Chapter Seventeen - The Time We Lost

Gray. Everything was so gray. That was the first thing Jak was aware of...if this could truly be called awareness. He didn't remember where he had been before this, and he wasn't in much of a hurry to go anywhere else. It was nice here. Peaceful.

Still, as content as this place made him feel, he couldn't shake the nagging feeling that he shouldn't be here. Bright light danced at the edges of his vision, the cool touch of green eco floating just out of reach, and voices called to him from somewhere. Voices that he knew. Jak tried to ignore them, but it was difficult. There was something he had forgotten, something important. Something or...someone.

A pinpoint of brightness in the gray uniformity. Jak started. There was only one at first, but gradually more and more white sparks drifted down from some unseen source. Jak reached for one and recoiled almost immediately. No, he couldn't go back. As long as he was here, he was safe. It held no power over him here.

What doesn't?

The words came from everywhere and nowhere, an echo in his mind rather than an audible voice.

What holds no power over you?

"Pain," Jak murmured. Now he understood. He had come close to death too many times not to know what it felt like. This detachment, this severed existence from his dying body. But Jak had never seen this place before, and he started to wonder if he was dreaming.

He fisted his hands at his sides so he wouldn't be tempted to grab those sparks. They were light eco, life incarnate. They were movement and breathing and laughing...but also screaming and crying and despair. To take them would be to return to a place where pain could touch him, and Jak feared that more than anything. Just like he had feared waking each day in the prison, in darkness and agony, alone...

You will not be alone.

"I'll have to take your word for it," Jak said wryly. He seized the nearest spark, savoring the fiery jolt that went straight to his heart. "I hope I don't regret this."

He had always been too stubborn to die anyway.

"He's breathing! Jak's breathing!"

Sort of, Jak thought morosely as he gasped and coughed, a violent spasm ripping through his body. Now that he was conscious, he could very much feel how badly that rock fall had messed him up. His head pounded with a bad concussion, and shattered ribs had punctured his lungs like half a dozen jagged spikes. In fact, the spikes would probably hurt less. He tried to take another breath and gagged when blood bubbled up in his throat, choking him.

"Bear with me, Jak," Samos murmured to him. "Just hold still. I'll take the hurt away in a moment."

That was all well and good for him. Jak was the one drowning in his own blood. But he waited, trusting in the sage like he had since he was a small child, and Samos was as good as his word. Soothing energy permeated his chest like a draught of cool water, easing the agony in his lungs. Jak took a slow, cautious breath that went right to his head and left him giddy. God, he hurt. Dark eco and contaminated dirt made the slashes across his back burn like fire. Jak clenched his jaw against the stars that peppered his vision and fisted his hand in the earth beneath him, scrambling for something real to hold on to, terrified of slipping away again for good.

Someone had his other hand, which helped. He focused on that, on the slender fingers with rough calluses and nails bitten down. That had to be Keira. Jak should know. He had spent enough time staring at her hands back in Sandover and daydreaming about holding them just like this. He could hear Daxter too, babbling something in his ear about knowing he would make it all along.

But now confusion set in. Jak had stopped the kid from going through the Rift...hadn't he? He had altered history, which meant Daxter and Keira shouldn't be here. He shouldn't be here. Slowly, Jak forced his eyes open, blinking grit from them. And at the sight of Samos and Keira and Daxter all leaning over him, he had never been so happy about failure in his life.

"H-Hey, guys," Jak croaked, lips parting in a feeble grin.

"God, Jak!" Daxter burst out, clearly long past the point of hysteria. "Thanks for scaring the crap out of me! Really, thank you! I've actually been wondering what it's like to have a heart attack and a stroke in one go! You are such a jackass!"

Jak coughed. "Sorry, Dax. I'll b-be quicker next time."

"You'd better be!" Keira snapped, but the blow was softened by the way she choked on the words. She pressed a kiss to his knuckles and rested her cheek against his hand. Her skin was chilled and a little grimy after the crash earlier, but the warmth of her tears kept him from noticing. Jak hadn't seen her cry since...he didn't even know how long. Not since they were kids. It used to intimidate him, but now it was strangely warming to know those tears were for him alone.

