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Rhys twitches in his seat, blinking and nodding as the guest executive pleads his case. Everyone, from arms dealers to children's toy companies, wants a sliver of the empire that Rhys has brought up from the shattered skeleton of Helios.

The universe does indeed rest on Atlas' shoulders.

"....sir?"

Rhys snaps to attention, proud smirk dissolving as he's forced to abandon his narcissistic daydreams. The suited man across from him is sweating, face flushed and hands trembling as he worries at a fidget trinket with his thumbs. The CEO's eyes narrow, taking in the rather humble statistics plastered across the holoprojector's screen.

"Those numbers aren't that impressive," Rhys points out, watching the man struggle not to fall apart in front of two of the three most powerful men in this corner of the galaxy. "Tim, what do you think?"

His business partner casts him a judgmental glance, never approving of how Rhys likes to toy with his dinner. Power has inflated the cyborg's head over the past three years, eroding his awkwardness and causing him to become more and more like his idol with every cutthroat decision. But Tim is different. He understands what Rhys never will: the feeling of utter helplessness when someone has endless power over you. Timothy is the only thing keeping Rhys in check, reminding him of his roots and, at times, even his humanity.

"I'll sponsor him if you won't," Timothy says with a shrug, leaning back to watch Rhys scowl with a look of teasing satisfaction. "Come on, even a bastard like you has to admit that there's potential here."

Rhys relents and nods with an agitated eye roll, beckoning the man over with his cybernetic hand and clearing his throat as Tim moves in to provide a signature as well.

"Oh thank you, thank you SO much, you don't know how much this means to me-"

Tim leans over the desk as the guest continues, sharp chin brushing Rhys's gelled coif and cologne flooding the smaller man's nostrils. Rhys tenses; Tim can see his legs straighten, a muscle in his tattooed neck twitching as his eyes flick to catch Tim in his peripheral vision. Their guest is completely ignorant of the sexual tension, gesturing wildly and thanking them every five seconds. The signatures are given and one of Rhys' assistants shoos the man out, refusing his desperate attempts to ask for a picture with his "saviours."

Finally, the door slides closed, its metallic click sealing the end of their workday. Tim pulls away but only makes it a meager two inches before Rhys is twisting out of the chair, grabbing a fistful of his shirt and fighting his retreat with a spoiled pout, porcelain cheeks flushed with the evidence of his arousal.

"Jesus, I thought it'd never end," he whines, inner bastard receding as he finally allows his walls to collapse in the presence of trusted company.

Tim's heart skips a beat as it always does when Rhys touches him; lips automatically parting when the CEO cranes his neck, eyebrows furrowed in desperation as he awaits Tim's much needed kiss. Tim takes his time, slipping a loving hand up to rest behind the pale neck, thumbing a fading bruise that peaks out from beneath the collar of Rhys' dress shirt. He massages a tense occipital with his thumb and leans in closer, first brushing a soft nuzzle against the forehead, then sliding down over the bridge of the strong nose and onward to the defined, plush lips. Rhys rewards him with a desperate gasp, arching up out of the chair to press their chests together.

"Jack....," he breathes.

For perhaps the millionth time, an emotional dagger digs and twists up beneath Tim's ribs, his expression souring as reality slams into him. He pulls away too abruptly, startling Rhys and accidentally making him lose his balance. The pseudo-lover tumbles, tilting over the edge of the chair's arm and gasping out a curse, gagging when Tim snatches the back of his jacket and hauls him back up. Rhys glares and opens his mouth to berate the other man, but the expression softens when he sees Tim's distressed face. He's about to say something when the door slides open once more to reveal an all too familiar black and green android, devoid of a synethic skin covering. Jack prefers the cold, metallic look, and Tim finds that it matches his personality.

"Heyyyy kiddos, sorry m'late, someone thought I was a service bot and some good natured strangulation was needed," it chortles, striding in with a swagger. The booming digital voice echoes in the high ceilinged office, sending a cold shiver down Tim's spine and an elated smile across Rhys's face. Tim frowns; Rhys is always so different around Jack. So utterly submissive and servile.

Not himself.

The third and final member of the Atlas ownership is none other than Jack himself, regrettably lacking his organic body, but that's where Timothy comes in. Jack gets off on the control he has over Timothy, and picking on the body double made him feel better about his predicament. But eventually, the man-turned-android had let him become a (closely monitored) business partner after he'd shown a knack for risky yet profitable investments.

"Jack!" Rhys practically gushes, bolting up out of his seat fast enough to send the arm of it slamming into Tim's crotch. He buckles and wheezes, eyes watering as he doubles over. He flushes a deep rosy pink when Jack barks out a brazen laugh, walking up to smack a cold robotic hand down on his shoulder.

"Careful kitten, don't damage our little meatbag. Consider yourself lucky Tim Tams, imagine not even HAVING balls in the first place!"

Rhys reaches out to apologize and comfort Tim, eyes locking with the doppelganger's and communicating beyond just bruised testicles. But then Tim's staring at Jack's perky metal ass, and Rhys is pulled up against the cold abdomen, momentarily forgetting Tim as he embraces Jack.

"Looks like you lil beauties were getting it on without me, you KNOW I hate it when you canoodle behind my back," Jack growls, whirling to poke Tim between the eyes three times to signify his displeasure. "You're only here to help with business, cuddle Rhysie for me, and occasionally, UNDER MY SUPERVISION, give him the classic Jack Original. Get your head out of your ass."

He says it in a playful tone, but Tim knows he means business. Jack's cold green eye ports glare down at him until he nods and drops his gaze, straightening back up as much as he can and struggling not to scowl. Why can't Rhys see that Jack is just using him to survive and thrive, playing on his heartstrings like Mozart and his piano? Rhys had spared Jack back on Pandora, mistaking his manipulation for some sad excuse for romantic feelings. Of course, the endoskeleton incident had made Rhys wary. But after Jack had spun his sob story and claimed that he was going mad for lack of a controllable body, Rhys had forgiven him. And shortly thereafter had downloaded him into a specially commissioned android body, accepting Jack's proposal that Timothy be hunted down and re-hired to stand in for what the body couldn't do.

But seeing Rhys being used isn't the most painful part. The most painful part is how Rhys ignores both Tim's obvious suffering and how much Jack revels in it.

"I came onto him first, he didn't do anything out of line, Jack," Rhys whispers into the bolted and plated throat, seeking to save Tim from the brunt of Jack's anger. He's been doing that more and more lately, as well as eating alone with Tim while the android recharges himself.

Those two developments are the only reasons Tim hasn't fallen into a complete state of suicidal depression.

"Oh DID ya now? Just so hungry for that perfect physique aren'tcha baby? Mmmm...how about we skip dinner and head straight for dessert?" Jack purrs, reaching up to rub Rhys's full bottom lip with his artificial thumb pad. The submissive man nods, glancing over at Tim, offering a gentle smile which he hesitantly returns. And then Jack's heading for the door, hip joints clicking and whirring as he drags Rhys out the door to their group living quarters, rudely yelling for Tim to follow.

Tim sullenly obeys, wincing as the leftover pain aches in his groin. The never-ending jealousy boils in his gut as he watches their forms, eyes lingering on Rhys' attractive hips and legs. All too soon they've reached their destination, passing a grand total of five security checkpoints before they can finally enter the lavish suite. Tim's not one to reject this kind of over the top lifestyle; in fact, he's the one who decorated most of it. But he'll always feel like an imposter in any expensive setting. It's just a constant reminder of Jack, and his permanent, utter servitude to the egotistical psychopath.

Rhys laughs loudly and Tim refocuses, walking over to the bar to pour himself a drink as Jack corrals Rhys towards the sprawling bed at the far end of the room. Tim sips the drink and watches, fixated on Rhys while he pulls his shirt off to reveal a heavily tattooed body and the scars of his updated cybernetic prosthesis. The sleek black pants follow, slipping down his toned legs to reveal a cute yellow pair of Hyperion briefs. Tim's knees weaken at the sight of the shapely ass, his cock twitching as the CEO gyrates playfully against Jack's thighs. For almost a year he's longed to be able to fuck Rhys, but as of late Jack forbids anything beyond cuddles and the rare blowjob. Despite promising to let Rhys experience his organic body again.

"Get your sorry ass over here Timmy, time to reestablish some rules of the house," Jack calls, and Tim obediently finishes his drink, wiping his mouth on the arm of his shirt. He draws a deep breath and walks over, heart jumping when Rhys turns and gives him a heavy-lidded look of sexual hunger.

But before anything can be said, Jack reaches out to grab Rhys by the wrist, yanking him down into his frigid lap. Rhys gasps, goosebumps pebbling his skin as he's shocked by the cold contact.

"Well don't just STAND there, dumbass, go get my dick!" Jack snorts, wrapping a possessive arm around Rhys's torso and studying Tim's every move. Tim walks to the wall of parts, selecting Jack's favorite cock: a synthetic onyx nine incher with golden striped ribs for an additional punch. Rhys wiggles out of the way as he squats to secure it in place and then leans in to kiss Tim's throat, silently thanking him for the favor. But Jack isn't happy with it, yanking Rhys back against himself with an annoyed tsk.

"Oh, so I can't even kiss him now?" Rhys snaps, and Tim freezes in his application of the robotic genitalia. "You used to be fine with it, is it so wrong to want your organic body? Which YOU suggested him for? Why do you always just make him WATCH now? Are you jealous or something?"

"I'm NOT jealous, don't you fucking dare question my motives," Jack hisses, shoving Tim away and finishing the job himself. "I know you two've been spending more time together, you're not exactly helping me feel SECURE, pumpkin. Imagine if YOU were stuck in a fuckin' green bean can for life and YOUR boyfriend started spending more time with the cuddle stand-in."

Rhys droops like a wilted flower, as he always does when Jack turns the blame on him. Tim glares at the carpet and clenches his fists, containing his anger as best he can. And he's pretty damn good at it, having bottled his emotions since signing up for the doppelganger job long before the destruction of Helios.

