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[personal profile] what_we_dream
Title: City Boys
Series: Jak & Daxter (Jak 2)
Pairing: None
Rating: PG-13

Summary: Daxter will do almost anything to save Jak's life. Even run a mission with Torn.


“C’mon big guy, don’t give up on me now… just a bit further, you’re doing great. Really.” Daxter, clinging to the edge of Jak’s shoulder-guard, leans out to push them away from a building wall before Jak can stumble into it. The shove sends Jak staggering in the other direction, and Daxter has to bounce and drop his full weight onto Jak’s shoulder to keep him from walking right into the path of a zoomer.

Jak’s not doing great. He’s doing just about as far from great as possible. A metal head in the forest got its stinking claws into Jak’s side and left a hole that made Daxter dizzy just looking at it; on the way back Jak, lightheaded and sweating, crashed the cruiser he hot-wired at the edge of the slums. Getting one foot in front of the other’s now becoming a major struggle.

Back home, it wouldn’t have been a problem. Back home, anyone would have helped him; he wouldn’t have had to cross the city and he couldn’t’ve gone more than a block without someone making him come in to rest. Here, people veer away from him like he’s infectious. Wounded means trouble with the KG sooner or later, and no one will risk that. Not for a stranger, maybe not even for a friend.

Daxter hates this place, hates every single thing about it, but most of all he hates the way everyone’s become their own worst enemy.

“After this,” he grits, turning Jak’s head so that he heads in the right direction, “we’re getting ol’ log-head’s address. This – is completely – ridiculous.” The last words are punctuated by his bumping up and down as Jak trips into an ankle-deep pothole and out the other side.

Keira would help, he knows. But to get to her they have to walk through the financial district, where they would be dangerously out of place, and into the heavily-guarded stadium. And even then, Daxter has no idea what kind of connections she has with people from this time, or their trustworthiness.

He himself trusts no one from this slime-ball of a city. Vin is a spineless basket-case, Krew is a back-stabbing tub of lard, and Torn is just a mean son of a bitch. But Jak needs help, and that means he has to choose one. And, as much as he can’t stand the self-serving, sarcastic bastard, Torn’s unfortunately the best of a terrible set of options.

“You can do it, Jak, just around the corner. Just keep those long legs moving, one foot in front of the other. C’mon, don’t start drooping on me, buddy. Hup hup hup!” He chivvies Jak along with tireless energy and optimism he doesn’t feel. It’s a good distraction from the icy fear trying to edge into his mind, the certain knowledge that if Jak stops now he’s done for – there’s no way Daxter could possibly get him up again, could carry him, could even break his fall. He actually bites Jak at one point in his terror, nipping his arm just below the shoulder-guard when Jak starts to sway in the middle of the street. It works, for a few minutes.

Jak’s last few staggering steps around the corner are so unbalanced that Daxter swarms down, trying to reduce the weight he’s carrying. It doesn’t matter much; Jak grunts and crumples vertically, landing first on his knees and then slouching against the wall near the Underground’s zoomer. He’s not out of sight of the main streets, but he’s in the alley and that’s close enough. Daxter bounds on all fours to the door to the Underground headquarters, skidding to a sharp stop, and leaps up to try to catch the eye of the sensor. The door doesn’t open.

“Hey! Hey! Let me in! I know you’re in there, you gravel-munching jerk! What – are you too busy playing with your toy soldiers? Open up! Open the door, or I’ll go out and find the first guard I run into, and tell him –”

The door slides open, and before he can dodge a hand darts out and grabs him around the chest, lifting him easily. Torn’s blue eyes are very narrow.

“If you’ve got a death wish, rat, you’ve come to the right place.”

“Jak’s in trouble – he needs a doctor!” He points, laying his ears back and gesturing more sharply when Torn doesn’t look immediately.

There’s a moment of still contemplation as they stare at Jak, and then without warning Torn drops Daxter and moves. He jogs across the uneven concrete, unwrapping the red sash from around his chest as he goes and pulling it around his face and over his ears in a kind of strange turban. For a minute it puzzles Daxter, running beside him. But then sees the man glancing at the open street with hard eyes before he drops to kneel beside Jak and understands – Torn is definitely not the least conspicuous person Daxter’s ever met, and after Jak the Underground are the most wanted fugitives in the city.

