what_we_dream: (SPN Castiel)
[personal profile] what_we_dream
Title: Wrong Time, Wrong Place
Series: Jak & Daxter
Pairing: Torn/Ashelin
Rating: PG-13
Notes: Takes place in some bizarre post-Jak II AU where Jak 3 never happened.

Summary: The trip to Dead Town may be the catalyst to starting their relationship, if Torn can just survive it.


“I don’t know about this. The extra land would come in handy, but the whole area’s unstable. Not to mention still infested with metal heads – it’ll take a lot of work to clear it out.” Torn folds his arms, and glares out at the crumbling ruins of Dead Town.

The putrid stink of the toxic waste burns his nose, the smell of sewage mixed with cleaning chemicals. All around, the ruined buildings are slowly collapsing into rubble, pieces falling off constantly, the ground trembling as the foundations resettle. The building Jak took a flag from more than a year and a half ago now to gain his place in the Underground is lying in a heap in the distance, the rubble spilling into the sludge.

He, Ashelin and a small contingent of Guards are standing at the far side of Dead Town, looking back towards Haven City. There’s not much to see, in his opinion. But he’s aware his isn’t the only view.

Ashelin, standing beside him, crosses her arms as she focuses on the far-off palace beyond the walls of the city. “Samos is adamant about redeveloping it, and he has Jak’s support as well as half the council’s,” she says, matter-of-factly. “This land used to be ours, and people want it back. A lot of them don’t want to stay in Haven City. If we could repatriate it, this would be a viable option – far enough for those who can’t forget what the city was, and close enough that we could support each other.”

“Very practical. But there’s a big if there. Just from a security perspective, this place is a disaster and you know it. Clearing it and keeping it clear until the metal heads stop trying to come back would be a major drain on resources. And that doesn’t even address the costs associated with cleaning out the muck, and then tearing down the rest of this junk. It’s not my area, but I can’t see the city being pleased spending so much to build a new sector when there are still major resource shortages in the ones we already have.”

Ashelin purses her lips, but doesn’t look at him. “You’re right, Commander. It’s not your area.”

Rapped sharply over the knuckles, he stiffens into a more formal posture. Ashelin sighs, and her shoulders fall. “I’m sorry; that was uncalled for. I just wish that for once, there could be some easy choices.” She does look at him now, mouth quirked in a mix of apology and frustration.

Torn shrugs, surprised by her apology. It’s not usual in Governors in general, or in Ashelin specifically, although in her case mostly because she rarely makes mistakes. “Dissent just shows everyone’s confident enough to say what they think. If you ever get universal agreement, you’ll know something’s wrong.” He looks back across the open space in front of them, scanning the shadows in the crumbling windows and doorways for threats. In the distance, there’s a low crack and several blocks of concrete fall into the slime with a gloop rather than a splash.

“You sure know how to cheer a girl up,” mutters Ashelin wryly. And then, in a tone that rings some bells in Torn’s head which he pointedly ignores, “At least I can always count on you to disagree with me.”

“I disagree with everyone. That’s why I ended up living in a basement sending a bunch of misfits out to do stupidly reckless things. It’s a personality flaw.”

“I was joking, Torn.” She shakes her head. More quietly, she continues, “Sometimes, I think living in that basement ruined your eyes.”

He looks at her slowly, careful to keep his comprehension out of his glance. “My sight’s fine.”

“I’m not talking about that kind,” she says, impatiently. “You didn't used to be so wilfully dense. Just for once, can’t you see that I – Torn?”

He’s aware of her words, but he’s not listening. Above, there’s a quiet noise – the sound of something trying to be stealthy in a dilapidated building. Torn looks up just as he hears a slow crumbling noise, and sees the second storey concrete wall of the structure they’re standing in front of starting to fall forwards as it separates from the building. There’s a flash of motion behind the moving wall, but there’s no time for that. Ashelin, looking at him rather than up, is already a second behind.

