch up. Their stories had gotten progressively more colorful and lurid, but Jensen didn't doubt for a second that they were telling the truth. They were apparently almost as badass as the sniper and that was probably the reason why they clicked so well. The hacker clearly didn't fit into this company. Jensen had silently watched the astoundingly cheerful reunion now for some time and he felt increasingly left out. Cougar's friends were more or less ignoring him and the sniper's attention was mostly focused on them. He hadn't even commented on Jensen's unusual silence. Of course Jensen was glad that the usually so quiet Spaniard had friends and was able to enjoy himself, but this situation was nearly unendurable all the same.
Jensen decided that he had enough. He emptied his beer with a long pull, tossed a few bills on the table and tapped Cougar's shoulder. The sniper barely managed to disengage himself from the others and glanced at Jensen, who cleared his throat and said neutrally, "I'm outta here. See you later back at the base."
Cougar's left eyebrow inched upwards and Jensen automatically elaborated, "I've got a headache. And I'm tired. I'm going to bed."
The sniper simply nodded and turned back to his friends. Jensen swallowed hard. This rather curt dismissal hurt. He turned and negotiated his way over to the exit. Cougar was probably glad that he was gone. And his line about the headache? Had totally been a lie. He didn't often outright lie to Cougar and the sniper usually was scarily good at picking up Jensen's untruths, but this time he had seemed to be oblivious. He apparently had better things to do. Fuck, what a mess. On a good day the sniper barely talked to him and communicated mostly through pointed looks, grunts, and smirks, but now in the company of his old buddies he turned out to be a blabbermouth. Jensen didn't know how to feel about that. He was definitely hurt. And jealous. It just wasn't fair. Cougar was his best friend and the hacker had automatically assumed that he was the sniper's best friend in return. Obviously that wasn't the case. Jensen couldn't count the many times he had tried to lure the Spaniard into some sort of conversation and had been brushed off or had been simply ignored. He had taken these setbacks mostly with good humor and hadn't thought much about them. Jensen talked and Cougar listened. That was their thing. But now he was wondering. The sniper looked far more comfortable around his old friends than around Jensen. He had to face the ugly truth: Cougar obviously didn't value their friendship as much as the hacker did. And fuck, this really hurt.
Jensen stepped out into the balmy night. He took a deep breath and slowly started his way home. He could hail a cab, but he preferred to walk. He wanted to think. And he didn't want to return to their quarters too early. Pooch probably wouldn't come back this night; he was off with Jolene; but Roque and Clay had stayed in and he didn't want to answer their questions when he came home alone. Jensen sighed. He really had to get a grip and get his game face back on. He was a soldier and not some damn punk kid, who got all emo because he felt neglected by his best friend. But he couldn't deny that he felt terribly hurt by all this shit. Maybe he was just some emo punk after all. At least he was alone with his misery. He shuddered to think how Roque would react, if he ever would be privy to Jensen's thoughts.
A dark SUV pulled up beside him. Jensen had been so lost in his thoughts that he hadn't even heard its coming. He gave the car only a fleeting glance and then focused back on his problem. The doors of the SUV popped open and suddenly someone grabbed his right arm. Jensen started and tried to turn around, but before he could mount some sort of defense, a hard knock against his head downed him. Before he lost consciousness he got a glimpse of his attacker. A slender, blonde woman in impossibly high stilettos was standing over him. Beatrice? He wanted to say something to her, but darkness claimed him.
The little room was not only dank, it also stank. Jensen sat in the far corner, his knees drawn to his chest, and he was contemplating his hands. His head felt sore and achy and every movement nearly killed him. They had taken his watch, but he was pretty sure that dawn had already broken, so he probably was now sitting about seven hours in his cell. It just wasn't fair. Why was he sitting in this fucking hole? He hadn't done anything! Hell, he didn't even really know this Beatrice. He had seen her once in passing and that was it. Goddamned Clay and his goddamned crazy-ass girlfriends. And why was this clearly insane bitch going after him and not Clay? For all rights and purposes, the colonel should be sitting in this clammy shithole, being tormented by this odious stink (seriously, did they stash a decomposing corpse in the adjacent cell?), and freezing slowly to death. Well, technically Jensen was not really freezing to death; it was summer after all; but the wet cold of the room was slowly but steadily leaking into his bones and caused him serious discomfort. A persistent and throbbing pain was building in his left ankle. He had broken it two years ago in Romania. Some asshole had planted bear traps in the wood they had to cross and naturally Jensen had been the unlucky bastard who had blundered into one. Another irrefutable proof that the universe was definitely fucking with him. The pain had been so bad, he had been crying (in a very, very manly way Jensen never failed to stress), and even Roque had shut his mouth, when he had seen the injured ankle. He had bled like a stuck pig and several bone splinters had poked through his mangled flesh. The metal teeth of the trap had been rusty and Jensen had been scared to death that he would lose his foot. Three operations, endless weeks of fighting against gangrene, and several months of excruciating physical therapy later he was almost as good as new. And he had some spectacular scars to show off. Still he had vowed that he would never return to fucking Romania with its fucking bear traps.
