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Jigsaw

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Jigsaw

 

 

It might sound like a terrible cliché, but Jess knew long before Jake, himself, figured it out.

Not because she was more intuitive or smarter than him — she could claim the former but certainly not the latter — but simply because she was more proactive. When she first started seeing the signs, she took it upon herself to figure out what they were actually dealing with, as opposed to Jake who, understandably, mostly tried to ignore it.

At the age of sixteen — when Jess first realized her brother didn't have the same interests as other teenage boys — Jake wanted nothing more than to fit in. That was already difficult enough what with his intelligence and loud, outgoing personality, so she understood if he didn't want to acknowledge yet another thing that made him different.

Though, to be frank, Jess hated that word. Not being sexually attracted to people shouldn't be considered different or odd or any of the other judgmental words she'd run into over the years. It was a bizarre thing to fixate on and, yes, she could admit that she was partial — terribly so, even — but she had every right to be, considering all the shit Jake had gone through because of it. The years he had spent in denial, anxious and ashamed because he just wanted to be normal.

Jess wanted to wring the necks of everyone who ever made her brother feel like he wasn't good enough — like he was somehow dysfunctional just because he didn't want to have sex with people. It frustrated her that he would probably have had an easier time accepting that he was gay or bisexual because that was, for some reason, more okay in society's eyes, if only marginally.

For a long time, Jake pretended he was something he wasn't, going on dates and flirting with girls left and right. Well, the flirting was genuine, Jess knew, because Jake had always been interested in people and almost frighteningly social, but he quickly developed the habit of allowing whatever relationship he was building to fizzle out before it reached a stage where he'd get intimate with his girlfriends.

As he grew older, that got more and more difficult.

For the first time, Jess realized just how much pressure society puts on young men to be sexual — to want sex and think of nothing else. Jake was never like that. He wanted intimacy, sure, but not of the sexual kind, and it soon became obvious that his partners found that strange. It became a burden Jake had to carry — a secret he didn't want to acknowledge or accept — and was the cause for pretty much every single one of his breakups.

The frustrating part being that it didn't have to be, if Jake had just told them the truth. Jess had no doubt that several of the girls Jake dated would have accepted him, asexuality and all, had he just talked to them. More than anything, it was the lying that stifled the relationship.

It took until Jake joined the army before he even managed to admit it to himself. He never told Jess what made him finally stop denying it, but she could still remember how awkward he had looked, sitting on her couch during one of his visits, twisting restlessly and unable to meet her gaze.

He told her about his asexuality as if he expected her to recoil in disgust or, even worse, tell him he was making it up. Throughout his little speech — one Jess knew better than to interrupt — he kept repeating that there was science behind it. Asexuality had been proven and was accepted in the scientific community. The fact that Jake felt that he had to quote studies and research to validate his own sexual orientation broke Jess's heart. The only thing she could think of doing was to wrap him up in her arms and hug him tight.

A couple of tense, silent seconds was all it took before Jake started crying.

Something within him seemed to break and all the tension he had been carrying — the pain, the fear, and the shame — came pouring out. Without meaning to, Jess started crying as well. How could she not, when her little brother was sobbing helplessly in her arms? Jake's hands closed around the fabric of her shirt, squeezing but not tugging, and she only held him tighter.

There had to be a fair share of relief mixed in with those tears, she knew — relief that she had accepted him despite his sexual orientation — and Jess could feel a fierce protectiveness rise within her.

Jake had spent so many years being scared, so many years hiding and lying to himself, and Jess vowed, then and there, that she would end anyone who tried to harm him. Jake should never again have to feel like he wasn't perfect, just the way he was — asexuality or not.

Jess sniffed and gently kissed the top of Jake's head, her fingers stroking through his soft, blond hair.

"I will always love you, JJ," she said, blinking through the tears. "No matter what."

A choked, whimpering noise was all Jake managed in response, but the way he squeezed her middle, so tight she could barely breathe, left no question about how much her words meant to him.

Jess pressed her cheek against Jake's hair and closed her eyes. Jake was trembling in her arms, still crying but slowly but surely beginning to relax, the tension loosening for the first time in what had to be years. Jess continued to hold him, whispering soft words of love and encouragement, her resolve hardening with each little sob Jake let out.

No one was going to harm Jake — not on her watch.

---

Despite having admitted to himself that he was asexual, it still took Jake a long time to adjust. He wasn't ashamed or frightened from what Jess could tell, but there were still moments when he preferred to lie or just not correct people's assumptions about him. It was easier that way, he seemed to think.

Jess watched him try to navigate this new aspect of his identity, knowing there wasn't much she should do to help. There were some things Jake needed to figure out on his own. Jess listened keenly, however, especially when he spoke about his team. She was well aware of how important they were to Jake — a family, of sorts, that filled a space she and Beth couldn't — and just how vulnerable that made him. Their opinion mattered to him and, whether they realized it or not, they had the power to hurt him.

Granted that Jake probably hadn't told his team about his sexual orientation. Considering how difficult it had been for him to tell his own sister, Jess suspected that Jake would much rather pretend to be an average heterosexual male while with them. This, she had understood, meant that Jake still flirted from time to time, but that he did it so poorly that no woman would ever be interested in responding and, possibly, being intimate with him.

It pained Jess that Jake saw the need to do this. That he so desperately wanted to keep up appearances in front of his team that he sometimes forsook the chance of a genuine connection.

More and more, Jess worried that Jake was lonely.

He was, after all, an incredibly social being who needed lots of physical and emotional contact. Jake was the kind of person who would thrive in a relationship, especially with someone who loved and understood him, but Jess could see that he was still too wary to give it a try. He clearly didn't want to risk rejection. To him, it was better to avoid even the slightest possibility of heartbreak.

Whether or not Jake did this knowingly or because of some subconscious self-preservation instinct, well — that was difficult to tell.

Jess just hoped he would grow more comfortable with time, to the point where he no longer saw a reason to sabotage his own relationships.

---

It did get better over the next couple of years, with Jake becoming more and more secure with himself. He tried dating once or twice, but it never worked out. Jess was unsure why — Jake's replies were always evasive — but she suspected that he still held himself at arm's length, probably without even meaning to. Probably because of his sexual orientation. As sincere and open-hearted as Jake was, he clearly had a hard time trusting people with this part of himself. It was no doubt an ingrained habit by then, after years of being so careful, but that didn't make it any less tragic. Jake shouldn't have to be afraid of letting someone in.

Jess knew what Jake looked like when in love — she had seen it several times during his teens — and this wasn't it. None of the women he dated came even close to sparking those kinds of emotions in him.

Sometimes, Jess wondered if anyone ever would again and just what would happen when they did.

She got an answer much sooner than she would have expected.

---

"That's new, isn't it?"

