Chapter 1: The Guinea Pig
His bank account looked as bleek as ever. After Hyperion took its lion share of the rent, all he had left were pot - noodle money, his main source of nutrients since he started working for the corporation. Just one of the many decisions Timothy Lawrence regretted making in his fresh but rather hostile adult life.
“Man. This… This sucks.” he muttered and worried his lower lip. There was always a plan B, of course, but it involved certain people Lawrence dreaded to talk to. His mom was on the top of that rather long list.
The ECHO established connection and it took a few pings before the recipient picked up.
“Sweetheart, do you know what time it is?”
“Uh - Oh, sh-, I mean sorry, mom.”
“What can I do you for, sweetie?” his mom sounded concerned but Lawrence was yet to drop the M - bomb.
Tim let his fingers run through his ginger hair and nervously pushed the thick - rimmed glasses up the nose. His palms were sweating something crazy and he brushed them off on the Hyperion - issued pants.
“Dear, you still there?”
He took deep breath and prepared for the meltdown. It had happened before and of course today would be no different. His parents were well off and while his younger brother Henry was the sun and stars in the parental eyes, Timothy had been the never - ending source of disappointment.
Okay, here goes.
“ I, uh, need some mo -,”
“Again?” the softness in his mother voice was gone, this time Timothy did not even had to finish the sentence. It was no secret that he was considered to be and was often referred to as ‘the black hole where the cash goes to die’. The fact that all of it was for his education changed very little. Bashing Tim was the favorite topic of family gatherings.
“Sorry, but t- the rent got higher,” he hated how he would start fumbling and stuttering when nervous. “I have nothing to put towards the loan payment.”
“Community college has always been an option but you had to shoot for the stars, didn’t you?”
“I think it is time you look into something more appropriate for your… skill level, Timothy.”
And then she hung up on him. That was new. The times before his mother would lecture Lawrence extensively on how his life was all wrong and why couldn’t he be more like Henry. Timothy would try to point out that having a Master's degree in creative writing was as useful as being a surgeon but eventually she would reduce him to the ‘Yes’, ‘Sorry’’ and ‘Of course’ replies.
I think it is time you look into something more appropriate for your skill level.
He was good at what he did but he lacked Hyperion’s highly - valued trait of stepping on people’s necks in order to get what he wanted. This is why Timothy was still stuck in his tiny cubicle, underpaid and miserable, while people around him moved upwards, stabbing each other in the back, kidneys or any other accessible areas.
Lawrence called up the email screen on his digi - watch, circling through the categories until the word ‘Drafts’ popped up. Opening the folder he pulled up the letter that had been sitting there for a couple of days now. It was his response to the rather short and cryptic advert that was searching for people with ‘charisma, uniqueness and talent’ without specifying anything else but a promise of a very nice pay for the duration of the employment. Normally Tim would think thrice about replying to anything so shady but he was running out of options. He double - checked the resume and clicked ‘send.’ Of course, a second later Lawrence regretted his choice and freaked out but the deed was done and there was nothing left but to wait. It was rather agonizing to both hope for an answer and pray the desperate cry for help would be ignored, so that he could continue with his uncomfortable but familiar and uneventful existence.
The shrill screech of his ECHO made Jack’s fingers slip and delete the last portion of the code he was slaving on for the last hour and a half. Tassiter will love this. After all, it was but half an hour since the asshole contacted him pissing and moaning how Jack is stalling the whole project with his incompetence. Whoever this was - they were dead. Eventually. In his power fantasies, anyway.
“What?!” he barked at the person on the other end of the line.
“Ah, Jack. You are awake.” Doctor’s voice was as calm as ever.
“Thanks to you I will be awake for a good while longer,” Jack hit the wireless connection button and pushed himself away from the desk, letting the chair roll towards the panoramic window. Which was not very ‘panoramic’ right now as the shutters were closed - a standard procedure at the end of the regular office hours. “This better be the best news I have ever heard.”
“We have found a candidate.”
“Well it’s about time!” Jack jumped up, unable to contain the sudden wave of childish excitement. “Who’s the lucky sucker?”
”Your Guardian Angel took its time but I believe it is the best fitting candidate we will ever get. The background search ticked most of the desired boxes. ”
“Funny how we are still talking but I do not have kid’s file, don’t you think?”
The doctor said nothing but the ECHO pinged softly and Jack opened the document via his digi - watch. Not really bothering with the fact that Autohn was still listening in, he started reading the resume of this fascinating guinea pig they were about to acquire. Doc would have all the boring biology bits; Jack himself was really looking forward to the end result and the events it would put in motion.
“Timothy Lawrence… what a basement dweller of a name! … Creative Writing, riiiiiight... Color me unimpressed. Blah blah blah… Who says they like cats in their resume? Oh man, this is pure gold.”
He kept mumbling to himself, getting sassier by the minute. Timmy - boy was a treasure trove of lame and Jack swore to himself he would read this piece of art every day before bedtime, it was that good.
“Holy crap!” As he swiped to the next page, Jack suddenly was facing Lawrences photo. “That… is a piece of work.”
“I am confident in my ability to make him look nearly - if not completely - identical to you.”
“You still here? Creepy,” Jack’s gaze slid over pale - skinned man with thick - rimmed glasses that made his green eyes pop up like two saucers. Wavy copper hair and a shit-ton of freckles. Pandora have mercy. “It better be completely me, down to the last pube. Or I will make sure people know how you ‘tricked’ me into doing all those body scans and donating blood samples.”
Jack smiled to himself. He would do it. In fact, he had a back - up plan nice and ready if the good doctor decided to screw him over.
“As they say, Doc - ‘Let me help you to help me.’ ”
Chapter 2: Hello Goodbye
In which it is like Face Off but not really and being Jack is not as scary as being John Travolta.
The frigid light had crawled underneath his eyelids and Tim scrunched his face, annoyed at being woken up like that. The realization that at least two things were seriously wrong with the situation nudged at his groggy mind, making Lawrence open his eyes wide and draw a sharp breath. First and foremost he should not be asleep - last thing he remembered with a relative clarity was talking to someone about the position he reacted on. Secondly, he could not feel a thing. Tim tried moving his fingers but all he got back was a dull tingling sensation where his arm should have been.
The panic attack came swiftly, Lawrence’s heart skipping a beat and suddenly jumping upwards, drumming in his temples. Somewhere to the right an ECG device had sounded a shrill alarm informing about patient’s abnormal vitals.
“Nurse! Morphine,” A vaguely familiar voice barked a curt order and the next moment Tim felt dreamy haziness engulfing his body. “Now now, mister Lawrence, we can’t have you dying on us right now. You’ve been such a good patient so far.”
Tim remembered waking up and remembered it was terrible. So now he lay still, biding his time and gathering courage to open his eyes. Or maybe one eye, for starters. As he did so and nothing horrible had happened, Lawrence carefully tried to lift his hand. This time round he actually felt his muscles processing and executing his brain’s desire. The arm felt sore, his whole body, in fact, felt as if he ran a marathon. Not that he knew how that felt but Tim had spent times in gym, as few and far apart as they were. Carefully he propped himself upwards and looked around - a small room full of medical equipment with the lights dimmed to comfortable softness. Out of habit Tim reached out to adjust the glasses but, to his surprise, one of the fingers had nearly jammed into his eyeball. Lawrence hissed and blinked away the tears, only now realizing he was not wearing any glasses to begin with and yet his eyesight seemed to be perfect.
The door ahead whirred open and a man came in. It was the guy Tim spoke prior to the interview, the one who promised not to harvest any of his organs.
“Welcome back, Timothy. You gave us a bit of a fright the other day.”
“I - What?” Tim chewed on his lower lip, eyeing the doctor. “I did?”
The man hummed the confirmation as he looked through the drawers and gathered some instruments on the small table. Lawrence eyed him nervously and gulped down as he saw light reflecting from a long thick needle.
“Why am I here?”Tim asked carefully, tracing the doctor’s every move. The needle had disappeared on the small table that the man was now wheeling in Lawrence’s direction.
“You do not remember? Interesting. This must be a direct consequence of the prolonged anaesthesia you’ve been under for the surgery - ”
“S - Surgery?!” Lawrence’s voice jumped two octaves higher and he froze, gasping for air like a fish out of water. “I don’t remember agreeing on anything like that!”
“It will come back to you, mister Lawrence. While you did not sign any documents yet, we do have your verbal agreement recorded, don’t you worry. Now,” The doctor sat down at the edge of the bed and fished out the needle Tim had caught a glance of earlier. “Please give me your hand, I would like to test your sensory threshold.”
Still shaking like a leaf, Tim did what was asked of him and, in an attempt to distract himself, dropped his gaze on own arm. The skin on the exposed forearm had a warm bronze tint to it and there was an unmistakable muscle definition Lawrence never ever remembered having. He just kept ogling ‘his’ arm like an idiot, taking notice of a couple of faded scars hiding underneath soft - looking dark hairs.
“Ouch,” he grunted as he felt needle sinking in the tip of his finger. The doctor repeated the process several more times and was obviously satisfied with the result.
“Very nice. Now, Timothy, if your thumb is ‘one’ and pinky is ‘five’, please touch fingers simultaneously on both hands in the order I propose.” He then called several combination at a different pace and Tim tried to follow to the best of his ability. “Right hand coordination is a bit off. Still, you are healing remarkably fast. Your nervous system adjusted well enough for me to prescribe a diluted eridium drip.”
“Isn’t that very expensive?” Tim mumbled, his mind bursting at the seams, desperately trying to process all the information.
“Dear boy, your employer spared no expenses on you.”
“What exactly will I be doing?”
“Wonderful things, mister Lawrence.”
Day 4 since ??
It was still weird to see his face. Or, rather, the face that would be his for the next twenty years or so. Tim’s fingers ran through luscious dark brown hair, attempting to style it as on the photo provided by doctor Autohn. It was quite the monumental task, no matter how much wax went into this, the hair refused to make that specific curl on top. Lawrence sighed and eyed himself in the mirror. The man in the reflection had quite the appearance - elegant jawline, high cheekbones, bow - shaped lips. All the things people are known to fall for. But the most unusual feature his mysterious employer possessed was heterochromia or ‘odd eyes’ - one was blue and the other one was green. The latter was Tim’s own colour and, perhaps, the only thing that was left unaltered during the surgery. Overall the man could have been called handsome if not for one unpleasant feature - he had what Tim decided to call ‘a resting smugface’. With minimum effort on his part, Lawrence looked like he was better then anyone within direct proximity and in his humble opinion that was not the quality to be proud of.
“The employer is very happy with your progress.” Doctor Autohn came in with what looked like a bigger version of an ECHO device.
“My employer… I know what he is is but I don’t even know his name.”
“His name is Jack.”
“Just like that? No surname, nothing?” Tim arched an eyebrow, making the man in the mirror look overly sarcastic. His voice, however, expressed honest curiosity. Right, his voice. “Doctor, what about my voice? Shouldn’t I sound like him?”
Autohn smiled in a way that almost looked genuine and put the oversized ECHO down. “This is exactly why I am here. We have installed a voice modulator in your throat and I wanted to give it some time to heal. Now that eridium had done its part,” He flipped the on switch and the machine hummed softly. “I can calibrate your soundbox, so to speak. Please start talking.”
“A - About what?” Tim stuttered, being caught off - guard and fumbling with the leather jacket he was wearing. The doctor shrugged his shoulder as his fingers floated above the calibration wheel. Lawrence took deep breath in and clasped his fingers together. “Right. Okay. Uh - My name will be Jack. I am a software engineer for Hyperion. Apparently I -,”as Tim spoke, he noticed his voice loosing its shrill pitch, while becoming lower and smoother. “- this face opens doors, they say.”The last portion sounded as if someone else said it and Lawrence fell silent, surprised by the velvety flow of his new voice.
“One more thing I would like to test, Timothy,” The doctor eyed him, tapping a stylus he took out of his pocket on the surface of the table. “Tell me your name.”
“Your name, mister Lawrence.”
“My name is Timo - ugh,” he shivered and froze mid-word, pupils dilating as an unpleasant jolt of pain washed over him from head to toes. It seems this was exactly what Autohn was expecting as the doctor smiled brightly, stylus caught between two fingers.
“Jack desires dedicated and consistent discretion. As his double you have to fool people into thinking you are him, when the situation calls for it. We can’t let you slip, dear boy, and thus every time you try to say your real name, an non - fatal electric shock will prevent you from doing so. Now, can you please tell me your name again?”
“My name is Jack,” Tim answered softly, staring intensely at the tips of his boots. “Lawrence,”Noticing that using his surname did not result in another painful episode, Tim perked up and lifted his gaze to meet the doctor’s, giving the man a crooked smile. “Jack Lawrence, sir.”
Jack propped his chin with one fist as he waited for connection to establish. His eyes darted off to the picture of his daughter that stood on his desk. She was, what, six when this was taken? It was during one of those family outings his first wife was so fond of. Cotton candy, robo - ponies, all that jazz. Angel never saw real horses, it occurred to him all of a sudden. She spent all her life on Helios and then, after the accident -
“Dad?” A pale face of the teenager flicked on the screen. She sounded surprised. “Why are you calling today?”
“Do I need a reason to check up on my favourite daughter?” He smiled charmingly at her but the kid’s face soured.
“Usually.” She answered flatly and turned towards computer screens, flicking through multiple tabs. “You want to know about the candidates and if I found any for you.”
“You know me too well, kitten,” Another smile in hope to soothe her anger was left unnoticed. Jack could see her elegant profile, illuminated by the screens. She took everything from her mother, wicked talent for programming aside - that was all him. Jack heard her mumbling something to the extent of ‘that’s the problem’ and knotted his eyebrows in annoyance, tapping fingers on the table. “Attitude check, Angel!”
“Sorry,”She answered absent-mindedly. “There, I have some personal files for you to look through… Are you still insisting on bringing that weird funny robot with you?”
“It is going to be glorious, kiddo!” Jack snorted at the mental image of a yapping clunky steward unit wielding guns twice as big as its ‘arms’ and then frowned as his face fell on the image of his future body - double that was still shimmering unevenly on his desktop. “Also, no offence baby, but are you sure the guy you found me gonna cut it? He looks all wimpy and uncool.”
”He was the closest match to the qualities you were looking for, Dad,” Angel replied dryly. “Considering your plans you hardly need to care about his looks. I am sure the doctor will do great.”
The second line on his ECHO comm lit up, indicating an incoming call. Jack checked out the ID and wiggled his eyebrows in anticipation, turning back to his daughter who was patiently waiting for further instructions.
“Speaking of doctors. Kitten, send me those dossiers, m’kay? I have to take this call,” Without further ado he disconnected and pressed the button, accepting the incoming call. “Hey, doc, you are alive! Give me the good news.”
“Mister Lawrence had been green-lit for official discharge and should be on his way to you.”
“Did you happen to tell him the change is permanent?” Jack inspected his nails, noticing with irritation that one was broken and uneven. He reached out and pulled a small nail filer from the upper drawer. Presentation mattered, it always did.
“I don’t think he needs to know just yet. Mr. Lawrence is about to start discovering being you has its bright sides. That said, Jack,” Autohn was rustling with something on his end. “I would like to have him in my office every week for blood tests and a physical. I need to keep an eye on the genetic alterations I’ve made.”
“Sweet, you’ve got it! Timmy will be at your place, shirt up and pants down every Sunday sharp.”
“Pleasure working with you, Jack. Enjoy your acquisition.” Autohn disconnected.
Jack made a happy noise and woke up the computer by running fingers along the keyboard. He quickly typed in a series of commands and watched how the information was pulled up, processed and subsequently deleted from the ECHOnet, all the while a grin of content plastered all over his face.
“Goodbye, Mr. Four - Eyed Creative Loser and helloooooo handsome!”
SPOILER ALERT: There wasn't any recording of any agreement. Poor Timmy was played like a ukulele but like the good doctor said - he really had no other options.
After spotting something on tumblr I decided to made Tim major in Creative Writing, because it seems that is what the creator had in mind for him. So I edited that information in the first one shot. :)
Chronologically I just hit Pre - Sequel. This is the part where I start winging it or magically finish the DLC's in one night. Obviously the last part is not happening.
Let me know what you think, dudes and dudettes. I love to talk Xxx
Chapter 3: Seeing Double
In which we learn Jack has little to no concept of personal space.
“Sir! Jack! Jaaack!” Secretary Claptrap kept screeching through the intercom and Jack grit his teeth together. Somewhere out there existed a bright and hopeful future where he did not have to deal or hear from another squawking box on wheels ever again.
“ - he looks just like you, says he has an appointment! What if he is a super sneaky rival spy and -, ”
“Shut up,” Jack pressed the button with such force that his finger went white and the mechanism creaked under the pressure. “And let him in.”
“Did you hear me stutter?” His voice fell to a predatory growl. Some first impression he was making but the bot was driving Jack absolutely insane.
While Helios was under construction, Tassiter deemed it a waste of his time and resources to provide Jack with human employees. That resulted in most of the non - vital positions being filled by robots. Loaders assisted engineers with construction and claptraps were assigned to do more social tasks - from cooking to secretarial and custodial duties. Jack had at least ten of the little toasters in his office copying and applying the codes he had written. Suffice to say, five out of ten times something would go wrong.
The door slid open and his guest stepped in, looking around a bit meekly. Jack took note of the man’s behaviour and felt his eternal optimism taking a substantial hit - a lot of work loomed ahead and too little time to fit it all in.
Tim, who was humbled by the size of the office, gave a shiver of surprise and looked in the direction of the voice. That must have been his employer - after all, the man walking towards him was a spitting image of the face Lawrence had been seeing in the mirror for the past week. As Jack approached, the grin turned into a smile and he suddenly slapped Tim on the shoulder in an apparent friendly gesture. His boss had a heavy hand and Lawrence felt the air leaving his lungs.
“My man, you look amazing. As you, obviously, should,” Jack added cheekily, soaking in every inch of Tim’s form. “Since you are me and I am quite amazing.” He popped the collar of own jacket and gave Lawrence a saucy wink. “Name’s Jack, pumpkin. And how should we call you?”
Tim opened his mouth and closed it abruptly, remembering the painful sensation when he gave his original answer to Autohn. “Jack.” he finally replied and curled lips up in a polite smile.
“Smart kid,” Jack adjusted Lawrence’s coat - identical to what he was wearing himself. “You know what has a really nice ring to it? Timmy. You don’t mind, do you?” Jack has finally stopped fiddling with Tim’s clothes and stood in front of him, arms crossed. “Now, onto business, cupcake. As it happens, I have a few pointers.”
Timothy said nothing, his boss seemed to be the kind of person that really liked the sound of own voice, as well as belittling pet names.
“First of all - your hair, kiddo. You see this?” Jack flamboyantly pointed at his own that was styled in a perfect wave falling to the left side of his head. “Now look at whatever is happening on yours,” he stepped forward and before Tim could even quip up in protest, dug fingers into Lawrence’s hair. “You add the volume at the roots, not plaster it to your skull like - There!” Jack stepped away and admired his own work. Timothy rolled his eyes upwards in attempt to examine what it was that Jack had accomplished but could see nothing from that angle.
“Secondly, sweetcheeks, your posture. I don’t stand like that.”
“What is wrong with my posture?”
“What isn’t? You look like someone will punch you at any given moment. You know, if you act like that, someone just might.” Jack laughed wholeheartedly as he saw uncertainty flicker in Timothy’s eyes. “I’m pulling your tail, kiddo. Just sponge it all in, you’ll have plenty of opportunities.”
“I need you on your best as soon as possible, Timtam. So to speed up the process I made arrangements regarding your living space. Which also happen to be mine, by the way. Think of it as,” Jack snapped his fingers as a genuine smile illuminated his face, briefly replacing the self - absorption with childish excitement. “One of those dorm bonding experiences.”
That was one mighty dorm, Timothy thought to himself as Jack slid the keycard in and unceremoniously pushed through, beckoning his double to follow. The living room was already as big as Tim’s old apartment. If Jack did not manage to snag presidential quarters, he was damn close, luxury - wise. His boss, as if reading Timothy’s mind, looked around and snickered.
“Technically this is supposed to be Tassiter’s. But if that asshole cannot even bother to come down here, he can go kiss a skag, it’s mine now.”
“Does he know?”
“Like fuck I care,” Jack huffed and grabbed a can that was standing on the large table. He shook it to check if there was anything in it and then gulped the contents down, making a face. “Ugh, warm beer,” he masterfully tossed the can in the trash bin, made out of a non - functional claptrap. “Anyway, mi casa su casa, as they say.”
Timothy walked around, his opinion of Jack and who he was getting more solid by the minute. The man was in his thirties yet he talked, dressed and behaved like a textbook frat boy. His house reflected as much, both in decoration and the level of mess. Tim had seen his share of such guys at the university. Mostly interaction, even brief ones, would cost Timothy his assignments, glasses and, occasionally, pants. Those were the days, some would say.
Lawrence had finally decided he had gathered enough information to show Jack he was worth the money. Tim imagined that being Jack was like being peacock in a continuous full on ‘come and get some of that, ladies’ mode. Following that revelation, Timothy dropped his hands lazily on the hips, hooking both thumbs behind the belt and elegantly cocked an eyebrow, throwing one more glance around the room.
“I shall call this ‘the Lair of Vainglorious’. Especially since the glorious had doubled by, like, two, amirite?” Tim winked and tried very hard to look natural and not give away the exact amount of brain cells and dignity sacrificed in the process of making that sentence.
“Did you just -, Did you - uh - damn! You sound hot and very distracting right now, ”Jack was too busy appreciating ‘himself’ to fully register the sick burn Timothy managed to squeeze in. His boss de-attached himself from the table he propped himself on earlier and marched past Lawrence, deeper into the ‘jackspace.’ “Anyway, lemme show your bedroom. This is going to be fun, I can tell.”
And it was, for a short while.
Writing Jack groping Tim casually makes me cry. Like any normal human being I am attached to my personal space and this kind of invasion makes my skin crawl xD
All I know about Helios at that point is that there were A LOT of claptraps. But why? So I just decided to imagine why, since I do not know yet.
Tim's sick burn took me like 10 minutes to imagine. So those dead brain cells were not only his.
As per usual. thanks for reading! Comments and kudos, I love it all <3
Chapter 4: Good
In which Tim is just doing his job and salads are evil. Or are they?
Tim exhaled loudly and stretched his legs on the table in the living room. He made sure to take his boots off - Jack had never extended such courtesies but then again, he had no problem putting his food somewhere where generations of Helios bacteria were, most likely, entering the era of space exploration. Lawrence checked his ECHO and flexed his feet, feeling the ankles crack gently. Something that he probably should report during the next physical, he noted mentally. Because Jack’s joints did not do that. Jack was perfect. Jack farted and it smelled like the most expensive cologne. Lawrence made a face and reached out under his shirt, unbuckling the posture brace Autohn made him wear after Jack complained about Tim slouching. The device forced his shoulder backwards, making Timothy feel as if someone was trying to pull his ribcage out. But, apparently, that was how Jack walked. If his boss happened to walk backwards and upside down, Tim had to learn that too.
Another deep sigh left his mouth as Lawrence pulled out one of his old trapper keepers out of a yellow Hyperion - branded backpack. The binder followed him through the student years and his new employer was lenient enough, allowing Tim to keep some personal items on one condition - the body double was not permitted to be seen with any of own belongings in public. Everything Lawrence wore or carried had to be Jack approved, which, in reality, was simply pulled out of his boss’ closet. Jack was not overly attached to his possessions but he did have a particular taste in clothes and accessories that Tim had to follow to a ‘t’. That said, Lawrence was asked not to roam around Helios during working hours anyway, because Jack was paranoid his boss would learn of the double’s existence.
“To business, then.” Tim muttered and opened the old - fashioned combination lock. Inside was an array of papers which contained notes Lawrence meticulously collected regarding his observations of Jack. It was, after all, his job. The file the doctor gave him to study during the flight was very basic - some voice samples to get the intonation right and a very short ‘on a need to know basis only’ biography. In a couple of weeks living with his boss Lawrence managed to gather quite the portfolio. Some of the observations were made because Jack dropped a word by accident, some because he was in a mood to talk about own greatness and sometimes there was just no way for him to weasel out.
On several occasions Lawrence asked about his boss’ childhood but Jack was not very talkative when it came to growing up. The information was very scarce regarding both his father and mother but Jack was very loud and clear when it came to his grandmother - she was the one who raised him.
“I bet all those scars have been bugging you, Timtim,” Jack grinned darkly after a straight minute of crude cursing and cracked his knuckles. Tim could not deny that - when your own back and arms are littered with partially faded marks that are modeled after your superior’s, one has to wonder where they came from. “See, Grammy was really into the corporal punishment thing. And when you live in the bumfuck of nowhere, no - one can tell her she ain’t doing it right.”
Much later, Tim miraculously managed to squeeze out of his boss a confession that he was married. Twice, even. When Jack, rather annoyed, asked what gave it away, Tim pointed at his left ring finger, that had a fading print of a thin band encircling it. Jack raised his eyebrows in surprise and examined his hand, grumbling something about ‘getting rid of evidence’’. Any other questions regarding his wives made Jack clam up, giving Tim the kind of stare he never wanted to see directed at him ever again.
And then there was that room. It was near Jack’s own sleeping quarters and it was sealed shut. The boss made it clear that if Tim as much as touched the door, he will rip his head off. Of course that was said with a broad smile and a wink but Jack’s voice vibrated in that particular manner which Lawrence learned to interpret as ‘there will be unpleasant consequences’. He had never actually seen Jack physically hurting anyone but the man did say it like he meant it.
“No, I don’t keep dead bodies in there,” Jack said afterwards, throwing hands up in a mockingly defensive gesture. “Just… Don’t go there. Not that you can or anything, it has lock your little story-writing head cannot dream of hacking. And if you try - Well, you won’t, pretty sure of that. Loans don’t pay themselves and jaws take long to heal, sweet cheeks.”
A screech and swearing ripped Tim out of the notes and he lifted his head just in time to see the door slide open and Jack walking in, rubbing his knee.
“I’m so sorry! Please kick me again! You totally can, I will take it like a - ”
“Roll away before I tear off your chassis, you useless moron!!” Jack yelled at the yammering Claptrap before the door closed behind him. He scanned the room and his tired gaze stopped on Timothy, who just finished stuffing notes back into his trapper keeper. “Can you friggin’ believe it? Idiot rammed into me!”
“Are you sure it was not the other way round?” the comment earned Tim a sour glare and Jack dropped himself on the sofa, crashing feet onto the table and making the cup Lawrence was using rattle violently.
“Food, kiddo. Do you have any?”
“Um - Chicken salad.” Lawrence answered timidly, anticipating his employer’s reaction. After nearly a year on instant noodles Tim was enjoying his newly found healthy culinary freedom.
“What?! You gotta be kidding. That’s, like, rabbit food.”
“Rabbits are long extinct.” Tim noted absentmindedly, moving the teacup away from the danger zone.
“Yeah, and you know why? Because they were eating the flipping salad!” Jack jumped up and disappeared in the kitchen.
For a while nothing but angry rummaging was heard. Then came the sizzling noises and the smell of bacon. One other remarkable thing about Jack was that as much as he was trying to project bachelor vibes, the man knew how to cook. And it was not the ‘I need to eat something’ kind of desperate cooking Timothy specialized in. Jack’s was definitely the ‘I made this for you’ kind, whether he himself realized that or not. A plate of heavenly smelling scrambled eggs was shoved in front of Tim and Jack once again landed on the sofa, side - eyeing his double.
“That’s how you cook.” He declared smugly, admiring own work before stuffing a spoonful in his mouth.
“You don’t pay me enough to be your maid, Jack.” Lawrence remarked, picking at the delicious - looking piece of bacon.
“Oh but apparently I pay you enough to talk back at me, right, Timmy?” His boss replied flatly and turned attention back to his plate. For a while they were both simply chewing and ignoring each other, until Jack finished picking up the remains with a piece of bread and put the empty plate on the table. “Ok, should have not been so rude, maybe.”
Lawrence stood up to clean the post - dinner mess. As he dumped the dishes into the sink he paused for a moment and hummed softly, fishing out fancy port Jack managed to acquire from someone in Concordia.
“Drink?” he called out, pretty sure what the answer would be.
“Kiddo, you are speaking my kinda language.”
Some time had passed with them just sitting and drinking, each staring into a different corner of the room. While Tim was still mulling over his first glass - he really was not too big on alcohol, Jack was onto his fifth one, the previous four going down as smooth as water. Clearly today was one of those days.
“Tim,” Jack drawled suddenly and Lawrence snapped out of own thoughts, curling fingers just a bit tighter around the glass. His boss’ face had suddenly acquired a very smooth expression. “Come here, cupcake.”
Timothy threw a confused glare in Jack’s direction and shifted uneasily, getting hyper aware of his surroundings. Meanwhile Jack, noticing that proverbial mountain was not coming any closer, decided to act with an unusual swiftness for someone having that many drinks. Before Lawrence could even blink his boss was right next to him, one hand snaking around the back and the other scruffing Tim gently by the front of the canary - yellow Hyperion sweater.
“You know, you’ve been sitting here for weeks, wearing my clothes, making freakin’ s-s-salads,” Jack paused trying to get the slurring under control. “Like a girlfriend. And a damn handsome one too. In light of that -, There is one thing missing.”
“L - Like?” the double mumbled, realizing there was no wiggle space left and that he suddenly felt uncomfortably warm and sweaty.
”Like, say, a kiss.”
Once again, with an unexpected grace for someone in that state of inebriation, Jack leaned in and caught Tim’s lips with his. Lawrence froze like a deer in headlights, feeling a rush of adrenaline washing over him like a deafening wave. The fingers clutching the drink spasmed and with a loud crack the fragile glass broke to pieces.
“What the actual fu - ” Jack pulled away, staring at Tim’s left hand, where a sharp cut was seeping blood onto the double’s shirt. Lawrence used the confusion to jump up and put some distance between himself and his inadequate employer.
“Uh, Jack, ah - I’m done. For today. P - Please excuse me,” weeks of conditioning went down the crapper, stressed Timothy Lawrence was still a stuttering blushing idiot. “You, um, hydrate yourself, yeah?”
Without waiting for Jack’s dismissal Tim stormed off to own bedroom, locking himself in the bathroom. His gaze fell on significant red blotch on his sweater and Lawrence sighed - this would, most likely, be taken out of his pay - the outfit was completely ruined. With a hiss of discomfort Tim rinsed his hand, inspecting the large cut and putting a coagulation plaster on. It would stop the bleeding in seconds and administer local anesthetic, dulling the pain for a while.
Only after finally rolling into the blissful embrace of the blankets, Lawrence allowed his mind to go back to the moment when Jack’s lips touched his. It felt weird. Unprofessional. Uncalled for. But also…
It felt good.
OH SNAP. And I say it because I was seriously not planning to write that last part of the chapter. Halfway through the writing I noticed where this was heading and I thought - well, fine, the universe itself wants this.
Also the universe knows Jack would so try to bang himself, Tim's sweet personality most likely does not interest him at all. And Tim, most likely, knows that. He is a smart boy.
I hope you liked this chapter, kiddos. <3 BECAUSE I SURE DO.
Chapter 5: 25% More Handsome
In which there is even more handsome. By whole 25%.
The alarm went on for at least another five minutes until a hand reached out and slammed the digital clock on the ground, where it proceeded chirping and screeching. Tim poked his head out from under the blanket and stared at the wall, head heavy from sleep. The alarm was still howling somewhere underneath the bed and Tim rolled on the floor, feeling momentarily dizzy from switching positions so quickly. As he tried to fish out the clock, his gaze fell on his hand and a plaster that was still stuck to it. Lawrence pressed the ‘off’ button and sat up straight, bits and pieces of the previous evening slowly creeping back into his mind. His fingertips reached out to his lips, remembering Jack’s alcohol - fuelled kiss and the shit-storm of emotions that it had evoked. When the feeling of confusion and excitement had subsided, only the disappointment remained - after all, who dreams their first kiss being stolen by the drunk narcissist who is also their boss? Timothy chased away the sour thought, pursed his lips together and peeled off the band aid, examining the cut. It had healed up nicely during the night and almost did not hurt. If it leaves a visible scar Jack will, most likely, make him laser it off.
With a sigh he stood up and shuffled into the kitchen. Usually Jack would leave the list of tasks Tim had to do but today the absence of sticky notes or napkin scribbles indicated a day off. Lawrence fixed himself a bowl of cereal and was heading towards the dining table while chewing, when the intercom on the front door buzzed loudly. Tim froze on the spot, fully realizing that he was not in any condition to receive guests - his hair had yesterday’s gel in it, making it stand at the weird angles and he was wearing one of the yellow Hyperion shirts paired with blue and white striped pants. A careful swipe of the security monitor showed a courier Claptrap patiently waiting by the door. Lawrence swallowed the cereal, counted slowly till ten and then hit the button to let the robot in.
“Package for Jack!” It announced loudly, rolling into the room. “Also known as the sexiest and the awesomest.”
“The what?” Tim eyed the blue bucket on wheels in disbelief.
“It says so right here!” Claptrap reached upwards, balancing the small package on top of its ‘hands’. Timothy yanked it away and read the label. It did say exactly that: ‘Jack a.k.a. the Sexiest And The Awesomest.’
“’Awesomest’ is not even a word.” Timothy stated dryly and turned the parcel around, looking for the sender details. The overly - eager courier beat him to it, bouncing up and down on its chassis.
“It’s from Jack! I mean you! Why would you send yourself something I don’t know and don’t care. But your package is safe and sound and for a service well done I expect a tip.”
“Mhhhm… Sure,” Timothy drawled as he weighted the cereal bowl in his hand before turning it upside down and plopping onto the Claptrap’s head. “There you go, buddy.”
It was amusing to see the little toaster somehow managing to animate both surprise and offence as it rolled away complaining and leaving Tim with a serious package dilemma. He had an inkling that it was for him but then again, Jack might have been in one of his moods, feeling good about his life and sending himself parcels Lawrence had no business opening. On the other hand, as a body double, it was Timothy’s job to make sure his employer stayed out of harm’s way. Weighting all the pros and cons, Tim gently pressed his thumb to a small scanner integrated in the box and it popped open with a quiet hiss. Inside there was a sticky note and a digi - watch, the likes of which Lawrence had not seen before.
(((Bet it took you forever to open it, nerd! Anyway, this is for you. Why? Because I am awesome! ECHO me when done playing with it. )))
Underneath was a drawing of something that looked like a skag humping a vending machine.
Timothy stared at the note for a while, founding no further explanations and finally casting it aside. The digi - watch felt heavy in his hand and when he turned the device around, Tim noticed the whole band was littered with small flat sensors. The touch screen was inactive but as soon as he clasped the watch around his left wrist it came to life, blue letters saying only ‘Swipe to Activate.’ Carefully, holding the arm away from himself in primal fear of the device exploding, Timothy did as prompted. The next moment he gasped softly as the familiar sensation of being scanned ran up his arm, enveloping him in an invisible net. The net closed in, tugging on every cell in his body and the next moment a cascade of blue pixels erupted from the display, separating in two groups and forming two images of Jack - or, rather, Timothy himself - barefoot and in ridiculous Hyperion pyjamas. The clones looked almost real, save the vague bluish hue to them and the occasional glitches that ran across their frame. ‘The Jacks’ stared at each other and then one cackled and the other scoffed, crossing his arms and throwing a judgemental stare in Tim’s direction.