A loud, scraping sound jerked Jensen out of his reverie. Someone was unlocking his cell door. He stumbled to his feet. The pain in his formerly bear trap-mauled ankle intensified, his head pounded, and he had to suppress a wince. Had he twisted his leg, when he had been abducted? Jensen couldn't really remember. It had happened too fast. He wondered if Cougar and the others were looking for him. His abductors had taken his cellphone too and he was sure, that his team had by now tried to reach him. Would they find it suspicious that he didn't take their calls? Probably not. They were on leave after all and the others surely would not be suspicious if he was late or wasn't answering his phone. He was on his own. The cell door swung open and Jensen was once again startled out of his thoughts. He was annoyed with himself. Focus, Jensen, focus. He had to find a way out of this nightmare and then he could wallow in his despair and doubts. A middle aged man stood in the doorway and let his steely gaze wander over Jensen. He was flanked by two armed goons who looked ready to gun down the hacker at the slightest provocation. Jensen cleared his throat and already had an inappropriate comment on the tip of his tongue, but Steely-eye beat him to the punch.
"My daughter's heart got broken."
Jensen had several rather disrespectful answers to that, but he wisely and highly uncharacteristically kept them in. He didn't want to provoke the clearly insane father of clearly insane Beatrice further. And just for the record, his heart was pretty badly bruised too, and he was not prancing around, kidnapping innocent people, and being a fucking douchebag.
"Well, that's sad, but I don't see how this is my problem. I'm not Clay, you know?"
"I know that, Corporal Jensen."
Okay. Good, that they had this cleared up. Jensen had already been worried that someone had performed plastic surgery on him while he had been distracted and pasted Clay's face over his. This fear he could now officially lay to rest.
"Awesome. Then what do I fucking do here?"
"Because I want revenge for Beatrice darling."
Wow. Beatrice darling. Clay really should fucking stop dating girls. He should hook up with Roque already, be done with this shit and safe them a fuckload of grief. Steely-eye looked now positively unhinged. Jensen cleared his throat again and asked, "What has this to do with me?"
"You will be the means for my revenge."
Okay. This one-sentence-and-no-information-thing was getting old really fast.
"Care to elaborate?"
"It's actually very easy to understand. Corporal Jensen, you are the weak link of the Losers. Colonel Clay is notoriously hard to pin down and the other members of your merry little band of misfits are equally dangerous. But you, you are relatively harmless. Grabbing you off the street was as easy as stealing some candy from a toddler. To make a long story short, because I can't have Clay's balls on a silver platter, I'll take yours. It's not an ideal situation, but what am I to do?"
Jensen opened and closed his mouth several times. No sound came over his lips. Weak? This asshole thought that he was weak? And harmless? That was fucking outrageous. Granted, he wasn't as badass as the others, he was the first to admit that fact, but he was by no means fucking weak or harmless! He was a trained special ops soldier! He could fucking handle himself!
"Do you want to know why I know all this? Because Colonel Clay told Beatrice darling that you are practically useless in the field. If not for your undeniable technical expertise, you would already have been booted out of the team."
Jensen sucked in a surprised breath. He had to force himself to remain impassive. Don't listen to this bullshit, Jensen. Don't listen. He's just trying to fuck with you. Psychological torture. You're trained to withstand this shit. Just don't listen. Jensen wondered how it was possible that Beatrice darling knew about these things. Clay would never tell her, wouldn't he?
"Why should I believe you?"
"Oh, but you do. I can see it in your eyes. You know that I am telling the truth. You know that you are not as accepted as the other team members. They are humoring you, but you don't really belong, don't you? You can't keep up with them. They constantly have to pull their punches to accommodate you. They are ridiculing you, ignoring you, and constantly telling you, you shouldn't bother them. You know what I am talking about, Corporal Jensen. You know it."
