A Jester's Ruse

His grip on the chair tightened as he leaned forwards on the backrest, threatening to break the wooden implement.

"I'll kill him, he'll die, he'll pay-"

They were gathered around the table in the kitchen of Hip Hog Heaven. Krew, the fat lard was away somewhere on some shady business deal – he didn't offer details, and they didn't care to ask. There were more important things to think about, such as the grim news that Praxis was meaning to start another Dark Warrior program, this time using priests, who would hopefully be a bit more malleable than the jaded warrior under Daxter's feet.

'Jaded warrior'. Huh.

Now there was a description Dax had never thought would apply to his best friend.

Jak. Sweet, heroic, quiet little Jak. Once, Dax would have outright laughed at any implication that Jak could be anything but a charming and reckless little goody-two-shoes. Okay, so not exactly a pansy, but not exactly the stuff of your worst nightmares either, y'know?

But Jak wasn't so sweet now.

Not so quiet, either.

Dax had to admit, that was the strangest thing about the whole deal. Not that Jak was suddenly all macho and built like a friggin' house – at the very least an apartment for two – or the newfound sadism, or the violent mood swings, the abrupt change in hobbies from skipping around chasing butterflies to beheading and degutting evil monsters, or even that he had suddenly sprouted facial hair out of nowhere.

…Well, yeah, all those things were pretty freaky.

Especially the facial hair part. I turn into a furry little rug and he gets a goatee? So not fair.

But mostly, though, it was the fact that Jak could talk back.

Ever since he'd met the guy, Daxter had had to interpret Jak's gestures and looks by himself, meaning that he had to observe and register every move or twitch on the latter's part if he wanted to understand anything about his friend.

And he did it pretty fuckin' well, thank you very much. Why else would they have stuck together for so long? It wasn't because of any encouragement on old green and grumpy's part, that's for sure.

Anyway. One thing Daxter had gotten accustomed to, over the years, was the sound of his own voice. Not like he didn't like it, mind, but it sure took some getting used to. So he made jokes, and was satisfied when Jak smiled and laughed that silent laugh of his or had that appreciative glimmer of humor in his eye. He ranted, and he could ignore Jak's exasperated sigh and not shut up until his friend physically forced him to by rudely (and unfairly) slapping a hand over his mouth.

It used to be their thing – Jak would be the wanna-be hero, Daxter would be the one in the exalted position of glorifying their adventures and interpreting what the mute was trying to say. Jak would be the village golden boy even while dragging them to do whatever stupid thing they were up to next, and Daxter would be the one to claim the fame and get into trouble and make hilarious observations that would make even Samos turn green.

(Well, greener.)

But suddenly, it just… wasn't needed anymore. Alright, so it wasn't like Jak was exactly a chatterbox, and the guy was still pretty damn inscrutable to anyone who didn't know him (who wasn't Daxter), but he could make jokes or snappy comebacks on his own. Jak could, for the first time, argue back – he did, actually, rather loudly, and hell if that hadn't thrown Dax off for a loop that first couple of days.

Not that he let on, of course - had his image to think about, after all.

Speaking of which...

The ottsel shook himself suddenly, rattling the strangely serious thoughts from his head. The movement earned him a concerned glance from Tess. Everything all right? her earnest blue eyes seemed to ask.

Daxter batted a hand at her reassuringly. Don't you worry your pretty little head, he thought at her fondly.

...Eh, what was he going on about? Of course the big lug still needed him. Who knew Haven like the back of his paw? Who would get Jak the attention he deserved? Who would be the voice of sense and sensibility?

No one but Dax, that's who.

Tess smiled faintly back, then hesitantly looked back at the grim man currently cursing under his breath.

"We don't know for sure," she reminded him, sounding a great deal more sober than normal, and for a moment it was pretty obvious that the young woman not stumbled onto her role in the rebels by accident. "Torn only told me the Baron was shipping in more dark eco than normal, and trying to recruit what eco tech specialists he can find. It doesn't necessarily mean…"she faltered under his flat stare, "…anything…"

Jak growled, but luckily for him your friendly neighborhood ottsel spoke over him and saved the spaz from making a total mess of things (as usual).

"Sweet cheeks, the Baron sure ain't gathering dark eco to make cookies," Dax replied as he cheerfully skipped off his best friend's shoulder to walk across the table to grab a biscuit. He arched his back in a languorous stretch, vertebraes cracking loudly, then sat down in front of her and added lazily, munching, "Though I don't doubt the bastard's a cookie fan, with a gut that size. Maybe he's trying out some new dark eco chip cookie recipe – wouldn't surprise me, I told Jak ol' lardbutt was getting bigger last time we saw him." He looked back to his friend. "Right Jak? ...Jak?"

The man didn't respond, and Dax snorted, making a rude dismissive gesture with his hand.

"Whatevs, man. Don't mind him, sugar, greenie gets grumpy if he doesn't get a wholesome, well-balanced rampage on a couple'a dead metalheads in the morning."

Tess's eyes crinkled as she stood and turned to Jak. "I gotta work, but you two can stay here. Feel free to help yourselves to anything. Krew won't be in for a while, and you can keep the communicator with you to see what Torn wants you to do." The implication that they shouldn't run off on their own without orders was clear.

Jak narrowed his eyes and opened his mouth to protest-

"No problemo, honey bun," Dax purred, cutting him off. "I'll make sure Jak behaves."

She scratched the ottsel's head, eliciting a very pleasurable rumble. "See that you do, Daxxie. Be good!" she cooed.