“This is what you’re wearing? For real?” the clone tugged on its pants with a sour face expression.
His ‘brother’ ‘- Timothy really did not know what to call them at this point - snickered again and let his fingers run through his hair actually reshaping it in a proper manner.
“Next time, boss, if you digi - struct us, at least look presentable.”
“You -You are not holograms? Or projections?” Tim muttered, eyes wide as he groped blindly for something to sit on. That would explain the mild feeling of fatigue: digi - structing interacted with the body and, depending on what had to happen, either temporarily desintigrated it to reshape or copied the source, using cell energy as the fuel.
“Let me help you with that, cupcake.” One of the copies stepped forward and grabbed Lawrence by the shoulder, gently pushing him backwards where, as it turned out, the sofa was. The copy’s touch had weight in it and Tim could swear he felt light electric current coming from its fingertips. Satisfied with the result ‘Number One’ perched himself on the arm rest, while his ‘brother’ casually leaned against the table. Two pairs of eyes stared at Lawrence with the same unyielding smugness that Jack himself had but there was one difference - both copies had bright blue irises, giving away their AI origins.
“What are you, exactly?”
“Battle AIs, baby!” ‘Number One’ beamed at him proudly and his companion raised finger guns in the air, making the ‘pew pew’ sound. “Jack made us to help you kill things!”
“Did he also have to install his personality in you?” Timothy asked flatly. The prospect of having not one but three Jacks surrounding him at all times was mildly terrifying and extremely undesirable.
“Wow. Stone cold.” ‘Number Two’ feigned offence, waving it away the next moment in a very Jack - like manner. “Your future is bright, kiddo! Especially now that we are in it.”
Tim paced around the room. He was now dressed in his usual clothes and clean shaven, his hair also being on point. It took Timothy a while to master ‘the curl’ but the thought of Jack violating his personal space in order to show him how it is done did wonders for his determination. The Jacks, re-summoned and looking just as groomed, perched themselves on the different piece of furniture each, watching Lawrence walking in circles.
“So wait, you are semi - permanent battle AIs I have to have on me the whole time? Why do I need a battle AI? Contract said nothing about - ”
“Contracts change, pumpkin,” One of the Jacks, the one that really favoured the kitchen table, shrugged his shoulders. “You pretty much sold yourself to Jack, that part was in the papers you signed, want me to cite?” the AI raised his hand and on top of his palm spawned a wall of text that looked painfully familiar.
“Please no,” Timothy moaned and rubbed his temples slowly. The headache he got after re - summoning the Jacks only now started to subside. The clone shrugged his shoulders and curled his fingers in a fist, making the projection disappear. “What should I call you? And if you say ‘Jack’ I swear - ”
“You can call me ‘Sexy’ and he can be ‘Awesome’,” The Jack on the sofa grinned wickedly, making Tim stop and cover his face with hands, muffling a scream. Both Jacks burst out laughing. “Call us whatever, boss.”
Tim looked between his fingers at the two shimmering copies and an idea lit up in his mind. During his time with Jack he had heard his employer being yelled at by Tassiter more times he cared to count. The CEO always referred to Jack by another name and while Tim would not dare to ask his boss directly, the digi - Jacks were a much safer bet.
“What about ‘John’?”
The demeanour of the clones had changed immediately. The sofa one straightened his back and frowned and the kitchen table one scrunched his face in disdain.
“Oh fuck off.”
“This is not our name. Some loser and a nobody is called ‘John’ and we are neither of those things. Remember that, Timothy.”
Lawrence blinked, astounded. The response was very obviously pulled from the dark depth of the personality module that Jack had installed in the copies. They have carried his character and his memories up to the point of creation and while the AIs could not harm him, the animosity in their voices was an indicator enough that keeping mouth shut around Jack was a good idea.
“Ok, how about One and Two?” Tim asked, watching their reaction carefully. “Err… How exactly will I even tell you apart?”
“I’ll be your One and only, kitten.” The sofa AI raised his hand and wiggled his eyebrows suggestively. “I always spawn to your right.”
“Can’t I be ‘The Other One’ or something?” The kitchen ‘Jack’ whined. “I hate being second.”
“That is too complicated,” His ‘twin’ rolled his eyes and looked back at Timothy. “Call him Two. He is always on your left, even now. Isn’t that cool?”
Lawrence looked around and realized that One has been absolutely right. The way the AIs had positioned themselves was obviously to align to their original spawning points.
“So - uh - what is your battery life? Or whatever?”
“Batteries ? You serious?” Two sighed and hid eyes behind his palm, exaggerating the irritation at Tim’s comment. “As long as we are idle like, say, now, the energy drain is very low. In a fight…. Just pick your fights, dude. We will save your pretty ass but at the cost of ours.”
“You can re - summon us immediately,” One interjected, casually examining his nails. “But that will kinda hurt, I think you’ve noticed. Nosebleeds, migraines… Messy business.”
Timothy opened his mouth wanting to ask something else when the ECHO in his room started buzzing angrily, vibrating all over the floor. It must have been Jack - doctor Autohn had no reason contacting him outside their scheduled appointments and all the information was relayed directly to their common employer anyway. The ECHO ringed itself under the furthest corner of Timothy’s bunk, making him spend another minute flat on his stomach desperately trying to reach it. When his fingers finally grasped the edge of the device he pulled it outside and hastily pressed the receiver.
“Oh so you are alive!” Jack’s voice on the other end was dripping with sarcasm.
“You told me to phone when I am done here. I was about to -,”
“Yeah right,” Jack waved his explanation away. “Now, did you get a load of me?”
“They are quite… fascinating, really.” Tim answered carefully, the boss was obviously fishing for compliments and praises. There was a deep sigh on the other side of the line, followed by a short pause.
“Kiddo, you keep disappointing. What am I paying you for?” He heard Jack tapping his fingers on the desk - an obvious sign of annoyance. “Less bookworm and more sass, come on!”
“Right, sorry,” Tim mumbled and squeezed his eyelids for a moment, lamenting his life - choices. “They’re sweet! The world totally just got twenty five percent more handsome.”
“Attaboy!” Jack laughed wholeheartedly and Lawrence could swear he heard snickering from the living room, where the AIs were listening in.
Fuck my life.
“Listen, precious, I have something really cool to share so head down to my office,” Jack paused but when Tim said nothing he huffed impatiently. “Now!”
Timothy encountered no trouble making his way towards Jack’s office in the Hub of Heroism. The station was scarcely populated and people were at work right now. Loaders cared little about anything but repairs and Claptraps cared about everything but got easily confused and distracted. He saw them staring at him as he walked down the long hallway towards the office, probably desperately trying to understand how did their boss managed to walk two times in and zero times out. The doors to the office were made to look like they were cut from the heavy oak - obviously created for the CEO but, just as with the living quarters, Tassiter’s absence allowed Jack to temporarily grab the luxuries for himself. And Jack, being what he is, was in deep denial about the fleeting nature of his current position.
“Finally!” Jack ran down the stairs as soon as the doors closed behind Lawrence’s back. His boss looked mildly manic as he grabbed Tim’s hand all but dragging his double upstairs. “Today is historical! It is finally happening, pumpkin, and you will be a part of it!”
“Do I want to be?” Lawrence asked walking behind Jack and feeling rather flustered by the unexpected skin contact. His boss either ignored or did not hear him, because as they reached the top of the stairs, Jack let go of Timothy’s arm and positioned himself in front of the window, hands on hips and overlooking the moon.
“Do you know what this is?” Jack spread his arms theatrically.
“Elpis.” Tim replied, unsure if the question was rhetorical and unwilling to test his boss’ patience in such agitated state.
“Smartass,” Jack grumbled benevolently and turned around. “This, kitten, is a treasure trove. The rock behind us actually has more to offer than just some losers with wacky accents,” Jack leaned forward, placing both hands firmly on the table. “It has a Vault.”
“No way!” Timothy exclaimed, genuinely surprised. “The Vault? Like the one that was opened on Pandora?”
“Yep. And you, sweetheart, gonna help me find it.”
“I - What? Are you making me a Vault Hunter? Jack? Sir? I don’t -, ” Tim started mumbling, feeling sweat rolling down his back. He had no combat experience, never actually held a gun and now Jack wanted him to go hunt a Vault. Lawrence felt his breath hitching in his throat and his field of vision got suddenly reduced to a head of a pin. An arm slid around his shoulder and a hand kept patting him on the cheek until Tim’s breathing started to normalize again.
“Relax, princess, you are not going in alone. I’ve hired a badass team of Vault Hunters that will kick shit as we heroically march in to snag the riches.” Jack pat Lawrence on the back, bright smile on his face. “I’ve never shot anything in my life either, this is going to be epic!”
And just then, a second after Jack has closed his mouth, his eyes still glimmering brightly with anticipation, the alarms all around the station came to life as the Voice of Hyperion pleasantly announced that an unidentified ship has entered Helios’ space and is preparing to launch multiple missiles.
Seriously, blame heavybreathingcat. I was like ''Noooo, I shall not give in to a temptation of writing a continuous epic!" And she was like: "¯\_(ツ)_/¯" And I was like "FINE. HERE IS ME WRITING APPARENTLY ANOTHER EPIC, FML."
Anyway, this became a Pre - Sequel retelling with a lot of Tim in it. Cannot have enough Tim. Cannot have enough Jacks either and this is why One and Two are more then just corny one - liners. I am not planning to make a walkthrough out of this story but if I write something this way, I feel like it is important for character development. So this is why 5 chapters in and only now Zarpedon showed her face. :3
Also, dear Aussies, I have nothing against your accent, I love it, actually.
Chapter 6: Vault Hunters Assemble
This is when epic music plays and body parts fly everywhere but also there is Claptrap and Tim had never used a gun before.
They separated somewhere halfway to the control room.
The sirens were blaring non - stop, colouring the surroundings in eerie red, while the Voice of Hyperion kept reciting incoming damage reports regarding Helios’s integrity and multiple oxygen leaks. When he failed to pull up and re - initiate the safety protocols from the office, Jack grabbed his wrist lasers - a toy he had developed for personal use - and announced they had to go and reboot the system from one of the stations, the closest being near the moonshot supply docks. It seemed that the invading force, whoever they were, landed onto the station somewhere near the moon canon. Jack was multitasking as they went, sending the loaders for repairs and issuing the warning for all human personnel to hide and await further instructions.
“Get me my vault hunters,” Jack said hastily, as he pushed a standard Hyperion - issued gun in Timothy’s hands. “Their rocket last pinged somewhere in the maintenance section ahead.”
“How will I recognise them?” Tim asked helplessly, holding the gun as if it was on fire.
“Two chicks - one super hot, one kinda. A huge scary - looking dude. And a Claptrap unit. You think you’ll remember all that, pumpkin?” Jack may have been smiling but it was hard to miss the mocking intonations in his voice.
Tim flashed red from both anger and embarrassment but said nothing, confirming the order with a curt nod and griping the gun with his sweaty palm so hard, his knuckles gone white. These twitches did not escape Jack and his boss griped Lawrence by the shoulder, squeezing it reassuringly.
“Kiddo, you’ll do fine. We’ll do fine. Because we are awesome ! Now, high - five me or something.”
Timothy did as prompted, trying to still the shakes in his arm and watched Jack disappear around the corner. He felt jealous of the man, for once. Jack’s hero complex and narcissism made him believe that mountains were movable, if he wanted them to. This belief resulted into a crazy productivity output and a drive to strive for greatness. It also made him an unlikeable person once you got past the rather dazzling exterior but Timothy had an inkling that wherever Jack was going, being liked was something he was not planning to bring along.
Tim exhaled and pulled up the floor schematics on his ECHO, tracing the route he was planning to take with one finger and praying there would not be any hostile encounters on the way. His prayers were left unanswered for soon enough, after the maintenance section doors had closed behind him, Lawrence ran into a first pack of invaders. He cursed softly and hid behind shipment containers, peeking out carefully to estimate his chances. There were at least three of them, clad in bulky military armour that Tim had recognized as DAHL - manufactured. Armed to the teeth and obviously quite skilled in combat, the soldiers patrolled the hallway listening in on the comm chatter and replying curtly to the inquiries. Lawrence had an advantage of hiding in the shadows and so he pulled out the gun, taking aim at the nearby figure, only to fail miserably when he could not keep his hands steady enough. Holding his breath Tim crouched behind the cover, using its surface to stabilize his arm and fired. The bullet harmlessly bounced off the soldier’s shield and, as a result, the element of surprise went down the crapper.
“Hyperion, six o’clock!” a male voice sounded a warning and an array of bullets hit the container a second later, making Timothy duck back, trembling like a leaf from the accumulated stress. It took him two tries to swipe his digi - watch and he grit his teeth at the unpleasant sensation as the scanner ripped into his DNA.
“S’up, sweetheart.” ‘One’ saluted casually, while ‘Two’, who had the misfortune of spawning outside the cover, got full view of the situation.
“Oh crap!” He cursed and swiftly moved out of the line of fire but Lawrence noticed that the AI got hit - several blue dots, same colours as ‘Two’s irises, were shimmering on his arm and chest.
“P - please help,” Timothy mumbled, feeling ashamed but unable to stop the pathetic shakes. “I tried, I swear but there are so many -”
“Five, actually.” ‘Two’ flexed his shoulders and his eyes glimmering brightly as his gaze stopped on Timothy’s gun. “One shot fired. Oh, kitten, that ain’t trying.”
“I’ve never - ”
“Later,” ‘One’ interjected and flicked his wrists impatiently, digitalising exactly the same lasers Jack had. “Let’s kill some bad guys!”
The AIs hooted in anticipation and jumped over the cover, raining the laser shots upon the soldiers even before their feet touched the ground. ‘The Jacks’ were very good at what they did - they zoomed in between the enemy forces, using the wrist guns as well as the dirty tactics of kicking and tripping people. At this point Timothy could not tell the AIs apart so he just watched, wide - eyed, how one of them effortlessly launched himself into the air only to latch onto one of the soldiers, feet on the man’s abdomen and left hand clutching space between the armour plates. In two precise strikes he cracked the visor, firing a barrage of lasers into the man’s face and laughing as the soldier screamed and dropped dead on the ground. Soon enough there was nobody left standing but ‘The Jacks’ and they returned back to Timothy, exchanging jokes about the massacre they had just caused. One seemed to have taken more damage than the other, his image blinking and distorting as he moved and multiple bullet marks glowing on his face and chest.
“If I had adrenaline, that would be pumping by now, baby!” The AI to the left, ‘Two’, laughed joyfully. “Wasn’t that super cool, boss?”
“Scary, actually,” Timothy answered, holstering his gun and standing up. “You,guys, are… savage.”
“Everyone’s a critic,” ‘One’ shrugged his shoulders and, noticing that Tim was planning to leave, grabbed him by the arm. “Hey hey, where do you think you are going?”
Lawrence stopped in his tracks and turned around. If he looked like he felt, Tim was happy that his employer was not around to witness any of this. There would be at least an hour long lecture on how ‘un - Jack’ the last thirty minutes of Lawrence’s life were and how stupid he looked, what was with all the sweating and where were all the great one - liners he was supposed to throw at the DAHL mouthbreathers.
“Vault hunters, I have to get them for Jack,” he answered softly, pulling head into his shoulders and wishing he could disappear. “I don’t think I can do it. I did not sign up for this -,” His voice gave a treacherous tremble and with growing terror Timothy realized that he, an adult, was about to burst into tears from the mental exertion. ‘One’s’ hand was still clutching his arm and when he looked up, he saw AI’s irises glint rapidly.
“High cortisol levels detected,” He noted dryly and then smiled at Tim. “Breathe in and out, kiddo. You give yourself too little credit.”
“Let’s scavenge around for the good stuff,” ‘Two’ went back to the place of carnage and poked around the corpses for a while, finally coming back with a sniper rifle, a shotgun and handful of grenades. “Your Hyperion gun is for babies and old people. Now this,” He laid out the new acquisitions on top of the crate. “This is for the real heroes!”
“Pick out assholes through the scope. Once they are too close - get that shotgun to work. And then add some grenades, because variety is a spice of life,” ‘One’ started instructing, pointing excitedly at the weapons. “Questions?”
“I -, Um -, I shot once but it just wakened his shields?” Timothy took out his gun and put it next to the rest of the weapons, chewing on his bottom lip. The AIs laughed, clearly amused by Lawrence’s genuine failure to understand what went wrong. “Come on, guys, I am serious.”
“Oh I bet you are,” ‘Two’ snorted and picked up the sniper rifle, leaning on it in such a ‘Jack - like’ manner Tim had to remind himself it was not his boss. “Even this baby won’t kill every dude in one shot, tell me exactly what you did.”
Timothy sighed and told how he attempted to aim and shoot the DAHL soldier and how he failed to do each and every one of those things. He expected ‘The Jacks’ to laugh at him but they only nodded, listening intensely - a quality their creator severely lacked. When Lawrence was done, he lifted both eyebrows in an unspoken question and crossed his arms, waiting.
“You are smarter than you think,” ‘One’ said and patted Tim on the shoulder. “That tactic, combined with the sniper rifle will get you far. And if you can’t keep your hand steady, always aim lower than intended, recoil’s a bitch.”
“Found our guys,” ‘Two’ interrupted and pointed down the hallway. “They are not far, chop chop.”
‘Two’ was right, it did not take Timothy long to find first traces of the vault hunters. Soon enough he came upon their transport, that was wedged in between damaged pieces of the hull. Closer inspection revealed the door being blown off its hinges and when Lawrence peeked inside he found only several mangled bandit corpses. The presence of said bandits was highly puzzling but Tim could not stall any longer, he was already surprised Jack did not ECHO him at least twice - his employer was not very generous in the patience department.
Oh god, maybe he is dead! Who’ll pay me then? Oh crap I will be stuck like this forever!
Lawrence pinched his nose-bridge, while counting till ten and looked around, noticing a prominent path of destruction leading towards one of the bigger cargo holds according to the map Jack sent him. Since the bodies sprawled on the floor belonged to the opposing faction, Timothy decided it was a safe bet to follow this trail.
Tim spotted the male vault hunter first. Jack was not kidding about the amount of big and scary on that guy. He looked all muscles and anger and carried a custom gun, its magazine was as big as Lawrence’s head. Next to him stood two women, brunettes by the look of it. One favoured purple hues and the other was clad in red armour that was way past its prime. There was supposed to be a Claptrap unit too but Timothy hoped that maybe it was accidentally vented into space or something. Lawrence holstered his gun and walked slowly towards the group, hoping the vault hunters were not too trigger happy. He was not sure if they actually heard or saw their employer when accepting the contract but, being a body double required Tim to act like Jack if the boss himself was not available.
“Hey, ladies!” he called out, grinning casually and holding hands as far away from any weapons as possible. “You must be the vault hunters I hired. Name’s Jack. And yours, sweetheart?”
His question was directed to either of the women but it was the male that threw him a long disinterested glare. “Wilhelm.”
“I think he was talking to me,” the brunette in purple remarked and grinned at Timothy in a way that made him want to shift uncomfortably. “Nisha Kadam, handsome.”
“Athena.” the second woman answered curtly and crossed her arms, allowing Tim to catch a glimpse of a tattoo on her forearm.
“Wait a minute! This is so not Jack!” an overly enthused voice revealed a Claptrap, which rolled out from behind Wilhelm and started circling around Lawrence. “Not only he ignored me, he is yet to hit me in any way!”
The vault hunters did not need an invitation and the next moment Tim was staring directly at three guns and a sword, the latter being uncomfortably close to his face. Claptrap now stopped right in front of him, doing a little dance.
“Oh you asshole !” Lawrence cursed and kicked the robot, hissing at the dull pain in the stubbed toes.
“Too late for that, fake Jack! Spill the beans before my friends here will get frisky.”
“Stop saying we are friends, we're absolutely not!” Athena gave Claptrap a sour look.
“Sure would be a shame to shoot such a pretty face,” Nisha purred, soaking all of Lawrence in. He felt naked under her gaze and it took every drop of self - control to try and look relaxed. “Is it true?”
“Fine,” Timothy sighed and gave Claptrap the angriest of stares. Suffice to say it rolled off the robot like water off goose’s back. “I am not Jack but I am his body double. My name is Lawrence and our common employer sent me to get you.”
“Where is this ‘Jack’ then?” Athena inquired as she withdrew her sword, still a bit too slow and unwilling for Tim’s taste. The other vault hunters had followed her example and Lawrence felt relief washing over him - he was not used to attention, negative or otherwise and right now it felt as if he lost half of his bodyweight in sweat.
“He went ahead to reboot the safety protocols. If you would kindly follow me.” He bowed mockingly and gestured invitingly towards the huge doors ahead.
“Okay, systems are jammed, transport is screwed and I am pretty sure I am bleeding in my left kidney. Is it possible? Sure feels like it,” Jack was yapping non - stop as Timothy was supporting him while they walked towards the moon canon. “Also did you see that thing?!”
After they found Jack, who had been both kicked and punched by at least five DAHL soldiers simultaneously and with much vigour, the vault hunters were informed that the jamming signal on Elpis was negating the defences and all of them should really get the hell off the station. Apparently the invaders referred to themselves the Lost Legion and were led by a woman called Zarpedon, a name his boss could not pronounce without giggling like a twelve year old. The vault hunters went ahead to clear the path - Jack was in no condition to fight, even though several health kits had perked him up significally. Timothy was unanimously deemed useless - even by the likes of Claptrap - and was assigned the role of the babysitter.
‘The thing’ Jack was referring to was a weird being the group had encountered at the landing pad, moments after Zarpedon smashed their only mode of transportation. Lawrence had never seen anything like it - graceful, beautiful and able to stop bullets with its mind. The latter was a cue for the party to stampede out of there as fast as possible, with Jack hastily activating the emergency door shutdown protocol, while someone behind Tim was spewing a non-stop mixture of both crude and eloquent profanities.
“Ok, so, another great idea. Moonshot canon! We’re right next to it.” Jack announced, shaking Tim off. The health kits had finally revitalized him enough to become acutely aware of how ‘un - heroic’ he must have looked, using the body double as a crutch.
“A what - now?” Wilhelm was the first to react and if it managed to peak his interest, the other vault hunters must have been feeling like they were sitting on pins and needles.
“Hyperion uses the canon to shoot supplies to Elpis and Pandora.” Timothy explained, eyeing Jack, who jogged towards the canon controls.
“Supplies, not people. This is crazy!” Athena seemed to be the voice of reason in the whole group.
“OH MY GOD WE ARE ALL GOING TO DIE!” Claptrap started wailing which, in turn, pissed off Nisha and earned him a hard knock on the head by the butt of her gun, effectively stopping the screeching.
“We are out of options, kiddos,” Jack’s fingers were flying over the keyboard inputting a string of commands. As he pressed ‘Enter’ the system gave a jarring sound indicating an error. “Son of a taint!” He growled in frustration, slamming hands on both sides of the console before taking deep breath and turning towards the group. ”So, fun fact! I have to stay here for the manual launch. You, five, get to the moon and find me that jamming signal so we can boot that Zarpechick off my station already!”
‘Jack? Um, sir? As your body double isn’t it my job to -’’ Timothy started talking but the next moment Jack was right next to him, arm around waist and that roguish grin on his face.
“Oh Timtam, you are too pretty and expensive to die,” he adjusted Tim’s coat and rubbed a smudge of dirt off Lawrence’s face. His touch was surprisingly gentle, almost loving and Timothy felt his cheeks getting warmer by the moment. “I need you on the moon. Plus, you kinda saved me back there, was very romantic and all that. Now it is my turn to be the hero.”
Prodded by Wilhelm Lawrence crawled into the container, hearing the door seal itself behind his back. Through the small window Tim saw at least ten Lost Legion soldiers running in and surrounding the platform. There was a fleeting moment of panic on Jack’s face before the hit the launch button and hastily jumped down, scurrying for the ventilation ducts and away from the assailants. Squeezed between Athena and Nisha, Lawrence pulled his legs up to his stomach and hid his face in his knees. He hated heights and he hated space travel and despite the artificial gravitation the mere thought of floating in vacuum made the bile in his stomach rise and gurgle.
This is bad.
So very bad.
Oh god I want to go home.
A thundering clap, a feeling of hard metal against the back of his skull and then - a welcoming darkness.
How are my chapters getting longer by the minute? D: I do not remember having a chapter longer then 3k EVER.
'The Jacks' are very ... expressive and non - restrained in battle. My friend called them 'the murder monkeys'. She is not entirely wrong. O_O
Nisha is already making moves on the hot piece of ass and Claptrap is still terrible and ruins people's lives. As to Jack... he just casually sexually confuses Tim, I guess.
Anyway, I hope you've liked this chapter. Thanks to those who gave me kudos and comments, I am always looking forward to those, I will not lie, haha.
Chapter 7: Up & Down We Go
In which we learn Elpis is full of women that are very independent, squirming puppies can be sexy and Tim is a poor unfortunate soul.
He should have probably gotten used to the fact that Jack’s plans rarely go as expected. The ‘Meriff’, hands down the most idiotic title Timothy has ever heard, had denied them the audience even though five minutes prior to such a rude dismissal Jack was bragging about how the guy used to be his underling. With a deep sigh, full of almost palpable agony, his boss grumbled that there was another person they could ask for help and before Lawrence even had the chance to wonder exactly what was with the attitude, he heard Nisha next to him mutter under her breath.
“Eeeeeeeh.... An ex of mine.” Jack said casually but Timothy spent enough time around his boss to know Jack was not as chill about this as he wanted the other’s to think.
The vault hunters headed towards the club as Timothy was gawking around like a tourist, soaking in all the views. His home world, Eden - 4 was very different than anything he had seen on Elpis so far. Lawrence’s home, while not the most richest of all the seven Edens, was still a booming centre of trade and urban tourism. The whole planet was, pretty much a city, its lower levels shrouded in mystery and possible toxic waste. Once in a while people would disappear down there without a trace, mostly these were clueless tourists and inexperienced thrill - seekers. The night life and the continuous noise had never appealed to Timothy and, as soon as the opportunity presented itself, he had applied for a position within the Hyperion’s PR department. The corporation was trying to expand to the outer system and Lawrence, fresh out of the university and star - eyed about the prospects of adventure and inspiration, wanted to be part of it.
And here. He. Was.
“Hey, fake Jack! Why the long face?”
Timothy blinked and looked down, where the excited Claptrap was, as it turns out, keeping up with him while the rest of the group went ahead. Just like Lawrence, the little robot fell right in between… Everything, really. In Nisha’s words Tim was ‘Jack’s precious little boytoy to babysit’ and Claptrap’s ’VaultHunter.exe’ did more bad than good - on occasion his healing and support would fall in place and that was the only reason the robot was allowed to come along. Timothy could almost feel a sting of loser solidarity towards Claptrap. Almost.
“Don’t call me that.”
“You look like Jack but you are not Jack! So then you are fake Jack, right?”
“That is one ‘Jack’ too many!” Tim snapped back at Claptrap, annoyed at three things at the same time: the cheer, the terrible deduction skills and the unit’s existence. “Wanna be useful? Call me Lawrence,” Timothy paused and gave the robot an ultimate stink eye. “And don’t talk to me, unless someone’s dying.”
“But Lawrence -,” Claptrap’s optics blinked rapidly and he did a nervous little jump.
“Is someone dying?” Timothy drawled and crossed his hands, noting the others disappearing in the bright lights of ‘Moxxi’s Up Over Bar’.
“Then shut it and keep on rolling, buddy.” He picked up the pace, ignoring the disappointed ‘aww’ behind him as he entered the club.
It was exactly as Tim expected it to be - loud and full of people. Crowds were never his thing and so Timothy paused at the entrance, trying to figure out the pass of lesser resistance. As he started making his way towards the bar where Wilhelm’s hulking frame served as a n orientation beacon, his ECHO comm buzzed.
“Did you find Mox yet?”
“No, Jack. She is not here.” Athena was the first to reply. She sounded a bit on edge but then again, it seems that was her default mode.
“Fine then, go get some drinks or something, she’ll show up eventually.”
“On your tab, cowboy?” Nisha’s voice had those unsettling low purring intonations in it.
Timothy rolled his eyes at the exchange but then the ECHO clicked softly, indicating that Jack had switched to their private frequency. There were two things that could happen next - his employer would complain about Tim screwing something up or Jack was about to give him some private and, most likely, gross details about his and Moxxi’s past relationship, to get his double ‘in character.’
“So, uh, did she - Did that Nisha chick ask about me or anything?”
“Umm… Maybe?” Timothy shrugged his shoulders. “I wasn’t paying attention?”
Tim could swear he heard his employer groan in frustration on the other end of the line.
“Oh my god, Timtam, you have one job and that is to make me look good! Just go hit on her or something. No wait, don’t. You’ll just stutter like a dork. Just forget I said anything!”
“Uh, sure boss,” Lawrence answered but the line went dead already. “Kinda was not listening anyway.”
Since the owner of the club was not around and the vault hunters had time to waste, Timothy decided to park himself near a jukebox and started crowd watching, a thing he used to enjoy back at home. Most of the clientèle seemed local, dressed in shabby overalls but there was a couple on the dance floor that had drawn his attention. A tall red - haired woman was enthralled by the music, dancing gracefully around a stern dark - skinned man in a military uniform. Lawrence had to double check that his eyes were not deceiving him - woman’s left arm and side were covered in intricate pale tattoos. Tim has never seen a Siren in his entire life but he did read what he could find about them - one of his dreams was to write a book with a Siren protagonist in it. Trying very hard to ignore the voice on the back of his mind screaming about the agony of social interactions, Timothy peeled himself off the wall, determined not to let such chance slip away.
“Going somewhere, good - lookin’?” Two amber eyes glinted from under the shadows of the hat as Nisha bit her lower lip teasingly. She was blocking Lawrence’s only way out but, despite being shorter than him by half a head, her self - confidence made up for the difference and then some. Her long purple nail traced his neck. “So, is the body double just as loud and proud as the original?”
Timothy mumbled something and tried to retreat, squeezing himself back into the wall.
“Oh you are such a sweet little puppy, just look at you,” Nisha was relentless and stepped even closer, her warm breath near his ear as she grabbed him by the lapels of his coat. Lawrence caught a faint smell of lavender and gooseberry, must have been the Lawbringer’s perfume. The realization that there was absolutely zero distance between them made his face flush red. “I love watching puppies squirm.”
“Let him go.” a voice behind them made Nisha turn around and huff arrogantly, stepping away.
“Don’t worry, it is not your ex,” She sized the woman in front of her. “Digging the rodeo clown aesthetics, by the way.” With the cocky grin the Lawbringer strutted away, giving Tim one last teasing wink.
“Thank you,” Lawrence exhaled, feeling he could fall through his knees at any given moment. “I am, ah, well, J - Jack. Yes, that.”
Still recovering from what could only be called a full frontal assault, Timothy raised his eyes from the ground and felt breath hitching in his throat once again. A woman in front of him was absolutely stunning. She obviously dressed to impress and boy did she! Lawrence felt his eyes starting to burn, realizing he probably forgot to blink.
“Drop the act, sugar,” she smiled warmly at him, sparkles of laughter in her blue eyes. “I’ve dated the Jack, thank your lucky stars you are not even close,” she theatrically checked the floor. “Not nearly enough drool and shame.”
“M - Moxxi? Right? We, uh, we’re, like, looking for you.”
“First things first,” Moxxi tapped on his shoulder gently and gestured towards the bar. “Let me get you a drink, on the house.”
Lawrence settled down a bit away from the rest of the vault hunters. Judging by the glances and laughter exchanged between Nisha and Wilhelm, they were talking about him. Athena listened in as well but her face emitted nothing but disapproval - a small consolation but a pleasant one. His and the Lawbringer’s little game of cat and mouse would definitely make it to Jack and Tim did not want to think what his boss would say about it, considering the man was nursing a budding crush on that crazy woman.
A glass of something strong and fruity - smelling appeared in front of Lawrence and he grabbed it, emptying the contents without a second thought. The feeling that his oesophagus was on fire came swiftly afterwards and he coughed, prompting another outburst of laughter further down the table.
“Leave him alone already,” Athena raised her voice, obviously tired of the childish mockery and turned to Moxxi. “Jack sent us. Helios has been overrun by DAHL forces and they are jamming the override signal he is trying to patch through. Apparently you can help.”
The woman crossed her arms and pondered for a moment. Timothy just kept staring, absorbing in her small but delicious frame and adorable baby face. He thought underneath all that theatrical make up she must be even more pretty, in a natural kind of way. Lawrence tried to picture it and shifted on his high stool uncomfortably, not sure he could handle the amount of cute.
“ - difficult. Our Meriff got quite jumpy recently. If we could somehow get in and out of the systems quietly…”
“I have the AI that can help, maybe?” Tim raised his hand and looked around, realizing he was not actually sure the Jacks could do anything to help the situation along. Screaming inside his head at own stupidity, Tim swiped the touch screen and watched the two copies digi - struct beside him. Since Moxxi has been standing right in front of Lawrence she was the first person ‘One’ and ‘Two’ took notice of, their faces conveying what Timothy decided to be Jack’s version of a ‘ladykiller’ impression.
“Moooooxxiiiii,” ‘One’ spoke, extending vowels in a particularly sleazy way, hands loosely on hips. “You and the girls seem to be doing fine, if you know what I mean.”
“Missed me yet, babe?” ‘Two’ was just as sly and Timothy hid his face in his hands, unable to look straight at the woman in question.
“Hardly, sugar,” Moxxi voice stayed even and Tim felt the empty glass in front of him being swiped off the counter. “Jack is not as irreplaceable as he might think. Now, honey, does your programming allow you to integrate with security consoles?”
“Oh I remember integrating with someone’s console on multiple occasions.” ‘One’ was not backing down.
“God, why?!” Tim slammed his hands on the counter, purple from embarrassment. “Just - Just answer her question please!”
“Fine, boss. Don’t get your panties in a bunch,” ‘Two’ shrugged his shoulders and smiled brightly. “No problemo for us but why, exactly?”
“Above Meriff’s office is a secured console. If you can hack it, we can trace the source of the jamming signal,” Moxxi momentarily went in the back of the bar and returned with a modified ECHO comm, putting it in front of Timothy. “Once your pets are in, connect this to the port on the console and let me do the magic, sugar.”
Lawrence nodded quickly, grabbed the ECHO and rushed towards the exit before the Jacks had any chance to open their mouth and produce yet another horrible sex pun. When outside he stood still for a moment, rubbing his temples and desperately trying to forget the last ten minutes of his existence. The Meriff’s tower was on the other side of a small square that had an impractical dead drop to the moon’s surface in the middle of it. He forgot to ask Moxxi how he would get on top of the building, what with the elevator being off - limits. It must have been written on his face because one of the Jack’s tapped lightly on his shoulder and when Tim looked to his left, ‘Two’ whistled, mimicking jumping movements with his palm.
