A/N:

It's been over a FREAKING YEAR since I last updated MTLH III. I've been crazy busy, as anticipated with author stuff, and I hate that I haven't given you guys a chapter in so damn long (especially when I'm always giving a shout out to the Fanfiction community to interviewers and articles!). But I finally have a break in the routine after pumping out several hundred pages worth of drafts for my sequel(s), an audiobook, and worked on other projects, and writing Jak's story is my reward for the hard work. (Taking a break from writing with writing…now I just sound nuts.)

Now that we've established I'm the worst, I owe you a good sized chapter filled with all your favorite people. I've reread all three stories as a refresher so I can give you my best!

By the way, did you know I started the original MTLH back in 2009 (before revamping it in 2013, completion 2014)? That's ten damn years ago. Ten years I've had a love for this story and for all you lovely people.

Finally, at long, long last…on to the next!

JDJDJDJDJDJDJDJDJDJDJDJDJDJDJDJDJDJ

Jak

"I wonder what she looks like." Keira grunted as she lowered herself into a seat at the conference table. "Leave space for her at the head seat, just in case she's too large to fit between any of us."

Daxter leaned back in his seat and clutched his throat. "I can't believe that Krew—" he gulped "—reproduced. Who is this chick? Can you imagine what that tub of jelly must look like?"

We all laughed lightheartedly. All except Darla, that is. She sat beside me, her hand clasped in mine on my thigh, and she gazed out the picture windows at the thunderstorm raging on outside Kras City Underground Headquarters. Ironic that it was downpouring the day we had to meet with Krew's daughter, Rayn. The weather suited the foreboding mood, and my arms ached to tangle themselves around my wife.

"What are you thinking?" I whispered to her while everyone else carried on with their speculations about our mysterious host.

"I'm watching our son's life flash before my eyes," she breathed. Her thumb traced circles inside my palm. "It calms me down."

"Oh?" This was the first I'd heard of her doing this. We agreed to start working on being more honest with each other, and I supposed this must be her way of keeping her promise. "Care to share?"

She smiled softly but continued to stare straight ahead. At first, I thought she might not tell me, but then she said, "He's a handsome boy."

I sighed with relief. "Of course, he is. Look at his mama."

She blinked rapidly, as she always did to clear away the visions, and her gaze met mine. "He looks like you, nitwit."

I grinned sheepishly, my cheeks warming, and she narrowed her eyes at me.

"He is trouble like you, too."

"Oh." That wiped the grin from my face. "Crap."

"She's late," Ashelin muttered from where she stood at the other end of the table. "I don't appreciate my time being wasted."

"She'll be here." Darla shot Ash a scolding look, a single eyebrow raised. "This is all too important for her to not show face."

"You know," Torn croaked, "the only reason Ash and I are even here is because we trust you. Otherwise, I don't give a shit what that goddamned son of a bitch Krew put in his Will."

"I know," said D.

"You said we had to come." Thunder cracked outside and Torn winced.

"I did."

"Lay off, Torn." Maichael growled, "You think she's enjoying this? That she wants to be here?"

"Now, now, boys," Keira rolled her eyes skyward as she rubbed her bloated stomach. "Let's not provoke each other before Her Highness the Mob Queen arrives."

I don't know when it started, but I noticed that Darla's hand quivered violently in mine. I stared down at it, watching the shake travel from her wrist, all the way up her arm to her shoulders that caved in, her entire body visibly humming. She hung her head and her breath quickened, and I could hear tiny gasps coming from behind her curtain of blonde hair.

I went to place an arm around her, "Darla, baby, are you—"

"I'm so sorry!"

Her sudden outburst startled everyone in the room. I froze in place, my arm floating above her shoulders, and each of our friends stared at her in open-mouthed shock. Daxter crawled across his seat at Darla's other side and climbed into her lap, his ears drooping low.

"D." I whispered, taking her clenched fist between my palms. Her whole form shook, like she was wracked with sobs, but no sound and no tears escaped her.

