A/N: Let it be said that DirkJane is ship that is very, very, very near and dear to my heart. These two are the dorkiest duo ever, I swear.


You're more robot than man, with wires sewn into your arms, pulling the strings of fate to your favor. There's cold steel in your hands, pushing away anything you fear could interfere with your precious plans, and gears in your mind, endlessly, endlessly turning. In fact, sometimes you fancy you can hear yourself tick-tick-ticking, loud and pounding and crashing into your eardrums, the ones you almost you forget you have in the desolate silence of the house.

You count down and you process away the deadlines and the 'what-ifs' the way you forced yourself to learn how to do in order to survive, but it's gotten to the point where you don't exactly know where to stop, where the machine ends and the man begins. Sometimes you wonder whether or not the fact that you don't care very much about it, your oft questioned humanity, counts for anything.

Roxy had once expressed concern at this when you'd accidentally leaked a detail of over a pesterlog one day, when you'd almost been too tired to lift your hands, when you'd exhausted yourself to the point of collapse in the meticulous gathering of all the necessary cogs and schematics for the trial ahead.

But a Strider is nothing without control, especially for one such as yourself, for whom the loss of control scares more than the thought of death. You scramble your sentences and push her away with clipped phrases and rambling ironic metaphors, until she's not sure whether to even believe in the open vulnerability you had been stupid enough to type out just sentences ago. You pull her strings, the wires you've imbedded and sewn under her skin years ago, and you make her forget.

That's when you make yourself a silent promise, type a new code for your processing unit, vowing never to open up like that again. The pounding ache and rush of adrenaline that came from letting go, even such a small little part of yourself, is something that you never want to experience again.

(Except for when you stay up all night, face buried in a wet pillow, clutching Lil Cal so tightly you feel like he might break, but he can't because there's no flesh and warmth in his body, there's nothing, nothing around you, nothing inside you, just the whirling cogs and pounding gears. You bite down on your lip so hard the skin breaks and then at least the warm blood that oozes out serves at a reminder that you're human, that you're not as machine as you fear you've become. You wish you had someone else to touch, to hold, and just to brush your fingertips over their face and know that this is how human feels.)

You know better than anyone what you're going to face and that entails certain responsibilities, ones you don't mind taking on. After all, you're just a robot boy in a house of robot parts, cool machinery more familiar to you than your own body, a tick-tick-ticking in your chest, and it's better for you to bear these burdens than to push them onto anyone else. You would do anything for those strange, fleshy beings that call you 'friend'.

It's in your programming.


The Autoresponder was created out a burst of fear, a sudden jerk of the machinery that halted everything to a stop, forcing you to realize that you've become so integral to this operation that the lack of you in the group would not only render them helpless but doom them to failure and death. They needed someone to take up your mantle if you happened to perish. So you build a robot, duplicated your brain, and fixed the hindrance. It booted up smoothly and you almost smiled at the sight of another obstacle overcome.

(Except sometimes you wonder why it's so perfect, why this robot of wires and gears is so alike to you, and no matter how much you remind yourself that a brain is a brain, you can't help but feel like they wouldn't really miss you that much if you happened to disappear. The robot boy was now robot in full, and it shakes you to your core to realize it might be better suited to this operation than you. You're all too replaceable.)


As you build your plans and weave your web, welding together a plan that would be fitting enough if all went well, you remind yourself that interaction with your future teammates is a necessity for success as well. So you talk and forge your alliances, loosening up as much as you could around your friends, but never quite all the way.

With quick, calculating eyes, you process their weaknesses and strengths, knowing that it would be necessary for the final stand. You can't stop the cogs and whirling pieces in your brain no more than you can stop the salty water from corroding the frame of your steel house, and you fool yourself into thinking that this isn't a problem.

Roxy is, without a doubt, the one closest to you in every way. She knows more than the rest of them, for the sole reason that she's the best at disguising her intentions, of slurring her words and thoughts to the point where the buzzing computer in your mind forgets that those misspelled keystrokes hide the mind of a genius almost at equal par with yourself. She wriggles herself into your processor, a loose strand of malevolent data that you can't bring yourself to erase completely. She understands how it is to feel completely alone.