"M'sorry baby, please don't be upset," Rhys mumbles, leaning in to nuzzle up under the chiseled steel chin. Jack flicks his fingers, cueing Tim to look up at him.

"Get out, we don't need you here right now," Jack growls, and Tim nods, standing to go to his own separate room. Rhys gives him a sullen glance and turns away to straddle Jack's lap, turning his back and closing himself off from Tim.

Tim clicks the lock mechanism as soon as his door closes, slumping down to his knees and thunking his forehead against the metal. He truly doesn't know how much more of this twisted situation he can handle. He's come to care for Rhys more than he's comfortable with, and it scares him. Jack's going to figure it out sooner or later and dispose of him, behind Rhys' back. To be quite honest, he's shocked that Jack has kept him around this long in the first place.

"Fuck you," Tim curses through gritted teeth, directing it at both himself and the two other men. He blankly stares down at his hands as the tears drip down onto them, rolling off and deepening the shade of the dark grey carpet.

"Jaaaack," Rhys' voice lilts, loud enough to reach his room. Jack's voice joins his, but Rhys remains the loudest. He always is.

Tim bites his lip, growing hard despite how upset he is. Rhys' voice always does it to him; every time Tim masturbates, he imagines his face buried in the crook of that beautiful milky neck, Rhys crying out 'Tim' directly into his ear.

The brazen noises grow louder, the smacking of their rough sex leaving nothing to the imagination. Tim whines, slamming his fist against the door and pushing himself up, fumbling for his button and zipper as he walks towards his dresser. He finally works himself open, eager erection pushing out and straining against the soft material of his boxer briefs, desperate for release after an entire day of being in contact with his gorgeous cyborg.

No.

Not his, he corrects himself with a pang of misery.

He pulls his shirt off and struggles out of his pants, not even bothering to remove the underwear. It only takes a little bit of coaxing to get his boner to push out of the slit, proudly standing to attention and weeping out a bead of precum as Rhys belts out a pleasured shriek. Tim squats and digs for his fleshlight, snatching the lube up off the nightstand and impatiently squirting it liberally into the soft silicone hole. He readies himself, climbing up onto the bed and kneeling, spreading his legs and bracing himself against the wall with a shaking hand.

His eyes roll back as he slips inside, groaning at the tight slick squeeze and letting the noise die down into a pitiful whimper.

"Rhys," he gasps, snapping his hips and pumping his arm at the same time, thrusting wildly as he imagines Rhys doggystyle in front of him, screaming and writhing as Tim fucks into him. "Oh, GOD, Rhys!! You're so perfect, so beautiful, god, I just want to hold you and make you mine, nobody else's."

He pants out sweet nothings with eyes closed, tears wetting his cheeks but erection still going strong as he pummels the toy, thighs straining as he struggles not to cum before he hears Rhys peak. And a short couple minutes later, Rhys' first hits, his orgasmic scream echoing through the corridors and spurring Tim over the edge. Tim bucks and shivers, mouth falling open in an expression of utter loving ecstasy while his cock twitches and fills the warm toy with spurts of his cum. He savors the peak while it lasts, but the pain comes trickling back when he opens his eyes and it's just his pillow and toy staring back up at him. Jack yells out an orgasm next and Tim snarls, yanking the toy off of himself and throwing it across the room, collapsing down into the soft comforter to pull his pillow close.

He commands his music system to start playing something to hide the sounds of his crying, but they could probably still hear him if they really tried. He sobs hard enough to shake his entire body, snuggling down under the covers to surround himself with softness as he fights through the onslaught of emotions. It continues for a good thirty minutes until he finally drifts off into sleep, still curled up deep in his lube and cum stained bed.

He doesn't notice the slim man slipping between his sheets and sleeping next to him until he abruptly wakes for a piss two hours later, stretching and grunting in surprise when his hand smacks into a nose.

"Ow!" Rhys hisses.

Tim stares at him with a stupid expression, blinking and taking in how the dim light glints off of Rhys' cybernetics and mismatched eyes. His unkempt, sex-ruined hair frames a bruised face and red eyes, swollen lips unintentionally pouty.

"R-rhys?..." Tim whispers.

"We had a fight, Jack hit me and left," he explains, sniffling and shifting to better face Tim. "Look...I'm uh...sorry. For how he's been treating you. How he's always treated you. I...I've been letting it all go to my head, and seeing how kind you always are....it's just refreshing. I wish it were different," he says, avoiding Tim's eyes until Tim reaches out to caress his chin.

"It CAN be," Tim breathes, moaning as Rhys burrows up against him.

"I don't think I'm ready for that yet...I mean, Jack is my boyfriend still...and he'd do something entirely irrational if we....yeah," Rhys worries, looking completely defeated and heartbroken. "I just...he's still affectionate. Doesn't that MEAN something? Doesn't he...still love me?"

Tim pulls him close as he starts to cry, tucking Rhys' messy head under his angular chin and pulling the blankets back up over both of them. His bladder is insistent, but it can wait.

"I don't know," Tim lies, but they both know the truth. Have known for a while now.

"Make love to me," Rhys murmurs into his neck, reaching down to fondle Tim through his boxer briefs. Tim quickly nods, floored at the surprise offer to finally be intimate with Rhys.

"Yeah, okay...gotta piss first, be right back," Tim warns, extricating himself from Rhys' grip to scurry away and do his business. When he returns Rhys is sitting up, holding the lube bottle in his hand and positioning himself on his back. Tim wastes no time, desperate to snatch up this chance at pleasuring the smaller man. He shuffles up onto the bed and steals the lube back, smearing it onto himself and pushing a dollop up into Rhys.

"Be careful, he...he was rough," Rhys explains, spreading his legs and welcoming Tim between them. Tim locks Rhys' head in place with his forearms, leaning in for a passionate kiss to distract the other man as he pushes in. Tim's quite large - mirroring Jack's body of course - so the stretch burns Rhys' already battered hole enough to draw a few tears. But within minutes Tim is gently rocking, sliding against that sweet spot until Rhys is writhing and moaning, trying his best to stay quiet for both of their sakes. Rhys' cock is hard against Tim's belly, stimulated between their bodies with each rock, and soon the intensity is just too much.

"Tim!!" Rhys gasps, bucking against the body double and covering the both of them with his cum. Tim shudders at the use of his name, showering Rhys with kisses and paying extra attention to the swelling bruises, moaning into Rhys' skin as he finds release in the tight, clenching hole.

"Rhys!! God, baby, oh my god, you're so beautiful, I love you so fucking much!" he cries, blushing when he gets to the confession, instantly regretting it. Rhys gazes up at him with an unreadable expression, then gives him a growing smile.

"Love?" he replies, now looking completely shocked.

Tim scowls in embarrassment, rolling away and flopping back against the mattress. Rhys rolls with him, not letting him escape and demanding an after-fuck cuddle.

"Six sirens Rhys, you're cute but you really are an idiot sometimes. And please...only call me Jack if we're WITH Jack, when you said it earlier in the office...that hurt," he sighs, finally smiling as Rhys burrows into him for an apologetic kiss.

"Sorry, it just slipped out, it's confusing going back and forth and I didn't know you have such strong feelings. I guess I shoulda known, you never really seemed to enjoy the roleplay lately. And I...don't know what I feel, but I know it's something. Something different from with Jack. Jack is distant...but you're different. You actually put effort into my feelings," Rhys confesses while nuzzling his chin.

That's more than enough for Timothy.

Rhys stays for about an hour after that, finally pulling away and kissing Tim, not wanting to get caught with him after such an intense fight. Jack would go absolutely nuclear if he walked in on THAT.

"I uh, I wanna do this more often," Rhys says, awkwardly shooting a signature finger gun and sliding off the bed to get dressed.

Tim nods, watching as he leaves the bedroom, staring up at the ceiling after the door closes. He grinds his teeth, enraged at the fact that Jack has the gall to not only emotionally abuse, but ALSO physically abuse Rhys. Not that it should be a surprise to any of them. He can't imagine how confusing and frustrating all of this must be for Rhys. But he can't shake the gnawing worry at the back of his mind that the cyborg is using him just like Jack has all these years.

As if this situation needed to get ANY more complicated than it already was. Tim knows Jack's dark side far better than Rhys, knows that if he really wants to, he can make you suffer in the most exquisite ways possible. His fear is the only reason Jack allows him so much leeway with the company.

Sleep evades the doppelganger and he finds himself more scared than he's ever been in his entire life.

But as always, the only thing to do is keep moving forward.

Chapter Text

"How'd you sleep?"

Tim jolts, fumbling for the gallon of milk as his tentative lover's voice greets him. He finally snatches the handle with a pinky, glancing over his shoulder and moving back to the counter.

"Uh...fine. Just...daisies and roses, as always. Same old same old!" he replies, cringing at the forced cheerfulness that's always been his go-to for awkward situations. Rhys nods, moving over and leaning against the fridge until Tim tenses, accidentally spilling milk all over the counter and thunking the gallon down with a sigh.

"Rhys...last night..."

"Was amazing," Rhys finishes for him, smiling and reaching for the paper towels as Tim gnaws his lip.

"We shouldn't do it again. Have you uh...forgotten just what Jack's capable of? How do you know he isn't monitoring your ECHO system??"

"He's been to therapy," the half nude man returns in a dismissive tone, reaching for his own bowl and selecting a packet of instant muffin mix. "You and I both know he hasn't killed anyone in three whole years."

"That we KNOW of," Tim hisses, anger boiling in his gut at Rhys' refusal to recognize that three years isn't that long with a track record like Jack's. "There's a BOMB...in my FACE, Rhys."

Rhys blinks, looking nonplussed. "Jack disabled it, seriously, you get hammered last night and get amnesia?"

"It's still in there though, just chillin' behind my sinuses," Tim grumbles, snatching for his bowl and moving over to the dining room table. "I just think you should take this more seriously," he adds with a slight snap, freezing when Rhys' hand slips onto his bare shoulder and moves up to rub a thumb over his neck.

