as promised, i didn't take forever to get this chapter out. i likely would've finished sooner if it wasn't for how crazy the end of the semester was. watcha gonna do?

so, the first part of this chapter isn't so interesting, but then things improve dramatically... do enjoy!

Those Magic Changes

Here We Are Again

Jak stalked down the stairs to HQ, absorbed in his own thoughts. He shook his head, angry as always. "How did the Baron know we were so close to making a move for the stone?"

"It's my fault." Jak and Daxter turned to see Torn sitting dejectedly on a crate in a back corner of the room. They exchanged as shocked look and glared dangerously at the ex-KG commander. "The Baron threatened to kill Ashelin for spying—" Torn placed a bony hand on his forehead as a slight tremor passed through his body, "his own daughter! I couldn't risk that, even for the Underground."

Daxter drolled, "Right! Very good thinking—except Praxis has the Precursor Stone now, so he can do whatever he wants!" He crossed his little arms indignantly.

Torn breathed deeply and stood up. Some of his usual rough demeanor back in place, he said, "There is still a way to get our friends back and maybe the Precursor Stone as well. I'll find Vin. Go to the fortress and we'll call you."

Jak made a sound of disgust and pointed accusingly at the taller elf. "And why should we trust you?"

Torn leaned towards Jak and said with surprising force, "Because you and I both know the Baron would have killed Ashelin." Jak felt physically affected by the power in Torn's voice and nearly took a step back. For the first time, he wondered what the nature of tactician's relationship with Ashelin was. The thought of her dying was enough to get both elf and ottsel to hang their heads.

Torn continued, "It'll be a tough ride through the fortress, probably suicide."

Jak, who had taken a few steps towards the exit, rounded back on Torn and growled, "You just get that door open! I'll be there."

"Well, here we are again…" Daxter muttered. The duo stood before the fortress just as they had barely a month earlier. Jak was amazed to think that, a mere six hours ago, he was activating the Light Tower. So much had happened it felt like an eternity had passed, never mind the last time he stormed the fortress.

Jak glared up at the fortress with hatred.

"C'mon, when are they gonna open the door?" Daxter whined. Thanks to Jak's many unauthorized comings and goings, the old KG security passes were deactivated. The only way to get into official compounds nowadays short of asking a random guard for his latest papers was to have Vin hack into the city computer and open whatever door was necessary.

"They had better do it soon." Jak said through grated teeth. Samos, Kor, Keira, and evidently Tess were all imprisoned within. The thought of the torture they were very likely suffering made his blood boil.

Torn and Vin had good timing. After no more than a minute longer, Jak's comm. unit buzzed to life and floated out of his pocket. Torn's gravelly voice crackled out of the small speaker, "You there?"

Jak darkly responded, "Ready to rumble."

"We'll keep our eye on you. We'll call again when you find them." And with that the comm. unit floated back to its home. The locks rotated and the door opened.

Unlike his previous return trip to the fortress, Jak crossed the threshold with ease. No post-traumatic stress was going to get in his way this time.

He glanced around the first room. Thankfully, no security tank was lying in wait for intruders. The two doors stood just as he remembered, except the back one was no longer blocked by white-hot electricity. Jak ran up to the doorway and down the proceeding hallway. He stopped when he heard voices around the corner.

"Got a big bet on the next city race?"

"Errol's my boy! He always wins!"

Pulling out his blaster, Jak rounded the corner, irritated by the guard's praise of the KG commander, and shot the first armored thing that moved. Then all hell broke loose.

He had entered a long room with several platforms lining the pathway to the far side. KG stood on the platforms, hover guards flew up from the pits on either side of the path, and soldiers poured out of the far door.

Jak whipped out his Vulcan Fury mod and barreled into the death trap, firing like a trigger happy drunk in a shooting range. He dodged gunfire almost constantly and was grazed a few times, but he hardly noticed. Just as with all the times he plunged into the chaos of battle, he glazed over and thought little—he simply did.