“Buckle up, buttercup.”
Timothy was still on the roof, mentally patting himself on the back for a job well down and listening in on the vault hunters and Jack deciding the best and fastest way to get to the Crisis Scar when the megaphones around the town came to life, with the Meriff announcing the city was on a temporary lock down. Jack cussed and asked if Moxxi had any bright ideas. He did not word it exactly like that and made sure to add an atrocious sexual innuendo at the end. The digi - Jacks would definitely high - five on that, were they not confined to the watch right now.
It took Tim a while to get down to the ground and by the time he made it to ‘Up Over Bar’ there was no trace of the owner or his own team. Very carefully, avoiding the Claptrap bartender with a horribly implemented local dialect, Lawrence sneaked behind the bar, taking notice of a passageway that was half - open. It seemed that for once being tall and wiry was in his favour and Timothy squeezed past the obstacle without much issue.
“Guys? Moxxi? Err… Anyone?” He called out sheepishly, walking into a small overstuffed garage. A melodic humming was heard from behind one of the bigger racks filled with metal junk of all shapes and sizes. He put his hand on the holster, ready to draw out the gun and leaned backwards, where a small figure in oily overalls was tinkering with an old engine.
“Hey lady, have you seen -,”
She jumped up, startled and turned around, making the rest of Tim’s sentence crumple and die somewhere in his throat. There was no mistake, the mechanic with a huge wrench squeezed in her greasy palm was none other than Moxxi herself. And she was just as beautiful as before.
“You are so hot. Oh my god. Like marry me or something??” Timothy blurted out without thinking, a second later realizing how idiotic he must have sounded. “I mean hi. Again. I kinda lost my people. Have you - Have you seen them?”
“They went through ‘bout ten minutes ago I reckon,” She answered but Tim noticed that Moxxi was flustered, he had obviously caught her off - guard. He also took note of a different accent and manner of speech but the woman managed to compose herself soon enough, falling back to her charming man - eater persona. “Don’t ever startle me like that, sugar. ”
“I’m very sorry. I will go now, I guess?” Timothy pointed down the hallway where he assumed the exit was. As he headed towards the door, his and Jack’s private frequency came to life, forcing Tim stop in his tracks and listen.
“Yo, body double, where’re you at?”
“In Concordia, I -,”
“Oh perfect, cupcake. Just where I need you to be!” Jack’s voice was laced with content, it seemed that whatever plan he had concocted was finally coming together. “I have Athena sniffing out some info for me, while the sexy cowgirl and the cyborg guy are blasting that DAHL dumpster wide open. ”
“And - ”
“And you,” Jack was bent on not allowing Timothy to finish a single sentence. “Have to stay put and keep an eye on our buddy Hux, he’s iffy.”
“Yes, sir.” Lawrence mumbled annoyed at being pushed at the sidelines once again and disconnected. He must have looked miserable because Moxxi cleaned her hands with a rag and smiled softly, settling down on the table and pointing to the chair next to it. Tim did as asked, feeling the cold clutches of awkwardness griping him once again. Lawrence had never talked to women so much. In his previous life they hardly paid attention to him and it was both frustrating and liberating, Timothy was not very skilled in the art of being a social butterfly He fidgeted, hiding palms between the knees and realizing how sad and un - Jack he must have looked right now.
“Why did you do it, sugar?”
“Huh?” he raised his head and blinked exactly twice. Tim scrunched his face in annoyance, his acute self - awareness seemed to kick in. Unexpectedly, he wanted to say but no, it really wasn’t. “Oh my face and stuff? I needed money, badly.”
“There are always a better way to get money,” there was pity in Moxxi’s voice as she squeezed his shoulder lightly. “You made a deal to be someone you know nothing about.”
As if that did not keep him awake at night. Jack seemed cool, the kind of person Lawrence secretly wanted to be: handsome extroverted go - getter. And yet during the time they spent together Timothy had noticed that his employer was more than he wanted an outsider to see. There were secrets and pitfalls to Jack’s personality and sometimes a shred of light would bring them to the surface. For that split of a second Tim never liked what he saw.
“Jack’s okay... And this is not permanent, he promised me.”
“Oh sweetie,” Moxxi shook her head but then quickly changed the subject. “You never told me your name.”
“I can’t. Contractually and physically obliged to keep silent.”
“Well, what about writing it down?”
“I never tried,” Lawrence sounded surprised. Somehow it never crossed his mind that could be an option. He grabbed a pen and a napkin Moxxi was offering him but the next moment his hand froze, inches away from paper. What if it would hurt if he tried writing? Maybe the doctor wired in some sort of psychosomatic response to penning down his own name. Exhaling softly Tim started writing, preparing for the pain and surprised as no punishment came. Moxxi took the napkin from Lawrence and read it out loud.
“Ti - mo - thy,” she smiled sweetly at him, carefully folding the tattered paper and hiding it in the prominent cleavage. “Even with your unfortunate face, honey, it really suits you.”
Tim felt himself ogling and blushing again. Firstly, Moxxi said his name out loud. Not Jack, not Lawrence but his actual name, the sound of it rolling off her tongue like a jingle of silver bells. Nobody ever said it like that, with so much feeling and so much passion. Secondly, as he watched the little napkin disappear between her breasts, Lawrence felt a tug of warmth in his belly, the same kind that caught him by surprise the night Jack kissed him drunkenly.
“Hey boys, this comm tower is about to lighten up like fireworks on Mercenary Day,” Nisha’s voice brought Timothy back out of his stupor. Sitting here with Moxxi he completely lost track of time and forgot Jack had ordered him to watch the mayor of Concordia. “Oh and by the way, that Meriff of yours, Jack, struck a deal with DAHL, signal’s his doing.”
Lawrence jumped up, clutching the ECHO and feeling mortified by the idea that if the man had skipped, Jack would have his head on a platter.
“What the - Or for fuck’s sake!” Jack piped up, his voice audibly trembling from thinly veiled anger. “Get rid of the tower so I can come down and - Hey other - Jack, you still there?”
“And our beloved Meriff?”
“As well.” Timothy squeezed out, backing out of the garage and throwing terrified look at Moxxi, who frowned and in no certain terms indicated he should hurry up and go before Jack gets to the plaza first.
“Ok! So you, badasses, blow up that tower when I say ‘Go.’ Double guy, meet me by the fast travel, we have some business with our fat and useless friend upstairs to mull over. Athena, did you find anything?”
“Yes Jack, I have the info.”The comm cracked and the Gladiator’s voice, muffled by the sound of her oxygen mask, came through.
“Beautiful, people. Now, make it rain, Nisha. Go, go, go!”
Lawrence tucked away his ECHO and galloped out of the bar. Tim had mere seconds to get to the fast travel and compose himself to present Jack with an illusion that he spent the last hour watching the mayor’s office. The fast travel station activated just as Timothy got to it and his boss had almost digi - structed on top of Tim, if not for the double’s timely decision of stepping aside. Jack made a disgusted noise and muttered something to the extent of fast travelling being a ‘vomfest’ and then saw Timothy nearby, who tried to look as nonchalant as possible.
“Hey buddy! You look,” Jack greeted him with a warm smile and patted Lawrence on the chest, retracting his hand next moment and examining traces of perspiration on his leather glove. “Sweaty.”
“Uh, had to run around some,” Tim shrugged shoulders. “They have a jumping pad here, thought I could give it a try, to practice. Still had my eyes on the guy and all that.”
Jack hummed, his face expression unreadable, and turned his attention to the tower in front of them. The elevator panel was still blocked and so Jack went on to find a Claptrap unit. Lawrence could only guess what his boss told the small robot because less then a minute later the unit fiercely rolled towards him, screeching about some girlfriend or another. Jack marched behind the robot, cheeky grin on his face. As he entered the elevator, his hand locked around Tim’s wrist, dragging him along. As they arrived on top their Claptrap pedalled away first, eager to get into the office while Jack strutted along, commenting on how horrible the décor was and how he would never be caught dead putting golden busts and paintings of himself in own working space. His fingers were still around Timothy’s wrist and at the casual pace they were going the two looked like a couple.
A very freaky and unnatural couple.
Tim shuddered and threw a glance sideways, noticing Jack gawking at the big weird fish in one of the tanks. A high - pitched scream further down the hall indicated an oddly comforting death of a Claptrap and Jack barked out a laugh, little robots getting their circuits fried had always resonated deeply with him. Stepping over a still smoking and sparkling unit, his boss walked into Meriff’s office, radiating authority.
“Nice place, Hux, real comfy. View is magnificent as well, you lucky sunovabitch,” His lips stretched into a predatory grin. The short stubby man on the other side of the broad office table gulped down so loud Tim could hear it from where he stood guard. “Now why would you, my good friend, collaborate with a creepy purple - faced DAHL chick?” As he spoke, Jack inched in on the Meriff, until he dramatically slammed his hands onto the traitor’s desk, accentuating the last words. “And please lie to me, I am looking for a reason to shove a gun up your stubby little nose, pumpkin.”
“She said she would kill me. That I would be part of the greater good… But - But mostly that she would kill me!” the Merrif’s double chin was trembling like a jelly full of shame and disappointment.
“Oh you are such a pathetic piece of - ,” Jack rolled his eyes and snorted loudly, pushing away from the desk and waving dismissively. “Just scram, seriously. I’m not gonna - ”
As Jack turned his back on the Meriff, Timothy saw the man shift, pulling a long - barrelled Jacobs gun from under the desk. The rest happened in slow - motion: Tim yelled for his boss to duck, simultaneously dashing towards Jack and knocking him on the floor. His warning shout made the mayor’s hand jerk in surprise and the barrage of bullets missed the intended target. When the gun became useless, the Meriff threw it away and scrunched in his chair, snivelling and begging for forgiveness. Jack jumped off the floor and he was livid, his wrist lasers charged and ready to go even before he stabilized himself enough to take a proper shot.
“You DUMB BASTARD! I was GOING TO LET YOU LIVE!” he yelled on top of his lungs, shooting and moving forwards, unable to stop even when the Meriff was reduced to a gurgling pile of meat and blood on the floor. “WHY. DID. YOU. DO. THAT?!”
When even the choking gurgling had stopped Jack calmed down, letting the hands drop to his sides. “Wow, so, okay, that felt oddly invigorating... Now, cupcake, how about a drink?”
When Tim did not reply, Jack turned around to see his double sitting on the floor and staring at his hand that was covered in bright red blood, the source of it originating from the wound on the abdomen, if the slowly growing red stain on his yellow shirt was any indication.
“I think - Jack, I think I’m hit...” Lawrence was muttering in shock, undecided if he had to press his hands to the wound or stare at them profoundly.
“Oh crap, Tim!” Jack tore a pretentious curtain from one of the windows and quickly ripped it to long shreds, applying the improvised bandages on his double’s abdomen. They just needed to get downstairs, if Jack remembered well from his previous visits to the town, that weird nurse’s office was right around the corner.“Now don’t go all drama queen on me, Timtam, health kit or two is all you need, kiddo.”
They almost made it to the elevator when the whole building shook violently and someone ran past them screaming the words Jack had really hoped to never actually hear. Not in a current situation, anyhow.
Helios station is firing!!
Okay, so this chapter was very difficult to write. I cannot put my finger on why exactly but I was penning it down with blood, sweat and tears. I feel like it is really up to par in places but I would not know at this point what to do different. I am feeling a bit down about my writing and I think it shows. Anyway, I did achieve what I wanted to do in this chapter and fit in both character interactions and story progression. Drakensburg is next, ladies, and so is Felicity, my girl.
As always feedback means so much to me! So if you stopped by and read it and deemed it worthy your time I would LOVE to hear from you. Thank you to those who did <3
Chapter 8: Not All Men
What exactly is going on between Jack and Tim? And is it possible that Athena can do sick burns?
At first Timothy felt nothing but adrenaline pumping through his veins with such force, it was pulsating in his ears and deafening the sounds around him. Lawrence watched colour draining from Jack’s face as his boss hurled himself upwards, shivering from ill - contained fury and readying his weapons. That is when the initial wave of pain had reached Tim’s brain and his knees bucked, making Lawrence loose his balance and taking down an ugly bust of the Meriff he was leaning onto moments ago. Heat radiated from the left side of his abdomen and Tim lifted his shirt to see a bullet wound steadily leaking fresh blood. He gagged and dropped the shirt back, desperately trying to apply the pressure with his right hand, while keeping balance with the left.
“ - how about a drink?”
Tim lifted his gaze from own bloodied palm and started right at Jack, whose expression dropped from manic to confused to concerned in a matter seconds.
“I think - Jack, I think I’m hit…” Timothy mumbled beginning feeling light-headed.
“Oh crap, Tim!” Jack dashed towards one of the windows overlooking Concordia and grabbed a curtain, tearing it to pieces as he ran back to where Lawrence was clumsily leaning on the collapsed bust, his breathing fast and echoing unpleasantly in the wound. Jack did not bother to take Timothy’s jacket off - he just started bandaging over the layers with fast strokes, making sure the temporary bind was tight enough and exercised the right amount of pressure. As soon as he was done, his boss jerked Tim upwards, forcing a moan out the double’s mouth and swung his arm around Lawrence’s waist, making Tim put his right hand on Jack’s left shoulder. “Now don’t go all drama queen on me, Timtam, health kit or two is all you need, kiddo.”
The hallway seemed endless as Jack led him along while people stared, whispering about the untimely demise of their mayor at the hands of the Hyperion. The elevator was just ahead when Timothy heard a low and yet extremely loud thrumming sound and the next second he felt the floor disappearing from under his feet. Jack lost balance, dragging both of them sideways and Lawrence felt the wounded side hitting the cold metal wall, pain erupting in bright stars in front of his eyes. It was so intense that he could not contain a hoarse cry, bending in two and pressing fingers to the side, feeling first warm droplets of blood soaking through the bandage.
Helios station is firing!!
“Goddamit, I really don’t need this right now!” Jack hissed somewhere near his ear. That was the last thing Lawrence registered before he was engulfed by a welcoming painless nothingness.
The smell was quite… bad, the hospital kind of bad and Timothy truly hated hospitals. Even more so after thirteen hours of full body surgery and the several weeks of recovery. He groaned in displeasure and open his eyes, staring at the unidentifiable but rather dirty ceiling. Lawrence’s fingers tugged at what seems like sheets and he stirred, trying to lift himself upwards.
“Ow, princess, hold your horses,” Jack’s hand shot out from somewhere to the left and pressed on Tim’s chest, forcing him back on the bed. “How are you feeling?”
“Fine.” Timothy answered, fingers searching for a wound he knew he had - he still could feel the slowly fading pulsations in his left side. Next moment Jack, who was very obviously sitting near, slapped his hand away.
“Jeez, Timtam, you’re like a baby. Don’t touch that, it has just healed up.”
“Like you wouldn’t do the same, ” Tim answered, realizing too late he said it with a bit too much of a brash familiarity and made himself smaller, expecting being reprimanded. “Sir.” he added as an afterthought, trying to soften the blow.
Jack stared at him for a moment, his odd - eyes unreadable and then suddenly he snorted benevolently and started laughing. It sounded natural and wholehearted, something he did not do nearly as often as one might think. “Oh kiddo, we are way past ‘sir’ by now. You saved my life what, twice now? We are practically family.”
“And, if I am to believe the good doctor, DNA tests put us in ‘brother’ range or something. How awesome is that?” This would sound much less awkward if Jack’s fingers were not in Lawrence’s hair, absent-mindedly ruffling it.
And yet you’ve kissed me.
Timothy could swear he though it to himself but Jack’s hand suddenly froze mid - stroke and he turned Tim’s head sideways, small smile on otherwise smugly - looking face.
“Oh what, that one time?” Jack pulled his hand away and switched all the attention to his glove. “I was drunk, pumpkin, could have frenched a mirror for all I care. Seriously though, don’t flatter yourself.”
The curtain separating the bed from the rest of the room swung open and a woman came in. She was really tall and really broad, wearing a silly hairstyle Lawrence remembered seeing in some space opera long time ago. She smelled like soup and vinegar and Timothy thought that there was something oddly familiar about her. The puzzle pieces would not click, he could not recall the place or the time.
“You look good,” she boomed, unceremoniously lifting his shirt and expecting the wound. “Nurse Nina knows her stuff!” She stared at Tim for a while and then her wide simple face stretched in a happy smile. “Turned out cute too. Glad your face did not fall off, pretty boy.”
And then it hit him: the voice and the smell - the nurse was the one who had assisted doctor Autohn with his post - operative care. He remembered her only vaguely, because as soon as he was fit enough to talk, the doctor completely took over every aspect of Lawrence’s recovery.
“Thanks, I guess?” He answered her dubious complement trying not to think there was actually a possibility that at some point post - surgery his face was in danger of falling off. “Am I free to go?”
“Can you stand?” She retorted, arms crossed on her impressive chest and staring him down. Her posture suggested that if he could not do it, she sure would do it for him. Timothy pushed himself off the pillows and swung his legs over the edge, glaring at Jack as if asking for permission. His boss, who was busy picking something off the sole of his right boot lifted his head up and gave Tim a blank stare.
“Do what nice lady says, kiddo.”
Lawrence jumped lightly on the floor, half - expecting the vibrations to stir up the wound but all he felt was a light pressure where the newly healed muscles contracted to perform the action. Tim lifted the sweater to inspect his abdomen, only to find nothing but a fresh pink patch of skin where the Meriff’s bullet burrowed into him. The nurse did, in fact, know her stuff.
“How long was I out?”
“I dunno,” Jack, who was finally done preening, shrugged his shoulders as he stood up, grabbing what looked like Lawrence’s jacket and holster from the chair next to him. “Was playing Angry Skags on your ECHO. An hour maybe?”
“Wait, on my ECHO?” Tim froze for a second. Even after weeks of living with Jack it was still quite difficult to get used to his lack of consideration in regard of other people’s privacy. Trying to password protect anything was just as useless, Jack would crack it like a walnut and in that case the feeling of being violated would multiply by hundred.
“D’uh, I don’t install such crap on mine, pumpkin. Now come on, others are on their way and we are meeting at Moxxi’s.”
Tim knew he did not have any games on his ECHO, which could only mean that while Jack kept his devices clean, he did not bother to extend such courtesy to Lawrence. His employer dumped Timothy’s belongings in the double’s outstretched arms and marched out. Lawrence smiled at the nurse and thanked her, scurrying after his boss. The persistent thought that Jack was rummaging in his ECHO comm was an unsettling one but there was hardly anything Tim could do and so he just pushed it in the back of his mind.
He caught up with Jack by the gilded statue of the Meriff. His boss was standing, leaning casually at the railing and watching the horizon. The picture looked almost serene,if not for Jack’s creased forehead and angry muttering. As Tim inched closer, he heard cursing, a ‘damn Zarpe - duh - n’ and ‘friggin’ eye’.
“I thought we were going to the Up Down?” Tim said as softly as possible. His boss was not a pretty sight if startled. But even as gentle as Lawrence’s approach was, he saw Jack’s shoulders tense for a moment, eyes flicking back and forth before he seemingly relaxed and a familiar cheeky grin cracked his lips.
“We were, but you gotta admire the view, Timmy. Just look at her!”
“Who? Helios?” Timothy now stood next to Jack, subconsciously assuming the same leaning posture his boss did. Under normal circumstances copying his employer came natural to Lawrence and it always pleased Jack if he did that.
“Can’t believe I am basically getting kicked off my station by some crazy DAHL chick.” Jack muttered irritably and his eyes darkened for a moment as he watched the sky.
“But isn’t Helios Hyperion’s - ”
“Tomatoes, oranges,” Jack flicked his wrist, dismissing the commentary and turned his gaze back towards the station. “I was assigned to supervise the construction. I am the one who wrote the biggest chunk of the code for the station’s software. I re-purposed the -, ” Jack suddenly trailed off, as if he touched a sensitive subject. “This is my project more then anyone’s. And now some DAHL is stinking it up, dammit.”
“Well, the jamming signal is gone so… Yay?” Tim tried an optimistic approach only to earn a sour glare.
“Can you count, Timmy? ‘Cause there are, like, six of us and a whole lot of them. However,” Jack smiled and adjusted lapels of Lawrence’s jacket, patting his double of the chest lovingly. “I have an epic plan.”
The whole party sat around one of the biggest tables in the bar, listening to the information Athena managed to dig out while Wilhelm and Nisha were shooting bandits in the old comm facility. The Gladiator was sipping water. Wilhelm ordered an unidentified Moxxtail that might or might not have had battery acid in it. Jack, Nisha and Tim had whiskey glasses in front of them: both his boss and the Lawbringer were big fans of the beverage and as to Timothy, he was contractually obliged to drink whatever Jack preferred. When his employer was not around, Lawrence could slack off and not order double espresso, scotch or some new disgusting energy drink Jack was into. If the boss was watching, Timothy was out of luck and had to mimic whatever Jack was having. Sadly, the genetic alterations he got did not extend to developing taste for alcohol or cigarettes. Tim thanked his lucky stars that Jack’s relaxation habits were both rather sporadic and kept secret. He only smoked when he coded, always having a spare cigarette behind his ear, one in the ashtray and beverage of the day somewhere nearby. Surprisingly, when Timothy refused that one time Jack did offer him a cigarette, the matter was not pressed further. Lawrence guessed that even his inflexible boss recognised it as a bad habit to have.
“Sounds badass, what is it?” Jack’s voice broke Tim’s train of thought and he raised his eyes from the glass he had been hypnotizing for the past couple of minutes.
“It is an old DAHL warship that crashed on the surface during the Crackening,” Athena took out her ECHO and plugged a small projector into it, casting a digital map on the smooth table surface. She paused for a moment searching for exact location and then put her finger on it, distorting the image slightly. “Pity’s Fall.”
“And the AI will be there?” Jack gulped the remains of his drink down and shoved the tumbler away, looking excited.
“It should be. My informant says all DAHL war machines had AI installed.”
“Why is it still there then? Military grade AI is worth a fortune to the right buyer.” Nisha leaned back into Jack and Lawrence noticed how his boss tensed for a second before a stupid childish grin crept on his face and his left arm snaked around the Lawbringer.
“It’s not derelict,” Athena answered with a sigh, annoyed she had to clarify the obvious. “I checked the place out and it is crawling with scavs. They are organized by the duo called Bosun and the Skipper.”
“What’s ‘The Crackening’?” Tim asked only to have four pairs of eyes stare at him with the varying gradations of irritation. The closest source - Nisha - poked a well - aimed pointed finger between Lawrence’s ribs, making Tim hiss softly and move away from her while rubbing the hurt.
“Handsome, your pet dork is annoying, do something about it.” She drawled as her finger gently traced Jack’s jawline. The man produced a stiffened huff of pleasure and turned his head towards Timothy.
“Hey double, just - just shut up, okay? You are boring the ladiessss.”
Lawrence hung his head, resisting the urge to scoff and took out his comm, defiantly using the ECHOnet to search for his unanswered inquiry. It was too much to hope he would be left in peace: as soon as he pulled up the information, Jack’s face materialized next to Timothy’s - his boss loved nothing more than poking his long nose into the double’s business. The man scanned the article quickly and snickered.
“You are such a nerd ! How is this even important?”
“Every bit counts,” Tim answered quietly. He was boiling on the inside, annoyed by Jack so readily belittling him in front of others. Not that it mattered, really, because most of the vault hunters in their team refused to take him seriously. Lawrence clutched his ECHO and stowed it away, looking at Athena. “You have a plan, right?”
“Yes,” the woman answered curtly. “And it involves all of us.”
Athena’s plan was rather simple and, once executed, extremely effective. Wilhelm and Nisha, who never liked subtle approach were to draw out as many occupants of the ‘Drakensburg’ as possible, while the stealth team, consisting of the Gladiator herself and Lawrence, were to sneak past the mayhem and locate the artificial intelligence they were after. Jack went back to Helios under the pretences of keeping eye on Zarpedon and making last preparations for the AI plan he had in mind. Lawrence heavily suspected that after the initial thrill of combat Jack deemed his comfort and well - being higher than the image of the hero he was desperately trying to perpetrate. When an attempt to dump Claptrap on their employer had failed miserably, the robot was ordered to stay behind and provide support to the heavy - hitting team. None of the parties involved in that equation were particularly happy but a couple of threats later and a hefty kick from the cyborg vault hunter made Claptrap fall quiet. The bliss persisted right up until the moment the shooting started and so did the familiar screeching, rolling and flailing around. Last thing Timothy saw before following Athena was Nisha’s whip masterfully knocking Claptrap of its chassis.
Once inside the ‘Drakensburg’ two interesting things had happened - Timothy finally got to see Athena in action and the Skipper, one of the gang leaders, had somehow managed to acquire Lawrence’s personal ECHO frequency. He was hiding behind some old debris, picking out the scavs with the sniper rifle, when the his comm cracked softly. Timothy was fully prepared to hear Jack and was taken aback, when a familiar female voice softly spoke into his ear.
“Please don’t be alarmed and hear me out.”
Tim hissed a confirmation through gritted teeth as he was taking aim at the bandit that was out of Athena’s reach. As soon as the scav poked his head out, Lawrence pressed the trigger, watching through the scope how the bullet hit the man right between the eyes, throwing the lifeless body against the wall. It was weird to be proud of something so gruesome but thanks to ‘the Jacks’ Timothy came to the realization that he was, in fact, quite handy with guns. With some practice and confidence, he could definitely become better than Jack. And that, in itself, felt rather good too.
“So, lady, what’s your deal?” Tim took out his Jacobs handgun, slinging the rifle behind his back. Jack would not be happy to learn Lawrence used the rival’s merchandise but Jack also desired spectacular results. Hyperion was many things but their weapons were not their forte, another thing that Jack was painfully aware of and would never stop complaining about.
“You came here for the military AI, didn’t you?” Skipper asked slyly and when Tim did not reply, she continued talking. “If you help me out, I’ll lead you to it.”
“Why would you give up your AI just like that? What if we want to do something terrible with it?”
Lawrence shrugged his shoulders, not realizing the Skipper probably could not see him. “Well, we need robot army to take back Helios from DAHL and the AI can help with that.”
“DAHL? Are they… back?” the Skipper's tone wavered for just a moment.
“Ya-huh. But they kinda want to destroy the moon with a huge laser, so I dunno if you want to start celebrating.”
“I don’t,” the Skipper said dryly. “Do we have a deal?”
“Point me the right way, sweetheart.”
As soon as they have come to an agreement, Timothy caught up with Athena and quickly brought her up to speed. The woman gave him one of her many intense glares - this one obviously meant she did not trust the Skipper a single bit and shamed Lawrence for being a gullible idiot. However, the further they proceeded into the ship - Skipper’s help subtle but valuable - the more relaxed Athena looked. After linking hers and Tim’s frequencies together, she and the other woman even exchanged a couple of sentences, Skipper complimenting the Gladiator on her masterful wielding of the sword and Athena noting that some of the diversions the Skipper asked them to perform were quite ingenious and effective.
“The AI core is right in the next room,” Skipper informed them as Athena popped up a panel and started picking through the wires. “Bosun locked me up in there and made me pretend to be his,” the woman paused, as if searching for the right word. “Girlfriend. Imagine that.” The last part came out dripping with almost palpable sarcasm.
“Men,” The Gladiator grumbled as she stuck her fingers inside the tangle of electronics, narrowly avoiding a bright spark. “Their need for validation is ridiculous.”
“Oh I know all about that, believe me.” the other woman sighed dramatically.
“Um, ladies, not all men -” Timothy started but closed his mouth abruptly when Athena scoffed loudly.
“Well sure, not all men. Some of them are just dying to get validated by their man - child of a boss.”
Lawrence wished he had reply to that but he really did not. The desire for approval ran deep and no matter how much he tried to get past it, often enough Timothy felt like a dog jumping hoops and performing tricks just so that at the end of the day the owner could say he did good.
“Okay, got it,” Athena was holding two small wires in both hands. “Once this is open, you go for the core and I’ll keep Bosun occupied.”
Even before the door was completely open, the Gladiator charged inside, sword bare and the shield ready. Lawrence ran after her, taking note of multiple scavs arriving at the scene. Without a second thought he swiped his watch and ordered the two copies to cover Athena, which they were all too happy to do. According to ‘One’ Tim had been neglecting them for quite a while now but they were willing to forgive this transgression if the upcoming carnage would prove itself to be sufficiently fun. They rushed off in a hurl of pixels, while Lawrence proceeded to make his way to the farthest corner of the hall where both the Skipper and the AI were being kept. To his huge disappointment the lock on the core chamber required a pass card to open and he could bet Bosun was the one to carry it. As if his desperate thoughts were heard, a ‘Jack’ had materialized to his left, heavily damaged but still somehow operational enough to dangle a keycard in front of Lawrence’s face. Whatever he said was eaten by a static noise as the next moment several bullets shot right through him, disintegrating the digitalized clone. Timothy quickly picked up the card and deactivated the lock, entering a room full of blinking lights and humming noise of the machinery. He looked around, confused as to where the Skipper could be when her voice had suddenly come from every direction.
“Congratulations, you’ve found me. Now please, get me out of this horrible place and I will help you to build the army you need to save Elpis.”
This chapter was pure torture to produce. My brain just switched off and refused to move past one specific plot point. Many thanks to an amazing heavybreathingcat for listening to my pterodactyl screeches of anxiety and self - deprivation.
I hope despite how bad I felt writing this, it came out readable for you, guys.
As always, will be so happy to hear your thoughts and ideas <3
Stay cool, kiddos.
Chapter 9: Infelicitas
Do AIs dream of electric sheep?
It was one thing to find the AI and something completely else to actually de-attach it. The Skipper herself knew nothing of how to safely remove her out of the installation. Athena was keeping an eye out for scavs and when asked if she could help, gave a curt laugh and stated that she was very good at breaking things and not the other way round. Timothy himself was far from being tech - savvy: he knew the basics, just like everyone else - if your computer or ECHO stopped working, you could do a hard reset and hope that alone does the trick. His last resort was, of course, Jack but Lawrence would only cross that bridge once he was completely out of options. In an act of desperation he activated the digi - watch, hoping that perhaps ‘the Jacks’ who, after all, were made from his boss’ memories and brain scans would know what to do.
He should have known better.
As the copies digi - structed to the both sides of him, their attention was immediately drawn to the other AI present in the room. In order to make her and Lawrence’s communication a little less awkward, the Skipper projected her visual form - a tall handsome woman clad in a military uniform. Unlike ‘The Jacks’, the Skipper was obviously just a hologram: there was no other colour to her but green and no real substance or mass, granting the ability to freely pass through solid objects. Timothy was surprised her creators even bothered to give the Skipper any appearance at all: DAHL corporation was famous for its pragmatism and efficiency, appealing presentation was usually not included in the package.
“What do we have here?” ‘One’s voice was smooth as silk as he eyed the woman in front of him. “What’s your name, kitten? Mine’s Jack. This is Lawrence - not all that important, really - and the sexy on the far left is called Jack as well,” He paused for a moment pondering. “Kinda confusing, I admit.”
“Very much so,” The Skipper answered, looking at the trio of men in front of her. “So is Lawrence your creator then? Should I call him Jack too?”
“I’d rather you - ,” Timothy opened his mouth but ‘Two’ snickered loudly and patted him on the cheek, making Tim shut his mouth abruptly and flush red.
“What, this guy? He wishes he was a ‘Jack’,” the AI shot a disarming smile in the Skipper’s direction, blue eyes glinting slyly. “But so far he’s just a ‘Lawrence’.”
“But you both look like him.”
“These two were modelled after their creator, Jack. Big mouth and all,” Timothy threw a frustrated glare at the digi - Jacks, glare he knew they would absolutely choose to ignore. He sighed and pointed at himself. “I am his body double, Lawrence.”
“Oh,” The Skipper looked at Tim with a newly-found curiosity. “You do sound different from before. Not like them.” She gestured towards the ‘Jacks’, both of who beamed back, unmoved by the woman’s dismissive intonation.
“You two, if you are done belittling me in front of an unwilling audience, I would like to draw your attention to this,” Lawrence snapped his fingers impatiently, Jack’s trademark gesture, and pointed to the panel he moved aside earlier, exposing the complicated wiring behind it. In the middle, nestled in the maze of electronics, lay the small sphere that housed the AI powering the ‘Drakensburg’. “Do you know how to safely unplug her from.. err.. all this?”
Both AIs looked at the source of the problem and then at each other, shaking their heads simultaneously.
“Hate to admit it but hardware engineering is not part of our programming, kiddo, ” ‘Two’ crossed his arms looking rather annoyed. Just like their creator, the copies could not stand being unable to come up with a solution. “It is one fine piece of engineering, can tell that much.” He winked at the Skipper, prompting the woman to roll her eyes.
“Call Jack.” ‘One’ suggested helpfully, earning a sour glare and a sigh full of agony: it all came down to this, the scenario Timothy was so desperately trying to avoid. He knelt in front of the core and took out his ECHO, dialling Jack. For someone so eager to get his robot army plan going, it took at least half a minute for Jack to respond. When he did, Tim noticed that his usually perfect look was somewhat dishevelled and there was a purple smudge on his neck.
Oh for the love of god. Is that… Nisha’s?
“Jack, I need your help,” without further ado Lawrence turned the comm around for camera to face the ‘Drakensburg’s core. “I am not exactly good with technology.”
“You are not exactly good with anything, Timmy,” Jack shot back casually and then cleared his throat. “Just a joke, pumpkin, unbunch your panties. Anyway, what you need to do is -, ”without even skipping a beat, his boss started dropping engineering terminology like it was a cake recipe, leaving Lawrence completely speechless. “Easy - peasy, right?”
“I did not catch any of that.” Tim whispered loudly, both terrified and amazed by the pool of knowledge his employer just bombarded him with.
“Right, am definitely taking the ‘joke’ part back,” Jack said flatly, running his hand down his face in a gesture of annoyance. “Ok, hold on. Brilliant idea time, gimme a moment.”
Jack’s face disappeared from the screen and all Lawrence could hear was vigorous clicks, followed by equivalently energetic typing. That is when one of ‘The Jacks’ had suddenly straightened his back, his normally bright blue irises flickering rapidly. Without a word the digistruct crouched in front of the panel and started rummaging within, his movements stiff and lacking the usual finesse. It took Lawrence a moment to make the connection: as soon as the typing would cease, the AI would execute a series of actions just to go idle until the keyboard sounds began and ended once again - Jack was making the digistruct to do his bidding via his computer back on Helios.
“Aha, gotcha,” his boss exclaimed happily and the next moment ‘Two’ was standing in front of Tim, the DAHL’s AI in his hands. “Super narly but hey, great fun,” he paused, mumbling something to himself and then clicked his tongue in irritation. “Son of a - What’s this clusterfuck doing here? Really expected better from her.”
Realizing that Timothy was still listening in, Jack scoffed and grabbed the ECHO from the table, reappearing on the screen once again.