Torn checks Jak’s pulse, then and pulls at his badly-stained shirt. Daxter ignores him, scampering over Jak’s legs and around his other side to come up by his head. “Jak? Buddy? Can you hear me?” He lays his paws against Jak’s face; Jak’s head limply lolls to the side.

Fear is sinking its teeth into him in earnest now, the long line of his spine tensing up so tight he can hardly turn. He ducks his head to lay his sensitive whiskers by Jak’s mouth, and feels the breath there at least; it’s not much of a comfort. He turns just in time to see Torn rip Jak’s shirt open to reveal the red mess beneath, and has to look away. Out of the corner of his eye, he sees Torn freeze like broken clockwork. He unfreezes into a different mood altogether, face set in a cold mask. He unwraps the sash from around his head in a series of cut-glass moves accompanied by a silken sound and binds the fabric around Jak’s stomach twice, tying it tight. A frown etches itself across his face like shale cracking, and he makes a dissatisfied noise. “You – rat; come here.”

Daxter feels too sick – sick with worry, sick with his uselessness, sick with the smell of blood – to object. He sidles over, but bristles when Torn tries to pick him up; he knocks the hand away sharply and bares his teeth. Torn glares, but doesn’t try again. “Here, press this on hard.” He pulls a large handkerchief from his pocket and folds it to lay it over the tightly-wound sash. Daxter climbs carefully onto Jak’s thigh and leans over to press it down. The dampness already leaking through. “Don’t fall off,” adds Torn, shifting from kneeling to squatting low beside the ground and raising Jak’s shoulders and knees stiffly to slip his arms beneath them. A moment later he grunts heavily and rocks back onto his heels, picking Jak up in his arms and standing.

Daxter has to throw his weight forward to keep from falling off, holding his breath as his nose slams into his paws. Torn crosses to the Underground’s door in quick, wide steps and goes down the stairs sideways. At the bottom he turns right, kicks open a wooden door, and strides hurriedly through. It’s a room Daxter hasn’t been in before, smelling of bleach and antiseptic. There are two high beds covered in clean white sheets; Torn puts Jak down heavily on the nearer of the two and leans against the wall for a moment. He’s breathing hard, Daxter can see, but he couldn’t care less.

“Well?” he demands, slipping off Jak’s leg to stand on the bed, still holding down the now-wet handkerchief. Torn turns and walks out of the room without a word. Daxter swivels to stare after him. “Hey! Where’re you going? Get your gloomy ass back here! Hey!”

Sitting on a shelf across the room beside bottles and roles of bandages, Daxter spots a small box stencilled with a tell-tale green cross. He jumps down from the bed and climbs up to it, wrenches the lid open with blood-matted paws. Inside is a tiny vial of green eco, hardly enough to heal a minor gash. He takes it anyway, scampering back to Jak’s side and pulling away the sash acting as a bandage. Looking through one squinting eye, he pours the contents of the vial on the wound. The green eco produces a quiet sound like paper burning, and the edges of the wound close slightly. Jak’s features relax from a frieze of intense pain to a more moderate level discomfort, and his breathing eases.

“Into our stores already,” says a dry voice from the door. Daxter turns to see Torn walk back in, and only barely restrains himself from throwing the bottle at him.

“If you hadn’t run out while he was lying here dying, maybe I wouldn’t have,” he shouts instead, gesturing wildly in his outrage. Torn is unmoved.

“I went to call the Shadow. He’s not there.”

“So?” demands Daxter, arms spread wide and eyebrows raised high.

“No one here’s qualified to deal with that,” he nods at Jak’s stomach. “And you just used the last of our green eco. The Baron’s locked it all down – only the KG have access. Any requests go through them, and they’re not usually too generous in supplying the Underground.”

“So call a doctor! Get someone to patch him up!”

