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meet me in the middle

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It’s hard to tell, in the drift, where one person ends and the other begins. Sometimes it’s physical, not knowing who has that itch they can’t reach under their suit or wondering why there’s no blood when they’re in such agony until they look over and see. Sometimes it’s memories, sharing a story they’re certain is theirs until no, wait, that wasn’t right. It’s blurred emotions, shared anger bleeding over, confidence steadying each other, it’s double the exhaustion and double the determination. And he doesn’t miss it, sharing that much with someone else, forced to rely on each other to survive.

(He does, he’s just forgotten.)

Jules Reyes is the first good thing he sees in the dome. She’s sharp, she doesn't put up with Nate’s bullshit, and she’s a damn sight to watch walk away (out of the corner of his eye, Nate watches too, before the wet blanket part of his head steps in). Between her and the near-permanent furrows between Nate’s eyes, Jake’s not going to have any trouble needling the man. If he’s going to be stuck here, at least he can make a laugh of it- and maybe make Jules laugh too (her smile is measured, but hints at the depths of laughter within her; Jake immediately knows he wants to see it all).

Boring training. Rebellious teenagers (a little too familiar, sometimes). Ranger Lambert (not hiding how unhappy he is with Jake’s presence). Yes sirs and everyone calling him Ranger Pentecost and absolutely every damn reason he left. Hanging around Jules and her team whenever he can shed his nagging shadow, grinning up at her hanging off a Jaeger, remembering how this camaraderie thing works (not everyone wants him gone, at least). Even if they weren’t down for a party, like he suggested to the Marshal, there were a few bright spots. Having ice cream again, meeting Jules, the cadets (when they weren’t being little shits, at least), getting to take the piss out of Ranger Pretty Face and, when she got there, his sister.

He always missed Mako. How could he not? She wasn’t the reason he’d left. She’d always believed in him (maybe more than he deserved, she’d saved the world, their dad had saved the world, and he’d… gone) and even when he got himself into deep shit she was always there, always ready to speak on his behalf. If he couldn’t find a reason to try within, he could always try for her (and maybe for their dad, the Pentecost everyone expected him to be).

It wasn’t like he’d be here long anyway, the way the drones were going. Even without her vote, they both know it’ll be sooner rather than later that the Rangers would be phased out or stolen by Shao like Nate’s copilot had been. His sister could always tell when there’s something he isn’t saying, and now is no different (even when he does say it, she doesn’t push, because they both know there’s nothing to be done, that old flames and life changes aren’t something either of them are good at).

So they don’t talk about it.

Jake’s out of practice, but he hasn’t forgotten everything. Nate’s exactly as predictable as ever, the simmering frustration almost comforting in its familiarity, the way he can feel Nate’s tension as he waits for Jake to finish aligning (jaw tighter than he remembers, sharper too, and as he shouts Jake can feel the movement like they’re pressed together). It’s a relief that he hasn’t forgotten how to slip into a shared headspace like this, even as he sees, absorbs so much more than he ever wanted to know (Jules leans closer, “Hey, Ranger,” and there’s a sharp intake of breath). Except he can’t tell if it’s Nate’s heart or his own that flutters at the memory of her nearness, beating in time as they are. Maybe it was both.

“And hey, we’re in each others’ heads, remember, so I’d appreciate it if you’d stop thinking about Jules.” Nate’s doing that thing with his face again. “Not gonna happen.”

“Then why are you still thinking about kicking my ass? Not going to happen either.”

This, this he knows how to do. Tease, jab, flirt, try to mess with each other while they’re sharing thoughts, like they’re teenagers again. But Nate tunes him out, like a wall between them in the drift, and yeah, a lot has changed, hasn’t it? Ten years of unshared memories floating by in the drift, both of them trying so hard not to grab on to them, examine and see where the other has been, what they’ve been up to all this time, focus instead on the mission.

They don’t talk about it.

