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The art of flirting

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Jensen is sitting on the hood of the car when the soccer players leave the field and begin to cross the parking lots in twos and threes with their parents and siblings.

There’s high pitched chatter and laughter and the thud-thud of bouncing soccer balls.

“Hey Jake!” Hannah squeals as soon as she is close enough. “Did you see that goal?”

“You played great!” he answers with enthusiasm sweeping her off her feet and swinging her around.

Sarah, Jensen’s sister gives him a familiar half amused – half irritated look.

He shrugs and rolls his eyes.

A little girl in a pink Petunia t-shirt runs up yelling about ice cream.

“Can I? Mom?” Hannah asks.

“Yes, here,” she gives Hannah some money.

“Get me one too,” Jensen blurts out. “With chocolate.”

Hannah runs off; Sarah glares at Jensen who gives her his most innocent look, complete with wide eyes and raised eyebrows.

“Do I need to give you the lecture?” she says.

“What?”

“On sportsmanship. On not yelling at the ref ...”

“She was way out of line.”

“So were you.”

“The girl was pushed!”

“Not your job.”

“But the ref ...”

“Would have given her a penalty if you hadn’t jumped all over her.”

They glare at each other.

“It’s not about winning or losing,” Sarah reminds him firmly. “It’s about the other intangibles that kids learn from sport.”

“I hear you,” Jensen mutters, with a hangdog expression.

Hannah comes running up with not two, but three ice cream cones dipped in chocolate, because she’s smart enough to know that if uncle Jake is getting ice cream, her mom should as well.

 

Sarah drops Jake off at his work place after the game. He’s working as a salesperson at a computer store that also offers repairs and advice.

There’s not a lot to do at first. A few customers come in, wander around, Jensen shows them some laptops and explains why a router isn’t working for a customer.

A pair of young women haunt the store, dressed oddly in Daisy Duke-style cut off jeans and tank tops. They don’t appear to be serious about buying, flitting from iphones to cameras to laptops, but they flutter their eyelashes at Jensen and ask him pointless questions.

“Show me how the camera works on this one,” one of them says coquettishly.

Obligingly, he takes a picture of her then a selfie of him and her. He makes a face in the selfie and then shows the girls how to save and then delete both pictures. He knows they’re not going to buy; they’re just hanging around.

After the store closes, Jensen heads to the back of the store and locks himself in the office.

This is the real reason he works here, surrounded by outmoded computers and modems and routers.

He plugs his Stark laptop into a sleek black box and boots it up. Taps into a server, logs on to a site, waits ...

He’s never been to New York, but he feels like he knows the city.

The satellite he’s hacked into shows a street scene in downtown Manhattan. Jensen taps an icon to get his fancy new program working and waits ...

There’s the Starbucks on 85th street. He can see a woman with long curly dark hair carrying a tray of coffees walking away from the camera with her back to him.

There’s another scene of a busy plaza, office workers streaming out of towers, dressed in monochromatic uniforms of blue and black suits, occasionally enlivened by a woman’s cream blazer or red scarf.

He taps the icon again and finds a busy street scene with yellow cabs parked by the curb and a street musician busking in a doorway. There are crowds of people, some in pairs, some alone, some tapping and talking on phones ...

Jensen makes a face and logs out. Taps into another program and sends a quick email.

While he’s waiting, he turns on another computer and starts up a basic accounting program.

And flips over a third laptop and opens up the back with a screwdriver. Gotta keep busy.

The Stark laptop pings and he clicks open the message and grins.

“Thank you, buddy,” he mutters, tapping in the new information to the face recognition software.

A series of images pop up and he scrolls through them.

And stops at one. He clicks to freeze the image. A beautiful dark eyed woman with curly hair piled up in a messy bun, smiles at a companion off screen. She’s licking some sauce off her finger and Jensen barely suppresses his groan.

He zooms in so close he can see her freckles and notices that she’s wearing mismatched earrings.

He jumps when there’s a tap at the door.

