That night, Zane dreamt of Tim’s death.
In his dream, Timothy screamed for him, his veins glowing a bright purple color. He reached out, begging for Zane to save him, but Zane couldn’t move.
“Don’t forget me again,” Tim pleaded, his body giving the telltale jerk before his convulsions started up. “Zane, please! Help me! Help me!”
Zane couldn’t move, couldn’t speak. He just watched Tim suffer. Watched as Tim’s veins glowed brighter and brighter until it hurt his eyes and he had to look away.
And when he looked back, Timothy laid there, eyes open and staring blankly at Zane. Blood trickled out of his mouth. His chest didn’t rise and fall.
Zane jerked upright in his bed, breathing heavily. The sheets were tangled around him in a way that told him he’d been shifting restlessly.
He looked over, his face paling. His room was empty. Tim wasn’t in it.
“Timothy?” he called. No answer.
He managed to kick the sheets off and got up, striding for the door. He was moving so fast that when the door opened, he didn’t have time to stop, and instead crashed right into Timothy, sending him to the ground.
Tim winced as he hit the ground, the water bottle in his hand hitting the ground and spilling everywhere. He hastily grabbed it, only to drop it again with a soft curse.
Zane didn’t even care that the water was spilling onto his shoes. He was just damn relieved to see Tim alive and walking around.
“Sorry, boyo,” he managed, trying to keep the shake from his voice. “Didn’t mean to knock you on your arse like that.”
Tim frowned up at him. “Zane? Are you okay? What’s wrong?”
“Nothing. Just woke up,” Zane said.
“That’s bullshit. Something’s wrong,” Tim said. “What happened? Are you okay?”
Zane held a hand out to Tim to help him up. Tim grabbed his hand, but his grip was clumsy, and Zane frowned as he hauled Tim upright.
Tim hastily pulled his hand away. “C’mon, old man, tell me what happened already.”
“Old man! You could be older than me for all we know,” Zane scoffed. “Telling me ‘Oh Zane I forgot me age’ just to cover for the fact that you’re old yourself.”
“I’m like...in my early 30s. I think. Probably,” Tim said, narrowing his eyes. “And you’re avoiding the question.”
“Nothing’s wrong, lad. Just had a bit of a bad dream,” Zane said.
Tim’s shoulders slumped the slightest. “It was about me, wasn’t it? You were leaving to come find me.”
“Had an awful dream some overdramatic kid got himself into trouble,” Zane said, trying to play it off with a grin. “Should be used to that by now, though.” But then Zane frowned and reached out, grabbing Tim’s hand.
Tim tried to pull it away, looking alarmed. Zane dug his nails into Tim’s hand, but Tim didn’t even seem to notice. Zane dug his nails in until Tim’s palm bled lightly, but he was too focused on trying to pull his hand away, and didn’t even react to the pain.
“It’s numb,” he said. “You have no feeling in your hands.”
“It happens sometimes. It always comes back,” Tim said.
“You didn’t tell me about that before,” Zane said.
“Because it’s not a problem!” Tim finally yanked his hand away. “It’s fine. I’m fine.”
“You’re-” Zane started.
“Stop,” Tim said, angry and desperate. “Please, stop. You worry enough. The feeling will come back after a bit. You don’t need to worry about me, Zane. I’m fine.”
He’d never be fine, though. Tannis had used his hands to draw out the Eridium. Had she damaged them on accident by doing that?
It was a small price to pay for saving his life. But it was still just more damage he had to endure.
“Tannis should look at your hands,” Zane said at last.
“She doesn’t need to. There’s nothing she can do to help,” Tim said. “Don’t worry about it.”
“Fat chance of that,” Zane muttered. “Fine, fine. For now. I’m going to check in with Lilith and see if the others have found anything. I’ll grab us some food on my way back.”
Tim abandoned his water bottle and instead sat at Zane’s desk. “Sure. Uh, grab me another drink on your way back too?”
“Pain in the arse,” Zane said.
“Hey, you’re the one who couldn’t watch where he was going,” Tim said.
Zane left the room and made his way right to Tannis. Like hell he wasn’t going to worry.
“Tannis,” Zane said as he entered medical. “When you got the Eridium out through his hands, is it possible you damaged them?”
“I was surprised he hadn’t complained about them, to be honest. I figured all the Eridium would’ve caused damage. I wouldn’t have been surprised if he permanently lost feeling in them,” Tannis said.