Jake blinked at Jess's question, interrupting his riveting lecture about tachyonic particles. He was leaning against the kitchen counter next to the stove, watching as she finished cooking dinner.

"Huh?" was his intelligent reply.

Jess nodded toward the colorful, braided bracelet wrapped around Jake's left wrist. For as long as she had known him, Jake hadn't been much for jewelry. He made statements through his t-shirts instead.

"Oh! Yeah, it's from Peru." Jensen grinned and looked down at the bracelet, twisting his arm so that Jess could see it better.

She raised an eyebrow. "Peru?"

"Yeah, one of the guys on my team gave it to me." The shy, soft smile on his lips was adorable. "I complained that I've been to so many countries but never gotten a souvenir from one of them, because I'm always camped out in a jungle somewhere or under strict orders to remain inconspicuous."

"So he gave you a bracelet?" Jess asked, keeping her tone neutral.

Jake looked up, still smiling. "Yeah, on our last mission. I don't know how he did it, but he must have sneaked off at some point and bought it for me." He sounded just a little bit breathless, his eyes bright with what could only be described as joy. Pure, unfiltered joy. "His name's Cougar. I must have mentioned him?"

Oh, Jake certainly had — more than once, and with many flattering adjectives. If Jess remembered correctly, Cougar had joined the team just around the same time Jake had.

"He's the silent one?"

Jake grinned, his tone close to reverent. "Yeah, he's awesome."

It was then, when Jess watched Jake's thumb stroke the bracelet — probably without even realizing it himself — that she finally recognized the look on her brother's face.

Jake was in love.

Horribly, the first thing Jess felt was dread. In her defense, that mostly had to do with the fact that Jake had, apparently, fallen in love with his teammate. The chances of that ending well were terribly low, what with DADT and the macho attitude within the army. Adding to that, Jake didn't have a good track record with dating or dealing with his emotions in general. Not to mention that he had never shown a romantic interest in a man before and she wasn't sure how he'd deal with that, if he ever figured it out.

And, last but not least, she had never met this Cougar and had no idea what kind of person he was. Jess knew better than to trust strangers with her little brother's well-being, still just as determined to protect Jake as she had always been, from anyone who wanted to harm him — including this Cougar, if she had to.

"You should tell him to come visit sometime," Jess said, as casually as she could manage.

"What? Really?" Jake sounded more excited than wary, which was a good thing, Jess knew.

He didn't suspect her ulterior motives.

Jess smiled up at her brother. "Yeah, why not? I'd like to meet your new friend."

Jake was practically glowing. Dear Lord, he had it bad.

"Okay, sure," he replied, grinning from ear to ear. "I'll ask him."

"Good."

Jess was well aware that Cougar might never return Jake's feelings, but that was all the more reason to investigate further. If the truth ever came out, she needed to know how Cougar would handle it, especially if the feelings weren't mutual. A scenario like that could easily end badly, which she wanted to avoid at all costs.

From here on out, Jess would have to keep an eye on them both.

She just hoped Cougar wouldn't turn out to be an asshole.

 

Chapter Text

Jigsaw

 

 

Roque was well aware that everyone on their team — including Clay — often forgot that he wasn't just a dumb brute. He was known for his knives and his grouchy moods, but no one seemed to remember that he was also their main tactician. They, much like snipers, were trained to be observant. The difference was that Roque, unlike Cougar, focused on analyzing and planning ahead — on finding connections, strategies, and contingencies, rather than being the attentive lookout or pouring all of his effort into the single pull of his trigger.

This meant that Roque saw a whole lot more than his teammates probably wanted him to.

They didn't seem to understand that, though, and he had never bothered to correct their misconceptions about him, or shared his observations. It was easier — and more beneficial — to let them assume. Like how they seemed to think that he was blind to emotions just because he didn't like to acknowledge or talk about them. In reality, he knew a shitload more about them than Clay did.

Clay, for example, still hadn't realized that Jensen and Cougar had been in love with each other for about two years.

Then again, neither had Jensen and Cougar, so perhaps Roque was being unfair.

It was painful to watch them sometimes, stumbling cluelessly around each other, but Roque knew better than to say anything. Partly because of DADT — asking would definitely disrupt the team — but also because it just wasn't any of his goddamned business. They could sort out their own love lives, like proper adults.

That said, there were still times when he was sorely tempted to knock their thick heads together.

The reception after Pooch's wedding was no exception.

Watching Cougar charm the bridesmaids while Jensen tried not to look like a kicked puppy was not Roque's idea of a good time. As far as he could tell, Cougar didn't do it to be mean, but rather as a way to keep up appearances. Or, maybe, he hadn't even admitted to himself that he was in love with Jensen and did it out of genuine cluelessness.

Jensen was clearly more aware of his feelings, or at least Roque had an easier time reading them. The wistfulness in Jensen's eyes when he looked at Cougar was far too resigned for him not to have realized that he was in love with his best friend. And, somewhere along the way, Jensen had even adopted the habit of scaring away every eligible woman who might want to sleep with him. If that was to avoid temptation or because he honestly wasn't interested in anyone but Cougar, Roque didn't know, but he knew for a fact that Jensen wasn't as bad at flirting and talking to women as he made it seem.

To be entirely honest, Roque still hadn't found a single thing Jensen was genuinely bad at.

There were times when he failed at a given task, sure, and things he had yet to learn, but, over the years, Roque had come to realize that Jensen was the one on the team with the most potential. When Jensen put his mind to it — when he made a real effort and actually wanted to learn — there was literally nothing he couldn't do. The combination of Jensen's intelligence, stubbornness, and irregular bouts of razor-sharp focus set him aside from pretty much every other soldier Roque had met. Had Jensen just been a little bit better at utilizing his skills and abilities, he could have been unstoppable.

Fortunately, that was not the case. Most of the time, Jensen was much too busy being a geeky dork to even consider what he could truly accomplish. As surprising as it might sound, Roque had always been wary of Jensen. Out of everyone on the team, he was the one most difficult to pin down and the one whose reactions were almost impossible to predict. That made him not only annoying, but also outright dangerous.

There was simply too much Roque didn't know about him — too many secrets that Jensen managed to keep hidden behind the goofy smiles and jarringly bright t-shirts. Even if Jensen talked pretty much nonstop, Roque knew only as much as Jensen wanted him to — not a single piece of information had ever carelessly passed Jensen's lips, except maybe when he got shitfaced. But that almost never happened.

When it came down to it, Jensen was a much bigger threat than anyone would ever give him credit for.

Yet he looked outright harmless. Especially now, when he sat quietly moping by a table, throwing sad, pining looks at Cougar — who was still at it with the bridesmaids.

It was depressing to watch and Roque was grateful when Jensen's sister decided to intervene.