Jak wasn't sure how long he fought the onslaught of guards, but he eventually stood in the far doorway, surrounded by red-armored corpses. He stared into the subsequent room where an electrified door waited. A glowing red floor switch lay embedded in front of the door, reflecting the blue currents. He ran over and stomped on it, but the obstacle stayed fast. Frowning, he ran back to the previous room for a second look. Each of the platforms had a matching red switch. He quickly set about pushing every one, and when he made it back to the doorway, the electricity was deactivated and gone.

Daxter suddenly yelled, "Jak, watch out for the laser!"

Jak leapt nimbly into the air just in time to dodge the laser-sight of a rotating turret in the next room. He ran in and found four turrets, rotating at different times and levels, blocking his progress over a series of platforms to a dimly glowing opening at the far end. Jak proceeded cautiously, observing the timing of each rotation. When he had watched each gun rotate several times, he proceeded forward. The lowest laser-sight swept towards him, and he jumped to avoid it with ease. The second lowest laser-sight swiftly swung around, and Jak narrowly avoided detection by twisting mid-air. Or so he thought. The laser-sight passed over the toe of his right boot, and the turret immediately locked on and fired. Barely landing on his feet, Jak bolted for the ledge and bodily leapt on top of the turret where its eye couldn't see. He ducked low to avoid the highest laser-sight and breathed deeply, preparing himself to continue. Only by timing his jumps very carefully was Jak able to reach the far side in one piece.

The dimly glowing opening widened into a large room, the main feature of which was an enormous half-pipe. Brackets conducting livid electricity slid along the deeply curved floor, hissing loudly. However, their pace was sluggish. Jak easily evaded the obstacle and traversed down the half-pipe to another room. When the noise of the conductors receded, he could dimly pick out more KG voices. They had to be around the bend however, as all Jak could see were two more turrets rising out of a pit. The only way to cross was a narrow rail, but walking slowly across would be impossible. The turrets' sights crossed paths every few seconds, so speed was of the essence. With no other choice, Jak pulled the JET-board off his back and coiled up in preparation. No sooner had the laser-sights veered away from each other than Jak ran for the rail. He threw the JET-board down and leapt on. Expecting it to turn right, he leaned hard to the left, so hard he nearly feel off.

He was halfway across. It seemed he might make it across easily enough when the JET-board spasmed beneath him and slipped off the rail. Daxter let out a terrified yelp, and for an eternal, stomach-lurching moment, Jak though he would fall to his death. He somehow managed to grab hold of the rail as well as the board. He threw the useless machinery to the other side, knowing without really thinking that Keira would be furious if he lost one of her creations, and monkey-armed his way across.

He gratefully hauled himself up on the ledge, placed the JET-board back in its strap, and stealthily weaved through a series of consoles around the next bend. He was greeted with fire from above. At least half a dozen soldiers, alerted by Daxter's yell, fired through the grated ceiling, raining death down on Jak. He bolted through the maze of consoles and pipes amidst shouts of, "Shoot him! Shoot him!" He finally came upon a rising ramp where the grated ceiling stopped, but by the time he was out of range he came across two more guards. These ones, however, were easily visible, and he dispatched them with a bullet a piece. The following two hover guards and turrets were not as easy to deal with.

Jak dove behind a console for cover and, occasionally popping up to get in a hit, eventually took care of his assailants. He eluded the laser-sights of the turrets and ran across a short bridge to another doorway, this one closed. But it soon slid open, granting him easy passage. Assuming Vin knew where he was by way of the fortress security cameras, he had to admire the jumpy elf's handiwork. He followed a staircase down and was immediately greeted with spider-like robots like the ones in Mar's Tomb jumping out of a pit. They came in endless waves, like the ocean crashing on a beach, and Jak frantically looked around for a way out as he destroyed them with his scatter gun. Another small staircase led to large door. Wasting no time with the stairs, Jak jumped directly down to the door and slipped through as soon as it was open wide enough.