(Except not really. You want to ask her if she's ever stared out the window and wished that the ocean would swallow her whole, that something could take away all these choices and decisions and plans and just wipe them all away into a clean slate, one devoid of the tick-tick-ticking. You want to ask but you don't. That code of silence has worked itself into your gears all too well, and the thought of opening your mouth and giving words to the dark thoughts that swirl around the forgotten pieces of your head makes you seize up with fear.)

Jake is a completely different species, one you're completely sure you've worked out within five minutes of chatting. Unlike you, he seems to have no filter for anything that comes out of his mouth, or through his keys. You size him up and you know him and it's all too easy for you fix him. His faults are blatant and superficial; all that was needed to make him ready for the goal ahead was to toughen him up and seal the cracked fissures in his ego.

A little more processing on your part reveals that he could indeed play another role in the future events—by your side. It would work well, your calculations indicated that the group was in need of at least one romantic relationship to truly solidify it, and one between the two of you would bring good qualities to light that would have taken much longer to reveal. The idea is sound, and you follow through, fixing your plans accordingly.

(Except you neglect to calculate the inherent selfishness in all this, are too numb to understand the feeling pooling in the pit of your stomach, the overwhelming need for somebody else, somebody to hold, to touch. It will make you sloppy.)


Then the day you've so long planned for so long finally comes, and of course those same plans that you've worked tirelessly over fall to pieces before your eyes. You grant yourself a moment of two of indulgent anger, but then cool whirling takes over and the cogs in your mind begin to process. A change here, a step to the side there—it could work. And it does.

(Except looking back, sendificating your own head was something that could have done with some preparing for. But it's no mind; the pain only lasted for a minute period of time, no matter how white-hot and agonizing it was. )

(Ha. No mind.)

And when all of your plans finally come into fruition, you've finally gotten all of your friends into the session and all that's left is to look around at them and—


You freeze, and the same crippling sinking feeling in the pit of your stomach flaring up again, and no matter how hard you try it doesn't go down. The cogs in your brain twitch and spin and whirl but nothing happens, no solution presents itself for your perusal. Soon enough it all becomes obvious. There are no actions you could take to speed them along right now. You're not in control anymore.

All the years spent preparing for this moment suddenly mean nothing as you gaze upon the faces of those you call your friends and realize what you've been putting off for so long know—this quest was not something meant for one person to complete on his own. You would have to trust them in order to play this out to its inevitable finish.

But you don't know how.


You lag behind when they start exploring, trying not call that much attention to yourself, sealing everything away behind a patented mask of apathy and control. Although, it's rather hard to do it so well when every few minutes you were bombarded with questions and confrontations of how you had pulled everything off, but as much as you want to tell them and receive that praise that you know is only due, you can't.

Your voice dies in your throat as you look upon their eager faces, and you're too unused to being this close to others of the human persuasion to form an answer without making an absolute fool out of yourself.

You shrug them away and let things run their course even as your stomach clenches at the thought of an uncontrolled, unplanned, happening. They pick up on your reluctance to talk soon enough, and come to the rationale that you'd explain later. They begin their exploration anew, awestruck by the scope and breathe of this new land. As they discover the wonders and horrors, you do your own inspecting, watching these strange new people who call you 'friend'.

There is only so much keystrokes and emoticons can convey, and you're almost bowled over by how expressive your friends are in real life, how there's always an eyebrow raised, or a cheek twitching, or a half-hidden grin lurking just beneath the surface of a seemingly calm face.

So much to process.


For a good few hours you find yourself entrapped by their voices, rising and falling in time with each other. Hearing them right before your ears is a completely different experience than through the static interface of a speaker, and you're amazed by how much just a sigh could mean.

One little sigh—the expulsion of a small puff of air—could convey happiness, sadness, anger, longing, amusement, and many other emotions that you're not familiar enough with to identify. There's a whole new code here, a complete new way of subconscious manipulation and control, but you lack the basic interface in which to implement it.

Failing to fully understand it, you choose lay back and watch it in motion, noting that your predications as to the compatibility of the group were spot on. Roxy found her niche fast, keeping morale up and grinning as she belted out rowdy drinking songs that were met upon with great enthusiasm. You're glad she's getting attached, you knew that no matter how similar your situations were Roxy was always the one who needed societal interaction more.