Jensen almost hated himself for it, but there was a part of him, that perfectly understood what this crazy bastard was talking about. There had been several instances since his joining of the Losers in which he had felt utterly alone and not as a part of the team. But these moments had been fleeting and he knew that the others liked him. Well, about Roque he was not entirely sure, but the others were his friends. Mostly. Jensen swallowed. He felt suddenly very unsure and it must have shown on his face, because Steely-eye smiled nastily and said, "They aren't looking for you, you know? They have abandoned you to your fate."
And with this last declaration Jensen knew for sure that Steely-eye was talking out of his ass. The Losers didn't abandon their own. No man got left behind. Ever. Yes, he was on his own in this particular shitty situation, but he knew that he could always rely on his team. A part of his apprehension vanished and the sick feeling in Jensen's stomach mostly dissipated. He could take these assholes. Steely-eye made a sharp gesture and one of the goons pocketed his gun, stepped forward, and grabbed Jensen's right arm. The hacker itched to knock the man out, but he restrained himself. All in good time. In his current position he was at a disadvantage and a gun was still aimed steadily at his head. But he vowed to himself that he would get Steely-eye and his lackeys.
They dragged him out of his cell down a dimly lit corridor and they didn't even bother to tie his wrists. Jensen was insulted. This was just disrespectful. He got manhandled into another dank room. A metal chair was bolted to the concrete and some heavy looking chains were fixed to it. A table with some very disturbing looking implements was situated next to it. And next to the table stood Beatrice. She held a not very reassuring looking hook-formed thing in her hands and fixed Jensen with an almost hungry stare. She smirked broadly and said, "Look what the cat dragged in. Take a seat, Jensen. We will have a lot of fun together, that I can promise you." She pointed into the corner behind the hacker, who threw a glance over his shoulder. A camcorder was mounted there. Great. "Isn't it neat? I plan to send the tape of our session to Franklin. I'm sure he'll love it. Oh, and please don't restrain yourself on my account. You can scream and curse and cry as much as you like. I don't mind. In fact it will make our tape even better. You surely know how much Franklin prides himself on being a good commanding officer. Losing you in these circumstances will destroy him."
Fuck, this chick was definitely insane. The hacker automatically launched in self-defense into one of his rants, "Wow, look at that. Is there some sort of medieval theme going on here? Stinky cells, crazy witches, and foreboding torture instruments? Where is the straw on the floor? And where are the rats? Did you stow them away for the time being? Did you know that torturers in the good old medieval days put rats into the bodies of their victims, so that the nasty little fuckers could eat them alive from the inside out? Unbelievable, right? They slit their bellies open and put rats into their abdomen. Seriously fucked up stuff, I tell you. Eaten alive by rats. That could by the title of a horror movie. Well, it's a little bit clunky. Do you have a rack too? Or an iron maiden? I always wanted to know why this thing is called iron maiden. Why not iron dude? Or iron apparatus? Or something. Do you know the band Iron Maiden? They have some great music. 'Children of the Damned'? 'Run to the Hills'? Ring any bells?" Jensen sucked in a deep breath and started loudly singing, "White man came across the sea/He brought us pain and misery/He killed our tribes, he killed our creed/He took our game for his own need/We fought him hard, we fought him well/Out on the plains we gave him hell…"
Beatrice's self-satisfied smirk had vanished and she was frowning. Apparently she didn't like Jensen's singing. Goon number one wasn't a fan either and he tried to force Jensen down onto the chair, who was flailing wildly to accompany his performance. Goon number two stepped forward to assist his buddy. Jensen could barely believe how stupid these guys were. But wait. He was harmless and weak. Harmless and weak Jensen broke the grip of goon number one and smashed his fist into his stupid face. Goon number two grunted in surprise and aimed his weapon at Jensen, who gripped his wrist and tried to disarm him. The deafening sound of a gunshot roared through the little room. Jensen's elbow connected with goon number two's jaw and he managed to wrestle the pistol away from the man. A well placed gunshot to his right knee downed him.
A hot line of pain flared suddenly over the hacker's back. Jensen jerked around. Beatrice was staring maniacally at him and swung the now bloodied hook-thing in front of her. The hacker aimed the gun and fired a warning shot next to her head. Apparently her survival instinct was stronger than her insanity, because Beatrice dropped the hook and backed away. Not a second too soon, because goon number one was back in the game and he tried to pull his own weapon. Jensen fired without hesitation and hit the man high in the chest. The goon sank almost gracefully down to the floor, his own weapon clattered next to him on the concrete. Jensen scrambled to get the gun out of his reach and shouted victoriously, "Who is a weak and harmless asshole now, bitches!"