The island of dirt they’re standing on ends abruptly on Ashelin’s side – to go that way would be agonizing death in the toxic sludge. On his side there’s a wall, too close to let them dodge the falling rubble. That leaves only forwards; with him facing Ashelin, it’s by far the hardest direction to move both of them in simultaneously.

Torn’s reaction is completely instinctive – even while he’s moving, there are no thoughts prompting him. He simply finds himself grabbing Ashelin by the shoulder and, digging his leg hard into the dirt, swivels sharply to shove her away from the building. She isn’t heavy, and flies forwards almost to the edge of the dirt before she stumbles to a dusty stop. He pushes off after her, having already lost valuable time, knowing it won’t be enough. He can hear the weight descending to crush him, sees Ashelin’s eyes widening in horror, and then the rough edge of the wall slams into his back.

He thinks, as he falls to his knees, that he got farther than he expected. The weight didn’t crush him, didn’t snap his neck or spine. It simply tore open his back, the whole of it from shoulders to hips feeling like someone rubbed oil into his skin and then lit it. His knee hits the ground, and the jarring is shockingly agonizing. The world whites out momentarily; when colour seeps back in he’s lying on his front, propped up on his elbows. The edges of his vision are black tinged with red, the darkness pulsing with his heartbeat.

The pain has overloaded his nerves so that he can feel nothing else, nothing but the sickening burning, but he sees Ashelin grasping his arm with both hands as if to pull him to the city. Behind her, the guards are running up with their weapons at the ready. One starts firing into the ruins above, concrete rumbling alarmingly. There’s no sound of success, though, no cry from whatever pushed the wall down on them. And, like all scavengers, the metal heads are drawn by the scent of blood.

“Take her,” he croaks, pushing Ashelin away from him. “Take her back to the city.”

She’s the one person the city can’t afford to lose. She held it together through this year of hell, through the collapse of the city’s entire power structure, through all the uncertainty and backstabbing and in-fighting. Without her, the power vacuum would destroy the still-so-fragile city. Nothing is worth risking that. Nothing.

“Shut up, Torn,” says Ashelin, in a very rough voice. He ignores her, staring over her head at his hand-picked soldiers.

“That’s an order.”

They glance at each other, but move in to do as he’s told them. One puts his arm on Ashelin’s shoulder, and she swivels around. His partner grabs her from behind, and together they manhandle her towards the cruiser. She fights the whole way, he sees, but it’s a desperate animal kind of fighting. She could beat them both if she took them logically, he thinks, aware that he should understand why she isn’t, but unable to.

Torn fumbles to pull his pistol from its holster, arm moving with an odd jerkiness, and props the butt up against the ground. Lying with it in his hand, he can just barely elevate the barrel enough to shoot anything that comes from the rubble.

Listening to the distant jabbering barks and cries of the metal heads assembling in the shadows, he slumps slowly into the dirt, and the remaining colours drain away from his vision to leave everything a very dull grey.

----------------------------------------------------

Jak arrives not long after. Torn knows it hasn’t been long, because nothing’s eaten him yet. He knows it’s Jak by the sound of his ridiculous bike, louder than the engines on 12-cylinder transports. He can’t seem to look up, can’t seem to move at all. Even the pain in his back has faded to more of a heavy pressure than raw agony, like a studded iron wall lying on top of him slowly crushing its nails into him. He’s cold and nauseous, while his mind seems oddly clear but totally detached from his emotions – he knows he should feel something, but it’s just not there.

Torn watches with the bizarre grey vision as Jak drops out of the sky and steps over to kneel by him. He can only see Jak’s boots, leather racing boots with custom steel caps. In the shadows, something growls – a metal head suddenly realising it’s about to be robbed of its meal. Torn watches as a pair of grunts scramble out from behind a slab of concrete, mouths open and salivating heavily at the prospect of food. Jak’s boots swivel, and his rifle barks twice. The two metal heads fall in a heap, digging a ditch in front of them as they plough into the dirt. Then Jak’s turning back again, dropping to his knees.