Jake knows, he knows he’s not the only one feeling this pain, that it’s shared in all its bright intensity through the drift, but he can’t shut it off as the helicopter crashes with what little family he has left inside. He doesn’t care, in that moment, in the minutes and hours after, about the mystery Jaeger, about the pilot he left in a hobbled Avenger, about Shao’s drones or any damned thing. That was his big sister, his only sister, maybe his only friend.

Later, even after the medics assure him Mako will wake up, eventually, he can’t shake that pain and guilt and fear that had settled so heavily in his chest. The drift is long left behind but that sad puppy expression on Nate’s face (he’s so good at it, too, he always has been) is just a hint of the intensity they’d shared in that moment. Nate clasps his shoulder and murmurs an apology, and Jake has just enough left in him to push back, a weak attempt at a joke (“Everyone knows you can’t kill Mako Mori, tougher than any damn Kaiju,” and the roll of the eyes has no heart in it, though those semi-permanent furrows between his brows deepen in concern) and that’s what brings him out of his own head, just enough to breathe for the first time since Sydney. He watches Nate leave (where does he even fit the stick in such a tight ass?) and looks back at the photo in his hand. For Mako, then.

They don’t talk about it.

Jules doesn’t stand on ceremony, doesn’t dance around his pain, when she insists they take lunch together. Not in the mess, with people interrupting because of course she’s well-liked, of course they want a taste of her presence (it’s all he can do not to follow their examples, grasping at every moment he can take), but instead they sit in the shatterdome, legs dangling off the catwalks as Jules eagerly points out her team’s work on the Jaegers, stealing from the other’s lunch tray. She describes designs and improvements and advancements, her team’s accomplishments and innovations, the plans they have to make Jaegers bigger, better, nothing but the best for their pilots (her hands bring shape to each thought, unable to keep still with her excitement, an occasional touch as she directs his gaze here or there). She talks about stealing Amara away (“Never happening,” Jake laughs, and she elbows him back. “We’ll see about that .”) and how Scrapper had given her all sorts of ideas she wanted to discuss with the girl who’d built it (“Imagine if a full-sized one could roll up like that- what?” and Jake has to fight to control his grin, wide and genuine). How it was all for nothing if the drones were going to replace the machines that were her life (he wonders if she has offers from Shao, but doesn’t insult her by asking- of course she has). He laughs at her jokes, her wit, her enthusiasm, and she responds in kind, bonding over all the people they know, telling stories that the other hasn’t heard, surprising each other with how easy it is to share in this quiet moment (sometimes, you don’t need the drift to know what someone else is feeling). Jake wonders if he could have been doing this for years, if he hadn’t left. If he could have loved her. If maybe he could have loved them both.

(There’s no jealousy when he sees them later, embracing, a private moment not meant for him. It strikes him then, that they might not have anyone else here, that they might need each other. And if they might need him too.)

They don’t talk about it.

He tells Amara. Not everything, but enough. She saw some of it when they drifted, but behind the distraction of her own rabbit chase she might not have remembered. About his dad, about the Jaeger program during the war. The desperation and hopelessness from those days matched with that youthful belief in their own invincibility. They needed that again, not sticks in the mud like the current set of Rangers.

“One night, me and Nate got into it. It was over something stupid, I can’t even remember what.”

That’s a lie, but she doesn’t need to know (shouting, furious, eyes on them both as they get in each others’ faces, shoving and trying their damndest to break each other). Because he sees, echoed here, that moment he left, when no one tried to to make him stay, but he wasn’t going to let someone as good as she was just walk away over one mistake. Because she needs someone to believe in her, and just because the rest of this crew is all about discipline and military code and being desperately boring, it doesn’t mean they’re right. Jake knows that Amara is something special, and he knew it when she stole the plasma capacitors from right under him. Just because he didn’t want to be there didn’t mean she deserved this. And that, he could say.

They do talk about it, but not enough.