Jess swooped in, grabbed her brother's hand, and pulled Jensen out onto the dance floor. Other women had done the same at the beginning of the reception, no doubt charmed by his good looks, but Jensen ended up stepping on so many literal toes that he was eventually left alone.

Interestingly, that clumsiness was nowhere to be seen now that he was dancing with this sister.

Roque's gaze returned to Cougar, not at all surprised to find that their sniper was no longer paying as much attention to the woman he was flirting with. It was an inevitability whenever Jensen moved in Cougar's general vicinity. Without fail, Cougar's focus would shift to follow Jensen instead, as if to make sure he was still safe and close by. This time, Cougar even went as far as to twist slightly in his chair, so that he would be able to keep Jensen in his peripheral.

Roque had never seen two people as dependent and in sync with each other as Jensen and Cougar. But, even more fascinating than that, they didn't even seem to realize it themselves. They were close, of course — called themselves best friends and everything — but neither of them really seemed to understand just how rare their connection was.

Had Roque not seen it with his own eyes — over the course of several years — he would have written it off as romantic nonsense.

They always knew where the other one was, even when their backs were turned, but always preferred to have a visual when possible. As a consequence, they got agitated or distracted when they spent too much time apart, and neither Jensen nor Cougar could fully relax after a mission unless they were able to confirm that the other was okay. Not to mention the way they communicated, which was a combination of non-verbal cues, gentle touches, and facial expressions that even Roque had trouble deciphering. He'd simply been forced to accept that Jensen and Cougar spoke their own language, one that no one else could ever hope to learn or make sense of.

With all this in mind, it was a mystery to him that Jensen and Cougar weren't already bumping uglies. Heck, Roque had seen married couples with less love and devotion between them than Jensen and Cougar.

But he supposed it could be DADT, or maybe Cougar truly hadn't figured it out yet, which made Jensen unsure enough that he didn't dare to act on his feelings. Whatever the reason was, it was getting more and more frustrating to watch them dance around each other when they both clearly wanted more.

Roque shook his head and downed the rest of his champagne, deciding he wasn't nearly drunk enough to be delving this deep into the complexities of Jensen and Cougar's relationship. Besides, Clay was chatting up some woman at the bar and Roque better break that up before someone ended up getting shot at or set on fire.

Sooner or later, Jensen and Cougar would sort themselves out. You couldn't be as close as they were without stepping over the line at some point.

It was only a matter of time, Roque was sure.

 

Chapter Text

Jigsaw

 

 

Contrary to popular belief, Jensen wasn't completely oblivious. That wasn't to say that he would ever claim to be attentive, but at least he wasn't as obtuse as some seemed to think.

It didn't take him more than a year to figure out that he had accidentally fallen in love with his best friend.

A year might sound like a long time to some, but, given Jensen's history, he'd say he spotted the signs pretty early. He wasn't used to analyzing his own emotions and behavior in that way, certainly not in relation to his team. The thought that he might fall in love with one of his teammates had never even occurred to him. Partly because he had always had a hard time falling in love, but, even more so, because of the work they did. Sure, they forged strong bonds after difficult missions and close calls, but feeling platonic loyalty to someone was a far cry from being in love.

Somewhere along the way, as the years passed, Jensen seemed to have gotten those two mixed up — at least where Cougar was concerned.

Granted, his and Cougar's relationship had always been a bit different.

Jensen couldn't say why or how it came to be — or even when the falling in love had happened. He just remembered looking up from his computer one day and realizing it. Probably because Cougar was right next to him, their knees touching under the table and arms brushing. When Cougar looked at him, his dark eyes curiously questioning, Jensen's heart skipped a beat. All of a sudden, he could barely breathe for all the fondness and longing surging through him.

He knew better than to let that show, however.

Instead, Jensen grinned and playfully bumped their shoulders together, pretending that he hadn't just had a revelation that would change his life forever. If Cougar suspected anything, he hid it behind an indulgent smile. Neither of them said a word.

That, Jensen knew, would no doubt surprise some, but the truth was that he never saw a need to fill the silence when he was with Cougar. More often than not, he still did, but that was because he liked to talk and Cougar didn't mind. It wasn't necessary, though. Jensen felt at ease with Cougar in a way he did with no one else — he could relax around Cougar — and there was something quite precious about that. Something Jensen wanted to cherish. He couldn't even remember the last time he allowed himself to be as open and vulnerable as he was with Cougar.

And, more importantly, he couldn't remember the last time someone appreciated him as much as Cougar did. It was never said out loud — Cougar wasn't much for the spoken word — but it could be seen in his warm, fond smiles and the way he would always listen when Jensen spoke. It became obvious with every little gift he gave Jensen — a collection of memories from the countries they visited on missions — and the way he would gently herd Jensen to bed when he stayed up too long. Every single one of Cougar's actions spoke of care and affection.

Jensen should have known that could lead to something more — that he would be drawn to Cougar's unconditional devotion and find himself responding in kind.

There was very little Jensen wouldn't do for Cougar.

That said, being in love with Cougar was far from easy. The fact that Cougar was a man didn't matter since Jensen couldn't care less about gender, but he wasn't sure if the same could be said for Cougar. In the years they had known each other, Jensen had only ever seen Cougar be attracted to women. On top of that, there was DADT, the possibility of some good, old-fashioned Catholic guilt on Cougar's part, and, of course, Jensen's sex drive.

Or lack thereof.

Jensen had never discussed his sexual orientation with Cougar. It wasn't exactly an easy subject to bring up in casual conversation and, to be honest, Jensen worried how Cougar would react. Not that he thought that Cougar would ever, in any way, be disrespectful or mean, but Jensen couldn't help wondering if Cougar even knew what asexuality was. Some didn't. Some simply couldn't wrap their heads around sex not being the most important aspect of a relationship and — if Jensen was to make assumptions based on Cougar's history with sex and the frequency with which he had it — he could be one of them.

Just like Jensen could never imagine himself having sex with someone, he wasn't sure if he could imagine Cougar not having sex with his chosen partner.

And that, right there, was the biggest reason why Jensen would never, ever tell Cougar how he felt. Because while there were very few things Jensen wouldn't do for Cougar, having sex was one of them. If, by some fluke of galactic proportions, Cougar actually found himself reciprocating Jensen's feelings, that wasn't something Jensen would be able to offer him. Jensen couldn't be what Cougar needed in a partner, which meant it was better to just keep his mouth shut. There was no way they would ever work out as a couple.

Of course, this was only relevant if Cougar actually loved Jensen back — which he didn't, making it a moot point.

In some ways, that was actually a bit of a relief. That meant Jensen wouldn't have to explain to Cougar in just what ways he was different from other people. He could just keep pretending that he was normal and Cougar would be none the wiser. It was safe, comfortable, and easy.