“Come in!” he calls too loudly, quickly clicking to switch the screen to dark.

His boss, Marty, shuffles in apologetically. Jensen likes the guy – he was willing to hire Jensen despite no credentials or references and only a sketchy history. He owes him.

The guy wants to talk. He’s wringing his hands and shuffling nervously.

Jensen doesn’t want to be mean but he’s been yelled at, spat upon, threatened, beaten and sworn at by Marines and gangsters – it’s hard to take this doe eyed man seriously. But he tries. He smiles encouragingly.

“It’s about the phone you sold the other day,” Marty says carefully.

“Sorry?” Not what he’d expected to get called out on.

“The Nexus? To the kid who wanted something for university?”

“Oh yeah,” Jensen frowns trying to remember what he could have done wrong.

“Well, the thing is,” Marty says apologetically. “When he came in, he was planning on buying an iphone, but you actually talked him into the Nexus.”

“Well yeah,” Jensen agrees. “The Nexus was exactly what he wanted and a whole bunch cheaper.”

“That’s the thing,” Marty explains, “It was cheaper. We kind of lost money on that sale.”

“But he was happy to get a phone that could do everything he wanted,” Jensen points out.

“But this is a store,” Marty explains. “We exist to sell things. And it’s not the first time you’ve suggested something cheaper, or told people not to buy things, or offered to repair something when the customer was willing to buy a new product. I can’t keep going like this.”

Jensen opens his mouth, intending to argue about customer service and value for money and integrity and then he shuts it. And nods obediently. “OK man, I hear you,” he says.

Marty peers at the other computer screen showing an excel spreadsheet covered with numbers. “How’s all the ... accounting stuff going?” he asks.

“Fine,” Jensen shrugs.

They’re both hiding something from each other.

Marty feels bad because he’s paying Jensen a shitty salesman’s salary while asking him to spend a couple of hours every day doing the thankless accounting tasks that he hates. Jensen can’t make any commission sitting in the back office and Marty knows a real accountant would cost a whole bunch more.

And Jensen feels bad because he isn’t spending hours crunching numbers – he fixed up a macro that does all the necessary work in about ten minutes. He’s spending his down time hacking into satellites and other supposedly secure sites in New York.

He’s re-routing all information through other sites so there’s absolutely no risk to Marty, but still ... there’s a little guilt there.

Marty sighs. “If the numbers don’t add up, you should know that Mr. Alvera’s check bounced,” he says glumly.

“Oh man!” Jensen exclaims. “You should not accept checks from guys like that. He bought, what ... five computers and accessories for his little so-called business?”

“Yeah, yeah, I know,” Marty mutters. “But I can’t say ‘no’.”

“Sure you can!” Jensen insists.

“Not to a guy like that.”

“No-one uses checks any more,” Jensen says angrily. “Unless they’re meaning not to pay. You should let me set you up with a debit machine.”

“They’re expensive ...”

“I know a way to do it that won’t cost anything,” Jensen urges him.

“Maybe ...”

“How much did you lose on that sale? You gonna go after him for it?”

“Not worth it,” Marty says glumly. “He’d lawyer up and cost me more to fight it than I’d get back.”

After Marty leaves, Jensen goes back to his illicit surfing. His buddy in New York wants to know if he lost power the night before. Jensen's rerouted their communication to make it seem like he's writing from Seattle. He's beginning to wonder why he chose a city he's never been to. He clicks on the weather channel and writes back that the storm blew through pretty quickly and didn't affect him.

"We're used to lots of rain," he writes, wondering if there's a specific Seattle accent he should know about.

 

It’s dark by the time Jensen closes up the office. He jogs over the local gym which is open 24 hours but has a membership of about 12 people so there’s always lots of space. He changes into gym clothes and works out methodically, counting reps in his head as he listens to his ipod.

The only two guys he ever sees at the gym are in the modified boxing ring, not actually working out, just hanging around, telling ‘war’ stories and bragging about fights that get tougher and meaner with every retelling.

