Room and Board

BY : Robin
Category: +G through L > Jak & Daxter
Dragon prints: 22698
Disclaimer: I do not own the game this story is based on (Jak & Daxter) nor do I make any money from writing it.

AN:  I have been waiting to start this one for literally years.  And now, like Rafiki says, it is time!  Big thanks to Amaronith and Grimreaperchibi for nudging me to finally get started on it.  And a huge thanks to Sej, who helped me bounce ideas and hammer out the plot once upon a time, and for that I’m grateful.

Characters: Belong to Naughty Dog, Inc.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

“Well, Jak my boy, there you have it.  Your home away from home.”

The green-blonde teen pushed the hair back from his face as he surveyed the small dorm room, painstakingly set up with the contents of a stack of discarded cardboard boxes.  Not bad at all, for only a couple hours of work.  “It looks great, Uncle.  Thanks for sticking around to help me unpack everything.”

“I only regret I can’t stay longer.  Will you be able to get your books purchased today?  Find where your classes will be held?  What about dinner?”

“There’s a cafeteria two floors under us.  I think I’ll survive.”  Jak chuckled fondly as the old man puttered around the room, checking everything once more.  “Shouldn’t you be heading out?  You’ll miss your flight.”

“Flight?  Oh, oh yes, of course…” 

Jak’s smile faded as he watched his uncle’s face turn almost pensive.  “What’s the matter?” 

“Well, my boy, it just seems as though I’m always dashing off to catch a flight, or a train, or a cab—ever since you were small, it’s been that way.  And now I look at you, going into college, and… you’re all grown up, Jak.  I’m just regretting where all that time has gone, I suppose.”

“Hey, somebody promised this morning that they weren’t going to cry, remember?” Jak prodded playfully, but the corners of his own eyes were stinging as his uncle adjusted his monocle to swipe a handkerchief underneath.   So he fixed the problem by grabbing the stuffy old gentleman up so that his feet dangled a full inch off the floor and hugging him tightly.  “You know you’ve been the best uncle ever, right?  You got a surprise kid dumped in your lap and you took care of me like I was actually your responsibility.  I couldn’t ask for more than that.”

“Jak—boy—can’t breathe—!”

Jak set him back down and tugged insolently at a tuft of the old man’s wrap-around moustache.  “So save your breath for when you have to explain to your editors that you missed your plane and couldn’t write up that awesome story because you were crying over your baby nephew going away to college.”

“Yes, yes, I get the point.  I’ll be on my way, then.”

“Hang on, I’ll walk you back to the car.”  Jak remembered at the last moment to grab his new lanyard from the desk—he would have to get used to carrying keys and ID card with him so he wouldn’t find himself locked out of his own room.  The elevator was clogged with a line of students moving pushcarts of belongings, so they took the stairs down to the dorm lobby and out into the bright August sunshine. 

“Be sure not to lose the key to the storage unit,” the old man reminded as they headed down crowded sidewalks to the parking garage.  “You’ll want your bike soon enough, I’m sure.  It’ll save you a pretty sum in gas expenses.”

“Yes, Uncle.”

“And you’re sure you’ve collected enough quarters to get you through the laundry room for a while?”

“Yes, Uncle.”

“And you know that if you need anything, anything at all, you can—”

“Call you, no matter what time it is, even if I think you’ll be busy.  Yes, Uncle.”  Jak threw an arm around his uncle’s shorter shoulders as they walked into the shadowed interior of the parking garage.  “Don’t worry, I’m gonna be fine.  The phone works both ways, you know.  You can call me if you feel like it.  And don’t forget to call when your plane lands, now that I’m thinking about it.”

“Of course, dear boy.  I always do.”

Then the moment that Jak had half believed wouldn’t come, came.  Hugs were exchanged.  He was given one last pat on the back.  His uncle climbed into the car and, with a final wave through the window, backed out of the spot and drove away.  The green-blonde teen watched as the sedan rounded the corner and disappeared from sight, heading out of the garage toward the main road.

“Hey, get out of the way, man!”