Jake relished the challenge of a new playground to run around and fight in, and you took care to avoid him as he did so. The memories of your previous calculations of a potential relationship run themselves ragged in your brain, but fail to incite the same kind of excitement they once had. You feel a strange numbness overtake you as you gaze upon your friends, a distance you don't know how to bridge.


There's one other, quite crucial, person you'd been careful not to think about too much. You had processed the group's strengths and weaknesses thousands of times, searching for a proper leader, and she'd emerged with a 92.3408% approval rate. Jane would make a good 'friend-leader', had always had the necessary qualities, so it really shouldn't come as any surprise to see her excelling now.

But no matter how much you tell yourself this, repeat the numbers over and over in a dizzying whirl of calculations and predictions, the sight of her actually doing it shakes you to the core. Unlike you, this strange communication of half-grins and snorts, of pouts and laughter—makes sense to her. Or at least, she knows how to work it to her advantage, knows how to smile in a way that expresses both disapproval and amusement when Jake tries to show off how well he can shoot and almost inadvertently blows his arm off in the process, knows what kind words to whisper in Roxy's ear to get her to loosen her grip on the flute of champagne and pour it out onto the grass.

You watch her and you see her thrive in this environment, growing bolder and more sure of herself with every passing day until you finally catch upon what's putting you so on edge.

Jane doesn't even know that she's doing it. The subtle manipulation between friends comes naturally to her. Or rather, she's not even trying to truly control them—they're just simply following the call of a higher instinct.

She's pulling them in with pure charisma. With a bright smile and a twinkle of her eyes she's instilling in them the same kind of obedience that took you years to cultivate. With a wave of her hand, they would gladly follow her into battle, and with a soft plead, they would throw themselves onto the funeral pyre with a smile on their faces.

You see this and your face grows hard, fist clenching each time you see the sheer devotion that characterizes their faces as they gaze at her. You realize that this is why the Batterwitch found her so dangerous, that Jane's powers lay not in her title as Maid, but in her title as Queen.


You see this with eyes fresh enough to recognize this new code of behavior, but you refuse to admit your fear. You refuse to acknowledge the way your stomach ties up when she brings her warm gaze to you, dragging in you in with a power beyond your comprehension. Part of you wants to hate her for this, and another part of you wants things to go back to the way they were before, but as the days pass on you see that both wishes are impossible.

The shiver that rushes down your spine when her fingertips ghost over the exposed skin on your arm—raising goose bumps that no amount of control could force down—make you realize that hatred is a feeling that cannot be associated with her anymore, and your nightly perusals of previous pesterlogs make you see that her charm had been working its way into you far before you ever realized it.

Sometimes you want to bash your face against a rock when you realize how obvious you'd been. Your often requests to her, asking that she become 'more like Jake' take on a new meaning, one far different from the superficial one she accepted without question. You had thought about it often, how Jake could do with being more like Jane sometimes in a purely skeptical sense, but in the hidden corner, behind the whirling cogs and spinning pieces, you'd also wondered how different it would be if the calculations had chosen Jane as the preferred relationship.

Roxy had always been so angry, so desperate for Jane to believe them about the future, about the Batterwitch. You'd watched on with a dull confusion, wondering what it was that had her so irritated. Jane would learn eventually, and if anything, it was natural for her to doubt them. You'd do the same in her position, so it's understandable. Your reaction to the death of her dreamself, however, you can't seem to understand.

It'd made sense before; that you needed to send a message, to show them that you were a force to be reckoned with. But using her death report as your calling card seems far too personal now, and you wonder just how much of it was you, and how much of it was her strange influence.

She'd managed to get inside your mind, work herself into the cogs and springs, without as much as an alarm being sounded on your part—and yet you can't bring yourself to hate her for it, which is the ultimate testament to her power.

You run your eyes over the pesterlogs dozens of times, taking in her friendly banter with a mixture of disapproval and longing, wondering why it'd taken you so long to see. You thought that you'd be pulling the strings, that what little power you'd given her when you discussed future plans would be for her benefit more than anything, but sadly, hindsight is 20/20.