Jensen could live with that.

---

There were times when Jensen would catch glimpses in his peripheral — a hint of a wistful smile on Cougar's face or a flash of aching, breathless yearning in those dark eyes — that made Jensen wonder if Cougar actually loved him back. The thought never failed to send his heartbeat racing, both from excitement and dread.

Sometimes, Jensen wanted nothing more than to be loved by Cougar. Other times, he was wise enough to know it wouldn't work. A relationship with Cougar wasn't something he could pursue.

So, whether or not the glimpses were real or imagined, Jensen chose to ignore them.

It was just safer not knowing.

---

The day they were sent on a mission in Bolivia, everything changed.

Jensen had to watch twenty-five young lives get snuffed out in a burst of heat and fire, and, suddenly, his problems became much less important. Whether or not Cougar loved him back hardly mattered when they found themselves stranded in a foreign country, lost, angry, grieving — and presumed dead.

Their lives as they knew them were over.

---

The weeks that followed passed in a blur of grief, booze, and monotonous work. The team did what they could to stay afloat and, in his spare time, Clay embarked on a crusade for justice. Jensen didn't blame him — he wanted justice, too, and at least it gave them something productive to do.

Not that they'd had much hope of managing until Aisha came into the picture and, once she did, things unraveled quickly. Bonds that should have been unbreakable proved to be a lot frailer than Jensen could ever have imagined.

By the time the showdown in L.A. was over, Jensen was reeling, both from the loss of Roque and how close he had come to seeing Cougar get his brains blown out. The latter, in particular, was difficult to handle.

Jensen didn't really know what he would do without Cougar.

Back in Bolivia, when Jensen had been too wrapped up in his grief to really pay attention to anything but what was right in front of him, Cougar had been his only comfort. Only Cougar had been able to make him smile for real, however briefly. Only Cougar had managed make Jensen eat and sleep, even when he didn't want to. Only Cougar had been able to keep the nightmares at bay, never complaining when Jensen, accidentally on purpose, fell asleep in Cougar's bed rather than his own.

More than once, Jensen had woken up pressed up against Cougar in the mornings, their legs tangled and his nose buried against Cougar's neck.

There was an unspoken agreement never to talk about their sleeping arrangements. The entire affair was completely innocent, of course — Jensen wasn't the least bit interested in anything more — but the lack of sex only made it seem more intimate, somehow. Most people would excuse the need for a more carnal type of comfort during troubling times, but what they shared was an emotional closeness that wasn't exactly encouraged between two men.

It wasn't acceptable to be this vulnerable in front of another man.

Maybe that was why one of them always pretended to be asleep when it was time to get up, giving the other time to slink out of bed without having to face what they were doing. Even when it became a nightly thing, Jensen's room left empty and forgotten, they didn't acknowledge this new direction their relationship had taken. It wasn't shame, Jensen knew, but rather a desperate attempt not to ruin what they already had. Most friends didn't sleep wrapped up together every night, but to acknowledge that meant that they might have to redefine their relationship, which neither of them seemed ready or willing to do.

The night after L.A. was different.

Once they had found a safe house and Pooch had been taken care of — as well as they could manage under the circumstances — Jensen was too tired to pretend he wanted to sleep anywhere but with Cougar. And, to Jensen's dismay, it would be difficult to fake falling asleep in the wrong bed. Since they were sharing a room, the excuse that Cougar's bed was more convenient because his own was too far away wouldn't work. It had always been transparent, but this time it would be outright stupid.

Jensen hesitated when he came back from his shower, hair still wet and dressed in nothing but his underwear and a t-shirt. He stopped awkwardly in between the two beds, glancing at his own before his gaze was drawn to the other. Cougar was lying on his back, staring blankly up at the ceiling. As much as Jensen wanted to crawl in with him, he wasn't sure if he would be allowed. He was too tired to pretend — still rattled after having seen Cougar almost get shot over his hat — but Cougar might not be.

A couple of beats passed before Cougar turned his head. The faint moonlight shining in through the window wasn't quite enough to allow Jensen to read Cougar's expression, but he didn't have to. Not when Cougar raised his hand, holding it out for Jensen to take.

Jensen swallowed, relief gathering like a lump in his throat. Cougar's hand was warm when Jensen took it, his heart skipping a beat when he was gently tugged down onto the bed. Neither of them spoke as Cougar made room for Jensen, but that was probably just as well. Jensen wouldn't know what to say anyway, struck speechless by the care with which Cougar slipped the glasses from his nose, before folding them and putting them on the nearby windowsill.

The thoughtful tenderness in Cougar's actions would never cease to amaze Jensen.

Once they had gotten settled, bare skin brushing and Cougar's heartbeats steady against Jensen's fingertips — a comforting reminder that they were both still alive — Jensen was finally able to relax. As always when he lay this close to Cougar, Jensen felt safe.

He was asleep within minutes.

---

Jensen woke up to fingers gently combing through his hair.

For a split second, he panicked. He had no idea how to deal with that. He and Cougar were usually touching when they woke up, sure, but not like that — not with unapologetic purpose. How was Jensen supposed to pretend that what they were doing wasn't happening when Cougar was being so obvious about it?

The gentle whisper of fingertips against Jensen's cheek made his heartbeat race. The touch was achingly soft, barely even there, moving down to trace the line of his jaw. Before he had time to tell himself not to — or really consider the consequences — Jensen opened his eyes.

They were lying on their sides, facing each other, so close that Jensen didn't even need his glasses to see Cougar properly. The look in Cougar's eyes — a mix of warm fondness and breathtaking devotion — sent a nervous flutter through Jensen's stomach.

Cougar's skin looked golden in the morning sunlight.

"Mornin'," Jensen mumbled, partly hoping that him speaking would break the spell — would crush the breathless little cocoon of warmth and intimacy they suddenly found themselves in and return them to the real world.

It didn't.

Jensen's heart was beating hard and fast, his fingers itching with the need to reach out and touch — to slide his fingertips along that soft, golden skin. Cougar's thumb stroked Jensen's jaw, his expression serious — determined and fearless.

"Te amo," he said.

Jensen's breath caught.

While the words were nothing more than a whisper, spoken with reverence and heart-stopping sincerity, they seemed to echo in the quiet room. Jensen stared at Cougar, barely daring to move, let alone breathe. Their gazes held, Cougar's hand warm against Jensen's skin.

He had to be dreaming. Only a dream could be this perfect.

This was all Jensen had ever wanted.

Then Cougar moved closer, close enough that their lips brushed, breaths mingling. Jensen couldn't hold back the small, desperate noise building at the back of his throat, torn out of him after years of longing. Before he had time to change his mind, Jensen closed his eyes and erased what little distance was left between them.