There’s no time for small moments or big ones after that, but Jake tries anyway. Pulling and pushing and shoving and tackling each other out of danger as the drones rip through their crew (“Really? Now?” but he understands that impulse, to hold on when you’re about to lose it all). They’re running for their lives, but it’s still tough to hear Gottlieb’s voice break over the radio as he explains what happened.

The three of them take charge in the aftermath. It helps to share the burden, when they know the world is at stake again. There’s shared looks, a nod, a clasp of a shoulder, but the moments are fleeting. No one has time to think, not with Kaiju on the loose again, not with Jules and J-Tech and everyone with the ability to hold a wrench working double time to get the Jaegers standing- and flying. If they make it, they’re all going to get a week-long nap, Jake decides then. And then maybe a party. And PPDC brass can go fuck themselves if they think this team doesn’t deserve it.

“Don’t get yourself killed,” she says in the hallway, and kisses Nate on the cheek. He doesn’t have time to process that before Jules moves on. “You, either.” And she presses a kiss to his cheek, too. This time, they both watch her walk away.

They don’t talk about it, because Jake can’t help but crack a joke and Nate can’t help but be a killjoy, because they don’t have time with the world about to end.

But if not when the world ends, then when?

Nate’s acting strangely, has been since the beginning, but it’s more weird. A quiet kind of weird, a relaxed kind of weird for the circumstances. It’s after Jake’s given his speech to their cadets (Rangers, now, they’re going to fight the Kaiju, they earned that title) that he realises.

“Why didn’t you give that pep talk?” he asks, as they walk in step to their Jaeger. “That’s what Rangers do, isn’t it?”

There’s the pinched face again. “You’re a Pentecost, it’s tradition.” Yeah, that was bullshit, and Jake keeps staring at him accusingly until he spits out a better answer. “Does it matter? Now isn’t really the time.”

“You don’t like being in charge.” He’s not asking, because he knows, and the reluctant sigh is all the confirmation he needs.

“I like being a Jaeger pilot, which is a partnership , not a-” He stops, stops walking too, his face screwed up, like he’s not sure why he just said that. “Look, we survive this and you can- just- let’s- leave it be, okay?” His hands are moving just a little too wildly, the brow furrow just a little too deep, so he agrees quicker than he might have otherwise.

“Putting a pin in it.” Jake wags a finger between the two of them. “But after this, you and me, we’re going to have a chat.” Nate looks to the sky and starts walking again.

There’s more to it, so much more, becoming clearer every determined step they take towards the Avenger. It’s that moment in the kitchens over beer and ice cream (“But you and I both know you could have been great”), it’s that look over his shoulder at Jake (“You forgive ‘em, and you move on”), it’s the way he looks to Jake to inspire their pilots, it’s how in sync they’ve been, even outside the drift.

His copilot left him for money. Jake had left for, well, not money, that was for sure. For freedom, maybe. (Because no one had tried to make him stay, when he needed a second chance.)

(“Worse, I was nobody.”)

They failed each other, before, over stupid things. Jake needed someone to keep him there, and Nate needed someone to stay for him. That’s the whole part of being a Jaeger pilot, that promise that you’ll never be alone, that your family will stay by your side until the very end. And maybe this time, they’d found it. In each other, in a mechanic who can see through their egos and posturing, in the teenagers they’re forcing to grow up overnight.

But they’re already climbing into their positions in the Avenger, possibly for the last time despite their outward confidence, and Jake knows he doesn’t have to say anything, because they’re about to be in each other’s heads.

So he doesn’t talk about it. Maybe later. (If there is a later.)

They’re good this time. Better than Sydney, even better than Siberia, better than any drift Jake can remember. They share frustration and pride, sorrow and relief, at their brave, stupid, uncooperative Rangers (they shouldn’t be here, they’re children, it doesn’t matter what they did in the war, that was different, but damn if this wasn’t the only way). And then pain rips through them both, strong enough to sever the drift, and fear grips him like it hasn’t since he missed a plummeting helicopter.