He winked at her and grinned in a way he fancied was roguish. "Oh, I assure you, I am very good… Jus' keep those backrubs a'comin', an' maybe I'll show you someday…"

She giggled on her way out, blowing him a kiss.

Daxter watched her rear sway as she walked, sighed happily, then turned to his friend.

"She loves me," he said dreamily. "Now that there is a woman, Jakkie-boy."

Jak said nothing, though there was a reluctant twitch in the corner of his mouth.

Narrowing his eyes, Dax rose to stand on two feet, bringing him to Jak's eye level, and he proceeded to glare into his best friend's eyes.

"Whazzat supposed to mean? You don't agree with me, punk?"

Jak looked back expressionlessly. His eyes were blue, just a bit darker than his own – no matter what Praxis did to him, at least that hasn't changed. But he could see the turmoil that boiled underneath the blue, broiling even through Jak's momentary amusement. The… the thing that was inside Jak, that didn't care what happened to anyone, anything, so long as its own pain and rage and hostility were alleviated. It was always there.

Dax didn't like it.

He took one last bite of his biscuit and smirked. "Or is widdle Jakkie just jealous that Dax has himself a mamacita?" He stepped forward to pat Jak smugly on the arm. "Aw, no worries big guy – just because you don't have this sexy face doesn't mean you'll never get any. There's gotta be someone who'll have you." He paused teasingly. "...Somewhere."


A glint of something flashed over Jak's face, and it was as if a spell had broken.

"Thanks for the reassurance," he responded dryly. He relaxed his posture and let out a breath.

Daxter flashed Jak a wide grin as he snatched up his friend's mug of coffee, still steamy warm on the table. "Anytime, babe. Anytime."

He rolled his eyes the way he could only do with his best friend present, mollified somewhat.

Dax sipped some of the black liquid, shuddered as the warm, caffeinated beverage hit his system, then pointedly gestured to the chair with the mug. "Now do me a favor an' sit your ass down, bud. C'mon, relax. You won't get any metalheads jumpin' at you 'round here." Then in true Daxter fashion, he added, "Not to mention my neck's friggin' tired from looking up at you. Siddown 'fore I hurt myself."

"'Cause that would be so tragic," Jak muttered grumpily under his breath, but complied nonetheless. The chair scratched against the floor as he dragged it away from the table to make enough space for himself. He sat back against the backrest, propped his feet on the table, and sighed, mind inadvertently returning to dwell on darker matters.

Praxis. Errol.

Pain.

It wasn't just a matter of wanting revenge anymore. He needed it. Needed to watch his oppressors groveling in pain – see the look of fear and realization of their utter defeat – needed the irony of the created weapon turning back on its makers.

Because sometimes…

Most of the time…

…Usually…

...It was his only reason to keep on going.

The Goal. Capital letters and all. The huge neon signpost that cried for him to look and not turn away until he reached it. The purpose that held him together, made him determined to not fall apart yet, because he still had evil to vanquish, still had pain to dole out.

Still had fear and anger and hurt rotting him from the inside out.

He didn't mean to, really. He never meant to scare anyone. He didn't want people to tread around him as if walking on eggshells, as if one wrong word would spell their doom. He didn't like how they turned away, couldn't stand to look at him for too long.

…Sometimes he felt like yelling at them for that. Felt like wishing that they'd have known him before, so instead of judging and resenting him now they'd mourn over what he'd been, could have remained.

But it was only sometimes. Jak didn't like pity. And he was fine with what he was – accepted it, mourned it, moved on.

He couldn't go back anymore. He couldn't pretend he was the same, not even for Dax.

He couldn't help himself. And when he'd discovered that when people were scared of you they were that much more likely to do as you say… Give you what you want…

Two years in prison hadn't exactly given him patience for fooling around.

A dark chuckle echoed through his mind, and he nearly smirked as he realized what he'd been thinking – realized again just how far he'd come from his old self. And to think, he'd used to be a good guy. Sandover's 'golden boy', according to Daxter.

Daxter.

It had been such a relief to see the ottsel again. Such a relief to see that as much as he'd changed, Daxter never would.

His best friend never did seem to care what he did or looked like – just hopped up on his shoulder like always, crowing or yelling or making a crude remark that got on people's nerves and amused Jak with the utter nerve of it. Never said anything when he woke up drenched in sweat, hoarse from yelling. Never stopped enveloping Jak with quick, familiar chatter, as if Jak was still a mute who could only glare at him when he was angry. As if he couldn't behead and slice a marauder to pieces.

It helped, though. It really did.

But truth be told, he never really understood why Daxter stayed with him. Why he never ran away yelling for help at the top of his lungs. Sure, they were best mates, all that was familiar in the strange, bitter world they'd found themselves in, but -

…It was what Dax did every other time he was in the presence of danger, after all.

Maybe he didn't see the peril. Maybe the ottsel was too oblivious, too dumb to realize Jak wasn't the same guy anymore. Maybe he was too scared of the big bad world to leave the old danger for a new one.

Or maybe he was just too stubborn. Maybe he was simply too loyal a friend for his own good .

…Or maybe, he knew that Jak would be much more dangerous if he wasn't there.


A/N: I think I've figured out why I like this game series so much: Daxter is incredibly hard to write. Like, whoa, I'm not even kidding. And Jak isn't exactly a piece of tofu either. It's probably the writer in me itching for a challenge.

Next time - actual dialogue! Well, a lot more of it, anyhow.