“They were just so numb he couldn’t pick up a water bottle and didn’t feel pain in them,” Zane said.
“That could become permanent,” Tannis said. “That is a condition we may be able to fix surgically. It’s a long shot, but probably the only thing that can be reversed out of his damage.”
“Ah, hell, he’s a pain,” Zane said. “Let me guess, the longer it goes untreated, the less likely surgery is to work?”
“Precisely,” Tannis said.
“He better hope his head goes numb next, because I’m going to punch him in it and hope it gets his brain settled,” Zane said. “This has probably been happening since you did that procedure, and he’s been hiding it.”
Still, Zane already knew Tim would refuse surgery until this was over, if he’d even let them operate on him at all. Being surgically altered, Zane was guessing Jack had forced him into surgeries to “perfect” him.
He wouldn’t push it for now. It would just stress Tim out, and Zane was still concerned about that headache he’d gotten. Best to just keep an eye on it and leave it be for now.
Still, there had to be something Zane could do. How much could Tim’s body shut down before he was better off dead?
Zane shuddered as he thought of his dream. He’d do whatever he could to repair the damage done to Tim.
“Tannis, Hyperion holds most of the research on Eridium, yea?” Zane said.
“Yes. Jack ran extensive testing at the Wildlife Exploitation Preserve,” she said. “Why?”
“Because that’s where I’m heading while we wait for the others to track down Aurelia,” Zane said. “We need that research if we want to have any hope at treating Timothy. I know a lot of that damage is permanent, but we might be able to find something to help him.”
“Hold on, Hyperion still controls it! There will be heavy security on that facility,” Tannis said.
“And that’s exactly why Aurelia wanted Timothy. His DNA can get us access,” Zane said. “If he gets me in, I can steal as much information as possible and bring it back here.”
“You just said his hands have no feeling. He won’t be able to shoot,” Tannis said.
“He doesn’t need to. He’ll wait outside, and he’s got his digi-Jacks to protect him. If I’m lucky, I can get in and out without being noticed. And if I’m not lucky, I’ll just kill the bastards,” Zane said.
“Zane, you’re putting him in danger,” Tannis said. She was normally so flippant about Tim’s condition that her sudden serious tone caught Zane off guard. “I told you he will not live a very long life. You’re shortening it by continuing to let him push himself like this.”
“This is important. It might be his only chance,” Zane said. “Besides, he won’t just sit any of this out. Lad’s stubborn as hell. He’s willing to die for this, Tannis. I won’t stop him, even if I don’t like it.”
“Then I hope his revenge is worth his loss to you. I do not believe he’ll be strong enough to survive another encounter with Aurelia. The first encounter weakened him significantly,” Tannis said.
Zane didn’t want to talk about this anymore. He couldn’t shake the image of Timothy from his dream.
He left medical, aware he was being childish by storming out on Tannis like that. But he couldn’t make that call for Tim.
Because if it was up to Zane, he would pull Timothy from the mission. He would stick Tim in medical to let Tannis operate on his hands and make him rest before he wore himself down anymore.
And he couldn’t do that to Tim. Tim might live longer, but it’d be a life of fear and anger. He’d never forgive Zane. And even worse, he’d likely never stop being haunted by the thoughts of what Aurelia and the COV had done to him.
Zane grabbed them food and returned to his room. He was unsurprised to find Tim slumped over the desk, asleep.
“Oi,” Zane said, shaking Tim’s shoulder. “Timothy, I got us food. C’mon lad, get up”
Tim slowly lifted his head, blinking up at Zane with tired eyes. His sluggish reaction worried Zane, since Tim usually reacted quickly and violently when woken.
But he just laid his head back down and held his hand out. “Water?”
Zane doubted he could actually grasp it. He uncapped it and set it on the desk, moving his equipment a safe distance away.
Tim had to shake his hands out a bit before reaching for the water bottle. His grip was a little better, but Zane could tell his hands still must be numb as he clumsily lifted the water bottle to his mouth to drink.
Zane sat on his desk. “I’ve got a mission for us. If you’re up for it.”
“Sure,” Tim said, setting the water down and stretching. “What this time?”
“The Wildlife Exploitation Preserve,” he said.
Fear hit Tim’s eyes and he tensed up. “What about it?”
“I want to break in,” Zane said. “Hyperion has Eridium research. If we got it, we could-”
“No.” Tim stood up. “I’m not helping you get in there.”