He straightened up to meet the next challenge only to feel a wave of ice travel down his spine.

He was in the dark eco injection chamber.

Everything looked exactly the same. Dim, slightly green lights illuminated the cavernous room in an eerie glow. Cells and catwalks lined the chamber, and profuse clouds of smoke billowed up through grates in the floor. Across the narrow bridge, the cold metal table waited, the injection machine hovering menacingly above it.

Jak stared wide-eyed at the table, breaking into a cold sweat. But he didn't have much longer to ponder his demons; there was work to be done.

Daxter called out, "Samos, Kor, Keira, sugar lips! You here?"

There were three answering calls, each with varying degrees of strength. Jak quickly noted the cells they came from as the comm. unit flew from his pocket.

"What cells are they in?" Torn asked unprompted.

Jak responded, "1056, 1057, and 1059."

The scraggly sound of Vin muttering in the background came through before Torn finished, "Report back to HQ as soon as you're out." He signed off, and the cell doors groaned to life.

Daxter jumped off Jak's shoulder and scuttled over to the nearest cell. He peeked in and swiftly pulled back to set himself in a cool leaning pose against the wall. The door fully opened, revealing Tess standing impatiently.

Daxter grinned wide and said, "Hey there, sweetheart! The metal head masher has saved the day!" He pointed over his shoulder as his voice dropped off slightly, "Oh, and I let Jak tag along too."

Tess didn't seem to notice the blonde elf at all, however, and reached down to grab the ottsel in a hug. "Oh, my little hero!"

Disinterested in observing the mushy pair, Jak walked over to the next cell. The Shadow waited inside, standing next to a lumpy cot, looking somewhat bewildered. "Samos, are you alright?"

What happened next, Jak couldn't wrap his mind around if he tried. Another short, green man popped into view. He had no afro, and his hair was completely white. He wore the garb of a resident of Sandover Village. He ranted in an too familiar voice, "What took you so long? I added six rings to my trunk waiting for you two to get me out of here!"

Samos the Sage walked out of the cell, his wooden staff clicking on the metal floor as his little bird resident fluttered its wings in agitation and shifted around on his log. Jak gaped at the short elf, his lips moving soundlessly. He whipped his head back to the Shadow, dumbfounded.

The old Samos yelled, stealing back Jak's attention, "Great Yakow horns! What happened to you, Jak??" He moved in close to Jak's face, his bespectacled eyes scrutinizing.

Daxter had extricated himself from Tess' clutches long enough to catch sight of the two Samos' and point at each in surprise. "Wait a minute! You're you! I mean the other you! I mean… you know what I mean."

The Shadow walked out of the cell. "Yes, it appears I have an older time twin." His voice was filled with wonder. He undoubtedly must still be absorbing the idea himself. He looked at his older self and said in a quietly amazed tone, "Great grass grubs! I can't believe what a cranky old log I've become!"

"Two Samos the Sages?" Daxter blinked several times and then yelled, "Yaagh! Jak, they're multiplying!" He dove behind his companion's boots, his tail stiff.

Old Samos made an authoritative fist and took control of the situation. "We need to find the kid, pronto!" He had undoubtedly been filled on the events of the past two years.

Young Samos disagreed. "What are you talking about, old growth? The kid already opened the tomb. Our top priority should be to disrupt the Baron's forces!" He spoke with condescension, as if the older of the two must be an idiot to think otherwise.

Old Samos rose to the challenge. "Oh, look who thinks they sprouted! If you were half as wise as I am, you'd know that the proper course of action is to find the kid!"

Jak and Daxter looked at the pair dryly, already impatient with Samos' all too familiar style of reprimanding lecture.

"Listen, you old, dried up leaf, I run this outfit! And I say we go after the Baron's forces!"

