Author's note: Weiila's trying her hand at shounen ai stuff. If you look out the window you might just catch sight of a skeleton or plague or something on a bony horse, because there must be more signs for the Apocalypse about. Oi…

Brace yourselves for the angst, people.

All characters belong to Naughty Dog Inc. Go team, go!

Introspective Hero


I should be dead by now. They should have tossed me away months before I heard that voice. One of those voices I had been replaying in my head over and over and over again...

Curled up in a cold corner, clutching my own shoulders and trying to become part of the shadows in the small cell... every night, I tried to hide by imagining. Hiding from the cold, the hands, the metal, the restraints and the needles - and most of all from myself, myself there in the cell, knowing that the stale, unnatural light from outside would fade into sunlight and paint the walls crimson and gold... and then, the footsteps would come again.

Always those footsteps. They never ceased. Even when my own screams tore through my body, those footsteps were somewhere in the background. When the pain ceased and the arch of my back cracked and I collapsed, beyond the bland female voice reporting and the Baron's swearing - I heard the footsteps. Footsteps tasting of bile, blood and dark eco.

I doubt that anybody realizes how close I come, every single day, to snap and break the spines of any marching moron, even our own soldiers whenever they march around within the reach of my ears. And my ears are painfully sharp.

Sometimes it gets really bad. So bad even Torn notices and asks if there's something he should know since I look just about ready to maim something. More ready than usual, at least.

But then there's always that nasal drawl coming from the weight on my shoulder. Always.

"Don't wet yer undies, dreadlock Jim, he just hasn't gotten to pull that trigger for half an hour. Come on, buddy, let's get your blonde little self over to the shooting range before somebody gets hurt."

Or whatever else he can think of. You might be surprised if you knew how many of his gags I remember - even more surprising that he seldom repeats himself. And then, if I grab a zoomer and fly as high up as they allow and focus on whatever he's babbling about next, then his voice and the buzz of the engine can block out the footsteps.

But when I try to forget the footsteps and I turn to him for help to forget, sometimes it backfires and slaps me straight in the face again.

In that cell, through the nights when the coma no longer could keep me safe, I imagined. With all the will I could muster I summoned echoes of the past, grabbing onto the memories of every kind word I had ever heard and remembering them with such intense despair that I could actually hear the voices in my head. Eventually, I could almost see them standing there, backdrop of blue sky and green hills framing their smiling faces.

One step further and it would have been madness, but what did it matter to me?

It soothed and tortured me at the same time, because I could not be there. They were never there with me, they were in their own world - and I was fully aware of it all the time. I could have given my right arm to once again hear Samos snarl about what a disobedient, senseless boy I was.

I shaped him in my mind, standing beside Keira who smiled and reached out her hand for me. Unseeing eyes staring at the metal wall facing me, I watched the past that could never reach me.

The weight on my shoulder was simpler. The weeks, months spent with those small feet perched on my shoulder panzer had merged it with me and I could almost be sure that if I turned my head too quickly I would feel that warm, fuzzy bounce and hear the angry yelp as he almost fell off.

It was a manic comfort, but soon it turned into fear. If he would be here with me, then the footsteps would come for him too. And that thought widened my eyes and shattered the awake dreams in pure horror.

Logic? Logic of the man going insane.

I'm not quite sure when it happened, that. But in my deranged little mind, I had to keep him safe if I was to imagine him, otherwise he would be too real and then they would find him.

Do I have to repeat that my mind was deranged?

To keep him safe, I changed the images. I removed the safe weight from my shoulder and I placed him beside Keira instead. Changing his furry little body into the scrawny boy he used to be - what he had expected me to bring him back into.

He became unreachable, just like Keira and Samos.

But then I realized that I could make him move around. I knew his way of moving from start to finish; twitchy, fluid motions mixing and always prepared to dive to safety at the slightest sign of danger. He could move along the walls of the cell and they would melt away into a scenery with a blue sky and a warm ocean, sand clinging to his toes whenever the waves did not lap them away. Turning halfway and waving, smirk disturbed by his insistent front teeth as his silly plume of red hair glistened of salty water and sunlight-

"Come on, Jak! I don't have all day!"