“Hey man,” one of them calls to him as he’s on his way to the rowing machine. “Want to go a few rounds in the ring? You look like you know how to throw a punch or two.”

Jensen doesn’t look like a boxer and he knows it, but it’s also true that he knows how to fight.

He shrugs. “Naw man, maybe another time.”

“I’ll go easy on you,” the man says, a mean smile teasing his lips.

“Not what I’m here for,” Jensen answers, settling into the rowing machine and adjusting the weights.

“What are you here for?” the other guy asks. “Just want to look pretty?”

Jensen eyes him. They’ve both been drinking, the stink of beer is obvious. They’re spoiling for a fight.

He sighs. He’s been antsy, fretful all week. Been needing a good workout all week.

He climbs off the rowing machine and approaches the ring.

“I don't box," he points out. “Never fought with gloves.”

“But you have fought before,” the older man says bluntly, not asking a question, but stating an obvious fact.

“Yeah. Some.”

“If not boxing, then what?” the first guy asks. “Ultimate?”

“Something like that,” Jensen acknowledges. He takes off his glasses and places them carefully on top of a dresser. He blinks, squints at the men. They’re blurry but he can see well enough to land a punch.

“So we’ll fight barehanded,” the first guy says, climbing into the ring. “Go easy on you. Show you the ropes. No hard feelings whoever wins, right?”

He grins, a nasty, gap-toothed smirk.

Jensen climbs into the ring and shrugs his shoulders, loosening them up. He flexes his fingers, watching his opponent carefully.

They shake hands and introduce each other. The fighter is called Derek.

They circle each other cautiously.

Derek feints, swings an arm experimentally; Jensen dodges, watching for weakness.

The other guy heckles them from the sidelines. “Come on! Ya look like a pair of grannies afraid to step into the rain!”

Derek steps up and swings for real but Jensen ducks and hits him hard in the ribs, aiming for the kidneys.

“Fuck!” Derek swears, lashing out and landing a glancing blow on Jensen’s head.

It doesn’t hurt Jensen, but Derek ends up shaking his hand in pain. He’s clearly used to wearing gloves.

They feint, and swing, sometimes connecting, sometimes missing, for a few more minutes. Jensen avoids going for the head shot – not worth it in a dirty fight. Instead, he pounds Derek in the ribs and belly. Derek swings at the head, but misses more often than not.

Then Jensen steps up, fakes a punch, sidesteps and hits Derek with a resounding thud that has the older man staggering for moment. Derek throws his elbow up and catches Jensen in the mouth.

“What the hell!” he yells.

“Anything goes, buddy!” the man watching crows cheerfully.

“Really?” Jensen snarls.

“This ain’t your mama’s book club,” he laughs.

Jensen sizes Derek up. The old man is well padded, a bit drunk and favouring one hand. “Seriously, no rules?” Jensen asks irritably. “You want to go there?”

“Bring it on,” Derek invites him.

Jensen dabs at the blood on his mouth.

Derek charges.

Jensen catches him with a knee to the groin, and an elbow to the temple and Derek collapses in an ungainly heap on the mat.

Fight over.

“Holy crap!” his friend yells, climbing into the ring to tend to him.

“You said ‘no rules’,” Jensen grunts, climbing out. “Thanks for the workout. Been a while.”

 

It’s late and very dark when he arrives home and he’s surprised to find Sarah sitting outside in a plastic lawn chair, clearly waiting for him. She hands him a beer as he approaches.

“Good workout?” she asks mildly, ignoring his fat lip, obvious even in the dark.

“Uh huh.”

“Work was OK?”

“Yeah. Fine.”

“Anything you want to tell me?”

“You sound like Mom,” he complains faintly. “Did the school call? Should I be confessing to something that you already know about?”

She laughs. “No.”

Jensen drinks his beer.

“You know we love having you here ...” Sarah begins.

“But?”

“Well, I’m just kind of wondering what your plans are.”