The blare of a horn made Jak jump to the side as if he’d been shot.  “Whoa, sorry!”  It would probably be a good idea to get out of the parking garage now.  He vaulted the stone partition wall, cut through a borderland of planted flowers, and found himself back on the sidewalk. 

Said sidewalk was still crowded.  The sun was still bright and hot.  But now that he was unquestionably alone, four hours away from the only place he had ever called home, his enthusiasm for the new and exciting was already beginning to flag.  Jak sighed, looking back toward the dorm.  It was past time for lunch.  If he understood the way his new meal card worked, he needed to use the lunch points on it before the kitchens switched to dinner prep, or the points would be lost.  He needed to eat, and there was no sense in letting seven bucks worth of meal points go down the drain just because he suddenly felt homesick.


Jak’s hand automatically fell to the outline of a cell phone in his pocket.  His best gal pal was number two on the speed dial.  Talking to Keira for a few minutes would make him feel better for sure.  The phone was out and his thumb poised over the button when reason prevailed.  This wasn’t his first day of Kindergarten, for crying out loud.  If he couldn’t handle even five minutes of being on his own as a responsible, functioning adult, how was the rest of the year going to turn out?  Resolutely, he put the phone away.  He could call Keira that evening, after everything else was taken care of.  He was Jak Mar, dammit, and he could handle the college scene.

- - - - - -

Back in the dorm, the line for the elevator was still obscenely long.  Jak wasn’t much bothered by that, though.  As a student athlete, he’d been drilling, running, and working out for most of the summer already.  A few stairs were no big deal.  He was taking them two at a time when, between floors two and three, he sensed a disturbance in the stairwell.

“Stupid freakin’ bag, come on!

Jak turned a sharp corner onto the landing and looked up.  Near the top of the stairs just above him, a slim redhead was fighting to pull a large duffel bag up the steps.  As Jak watched, the other boy gave a sharp tug at the bag’s strap.  The bag swung up beside him for a fraction of a second, then slid back down the stairs, pulling the boy still clinging to the strap into a stumble. 

“Whoa, whoa—!”  He windmilled his arms desperately, hung precariously in the air for a precious second… and fell backwards, pulled off balance by the heavy backpack slung over his shoulder.

Jak was already moving.  He leapt up the stairs, threw out a hand, and managed to plant it between the redhead’s shoulder blades.  Backpack and duffel bag crashed down the steps to the landing, but their owner remained relatively unscathed; feet braced against the edge of the step he had been standing on and upper body supported at an almost horizontal angle by Jak’s strong arm.

The yell of panic changed mid-syllable to one of surprise.  “Aaaahh!—huh?”

Jak shifted so he could look downward and was met by a pair of upside down, very confused blue eyes.  “It’s okay, I got you.  Hang on a second.”  Grinning, he carefully walked up the steps, pushing the boy more upright as he went until both parties were standing safely.  “There you go.  That was pretty close, huh?”

Still buzzing adrenaline, the redhead stared at Jak for a moment as he panted for breath.  He raised both hands to drag through his disheveled hair, looked down at his bags sprawled on the landing, and looked back up at Jak.  “Uh… thanks.”

“No problem.”  Jak quickly noticed that the other boy was not only quite slim, he was also several inches shorter than him.  The kid looked less like a college student than a high school freshman.  “Do you need some help with all this?”

“Well, uh—”

Without waiting for an answer Jak trotted back down for the wayward bags.  Grabbing one in each hand, he hefted them easily and joined the redhead at the top of the stairs in seconds.

The other boy’s eyes were wide.  “Wow.  Yer pretty strong, there, big fella.”

“Thanks.  I work out.”  It felt nice to hear someone call him big, even if it was only a high schooler.  Jak may have been a football player, but he certainly wasn’t the biggest or tallest on the field.  His unassuming stature belied his talent, to the dismay of rival teams.  “Here, let me give you a hand.  These bags are almost as heavy as you are.  Trust me, I’m in a position to know.”

The redhead’s mouth opened indignantly, then closed with a snap.  He nodded curtly.  “Fine, whatever.”