“Torn? Can you hear me?” Jak slips a hand beneath him and shifts him somehow so that he isn’t staring down into the mud anymore, but up at Jak. Torn’s pistol slips from his hand as he’s raised, his fingers cold and limp. Jak looks terrible, he thinks, like he’s just seen his bike crash into a wall. But the stupid thing’s still around, he can hear the motor rumbling. There’s another lower hum as well, some kind of cruiser by the sound of it.

“Not dead yet,” answers Torn, words getting caught up on his thick tongue.

“Good.” Jak looks at someone outside his tunnelling vision, speaking in a hard tone. “Do you know Samos? You know where he lives? Right – take my bike, and bring him here. Now. Don’t listen to anything he says, just do it.”

The engine revs with a roar, and then soars off with a guard on it.

“Should’a told him not to crash,” says Torn. He’s vaguely aware that something feels wrong in his chest. Stiff, hard. There’s an odd taste in his mouth.

“If he does, I’ll just expense it to your department.”

Torn tries to rest his head on the ground, and comes to realise that Jak’s sitting in the dirt, holding him up off of it. “Don’t know what’s in that dirt,” he says, resting his head against Jak’s shirt instead.

“Stop talking, Torn.”

“I never agree w’anyone,” he informs Jak, with what seems like wit. His chest is getting tighter, though, and he moves his tongue against the roof of his mouth like a cat, trying to identify the taste.

“Just rest. Samos’s coming, he’ll fix you up.”

Torn means to laugh. The Shadow has never liked him; he’s saved Torn’s life once already, and Torn can’t imagine him wanting to do it again. But his breath catches in his chest and a new, much sharper pain blossoms there. He gives an awkward coughing gasp, feels wetness on his lips, and looks down to see the dark drops falling on Jak’s shirt. He doesn’t need colour vision to know they’re bright red. Closing his eyes, he drops his head to hide them.

“What’re you doing here?” he grits out, suddenly tired. He made Ashelin leave to protect her, but he’s glad he did, now. He doesn’t want her here, doesn’t want her to see him die here in the dirt, choking on his own blood. But now Jak’s come to take her place, and that’s not a hell of a lot better.

“Ashelin sent me. Said you’d done something stupid. Looks like she was right.”

Torn can’t think of any reply. He can’t seem to open his eyes, and his ears seem only to be filled with the roaring sound of his thoughts trying to drain away. He’s tired, so tired, every part of him aching for sleep.

“Torn? Torn? Stay awake, dammit. Torn!

Torn slips seamlessly into the deep sea of unconsciousness, and doesn’t hear anything more.

----------------------------------------------------------

Pain. Agonizing, searing pain. Someone’s screaming, a raw, harsh noise like sandpaper across metal. The world tastes of copper, thick and salty.

Eventually, things go dark.

----------------------------------------------------------

Torn wakes, barely. He doesn’t have the energy to move, not even to open his eyes. His ears pick up the sounds of voices, but there is no thought to bring sense to the patterns. Like a recording device, he soaks up the information but makes nothing of it.

“Don’t bother wrapping him; you’ll have to keep cleaning the wounds twice a day with antiseptic.”

“Are you kidding? It nearly killed him the first time! Just fix up his back some more.”

“I’m not as young as I was, Jak. I healed the broken scapula and ribs, his punctured lung and the worst of the bleeding. It’ll have to be good enough – I can’t do any more for a few days.”

“And what’re we supposed to do until then? Hope he doesn’t wake up and notice he’s got no skin on his back? You heard him, Samos. I thought he’d wear his throat raw.”

“Everyone keeps telling me this is the modern age. Get one of those useless doctors to look at him. Painkillers, liquids. He’s lost a lot of blood – if he wakes, make him drink something fortifying. And keep moving him – you don’t want clotting or sores.”

“Yeah, right. Where’re you going, anyway?”

“You think I’m sticking around in this dead heap of rock? Not if you paid me. You and the girl can look after him fine. Where’d she go, anyway?”

“Out. And I don’t blame her – I’d’ve gone if I could’ve, the way he was screaming. Dammit, Samos, can’t you –”

“No. I can’t. You’re the hero now, Jak. You’ve got to deal with it. I can’t rescue you anymore. Try not to screw it up.”

