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.
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.
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.
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."
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.