They stepped out of the stairwell onto the third floor.  Jak handed back the bags, careful not to let go of them too quickly.  He didn’t want to see the other boy’s arms pulled out of their sockets.  “So, where are you going with those?  Are you helping your big brother move in today?”

The glare the smaller guy turned on him could have curdled milk.  “Ha, ha.  Very funny, smart ass.”

Jak’s ears wilted so fast there was a breeze.  Open mouth, insert foot.  “Uh, jeez—I’m really sorry.  I wasn’t trying to be funny, I swear!  It’s just that you’re, um, you’re kind of—”

“Yeah, I’m little.  I get that a lot.”  No softening of the insulted glare as the not-high-school-student shouldered his backpack.

“S-so, you’re gonna be living on this floor?” Jak tried desperately to diffuse the situation.  “So am I!  Maybe we can be friends.  What’s your name?”

The redhead stared hard at him for a few moments, his frown suspicious.  Finally he shrugged flippantly.  “I’m Daxter.  Not Dexter, Dax-ter, Daxter with an ‘A,’ ya dig?  Now, you gonna point me toward room three-seventeen, or was the nice guy act all fer show?”

Jak’s arm was actually in motion to point the way when something clicked in his brain.  “Three-seventeen?”

“Did I stutter?” the redhead asked sourly.  “Listen, if ya don’t know, I’ll just go find somebody who—”

“No, no, wait a second!”  Jak maneuvered around to block the way, suddenly too cheerful to keep being embarrassed over his own social ineptitude.  “I’m Jak.  Jak without a ‘C.’  And I’m your roommate.”

For a long moment the two stared at each other.  Jak’s smile held when the redhead broke eye contact to fish a piece of paper out of his pocket.  “Room three-seventeen… double occupancy… Jak Mar.  Huh.”  He looked back up at Jak with a quirky little smirk that showed a hint of his front teeth.  “And here I thought that was a typo.”

“So did the nurse who filled out my birth certificate.  Or so I’ve been told.” 

There was a surprised snicker from the redhead, and his ears started to drift up from their defensive slant.  “Yeah, I bet.”

Jak thanked his lucky stars.  If he was going to have to live with this guy for the next eight and a half months, he didn’t want to get on his bad side on the first day.  “Come on, I’ll show you the way to our room.  Where’s the rest of your stuff?”

“Eh, I got a suitcase down in the lobby.  The line fer the elevator goes clear out the door an’ half way ta Jupiter, so no way I’m waitin’ fer that thing.  I’ll just drag it up the stairs.”

Jak refrained from making comments about how successful the last attempt to drag something up the stairs had been.  Instead, he picked up the duffle bag at the other boy’s—Daxter’s—feet and led the way down the hall, dodging the scurries of other new residents rushing to and fro.  “Just one suitcase?”

“Yeah.  I, uh… I didn’t bring a lot…”

“That’s not a bad thing.  You can go out and get what you don’t have.  I think my uncle tried to pack our whole house for me.  He kept sneaking stuff into my luggage and now I’ve gotta find space for all of it.”  He was rambling.  Needed to stop rambling.  “Hey, you know, I could go down and get your suitcase if you want.  So you can get started unpacking.”

“Well, uh… sure.  I guess.  If ya really want to.  Ya don’t need to, or anything.  I can get it myself.”

“It’s no big deal.  I’m already unpacked.” 

Room 317 was on the west side of the third floor of Praxis Hall.  It was a good room, Jak thought; a straight shot in from the west stairs, four rooms down from the showers, and in the lounge nearby there were vending machines and a large TV.  Jak was sure Daxter would like it, too.  He held the duffle bag away from his side to fish the keys out of his pocket.

Daxter eyed him as he juggled the bag.  “Sheesh, yer swingin’ that thing around like it’s full’a marshmallows.  You off in the weight room benchin’ insane amounts every other hour or somethin’?”

I could bench you pretty easy, Jak wanted to say.  Instead he just smiled.  “Nah, not really.  I’m on the football team.  I was at the university training camp last month, then went home until today.  Coach Sig runs us pretty hard, so it’s a great workout.”

