A/N: I know there are those out there who intensely dislike this pairing and/or Keira as a character. But please, don't bother flaming me or anyone who might post appreciative comments, because:
1) I have my right to my opinion, and you to yours. I respect that, and am not trying to convert anyone. I'm also known as a very stubborn person, so trying to convert ME is an exercise in futility. It won't do you any good.
2) I'm not forcing you to read. If you do, I'm glad, but if you don't – hey, no skin off my nose, it's not like I'm making money with this thing.
3) I just plain don't give a damn.
Disclaimer: All characters, places and creatures appearing or referred to belong to Naughty Dog Inc. No infringement intended.
The Beast Revealed
"You want what?"
Keira crossed her arms and stuck her lip out defiantly.
"I want to see your dark side." she repeated, her voice and gaze even as she stared at Jak, who stood in the doorway of his room, struck speechless.
The hero blinked and shook his head, as if testing if he was awake, before focusing on her face again. After another moment of staring, Jak turned away, busying his hands with shucking his racing jacket.
"Keira, it's… It's not a good idea." he said over his shoulder, avoiding her eyes. "You got no idea what it's like."
"That's why I have to see it!"
Her sudden vehemence caused his head to snap up and his eyes to lock on hers.
"Jak, that's exactly it, I don't understand." she explained in a softer tone as she stepped towards him, suddenly feeling like she was trying to gentle some skittish beast that might bolt at any wrong movement.
Or sprout a very dangerous set of claws if it felt backed into a corner.
She stopped a pace away from him, lifting her hands as if to cup his jaw in them, but not daring to touch.
"There was a time when I couldn't imagine your face with a frown. But when I first saw you in the garage at the racetrack, after two years of not knowing if you were even alive, your glare was so sharp it felt like being stabbed with a knife."
He visibly flinched at that. That was definitely not a memory he'd have liked to give her about their reunion.
"I was desperate to know what had happened, but you just turned away. And when I started hearing rumors about a fighter who turned into a raging beast in battle, it took me a while to realize it was you they were talking about, because I still couldn't believe you were capable of such carnage! But before I could even wrap my head around that, you were running off again, looking for vengeance and goodness knows what else."
"I told you, it had been a rough ride."
"And I wanted to help you deal with it! But wouldn't let me, you just buzzed around the Haven's half-acre, throwing yourself at Krimzons and metalheads, and when we did see each other in the middle of all that chaos you clammed up so tight I sometimes wondered if you had gone mute again." Her hands dropped back to her sides, clenching into fists as her shoulders tensed.
"It wasn't your problem, it was mine. I… You had enough issues of your own." The blond's eyes flicked to the side briefly, painfully.
"None as bad as yours! Jak, I survived two years completely alone. I got used, lied to and sneered at. I saw exactly how cruel this world could be, but I dealt with it. I'm a big girl, I've grown calluses like the rest of us, you don't need to protect me anymore!"
Jak was caught up in the green eyes that sparked up at him, and for a split second he found himself wondering if Keira had absorbed some green eco herself during the time she had spent assisting her father in his lab.
"Like you ever needed it."
The words that were spoken without any conscious thought jarred them both out of their thoughts. Keira blinked and took a step back while Jak cursed in his head.
"L-look, Keira… Even if I told you everything, even if you knew it all, there's nothing you could do to change it now. It's over. Not an experience I would wish on anyone, but I survived and even kept most of my sanity. No use picking at it. If you…"
He turned away and his posture slumped. When he found his voice again, every word came slowly, like they were too heavy for him to force out of his throat easily.
"When I saw you there at the garage, it was like… like a weight off my shoulders. Right when I had resigned to being smack in the middle of hell, I found there was still something good left in the world. For a moment, it was like being back in Sandover. Or… like I had taken some of the best parts of Sandover with me."
He lifted his face again, and she had to take another step back at the intensity in those blue eyes, which were so much brighter in her memories.
"I had to keep them away from you. The Krimzons, metalheads… myself. If I had been the one to destroy the last pure thing in my life, I wouldn't have been able to live with it."
Whatever resolve he had worked up spent, he looked away once more, slowly unclenching his fingers from their white-knuckled grip on his jacket.
"You had seen the ugliness of day to day life in Haven City, you didn't need to see my one man war on top of it."
Her heart was beating erratically and a faint dusting of pink had appeared on her cheeks. She knew full well that the past minute or so held probably a lifetime's worth of confessions between the lines, but she couldn't let herself look at those too closely now. She just might lose her resolve if she did.