“Pilot down!”

He doesn’t say it, because there’s no time (no time to check if the escape pod made it clear); Amara feels it, that tension in his chest matched by her own fear and courage. But she doesn’t say anything, he doesn’t say anything, because the world is going to end. Dead friends, dying friends, brainwashed friends would have to wait in the face of it all.

And they do.

Shao’s people pick them all up, and it takes a lot more restraint than he expected to keep from just kissing Nate’s stupid, pretty face when he sees his copilot (definitely alive, then) in the chopper. He’s holding his side, exhausted, in pain, but lights up as soon as he sees them both (“You did it!” Nate’s almost shouting, clutching Jake’s forearms in giddy delight, grinning wider than he’s seen in ever; they hold each other tighter than either can really handle after today, but not as tight as either would like), the relief to have come out the other side leaving them both open. There’s a moment, staring into serious blue eyes, interrupted (“Ugh, really?” Amara groans behind them), and they move on, Nate more awkward in his half hug for Amara (he can hear the quiet congratulations he shares with her again; they’re both proud of her, of the other kids).

The day is far from over, as the choppers carry them back to the Hong Kong shatterdome, still half-destroyed but (a figure in a mechanic’s jumpsuit running ahead of the crew coming to meet them) it’s home, sort of. They barely get the door open when Jules jumps up to hug them both, an arm around each of their shoulders (they rest their heads together, for just a moment, and Jake’s never felt such a comfortable moment, and he’s not sure if he likes it or wants to break it up; he stays, breathing in their shared space). It’s only a few moments before she pulls back suddenly, looking between them (looking a little surprised, he thinks) and straightening her expression out.

“Medics, here!” she calls to some figures outside, waving her arm in the direction of all three pilots. Amara, at least, doesn’t object, as she fights to stay standing now that the post-drift exhaustion has set in.

But beside him, Nate’s insisting he’s fine (like a damn idiot) and it takes both Jules and Jake hauling his arms over their shoulders to get him over to one of the gurneys they prepared. Before they make it, though-

There’s a cluster of green-suited pilots, huddled together near some other gurneys, body language slouched from more than just exhaustion. Damn.

“Damn,” he hears beside him, and doesn’t have to look to know Nate’s seeing the same, bleak picture.

“Yeah. You got him?” he asks across at Jules. She nods as Jake pulls away from them both. “I got them.”

It takes a moment to reassemble his thoughts (Jules’ look of concern; Nate’s hand not quite letting him go) but he fits all the pieces together into some semblance of confidence. These kids need someone to be strong for them, and damn if he’ll mess this up. They need him.

They talk, despite exhaustion and grief and pain. Eventually, he ushers them into the medics’ hands, suggesting the young pilots all take the day off. And then, after a second thought:

“That’s an order, Rangers .” And a couple manage to smile. It’s enough.

Three steps down the hall (not sure where he’s going other than his body’s insistence on sleep) and a hand takes his, pulling him a different direction (Jules, he’d go anywhere with her). His tired brain wonders at her intentions, but she’s tight-lipped, tugging him along until- oh.

“Another Ranger for you,” she announces, and he’s too tired to resist. Too tired to complain, either, as they help him out of his suit, machines and medics examining until he’s passed out.

Just because the world is saved doesn’t mean there’s time. Rebuilding the base will take weeks, the Jaegers and people they lost, even longer.

He’s in his room, looking at pictures again (a few, he hasn’t been able to hold on to more than that, short on long-term possessions and on the move) when Jules stops by, leaning against the doorframe and watching him carefully. She’s in uniform, cleaner than she has been in days (but still worn, circles under her eyes), and Jake’s bundled himself up in his own clothes, cushioning himself from the pain and soreness in civilian wear (her eyes are still resolutely shut, like every other day he checked in, and he’s not sure how much weight his heart can handle without his sister).