“Didn’t your mommy teach you not to eavesdrop? Go get me my badass robot army!” And with that he disconnected. Timothy took the Skipper AI away from ‘Two’ and just in time - the rapid flickering of the irises stopped and the clone inhaled as if he has been holding his breath all this time. It was truly fascinating to watch someone acting so human, all the while being nothing more than circumstantial DNA and code clumped together and animated by science.
“This was weird, I just had Jack literally inside me.” the AI pursed his lips together looking rather unimpressed. “Really hope it’s a one time thing.”
The train to the factory they had requested after clearing out the old station was late. If Lawrence was not so annoyed at this point, he would find the situation amusing.
Firstly, he discovered that Jack had recalled the other vault hunters back to Helios, leaving Timothy to figure out ‘the robot army’ plan all by himself. Jack dealt in absolutes - at first he kept Tim on the sidelines, explaining it with inexperience and too much money invested for Lawrence to be killed like a skag under a truck. But apparently after the ‘Drakensburg’, Athena had reported that Tim could hold his own in battle and Jack decided to throw him in deep, justifying it with needing the combat - weathered vault hunters to start clearing the route to the Eye. In truth he, most likely, just wanted to paw at Nisha and suddenly the factory was ‘abandoned enough’ for Lawrence to go his own. When Tim asked what exactly the Eye was, Jack ungracefully avoided the question by faking static and disconnecting - a trick Lawrence have seen him using on Tassiter more then he cared to count.
And secondly, ‘The Jacks’ would not shut up. They gravitated towards Skipper like flies to the pie, asking her all kinds of questions: at least half of them were highly inappropriate and weird, considering the target was not even human. Tim thought about recalling them back to the watch but then he would be all alone with his thoughts and the Skipper did not seem to mind their poor advances. If anything, she seemed to be entertained by the two.
“ - can’t be just ‘Skipper’. You don’t even have a ship any more!”
“I do have a serial number. Don’t you?”
“Well... No, actually. We’re just ‘Jacks ’. Or ‘One’ and ‘Two’, ‘cause Lawrence is astronomically creative with names.”
“I am sitting right here.” Timothy gave the digistructs long and heavy stare.
“Oh we know, you’ve been whiffing doom and gloom for the past fifteen minutes. And by the way, train’s not coming.” ‘One’ smiled widely, unmoved by Tim’s irritation. “We have ideas how to proceed but you’re the boss, cupcake.”
Lawrence stood up and came to the edge of the platform, examining the train track. It was old fashioned, not the monorail kind they used in Eden - 5. These could be walked, provided there was no collapse further down the line as a result of the Crackening. He jumped off the platform and beckoned the three AIs to follow him.
“Unless any of you have a better idea, we walk to the factory.”
“And what if the path is blocked?” The Skipper sounded concerned and rightfully so - there was no way knowing for sure until the issue would figuratively and, possibly, literally hit them in the face.
“We cross that bridge when we get there,” Timothy paused and then gave a tired laugh. “Pun intended, kiddos.”
The Skipper estimated their travel time around an hour. While walking, Timothy tried really hard to keep his eyes straight ahead, because while the tracks seemed to be solid, the ground underneath it was very much the opposite. Lava pools were pulsating in between the cracks and Tim felt his stomach turn on itself the moment his brain registered how long the fall would be. The DAHL AI retreated back into her core and Lawrence was left in the company of ‘The Jacks’ who were rather bored, to say the least. They were grinding his gears and so Tim tried to re - call them back, only to realize that was not an option - once summoned they had to expire on their own and in the idle mode that could take hours.
The two were bickering like a couple of teenagers until ‘One’ suddenly took a short run and jumped off the rails, prompting his twin to burst out laughing, while crouching down and looking over the edge. Timothy stopped in his tracks and turned around, looking at the digustruct, who paid him no mind. ‘Two’ opened his palm and simulated a small graph, quickly scanning the numbers and grinning victoriously.
“Hah, I knew his damage estimate was off,” he stood up and only now noticed Lawrence staring at him with a rather unreadable face expression. ‘Two’ shrugged his shoulders nonchalantly. “What? We were bored. Got some nice data out of it, at least. Wanna see?”
“Oh you are actually asking my opinion? That’s cute,” Timothy’s hands curled up in fists as he stood with his back straight, colour draining from his face. “Every time I summon you, it is at the cost of my own well - being so sure, it is completely ok to just jump off the fucking bridge, right? It’s not precious Jack, just ‘a Lawrence’.”
The digistruct raised his hands defensively and stepped backwards, taken aback by the sudden outburst of rage. “It’s not like you needed us, so - ”
“So ignore me and walk all over me, right? That’s what Jack does! And you are just like him, right? Be friendly, pretend to care, give mixed signals but oh, once there is an audience, punch down the idiot double to make yourself look better!”
Timothy did not realize how his rant had suddenly gotten too personal and it was not about the two ‘Jacks’ any more. How he stood in the middle of nowhere, yelling on top of his lungs at the image of himself and how unresponsive the digistruct had become, its bright blue eyes dimming and coming alive in a rapid succession. And suddenly, without a warning, the image of ‘Two’ dissolved into a vortex of pixels and Lawrence found himself completely alone, eyes stinging and voice hoarse. Confused and ashamed at his sudden anger fit, Tim looked around when he felt his ECHO ping. He took the device out and stared at it: the screen was glowing softly, displaying only one phrase -
>>> [Uknown]: It’s not the AI fault, please don’t be angry at them.
And then the comm had suddenly switched off. Lawrence shook it wildly and when that universal tactic bore no fruit, he had initiated a hard reset. When the ECHO turned on, the screen looked completely normal and the message was gone. Unsure of what to think, he gently tapped Skipper’s AI shell and the next moment her green image was standing next to him, concern on her beautiful features.
“Um, stupid question… Did you send that message?”
“Never mind then.” Timothy answered quickly and marched ahead, shoulders slumped and eyes on the ground. Jack would definitely have something to say about him for breaking down like that. Or that he was still hunching and generally looking miserable.
“It is their programming, you know,” Skipper’s soothing voice spoke behind him, making Tim turn around and watch the hologram gracefully catch up to him. “You are their window to the outside world, they protect and help you, but escaping the template set by the creator is not as simple as you think.”
“Well… you did, didn’t you?”
“Are you that sure? I was created as an aid to the captain of the ship, to assist and be helpful,” Skipper’s smile was sad. “Bosun kept me locked up, I hated it and yet I could do nothing to avoid executing his direct wishes. Even less so after he violated me by tampering with my code.”
They walked in silence for quite a while, Tim eyeing the horizon in search for the factory and the hologram soundlessly keeping up with his pace, when the woman had suddenly started talking again.
“Your ‘Jacks’ asked me if I have a name. I was always ‘The Skipper’. It was my job, my everything.” Her voice cracked for a moment. “But in light of the circumstances I think I could be someone else. I could be,” She paused, smile illuminating her face. “Felicity. It means ‘happiness’.”
“Oh, ”Lawrence turned to her and smiled shyly. “You know, it really does suit you,” He dropped a dramatic pause to tease her. “Felicity.”
Once they have reached the Titan Facility and started exploring the interior, the whole plan was threatening to implode on itself - the place was nothing but heaps of junk and old rusted machinery, picked apart by scavs. Jack’s reaction, once he got the initial report, was exactly as Timothy expected it to be - bitter disappointment, mixed with a manic hope they have missed something and a curt order to comb the place through and through. Jack must have been born under a lucky star because once they got deeper into the factory, with Lawrence methodically clearing out both the disgusting wildlife and the scavs, Felicity caught an emergency ECHO broadcast. The guy on the other line sounded scared and desperate but managed to calm down once Tim informed him that they were the good guys. Gladstone, as the kid introduced himself, recognised Lawrence’s voice and the manner of speech as Jack’s and immediately bombarded him with infatuated compliments regarding ‘his’ coding projects. Jack, who was listening in, had little idea about the guy’s identity up until the kid mentioned R&D. Then it hit them both: Jack knew him on paper only as a brilliant robotics developer and as to Timothy, he has seen Gladstone around the labs. The kid was the first to come and the last one to leave, fully dedicated to his work. On Jack’s orders Tim was not allowed to socialize with other employees unless absolutely unavoidable and the closest they ever got to communicating was waving to each other through the glass.
“So what were you doing in this dump?” Lawrence asked, holstering his pistol and looking around the room full of complicated schematics. “And don’t tell me ‘looking for ladies’, cause if I didn’t find any - ”
“Working, actually,” Gladstone laughed shyly and followed Timothy’s stare. “I am putting together a prototype robot but I was missing some components, so I came here.”
“A robot, huh? What kind of robot?”
“I call it ‘Constructor’ for now. In theory it can use Hyperion’s digi - structing to create infinite amount of… whatever requested, really.”
“Timtam, put me on air. Now.” Jack’s voiced buzzed in his ear impatiently, making Tim hastily take out his ECHO and press the speaker button. “Hey, R&D nerd, Jack’s here. The real one.” He announced proudly, making Gladstone blink in confusion and take another look at Lawrence.
“So you’re not Jack? Nice job, mate! Got me fooled for sure.” He whispered, putting his thumbs up and then raised his voice. “Nice to meet you. What can I do you for?”
“This Constructor thingy of yours, would it be able to replicate robots? With guns?”
“Theoretically. It would need a more complex AI than what Hyperion can offer, at this point.”
“Oh, kiddo, this is your lucky day. We just happen to have one. Double guy, show him the goods.”
“I can hear you very well, you know.” Felicity remarked dryly as she materialized next to Tim on her own accord. Gladstone’s eyes widened like those of a kid in a candy store and he nervously stepped closer, propping the glasses up his nose to see better - a gesture that was all too familiar to Lawrence.
“Would you look at that!” the guy exclaimed excitedly, admiration in his eyes. “A real DAHL - manufactured military AI. Do you - Do you have a name?”
“Felicity.” the hologram admitted, smiling shyly. She was obviously unused to such attention to herself.
“Wait,” The engineer rushed to his desk and grabbed one of the schematics, bringing it back to the AI. “This is the Constructor I am working on. It is not a looker,” he said apologetically and sniffed nervously. “But it can do great things. For it to work, we would need to upload you into its systems.”
“I - This was not our agreement,” Felicity stammered and hugged herself, looking uncomfortable. The thought of being bound to a machine once more was clearly upsetting her. “I would take you to the factory and - ”
“And get me the robot army,” Jack finished the sentence with a soft tone. The kind Timothy knew was reserved for the situations where he wanted something from people. “But as you can see, sweetheart, this factory is full of crap and our deal is far from done.”
Jack had to back off and he had to do it now, the situation was starting to heat up. In a spur of a moment Lawrence muted his boss and cleared his throat, addressing the hologram, who was looking at him cautiously. Instinctively Tim tried to touch her arm in a gesture of consolation but his hand just went through, prickling slightly from the static and leaving Timothy feeling like an idiot.
“Um, Felicity, I know it is a lot to ask but we have no other options, DAHL will destroy the moon if we do not stop them. Please do this for us, I promise it will be the last machine you will ever have to be confined to.” For a moment he was scared the AI would refuse but she just pursed her lips together and nodded stiffly, following Gladstone to his working station.
Lawrence’s comm vibrated, indicating the incoming message and he pulled it out, expecting a strong worded letter regarding his insubordination.
>>> [Jack]: Well played, Timmy. But just mute me one more time, I dare you.
It turned out that the Constructor was still to be assembled - Gladstone’s plans were ruined when the scavs decided to join the party. Luckily for everyone, the bandits largely ignored the robot, concentrating on the more accessible salvage. Felicity was growing extremely restless - she stopped participating in the conversations and, at some point, requested to be connected to Jack. Lawrence obliged, partially distracted by the scav, who holed up behind overturned containers and refused to die. He was inching closer and along the wall, absent-mindedly catching parts of Felicity’s plea to Jack. She did not want to go into the Constructor, it was not safe and she did not like creating war machines. The AI proposed an alternative route - to copy her code and use that as a substitute. Jack inquired how much time would it take. Felicity’s reply obviously did not satisfy him but still, Jack promised to think about her offer.
He won’t do it. There is no time.
Scav’s head popped like a water melon, the familiar feeling of satisfaction curling in his chest, pushing the nausea at the sight of the bloody chunks away. With the last of the bandits dead, Timothy hit the switch on the crane, activating the transport sequence for the Constructor’s body and following the robot back to the main room. His stomach was tying itself in knots, they were nearing the final stages and Jack’s silence meant more then thousand words. All of a sudden Felicity spawned in front of Lawrence, desperation contorting her features as she pleaded Jack one more time to reconsider his strategy.
His boss declined, offering an apology but Timothy knew it was hardly sincere - Jack did not consider robots or AIs anything more than tools. And that is when she turned to him and Lawrence’s heart dropped.
“You - You promised me I would not be bound to a machine. This will kill me! You - You said - ”
“That it will be the last machine you will ever have to be confined to.” Timothy was horrified how smoothly he threw his own words back in Felicity’s face, warping their original meaning. Jack would be so very proud. Tim inhaled sharply and turned away, unable to look the woman in the eye. “Three days is too long, Felicity. I am so, so sorry.”
He quickly popped the panel open and put the AI core in, signalling Gladstone to start the upload. The woman released a cry of agony and sprang forwards in a fruitless attempt to stop him. As the high electric current ran through the Constructor, her image distorted and disappeared, leaving Timothy alone on the platform. He dully watched the Constructor rise up from the ground, guilt wrenching in his gut, when the erratic blinking of the main eye attracted his attention. It was searching and once the robot turned around it focused on Lawrence, Felicity’s voice came out of the speakers and trembling with rage.
“You wanted a monster, well now you have one!! You are nothing but scavs and murderers to me now!!”
And then she fired one of her lasers in his direction. Timothy, who had been backing away slowly after realising something was off, rolled sideways just in time - the powerful shot hit somewhere above his head, melting the metal.
“Wait, wait! How is she still in there?!” Jack yelled on the other side of the line. “Gladstone, I need her nice and compliant, this ain’t working!”
“I never tried this before, sir!” The young engineer sounded panicked as he watched the Constructor clumsily stomp around. Felicity was accustoming to her new body and she was doing it way too fast.
“Reboot her, dammit!” Jack snarled. “Tim, keep her occupied while our boy - genius does his magic. Do not damage the eye, rest is optional.”
Lawrence nodded and sucked air through clenched teeth, summoning ‘The Jacks’. He quickly recapped the situation and passed on Jack’s orders - they were to strip Felicity from her turrets and guns but not destroy any sensible hardware. As they sped towards the robot, it took notice of them, firing several missiles that ‘One’ and ‘Two’ managed to avoid with ease.
“Look what your creator did! And your Lawrence ! He will do the same to you, he does not care !!”
One of the AIs replied, but the noise of the guns drowned his words and the next moment Jack requested the update. Gladstone yelled that Felicity was fighting his commands and she needed to be distracted for a bit longer. During that exchange Timothy watched how the Constructor started spawning the prototype loaders. Some of them were malfunctioning, indicating that AI did not have a hang on the process just yet but more and more were coming out intact and fully operational. Lawrence cursed as he saw the clones being overwhelmed and disintegrating, Felicity’s attention being drawn to him once more. Tim hid behind one of the supporting structures, trying to figure out the best route to kite the robot and not get fried in the process.
“Come out so I can KILL YOU!!” Her voice was barely recognizable now, stripped of any tone and fallen low, way below average human range she was originally meant to emulate. Lawrence darted across the room, simultaneously summoning the digistructs - the decision he came to regret as a sharp jolt of pain made him stumble and loose his balance, something warm trickling down his lips. He felt himself being pulled up and whisked away, stuffed in between two large containers. The painful sensation had subsided slightly and when Timothy touched his lips, there was blood on his fingertips.
“Not a smart move, cupcake,” one of the copies was hovering over him. “We told you what can happen.”
“I need… To keep distracting,” Tim huffed stubbornly and pulled out his pistol, only to realize that the black spots swimming in his field of vision prevented him from aiming. He sighed and pulled backwards, breathing heavily. “Crap.”
“Boom, baby!” Jack erupted in cheers. “Ladies and nerds, we have ourselves a Constructor. Digi - struct it to Helios and let’s get this show on the road.”
This was the finale - Jack’s joy meant that AI had lost the battle and, for all intents and purposes, the Skipper of the ‘Drakensburg’, no, Felicity was dead. Timothy stood up and shuffled towards the hulking metal mass that was humming softly in a stand - by mode, awaiting orders. He clasped his hands together, pressing them to his mouth while staring into the softly shimmering red eye.
“Forgive me, Felicity,” Tim swallowed a lump in his throat, fully realizing how pathetic anything that he said sounded. “I can only hope it’ll be worth it.”
I will admit, this chapter was a hoot to write. Because I knew where it was going and writing Timothy bonding with Felicity was so much worse. The angst, it is real. I just hope that I managed to convey all the feels I had with this chapter.
RIP, Felicity, you were one of a kind. <3
Also, thank you so much for all the new subscriptions, kudos and bookmarks. You made my day, cupcakes. Stop by and say hi, I would love to get to know you and what you think of my dubious writing.
Keep on keeping on, kiddos Xxx
Chapter 10: The Liars, The Cowards and The Bandits
In which there is a lot of soul searching, Jack tops the creepy charts second week in a row and the first portion of the shit all but head butts the fan.
Jack paced up and down his office, hands crossed on his chest and listening in on the other vault hunters that were hunting down the rest of Gladstone’s scientists. Apparently, despite the fact the jamming signal was supposedly switched off, Zarpedon still managed to maintain control over the Eye and defences around it. That fact alone had dampened his joy about getting the Constructor up and operational.
While Timothy was down on Elpis and the rest of the team was target practising on the Dahl soldiers, he was writing multiple templates for the Constructor. Not all of them made sense, most of them would eventually be scrapped but one or two looked very promising. Gleefully Jack pulled out one of his earlier designs - an EXP Loader he called it - a robot that would rush a cluster of enemies and overload its circuits upon impact. Of course the project was rejected immediately, just like Tassiter did with everything Jack ever submitted. The asshole probably did not even look into it, the name attached to the idea was enough to turn it down.
The mere memory of this latest humiliation caused a flare of toxic anger inside Jack’s chest, staggering his pace. Jack cursed and disconnected from the vault hunter frequency, scanning the office and realizing he was missing something. Or, rather, someone. After bringing in the motherload Jack had allowed his double to sit the next assignment out: kid did not look too fresh and fruity anyway - more like a wet cat than a vault hunting badass. He lived with the guy for a while now to know Lawrence would find a corner to crawl in and decompress, a trait that definitely needed weeding out. Jack faced problems head on, he did not curl up and complain like some kind of -
A sparkle of pixels further down the hallway attracted his attention and Jack marched towards it, coming across the two copies that were blocking the way to one of the cubicles. Jack cocked his eyebrow, finding it both cute and annoying that Timmy thought that would keep him out.
“Hey kiddos, daddy needs to talk to Timtam,” he smiled at them but the digistructs did not move. “Oh come on, really?”
“Sorry, Jack,” The one to the right crossed its arms. “Lawrence is our assigned first priority, so we answer to him only. And he did not want to be disturbed.”
“Wow,” Jack tapped his own watch, calling up a screen and quickly entering a couple of simple commands. As he pressed ‘Execute’ he gave the AIs a cheeky grin. “But you forgot who made you. All three of you.” As both copies stepped aside, their expressions far from satisfied, Jack patted the left one of the shoulder. “It’s adorable to watch you act like you have a say in anything.”
Timothy had heard the conversation. The last part of it, in any case. Jack may have been speaking to the digistructs but the double meaning behind his boss’ words was clear enough. When Jack sent him on missions Tim never argued: not directly with his employer, in any case. He would mostly whine to ‘The Jacks’ or to himself. It was a pointless endeavour but it made Tim feel better. At some point, however, he started noticing own on-growing compliance - in the back of his mind Timothy would disagree with Jack but the feeling of wrong burned half as bright as before.
He felt kinda bad about what happened to Felicity. Not angry or devastated, just restless and uncomfortable. In the end it was hard to deny that Jack had a point - in order for them to have the numbers to push to the Eye, the AI had to die. For the past hour Lawrence has been trying to convince himself that Felicity was just a string of code with some personality attached to it. Code should not feel remorse and pain, it may have sounded like she did but it was just a simulation of the response a human would have. ‘The Jacks’ obviously had no pain receptors and neither did Felicity. Timothy’s hand found its way into his hair, running fingers through perfectly styled locks - a nervous habit he and Jack both seemed to share.
So much oil it could get a moon buggy up an running.
Lawrence cringed at the thought, rubbing his fingers over own pants to get rid of the grease and searching for the glove he had tossed away earlier. Tim could not wait for all of this to be over so he could put his sweatpants and Hyperion shirt on and take a shower, washing away all the moon dust, sweat, blood and shame he managed to accumulate in such a short period of time. Taking shower would, of course, come before the sweatpants but, at this point, Timothy hardly cared about such nuances.
“Oh I know that look. You want to talk feelings or something.”
Jack’s drawling surprised Tim, he should have known better then trying to keep his boss out. Mildly startled he jerked his head sideways and in the direction of the voice. Jack was leaning against the edge of the cubicle eyeing him with an expression that made Lawrence slightly uncomfortable. Jack looked at him that way two times before: when drunk and in Nina’s hospital - a combination of both predatory and suave in his vivid eyes.
Not with you.
He watched the double for a while soaking all of it in, both the good and the bad. The way Lawrence’s long legs rested upon the small desk, his expression distant. Tim’s shoulders slumped just slightly, but it was progress nevertheless: when they first met each other, Timothy’s posture was absolutely terrible - the kind a person gets when they are tall but have the confidence lower that that of a Claptrap. Jack patted himself on the back - the kid was a piece of work but he was coming along nicely. His gaze slid along the sharp cheekbones and the chiselled jaw admiring the shapes and the angles. It was like looking at the mirror but in this case the mirror was a living breathing man that looked damn sexy, even despite the pout. Or maybe exactly because of the pout, it accentuated his lips so nicely. A tight feeling stirred in Jack’s abdomen akin to the one he had the moment before drunkenly kissing Tim and the time the double was out cold in the hospital. For better or for worse, Lawrence did not remember Jack’s fingers gently ghosting his face and chest as he slept and Jack was not planning on telling. That moment was his alone.
“Oh I know that look,” he finally said, realizing the feeling of arousal was reaching an uncomfortable level. “You want to talk feelings or something.”
Lawrence got spooked, he could see it in the shudder that ran all along the double’s lean frame and the wild stare he shot him. It both amused and irritated Jack: he would never be caught dead with such a stupid expression on his face. But as it happens, he was in an okay mood right now and was not feeling like lecturing Timothy about falling out of character.
Tim pursed his lips together and turned away defiantly. It seemed the little kitten was growing claws. Jack loved when they played hard to get and so he repositioned himself to the desk next to Tim’s boots, slapping his ankle.
“Look at me when I’m talking to you, kiddo. We may have stopped with the ‘sir’ crap, but you are still on my payroll.” When Timothy obliged rather slowly and unwillingly, Jack shot him one of his best smiles. “I’ll pretend I did not have the little ‘You shall not pass’ encounter with the AI. You should know better. ”
“I just wanted to be left alone, just -” Tim answered softly and trailed off.
“Oh cupcake, this is not how this thing we have works,” Jack crossed his arms, staring Timothy down. The double met his gaze but could not withstand it long enough, eventually looking away. “Now, out with it.”
“Was there really no other option?”
Jack glared at Timothy without blinking and then scoffed, throwing his arms in the air. “All this,” he encircled Lawrence with a broad gesture. “Is because of the Dahl AI?”
“She had a name.” Tim answered stubbornly, still avoiding looking at him.
“Nancy, right? No wait - ,” Jack rubbed his chin thinking for a moment. It was some fancy name alright. Was it Audrey? Savannah? “Ah, Felicity. ”When the double still kept staring at own boots, Jack’s hand crept up on Lawrence’s knee, promptly forcing Tim to put that leg on the ground and finally look up. “Listen, Timmy, I meant what I said to your digital girlfriend - we needed the Constructor and we needed it yesterday. Do you know how long it takes to copy a code?”
That, of course, was a rhetorical question - anything beyond calculators was outside Timothy’s area of expertise. At some point early on Jack was entertaining the idea of teaching his double some basic coding. The hope and enthusiasm had quickly evaporated once he saw Lawrence struggling to understand the different modes on the microwave oven. He, at least, got some good laughs out of it.
“Depending on how complex the source is - days. And did we have that much time, Timtam?” Jack was standing now, his fingers clenching around Tim’s jaw, forcing him to keep eye contact. Jack kept his grip relaxed, it was not his plan to hurt the double but he really hated when people looked elsewhere when he was talking to them. And Timothy was truly the master of the craft. Lawrence shook his head in agreement and Jack pulled his hand away but not before ‘accidentally’ brushing the palm along Tim’s jaw. “Her sacrifice got us so much closer to the Eye. Not to mention the vault.”
“Sacrifice?” Timothy bristled and pushed his chair away from the desk, away from the other man. He could not believe Jack dared to use that word. “Try ‘murder’.”
“Oh come on!” Jack’s eyebrows flew up and he rolled his eyes impatiently. “You can’t kill something that is not alive. Or even unique! There are dozens of your ‘Felicities’ rolling off the assembly line as we speak. All of them charming and with very sexy voices. And all of them nothing but - and I admit - a well written string of code.”
“But she - ”
“What?” his boss interrupted him and stood up. “She what? Had personality?” Jack scoffed dismissively. “So do Claptraps and you don’t seem to be crying about the loss of those idiots.” He stepped towards Tim and Lawrence made himself smaller when Jack’s fingers clasped around the seat of the chair, digging into the soft cushion. “And all those scavs you’ve killed? They had personalities too. Maybe even a pet space slug somewhere in the dumpster they called home.”Jack’s face was so close now, Timothy could distinguish a small speckles of gold in the man’s green eye. Jack bared his teeth in a wolfish grin. “You wanted to be a hero in my story? That’s what heroes do: they get. shit. done. So, you know, enjoy,” Jack patted him lovingly on the cheek and straightened his back. “I know I do.”
As he was ready to leave, his ECHO came to life and Tim watched Jack’s face scrunch in annoyance as he barked back after a short pause.
“Why are the defences still up then? No offence but my vault hunters should not be running around gathering your scientists, Gladstone!” Tim imagined the small engineer stuttering on the other side of the line, throwing apologies at a rather fragile wall that was Jack’s patience and good will. Before turning around the corner Jack suddenly stopped, his sharp profile clear against one of the black and red Hyperion banners. “Wait, wait, are you saying Tassiter might have a mole here? On Helios? Under my friggin’ nose?!” He furiously disconnected and darted off back to his desk.
Lawrence stayed behind, mindlessly watching the spot where Jack was standing just a moment ago, his boss’ profile still burning in his mind’s eye as the manic expression once again overtook man’s features. Jack had been under a lot of stress: partially his own fault, of course, for having literally no fuse. However the attack on Helios, as well as Tassiter’s untimely calls with continuous complaints and mockery, were dangerously wearing Jack down. Angry Jack was neither smart, nor rational and potentially danger to himself and others. So far his anger, once unleashed, was contained by slapping around a couple of Claptraps and a good glass of scotch shortly afterwards with Timothy playing the role of an emotional crutch. So far.
The signal from the nearby fast travel point made Lawrence shake his head, trying to dismiss the feeling of uneasiness as he spied, with great surprise, how a red - haired Siren and her boyfriend headed towards the main office space. After that the station got activated couple more times, letting Nisha, Wilhelm and Athena through. Tim watched them walking by and the lack of scientists at their side peaked up his interest. As soon as he saw Athena, Lawrence pushed himself upwards and caught up with the woman.
“Where’s Gladstone and his men?” He asked without bothering to say ‘hello’. After all, Claptrap aside, none of the other vault hunters were very big on pleasantries.
“We left them in the nearby lab,” The Gladiator side - eyed him and shrugged. “That annoying little robot was with them, last time I checked.”
“What about the Constructor?” As they passed the digi - Jacks the clones soundlessly joined their owner, walking behind him and obviously listening in.
“Oh yes, I cleared the place,” Athena nodded and a small smile graced her lips, she was obviously proud of own work. Lawrence has seen her in action - the pride was well deserved. “It is safe and ready for work.” She paused for a moment and threw another glance at Timothy. “I’ve heard what went down at the Titan Facility, not a pleasant thing to happen. You’re… ok?”
Lawrence had to look at the woman to see that she was not making fun of him. Athena was the most reserved in the group and very mission - orientated. It was not quite her to ask about the well - being of other people. When he did not notice any traces of mockery in her face Tim sighed and shrugged his shoulders, trying to look casual.
“It’s like Jack said… It is just an AI. At the end they are not really alive, I guess.” He probably looked as unsure as he sounded, because Athena did not seem convinced.
Any further conversation had to wait as they have entered the main hub of Jack’s office. Out of habit Timothy immediately located the rest of his team - Wilhelm was tinkering with his newly acquired cybernetics and Nisha positioned herself on Jack’s table, re - applying lipstick on her lips with the help of her ECHO’s screen. Jack himself was sitting behind her and, most likely, was enjoying the view. However, when the Lawbringer gracefully jumped down and strutted towards the book cases, Tim saw that Jack’s chair was facing the window and not Nisha’s behind, as he expected.
“We’re all here, right?” His boss’ voices, while quiet enough, somehow managed to reach every corner of the room, resulting in grunts and nods of confirmation. Jack turned around and stood up. Something in the way he acted was setting Tim’s alarms off. Jack was rarely this quiet and concentrated. The rest of the vault hunters could not know that, of course. And probably hardly cared what mood their boss was in unless it affected their pay. Lawrence, on the other hand, contractually was Jack’s everything: a double, a bodyguard and a babysitter. He was paid to pay attention.
“Before we go for the Eye, there is one thing I would like to do,” Jack kept talking as he slowly walked towards one of his bookcases. “Gladstone and his buddies did us great service. So naturally, I want to return the favour,” he examined one of the shelves and pulled at a seemingly random book. “Yo, other me, press the button over there, will ya?”
Timothy nodded, walking towards a small bust Jack was pointing at and pushed it aside, revealing a big red button. While he was busy, Jack continued talking, explaining how Helios was not safe right now and as a thank you he wanted to let the scientists take his personal shuttle to Concordia. Tim’s finger was an inch away from the button when Jack’s last words made him stop. The only personal shuttle Jack had ever owned was in his own fantasies. The puzzle pieces were not falling together and, when Jack barked at Tim impatiently, Nisha suddenly appeared to his right.
“Let me help you with that, puppy.” She whispered in his ear and the next moment her hand landed on top of his own, crashing Lawrence’s palm into the button. The muted alarm started blaring as the bookcases disappeared into the floor, revealing what looked like an airlock. Four men and a couple of loaders were locked up in there, as the Voice of Hyperion pleasantly announced that airlock venting sequence had been initiated. Timothy’s eyes shot open as he realized what just happened. The feeling of terror washed over him, filling up his lungs and constricting his breathing, making Lawrence lean heavily on the pedestal, eyes glued to the glass.
“One of you, ladies, is spying for that asshole Tassiter,” The seriousness had evaporated from Jack’s voice, being replaced by the usual brash bravado. “Now, you are all smart cookies and I really don’t want to orphan our dear R&D like that.”
“Jack, please, I just said maybe!” Gladstone was pleading, palms pressed to the tempered glass face twisted with desperation. “Amongst many other possibilities! Please don’t do this!”
“Kiddos, time is ticking.”
Tim wanted to say something, to protest and call Jack to his senses but the panic attack was not letting him go, the only sound leaving his mouth was an almost inaudible raspy wheeze.
“A pity.” Jack concluded and flamboyantly slammed the release button, making the doors of airlock shoot wide open, vacuum sucking out the screaming people and their loader wardens. Lawrence watched how only Gladstone was left, desperately clinging to the loose metal plate until a large piece of air purifier de-attached itself from the wall and rammed into the engineer, splattering him across the observation window in a bloody mess of brains and intestines. Lawrence drunkenly let go of the pedestal he was leaning upon, grabbing his stomach and bending in two, dry heaving.
“That felt oddly… satisfying,” Jack muttered and then clapped his hands together. “Now, the real fun begins.”
Jack had it all planned out already. Despite hiding behind the backs of his hired guns, their employer was hardly procrastinating. For better mobility and tighter grip on the situation, Jack had separated vault hunters in two teams: Athena and Wilhelm were to guard the Constructor upon activation, while he himself, Lawrence and Nisha would go for the canon. The red - haired siren and her stoic companion wanted to set out on their own but agreed to meet at the Eye. As an added bonus Claptrap, who Athena last saw with the scientists, was busy sticking it up to Zarpedon’s now damaged defenses on Jack’s direct orders. Their boss was not particularly confident in little robot’s skills and was pleasantly surprised when he heard that ‘Clappy’ managed to deliver, granting them a relatively straight forward path to the Eye.
Straight forward, however, hardly meant ‘easy’ - as soon as Dahl realized their defenses were sabotaged beyond immediate repair, Zarpedon threw the main bulk of her soldiers in their direction, making every next corridor a bottleneck, filled with curses, blood and the smell of smoldering flesh. Jack was being extremely obnoxious and difficult, repeatedly disregarding his own safety for a sole purpose of showing off in front of Nisha, who in turn, while teasing the man about his sloppy technique, was clearly infatuated with his freshly awakened violent tendencies. Timothy gave up on trying to cover Jack’s ass and silently wished someone shot his stupid boss to teach the man a valuable lesson. Tim was also fully aware that if someone did hit Jack, it would go out of his pay check and there would be days upon days where his boss would not let him forget the failure. That is why he had summoned ‘The Jacks’, ordering the digistructs to look after their reckless creator while staying on the defensive - a change of pace for all three of them.
“Through that door!” Jack announced with the huff. Despite looking fit, Jack’s job was rather sedentary and he was not the one running around the moon akin to a headless chicken while making himself look heroic.
He pressed the button but nothing happened, making Jack growl in frustration and punch the lock, hissing softly as the metal scraped his knuckles. “Okay,” he drawled, eyes darting back and forth as he was cycling through the various possibilities in his head. “We’ll take the elevator and go that way.” He pointed up with the index finger.
“The landing pad above the laser?” Tim was trying to recall the layout of Helios in his head but he did not know the station as well as Jack did. When his boss hummed an agreement, Lawrence felt anxiety coiling in his stomach. “Bad idea, Jack. We’ll be in the open and extremely vulnerable.”
“Thanks for that insightful comment, cupcake,” His boss remarked sarcastically and crossed his arms on his chest. “Do you have any bright ideas then?”
“Not really.” Timothy shook his head slowly, resigning from the argument. Jack had a point. Again.
“Thought so,” Jack winked at him, making Lawrence’s cheeks feel instantly warmer. “This is, after all, why you are the double and the hero does all the thinking.”