The double doors to the conference room opened then, and a woman walked in, her heels clicking along the floor with each stride. She was young, not much older than I, with raven-black hair swept into a neat bun, tanned skin, a thin, pointed jaw and slender frame. She looked like a fashion model from the magazines Dax hoarded for the majority of our lives back in Haven City.

"Thank you all for meeting me here," the woman stated in a commanding, accented voice. She glanced around the table at each of us with light green irises, clutching a bottle of alcohol to her chest. "It looks like some didn't it make it…ah, well." She smiled something small, and it never reached her eyes. "I am Rayn."

The entire table rose to our feet and eyed her in disbelief. Daxter scrambled onto the table, and I was sure he wore most perplexed expression of us all.

Rayn seemed unphased by our unwelcome disposition and carried on, picking up a glass from the tray table behind her. "Before Father died, his wishes were simply: to have his Will played for his closest associates and for us to drink to his passing. This special vintage he kept for the very occasion, to toast his death."

She uncorked the bottle and began filling glasses, distributing them amongst the group, all except Keira. I took mine and regarded it with vigilant eyes. Daxter and I exchanged an uncomfortable glance, and I could practically hear his own thoughts echoing in my head. We were the reason Krew was dead. We killed him ourselves.

Coming here was a mistake.

Darla stared into her cup with a look of distaste as Rayn raised her own.

"Here's to old friends, and to Father's untimely death."

Everyone except me downed their drink; even Daxter, who I was certain would think it was poisoned. I watched each person, my eyes darting to each of their faces, until I landed on Darla's. She seemed to take a deep breath before she herself tossed back her cup. She placed it back onto the table and turned back to Rayn, and I could easily tell by her stance she knew I'd watching her. And as Rayn drank her own cup of unidentified alcohol, I caved and sipped my own despite my concerns. It burned going down, and as it hit the pit of my stomach, I knew something must not be right.

Perhaps it had been how quickly Darla swallowed her cup, or maybe it was just the unease and tension in the room. Whatever it was, my instincts kicked in and instantly made me nauseous, like I needed to expel the drink immediately in order to save myself. I sensed the danger more than I knew if there really was any danger.

But Darla had done it, and I had to trust her.

I gulped down the entire glass, my eyes watering as I tried not to gag.

Rayn smiled at each of us and placed our cups down. "So, without further delay, his message to us."

She took a seat at the head of the table and placed a hologram box down onto the table in front of her, each of us returning to our spots. She touched the top of the box, and a beam of light shot upward, revealing a holographic mass in the shape of that hunk of lard, Krew.

"Hello, nearly friends…and mostly enemies," the deceased image rasped, fanning himself as he used to, "If you are listening to this message then I must be dead. Oh well… As you all know, I loved racing, almost as much as I loved weapons. Alas, I never fulfilled my living dream of winning the biggest race of all: The Kras City Grand Championship." His fat hologram floated around the table behind his daughter. "But even in death, I will field the greatest racing team ever assembled, and win the biggest race on the planet."

Holo-Krew spun around, and I could swear he looked right at me as he said, "You are the best of the best, and you will race for me."

Daxter, Torn and I all rose from our seats, verbally protesting as though Krew were really here.

"Forget it!" I shouted, as Daxter spat, "No way!"

"I suspect you're all riled up by now," Krew continued with a malevolent smirk, "So let me tell you why you will race, and you will win."

A sickening feeling pooled in my stomach and I sat back down, and the aftertaste of the drink lingered in the back of my throat.

"If all went as planned, you just gave a touching toast in my honor. Sorry to say, but I poisoned that special vintage! Quite unsporting of me, really—"

"Father!" Rayn launched from her seat, her burgundy eyes alight with shock.

"This is where Rayn probably gets upset. Sorry, dear." He turned in her direction as though he knew where she stood. "It's a slow-acting poison, or you'd already be dead. You have just enough time to finish this year's racing season. If you race for me and win, my associates will provide you each with an antidote to the poison. Simple, eh?"

Ashelin glared directly at Rayn and whipped out a pistol from her holster. "What the hell did you do to us?"

Rayn fell back into her chair, hands raised defensively. "Please! I didn't know. I drank it, too." She grimaced and turned away from the barrel in her face. "Father never did play favorites."