Cougar's lips were wonderfully soft and he kissed with the same reverence his voice held when he told Jensen that he loved him. Gentle sparks of delight lit up inside of Jensen, joy and warmth humming through his veins. Cougar's fingers curled around the back of Jensen's neck and, even as the kiss deepened, it somehow managed to remain soft — almost lazy — and carefully exploring.

Jensen lost track of time, distracted by Cougar's lips against his, his taste, and the comforting warmth radiating from Cougar's skin. It was better than Jensen had dared to dream of and felt more natural than it probably should have, considering that they wanted different things.

That thought was enough to shatter the illusion.

Jensen went cold, realization making him freeze. Cougar was probably reading more into this kiss than Jensen was — more than Jensen was capable of giving. As much as Jensen liked kissing and non-sexual intimacy, he couldn't give Cougar more than that.

The moment Jensen had stiffened, Cougar pulled back, much too attentive not to pick up on something being wrong.

"Jensen?"

Jensen couldn't look him in the eye. He could barely breathe around the sudden lump in his throat and Jensen couldn't, under any circumstances, look Cougar in the eye.

What had Jensen been thinking? He knew better. He knew he shouldn't get too close — that he would only end up disappointing Cougar because of his limitations. He shouldn't have kissed Cougar, no matter how much he wanted to, because Jensen couldn't follow through. The last thing he wanted was to lead Cougar on or disappoint him.

"I'm sorry, I—"

Jensen's throat closed up. He didn't know what to say. He didn't know how to explain all of this to Cougar in a way that made sense — certainly not in a way that would make it okay. Why had he been stupid enough to kiss Cougar?

"Jake?" Cougar spoke with an unmistakable edge of worry — along with something else Jensen couldn't quite place.

When Cougar pulled his hand back, Jensen quickly pushed himself out of bed, stumbling slightly in his haste. He grabbed his glasses off the windowsill, putting them on with shaking hands. He needed to say something, but he didn't know what. The fear and regret and self-loathing were making it too difficult to speak. Instead, he snatched up his jeans, partly to distract himself, but also because he knew he had to get out of that room. Maybe he would be able to breathe if he put some distance between the two of them. Maybe then he would be able to think clearly again.

He had to figure out how he was supposed to face Cougar after kissing him.

"Jake, wait."

The anguish in Cougar's voice made Jensen hesitate. He wasn't sure if he had ever heard Cougar sound so distressed.

Guilt.

That was the emotion Jensen hadn't been able to place at first. Cougar felt guilty.

Jensen turned, his chest clenching when he saw the look on Cougar's face — the unmasked horror and what could be self-loathing. Considering how Jensen had flung himself out of bed, it wasn't difficult to figure out what Cougar was feeling guilty about. He probably thought Jensen had felt pressured to respond — that he hadn't actually wanted the kiss — or simply that he regretted doing it.

Which, technically, Jensen did, but not for the reason Cougar thought. Cougar hadn't forced Jensen to do anything he didn't want himself.

"Did I—"

"No," Jensen interrupted. He didn't even want to hear Cougar say the words. "No, Cougar, you didn't. I kissed you, remember?"

Cougar was sitting up on the bed, fingers clenched tight around the sheets, a heartbreaking look of confusion on his face.

"Then why?"

Jensen swallowed, knuckles white from his grip around his jeans.

"It's not you, it's me." He immediately wanted to hit himself, but settled for rubbing a hand over his mouth. "Fuck. I'm sorry. That's such a cliché, but it's true. I can't... I can't do this."

It took everything Jensen had to look at Cougar in that moment, but he knew he had to. Even if they might not be able to have a relationship — even now when Jensen knew that Cougar loved him back — he couldn't let Cougar think he'd done anything wrong.

"This. Us." He gestured vaguely between them. "I want to, so bad, but it's not... I can't be what you—" Jensen's voice broke. "I mean, I love you too. You have no idea how much I love you, but I can't give you what you need."

Cougar frowned, clearly not following. He looked so dejected Jensen's heart ached just looking at him.

"What I need?"

"Yeah, you deserve so much more, Cougs. You deserve, well, that. You deserve everything." Jensen fumbled as he pulled on his jeans, trying to pretend his eyes weren't stinging. "And I'm not that. I'm sorry. I just can't."

The bed creaked as Cougar rose from it, the sound startling enough to make Jensen take a step back. The flash of hurt on Cougar's face — Jensen had never flinched away from him before — made Jensen swallow, but he wasn't sure how to apologize. Instead, he watched as Cougar clenched his hands, as if to curb the temptation to reach out and touch Jensen.

"Can't what?"

"I can't do this. I love you, but I can't be with you. I can't give you what you want."

And, with that — without even a final glance in Cougar's direction — Jensen abruptly fled the room.

 

Chapter Text

Jigsaw

 

 

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.

"Thank you."

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.

 

Chapter Text

Jigsaw

 

 

Cougar had never wanted to find out what his life would be like without Jensen. The thought was simply too unbearable.

There had been a time before Jensen, of course — before they had even met — but losing Jensen and never having known him were two different things. Back then, before Jensen, Cougar would have considered himself content, never once reflecting that maybe content wasn't enough. Just maybe, he should have been aiming for happy instead.

Once he met Jensen, happy had been shockingly easy to accomplish. Happy became his default rather than a pleasant surprise during an otherwise dull and bleak existence. It wasn't that Jensen was the sole source of Cougar's happiness — that kind of attachment could turn ugly — but rather that Jensen showed him what it was like to actually embrace life rather than drift through it on autopilot. Jensen reveled in being alive, always eager to greet the new day and experience new things. And, after enough exposure, his enthusiasm turned out to be quite contagious.

It was a valuable life lesson — one Cougar would always treasure.

That said, Jensen was undeniably the biggest source of Cougar's happiness. He felt at ease with Jensen — grounded and safe — and treasured their friendship more than he could ever express. No one knew him as well as Jensen did and if Cougar was ever asked who was the most important person in his life, the answer was easy.

So, of course, out of sheer, stupid selfishness, Cougar found a way to ruin it.

He couldn't even justify why he'd done it. The entire team had been unstable after Bolivia, sure, grief and anger fuelling them as they sought revenge, and losing Roque wasn't easy, but that was no reason for Cougar to destroy the one relationship he was pretty sure he couldn't live without. As frightened and disoriented as he had felt — lately, all of them had come closer to dying than he was comfortable with — it didn't justify kissing Jensen. At least not when Jensen hadn't expressly said it was okay.

There had been hints, of course — lingering looks and longing smiles that Cougar was far too observant to have missed — but he had known better than to push. It had taken him years to come to terms with his feelings and he assumed that Jensen might need the same. Besides, there was no need to rush. It was more important that they both knew what they were getting themselves into than to start something they would regret later.