Now, on to Mr. Steely-eye and his fucking daughter. Who were gone. Jensen cursed. He wasn't looking forward to chasing these assholes around this shithole, but he would fucking do it. Weak and harmless, his ass! The hacker checked the ammunition in his weapons and slowly made his way over to the door. He was aching fiercely, but he ignored his discomfort. Later. Later he could wallow in his pain. Goon number two's pained howls drowned out every other sound and set Jensen's teeth on edge. Methodically he checked the corridor and the few rooms that branched off of it. Nothing, but empty and smelly little rooms. Jensen reached a thick metal door. A dark staircase was located behind it. He slowly ascended the stairs and opened another metal door at the top. He stood on a deserted parking lot on the outskirts of the town, behind him loomed a squat brick building that clearly had been abandoned for some time. Jensen felt like he had stepped into a cheesy movie. He sighed deeply, a move he immediately regretted because of his aching ribs, threw away one of the guns after removing the ammunition, and stowed the remaining weapon in the waistband of his jeans. He pressed a hand against his side and winced as he felt warm wetness. The bullet back in the torture room had grazed him and apparently cracked or broken some of his ribs. His back was still on fire and his head nearly killed him. Fucking great. To make things even worse, his ankle decided to pipe up too and started to throb mercilessly. Jensen sighed again. He started to walk. The universe. Fucking with him.
Jensen was slowly shambling along the street. Sooner or later he would reach the base this way, but fuck, if someone would come and pick him up, he definitely would not complain. His aches and pains had only gotten worse and he was terribly thirsty. He had no cellphone and no money and apparently his team still didn't miss him. Well, he hardly could hold that against them. It wasn't like he was a kid that needed constant supervision (although Roque sometimes intimated something like that; the man was just mean) and who would ever have the idea, that one of Clay's crazy girlfriends would go after Jensen? He himself sure as hell had been totally blindsided by his abduction. What would the others say, when he came back home? Jensen's thoughts automatically turned to Cougar. Would the sniper be worried about him? Yesterday he would have been able to answer this question with a definitive "yes, of course", but now he wasn't so sure anymore. Their great friendship suddenly looked like a figment of the hacker's sometimes a little overactive imagination. But no. Jensen knew that there had been more. After Romania their relationship had unquestionably changed for the better. Before his run-in with the bear trap Cougar had been aloof and had practically ignored the younger man. He hadn't been unfriendly per se, but it had been painfully clear that he wasn't interested in Jensen's friendship. The bear trap had changed this attitude. Whilst waiting for the medevac the sniper hadn't moved from Jensen's side and during his lengthy hospital stay he had visited regularly. Afterwards he had been more open to the hacker's careful advances and he hadn't shut him out any longer. Jensen had been elated. Finally he had managed to get closer to the mysterious sniper. He had been in love with Cougar practically since day one and his crush had over time only intensified. Although he undoubtedly would never find the courage to tell the sniper, Jensen at least had his friendship. That had been and would be enough for him. Only to now discover that he obviously had been fucking delusional. Cougar's sudden change in attitude back then had apparently nothing to do with a newfound appreciation for Jensen. Had it been pity? Or had Clay asked the sniper to have an eye on Jensen? He didn't know. He only knew that they were not really friends. If he really was Cougar's friend, the sniper would talk to him, and laugh with him, just like he had done with the guys back in the bar. Maybe Roque had been right all along. He always had opined that the sniper was secretly as annoyed with Jensen and his eccentricities as the others and just didn't say it out loud. Jensen suddenly felt like sitting down beside the street and crying. He felt like the world's biggest idiot. He swallowed hard and focused back on the road. Later.
It was almost noon when Jensen returned to their quarters on the base. For the last few miles he had been able to bum a ride from a sympathetic traveling salesman (Jensen hadn't even known that traveling salesmen still existed; life in the army: learning everyday something new). He had taken one look at the hacker and offered to drive him to the next hospital. Jensen had managed to talk the clearly worried man out of this plan and had instead convinced him to take him to the military base. The salesman – Grant – had talked practically nonstop about his job (selling vacuum cleaners and other cleaning paraphernalia), his family (his wife Katie and his seven year old son Gage), and his dog Betsy (a five year old Golden Retriever). Normally Jensen would have happily joined the conversation, but today he had stayed mostly silent. If he had been troubled only by his physical complaints, he would still have talked the other man to the ground, just to distract himself from his suffering. But his injuries were nothing compared to his emotional turmoil. He just couldn't forget Cougar and his joy in meeting his former teammates. Why wasn't he able to evoke such positive feelings in the sniper? He really tried. The more he thought about his obvious shortcomings, the lousier he felt. So Jensen had copied Cougar's mode of communicating and had been nodding, grunting, and softly smiling at the right places. Grant hadn't seemed to mind.