You see clearly now that she managed to turn the tables on you more often than not, requesting information that should not really have been given at that certain moment, but managing to phrase it in a way that slipped past his defenses quietly and efficiently. You reach a section where she outright addresses the way your syntax had been nearing closer and closer to a certain bitterness during discussion about your Bro, and something inside you trembles with the realization that she had managed to work herself inside your mind that long ago.

If this had been any other time or with any other person, you'd have felt violated, but with Jane you simply get the urge to walk a little closer to her and smile when she throws her fedora down to the ground for the seventh time that day, finding her low tolerance for tomfoolery amusing more than anything else.


You try to stay away, you really do, distancing yourself as best you can, but soft smiles and bright blue eyes keep pulling you back and each time you find yourself just a little closer than you were before.

One day a part of you snaps and you just want to see her fail, just want to see her falter and freeze, feel the same dizzying breathlessness you get when she comes close. So you sharply remind her of the way she hadn't believed any of them about this before, hadn't believed about the Batterwitch. You hide your eyes behind your shades and calculate all the possible defenses she could make to this, all the possible ways you could retort and hurt.

You're not prepared for the way her face falls, how she sucks in her bottom lip and pauses a moment before she pulls you and Roxy close and apologizes. Her apology goes on for what seems like ages, probably less, but the amount of self-control you're exerting to keep yourself from reaching a hand out and soothing that worn, tired face back into a bright smile makes it seem longer. Jane begs forgiveness, and you find you've already given it before the first syllable leaves her lips.

Roxy tears up a little when Jane addresses her and you get a little shock when she pulls the bright eyed girl into a hug. After wiping away similar tears, Jane turns to you and holds her arms out. There's no hiding the way you're shaking, how you're running through the calculations, pulling the wires in your mind, wondering just how much an embrace would cost you in terms of will power—but before you could make the rational choice to flee, she's pulling you closer and resting her head against your chest.

There's a tick-tick-ticking in your chest, getting faster and louder, and the trembling, frightened part of you that used to duck under the covers and clutch Lil Cal close uses this lapse in calculation to escape and seize control over your limbs, winding your arms tighter around the smaller girl, pressing your face into the crook of her neck, feeling, holding, touching.

The wires in your body seem to fold and collapse into each other, chasing away all the plans attached, curling themselves around her and only her. You feel overloaded by sheer sensation, unused to human touch after all these years with cold steel machinery as your only companion. She pulls away all too soon, and that same part of you cries out at the loss of the soft, warm bundle of Jane.

There's no telling how much will power you've lost because you can hardly recall having any at all now; the phantom child in you is released and begging for more, and with its sighs and silent pleading goes all your hope of freedom.

You find you don't care so much anymore as long as she's near.


You're opening up to the strangest senses now, bridging a piece of the distant chasm between you and your friends, curling your lips into a smile the next time Roxy tells a dirty joke. You feel a hint of warmth in your limbs when she smiles back, ecstatic that you're finally responding to something. You even manage a jovial shake of the head when Jake asks you for a good old fashioned wrestling match, although you feel the desire pool in the pit of your stomach when you get a glimpse of him warming up, shirt off and muscles stretching.

But these small sparks of emotion, little bursts of feeling, are nothing in comparison to what happens when Jane comes near. You feel overloaded by the force of emotion that wracks your body, wondering if this is how it feels to be her, to not have the cogs and whirling apparatuses swimming your skull, to feel normal, human.

You could probably have controlled these feelings, wrestled them into submission if given the time to acclimate, but Jane doesn't give you that. Slowly her grins turn into fully fledged smiles when she sees you near, and her acceptance of your treacherous and dangerous faults shakes you to the core. She doesn't hesitate to call you out when you suggest a plan that may place them in more harm than necessary, doesn't wait for your permission before invading your personal space with a decisive look on her face, hands on hips, pouting in a way that makes you want to agree to anything she says.

You wonder if the others feel that way, but after much calculating, you come to the strange conclusion that something is different between the blind devotion they show her and your own sharp attachment. They don't seem to be plagued by the same thoughts, the musing about how it would feel like hold her again for much longer than a short hug, to brush your fingertips against the contours of her face like you longed to do to someone so long ago, to press your lips against hers and trail soft kisses down her the warm curve of her neck. But it's all too much to deal with, and you push yourself back into control, realizing that these thoughts had to be put on the backburner for now lest they overtake you.


