It didn't take long for Clay to notice that something was wrong between Cougar and Jensen. He didn't know exactly what had happened — he wasn't sure if he wanted to know — but the way they behaved around each other was a dead giveaway.
Instead of sitting as close as physically possible without actually being in each other's laps, they now spent most of their time in separate rooms. Clay had seen that happen once or twice over the years, after one of Cougar and Jensen's rare arguments, but this one was clearly different.
First of all, Cougar seemed to be the one at fault, which wasn't unheard of, but definitely more unusual. Clay knew the difference because, whenever Jensen fucked up, he always attempted to worm his way back into Cougar's good graces with awkward apologies and those big, blue puppy eyes of his. There was none of that this time.
Second, it had lasted longer than any fight or disagreement Cougar and Jensen had previously had. Usually, they didn't manage to stay apart longer than three days at most, but, this time, it had been almost a week already, with no end in sight. Clay wasn't sure why Cougar hadn't apologized yet, since it usually didn't take him long. Maybe he didn't know how to or — more likely, based on how wretched he looked — didn't feel like Jensen should forgive him.
Third, in all the years Clay had known them, he had never seen them look so miserable.
That was worrying. Clay didn't like getting involved in his men's personal lives, but he didn't like to see them suffer, either. While he was the first to admit that he didn't quite understand how Cougar and Jensen's relationship worked, Clay couldn't deny that it did. Back in the day, just when they were starting to come together as a team, he had actually tried to separate them, worried their co-dependency would make them unreliable, but he had quickly learned that the opposite was true. They worked better when together.
Clay knew from experience that anything that pushed them apart was a bad thing, especially when it was so clearly harming them both.
Jensen was frazzled and more unfocused than usual, talking fast and gesturing wildly one moment, only to blankly stare off into the distance the next. He seemed unable to meet anyone's gaze and, while he did a fairly good job at keeping up appearances, his smile was just a touch too wide to be real, not to mention that he wasn't quite able to control the underlying hint of panic in his voice.
Cougar was, if possible, even worse off.
He slunk around the safe houses like a ghost, giving everyone a wide berth — Jensen in particular — and seemed to grow more and more distant as the days passed. He didn't speak if it could be avoided and disappeared for long stretches at a time, only to reappear just as suddenly.
Clay had never seen Cougar retreat that far into himself before, always keeping his gaze hidden under the brim of his hat, his shoulders tense and defensively raised. This, Clay realized, was what Cougar was like without Jensen to anchor him — a quiet, somber shadow of a man who floated through his existence without really caring about anything.
Whatever it was that had happened between Cougar and Jensen, it was bad.
Usually, Clay would have asked Pooch to investigate, since he was much more patient, but that wasn't an option considering Pooch's injuries. He was still high on painkillers most hours of the day and, quite frankly, wasn't in any shape to be having serious conversations. And whatever this thing between Cougar and Jensen was, it couldn't wait. Clay had to get to the bottom of it and he had to do so soon, unless he wanted the team to crumble entirely. It was already fraying around the edges, what with Roque's betrayal, Pooch's injury, and the untimely reveal of Aisha's heritage.
Clay couldn't risk losing Cougar and Jensen, too — certainly not to something that might be fixable.
It was still with some reluctance that Clay went to knock on the door to Jensen's motel room. They were slowly making their way across the country — heading for Springfield — and this was the first time in a while that they'd all been given separate rooms. When sharing was a must, Jensen had taken up the habit of rooming with Pooch rather than Cougar, under the pretence of wanting to make sure Pooch had someone to help him if needed. Noble as the gesture was, they all knew it had just as much to do with the situation with Cougar as it did concern for Pooch.
The prospect of poking around in this particular mess didn't appeal to Clay in the least. He wasn't good with emotions and he had a feeling that this would lead him down a rabbit hole he would much rather leave unexplored. Still, it had to be done.
Thankfully, Jensen was clearly just about ready to burst, desperately looking for someone to talk to. And, since none of the people Jensen would usually rely on were available, he must have decided that Clay would just have to do. Which was more comforting than Clay had expected. It meant he hadn't lost Jensen's trust yet, despite everything that had happened.
That said, Clay could admit that he was entirely unprepared for the reply he got when he asked what had happened between the two of them.
"I can't have sex."
Clay blinked. That didn't even seem tangentially related to the question he had asked. And, quite frankly, not something he wanted to know about Jensen — or any of his men.
"Well, technically, I guess I can?" Jensen amended, restlessly tapping his fingers against his laptop. He was sitting on his bed, computer supported on his folded legs, and, as seemed to be his habit nowadays, wasn't quite able to look Clay in the eyes. "I mean, I can get it up since that has more to do with bodily functions than anything—"
"The point, Jensen," Clay interrupted, knowing Jensen would go on a five-minute tangent if he didn't.
There was a brief pause, Jensen holding his breath, but Clay could tell it had to do with what he was about to say next rather than hurt feelings from being interrupted.
"I'm asexual," Jensen said eventually, tone more severe than Clay had expected.
Clay only had a vague idea of what that word meant. Thankfully, Jensen decided to elaborate without Clay having to admit that out loud.
"I don't like to have sex. It makes me uncomfortable. So I just... don't."
"And?" Clay knew he might come across as insensitive, but he didn't know what else to say. He didn't care what Jensen did or didn't do in bed with people, as long as it didn't distract him from his duties or made him unreliable. "What does this have to do with Cougar?"
Jensen pursed his lips. "I kissed him."
