This part goes here, that one goes there...


The aftermath of Blue City's liberation was chaotic, yet hopeful. Zoids were strewn across the landscape, the more coherent of them still teetering where they'd stood minutes before, cheering on the Zero Falcon the only way they could. Others were down, missing limbs, missing bodies, but with them were their pilots: former league rivals, now chatting amicably and prying each other free of smashed mecha. The Peacekeeping Bureau left Alpha's lot under the care of a very battered and very cross Gojulas Giga to organize a fire relief effort, as the warehouse buildings around the Seismo's carcass still burned...sometimes in interesting colors, as the blaze found storage crates filled with mad Zoid-scientist equipment.

Blake was long gone by the time the smoke cleared, having slunk away with a half-conscious Luke still in his arms. He'd kicked his Gairyuuki in the nose until the command system restarted, then limped back to what had been the Savage Hammer base with the component Blox slung across its back. He didn't quite have the will to go to Mach Storm, and he didn't care Sandra seemed to have followed them. All that had mattered was getting away from the crowds, away from fame and questions, and to where he could sleep in peace.

He'd not been quite sure what to do with Luke, who'd passed out in his lap despite the Gairyuuki's wobbling the whole flight. After several questions got him unintelligible squeaks, Blake settled for ditching Luke on the couch instead of prodding him awake, and headed off to his own bed for a much-needed nap. He couldn't remember when he'd last slept properly among all this chasing about the city and countryside, and flopped to the covers still dressed in piloting gear.

 

The next morning came irritatingly clear, Blake jolting from sleep as the sun reached his eyes. He snarled, threw his boots at the stuttering holoblinds, and went in search of coffee. He found it already brewed, and the pot left to simmer while the rest of the kitchen remained creepily untouched. So the PKB hadn't bothered with the place—they'd surely have dug through the cupboards, maybe found Sandra's more interesting flavors of tea and wanted words with him—but someone had been at the coffeemaker, someone who had keys. Quick inspection of the old planning room revealed a lack of Luke. He was awake already?

That meant the coffee wasn't poison. This was good, as he was halfway through the first cup. It also meant he had to find Luke, because as much as Blake liked quiet, the base was unsettling without anyone else there. It was silently, cavernously purple, full of things like fishtanks and potplants and financial records he should be burning, and buildings like that were best explored (and possibly looted) with a friend—especially one like Luke, who was good at finding things without getting in the way. Though if he were awake and missing, Blake realized, odds were he'd be doing the other thing he did best.

Blake headed for the main hangar, where the Gairyuuki lay partially on its side, the bad leg from last night spread across the floor in more pieces than he'd left it. Several monitors were on, and the third one he passed had a note that read "Broken! Please don't touch this, Blake" weighted on top with an allen wrench. Blake smirked, setting his now-empty mug down with the paper and walking on.

When a quick glance around didn't reveal Luke, he looked for bits of Zoid making noise, finally stopping by a disassembled hip with several removed panels. One looked like half of Gekkou and was decidedly burnt, another had tools stacked on top. He cleared his throat and got a yelp in response, Luke scrambling clear of the Zoid and making a frightened attempt at standing to attention until he realized who was next to him. "Oh, Blake. I thought for a moment—I know, they're gone, but—that it might be Alpha, or one of the others. It's just you."

Blake would have taken offense, but was too busy staring.

"What is it? Is something wrong?"

He just pointed. Luke looked down at his shoes, and upon further examination of his ankles caught on. "Oh."

"You're wearing pants!?"

Luke shrugged. "I do own a pair. Have you ever leaned on a still-hot ion booster vent with bare legs?"

Blake hadn't, in particular because he'd never fixed his own Zoids before. Hell, he'd never bothered to see what went into fixing them at all, beyond picking through data and field testing by slinging them off cliffs. Today was proving enlightening in more ways than one. "You look better in pants."

"Err. Thanks. Don't think I'm making a habit of it! This is going to be a while, so I'm afraid if you were wanting to take the Gairyuuki out—"

"That's not what I want."