Daxter jumped up between the two, pushing them apart with a foot and a paw to each one's shoulder. "Do we have to separate you two?"

As the argument raged on, Jak took the opportunity to investigate the last cell. Inside he found Keira, leaning shakily against the wall. She tightly gripped her injured arm, and twin trails of mostly dry blood dripped down her neck and chest from her ears. Each ear was missing a triangular chunk of flesh.

She said with a smile that was really more of a grimace, "Just thought I'd rest and wait for you to walk in."

Jak took a few steps toward her. "Keira, you're—"

She held up a hand, stopping him in his tracks. "I'll walk out myself thanks." She pushed off from the wall and did just that.

Everyone else caught sight of her soon after. She waved with her good arm. "Hi, daddy."

Old Samos yelled, "Keira! What did they do to you??" He ran up to her, and she dropped to her knees to hug the little man.

"Nothing much, daddy, just a little interrogation. Sorry I was so quiet before." Jak assumed her comment meant the group had conversed through the bars of their cell doors earlier. Keira squeezed her father, her eyes shut tight. "I missed you so much!"

Tess noted in a quiet voice, "The triangle cut is a common method with the KG."

Jak watched the embrace, a little embarrassed, but he was determined to keep an eye on Keira on the off chance that she would fall over. To his surprise, she was little else than slightly rattled. She moved with a certain strength that belied a recent torture experience.

Suddenly remembering that one was unaccounted for, he asked, "Where's Kor?"

Old Samos pulled away from his daughter to stare at the blonde elf. "You spoke, Jak…"

Jak rolled his eyes, short on patience and completely disinterested in explaining himself to the sage. Thankfully, Daxter piped up, "Yeah, that just sorta happened. Prison'll do that to ya." Samos stared at the ottsel, evidently having heard nothing about Jak's ordeals over the past two years.

The Shadow turned to Jak and responded to his earlier question, "I'm still not sure how it happened, but Kor escaped as we were being marched to the fortress. He managed to break free and disappear into the crowd."

A subtle whirring caught Jak's attention, and he looked over his shoulder to see the nearby warp gate spinning to life. He turned back to the group in front of him. "Vin's activating the warp gate. We need to get out of here now!"

Everyone nodded and began moving toward the swirling circle when a new voice weakly called, "…Keira?"

She froze in her tracks. Her eyes darted towards a cell in the corner, wide and even greener in the odd light.

Receiving no answer, the voice called out again, "Keira, is that you?"

Her brow twisted and her eyes somehow grew larger as her lips parted. Her face transformed into one Jak hadn't seen in years: she wasn't Keira the Underground member, she was Keira of Sandover.

She yelled, "RYKER!" She dashed toward the cell. "Jak, radio Torn! Open up cell 1066!"

Dazed by her reaction to whoever "Ryker" was, Jak pulled back out his comm. unit and made the request.

Torn was surprised too. "Ryker? He's alive?" He pulled away from his own unit and passed on the order to Vin.

Moments later, the door of 1066 slid to the side and Keira rushed in. Everyone else headed over to see what was going on. Jak's instant reaction was intense jealousy.

Keira had her arms around an emaciated man who leaned on her as though he might pass out. He clung to her, elation gracing his expression even through the haze of what appeared to be years of rotting in prison—the elation of a man in love.

Keira whispered, "I thought you were dead!"

He pulled away far enough to look at her. "I thought I was hallucinating at first, but it's really you." His voice was thin and quavering, rough from disuse, but his golden eyes were adoring. Jak ground his teeth together in an effort to keep still.

Keira placed a hand on his hollowed cheek and nodded. She looked like she might cry, but her eyes were completely dry.

Ryker saw her ears and looked pained by the sight. But then he smirked. "Not only are you wearing Viv's jacket, but you got the triangle cut. Now we're both like her." He gestured at his own mutilated ears, long since healed over.

