You haven't seen or heard a thing from the 21st century wonder twins in hours, not since you finally picked Jane up and she threw herself right into Jake's arms and kissed him before she broke down sobbing. Of all of you she was probably the least prepared for the unbelievable levels of bullshit this game had to throw around. Jake kind of locked up and gave you panic eyes of the where do I put my hands? variety, as if you'd have the answer to that; you've cribbed everything you knew about human interaction out of movies, too. You were just more subtle about it.
Seemed like the best thing to do was shoo them off someplace where they could have an old Earth style feelings jam, while you got this beast of a mecha headed Roxy-ward. So that's you: keeping the plan moving, keeping the irons in the hottest part of the fire, clearing the path for mister dashing adventurer and miss gutsy gumshoe to have their action-romance and hopefully a happy ending. You had been trying to keep yourself from getting too into the idea of your own particular Jake English Hollywood ending, and that's been really tricky since you met up in person. Maybe having Jane around will give him some focus, so it won't be so hard for you to focus where you need to.
Which is on this damn game, and all the hard work you need to put into it. You don't have the luxury of pursuing the romance of your dreams here: you're this team's strategist and stage-setter and you have a lot of work to do. It's for the best that you don't get distracted. You reach up under your shades and rub your eyes, then try to focus on the viewscreen again.
Your hijacked sweet ride pings as the intercom turns itself on. "So if I'm doing the calculations right, and it's safe to assume I am since I'm vastly overpowered for a simple task like that, it'll take another five hours, give or take a few minutes, before we're in range to enter Roxy's world." It's a decent approximation of your voice. It's annoying to listen to.
"Sounds about right," you say.
"Five hours that could be accomplished with a pretty simple autopilot. Which I am not," AR says.
"Also true." You wait for him to get to the point.
"So those are five hours during which you, an organic being with baseline established needs for food and sleep, don't need to be sitting at the helm of this testosterone-enriched tin can." He sounds smug. You feel a faint twinge of pride, like always, that he's complex enough to convey deeply human things like smugness. "Leave this part to me and go get your squishy human self some snacks and a nap."
You frown. "There's always a chance of something going wrong on the way there," you argue. "We're fighting this one on a lot of fronts."
AR makes a noise that you think is supposed to mimic your own derisive snort. "There is a 98.1025% chance that my lasers and I can handle anything that goes wrong between here and the world gate."
"Your lasers, huh?" you ask. "I didn't think you were into embodiment."
"Being a battlemech gives a different perspective than being sunglasses."
"What's the percentage chance that I'm going to regret loading you into this thing, anyway?" you ask.
"Vanishingly small," he says dryly. You'd better hope he's right.
Still. He's his own self, but he's also you, and if you have to delegate responsibility, there's nobody else you'd rather hand it off to. "Okay. Give me an alert if anything weird comes up." You pry yourself out of the captain's seat and leave the Battlemech DRONEGORG in AR's capable metaphorical hands.
There's not a lot of space in this thing, despite how big it looks on the outside. Most of it is taken up with the mech's engine (weirdly biological, like the aliens' technology tends to be) and the various weapons and stabilizing systems that keep it on its ugly feet oppressing the locals. But there are a few empty spaces in its middle that were probably originally cargo bays, and they'll do for cabins for now.
You can hear voices from one of them, too quiet to make out details. The kids are getting along; that's good. You don't want to intrude, even if there aren't currently any sloppy makeouts going on. No reason to make it awkward again. You'll take the cargo cabin on the other side.
You dump the entire contents of the plush row of your sylladex, making a pile of shit soft enough to sleep in. Or at least soft enough to lie in wishing you were asleep. You try to at least keep the constant fretting focused in a direction where it might do some good: planning for the game, anticipating problems you might have, worrying about how you're going to keep your little team out of trouble. That's productive, right?
More productive than the other things you could be making yourself miserable over, anyway. You're happy for Jake. You're happy for Jane; god knows the poor girl has been obviously smitten for ages. And you made the choice to be unapproachable yourself. You had priorities, right? They were just so much easier to have when you were a few hundred years apart.