If that meant they never reached the point of acknowledging what was between them, then so be it. Cougar would much rather remain friends than feel that he had forced Jensen into a relationship or a position that made him uncomfortable.

Only, on that fateful morning, when he had woke up next to Jensen, sunlight streaming in through the window, he had promptly forgotten about his usual reservations.

He had looked at Jensen, his blond hair bright and golden, his long lashes fanned out across his cheeks, and been struck by how much he loved this man. The surge of affection had taken Cougar's breath away. In all the years he had been in love with Jensen — and there were quite a few — he had never felt such an overwhelming rush of rightness.

There was no place he would rather have been than right there with Jensen.

Cougar hadn't meant to kiss him. It hadn't been a conscious thought, at least. He had simply acted on instinct, fuelled by the longing he had seen in Jensen's eyes. Cougar knew he hadn't read Jensen wrong — he had, at least for a moment, wanted the kiss — but Cougar should have remembered that wanting something didn't mean you were ready for it.

Still, he had pushed for a kiss and, during a couple of blissful, wonderful seconds, Jensen had kissed him back. But Jensen hadn't been ready — perhaps he never would be — and Cougar shouldn't have put him in that position. He should have known better than to act on impulse, especially considering what he had to lose.

And lost it he had.

After that kiss, Jensen was no longer able look him in the eye. They had gone from being the best of friends to Jensen feeling the need to flee the room as soon as Cougar entered. All because Cougar hadn't been able to control himself.

Jensen couldn't even stand to be near him.

Seeing that hurt so much Cougar could barely breathe. Still, he respected Jensen's choice and made sure to keep his distance, afraid to make things worse. The last thing he wanted was to hurt Jensen, but he had. His actions had caused a steadily growing rift between them and Cougar didn't know if it was even possible to bridge it. Cougar had pushed too hard — had asked for more than Jensen was able to give — and he wasn't sure if he would ever be able to forgive himself.

How could he have been so stupid?

His only hope was that, at some point in the future, Jensen would allow him to apologize. Cougar understood if that wasn't possible right away, but he hoped he would eventually be given the chance to tell Jensen how sorry he was. They might never be able to return to what they had been — a thought which made Cougar's chest clench so tightly he could barely breathe around the pain — but Jensen shouldn't have to suffer as much as he was now.

Jensen deserved better, and Cougar would do what he could to set things right.

---

Cougar was lying on his motel bed, staring up at the ceiling, pretending he was trying to sleep, when there was a careful knock on his door. He blinked in surprise and turned his head to look at the clock on the bedside table, confirming that, yes, it was well past 2 AM.

There was only one person who would come knocking on his door at 2 AM.

Cougar's stomach twisted from both hope and sudden nerves. He had no idea why Jensen would seek him out after days of avoidance — at two in the morning, no less — but there was no way in hell he wouldn't open that door. Call him desperate, but Cougar would do pretty much anything to have Jensen acknowledge his presence for the first time in almost a week.

So, Cougar pushed himself out of bed and had the foresight to snatch up his t-shirt from the nearby chair. Considering how awkward things had been between them — and what had caused it in the first place — he suspected Jensen would prefer it if he had more clothes on. Fortunately, he hadn't bothered to take off his pants before going to bed, having known from the start he wouldn't be sleeping all that much.

Sleeping without Jensen next to him had proven quite the challenge.

Cougar was too graceful to stumble as he took the few steps between the bed and the door, pulling on his shirt as he went, but he could admit that he did so with more urgently than he usually would have. He didn't know how long Jensen would wait for him to answer before deciding to leave.

Thankfully, he was still there when Cougar opened the door, though the surprised look on Jensen's face suggested that he hadn't quite expected that himself. Or maybe he had thought Cougar was asleep. His expression was difficult to read, but Cougar knew exactly what the fidgeting meant — the way Jensen twisted awkwardly where he stood, his hand going up to run restlessly through his hair.

Jensen was already regretting knocking on Cougar's door.

Even so, Cougar drank in the sight of him. The motel lighting was hardly flattering, the lamp next to Cougar's door casting a harsh, bright glare over them both. Still, it was nice to actually see Jensen after so many days apart, even if the sight wasn't a particularly comforting one. Jensen looked tired, with dark circles under his eyes and cuticles picked raw. He only did that when under immense stress, when he felt so high-strung and restless that he had to be fiddling with something all the time, but didn't have anything else on hand. Usually, Jensen wasn't even consciously aware of doing it, only noticing once he started bleeding — if at all.

Knowing he was the cause for Jensen's distress made a lump of guilt lodge in Cougar's throat.

"Uh, hi," Jensen said awkwardly. Cougar could see him swallow, but he also met Cougar's gaze for the first time in days, which Cougar hoped was a good sign. "Did I wake you?"

Cougar shook his head, hand resting on the doorknob.

Jensen was still wearing the bracelet Cougar had given him in Peru. It was years old by now, worn and slightly discolored, but Jensen still wore it. Cougar knew that was a silly detail to take note of — it was probably just coincidence or habit, nothing more. But, even then, some desperate part of Cougar wanted to believe that meant something.

"Okay, good." Jensen gave him a faint smile, his gaze flicking to the side before returning to Cougar. His shoulders hunched and Cougar could hear the palpable distress in Jensen's voice. "I, uh, think we need to talk?"

In that moment, Cougar would do anything for Jensen — anything to make him stop looking so small and frightened.

"Of course," Cougar replied, a little hoarser than he had expected.

Jensen looked relieved, however, and didn't hesitate to step into the room when Cougar moved aside in a wordless offer. That had to mean something. At least Jensen wasn't afraid of him, which was something Cougar hadn't really wanted to consider, but feared nonetheless.

After carefully closing the door, Cougar walked over and turned on the bedside lamp. It was obvious what Jensen wanted to talk about and, with some luck, Cougar might be given the opportunity to apologize.

He turned toward Jensen, not surprised to find him fidgeting again, absently picking at the already torn skin around his fingernails. Had Cougar thought he was allowed, he would have stepped closer and gently taken Jensen's hand in his, to stop him from making it worse.

Jensen's gaze flicked curiously across the room, though Cougar couldn't imagine that it looked very different from Jensen's own. Or perhaps Jensen wanted to refamiliarize himself with what it felt like to be in a room with Cougar. Lately, he'd been more keen on sharing with Pooch than Cougar, which, admittedly, had hurt. It wasn't like Cougar couldn't understand why Jensen had chosen that — he had every right to avoid Cougar — but it still hurt.

Once he was done with his inspection, Jensen's focused back on Cougar. He still looked vaguely uncomfortable, but his shoulders had straightened and there was a determined spark in his eyes. Whatever difficult conversation they were about to have, Jensen was clearly ready for it, if a bit nervous.