“Right. Thanks.”

“See you in a couple of days.”

For a long time, there’s silence. So long that Torn begins to drift off again, in spite of the fiery net lying over his back, white-hot and jolting. Just as he’s falling back into an uneasy unconsciousness, a distant voice too low to speaks too low to carry words.

“He’s resting, now. Samos’ll be back to see him in a couple of days.”

As he slips away, he feels a soft warmth come to rest on his hand.

-------------------------------------------------------

Things get very confused. The long stretch of agony that is his back doesn’t exactly fade, but seems to move into another space. He can feel it looming over him, an ever-present weight, but there’s very little actual pain. Just a kind of cold stiffness.

He drifts between sleep and wakefulness without being able to distinguish where one stops and the other begins. Sometimes he knows he’s dreaming – when he hears his father telling him he had better die before he sees the city fall, when he sees his mother smiling sadly at him, when he feels Praxis towering over him in a murderous rage. But often he has no sense of reality at all. Soldiers he can’t remember dying but isn’t sure still live visit his bedside, joking with him. Men in white coats and masks prick at him, casting no shadows on the floor and laughing once out of his sight. Daxter sits beside his pillow and stares at him wordlessly, reaching out a very tentative paw to press against his shoulder – the pad is surprisingly soft and warm, living leather. Vin, leaning over him, tells him not to worry, death isn’t so bad: you get used to it. Jak is constantly appearing and disappearing, pulling him to lie on his left side or his right or his stomach, and washing his back with something so cold it burns.

And always through it all, Ashelin is sitting beside him. Sometimes she’s wearing her old captain’s uniform, sometimes the Governor’s formal outfits, and sometimes strange mixes of the clothes the women in his sector wore in his childhood. She speaks to him voicelessly, mouth moving without sound like a broken film, her hand warm on his. It’s the only warmth in this drab, frigid world.

Whether it’s real or not it all feels like a dream, a series of washed-out colours blurring seamlessly into one another. And, when he truly wakes, it’s nearly as difficult to hold onto.

----------------------------------------------------------

It’s the sound of low voices that wake him, although they stop as he finally emerges from the heavy mist of drugged sleep. He lies still, breathing deeply and taking in the scents in the air. They’re an odd mix of clinical and natural – antiseptic and laundry detergent mixed with sweet flowers and the rich smell of newly-watered earth.

A door closes, and a warm weight drops onto his hand while another slips cautiously over his forehead. Torn’s eyes shoot open, hand twitching heavily but not moving, his muscles too sleep-soaked to respond properly.

Ashelin is sitting beside him, staring. There are tears running down her face; her eyes are red, and her skin is blotching with them. It’s still not enough to disguise the dark circles under her eyes and her overly-prominent cheek bones. She pulls her hands back with a sharp breath, and then clenches them over her jeans. “Torn!”

“Bad news?” he asks as nonchalantly as he can, voice low and gritty even for him. In his chest, his heart is skipping too fast without much effect; he feels weak and light-headed.

“What?” Her eyes widen, and then she rubs hastily at them with the side of her hand. “No. No – you’re going to be fine. I just heard from Samos.” She’s already managed to revert to her usual command tone, stern and practical. But he can still see the raw heart underneath, and that’s dangerous, dangerous as a rifle to the head. To her, and to this city.

Torn closes his eyes, and hardens his own. “Ah. Apologies.”

There’s a moment of silence, and then, “You are a bastard in every way possible, Torn.”

A chair scrapes, and he opens his eyes to see her storming out. The door slams behind her.

Torn coughs, finds it surprisingly painless, and then sighs. He almost wishes his chest still hurt – it would distract from the new ache that’s settled there. But, like most other parts of this brave new world, he’s grown used to that too.

After a minute, he props himself cautiously up on his elbow to get a better look at the room. He’s lying on his stomach in a narrow cot in the centre of a large bedroom – a real bed stands further off to one side. He recognizes the curtains and wallpaper as belonging to the palace; probably one of the guest rooms. A couple of tables have been brought in, and are covered in vases of flowers and potted plants. Beside his cot sits a now-empty chair; further back there’s another table holding the usual supplies of a sickroom – bowls of water, bandages, bottles and jars of medicine.