“Nate’s checked himself out of medical,” she says, arms crossed, “so if you see him, maybe drag him back there. Set the kids on him or something.”

Jake lets out a breath of a laugh. “He’s a big boy, makes his own decisions.”

“Yeah…” she trails off, looking away from him (unsure, suddenly so much less confident than he was used to seeing). After a moment, direct: “You planning on leaving?”

“Dunno,” he admits, looking down at the photos in his hands. Yeah, he could understand where her question was coming from. “Served my sentence, got a life to get back to. You know, friends and stuff.” Except for the growing list of reasons he’s stacking up against why he wanted to leave.

“It’s going to be a while before we get Jaegers in,” she admits, holding herself a bit tighter now. “And we have pilots, but…”

But. She takes a breath and looks at him, her gaze still cautious, but hopeful at the same time. “I would… like it if you stayed.”

They stay caught in that moment for some time before Jules can bring herself to continue in the face of Jake’s silence. “We haven’t known each other that long, and I know you have a life outside of this but… I wanted you to know.”

“Just you?” he asks, sitting forward on his bunk, a small smile toying at his lips.

“I can’t speak for anyone else, Jake. But I think Nate would say the same. You’re his last chance, after all.”

Last chance for what? At his look of confusion, she continues. “As a pilot. When his copilot left, there weren’t many left that had high drift compatibility with him so… there was already talk of permanently assigning him to training.”

“Selfish.” Jake rolls his eyes. “‘Course he just wants me for his career .”

“You know that’s not true.” She glances over her shoulder and pushes off the doorframe. “Just… think about it.”

She’s turned to go before he makes it across the small room, pulling her back (her brown eyes, so warm and hesitant at the same time). “I’m not going. Not ‘til we’re done.” A smile blossoms on her face, so close to his, and he forgets he’s holding her in place as he can’t look away (what if he just leans in? Is that too much or does she want it too? Fuck).

The decision is out of his hands when, gently, she touches her lips to the corner of his mouth. And again, straight on, slow and careful and Jake isn’t sure he remembers how to move. A taste, an invitation for more- if he wants it. She steps back into the hall (empty, thank fuck, he’s not ready to talk about this ), back again until his hands fall off her shoulders (he was never really stopping her from getting away, she wanted to stay) as her smile grows.

“Then I’ll see you around, Ranger Pentecost.” There’s an energy to her step, a clarity to Jake’s thoughts, and maybe everything isn’t all right, but it’s getting there.

They’re all a little lost, pulled in every direction after the last few days. But they need to talk, he knows it. Soon.

It’s late. Long-distance calls with talk of a new Marshal, new Jaegers, what to do with all the remaining Jaeger-less pilots, their plans for the precursors, for Newt (Gottlieb, quieter than usual, stands up to shout at any suggestion they do away with the man) keeps them all talking and arguing far later than their still-healing bodies can handle. Jules takes his wrist afterwards, tugging him a slightly different direction than he’s used to, to a door with “Lambert” on the tag (he’s getting re-bandaged again , after getting far too worked up over someone not recognising the newly minted Rangers with their new rank). It takes a moment before he follows her inside, before he sees why she’s brought him here.

She’s dragging the mattress down from the upper bunk, laying it on the floor so there’s enough space for them both, and he joins her in lifting the two mattresses down. He doesn’t ask if this is okay, tearing apart Nate’s room, because she knows it’s fine, because he’s seen her, beautiful in the dim light, through eyes that aren’t his own, just like this. Because he’s done this too, years ago, pushing and breaking the rules and trying to have some semblance of whatever normal is, back when Nate looked at him like he was everything, back when he was still trying to prove something.

Some things don’t need to be said.

They don’t do anything, just push the two bunk mattresses together on the floor and settle in, waiting. He brushes the back of Jules’ hand with his own and they lay there together, looking at the cracks in the ceiling. It’s not the party he suggested (every face staring in exhausted exasperation at his smile, and he decides to try again later) but maybe it’s better.