You still can't help the cracks in your façade when she's around, the way you find any excuse to get closer, fixing her glasses, smoothing the ruffles in her skirt, brushing her hand over hers when she reaches for a laptop to contact the others. You're two creatures on completely opposite spectrums, you more machine than man, and her belonging to a world of emotions beyond your understanding. Still, irony connects you both, and even her horrendous jokes break the tedium every now and then.

One day she brings out her mustache and reenacts an entire scene out of Sherlock Holmes, albeit very, very badly. Roxy, donned in a scarf-beard, acts as her Watson, and Jake insists on being Dr. Hyde, unaware that the doctor had no place in the Sherlock realm. Jane just grins and goes along with it. About the time she brings out Lil' Sebastian and claims he's her Moriarty, you find yourself laughing softly along and she freezes. Surprise written all over her face, her mouth a perfect 'O', Jane exclaims, "You have a very nice laugh!"

Clapping her hands over her mouth, she looks mortified afterwards, but you feel the corners of your mouth twitch and you manage a broad smile that sends her into a darker shade of red. Roxy shoots you an appraising look, stroking her scarf-beard as she took in your unconscious slouch, the deviation from your usual perfect posture.

Later, Jane walks over and asks if you know any good jokes, and you ask her to clarify whether she wants to know the art of irony or just the regular stupid ones you've been saving just for this moment. She fidgets and you wait until she gathers up the courage to wonder out loud about whether or not your offer of 'irony apprenticeship' was still open.

You pause a couple beats and manage to rasp out, "Oh god, I'd love that."

Jane smiles again, bright and warm, and something in you clenches up with a fierce happiness. Raising yourself up, you un-captchalogue your sword and tell her to kneel. Looking a little confused, she does as you ask. You grip your sword tighter and say that you're going to have to do this without Lil' Cal, but it'd still count for the meantime. And with that you begin the flashstep anointment, going from shoulder to shoulder, and to shoulder again.

And when you're done, she's the one who looks close to tears, bottom lip trembling as she stands and throws her arms around you. You wonder for a moment or two why she would be crying when she sounds so happy, but the sweet, almost cavity-inducing, scent of Jane chases the questions away from your whirling mind and you wrap your arms round her and neatly pick her up, spinning her little as she giggled breathlessly. You put it down as something else you'll never understand about the world of emotions she rules over.


Although it was her that received the anointment, it's you that is now sworn to the monarch Jane, her shining blue eyes your flag, and her warm laugh your call to arms. You realize you've been slacking. The gears and cogs in your mind turn endlessly, reminding you that despite the break you've taken the last few days, you still have plans to enact, strings to pull. Before, you planned to have Jane as leader only in name and spirit, but you're long since realized how futile that would be. She was meant to be the leader long before you decided it.

Not that this would be a bad thing. Even when your plans have a 99.23759% chance of succeeding, Roxy and Jake always manage to put up protests, and Jane is the only who can calm them down. Any command of yours is better said through her mouth, their hard resolve smoothed down by a soft, pleading tone that you could never hope to replicate. She is the ultimate figurehead, her opinions and decisions rarely questioned, and her grin quick to disarm any attack or question. And soon enough, you come to the startling realization that she trusts you to do what's best for the group even if they don't.

You don't captchalogue your sword back after you use it to bless her, choosing instead to have it by your side at all times, always ready. Ready defend her and attack any who threaten her. You use this as an excuse to sit next to her by the fire, and stand beside her as you travel—never leaving her side for more than a few moments, as alike to her as your sword is to you. Roxy notices this quite quickly, but instead of looking disapproving, she winks and gives you a thumbs-up that you mull over for days later.

Nonetheless, you don't falter and you don't stop. Jane needs protection, for even if she was the most resourceful, strong, and amazing person you've ever met, she lacks a measure of certainty in herself, one that put it upon yourself to remedy. Or rather, not to remedy.