Keira's eyes lit up at the name. "And Vivian?" Ryker shook his head, and her countenance sunk just as fast as it had risen.

Tess and the Shadow approached the pair. The buxom blonde grinned at Ryker. "We thought you were dead, speedy."

The Shadow reached up to the taller elf and shook his bony hand. "We're glad to have you back, Crys Ryker."

Ryker nodded at the green man. "Thanks, chief."

Jak, thoroughly sickened by the reunion before him, could no longer contain himself and said in a rough voice, "Unless you all want to get locked up again, I suggest we get the hell out of here."

Ryker looked at Jak for the first time. His golden eyes were dissecting, and Jak fought off the desire to fidget. A glint of recognition and then challenge came into Ryker's eyes, and Jak scowled at the brown-haired elf. Keira resituated herself under Ryker's arm so she could support him, and with him standing a little straighter Jak could easily tell that Ryker was nearly a full head taller than he was. Jak selfconsciously straightened up.

The group, matching Ryker's pace, slowly made its way over to the warp gate as Daxter climbed back onto Jak's shoulder. The ottsel leaned on his companion's head and said, "Well how about that. Looks like you got some competition, big guy."

Jak glared up at Daxter who nonchalantly shrugged. When everyone else had entered the warp gate, Jak followed suit.

Ryker let out an exhausted sigh. He was propped into a sitting position against the headboard of one of the bunks in the outer sanctum of HQ. Torn had just finished debriefing everyone involved with Mar's Tomb and the fortress break. For the moment, he was alone. Only the crackle and hiss of the furnace fire kept him company, but he didn't mind. The evening had been entirely too exciting for a person in his condition.

Since his imprisonment eighteen months earlier, he had only left his cell three times, each for interrogation. And that was just in the first month. Then, he had been left to waste away in solitude. Now, the effects of no sunlight, malnutrition, and starvation had taken a severe toll. He was a shadow of his former self. His once healthy body was now a pile of skin and bones. He was incredibly weak and couldn't walk on his own. And then there were the dark eco injections on top of it.

The hidden door opened and Torn entered the room carrying a steaming bowl of something that smelled delicious. The constant ache of hunger Ryker was used to spiked painfully high, and his mouth watered. "What've you got there?"

"Yakow stew. The meat's been ground up, so you shouldn't have to chew much." Torn held the bowl out under Ryker's nose.

Ryker inhaled deeply, relishing the heady bouquet. "…You're a golden god and I worship you!" Even employing his old humor, Ryker sounded hollow. He gripped the bowl with a shaking hand but he didn't have the strength to hold it and would've dropped it if Torn hadn't still been supporting it.

Torn quietly sat down on Ryker's bunk and set about spoon feeding the invalid his very late supper—it was after one in the morning.

Torn watched the brunette elf chew, fascinated; he looked like he was in heaven, but as soon as he finished the bite and met Torn's eyes he blushed, of all things. "Sorry."

The ex-KG commander blinked. "Why?"

"Because I'm so helpless you're feeding me. It's a tad bit embarrassing, I'll have you know."

Torn gave him another bite. "Well you're just going to have to get used to it. I doubt you'll have the strength to eat on your own any time soon."

After a minute or so of silence, Ryker asked, "So, how's Ash?"

Torn half-smiled. "She's a headstrong pain in the ass, as always."

Ryker chuckled and then violently coughed before saying, "Exactly the same, then."

Torn nodded, a rare smile on his face.

"In that case, you must not be catching too many Zs lately." Ryker said suggestively, his eyebrows shifting up and down.

Torn looked at the joking elf without a trace of humor in his tattooed face. He growled defensively, "That's not why."

"Right, right… I bet she's a big help though. To the Underground." Torn nodded an affirmative. He suddenly seemed exhausted, as though he was carrying the weight of the world on his shoulders.

Ryker asked, "What's the next move?"