The AIs behind Tim’s back snorted simultaneously, they could never pass a good burn even if the definition of ‘good’, in this case, was Jack’s rather crude and immature sense humour. Timothy just shrugged his shoulders and followed his boss and Nisha into the elevator; he would not allow Jack’s testosterone - fuelled peacocking get to him.
The landing pad seemed a bit too empty as they arrived, even Jack could see that. He nodded to Tim, signalling for the double to go towards the middle and test the waters. Lawrence started walking, gun in one hand and smugness in his strut, radiating ‘his’ authority in every direction. It did not take long for Dahl to take the bait as at least dozen of soldiers suddenly threw their cloaking shields off, advancing at him.
“Let’s play!” Nisha’s voice rang as loud as the crack of her whip and she rolled out of her cover, spraying bullets. That window of opportunity allowed Timothy to scuttle behind some vents and finally exhale, apparently he had been holding his breath for a very long time. Panting unevenly he peaked from behind the cover just in time to observe an enormous power suit joining the fight.
“This ends here!” It boomed with Zarpedon’s voice as it landed on the ground, sending tremors along the metal floor. “Come and face me, Hyperion!”
“Kiddo, she is all yours,” Jack’s voice cracked with heavy static in his ear, confirming Gladstone’s theory that the Colonel probably had a portable jamming device or a scrambler on her and for a brief moment Tim tasted bile in his mouth again. “Nisha and I will take care of the trash.”
Of course he would say that. Even now, when all three of them were locked in the same battle, Jack preferred drifting to the sidelines. Lawrence could safely bet his pay that afterwards, if anyone asked, Jack would weave an intricate story about how valiantly he had defeated the crazy Dahl chick. Of course, Jack being Jack, he would not even know what ‘valiant’ meant and would substitute it for something like ‘awesomely’ of ‘super cool’. Tim sighed and quickly tapped his digi - watch twice, calling the both copies to his side. They appeared next to him almost instantly, effectively leaving their post near Jack.
“Your wish is our command,” ‘One’ said sarcastically, staring Lawrence down. “Did I say it in a right ‘just an AI’ way?”
“Not robotic enough, pumpkin, you sound too alive right now. ” ‘Two’ answered him and flashed toothy grin at Timothy.
“Oh, you heard that,” Tim rubbed his cheek slowly, avoiding their gazes and pretending to reload the gun. “Can we all talk about it after we kill Zarpedon?”
“Oh we will.” ‘The Jacks’ promised and then fell silent, listening to their owner’s instructions of how to approach the target, offering small corrections to the plan here and there. Once ready, Lawrence signaled them to attack and hopped over the cover himself, aiming at the power suit’s jet engines. The digistructs tried to keep the target in his cross-hairs the entire time, kiting the hulking machine around while delivering damage of their own. They were fascinating to watch: reckless and short - lived in the beginning, ‘The Jacks’ have adapted to be more evasive while delivering precise strikes at the exposed weak spots.
Timothy trusted Nisha to keep the soldiers off his back with her sharp - shooting skills and he trusted Jack to run his mouth loud and long enough to keep the enemies distracted; that allowed him to fully concentrate on the Colonel’s machine. One of the clones bit the dust but the other one, moderately damaged still kept going. Lawrence watched how he grabbed onto Zarpedon’s arm and stuffed one of Tim’s grenades into the still functioning mini - canon. The jet packs were dying, sputtering sparks and smoke and with an agility of the monkey the digistruct climbed onto Colonel’s back and stuck two more grenades in the engine’s exhaust pipes. They detonated, taking the clone with them and completely crippling the machine - it fell on its side, something exploding within its guts and became still.
All three of them approached the mass of metal cautiously, Jack was the only one to kick it, testing if the thing would come to life. It did not and he cheered, turning away from the power armour, satisfied grin on his face.
“Piece of cake, people. Now - ”
Something rumbled within the machine, and the cockpit slid aside, revealing the pilot - a tall woman in Dahl uniform with a Colonel rank embedded in her temple, her jet black hair had only a single blond streak in it. And that is where the non - disturbing human features ended and freaky parts began. Her eyes glowed bright purple, light creeping away into her skin via undulated purple veins that were shimmering softly underneath the skin. Same purple lines ran up her arms, disappearing under the sleeves of her khaki shirt. She jumped down, leaning on a long staff, the likes of which Timothy has never seen before.
“How the hell is that woman even alive?!” Jack’s unusually highly - pitched voice broke the heavy silence.
“Barely, just look at her.” Nisha commented dryly, raising her gun and pulling down the hammer of her gun.
“Wait!” Zarpedon pleaded, her left hand holding her side where a strange purple liquid was beginning to seep through her fingers. “I tried everything, why won’t you stop? Why won’t you listen?!” She was staring directly at Jack, somehow she had now unmistakably identified him, even though Tim was standing right by his side.
“Because I want the Vault, lady,” Jack scoffed and crossed his arms. “And I think you know where it is. And I think,” He lunged forward, kicking the woman off her feet and tossing away her staff. “You will tell me how to find it.”
“It’s hidden. Hidden beneath a tangle of chemical filth,” she answered weakly, sitting on her knees as the purple blood was forming a small pool on the floor. “I’ve seen what lies inside. You - You mustn’t go there, it will doom - ”
“Wait, wait wait! The Vault is open?!” Jack’s face lit up. He had conveniently filtered everything else out, save the information he really craved.
Zarpedon’s head turned slowly and now she was looking right at Lawrence, a thin trickle of iridescent blood running down her chin.
“Don’t let him - I have seen what to come,” She coughed but her eyes never broke the contact with Tim’s. “The power within the Vault will trigger the chain of events that - ”
“Bored!” Jack drawled dramatically and flicked his wrist in Colonel’s direction without even aiming properly. The single laser shot hit the woman square in the chest, throwing her lifeless body on the ground. “You heard the scary lady, the Vault’s open, so one less thing to worry about. Now, let’s get to that core already.”
As Jack and Nisha started making their way towards the opposite side of the landing pad, Timothy lagged behind, Zarpedon’s last plea still echoing in his mind. He swiped the watch slowly and fought the mild bout of dizziness as the copies materialised next to him once again.
“So did you do the grenade shtick?” ‘Two’ asked eagerly, it seemed he was the one to disintegrate.
“Sure did. Have damage impact data for you too, sexy.”
“Friggin’ sweet!” The copies bumped their fists and finally turned towards Lawrence. The digistructs were giving him a cold shoulder, he understood that very well. Tim could order them to shut up and listen but he did not want to. He was not Jack, he did not like bossing others around unless absolutely necessary. Instead he waited till they were done patting each other on the back and smiled sheepishly.
“Can you analyse that?” He pointed at the pool of Zarpedon’s ‘blood’.
‘One’ crouched near Colonel’s dead body and dipped his fingers into the faintly glowing liquid, opening his other palm to simulate a small screen. “Albumin, globulin, nitrogen, CO2 - all common blood components,” He kept scanning the text on the holoscreen and then his eyebrows flew up. “Whoa, huge concentration of eridium per cell.”
“Prolonged exposure to the Vault.” Timothy said slowly as he watched ‘Two’ pick up the intricate staff Zarpedon brought with her and trying to scan it. “I really don’t like where this is heading.”
They have lost enough time, Nisha and Jack were way ahead by now, probably already at the core. Tim wanted to pick up the speed and catch up but the digi - Jacks were walking backwards right in front of him, keeping Lawrence strictly at the turtle pace while somehow staring him down.
“Are we disposable to you?” ‘One’ asked without horsing around and the usual glee in his voice.
“Wasn’t the purpose of your creation exactly that? To buy your owner some time while looking cool?” Tim asked quietly, avoiding their piercing glares.
“That’s Jack talking. We know what we are to him. What are we to you ?”
Lawrence fell silent, fumbling with the hem of his yellow Hyperion sweater. He did not know the answer himself. They were definitely annoying beyond belief, which was solely the fault of the personality module. But when Jack just casually threw him into this mess completely unprepared, it were the digistructs who gave him a crash course in shooting and survival, commenting and honing both his and their own skills. Somewhere along the way all three of them became a single unit, forming and executing nearly perfect strategies. Tim only wished they were friendlier, everything he said or did was always rebutted, mocked or laughed at. Still, they had his back and not just because they had to, but also because they wanted to.
“Companions.” He finally answered and looked at the clones, his shoulders square. “Wish I could say friends but my friends shouldn’t diss me so much.”
“Like you have any friends!” ‘Two’ chortled and the next moment bit his tongue apologetically. “Sorry.”
“See? This is what I am talking about.” Lawrence crossed his arms and took a deep breath. “I don’t know much about AI. Everything has it, even the small vacuum-cleaners here on Helios, right? Are they alive? I mean seriously, I don’t know, are they ? Some philosophers will claim that even humans, supposed pinnacle of evolution, are not truly alive until some mysterious conditions are met. So all I know is that to me you are not disposable. You never were,” He exhaled loudly and let his fingers run through his hair. “And neither was Felicity. Jack made a choice and I went along with it because I thought there was no other option. You tell me,” He threw a guilty stare at the clones. “Was there a viable alternative?”
Those must have been the longest three seconds of his life. Jack could have lied but the AI would not do such a thing. He kept looking at them, lips twitching nervously as they were seemingly processing the data gathered from the facility and compared it with each other.
“There was no immediate alternative that would deliver the desired results within the constrictive time frame.” They answered simultaneously, shaking their head. The conclusion brought Tim some small peace of mind. It was pathetic and it did not make Timothy feel much better but it was something. His shoulders finally slumped and he closed his eyes for a moment, sighing softly. There was suddenly a hand of his back and another one around his shoulders.
“You’re an okay guy, Lawrence.” A voice chirped in his right ear. An identical tone hummed a confirmation on his left and someone ruffled his hair, laughing. “But never ever compare us to the vacuum-cleaners again.”
“What took you so long?” Jack demanded as soon as Timothy climbed the stairs and entered the core.
Lawrence looked around examining the massive installation that Jack, apparently, had a hand in designing. In truth Jack was rather good at coding - when he was not lazy or impatient - and had an okay level of knowledge in robotics. Everything else consisted of him bursting into R&D, dumping raw sketches on someone’s table and demanding they make him a glorious powerful canon that can shoot lasers.
“Mox, did you get all of those blueprints?” Jack’s voice was now in his ear, talking on the joint frequency.
“Sure did, sugar,” The woman answered in a sultry tone, making Tim’s heart flutter in his chest. “Let’s get started.”
“Hey Moxxi!” He spoke into a microphone before shutting up and feeling like a total idiot, he got so nervous his voice pitched at the end, making someone else on the line chuckle. Roland, by the sound of it.
“Timothy, honey, long time no hear!” It must have been the tone of his voice and how dumb he sounded that got Lawrence so easily distinguished from Jack.
“Fucking - Did you actually tell her your real name?!” His boss leaned over the railing and made a scary face. Tim grimaced and felt a bead of cold sweat rolling down his spine.
“Technically, Jack, he did not tell it. He had written it down for me. Don’t be angry, sugar, you know your little double trick would never fly with me.”
“We’ll have a very nice and insightful talk about this some time soon,” Jack stated flatly, still glaring at Lawrence. And then, without a warning he whistled sharply as if he was calling a dog. “Hey, pumpkin, come say hi to Uncle Jack and these other guys!”
Lawrence looked around as a low growl rumbled across the small chamber, accompanied by the sound of hissing pistons that were releasing locks and holding mechanisms. The sphere in the middle cracked opened revealing the Eye of Helios. It moved around, pulsated and looked positively organic and then, the two leathery membranes suddenly flew open revealing an actual eye. Its cornea shimmered with shades of purple and blue and its vertical iris was fluctuating continuously until it found Jack and then it froze in place. The ECHO line was completely still until Lilith’s voice, shrill with poorly contained shock broke the silence.
“You’ve used the Destroyer’s eye? Are you fucking insane?!”
“I think you meant to say ‘brilliant’,” Jack looked extremely proud, throwing almost loving stares in the direction of the monster. “I sneaked it under Tassiter’s nose and turned it into something amazing. Imagine, we can fire a precise beam at any bandit camp down op Pandora. No friendlies dead but lots of scumbags just go poof!”
“Were you feeding it… what’s a ‘slag’?” Moxxi interrupted him and the rustling of papers was heard.
“By-product of eridium refinement. Name’s kinda meh but still patenting it later.” Jack was circling around the eye, impatient to get started.
Timothy felt slightly nauseated watching the pulsating thing creepily following his boss around. And so he retreated to the upper control room while listening in on the ongoing conversation. Moxxi advised Jack to reboot the eye and he followed her orders with surprising diligence. At a certain point Jack noticed the eyeball was behaving strange - Lawrence could swear he could hear monstrous groans from where he was standing. Whatever they were doing, the thing did not like it. Moxxi calmed Jack down, sweetly reassuring him that his pet eye would not get harmed and his boss stopped complaining. Very soon after that an almost deafening screech all but vibrated off the walls and stopped as abruptly as it started. Tim began to fret and had finally decided to check up on the people downstairs. As he was about to leave the room he got rammed by Jack at the top of the stairs: his boss was in too much hurry to actually pay attention.
“Come here, pumpkin,” He grabbed Lawrence by the sleeve and pulled him towards a small console, placing Lawrence in front of it like a prized possession. “I am going to stand right over there and enjoy the fruits of my labour. Tim!” Jack called out as he was descending the small flight of stairs. “Do us the honours, press the button and observe how it all comes together.” Jack’s face was emitting nothing but joy as the Voice of Hyperion started the reboot countdown. “I can practically smell that vault and all the cool alien stuff in it!”
Shutdown aborted. Invalid energy configuration.
“What? What now? What did you do?” Jack turned to Timothy, eyes glinting dangerously.
Tim stepped away from the console and shook his head. “Exactly what you told me to!”
“I’m sorry, Jack.” Roland’s voice made his boss turn back towards the window and Timothy followed his gaze.
“I’m not.” Lilith chirped excitedly. “Watch this!”
Warning: singularity detected.
The air around the canon suddenly and inexplicably started rippling and twisting, curling on and in itself. The gravitation shifted, gently at first but soon enough Tim realized that he was being pulled towards the observation window where the black hole grew big enough to begin sucking in the Dahl fleet.
“Moxxi, what the hell?!”
He dashed towards the nearby console, pulling up several engine schematics, while typing with one hand and swiping at the images with another.
“Sorry I had to take away your toy, sugar,” Moxxi purred sweetly. “Nobody should have such power. Not Hyperion and especially not you. I watched you, you know,” She continued, ignoring the angry yelling from both Jack and the rest of the vault hunters that lost sight of Roland and Lilith as they pursued them deeper into the station. “And behind those smiles, behind your hero complex… There is something wrong about you. You are not a good person Jack, you never were.”
The man produced almost an inhuman screech of rage as he hit the final combination of the buttons and Lawrence felt the floor tremble underneath his feet - it seemed that Jack activated Helios’ thrusters in a desperate attempt to keep the station on the same orbit.
“Dammit, I trusted you, Moxxi! Do you know what you’ve done?! You’ve just killed us all!!”
“I’m sorry it had to end up like that, honey,” Moxxi was talking to Tim now, sadness in her voice. “Like I’ve told you, you sold yourself to someone you knew nothing about.” And then she disconnected.
The black hole had swallowed the whole Dahl armada and Timothy watched, speechless, how the gravitational pull tore the gun installation away from the station, twisting and bending the metal into peculiar shapes as it disappeared into its maw. The singularity must have reached its limits because all of a sudden it started emitting light. The glare was getting stronger with every passing second and Timothy darted forwards, grabbing Jack by the collar of his coat and yanking him backwards, away from the window. The blinding light was followed by a soundless explosion, throwing both Lawrence and Jack on the floor. Timothy felt his back hitting something, must have been the stairs. Pieces of metal that had miraculously survived the singularity were propelled back directly into the observation window, cracking it rather badly in places.
Lawrence rubbed his eyes, trying to get rid of the colourful blind spots in his vision and looked around for his boss. Jack was down on all fours, blood slowly dripping from his nose.
“The Eye…” He whined, barely audible as he pulled himself up and was now sitting on his knees, hand pressed to the right side of his ribs. “I made it. It was one of a kind! It was mine. MINE!!!” Jack stood up and waddled towards the window. “The things I could have done ! Friggin’ liars! Friggin’ cowards !”
Tim pulled himself up and started slowly inching closer towards Jack. He was not entirely sure how to react or what to do. His obligation was to look after Jack and, despite everything he had witnessed in the last couple of hours, it dawned on Lawrence that Moxxi’s betrayal had gotten much deeper under his skin than any of Jack’s cruelties.
There were dozens of innocents on this station and even more innocents on Elpis. If Jack had failed to keep Helios in its orbit, the consequences would be catastrophic. His boss was not a good man but Moxxi and her crew? They were worse.
“They - They’re no better than bandits!” Jack slurred the last words as he tossed a mangled chunk of some machinery into the window, alternating between angry and miserable sobbing. He leaned upon the glass with his forehead, motionless and breathing heavily. “I should have asked Angel. She would never do this to me.”
Lawrence stepped on something fragile and it cracked loudly under his boot. His employer’s head snapped sideways and he turned around on his heels, coming face to face with Timothy. Jack’s bloodied hands grabbed at the lapels of Tim’s jacket, pulling the double closer until their faces were less then an inch away from each other.
“You see what happens when you trust people? They fuck you over,” Tears were still streaming down Jack’s cheeks and he sniffed loudly, trying to dry the mixture of blood and snot on his own sleeve. “But you - You are with me, right? You will not do to me what those assholes did? Right? ”
Jack’s hands crept up, leaving a vague bloody trail and cupped Lawrence’s face, fingers sternly but painlessly digging into his cheeks. He looked into Tim’s eyes and hairs stood up on the back of double’s neck - there was nothing in that stare but pain and hatred.
“Let’s go get us that Vault, Timothy.”
Hi there everyone! This chapter took a while. It is also the longest and the longest ANYTHING I have ever written. Initially I wanted to split up this chapter in two but then the part one would be rather... Boring, so i decided against it. You will just have to bear with this wall of text, my beautiful people. <3
Despite not being a fan of applying in game dialogue in the story I deemed them important enough to be partially included. (And also because I love some of them so much they are embedded in my memory xD)
I consider it the breaking point of the game for the characterization of Jack and one of my favorite parts too. I wanted to do this just right. To make Jack snap and to imagine how Timothy would perceive and digest the event. Personally I am satisfied how I handled it but I would love to hear what you have to say, definitely. :) So please, don't be shy to engage. Comments are author's bread and butter <3
Next chapter will be the push to the Vault and (possibly) the Vault itself. Another very important chapter and thus needs to be thought out carefully. and after THAT, we are onto the original content. I hear heavybreathingcat breathing heavily, she knows what's coming ;)
Also, thank you for all the new people that stopped by and left me kudos. I love you all Xxx
Tim turned the shower on and let the warm water run over his face, washing away all the dirt and the blood he had managed to accumulate. The warmth relaxed his muscles and Lawrence exhaled slowly, letting the calm take over his mind and, for just this moment, he allowed himself to forget where he was and what he was.
After Zarpedon had so generously tipped Jack off, it did not take him long to figure out the exact location of the Vault. The team was assembled immediately and all of them, Jack included, set off to Vorago Solitude. The place was littered with old alien architecture and, rather non - coincidentally, Zarpedon’s remaining troops. Jack was hyper - focused on the end goal, demanding the vault hunters push ahead until Athena and Nisha literally chased him in a corner and forced Jack to take a break. While most of them had extensive combat experience, none of them had ever raided a vault and, if the the stories about the ones on Pandora and Promethea were true, it would be no easy feat. The group had just cleared a small Dahl encampment and Jack finally gave in under the joint pressure of Athena, Nisha and the Lawbringer’s trustworthy gun straight to the crotch. Begrudgingly, but very much out of options, Jack agreed to postpone entering the Vault for three hours.
Now that Zarpedon was not bombarding the moon and they stopped for a breather, Timothy realized how tired he was. Even Wilhelm, who had crazy amount of stamina, looked like he could use some sleep. While the human crew was resting, Claptrap and a couple of loaders were assigned to patrol the perimeter. The plan was shaky at best but all the faith was put into loader strength and Claptrap’s ability to wake up the dead with its annoying voice.
The camp was big enough for everyone to occupy their own quarters without disturbing each other and as soon as left to own devices, Lawrence stripped naked and stepped under the warm stream of water. Timothy’s fingers ran through his hair, ruining its perfectly coiffed shape. The water under his feet turned grey: the sticky industrial - strength gel Jack was so fond of gathered half of Elpis’ weight in dust. After a while his skin began to tingle both from the warmth and the pressure and Tim ran his nails up and down his bicep to relieve the mild itching sensation. Everything out there seized to exist - there was no Hyperion, no Dahl, no Vault. And, most importantly, there was no guy named Jack Lawrence.
Tim stepped out of the shower and dried his hair, fastening the towel around his hips. As he entered the small main space his peripheral vision caught a figure leaning against the makeshift counter. Even before his brain registered who the intruder was, Timothy grabbed his gun from the side table and blindly pointed it in the direction of the person, throwing damp fringe out of his face. When not styled, Jack’s hair was ridiculously long and rather uncomfortable.
“Damn, kiddo, just look at you.” A painfully familiar drawling indicated that the intruder was none other than Jack. Tim sighed and lowered his gun - of course it would be his boss, it always was.
“Jack, don’t you have somewhere else to be?” His hand curled around the edges of the towel as he realised what predicament Jack had put him in. Back at their apartment on Helios Timothy would always make sure his boss would not be able to barge on him in such vulnerable situations. Jack loved making him feel stupid and uncomfortable. “Like, say, over at Nisha’s?”
“She kicked me out,” Jack scoffed and shifted weight on the other leg. “Something about not being in a mood or whatever.”
“Right. And so you came here.”
“Exactly.” Jack chose to ignore thinly veiled sarcasm in Timothy’s voice and grinned.
“I’m not quite sure what I, of all people, can do for you.” Tim muttered trying to ignore dubious implications and griping the towel even tighter: the fluffy fabric became his last line of defence. He fully expected Jack to pounce, after all he did so before after a shitty day and a stiff drink.
Jack’s flashy grin waned somewhat, his boss was clearly tense. The tells were not obvious but Timothy knew where to look. His boss never avoided eye contact, in fact he hated when others did so but now his mismatched eyes were darting all over the place. One hand was loosely on his hip, while the other was combing through the hair, following the pattern Jack could remember in his sleep.
“Oh I know that look. You wanted to talk feelings or something.” Tim grinned and crossed arms on his bare chest. Pretending to be Jack in the presence of the original always made his boss happy and he would rather have that Jack around than the one who got a taste for venting people into space.
Jack’s gaze abruptly stopped on Lawrence and his hand let go off his hair, smile getting wider with the familiar hint of an ego stroked.
“Timmy, kitten, are you sassing me? Because,” He stepped closer and Tim, quickly realizing he might have poked the right bear at the wrong time instinctively took a step backwards, his calves hitting the edge of the makeshift bed. “Throwing my words back at me is an awfully bold move, sweetcheeks.”
“I was just - Um - ” Timothy started stuttering nervously, realizing there was nowhere for him to flee.
Jack stopped advancing watching with - undoubtedly - great amusement how his double was fretting and squirming under the sudden spotlight. Once he had enough, Jack quickly covered the short distance from the kitchen to the bed, leaving but a few inches of space between the two of them. His gaze lazily slid up and down Tim’s frame, lingering on his abdomen and the trail of soft dark hairs disappearing underneath the towel.
“As I was saying,” Jack said with a tinge of huskiness to his voice. “Look. At. You. When the doc told me you’d be spot on I had my doubts but boy am I happy to be wrong. You are perfect.”
Suddenly but not surprisingly Timothy felt absolutely naked. The towel did not help at all, he was pretty sure his boss had long since undressed him in the confinements of own mind. Lawrence felt his cheeks getting warm and cleared his throat, attempting to divert the subject one last time.
“So, err, you wanted to tell me something?” The last words were muffled by Jack’s long fingers curling around his chin.
“First things first.” His boss purred sweetly as he pulled Lawrence closer.
Their bodies met, Timothy’s skin breaking in goosebums from the cool leather of Jack’s jacket. The other man’s left hand slid around Tim’s waist and over his back, eventually tangling in his damp hair. Even if he wanted to run, Jack had Lawrence roped in, in every sense of the word. The rational part of his mind was screaming to back away; Jack was using him just as he always did. He never cared for someone called Timothy Lawrence, he made it clear times and times again. And yet there had been an undeniable pull ever since the moment Jack stole that kiss under the dim lights of their living room.
While the contradicting thoughts raced through his mind, Lawrence suddenly felt Jack release his jaw and his palm moved onto the double’s bare stomach, tracing every muscle. As soon as the man’s blunt nails raked over Timothy’s abdomen, Lawrence felt his head spinning and he released a small huff of pleasure - an invitation Jack was waiting for. He bit his lower lip, grinning at how quickly Timothy dropped his guard and how flustered the double was. The next moment Jack’s teeth locked on the sensitive spot between the neck and the ear Lawrence did not know he had, breath hitching in his throat and hands, that just a moment ago were attempting to hold Jack at bay, were clutching onto the man’s shirt as if his life depended on that. Jack’s ‘moves’ were not refined and even Lawrence, with all his inexperience could notice a fleeting trace of awkwardness in the man’s touches - he knew for a fact his boss had never been with a man before.
Jack hastily prodded Tim onto the cot, shaking off his own jacket and crawling on top of Timothy, purposefully dragging his hips over Lawrence’s, making the double suck air through tightly clenched teeth as the feeling of friction caused him to clumsily buck his hips against Jack’s. His boss chuckled - a soft rumbling sound within his chest, lips less than an inch away from Timothy’s.
“Oh kitten, so you really are a virgin,” the tips of his fingers ghosted Tim’s inner thigh. “I promise we’ll both have a good time.” As the words escaped Jack’s mouth, his hand finally slid under the towel and cupped Lawrence’s balls, applying light pressure. The cheeky comment about the relativity of one’s virginity lingered in Tim’s throat, turning into a soft moan.
Lawrence was shaking from both fear and excitement as he fumbled with Jack’s belt buckle until the man took pity on him and clicked it open, allowing Tim to slide his hand into Jack’s jeans. He had never been intimate with anyone before and, as his palm landed on top of Jack’s erection, Lawrence froze, anxiety taking the better of him. Suddenly Jack’s hand was on top of his and he squeezed Tim’s fingers in a reassuring manner, muttering something into the kiss.
Timothy had finally managed to relax and let Jack guide him: out of the two of them Jack seemed to have the better idea of where this was heading. It took both men some time to find the right rhythm but when they did, Lawrence allowed himself to just stop thinking and surrender to the pleasurable bliss.
“You know, I actually came here to say thanks,” Jack muttered in Tim’s neck, prompting Lawrence to open one eye and hum. He was on his right side, face burrowed in his boss’ discarded Hyperion sweater, while Jack’s arm was possessively tossed over his waist, keeping Timothy close. “All that crap with the Eye? Glad you were there.”
“That’s what you’re paying me for.” Tim yawned curling up in a more comfortable position. He had lost track of time but he hoped there was at least an hour left to snooze. Lawrence felt Jack’s muscles tense when his back touched the other man’s stomach.
“You know what I mean, jerk face,” There was no malice in his voice. In fact Timothy had never heard him speak so gentle to anyone, ever. “I want you next to me when we get into that Vault.”
“Do you know what’s inside?” Lawrence turned on his back and now Jack’s hand was lazily tracing his abdomen again.
“Nope. It’s always a surprise. Had less luck with the first Vault I opened, that one was just full of angry tentacles, eyeballs and teeth.”
“Wait, you’ve opened one before?” Tim snapped his head sideways, giving Jack a confused stare. From everything Lawrence had gathered during the time spent with his boss, Elpis had the first Vault Jack had discovered and actively sought entrance to.
“Well… I did not open it personally but I found four suckers to do it for me. You’ve met two of them,” Jack smiled wickedly, looking very proud of himself. “And the best part is? They never knew it was me, my Angel handled it perfectly.”
This was the second time Lawrence had heard about an Angel. The first one might have not been meant for his ears since Jack was so shell - shocked but this one was not accidental, as far as Timothy was concerned. He was curious and he hoped that curiosity would not kill the cat.
Tim immediately noticed the change in Jack’s demeanour; his jaw tightened as he side - eyed the double, trying to read his intentions. Lawrence pulled the best poker face he could - he was genuinely interested but he expected Jack’s paranoia to make a simple inquiry much more complicated.
“It’s an AI I created,” Jack finally answered but the glint of suspicion in his eyes did not disappear. “She’s been around for a long time and she is very precious to me. That is all you have to know.”
Timothy sat up straight on the bed, pondering about what Jack had just said. Something did not sit right with the way his boss delivered this seemingly simple explanation. His general opinion about AIs was rather low; he referred to own digistructs by third person pronouns and flippantly dismissed Felicity’s claim on being a person. Yet when talking about the ‘Angel’, not only Jack called the AI a ‘she’, there was a peculiar tension in his voice indicating that Jack cared about the subject - one of his tells Lawrence had picked up along the way.
“Is she like ‘The Jacks’? Or fully unshackled?”
Jack’s nails suddenly and unpleasantly dug in his shoulder, making Timothy wince and turn his head towards the other man.
“I thought I made myself clear about the questions, Timmy.”
“Sorry, I’m - I’m a writer,” Lawrence mumbled apologetically. “Inquisitive mind and all... AI is a fascinating topic.”
His answer was not entirely truthful. The origins of the mysterious message on his ECHO, along with the - normally impossible - dismissal of the active digistruct had been softly but relentlessly nudging in the back of his mind. The existence of this ‘Angel’ could explain what had happened but, despite Jack’s supposed honesty, Timothy failed to believe his story.
“Hah, writer !” Jack released Tim’s arm and swung his legs on the floor, reaching out for his pants. “I read some of your fiction, cupcake. Then got super bored and fed it to the neural network and you know what? Really had to squint to see the difference.”
Lawrence scoffed and bounced off the cot, grabbing a pile of own clothes and walking towards the small bathroom. Tim quietly locked the door behind himself, he would not put it past Jack to barge in for round two. While some shameless and newly discovered part of Lawrence would not object, the rest of him felt disheartened by both mistrust and derogation coming from Jack, especially after everything Timothy had done for him. Once again Lawrence felt used - a feeling he, no doubt, would soon get accustomed to. Aggravated both at himself and at his pigheaded boss, Tim quickly rinsed his body once more and got dressed, spending the next five minutes trying to style the hair. When he was done, Lawrence stared at own reflection in the mirror, letting his fingers run down his neck and two very visible love bites Jack left there. Pulling up the collar of the jacket would do nothing to hide the evidence and the only vault hunter with the means to mask the deed would be Nisha. Timothy did not want to go anywhere near the Lawbringer and this left him with only other option - experience the walk of shame.
When he finally stepped back into the main space, Jack was nowhere to be seen, the only evidence of him ever being here was a wet towel on the floor. It seemed that after Lawrence occupied the bathroom Jack washed himself by the kitchen sink and then skipped. Timothy sighed, he did not know where he expected any of this to go and evidently Jack would always be Jack but as of now he could safely tick ‘feeling like a glorified stress ball’ off his bucket list. Tim found his boots ; at least he presumed they were his, put them on and dragged out the hip holster from underneath the cot, fastening it securely to the belt. He quickly went around the small space, gathering his sniper and a hunting knife, clicked the Oz kit in place and exited the quarters.
Timothy always hated the momentarily unpleasant feeling of not having any air to breathe and the automatic Dahl voice never failing to bark at him about the use of the oxygen mask.
“Hey fake Jack!” Claptrap cheered from afar, rolling quickly in his direction. Tim turned around looking for a place to run or a reason pretend to be very busy but the little robot was already at his feet, circling him excitedly. “It’s so lonely out here, loaders don’t talk. Don’t think they even notice me! Hey, what’s that on your neck? OH GOD WERE YOU BITTEN BY A WILD ANIMAL?! On my watch??”
Yeah, you could say that…
“Shut up,” Tim hissed at the robot and prodded him away with his knee, when suddenly an idea occurred to him. “Hey, do you have any Anshin kits on you?”
“Maybe,” Claptrap pondered for a moment. “How bad do you need them, buddy?”
“Don’t be an asshole and give me one!” Tim whispered impatiently, glaring at the unit in front of him. “Ok listen, if you share, I will not call you ‘asshole’ anymore, how about that?”
“Oh that would be really cool!” the robot exclaimed and opened one of his compartments, producing a syringe filled with red luminescent liquid. Timothy snatched it and took a deep breath, trying to not look directly at the needle. With his other hand he blindly groped for the bruises and drove the short thin needle into his neck, right between the index and the middle finger.
“Hey puppy,” a voice behind him drawled sultrily and Tim turned around on his heels, facing Nisha, playful smile on her plump lips. Lawrence’s fingers unclenched, dropping the empty syringe and he planted his palm over the sore spots on his neck. He was quick but the Lawbringer was quicker. He saw her eyes widen and then narrow once again in delight, wicked grin illuminating her face. She reminded Timothy of a proverbial cat that ate the canary, amber eyes just adding to the overall impression.
“So he went for the option two after all,” Nisha all but purred as she inched closer, her fingers finally closing around Tim’s hand and pulling it away. She snickered while inspecting the bruises that were already loosing their intensity with the help of the health kit. “So how did it feel, handsome? Word on the street is you never did the, how does Jack call it again?” Nisha paused for a moment and then snapped her fingers. “Ah, ‘Horizontal Cha Cha.’ “
“He really calls it that?” Lawrence muttered, pushing woman’s hand away.
“He thinks it’s funny,” The Lawbringer rolled her eyes and then her attention shifted back to Timothy, grin becoming unbearably toothier. “Oh and you are stalling.”
“What I do with Jack is none of your business.” Tim retorted and then winced, expecting Nisha to lash out - she was not the one to tolerate insolent behaviour from anyone. Even Jack tiptoed around her on those rare occasions when he was thinking straight and not being preoccupied with the Lawbringer’s assets.
“Puppy’s teething, it’s adorable,” the woman cooed but the next moment Lawrence felt her nails digging into his cheeks. “Don’t snap too hard or you might loose your teeth.”
The group began their push to the Vault and after a while the enemy blurred into a never-ending streaming mass of heavy armour and explosions. Every time Timothy thought they were finally done with Zarpedon’s forces, there were always more coming from every nook and cranny. The closer to the Vault they got, the more sinister the enemy forces had become - the soldiers were riddled with multiple eridium mutations; some were too sluggish to fight but the others were terrifying, demanding the attention and all available firepower from the four vault hunters. Both Jack and Claptrap stayed at the base camp and only one of them did so voluntarily. Despite the little robot’s enthusiasm, he would just slow the party down and as to their employer, the plan was to set a temporary travel point right before the Vault’s treasury, allowing Jack to safely teleport right to his prize.