Everyone was on their feet now, the air thick with tension, and Torn was the next to lash out.

"Yeah?" He growled. "Well, your father is fucking crazy!"

"We're all crazy for coming here!" Keira cried out, holding her pregnant stomach. I was certain she thanked the Precursors repeatedly in these last few moments that she was with child and came nowhere near sipping that poison.

I raised my hands up and walked around the table with caution, trying to keep everyone calm.

"I think Rayn's telling the truth." I muttered as Daxter miserably fell back onto the table.

"Well it's been one minute, so I figure by now, you're all arguing about how to get out of this mess," Krew's hologram startled us all. "My advice is trust no one, win the race, and save yourselves."

The transmission ended, and Krew's final goodbye was signed, sealed and delivered right into our bloodstreams.

That was when all hell broke loose.

Ashelin launched herself across the table toward my wife, instantaneously sending the two of them tumbling to the ground. Everything happened so fast; Keira screamed, Maichael moved to console her, Daxter planted himself directly in front of Rayn in case she tried anything, and Torn and I rushed at the girls just as Ashelin landed a solid punch to Darla's face.

The commotion was unlike any fight I'd ever seen among friends, and as Torn and I avoided Ashelin's elbows, I thought to myself how it was all because, for once, our trust in one another was about to be tested.

"You knew!" Ashelin screeched, exposing Darla's throat by pulling her golden hair. "You knew, and you still let us drink it!"

Darla stared at her out of the corners of her eyes, one already swelling and half-closed. She said nothing, breathing heavily through her nose, her expression utterly deadpan.

Ashelin let out another scream and wrung her hands around Darla's neck. Torn and I simultaneously grabbed hold of her arms and yanked her back. She released Darla, whose head hit the floor with a heavy thud, and let us drag her away. Ash's body went limp and she hung her head, like she was giving up the fight before it had even started.

Darla rolled onto her side and scooted backward to the wall. She rested against it and swallowed hard. I let Ash go and cautiously approached D, worrying that any sudden movement might scare her off in some way, like she was a cat stuck in a tree. Her eyes followed my every movement until I squatted down beside her. I brushed her hair out of her face, grazing my thumb over the fresh cut across her eyebrow.

"She fucking knew." Ashelin murmured from behind me. She made a sound much like a sob, but when I glanced over my shoulder, it didn't look like she was crying.

"Stop it, Ash." Torn hissed at his wife, heaving her up off the floor and placing her in a chair. He kneeled in front of her. "Darla has kept plenty from us in the past, and for good reasons, too."

"This is different." Ashelin glared at me then with a fiery intensity. "Did you know, Jak?"

I shook my head and rose to my feet. "I had a feeling something was going to happen soon. But...I didn't expect this."

"How long?"

We all turned to Keira, who had spoken so softly, it came out like a whisper. She was clutching Maichael by the front of his shirt, her eyes wide and bloodshot.

She asked again. "How long have you known this was coming, Darla Mar?"

Again, we all turned, this time our attention on D.

She swallowed again, her neck red with the imprint of Ashelin's fingers, and she avoided looking at anyone.

"For the love of the Precursors, D!" Keira shrieked, pounding Maichael's chest once with her small fist. "Tell us!"

"Years." Darla spoke hoarsely, straining her voice to speak. Her gaze shifted to mine. "Years, and years, and years."

The room grew still, felt almost cold, as each of us let this news sink in.

Darla kept secrets. This much I knew. Everyone knew. It was for our own protection, and we could live with that. I did my best not to question my wife or her choices when it came to the future. We all understood the severity of meddling with time and the order of the universe.

But Ash was right, in a way.

This was different.

"You had all this time." Keira shrank against Maichael. "You had all this time to try and prevent this from happening. What went wrong? Or…" Her eyes narrowed. "Or did you just choose to set the problem aside until it was convenient for you?"

"Hey!" Maichael grabbed Keira's shoulders and held her an arm's length away. "That's enough, Keira! You know better than that. You know everything Darla does is for the good of our family. She's proven that time and time again."