He shrugs. “Stay, work, watch Hannah play soccer, drink some beer.”

She sighs.

“As long as I can help, you know with bills and Hannah and all, I’ll stay.”

“You don’t need to,” she tells him softly. “Don’t feel obligated.”

“To my family?”

“There’s not much for you here,” she points out.

“I’m OK,” he assures her.

Sarah nods in the darkness. The crickets chirp.

Jensen is on his best behaviour at soccer. He kicks the ball around with Hannah and some of her teammates.

“Remember, you got to anticipate where your teammate will be when you pass,” he coaches. “See? Run  ... now pass to where she’s going to be. Yeah. That’s it.”

He’s not officially the coach of course so when the real coach shows up, he jogs obligingly to the sidelines.

Sarah notices that a woman she’s seen around (not one of the other moms) has taken Hannah aside and is asking her something. Sarah saunters down to investigate.

“I don’t know what you mean,” Hannah is saying. “But I’ve got to go. Coach is calling.” She runs off.

Sarah raises an eyebrow at the woman who looks slightly embarrassed. She’s younger than the usual crowd, mid twenties, attractive, well put together, over dressed for soccer in a nice summer dress and heels and make up.

“That’s my daughter,” Sarah says mildly. “Is there something you wanted to know?”

The woman hesitates, but can’t really avoid the question. “I was actually just asking about the guy, you know, the one in the pink t-shirt. Trying to figure out who he was.”

“My brother, Jake,” Sarah supplies.

“Uh huh.”

“Why ...?”

“He was in the military, right?” the woman asks.

“Yes.”

“Why’d he leave?”

Sarah scowls. “He did his duty. Got out safe and sound. The longer you stay in, the greater chance you have of not coming home.”

“I was just curious,” she says defensively.

“Who are you?” Sarah asks mildly.

“Emily,” she answers. “Dara’s aunt. I’m staying in town this summer.”

“Ah.”

Jensen jogs up to them, looking fresh faced and cheerful. “Hey, it’s going to be a good game,” he says with enthusiasm.

“Have you been giving Hannah extra lessons?” Emily says playfully. “She looks great out there.”

“Yeah, yeah,” Jensen laughs. “We’ve been kicking the ball around every day after school. She’s really keen.”

Sarah nods to both and wanders off while the pair engage in a spirited discussion of the team’s strengths and weaknesses.

She speaks to a few other mothers and then finds a seat in the bleachers. She can watch their conversation from afar. Jensen is his usual kinetic self, bouncing on his feet, gesturing wildly, nodding enthusiastically. Even from here, Sarah notes with amusement how Emily flirts with him, putting a hand gently on his arm while he talks, tossing her nicely coiffed hair, smiling, leaning in to listen even though he’s usually loud enough for everyone in the neighbourhood to hear ...

The game goes well. Hannah scores; Jensen does NOT attack the referee. They’re in a good mood as they walk back to the car, Jensen and Hannah passing the soccer ball back and forth, even as he tries to check something on his phone.

Emily waves as they pass.

“She seems nice,” Sarah observes mildly.

“Uh huh,” he says absently.

“She ask you out?”

“What? Yeah. How’d you know?”

Sarah smiles mysteriously.

“I’m not going.”

“Why not?”

He shrugs.

 

There’s an argument in full swing when he gets to work. A well dressed businessman with slicked back dark hair is complaining loudly to Marty who is (surprisingly) holding his ground.

“You owe us almost $3000 for those computers,” Marty is saying firmly. “No, I’m not giving you credit. Not until you pay us.”

Jensen nods to Marty and reaches over the businessman to get a binder down from a shelf.

“Problem?” he asks mildly, standing far too close to the businessman who jumps and cringes away.

“No.”

He shrugs and wanders away to a couple watching the argument with some concern. “Can I help you?” he asks. “Are you looking for anything in particular?”

Marty comes looking for him as soon as the businessman leaves.

“What the hell?” he hisses to Jensen under his breath. “Did you do something?”