Back at the base Jensen had gotten some astounded looks; he probably looked pretty bad by now; but thankfully no one had commented on his state or tried to stop him. He was a Loser after all and their doings often raised some eyebrows. He had been able to make his way to their home on base unhindered.
Jensen opened the door. Cooking smells were wafting out of the kitchen and he heard soft voices filtering through the kitchen door.
"Cougs, that you? Did you get everything?" Pooch suddenly called out. Jensen slowly limped down the hall and opened the kitchen door. Pooch was standing at the stove bent over a huge pot. Roque and Clay sat at the table; the former was busy sharpening one of his countless knives, the latter had a cup of coffee standing next to his right elbow. Jensen had to grip the door frame as a sudden wave of vertigo nearly downed him. Pooch turned around, brandishing a large spoon in one hand. He clearly hadn't expected to see Jensen standing there, because shock flashed across his face, and he whispered dismayed, "Jesus! J, what happened to you?"
Clay and Roque turned as well and their expressions matched Pooch's. Jensen didn't answer immediately. He limped over to the kitchen table, deposited his gun on the dark wood, and sank with a soft groan into one of the chairs. The cut on his back protested, but he ignored his discomfort. He was only glad that he could take his weight off his ankle. He turned to Pooch and asked plaintively, "Can I get a glass of water?"
His slightly whiny question seemed to shake the others out of their surprised stupor. Pooch turned to fill his request. Clay cleared his throat and incredulously asked, "What the hell happened, Jensen? Who did this to you?"
"You flirtin' again with the wrong chick, Jensen, and get your ass handed to you by her boyfriend?"
Roque. Compassionate as ever. Pooch brought him his glass of water and started to check the hacker's head injury. Jensen hissed, but didn't otherwise protest against the examination. He slowly drank his water and then simply said, "That was Beatrice."
Clay frowned. "What Beatrice?"
"Your fucking Beatrice. She, her father, and some thugs were waiting for me in front of our bar. She tried to kill me. Torture me to death. She had the whole medieval theme going on. Hooks and knifes and they probably would have broken out the branding irons later."
The colonel looked shocked. Roque gruffly inquired, "Are you serious? That better be not some sort of joke, kid."
"Does that look like a fucking joke to you?" Jensen pointed at his injuries. "Believe me I was as surprised as you are."
Roque shot Clay a dark look. "Fuck, I told you that woman's not right in the head. I told you."
Clay looked annoyed, but he ignored his XO, and instead asked Jensen, "But why you? Why didn't she go after me?"
"I hope you don't take this the wrong way, Colonel, but I would have been totally in favor of her going after you, but she apparently decided that she couldn't get at you, so she wanted to off me." Petulance crept into Jensen's voice as he added, "They called me weak and harmless."
He almost expected Roque to confirm this rather unflattering sentiment, but the man simply queried, "You kicked their asses?"
"Of course. Although Beatrice darling and her daddy managed to get away while I was nuking their henchmen."
Clay sounded still uncharacteristically shaken as he asked, "Where did they hold you?"
Jensen described them the way to the abandoned building. Clay nodded and ordered briskly, "Roque, you're with me. We're going to take a look at the place. Pooch, you take Jensen to the hospital. And inform Cougar."
Jensen didn't protest. He was tired and especially his injured side nearly killed him. A few painkillers and a place to lie down would be most welcome.