"Has she?" Ashelin sat up straight and glowered. "I mean, really, has she? How many people have died because she claimed that they were 'unable' to be saved?"

Maichael whipped around. "You've got to be kidding right now. Think about what you just fucking said." His nostrils flared. "You ask how many people were lost, but don't you realize how many are alive because of the difficult choices Darla had to make? Don't you realize, if it weren't for her, none of us would be here?"

"My point exactly!" Ashelin argued. "Look where we are now! We're sitting here with poison blackening our insides, forced to race for the antidote. She could've warned us!"

"There's obviously a reason she didn't." Daxter said softly, his tugging his cap low over his head. "There's a perfectly good explanation."

"Why doesn't she tell us then, huh?" Keira stepped away from Maichael and crossed her arms, eyeing him cagily. "You know, you're always defending her. Darla can do no wrong in your eyes, can she?" She waved in my direction. "Even Jak gets into it with her. Her own husband, who should always be on her side." I winced at her words, ashamed at this truth. "But you always seem to back her up, even in the worst situations. Best friend or not, she has put us all in danger!"

"That's because I believe in her, goddammit!" Maichael's voice boomed and he gripped his dark hair. "Don't you guys get it? She has done everything she can to make sure we survive this world as long as the universe allows." He eyed Torn and Ashelin. "She has fought for you, fought with you, even when you didn't deserve her help." He glanced at me; his eyebrows creasing together. "She has sacrificed for you, made difficult choices, and she's even given up her own happiness just to put smiles on your stupid faces and make sure you're okay." He gazed down at the oak conference table. "She has suffered for you. Every fucking one of you, she has suffered for. She's a hero, and you'd all be lying to yourselves if you said otherwise." His fists shook. "I'll be damned if I'm going to stand here and let you all put the blame on Darla!"

"Maichael."

We all looked at Darla as she sluggishly stood up. I reached out to help her, but she shook her head, declining with such a polite wave that it made the guilt inside me twist my guts.

"You don't have to defend me. I'm okay." She sighed. "I expected this sort of reaction. And I understand how all of you feel. Yes, everything I do, every choice I make, helps guide us down the best possible path to the best possible future. But I know it's impossible for you guys to know that."

I watched as every single one of our friends avoided looking at Darla as she spoke. Whether out of shame, or distrust, or just plain anger, I wasn't sure.

"I knew this day would come for the longest time," she went on, "and I hope you know that every action I take—or don't take—leads us down the better path. Every day is a fight to reach the finish line, to survive up to very end. You don't have to trust me. I suppose you have no reason to. But it doesn't matter." She walked around me and stopped beside Ashelin. "Because I'm going to keep moving forward."

Ashelin pouted and sank in her chair. Darla reached down and squeezed her shoulder in a supportive way.

"Now, if you'll excuse me," she said, "I'm going to go home and hold my son."

She let Ash go and headed for the door. My feet felt glued to the floor—I wanted to chase after, and I would, but I needed to state my case before I did.

D yanked the conference room door open and paused. "Oh, Rayn?"

"Y-Yes?" Rayn looked over her shoulder, and her lips pressed in a thin line.

Darla smiled something small.

"I see you."

The door closed behind her.

Rayn returned to her seat and shrunk down, and the entire room seemed to relax at that moment. Darla's words made the air thick and I could practically see everyone's gears turning in their head as they tried to come to terms with what the hell was going on.

I cleared my throat to get their attention, straightening my shirt collar anxiously as all eyes fell on me.

"Everything Maichael said is true," I stammered out, "Every word. You've all seen first hand what Darla has done for us. And Keira," her turquoise eyes fell on me, "what you said is true as well; that Darla and I often…'get into it', so to speak. But it's not because I don't support her or believe in her. It's because I hate watching her suffer, knowing there is truly absolutely nothing—not a single thing—I can do to help her, or save her from what she sees."

Keira's pointed ears burned crimson then and she nodded slowly. I looked around the room at my friends.