“Excuse me?”

“Alvera says that there’s money been taken out of his account – exactly the amount that he owed us for the computers ...”

“So? He wrote a check, we cashed it.”

“It bounced.”

“Apparently no.”

Marty pauses.

“Look, we sold him five computers – he paid us the right sum of money. What’s the problem?” Jensen insists.

“How’d you do it?”

“What makes you think it was me?”

Marty glares. It’s not a very threatening glare, but he does look mildly pissed off.

There’s a jingle as the front door opens. Jensen is distracted by a man’s voice telling customers to leave.

“Hey!” he calls out, noticing that the new customer is shooing customers out. “What are you doing?”

The stranger turns to him. “We need to talk to you. Without distractions.”

“You can’t just close the store,” Jensen complains.

“You’ll find I can,” the guy says coolly. He’s dressed absurdly formally in a three piece black suit.

Jensen spies at least two enormous black SUVs parked sideways across the parking spots at the front of the store.

A woman, dressed in a formal black pantsuit just like the man, walks around the counter. “All clear in the back, boss,” she says.

Jensen has a very bad feeling about this situation.

Marty is looking confused. “What the hell is going on?” he complains.

The man in the suit, who is wearing sunglasses even though he’s indoors, flashes an official looking badge in their direction.

Jensen has seen too many bad movies to be fooled by such a move.

“Mind telling us what this is about?” he asks, trying to keep his cool.

“Is this about the money?” Marty asks nervously. “I swear ... I didn’t”

“It’s not,” Jensen cuts him off firmly.

The man in the suit looks amused. “Well, at least we know we’ve got the right guy,” he says. “You don’t even look surprised to see us.”

Jensen scowls.

The man crooks his finger at Marty. “You, come over here,” he orders.

“Um ...”

“He doesn’t know anything,” Jensen says tiredly. “You can just let him go.”

“Oh we will,” the man assures him with a smile. “We’re not going to hurt him. But you wouldn’t want him hearing what you’ve been up to on his premises, using his equipment, would you?”

Marty looks horrified.

The man takes off his sunglasses and surveys Jensen carefully. There’s no warmth in his smile. “Shall we go into the back?” he suggests. “I believe that’s where the action is, right?”

“It’s not criminal stuff is it?” Marty asks desperately. “Oh God, not pornography?”

Jensen rolls his eyes and leads the way into the back office. It occurs to him that this man is being pretty careless walking into an unfamiliar place with no backup. But he looks again at the man and sees past the suit. Sees the careful balanced walk, the watchful eyes, the way he angles himself, the casual way he keeps his hand near his hip where a weapon is likely hidden. This guy is a professional.

Well so is he, after a fashion, so he decides to see how this plays out.

“Let’s start with introductions,” the man says quietly. “What’s your name, kid?”

“Jake Jensen.”

“CIA, black ops? Comms for Franklin Clay?”

Jensen raises an eyebrow.

“You look pretty spry for a dead guy.”

“Since you already know who I am ...”

“Shut up.”

Jensen shuts up.

The woman walks into the back. “He’s taken care of, boss,” she says.

“What?” Jensen exclaims.

“He’s fine,” she assures him. “Tied up so he can’t get into any trouble.” She rolls her eyes at his apparent concern and sits in Jensen’s usual chair in front of the computer monitor. She flips it on and lets it warm up.

“Want to tell me who you’re working for now?” the man asks Jensen.

“Introductions usually go two ways,” Jensen points out sullenly.

“Agent Coulson, agent May,” he points to himself and then to his partner.

“And who do you work for?” Jensen asks.

Coulson looks amused. “A quasi governmental group that investigates ... shall we say ... unusual events that might be of interest.”

“Quasi governmental,” Jensen snorts. “That’s a good one. Black ops, you mean.”

Coulson shrugs.

The woman, May, plugs a USB key into the computer and starts typing.