"You know how hard it's been for him, Tim," Rhys whispers. "Angel dying, then being stuck in the electric void...psychiatrist said he has PTSD on top of being an untreated sociopath-"

"Giving our little ray of sunshine a massage, babe?"

Somehow they'd both missed the faint clunks of Jack entering the apartment; two glowing green eye ports stare at Tim from above the exaggerated Cheshire Cat grin. He looks to be in a much better mood than last night. Probably found a poor lackey to beat the shit out of after getting a violence hard-on knocking Rhys' brain around in his skull.

"Uh-huh," Rhys responds, but his grip tightens ever so slightly by reflex.

He's just as scared as Tim.

"I'm headin' down to the city later this afternoon, I set up a business meeting with a Jakobs asshole about a zone monopoly agreement. We are gonna be ROLLIN' in even more dough tomorrow morning babe! Now why don't you head out and get ready while Tim and I finish breakfast, huh pumpkin?'

Rhys obediently sets down his bowl of mix, pattering across the massive living room to take a bath. Jack tracks his exit until he's out of sight, turning to give Tim an unreadable look. Tim keeps his eyes low, eating his cereal and trying not to shake. Jack would be on him faster than a fly on a pile of skag shit if he so much as saw one little eyelid twitch.

"Where'd Rhys go last night after the fight?"

"I don't know, I'm not his bodyguard," Tim says. Jack looks miffed at the sass, but the metallic eyebrows ease back upwards at the same time. If Tim's sassing him, then he must not have much to hide.

"I just...wish I hadn't hit him," Jack murmurs, barely loud enough for Tim to register. "Biting the hand that feeds me, right? One of these days he's gonna realize I'm too royally fucked for him."

Tim's staring at Jack now, shocked at the sudden vulnerability. Jack rarely even talks to him anymore let alone discusses personal issues. But then Jack's face shifts, a bitter frown making the mechanisms in his cheek whir with strain.

"You're movin' out, and I'm getting a clone body commissioned. I think now I actually like this better than those damn meat suits but...Rhysie wants me in the flesh again. Don't need ya for happy fun times anymore. You can stay in an apartment here in the main tower or head down to the city, I don't care which."

Panic, guilt, paranoia, and disappointment all bloom in a kaleidoscope of nausea deep in Tim's stomach.

"....you're firing me?"

"Nahhh, I need you on the stocks still. Just changing your job description."

Tim nods, knowing better than to question Jack's plans.

"Can...can I still see Rhys?"

"Why?" Jack snaps, suspicion still heavy in the air as his eye ports glow just a tad brighter in response to his shift in emotion.

"He's my only friend Jack, you kinda made sure of that," Tim whispers, giving up on breakfast before he blows chunks everywhere from the anxiety. Jack considers for a second, then shrugs.

"I mean I guess. But if I catch you two getting all touchy feely, your dick is rak bait."

His tone is playful but he's looming over Tim now, forcing the doppelganger to shrink back against his seat for fear of being hit.

"I mean it, Tim. I will put your dick down the garbage disposal and make you eat the pureé. I've worked hard to get Rhys to trust me, and I'm not about to let anyONE or anyTHING ruin this. Capiché?"

Tim nods, slumping down when Jack hops back on his heel and sets off to join Rhys.

"You can start packing now."

 

 

 

Rhys sits next to Jack on the ride to the corporate dinner, glancing at Tim with an apologetic look every time Jack gets lost in his ECHOmail. Tim only meets his eyes once, blushing a deep shade of shamed pink and arching his neck away to study the glowing red spires and black sheen of the cities' tall buildings. He still can't adjust to the fact that he technically owns one-third of Promethea; true rags to riches, it would be a touching story if not for the hundreds, maybe thousands of people he had to kill while under Jack's previous employ.

Not that everyone doesn't already know Atlas is directly linked to Hyperion's bloody past, but so long as it generates such respectable revenue for the planet's inhabitants nobody seems to care about the finer details of the bloody history.

His thoughts are interrupted by the low notes of Jack's voice and a laugh from Rhys in return. A new emotion, regret, joins the myriad of others fighting for dominance in his exhausted head. He could've said no to Rhys last night. He could've kept it in his pants and not put Rhys at risk. He could've not acted like a total idiot and used the 'L' word, of all FUCKING things. Sure, the feelings have been there for a while, but he didn't have to actually SAY it like that.

Why can't he just make a smart decision for once in his sorry life?

"Okay, Tim, you let us do the talkin' and you just sit there lookin' pretty, sound good?" Jack instructs, shimmying out of his seat before Rhys or Tim can step off first. Rhys follows and Tim brings up the rear, straightening his tie and following the instructions to stay silent until they're seated and the meeting has commenced. Then it's nods, polite agreements, looking at Jack or Rhys to answer any of the non-stock inquiries. Overall it goes fairly well, but Jack's thinly veiled insults are steadily agitating the Jakobs CEO the longer the dinner drags on.

Then, when Jack leans in to read some documents, Rhys takes his chance. He nudges Tim's knee and mouths 'bathroom', looking agitated and pale. Then he disappears and Tim waits a good five minutes before excusing himself, fully aware of Jack's eyes tracking his departure. When he gets to the bathroom Rhys is splashing water on his face, jolting up when the door opens and he sees Tim. He rests his elbows on the sink ledge and sighs, burrowing his face into his hands as Tim walks up to him.

"He's kicking you out."

"...yeah."

"I don't know what to do," Rhys breathes, voice shakey.

"I don't either...I'm so sorry, Rhys. I took advantage of you last night."

"Did you mean it? What you said?" Rhys stands straight, eyes searching Tim's for something, anything to ease his nerves.

"I mean...I don't know what you want me to say but...yeah. Unfortunately," Timothy answers, biting his lip when Rhys appears to crumple in on himself.

"I-I don't know what to do," Rhys repeats, looking like he might cry if even one more ounce of emotional pressure is added to his load. "I think...I think I might feel something for you but I can't leave Jack, Tim. I can't abandon him like everyone else has! He's making progress!"

Rhys is starting to hyperventilate so Tim grabs his shoulders, forcing him to focus on the moment.

"Jack said I can still see you. I mean he DID threaten to cut my junk off but we're still spending time together. I promise. I don't know what the fuck's gonna happen but one day at a time, okay? It's okay. It's fine."

"You're so much sweeter than him," Rhys sniffles, removing Tim's hands from his shoulders and clearing his throat, attempting to pull himself together after the near panic attack. "Jack woulda just told me to bend over so he can fuck the anxiety out. Works sometimes but...it's his only reaction, you know?"

Rhys sighs and abruptly leaves after an awkward half-hug, looking even more tired than he had before.

Now it's Tim's turn to panic, pacing back and forth, rubbing his wrist in agitation and trying not to lose his shit in this five star bathroom in front of a curious little service bot. But in all honestly, it wouldn't be the worst thing to cuddle a bot for comfort when nobody else will.

If he left, this would all be over. Rhys would have the decision made for him. Tim could hide; Janey's made it clear multiple times that she owes him one and still wants to be friends. The only issue would be Athena...he can't risk their safety by possibly bringing Jack (and therefore all of Atlas) down on their heads.

And he can't just leave Rhys if he's scared of Jack.

Tim opens his ECHOlink to shoot Janey a message, ruminating over what to say and how to say it. He ultimately gives up, keeping it simple.

"Hey...it's Timothy Lawrence. Can we talk? I can meet you in Concordia," he records, sending the message then checking his reflection in the mirror. His undereyes are dark; he looks like he hasn't slept in days.

No matter what happens, the priority here is Rhys.

Tim's used to not putting himself first and he's not about to get selfish now.

Chapter Text

The rain is coming down in torrents by the time their shuttle arrives back at the apartment, and despite bolting Tim is soaked to the bone - complete with ruined coif - as he follows Rhys back inside.

The rest of the dinner had gone relatively according to plan: Jack had dominated the other CEO into submission and Tim had managed not to get yelled at. But ever since the bathroom rendezvous, Rhys has been visibly pale to the point that even Jack suggested a visit to the Atlas clinic. But of course Rhys had refused, insisting that it was just a stomach bug.

"Okiedokie, I had some bots pack your room up while we were gone and there's an apartment three levels down all ready for ya. You're all good to go."

Tim stares at the neatly stacked boxes and inert service bots, stomach plummeting. He'd expected to at least have a bit more time here, perhaps the night. But of course, he should've known Jack better than that.

"Shouldn't we go help him set up the apartment?" Rhys prods, pale cheeks now tinged with a telltale blush of anger. "Three years with us and you just send him off like a servant?"

The doppelganger freezes, eyes darting between the other men as Rhys finally takes aim at the elephant in the room.

"How the hell do you know I wasn't gonna help him?" Jack snaps back, audibly clicking his mechanical jaws together in agitation. But it seems as if therapy hasn't been for nothing because instead of digging in deep he stops himself, making a visible attempt to stay calm and collected. "Look I uh...I just didn't expect this to get to you that much sweetheart. Didn't think you two were all that close, that's all."

"Guys it's fine, it's not like I'll actually have to carry anything with all these bots," Tim butts in nervously, desperate to avoid any and every conflict.

He does have a meeting to make at Concordia in just two hours, after all.

"Pumpkin..." Jack tries, switching to his soothing voice and opening his arms as he moves towards Rhys. "Of course we can help him. Whatever makes you happy."

Rhys allows the hug but still appears unsure, watching Tim as he squats to start up the bots and check his ruined suit with a nervous huff.

"You can even spend the night in his apartment babe, I'm not a tyrant...anymore. I uh, I know neither of you trust me yet but I'm tryna do my best here."

The trio stand in silence while Rhys considers and Tim panics. How is he going to make the meeting if Rhys spends the night? He's not sure what the hell he actually wants to do anyway so...maybe it's for the best? Jack DOES really seem to be trying, and Tim is actually beginning to feel guilty for keeping so much hidden from him.