"Oh. I thought I left the coffee on."

"You did. I thought I'd...see if I could help." Luke looked at him with one eyebrow raised, and tilted his head to the side in apparent confusion. It wasn't that unusual, Blake wanted to argue, but it was for him, and for anyone on Savage Hammer. But Savage Hammer was gone, and the Gairyuuki's ray-absorbing panels were quite fascinating inside-out. "I've never seen one of those taken apart."

"Neither have I," Luke said, pulling a bundle of wires away from Blake's prodding fingers. "I helped with the design process, but that was all theory and plans. Zoids are totally different when you have 'em in your hands."

"There's nothing I can do?"

Luke hissed, drawing a bit closer to the disassembled leg as Blake tried to lean over to see. "You can stop breathing down my neck. This needs rewiring and a whole bunch of calibration I'm gonna have to write entirely new code for, it'll be done when it's done. S-sorry." He turned around to reach for a wrench, and elbow met gut. Blake jumped back and stumbled, arm sideswiping the Gekkou stack and sending tools flying. Luke managed to tread on his foot, then backpedal headfirst into the Gairyuuki with an audible clong.

"Aaagh! Why're you still standing there?"

"It's my hangar," Blake shrugged. "I often stand here."

"Not right behind me, you don't!"

"I was trying to be useful. It's not like there's much call for Zi Fighters right now, especially not when their Zoid's in pieces!"

Luke eyed him, face flushed red and shifting through a range of unsettled expressions. "You never cared about repairs before, you were more interested in when it was done. Or in the wall."

Blake growled, moving far enough away to lean against the more-rebuilt leg bits. "I was thinking. And I never had time before. But I've lost a team, lost a rivalry—"

"And you're bored," Luke said, definitely angry now. "You're not wondering how long before they come after you for piloting a city-destroying dinosaur, for hunting down pilots in a Leogator—"

"I think brainwashing counts as a very good excuse."

"Alpha was still my father, why do you think I was on the team?"

"Because you type faster than most of Sandra's hired idiots can think?" He wasn't responsible, Blake told himself, but when he'd joined Savage Hammer, revenge had been an engaging diversion, friends a distant afterthought. Then he'd met the quiet one who didn't like Burton either, knew the answer to questions before they were asked, and managed to follow him like a lost fanboy and have more of a spine than any of the henchmen. Somewhere, somehow, that had become the sort of friendship one charged into particle beams for. The least he could do was—he wasn't sure what the least was. Or anything. Hugs were much easier than this.

"Backup, in case Burton wasn't enough," Luke countered. "Not willingly, but—" his voice broke as he turned away, wrapping his arms defensively around his chest.

"If anyone, they'll come after her first. Then we get to watch Gummie try to arrest her cat." Blake had never been overly fond of Mitsy, and knew she made Luke rather nervous, no doubt due to her sharp claws and fondness for laps combined with shorts. And he was supposed to be comforting—"Besides, they'd have to get past me first. Don't start sulking on me, that isn't gonna fix this faster."

"Neither is you being so...distracting." Luke fumbled for a since-escaped wrench, Blake handed over his best guess and watched him flip it over, checking the size. Figures he'd got it upside-down.

"Next one up, actually. But er. Thanks."

Blake scowled, and crouched back down to fish out the stuff that'd slid under the Gairyuuki. By the time he'd found another wrench, Luke had the part attached anyway and was handing him a book.

"The Definitive Guide to Fury-type Zoids Disassembly And Reconstitution, third edition?"

"Could you hold it open at page 32? The computer version doesn't have the full annotated notes down the side, and I think I'm gonna need them."

Blake considered his dignity, but he'd probably already lost that crawling around on his knees for things that rolled. He shrugged, took the book, and leaned one-elbow'd against his Zoid.