The only surprising part about that was that it hadn't happened sooner. Clay might not like getting involved in his men's personal lives, but he wasn't stupid — everyone could see that, maybe, there was a little more than just friendship between Cougar and Jensen. Clay had just chosen to remain strategically unaware of any signs of something more, for all of their sake's.
"Well, he practically kissed me, but not quite," Jensen continued, "and then I kissed him for real."
This was definitely heading toward too much information, but Clay knew it was too late to stop Jensen now. He would just have to ride this out until Jensen had gotten things off his chest, no matter how awkward and uncomfortable it made him.
"So, you're avoiding each other because you kissed?" Clay asked, trying not to sound too dubious. He really hadn't expected that. If there were two people he figured would forever fit seamlessly together, it was Jensen and Cougar. It surprised him that a kiss could change that.
"No." Jensen frowned. "Yes. Maybe?"
This was going to be a long night — one Clay wasn't sure he had the patience for.
"Jensen, why are the two of you avoiding each other?"
"We kissed, but I can't have sex with him." Jensen was staring at his screen, but it didn't look like he was actually seeing what was on it. "So I told him no, but he..."
The way Jensen trailed off made Clay feel a stab of alarm. He truly hoped he was just jumping to conclusions, but, even when Jensen continued, Clay's concern didn't settle entirely.
"I said we can't... uh, be in a relationship," Jensen said quietly — nervously, almost. "And now things are awkward between us."
"He tried to force you?" Clay asked, tone a little harder than intended. It didn't sound like Cougar to do something like that, but he had to make sure.
Jensen's head snapped up, his eyes wide.
"Jesus, no! He would never." Jensen was clearly appalled at the thought. "Why would you even ask that?"
As much of a relief as that was to hear, Clay sighed and pinched the bridge of his nose. "Because I honestly have no fucking idea what's even going on here."
Jensen made a frustrated noise and Clay took comfort in knowing he wasn't the only one who regretted this conversation.
"I'm in love with Cougar and Cougar's in love with me," Jensen began, using a voice more suitable when speaking to his eight-year-old niece, "but he wants to have sex and I can't, so I told him we can't be together."
While Clay took offense to the tone, at least they were getting closer to the root of the problem. Or what Clay assumed was the root of the problem.
"Does Cougar know you're asexual?"
Jensen averted his gaze, which was an answer in and of itself. Clay continued before Jensen had time to reply.
"So, you didn't actually explain why you can't be in a relationship with him?"
Clay was too old for this shit. He might not be a master of communication, but not even he could fail this badly.
"I told him he deserves more," Jensen replied, snapping his laptop shut. He clenched his jaw. "I mean, this is Cougar. He has sex all the time. Why would he—"
"Jensen, for a supposed genius, you are so fucking dumb sometimes," Clay interrupted, crossing his arms over his chest. "Cougar would rather die than hurt you — everyone knows that. If you told him you don't want to have sex, I'm pretty sure he'd find a way to manage without it."
Clay was pretty sure he wouldn't be able to, if put in Cougar's position, but, then again, he'd never been in love. Not in the way Cougar and Jensen were. Perhaps Clay's view on the matter would change if he ever found someone that mattered that much to him.
Jensen stared at the closed lid of his laptop and swallowed tightly.
"But he shouldn't have to," he whispered.
Clay had a hard time holding on to his frustration when Jensen sounded that miserable. While Clay might not understand everything that was going on with this — the whole concept of asexuality wasn't something he had encountered before — he couldn't blame Jensen for feeling insecure. No one wanted to be a burden to their loved ones.
"Let him decide," Clay replied.
A silence settled between them, Jensen still staring blankly at his closed laptop. Eventually, he took a deep, shuddering breath.
"I just don't want him to..." Jensen hesitated, his shoulders rising. "What if this will make him change his mind? What if sex is a deal breaker? It is for me." His tone lowered, to the point where Clay could barely even hear him. "What if he ends up hating me?"
Clay was the entirely wrong person to answer those questions. What he did know, however, was that Jensen was clearly too wrapped up in his own insecurities if he had managed to forget one of the most fundamental facts of Cougar's existence.
"I don't think you could make Cougar hate you even if you tried."
Jensen went still, to the point where Clay wasn't even sure if he was breathing. As corny as the words were, they were also entirely true.
"And I think he has at least earned an explanation," Clay continued. "What happens after that, well, that's up to the two of you."
Seconds passed, Jensen remaining tense and silent on the bed. Just as Clay started to worry that he had said the wrong thing, Jensen let out a sigh, the tension bleeding out of his shoulders. Clay took that as a good sign.
Jensen still didn't say anything, however, so Clay took it upon himself to do so.
"Talk to him, Jensen."
Again, there was no reply, but Clay hadn't expected one. When Jensen got this quiet, it usually meant he was busy thinking. And, as far as this whole situation was concerned, that was a good thing. Jensen clearly needed to work things through, preferably on his own. There was only so much Clay could do.
Once Clay was more or less certain that the conversation was over — Jensen still sitting in silence with a thoughtful look on his face — he turned to leave the room.
Clay paused on the threshold, looking back over his shoulder. Jensen still wouldn't meet Clay's eye, but there had been no mistaking the relief and gratitude in his voice. Hopefully, Jensen would find a way to set things right.
"You're welcome," Clay replied.
He almost wanted to add something about not ever wanting to have this kind of conversation again, but, truth be told, he would. Perhaps not gladly, but he would if he had to.
Not that Clay would ever tell Jensen that.