Daxter was silent as Jak unlocked the door and they stepped, for the first time, into the space they would be sharing for the long haul.  Jak moved aside to let his roommate through and sat the duffle bag on the rug as an afterthought.

“I’ll run down and get your other bag.  It’s no problem, really.  Where’d you leave it?”

“It’s by the front desk.”  The redhead’s tone was somehow resigned.  “Just tell ‘em yer the goofy-lookin’ kid’s roommate, I bet they’ll give it to ya.”

“Sure. I’ll be right back!”  Since Daxter was still in the room, Jak didn’t bother to shut the door.  He just slipped back out into the hallway, into the flow of laughing, chatting residents, and headed for the stairs.  Contrary to his recent mope, the day seemed to be shaping up pretty nicely after all.

- // - // - // - // -

A football player.  Daxter was still reeling as he dumped out the contents of his duffle on top of the empty set of dresser drawers.  That was just freakin’ great.  Out of the thousands of new freshman flooding the damn place the week before classes, he had to get paired up with a football player.   

How many times during the past four years of purgatory known collectively as high school had a jock been at the root of his misfortune?  And football players could be some of the worst!  They were the idols of the school.  The other athletes bowed to them.  They stalked the halls with impunity, introducing small, redheaded, bucktoothed kids to the fronts of lockers and bathroom stalls at high speed as often as they pleased.  Even though he had heard time and again that college was nothing like high school, surely the fundamental basics of the food chain wouldn’t have changed in the three months since graduation. 

Daxter heaved a deep sigh and collapsed against the dresser, thunking his forehead into the cool wood.  “Suuuuck.”

“You okay?”

The voice made him jerk his head up.  In the mirror mounted over the two sets of drawers, he could see his new roommate in the doorway.  The stuffed suitcase that Daxter had had real trouble dragging to the lobby from a taxi cab hung effortlessly from one of the green-blonde’s brawny arms.  He swallowed reflexively.  “Uh…”

Jak sat the suitcase on the floor next to Daxter’s backpack with surprising care.  “What’s the matter?  Did you forget to pack something?  Because there’s a bus that runs close to a department store near here.  I was gonna go later today and stock up on some snacks.  We can go together, if you want.”

Daxter finally turned to look at the other properly.  This guy could not be serious.  “Don’t you have, like, a team ta hang out with or somethin’?”

It had been years since he had thought twice about the sharpness of his tongue.  Something about the immediate downward tilt of Jak’s ears and the disappearance of his smile, however, made Daxter regret the words almost as soon as they left his mouth.

“Well, yeah, sure.  I mean, I know those guys and everything, but… Never mind, I’m bothering you.  Sorry.  I’m going downstairs for lunch.  I’ll be back later.”

“N-no, hey, wait!”  For reasons unknown, Daxter was sorry.  Yes, Jak was a football player.  And he was sure to get mad at the redhead at some point, whereupon Daxter would begin his role as a personal in-room punching bag.  But so far the green-blonde had been nothing but friendly to him.  Like a mouse going out of its way to chew on the cat’s toes, it would somehow go against the rules of the universe if Daxter were the one to begin hostilities between them.  “I didn’t mean it like that, big guy.  I just, uh… don’t want you feelin’ like ya gotta hang out with me, or anything.  No obligations there.”

“Yeah, I know.  I just thought we should get to know each other a little bit.  You know, since we’re going to be living together and all.”

“Makes sense.  And fer the record, I promise I don’t hog air, sunlight, or space in the mini-fridge.”  Feeling ninety percent less guilty, Daxter began to pull open drawers.  “If you wanna wait, I’ll get lunch with ya.  This shouldn’t take long.”

“Okay.”  Jak’s ears drifted back up.  “Cool.  I can wait.  You need help unpacking?”

“Nah, I got it.  Like I said, there’s not much.”

With a nod, Jak dropped down on the edge of the bottom bunk.  It seemed to be the one he had staked out for his own, as it was covered in a deep blue comforter and the mattress on the top bunk was bare.  Ah, well.  Daxter was more than familiar with the concept of bunk beds and didn’t really care which level he slept on.  A bed was a bed, after all.