While she’s working, Coulson starts asking Jensen questions. At first, Jensen can’t figure out what they’re looking for. They ask a lot of questions about whether he’s ever been to LA (not since he was a kid), which groups he might be working for, whether he’s being blackmailed (not yet) ... how he obtained some special technology that they’re not willing to describe so how can he admit whether he’s got it or not?

It’s all as clear as mud and he’s beginning to wonder if they’re actually looking for someone else.

Then May finds a folder that he thought he’d hidden and clicks it open.

Jensen grimaces.

Coulson leans over and scrolls through them. They’re about a dozen or more stills from video taken by various security cameras and satellites. All of the same person, taken on different days.

“Pretty girl,” Coulson comments drily.

Jensen winces.

Coulson watches him carefully. “Do you know who she is or are you just stalking some random girl you’ve taken a liking to?”

Jensen considers and then decides that the truth is less icky. “I know her,” he admits.

Coulson makes a face.

“Darcy Lewis,” Jensen explains. “I met her a while ago. She lives in New York.”

“Course you know that,” Coulson says sarcastically. “You’ve been stalking her by satellite. You know where she lives, where she works, even ... what kind of coffee she likes.” He taps one still of Darcy leaving a Starbucks, her coffee in hand.

Jensen sighs and scrunches down in his chair.

“I met her in Bolivia,” he admits. “When I was still ... in exile more or less.”

“Uh huh.”

Jensen shrugs.

“You do know that stalking is illegal?” Coulson says drily. “As is hacking into secure security feeds and satellites. You’re facing years in prison if convicted.”

“What do you want?” Jensen asks. If they’d just wanted to catch him, they wouldn’t need to go through this interrogation which couldn’t be used in a court of law.

“You know who she works for?”

Jensen hesitates. Yes, he knows, but if this guy doesn’t know ...

Coulson reads his mind. “I know who she works for,” he says bluntly. “I have her number in my address book. “I’m asking if you know.”

“Yeah.”

“And it didn’t occur to you that they’d freak out as soon as they learned they were being hacked?”

“I didn’t think they’d know,” he says defensively.

May is crawling around under the desk and she’s come up with the usually well hidden Stark laptop. She pulls it out with a cry of delight.

“You’re using stolen technology to tap into ...”

“It’s not stolen.

“It hasn’t been released yet.”

“It’s not stolen. It was given to me.”

“By whom? Darcy?”

“Not exactly.”

“Don’t be cagey.”

Jensen shrugs. “If you know who she works for then you must know them, right? The Avengers?”

“Yes ...”

“Captain American gave it to me,” Jensen says coolly. “Thanks for a job well done.”

He can see that he’s finally surprised Coulson.

After a moment, Coulson gets up, takes out his cellphone and walks outside. May sits back and watches Jensen with an amused look on her face.

“I didn’t do anything,” Jensen points out. “I mean I could have ...”

“That’s what has everyone concerned,” she points out. “You had access to way too much information. We couldn’t find evidence that you’d taken anything of value, but the fact that you could ...”

Coulson stalks back in looking furious. “Story checks out,” he says tightly. “Rogers says he gave the laptop to Jensen about a year ago. Says if we’d asked, he’d have told us. Would've saved us months of work ...”

Jensen cannot help but be amused that Coulson has Captain America in his cellphone address book.

Coulson and May get ready to leave.

“Does Darcy know?” Jensen asks awkwardly. “I mean about the photos and the ... stalking, sort of?”

Coulson snorts. “Not from us,” he says. “But it’s only a matter of time. If you like her, call her for crying out loud.”

 

Sarah comes home to find dinner in the oven and Jensen teaching Hannah self defense in the back yard. He doesn't call it that, of course. He tells her that they're wrestling, but Sarah can hear his exhortations to kick the back of his knees and then stick her fingers into his eyes.

She grabs a drink and wanders out to find Jensen collapsed in the grass, groaning theatrically while Hannah laughs uproariously.

"Let me catch my breath," he begs.