They worked together for a while, if one could count holding diagram number eighteen open on the binding "work". What is was for sure, Blake reflected, was annoying. Lugging Luke around had been fine last night, but it was catching up with his arms now, shoulders burning in a nagging, stiff sort of way and elbow starting to tingle. Tingling was bad. And he couldn't exactly brood holding Zoids literature; he couldn't brood holding books at all. Burton had once suggested poetry anthologies, he'd dismissed it as absurd.

"Why is your stupid book so heavy?"

"It's not. And I wouldn't be doing this if you hadn't played booster-hop to get us back here," Luke pointed out, sounding annoyed about the interruption.

"Would you rather I carried you the whole damn way? Because then I'd really be complaining!"

Luke looked up from the manual pages, started to say something, and reconsidered just as quickly, turning back to the Gairyuuki and breaking eye contact. Blake wondered how well he remembered last night, but soon drifted back to more immediate concerns. Increasingly impatient, he shifted from one foot to the other, changed book hands, changed book hands again...and rebroke the silence:

"Are you done yet?"

He was entirely unprepared for Luke pitching a screwdriver at his face.

 

By lunchtime, Luke had moved on to things in the Gairyuuki's face. Electrical things, Blake had found, after poking the wires Luke had said to hold only by the green bits. His fingers still tingled. It hadn't stopped him from visiting the kitchen again, and now he rapped the Gairyuuki's cheek, trying different parts of the indented panels until one jangled. He didn't want to know why. Curious, the Zoid rumbled, head turning a tiny notch on its neck, scraping along the floor to watch him closer. Its newly-assembled leg twitched afterward, jolting the occupant of its head.

"Luke, food."

"M'busy. I've got to reprogram the thingy. And now look, you made me type dev/food/!"

"So long as Hien doesn't eat anybody, I think we'll survive."

"Blake, if you want food, you can—hey, sandwiches?"

Blake frowned and held out a plate. "Just because Burton set the toaster on fire doesn't mean I can't manage lunch."

"We're good until we run out of bread, then?" Luke reached for the plate, inspecting the nearer sandwich and finding honey and peanut butter—even cut diagonally, not horizontally. "...you know what I eat?"

"You wrote your name on the jar. And I pay better attention than you seem to think."

Luke snickered. "When it's food, you mean, and not a lack of electrical insulation."

There was an eager sort of scuffling out past the left of the Gairyuuki's nose, which sounded to Blake like a visitor wearing Mach Storm-regulation shoes had suddenly become very interested in the conversation.

"Did somebody say food?"

Blake whirled around. "RD? What are YOU doing here!?"

"Come on, Blake, I thought we were over that whole shoutin' rivalry thing. The door was open, looked like a Zoid kicked it in. Besides, Sweet made me come over. Because of dinner!" Thoroughly ruffled and coat slightly crooked from the hand gestures he'd added explaining his predicament (several involving ladles), RD crossed his arms—and pouted. "Aw, you have lunch."

"Don't even think about it!" Blake crossed his arms to match, leaving out the pout in favor of a twitching eyebrow.

"But I'm so hungryyy."

"I don't care!"

Glares were summarily exchanged, as well as longing gazes—at sandwiches. Luke interrupted them. "Dinner?"

"With Sweet." RD nodded. "I mean, Sweet is asking you guys about dinner. Um. Making me ask you, which isn't really fair, because—"

"Stop making this conversation even more confusing and stand right here," Blake said. "You got that?"

"Yeah, but—"

"But what?"

"But why do I have to stand here to tell you Sweet wants you two over for dinner tomorrow?"

"So you don't escape. And mark my words, if the next words out of your mouth include 'dating', 'couples', or 'double', you're gonna wish you could!"

RD blinked, unfolding his arms to flail his hands defensively. "Woah, double what? Come on, you're not afraid of a little food, are ya?"

Blake grit his teeth, and reminded himself of alliances, of the Zero Falcon playing Hien's wingman. How a pilot that fought like that could be like this—"Luke?"

"I think it's harmless," Luke said, looking a bit distracted. RD took the opportunity and the sandwich alike, moving with surprising velocity.

"That's a yes!" he called over his shoulder, confident in his lead.