“Hey, by the by,” he said casually, “where do they hand out the blankets and stuff?”

Jak laughed.  “I wish.  It would have saved a lot of room in the car if I didn’t have to drag the pillows and blankets along.  They’re not real easy to pack.”

Daxter looked quickly up from his luggage.  “Huh?  Y’mean they…?  Oooh.”   His heart, liver, and other vitals abruptly sank down with the folded clothes inside his suitcase.  “Yeah.  Can’t blame a guy fer tryin’, right?”  Well, now he knew what he was buying that night.  And where a good part of the hundred bucks he had to hold him over for the week until that financial aid check came through was going.

Before he could get too morose, though, there was a knock on the open door.  Both Daxter and his new roomie looked up.  In the doorway stood one of the strangest looking people the redhead had seen all day.  Geometric tattoos marched up his ears from the middle, staining the pointed tips black.  Auburn dreadlocks in neat rows swung to his shoulders, brushing a t-shirt that screamed “Fight the Power!”

Jak broke the silence.  “Uh, hi.  Can we help you?”

“Room three-seventeen… both occupants accounted for.  Check.”  A clipboard was produced as their visitor marked down the note.  “What are your names?”

“I’m Jak, and this is Daxter.”

The redhead couldn’t resist.  “And you must be the campus superhero, Tattooed Wonder!  Am I right?”

“Hello Jak, Daxter.  I’m Torn,” the dreaded man said in the bored tone of one who had already given the same spiel twenty times and had a dozen more to go.  Completely ignoring Daxter, he pressed on.  “Welcome to Praxis Hall, third floor west—that’s 3W around here.  I’ll be your RA until next May.  If you have any problems, questions, or concerns that don’t involve the workings or lack thereof of the plumbing, heating, cooling, or elevator, please don’t hesitate to break down the barricade I’ve constructed behind my door.  There is a list of dorm rules available in the lobby.  Break one and I’ll staple that list to your forehead.  Now play nice, and I’ll catch you two later.”

In the long moment it took to process what had just been said, the man turned and disappeared into the flow of hallway traffic.  Daxter blinked slowly, then turned to look at the green-blonde beside him.  Jak was staring right back.  “Okay, some dude with tats on his ears and dreads down ta there just popped in here an’ disappeared like beer on Friday night, right?”

Jak nodded emphatically.  “Right.”

“Good.  Hate ta think I’m losin’ my mind already.”

- - - - -

Whoever had said that college was nothing like high school was absolutely right, where food was concerned.  The moment he and Jak had walked into the cafeteria on the main floor, Daxter had begun to drool.  There was a counter with pizza and pasta.  A counter for burgers, fries, and chicken strips.  One for tacos and one for stir-fry.  A salad bar that went on forever and had alfalfa sprouts on it.  The refrigerated desserts were endless and the drink machines had twenty flavors.

The redhead had exactly five bucks in his pocket. 

“Are you sure you don’t want anything else?” Jak asked as they settled at a small table on the outdoor patio. 

Daxter looked down at his single slice of cheese pizza and small soda.  “Uh, yeah.  I’m not super hungry right now, y’know?  Must be all the stress of movin’ day an’ all.  I’ll get my appetite back later.”  A week later, to be precise.  When that damn check came he was going to eat until he puked, just because he could.

“Whatever you say…”

Jak didn’t say more on the subject, but halfway through his slice Daxter found that half a carton of fries had appeared on his plate.  As he started on the crust a candy bar mysteriously materialized next to his tray.  “Dude, what’s up with this?  Ya don’t dig the chow here or somethin’?”

“Food’s fine.  I just have too much of it.”  Jak gestured to the remains of his lunch.  “A burger, the fries, a side salad, a fruit cup, the drink, and two candy bars, and I barely spent all my meal points.  If I don’t use them all they’re just gone, and my uncle wasted money.  So help me eat this stuff, will you?”

“Well, that must suck.  I guess I can help out.”  Beating down an ugly surge of jealousy with a stick, the redhead ripped open the chocolate bar.  At least Jak had offered it to him rather than the birds or the trashcan across the courtyard.  It was an unlooked for bonus. 

