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He's real.

He's real and in front of you and you are going to throw up.

You had all these preconceived notions about how you were going to romance the fuck out of him, but now that you're actually here you just want to hide. You've never seen a human in real life. You've never physically spoken to one.  They've only ever appeared to you trapped behind a screen or in a book.

You've been

so

alone

your whole life.

You wanted to make sure that Jake was the first person you met. He was the one who understood the most about you. 

But he's here and you're here and all you can think of is how bright and vividly colorful he is, how warm and dark he smells, how subtly every inch of his body moves.

You don't know how close friends are supposed to stand to each other.

You don't know how to shake someone's hand.

You don't know how warm other people are.

Your voice is dry and small and weak from lack of use. His is loud and boisterous and your ears desperately cling to the sound.

He's heaven. 

You're scared out of your mind but your mind won't admit it.

Jake is not as fast as you are but his motions are still sudden to you. He's so close you can see freckles and scars and dirt all over him.

He's so fucking

alive.

You're barely able to keep up a dialogue with him. He must be excited to see and talk to a human again.

You're just amazed to see and talk to one at all. 

You tell him this and he looks so sad, and you're even more amazed because oh, that's what real human emotion looks like.

"That's just about the saddest thing I ever heard get said. Gosh, Dirk!" You want to dwell on how it feels to hear him say your name but he's getting so close so suddenly, his arms start to come around you and you panic.

"Jake what--"

He's so warm no he's burning hot he's going to touch you

you flinch out of his reach and you realize

he was trying to hug you.

"Oh... um, sorry Dirk, I--"

"No I'm. Sorry." Your voice is stilted and you hate it, you don't know how to talk.

Jake is smiling but it looks wrong, you think it might be forced, and you feel like an idiot for stumbling all over yourself. You're nowhere near as cool as you made yourself out to be. Everything was so easy behind the screen, so easy written with text. This is nothing at all like rapping with robots.

"Just... one step at a time. Okay." 

Jake nods at you and you shuffle back into-- what you think is probably a safe friendly distance. You don't know. You don't think he knows either.

He holds a hand up, palm facing out at you. You feel like a child.

Fists clench and unclench, and slowly you reach fingers out. This feels so stupid, it has to be like something from one of Jake's movies. You're playing right into his hand but you want to touch him so bad you do it anyway.

The tips of your fingers touch his palm and his skin is warm, slightly moist, rough but pliant, organic. You're categorizing each and every minute detail, locking them up for future reference. Jake is watching you stare at his hand and you don't care.

You slide your fingers up. The friction is electric. You hesitantly touch your palm to his. Breathe, Strider.

This is beyond fantasy.

Jake's hand twitches slightly and you almost flinch away but you control yourself and let him move, let him slowly slip his fingers between yours.

It's so fucking dumb but you're enthralled by the sensation. You've never been so singularly focused on anything in your entire life.

"Got it?" Jake's voice is terrifyingly close. It's hot out here.

"Yeah," scratches out of your throat. Deep down you're thankful Jake is being so patient for once. Your palms are starting to sweat and it's humiliating, but you can't bring yourself to let go. You're getting acclimated. You want to keep this feeling a little longer.

Jake takes a step closer and you are starting to forget how to breathe. He moves so slowly, like you're a frightened animal.

Who are you kidding? You're more skittish than a baby nutbeast outside its nest for the first time.

His fingers disentangle from yours, and you pretend to be ready for his arms reaching out for you again. And again the warmth astounds you, but you force yourself to accept it, because you know Jake's been looking forward to this almost as much as you have.

His chest touches yours and his arms close behind your back. You're trapped in a cage of bones and muscle and flesh and fabric and it

feels wonderful.

Jake tucks his cheek against your temple and you find yourself leaning into him. He shifts closer than you thought possible, and you think you feel his heartbeat. God, how had that never occurred to you before? You can feel his circulatory system thrumming against you, pulsing slower than your own embarrassingly frantic pace.