"It didn't have to be a one man war." Precursors, was that even her voice? How could it be so calm and level when her insides were doing somersaults?
"If you'd asked me… If you'd just LET me, I would have helped you. In any way I could've. And I'm not… Daxter told me that when he came to save you from the prison, you could have mauled him, but you didn't. In fact, the very sight of him snapped you out of… whatever that was, right? Because he is your best friend, a direct link Sandover, and no matter how bad the dark eco was messing with your head, you wouldn't harm him. So if I really remind you so much of…"
She was interrupted when the jacket went flying, the metal shoulder pads and buckles clanging against the wall.
"THAT'S NOT A THEORY I'M GONNA TEST IN REAL LIFE!" Jak roared, causing Keira to jump back. He stood for a moment, chest heaving and looking just as amazed at his outburst as she. With some difficulty, he collected himself, his fists opening and closing at his sides.
"Keira… What if you're wrong? What if I let myself go and… things go bad?"
"How do you know they will? Have you ever felt the dark one trying to get at me?"
There was a pained expression on his face.
"It feels more than just rage, you know."
"Well, how would I know?!" she threw her hands in the air in frustration. Then she slumped, deflating.
"Jak, I need to see it. I need to understand this new you."
She felt a sting in her eyes, and by the look on the blond man's face, they must've been glistening with unshed tears.
For a long moment, Jak battled with himself, but finally, he nodded.
He turned and closed the door, his hand hovering for a moment over the lock mechanism, but leaving it unlocked in the end. She had the feeling he wanted to give her at least a chance to run away. Then he turned to face her, face completely emotionless. She clasped her hands in front of her chest and nodded.
He closed his eyes and took a deep breath.
The first to change was the coloration. The light bronze of his skin and yellow-green of his hair seemed to fade, leaving only a pale ashen grey tone. Then a miniature lightning of dark energy raced over his skin, lighting the dim room with a sickly, purplish glow and sharply outlining the spasming muscles. Fingers twitched as the nails grew into sharp, curving claws. Lips peeled back in a snarl, revealing a set of impressive fangs as two shiny black horns burst from the mass of grey hair, curving back over his head. A sound that was half a pained cry and half a growl was torn from the creature as the transformation was completed.
Then, as suddenly as it started, it was over. Jak stood there, slightly hunched over, panting, faint aftershocks sending tremors through his body. Keira leaned forward, took one hesitant step forward.
And then the creature opened its eyes.
Keira quickly clamped her hands over her mouth to muffle a gasp. She had thought she wouldn't be afraid. She didn't think she was capable of being honestly, truly afraid of one of her oldest friends. But now, she found a thick, oily feeling of dread creeping into the hollow under her ribs.
There was no trace of the blue eyes that she knew so well. What looked back at her were two solid, blacker than black orbs with no definition of either iris or pupil. She had seen the eyes of metalheads before, sometimes closer than she'd really have liked, and they always sent a shiver down her spine. The glowing yellow always made adrenalin pump through her veins, sending her either running for cover or reaching for a weapon. But this, this was something else entirely.
This terrible, burning black held her captive. It drowned out all her other senses and even as her heart raced everything else about her was frozen still. How could something so still and dark hold so much intensity?
Suddenly the eyes blinked and the spell was broken. Keira shook herself and realized that she must have been staring for a while now. Jak was regarding her silently, seeming confused by the situation and waiting for some clue on how to react. Slowly his head tilted to the side, and one long ear twitched, as if trying to catch a sound only he could hear.
Slowly, painfully slowly, the beast took one hesitant step forward and stopped, as if expecting some kind of reprimand.
But nothing happened, and the dark warrior seemed to relax minutely. He tilted his head to the side just slightly again, the eyelids lowering a fraction.
Feeling slightly braver as the first shock was wearing off, Keira took a step forward, and reached out with one hand, proud to notice that she barely trembled. Again, Jak seemed surprised at the gesture first, but when she resolutely took another step that brought her fingers almost in contact with his left cheek, he leaned into her hand, letting it brush over his temple. But just as her fingers slid into the mass of grey hair, a sudden, rumbling sound startled her. Instinct taking over, she stumbled backwards, away from the most obvious source of danger, which sent her crashing into the back wall and sliding down to the floor.