Tim seemed determined not to let Zane finish a sentence, his tone rough when he spoke. “I said no. You’re on your freaking own for that one, kiddo, and good luck without my DNA.”
“Doing it again,” Zane said, kicking Tim in the leg. “What’s gotten into you all of a sudden?”
“Nothing. But my answer is no.” He headed for the door. “I’m going down to the shooting range.”
Zane wanted to point out that he could barely hold a water bottle, much less shoot a gun. But he restrained himself and instead watched Tim storm out.
“How did I manage to feck that one up so bad?” he muttered to himself, hopping off the desk and leaving the room.
He went to Moxxi’s and signaled for a drink. He sure as hell needed it.
“What’s got you in a mood, sugar?” Moxxi said, handing him his usual.
“I pissed Timothy off, and I don’t even know how,” Zane said. “He went all Handsome Jack on me and then stormed off.”
“Oh? What happened?” Moxxi said.
“I told him I wanted to get into the Wildlife Exploitation Preserve. I need his DNA to do it, but I’m doing it to steal their Eridium research so we can save the boy,” Zane said. “I figured he wouldn’t want to go back there, but if it meant saving him, or even just extending his lifespan a bit…”
Moxxi let out a long sigh. “You’re as thickheaded as him.”
“Huh?” Zane stared at her in confusion.
“Point proven,” she said. “Zane, he cares about you, and he’s dying. My guess is that he doesn’t want either of you to get your hopes up.”
Zane opened his mouth, then slowly closed it as he thought that over. It made sense.
“Well, I’ve got a lad to knock some sense into,” Zane said, standing up and grabbing his drink. “That’s the dumbest shite I’ve ever heard, and I’m going to let him know it.”
Moxxi’s lips twitched into a reluctant smile. “You two are a disaster pair.”
“Aye, but we’re a disaster pair that’s going to steal Eridium research,” Zane said.
He left the bar and went down to the shooting range. He was unsurprised to find Tim standing there, no gun in his hands. Instead, he was just shaking his hands and cursing softly under his breath.
“Still numb, then?” Zane said.
Tim didn’t face him. “It’s fine. The feeling always comes back eventually.”
“Timothy, look at me,” Zane said.
Tim reluctantly faced him. Zane set his drink down and crossed his arms.
“Alright, boyo, neither of us are good at the whole sincere talking thing, so I’ll get to it. Are you against going to the Preserve because you think it’ll get our hopes up?” he said.
Tim’s expression gave him all the answer he needed. Tim looked away from him.
“Zane, I can feel it getting worse,” he said quietly. “I know I’m pushing myself. I know that. But I need to, and I know you understand that. I asked if you’d be okay when I died. You said no. What’s the point in making us both hope we can reverse this? It can’t be reversed. I’m going to die because of the Eridium, and nothing will change that.”
“So you just give up?” Zane demanded. “Just like that. You just quit on me. What happened to the kid begging me to keep dragging him along because he managed to move his legs a little? You’re being a coward right now, Timothy.”
“Because I’ve always been a coward!” Tim snapped. “This whole mess started because I was too scared to face my own damn nightmares. That’s why I took Eridium, Zane. I did it to myself. Jack wanted me hooked, but he didn’t force me to take it.”
“He manipulated you,” Zane said.
“And I let him. Angel warned me, and I didn’t care,” Tim said. “But it was...it was just supposed to be me. It wasn’t supposed to hurt anyone else. It wasn’t supposed to hurt you. I never meant to…”
“I’m going to that Preserve with or without you,” Zane said, but there was no anger in his voice now. “I’m doing it because I don’t want to live in this world without your overdramatic arse whining about this or that. I can live with getting my hopes up for nothing. I can’t live with knowing there was a chance to save you and not taking it.”
“Fine,” Tim said, looking exhausted. “I’ll go with you. If that’s what you want.”
“It’s why I asked ya, idiot,” Zane said, reaching out and shaking Tim’s shoulder a little. “Need me partner in crime, even if he can’t feel the epic high five I’ll give him when it’s all over.”
“God, you’re so lame,” Tim said, but he was fighting a smile.
“Bad humor is part of my charm,” Zane said. “Let’s go rob Hyperion. The others will let us know if they track down Aurelia.”
“I’m going in with you,” Tim said. Before Zane could argue, he added, “You need me to. I can get you into the secure rooms the systems you need to access will be in. If you want my help, that’s the price you pay.”