The hot sun and the milky sweetness on his tongue made him mellow, and almost without realizing it Daxter began to relax.  The day was bright.  His most recent move was over.  For the moment, he wasn’t hungry.  Classes wouldn’t start for a week.  There was no one to tell him what to do.  The four years of hard work stretching out ahead of him seemed a million miles away.  Starting right then, the Dax-man was officially on vacation.  He was even in a good enough mood to grab Jak’s tray of trash and dump it along with his own a few minutes later. 

He was cutting back through the maze of patio tables, chairs, and bodies when the green-blonde laid off slurping the remainder of his soda and held up the cup.

“Hey, Daxter, go long!” Jak yelled over the crowd.

“Huh?”  Dax looked up, eyes following the cup skyward as it left Jak’s hand and sailed through the air in his direction.  Made heavy enough by the ice inside, it spiraled beautifully as it made its descent.  Hey, he could catch that!  “I got it, I got it!”  Caught in the moment, registering only the surprising fact that someone wanted him to play, he darted sideways and backpedaled until the cup landed perfectly in his grasp.  Then he stumbled backwards into a table.  “Whoa—!”  From there it was a short trip to the concrete.  “Oww…” 

“Having fun down there?”

For the second time that day Daxter found himself horizontal, looking at someone upside down.  This time, however, the face he was staring up into was anything but friendly.  Reflexively he scrambled off the ground, intent on putting some distance between himself and the very angry guy with blue sports drink dripping down his chin and shirt.  The empty bottle rolled past Daxter’s foot.

The situation only got worse when the guy stood up.  There would obviously be no scampering away into the safety of the crowd this time.  Daxter’s ears drooped at the abrupt realization that his newest crisis was taller than Jak, and just as ripped.  The flush of anger on his similarly inked cheekbones stood out against his dark orange hair.  His ears, tattooed similar to their RA’s, were laid back in aggravation.

“I think somebody needs to learn why we don’t run around like a fool on a crowded patio, you little punk,” he growled.

Dax gulped.  So much for hoping he wouldn’t hit a fellow redhead.  Then it was on to the first line of defense: apologizing.  “Uh, he-heh, sorry about that.  Didn’t see ya there, pal.”

“Well, I definitely see somewhere that I can drown you!”

Daxter’s eyes widened and he stepped back quickly, in the opposite direction of the large, ornate granite fountain at the center of the cafeteria patio.  He ran smack into Jak.

“Looks like the one who needs to get wet here is you.”  Jak grinned cockily at the taller redhead as he dropped an arm around the shorter one’s shoulders.  “Might wash the blue off your face.”

Daxter’s mouth fell open, but no sound came out.  Nuh-uh.  This wasn’t happening.  The jock was not trying to defend the loser.  He looked up at Jak, searching for some confirmation that it was all some kind of joke, and he was about to go headfirst into yet another receptacle for those who angered bigger people.  Jak didn’t budge.  The arm stayed on his shoulder, heavy and grounding, while the green-blonde’s eyes remained fixed on their opponent.

“Get the hell out of my way.”

“I really don’t think so.”  Jak was still smiling, but it was a hard smile.  “It was an accident.  He just said sorry.  And I’ll apologize, too, because I’m the one who started it.  This really isn’t the place to be playing catch.  It won’t happen again.  So let it go, huh?”

They were starting to attract attention, the stares and whispers of the occupants of several tables around them.  The new boy seemed to realize it, too.  He glared silently at Jak and Daxter for a moment more before turning away.  “You’re not worth my time, anyway.  But, for the record, my name is Erol.  And you’d better stay out of my way.  Both of you.”

“Yer bona fide crazy, is what ya are,” Dax felt brave enough to mutter as Erol stalked away.  “Sheesh, I hope he doesn’t live in our dorm.” 

Jak’s cocky smile melted away into a thoughtful frown.  “Yeah.  I wouldn’t count on it, though.  If he was out here, he probably does.”  His frown deepened.  “There’s something about that guy I don’t like.  It’s kind of extreme to throw someone in a fountain over a spilled drink.  I mean, sure, he had a right to be upset, but he honestly looked ready to pulverize you.” 