"I want to clarify a couple of things," Jensen said. "About... well, you know."

Cougar did know. He nodded for Jensen to go ahead, ignoring the loud thump of his own heart. He was terrified that Jensen would tell him it was too late for them — that what Cougar had done was unforgivable — but he knew there was no point in trying to run from it.

Jensen wanted to talk and the least Cougar could do was to listen.

"Okay." Jensen cleared his throat, seemingly losing some of his resolve. He averted his gaze, hands clenching, and spoke so softly that Cougar had to take a step closer in order to hear him. "It has come to my attention that I didn't really explain why I... uh, left."

That was not what Cougar had expected and he quickly shook his head.

"Jake, no. You don't have to explain—"

"But I do," Jensen interrupted, his gaze meeting Cougar's. There was determination in those wonderful blue eyes of his, but also a heartbreaking amount of fear. "Because you don't know the whole story and I don't want you to—"

"It was my fault."

Cougar wasn't even surprised by the vehement self-loathing he heard in his own voice, though it seemed to startle Jensen. His eyes widened, staring at Cougar in surprise.

"What?" A confused wrinkle appeared between Jensen's eyebrows. "How can my problems be your fault?"

"Because I kissed you."

That, for some reason, only made Jensen look more confused.

"No, I kissed you. Also, that's not even what I'm referring to right now." Jensen tilted his head to the side. "What do you think we're talking about?"

"I made things awkward," Cougar replied. "I pushed you into it."

"No, you didn't." Jensen sounded incredulous. "I told you that already. I wanted that kiss. Heck, I still—"

Jensen cut himself off and swallowed nervously. Cougar would be lying if he said his heart didn't perform a tiny skip from joy at hearing that last part. He knew it didn't mean much — if Jensen wasn't ready, nothing would ever happen between them — but it was a comfort nonetheless.

After several beats of heavy silence, Jensen took a deep, trembling breath.

"I'm not talking about the kiss. I'm talking about the reason I can't... be in a relationship, which is all on me, not you." Jensen sounded solemn now, as if he was planning his own funeral. "There are things about me that you don't know. Things that... might change the way you look at me. And the things you want from me."

Cougar took a careful step closer. "What things?"

He knew better than to dismiss Jensen's concerns — even just to say it wasn't true, that he would never love him any less — since doing so would mean brushing off something that, clearly, made Jensen very upset. Cougar needed to hear whatever Jensen had to say and, if he ended up viewing him differently afterwards, well — different wasn't synonymous with bad.

"I, uh..." Jensen looked down at his feet, seconds ticking by before he let out a harsh laugh. "I didn't think it would be this difficult," he mumbled miserably.

Cougar couldn't stand it. He stepped closer and gently took Jensen's hands in his — before Jensen had time to start picking at his wounds again. Jensen looked surprised, but didn't pull away. His fingers were cold against Cougar's.

"Jake, it's okay." Cougar gave Jensen's hands a gentle squeeze, his smile soft and encouraging. "When you're ready."

Jensen stared back at him, almost transfixed, and Cougar started wondering if he'd said something wrong. As intense as Jensen could be at times, this was more than that. Cougar could tell that thoughts had to be spinning through Jensen's head at his usual, breathtaking speed, and that they were gearing up for something big.

Then, without much preamble, Jensen blurted out, "I'm asexual."

There was a brief silence, Cougar blinking in surprise. He could admit he hadn't expected that. He had always assumed that Jensen was straight or, more likely, bisexual. But perhaps he should have suspected something after that time when Jensen had held a two-hour long lecture about asexuality in front of him. Cougar hadn't thought much of it and merely written it off as the current subject Jensen was researching, but that should clearly have been his first clue.

Jensen must have taken Cougar's surprise as confusion and immediately launched into an explanation that wasn't entirely necessary.

"That means I don't like to have sex. It makes me uncomfortable. Some asexual people can still have sex, but I'm not one of them." Jensen's gaze had settled on the wall somewhere behind Cougar's head. "I like kissing and cuddling, but everything beyond that just... doesn't work. I mean, I admit I've never really tried, but I start to freak out whenever I do and I just don't want to, so I stopped trying." He sucked in a sharp breath, making it clear that he was beginning to panic. "And that's why I pulled away. Because I was leading you on and that's not fair to you, because I can't have sex and that's clearly—"

Jensen stopped short the moment Cougar's hands rose to frame his face, his gaze snapping to meet Cougar's. The amount of fear in his eyes just about broke Cougar's heart, so he made sure to smile, despite how he could feel it tremble. He had several questions he wanted to ask — things he hadn't known were relevant but now were — but that could wait. He could tell that there was one thing Jensen needed before all that.

"I love you," Cougar whispered, not looking away from Jensen. "I always will. No matter what."

A noise, something close to a relieved sob, slipped out of Jensen. Cougar's thumbs stroked his cheeks, wanting to soothe even if he knew that the tears gathering in Jensen's eyes were probably not of the bad kind.

"I'm so sorry," Jensen croaked.

"Why?"

Jensen swallowed tightly, shivering when Cougar wiped away the first tear that slid down his cheek.

"F-for making things difficult for you. For not being able to give you what you want." Jensen closed his eyes. "I would if I could. Please believe that, Cougs. I would do anything—"

"Jake," Cougar interrupted, hating himself for having to sound so stern when Jensen was clearly suffering, "you are what I want."

Jensen's breath trembled. "But I can't—"

"I don't need sex."

Cougar couldn't deny that he enjoyed it, sure, but if this was a question of choosing between Jensen or sex, it wasn't even a contest. Some might see it as a sacrifice, but, to Cougar, the only thing that mattered was what he would gain. In this case, that was Jensen's love and, quite frankly, sex wasn't worth much in comparison. Not having it would no doubt take a while to get used to, but he didn't see it as an impossible obstacle to overcome.

It looked like Jensen was about to protest, so Cougar gave him the gentlest of shakes, succeeding in making Jensen look at him again.

"I only need you," he said. "Do you believe me?"

While the words were simple, Cougar could tell that Jensen understood their gravity. Cougar was asking if Jensen was prepared to put his faith and insecurities in Cougar's hands — if he was prepared to trust Cougar when he said he loved him no matter what and didn't need their relationship to be sexual. That was no small thing, especially considering how sensitive the subject was.

Slowly, painstakingly, the tension bled out of Jensen and he leaned forward, his forehead coming to rest against Cougar's. His breaths were shallow and trembling, tickling against Cougar's lips.

"Yeah," Jensen whispered, "I do."

Cougar's heart clenched from relief, his hands sliding up to cup the back of Jensen's neck.