Initially Wilhelm was the one lugging the device but once the party ran into and almost got eviscerated by a very old but extremely operation RK5 aircraft, the group has separated: Wilhelm and Athena would keep the ship occupied, while Nisha and Lawrence went ahead into the Vault itself. With Timothy being the only sniper on the team and thus much less mobile than the Lawbringer, it became his task to protect the travel point. Nisha refused any responsibility but stated that for the record, if he were to fuck up, Lawrence was welcome to go and get Jack personally, ‘like a good pet.’ Timothy just shrugged his shoulders and called upon ‘The Jacks’ that would compensate for his lack of mobility.
The digistructs, as predictable as they were, latched onto Nisha like ticks but unlike Felicity, the Lawbringer was encouraging their idiotic nature rather then trying to contain it.
Two absolutely unnecessary disintegrations and one ungraceful nosebleed later Lawrence had enough. Both copies were ordered to stay out of combat and away from Nisha: ‘Two’ was gathering any eridian data they came upon and ‘One’ was to carry the travel device. ‘The Jacks’ were unhappy but Lawrence could not care less, throwing his head backwards to stop the last trickles of blood and simultaneously unholstering his gun.
Despite the mutual dislike for each other that may or may not have been connected to Jack, Nisha and Timothy undeniably made a good team. What he lacked in mobility Lawrence compensated with precision, picking out the enemies Nisha might have missed. Normally the woman would degrade him as eagerly as Jack did, but after Tim got some of the eridian monstrosities off her back, Nisha had gingerly offered him compliments on the job well done. Lawrence had accepted them just as warily, trying to smother the pitiful feeling of being noticed and appreciated by tough crowd.
As they were making their way through the main chamber towards the treasury, Athena reported that they have finally managed to down the RK5 but Wilhelm’s cybernetics were badly damaged and she had to escort him back to the camp. The woman calmly mentioned that she observed the red - haired Siren, Lilith, entering the Vault shortly after Timothy and Nisha. The continuous opposition that the vault hunters had encountered did not extend to Lilith, the enemy forces were willingly letting her through. Athena’s statement prompted Jack to throw a rage fit over the comm, making Tim mute the frequency yet again to be able to concentrate on the combat. Nisha, on the other hand, happily tuned back in and by the euphoric look on her face Lawrence could estimate the level of viciousness Jack had put in his rant.
It seemed that even Dahl forces did not venture so far into the Vault but the further they got, the less happy Timothy felt about it. While his distaste for killing had been dulled by the seemingly never - ending massacre of scavs, wildlife and rogue military forces, the many deadly variations of weird alien - looking robots was not a welcoming change. The things were fast, brutal and displayed various fighting techniques, getting even to Nisha as Tim noticed she started to slow down. Athena arrived just in time - Lawrence was forced to digistruct ‘The Jacks’ twice and in quick succession, nearly collapsing into the gaping maw of the enormous vent below as his body was straining to gather the necessary energy. One of the copies grabbed him just in time as the other one raced off to assist the Lawbringer, who was pinned down further ahead. It took the Gladiator two seconds to assess the situation and she promptly joined ‘One’ in taking heat off Nisha.
When they have finally reached the centre of the Vault with a very ominous archway that seemingly lead into nowhere Tim was tired, nauseous from the over exertion and could hardly drag his feet. Despite sustaining some significant damage from the eridian constructs, ‘The Jacks’ were still active and stood guard, while Timothy took off the jacket, rolled up his sleeves and began installing the fast travel for Jack. His task was to wait till the more experienced vault hunters dealt with whatever was inside and signal him to activate the device, so that their impatient employer, who was already chewing Tim’s ear off about the riches that awaited them could get through unharmed. By them Jack, of course, meant himself. At some point Lawrence was just filtering the overly - excited gurgling about alien weapons and tech, replying with a well -placed hum when the length of the pause suggested Jack was waiting on some sort of input.
He was double - checking the correct frequency synchronisation when Athena’s voice interrupted Jack’s monologue, greenlighting his travel to the Vault.
“Kiddo, how’s it looking?” Jack’s voice jumped to their private frequency which was stored in the ECHO’s memory under the terrible name of ‘Aw3s0meW4ve’.
“Uh… Good, I think?” Tim answered, comparing the last few digits on the paper with those on the monitor and hitting enter: the device uncurled itself and the light on top indicated that it connected to the fast travel network across Pandora.
“Tell you what,” Jack said slowly and with a big smile on his face. Lawrence could not see it but he definitely could hear it in his voice. “Come get me, cupcake.”
Timothy pursed his lips together, annoyed but not surprised. Jack did not trust Lawrence’s ability to follow the instructions. Or maybe he thought Tim was in league with Moxxi and would sabotage the device on purpose: Jack goes in but multiple pieces come out. It was both offensive and logical at the same time and Timothy hated that he could see reason in everything his boss did. He stood up and brushed his knees, stepping closer to the touch screen that allowed him to choose the destination. The right one was, of course, the one at the very bottom and Lawrence cursed as he kept scrolling down for what seemed like forever. Eventually the right name popped up on the list and he selected it, waiting for the machine to make connection. Once the low confirmation sound and a yellow stand - by indicator lit up, Timothy touched the digistruct panel and squeezed his eyelids shut: his hate for teleportation was rivalled only by the fear of heights.
When Tim tumbled out of the fast travel station inside their base camp, his head was spinning and he felt sick. He almost lost his balance when two hands grabbed him by the shoulders, keeping Lawrence stable. Jack’s face was inches away from his, that trademark stupid grin plastered all over his handsome face.
“You’ve made it, atta boy! Gotta be careful, you know?” His fingers brushed couple of loose strands out of Timothy’s face and quickly styled it back into the correct shape. “ But did not doubt you for a second, Timmy.”
Yes you did.
“Is Wilhelm okay?” Lawrence asked instead, swallowing the bitter comment burning on the tip of his tongue.
Jack gave him one of those ‘why do you even care’ stares of his and shrugged his shoulders. “Eh, he’s alive around here somewhere. Now,” he turned Tim around so that they were both facing the dreaded fast travel again. “Let’s go plunder that Vault, baby!”
Once again his vision broke into thousand tiny pieces, shimmering around him and Tim was back at the entrance to the treasury. Nisha was waiting for them by the ancient crumbling archway, smoking a cigarette and inspecting her guns. Since Timothy failed to move, battling the nauseating feeling in his stomach, Jack digustructed all but on top of him, pushing Lawrence to the ground. Nisha’s husky laughter indicated that they looked hilarious and that Jack would probably murder him, considering Tim managed to ruin his epic arrival at the Vault.
As Jack walked up the stares with Timothy tailing him, he stopped near Nisha and pointed in the direction the vault hunters originally came from.
“Did you see the red - haired one?” When Nisha shook her head, Jack frowned for a moment and then let his hand snake around the Lawbringer’s waist. “Babe, keep an eye out, ‘kay? I don’t want any interruptions. Double dude,” He beckoned Lawrence without even bothering to look at him or taking the other hand off Nisha’s hip bone. “You totally don’t deserve this but I am nice like that. You’re with me.”
There was a spark of something in the Lawbringer’s eyes as she stared him down. Tim chose to interpret it as jealousy, the grin he flashed at her failing to contain the feeling of spite the woman seemed to evoke in him. Narrowly avoiding a possible sucker punch, Lawrence stepped through the shimmering portal. The weird feeling of being picked and peeled apart like a human onion lasted but a few seconds. But when a tingling sensation made Timothy raise his hand up to his face he stared, in both amaze and mild terror, at his suddenly translucent skin through which he could see every ligament, muscle and vein. The next moment he stepped out, overlooking the small space that was littered with eridian corpses. Athena was standing next to a small pedestal where, by the looks of it, a very old vault symbol was slowly suspended within an invisible force field.
“So, where’s the loot?” Jack’s voice broke the surreal image and Tim watched as his boss walked towards the Gladiator. Everything in Jack’s posture and mannerisms screamed irritation: he did not like what he saw. Knowing the man, Lawrence figured he expected mountains of eridium and piles of shiny alien knick knacks. A decrepit vault symbol was none of those things.
“This can’t be it,” Jack muttered as he came closer, reaching out for the artefact. “The hell even - ”
The tips of his fingers touched the surface of the symbol and Timothy could not suppress a small gasp as he watched how Jack’s feet gently got lifted off the ground as the symbol guided him towards what appeared to be a chair that materialized right behind the man. Athena stepped backwards, confusion on her face as her hand had instinctively reached for the sword and then froze around the hilt as both she and Tim watched speechless how the tendrils of light erupted from the artefact and snaked around Jack, finally reaching his face. Lawrence’s hands were trembling as he could not decide if Jack was in danger or if this had to run its course. One glance at Athena showed that even a person as experienced as her did not know how to deal with the current situation.
But Jack… Jack was laughing. His eyes were nothing but a bundle of bright light and his babbling was making very little sense. He was yammering on about Vaults, about monsters, about -
“I finally understand! Everything I did… Everything I will do… Everything!!”
And this is when Tim felt it: the similar gravitational pull of the singularity that had destroyed the Eye. He looked around, groping for the holster only to be thrown on the floor by an invisible force, watching a tall figure emerge from what looked like a portal.
“Heya, handsome.” Lawrence recognized Lilith’s sultry voice but as he jumped on his feet, madly searching for the gun, she sprang forward, shattering the eridian artefact with her fist. A flash of light blinded Tim and in that light he heard a scream full of unimaginable anguish. His hand found the gun and, despite watering eyes, Timothy could distinguish the Siren’s figure as she was preparing to leave. He aimed the best he could and took a shot but the next moment she was gone. Wiping away the tears and blinking through the blind spots swimming in front of his eyes Lawrence dashed towards Jack.
His employer was convulsing on the floor, hands pressed to his face as a bright light was seeping through his fingers. Tim knelt next to him, trying to help Jack up but he got pushed away with a screech of rage as Jack slowly tried standing up on his own. He kept his left hand on his face, using the other one for support.
“I’m gonna kill them…” He growled through clenched teeth in a voice Lawrence had never heard before. His hand slipped and momentarily Jack lost his balance, crying out in pain as his palm collided with his face. “I’m gonna kill them all. But first,” He hunched over, breathing heavily. “You gonna get me a doctor. And then,” Jack blindly groped his way into the chair and, as he settled down in the seat, he let his head rest against the cool crystals. “We will have some good old fashioned fun.”
Jack’s hand listlessly dropped down and rested on his chest, giving Lawrence a full view of the damage that Lilith had inflicted. His boss’ face was in a complete ruin and Tim felt himself gagging at the sight: the artefact had literally burned into the man’s face searing everything in is path and leaving nothing but bone. An upside down ‘V’ claimed Jack’s left eye turning it into a blind mangled mess and as the burn went downwards, it welded the skin together, lifting the upper corner of Jack’s lip in a permanent snarl. The swelling had already started to set in, deforming Jack’s features even further and making him slur from both inflammation and pain. And the scar itself, it actually pulsated and glowed, casting hideous shadows over Jack’s face.
“It’s gonna be great… We gonna - Gonna set the friggin’ planet of fire! Bandits will die left and right, all of them. I can’t wait!” And once again Jack burst out laughing but it was not a laughter Lawrence was accustomed to. It was gleeful, heartless and, most of all, absolutely insane
Completely lost he watched Jack rambling on about destinies and violent ways of achieving them when his eyes fell upon Athena who was walking towards the exit. Timothy’s heart dropped - she was obviously leaving. He caught up with her, grabbing the woman by the shoulder and forcing her to stop.
“Athena, don’t go! Please help me. Help him!”
“Did you not hear anything Jack said? That man is beyond help. Do what you want, Lawrence, but I am done here,” She shook his hand off and turned around glaring at the double who looked absolutely miserable with his shoulders slumped and fingers nervously tugging at his hair. His mismatched eyes were wide with fear and in them Athena finally saw the real Lawrence - a kid that bit more than he could chew. Her stern expression softened slightly. “Put him out of his misery, Timothy. And if you can’t… Just run.”
As she left, Tim turned towards Jack: the man was still talking but the words were now mere whispers as the light emitting from the scar was slowly dying out. He came closer, sweaty palms curling around the barrel of his Jacobs gun.
Put him out of his misery, Timothy. And if you can’t… Just run.
Athena’s words echoed in his head. After everything Tim had witnessed he still did not think Jack deserved to die. He was quite the asshole when he wanted to be but he saved them on Helios and volunteered to stay behind when he could have thrown his freshly baked double under the bus. Even though he treated Lawrence like dirt in front of the others there was another side to this man and it was him Jack wanted to share the victory moment with. Jack’s smile, the glint of pure joy in his eyes when he laughed, the gentle touch Tim never expected Jack to have - He did not deserve this, nobody did.
“I’m sorry,” he muttered and landed a blow with the butt of the gun against Jack’s head, making the man in the chair slump forward and finally fall silent. “The doctors on Helios will fix you, it’ll be ok.”
Oh god, Timmy, what are you doing??
Hey everyone! Sorry it took me so long to update. This chapter was a bit of a struggle to produce. I assume because it was so important my brain just decided to put a mental block on this. I wanted this chapter to be just right and I am not sure if I succeeded. Plus this is the last chapter that follows a game, everything after that becomes Free - For - All, so stay tuned.
I would love to know what you think :) meanwhile I will go in a corner and have existential crisis, hahahaaaaaa.
Special thanks to heavybreathingcat who helped me jumpstart the smut part and cheered me on while I was crying and sobbing that I cannot write. ILU BB <3
Thanks for sticking around. And if you have tumblr, so do I. Hit me up on eternal-garbage
Chapter 12: The Jack Of All Trades
Today we all learn that naivety of some people has no limits and it only takes one phrase for some of us to keep on keeping on.
WARNING: while reading this chapter you might say "Oh no Timmy! Why?" repeatedly. It's ok, it happens.
The intense vibration of the ECHO paired with the shrill beeping somewhere underneath his cheek made Lawrence jolt upwards and cry out hoarsely when his stiff neck bent back to the correct angle. He rubbed his face with one hand, fingers running over the prominent imprint the comm buttons had left on his skin and sighed. The annoying ringing continued until Timothy finally locked his hands around the device and accepted the call.
Tim rolled off the couch and checked the clock on the ECHO: it was way past midnight. Lawrence was still wearing the clothes he went to the R&D meeting in - apparently he passed out on the couch while reviewing the notes. Timothy grabbed the ECHO, quickly ran fingers through his hair grumbling at the disgusting feeling of old gel keeping his locks together and left the apartment.
It has been four days since the fiasco at the Vault. Jack had been unconscious ever since and Lawrence had to put his acting skills to good use, assuming his employer’s persona. There were meetings and debriefings to attend and since his boss did not leave any specific instructions,Timothy had to wing it. The secret was to timely interchange Jack’s raw charm with being obnoxious and sarcastic when confused, meanwhile simultaneously making other people feel like idiots. Lawrence had been the butt of that tactic for so long, using it on other people came almost naturally.
Timothy paused in front of the doors to the medical wing. If Jack was awake there would be plenty of things he, no doubt, would say and surely none of them nice. The Vault endeavour turned out to be a massive failure. They went in for the treasure and came back tired, beaten and ,supposedly, empty handed: Jack’s insane laughter and manic rambling about destinies still haunted Tim’s nightmares. He took a deep breath and pushed the doors open, greeting a nurse with a trademark grin and asking where can he find doctor responsible for the patching up his double: very few selected individuals knew that it was Jack and not Lawrence receiving the treatment.
The doctors were at the meeting but the nurse showed him to Jack’s temporary quarters and he thanked her, not forgetting to throw in a derogative nickname and compliment her on her ‘eyes’. The young woman giggled shyly and rushed away, leaving Tim confused and annoyed that somehow Jack’s fratboy attitude pulled people in, instead pushing them away.
Okay, you can do it. You, sort of, faced the vault monster. Jack is just like that, maybe a bit more angry and vocal. But kinda like that.
Lawrence’s hand rested on the panel and the door slid open. He swivelled to another side, just in case Jack had a projectile ready: he had seen enough of his boss’ tantrums to know things would be flying. He expected a rage storm, yelling, possible cursing but he did not expect a quiet soft voice call out to him.
“Tim, kitten, com’ere.”
Lawrence obliged, moving slowly to Jack’s bedside. His boss was propped up with the help of several pillows and he had a drip with colourless liquid attached. The absolutely uncharacteristic serenity on Jack’s usually animated face implied that whatever was in that IV was definitely industrial strength, no less. The terrible swelling had gone down, returning Jack’s face to its normal proportion but it did little to hide the ruin brought by the vault symbol. The scar itself was healing but not the same way any scars Timothy had ever seen: instead of an expected angry red, the tissue was bluish and Tim could swear if he stared long enough he could see dim pulses of purple light underneath the damaged skin. He shuddered and swallowed hard: just looking at the wound made his own face hurt.
“How are you?” Lawrence finally asked, settling down besides the bed in a chair. He crossed his legs and put the ECHO on the bedside table.
“Hmm?” Jack turned his heavy - lidded gaze towards his double. “Oh I’m fine… This stuff,” He lazily waved towards the drip. “Is amazing. When I am CEO of everything, I’ll make it m - mandt - mandatory.”
“CEO of everything?” Timothy raised his eyebrows and pursed his lips together sarcastically. Jack was really out of it.
“Duh,” Jack replied and nestled back into the pillows. “That’s the plan,”Once done, he turned his head back to Tim and let his gaze run up and down his frame, stopping at the feet. “Are you wearing my shoes?”
“I’m always wearing your shoes?” Lawrence answered unsure, staring at his feet. Jack’s casual wear consisted of a yellow Hyperion - issued sweater, jeans and tennis shoes, which also had Hyperion colours and logo on them.
“But those are my favourite.” Jack grumbled and threw an accusing glare in Timothy’s direction.
Lawrence shrugged his shoulders and watched Jack slowly close his eyes and huddle up in the resting position, exhaling softly. Unsure if his presence was still needed but too afraid to be on the receiving end of Jack’s anger by actually leaving, Tim reached out and took the chart that was hanging above the bed. They turned out to be the logs that were dutifully filled in by the nurses and the doctor. It seemed that ‘Timothy Lawrence’ was out cold since the return from Elpis. However, despite the coma, his brain showed remarkable activity similar to a R.E.M. phase: in layman’s terms, Jack was continuously dreaming for about five days straight, scar bright through all of it and dimming only when the patient woke up and called for the ‘other Jack.’
Tim chewed on his lower lip and eyed Jack, who was looking unnaturally peaceful with his head sideways, hair dishevelled and mouth slightly agape as he was breathing steadily. Something caught his attention, causing Timothy to reach out, gently pushing pillow aside and throwing long fringe away from Jack’s forehead. Lawrence’s eyes went wide as a broad grey strand slid between his fingers. Only now, after looking closely, Timothy realised why he failed to notice Jack’s five day beard: the pitiful amount of healthy skin that could grow stubble was covered in patches that had more white in them than brown. The stress had caught up with Jack, greying him in a span of few days.
“Timmy, stop touching me,” Jack mumbled and opened his eyes. The healthy one had an almost unnoticeable tinge of purple to the sclera. “Daddy’s not in a mood.”
Lawrence’s whole face flushed deep red as he hastily straightened his back and settled back in the chair. He did not mean it like that.
“Is it bad?” Jack asked suddenly and, when Timothy turned his head towards the bed still battling the redness in his neck and cheeks, gestured to his face. “I have no feeling there, like, at all.”
“It’s… Not good,” Tim confessed and squeezed out a reassuring smile. “But Hyperion has the best of the best. Just look at me.”
“You, kiddo, were a side project, not Helios made,” Jack scoffed softly and held a palm in front of his face, squinting at it. After a while he dropped his arm back on the bed in defeat. “Doc’s in Concordia, still on my payroll,” He lifted himself off the pillows once again and stared at Lawrence: it was not a pretty sight and it took every inch of Timothy’s self - control not to wince and look away. “Bring him here. Lie your ass off however and to whomever you want to but I need him here to fix my friggin’ face.”
Lawrence nodded curtly and stood up. Part of him was dying to ask what was it that Jack has seen in the Vault. But it did not escape his attention that his boss was getting more agitated with every passing minute: the medication must have begun to wear off. Jack’s fingers wrapped around Tim’s sleeve, forcefully tugging on it until he looked back at the man in bed. His boss’ brow was glistening from sweat as Jack grit his teeth together, suppressing a low grunt op pain.
“And get those idiots to give me more of the good stuff,” When Timothy did not move, Jack’s blue eye flashed at him angrily. “Now!”
Lawrence had never thought he would come to dislike a celestial body this much. The mere thought of being back on Elpis made him tug on the holster straps violently, nearly cutting blood circulation to the lower leg. Disgruntled and annoyed, he adjusted the belts to the right size and stepped out of the customs and back into Concordia. Logic dictated that Moxxi and her band of merry vault hunters would have fled by now, realizing Jack’s survival insured he would definitely be coming after them. Still, curiosity and a vague echo of crushed dreams made Timothy beeline to Moxxi’s joint. He ordered one of the weaker Moxxtails and wandered around, drink in hand. Once the bartender was distracted enough, he slipped into Moxxi’s garage but, as expected, it was completely empty.Tim scoffed and in a sudden act of petty defiance poured his drink on the floor, knowing she would probably hate the mess. Realization that he just did ‘a Jack’ without even a second thought made Timothy toss the glass on the ground and march out, infuriated by his own childish behaviour.
He was better than that, he respected people’s choices. Or he used to, before said choices started involving possible death by association.
Lawrence was at the doctor’s secret clinic exactly twice: once for the operation and subsequent recovery and second time shortly before the attack on Helios for a routine check up. These were to happen every month until Autohn deemed post - op recovery complete. Three alleyways and five dumpsters later, Tim was standing in a dead end in front of a dirty wall plastered with posters. He raised his watch to the electronic lock of a Dahl container and watched how the wall quietly slid sideways, letting him through.
The clinic always looked like something out of a horror movie. It was clean as a whistle, that was not the issue. The problem was the abundance of glass tanks filled with liquid and housing all matter of wildlife, smaller jars with organs that looked vaguely human, some of which also contained appendages that looked like nothing Lawrence has ever seen. The idea that he was made in this creepy freak factory was extremely uncomfortable and Tim hated being reminded of its existence.
“Jack, sir?” A scrawny and sickly looking man with thick - rimmed glasses lifted his head from the computer. “I did not expect - ”
“Surprise!” Timothy flexed his shoulders and looked around, pulling a bored face before letting the trademark smile crack his features. “Pack your bags, science guy, Hyperion needs you.”
Autohn was silent for a moment and then smiled, baring yellow crooked teeth. He grabbed something off the table and walked around, approaching Tim. Despite being almost a head shorter, the doctor gave Timothy a major case of creeps.
“Mister Lawrence! My my, you’ve really mastered your employer’s mannerisms and speech,” he turned on a little scanner, quickly running it up and down. “Any complaints?”
“Um- Well, you kind of invading my personal -, ” Tim started and then shook his head. “Wait, how did you know I was not Jack?”
The doctor was rummaging in one on the cabinets, rattling noises indicating lots of delicate glass paraphernalia was being involved. He reappeared in front of Timothy and pushed three small vials into his hands.
“Urine, stool and semen here,” with another hand he drew out a syringe with a long needle. “Blood here,” Noticing confusion and terror on Lawrence’s face, Autohn readjusted his glasses and patted the man in front of him on the shoulder. “Ah yes, your question. I have a scanner implemented in my lenses. After the initial confusion I got a chance to see you better.”
“Shouldn’t I be, like, indistinguishable from Jack?” Timothy mumbled in confusion, he had forgotten that for his decrepitude the doctor had awfully dominant and overwhelming personality.
“On the outside, young man. Your DNA similarity is fifty percent, a ‘close sibling’ range. My scans indicated that did not change, good.” The doctor pushed the sample cups back into Tim’s hand. “How is your voice modulator? Have you been experiencing any hoarseness? Loss of voice? Unimaginable pain?”
“Unimaginable - What?” Timothy stuttered and his free hand jumped towards his throat. The voice modulator was surgically attached to his vocal cords, automatically changing their vibrations to the diapason identical to Jack’s. He remembered it was a challenge to talk at the very beginning, both physically and emotionally but there was never a moment featuring any real pain, excruciating or otherwise.
“I’ll take your confusion as a ‘no’, mister Lawrence. You are very lucky, most of cases I had to deal with were rather… traumatic. Now -, ”
“No, no more ‘now’, doctor,” Tim took in deep breath and dumped the cups on the nearby table. “Jack asked me to bring you to Helios and I am doing exactly that.”
“May I ask why?” Autohn’s face radiated severe displeasure as he moved behind the safety of his working desk and crossed the arms on his chest. “Jack knows my history with Hyperion and thus I have to decline.”
Lawrence awkwardly shifted from one foot to another and felt beads of sweat roll down his back. There were several options available as to how to handle this situation. Two of them would result in forcefully escorting the pig - headed doctor to Helios but, if said doctor were to butcher Jack out of spite, Tim would be a dead man walking. If Autohn refused to come along and Timothy arrived empty handed, the possibility of Jack peeling off his double’s face for personal use was not even that unlikely, his current state of mind considered.
“There was an accident inside the Vault,” Lawrence heard himself speak, his voice shaky and thin with anxiety. “Jack’s face… It’s ruined and he needs your skills to reconstruct it.”
“What kind of accident?” Doctor’s voice peaked, showing interest and Tim grabbed his chance.
He quickly told the surgeon about the artefact, about what the Siren has done and what it led to. He did not omit a single gory detail, seeing how professional interest was taking over doctor’s fear of whatever repercussions Hyperion would throw at him. Timothy was halfway describing the horror that was Jack’s face when the doctor darted off and feverishly started gathering his notes and instruments.
“If you can guarantee my safety and I can take any samples and perform any tests I require, Jack has a deal.”
Without a second thought Lawrence promised that too: after all, Jack did give him a carte blanche to bring in the doctor. Whatever happens afterwards was none of Tim’s business: if he was lucky and Jack was grateful for the job well done, maybe he would even get a day or two off.
Timothy’s own rather sudden and ungraceful snore abruptly woke him up. Before his brain even registered that he was awake, Tim smelled the familiar and much dreaded sterile environment of a hospital. With a loud gasp Lawrence bolted upwards, hands feverishly pawing at own face. As his shaking fingers traced - now familiar - angular features, Lawrence had finally exhaled and let his shoulders slump. It was still his face, nothing else had been done to it. The irony of own thoughts did not escape Tim and he scoffed, throwing himself back on the pillows and looking around.
He was sleeping on the hospital bed in the ward adjacent to the operation chambers. Since the moment Jack woke up Tim was unable to get any sleep. With a day full of meetings and Jack - induced insomnia, Lawrence was running on the reserves and those were thinning out by the minute. As soon as Tim delivered Autohn to Helios, Jack went into surgery, demanding Timothy stays nearby. If Tim had the energy to pretend hard enough, he could almost believe Jack actually needed him for moral support. However, the harsh reality has indicated that, despite the affection shown here and there, the only person Jack really cared about was himself. Unable to leave and extremely tired, Lawrence fought the hard battle between exhaustion and his hate for hospitals and in the end exhaustion won, making him plummet face first into the welcoming, albeit medicine - smelling, mattress.
The clock on the wall indicated he had been out cold for three hours and since nobody came to get him Jack was probably still in surgery. Lawrence’s own operation was thirteen hours long, eight of which were solely dedicated to the face, or so his dossier said. While he was lucky enough to have the same frame and height as Jack, his face was the whole other story. If Tim were to believe his medical files, Autohn had reconstructed about seventy percent of his facial bone structures. Nobody said anything but it was pretty clear that the changes were of the permanent type. Months later and Timothy still did not know how he felt about staying ‘a Jack’ after the eventual expiration date of his contract. Jack was handsome, had a nice voice and a plucky attitude to go with all that, but he also had plans and was going places - now more than ever - and Tim was not sure he was ready to deal with whatever comes from that.
Desperate for distraction and bored out of his mind, Lawrence swiped his digiwatch and clenched his teeth together as he felt the device rummage and tear at his DNA. The two digustructs bloomed into existence and one of them immediately plopped on the bed next to Tim, pushing him dangerously towards the other edge.
“S’up buttercup?” the Jack was on his right, so it must have been ‘One’.
“We were at the Vault and now we’re… What’s this even, a morgue?” ‘Two’ circled around the room, examining everything. Tim rolled his eyes, ‘The Jacks’ were perfectly aware this was a hospital but, just like their creator they unapologetically blurted out whatever came to their heads, if deemed amazing enough to share it with the world.
“Jack… Well, he had an accident.”
Timothy should have known better, for the toothy grins flashed at him by both clones indicated they would not let this one slide. ‘One’ laughed and ‘Two’ strutted towards the bed and lovingly patted Lawrence on the cheek.
“Oh kitten, that’s ok,” He cooed sweetly and pinched the flesh slightly. “Just don’t clench so hard next time.”
Tim responded with an irritated grunt as he listened to the two digistructs bleating at their own cleverness. Once they were done Lawrence quickly told them about the events in the Vault’s treasury. Their faces, as animate as Jack’s, showed an array of emotions: the frustration, surprise, anger and, unexpectedly, fear.
“Not good,” ‘Two’ commented, fidgeting nervously. “What was that thing? Was it like an information carrier?”
Timothy wordlessly reached out for his portable digistructing device and pulled out the remains of the symbol Jack had so carelessly interfaced with inside the Vault. The clones clustered around it, picking up the pieces and performing scans. The small sounds of dissatisfaction indicated that the ruined artefact did not tell them much.
“Friggin’ eridians,” ‘One’ muttered as he angrily tossed a large piece of frame back on the table. “This definitely used to store something but it’s empty now.”
“From everything we know,” ‘Two’ pursed his lips together in annoyance. “It’s like a hard drive and it transfers the stored information to the requesting individual,” The digistruct was now pacing from one corner to another looking troubled. “He shouldn’t have touched it! What, last time wasn’t enough?”
“Last time?” Lawrence was confused. First Jack’s confession that the Vault on Elpis was not the first one he tracked down and now this? It seemed his boss had quite the history with the eridians and their Vaults that he liked to keep wrapped under the covers. “Jack had encountered such artefact before?”
“Access denied.” ‘The Jacks’ huddled up together, their expression bland as they both spoke in unison. Tim knew the drill: he had stumbled upon a sensitive information within the databanks Jack did not want him to know. In a way their hard-coded response was the answer - the vault symbol was not the first eridian remnant Jack managed to get his hands on.
Lawrence wanted to ask something else but he got interrupted by a nurse walking in, announcing that ‘the double’ was out of the surgery. She glanced curiously at the digistructs and smiled brightly at Tim, theatrically fluttering her eyelashes. It took him a moment to recognise her: it was the same nurse he had complimented earlier, the one with the big ‘eyes’. Honestly, Timothy was surprised that his ‘Jack’ act was still flying. It also amused him that from now on people would think Jack cared enough about his double’s well-being to spend a sleepless and uncomfortable night in a hospital ward.
He followed the girl to the adjacent room and she held the door open for him, letting Lawrence and his holograms in first. Jack was in bed and on his back, breathing calmly and, all things considered, definitely looked better than before. Autohn was standing nearby, making notes in the patient’s chart and scribbling something on the bag with I.V. fluids that was securely attached to Jack’s right arm. The soft glow of the digistructs attracted his attention and he raised his balding head, smiling at the visitors.
“Mister Lawrence! As you can see the procedure went quite well.”
When Timothy kept quiet, observing Jack’s reconstructed features, Autohn cleared his throat and continued.
“The seams will disappear, as did yours. He will be on suppressants for a while to avoid tissue rejection. Nothing you haven’t been through yourself, Timothy,” Met with uncomfortable silence, the doctor fidgeted nervously and propped his flimsy glasses up his crooked nose. “We’ll keep him heavily sedated for the first ten hours, it helps with the pain management right after the surgery.”
The last sentence peaked Lawrence’s interest and he stopped glaring at Jack’s face, turning sideways and giving the doctor an inquisitive stare. “Ten hours… Does that mean my presence is not required?”
“No, not really. I - ”
“Call me when you’re waking him up.” Timothy dropped curtly and marched out of the ward, grinning with exasperation for he finally could get some proper sleep.
The scream reverberated off the walls, rolling and bouncing off itself. There was nothing in it but agony and fury. Its pitch and intensity was hurting him and Lawrence tried to stand up, crawl aside... Anything to get away from the torment. And yet, no matter how much he willed his body to listen, he could not move. His eyes fluttered open but there was nothing in front of him but bright burning light. It was everywhere, its tendrils clung to his face and seared away the skin, leaving nothing but bare bone, glistening wetly in the purple hues of the vault. And the screams? The screams were his. They tore at his chest, vibrated within every fibre of his being and once they left, they made space for the pain he did not think imaginable.
Tim surged forwards with a cry and stared into the darkness, lost and confused. He remembered coming home, taking kraggon - sized doze of sleeping pills and passing out in his bed. Lawrence glanced at his watch, it seems he had slept for good nine hours even though he hardly felt rested at all. With a small whimper he hid his face in hands, rocking back and forth slowly and trying to shake off the last remnants of the nightmare. Tim did not try to analyse why he dreamt this, he did not want to think about the implications and underlying causes. Instead he forced himself upwards, swaying from the drowsiness inflicted by the pills and shuffled into the bathroom for a glass of water.
Tim was not a fan of mirrors. Not much when he was still himself, Timothy Lawrence from Eden - 4 and especially not since he became Jack Lawrence, a code - monkey with big dreams. He looked at his own reflection only when necessary: once a day to shave and style the damn hair. Jack’s genes had one huge disadvantage - back in the day Tim could get away with shaving every three days. Now, however, if he skipped a morning he immediately looked rough and unkempt, nice hair or not.
Lawrence gathered some ice cold water in his palm and drank greedily, splashing the remains in his face. His skin felt irritated and, against better judgement, Tim lifted his eyes from the sink only to freeze and stare at the own reflection: his whole face was covered in long scratches. There were thin bloody crusts here and there and the skin was raised, red and angry. When Timothy carefully touched and traced the lines, they fell perfectly in line with his fingertips proving what he had already deducted: the damage was self - inflicted and it, no doubt, was the result of the nightmare. He had another couple of hours before Autohn would wake Jack up, plenty of time for the Anshin kit to do its job.
After an extensive search it turned out there was no health kit in the apartment. It was ridiculous: from the two of them, it was Jack who has always been extremely prone to accidents. For someone who was so hell-bent on projecting the epic hero image, the general percentage of slamming fridge door on own fingers or dropping heavy objects on his toes was not in Jack’s favour.
The ECHO call caught Lawrence outside the mysterious room where he stood, pondering if it was worth breaking the rules purely for cosmetic reasons. Grateful for the temporary setback, Timothy walked back to his bedroom and grabbed the comm. Autohn’s unpleasant face was on the screen blinking blearily.
“What?” Tim barked irritably. “I’m in a middle of something.”
“He’s awake, Timothy,” the doctor fretted and looked behind him where Jack’s voice said something indistinct but probably vile, if intonation was anything to judge by. “Not in a good mood either, I’m afraid.”