Suddenly Jake starts laughing and oh god, you can feel that too. Audio vibrations wash over you, his voice is right in your ear, and you can't stop yourself from shuddering. You hope Jake isn't as acutely aware of you as you are of him. 

"You're supposed to hug back, you know."

Your breath comes short and silent and it's suddenly hard to control your limbs. Slowly you manage to reach up and try to mimic Jake based on the way his arms feel around you. You can't put them over his shoulders, so you have to wrap your arms around his ribcage and

oh.

Wow.

You swallow on nothing and try to control your breathing. You don't know how long hugs are supposed to last, or if you're allowed to talk during one, or if feeling this light-headed is normal. You really don't know the first thing about interacting with real people. 

Jake tightens his arms around you and you feel like you're suffocating, but-- but it's good. You think it's good. Your blood feels like it's on fire, you've never felt this uncomfortably warm in your life, but you feel so fucking good you let yourself cling to Jake as hard as you can.

He responds in kind and you think that all your bones are going to shatter, that you're going to shatter his. Jake sighs deeply and you can feel his lungs expand and contract, while his breath rustles your hair.

You don't ever want to let him go. His body is pressing into yours so hard that if you stay there any longer you'll just melt together, and

you'd be okay with that.

When Jake starts to sway gently your fingers dig into his back. One of his hands threads into the hair on the back of your head and god, you want him to never stop touching you. He guides you to rest your forehead against his neck, shifting slightly after you accidentally poke him with your shades, but you push them up out of the way and settle in, and it feels right. You don't know standard procedures for hugging but this seems like a logical way to get even closer. Your bodies are in contact from head to knees at this point, and it's incredible how many tiny movements are sending buzzing currents all through your skin.

"You know," Jake starts, the deep voice in his throat humming against your cheek, "for a first-timer, you're downright excellent at embracing."

You can't stop your laugh from clawing out of you. You think it sounds like a dying crow, but it makes Jake laugh in return, so maybe it's okay.

"I have a pretty good teacher."

He hums softly. At least you think that's a hum. You realize you are unsure how to assign labels to these various sounds. You discard nomenclature in favor of focusing on feelings again.

You smooth your palms out over the back of Jake's coat, mapping the curve and hoping this kind of activity is permissible. Judging from the thumb stroking the small dip at the back of your skull, it is.

You find the small of his back and his chest spasms lightly against yours. A hitch in his breath? His fingers slip from your hair to the back of your neck, his other hand flattens against your back.

Dimly you realize that

perhaps this is not much of a platonic embrace anymore.

Jake's pulse seems to quicken slightly, and you're aware that yours does too.

"Um..." he says.

You dare to try stroking your fingers shallowly along his spine.

"That's," Jake's arms jerk slightly, "qu-quite enough for now, I think."

You pull one centimeter back from his neck, sigh quietly. Jake's arms slacken and start to withdraw, sliding along your own arms, as if reluctant to actually break contact completely.

His face looks a little bit red, not quite the same dark tan as the rest of his skin. He nibbles his bottom lip and he's not looking at you and you think you did something wrong.

"Sorry."

Jake jumps slightly and finally does meet your eyes. "Oh no, not at all my good man! I mean, that was still a damn fine hug! I'd rank it among my top ten for sure." He grins at you, all overbite and charm.

"Top ten, huh." You're so quiet compared to him, but you aren't even sure you can speak up. "Guess I'll have to try harder next time."

There's a loud familiar ping and Jake goes, "Oh!" and pats himself down looking for one of his mobile devices.

"That was me." You tap your glasses and answer the messages your Auto Responder is leaving you.

It tells you how smooth that awkward hug bump was and you tell it to kindly fuck off forever. It leaves you one last message letting you know that Roxy and Jane are almost at the rendezvous point nearby, and ceases pestering you.

"The girls are coming. We'd better get moving."

Jake grins. "Capital! I can't wait to see them." He takes your hand and you twitch, but you don't pull it away. "Let's go!"

You let him lead you through the dark jungle, silently reveling in the warm calloused hand holding yours.