Torn leans against the doorframe and crosses his arms. “Funnily enough, the docs aren’t too eager to sign on with us. They’ve got lots of prestige, lots of money, and lots of work that doesn’t require them to risk their lives. The last one we had was shot three months ago – his secretary informed on him.”

“You’ve gotta do something! Jak’s the best guy you’ve got! He’s aced every mission he pulled for you – because you’re too chicken to leave your nice dingy basement!”

An older man with a limp comes in; Daxter recognizes him vaguely from their stays in the Underground’s dormitory. Torn nods at Jak. “Keep an eye on him. The wound will need better wrapping.” He turns to leave and Daxter scampers down and stands in front of him, paws held up to stop Torn.

“Whoa, whoa, whoa, who’s this? And where the hell’re you going?”

“This is Dane. He’s going to keep the kid from bleeding to death while I go try to find some green eco.”

“You think you can just run out of here when – wait – what?” Thrown completely by the answer, Daxter stares after Torn as the Underground commander steps over him and into the main room. Uncertain, he looks back to Jak, now being bandaged by Dane, and then to Torn, now stripping off his armour. Torn drops it on the table, each piece falling with a clang, until he’s wearing just a dark blue shirt. His knife and pistol holsters follow it; with them in front of him he slips out one of the pistols and tucks it into his belt. Finally, stepping around the table to rummage in the mess of maps and papers tucked behind it, he produces a banged-up racing helmet. Daxter is still looking from the pile of discarded equipment on the table to Torn.

“But – wait – why?”

Torn tucks the helmet under his arm, scrawls something on a piece of paper and tacks it to the table with a penknife. “Apparently he’s the best guy I’ve got and aced every mission he pulled for me, because I’m too chicken to leave my nice dingy basement,” repeats Torn, with heavy sarcasm. He folds his ears backwards with one hand and pulls the helmet on with the other as he strides towards the door. “This place had better be standing when I get back, or I’ll know who to skin,” he says, as he disappears up the stairs.

Daxter, still standing in the doorway to the sickroom, dances from foot to foot. Jak’s hurt, Jak needs him. But he can’t do anything for Jak sitting here, can’t even look at the tear in his side. Whereas finding green eco, and keeping Torn out of trouble – he can do that no problem. He can’t even remember the last time he saw Torn outside – the guy probably has the directional sense of a compass on a magnet.

Turning towards Jak, still lying unmoving in bed, he mutters, “Hold on, buddy. I’ll be right back.”

Bounding quickly to catch up, he follows Torn out into the daylight.

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

Outside, the sky is overcast but bright. Daxter blinks, momentarily blinded after the darkness of the basement – ottsels, he’s pretty sure, weren’t meant to be outside in the middle of the day. Torn, with his shaded visor, doesn’t pause, although he does straighten from his habitual hunch. He’s a good head taller than Jak, and out here without the claustrophobic mess of his command centre he seems even taller. He strides across the alley to the zoomer, completely unaware of Daxter’s presence behind him.

Like Jak, Torn doesn’t bother to flick the zoomer into its lower gear to mount it. He makes to hop up, and Daxter grabs onto his boot at the last second and clings on hard. Torn, already in the air, gives a sharp kick. It’s not enough to dislodge Daxter, who saw it coming, but it does make Torn nearly miss his landing. While he scrambles to mount the bike, Daxter scurries up onto the body to sit between the handlebars.

“Let’s get going already! For a guy with legs like a giraffe, you’re sure slow.”

Torn crosses his arms. “Uh uh. No way. This is a rodent-free trip; get your orange ass back in there.” The helmet hides the entirety of Torn’s face; speaking to it’s like speaking to himself in a funhouse mirror. He pulls himself up, and rolls his eyes.

“First you don’t want me to stay, now you don’t want me to go. Make up your mind, sheesh. I’m getting whiplash here.”

“Listen, rat –”

Without warning Daxter jumps down onto the kick start, landing heavily. The bike starts and jerks forward; Torn curses and shifts abruptly to sit it properly, steering in a tight curve out into the street to avoid running head-on into the wall.

