Perhaps the only one of the Burners that drives anywhere near as recklessly as Mike is Texas, and yet, when Mike comes down with the flu and is out of commission for a week, you find yourself sitting next to the big goof in Stronghorn anyway. You could have gone with Dutch, making idle conversation about software, or even with Julie, making awkward but nonetheless pleasant conversation, but when Mike unsteadily reassured everyone on wobbly legs that he’d be fine, sure he can still drive, Texas just shoves him, tells him to go back to bed and that Shirley over here, slinging a muscular arm over your shoulders, would be just fine with Daddy Texas, you just didn’t have the heart to tell him no.
And so now you’re finding out firsthand that Texas makes those endearing, peculiar Kung Fu noises while driving far more often than you would have suspected when you were hearing them filtered through the network chat application in Mutt, because Kane was considerate enough to send Mike a Get-Well present without really knowing it, in the form of a quick skirmish with some new Kanebots – Fresh out of R&D, he maliciously announces through their speakers.
They’re giving you kind of a hard time, because initially you’re not so sure what you’re up against. They fly faster than previous ones, and they seem to hit harder too. Without Mike to lead, Julie, Dutch and Jacob are all but silent, giving controlled commentary on how they’re doing with their marks, and exhaling quiet sighs of relief when they finish up.
The driver in the seat next to you, however, not so much.
“Are you,” he flicks his eyes towards you momentarily, so you know he’s paying attention, so you continue, “always so enthusiastic while you’re driving?”
“Only when Texas is laying the hurt on some bad guys!”
Naturally, this is when Stronghorn’s front splits in half to accommodate the battering ram, and Texas really floors it for the first time since you got in, charging through a thick mess of Kanebots coming right at you. This is also when you realize that Stronghorn’s passenger seat doesn’t have the five-point harness that you had Mike install in Mutt as you lose your handle on your inhibitions and just scream, your bangs flying backwards from the inertia.
You both make a whole lot of noise between the two of you.
When you all get back to the garage, your legs, no, your entire body really, it feels like jelly, so you stretch out on one of the couches and close your eyes to mull it all over. While you’re not by any means new to the fast and furious driving typical of most of the Burners, you’ve certainly never been in a vehicle that’s deliberately slamming directly into your adversaries rather than narrowly grazing past them and firing retaliatory rounds from mounted guns.
The cushion next to yours dips, and you think you probably smell Axe.
“You okay man? Texas knows his driving can get a little intense for wusses.”
He’s next to you, he’s stripped his racing jumpsuit to the waist and you can see the rippling curves of his chest through the tank top he was apparently wearing underneath and he smells good, if in a slightly obnoxious way, but you stop yourself there, because those are strange thoughts to be having, and it would be strange, and so you decide that things are over shortly before they even had the slightest chance to begin. You gaze off into space for a second, and he cocks his head when you don’t respond so quickly. He was asking out of genuine concern. He’s asking about how you’re feeling.
“Yeah, I’m fine. I’m just new to the whole running-headfirst-into-trouble approach.”
“You mean the Texas approach!” and one of his big goofy grins blooms on his face, so you can’t help it when your lips curl too. To say it’s restricted to his face might not be right though, because he stretches his limbs out and one of his arms is around your shoulders again. He’s really warm. He’s always really warm.
Shit. You force yourself to remember that this is just for while Mike is out of commission, and soon enough, you’ll be sitting back in Mutt’s passenger seat, and not driving into incoming traffic.
“I think we might be in a little more trouble though, those bots had surveillance equipment standard for all KaneCo automatons.”
“They had cameras.”
As you say this, Julie and Dutch walk in too.
“Which means, pretty soon, he’s going to figure out that Mike wasn’t on the playing field today.”
“And we’re probably going to be very busy until he gets better.”
“It’s fine. We just have to punch them all in the face with our laser beam fists!”
His arm is still there.
Dutch just makes an exasperated face at Texas – you’re pretty sure he turned down the volume of the audio transmission from Stronghorn when things got messy.
“How many times have I told you Tex, I’ll install those once somebody invents them to begin with.”
“Texas is right though. There’s nothing else we can do but hold ‘em off until Mike’s back.”
You all sit around discussing strategy, until Jacob walks in with a tray of somethings that look too floppy and blue-green to necessarily be 100% edible, so Julie and Dutch excuse themselves. You’re hungry though, so you stay, and you suppose that Texas is too, because he takes two of whatever they are – small pies? – and offers you one.
You could have easily asked Julie if you could ride with her tomorrow – but the steady presence of the boy on the couch cushion next to you offering you dubious vegetarian cuisine makes you think that it’s probably going to be alright, so you ask him if he’d mind too much if you installed a five-point harness in his passenger seat, and he just says, ‘no problem.’