And I could almost reach him, too. I would have answered his call, but I still could not.

And he had promised to save me, hadn't he?

I'm not quite sure when it happened, it must have been somewhere during that first year. Late during it, I think. I had heard them talk.

"He's not responding."

"Maybe we should give up."

"Not yet!"

Praxis was stubborn, but even he was starting to sound more frustrated than usual. I knew that they were going to kill me soon.

It felt good. No more footsteps. No more screams.

But then I had to go and make the single most idiotic mistake in my entire life. Not a "Throw mystical thing that explodes, get thrown into your covering friend and push him into the vat of darkness"-mistake, no, one at a whole other level. Even remembering it now makes my fingers twitch and I feel the heat crawling into my neck.

I knew it was wrong, every fiber in my being screamed that the familiar form was not the one my fucking stupid brain wanted to make it, desperately wanted to- because he could not be there, not for real.

But I had not slept for a whole night, aching body refusing to even fall into that coma-like state I dared to call rest. All night, staring off at nothing, curled up on the floor watching that red plume whip around and the lips curl in a smile around the front teeth- my eyes were full of dust that I couldn't care to get rid of, sluggish brain not registering properly-

And when I heard soft footsteps, soft instead of boots, I just looked up and all I could see was that red hair in the glaring light from the door. I couldn't think, I just reached out a numb hand and my lips parted, tongue for the first time moving to form something else than a scream.

Pleading to everything holy and all the time I knew, I knew-


Please, please...

He tilted his head in surprise, in a way that was not Daxter's.

"I think you're mistaking me for somebody else, freak."

And HE smirked.

I don't really remember what happened next, but I wish I could recall it clearly. Because I do know that they had to pry me away from him that time, in the last moment before I would have crushed his windpipe. I know because they were very loud about it afterwards.

HE started hating me right then.

I wish I could recall what happened then, in that short moment when I lost it. I wish I could recall HIS struggling, muffled screams for help as my hands squeezed HIS throat. But my mind went completely blank, and try as I might I cannot remember. Sometimes my hands tingle when I try to summon the memory. That's not enough.

I remember the familiar hands, cold metal gloves pinning me to the floor harder than usual, and I heard my own snarls. Even I thought that I sounded like an animal, but I could not stop.

It felt good. Great precursors, it felt good. Good to hear the swearing, and that one coughing, snarling wheeze as HE struggled to regain the breath that I had almost broken forever. Even if I was confused, I understood what had happened. I could still feel that tingle on my hands.

Sometimes I think that it probably would be best for myself if I found a feeling that is sweeter than what I felt right then. But I don't think I ever will, nothing to compare to that sick, sick, vile triumph - he was not dead but HE was shaken, rocked from his metal throne just when I had hated him even more than Praxis.

I had changed. I had released something, just for a brief moment. And it had been seen.

"What's going on here?"

When I have nightmares, I remember footsteps. The ones that approached then were a bit different from the choir that moved in sync, but I dream about them too. My lips stretched further in a louder snarl, static swearing surrounding me as the guards tightened their grips around my twitching limbs. They had no real trouble holding me down, but I did struggle with more force than usual.

"Baron Sir... commander Erol, he was..."

The bulky shadow swept past the stammering guard and entered the cell, gaze flying between me and HIM, standing by the wall and massaging his throat.

"What happened?" Praxis demanded.

HE snarled, one hand still on his blotched throat he pointed a shaking finger at me, voice hoarse with my rough treatment and his own rage.

"He tried to kill me!"

Looking back at it, I almost go down in hysterics at the sheer, moronic irony in that statement. Right then, I opened my mouth to form words for the second time in my life.

"Burn in hell you fucking-!"

Metal slammed into my jaw and the curse drowned in a snarl, falling back into a groan. Stars danced through my vision, but I still heard the click, felt the cold circle against my temple.

"Baron, Sir?" a guard's voice crackled, and the gun pushed at my head.

Praxis snarled.

"No reason to wai-" he started.