Blake just smirked, waiting until RD was out of hearing to explain. "RD hates pickles. Guess what I always have with rye bread?"

Off in the distance, a faint "aaagh, ew" could be heard, accompanied by what sounded like a Liger laughing. Luke broke what remained of his sandwich in half, offering it as if in apology for poor guard duty. "Did you two always steal each other's food?"

"Yes. Many a rivalry begins with such things," Blake said, waving off the bread.

Luke didn't pry further.

"So," Blake started again. "Dinner with Mach Storm. It's come to that."

"It is a bit weird," Luke agreed, in between bites. "You'd better behave. I don't want to be dragging you back with a ladle embedded in your forehead 'cause you and RD pissed off Sweet."

So Luke was still jumpy, Blake thought—but he was cultivating a sense of humor. If someone had asked him where he wanted to be even a month ago, he'd have said RD gone, at the top of the leagues with Mach Storm but a memory. Hanging around and discussing dinner...appointments with his mechanic wouldn't even have come to mind. Blake wasn't about to complain about that. He was, however, going to make another damned sandwich.

 

Evening wore on to night, and Blake started to suspect that much of Luke's repair speed was thanks to a mysterious lack of need to rest. He'd been brainwashed and exploded all of a day ago and hadn't even had caffeine, how could he not be tired? Twice now Blake had nodded off, and he saw bits of Zoids when he closed his eyes. And he wasn't the one doing all the work, just the finding, the staring at parts lists and branching diagrams, listing off nested parts all cozy with each other—

"Hey Blake, you all right?"

"Gngh?" He hadn't realized his eyes were closed, that he'd been slumping uncomfortably against his Zoid's jaw. Luke had sat down next to him and was gingerly poking his right knee.

"You fell asleep. It is past midnight."

"I was fine here," Blake grumbled, as stiffness set in and his neck reminded him of every angle on the Gairyuuki's face and every moment holding that damned book...and Luke before that. How could someone that scrawny be so annoying to move?

"There's my bed," Luke started, and then started babbling as Blake opened his eyes. "Um, I mean, you can use it. It's more comfortable. Yours the springs jab."

This was true. But he'd spent many nights in hotels (Sandra's schemes to bring down Mach Storm being long-reaching and oft nonsensically complex), in cockpits, on the team couch. He wasn't picky, and wasn't inclined to walk all that way. "How do you know that?"

"I slept in it once. When you were off testing upgrades. It was closer to the computers, I guess," Luke stammered a little, not making eye contact, "and I was lonely."

Blake hadn't really expected that for an answer, but it provided a solution that didn't involve getting up. "S'like having a puppy. You even fetch." He leaned towards Luke, who got further wide-eyed as Blake took hold of his arm, pulling him close enough to rest his head on his shoulder. "If you hadn't made my Zoid pointy, I could sleep on that."

"Iiit's not that pointy." Luke scooted sideways, trying to prop him up with one hand. It didn't work—well, it got Blake to stop leaning on him. Blake instead slid past his now shaky grip, ducking under his arm.

"Is too." Blake stopped further escape by lying down in Luke's lap.

"Err—what're you doing?"

"What do you think? Going back to sleep," Blake mumbled, muffled by fabric. Luke squeaked at his voice so close, at his arm nearer the floor working its way under his legs...after all of yesterday, all of today, he took issue with being used as a pillow? Oh, Blake might have used his coat, but it was far too uncomfortable and this was far more entertaining. He settled in and waited, either for sleep or an interesting response.

Luke must have finally relaxed sometime as he dozed, as Blake heard one of his hands set down on the floor past his head. The other settled along his side, running along the edges of his patterned coat in a distantly pleasant way. It must have been to get his attention, though, as Luke spoke up, almost inaudible at first.

"Um. Blake? This is nice, but...my leg's falling asleep."

Far too content with his current position, Blake just inched over a bit, redistributing his weight and nestling closer.

He woke the next morning, alone—and with a neatly folded pair of pants tucked under his head.


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