Daxter laughed weakly, rubbing at his upper arm.  “Yeah, well.  It’s not as uncommon as you’d think.”  Many people enjoyed pulverizing shrimps like him.  Including Jak, probably, when his blonde moment wore off and he realized that the redhead’s clumsiness had made him look stupid in front of a crowd.  It would be easy for him to pretend to be cool about the whole thing until they were back behind the obscurity of their shared door, and then wedge Daxter under a mattress for the rest of the night.  Dax felt queasy at the thought.  “Uh, listen, about all this, I’m—”

“Sorry about that, Daxter.  It was my fault.  I should have known better than to throw that with so many people around.  Guess I just wasn’t thinking.”  Jak tilted his head like an overgrown puppy trying to explain the carnage of an overturned china cabinet.  He looked completely sincere.  “I owe you one, okay?”

Owed him one.  Jak owed him one?  After just preventing Psycho-saurus Rex from launching him into watery shame and oblivion?  Obviously this guy had been hit in the head by one too many footballs.   “… yeah.  Sure.  No problem.”

“Cool.”  And Jak was smiling again, just like that, like he didn’t have a care in the world.  “Hey, did you want to go to the store?”

Daxter shook his head briskly and brushed off the moment of weird.  Rolling with punches was one of his specialties.  “Yeah.  I need some sheets an’ a pillow if my bunk ain’t gonna look like a prison cot.  Not that the cement blocks in the walls don’t already lend ta the atmosphere.”

“Alright.  I’m heading back to the room to take inventory, then we can take off.”

“Right behind ya, big guy.”  Literally.  The football player would come in handy if they happened to run into that Erol guy again. 

They cut back across the courtyard, Jak obliviously blazing a trail through the crowd and Daxter following in his wake.  The redhead couldn’t help but let his imagination go off on a tangent.  Jak was like some sort of wild caveman, fearlessly taking on the challenges of the concrete jungle that was Haven University campus.  And if he played his cards right, Dax might be able to use that to his advantage.  His last thought was of Jak in a loincloth poking a spear at Torn the grumpy RA, who had somehow become a hissing saber tooth tiger with dreadlocks, and he grinned like an idiot all the way back to their room.

- // - // - // - // -

“Don’t mock my stars, football boy.  I got an awesome deal on these babies.”

Jak chuckled as he watched his roommate crawl around on the top bunk, attempting the arduous task of putting bed sheets patterned with stars and moons on a mattress that was higher off the ground than he was.  “I’m not laughing at your blankets from the kids’ section, I’m laughing at you flopping around up there.”

“Ha, ha.  That makes it so much better.”

Their shopping trip had been fruitful.  The mini-fridge was now stocked with soda and sports drinks; the spare cabinet with chips and snacks.  Jak had bought it all, and Daxter had promised not to nibble on what didn’t belong to him, but the green-blonde wasn’t dumb.  He had more than realized that his new friend didn’t have a lot of money to toss around.  The idea of the already-skinny redhead not eating because of that didn’t sit right with him.  If he played it cool and stressed that there was more than enough food, surely he could get Daxter to share the haul.

With the blankets finally in place, Daxter dropped down on his stomach with his face in his new pillow.  “Ah, little stars.  I think we’ll get along well together.”

“I don’t know, Dax.  I still think you should have reconsidered the pink set with the fairy princess ponies on it.” 

The redhead flipped him off and snuggled further into his pillow.  “In yer dreams.  Maybe the planetary theme is all the push I need ta enroll fer the astronomy major.  I’ll be a famous astronaut and you’ll just be a sad little football player, poor you.”

Jak snorted, shoving the last box of ice cream bars into the small freezer.  “If you say so.”  Then something occurred to him.  “What is your major, anyway?”

“Undecided.  General studies.”  Daxter peered down from his bed lazily.  “I ain’t here because I know what I wanna do, so much as I’m here because I didn’t know what ta do next.  Unlike you, I’m sure, mister wanna-be pro athlete.”