"I'm not the best husband." I chuckled humorlessly. "Frankly, I'm not at all sure I'm even a good husband. But I'm doing the best I can. She's doing the best she can. I know you're scared—I am, too. I'm also content in the fact that Darla knows what she's doing. She's gotten us this far." I opened my arms wide. "We're alive, aren't we? We have good lives. We have great families. Nothing's ever going to be perfect, but before today, we came pretty damn close."

"I've never doubted Darla for a second." Daxter stomped his foot on the table. "I'd do anything for that chick after everything she does for me on a regular basis. Anything, you hear?" He trudged along the table, narrowing his eyes as he pointed his finger at every individual person. "I'll choke out any one of you for upsetting my girl." His finger stopped on Rayn. "Including you, toots. I've got my eye on you."

Torn took Ashelin's hand then, pulling her to her feet. "You guys don't have to worry about my trust in her. And Ashelin will come around."

She shot him a look and yanked her arm away, placing her hands on her hips. "So, we're doing this then? We're racing for Krew and attempting to win the Kras City Grand Championship?"

"We can do this." I pounded my fist into my palm. "We can race, and we can beat Krew at his own game.

"We'll win. We have to." Torn nodded fervently. "I'm sure Darla has already seen us victorious."

"You assholes better be right." Ashelin gritted her teeth and headed to the exit. "I'm going to go pick up Tara."

"Before you all depart," Rayn finally spoke up, gathering up her paperwork from the table. "Father bought us the best mobile racing garage money can buy, and each of you has a racing car waiting. We're in this together," she smiled sadly, "so let's get to it."

"Fucking fantastic." Ashelin whipped the door open and stormed out. She peeked her head back inside for one final comment. "We're not your friends. So, stay out of our way if you want to live."

Torn grinned sheepishly at Rayn as he followed his wife out.

"Well, that's it then." Rayn exhaled long. "Sorry for the trouble I've caused. I had no idea my father could be so…I just never thought he'd…"

"Don't worry about it." I interrupted. "Seems like you didn't know him as well as you thought. He played us all."

"He did indeed." Rayn frowned deeply and sighed. "I'll contact you all when training begins. The championship is rapidly approaching, and we need to prepare. I have several calls to make, more so now that father has…" She shuddered. "I'll leave you all to it."

She briskly left the room without a second glance.

"Weird girl." Keira grumbled.

"Jak," Daxter hopped down to the floor and stared up at me, "next time you invite me to one your little parties…don't."

I rolled my eyes and gently kicked him with the toe of my boot.

"Buddy," Maichael caught my attention, "You mind if I have a word? Alone?"

I eyed him strangely, as did Keira, but nodded slowly. Daxter ran around the table to scramble up Keira's body and sit on her bloated belly. Keira glanced at me, her cheeks flushing the same embarrassed color as her ears.

"Hey, uh…" she started, "Jak…I'm—"

I held up my hand to stop her. "It's okay, Keira. Don't worry about it. If anything, you…you should talk to D."

"I'll go there now." Keira nodded. She lifted Dax off her stomach and placed him on her shoulder before they, too, left the room.

Maichael and I were alone.

"So, Kazzi," I said nonchalantly, trying not to let the awkwardness seep into my voice. "What is it you want to discuss?"

"I overstepped." He responded instantly, rubbing his forehead. "I didn't mean to undermine you as a husband. It wasn't my place to defend Darla."

"You're right." I crossed my arms and leaned against the wall. "That's supposed to be my job. But I failed to do it. You stepped in and said all the right things, all the things I didn't have the balls to just fucking say."

"I…" Maichael's hands fell to his side. "I thought you'd be mad that I crossed a line."

"I think the old me would've been." I shrugged. "But I'm more furious with myself for not honoring my duty as a partner and backing Darla up." I groaned loudly. "I'm really not good at this shit. I can't even fight for my wife until after she leaves the damn room."

"That's not true."

"It is. I want to work on that. We're both working on our relationship, and that's something I really need to fix about myself." I turned to him. "I'm not a mute anymore. I need to open my trap and say exactly what I think and feel."

"Darla mentioned you didn't speak for a majority of your life." Maichael said, "I find that hard to believe with a mouth like yours."