"She hurt you?" Sarah asks in amusement.

"Shoulda worn protection," he groans.

"Hope they don't teach wrestling in gym at school," Sarah says. "Teachers will get an awful surprise."

He eyes her warily. Hannah runs off inside.

"You don't mind?"

Sarah shrugs. "I mind," she says. "But I think it's necessary. Maybe I should get you to teach me some self defense?"

"That's a great idea!" he exclaims bouncing up. "Come on!"

"No, no," she complains. "Not now. I'm in my work clothes."

"Perfect!" he insists. "If you're attacked, it's not like you can just say, 'hey wait while I get my yoga pants on'."

She puts her drink down and listens while her baby brother demonstrates how she should punch, elbow and kick an attacker. He shows her the vulnerable parts and urges her to aim to hurt.

"Ready?" he asks.

"No," she admits, but she plays along.

He approaches from behind and grabs her. She lashes out with an elbow and misses.

He steps back. "You gotta get mad," he urges her. "Go on. I can take it."

She scowls. "I'm not sure I can hit you."

"Sure you can," he grins. "Think of all the times I've made you sooo mad. Like when I set fire to your dollhouse, or when I cut the hair off your favorite doll ..."

He pretends to attack again and she catches him with an elbow and then punches him in the kidney like he'd shown her.

"Mom!" Hannah shouts from the doorway, sucking on a popsicle, "you got to kick him in the balls!"

Both Sarah and Jensen collapse in giggles.

"As long as you can kick a real life attacker, you don't need to prove it to me!" he laughs.

"I'd rather not," she agrees.

Hannah comes back for another bout while Sarah sets the table.

She's mad at the army for what they've done to Jake. He left a happy go-lucky, goofy guy.

He's come back with scars, both visible and hidden. She's seen the one on his arm where a bullet grazed him, and the pink scars on his fingers are clearly from burns. There's a long, narrow scar on his back that can only be from a knife. He was supposed to be safe - with brains like his, he'd been promised a desk job, working on computers and such. How'd he end up doing hand to hand combat and being declared officially dead?

He seems mostly OK. He is still goofy, still generally happy and willing to get down and play with kids, but he also walks too carefully, listens too intently to the dark, pays too much attention to his surroundings, knows too much about dirty fighting, guns and explosions.

Sarah hates what the army has done.

 

Emily calls after dinner and Jensen walks outside, pacing around the play structure nodding and saying 'uh huh' every few minutes.

"You're going out?" Sarah guesses when he comes back in.

"What? No," he answers. "I mean, she invited me to this concert in the city, but I said no."

"Hmmm."

"What?"

"You should tell her you're not interested. Stop leading her on."

"I'm not leading her on ... crikes are we back in high school or something?"

"She's not really your type, is she?"

"What do you mean?"

"I think your type is curvy brunette, with long curly hair, brown eyes, always smiling, sassy ..."

Jensen groans. "How'd you uh ... when did you ever?"

Sarah grins at him. "I had to pretend to be shocked when you came back, but I'd already heard the good news from this ... pretty young woman who visited us a few months before."

"Uh huh. And what did she say that made you think ... ?"

"It's not what she said, it's how you've been since you got back."

"How so?"

"Girls buzzing around like flies on honey and you're just pushing them away. The old Jake would have been chasing after them with his tongue hanging out."

"Maybe I just got older. Got more discerning."

Sarah snorts. "Did she break your heart? Do I need to track her down and have a big sister chat with her?"

"What? No."

"So tell me about her."

He sighs. He tells her a condensed version of their story - met in Bolivia, spent a couple of days together, then she returned to the US.

"Does she know you're back?"

"No."

"Why haven't you been in touch?"

"Dunno."

"Let me clarify, this was mutual, right? Not just a crush?"

"Yeah."

"You slept with her?"

"It's embarrassing to talk about sex with my sister!"

"So call her!"

"She's in New York and I'm ... here."

"Why are you here? Haven't you always wanted to go to New York?"