"I'm just gonna head down there and how about you both come see me in a half hour? I'm pooped."

And with that Tim makes his escape, grabbing a box as the bots begin the relocation of his humble belongings. He hurries out the door and down the spacey onyx hallway, avoiding eye contact as curious workers peek at the unexpected procession. It feels as if two arms of anxiety are steadily squeezing his ribs, ready to pulverize his organs and involuntarily remove him from the equation entirely. But the crush never comes, and all too soon the still dripping businessman is standing outside of his new door, clunking it open with the toe of his high-ankled dress shoe.

It's small, maybe the size of his actual bedroom back up at the penthouse. But it already feels more homey: for the first time in three years, he has a space all to himself. Nobody can disrupt him now. Nobody can invade his privacy.

All at the cost of, what, any possible chances with Rhys?

"Dumbass," he mutters at himself, setting down his box and jumping when a shy knock sounds at the door.

"Thought I'd help you unpack...brought some snacks too," the slim man offers, waving some small chip bags from the (not too shabby) cafeteria and letting himself in before Tim can even react. "Jack uh...he decided not to come."

"I would look surprised at that news, but...."

Rhys smiles, walking in and setting the food on the small island counter. The ensuing silence is too oppressive, the two men avoiding eye contact as Tim opens his measly kitchenware box. Jack had given him no pots or pans, just two sets of silverware, but - shockingly - the coffee machine. At least he'd noticed that Tim used it most often out of the three of them.

"I'm thinking of telling Jack that I need a break," Rhys finally blurts, waiting as the fridge digistructs itself before meeting Tim's gaze. "I mean, this is....it's too much of a mess. None of us can go on like this."

Before Tim can reply his ECHOlink crackles, Janey's voice bursting out into the room and causing the doppelganger's heart to actually skip a beat.

"We still a go for 10? I can't stay away from Athena for very long, mind you," she teases, beginning another sentence before Tim can fumble the device and lockdown all channels. In his distress earlier he'd completely forgotten to make sure it was off.

"Is that....Springs? Janey Springs?"

"Yeah, I'm uh...I'm t-trying to reconnect with more old friends outside of Atlas," Tim scrambles, internally screaming as a suspicious look climbs across Rhys' face and his eyes narrow.

"Oh, uh-huh, you were gonna contact her and not invite ME, I see how it is."

The tease is unexpected but beyond relieving; Tim feels his knees unlock and his legs tremble just a smidge before he can manage a shakey response.

"Iiiii was under the impression that Athena didn't want anything to do with you, cuz uh...dating 'Stapleface' and all that."

"Well can I just come with you?? They don't have to know I'm there..."

The lonely desperation in Rhys' eyes is nearly overflowing, twisting a sharp pang of guilt in Tim's gut. How can he claim to really love Rhys yet also plan to abandon him at the very same moment?

"....maybe uh...maybe we should just spend some time together. Like go to a movie or something? I'll cancel the plans. There's some campy Pandora horror flick playing, I saw it on the ride back."

Rhys is right next to him now, selecting a bag of chips and ripping it open, pulling one out and munching as Tim glances, trying to read the slightly taller guy's expression. He looks tense; his full, manicured brows furrowed and his defined, plush lips slightly pouted as a thought distracts him.

"What is it?" Tim whispers, clearing his throat when it comes out more sensual than he'd planned. Rhys jolts, blinking as he's ripped out of his thoughts. He shrugs his slender shoulders and sighs, shaking his head.

"I gotta tell Jack where we're going, he'll freak if I don't."

Before Timothy can agree or dispute the decision, Rhys has his cyborg hand open palm-up dialing Jack's ECHOlink. The AI android accepts the call in a mere second, sounding overly pleased that Rhys is interrupting "Timmy time" for Jack.

"You guys ok, babe?"

"Yeah, Tim and I are gonna go see a movie downtown...just wanted to let you know where we're gonna be if you need me."

There's a brief pause, and Tim can visualize how Jack's face must look. Slightly angry and strained, jaw bolts clenched, jealousy etched deep into the surprisingly agile metal plates forming his mouth. The tone of his response confirms Tim's suspicions; it's slightly clipped but still controlled. If anything Tim must agree that Jack's made a lot of progress when it comes to not running his motormouth.

"Yeah, cool! Bring me back some popcorn." The line falls silent for a few seconds. "And stay safe. Okay? You too, Tim."

The line cuts out and Rhys visibly relaxes, leaning against the counter and into Tim, slipping a hand up his back to rest on his shoulder as he leans forward to nuzzle Tim's damp, flaming red hair.

"C'mon, get changed and let's go."

 

 

"You don't eat your popcorn with extra butter???" Tim gawks, holding up his palms in resignation after Rhys smacks his hand away from the butter pump.

"Listen, I already invest invest too much in the ice cream addiction, I gotta cut corners," Rhys sniffs, snatching the popcorn bag away and stalking towards the theater door as if Tim's just offended his entire existence. Tim jogs to catch up to his long legged lover, letting his eyes drop down to the curve of Rhys' ass before he lunges to smack it. Rhys squeals and jumps, spilling popcorn and whirling, looking adorably indignant.

"I wouldn't mind if ya got chubby, sweetcheeks....and I know I'm not the only one."

Rhys rolls his eyes, fighting a smile and turning back towards the door, sashaying now to tease Tim's building arousal.

"Oh you're hilarious, I'm just paranoid about my health, mainly. And stop trying to talk like Jack. WE'RE on a date, right? Not Jack."

"Sorry, force of habit."

"Is getting public boners a force of habit too? Your fly's gonna pop any second now, gentle Jim."

"Har har, YOU'RE one to talk, move along twiggy," Tim hisses in mock anger, shoving Rhys through the doorway as another pair of theatergoers walks up behind them.

Soon they're seated in comfortable silence at the back of the nearly empty theater. Rhys is curled up in his seat like a folded-up spider, half leaning on Tim's solid chest and picking at the popcorn, nuzzling up closer when the lights finally lower. The movie turns out to be gorey and ridiculous, desperately low budget but still surprisingly well-done. Rhys is riveted, reminded of his time on the hellish planet but from a safe distance. Tim brings his hand up to rest on Rhys' nape, gently rubbing circles in his neck and trying to locate a pressure point to relieve some tension.

But then, Rhys' head is gone and his weight has dropped lower. Tim's jaw quite literally drops as a deft hand yanks down his zipper and pops his button. Rhys pauses, always considerate of his partners' comfort.

"Is this ok?" he whispers, voice barely audible over the crazed explosions and screams echoing through the room.

"Only if I can return the favor," Tim whispers back, hand clutching the padded arm of his chair as Rhys begins his skilled ministrations, lightly caressing the most sensitive spot on Tim's cock: the frenulum on the underside of its head. Rhys makes sure that the tease drags on, adding more fingers to the first but still no more friction to offer relief. The redhead's ass slides down further in his seat and he allows himself a quiet whine, just loud enough to cue the CEO that it's time to go in for the kill. Rhys' head bobs and those perfect lips close around the head of Tim's cock, a tight and merciless suction offering an apology for the delay.

"G-god," Tim stutters, letting his legs fall open a bit further as a soft organic hand closes on his shaft, pumping in tandem with the rhythmic suckles. "It's been so long since I've gotten head...."

Rhys' lips pop off and he glances over his shoulder, eyes half lidded with lust and sharp left cheekbone illuminated in the yellow light of the movie.

"Too long."

Then he's returned to the task, removing his hand and going down; down until he's almost completely deep throated Tim's cock despite its length and girth.

"FUCK!"

Tim's knees jerk and his hand moves to Rhys' bobbing head, fingers digging into the gelled-yet-soft hair until Rhys lets out a tiny mewl of discomfort. But Tim doesn't immediately catch it; chin tilted upwards and eyes rolling to the ceiling as he jolts, yanking Rhys' head back so the younger man doesn't choke on his cum. Then he relaxes, slumping back as Rhys pulls away and plants one last kiss on his softening length, gently packing him back into his briefs and zipping him back up. Just then the credits start to roll, but neither of them regret missing the ending.

"My turn," Tim breathes, grabbing Rhys' hand and lurching up out of the seat, bolting down the steps and practically dragging him past the only other couple in the room.

The bathroom is right across the hallway and thankfully empty, Tim racing in and zeroing in on the biggest stall while Rhys nervously glances about and finally follows suit.

"Get in here," Tim growls, shocking himself with the intensity of his delivery. Rhys looks equally shocked, eyebrows climbing up his forehead and cheeks turning pink. Tim drops to his knees and grabs Rhys' hips, gently walking him backwards until he thumps up against the wall. Their eyes lock and Tim leans forward, licking to locate the zipper and yanking it down with his teeth when he finally finds it.

"AH!!" Rhys gasps, and Tim pulls away, looking slightly horrified, worried that he'd just caught Rhys' dick with the cold metal. But the expression that greets his eyes is desperate, and the soft pale belly is arching towards him, the nearly nonexistent happy trail begging him to go lower.

"P-please," Rhys nearly sobs, catching his lower lip between his teeth and humping his hips in a gesture of need.

"Try not to be too loud," Tim warns, slipping the slit of Rhys' boxer briefs open and not wasting any time on building up a tease. He takes all of Rhys' five leaking, dark pink inches on the first swoop, reveling in the choked noise Rhys strangles out as his mismatched fingers scratch at Tim's scalp. Tim lets his eyes slide shut and rocks, fucking Rhys with his mouth, the corners of his lips twitching when his movements are soon met with desperate thrusts.

He looks up and Rhys is looming over him now, knees slightly bent to reach the height of Tim's head. He's thrusting hard enough that his balls are smacking into Tim's chin with each thrust, mouth opening slightly as he huffs for breath and lets out tiny whining moans.

"M'cumming, wait-" Rhys gasps, trying to pull away. But Tim locks his hips in place, lips smashed into the tender skin of Rhys' groin and the soft stubble of his recently shaved pubic hair.