The idea of pulling strings once more, tugging on the wires you know you've hidden in her years ago and forcing her to fix herself, strings a sour note in the machinery in your chest. You've lost your taste for manipulation, at least when it concerned her. You're more in your place acting as her missing sense of confidence, always there to reassure her and raise her up, even if she didn't know it.

Your title as Prince of Heart had always been a source of amusement, even more so now, when hearts are more an endless source of confusion than anything else. Still, that doesn't change the fact you are a Prince of Heart, in essence, a destroyer of souls—a clear contrast to the Maid of Life. Yet, surprisingly, the lack of nobility in her designated role doesn't stop her from issuing royal decries, commands that sound like anything but when they come from her smiling mouth. This fills you with a sharp confidence; if she could deny her place so effortlessly, then maybe you could do the same.

If she was to overstep her boundaries as Maid and become Queen, then you shall have to flashstep out of your role as Prince and act as King.


You're not completely sure if she realizes, but even if a growing part of you calls out for her to do just that, you clamp it down and continue. You spend hours staying up with her, discussing plans and strategies that leave Roxy and Jake bored to tears, but has her quickly snapping to attention, taking them in with a determined glint in her sharp blue eyes. That same part of you seems to expand with pride when she interjects every now and then with her own ideas, and picks out the minute flaws in your plans that you hadn't even noticed.

You had never planned this; discussing tactics out in the open with her, a warm atmosphere inside the makeshift shelter as she giggles at something blunt you just stated regarding Roxy's ability to shoot while inebriated. But you don't mind, not when the hand that that usually covered her mouth when she laughed lands on your arm, leaning onto you for balance as she chortles. That same arm tingles with a Jane-like warmth that doesn't dissipate until hours later.


Jane's own free and jovial upbringing comes in sharp contrast to your own, especially when she opens up around the fire, her voice lowering in nostalgia as she regales you all with tales of her baking exploits. Later, when you're alone, she tugs your shirt and asks about your own happy memories, at which you're a bit upset to inform her how far and in between they are, especially when her face falls and her eyes glow with compassion that you're still unused to seeing. But you tell her what you can, and it doesn't scare you much at how easily overridden that piece of silence code was.

You share more and more with her, yet it's not a source of unease for you anymore, not when she shares the same amount right back. She's a natural born leader, yes, but the intricacies of royal life confuse her, the multilayered demands and ironic politeness something she can't quite grasp. Unlike you, for whom such things come easily. You teach her how to order someone in a way where they'd have no choice but to do as you ask even if they don't know it, and in return, she unknowingly schools you in humanity.


You're certain you've got it all now, collected every trace of information you could possibly take from her, but there's always a lingering curiosity, wondering if there's anything you missed. You're disgruntled to find that there is, and there's a strange lag in your processing when you awake one night to find her shaking. You had taken to resting in trees, the impulse for higher ground still alive and well even after all this time, the clear view of your friends that such height gives you an advantage as well.

No matter how fortified or well prepared you all are, you can't seem to stop waking every few hours to check on their wellbeing, your orange eyes scanning over them behind your shades. The sight of her sitting up in her spot, her arms wrapped around her knees is foreign, and you snap to attention, flashstepping down and forward, ready to face whatever is hurting her.

You freeze and clutch your sword closer when you realize that she's crying.

Jane notices you after a moment or two and quickly rubs an arm over her wet eyes, forcing a cracked smile. "Dirk! I didn't see you, I was just going to go back—"

You kneel down and place a hand on her arm, pulling it away from the indicative redness of her face. You stare intently at her, not saying a word, a part of you incensed at the fact she'd try and hide herself from you. You—who knew her better than she could ever hope to dream, who was at her utter beck and call in every way, dedication and loyalty for your queen written into the very basic foundation of your coding. How could she not trust you?

Jane seems to realize this, the strange connection between you two flaring up, transmitting all data of your irritation as clear as a facial tic. She turns her gaze down, sniffling softly, and your annoyance melts, making you ask, "What is wrong?"

Her bottom lip trembles as she slowly starts to speak. It all spills out, her insecurities about how good a leader she could make, how scared she is that she's going to make everything go wrong, that she doubts they would ever really believe in her, how she just keeps messing everything up, and that she's going to end up killing them all.