Torn shook his head. "I don't know. Now that the Baron has the Precursor Stone, who knows how long he'll wait to wipe us out." He sounded on the verge of despair, which Ryker enjoyed in a way. Being the strong leader that he was, Torn hated showing weakness or anything that may lower morale. He had to be a rock for those under his command. The fact that Torn was letting his honest thoughts show was a powerful indication that he considered Ryker a trusted friend.

After another silence, Torn said, "I still can't believe you're alive."

Ryker swallowed, an action which seemed to take a great deal of effort, and responded, "I can't either. I doubt I would've lasted much longer though, so your timing was excellent."

Torn considered his statement. "But you were lasting longer than most."

Ryker shrugged and then winced. "Three months of weekly injections is a long time I guess." His eyes grew far off and cold. "But Viv… Viv lasted for a whole year—longer than I ever could. She might still be alive if they had started on her later…"

Torn fed his friend another bite. "Praxis will do anything for more power. At least you were able to give us an idea of what the Dark Warrior Program is." Thinking that he may have sounded callous, Torn added, "I only ever met her once, but she was definitely one hell of a woman."

Ryker grinned. He said, his mouth full, "She told me once she thought you had a cute butt."

He earned the expected reaction. Torn's hand stopped halfway to Ryker's mouth, the spoon in danger of dripping stew on the blankets. The ex-KG commander's face was timidly flattered and deeply skeptical, as it always was whenever women and their thoughts on him were brought up. Recalling himself to the task at hand, the spoon made it the rest of the way to its destination. He dropped it in the now empty bowl with a clang.

"Well done, soldier. You made it through your first real meal. All we need to do now is throw in some of those old KG drills and you'll be back in shape before you can say 'yes, sir.'"

Ryker smiled and muttered, "Yes, sir." He chuckled weakly.

The jarring sound of the wall sliding open heralded a new arrival. Keira walked in, ears bandaged in addition to her arm, and paused. She was evidently surprised to see the pair as they were.

Torn took the opportunity to stand up and head for the hidden door. It was time to withdraw to his private quarters and collapse. He told Ryker over his shoulder, "Get some rest." He passed a wide-eyed Keira and disappeared into the hidden door.

The aqua-haired elf's gaze settled on her ill friend, a single eyebrow raised in question.

Ryker managed to make a show of innocence, just like he always did when he got that look. "How're the ears?" He asked, his tremulous voice devoid of guilt.

"Not too bad now that they've been properly cleaned and I've been properly medicated." She refused to let him scrape by and calmly stated, "Torn's never that friendly with anyone." Her expression suggested that he better not think of evading an honest conversation.

"Yeah, well… we're old KG buddies."

Keira raised both her eyebrows now. She walked over to his bedside and took a seat. "I have a hard time imagining you, a consummate rebel and perpetrator of sedition, signing up for the Krimzon Guard."

Ryker looked down at his hands, draped over his satisfied stomach. "I was in training for a whole six months before I caught on to the hypocrisy of it all. Torn was sort of like my mentor." He weakly smiled, remembering past antics.

She asked, her voice soft, "How are you feeling?"

"I have a full belly for the first time in over a year, so pretty good."

She smiled playfully. "You sound and look awful."

His gaze lifted backed to Keira's. "You're not so hot yourself right now. You're all mummified and you look like you haven't slept in days." He paused. "Actually, that's an exaggeration. You're damn fine for a sleepy mummy."

Although she rolled her eyes, still grinning, her cheeks didn't flush a delicious red the way they used to at such flirting. She was changed. The humor disappeared from his voice. "So you went ahead and joined the Underground." He raised a hand to touch the part of his left ear where flesh once was. "I didn't want this for you. You should've put everything behind you like Viv said."

Keira's smile faded. "Do you honestly believe I could just forget about what happened to you two and live a normal life?" Her tone was dead serious.

He measured her expression before saying, "I suppose I owe you an explanation after everything that's happened."