“Oops, looks like we’re on our way. Too bad. Guess you’re stuck with me.” While Torn’s busy dodging traffic, Daxter clambers hastily to the back, well out of reach, where he waits until he judges Torn’s urge to kick him into a ditch has probably subsided. About 30 seconds, in other words. “So, where’re we going?” he asks, sitting up to shout at the back of Torn’s helmet.

“Discretion: learn it.” Torn doesn’t turn around. Daxter makes a face, and slumps back in Torn’s slipstream.

Torn’s driving style is much different than Jak’s, although that may simply be because he has one. Jak’s entirely self-taught method consists of quick bursts of acceleration followed by sickening braking to avoid an obstacle, or scraping against it until he comes to a halt – or both – and then shooting off again. Torn doesn’t rev the engine up to the extreme speeds Jak manages, but he maintains a faster one overall by transferring easily between gears and steering smoothly around upcoming roadblocks. If they have to stay in this crap-hole of a city much longer, Daxter is going to seriously look into getting Jak some driving lessons.

Torn cuts through the slums towards the stadium, but heads south at the last minute. Turning towards the imposing figure of the Palace and, in its lee, the KG fortress. “Oh no,” he begins, as Torn takes them straight in towards it – towards the sewer access he used to get Jak the hell out of there two months ago. “No way am I going back in there. Are you nuts? They’ve got lasers in there that can burn a guy’s tail right off, not to mention the meanest bunch of torturing bastards in the city.”

“No one asked you to come. You want to go fight the metal heads in Dead Town and hope there’s still a couple of green eco drops left after the recent probing attacks, be my guest.” Torn kicks the zoomer down into low gear a ways away from the sewer entrance to the fortress and dismounts, leaving it sitting beside some trash. His helmet he leaves on.

The sewer entrance into the fortress is set a good two storeys above ground, but there’s a dumpster nearby. The KG don’t need to bother with serious security precautions here – no one in Haven City’s stupid enough to try to sneak into the second most dangerous building in town.

Torn pulls himself up onto the dumpster in one easy lift, Daxter following more reluctantly, muttering to himself. “They’ve got a giant tank with spikes, and toxic chemicals all over the place, and motion-sensing guns. You know what burnt ottsel smells like? Disgusting.”

“Just like live ottsel, then,” growls Torn, crouching to leap. Daxter raises a finger to refute and then, seeing Torn about to spring, bounds forward and grabs the back of his shirt at the last second. He slams into Torn’s spine as they land, shakes his head dizzily, and climbs up onto a bony shoulder to peer at the vast pool of water inside the entrance. There are wooden crates floating in it, slowly degrading in unidentified chemicals.

The visor turns. “Get. Off.”

“Are you kidding? You get that stuff on your shoes, you wipe it off. I get it on my paws, my fur falls out.”

Torn mutters something under his breath, and jumps forward onto the first floating crate without any warning. Daxter wails and grabs at the mask, paws sliding over its smooth surface. They hop across the stinking bilge water in a series of quick springs, Daxter’s head banging against the helmet, until they come to the firm platform on the other side where he drops off like a piece of over-ripe fruit.

“That,” he announces, lying flat on his back, “was the second worst ride I’ve ever had.” Nothing will ever beat falling 50 feet to land crotch-first on a taut wire.

“I’ll try harder next time.” Torn pulls the helmet off and glances around, eyeing the exit first and then turning to the raised corridor leading deeper into the fortress. He pulls himself up into it, Daxter scrambling up the rough stone after him, and places the helmet carefully on the corner of the ledge.

“Uh, aren’t you going to need that?”

“They shoot all intruders here. It doesn’t matter if they recognize me now.” He pulls his pistol from his belt and heads off down the corridor on light feet.

“Too bad; you looked better in it,” mutters Daxter, following.

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

They head upwards through the twisting dungeons of the fortress, shadowing the walls cautiously and creeping around doorways. The first two store boxes they find are empty, green eco probably used up by some clod of a guard with a hangover or a stubbed toe. When the third they find has less than a teaspoon’s worth of eco in it, Torn frowns and starts moving faster.