And it hit him then that there might be another reason for those tears. Jak tried to look around, but was hindered by Samos' hands cradling his head. "Jak, please stay still..."

"D-Damas," Jak rasped, fear making the name catch in his throat. Maybe he hadn't changed anything at all. Maybe what the Stone had shown him had been irrefutable, something that couldn't be altered, and Damas had still...

"I'm here."

And he was. Jak turned his head just enough to see the remains of the Rift Gate and Damas kneeling at his side. Rough fingers closed around his other hand, and Jak returned the tight grip as he felt something inside him become whole again, a void being filled that he hadn't even known was empty, and it left him torn between rejoicing and weeping.


"I'm here," Damas repeated. His voice was hoarse and his face haggard and tear-streaked, evidence of some lingering grief for the loss of the kid. But the tender hope in his smile erased Jak's doubts. "I've missed you so much, little warrior," he added in hardly a whisper.

The nickname evoked a sharp pang in his soul, achingly familiar. Jak blinked away tears. "N-Not so little anymore."

"I knew he'd say that," Sig chuckled from somewhere nearby.

"Jak," Samos said gently. "I'm going to put you in a healing sleep now, and you might not awaken for quite awhile. Like on your ninth birthday when you were attacked by all those wumpbees and you slept for two days."

"Good times," Daxter added, beaming at him.

Jak shook his head as his vision clouded and everything grew more distant. He didn't want to sleep now. He had so much to say to his father, so much he wanted to ask before Damas went back to his city in the Wasteland. And there was no way all the metalheads had been finished off in that battle. Jak should help them fight their way out of the nest instead of letting them protect him. But when the green eco flooded into his body, numbing him head to toe, blissful slumber was impossible to resist.

"Don't leave," Jak slurred as he put up one last halfhearted resistance. "Still want to...don't go yet..."

"We're not going anywhere," Damas promised him. He nudged Jak's eyes closed. "Rest now."

Strong arms slipped under him and lifted him to an armored chest. "I've got you, cherry," Sig rumbled above his head. "Take a breather for once. The world'll still be here tomorrow."

I hope so, Jak thought as he let sleep carry him away on gilded wings.

A long period of time passed. Jak couldn't have said how long as he spent most of that time drifting in a world of hazy, eco-laden dreams interrupted by brief periods of lethargic wakefulness. It was so similar to the partial coma Samos had put him in after the wumpbee attack that more than once he dreamed he was back in the sage's hut with his arms and legs slathered in salve and his face so swollen that he couldn't even open his eyes. The pain in his healing body was ever present, but held apart from him and never allowed to spike to unbearable levels.

Jak thought that people came to visit him. Maybe. He heard Daxter's voice at irregular, but frequent intervals, and he had a distinct memory of Keira helping Samos cleanse and bandage all the scrapes on his arms and shoulders. When she noticed him awake, she helped him drink a few mouthfuls of water that tasted metallic on his tongue like the tap water in Haven City. That gave him a where, which was almost immediately forgotten as he dozed again.

As his injuries began to mend, the eco gradually fading from his system, his dreams took on a more realistic quality. Most were benign, memories of Sandover replayed like a favorite song. Others were not. He dreamed of Kor and the nest from two perspectives, the one no less nightmarish than the other. Those were often followed by a dream of a dark forest and Damas in the firelight and being unable to speak no matter how much Damas begged him to.

One night, the silence and the cold brought him back to the fortress and the chair. He thrashed against invisible restraints and cried out for someone to save him, convinced that any moment Erol would return to finish him off as Praxis ordered, and he despaired of ever seeing his friends or his home again. But someone brought him back to the waking world with calm words and a compassionate touch. The shackles vanished, the chill of the chair becoming sweat-soaked bedding. And Erol's leering face morphed into Damas.

Run, Jak thought torpidly. You have to run. Erol's coming, he's going to...

"Erol isn't here, Jak," Damas murmured, his words reassuring with an edge of fierce protectiveness. "Trust me, he would have to fight through quite a few people to reach you now..."