She inclined her head. "I suppose you do."

He looked away from her again, unable to look her in the eye. He took a deep breath and started, "My parents were killed by the Underground, or so I was told in order to keep me happily brainwashed. That's why I joined the KG in the first place. Naturally, the Baron was responsible for my parents' death, not to mention countless others. I quit my training when I was sixteen. I had no money, no home, no family, so I joined one of the many slum gangs. It was then that I discovered racing." The corner of his mouth twitched in a wisp of a nostalgic smile. "But after a couple years, that all came crashing down too. The Baron arrested any 'delinquents' he could find. That's when Viv found me. She introduced me to the worlds of pro racing and the Underground Movement, two things I knew I would be good at. You showed up about a year later, Viv and I were eventually found out, and the rest you know."

Ryker looked at Keira again. Her face was pained. Her brow was furrowed, her eyes half closed, and her lips were ever so slightly distorted in a very subtle grimace. He couldn't help but also notice the lovely shade of pink her lips were in the low lighting. His tongue tingled as it remembered unbidden the taste of those lips.

Keira broke his reverie and said, "Actually, I don't know the rest. We were debriefed individually after all."

Ryker sighed, and she immediately backpedaled, "But you don't have to tell me about it if you don't want to…"

"No, I want to tell you," He placed a hand over hers and softly squeezed, grateful that he no longer felt behooved to silence, "believe it or not… To put it simply, I basically hadn't left that cell since they put me in. I was underfed. And a few months ago experimentation was thrown into the mix."

Keira prodded, "Experimentation?"

"Torture more like. I was subjected to dark eco injections."

"Injections? You mean they..." Keira trailed off, and her curious expression was replaced by a look of horror. Like most, she had never heard of such an abominable practice.

He continued, "It was all through something called the Dark Warrior Program. All I could find out was its goal: to create a superhuman army. In the end all it did was kill people. Viv went through the same ordeal—longer than I did. That's how she died."

Keira placed her free hand over his, causing him to look her in the eye again. She appeared tired and in a certain degree of physical and emotional pain, but there was a warmth in her green gaze. She said, her voice affectionate and comforting, "I'm glad you're alive, Crys. I missed you."

Ryker looked up at the rough slats of the bunk above, taken aback. "Well that's unusual. Busting out my first name and all." He paused and swallowed, feeling the need to collect himself, before adding, "I missed you too… The thought of you kept me going all that time." Feeling in control again, he looked back at her and started to ask, "Is—"

Keira waited, her beautiful eyes urging him to continue. "…'Is' what?"

Ryker closed his eyes. He was having difficulty with the way his heart twisted every time he looked at her. "Nothing. Never mind." He could wait till later to ruin the moment by bringing him up.

When he didn't open his eyes back up, Keira took that as a signal that he was done talking. "It's time you went to bed. Here, I'll help you."

"No," he said, his eyes still closed, "I'm just as happy staying put. I'll sleep out here."

There was a moment of pregnant silence before he heard the scrape of her feet on the cement floor as she stood up to leave. "Alright then. Good night." There was a series of soft steps walking away, and then they stopped. "It is good to have you back, Ryker." The hidden door clanked and whirred open, and she was gone.

There was no reason to give up. Not yet.

weren't expecting that, were you? at least i hope not. it's always satisfying to pull a fast one!

ryker's so much fun to write for! he's such a good-humored guy, even though he can't handle dark eco. jak once again proves that he is probably the only person who could ever survive dark eco injections. now he just needs to prove that he can get over himself.

and, after many, many moons, it's time for another thanks section! this time the acknowledgment goes to Princess Serena til Universo!

you've become a faithful reviewer since last spring, and you're very encouraging! you've told me a couple times that this is one of your favorite jak fanfics ever, and hearing that makes me smile and helps me to write more. thanks so much for the support! :)

as always, i'm dying to know your thoughts! review!