The beast leaped back too, startled by her sudden movement, and crouched by the door. A confused half-growl rose from its throat and she couldn't suppress a shiver. She closed her eyes and clutched a hand to her chest, frantically willing her pulse to settle. Realizing it was probably a bad idea to take her eyes off something as unpredictable as he was now she quickly blinked her eyes open again, but he made no move, just watched the green haired woman with that puzzled look again as her panic slowly ebbed.
After a moment of calming her racing heart, she steeled herself and made to get up, but just then she noticed that his expression had changed. There was an animalistic version of a smile tugging at the corner the colorless lips. His eyelids had fallen half mast, and suddenly she could FEEL those unreadable eyes roaming over her body. The realization made her heart rate pick up again.
Then, after an eternity, Jak moved. For a moment Keira thought he was going to stand up, but he just reached out in her direction, claws clicking lightly as he placed his hands on the floor and started inching towards her, perfectly comfortable moving on all fours like a lurker on the prowl.
At first she flattened herself against the wall, but then her attention was caught by a small, keening sound Jak made. She blinked and tilted her head, not sure if she wasn't hearing things now. Seeming pleased with her reaction, he let out another sound, this one with just a hint of growl in it, before taking another cautious step towards her. Curious despite herself, she leaned forward just slightly. Encouraged, Jak crept closer, still making those strange, mewling growls.
With a sudden sense of absurdity the mechanic realized that their roles had been reversed from before. Now she was shivering like a spooked animal and he was trying to calm her.
Apparently it was working too, because in the time she had been puzzling over those sounds, Jak had crossed most of the distance across the room, and was now crouching directly in front of her. She couldn't recall moving, but the wall was digging into her shoulder blades again. Her heart was still pounding like it wanted to smash her ribs from the inside and she was certain that he could hear it by now.
Perhaps he did, because he stopped for a moment, ears twitching, still keeping those expressionless eyes trained on her face. Then he slowly leaned closer, lips parting slightly.
At the flash of the tips of ivory fangs peeking from his mouth she let out an involuntary gasp. Her hand shot up to shield her body without a thought. He started slightly, rearing back, and his gaze darted between the raised hand and her face for a moment. He gave one more of those soft keens he had used before and leaned slowly into her trembling hand, nuzzling his cheek into her palm.
Suddenly, the same rumbling sound that had startled her earlier filled the air. But this time, her hand was placed more firmly against his skin, closer to his throat. Feeling the resonant vibrations against her palm, she let out a startled, timid giggle as she realized what it was.
Jak was purring.
Carefully she reached further, lightly raking her fingernails through the hair above his ear, and he leaned eagerly into the caress. She couldn't hold another chuckle at the way he was offering himself to be petted, though this one didn't sound nearly as nervously hysteric as the previous one. On impulse, she reached under and behind the base of his ear and dug her fingers into the hair there. Jak's purr kicked up another notch and he tilted his head to the side to give her a better access to the spot. She didn't bother hiding her giggles anymore.
But as she was pulling back, hand running along his jawbone, Jak suddenly turned his head and a faded pink tongue darted out, catching the inside of her wrist just above the edge of the arm guard she wore.
The warm, wet contact sent a bolt of lightning down her spine and made her breath catch in her throat. Her brains were trying to process this new turn, but every thought seemed to be running into dead ends or traffic jams. Jak, either not caring about her freezing in the middle of petting him, or deciding that the taste of her skin was much more interesting, laved his tongue over her hand again, leaving a tingling path starting from the wrist, over her palm, the thin, soft skin between the thumb and the forefinger and over the back of her hand. By then, all the thoughts in her head had given up and decided to take a coffee break since they didn't seem to be going anywhere, anyway.
He turned to look at her face again and seemed pleased with her glazed expression. Still purring up a storm, he lifted one hand over her legs which were folded to one side, and placed it on the floor beside her hip, effectively trapping her between the wall and himself. Keira was momentarily distracted by the smooth ripple of muscle under the pale skin, which seemed to only enhance the lines of the powerful limb. There always seemed to be a jerky, tense quality to Jak's movement nowadays, but into this form he seemed to just flow from one position to another.
The dark warrior paused briefly to give the layers of stiff leather and protective bandages she wore on her forearms an annoyed glare, before pressing his the side of his chin to the sensitive skin on the inside of her elbow, startling her out of her thoughts. He then nuzzled his way up along the length of her exposed upper arm, placing another quick lick on her shoulder, making her breath catch in her throat. He leaned back after that, gauging her reaction.