The first guard they meet happens to be looking the wrong way. He doesn’t have time to turn – Torn’s across the room and bringing the butt of his pistol down on the back of the idiot’s head before he’s had time to notice the footsteps. Daxter does a brief victory dance on the unconscious guard’s chest, but Torn’s still frowning.

“What? Didn’t you ever learn how to smile? It’s easy: just do the opposite of what you’re doing now.”

“We’re into the secure areas; that means heavy patrols. I was hoping to get enough eco before we got this far.”

“So what? We can’t turn back now – Jak needs this stuff.” It’s easy to forget that, or easy at least to cover it up. But Jak could already be – He shakes his head, and starts walking. “Let’s go.”

“We’re going to need to move faster than that,” says Torn, and breaks into a steady run, gun still in hand. Daxter lopes along beside him.

They barrel around the next corner and find two guards standing, chatting. Torn piles right into the first one, striking out with his fist and dropping him. He swivels and shoots the second in the throat before he can raise his taser. Daxter stares at the bodies on the floor, downed in less than 30 seconds. “No wonder you and Jak get along.”

Torn’s already breaking open the box in the corner of the room; he raises a nearly-full vial of green eco out of it. “Good. Two more should do it.” He slips it into his pocket, and keeps going.

They cross onto the mesh floor, the automated laser cannons below firing upwards. One flashes by Daxter’s side so close he can smell his fur singing, and he leaps over to run along the protected panelling beside the wall. Torn moves from side to side like a kid playing hopscotch, trying to get to heaven. Or, in this case, not.

Daxter makes it across first, paws skidding on the metal, and squeezes into a sheltered corner to catch his breath. “Hey. Captain Morose.”

“What?” Torn’s brows are furrowed in concentration as he dodges from side to side; he doesn’t look up from the ground. In the laser-light, his rust-coloured hair is flame-red and his pale skin looks sunburnt. It’s not a good look on him.

“Why did you come, anyway?”

Torn makes it across the final length of iron-work floor with a long dive-roll, and straightens slowly from his crouch. He pauses, and Daxter thinks he’s going to ignore him. But then he shrugs, as if deciding answering would be less grief than not. “Good men are hard to come by these days, and decent fighters are even rarer. They’re worth a lot, even if they have annoying-ass rodents with them. A good fighter needs to know what freedom means, and the city sure isn’t turning out many more of them. The Baron’s seen to that. Jak fights like he’s never known anything else – like a wild animal in captivity. I can’t afford to lose that.”

The words make Daxter shiver inside, a feeling like a colony of ants crawling under his fur; he covers it by standing tall and poking an outraged finger in Jak’s general direction. “And that’s all he is – that’s what you’re here for? A weapon, your own personal gun to point and shoot?” He can feel the anger coming on hot and thick now, and opens his heart to it. It covers the icy fear screaming at him in a voice like the arctic wind: You’re too slow, you’re too small, Jak’s already dead, you’re ALL ALONE. “That’s what everyone is to you, aren’t they? A little army of toy soldiers for you to push around on your maps. You’re a cold-hearted, soulless son of a bitch, you know that?”

Torn looks at him, eyes narrow. “Listen, rat. I’m fighting a losing war against a man who taught his own people to betray and murder each other without a second thought. I can’t afford to see Jak – to see any of my men – as anything other than weapons. That’s a luxury we’re fighting for. What you should be worried about is the fact that he doesn’t see himself any differently. But you must already know that, if you’re not completely blind.” The stupid, knowing look Torn gives him is more than enough to set him off.

“Shut your face, you tattooed, mop-haired –”

Around the corner, something clatters to the floor with a metallic ringing. Daxter ducks back into the lee of the beam he’s been sheltering behind, and Torn charges forward. His pistol fires twice, followed by two thuds. Daxter peers cautiously around the corner and sees two more bodies on the floor, and Torn breaking open another box to lift another full vial of green eco. He glances back at Daxter, who looks away, and continues on without saying anything. After a few seconds, Daxter stomps heavily after him.