But he was interrupted.


HIS voice was still hoarse, a snarl filled with pain. But the rage had changed. I pried my eyes open, glaring up at him. He wasn't watching me, instead looking at Praxis.

"I swear, his eyes turned black. Pitch black!"

Praxis' eye widened slightly.

"Are you sure?"


The hand that had been about to signal the shot swept around, hovering in the doorway instead.

"Proceed with the injections!" Praxis ordered, and the metal circle left my skin.

I was ripped to my feet and dragged towards the cold light, as I had been hundreds of times before. But this time I didn't trash around and cry out wordless protests - I tore at the living restraints with curses spewing from my mouth.

Somebody probably said "He can talk?" in the background, but I wasn't listening. I met HIS gaze and his lips curled upwards despite the pain. It didn't matter whether he had been telling the truth about my eyes or not - I feel inclined to believe him. But it didn't matter. All he wanted was to see me in pain.

Until then, he had not been present from the moment that my screams began, only showing up to drag me back or out of the cell. But after that he was always in the corner of my eye, even when dark eco flared through my bloodstreams and my head was just about to explode. Waiting, waiting as I was, anxiousabout not beingthe one given that order we were both expecting more fervently for every day that passed - waiting for Praxis to give up again and tell HIM to finally finish me off.

Yes, I should be dead by now. But because of that incident, Praxis got his hopes up and kept me for another year.

In the long run, I guess it was good. I saved the world, I guess. Good for it, to have a hero.

But, after that it became easier, in a way. My fear, my trembling, my silent pleas for mercy and death - they were burned away by that thing that had awakened. I called it anger.

It transformed the questions ringing through my head as the floor grated against my slipping feet, as my back hit the table, as the rough hands pressed me down until the restraints had been secured, as the needles bore down and the darkness ripped into my flesh. It was no longer "Why are they doing this to me?", it was "How can I kill them?".

I never did manage to bite any finger or nose off anybody, but by the precursors I tried. I think I broke a hand or two... a few times they shot a dart with a sedative drug through the celldoor window, because the guards hesitated to take chances.

That first time I met the anger, it didn't scare me. It wasn't until it betrayed me that I could look back and realize that it had become too strong. But then it was too late, and it had filled a space where something pure used to be.

It didn't matter how strong it grew while I was in the prison, it only pulled me up from the loneliness that had been about to drive me insane. I wasn't exactly moving away from the madness, but I stopped rushing towards it. The anger gave me a reason to exist there in the cell, in the cold - to do anything I could to pay them back, even if it was only as pathetic as another curse.

I got stronger, far stronger. I paid for it by giving up what I had been before, but that person was already dead.

To say that I felt better is a lie, however. Less desperate, yes, better no. Everything was just as hopeless as before, I was just going down screaming with rage instead of pain.

Because I had betrayed Daxter, mistaking HIM for him. I snarled as I curled up in my usual corner every night, staring at the specter of my imagination and asking him how I could ever make up for the treachery I had committed. But he never looked angry. I couldn't make him look angry, even if I, somewhere deep down, feared that he would be.

The situation didn't change, but I got stronger. The drug - the awake dreams keeping me breathing, they needed to be stronger too. I had to make up for what I had done to him.

He came closer. Every night, closer.

Not once had he managed to win against me when we fought for fun, wrestling around in the grass, sand or water around the village. My pride never allowed it, he could pout and mutter as much as he wanted - I was going to win. But that first time when his ghastly hand reached out and brushed against my cheek and I almost felt it, when he swung forwards and jabbed at my shoulder, playfully, I fell back. And he chuckled.

"What are you doing, Jak?"

And then he drifted away, only to step forwards and do the same thing again moments later. I didn't flinch from his transparent shoves as I did for the real, metallic ones. His were warm memories on my skin.

"Jak, what did you do?"

His voice was always playful, blue eyes scanning me curiously.

"Come on big guy, I know you're hiding something. Teeell meee..."

I never replied. This wasn't like finding a really cool shell on the beach and hide it, saving it for some special moment when I could give it to him. I never was good at keeping secrets.