I laughed and shook my head.

"Listen," Maichael meandered around the table and leaned back against it. "I know you and I had our ups and downs in the beginning because of how close I was with D, and I didn't trust you, and you didn't trust me, and we both wanted what was best for her." He jabbed a thumb at his chest. "And I'll defend my position as her best friend until the day I leave this world. But I hope you know…you are my brother. I'm on your side as much as I'm on hers."

I nodded and patted his biceps. "I appreciate that. Same goes both ways—Keira is my best friend, too, and I see you as a brother." I scratched my jaw, and my face warmed. "I'll admit, I was jealous for the longest time."

"Of what?"

"Of you and D." My shoulders hiked up to my ears. "I'd missed out on the lost years we could've spent together, and you'd swooped in as the hero she needed while I was gone. I hated that. I resented you, and I resented myself for it, even though I knew it wasn't my fault I'd been stuck in prison."

I shuffled my feet, the familiar, dull ache of the memories filling my head. "I hated that she and I were different people after that gap of time. I hated that you grew together when she and I grew apart. I hated that she was so strong and brave because you'd helped her build a fulfilling life, and I hadn't been the one to succeed with her…" I paused. "It was maddening, but I don't think I ever once hated you. Jealousy aside, I had a deep respect for you. And that's probably what I hated most of all."

Maichael made a tch sound and gave me a knowing look. "Man, you had nothing to worry about back then. And now, you sure as hell don't have to worry about being good enough for her. Don't be so hard on yourself. You two are endgame. Always were. She told me a ways back how far into the future she'd seen, even though she never elaborated on what it was she saw. She knew you'd find each other." He reached out and gripped my shoulder, bending to my eye level. "Even at your worst, or her worst, you'll have each other's backs."

"Yeah. I know." I inhaled and attempted to stand taller. "I've just got to do a better job at showing it."

"We'll get through this next chapter." Maichael guided me to the door, his hand warm on my back. "The others are just upset. It's going to be okay. We're going to kick ass and take names, get that antidote and live like fucking kings when we jack Krew's winnings. Racing is your M.O., dude."

I grinned at him, the confidence finally returning.

"You've got that right. 'Racer' might as well be my middle name."

JDJDJDJDJDJDJDJDJDJDJDJDJDJDJDJDJDJ

Darla.

I buried my face in my son's blond hair as he hugged me tight. His hugs were my most favorite thing in the whole world. He always used his entire body and wrapped himself around me like a vine, rubbing his face against mine. Tears streamed down my face as I thought about how, one day, he'd be too big to hug me like this, too old for me to hold him in this way. I did this as often as I could, soaking in his childish energy. I needed his hugs, especially right now.

"I'm sorry, Mommy." He still couldn't properly say his "r's", so the word came out more like "sowwy". It made me smile.

"You're a big help, baby." I squeezed him. "You make everything better."

He pulled back and kissed my forehead. "Don't be silly."

"I'm not."

He raised his eyebrows with the most skepticism I'd ever seen on a child, looking exactly like his father.

"You want me not worryin'." He lightly touched my swollen, shadowed eye, courtesy of his Aunt Ashelin. "I worry still."

"I don't like that." My smile fell. "I wish I could take that worry away from you, Sparky."

"Not me." His indigo eyes flared up. "Then I wouldn't know your head."

I sighed and leaned back against the bedframe. "That's my point. If you couldn't hear inside my head, or everyone's head…then you wouldn't have to worry or be afraid. You could be happy, like Tara and Dagny. Like baby Penella will be, when she arrives."

"Ma, I'm not afraid. I worry. Everyone has a worry." He tilted his head and grinned toothily. "And I'm happy. The biggest happy! More than all my friends."

"You're just saying that to make me feel better." I wrinkled my nose at him.

He grabbed me by the face, smushing my cheeks together, and he looked deeply into my eyes.

"Know what I wish?" he asked.

"What's that?" I mumbled through chubby cheeks.

"I wish you could see in my head." He sighed. "Then you would know I'm the biggest happy."