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

They’re climbing steeply now, jumping short gaps between platforms and pulling themselves onto blocks to reach new corridors. They’re nearing the room where Daxter found Jax, manacled to the machine that made him – made him not quite Jak anymore. He doesn’t want to go back there.

Torn knocks out another two guards, finds another empty box and kicks the lid away in frustration. Daxter crosses his arms. “It’s this toxic slime-pool of a city that did it to him,” he says suddenly, as Torn assess routes forward. “He didn’t used to be like this.”

Torn gives him an unsympathetic look. “None of us used to be what we are now, under the Baron. For one thing, a lot more of us used to be alive. You want to share your sob story? Go out there and live with the rest of the sheep who do nothing but bleat about it. If you want to make a difference, you’ve come to the right place.” He chooses a corridor and takes up his jogging pace again.

“Unlike the rest of you loonies, my life’s ambition isn’t dying trying to blow up a guy with half a colander glued to his head.”

“As long as you complete your missions, rat, I don’t care what the fuck you’re fighting for.” They reach a corner and he slows, glancing down. “You and I both know Jak’s not going to stop fighting ‘til he kills the Baron. And we both know he’s got the self-preservation instincts of a drunk racing driver. Trying to keep him alive, that’s good. But if I were you, I’d start getting a bit more proactive.”

“Yeah, right. I’ll go order myself a pair of combat fatigues with the custom tail-hole.”

Torn grits his teeth. “Not screwing around on missions would go a long way.” He looks around the corner, and then pulls back. He produces the three bottles of eco from his pocket, one nearly empty, and puts them on the floor. “Watch those.” Raising his pistol, he dives forward into the next room. Daxter, pressed low to the ground, peers around after him.

There are four guards this time, and although one’s already on the ground, the other three have caught up. Torn scissors the legs out from under one, but has to fall into an ugly roll to avoid being bludgeoned in the head by another. He catches Daxter’s eye as he comes up and nods at a corner of the room, throwing a cruel right hook at the sole guard who catches the gesture; the trooper drops bonelessly, hitting the floor with an echoing racket.

Daxter scampers around the corner to see a supply chest sitting unattended. They’re tough, but he’s got the benefit of a tail that’s nearly sheer muscle and a lot of pent-up fear. He smashes it in three blows, and rips the lid off the box hidden beneath to find a full vial of eco. On the other side of the room, Torn shoots the third guard down just as the fourth comes up around him and slams the butt of his taser down into Torn’s shoulder-blades like a battering ram. Torn goes down hard, hitting the floor without catching himself. He lies there, trying to pull his arms up under him in skidding, spastic movements, while above him the guard brings the business end of his taser to bear.

Even as he’s moving, the logical side of Daxter’s brain is screaming at him. He has the eco, he hasn’t been noticed, in armour the guard is twenty times his weight, and – most importantly – he can’t stand Torn. Unfortunately, the rest of him knows that what flits across the surface of his brain isn’t always what beats in his heart.

He runs straight up the grunt’s back, paws scrabbling on the smooth armour, and makes it to the top of the back plate. The lip there is raised to protect the neck from eco blasts, but it sits a good four inches away from the skin – definitely not designed to protect the neck from ottsels. Daxter dives in, and digs his claws and teeth into the bare skin.

The guard bellows in pain, staggering around and reaching back a hand to try to grab Daxter – he sinks his teeth into the thumb gum-deep, and continues to gouge at the neck with his short claws. Then the world topples sideways, and the guard slumps under his paws. Daxter looks up to see Torn holding the taser like a bat, one eyebrow raised.

“Not bad.” His voice catches slightly and he frowns and gives the unconscious guard a dig with his foot. He’s standing with a hunch, as if he were in the Underground’s cramped headquarters.

“Next time you’re on your own. I don’t think those guys shower.” Daxter spits several times, wiping his tongue on the back of his arm. “Yeeuch.”

Torn snorts, but doesn’t move. “You got the eco?”

“Full dose.” He holds it up, making the room shine green.