Lulled by this solemn oath, Jak sank into his deepest sleep yet, the nightmare forgotten. And the next time he woke up, his head was clear. Jak opened bleary eyes on a dim, unkempt room with little more than a bed and a pile of storage boxes stacked against the far wall. He had rarely bunked at the Hip Hog, not willing to trust Krew that much, but he recognized this room as one of those on the upper level of the bar. Murmured voices drifted up through the floor, a soothing hum in his ear pressed to the pillow. Jak raised his head, finding himself alone except for the loyal crocadog curled up at the foot of the bed. The crocadog lifted its head, tongue lolling in happiness at the sight of Jak awake, then yawned and went right back to sleep. Jak smiled a little as he glanced at the window. Through the grimy glass he could see the night sky, and he wondered vaguely how long he had been asleep.

With a soft groan, Jak pushed the blanket back and took a few deeper breaths. A mere twinge in his ribs, nothing more. He doubted they were completely healed, but at least he could breathe. Now to try getting up. Jak propped himself on his elbows first and very slowly sat upright and swung his bare feet to the floor. The motion fatigued him more than it should have, stiff muscles creaking in protest, a testament to just how long he must have gone without moving at all. He rested a moment, exploring the bandages around his bare chest and the smaller scrapes and colorful bruises he hadn't noticed before. Nothing infected, nothing incapacitating. Daxter could say what he wanted about Samos' stinginess, but when it came to healing, he held nothing back.

Saving the best for last, Jak gingerly reached back to explore where Kor had struck him. The gashes had been so deep that he had wondered if even Samos could do anything for them. But the wounds were closed, and his body didn't seem to have suffered any for absorbing a little more dark eco. Under the bandages, Jak counted four thick lines of scar tissue slashed diagonally across his shoulder blades. The highest one actually curved over his right shoulder and ended near his collarbone. Any higher and Kor could have taken his head off. The scarred skin was still raw and pained him if he stretched the wrong way. A macabre part of Jak wanted to know what they looked like, but since there were no mirrors handy, he decided he could wait to find out.

First, there were some people he wanted to find.

Having recovered from sitting up, Jak made a stab at standing. The room gave a dizzy little waltz, but since he hadn't passed out, he assumed he was good to go. Jak kept one hand on the mattress as he went hunting for his shirt and boots, finding both near the door. His shirt was clean and neatly folded, and someone had stitched up the numerous rips while he was unconscious. Jak picked at the stitches curiously before tugging it on and sliding his feet into the boots. His morph gun leaned against another box nearby, thoroughly cleaned and repaired and currently unloaded, but he left it for now.

The voices seemed much louder when he stepped into the hallway, the informal banter beckoning him down the narrow staircase to the source of the light and warmth. At the doorway into the bar, Jak hesitated and hovered back in the shadows. It sounded like a full-blown party was in motion in the next room. There was even music playing on the radio, which Krew never used to allow. Jak almost turned around and went back upstairs, not up for dealing with a bunch of strangers, until he realized that he recognized every single voice in that room. Jak moved into the doorway and smiled at the scene, but didn't intrude. Right now, he just wanted to see them all and know they were still alive.

"—and with the metalheads closing in from all sides, I pushed Jak to safety, grabbed the peacemaker and blew Kor's big metal butt to smithereens!" Daxter concluded, and he demonstrated with sound effects and an enthusiastic roll, nearly kicking Pecker off the bar. "I tell ya, if I hadn't been so busy fending off the rest of Kor's harem on the way out, I would've lugged that ugly monster's head back here and tacked it on the wall!"

"I'm sure you had enough trouble getting your own fat head out of there, let alone Kor's," Pecker said drolly, rolling his eyes. "So when are you going to cut the bull and tell us what really happened?"

"I just told ya what happened! It ain't my fault you haven't been listening!"

"I've been listening to you rattle on for the past half hour, rat, and I have yet to hear two versions of your tale that match up!"

Tess laughed and put her arm between the two animals. "Boys, let's not fight about it," she implored. "The good news is that you all made it back and you took out Kor for good."

"And," Daxter prodded.

"And you're still my one and only hero," Tess added impishly, leaning forward to give Daxter a quick kiss before she sat back, one hand on her scarred belly. Keira had taken a seat beside her, laughing at Daxter's antics, while on her other side Samos was engaged in deep conversation with the soothsayer, Onin.

"...still don't quite understand it. For some reason, I had thought the Rift Rider that Keira built for us was the same one we used to come to this era from the past. But if the one she built was destroyed in the nest..."