A loud knock on the door to his room startled Jensen so much, he nearly dropped his laptop. He was sitting on his bed, balancing his notebook on his knees, and trying to pass his time with some casual hacking. He actually should be still lying in hospital, but Jensen had left yesterday morning. He couldn't stand it any longer and he knew that the hospital staff was glad to be rid of him. Jensen tended to be even more annoying than usual when he was confined to bed. The last three days had been rather tumultuous. Clay and Roque had apparently been able to sniff out Beatrice darling's hiding place and they had made sure that she wouldn't bother them ever again. How they had accomplished this, they hadn't told, and Jensen actually didn't want to know. Cougar and Pooch had taken turns sitting with Jensen and they had tried to distract the hacker long enough, that the worst of his injuries could heal, but their plan hadn't worked out. This had mostly to do with the fact that Jensen was miffed at Cougar. Oh, he was still talking to the sniper; he after all had no other chance if he didn't want to get extensively questioned about what was wrong with him; but the easy familiarity between them was gone. He could tell that Cougar had perceived this change, but so far the sniper hadn't asked him what was wrong. The Spaniard was probably glad that Jensen didn't intrude on his life any longer. This had made the hacker's hospital stay even more intolerable, and him even crankier, and no one had protested when he had released himself.
The door opened. Clay leaned one shoulder against the door frame and asked, "Shouldn't you still be at the hospital?"
Jensen shrugged and said, "They were glad to be rid of me. And I'm okay."
Clay looked a bit dubious and the hacker amended, "Mostly okay. Really, I'm fine, Clay."
And he was. He had a slight concussion, two broken ribs, several bruises, and a sprained ankle. The wound in his side was only superficial and not life threatening. The cut on his back had needed about thirty stitches, but it was healing and wouldn't kill Jensen either. And he had gotten the really good painkillers, so he had no cause for complaint.
"May I come in?"
Jensen nodded, snapped his laptop shut, and put it down beside him onto the bed. The colonel took a seat on Cougar's bed and silently looked at the hacker, who started to fidget at bit. Was he in trouble? He didn't think so, but he wasn't sure. The hospital thing surely didn't warrant a scolding, didn't it? He had done it before and no one had complained.
"Jensen, I wanted to apologize. If not for me, Beatrice would not have tried to kill you and you wouldn't be injured. I'm fucking sorry, kid."
Jensen was completely taken by surprise. He hadn't anticipated an actual apology from Clay. He didn't think one was needed and so he stammered unsure, "It's okay, Colonel. I'm not mad at you or something. It… It wasn't your fault."
He saw the guilt in Clay's dark eyes and Jensen felt a bit like an asshole. Maybe he should have made it clearer that he didn't really blame Clay for his abduction. But he had assumed the colonel was aware of his feelings and had reacted with his usual jokes and bad puns.
Clay sighed. "It was my fault, kid. But it's nice of you to say otherwise." He scrubbed a hand over his face. "I promise you that something like that will never happen again. You have my word."
Jensen nodded. "Okay. Thanks, I think."
He wondered if he should ask the colonel the one question that persistently nagged at him. Maybe he should just risk it. Clay usually was easily approachable; he surely wouldn't mind the question. Still, he sounded hesitant, as he said, "May I ask you something, Colonel? Beatrice's father said something to me and I was wondering, well, I was wondering if it was true." Clay's attention was firmly focused on him and he fidgeted again. "Did you talk with Beatrice about us?"
"Yes." Jensen's stomach plummeted. Holy shit. Had the insane old bastard really told the truth? He was so caught up in his own frantic thoughts, that he nearly missed Clay's next words, "I told her nothing consequential, but she knew about you. Why do you ask?"
He didn't answer immediately. He suddenly wasn't sure anymore if he wanted to hear the colonel's answer to his question. Some of his turmoil must have found its way onto the hacker's face, because Clay asked, "Jensen? What is it?"
"He… Beatrice's father… He told me that you think that I'm not good enough to be part of the team. That you just keep me on because of my hacking and nothing else and…"
Jensen's voice died away. If Clay now told him, that this was true, he would die. The Losers were the best family he had ever had (not counting his beloved sister and niece) and if they were just humoring him, he would be destroyed. It was bad enough that he never had Cougar's friendship and would never have his love; to lose the friendship of the others would simply be too much.
"Kid, if you weren't good enough for the team, you wouldn't be part of the team, that simple. Don't believe those assholes. I never said something like that to Beatrice, and do you know why? Because it's not true. It's not true, kid."
Jensen felt like an idiot. He shouldn't have doubted the colonel. Of course his abductors would try to fuck with him. It was only natural. He mumbled an apology. Clay sighed and said, "You're a Loser, Jensen, and you always will be a Loser. So, don't worry, okay?"
Jensen nodded. He could live with that. He chewed on his lower lip. "So, we're good?"
Clay grinned. "Of course we're good, kid. And now tell me what is wrong between you and Cougar."
Jensen spluttered in surprise. "Nothing. Nothing's wrong. I don't know what you're talking about."