I couldn't help but giggle at this. I ruffled his hair and hugged him tight. "I believe you. But I'll never stop worrying about you. Not even when you're grown."

"Me, too, Mommy."

I heard the click of the front door and the jangle of keys, indicating that Jak was home. Sparxon perked up, eyes widening with excitement. There was a rap at the bedroom door before it opened, and Sparxon flew from my bed and launched himself onto the floor, barreling his little body into his father's knees. Jak scooped Sparxon up, lifting his giggling little body over his head and kissing his face furiously, before placing our little boy over his shoulder. He carried Sparx to the bed and tossed him onto it like a rag doll.

"We you good for Aunt Tessie today?" Jak squinted at him knowingly before climbing onto the mattress.

"The best." Sparxon gave his father his version of a wink—blinking one eye and then the other.

Jak shook his head and plopped down beside me, sliding Sparxon under the covers between us.

"Did Keira stop by?" he asked me softly.

I nodded, twiddling my thumbs. "I opened the front door to see Dax consoling her sobbing, soaked-in-tears self. Couldn't get a word out, the poor thing." I shook my head. "I just hugged her, said all was forgiven, apologized myself, and sent her on her way."

I felt Jak watching me as he played with Sparx's hair.

"You know," he started, "About what happened back there…"

"I know, love."

I saw him nod out of the corner of my eye. He then climbed under the covers with me and Sparky, scooting closer so that our son was squeezed between us. Sparky reached for his stuffed lurker shark hiding beneath the blankets and pressed it to his chest, sinking against the pillows.

"There's not a lot I've had faith in," Jak whispered, "But you know I've always had faith in you, right?"

Sparky shook his head at Jak. "'Course she does, Dad!"

Jak and I locked eyes and wore similar, stunned expressions in response to this.

"Guess we'll never have any secrets in this family, huh?" I laughed as I slid down farther beneath the covers.

"He'll learn to control his powers," Jak sighed, rubbing his face against Sparky's and closing his eyes. "If I was able to do it, he will can, too."

I hummed in agreement. "You should see him, Jak. He's a lot like you." I rolled onto my back. "Lucky for him. I wouldn't want him to be like me."

Jak propped himself up on his elbow. "Don't say that. Sparky is exactly like you. I see it whenever he sasses me."

Sparky giggled at this, though his indigo eyes were closed now. Jak and I stilled, listening to our little boy's breathing grow heavy as he soon embraced sleep.

I mirrored Jak's positioning and gazed at his face. "I know he's got some good parts of me. But I carry far more bad parts. Genetically and mentally. It scares me, not knowing for certain what he'll get from my side versus yours. I can only tell what he's like from my visions."

I locked eyes with my husband. "He's all you."

Jak frowned deeply, his eyebrows furrowing. "You don't have a single bad bone in your body. And we both have veins coursing with the darkest eco there is, so that's saying a lot." He reached over and started stroking my arm. "Why the hell would you say that?"

I gave him a skeptical look. "Baby, please. Even before I was part-monster, I was an Acheron. Born into a family of lunatics. Don't you remember?" I unintentionally pulled my arm away from his touch, and tried to cover it up by repositioning how I was laying. "My brother and my sister both had addictive personalities, even before the eco. They had malicious intent. They had violent tendencies, and bad tempers, and awful habits." I squinted as I thought back. "I don't remember my parents. I don't even know if I ever actually had any. It was always just us three, just Maia, Gol and me."

Jak watched me, waiting for me to go on. I could tell he wanted me to keep talking about it—about my past before him—since I had all but erased it from mind. This was the most I'd ever spoke of the matter in all the years I'd spent as the new Darla. My life as an Acheron was out of sight, out of mind. Jak never asked, and I never gave it a thought.

But now I had a baby. And even though I hated to admit it, my baby was half-Acheron. I knew he'd grow up okay from all I'd seen thus far in my visions, but who was to say he didn't have the occasional malicious intent, or violent tendancies, or an addictive personality because I passed that gene down to him? Combine that with his natural-born, dark eco infused blood, and what do you get?

I had no idea, and that was the scary part.

I scooted up so that my back rested against the headboard.