"GaHAH, Tim!!" Rhys grits out, thrusting with a vengeance and finally collapsing back against the wall. He slides down and Tim catches him, pulling him in close for a kiss to the forehead.

"We gotta do that more often," Rhys murmurs, content to just sit there in Tim's arms on the questionably clean bathroom floor. Tim nods and smirks, suddenly remembering something.

"We forgot the popcorn for Jack...."

"Just buy another one, tell him we ate the first one," Rhys giggles, but his face quickly falls as his mind is turned back towards the boyfriend he's cheating on. "...let's just get back home."

"Isn't Jack's test run on the new body early tomorrow morning?"

Rhys nods, allowing Tim to help him stand and checking to make sure their pants don't reveal any evidence.

"Yeah...he wants us both to be there."

Rhys notices Tim's genuinely shocked expression, pausing in the stall doorway and turning back to face him.

"He's trying to include you more, so please show up?" Rhys prompts, waiting for a nod before he continues. "You uh...you weren't going to see Janey as a friend, were you?"

Dropping his eyes, Tim shakes his head in shame. Rhys isn't stupid. Of course he could figure it out on his own.

"...no."

"Thanks for staying."

Rhys pulls him into another kiss, making this one last as long as possible, but when he pulls away his face is shadowed again and whatever he might've been about to say after the lip lock is swallowed by his guilt. The same burning shame gnaws at Tim's chest as they walk back to the shuttle car; shame from both the cheating and being found out in his escapist fantasies.

He can only hope Rhys trusts him more than he did before, but he's not even sure he can trust himself.

Chapter Text

"Good MOOOOOOORNING Mr. Doppelganger sir! The time is now 9:00 am SHARP, and Mr. Jack wants me to make sure you're up and at 'em for his special day!"

"Hu-whahggg???" Tim gasps, bolting upright and gasping when his back gives a sharp stabbing pain of protest. Sleep ruffled brows furrow over squinted, bleary eyes when he realizes that he's been sleeping nearly flat on his face, his (thankfully) boxer-hidden ass angled up into the air. Then a quick glance at the all-too-familiar CL4P-TP unit flares his headache into a searing jolt and the night before begins coming back in small chunks.

Well, whatever memories haven't been completely blacked out by the alcohol.

"Fuck you, Rhys," Timothy growls, flopping down and huffing into his drool anointed pillow. A disconcerting sense of deja-vu tingles up his spine; some forgotten college night that his brain is failing to remember. A small grin graces his light pink lips as he reminisces about the late night beer pong and bar crawling with buddies. It's not that he didn't care about his grades, or that he was particularly popular at all. No, coming from a dirt poor family like his, a college degree was imperative to achieve any degree of success (success here meaning not ending up on Pandora for the rest of his life). But when you've got depression, any artificial happiness is all too tempting.

Something he and Jack have in common.

"RIIIIIISE AND SHINE, SLEEPYHE-" the obnoxious robot screeches, cut off by last night's shoe bonking into its glowing cycloptic eye.

"I HEARD you the FIRST time, get the hell out of my room!" Tim snarls, snatching a water bottle off of his bedstand and winding up for another deadeye shot. His years on Pandora, abandoned and desperate, had forced his aim to improve. He could probably hit a flying rakk with a knife if it were life and death.

The robot obediently speeds out of the room and Tim yawns, smirking at the memory of Rhys' soft lips around his length. Rhys later urging him to take a few too many shots (though the ache in his head is screaming twenty too many), betting on whether or not Tim can maintain his aim with a tipsy game of darts. He also remembers Rhys refusing his drunken advances and dragging him to bed, trying to tell him something right before he passed out. Probably to not forget the operation, which he's almost done by allowing his eyes to slide back closed.

"Gotta move," he breathes, swinging his legs over the bed's edge and fumbling for the Anshin syringe Rhys had mercifully left on his bed table. Then he wobbles up, gritting his teeth in annoyance once he realizes that he doesn't have quite enough time for a shower. So it's extra deodorant, a half assed tooth brushing, and the first random business casual outfit he can find in his closet. He doesn't particularly like the style but it's what's expected of him now.

'What's the point a being rich if you don't show it???' Jack had always complained after catching him in a tee and simple pants.

....Jack.

With the name comes that uncomfortable fear settling deep in his gut. What if it went wrong, somehow? What if, in the brief instance that Jack is being downloaded into the endoskeleton, a freak accident finally ends the last remnant of Jack's existence?

The thought saddens Timothy more than he likes, so he busies himself with dressing and procuring some hair of the dog in his bare-bones kitchen.

As he hurries to the medical ward, he can feel the anticipation crackling through the corporate headquarters, apparent on every worker's face. The news must've leaked, somehow. 'Is Jack REALLY going to be Jack again?' they whisper, wondering if the doppelganger hurrying by is really Atlas' old nemesis-turned-leader.

Then fear joins that unnerving sadness. Will Jack kick him out once he has his new body? Will he suddenly cut off all possible connection to Rhys?

Worst comes to worst, there's still Janey.

The medical ward is on lockdown when he arrives, on account of the high profile patient. When he finally gets through he's jostled by frantic nurses transporting tangled computer equipment; it takes him an embarrassingly long amount of time to find the central operating room. The walls are just reinforced glass windows, allowing a full view of the room. Rhys is already there, his back to Timothy as he leans over the half-deconstructed android lying on the table. Jack's chest cavity has been carefully undone, grotesque now with all those wires and tubes connecting him to Atlas' network. Timothy opens his ECHOlink and checks the signal; it's gone.

So ALL of Atlas is on lockdown, then. Not surprising, since everyone knows the CEO of Maliwan would likely cut off his own legs with a rusty butter knife to unlock Atlas' secrets. All of which are safely nestled in Jack's data drive.

Not so safely, perhaps.

Tim slowly makes his way to the bottlenecked line of nurses, patiently waiting as Rhys is notified of his presence. The cyborg waves him inside and the guards let him through, promptly slamming the doors closed and resuming their scans of the nurses.

"Hey," Rhys whispers, giving Tim a nervous smile. Jack's foot twitches, then his signature green eyes are meeting Tim's. That's when the body double sees the wires protruding from Jack's open cranium, and somehow the moving hardware makes Tim feel just as sick as if he were looking at a human brain.

"Sorry, we didn't save you any cake," Jack snorts, grumbling when a doctor pushes him back down by the shoulders.

"I'd probably just blow chunks anyway," Timothy returns, glancing over at the Jack-shaped form on the adjacent table, hidden by a white sheet. Even more nausea claws at his mind as he wonders if the clone were ever conscious. Alive, breathing.

Terrified.

Rhys follows his glances and reaches out a sympathetic hand, gently rubbing Tim's elbow.

"The body never thought anything. They grew it without a forebrain. It's not like a brain is needed for an endoskeleton."

"Speaking of fores, wonder if it's got a foreskin?" Jack muses out of nowhere, eliciting a chuckle from the eavesdropping doctor.

"It's precisely what you requested, sir, just the same as your original body," the doctor replies, neither confirming or denying it to save Timothy from an unwanted mental image. Contrary to public opinion, Tim has never seen Jack's organic body nude, plus doubles weren't required to change their genitals to match his.

Rhys rolls his eyes and leans down to plant a kiss on the onyx chin, as delicately as possible. Tim's used to third wheeling, but the sensation of being entirely unnecessary is painfully awkward now. He's about to attempt small talk when his eye catches dark movement in his peripherals, turning his head only to stare in shock.

"Is that...Zer0?"

"Yeah, they've worked for us off and on for security," Rhys shrugs, to which Tim scoffs.

"How come I never knew that???"

"Easy kids, no fighting while daddy's about to be ripped out of his own body," Jack snaps, giving the both of them a sweeping pouty glare.

"I thought they were a Vault Hunter though?" Tim insists, uneasy about this new discovery. "Why hire a Vault Hunter of his...amazingness...just to be a bodyguard?"

Rhys gives him an exasperated glance and gestures over to Zer0, waving him towards the trio just as a doctor pulls back the sheet on the clone's head. It's breathing, kept alive by a machine as it awaits implantation. Timothy would stare, but within seconds a lithe suited body is standing next to him, and the shiny mask is giving him a chilling once-over.

"Hello, not-Jack man
I think we have met before,
But I am not sure," the assassin greets, kindly overlooking the doppelganger's shocked stutters.

"Um n-no, I mean yeah I think I saw you like once, I dunno, maybe?" Tim returns, every cell in his body cringing in embarrassment as Zer0 turns to Rhys and delivers a small nod.

"I must tell you something
There has been a brief sighting
Of a Maliwan ship, sir."

Rhys's face goes grim, his jaw clenching and hand tightening on Jack's shoulder.

"Where?"

"The city limits," Zer0 replies, nudging Jack's foot in curiosity as he awaits direction.

"Did you tell anyone about the operation? Because it looked like everyone knew when I was on my way here," Timothy inserts, eliciting a sudden jolt from Jack.

"You said it was SAFE, Rhys," he hisses, software vitals spiking and catching the attention of a nearby nurse.

"It IS; everything's on lockdown. No echo calls, no nothing since 12 am last night. It'll be fine," Rhys reassures, returning his attention to the doctor currently running a final diagnostic on the body. "Can we hurry this up? Sensitive material is involved."

"Of course, sir. Let me just make the final connections and we can proceed."

Tim gnaws his lip and frowns, glancing at Rhys's back. So much time spent around Jack has forever made him paranoid of ulterior motives, and he can't help but wonder if there are still secrets being kept from him. It's not that he doesn't trust Rhys.

He just knows how persuasive Jack can be.

"Um, ow?" Jack grits out when a jolt of electricity rushes into him just after the first main connection is secured. Then comes the second, and the third port entries. Jack is silent through the entire process, staring directly up into the ceiling and only moving when the doctor makes the final call for a pathway diagnostic check.

"Hey Rhysie...if this doesn't work, you know I uh - I love you, right?"