“Ah, hell, I didn’t think of that,” Zane groaned.
Tim shook his hands again before grabbing his gun. “I can hold my own. Even if my hands are numb, I’ve been killing long enough that it is a very natural muscle memory my mother would be horrified by. I’m a little horrified by it. Not as much as I should be, because Jack killed a vast majority of my morals. But, ya know...Where was I going with this? Oh, right, I can shoot.”
“Fine. But if we get in a fight, you stay behind me,” Zane said. “I don’t need you getting yourself shot. How’s the collarbone?”
“Eridium and health kits have me pretty much healed. It’s just a little sore, but I’m okay,” Tim said. “Let’s get this done.”
“Right now?” Zane said in surprise.
“No better time,” Tim said. He hesitated. “Zane, if there’s nothing there that can help me, just don’t...don’t…” Frustration hit his face. “I don’t know. I don’t want to make you worry. That’s all. That’s all, Zane.”
“Listen to me, Timothy. I don’t want you to die. I’ll do whatever I can to keep you alive and going. But I also understand you’ve gotta do all this for your own peace of mind. I’d rather see you die young and at peace with yourself than old and full of regret,” Zane said. He forced a grin, if only because the reality of this plan being a failure was starting to creep in. “Better hang in there a bit longer, though. I’m not done gracing you with my tall, charming presence.”
“Irritating,” Tim said. “Hey, if anything happens to me, take my ECHO, will you? I don’t exactly have anything to leave anyone. It’s all I’ve got, and it’s all yours.”
Zane thought of the recordings Angel had left for Tim. “Sure. But you’re still kicking, so let’s get on with this business and go steal already.”
Zane made sure he had enough Eridium for Tim before leading him to the fast travel station. He debated telling the others, but decided against it. They’d want to go with him, and too many people would make this mission hard.
They fast traveled, and Zane got them a vehicle. Tim didn’t even notice how fast Zane was going as he started driving.
He didn’t want to do this. He didn’t want to give Zane hope.
Because he knew he was going to die soon.
The numbness in his hands was lasting longer and longer. Soon, he’d lose the feeling in them permanently. Another nearly unbearable headache had woken him in the night, with only a health kit keeping him from screaming in pain and waking Zane. His exhaustion was so great that his body ached with it. His veins burned worse than usual.
His body was failing him. He was hiding it from Zane as well as he could, but he knew he’d just get worse. He’d be lucky if he survived a few more weeks.
Tim was still alive for now, though. If this was what Zane wanted to do, then Tim would do it.
Tim jumped a little and looked over at Zane. He gripped the dashboard as they hit a bump that sent him flying forward.
“Easy, grandpa!” he snapped.
“Doing it again,” Zane said.
“That wasn’t Jack! That was me!” Tim said.
“You were zoning out on me! I like to have conversations when I drive. Not one for silence. I like the sound of me own voice,” Zane said.
Tim knew, though. He knew that when he zoned out, Zane worried he was slipping into another mental lapse.
A thought hit him, filling him with cold dread. What if he slipped into a mental lapse as his health declined, and he never came out of it?
What if he died not knowing who Zane was?
No. No, he couldn’t let that happen. He couldn’t. He didn’t want to forget Zane. And he didn’t want to hurt Zane like that.
He tugged Zane’s jacket tighter around his shoulders. “So talk. I probably won’t listen. But it beats the damn radio being blasted again.”
“Let’s see...oh! I’ll tell you about the job I worked for Dahl when I was younger,” Zane said.
“You were young once?” Tim said in surprise. “I thought you were born 80.”
“Ha-ha, you’re hilarious,” Zane said, and jerked the vehicle hard enough to send Tim slamming into the door. “Whoops, my bad!”
“You’re such an asshole,” Tim grumbled, pushing himself off the door. It hurt more than he wanted to admit to. His damn weakening body. “Just tell your story, old man.”
Zane cheerfully began to do just that. Tim settled back against the seat as best he could with Zane’s crazy driving.
He was too tired to focus on Zane’s words. Instead, he focused on Zane’s voice, committing it to memory. The accent, the way it became gruffer when he got angrily excited, the enthusiasm, his laugh.
Tim would not let himself forget Zane. He’d already had so much stolen from him.
No matter what happened, no matter how long he had left, Tim would not let them take Zane from him. When he died, he’d die well aware it was Zane by his side.