“Great. Let’s get the hell out of here.” Despite his words, he waits for Daxter to move first. Reaching the hallway, Daxter turns to see Torn stagger into the doorframe. He leans down with a hard face to pick up the other bottles, slow as a tree bending in a gale. Popping the lid on the near-empty one, and finishes it off; he loosens up immediately and takes a deep breath.

“If you’re done using up the supplies?” says Daxter, less seriously than he might have before this mission. It’s the closest to offering an olive branch he may ever come.

“Keep talking if you wanna swim back through the sewer entrance,” says Torn; probably the closest the bastard will ever get to accepting it.

The trip back is much faster, the guards still unconscious and hopping down the levels much easier than climbing up. They run the whole way, Torn leading the way without taking a wrong turn. His helmet is waiting for them at the sewer entranceway, he picks it up and, to Daxter’s shock, waits for the ottsel to scamper up onto his shoulder before leaping to the nearest crate. Daxter doesn’t press his luck, and leaps down as soon as they reach the other side.

Outside, the cool air smells clean and sweet compared to the putrid stink of the sewers. They find the zoomer they rode here gone, but Torn hotwires another in the safety of his anonymous helmet and they take off across the city again.

It’s simultaneously the longest and shortest ride of Daxter’s life. He can’t figure out whether he wants to urge Torn to go faster – and the Underground leader is already cutting dangerously close to walls and other vehicles – or slower. Whether he’ll get there to find Jak holding on, or whether –

In the end, they arrive too soon. Torn ditches the zoomer carelessly and leaps down to cross the alleyway in a sprint. Daxter follows him more reluctantly, fear blowing a thick frost into his lungs that makes each breath ache. He slips down through the door just before it closes, doesn’t even notice nearly losing his tail to it. Torn’s already out of sight.

Daxter pads slowly down the stairs, paws held tight at chest-level. Standing in the doorway, he peeks around. His whole chest feels frozen, ready to shatter at the first hint that they’re too late.

In the sick room, Torn is leaning over Jak, pouring a vial of green eco over his torso. His pale skin glows firefly-green as the eco burns the wounds closed, face a sketch of intensity. In conjunction with the eerie glow fading, his expression softens. Finally, with a nod, he straightens and looks to the door. His eyes drop immediately to Daxter, and he shrugs a shoulder at Jak.

“He should be fine.” Torn walks by him, through the doorway and into the main room to return to his maps. Daxter sinks to the floor, the thaw in his chest leaving him weak. On the bed, Jak sighs audibly and turns over to lie sleeping on his side. Daxter swallows, almost choking on the lump in his throat. He hated the fear, and this prickling, choking relief isn’t much better.

“I grew up with him,” he says, trying to break away. “He’s been my only friend for as long as I can remember, and I still thought twice about going. You really want me to believe you did for some weapon, some nutbar fighter?” He turns to look at Torn, marking something on one of the maps on the walls with a red pen. The Underground leader doesn’t turn.

“You want to keep him safe. I want to keep this city safe. If I need him to do it, I’ll fight for him. If I needed you to do it, I would fight for you, rat. But don’t expect sentimentality. I told you, we can’t afford it.”

“That,” says Daxter, after a pause, “sounds like a load of bullshit. No one’s that crazy.”

Torn turns, raises a sceptical eyebrow. “Really,” he drawls.

“Nope. And if you think you’re fooling anyone…” Daxter trails off as Torn picks up his knife and begins to spin it idly in his hand, expression utterly unimpressed. Daxter takes a step back towards the sick room. “…Theeeen you might be right.”

Torn picks up the knife’s sheath and slips it in, metal ringing. “Go take care of your friend, rat. We need him.”

“Kiss my ass,” mutters Daxter under his breath, turning to twitch his tail at Torn as he trudges over to Jak anyway. Half-way there, he turns back. “You know, cold-hearted bastards don’t risk their lives for others, regardless of the greater cause. You want to pretend to be one, fine with me. But don’t expect me to be around to pick up the pieces when it backfires on you.” He swivels back around, arms crossed.

Behind him, Torn snorts. Daxter sighs, and goes to look after Jak. There’s no changing some morons, and for some reason they seem to be the ones he’s stuck with.
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