"Of course I do, Jack. I love you too," Rhys whispers in reply, leaning in for a last kiss before the nurse asks him to step away so as to not interfere with the process.

Rhys turns and meets Tim's eyes for a split second, only to drop them as tears begin to well up. Timothy himself isn't exactly in the best emotional state after hearing that exchange, but dejection fights with the urge to wrap an arm around his business partner for comfort.

Eventually, as always, his softer side wins the battle.

"He'll be okay, Rhys," Tim soothes, slipping his arm around Rhys's waist and gently pulling him closer, chest twinging when the cyborg gives him a watery smile.

"It means so much to me that you showed up for this."

"Downloading in 10...9...8..."

Jack's still silent but now his fists are clenched in the sheets and his eyes keep darting over towards them, terror evident as the doctor continues to count down. Timothy feels lost, balancing fear and jealousy on a mental tightrope as Rhys's organic fingers dig into his forearm.

"...3...2...1...connect."

Two things happen in the following seconds: the android body arcs up off the table and begins to seize, while the clone begins letting out garbled screams and attempts to sit up, half flailing and half fighting the nurses standing over him.

"What's HAPPENING???" Rhys cries, ripping away from Tim to get closer to the scene.

The doctor's composure is still solid as he watches the live sync on his ECHOpad, only half paying attention to Rhys.

"This is normal for the process sir, the endoskeleton must synchronize with the android for a successful transfer. He should stop moving right about....now."

Just like that, both bodies fall back against their respective tables and silence resumes, broken only by the soft sound of Rhys's hyperventilation. Tim steps forward to take his hand, careful not to invade the brunette's space and instead gently rubbing the soft skin of his knuckles.

"Hmmmnhhh...."

"Jack!" Rhys cries, practically leaping away from Tim to run to the clone's - well, Jack's - side. The nurses are busy unhooking transfer wires and inserting IVs but that doesn't stop Rhys from muscling his way in, peering down at the familiar face with both excitement and trepidation. Tim can't help but join Rhys in looking as the doctor moves forward, pulling a light out of his pocket and lifting one of Jack's eyelids up to check his pupils.

"F-fuck...hurts....," Jack croaks, and the doctor gleefully claps in giddy excitement.

"Perfect! Can you hear me, Jack? Can you tell me who that man is? The redhead?"

Tim blinks as unfocused heterochromatic eyes crack open to squint at him, confusion flitting across Jack's face before finally giving way to understanding.

"T-timothy," he whispers, swallowing hard as a nurse moves to hydrate his throat and mouth with a dental suction tube.

"It's a success! Now we just have to wait for him to recuperate; but absolutely no sex for a week. Some areas of the clone body are still inflamed and will need healing time but I think he should be fine to sleep in his own room tonight...."

The doctor drones on to a tearful and joyful Rhys listens attentively, but the instructions are lost on Tim. Anxiety is slithering up his spine like a chilled viper, giving him no respite from that one constant worry.

What if Jack really does fire him now?

"Hey, Tim...thanks. For coming." Jack says, voice clearing up now that the water has soothed his throat. Tim looks down at him and attempts a weak grin, forcing it to widen when Rhys turns to pull him into a tight embrace.

"I'm sure you're still exhausted after last night, it's okay if you need to go catch up on sleep."

"Yeahhhh...kinda feels like my brains got smashed out then smooshed back into my skull, but y'know, nothing I'm not used to!" Tim jokes in his mock cheerfulness, moving towards the door and glancing at Zer0 on his way out. The masked assassin only cocks their head in return, waiting for him to pass before focusing their attention back on the duo they're charged with protecting.

As soon as he's out the door Tim hurries, having to pause every few moments to keep from hurling the measly contents of his stomach and redecorating the pristine white floors. Surprisingly, relief is more dominant than anxiety right now. Jack had addressed him directly and made sure to make him feel welcome, so maybe...he really is just being paranoid.

Or, Jack is only doing it for Rhys.

"Fuck my liiiiiife," Tim sighs, slamming his bedroom door closed and kicking off his shoes. He doesn't even bother to undress before collapsing face-down into the unmade, comfy bed, refusing to worry anymore until he's had adequate rest. And just like that, he's out, slipping into the only peace he ever really gets from the stress.

 

 

Unfortunately, that peace was to be short lived.

Tim is woken up by an alarm of a different sort this time: the wailing klaxons of a city defense breach, quickly followed by the deafening and bone-rattling noise of a nearby explosion.

"What the FUCK?" he gasps, gaping at the fiery scene outside his window and accidentally falling out of bed. He lands on his shoulder just as his bedroom door slams open and an unbothered voice pulls him out of the shock.

"Rhys has ordered me
To escort you to a ship.
We must leave at once."

"But-but what's going ON? It's Maliwan, right? What do they want????"

Zer0 regards the panicked doppelganger for a second before reaching out to snatch him back up on his feet, giving him no time to prepare before he's being dragged out the door.

"Jack."

Chapter Text

Tim still doesn't feel quite awake, the severity of the situation keeping him suspended in a shocked limbo reminiscent of his nightmares after Helios fell. Zer0 calmly leads him through the building and then out onto the streets, a 7' 6" wall of fearless, impenetrable sword and flesh. Tim fumbles with his handgun, out of practice when it comes to life and death situations.

"Stay behind me, sir/
The whole planet is under/
Evacuation."

"It's that bad??" Tim gasps, struggling to keep up with the assassin's punishing pace.

"Maliwan is not/
Playing, Tim. Katagawa/
Desires to kill us."

"Ok, b-but why is Rhys making me leave the planet? I can HELP, dammit!!"

"Too many questions/
Please just relax and trust me/
This is the plan, sir."

Tim obeys, not wanting to disrupt Zer0's concentration lest a Maliwan battalion catch them off guard. This street looks untouched as of yet, filled only with terrified civilians making their way to escape ships or pre-assigned wartime bunkers. Their scared faces remind him of Pandora; these people aren't used to mortal fear like those back on his home planet. That desperate background is likely the only thing standing between him and sheer panic.

Tim soon realizes their destination: the city square. For security purposes, none of them actually live in the square; instead, their apartments are at the very edge of the headquarter plaza. The central building is just one block away, and the noise is already defeaning. Maliwan dropships are swarming the skies, depositing their soldiers and leaving only to be replaced by two more seconds later.

"I thought you said we were going to a ship!" he screams over the explosions, and Zer0 nods.

"Yes, and we still are/
But we must pick up Jack first/
He cannot stay here."

Tim scowls; it seems his job description as a doppelganger-turned-Vault Hunter is still in effect. But he has little time to mourn the fact as Zer0 speeds up and heads straight for the main Atlas pinnacle. Rhys' personal bunker is situated directly underneath the imposing spire; there's an underground way out of the bunker but it must be blocked by Maliwan if Zer0's booking it so hard.

"H---lo? T-m, I......Jack with....hurry!!" Rhys' voice crackles through both of their ECHOcomms; Tim's heartrate spikes and the voice jolts through his initial shock to spark a new sense of urgency.

He can't lose Rhys. Anyone but Rhys.

"GET THE FUCK DOWN!" an Atlas soldier screams, grabbing Tim's hand and yanking the distracted man down to the ground just in time. An irradiated cluster grenade goes off right above them, throwing Zer0's slim form across the square like a child's rag doll. But the suited Vault Hunter bounces right back up, still glowing with the damage as they bolt towards the heavyweight that had attempted the direct hit.

"GO! GO! RUN!" the soldier urges, smacking his arm and shoving him in the direction of the headquarters. Timothy doesn't need any further encouragement. He snatches up a better gun, cursing the fact that he hadn't thought to grab any throwing knives, and runs, focusing only on each foot meeting the ground. He HAD remembered his shield at least. Thank the stars that he hadn't taken it off before crashing face-first back into bed.

"Come on, come onnnnnn," he pants as bullets ricochet off his shimmering force field, eyes narrowing when he sees the entrance to the building.

BAM.

A howitzer slams into him, shattering his protection and all but bursting his left eardrum before sending him flying towards his destination(much less gracefully than Zer0, unfortunately).

"FUCK!" he screams, slamming into a painfully solid figure, almost toppling them with his stocky body.

"Welcome to the hunt, little one," a deep robotic voice greets, pulling out an Anshin and quickly jabbing it into his neck.

"I-I think you knocked out my t-tooth," Timothy coughs, reaching up to feel the definite gap in the pristine upper row of his surgically-implanted teeth.

What Tim can only assume to be a Vault Hunter seems offended, the lone glowing eye staring down at him in slight disdain.

"Your own body knocked it out upon impact with my shoulder, thank you very much," the voice rumbles out. Then, before he can protest, a cold metal hand grabs Tim's collar and begins effortlessly dragging him behind Atlas' defensive line, as if the businessman were just a feather pillow.

"You ought to be more careful, recklessness will help nobody," the tall figure warns. "I will send my faithful pet, Mr. Chew, with you to keep you safe."

"O-okay, yeah, sure, thanks a bunch," Tim groans, standing up on what was most definitely a broken leg before the Anshin. A medium sized skag bounds into his field of vision and gives his boot a curious sniff, then the animal is trotting deeper into the headquarters as if it knows exactly where to go.

Tim follows the skag, weaving between the soldiers as they head out to the gravely imbalanced fight. A booming voice echoes out over the chaos and he instantly recognizes it as Katagawa. The man says something about murdering his siblings; Timothy isn't surprised. Katagawa was like Jack: only money and power mattered, and if he couldn't get it, death was preferable.

And Tim would make damn sure that the bastard got what he deserved.

Tim skids into the elevator and nervously mashes the button, sweat dripping down into his eyes and down the back of his neck.

"This elevator is out of service, apologies for the inconvenience," a pleasant feminine voice informs him; he punches the button in rage.

"DAMN YOU RHYS," he yells, hopping over the waiting skag and skipping down the stairs, trying his best not to go flying and take out the rest of his teeth.