Onin's hands painted invisible pictures in the air, and Pecker stepped in to interpret. "Onin says that her visions have settled since the time loop was made stable so there's no need to worry about it. Who knows? Perhaps Keira's Rift Rider will one day be unearthed and find its way back to that era in a way we shall never know."

"Still," Samos said with a remorseful glance at his daughter, "I am sorry, Keira. I had hoped to at least give you a chance to go back to Sandover, if you chose. Jak and I are from this time originally, but you were born there."

"I wouldn't have gone without you," Keira said firmly and laid her hand on his arm. "Besides, after all the excitement here, I think Sandover would have been a little boring. They don't even have zoomer races!"

Jak felt his lips quirk up at that. Then his attention shifted over, and both eyebrows flew up at the sight of Ashelin and Torn sitting in a booth to themselves, he with his arm wrapped firmly around her waist and grasping her hip in a way that was more than a little covetous. The truly miraculous thing was that Ashelin wasn't punching him, and in fact had her hand on his knee in much the same manner. Just when had that happened?

Amused and a little disturbed at this development, Jak averted his gaze from the intimate scene. And when he caught sight of Damas and Sig sitting in the next booth over, a hard lump grew in his throat. He was still here. He hadn't gone back to the Wasteland as Jak had half feared. During a break in the conversation, Damas happened to look up and catch his eye. Surprise became such profound relief that brought an ache to Jak's heart, making him want to run up to the Wasteland king and hug him like a little boy. Damas almost made as if to rise, but he also held back uncertainly, fist clenched on the table. It was a testament to how much time had passed and how much had changed for them both that they were left staring at each other awkwardly, waiting for some cue that it was alright to close that distance.

In the end, neither made the first move. Sig followed Damas' line of sight and grinned broadly. "Well, look who's up!" he said loudly.

"Jak!" Daxter bellowed, and he was echoed by nearly everyone in the bar. The ottsel sprinted down the bar and made a flying leap for Jak's head, seizing double handfuls of his hair.

"Ow! Dax—!"

"Don't you ever do that again!" Daxter snapped, punctuating each word with a sharp tug that made Jak's eyes water. "I'm serious, if I ever see you pull a harebrained stunt like that again, I'll kick your ass and hand it to Keira on a platter! You've been down and out for four days!"

"No wonder I'm hungry," Jak muttered. "Can you get off my back for two seconds and let me eat something?"

"I'll give ya something to eat, you damn martyr! How about my FIST!"

To Jak's eternal gratitude, Tess retrieved Daxter from his hair and cuddled him against her chest, which seemed to calm him some. Keira abandoned her chair and rushed over to throw her arms around him, face buried in his shirt. Jak held her lithe body close and dropped a kiss to her shoulder. "You alright?" he whispered in her ear.

Keira nodded, but her eyes were still haunted with old pain when she looked at him. "I'm fine. And I'm with Daxter, you really scared us back there! I was so afraid you weren't going to..."

"I always come back," Jak said firmly when they separated, dropping his hand to twine their fingers together. "Always."

"Jak, you shouldn't be up and about yet!" Samos rebuked him. True to form, he expressed his own relief in the form of a lecture. "You may feel rested, but you're still healing!"

"Sending me back to my room already?" Jak said with a quick grin. "I just wanted to see how you all were doing. And what about the city? Is it still under attack?"

"Not anymore," Torn said, approaching the group along with Ashelin. "Almost as soon as Kor went down that night, the metalhead forces devolved into chaos. They weren't working together anymore so it was just a matter of boxing them in and eradicating them. Some small clusters are still being routed out, but this is the first night we've been able to move people back into their homes without worrying about another major attack."

"A lot of people are celebrating tonight," Ashelin added with some satisfaction. "So we thought we'd take a break from our duties and come check in with everyone here."

"You thought," Torn muttered, but there was no vehemence behind it. He crossed his arms with a funny little twist to his mouth, then he sighed in defeat. "I guess there's no getting around it. Thanks, Jak. We couldn't have done this without you."

Coming from a man who usually barked out orders and handed him missions like his obedience was a given, even this halfhearted appreciation was something. Gratified, Jak clasped Torn's hand. "Anytime. And I mean that in only the most figurative sense."

