The first time it happens, you’ve only just gotten into the medium and as you crash through the underbrush of jungle chasing after a slippery knave of an imp there’s Dirk, all tall and angular and splattered liberally in black goo, your imp lying slain at his feet. It’s the first time laying eyes on any of your friends in person like this and you are suddenly overcome with a surge of giddiness that you can’t quite hold in.
“Strider!” You cry out, launching yourself at him as he turns quickly, eyebrows crashing into his hairline as he sees you rocketing towards him. You throw your arms around his waist and lift him straight off the ground in your excitement and it’s easy to do because golly is he a skinny thing! Hardly any bulk on him at all, and he goes rigid in your grasp, making a choked noise of surprise and you are just so happy that he’s actually here and you dimly realize you’re saying all of this out loud, laughing boisterously as you swing him around in a circle before setting him back down on his feet.
His cool façade seems totally broken, he’s staring at you with his mouth slightly agape and you can almost imagine the wide eyes behind those blasted shades. All you can do is grin at him though, and you’re still holding onto his hips because he’s actually here and so warm and real beneath your hands and you can’t quite bring yourself to break that connection just yet.
“Jake,” He says, pulling himself together long enough to grin hesitantly down at you, “It’s good to see you’re holding up well.”
“Same for you, old chap!” You say, pulling back to clap him amiably on the shoulder, a move you’ve seen practiced between best bros in several of your favorite movies but never had the opportunity to put into practice yourself. It sends him slightly off-kilter but he lets out a surprised huff of a laugh that sends a rush of warmth through your stomach and you just know that this is the start of your best adventure yet. Your hand lingers on his shoulder, fingers feeling his deltoid muscle beneath his shirt sleeve and you realize that while he might be skinny, he’s all wiry and toned underneath.
He’s looking down at you again, and you can almost sense the nervous energy coming off of him. He’s tense under your palm and he’s holding himself awkwardly, as if he’s not quite sure what to do around another human being and well, you figure that must make two of you.
Instead of letting the silence drag on however, you squeeze his shoulder one last time, lingering just long enough to absorb this wonderful sensation of human contact, before suggesting that it would be best that you both find some kind of shelter before more of those blasted imps show up or any resident fauna finds you. He snaps out of it and agrees, following you as you lead the way deeper into the jungle towards your house, which you had already secured from imp invasion earlier.
As you clear a path through vines and underbrush, your thoughts are still on the boy behind you and how the warmth from his body is lingering in your fingertips. It sends a warm pulse of happiness through you, to be sharing in such a splendid adventure with one of your best bros. You could not ask for a more perfect development!
You set up a temporary base of operations inside your bedroom, and if you aren’t resting up or making supply runs to the ruins, most of your time is spent watching Dirk repair the Brobot. Just before the start of the game, Brobot had forcibly ripped out the uranium heart inside his metal chassis and presented it to you, much to your horror at the time. Thanks to this final gesture, you had managed to get Terry Kiser to the Transmaterializer in time and the bunny was now on his way to John. You had brought Brobot’s lifeless metal shell of a body back to your room, unable to bear leaving it to rust in the jungle.
Dirk was nothing if not resourceful, a quality in him you find incredibly admirable, and he manages to make do with your paltry equipment to make his repairs. He works quietly and efficiently, fingers deftly handling tools, wires and bits of metal, effortlessly shaping them into anything he needs. It’s mesmerizing to watch from your perch on the bed, lying on your belly with feet swinging aimlessly in the air overhead.
Sometimes you can’t help but kneel next to him, handing him things and letting those nimble fingers brush against yours as he reaches for them. The little touches cause warmth to snap through you and if he catches you lingering he doesn’t comment. Sometimes you catch the glancing sensation of warm leather from his gloved palm, and it’s new and different and so uniquely Dirk and you find yourself craving these little novelties. You yearn for this warmth of human companionship after countless years alone, and each and every touch you manage to sneak is tucked away in your mind and treasured.
You replay every one of them later when you tuck in for the night, lying next to Dirk in bed with a respectable distance between you, listening to his breathing slow and even out. You watch his chest rise and fall rhythmically in the dim light and remember what it felt like, brushing fingers or resting a hand on his shoulder, or even one time when he carefully placed a hand at the small of your back, steadying you as you began to scale the ruins during a supply run. You fall asleep thinking of deft digits tucking wires away inside a metal hull, and thumbs smoothing out the kinks in pieces of shrapnel.
Soon enough though, Brobot is repaired and re-fitted with a small store of uranium that Dirk had managed to alchemize. As the bot stands and addresses his proud creator, you smile at the sight but feel a pang of loss at being unable to watch Strider work any longer.
You’ve been keeping up with the girls this entire time, and based on what they’ve been telling you there is a lot more to these new worlds of yours than meets the eye. Roxy and Jane have both met up as well and they talk about consorts and quests and Denizens and it all sounds so splendidly adventurous that you find yourself antsy to get going! You’ve been stationary for too long while Dirk was making his repairs, and now that Brobot is fixed you send him on his own mission while the two of you upgrade your weapons and alchemize some supplies before setting off to explore.
It seems as though your island is no longer an island, but rather the center of a vast jungle. There are endless ruins to be explored and your sense of curiosity and desire to plunder each and every one of them until they have given up all their secrets is unquenchable. Dirk follows you easily into caves and through booby traps, rescuing you from your reckless antics on more than one occasion and enduring the excited hugs you squeeze him in after each successful mission. You both cut through imps and other monsters, laughing and making small talk throughout it all.
Occasionally you strife one another. To make it even, and to satisfy your urge for fisticuffs, you both put your weapons away and use only your fists. Your tussles are always quick, but it’s great fun to be able to do this with a living person instead of the metal approximation of one. Dirk’s skin gives under your fists, and he yields to the way you yank his arm behind him much better than when Brobot would strife with you. His punches aren’t much compared to yours, and he doesn’t have much weight to put behind them either, but he’s quick on his feet and dodges you easily. His flash stepping is a nuisance to deal with at times, and you’ve managed to get lucky and trip him only twice thus far. Once you’ve managed to do that though, pinning him is an easy affair. More often though, you find yourself on your back staring up into shaded eyes and a broad smirk, your arms pinned above your head.
It’s easy to tell yourself that the warmth coursing through your body is due to the sweat you’re both working up, and that it has nothing at all to do with the way his leather-clad hands are gripping tight to your wrists, or the way that his knee feels, pressed against your thigh. There’s no way it has anything to do with the lingering sensation of his fists hitting your stomach and shoulders, or the persisting sting of his knuckles against your jaw. It feels amazing and real, and you swallow the pleased noise you begin to make at the back of your throat, grinning up at him instead.
“It seems you’ve bested me once again, Strider!” You say, conceding your defeat as he gets off of you, extending a hand silently to help you up. The warmth of his palm against yours is pleasant and you find yourself lingering again, squeezing his palm one last time before letting go after you’ve been hoisted up.
You both find a stream to wash off in and continue on to the next temple, following the mountains that are now spreading back from your island’s old volcano and using it as a guide.