"Oh, really? Then why are you always leaving the room when Cougar enters? Normally you two are inseparable. Pooch told me, that you were rather strange in the hospital as well. Or let's say stranger than usual."
Pooch. The traitor. Jensen petulantly crossed his arms in front of his chest. He didn't want to talk about Cougar. A talk about his feelings had the dangerous potential to get mortifyingly embarrassing. And he couldn't tell his commanding officer that he was in love with a teammate! Clay was all in all pretty easygoing, but Jensen wasn't sure how he would react to this revelation. Could he risk it?
"Okay, fine. Do I have to take some sort of action, or will you two resolve your differences alone?"
"There's nothing to resolve." Clay gave him a dubious look and Jensen added reluctantly, "But we'll manage alone."
Great. Now he had to put even more effort in hiding his hurt feelings. And he wondered when he had become so fucking transparent.
Two days after Jensen's talk with Clay the hacker slowly made his way into the kitchen. His ankle was still acting up a bit, but it was a lot better than it had been shortly after his little misadventure. He generally felt a lot better but Clay still had him confined mostly to the house. For his own safety, the colonel had joked. Or Jensen at least assumed that he had joked.
The hacker opened the kitchen door. Cougar was sitting at the table, a newspaper in front of him. Just what Jensen needed. Another uneasy confrontation with the sniper. Well, confrontation was maybe the wrong word. To have a confrontation one actually needed to somehow communicate with the other. And communication between them had more or less completely stopped. Jensen didn't even longer pretend that everything was fine between them. He just couldn't bring himself to keep this farce going any longer. The worst thing however was, that Cougar still hadn't tried to talk with Jensen. The hacker just didn't know any longer what was going on in the sniper's head. He obviously never had been an expert about it, but he had been able to decipher most of Cougar's nonverbal cues. Now even that didn't work out anymore. He felt pretty down and he knew that time was against him. Clay was still watching him and Cougar and he surely would soon interfere if things didn't return to normal. And this was a talk he as sure as hell was not looking forward to.
Jensen limped over to the fridge. Maybe he should just man up and talk with the sniper. Tell him how he felt and what was upsetting him. Maybe he would feel better if things were out in the open. The strain he now felt for almost a week was nearly unbearable. Jensen opened the fridge and grabbed a carton of orange juice. He poured himself a glass, returned the carton back into the fridge, and turned around to face Cougar, who seemed to be engrossed in his paper.
"We need to talk."
The universally dreaded phrase. Jensen felt a little bit like an overly emotional girl, and he almost wanted to take the words back. Cougar folded his newspaper and put it away. His dark eyes were inscrutable. Jensen shuffled over to the table and took a seat. He held on to his glass of orange juice like it was his only lifeline. Suddenly he didn't know what he should say. Everything that came to his mind sounded trite or melodramatic. Cougar saved him unexpectedly from further embarrassment, when he softly asked, "Are you mad at me, Jake?"
Jake. Cougar was the only one beside his sister that called him Jake. He had always thought that this meant something. That they had some sort of special connection. A sharp ache spread in his chest and he had to swallow. Was he mad at Cougar? No. He almost wished it was this easy. So he answered as softly, "No, I'm not mad."
"But something is bothering you."
Jensen simply nodded and stared fixedly at the tabletop. Cougar waited a few moments, and then he continued his line of questioning.
"Has it something to do with the night at the bar?"
Jensen's eyes widened slightly and he glanced at the sniper. Had Cougar really understood what was bugging the hacker? Had he picked up his hurt and confusion? The sniper's next words shattered Jensen's feeble hopes, "I'm sorry I wasn't there to help you with Beatrice. I should have been there."
Disappointment nearly choked the hacker. He sighed softly and said, "It's okay. It wasn't your fault. And I managed."
Jensen shoved his glass away. He wasn't thirsty any longer. And he cursed himself for starting this talk. What had he been thinking? He blamed his stupid idea on temporary insanity. What good would come out of all this? Nothing. But on the other hand, what the fuck did he have to lose? Their friendship was already on its way down the drain and Cougar obviously did want to know what was gnawing at the hacker. So why should he not tell the truth?
"You want to know what's bothering me? Okay, I'll tell you. I'm bothered by the fact that we're not really friends!"
Genuine surprise flitted over Cougar's features. For a long moment he silently stared at the hacker and then he softly protested, "What are you talking about, Jake? Of course we are friends."