"Dear God, the rat's rubbing off on you," Torn grumbled, casting his eyes to the ceiling.

Pecker flapped over to the edge of the bar, disgruntled. "Onin says that she thinks you did very well, Jak," he said grudgingly. "But I wouldn't say that if I were her! Now that you're awake, let me have a few words with you about messing with the flow of time—"

"Oh shut up, Pecker," Daxter said in exasperation. "I've heard just about all I can take about paradoxes and crossed paths and oxymorons and whatnot! I'm beggin' ya, save me a migraine and keep your trap shut!"

"Bah!" Pecker spat in disgust. "You cannot even fathom how close he came to collapsing the universe with his actions! And oxymoron is a grammatical term, you uneducated cur!"

"Oh ho, so the gloves are off now, eh? Let me tell you something, you beakless prick—!"

The bar door slid open before the argument could really take off. "Hey, hey! I finally made it back! How's it goin', pretty boy?"

"JINX!" Tess shrieked in delight. She sprinted across the bar and flung herself into Jinx's arms, oblivious to the stink of salt water and metalhead blood the man had brought into the bar with him. "You're back, you're okay! I thought you were killed when the shield wall went down!"

"Excuse me!" Daxter said, his hackles rising. "Just what is going on here?"

Jinx kept his arm draped around Tess' shoulders as he strolled over to lean against the bar, either not noticing Daxter's jealousy or not caring. "What's goin' on is I just spent four straight days tryin' to find a way out of the Underport! Man, I'm whipped. I got completely turned around down in those tunnels, and I used up all the explosives I had with me so I had to improvise with whatever I could find. Ha, you shoulda seen it! So there I am gettin' chased around by this sonuvabitch metalpede, and all I've got to work with is an old power cell and a tripwire—"

Daxter poked his head between him and Tess and shoved them apart. "Fascinating story," he grumbled. "What I meant is how do you two know each other?"

"Oh, I didn't tell you guys?" Tess said brightly. She patted Jinx on the arm. "He's my uncle!"

Everyone stared. Jinx lit up a soggy cigar with a careless shrug. "What? My sis is, like, twelve years older than me. I was five when she got knocked up."

"Oh," Daxter said, still blinking. Jak snickered, deciding the hilarity was worth the glare he received from his ottsel friend.

"Anyway," Jinx went on, taking a seat, "so this metalpede is comin' at me, right? And my little peashooter ain't doin' a thing to break open that hide. But I've got this power cell, and I decide to—"

"Alright, hold on a sec!" Daxter said loudly. "If you're gonna be telling stories in my bar..."

"Your bar?" Jinx said, perplexed. "Who says it's your bar?"

"The sign does!"

"What sign?"

"You're kidding me! The one right over the door!"

"A sign don't make it yours," Jinx snorted. He poked Daxter in the chest with the butt of his cigar. "Have you bothered to look for Krew's will yet? I bet you fifty skull gems it'll say he left the Hip Hog and all its assets to yours truly."

"Oh no!" Daxter exclaimed, waving his arms. "There's no way I'm letting you have this place and give it back its crappy name! Nuh uh, not happening!"

"You wanna fight about it, rat boy?"

"You bet, I do!"

For Daxter's safety, Jak considered intervening in the heated squabble, but he just didn't have the energy for it. Samos hadn't been kidding about him not being fully recovered. Just standing here and trying to follow the conversation was taxing what little strength he had. And it didn't help that he was still conscious of being in the same room as his father and unable to look the man in the eye or think of a single thing to say to him.

Deciding avoidance was the better part of valor, he squeezed Keira's hand with an apologetic look. "I'll see you a little later, okay? Need some air."

Keira seemed a little surprised, but she gave him a small smile and let him go. "Oh, alright. We'll talk later then."

"Yeah," Jak replied as he went back the way he came, taking the stairs to the upper floor. Yet another thing he wasn't up for right now. In under a week, he and Keira had gone from skittish strangers to almost what they'd had in Sandover, and it left him at once ecstatic and uneasy. And to think, he had once thought killing Praxis and stopping the metalheads would mean an end to all his problems. Now he couldn't even put his personal issues on the backburner and run off on a suicide mission when he was feeling antsy.