Keira was starting to feel dizzy. Everyone she cared to listen to had said that Jak's darker side was a creature of pure hate. A beast of destruction that lived for bloodshed. But during the few minutes she had known this aspect of her friend first hand, he had acted nervous and confused at worst. And since he had figured out she wasn't about to run screaming, every touch, every gesture had become almost… tender.
She tried to get her mental faculties back up and running to make some sense of it all, but kept getting distracted by the memory of a hot tongue on her skin and the blood thundering in her ears. He was so close that every shaky inhale filled her lungs with his scent. Dust, dirt and motor oil, with a crisp tingling of eco, but underneath all that, there was the heady, living scent she couldn't for the life of her label as anything but Jak. When she was younger, that scent had always made her blush and feel warm all over without really knowing why.
Now she knew better, but firmly tried to squish those urges. She had a situation at hand, here.
Taking her lack of resistance for an agreement he slowly, carefully, still mindful of her jittery nerves leaned in close and nuzzled his face into the crook of her neck, breathing deep. Never breaking contact, he then nuzzled his way up her neck till he reached the hollow under her ear before the tongue darted out again and made every nerve in her body jolt.
Right at that moment something Jak had said earlier decided to take advantage of the low traffic and finally made it to the forefront of her mind.
'It feels more than just rage, you know.'
Jak's purr paused for a moment as he buried his nose into her hair and inhaled deeply, holding his breath for a moment before releasing it in a content sigh before returning to her neck with even greater vigor.
A wave of heat flowed through her body from the inside out, and she could guess it probably brought a very vivid shade of pink with it.
That kind of more.
Common sense was screaming at her to get a grip, that the thing which was currently – Oh precursors! – peppering her neck with licks and nibbles might change his mind and go for her eagerly presented jugular at any moment, but her hormones had apparently gotten motor upgrades and were quickly drowning everything else out by revving their engines.
She sensed something that felt an awful lot like a smug grin against her throat as Jak made his way down again, and her stomach fluttered in a whole new way at the feel of sharp teeth grazing lightly over the sensitive skin of the small dip above her collarbone. Not biting or nibbling, just gliding over the surface, almost too light to be felt. The vibrations of his purr made her whole body thrum.
Head reeling with the mix of emotions and the sensory input, Keira made a half hearted attempt to gain some space by leaning to the side, but Jak quickly ended that by planting his other hand on the wall next to the shoulder he was busy exploring. When he pulled back, his breath across the moist traces on her skin made goosebumps rise on her arms and a gasp fall from her open mouth.
For a long time now, she'd had the feeling that Jak was always holding something back. Out on the racetrack, she had often noticed the subtle rumble that bled into his voice and the small bursts of dark eco that trailed his car when the stakes were high and the action heating up. But when he was among his friends, he seemed to keep a close eye on himself. He didn't dare to loose control, because he was afraid of the consequences it might have.
But now, the gloves were off. He wasn't holding anything back. Because she asked for it.
And despite all of the warrior's earlier misgivings, the beast was gentle.
The creature that struck fear into all manner of people and beasts, one who could've snapped her neck without any effort at all, was trailing small, almost reverent licks along her jawline. One of his arms was snaking around her waist to pull her flush against him, almost desperate to touch as much of her as possible, but careful not to nick her skin with the fearsome talons. Every now and then he would pause and draw a deep breath, like he couldn't get enough of her scent. Or any other aspect of her, for that matter.
There was something about that that made her feel powerful and humble in one.
Her breathing was absolutely ragged now, and every so often small, wanting mewls escaped in between the violent gulps of air. The needy sounds were working Jak into a frenzy, his purring more and more often interrupted by low, throaty growls, each followed by another attack at her skin.
Finally it seemed that whatever self control he had snapped, and his head darted lower and nudged the goggles hanging around the mechanic's neck aside. His tongue pressed against her flesh at the very lowest point of her neckline before swiping a long, blistering hot trail upwards over her chest. Her back arched involuntarily and her head fell back as a violent tremor raced up her spine, tearing a surprised, gasping yelp from her throat.
The cry hit Jak like a gunshot. His whole body winced and he tore himself away from Keira, who slid sideways to the floor when the arm supporting her was removed. Jak leaned over her, but flinched when his bare arm brushed hers, visibly torn between concern for her and his barely curbed primal urges. Color kept bleeding back into his skin only to fade again and thin crescents of white peeked from the corners of his eyes.
"Keira! I'm sorry! I didn't mean to…" his voice was slightly slurred, as if he didn't have full control of his voice box. "I knew we shouldn't - How could I be so stupid, who knows what could've happened… I'm sorry, I never should've-"
"Jak… Jak!" she broke through his hastily babbled apologies and reached up to gently hold his face. "It's okay."