You sit for a moment and process this as she turns red with the force of her crying, and when the gears in your mind finally churn to a halt, a small spark shooting out. Your duty is calling. This is what you were meant to help her with all this time, this is your role as King to your Queen, and it is this that resolve makes you strong.

The wires and cogs that build you up slow down as that more familiar phantom child seizes control of your limbs and pulls her forward into your lap. A sharp thrill shoots through you as she buries her face in your shirt, trying to hide what she feels is weakness. How alike you two are, despite all the superficial differences in character.

You clear your throat and rest your chin atop her head as you recite your log of extraordinary actions of one Jane Crocker. You decide not to start at the absolute beginning, as it would take too long, so you simply mark off each and every instance where she displayed her characteristic strength and optimism, even when the two of them were one and same. You fill the air with your voice, low and melodious, taking a small satisfaction at the way her trembling slowed and her cries calmed into small hiccups of emotion.

When you finish with all you feel is necessary, you are still reluctant to rise and resume your post away from her, the feel of her body pressed against yours too addictive for you to contemplate leaving. So you simply pull her closer and say, "I know you could do it. Would I have chosen you as friendleader if I didn't completely believe that?"

A small lie—the time for choosing had been long gone by the time she had taken up her mantle—but it has the desired effect. She slowly breathes in before expelling a sigh, and although which one this is classified as is still a source of confusion, there's nothing misleading about the way she turns her face up to yours and says, "Thank you, Dirk."

The complete sincerity in her sentence makes you suck in a breath, your perfect mask of apathy broken for a moment, but she pays it no mind, not exploiting it like the way you'd feared others would do. Rather, she wraps her arms around you and expels another sigh, and you know this one all too well, the happiness and content written in it all too similar to the feelings that well up in you when you watch her smile. The way she said your name becomes both a blessing and a curse, as the low thrumming that runs through your body is nothing compared to the sudden hunger for her to say it again.

You and Jane stay like this for a moment, taking a strange comfort from the presence of each other, your minds slowing down in conjunction. Minutes, or hours, later, you shift your position, wondering if she'd fallen asleep. The sudden flickering of her eyes as they rose to look at you indicated otherwise, but it also served as a reminder that she needed her rest for the next day. You slowly, and agonizingly, pull your hands off of her to settle her away from you and back onto the mat that served as her sleeping quarters.

As you move to rise and return to your station, a quick tug on your shirt made you turn your gaze back to the queen of confections. That all too familiar tilt of her mouth signaled that her thoughts were bordering the mischievous again, but the vulnerability radiating from her eyes indicated that this was something else. She pulls you down until you're sitting on the mat beside her, and then she lays down, sinking her head into the pillow and motioning for you to do the same. As you would do anything her majesty asked of you, you acquiesced.

Jane holds your hand and closes her eyes, her chest slowly rising and falling as she trailed off to the unconscious world, leaving you to wonder what exactly was supposed to be happening here. The cogs and springs in your mind spin and turn, but nothing is processed, especially when she shifts closer and makes a home for herself in your arms. Calm settles itself over you, shutting of the processions of your mind with a click, and before you know it you've fallen asleep.

When you wake, you find that you've somehow managed to pull her even closer to you, clutching her in a tight embrace that was mockingly similar to the one you used to have Lil' Cal in, but with a critical difference. Jane's pleasant warmth radiates in clear contrast to Lil' Cal's cool apathy, and her sleep-induced mumblings have you wondering how it would have been like if she had been the one to comfort you during those nights. Dazed and still wondering what was happening, you watch her and feel something out of place.

It takes you a moment before you notice it, the thump-thump-thumping that's filling in the air. Or rather, the space in between you, what little there is of it with her pressed almost completely against you. You close your eyes and listen, realizing that this the sound she hears at all times, even if she doesn't know it. Your own tick-tick-ticking is still there, but at a low humming beneath everything else. You feel human here, with Jane laid next to you, a tuft of her hair tickling your nose.

Of course you'd wake before her—years of hiding out in a crumbling structure in the middle of the ocean have made you just a bit paranoid, and you can only ever manage a few hours or so of true rest. She, on the other hand, nods off quickly and quietly, as her life of comfort dictated. You feel your corners of your mouth twitch as a thought flits through your mind. Rise with the moon, go to bed with the sun.