He lies down again, closing his eyes. His memory is a mess of images – metal heads, men in white coats, his father, Ashelin, Baron Praxis – with the central theme of pain overlying all of it. There are snippets of conversation playing that he doesn’t remember hearing – Just fix his back up some more; I’m not as young as I was; what’re we supposed to do, hope he doesn’t wake up and notice he’s got no skin on his back?

“I hear you’re still alive,” says a voice right beside him, and Torn startles into the present, eyes snapping open. Jak’s standing beside him, arms crossed and weight resting unevenly over one hip. “Looks that way alright.”

“Shouldn’t I be?”

Jak swivels the chair around and straddles it backwards, resting his arms on the crossbar of its back. “Nope,” he says, cheerfully. “You’re one lucky bastard. I thought you were a goner the minute I saw you out in Dead Town.”

That jogs more memories – the putrid smell, rustling in the dark, the sound of concrete plopping in muck. “We were attacked,” he says, slowly, fingers twitching as if searching for his pistol.

“Yep. You took a falling block of concrete in the back, ripped away pretty much all of your skin and a good bit of muscle, and broke pretty much everything there was to break other than your spine, which was frankly a miracle. You were coughing up blood by the time we got Samos out to look at you.”

“He must’ve been thrilled.”

“You know him. You won’t be hearing the end of it any time soon.”

Tired of speaking into the sheets, Torn pulls his arms under him and props himself up. His muscles tremble alarmingly, but don’t give out, and he’s able to swing himself into a sitting position with his legs over the side of the cot. Or at least, he is for a heartbeat, before the light-headedness hits him like a charging ram head and the world whites out. When it comes rushing back in on the edge of a cold wave, he finds himself with his head low to his knees and Jak’s hand on his back.

“That wasn’t the brightest thing I’ve ever seen you do,” says Jak eventually. “And, since we’re on the topic, neither was chasing Ashelin out of here. What’d you say to her, anyway?”

Torn raises a shaking hand to pull over his face. “It doesn’t matter.”

“No, I think it probably does,” Jak says, slowly. “She’s been sitting here almost the whole time – the only times she’s left was for council meetings, and even then she cut them short. And it hasn’t been easy. You’re not a good patient.”

“I wasn’t even conscious,” he says, dismissively.

“True enough – what you were was pretty damn delirious. Talking to dead people, not listening to anything we said, fighting the docs, screaming at her father. She sat here the whole time listening to you rave, sure you were going to catch a major infection or run out of stamina and die.”

Torn drops his hand and glares. “I don’t really think it’s any of your business,” he snaps.

It has no apparent effect on Jak, who shrugs. “Maybe not, but I’m getting majorly tired of seeing you two screw things up so badly. You like her. She likes you. What’s the problem?”

“This is why you never sit on the strategic councils.” He sighs, seeing Jak undeterred by his strike, and turns to stare at the tall yellow flowers on a vase opposite him. He never was one for nature – one of the many things Samos can’t forgive in him. Jak waits patiently, and after a while he goes on in a blander tone, more speaking to himself than the blond. “’Wrong time, wrong place’ pretty much describes our entire lives. As officers in the KG, a relationship would have been fraternization – disastrous in general, but seriously fatal when one of you’s the Baron’s daughter. Then I joined the Underground and she stayed undercover in the KG, and it was too risky for us – either side finding out could’ve blown everything out of the water. And now she’s the Governor, and I’m the Commander of the Guard. How long do you think her reputation would last if people thought she was sleeping with her supporters? The city sure as hell can’t lose her, and maybe I’m just vain but I can’t see the Guard managing to keep from self-destructing if I left now.”

There’s a brief pause. And then,

“That,” says Ashelin, from the doorway, “is the stupidest thing I have ever heard.”