Jak shook his head, more to dislodge her hands than in denial, but they stayed persistently on his skin.
"No, it's not. I… I could've hurt you, I'm dangerous like this. I still could hurt you…"
Now frustrated in more ways than one, Keira cut him off with a sharp tug on the ashen mane. The warrior yelped and turned on the female with a snarl, the darker side taking control again for a moment, but the annoyance and unease soon turned to confusion when her scowl melted into a smile.
"You could have, but you didn't. And besides, have you ever been NOT dangerous? Not capable of destruction? Jak…" Her hands were light now, reverent like his touch had been only a moment earlier, and she gazed up at him earnestly.
"I'm not scared. Maybe I was, for a moment, because I didn't know what to expect, but now I understand. It's still you. Even if it's so different, so wild and angry - it's still you."
Jak was still flickering between forms, eyes shading more to midnight than pure black and claws scraping against the floor as they extended and drew back in turns.
"… I never jumped you like that before." He was grasping at straws by now, and he knew it. But it was difficult to let go of the need to suppress his darker impulses when it had been one of his defining features for so long. It couldn't be that simple, it just couldn't.
Keira laughed and reached up to twine her arms around the man's shoulders and pulled herself up until their faces were only inches apart. She allowed herself to marvel for a moment how easily he supported her weight as well as his own while she regarded him through a dark veil of lashes.
"Well…" she drawled, her mouth curling up in a smirk that made his eyes widen just a fraction. "Did you hear me complaining? And what's more important…"
She leaned further up, breathing the next words against his ear in a breathy whisper while her leg crawled up until her knee nudged the outside of his hip.
"…Are you going to finish what you started?"
Jak stared at her for a moment with wide, unbelieving eyes before a smile slowly crept across his face. He simply looked at her for a moment longer with an expression of pure relief and adoration, before his smile took on a sharper edge, and his tongue darted out again, swiping across her lips.
Startled, she lost her grip of him, flopping back on the floor with a breathy, indignant 'eep', and the beast pounced on its victim once more with a playful growl while her laughter bounced off the walls.
Daxter was headed towards Jak and Keira's room to see if his best friend was up for a few drinks after a long day. But when he was only a few feet away from the door, he paused in mid-step, his ears perking up. He stood, frozen still for a moment, before tip toeing the rest of the way to the door and pressing his ear against it.
He listened intently for a moment before his face split in a grin and he turned away, sauntering back the way he had come from. But before he reached the end of the hall, Ashelin appeared from around the corner, walking briskly towards him while flipping through a sheaf of papers in her hands.
"Oh, Daxter." she acknowledged when she looked up from the documents. "Is Jak here? I needed to ask him –"
"Shhhh!" Daxter cut her off by waving his hand while holding the other in front of his mouth in the classic 'silence' signal.
"Jak an' Keira are… 'indisposed' fer the moment." he whispered, waggling his eyebrows.
The redhead blinked and turned to look down the hall. The ottsel fully expected her to just turn and walk away with a huff, or simply march up to the door and knock anyhow, but she did neither.
Instead, she rolled up her paperwork and slinked down the hall, booted feet silent even on the hard metal floor, and pressed her ear against the door that was marked with the racer and mechanic's names. Daxter simply looked on, astonished, and then quickly covered his mouth to stifle a snicker. So, the iron lady had a hidden peeping kink, eh?
The baron's daughter was still for several, tense heartbeats. Then she quickly yanked her head away from the metal surface, eyes wide and a dusting of pink across her cheeks.
Daxter had never wished so much that he had a camera at hand. Blackmail material for a lifetime, baby.
Stepping carefully away from the door, Ashelin walked back towards him, a calculating look in her eyes and a slow, sultry smile creeping on her lips.
"Tell me…" she began. "Didn't Torn say he'd be going over some old paperwork from my father's time today?"
"Yeah, I think so." The ottsel didn't bother to hide his own smirk as he fell into step with her.
"Oh dear. I know how much he hates that, it brings back so many unpleasant memories. Maybe he could use a… distraction." Her smile was a predatory thing just waiting for unsuspecting prey.
Daxter chortled to himself as the redhead turned and disappeared down another corridor. The tattooed wonder would never know what hit him. Maybe he'd be in a better mood tomorrow. But now, he had a different mission: locate one female ottsel, generally known as 'Tess'.