It isn't long before she wakes up, groggy and face stretched into a yawn. You freeze, wondering what she would do. Your fears are assuaged when her face splits into a big grin when she catches sight of you. "Hey there, Dirk!"

You nod in reply, hoping she won't tell you to move away now before the others could see you two together because the mere thought seems impossible right now, your hands know no other place but on her, holding her close. She seems like she's about to, but then she just sits up and lounges beside you, letting you keep your arms around her, your head in her lap.

The phantom child, the hidden cog in your machinery, sings for joy. She stares down at you before reaching an arm out and touching your shades, which have pretty much adhered themselves onto your face by this point. She waits a beat, silently asking for your permission that you've already given to her long before now.

She removes them gently, peeling them slowly, and you can't help the automatic reaction to close your eyes and hide their unnatural hue, but she just waits until you open them back up again. She watches, head cocked to the side, taking in your orange pupils with such barren compassion and acceptance that you feel the urge to shut your eyes again lest you're stripped bare before her own.

A moment or two passes and she moves as if to put your glasses back, but instead she tilts her own face closer and presses her lips against the chalky, dark circles under your eyes, the remnants of late night planning. Your own eyes go wide with surprise as hers close.

Without thinking your hands pull her closer, a rebellious cog snickering as you curse your actions. Jane just smiles and presses her soft lips against your cheek this time, trailing kisses down until she stops by the corner of your mouth. By this time your entire body is humming, emotion upon emotion bursting through, keening with hope and desperation as she finally meets your own lips.

You're no stranger to sex, if your smuppet collection was anything to go by, but the all too human emotion of tenderness is something you're so not familiar with, and you're eager to let her lead the way into understanding.

She moves her mouth against yours and you replicate it as the cogs and springs whirl, processing every moment and filing it away for later so you can figure out a way to improve. There comes a moment when her buck teeth bite down on your bottom lip and even you're surprised by the sudden rush of need that runs through you, locking your limbs in place and raising your head to press your mouth harder against hers. She makes a surprised sound that turns into a moan halfway through, and this sends a new burst of energy through your body, moving you to deepen the kiss.

By the time you pull away you're both breathing hard and she's as red as a beet, a deep flush across her cheeks and bruised lips that match accordingly. Her glasses are askew and her hair is messy and you're quite certain you're not that much better. A laugh bursts out from you and she looks shocked for a moment before she catches on, joining in with a 'Hoo hoo hoo'.

It's a bit ridiculous, a prince and a maid making utter fools of themselves while their friends slept soundly not five feet away, but that's not taking into account that she's more Queen than Maid and you more King than Prince. Together, the two of you could both just issue a royal decree and do whatever the hell you very well pleased.

There's a strange silence afterwards as you stare at each, trying to process what just happened. You've kissed her before now, back when you revived her, but it doesn't seem the same for some reason. Every corner of her face seems familiar to you now, still a cipher that you're not yet sure you've cracked, but are willing to keep trying until you do. She's nervously grinning in your direction, but before you could move forward and continue where you both left off, there's a movement to the side.

Roxy's waking up and, as prior experience shows, when Roxy wakes it's not that long before everybody and everything else in the surrounding mile or two is forced to follow or suffer the consequences. You sigh and lift yourself up, realizing that the day has already started and it's time to get back on course with your plans. But, just as well, as Jane has become an integral part of them herself.

You hold her hand and pull her up, a silent promise in your eyes that this will be continued at a later date. Putting your shades back on, you can't help but smile a little at how flustered she is when she pats down her skirt, stopping only to shoot back a look saying that she was most definitely looking forward to it.

Taking her hand in yours, you walk side by side to go bid good morning to your mutual friends, regality in your every step. You murmur an ironic, "Your majesty", into her ears as you led her around a fallen branch, to which she replied to with a cheeky, "Thank you, good Sir Dirk!"

The wires in your fingertips wrap themselves around her, the cold steel in your hands seeks only to protect her, and the cogs and springs in your mind serve only as an extension of her. You're more her than you now, and she's more you than her, which is only to be expected—the King and Queen are now together and as inseparable as ever.