At the top of the stairs, Jak bypassed the room he had awoken in and instead opened the door that led onto the roof. The cool, salty breeze blowing off the Port waters completely washed away the feeling of being closed in. Jak breathed deeply, moving to the edge of the roof where he rested his hands on the concrete wall. It wasn't the same as looking at the ocean, but the moon still reflected off the water in the same way, and he could pretend the layer of pollution blocking the stars was fog.

The enormous glowing ottsel perched just above the bar door, however, wrecked the image a little.

"What the hell, Dax?" Jak muttered. He leaned a little farther so he could read the brand new neon sign that hurt his eyes to look at. The Naughty Ottsel. He smirked, envisioning Krew's reaction if he could find out what had become of his beloved bar. But at least Daxter had found his place here. Jak was sure he would make the most of it.

The hinges on the door squealed behind him. "Hey, hero," Ashelin said quietly. "Sick of our company already?"

Jak looked around when she joined him at the edge of the roof. "Just needed a couple minutes," he replied. "I'm still trying to get my head on straight after...everything."

"You mean after finding out you really are Mar's rightful heir."

"You don't seem that surprised."

Ashelin shrugged, studying him with a wry smile. "I am, and I'm also not, if that makes sense. Anyway, I figured I'd better give this back to you before you started thinking I stole it or something."

She slid a hand under her collar and withdrew the seal of Mar from somewhere in her cleavage. Jak took it and studied the swirling symbol carved from rose-colored stone, still warm to the touch after being tucked right between her…Jak cleared his throat. "Uh, yeah. I guess there's no running away from it, huh?"

Ashelin leaned on the concrete wall with her arms folded, watching the streets below. Jak also glanced down. He hadn't noticed before, but the city's atmosphere was a little different, and it took him a moment to pinpoint why. The citizens no longer walked with shoulders slumped and heads bowed in defeat. There was a bounce to their steps and an almost musical lilt to their conversations, and even the few KGs he spotted were relaxed and upbeat. Moreover, the red-armored soldiers weren't being avoided or glared at, but treated with a kind of informal deference. Jak supposed it was only their due. He may have been the one to kill Kor, but it was the Krimzon Guard that had driven the invasion away and protected the city and its people. After years of being feared and despised, the KGs were probably feeling pretty damn good about themselves.

"Is anything wrong?" Jak asked when he noticed Ashelin's discontent look.

"Is anything right?" Ashelin retorted. She heaved a sigh. "The metalheads are defeated for now, but they'll be back when they find a new leader. It could be in a year or a decade, but it's not over yet. And...I finally found out what my father did to Erol. I have no idea where he's gone now. It's just one more thing to worry about on top of everything else."

Jak looked off across the Port waters, a cold knot growing in his gut at the thought of Erol out there somewhere, a mutant with a crippling addiction who had been out for his blood long before he was exposed to the twisted effects of dark eco. It took some effort to push the disturbing thought from his mind. "What do you mean on top of everything else?" he asked. "Looks to me like you have the city under control."

"And how long will that last?" Ashelin said acerbically. "My father died four days ago, Jak. He died and left me with a city on the brink of anarchy. If it hadn't been for the metalhead invasion, I doubt I could have seized control so easily. After all that's happened, the Guard answers to me, but once the excitement wears down, I doubt the people will be glad to see another military leader."

"You won't be like your father," Jak said, surprising himself with how sure he sounded.

Ashelin just shook her head. "Not many will see it that way. Especially now that everyone knows for a fact the city's rightful ruler and his heir are still alive."

Jak frowned, unsure how he felt about the title heir. He certainly didn't feel like one, and the last thing he wanted was people coming up to him and expecting him to take over. Especially when most of those people had been calling him a monster only days ago. "You're not going to be alone in this. What about Torn? Hasn't he been helping?"

"He has," Ashelin replied, a small smile coming to her lips. "To tell you the truth, he's been a godsend with all the connections he has through the Underground. He's...dependable. Knows how to get things done. More than anything, that's what I need right now."

Thinking back to the way he had seen them in the bar, Jak grinned. "Dependable, huh?" he said slyly. "I didn't think that was the first quality you looked for in a guy. Good to know."

