The Land of Shadows and Mortar was Jane's planet and she loved it, despite everything. It was a planet of worn-out cityscapes and almost perpetual midnight, a planet where you could imagine Humphrey Bogart himself emerging from one of the many dark alleys and offering you a cigarette at almost any time. (Humphrey Bogart, in this case, was a newt, but Jane didn't mind that.)
Strider was less than impressed with it, not that he'd let that on to her. "LOSAM is only called that because Land of Shadows and Tired Urban Decay and Desolation is too long and also, incidentally, not very catchy."
Jake wiped off his glasses. The planet's film noir aesthetic was perpetuated by almost constant rain showers. It made an aspiring adventurer wish he had alchemized a pair of contacts, blast it. "What would that be called? LOSATUDD?"
"That's you, bro," said Dirk.
"Lo-STUD." said Strider, flaring his eyebrows at Jake from under those silly glasses.
"I know. That's the point."
"Of course!" said Jake. "Irony! I forgot. I was about to suggest that we get one of your classic japes tattooed on ourselves, as an ironic gesture. Do you think the newts have tattoo parlors?"
"Finding out would probably be a better use of our time than whatever pointless side-quest Jane's got us going on," said Strider. "Do you want to make out instead?"
Jake jumped and looked at Strider sharply. He caught himself in time, though, and managed to say with relative coolness, "First rule of adventuring, Strider: business first, tattooing and makeouts later."
"Well, naturally," said Strider, running his finger in the grooves between the bricks as they walked. "Come on. Up the fire escape."
"That's not the right way," insisted Jake. "We're supposed--"
"Jake," said Strider. He had already hoisted himself up onto the fire escape, which dotted the outsides of the edifices on Jane's planet. Strider stuck out his hand. "Come on. This is the way."
Typical mysterious hogwash from Mr. Strider, of course, but Jake was too used to it by now to question it. They had met up shortly after Jake had brought him into the Medium, and since then Strider had turned out to be even more confusing in person than he had ever been before, robot alter egos and all. He hoisted himself up beside Strider and together they scaled the building's fire escape.
The thing about LOSAM was that while from the outside its brick structures looked like places where people (or newts, whatever) should live, in fact they were abandoned and empty on the inside. They had window panes without glass, and some of them had stairs on the inside, but mostly they were just stone husks. It was a bit creepy, like a ghost town. Jake liked it, but he could see why Strider didn't.
"This place is weird," said Jake. "All these fire escapes, for buildings that don't even have anybody in them."
"Mhmm," said Strider, who had climbed up from the platform to the windowsill. "Need a leg up?"
"I got it," said Jake. Strider was taller than him and had easily pulled himself up. While Jake struggled, Strider went on thoughtfully. "It is odd. For the Maid of Life, Jane's planet looks an awful like it was hit with an H-bomb 30 years ago." He grabbed Jake under the armpits and with the added support Jake was able to get his foot up on the sill.
"Thanks," he said, huffing. "So what's up this way?"
"More ghost buildings, apparently," said Strider, straddling the sill and staring at vantage presented, which, keeping with the theme of the rest of Jane's planet, was pretty bleak. "Still, Jane's off on the vodka planet with Lalonde, I think if she really needed the newts' magical cock-ring or whatever it is, she'd come back here and find it herself. Not that she'd want to come back here, since it is obviously the suicide capital of the greater incipisphere."
"I like it," said Jake. "So does she. It has atmosphere."
"You just like it because it's a huge ruin. Pretty much a huge stone carcass that you can pick apart like a flock of so many scavenger birds," said Strider, leaning back. "Don't even lie."
Jake wiped off his glasses again. The windowsill was wide but maybe a little cramped for two people, but at least they were shielded from the rain now. "Caught red-handed. So what are we doing up here?"
"You tell me."
"Don't get cagey on me, now of all times, Strider," said Jake. He didn't say anything, expecting Strider to go off on him, but Strider just watched him and Jake squirmed under the inscrutable glare of those dumb glasses.
"Look," Strider said finally. "It's fine if you're gonna say no to my nigh constant proposals. In fact, it's what I've been expecting for ages now. That's fine." Jake's mouth gaped open like a fish, but Strider only went on. "My tenderly-cradled ego can take it, I swear to you. But just say it. 'No, Strider, quit it.' Don't shrug it off like it's another dart in my arsenal of ironic barbs, because that's not what it is and you must know it."
Jake stared at him. He could feel each individual drop of water on his back where it was pressed up against the bricks of the windowsill, and his mouth was still uselessly open. Before he could say anything, Strider went on.
"But maybe you don't. I don't know, maybe the complex tapestry irony which I weave has fucked me over, and maybe I have unwittingly drawn that very tapestry over your eyes and now you're so bewildered and lost in it you're just wandering around blind like some fucking dog caught under a blanket, completely adorable and yet also completely hopeless, and--"
All and once Jake pushed himself away from the wall and kissed Strider in midsentence. Strider didn't miss a beat--in movies usually when the hero pulled the "unexpected kiss" schtick there was a lot of comical flailing, but Strider was into the kiss right away. Jake was not very experienced at this, but Strider's turnaround time was remarkable.
"Sweet Mother of God, stop talking," said Jake. "You think I'm confusing? If you had just kissed me in the first place instead of weaving your complex tapestry of irony we wouldn't be stuck in a windowsill in the land of newts right now, probably."
"Probably not," admitted Strider as he pulled Jake closer to him.
"So what's the plan now?"
"I suck your cock in the middle of this bombed-out cityscape," said Strider, "or we go hang out with some fucking newts somewhere. What do you think?"
When he put it like that, of course, Jake didn't really have much of a choice.