"Nearly there," he encourages himself, pulling ahead of the animal just as a massive explosion echoes through the high-ceilinged stairwell. Smoke billows up into the passageway, choking him and forcing him to duck down. He trips, flailing past Mr. Chew and rolling out into the room, scrambling to sit up just as an all too familiar figure locks eyes with him.

"Well, well, well, look what the skags dragged in," Katagawa drawls, smirking and pausing his task of cutting through the bunker door. "No wonder Rhys keeps you around, you're a CUTIE, Timmyboy!"

Tim freezes, muscles locking up and breath coming in short gasps. The rival CEO turns from the door, placing a manicured hand on his slim hip and sauntering over to the doppelganger.

"I gotta say, I'm jealous. What does Rhys see in YOU that he doesn't see in ME? I'm rich, for fuck's sake," he sighs, tapping Tim's boot with the glowing hot sword. The material bubbles and melts, forcing Tim to scoot backwards. His mind races; Zer0 is preoccupied and Lorelei is nowhere to be seen.

This all rests on him now.

"Timmyboy?" Tim replies, cocking a brow and trying his best to look self confident. "I'm Jack."

Katagawa giggles, rolling his eyes and shaking his head.

"Uh-huh, sure, listen I'm not stupid and I've got spies everywhere, Jack isn't the one with red hair."

"I dyed it," Tim lies, shrugging his shoulders and giving the other man a nonchalant grin. "You really think we wouldn't take extra measures to protect me from you? Dumbass," he snorts, fear invading his mind when he realizes the ruse is working.

Katagawa squints, suddenly looking unsure. He pulls out a pair of cuffs and snaps them around Tim's wrists, linking them to his belt through a glowing ion bond.

"In that case, you're not going anywhere, prettyboy," he hisses, turning back around and resuming his work on the bunker door.

"Like fuck I'm not."

Tim snarls and lunges for the smaller man, hooking his cuffs over his throat and attempting to strangle him, straining as Katagawa thrashes and chokes. He throws all of his weight behind it, eventually tipping them backwards and gaining more traction. He snaps the skinny neck and lets out a triumphant sigh; now, time to get Rhys.

But before he can turn around, something collides with the back of his head and darkness threatens to swallow him whole. He twists around and blinks, utter confusion distorting his angular features.

"K-katagawa?" he whispers, disbelief overtaking any other thoughts as he stares back at the same man he'd just murdered.

"Surpriiiiiiise! It's called cloning, dipshit."

He raises the gun to hit Tim again but before he can, another voice joins the conversation.

"Don't. Fuckin'. Move."

Lorelei is standing in the rubble of the blown-out wall, a shotgun trained on the Maliwan executive.

"Move and your guts'll be that skag's dinna," she growls, and Tim takes the chance to jump back up to his feet. "I've sent you a ship location on your ECHO, get to it and just leave, they're overtaking us on every front. Zer0'll get Rhys 'n Jack," she says, glancing at Tim.

So Tim runs once again, blocking out his surroundings and trying not to think of anything else except getting to the ship. If he thinks about Rhys, he'll panic, so he doesn't. And if he thinks about the fact that Maliwan thinks he might be Jack now, he'll panic, so he doesn't.

He reaches the ship in just three minutes, taking an alleyway and realizing that Mr. Chew had left to rejoin his master. Timothy's all alone now, and on top of that he has no idea where to go.

Maybe...Janey. He cringes at the thought of putting them in danger, but there's no other safe place he can think of. Eden-6 is a viable option, but Wainwright and Hammerlock have already been struggling with Aurelia and her betrayal.

"Janey it is," he sighs, slumping back in the pilot seat. He dare not try to call her, since Maliwan is definitely tracking any and every ECHO call.

Worse yet, he dare not try to call Rhys.

The hot tears come faster than he can stop them, and why would he? He's all alone, and with Atlas struggling, there's nobody to keep Maliwan in check. Nobody could match their tech except Atlas. Until tonight, anyway.

"Rhys," he sobs, pulling off his bloodied jacket and clinging tightly to it as the shuttle takes off. The beseiged city falls away beneath him; soon the explosions are just fireworks in the atmosphere of the city planet.

There's no time for weakness. Only war.

Chapter Text

"Rhys? Jack? Can you hear me?"

It must be the hundredth time that Tim has tried to ECHO, but just like the other ninety-nine times there's no answer. Only static. Either Katagawa's cut off all frequencies going in and out of Promethea, or Rhys manually cut Tim off to avoid someone tracking their calls.

Surely Katagawa would try his best to intercept any calls, so it must've been Rhys.

"Dammit," Tim sighs, staring down at the flashy ECHO clutched in his bloody, unwashed hands. Jack, being the vainest of the trio, had insisted that they all get gold-encrusted ECHOs. Tim hadn't liked the idea at the time and now he REALLY doesn't like it. Dressed as he is, he may as well pin a target to his ass and bend over.

Speaking of targets, this face isn't going to do him any favors on Elpis of all places.

Jack's had his share of impressive death threats, ranging anywhere from death by a million needles to being castrated and forced to slowly bleed out while eating his own flambéd nads (complete with crunchy ballsack). Needless to say, none of those exquisite options are very tempting for Tim. So he tosses down the ECHO and rips his vest off, thankful that he's only in his street clothes. But they're still too fancy for him to skate under the radar. Maybe he could make for one of Moxxi's bars. Rhys has mentioned her a couple times as far as business goes; Tim remembers her business deal with Atlas. But then she'd learned of Jack's return and withdrawn her investments.

Maybe she'd still be up for helping him, just this once, so he doesn't look as conspicuous going to Janey's shop?

Tim stands, wandering aimlessly over to the shuttle window and studying the lights of Concordia against the glow of Elpis' ever-dark sky. Last time he was here he was down and out, and it looks like now isn't going to be any different either.

"Fuckin' hate this place," he grumbles, not bothering to check his appearance. The rougher he looks, the better, as far as he's concerned. He cocks his gun and keeps it out. It may not help him in the long run but at least it'll scare off any horny ruffians looking for an unarmed piece of unwilling ass. The digis can take care of any other threat that decides to bother him.

His first step off the shuttle is frigid, he'd forgotten how cold it is up here compared to Pandora itself. He can practically feel his balls shrinking up closer against his body, desperate for warmth as he starts to power walk towards the city's entryway.

"Whooooaaaaa! Where do you think YOU'RE going, mister?" an all too familiar voice yells.

"I've got a business meeting. Look, I've got a clearance license," Tim hisses, whipping out his wallet and shoving the sleek card into the bot's singular eyeball. "Now fuck off, I'm in a hurry."

"Not so fast, miscreant! You just violated the Verbal Space-"

BLAM.

"I said I don't have time for this."

The elemental bullet sends the claptrap unit flailing down to the ground, falling silent as Tim snatches its security card and lets himself in. A tiny pang of pity twists in his chest; he's always hated the claptraps, but he's never actually destroyed one. Either way it doesn't matter now, the smoking bot quickly gone from his frantic mind as he careens through the hallways and bursts into Nina's clinic. Her familiar head bobs up from behind the curtain and her brows shoot up once she recognizes him.

"Back again? Did you at least bring flowers for Nina?" she cackles, frowning when he skips the decontamination and veers towards the doorway. "Hey! You breaking da rules!"

"It's an emergency!" Tim yells, immediately regretting it when every face in the vicinity turns towards him. He ducks back into her clinic and looks for the first thing he could use to cover his face. His eyes fall on a dirty, most likely flea-infested hoodie, and to him it's a lifesaver. Struggling, he finally squeezes it down over his softened abs. He still insists on calling them abs even though any definition has long been run off by the morning donuts Rhys always pampered him with. Nina watches him and shakes her head, not even bothering to stop him.

"Strange man," she mutters, catching a moody glare as he pulls the hood up and shrinks down into its shadow.

This time he scurries, keeping his head down and making a beeline for Moxxi's. It's just like he remembered it; maybe a bit more spruced up now that she's expanded to more lucrative territories. He climbs the stairs and pauses when he reaches the top. The inside is much bigger than before, about four times the size. At least the excess of customers might help hide him better than he'd hoped.

Sliding the gun into his pants, he tries his best to look casual and saunters up to the counter. A claptrap is to his right getting high off of...whatever robots can get high with. And a musky woman is passed out in the seat to his left, drooling all over her own arm and the counter.

"Can I help you?"

Tim doesn't recognize the voice so he can't stop himself from turning before it's too late. He freezes, staring into the stoney face and its beautiful piercing eyes. Yeah, he's definitely seen some pictures of this one.

"......A-athena?" he stutters, eyes widening with shock as hers narrow with hatred. "I-I....I was just...stopping here-"

"-before you came and tried to take advantage of Janey's soft side?" she finishes, her voice deadly. He really wouldn't be surprised if she dragged him out back and offed him execution-style; lodging a bullet between his eyes just like he'd done to that poor robot just minutes ago.

"Athena, please-"

"Shut up and go in the back. I'll be right there."

Tim lowers his head and obeys, slipping off the seat and walking through the door to where he remembers Moxxi's private break area was. It seems to be an employee area now, devoid of the smell of motor oil and fried circuits. The door slams behind him and he can barely brace himself before Athena slams into him, crushing him against the lockers. She may be smaller than him but she's total granite, still a Vault Hunter compared to his cushy businessman.

"Why shouldn't I kill you right now, huh? How do I even know you're not actually Jack?"

"You know I wouldn't come to you unless it were an emergency, and I promise I'll leave soon. I'm so sorry, I really just have nowhere else to go," he babbles, wincing as her elbow drills into his spine. "Katagawa took over Prometh-"

"I already know that, asshole," she spits, eliciting a yelp by yanking him away from the lockers and shoving him flat on his ass. "Katagawa's also announced that you got away and there's a bounty on your head. A really big one. One that could set Janey and I up quite nicely."

He blinks up at her, processing the threat. "....please. Please don't. He'll kill me, to make Rhys talk. I-"

"What's goin' on?"