The door groans open, and Nate looks at them both with a distinct lack of surprise (but those eyebrow furrows deepen, like he doesn’t want this). He’s holding himself stiffly, because the idiot has snuck out of medical three times now (“There are people a lot worse off than me, I’ll be careful, all right?”), traipsing around the base giving orders and support and working on damn repairs when he’s still bleeding.

He picks his way around the mattresses on the floor, around both of them without a word, and perches on the bedframe (eyes stuck on the way Jake and Jules’ hands rest together like he can’t bring himself to tear away). Jules shifts to kick the door shut and they’re left in their own private space, all of them waiting to see who makes the first move.

“So, we going to talk about this?” Nate manages, after a ten-count of heartbeats (too fast, maybe, because something is about to happen and none of them really know what it’s going to be).

Jules looks over at Nate thoughtfully, tilting her head up so Jake, beside her, can’t help but run his eyes down the angle of her jaw, the length of her neck (every line and muscle he wants to discover and touch and memorise and learn again, the way she has no right to look so good in a jumpsuit), but he manages a shrug in response.

“Nah, I don’t think so.” It’s meant as a joke, as if they know how much he’s thought about telling them but has resisted (and maybe they have too), because yeah, they probably should talk because that’s what adults do when they’re thinking about how badly they want to fuck the two people they’re sharing space with. Or kiss. Or hold.

But Nate slides off the bed (cautiously, the care not just from his injury but something else he can’t read that keeps him at a measured distance) and stretches out in some attempt at feigned relaxation on Jake’s other side.

“You’re so shit at this.” Nate just raises his eyebrows and Jake continues, a hint of a laugh in his voice. “Think you could take some days off after saving the world. It’s only fair.”

He glares, but this time Nate does relax, flopping the rest of the way down on his back, shifting into a comfortable position with one arm holding his side as he exhales deeply (but he can still see the way Nate counts the distance between them, making sure it’s still safe). He stares up, like Jake and Jules had been before he arrived. Like he’s trying to figure something out in those ceiling cracks. (It’s easier to admire that sharp jawline from this angle, the curve of muscle hidden under his t-shirt, and he can feel Jules prop up onto an elbow, admiring as well. Jake wants to touch them both so badly it almost hurts.)

Jules moves closer, shifting to rest her chin on Jake’s shoulder, relieving that immediate need. He knows, without looking, that Nate won’t be upset. He knows because they’ve both seen it, they’ve felt it (Nate watches her as much as Jake does. Watches Jake not quite as much as he’d like). When he does look, Nate’s just watching calmly, unperturbed, but those damn lines between his eyebrows won’t relax.

“Nate,” Jules says, and they both look to her. She’s struggling with a smile, gentle fondness instead of sharp humour, and Jake feels himself joining her.

It’s her voice that gets those lines to smooth out and Nate’s not smiling yet, but there is something different in his eyes. A want.

“How would this even work?” he asks, quiet, looking between the two of them. “Last time-”

Jake cuts him off. “Isn’t now.” They’re stuck staring at each other, and Jake really needs someone else to do something to break this deadlock or he’s going to do something stupid like kiss one of them. Preferably both.

Nate’s eyes shift to Jules and back, and his jaw sets determinedly. He props himself up so he can shift closer to them both. “I’m not really up for-”

“Shut up,” Jake interrupts, and Jules snickers. He knows, they all know Nate’s hurt, but they’re not going to let him use it as an excuse. Not when he’s been ignoring it since they got back. Not now.

“I’m never going to get to finish a sentence again, am I?” Nate sighs, rolling his eyes theatrically, but Jules reaches across Jake’s chest to take his hand and he softens.

“You finished that one,” he points out, and Nate narrows his eyes. His mouth is half-open for some terrible comeback when he seems to reconsider, looking back between the other two.