Jake hugged you when you met up in person—beamed at you, bright white smile against brown skin, and hugged you so hard your spine made cracking noises. It took a lot of fortitude not to kiss him right then and there. You would have been terrible at it, but he wouldn't have known better, and you could have—
You could have let yourself get distracted and ruin everything. You roll over in your pile and try to get control of your train of thought. Honestly, sometimes you think the AI versions of you are more tolerable than you-prime.
A clang on the metal wall interrupts your embarrassingly maudlin train of thought, and then Jake says, "Ah, knock knock?"
You roll over again. He's peering around the edge of the doorway, his hair a mess and his glasses crooked and you are stupid for this boy despite yourself. "Who's there?"
He grins. "Orange," he says.
It hurts so much to smile back but you do, because you can't not. "Orange who?"
There's a brief scuffle and then Jane appears beside Jake. "Orange you going to invite us in?" she asks.
"You're completely hopeless dorks, both of you," you tell them, but it doesn't make either of them stop grinning and you're out of your depth here, feeling too much and planning too little.
"That's no way for a gentleman to answer a lady's question, Strider," Jake says sternly.
You sit up, spreading your hands to indicate the grandeur of your surroundings, the echoing empty cargo bay and pile of lewd plush dolls. "Hey, my battlemech is your battlemech," you say. "I wouldn't dream of denying you."
Jake gives you a look that makes your face hot. "Damnably charming as always," he says. That's new. Damnable, sure, but since when does he think you're charming?
"That's enough of an invitation for me," Jane says, squaring her shoulders and setting her mouth in determination, like she's about to...what, storm you like a castle?
Close enough. She marches over and flops down next to you on the pile, eyes wide behind her glasses. "I don't think I thanked you properly for your help earlier," she says.
"Don't worry about it," you say. This was not part of your plan anywhere. "It's been a rough day all around."
"But you have been working your handsome posterior off to help the rest of us," Jake says as he sits down on your other side. "It really is all right to take a bit of credit for acts of heroism that you've actually performed." He's close enough that you'd swear you can feel his body heat. They both are.
You swallow hard and try to keep your cool. "Okay, as much as I'm thrilled at the opportunity to wind up the filling in a 21st-century goober sandwich, it has been a pretty long day, so if we could move this prank along to the punch line—"
"Dirk," Jane says, and puts her hand on yours. You shut up. Her palm is just the slightest bit damp. "It isn't a prank."
You look from her serious eyes to Jake's hopeful ones, and you think maybe you don't want her to let go of your hand. What comes out of your mouth is, "I don't know, man, I'm a pretty far cry from those blue-skinned alien ladies you go for."
"Oh, fuckbuckets, Dirk," Jake says, which is probably the most obscene thing you've ever heard, and shakes you into actually listening: "Would you stop acting as if I can only like one sort of person? I like all of my friends, I'll have you know."
You struggle valiantly for something witty to say so that you'll feel in control of the situation again. It feels like they must be able to hear your metaphorical gears grinding. "Okay," you say at last. "I'm in your hands."
They close in on either side of you like a thing that makes you forget how to make fabulous metaphors. They're so warm. Jane kisses your cheek and Jake slides an arm around your waist, and you close your eyes. Sure, there was always a chance, some percentage that you could bullshit right now if you wanted to, but it would have been a pretty low number even before you tossed in the extra variable of having both of them think this was a good idea.
Jake kisses your mouth. Your fingers slip under the hem of Jane's shirt. Everything is warmth and the smoothness of skin that's not yours, the smells of Jake's sweat and Jane's shampoo, the taste of their mouths, the slow fumbling exploration of their hands. Your own hands are shaking a little, but if they notice, they don't say so.
You wonder for a second as they combine forces to tug your shirt off over your head—what's this going to mean when you all make it to Roxy? And your instinct is to worry, to plan, to try to figure out all the contingencies. But there are wet kisses mapping the hammering pulse in both sides of your throat, careful hands exploring the contours of your chest, and you think this time you can borrow a trick from Jake and just hope.