Torn starts so hard he almost falls out of the bed – only Jak’s quick reflexes catch him in time, his head spinning. He looks over dizzily towards her, and the sight of her eyes flashing in real rage as she re-enters sets enough adrenaline pumping that he’s able to sit up for himself. “If you weren’t on your would-be death-bed, I would kick your ass around the compound, soldier. What the hell are you doing sitting there telling me you’ve been playing dumb for a year – a year – to protect my reputation?”

“Ashelin –”

“After everything we risked to live in a free city, to have the right to live our own lives as we wanted, to be happy, you’re building chains around yourself again?”

Torn takes a deep, catching breath. “Maybe I can’t forget what it’s like to live in them after all. Maybe you’re right – maybe I was down in that cellar too long.”

Ashelin glares, merciless. “Or maybe you’re just a selfish bastard. You never even asked – never even asked me. Just went it alone, like you always do, and damn what anyone else thinks. The last, silent sacrifice from a war you wish you hadn’t made it through. Is that it?”

“No –”

“You’re telling me – sitting there on a bed soaked with your sweat beside a basket full of bloody linen – that you didn’t want to die? Didn’t think that would be the easiest way out of this whole mess? No more New Haven, no more council, no more having to pretend you don’t care?”

Torn finally breaks in, with enough intensity to stall Ashelin. “Don’t be ridiculous. I don’t want to die – I never did, not even in the worst days. I just want – need – you to live.” The words almost catch in his throat, choking him. Ashelin is unmoved, her eyes narrowing.

“For the city. And that’s all I am? The glue holding this broken vase of a town together?”

“What kind of Commander would I be, if I risked the city for myself?” he demands.

“What kind of man are you, that you don’t?” she shoots back.

There’s a long, terse pause, both of them catching their breath. It’s only now that Torn notices that at some point Jak slipped out of the room to leave them alone – he really needs to flush the goddamn meds out of his system.

“You told Jak he’s got no grasp of politics,” says Ashelin, at last, in a calmer tone.

“It’s a well-known fact. It’s also not true of me.”

“No,” she agrees, “but you’re the most old-fashioned man I know. I don’t know if it’s all that honour crap, or growing up with a father in the Guard back before it went to hell, or if you just read too many old novels as a kid. But that’s not the world we live in. Granting illicit favours in the Palace – that would be a scandal. A perfectly legitimate romance with a dashing Commander of the Guard – that would be romantic.”

The world seems to tilt, his balance spiralling dizzyingly, and he sits stone-still for several heartbeats waiting for it to straighten. It gives him time to think, at least. Of the life he’s been pretending not to want, not to need, for the past year.

“Sounds,” he begins, and she raises a threatening eyebrow. “Sounds… conceivable,” he finishes, cautiously. “If we’re careful, and if you’re sure the political situation can handle it.”

Ashelin waves an irritated hand. “Oh, half the council think we’re in bed together already,” she says, and Torn’s shocked to find himself flushing. The meds again, surely. Ashelin, with a guard’s senses undulled by drugs, notices immediately. “Is your fever coming on again?” She presses a hand to his forehead and, when he instinctively leans away, catches the back of his neck with her other to hold him still. Her hands are delicate, despite their strength, and he relaxes against them. “A bit warm. You should rest. Samos was on about drinking plenty of fluids, although we had an IV going for a while. I’ll get you something.” She turns to go.

“You don’t have to wait on me, you’re –”

She snaps around, and his voice withers away. “I thought we settled this.” She gestures at the window. “To the people out there, I’m the Governor of New Haven. In here, with you, I’m,” she pauses and then, softly, uncertain of herself for the first time, “I’m whatever you want me to be.”

Torn sighs and lies down stiffly on his back, eyes slipping closed. The adrenaline’s wearing off fast, leaving him cold and shaky. It’s hard to think, and this is important, is an overturning of the world as he’s known it for the past year. But in the end, the only thing he can seem to focus on is what he truly wants. “In that case,” he says, voice so low it’s nearly nothing but grit, “I want you to stay.”

The chair creaks, and a warm hand slips around his.

END
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