“You mean it, then?” Nate keeps a hold of Jules’ hand over Jake’s chest. “This is really happening?”

Say it, he dares Nate with his eyes. But they don’t have to, because they both know. Because they have the drift to tell them everything. So Jake adds his hand to theirs, holding them both together, joining all three of them together.

It’s Jake that makes the next move, because this is clearly unfair. He kissed Jules, days ago (not enough, won’t be enough for a long time). Nate kissed Jules before, a memory caught in the drift and out on display for them both, so real Jake almost felt it. And Nate was finally here .

It doesn’t take much to pull Nate over, brown eyes stuck on blue stuck on brown. Closer, Jules helping pull all three of them together until Nate’s practically in Jake’s lap, her arms wrapping slowly around Nate’s chest as they draw closer, the brush of Jules’ lips to Nate’s neck a gentle encouragement. He’s hesitant, they both are, because they know where this leads, where it led last time, but Jake’s not afraid.

The initial touch is anticlimactic, already touching in so many other ways, but deepens quickly, both unflinching in taking what they want now that they know (they both want the same thing, and it’s so good). Jules touches her fingers to Jake’s hair, still present and not forgotten as his hand slips to her waist, encouraging (he wants to feel them both, it’s not worth it if it’s not both ).

And now Jules is pressing her forehead to Nate’s temple, then her lips are taking over for his, and it’s not a competition because it’s a cooperation. Their hands reach across and around each other, trying to find purchase (still being careful because they haven’t found where the line is yet) until Jake can barely breathe with how warm he is within their orbits, tasting what he’s denied himself for what might as well have been forever. Jules is strong, pulling him where she wants, Nate a slow pressure, taking his time. And Jake, he’s the sweetness for them both, in more ways than just his tastes. They hold each other together with their differences, somehow.

“Damn,” Nate sighs, as they steady, calm themselves, manage to pull away for longer than a moment. The space between them has expanded and shrunk all at once; they’re nearer, touching each other in ways and places they hadn’t allowed, but every inch feels like a mile now. Yeah, damn.

Jules is quiet, happy, resting her head on Jake’s shoulder as they sit half on each other in this space. This was better than before, closer, more comfortable. No more distance.

“Can you add this to the daily timetable? Like three or ten times a day, minimum.” Jake’s only half-joking, voice quieter than he would usually, because he’d stay in this moment forever if given the choice. And they’re both looking at him so fondly that he wants to kiss them (he can, so he does).

Jules is resting heavier against his side, and he can feel her tiredness through every inch of them, connected together (maybe not everyone needs the drift to read minds). She lifts her head, smiling softly at them both, and Jake can see how tired she looks (how she’s had to put up that tough front to get through the last week, how she’s worked until bleeding just to send them off to a near-certain death, how the relief of surviving can take a toll, too).

“Let’s deal with the rest in the morning, yeah?” Jake decides, and he’s surprised with how easily they go along with it. It takes some maneuvering to find a comfortable position (Jules doesn’t want to move, falling asleep even as they try), but Jake ends up with Jules tucked under his chin and Nate half-pressed against his back, their arms both over him, holding onto each other, onto all of them. The blankets are mostly discarded, as warm as the three of them are like this, and Jake finds himself staring up at the ceiling in the dim light.

All of their breathing, gentle, not at all in sync but comfortable, calms his mind even as he wonders how this can be real. Falling asleep with someone he barely knows? Yeah, easy enough. Anyone from that world, from the half-destroyed relief zone, they’re different than this. How can two PPDC lifers be this easy, this comfortable?

Jules hair brushes against him as she shifts. “We’re going to have to talk about this,” she says sleepily, her face in Jake’s chest, her nose rubbing a small circle there.

“Yeah,” Nate agrees, and he’s so comforted by both of them pressing against him, steadying, where Nate’s breath warms his neck as he speaks. “Later.”

There’s time for laters, a million of them if it’s the three of them. Together.