Ashelin shot him a defensive glare, but seeing that he was teasing, she smirked. "What's the matter, hero? Jealous I'd rather hang off his arm than yours?"

"I'm just curious what he did to catch your eye that tops my fancy heroics."

"He made a move on me in the Palace with my father watching."

Even Jak blanched at the thought, struck by a whole new respect for the rebel leader. "Holy crap…well, I guess if you want to go out in a blaze of glory..."

Ashelin laughed quietly. She turned her back on the city and leaned on the wall, pinning him with a shrewd look. "There's something else I wanted to say to you. I noticed you weren't exactly jumping for joy at finding your father again."

Jak grimaced. "Yeah. I just...I don't know. It's so hard to know how to act around him. He came to Haven City looking for a little boy, and instead there's only me. I can't even imagine what must be going through his head right now."

"Probably the same as what's going through yours," Ashelin pointed out. "You two aren't all that different. He's just as unsure as you are, and when it comes right down to it, I think Damas just wants to know that you don't hate him for not being part of your life."

It made sense when she put it in that light. It hadn't even crossed Jak's mind that Damas' own reluctance might be born of fear rather than disappointment. But still...

"He's got nothing to worry about," Jak said slowly, gazing up at the sky. "When I first met him...I really admired him. He had everything taken from him by Praxis. His throne, his city, his entire birthright. But he didn't hold it against anyone. He was able to move on and make his life worth something, which is more than I ever did. I...I wanted to be like him. I've never felt that way about anyone."

"He's your father, Jak. It's only natural to want to be like him. To be better than him, even."

"I guess."

Ashelin put her hand on his arm, giving him a very serious look. "Don't waste your chance with him. You have the rest of your life to make up for what you lost as a child. No matter how painful it is, you'll regret it if you walk away with nothing."

Before Jak could answer, the door behind them opened again and someone paused on the threshold. "I...hope I'm not interrupting," Damas said after a moment.

"No, I was just leaving," Ashelin replied in a way that said she wasn't about to let either of them slink away. To Jak's bemusement, she leaned closer to give him a chaste kiss on the cheek. "Don't waste it," she whispered in his ear.

Damas stood aside to let her go through the door, shooting Jak an odd look once she had gone. Not displeased, more like speculating. "It's strange. I used to think it was a shame I didn't have a son her age. And now..."

Jak flushed deeply at the insinuation and threw up his hands. "W-What, m-me and Ashelin? No, no way. I mean she's great and all, We'd kill each other within a week. And then Keira would kill me again."

Damas held up a hand to halt the rambling, smiling in amusement. "Say no more. Truly, I can't say it's any of my business."

"Uh, right," Jak muttered as Damas joined him at the edge of the roof and rested his hands on the wall. The way he surveyed the Port below, at once attentive and reflective, went a long way toward explaining how he had become the king of two cities and gained the unflinching loyalty of an honest soul like Sig. Jak cast a wary look to the streets below, uneasy about Damas showing his face in the open until he realized that by now Ashelin would have taken the price off both their heads and told the Krimzon Guard to keep their distance. But that wouldn't stop some random KG with a grudge and a score to settle...

A distant, high-pitched whine reached his ears. Jak looked up in time to see a streak of light shooting up from the breakwater across the Port and into the sky. Before he could figure out what to make of it, the streak exploded with a deep boom and dozens of vivid blue comets lit up the sky and dissipated harmlessly. Two more of the exploding lights followed it, the first green and the second yellow.

"Whoa," Jak breathed, transfixed.

"You've never seen fireworks before?" Damas asked, gesturing at the lights.

"I really haven't," Jak admitted. "They didn't have them back in...back where I grew up."

"Hmm…you'll have to tell me more about that place. Sandover, wasn't it?"

"Yeah," Jak replied. Seeing Damas' expectant look, he shrugged self-consciously. "Compared to here, it was pretty primitive. Our village was tiny and far removed from others. People didn't have much aside from the homes they built and the possessions they made or traded for. But since they didn't need much to begin with, life was pretty simple."

"Do you think you would have been happier, had you stayed there?"

Jak faltered, then straightened. "There's no point asking that. I'm here now., I don't think so. I would have left eventually, gone looking for something more than the life of a villager. Dax and I were always getting into trouble for sneaking off, but I was the one who kept pushing the boundaries."