And finally one night, when he leant forwards to ask, I reached up and curled my arms around his shoulders, dragging him down - I was on my back, it was half a wrestling match and he won without any effort.

If I let you win, will you forgive me?

He just laughed and melted away into the heavenly scenery of Sandover, wandering back towards me as I sat back up, numb spine pressed against the cold wall.

Forgive me, please forgive me...

The anger couldn't reach me here, not when I stared up at him and he flung himself down with a loud laughter, spreading his arms wide as he dove for me. I hit the floor again and he drifted off.

Eventually the guards started wondering why my side and arms were covered in bruises. The marks weren't quite shaped as they should be after rough hands.

They never did bother to investigate too deeply though. They didn't find Daxter, even if I worried a little.

He seemed to live a life of his own, slipping out of my weakening control - I didn't have to wish him around.

Finally one night he took my hands and dragged me forwards, both of us plunging into the warm waves of the ocean. I felt the salty water slip its carressing velvet over my skin just before Daxter's hands hit my lower back and I went down in a storm of bubbles - a real memory this time, a dirty little trick he used when nothing else worked. I heaved myself up above the surface and gasped for air, my own hands fumbling against him as he tried to keep the frail victory within his grasp.

Hands sliding over slick wet skin, his warm laughter filling my ears as I grinned.

But then he suddenly stopped laughing and looked into my eyes, the smile dying on my lips as well. A hand resting above my heart, my hand in a mirroring position.

He watched me strangely, until suddenly his lips tilted upwards again, braving the protruding teeth masterfully.

"It's gonna be okay, Jak. Okay?"

I didn't understand, but pulled him close. Because suddenly the fear bubbled up despite the roars of my anger.

And then daybreak came, and for all my struggling and swearing I met with the familiar table again.

Praxis was furious, impatient.

"Triple the dose, this is the last time!" he snarled.

I didn't have time to process this information before the agony exploded in a dark flare. I screamed until my voice broke and all that came out were load groans, grating my ears with their softness.

It ended.

"... should at least be dead with all the dark eco I've pumped into you!"

"... fear the Dark Warrior program has failed..."

"... finish this thing off tonight!"

"... I'll be back later."

I only caught snippets of their discussion, but it was enough. I felt the touch on my skin, breath on my face - Praxis left me to HIM, when Daxter had promised, he promised it would be okay!

So when that squeaky voice rose up and the unpleasant weight bounced around on my aching stomach - when it demanded me to speak you little bastard I'll have you know just what I-

"I'm gonna kill Praxis!"

And wring Erol's fucking neck! was close behind, but I didn't get that far. Not with the furry hand clamping down on my lips and it was all wrong, he shouldn't be like that, it wasn't him, right? It was all WRONG!

But no, no, no, that voice, that VOICE- I had been WAITING for it STOP IT-

I saw claws hovering above him as he covered, and the anger fell flat.

Because it WAS him.


He stared at me, wide blue eyes glazed over with shock.

"What was that?"

But in the next moment he was cracking a nervous joke that I hardly registered, I just let him point me in the right direction as the familiar weight hopped onto my shoulder - it didn't care that I had been worried about it, it wanted to be there.

He did come for me.

And now, they call me a hero because I killed the monsters and saved the city. I'm not a hero. Ever since I was a kid I wanted to be a hero, but I lost my chance to be one. A hero doesn't go on a quest for revenge alone. A hero doesn't work for the mafia. An he doesn't stop caring. Caring whether or not he manages to avoid the pregnant woman with the little kid and pet as he speeds through the streets on a stolen vehicle, even if he's racing against time to save a dozen men from being eaten alive by metal heads.

Maybe at some point I'll be able to make up for it, but until then I'm not a hero.

I hate all that sentimental, melodramatic crap. But I do know what a hero is.

A hero is somebody who never gives up even if he has no idea where to start, who keeps grasping for hay and the slightest hope - never stops until he has fulfilled a promise. I needed a hero, and I got one.

Everyone else thinks that he's the sidekick. I guess he thinks so to.

I don't.