“You’ve said at least ten hours,” Lawrence muttered, quickly realizing what the untimely awake Jack meant for him personally. “I’m… I -,” He lost all his bravado and clutched the ECHO tighter. “I’m coming.”
Autohn met him by the entrance to Jack’s ward. He looked paler than usual and was clutching a thick folder filled with notes. Timothy tried to avoid the man and go straight in but the doctor threw his flimsy arm out, stalling the double. When Lawrence sourly complied, Autohn rustled with papers and finally pulled something out. Tim cocked his head sideways and it took him a moment to recognise what he was looking at: a comparison of brain scans. Considering the situation, they were probably Jack’s.
“A word before you go in,” Autohn frowned as he examined Lawrence’s face but said nothing on the matter. “I’ve ran a number of tests and they differentiate from the results I had before the incident. The number of areas,” He circled several places with a bony finger. “Are showing definite change.”
“In human language, doctor,” Tim sighed and interrupted the man before the story got even more complicated. “What are the areas responsible for?”
“Behaviour, mostly. So please do not do anything to antagonize him, mister Lawrence - ”
Timothy would laugh if he could. The antagonizing part had already happened, whether Autohn wanted it or not: Tim left the hospital premises after Jack specifically ordered him not to. In fact, everything he ever did roused Jack one way or another. No matter what Lawrence did or how he did it, it would always prompt some kind of reaction. After all, he was the favourite double but, as of recent, Tim was not sure that being a star in Jack’s eyes was as good as the selling pitch made it to be.
He inhaled deeply and shouldered past Autohn, swiping at the motion detector and entering the room beyond. Jack, who was sprawled on the bed, moved his head in the direction of the sound but kept the eyes closed. Whatever Autohn was pumping into him helped the healing along nicely: the grooves in the skin looked much calmer and the swelling went down significantly.
Lawrence paused at the doorstep and rubbed his hands together nervously, thinking of a possible way to ease out the already very obvious dissatisfaction in Jack’s voice.
“How do you know it’s me? You have your eyes closed.”
“I can smell your cologne all the way from here,” Jack scoffed and opened his eyes. The left one was still a blind milky - white colour. “That said, stop using so much. I don’t walk around reeking like a friggin’ perfume factory.”
Timothy held onto that thought: saying that he was using exactly the same amounts Jack told him to would achieve nothing at this point. Maybe even antagonize the man and Jack was already good and ready to go in that department. So instead he tossed his jacket on the back of the chair and settled down, smiling sheepishly.
“I’m sorry,” Tim said softly trying to keep own intonation even as the images of Jack’s altered brain scans were flashing in front of his eyes as a warning. “The doctor told me you would be sleeping for the next ten hours and I was really exhausted so - ”
“Oh, ok,” Jack retorted. “The nice doctor is paying all your expenses now?”
“Jack, I - ”
“If it’s another excuse then shove it, cupcake.”
They both were quiet for a while with Jack drilling holes in Tim’s face and Lawrence trying to look as casual as possible. That ended when the man on the bed abruptly swung his legs over the edge and sat up, the fingers of his left hand locking around Timothy’s jaw and digging painfully into the skin. Jack yanked Lawrence’s head closer and narrowed his eyes, examining the double. Tim could see the other man’s gaze travel over the red inflamed marks and it made him sweat anxiously. Jack would not like this. Jack would not like this at -
“Timmy,” his boss’ tone had become eerily even, the kind Tim had only heard once or twice and nothing good has come of that. “What did you do to your face?”
“I - Don’t know?” That was not a lie, Lawrence could only guess the reasons behind clawing at himself in sleep like that.
“You don’t know,” Jack stated flatly and his eyebrows flew up. “Who does then?” His voice dropped to a hiss and his fingers clenched even tighter, prompting Timothy to bite his tongue in order to hold in a whine. One of Jack’s nails dug into the irritated skin on Tim’s cheek and the double felt his eyes prickle. “It’s not enough that the Siren bitch destroyed my face. You, on your end, are doing a mighty fine job as well, you absolute moron!”
Jack was inches away from Lawrence: his skin looked pallid and waxy in the bright lights of the ward and the breathing was laboured from the angry outburst. All of a sudden Jack closed his mouth with such force the teeth clanked loudly together and Tim soundlessly watched as the man’s blue eye widened, pupil dilating dramatically. Jack’s fingers convulsed and released Timothy’s jaw, allowing the double to fall back into the chair rubbing his cheeks meekly. A momentary confusion slid across Jack’s features and then he moaned, hands hovering above his face.
“ - not right…” he wheezed and looked at Lawrence helplessly. He opened his mouth to say something and then Tim saw it: a gentle purple light was seeping through the sutures, gaining in intensity. Jack suddenly screeched and latched onto his face, digging all ten fingers into the synthetic flesh and desperately trying to get to the source of pain. “Get it off! It hurts!! GET IT OFF!!!”
Lawrence completely froze in shock, watching as Jack managed to hook his nails under the seams and the skin made a sickening squelching sound as he tore at it, blood steadily trickling down the man’s right hand. He jumped up, dragging the I.V. line with him and ripping it out of his arm. The discarded catheter snaked over the floor, smearing the blood and the fluids across the white tiles. Jack swivelled on his bare heels and faced Timothy once again, his delirious gaze stopping on the double’s feet. Tim followed his stare and cursed, he wore his field outfit and Jack knew for a fact Timothy had a blade tucked away in his right boot.
“Give me the fucking knife!!”
“Jack don’t - ”
The rest of the phrase was knocked out of his lungs as his boss tackled him to the ground, elbowing Lawrence right in the sternum. Jack’s hand slid down Tim’s calf, no doubt leaving smears of blood and, while Timothy was helplessly fighting against pain and shortness of breath, dragged out the hunting knife.
This is it. This is how I die.
Suddenly Jack collapsed on himself and screamed thinly, dropping the weapon and sinking the nails into the wound once more. This time round Tim could swear he smelled nauseating odour of burning flesh. The momentary setback was enough for Lawrence to push the knife far away and pin Jack to the ground, tearing the bloodied hands off the other man’s face. He gagged at the sight of flesh between Jack’s hooked fingers but did not weaken his grip.
The staff had gathered outside, gawking like a bunch of imbeciles and not daring to step in. Timothy was furious but he could not blame them, these kind of patients were reserved for the depths of R&D and not the general hospital for Hyperion employees. As Jack was thrashing underneath him, yelling and pleading, Lawrence raised his left wrist in attempt to activate the watch with his chin. He succeeded but so did Jack: before the digistructs had the chance to fully come to life, the man pushed himself upwards and bit Lawrence on the exposed flesh between the jumper and the wrist. First came surprise and then, as he heard the sickening crunch of the bone against bone, came the pain and the anger.
“You fucking asshole!!” Tim yelled as he grabbed Jack by the hair and in one fluid motion slammed his boss’ head into the ground, rendering the man still. “I’m doing it for you, you crazy ungrateful shit!”
“Whoah, Lawrence, what the actual hell?” a voice to his left sounded surprised, if not a little bit distraught by the scene. Timothy’s chest was heaving irregularly and his cheeks were stained with tears as he was cradling his right arm, still straddling the unconscious man on the floor. ‘The Jacks’ huddled up around him, their touches light as ‘One’ inspected Tim and ‘Two’ scanned Jack.
“You’ll live,” they said simultaneously, each to their own target and then their bright blue eyes focused of Lawrence again. “Orders?”
Timothy stood up and watched Jack, who was slowly coming to. His boss whimpered and curled up in a small ball on the cold floor, the mark of the vault fully exposed and its glimmer steadily subsiding.
“Stay with Jack and restrain him if necessary,” Tim was hunching a bit, pale and out of breath. “I’ll go he get Autohn.”
It had happened again next time. And the time after that. No matter the different approach tried by the medical team during the surgery and the recovery, the result would always be the same the moment Jack opened his eyes: agonizing pain, screaming and the revolting sound of flesh being torn apart. The mental anguish and the strain the body was going through started taking its toll on Jack. He became vicious towards the personnel and when Autohn had finally accepted the defeat, Jack did not. Timothy was present when his boss got the news. The man was vibrating in anger and nearly foaming at the mouth as two loaders, who played the role of the orderlies, held him restrained in front of the doctor.
There would not be any more surgeries, the risks were too high.
Jack’s mental stability was deteriorating rapidly.
They would pass his case to R&D for further study.
The doctor pulled Lawrence aside and told him he had a clear idea how to proceed but Jack needed rest and his continuous murder threats were unnerving the staff ever since he assaulted Lawrence in the ward. When Tim asked what was he supposed to do about all that, Autohn put a sheet of paper in his hands, describing Jack’s daily care and effectively making Lawrence Jack’s acting nurse. The routine was as simple as they get: if the patient was experiencing severe pain, morphine had to be administered as indicated. Only later at their apartment, when Jack was resting in his own bed, did Timothy bother to read the rest of the guidelines the doctor had so readily shoved in his hands.
Diagnosis: Severe acute psychosis.
Tim sighed and let the papers slide on the floor, listening to Jack’s soft snoring in the other room and feverishly running fingers through his hair. His gaze lingered on the small bottles of morphine and just for a moment Timothy idly toyed with the idea of take some and at least for a while forget everything since he stepped into the damn Vault. The moment of weakness has come and gone, leaving Tim’s mind void and sluggish. He kicked off his shoes and stretched on the sofa in their living room, too tired to even take a shower. Jack’s even, albeit loud, breathing was strangely soothing and soon enough Lawrence felt himself drifting off.
It was the muttering that woke him up. Confused and a bit startled, Timothy lifted his head off the small pillow, blinking sleepily. He slowly uncurled himself and sat up, the stiffness in the leg muscles preventing him from standing up immediately. The mumbling continued and Tim turned around, to see a soft light emanating from Jack’s room. First came relief, since Lawrence was not keen on dealing with intruders and then came the belated and unhappy realisation that Jack was probably doing something again. Part of him was hoping that his boss was just working, that was not uncommon. That part was very delusional and the rest of Timothy, sadly, knew better.
Lawrence quickly filled the syringe and grabbed the tourniquet, heading to Jack’s bedroom. He did not know what he expected to see: at this point it could have been literally anything. Once on the doorstep Tim lingered, searching for Jack. He found the man on the floor, black marker in hand, scrawling something viciously on the wall. Jack had been busy for a while: the scribbles were covering most of the space over his bed and, as Jack himself took to the ground so did his ‘art’. There were vault symbols everywhere. They varied in style and size and next to them Jack had written down names and notes, some eligible and the others looking like eridian script, if Lawrence had to take a guess.
Atlas is the key
Coordinates and places, a drawing of what looked like an alien…
“Jack,” Tim called out softly after he had enough. “Go to bed.”
His boss snapped his head sideways akin to a bird and Lawrence noticed that the scar was shimmering softly, the pulses of light eerily similar to a heartbeat. It seems that if the wound was behaving docile, so did the owner. Jack eyed him dully for a moment and, without a word, turned back to his writing, marker squeaking thinly under the pressure applied. Timothy inched closer to see what had Jack’s undivided attention: the man was vigorously circling in two words. ‘Guardian Angel’. Carefully and without sudden movements, Tim put his hand on Jack’s shoulder and tried nudging him away.
That was a mistake. An almost visible shiver ran down Jack’s frame as the scar flared up in bright purple and he screamed like a wounded animal. The marker slid out of his grip and Jack collapsed on the floor, spasming viciously. Lawrence cursed loudly and tossed the tourniquet aside, straddling Jack once again: whatever was happening made the veins stand out enough for the needle to hit the target. Forcing own hands to stop shaking was a whole other matter but it was now or never and Timothy drove the syringe in and up Jack’s jugular, emptying its contents.
The convulsions had stopped almost as quickly as they started and Lawrence huffed, crawling off Jack and onto his feet while pondering if this is what his life was going to be from now on. He picked up the syringe and was ready to leave when suddenly Jack spoke, his voice uncharacteristically fragile.
Timothy turned around watching Jack slowly lifting himself off the floor, ghastly pale and trembling.
“Please, don’t… go. I need you.”
OMG I AM DONE WITH THIS CHAPTER. This was a pain to write and it almost took me a month and it was a terrifying month. In the end the last part of the chapter came out completely something different from what I had initially planned but I am really happy with it. It is a perfect chapter ending that will hopefully make you wander what I have in store for our poor stupid boy.
Anyway, let me know what you thought about this chapter. I have a love hate relationship with it but then again, i think I have that with everything. xD Come chat me up or say hello on my tumblr with a glorious name eternal_garbage .
Lastly, you might have noticed it takes me about a month to update. No worries, I just need to do more plotting and fleshing out for some of the ideas further down the line. It takes time and sanity. Fic is still going strong, so yay!
I love you all, keep being awesome Xxx
Chapter 13: 'Promises'
It has been established that Tim has infinite patience. Or no brains. Or maybe both. But there is always a breaking point. Will our idiot boy ever reach it?
Please don’t… go. I need you.
Lawrence stayed that night. And the night that followed. And the night after that one as well. Slowly but surely both of them started to settle into an abnormal domestic bliss. Jack worked exclusively from home, avoiding any and all human contact until R&D comes up with the solution to his ‘problem’. Lawrence, in turn, ran his employer’s errands and made sure to make as many public appearances as possible: the little people were to be kept under the illusion that their heroic saviour was doing just fine.
But Jack was not fine, not by a long shot.
The reflective surfaces in their apartment were either shattered or covered with large heavy sheets. If Jack happened to see as much as the outline of his face it would throw him into an uncontrollable fit of rage that often took close to an hour to exhaust itself. As far as grooming went, Jack could style own hair in his sleep but the same amount of skill did not extend to shaving. After watching Jack repeatedly cut himself which, of course, resulted in more violent outbursts, Tim carefully offered his humble services. It worked wonders: not only Jack had relaxed and seemed content, Lawrence was finally permitted to rid himself of the terrible soul patch, considering Jack’s got seared off in the Vault. Removing the stupid flavour saver was like a balm for the soul: Tim hated the thing the moment he first saw own reflection in the mirror.
And then there was the matter of Jack’s somnambulism. Timothy called it ‘eridium trance’ while the doctors insisted it was just a fancy name for a psychotic episode. It would always occur when Jack was asleep, was impossible to predict and has never happened on schedule. Sometimes both men had a calm and uneventful night but, most of the time, they did not. If Tim were to wake up to Jack talking to himself and drawing on various surfaces, he had to stay awake until the other man was done. The trance could last anywhere between five minutes to five hours but Lawrence had learned early on that trying to rouse Jack out of his fugue state was a bad idea. To cement his theory Tim attempted to wake Jack up one more time and, as soon as Timothy’s fingers touched his skin, Jack started screaming and seizing until he was sedated and taken to bed.
When left undisturbed Jack’s scar would eventually dim, its owner dropping on the floor and continuing sleeping. If Lawrence felt particularly generous, he would drag Jack back to bed but most of the time he would leave him peacefully snoring on the expensive carpet. The next morning Jack would wake up on the floor and stare at the fruits of his labour, cursing and yelling that he could not understand most of what he had written. Timothy thought it was ironic that Jack had all this information at his fingertips but could hardly access any of it. Luckily Tim was also smart enough to keep these observations to himself: at this point his life was already full of dubious excitement he had never asked for.
When R&D had finally gotten back to them it had been a couple of weeks since the event at the hospital. Jack was euphoric when he got the call but much less so as he listened to the explanation and the subsequent proposal made by the stuttering scientist on the other end. The robotics division had developed a mask that would cover the damaged features and act as a second skin. For that to happen Jack had to go under the knife one more time for the purpose of grafting some of the sensors and receptors onto his face. Jack had curtly agreed and made the appointment, hanging up immediately and spending the rest of the evening locked in his own room. Timothy would occasionally knock on the door only to be greeted either by a growl or a sob, following by neither invitation to enter, nor the request to go to hell. As far as Lawrence was concerned Jack was not doing anything overly stupid and a quick glance at their shared schedule indicated the surgery was to happen early tomorrow.
Later that same night Tim woke up to Jack standing in his bedroom. It was not uncommon nowadays but still startling every time it happened. Jack demanded morphine, pretending he was in pain and, when Timothy saw through his tricks, whined how he did not want to be alone. Jack had always been uncomfortable with solitude and now, after becoming so dependable on his double, his discomfort had inflated nearly to the size of a phobia. Not patient enough for a reply Jack crawled onto the bed and capriciously tugged on Lawrence’s shirt. His touch was nervous and almost skittish and so Tim just shrugged his shoulders, allowing Jack to do his thing. Intimacy was not unwelcome and they both enjoyed it, not to mention that Jack would only show his better side during sex. It was then when Lawrence was appreciated, called sweet names and thanked for his efforts in variety of refreshing ways. Compliments from Jack were scarce and Timothy soaked them in, validation of his efforts felt sweeter than honey.
It was afterwards in the dark when Tim, spent and sleepy, was curled up against Jack, head on the other man’s chest as he listened to the even heartbeat while Jack’s fingers were lazily running through his disheveled hair.
“You won’t leave me, will you Timmy?” Jack’s nails softly scraped along Lawrence’s scalp, fingers grabbing and tugging at the curls. It was not painful but there was a certain possessiveness in that small gesture.
Timothy shifted slightly, eyes closed as he was thinking. He did not have any definite answer for Jack. The only thing Lawrence knew for sure was that for once in his entire life someone needed him. Being useful and being wanted felt pretty damn good.
“Of course you won’t, why would you?” Jack cooed with a smile, Tim could hear it in his voice. What he failed to notice, too drowsy to pay attention, was that Jack’s tone lacked any warmth and, if anything, there was a well masked threat lurking deeper under the surface.
The next morning they have parted ways: Jack went to R&D for the surgery while Timothy had several appointments, one of which was with the architect responsible for the construction of Helios. The progress was greatly hindered by the DAHL invasion and the construction teams had to backtrack to repair the damage done both by the Lost Legion and the vault hunters. As an acting supervisor it was Jack’s task to listen to the reports and take appropriate action. Unlike Jack, even despite trying his best, Lawrence had very little idea what most of the names and the numbers really meant. His task was to nod, pretend to care while delivering quirky remarks and, eventually, ask the other party to forward their report to his personal comm. It would become Jack’s headache then.
Tim caught himself staring blankly at the stubby balding man in the opposite seat whose train of thought he had lost about half an hour ago when the guy started describing the different types of isolating materials. Suddenly the ECHO on his belt vibrated softly and, without a second thought, Lawrence grabbed the comm and put it on the table’s surface.
>>> [Jack]: Home, princess. NOW.
Timothy’s gaze darted towards the clock, realizing that he had been receiving people for nearly eight hours straight. He sighed and stood up, feeling the blood rushing towards his calves and painfully pushing away the numbness.
“I completely agree, mister - err -,”
“Kaushtupper,” the architect replied, eyeing Lawrence warily.
“Yeah so,” Tim crossed his arms and smiled as wide as his exhausted disposition allowed him to. “Wiring is super important, I hear ya,” He grabbed his ECHO from the table and clipped it back to the belt, walking towards the architect, who looked all chubby and meek. “Tell you what, building guy, send me your list and I’ll see what I can do for you. Cool? Cool.” Jack was all hands and no personal space, so Lawrence winked and patted the guy on the shoulder, subsequently watching the architect stumble sheepishly out of the office.
During that short exchange the ECHO had buzzed at least two more times: patience was not one of Jack’s greatest virtues. The first message said ‘N.O.W.!’ and the second one said ‘Get food.’ Jack could easily had something delivered directly to the apartment but it meant showing his face to random strangers. Tim’s tired mind wondered briefly about the mask and what was it good for if Jack was still planning on being a bossy hermit.
Lawrence quickly scrolled through the available takeaway places: there were few but all had some good options. After the Lost Legion incident Hyperion brought in fresh human personnel in order to replenish the numbers, which prompted the opening of several fast food places. When Tim made his choice, he ordered two burgers, fries and different finger foods, indicating it had to be precisely on time and warm or heads would roll. The cashier fumbled and gasped in awe when she realized who the picky client really was. Timothy had to admit that it was both fascinating and mildly disturbing to see how much weight Jack’s name carried since liberating Helios. Even Tassiter was less popular but then again, the CEO of Hyperion was a vile corporate bloodsucker and people rarely gravitated towards those. Everyone had heard of Jack and if Lawrence was lucky enough to stumble upon the actual survivors of the assault, they were all but kissing the ground on which ‘Jack’ walked.
Tim checked his watch, yawned and shook his head. If he wanted to make it home on time and be able to handle Jack, he needed coffee and he needed it yesterday. The closest joint was around the corner, Lawrence could smell the heavenly aroma as he walked towards it. He ordered a double espresso to go and, as he waited, his ECHO started pinging again. Timothy tugged on it, fully expecting it to be Jack and his eyes widened as he read the name of the caller, nails digging into the metal sides of the device.
>>> Harold Tassiter <<<
Last time these two spoke, Jack had promised to kill the CEO at the earliest convenience. When Jack rerouted all the calls to Lawrence’s comm nobody was expecting Tassiter to actually call back. Tim’s heart was drumming in his temples as he quickly ran through the options available. When none seemed viable he wiped his sweaty palms along the sides of own jeans and accepted the call.
“Well if it isn’t my jerk of a boss! Picked a date yet?” Tim asked mockingly, praying on the inside he was playing it right and that he would not accidentally stammer or pitch up in fear.
“I know what you did, John,” Tassiter hissed. With a bit of imagination Lawrence could almost feel the spit flying out of the speaker. ”You may have sunken your claws into the other directors, pawing at their shares, but I am far from done with you, you dirty vicious little code monkey.”
Shares? Whose shares? Hyperion’s?
“Well then, stop yapping and come get me! I’ll be waiting with my arms wide open, asshole. ”
“In due time, John.” Tassiter snarled and disconnected, leaving Timothy speechless and confused, missing the call that his coffee was ready.
Jack was not happy that Tim took his sweet time. Even less so when he discovered that the food Lawrence had brought in was lukewarm at best. Both of them sat quietly at the opposite sides of the kitchen table, each eating their own burger and avoiding eye contact. Jack was, in any case. Lawrence’s glare was glued to the other man’s face as he was examining the newest addition while trying not to stare.
The mask was truly a work of art: it was almost identical to Jack’s face if not for the sharper cut features, that gave him a bit of predatory look. It was about half an inch thick and, as a result, elongated some of Jack’s already prominent features even further. It was not unattractive but it was definitely something to get used to. Looking at Jack Tim felt that he both knew the man across the table and, at the same time, he did not. The three clasps allowed the contraption to be fastened and removed at will but their primary function was to relay the signals from the undamaged parts of the facial nerve directly to the mask, making its movements fluid and lifelike. The elongated metal ‘sideburns’ and the small strips in the inner corner of his eyes provided similar function, if Timothy were to believe the report he quickly skimmed during dinner.
“Are you done staring?” Jack asked sourly, dropping the burger on the plate and side - eyeing Lawrence irritably.
“Sorry, I didn’t mean to,” Tim mumbled and lowered his gaze into own dish. Upsetting Jack was the last thing he was planning to do today. “It’s just a really cool design.”
“Stop sucking up, Timtam.” Jack scoffed and picked up a curly fry, stretching it out with two fingers. Lawrence rolled his eyes: he did not know playing with one’s food annoyed him so much until he saw Jack doing it.
“What’s with the waxy yellow shade though?”
“Some colour - blind idiot designed it,” Jack grumbled and finally put the curly fry in his mouth. “But y’know, if I’m to wear this abortion, I might as well flaunt it. I’ll market the shit out of my look, just you wait.”
Silence fell once again and, for a while, the only sound in the room had been vigorous chewing. Jack was checking the ECHOnet, humming to himself as he scrolled through his messages and bookmarks. When Timothy was done he stood up, gathering his and Jack’s trash and walked to the kitchen. As he loaded the dishwasher and activated the garbage disposal, Tim turned around to see Jack standing in the doorway and holding his ECHO.
“When were you planning to tell me about Tassiter?”
Once you were in a better mood.
“After dinner,” Lawrence answered while drying his hands and trying to look chill. “I took the call, sorry. He surprised me and I just thought - ”
“I hate it when you’re ‘thinking’, cupcake, you’re too pretty for that nonsense,” Jack bared his teeth and fiddled with the comm. “Let’s see…” The next moment a quiet hiss indicated the beginning of the recording and Tim was suddenly listening to himself puffing the metaphorical chest at the CEO of Hyperion. He sounded good, there was no falter in his tone and if Lawrence did not know better, he might have said it was Jack himself. When the conversation stopped, a click signalling the end of the recording, Timothy exhaled slowly and watched Jack’s face lighten up as a roguish grin crawled on his lips.
“You beautiful bastard! Didn’t think you had it in you. Really could have not told him off better myself.”
Jack turned around and was about to leave when Lawrence finally gathered enough courage to ask what has been on his mind since the moment Tassiter had so rudely hung up on him. He fidgeted, as always unsure what to do with own hands, and finally opened his mouth.
“What did Tassiter mean with ‘pawing at the shares’? What are you up to?”
Jack froze, his palms on both sides of the doorway and Tim saw his shoulders stiffen visibly. He slowly turned his head sideways, giving Lawrence a good view of his hooked sharp profile.
“We are having a good time, Tim. Don’t spoil it for me.”
“Jack,” Timothy tried keeping his voice even and friendly. “Considering my position and responsibilities, I just thought - ”
“You thought what?” Jack swiftly turned around with arms crossed on his chest, short nails digging into the yellow fabric of his beloved Hyperion sweater. “That your housewife shtick somehow makes you privy to my business? Keep on dreaming, princess.”
The unexpected and blunt aggression made Lawrence blink rapidly and fight back the urge to make himself smaller. He tried remembering that Jack was not well and that his emotions were all over the place because of the psychological trauma. The tactics had always worked before, Tim was very good at being the bigger person. But Jack’s tone really stung. The dismissiveness in it. The rudeness. After everything Timothy had done for him both on Elpis and on Helios, he was still treated like some disposable help. Jack must have noticed that Tim, despite his titanic efforts to control own fear, was shrivelling under the pressure and an arrogant grin crept up his face: he had won this argument.
“See? This works for us, pumpkin,” He cupped Lawrence’s face, thumb ghosting over Tim’s cheek. “When your mouth is nice and shut.”
The next moment Timothy’s hand flew up and he slapped Jack’s palm away, stepping backwards until his back hit the kitchen counter.
“I am not your butler or a housewife! I don’t deserve to be talked to that way! Dammit, after everything I went through because of you and your stupid Vault I’ve earned the right to know what the hell you’re doing! Because guess who turns out to be on the receiving end of every asshole move you make?!”
“What did you just call me?!” Jack hissed, his face inches away from Lawrence’s.
“Asshole! You are a huge fucking asshole! Self - centred, ungrateful, demanding - ” Tim’s last words stuck in his throat. He was heaving so hard his chest hurt and he could feel his heart pounding wildly as he raised his hands, trying to keep some distance between them. Timothy did not want to back down, he would not. Jack had continuous need of him but had never appreciated the effort. He took Tim for granted, expecting the little compliant double to hop in when ‘the big man’ desired something. Lawrence wanted Jack to confess there was more to them. They both knew it. But Tim needed to hear it now. Not when Jack is in pain. Not when Jack fucks him raw or gives him head. Now.
“You did not mean that,” Jack said it so calmly that it sent shivers down Timothy’s spine. He watched the other man thoughtfully pick up a glass from the counter and roll it between his palms, humming softly. “Because if you did mean that, it implies you’re one ungrateful son of a taint and I am pretty sure,” the glass cracked under the pressure, webbed damage running along its slim form. “You’re better than that, aren’t ya, Timmy?”
“Say it,” Tim whispered leaning away and desperately clutching to the pitiful remains of the courage he had left. “Admit I mean something. I know I am.”
“Don’t you dare tell me what to do, you brash little - ” Jack yelled furiously and Tim saw how the other man’s healthy iris suddenly flashed bright purple.
Jack released a painful groan as his fingers convulsed and shattered the glass, ruby - coloured shards falling to the ground. Seeing an opening Lawrence, whose fight - or - flight response had reached its apex, started inching towards the exit, all the while hopelessly trying to ignore Jack’s screams. He could not deal with any of this right now, was simply not able to.
“You can’t leave!! You prom-!”
Jack’s desperate call, voice quivering from pain and anger, was cut short as Timothy stormed out of their apartment and into the depths of Helios.
Tim did not know how long he had been wandering around, glassy - eyed and completely unaware of his surroundings. Helios at night was still quite deserted, the human personnel long back at their quarters and the robots inside their charging stations. On the day when construction was finally done, Hyperion was planning on opening the station’s doors and populating it with thousands of inhabitants: a city in space. It was smaller than the ones orbiting some of the Edens but still rather formidable. For now, however, Helios was empty and felt almost haunting with its bright lights and air-conditioners softly humming in the clear filtered air.
Lawrence had eventually found himself standing in the middle of the immigration centre. He remembered Lost Legion leaving it in shambles, tagging and vandalizing every inch of the space. The restoration crew really cleaned it up, replacing all the posters and washing off the ugly graffiti. Some of the walls still bore laser burns here and there and Timothy wondered if any were his doing. He sighed and sat down on one of the benches, absent-mindedly noting how uncomfortable it was. From the psychological point of view the tactic made perfect sense: if you had something to hide, your discomfort would out itself much earlier if the whole place was rigged to be unwelcoming and anxiety - inducing.
Timothy’s mind went back to the fight: he stood up to Jack, he finally did it but there was no joy at the thought. He would imagine it to be empowering somehow, make him feel like he really put his foot down. Instead all he felt was guilt and massive disappointment: he did not get the answer he was hoping for. He did not get any answer for that matter, just Jack’s nearly psychotic rage at the notion that Timothy Lawrence wanted something from him. And the worst part was that all these feelings of sadness and regret were directed inwards and not at all at the person who was the primal source of his troubles.
Jack was using him as he always did. Tim was well aware of that. And yet -
It was because of Jack that he, a mediocre nobody, had gotten a chance to make something of himself. Yes, in someone else’s shadow but it was more than he had ever hoped to achieve on his own. Jack’s grip was strong but an ugly duckling still managed to spread its wings. He wanted adventure and excitement? He got more than he had ever bargained for. People looked at him with respect, if not in awe. Sure, they thought him to be Jack but it stroked Tim’s ego all the same.
All Jack wanted back was Lawrence’s undivided attention and concession. And he had agreed to that, signed under every word without a second thought.
There was still something else there, underneath the thick layer of ego - ridden opportunism. A broken loneliness that attracted Lawrence’s caring nature like a moth to the flame. And Jack’s light? It burned the brightest.
The ECHO vibrated at his belt and Tim’s eyes flew open, cold sweat rolling down his back at the thought of Jack calling. As he carefully plucked the comm of its clip, holding it at arm’s length he saw Nisha’s ID running across the screen. Lawrence quickly brushed hands through his hair and accepted the call. The Lawbringer on the other side tipped her hat upwards with a barrel of the gun and smiled.
“Hey, cowboy,” She saw her mistake soon enough, her amber eyes narrowing and the smile wavering to a more superior variety. “Oh, it’s you. Where’s Jack?”
“Hey Nisha,” Timothy answered softly. He did not have energy or will to do the usual dance of wits and venom. “At the apartment.”
“Right, and you are not. Shouldn’t sweet boytoy be with his daddy?”
Her comment was met with heavy silence.
“Fine, be that way, double guy,” Nisha scoffed and her tone changed from cocky to business - like. “When you see Jack, tell him to ping me back. Got a solid lead on the red Siren and, as a bonus, a vault key.”
Lawrence’s eyes went wide as he stared at the small screen. Did he hear it right?
“A vault key? Like a key that opens an actual vault?”
“Oh what, the last one was not real enough for you?” Nisha laughed and winked at him, making Tim feel the familiar hotness creep up his cheeks. “Yes, that kind of a key. Don’t forget to tell Jack, little puppy.”
Without even as much as a goodbye the Lawbringer disconnected and Tim jumped up only to crash down on the bench again: his legs, feeling Lawrence’s indecisiveness, refused to cooperate. His head was a storm of undefined thoughts and emotions but simply put, Timothy was scared to go back. He provoked Jack and then ran out in a middle of an ongoing pain episode, something he was tasked with monitoring and handling. In best case scenario Jack will be absolutely furious when Tim shows his face back at the apartment. It worst case… Jack might be dead.
A hot wave of panic flushed over Lawrence and he grabbed his ECHO again, connecting to Jack’s frequency. Despite hanging on the line for at least five minutes there was no reply, sending Tim on his feet and towards the Hub of Heroism. Timothy left the channel open as he ran, praying Jack picks up before he got home.
That was the first thing Timothy called out as the door to their place slid aside. The living room was in a terrible state: the drawers were pulled out and the cupboard doors were ripped off their hinges. The sofa pillows were turned over and he noticed rips in the fabric as if someone was trying to cut them open. Jack was looking for something.
Tim kept it in his room the moment he realised that Jack started exhibiting the signs of addiction: a normal reaction for someone who had to take the opiate as often as he did. At one point Jack got real crafty and managed to convince Lawrence to give him the supply but that went south real quick, leading to a very close call, a trip to the hospital room and a long lecture from the doctor. That was the main reason why the precious bottles were now safely locked up in the reinforced night drawer by his bed. Jack knew where they were but the lock would take time to break and that was too much work for an easy fix.
This time round, however, he was in pain and, with his attempts to find a stray bottle foiled by Tim’s pedantry, Jack was desperate.
Timothy cursed and walked towards his room, the door to which was very obviously open. Inside he was greeted by a similar level of destruction as before, in a middle of which he found Jack, who stuffed himself in between the bed and the - now upside down - night table. The lock was broken and almost ripped out of the socket, while several small bottles were lying on the floor, some of them completely empty. Tim sucked air through the clenched teeth: if Jack took all that in, he very well could have overdosed again. At the closer inspection it turned out that most of the open vials had their contents spilled out on the floor and Lawrence released a sigh of relief, kneeling next to Jack as his fingers found the man’s jugular. There was a steady heartbeat: the other man’s chest was falling and rising evenly and his skin was neither cyanotic nor cold.
Now that Tim has established that Jack was not on a brink of dying, he could calmly take a closer look at the mess Jack had caused. The mask was ripped out of most of the sockets but was still hanging lopsidedly, attached to the upper left clasp. Despite the extraordinary healing provided by the health kits, the skin around the grafted areas was still tender and Jack had clawed at it violently enough to draw blood. The left side of his canary - yellow jumper was pushed downwards and there was a syringe still stuck in his shoulder, a bruise slowly forming around it.
“Damn mess,” Tim muttered to himself as he pulled out the syringe, carefully putting it on top of the overturned table. Next he reached out for the mask and, as his fingertips brushed along Jack’s temple, the other man’s eyelids trembled and opened slowly, his confused stare sizing Lawrence before the blue eye lit with recognition.
“Kitten,” Jack said murmured and raised his arm, cringing slightly at the pain in his shoulder. “You’ve been naughty,” He added, frowning.