“I have a backup plan, thanks very much.”  Jak inclined his ears haughtily and waited for the prodding “well?” before providing his answer.  “I’m in phys ed.  I’d be a coach in a high school, or something.”

“You wanna be a jerk for a living?  Whoa…”

“Not like that,” Jak laughed.  “I have no idea what else I’d want to be, so the least I can do is be a decent coach and make sure everybody has fun.  Might have to kick a few parents’ asses, though.”  He sighed.  “Don’t feel bad.  I really don’t have any concrete goals either.  Not like my friend Keira.  She leaves next week for Kras U.  She’s going into mechanics.  Wants to open her own machine shop and everything.”

“Is she hot?” Daxter grinned upside down, his head hanging off the edge of the bunk.

“Totally.”  Jak’s answering grin abruptly disappeared.  “Damn.  I completely forgot to call her.”  He looked quickly at the clock.  It wasn’t yet eight thirty.  “Sorry, Daxter.  I’m going to go for a walk and call Keira.”

“Yeah, yeah.”  With a smirk, the redhead righted himself and stretched.  “You go call yer little hottie mechanic.  I’m gonna brush my teeth an’ scope the bathrooms.  There better be at least five showers in there or I’m gonna go gripe that RA’s inked ear off.”

A quick salute to his roommate and Jak headed for the lobby, phone in hand.  He had plenty of time to call Keira before his uncle rang up from the airport.  The scorching day had fallen to the cool of evening as he left the dorm and picked a likely sidewalk to stroll down, around the side of the building away from the parking garage.  A few late fireflies lingered through the tree trunks as he passed the edge of the quad and hit Keira’s speed dial.

//Hi, it’s Keira!  Sorry I missed your call.  I’m probably under a car right now, but if you leave your name and number—//

Jak smiled and shook his head, flipping his phone closed.  It figured.  She was the only girl he knew who could fiddle around in a sweltering garage until all hours, then dress up pretty the next morning and drag him out for a day on the town.  There was an elongated beep.  “Hey Keira, it’s only me.  I was just calling to say hi and make sure you’re not missing me too much already, since you’re such a wimpy little girly-girl and all.  Oh, and I wanted to check on Croc.  Make sure your dad remembers to feed him when you leave, okay?  Uncle won’t be back for at least two weeks and I really don’t want to find out that my dog is dead when I come home for Thanksgiving.  Anyway, call me back if you get this before midnight.  Love you.  Bye.”

The lamp posts were winking on by the time he came within sight of the dorm again.  He was cutting around the rear of the building with the intention of going up the back stairs when something caught his attention.  Jak stopped, perking his ears.  A rattling sound was coming from an alcove in the back wall, where a large dumpster stood.  He wandered closer curiously.  Squirrel, raccoon, or stray cat?  None of the above, as it turned out.  In a small wire birdcage, something squeaked and rocked its long, furry body against the bars.

“Whoa…”  Jak knelt beside the cage, meeting the glittering eyes of the creature inside.  The ferret, a brown and cream sable, opened its mouth to squeak up at him as it pushed at the bars futilely with its paws.  “What are you doing out here, little guy?” 

These kinds of pets were expensive.  Who would leave one out with the trash, in a cage barely big enough for it to turn around in?  Unless the owner was a new student who had run up against the “no pets allowed” rule that came uniform in the campus’ dorms.  Jak snorted, frowning deeply.  Anyone who would abandon something defenseless like that needed to be the one in the trash. 

Resolutely the green-blonde hoisted the cage.  If he went in the back doors and borrowed a towel from the weight room downstairs, there was a very good chance he could cover the cage and smuggle it up to their room without anyone but Daxter being the wiser.  Surely the redhead wouldn’t squeal over something so trivial, at least until an animal rescue of some sort could be found to take the ferret of Jak’s hands. 

“Just keep quiet in there, little guy.  I got your back.”

Jak had never been very good at following rules.  And with a first day like the one he’d just had, he was willing to risk it.  College life was off to an exciting start.

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To be continued.

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