"Misty Island had flowers," I told Jak. "I remember the smell of lilacs and freesia, and I remember meadows of them. I used to think it a dream more than a memory, but I know it was real, because if I close my eyes, I see Gol taking me there."

"You did tell Daxter and me when we met you that Misty Island hadn't always been so gloomy," he whispered.

I nodded. "I remember that much. Before the lurker rebels invaded, before Gol and Maia struck Dark eco ore and took command of their troops, Misty Island was beautiful."

I looked over at Jak. "My brother would bring me through one of those meadows once a week on our way to a strawberry patch. It's the only clear, good memory I have of my childhood." I thought about Gol's hand in mine, the feel of the prickly green grass beneath my bare feet as we walked. I remembered the sun on my face, and the breeze blowing my wispy, blonde curls back.

Gol had golden hair, too…before, I recalled. Just like mine.

I smiled sadly. "My brother was handsome. I can see how he looked before when I try really hard to remember. It's just…funny how quickly a person can lose their entire identity to one, dark substance." I stared dead ahead at the wall. "My sister was a bit of an instigator. I suppose that should've been the first sign that we were all too young to be raising ourselves. I don't remember the switch they made from good to evil, either. I don't remember if it was gradual, happened over time, or if it was all at once. But the rebels arrived on the island's shores when I was ten. And then suddenly my siblings were leading them. They massacred my village and burned my island to its stone roots. And I sat idly by, babysat by this female lurker who kept me on a literal leash like a pet.

"I'm almost certain my brother and sister were very mentally ill," I went on, "and I have no idea why they kept me alive so long when they had no love left to give. As far as I'm concerned, maybe they killed my parents. Or maybe they're victims of something my parents did to them before they abandoned us. Or maybe our parents leaving, or dying, is what triggered Maia and Gol's psychotic breaks. I have no idea and I'll never know." I paused to look down at my little boy, so innocent and sleeping soundly against my side. "All I'm certain of is that they were sick. I've had my moments as well, the weakest moments you can think of. I don't want Sparxon to suffer with mental illnesses that I gave to him."

Jak sat up right and caught my eye, then snatched up my hand, clasping it in his.

"You overcome your demons daily," he breathed, squeezing my hand. "We both do. And Sparky is happy. Sparky shows signs of a healthy little boy ready to take on the whole world. I think we're awesome parents, and he's a fantastic kid, and he's going to live a wonderful, fulfilling life."

I tried to look away and he tugged my arm, making me lean closer to him over Sparxon. We were so close, our noses touched and I impulsively held my breath.

"But if a problem arises," Jak continued quietly, his expression hardening, "we will deal with it together. If Sparky needs help, we will get him all the help he needs. If he is in pain, we will ease it. If he is in trouble, we will get him out of it." He pecked me softly on the lips, his mouth lingering for a moment. "He is our son, Darla. There's no point worrying about what could go wrong in his life, or any of our lives. He's our son, and we will always, always be there for him, no matter what."

I gazed at my husband in sheer wonder, tears springing to my eyes. I took Jak's face in my grasp and kissed him something fierce, just as my sleeping Sparxon turned onto his side and snuggled against my hip. Jak and I looked down at our boy, and we both smiled, first at him, then at one another. We slid back down under the covers, I watched Jak's eyelids droop as he soon fell asleep with Sparky between us.

I'd always thought myself a strong, independent, fierce warrior. I'd always felt it was me against the world, even though I had a partner fighting by my side. But in that moment of despair, Jak once again made me realize how badly I needed him. He reminded me that I didn't know what I'd do without him. He kept the demons out, and that gave me all the hope in the world.

JDJDJDJDJDJDJDJDJDJDJDJDJDJDJDJDJDJ

A/N:

Figured I'd throw in a little bit about Darla's past since it has been something she has long let go. Also, mental health awareness is super important, and you should all know that you are loved no matter what goes on in those brains of yours. Get the help you need, if you need any help. Help someone else in need. Take care of each other in general, and be kind to each other. We're all Earthlings. We all deserve love.

Til the next one!

~ RyJones