Janey's voice rings through the room and Tim sobs, finally cracking under all the pressure. Athena scoffs and crosses her arms, face set into a grim sneer. "This bastard thinks we're helping him."

"We are," Janey asserts, moving into the room and jabbing Athena in the chest. "He's a good man, he's done his share of work for me. I owe him."

"You don't owe him your fucking life, Janey!" Athena yells. Janey flinches, pausing to stare at her partner. Tim guesses that the assassin-turned-bar owner isn't normally one for losing her temper. "Or MY life! What the hell were you thinking, inviting him here???"

"Atlas gave us an investment when we needed it. Rhys helped us," Janey softly reminds her girlfriend. "You got to stop risking your life because he and Moxxi gave you this bar when nobody else would hire you because of your past."

Athena rolls her eyes, then shakes her head. "But he works with JACK! He stayed with him through everything! Hell, he probably IS Jack anyway. He always was a coward."

Janey shrugs, walking over to Timothy. "I know a good person when I see 'em. We're helping him at least for the night, and that's final."

"Thank you, thank you so-"

"Watch your back, because if anyone comes for you we're handing you over," Athena warns, storming over to the door and slamming it closed behind her on the way out. Janey sighs, rubbing Tim's forearms and squeezing him into a tight hug.

"Sorry 'bout that. Now let's go getcha cleaned up, shall we?"

"Don't be sorry, she's just trying to protect you," Tim whispers, rubbing at his eyes in shame and trying not to burst into a fresh fit at the thought that Rhys might be dead.

Or worse.

"Yeah, she's quite the guard dog," Janey jokes, her usual cheerful self as she leads him down to her shop. "So how's Rhys these days? Er....despite all this war stuff?"

"I um...I don't know where he is, so. Bad. I guess?"

Janey winces, looking apologetic. "Sorry, I'm not really the best at small talk. I'm sorry all this is happening to you, Tim. I lost my family in the Crackening so I really do get grief, ya know?"

They're in her shop now, Tim waiting as she closes the doors and shoos out her employees, promising them full hours despite sending them home early. Then she's leading him over to her workspace, sitting him down in a chair and brewing him a cup of coffee.

"Start from the beginning," she suggests as the machine splutters. The familiar smell forces memories of mornings in the apartment back into the forefront of his mind. He has to physically shake his head to banish them; hands sliding up to his temples and supporting the weight of his head.

Then he downloads, starting quite literally from the beginning. Jack tracking him down on Eden-6, dragging him away from his (rather successful) career in pornographic theater. Meeting Rhys, being put to work in the company and as Jack's...stand-in. The fall into comfortable domesticity. The feelings for Rhys. And now the war with Katagawa.

"You're in pretty deep," she softly observes. "Listen, nobody here likes that Katagawa family. That son of theirs has forced our taxes to skyrocket and he takes our resources, only paying us half their worth. But he's not occupying us yet, thankfully. Probably thinks we're worthless. And he's not wrong." She sips her coffee and leans forward. "Athena's just being dramatic, I'm sure you could lay low here for a while. It's safer than any urban planet, at any rate."

Tim nods, slipping shaking fingers around his steaming mug. Janey giggles and he glances back up, confusion etched into his remarkably handsome features.

"Just...Handsome Jack? In THERAPY?" she laughs, and Tim can't help but join in.

"Right? I'm surprised he didn't strangle the therapist. But I know he only did it for Rhys. He's really good at acting. Rhys was - IS - his last chance at maintaining his former lifestyle. And...I think he does love him. Whatever love can exist in that heart of his. Maybe therapy did do something good for him."

Janey shrugs and downs the last of her own coffee, watching Tim take his first sip. "Well, the galaxy's a weird place. I'm sure crazier things have happened."

Tim concurs, clearing his throat when the warmth of the room and the friendly company almost makes his bloodshot eyes slide shut.

"Why don't we getcha a room? We rent out some condo rooms in the back, you can have one while you're here."

"Yeah, sure. Thanks, again," he says, sliding the chair back and bringing the coffee with him. He can have it tomorrow at least. In this situation, he has to try his hardest to use as little of their kindness as possible. Just being here is asking too much as it is.

"Here ya go! Just leave your clothes on the bed and I'll wash them for ya while you're in the shower. There's a robe in the bathroom; I'm sure I can scare up some different clothes while I'm waiting for these to wash."

Then she's gone, clicking the door shut behind her and leaving him to his own devices. He stands, lost in time and space as his mind swirls with fear and shock. Almost robotic in his movements, he peels the sweatied and bloodied clothes off, desperate for a hot shower. He can lie in bed and cry all he wants after that, but if his life has taught him anything it's that if you don't keep moving, you're dead.

He shuffles into the shower and turns on the water. Not even waiting for it to warm up, he steps in, gasping as the cold water pierces his senses. The sensation wakes him up more than any cup of coffee could right now, allowing him to focus on one thing at a time. Shampoo, then rinse. He scrubs at his skin until he's sure all of the blood is off, then he scrubs some more. He scrubs until his skin is raw and fresh blood starts running down with the water. No matter how hard he scrubs, he just can't get rid of the terror. He can't get rid of the sound of Rhys' panicked voice calling for him over the ECHO.

A sob wracks his body and he doubles over, dropping the washcloth and nearly collapsing as he allows himself to lose it. He curls up in the bottom and lets the water beat down onto him, crying and crying until the tears just stop coming out. When he finally sits up he's used up all the hot water and his head is pounding, a migraine flaring up every time he tries to glance towards the lights. Despite the pain he's a bit more ready to face the world now, as ready as he could be in these circumstances. He steps out and sloppily dries himself, wincing when the towel comes away tinged red and pink from his wounds.

Back in the room, a stack of new clothes is laid out on the bed. There's also Anshin syringes and bandages, bless Janey's soul. He immediately takes one of the Anshins and sighs when the migraine sinks into nonexistence. Now all he needs is some alcohol to really knock him out so he can get some sleep.

A blip breaks his concentration and after a moment of confusion he dashes over to his ECHO. There's a new typed message, from Lorelei.

"This is sent from a secure location. Rhys is okay. But we lost Jack. We think the doctor was in on it, the one that did the transfer. Stay where you are, it's too dangerous to make any moves. Katagawa's eyes are everywhere. Stay safe, I'll keep in touch."

Tim breathes a sigh of relief, flopping and sinking back into the mattress. But just as soon as the relief hits, so does worry for Jack. Where is he? If Katagawa's still going after Rhys, he must not have Jack. Unless the sick fuck wants Rhys too, which Tim wouldn't doubt. Katagawa had always been creepy with Rhys.

KNOCK KNOCK.

"Tim? I know you're in there, it's me."

Tim sits bolt upright, staring at the door as if it just turned into a kraggon.

"I'm not waiting around out here for Athena to scalp me, kiddo. Open the goddamn fucking door. NOW."

Tim's jaw goes slack. He obeys, walking over and pulling open the door, expecting a smack or punch from the tone of Jack's voice. But instead, as soon as the door's open Jack lunges forward to squeeze Tim in a rib-straining embrace. He looks even worse than Tim: his nose is several shades of broken, his left arm is hanging limp, and he's sporting more than a couple bullet holes.

"Fuck, fuck, Tim I abandoned Rhys, I just LEFT him, I ran and-and I didn't stop, he told me to but I shouldn't have, oh god what if he's dead, Tim, what if I let him die??"

"JACK!" Tim yells, giving him a firm shake. "Rhys is okay, Lorelei told me."

"And you trust that it was Lorelei?" Jack growls, snapping out of the panic and clutching tightly to Tim's robe for support as the other man lowers him down to the bed.

"Atlas is gone. Just fuckin' gone. They blew it off the damn map looking for me. I grabbed that android, uh me, I mean, you know what I mean, to make sure they didn't get it. I just...couldn't bring myself to destroy him. It. But Rhys...god if he died...I don't trust that message for one goddamn second."

Jack trails off and Tim gingerly sits next to him, still completely weirded out at Jack being JACK again. Fully (or mostly) human.

Just like the good old days.

"How'd you find me?" Tim asks, guessing the answer before he even gets it all the way out.

Jack turns and gives him a bloody smirk, reaching up to tap a finger against Tim's identical forehead. "That little bomb. I mean, I took the bomb out, I really did, but now you got a tracker in there. Really dangerous or really useful, and thankfully in your case it was really useful. You know too much to get off without some insurance on my part."

Tim nods. He'd assumed as much. Jack's too smart to give him free range.

"Anyways, we're leaving tomorrow."

Tim blinks, blindsided by the news. "But...Lorelei said-"

"That Maliwan PRICK isn't getting away with this. I've got...resources. He'll pay, and sooner than he thinks."

"Jack, we NEED to lay low for a bit, going right out into it isn't safe-"

"C'mon, where's the brave Vault Hunter gone?" Jack teases, poking Tim in the cheek and surprisingly not getting angry at the belligerence. Tim drops his eyes and blushes, unable to decide whether the gaze meeting his is actually flirtatious or if he's just imagining it.

"Jack-"

"Fine. We leave the day after tomorrow. Happy now?" Jack relents, tossing his good hand up in the air and yelping when he strains something he shouldn't have.

"How are you even still conscious?" Tim muses, moving to help Jack pull off his outer jacket.

"Cocaine." Jack chuckles, cursing as his broken arm is maneuvered out of the clothing. "Nah, this body's really fucking durable. I'd be dead if I weren't half robot."

Tim smiles, most of his fear gone without him even realizing it. Jack's here now, the man who's been beyond death and back. If anyone can do this, it's him.

But that's just it. Jack could've gone straight on to what he was going to do. He doesn't need Timothy. He just needs some Anshins and guns. He definitely has contract assassins that'll come to his aid.

The word "decoy" comes to mind so Tim quickly banishes the thought, focusing on administering Anshin after Anshin to the wounded man laying across his lap. Whatever the reason, this is happening.

Overthinking breeds distraction. Distraction is the enemy of productivity. And they'll need all the productivity they can get from here on out.