"Only you, Jake." Cougar's thumb stroked just behind Jensen's ear, delighting in how his touch made Jensen shiver. "Nothing else matters."

There were still things they needed to discuss — boundaries Cougar would need to be made aware of and thoughts and feelings to be shared — but this was a start. They could make this work.

Cougar was determined to make this work.

---

It felt surreal to suddenly find himself in a relationship with Jensen. Cougar had often hoped they would reach that point, sure, but never dared to expect it — certainly not after that kiss. Granted, the relationship was slightly different from what Cougar was used to, but, as previously established — different wasn't synonymous with bad.

In fact, Cougar was happier than he had been in a long time.

Naturally, there were still some complications. All of Jensen's doubts didn't go away just because he wanted them to. Even if he believed Cougar when he said he could do without sex, it was understandable if a small part of him still worried about it. Cougar didn't take offense. He knew that had more to do with Jensen's self-doubt than his trust in Cougar.

He did take offense when Jensen told him it was okay for him to sleep around with other people, however — as if Cougar's urge to have sex was stronger than his need to see Jensen happy. Because, no matter how casual Jensen tried to sound when he said it, he clearly wouldn't be okay with Cougar picking up random people to sleep with. He just thought it was something Cougar needed.

It took Cougar some effort to be able to explain that, no, he didn't want that — if Jensen intended to be faithful, then so did he — without letting his frustration show. Jensen meant well, he knew, and had to be more or less entirely new to relationships.

Jess confirmed as much, in her own way, once they reached New Hampshire.

Jensen was busy playing with Beth and Jess had finally stopped throwing out passive-aggressive complaints about Jensen not letting her know he hadn't died in Bolivia. Cougar was watching the two younger Jensens when Jess sat down next to him on the couch. She didn't even look at him, but it didn't take a genius to figure out who her words were meant for.

"He's never done this before, so you better be careful." She tilted her head to the side, her gaze resting on her brother and tone perfectly calm. "If you hurt him, I will hunt you down, kill you, and bury your body in the woods."

Cougar could admit that his kneejerk reaction was to argue — he would never intentionally do anything to hurt Jensen — but he knew Jess wouldn't care much for that. She was far too protective and, finally, Cougar understood why she had always kept an extra eye on him whenever he visited.

She had seen this coming long before Jensen and Cougar had, and had done what she could to ensure that her brother wasn't going to get hurt.

Jess turned her head to give him a flat, hard look. "Understood?"

Cougar met her gaze head-on, fearless but sincere. "."

They stared at each other for another couple of seconds before the corner of Jess's mouth lifted up into a crooked smile.

"For what it's worth, I think you're a pretty decent guy."

Cougar smiled back. "Gracias."

"Take care of him, Cougar," she said, tone soft and slightly wistful. "Make him happy."

"I will," Cougar promised.

A promise he had every intention to keep, for as long as he was alive.

 

Chapter Text

Jigsaw

 

 

If there was one thing the Pooch had never expected to get kicked out of, it was a Little League Soccer game, but he supposed there was a first time for everything.

Not that he was overly upset, since it might just have saved him from losing his bet with Aisha. He was loyal to a fault, but even he had to admit that things had been looking pretty bad for Beth and her team. So, maybe, getting kicked out was a blessing in disguise.

Pooch knew better than to say that to Jensen, though, especially considering the foul mood he was in.

Jensen was still agitated by the time they made it back to Jess's house, fuming over the injustice no matter how many times Beth told him that she was fine. She was doing just that, for the umpteenth time, when Pooch emerged from the bathroom, finally having managed to change his son's diaper.

As much as Pooch liked being a father, he had to admit that diaper changes were something that would take a while to get used to.

Pooch ambled over to Jolene, her smile glowing with happiness. As always, the sight of her took his breath away and he felt the familiar surge of gratefulness and love, mixed together with a fair share of guilt. He knew what had happened in Bolivia hadn't been their fault, but he would forever regret leaving her. He should have been there, especially during the last months of her pregnancy.

He had a wonderful, beautiful wife and he should have been there for her.

Jolene leaned forward, kissing their son's forehead, before giving Pooch a reproachful look.

"Stop that."

"I wasn't—"

"You were." Her smile was fond and full of love — the kind that made Pooch a little weak in the knees. "Focus on what's ahead of us, Linwood."

He automatically looked down at his son, knowing she was right. What had happened in Bolivia was a tragedy and Max had still not been brought to justice, but that particular hell was behind them. The fight wasn't over — far from it — but it wouldn't help to dwell on the pain from months ago. It was better to look to the future.

Pooch had managed to reclaim the life he thought he had lost and he was damned well going to treasure it.

It was much later, after he and Jolene had put their son to bed and sat together on Jess's back porch, watching Jensen and Beth finish off a silly, disorganized game of two-man soccer, that Pooch realized he wasn't the only one with a nice future ahead of him. He'd been so wrapped up in his injuries, then his son, to really pay much attention to the others.

Clay and Aisha had both left the house after dinner — in opposite directions — but Cougar had stayed. That in itself wasn't strange since Cougar had visited Jensen's family several times over the years and was probably quite at home in Jess's house, but Pooch could still tell that something was different.

The smile on Cougar's lips was fonder than usual — a little awed, almost — and the way Jensen leaned into Cougar when he went to congratulate Beth on winning seemed just a little bit needy, as if he couldn't quite get close enough. Pooch watched as Jensen carefully, with a hint of shyness, twined his and Cougar's fingers together.

Jolene clearly saw that, too.

"I'm happy for them," she said softly, her feet tucked in under Pooch's thigh where they sat on the patio sofa.

"Yeah," Pooch agreed, trying to decide if he was surprised or not.

In many ways, he wasn't. He had always known that Cougar and Jensen were close, sometimes in ways that reminded Pooch of himself and Jolene, but, at the same time, he'd never been able to tell if Jensen was interested in that kind of relationship. He always went out of his way not to end up with any of the women he flirted with, but, then again, perhaps Jensen had simply been pining away for Cougar all these years.

Pooch wouldn't put it past either of them.

In the end, the only thing that really mattered was that they were happy, and they clearly were. There was no mistaking the devotion on both of their faces and just how easily they seemed to fit together, Cougar smiling as Jensen put his chin on Cougar's shoulder. Their hands were still entwined and Cougar didn't even seem to notice when he raised the other and placed it against the back of Beth's head. It was an instinctive, effortlessly protective gesture that showed just how much time Cougar must have spent with the Jensens.

They were so cute it almost hurt to look at them.

Pooch smiled and reached down to rest his hand on Jolene's ankle.

"I think it was about time," he said, feeling something like relief curl in his chest. Finding love in their line of work wasn't easy, but Cougar and Jensen seemed to have managed.

Pooch wished them nothing but the best.

Jolene hummed in agreement.