Jensen wanted to scream in frustration. He snarled instead, "We are not! Back at the bar you were nonstop chatting and laughing with those asses from your former unit, but with me you barely talk! How many times have I tried to have a fucking conversation with you and you have just ignored me! You never laugh with me either! What the fuck is wrong with me, that you aren't like that with me!" Jensen felt tears welling in his eyes, which upset him even more. Another embarrassment. "You know what? Forget it! Just forget it!"
The hacker stormed out of the kitchen. God, that had been one monumental fucking stupid idea. He nearly ran up the stairs. He wanted to barricade himself in his room until he had calmed somewhat. He yanked the door to their shared room open and wanted to slam it closed, but Cougar seemed to appear out of thin air behind him. Jensen couldn't suppress a startled little squeak (a manly squeak; a very manly squeak) and he was so surprised that he didn't manage to slam the door into the sniper's face. Cougar closed the door behind him and speared Jensen with a dark and focused look. The hacker felt a bit like a rabbit in front of a snake. Was the sniper mad at him? Well, he couldn't really blame the man. Jensen backed away from Cougar. Maybe he could hide in the bathroom. Before he could make his move, the sniper said, "Jake, you know that I'm not a great talker, but I think I have to clarify a few things. I consider you my best friend. You always seem to know what is going on with me. I never have to explain things with you. You just get me. So I don't talk as much to you, because I don't have to. I'm terribly sorry that I hurt you. That was never my intention."
Jensen swallowed hard. He desperately wanted to believe the sniper. And Cougar looked and sounded sincere. Maybe this was all a huge misunderstanding. Maybe he had simply overreacted. Maybe they now could go back to their normal relationship.
"I hope you can forgive me, Jake."
Cougar's dark eyes were imploring and Jensen felt again like crying. He cleared his throat and softly said, "It's okay, Cougs. There's nothing to forgive."
"There is. I took your friendship for granted and treated you unfairly." The sniper stepped closer. "Since your abduction I have been thinking a lot about us. You could have been killed and I would never have been able to tell you…"
Cougar fell silent again. Jensen could barely believe what he had heard. What was the sniper trying to tell him? Could it really be? Slight desperation crept into his voice, when he asked, "What do you mean, Cougs?"
"I care about you. A lot. Maybe more than it's wise."
Jensen was not the best judge of social situations and their subtle undercurrents, but he was reasonably sure that Cougar had confessed his love for him. His heart was beating like crazy and he swallowed nervously. Should he take the risk and tell the sniper that he felt the same? But there was still the possibility that he had misunderstood the Spaniard. Maybe Cougar cared only about him as a friend. But his facial expressions and his choice of words hinted at something deeper. The seconds ticked by and Cougar was still looking rather hopefully at him. Jensen decided to take the risk. Even if he had misinterpreted the situation, Cougar would probably not kill him. He hoped at least. The hacker took a deep breath, closed the gap between them, and lightly kissed Cougar. Their lips barely touched, Jensen still had to suppress a shudder. He was kissing Cougar! He broke contact after only a few seconds and braced himself for the worst. The sniper only smiled slightly and hauled him in again for a deeper kiss. Jensen was elated. He had been right! Cougar had feelings for him. The hacker relaxed into the kiss. It was much better than he had imagined it so many times before. Cougar's taste, the feel of his astoundingly soft lips, and the light tickle of his facial hair were intoxicating and the hacker's eyes fluttered shut. This kiss was awesome. Fuck oxygen; Jensen decided that he would stay like this forever. He never wanted to let go of Cougar.
With great reluctance they ultimately parted to catch their breaths. Jensen was clutching at the sniper almost desperately. He was afraid that this glorious moment would end too soon and never be repeated. Cougar's soft voice laid his fears to rest, as he said, "I love you, Jake. I've loved you for a long time. I never said anything, because I didn't want to destroy our friendship. But now… Now things are different."
Jensen could barely believe what he had heard. His wildest dreams were coming true. A broad and somewhat goofy grin spread across his face. He hastened to say, "I love you too, Cougs. I love you too."
Cougar's answering smile was a thing of beauty. Jensen's anxiety and his hurt evaporated in the face of this sudden revelation. Life suddenly looked a lot brighter than earlier this day. Oh, he knew that Cougar and he probably would have to hide their relationship (at least in front of outsiders), but he decided to forget his worries for the moment. He and Cougar were good and that was all that counted in his book. Whatever life with the Losers would hold in store for Jensen, as long as he had Cougar at his side, everything would be alright. He knew it.