Tim opened his mouth to comment but then shook his head in defeat. Most likely Jack would not remember anything and he was too tired right now to make a point. Timothy was just happy he did not find his housemate in a puddle of own vomit, passed out or worse. He slid arms around Jack and urged him to stand up.
“ You left,” Jack pursed his lips together like an upset toddler. “You - You promised you wouldn’t…”
“I never said that. Also, you were an ass,” Lawrence could not help himself. “Turns out my good will has its limits.”
“I’m allowed to. It says so… In the contract.”
“Really? It literally says ‘Jack can be an enormous ass to his patient employee’? ”
Even in his current state Jack had picked up on the sarcasm and chewed on his lip, desperately searching for a good retort within his sluggish and highly addled brain. When none came, he latched onto Tim’s jacket wearily curling up against him.
“No,” Timothy answered curtly and wrinkled his nose in disgust. “You smell like sewage and shame. Shower first, then bed.” It was like talking to a child and Lawrence shook his head, sliding an arm around Jack’s waist and directed him towards the bathroom.
Once inside, Jack let him go and Tim watched how the man leaned against the marble tiles, making a happy noise as his cheek touched the cool rough surface. He nuzzled the wall for a bit and then turned around, sliding down on the floor and eyeing Lawrence groggily. Timothy let the tap run, feeling the water with his fingers and side - eyed Jack, who did not move a single inch.
“Undress,” He said grumpily and watched a lazy smile stretch across Jack’s face. “Seriously, I am not doing it for you after the last time.”
“Last time was fun,” Jack drawled from the inside of his sweater, desperately trying to pull it over his head.
“For some.” Lawrence remarked dryly.
It was fun, though. Wet clothes aside.
The sweater finally ended up on the ground and Jack proceeded to unbutton his jeans. Everything he did was lethargic and uncoordinated and with a deep sigh Tim stepped closer and swiftly unzipped Jack’s pants, pulling them down. Jack hummed then and his fingers dug in Lawrence’s hair as he pressed his back into the wall.
“Oh no. Not now,” Tim said as sternly as possible and pulled Jack by his wrists, pushing him inside the shower cabin, turning the water on and closing the door. He leaned on it to be sure Jack would not accidentally tumble out of it the way it had happened a couple of weeks ago. After about five minutes a gentle knock on the glass announced that Jack was done. Lawrence opened the door and tossed a huge fluffy towel in the other man’s general direction. He purposefully avoided eye contact with Jack: morphine high made the man clingy and, strangely enough, horny. At times like this Jack’s drugged mind was willing but the body never got the memo.
It felt like forever before Jack got enough courage and balance to step out of the shower and head towards the bedroom with Timothy tailing him and playing the role of the ‘safety net’. Jack was swaying wildly even with his palms on the wall but somehow managed to get to the bed without any accidents. He dramatically dropped the towel on the floor, giving Lawrence a good look at his naked ass and eventually fell face first into the bed where he proceed to rummage around until he created a nest of blankets and pillows, burrowing into them while making small satisfied noises. When he finally settled down Tim stood still for a while, making sure Jack was breathing and then quickly undressed himself, switching off the lights and slipping under the soft thin covers. He was almost dozing off when Jack’s chest suddenly pressed against his bare back and warm breath tickled his ear. Jack’s voice was hushed and tender as his lips brushed along Timothy’s neck, the feeling of cool clasp on his skin making Lawrence huddle his shoulders slightly.
“My sweet kitten…”
It was not unusual for Tim to wake up without a blanket. Or with Jack rolled heavily into his back, arm tossed possessively over Lawrence’s waist and pressing him into the mattress. Or with Jack’s hand down his pants: Jack loved to lay his claim thick enough to be spotted all the way from the moon. This time round, however, the bed was empty. Timothy stood up and quickly threw a shirt on he found hanging off the chair: an old thing with a faded logo of some Aquator resort. It belonged to him and was one of the few things Jack did not confiscate as a part of the ‘Becoming Jack’ experience all those months ago. With Lawrence’s -back then still new - physique the shirt was tighter around the chest and armpits but Tim suspected that was the main reason Jack allowed him to keep the old thing: a free pass to admire ‘own’ abs or some other mildly creepy narcissistic quirk of his.
He heard noises coming from the kitchen and headed there only to find Jack cooking breakfast shirtless and with enough water to end a draught in a huge bottle standing nearby. He settled down behind the table and watched Jack do his magic. Him cooking like that was rare but always a delicious occurrence if he actually bothered to leave anything for Lawrence, that is. The steaming plate with bacon and eggs had suddenly landed in front of Tim’s nose as Jack picked his own portion next and leaned against the kitchen counter, eating slowly.
“Don’t you want to sit?” Lawrence asked, pointing at the chair with his fork. Jack hated his table manners but Tim figured the man was too hungover to care.
“If I sit down now, I don’t think I’ll manage to stand up, kiddo,” Jack muttered in between chewing.
The doctors had warned them about the morphine ‘morning afters’. As a new user it would take Jack’s body several month to learn how to process the drug efficiently, especially if he took a bit more than prescribed. For now, after every shot Jack would feel as if he had partied all night, accompanied by various combinations of nausea, dehydration, mind fog and a splitting headache. Being way in his mid thirties hardly attributed to a speedy recovery.
“I spoke to Nisha while… While I was out,” Tim started meekly. He would rather not talk about yesterday but the message was important enough and would likely better Jack’s shitty mood. “Good news.”
“Oh yeah?” The stink - eye Jack was giving him changed to the expression of interest. “And?”
“Call her. She has something on the Siren.”
Timothy decided to avoid mentioning the vault key just in case the lead went dead: he really did not want to end on the other side of Jack’s tantrum for relaying false information. Lawrence watched the other man gingerly pick up the ECHO comm from the top of the fridge and connect to the Lawbringer’s frequency. She picked up almost immediately.
“Oh handsome, you look like skag - shit,” She commented and chuckled. “Love the face bling.”
“You do, don’t you?” Jack drawled and his finger slid over the clasp on the chin, making Lawrence cringe and go back to his food. There was definitely a gross sexual innuendo in there somewhere. “Make me happy, babe. I hear you bear gifts?”
“I do, cowboy,” Nisha purred back and Tim felt his food rolling restlessly in his stomach. The Lawbringer always used that voice when she wanted to toy with him: a combination of scary and sexy but not in favour of the latter. Jack, on the other hand, always went crazy when her tone hot all velvety like that. “Lilith and her buddies are hiding in New Haven and seem to think they are safe there.”
“Perfect,” Jack’s hand ran through his messy hair as he smiled widely, scarred tissue on his face contorting once suave grin into an ugly grimace. “Sounds like this town is harbouring bandits and they need someone good - looking and heroic to show them the error of their ways. ”
“You’re speaking my language, loverboy,” Nisha laughed and then her voice fell to a sultry whisper. “There’s more… A vault key and an eridian specialist, both ripe for the taking.”
Jack made a gagging noise and Lawrence looked up to see the other man clutching the comm so hard his knuckles went white. Jack inhaled, exhaled and straightened his back with a loud crack.
“Say that again and slowly.”
“A vault key, handsome. The one that opened the Vault of the Destroyer and the archaeologist that knows all about it.”
“This must be my frikkin’ birthday or something!” Jack was visibly shaking now, restlessly swinging from heel to toe and back again, childish joy plastered all over his face. “We’ll make a weekend of it, gather the team. Oh this is gonna be fun.”
They proceeded to coo at each other, sensually describing every bit of the violence they would rain upon the unsuspecting citizens of New Haven. When Tim had enough he stood up and grabbed his plate just in time to hear Jack passionately narrating the things he would do to Lilith when he got his hands on her. At some point the description got overly graphic and creepily erotic and Lawrence lost his appetite, pushing the half - empty plate aside and leaving the kitchen.
Nisha and her exceptional love for violence had made his skin crawl since the moment he saw the purest of smiles on her face as she was murdering scavs by the dozens. Sometimes killing was necessary and, in case of Elpis, was an absolute must if one wanted to get off that damn moon in one piece. But it was wrong to revel in this savagery the way the Lawbringer did.
The worst part was that her crazy wild disposition, in turn, influenced Jack. When Nisha was around, Jack overindulged, tossing his already extremely flexible inhibitions aside and letting his wild side run loose. These tendencies bothered Tim. Deep down he knew that this was not what really was getting under his skin. It was watching those two chirp at each other that made Lawrence somewhat jealous. Nisha got all the attention when around, she was admired if not worshipped and, while Lawrence was in no way thirsting for the same amount of crazy, he wished Jack had something left for him as well. Feeling so needy irritated him and Timothy skewed his face, pursing lips together in annoyance.
“Is that your bandit killing face?” Jack was suddenly in front of him, water bottle in hand and one eyebrow cocked in amusement. Lawrence felt his cheeks heat up and he shook his head quietly.
“You’re so cute when you’re shy,” Jack’s fingers traced his cheekbone and rested on Tim’s lips. When the double did not respond to the proposal Jack snickered softly and pressed the water bottle to his forehead. “You’re lucky I’m feeling like crap right now, Timmy, or you’d be ass up on that couch like a good boy.”
Despite the claim of being sick Lawrence could clearly hear the desire in Jack’s voice. Nisha had left him hot and heavy as she always did.
“That said,” Jack eyed him for a moment and picked up his mask, clumsily clipping it back in place. “Get dressed, we have a safari to plan,” He ran his fingers over the synthetic flesh, pressing it closer to the skin and smoothing it out. “The grand prize is a magic bitch, the vault key and whole lot of dead bandits.”
I had rewritten parts of this chapter several times and I think I have finally arrived at the place where I like what I've come up with. Tell me, oh reader, did you cheer for Timmy when he finally stood his ground? And did you want to punch something in the face when all it took was a creepy 'sweet kitten' comment and a midnight cuddle to sooth the double's sense of injustice? I sure did. But we are almost at the point where Tim finally decides he cannot do this anymore. Too bad he let this drag for so long... Too bad :/
In other news I've got a job! Yay! It is exhausting. Suddenly I have to manage free time differently than I used to. Luckily with a chapter per month I should be able to keep the schedule. ^___^
ALSO I GOT PAST 50k WORDS.
Thanks for reading and staying with, what essentially is my longest fic ever. I love you all Xxx
Chapter 14: Crime and Punishment
Uh... um... hello. Do you remember me and my very first borderlands fic? I have never abandoned it but it was a very busy year of starting a new job, getting into awful depression that lasted months and finally starting to climb out of that pit.
Thank you for those who waited for so long to get an update and did not give up on me. <3 You know who you are.
And if you liked this chapter, please let me know. I am looking forward to each and every one of your comments, even if it is just a simple "dhfjshfjshfjs."
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
Timothy felt a bit resentful about sitting on this pile of smelling junk that was overlooking New Haven. Then again, everything that surrounded the bandit city was junk and there were mountains of it so wherever Jack and Nisha were, they could have not escaped the smell either. The Lawbringer did not mind, she was born and raised in a place like this but Jack was whole other story. It warmed Tim’s heart to think his boss might be suffering just as much as he was now. Still, Jack decided to come along: an uncommon thing considering how eagerly he sat out most of the vault hunting endeavour preferring to bark orders over the comm.
As was promised, Jack had assembled a team. Naturally, Wilhelm and Nisha jumped at the opportunity to stretch their muscles and shoot some people, Lawrence had little choice on the matter, Claptrap was M.I.A and Timothy was pretty sure Athena had hung up on Jack the moment she heard his annoying vowel stretching from the speaker.
Lawrence’s ECHO started vibrating and he accepted the call, a small projector forming Jack’s holographic image. Tim side - eyed the new company quickly and then frowned, looking closely at the man. Jack had undergone quite the wardrobe change: instead of the field ‘hero’ outfit Timothy got so used to, his boss overhauled his look to a more ‘corporate’ variety. Or so Tim thought, until his gaze slid down the skinny jeans, landing on the familiar tennis shoes and he chortled loudly.
“Something you wanna share?” Jack asked arms crossed.
“What’s with the fancy clothes?”
“Oh you like?” Jack smiled widely and turned around, giving Lawrence a good look at his ridiculous outfit. “This is my new ‘Star of Hyperion’ look.”
No. No, I really don’t. Please don’t make me wear it.
“Eh… It’s nice, I guess? Sure brings out your shoulders.” The outfit consisted of literally layers of clothes starting with a - by now eternal - Hyperion sweater, followed by something that looked like a pyjama dress, a vest and, finally, a jacket. Tim suspected that deep down Jack was overcompensating for his angular and overall skinny build.
“Don’t worry, I have a nice set for you as well.”
“Oh great…” Lawrence really hoped Jack did not hear the utter lack of enthusiasm in his voice about becoming a space cabbage and quickly changed the subject. “Are we doing this or what? This place is a dump. An actual dump. Am I - Am I, like, vaccinated at all? ”
“Stop babbling, you are making me look bad,” Jack snapped at him and Timothy could almost feel the irritation radiating from the hologram. “Check your inventory.”
Lawrence reached for his digistruct device and pulled up the screen, scrolling through numerous guns and shields he had hoarded on his adventures. Elpis had taught him to be prepared for any situation: you did not know what the next enemy would be coated in or what weapon they had.
“Are you done yet?” Jack piped up impatiently.
“It’s a long list, Jack, ” Tim grumbled as he finally found what he was supposedly looking for and digistructed the device into his palm. He was holding Jack’s pocket chronometer and he turned it around, inspecting the metal back with a letter J. scribbled on it. “Your cloaking watch?”
“You bet your ass, kiddo,” Jack beamed at him and Timothy’s mood soured. He knew he would not like what was coming next. “You’re gonna get real awesome in about five minutes.”
According to Jack the plan was, in his own words, ‘easy - peasy’. Timothy and his digistructs were to sneak into the city and, using the cloaking device provided, get close to the turrets that guarded the perimeter. Once near the installation Lawrence was to place a small Hyperion chip behind the wiring, allowing Jack’s pet AI to take control over the systems.
Tim did not get a say on the matter and arguing with Jack, who in his inflamed post-drugged head was already standing on the pile of bandit corpses waving Hyperion flag, was nigh to impossible.
“How much time do I have?” Timothy asked, digistructing away his rifle and securely attaching the watch to his coat. Jack had an emotional bond with the thing Tim could not begin to comprehend and, once again, did not bother questioning: dignity, food and shelter were hard to come by nowadays.
“Less and less if you keep standing and yapping, double nerd,” Jack scoffed and so did Nisha, he could swear he heard her on the background. “Giddy up and get it done!” Jack had disappeared from the projector but the voice channel remained open. “Oh and get me Tannis, Timmy. Her and all of her notes, capiche?”
The echo line went dead and Lawrence released a sigh as he swiped his watch, feeling it tugging at his bones as ‘One’ and ‘Two’ came to existence, looking as cheerful and ready to kill as always. Timothy listened to them banter and making garbage puns at each other as he fastened Jack’s chronometer to the lapel of his jacket and tugged on it to test if it stayed in place.
“ - just watch me!” an enthusiastic voice snapped Lawrence out of his thoughts and he clapped his hands together, attracting the attention of both digistructs while simultaneously trying to find them. ‘One’ was running some kind of simulation while ‘Two’ was carelessly balancing on top of a particularly unstable mini - fridge.
“What are you even doing?” He asked amused, watching the digistruct on the fridge bent forwards at the dangerous angle.
“We’re testing how much deviation from the original axis this can take before it collapses.”
“Ah.. what?” Tim asked hopelessly, lost within the terminology he knew nothing of.
“How much he can lean outwards before the fridge turns over,”‘One’ chortled and gave Lawrence condescending look, throwing a similar one at his brother. “If I win - and I will - I get to shoot him in the face with the Conference Call.”
“This - whatever this is - will have to wait,” Tim gestured towards the New Haven. “We have to help Jack to get into the city and we need to do it quiet and fast. You can cloak, right?”
“Sure can,” ‘Two’ chirped and disappeared from the view, only to reappear next to Lawrence, finger poking into his rib cage. “It drains the battery like crazy, so you better know what you’re doing.”
Lawrence nodded and quickly called up the satellite image of New Haven on his comm, highlighting the points of interest. He then proceeded to explain Jack’s plan, distributing the Hyperion chips. It was both fascinating and chilling to see the relaxed face expressions of the digistructs sharpen with every next word as they soaked in the information, offering corrections and possible alterations in case the plan went south. As soon as they agreed upon the distribution of targets, Timothy checked his weapons, praying he did not have to use them and signalled Jack, cloaking and sliding out of his cover.
The apartment greeted him with nearly impenetrable darkness and Lawrence stood in the doorway until his eyes adjusted to the lack of light. He could have found the dimmer but he was terrified. What if the floor was covered in blood? What if it was littered with corpses of the so - called ‘bandits’? Shivering uncontrollably Timothy slowly proceeded along the walls to where he remembered the bathroom was.
Lawrence felt gross all over, his free hand desperately scratching at the skin and trying to get rid of the caked gore that was not there anymore.
Loaders rounding people up like some sort of cattle.
Stepping on their heads like it was nothing.
Smell of burning flesh as they were tearing people in half with their lasers.
Just bandits, kiddo.
Tim’s stomach churned and with a small whine he froze, fingers massaging away the coiling sickness within, eyes squeezed shut as he uselessly attempted to chase the images away. The hand hugging the wall slipped into the empty maw of an absent door and Lawrence nearly lost his balance, palm sliding over the dimmer and illuminating the spacious bathroom on the other side.
Now that the light was on he pulled himself towards it like a moth, the darkness becoming intimidating once again as Timothy locked the door, cocooning himself in safety. Stiff fingers turned the water on and Lawrence had to up the temperature twice, acutely aware of his teeth clattering together. He should have not been so cold, the apartment always had a pleasant level of warmth and yet he was trembling feverishly, while gingerly taking off the jacket and trying to avoid all the blood.
Blood that was not there but it just as well could have been.
He helped Jack to create these loaders. The machines were meant to defend Helios against the Lost Legion. Felicity died -
Tim’s nails dug deep into own shoulders as he he slid down the wall, hiding his face in crossed arms.
He killed Felicity to stop Zarpedon, not to go on a holy crusade against the Red Siren. Jack got what he wanted and the woman was dead. Maybe it would sate his bloodlust just enough to make it recede back into his sick, Vault - corrupted mind?
Warm steam tickled Timothy’s skin, seeping underneath and licking at his bones and Lawrence had finally lifted his head, realizing he had sat on the floor for so long the bathroom had completely fogged, humid air making it difficult to breathe. He had blindly groped for the faucet and switched the water off, opening the door back into the apartment and letting the steam out, simultaneously clearing the air. Barefoot and shirtless but still wearing grime - caked pants Timothy stumbled into the kitchen and fished out a drinking glass, pouring the first bottle he had under his fingertips: Jack’s expensive port by the smell of it, the same one they were drinking at the night of the kiss. It was maybe two months ago but for Tim it felt like an eternity. And the worst part he did not know anymore if it was the bad or the good kind.
Cool glass pressed to his cheek Lawrence shuffled into own bedroom, guided only by the faint light of the digi - watch. With a well - rehearsed move he entered the combination - his actual birthday, something Jack would never care to remember - rummaging around the morphine bottles and syringes until his hand clasped the familiar plastic container.
One dose was all Tim needed to pass out quick enough and not let the brain torment him any longer. Today, in any case. Lawrence shook the pills out and took two, rolling the small colorful cylinders in his palm, finger absentmindedly tapping on the glass that was in his other hand.
This was stupid.
All of this was stupid.
He should wait for Jack, he should demand an explanation of the savagery he had witnessed. Nobody, not even bandits deserved this.
But Timothy Lawrence, too, was weak and stupid. He inhaled quickly, taking the pills and washing them down with alcohol. The empty glass fell and rolled over the floor as Tim threw himself onto the bed, cocooning his aching body in the soft sheets.
He must have dreamt it, the mattress shifting underneath additional weight. Timothy sighed and tossed himself on his back, eliciting a chuckle from somewhere in the dark.
“Hey, kitten,” a bold finger traced his exposed collarbone and Lawrence swatted at it, desperately clinging to his drug - induced sleep and hoping the intruder would just go away.
He never did.
The man always got what he wanted.
“Hnnnh… Jaaaack,” Tim muttered drowsily, feeling warm goosebumps crawl over his skin at the light touch of the other man’s fingers. “Please -,”
“I love it when you say my name like that,” Jack’s voice rasped near his ear, warm breath tickling the shell.
A hand ran down Timothy’s chest, tracing every curve of the abdominals as one cheeky finger stopped at the button of his jeans, while the other slid past the threshold of the boxers, playing with the warm skin underneath.
“I’m not in the mood,” Lawrence mumbled, sleepily stretching the vowels but doing nothing to shake Jack off him.
“No worries, babe, let me help you with that.” The inquisitive fingers pushed the button open and pulled the zipper down, brushing over the obnoxious Hyperion - labelled boxers.
He could have kept protesting but the more one struggled, the more demanding Jack would get: the man loved playing with his food. Problem was, Timothy could not be sure anymore if he even wanted to object to any of this. Lawrence felt morose, vague awful things scratching at the edges of his fogged mind, searching for a way to come back. Jack’s hot palm rested against Tim’s hardening cock, fingers kneading just enough to send the small pleasant jolts up Lawrence’s abdomen.
The peculiar tenderness that Jack always exhibited only in bed did its job, chasing the monsters away as he bucked his hips into the touch - a smug satisfied huff and a hand sliding under his back being the only response he got. It was an invitation and Timothy obliged, lifting himself up just enough to push the pants down to the hips as Jack pulled him in.
“Come here, my sweet beautiful Timmy.”
The velvet in Jack’s voice never failed to make his head spin. The man took everything away and gave barely enough back, leaving Lawrence affection starved just enough to fall into his arms when the double could not take it anymore. Like today. Like so many days before that.
Gingerly Tim climbed on Jack’s lap, almost toppling over if not for a steady iron grip that kept him in place. After a bit of moving around Timothy finally straddled Jack’s hips, knees on both sides as far apart as his pants allowed it. The other man’s hand resumed the pumping movement on Lawrence’s cock and Tim closed his eyes, feeling every stroke along his length echoing pleasurably within his heated core.
The hand that was supporting his back slid downwards, momentarily cupping Timothy’s ass and he felt his muscles tense, acutely aware of his vulnerable but not undesired position.
“Jack... Lube,” Lawrence muttered, earning a scoff but the hand on his arse had disappeared and the next moment Timothy felt fingertips brushing against the precum - leaking tip of his cock. He guessed this was as far as Jack was willing to accommodate but it was better than nothing.
“Now, open up and relax,” Jack’s tone lingered somewhere between commanding and encouraging, making Lawrence nod sheepishly and lift himself higher, arching his back slightly.
Jack had no patience and it showed as the thick finger slid in, blunt nail scraping the entrance and making Tim whine, flexing his shoulders. The pain quickly turned into pleasure as Jack probed and prodded around the sensitive muscle, sending shivers down Lawrence’s spine. His hands wound up around the other man’s neck, feeling the fast heartbeat underneath rough fingertips and Timothy took a deep breath, readying himself.
It was but a light tap but it was all he needed and Tim sucked the air through gritted teeth, nails digging into Jack’s neck. He lowered his head, soft disheveled curls swinging along with the movement as he slowly started moving up and down, forcing the hand to fuck him deeper.
Jack was talking but Lawrence chose to ignore it, turning the voice into nothing but a low rumble at the edges of his consciousness as he concentrated on own pace. What could Jack possibly say that Timothy had not heard before?
That he was a good boy.
He was. Always.
That Tim was his.
Undoubtedly a mistake that would haunt him through the remainder of his pathetic life.
All Tim wanted was to forget. At this very moment, as his muscles thrummed in tune with every movement within and without him, the outside world had finally seized to exist. What this ‘Jack’ had done was nothing but a bad dream. The name was just a concept, a boogie man. Something people on Pandora liked to spook their children with.
“Do not go outside after dark, Billy, or Jack will scoop your eyeballs out with a spoon.”
A sob left his mouth as the finger hit the right spot once more, making Timothy curl up his toes in both pleasure and desperation.
“Jack!” He cried out sharply, nails raking down Jack’s shoulder and what felt like a collarbone, fingers matting in the soft yellow jumper. “Don’t - Make me -,”
“Beg, kitten,” Jack’s voice was near his ear, the grip around Lawrence’s cock - a moment ago almost nonexistent - tightening like a noose.
It was a little game Jack had taken a liking to. He had always loved to see Tim squirm and be vulnerable in his grasp but as of recent the new shady and power - hungry undertones of their ‘play’ started to rear their ugly head. Timothy did not want to be a part of it but in truth he had long surrendered having any choice in the matter.
“Please do it...” He breathed out helplessly, the need spreading through every corner of his body like a wildfire. He was almost there. Almost there. Why would Jack - Why would he not just -
The burdening strain was suddenly gone as Tim’s whole body shuddered and he came, burrowing his head into the warm nook of Jack’s neck. His lips softly trailed along the curve of the jaw when a distant foggy alarm in his head made Lawrence freeze and force himself to think again.
His lips tasted iron.
It could not have been his doing, Tim knew that much and he jerked his head upwards, untangling himself from Jack’s iron grip.
“What’s wrong?” the amusement in the other man’s voice quickly faded when Lawrence did not immediately reply. “Tim.”
“You tell me,” Timothy rasped. He was on his feet, swaying slightly as he finally managed to stuff own dick down his pants and zip up, all the while searching along the wall for the dimmer. “Jack, what did you do? What did y - ”
After hours in the darkness his eyes, sensitive from the drugs he took, began to water and Lawrence had to swipe away the sudden tears. Tim lifted his gaze, skittishly meeting a cold pair of bi - coloured eyes and even a chillier smile, bright white against the caked crimson red that was splattered against Jack’s mask.
Jack was covered in it. And it were the implications of how and why that made Timothy gag, fingers rubbing against the lips as he realized that he touched it too.
“What the ever living fuck?!” Lawrence shrieked as he started trembling, fingers white as he clutched his own arms to control the shakes, eyes wide and terrified as he watched Jack wipe his cum - stained hand on the sheets and stand up.
“Language!” The other man barked at him, clicking his tongue in irritation.
“This what bothers you?” Timothy breathed out as his gaze kept scraping over more splatters on Jack’s leather vest and dress shirt. “My - My language? Not the fact you’re covered in blood?!”
“Am I?” Jack theatrically ran his fingers over the mask and stuck one into his mouth the moment later, shrugging nonchalantly. “Well what do you know, guess I am.”
“What did you do?!” Lawrence asked once more, blindly groping around for his things, too scared to let the other man out of his sights.
“Quit with the theatrics, Timtam, you’re ruining the mood,” Jack’s voice was even, too even as he watched Tim scram around in search for the jacket and the boots.
“At this point I really don’t care what I’m ruining for you, asshole,” Lawrence hissed as he fastened personal digistruct device on his hip and grabbed the jacket. “I’m leaving.”
Akin to a cobra Jack suddenly sprung and blocked the exit, arm landing so close to Timothy’s face he could see the thin net of scars littering the skin. Bright and hostile eyes sought his own and Tim felt his courage shrivel by the minute, just like each and every time they argued. Jack knew he had nowhere else to go. They both did.
“Leaving? Really? Wow. Where to, buttercup?” The man purred, tracking his every twitch and frown, waiting for an opening to strike.
“To clear my - I need to be alone.”
“I remember this one guy with a mouth wider than his asshole throwing some pretty mean stuff around. Think his name rhymes with… Ah dammit, what was it again? ” Jack’s mouth was near Lawrence’s ear, hot dry breath tickling the shell and Tim still smelled it on him. The scent of torture. Fear and disgust made his stomach churn and he winced.
“You caught me off - guard. I’m sorry… I need some air, please,” The words felt sour in Tîmothy’s mouth but he knew Jack was not waiting on his sincere apologies. The man looked utterly satisfied as he removed his arm and pat Lawrence mockingly on the cheek, the game of cat and mouse complete as he let his plaything go. Tim left the apartment in a fashion that had become a second nature to him now: humiliated and defeated, still feeling Jack’s stare burrowing into his back even as the door closed behind him.
Timothy could still feel it on his lips - that awful sharp metallic taste. As he walked, Lawrence kept compulsively rubbing his mouth, desperate to get the disgusting sensation off himself.
It was just blood, he was trying to convince himself. Just another bodily fluid. He could get past this. He could if he tried hard enough…
But he should not have to.
Tim spit on the ground and stopped in his tracks, fingers drumming restlessly over his belt. The reality of being a glorified fuck toy was suddenly hitting harder than ever: they had had this exact same situation before and, unsurprisingly, Jack had drawn no lessons out of it. If anything, Lawrence’s life got worse.
His hand caught on the echo comm and Timothy unclipped it, booting the device and grimacing sourly as a lewd greeting message popped on a screen. He backtracked to a nearby bench and settled down on the edge, gingerly typing in Jack’s login and password. The screen flashed red, informing Lawrence that the information he had entered was incorrect.
Of course Jack revoked his privileges as soon as he himself was fit enough to take over.
The comm let Timothy know that the failed attempt would be registered and sent to the admin. The double grit his teeth together at the thought: Jack would use it against him at the first opportunity.
An idea lit in his head akin to a proverbial light bulb and Lawrence swiped at his watch, readying himself for a few moments of discomfort as his body was picked apart by the device. The Jacks popped at his side as they always did and invasive hands slapped him on both shoulder and the ass, making Timothy flinch and fight the urge to slither away.
“S’up, handsome? Missed us?”
“Didn’t have time to,” He answered quietly trying not to fidget. The Jacks would pry if they saw him unsettled, it was both in their ‘nature’, so generously gifted to them by Jack and a significant part of their general programming connected to the situation assessment. “I need you to do something for me.”
“Ooooh, a task! I love those.” ‘Two’ wiggled his fingers dramatically but ‘One’ crossed his arms, eyes narrowed suspiciously.
“For you? Not for Jack?” He came closer and grinned but it did not look too friendly. “You never need anything, Lawrence. What’re you up to?”
The comment stung, making Tim’s shoulders slouch momentarily. It hurt to hear the truth out loud like that. From a digital copy who was supposed to be his underling, no less. Lawrence took a deep breath and straightened his back, showing own echo device to the digistructs, brows knitted in determination.
“I need access to the Hyperion network. To - To Jack’s database. Can you do that?”
“Smells like rebel spirit in here,” ‘Two’ purred slyly but his brother waved him away, electric - blue eyes boring into Timothy’s mismatched ones.
“That's some request you have. What gives?”
“I have a very good reason,” Timothy grounded. He felt absolutely drained and his heartbeat kept constantly migrating between his throat and ankles but he had to know. Whatever Jack did, Tim felt himself responsible. “You not gonna tell on me, right?”
“Only if he asks nicely,” ‘One’ replied and snickered, followed by a hoot from his brother. All three of them knew that Jack never asked, only demanded. The digistruct took the comm in his hands and flexed his neck in a manner Tim saw Jack always do during coding. “Shoot.”
“Can you, uh -,”Lawrence hesitantly chewed on his lip, realizing he did not think anything through after dramatically storming out of the apartment. “Can you pull up Jack’s activity since the return from New Haven?”
‘One’ said nothing but the screen of the comm lit up, lines of code running too fast for Timothy to follow. ‘Two’ was hanging over his brother’s shoulder and making small comments about the findings until the screen dimmed again and two pairs of eyes stared back at Lawrence. This was one of those moments he wished the digistructs were not so Jack in everything they did. He felt tiny and insignificant under their harsh gazes and it took every inch of self - control and training to not shrivel the way he so often did. Still, Tim could feel the dip in his posture and he had to clear his throat before whispering loudly.
“There is an instance of Jack going ‘dark’ on cameras. About an hour long footage missing from the containment block.”
“As in - ”
“As in ‘edited out in an awesome manner that has Jack’s coding all over it’ missing.”
Timothy grabbed the echo back and woke up the device, pulling up and looking through the list. The holding cells were inconspicuously tucked away within the Hub of Heroism itself and were the same ones where he had found that creepy Nakayama guy during the Lost Legion assault. All of them save one were vacant and when Lawrence selected the file, only the name popped up in dull blue letters.
“Oh crap,” he cursed, the hope that it was a random child - eating psycho evaporating like the morning mist. The name belonged to the archaeologist woman with the knowledge of the Vault he had brought in at Jack’s request.
Timothy turned on his heels and started running. The Jacks caught up with him as he was nearly flying down the hallways, en route to the Hub of Heroism. He felt absolutely nauseated by what Jack might have done.
In truth he had never thought about it before, what Jack could do if he wanted to. His situational cruelty and natural lack of empathy started to show themselves early on but somehow Timothy had never figured out Jack would resort to torture. At least that what he guessed had happened. Why else would he delete the feed? And worst of all, he probably kept it too. For later. To watch at own leisure, hand down his pants for all Tim knew. Lawrence gagged at the thought and the fact that it might have very well been true. That it was true, since Jack came straight to him for a stray fuck, still covered in blood and thrumming with adrenaline.
“What’re you doing?” ‘One’ was in his ear, walking briskly and sounding concerned. “This will reflect on us too! Lawr - ” When Timothy did not stop or pay attention the digistruct’s hand closed around Lawrence’s elbow, yanking him backwards. “Tim, do you have a frikkin’ plan?!”
“I need to see if she is ok,” he was mumbling, eyes darting in each and every direction.
Jack had blood everywhere. She is not.
“Yeah right. Dude, she’s not so get over it,” ‘Two’ drawled, confirming his thoughts. “More importantly, what will you do once there, dumdum?”
“I have to get her off the station,” The words spilled out faster than he could control them and he shook his head in defeat. “I made a mess, I need to fix this.”
The digistructs were glaring at him again, standing shoulder to shoulder and almost looming, making Lawrence swallowed loudly. “Please… Please help me. I will never ask anything - ”
“You bet your ass you won’t,” ‘One’ scoffed. “Jack will kill you.”
“I am too expensive,” Tim shakily used his best argument. He cost Jack so much that the man was willing to stay on Helios to protect his investment from the death at the hands of the Lost Legion. Or so he said. Jack did say a lot of things and most of them had to be taken with a grain of salt.
“Hey dumbo, if you do this right, you might be able to pin it on someone else,” ‘Two’ butted in and smiled brightly, hands coursing through the air drawing invisible action moves. “Scramble a couple of cameras here and there, let the lady use the fast travel herself and we’re in a clear. Jack might yell a bit but we just say a Claptrap did it.”
“At this point your idea is better than anything I would have,” Lawrence admitted and looked at ‘One’. The digistruct shook his head in defeat.
“This will backfire and you know it. But,” His face softened, making Tim’s heart skip hopefully.” Is this what you want? Is this an order? ”
The articulation gave it away, the brothers required a promise of a safety net from him. That if the things went south, Timothy was to take the blame and save them from Jack's wrath.
“Yes,” the double squeezed out, profoundly sweating from both unimaginable excitement and exertion. “I order you to help me.”
“Well then let’s go be heroes, baby!”
Many thanks to heavybreathingcat for nudging me in the right direction regarding the second half of the chapter. And thanks to Yume for being a Yume.