"You were like that as a child too," Damas said with a wistful light in his eyes. "Always poking your head around corners, straying off the beaten paths. It made me worry quite a bit."

You're not the only one, Jak thought, remembering how the kid had liked to wander off when no one was keeping an eye on him. His eyes dropped to the seal in his hand, struck by a sense of unreality. It was so strange to think of that kid and know it had actually been him. He had walked in those little feet at one time, and the longer he pondered it, the more bizarre the notion became.

"Mar," Damas began and stopped himself. The name seemed to catch in his throat, as strange and unfamiliar to say as it was for Jak to hear.

"You can call me Jak, if you want," Jak said quietly. "It's been my name for so long. I don't remember any other."

This only seemed to make Damas even more apprehensive. He turned to face Jak more fully. "You truly don't remember? Nothing of the Wasteland or...nothing at all?"

"I'm sorry," Jak said with his head bowed, unable to look Damas in the eye. "I wish I could say otherwise, but I don't even remember coming to Sandover with Samos. Sometimes...sometimes I dream of other places, other people, but I can't know for sure if they're memories or just something I made up."

"I suppose you were too young," Damas said, his words heavy with disappointment. "But I'd hoped you would at least...remember me in some capacity. Even if it was just a moment, just a few words said..."

Jak opened his mouth, whether to apologize again or just empathize, he wasn't sure. But at that moment another firework went off, painting the Port waters a dazzling red that threw the Wastelander's face into sharp relief. Jak froze when déjà vu all but slapped him in the face, not daring to move or even breathe in case he lost it. Something about Damas and...and a cold cave warmed by the dying embers of a fire...

"I remember the forest!" Jak exclaimed, and Damas looked up at him sharply. "Just now, I remembered! We were in that cave and...and you wanted me to talk, only I couldn't. You told me..."

He broke off when the memory started to slip away from him. He touched his throat with his fingertips and shut his eyes to blot out the city, striving to hear the jump and spark of the coals, the wind rustling through the leaves on the trees, and a voice both strong and reassuring. I'm sure you only forgot. But I'll...

"Do you recall what I said to you, Jak?" Damas pressed him. "When I learned that you couldn't speak, I said I would help you remember. But only if..."

Jak opened his eyes. "But only if I kept trying too."

Damas drew a sharp breath, his expression filled with as much pain as joy. He grasped Jak's shoulder and turned him so they were face to face. "I will help you remember," he vowed. "More than simply how to speak again, I want you to remember everything about who you are. I'll do whatever it takes to make that happen."

Jak could only nod. A memory. A real memory, not some unreliable dream or a figment of his own imagining. More than anything the Stone could have shown him, this convinced Jak that it was all real. He ducked his head and bit back a swell of emotion, refusing to break down before the father he didn't remember, but never stopped missing.

"Come with me to the Wasteland," Damas said, the words tumbling out like he was afraid he would lose the nerve to say them. The request startled him, and as Jak jerked his head up, his first thoughts were for all the people in the bar below. Keira and Samos and Daxter, Torn and Ashelin, Sig and Tess...all the friends that he finally had a chance to catch up with now that the greatest danger had passed. But he looked at Damas again, seeing his hope and a shared yearning to make up for what they had both lost.

Don't waste it.

Slowly, Jak nodded. "Okay."

Damas tilted his head as he released Jak. "Okay? Just like that?"

Jak flashed a grin as he looked out over the city again. "If I don't like it, I can always come back here."

"Yes, I suppose that's true," Damas said after a moment. He also turned his attention away, but this time he looked to the sky, his serene smile mirroring Jak's own inner peace. And Jak reminded himself to thank Ashelin. She had a point earlier. Things weren't quite right yet. But maybe with time, they would be.

A.N. And so, Jak 3 was born. Or at least that's how I would have liked it to go. And yes, I have intentionally left the ending open JUST IN CASE I decide to come back and write a sequel. I have some vague ideas and the beginnings of a plot stowed away in the back of my mind, but as I am currently embroiled in an entirely different project, I wouldn't expect to see it anytime soon. For the time being, my Jak and Daxter muse has left the building.