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Over And Over

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Some days, Timothy Lawrence forgot his own name.

He tried to cling to it, tried to whisper it when he was alone. But there were periods where he would go weeks, even months without ever being called Timothy. He was just Jack.

He would announce “I’m Handsome Jack”, and not once question it, or think it was incorrect. 

Even now, he stood over three trembling employees. One was gripping the gunshot wound on her shoulder, tears on her cheeks as she tried to defiantly meet his eyes.

They’d mistaken him for the usual double who oversaw Opportunity, and had paid him little attention as he moved between them, silently marking his targets before starting the slaughter. 

The woman gained her courage and spat at his feet. Tim cracked his gun against her face hard enough to break her jaw.

“Now, who else was involved?” Tim repeated as she writhed in pain on the ground. “Well, I guess you’re not talking anytime soon.” He pat her cheek, and the tears streamed faster as she jerked in pain. He turned his attention to the two men instead, twirling his gun loosely in his hand. “Names. Now.”

“Fuck you,” one said, and cringed when Tim gripped the gun.

Tim sighed. “At least pretend you’re not a freaking coward, will you? Makes it a little more fun for me.”

“It was us. Just us,” the other said hurriedly. “Please, sir, we-”

“Please, sir,” Tim mocked. “Listen, you barely possess a brain cell between the three of you. There’s no way you managed to destroy that crate of materials without help.” He tapped the muzzle of his gun lightly against the temple of the biggest man, the cowardly one. “So who else was in on your little rebellion plan?”

“No one,” he whispered, squeezing his eyes shut.

Tim didn’t like to blind people, given the condition of his own lost eye. But Jack had no qualms about it, and so Tim pulled out a knife and pressed it to the man’s eyelid. He went rigid.

“Did you really just piss yourself?” Tim said as a stain spread on the man’s pants. “I’ve met children who resist torture better than you. Seriously, I haven’t even stabbed your eye yet, and you’re already pissing yourself. Who hired you idiots?”

“Please,” the man begged. “Please don’t.”

“Should’ve thought of that before you tried to sabotage my construction, cupcake,” Tim said, and got to work.

By the time his little interrogation was finished, the big man had lost an eye, an ear, and three fingers. The smaller one was curled up on the ground, waiting to die from the bullet to his kidney. The woman had lost consciousness.

But Tim had the answers Jack had sent him for.

He strolled away as casually as he could, blood staining his hands. It was nothing new, but the hollowness in his chest expanded just a bit every time. 

“Hey, I want those chumps in a cage by the workers until they’re all dead,” Tim informed the double overseeing the Opportunity construction. “Make sure none of these other freaking morons try to rebel against me.”

“Yes, sir,” the double said, and hurried to get it done.

Tim pulled out his ECHO once he was alone. “Jack, I’ve got the names.”

“Send them to me. I’ve got a surprise in mind for them,” Jack said. “And get back here already, would you? You take forever. We’ve got to work on your interrogation method.”

Tim made his way to the fast travel station and activated it. Moments later, he found himself in Jack’s office.

Jack sat at his desk, not bothering a glance at Tim as he signed some paperwork. “Leave me the names and go shower. You smell like blood and piss.”

“Your employees suck,” Tim informed him.

“They just have to be able to carry heavy things and not die too fast,” Jack said dismissively. 

Tim shrugged and wrote the names down for Jack. Knowing Jack would just ask him to do it later anyways, he kicked at Jack’s chair until he grunted and moved over. Tim got onto Jack’s computer and began pulling up information on the names he’d gotten, compiling files for Jack.

Jack finally looked over at him, and narrowed his eyes. “Are you getting blood on my keyboard?”

“You can afford to buy a new one,” Tim said.

“You’re so damn lazy. You can’t even wash your hands before touching my stuff,” Jack grumbled, but didn’t stop Tim. He called Tim the lazy bastard, but Tim was well aware he’d push whatever work he could off on Tim.

“There,” Tim said after a bit. “Files on all of them. Go crazy, kiddo.”

“Go shower, kiddo,” Jack countered. 

Tim was all too happy to obey that order. He left Jack’s office, ignoring the employees who stared at the blood on him nervously. 

He reached the apartment he shared with Jack and retreated to his bathroom. Their apartment was split on the inside, and Tim was locked into his side at night. 

But it wasn’t night yet, so Tim didn’t tense up as he entered his side. He stripped and turned on the shower, stepping under the warm spray of water.

Alone, he slumped against the wall, closing his eyes so he didn’t have to see the blood-tainted water swirling down the drain.

“Timothy?”

His ECHO was sitting on the counter just outside the shower. He cracked the door of the shower the slightest so he could hear it better.

“Angel,” he greeted. 

Jack’s fancy AI had been largely off-limits to Tim for a long time. But once he’d worked with her a few months ago to track down a troublesome branch of Crimson Raiders, she seemed to have taken a liking to him.

“Check your shoulder. It looked like one of them hit you pretty hard when you first started shooting,” she said.

Of course she’d been watching. But she didn’t sound disgusted, and Tim clung to that.

He pressed his fingers to his shoulder and winced. He glanced at the bruise there.

“Just a bruise,” he said. “It’ll be fine in a few days.” 

He didn’t know much about Angel. Hell, he wasn’t even positive that she really was an AI. She seemed incredibly advanced, even if she was one of Jack’s creations.

But she talked like a human, and she called him Timothy. With limited contact to any other people, he craved that connection, artificial or not. 

“What are you doing when you finish showering?” she asked. 

Tim shrugged, even though she couldn’t see him. Jack had stripped her visual access to certain areas of Helios, and even her audio access. Sometimes using Tim’s ECHO was the only way she had any idea of what was happening in specific areas.

“I don’t know. Jack didn’t give me an assignment yet. He’ll probably leave those rebels to stress about him finding them for a few days before he sends me to kill them.” He scrubbed a hand down his face, feeling exhausted at the thought. More torture, more screaming, more blood on his hands.

“Let me read you an article I found on the ECHOnet today,” she said after a moment.

Tim pressed his forehead against the wall, water pelting against his spine and making him shiver despite its warmth. “Is it another cat article?”

“This one is about a man who rescued a kitten from a skag and built her prosthetics to replace the legs she lost in the attack,” Angel said.

Tim felt the faintest smile touch his lips, and the hollowness in his chest was pressed back by an ache. Angel always did this after he was sent to kill or torture for Jack. Ever since she’d found out he loved cats, she found some inspirational or cute article about cats to read to him.

“Alright, I’ll bite, kiddo. Read away,” he said, closing his eyes.

Angel read the article to him, and he forced himself to actually wash his body down halfway through the story. By the time she’d finished reading, he’d finished showering.

He shut the water off and wrapped a towel around his waist, feeling a little better. Not well enough to wipe the steam fogging up the mirror away and look at his own face, but better than he had before, at least. 

“Oh, there’s a picture at the end. Here, I’m sending it to your ECHO,” she said.

Tim glanced at the screen, where there was a picture of a large man holding a cat with two makeshift prosthetic legs. He touched the screen lightly with his fingers.

There had been a time where he would’ve done such a thing for an animal. Maybe even a person. 

That time was long gone, and it hurt to think about. 

“I upset you, didn’t I?” Angel’s voice was quiet. “I’m sorry, Timothy. I’m not good at this.”

Tim swallowed against the lump in his throat. “What? No. I’m not upset. Just trying to figure out how much time I want to spend styling my hair. I’m not spending the next hour of my life trying to tame my hair if I’m just sitting in the apartment all night.”

Angel started to say something, but a loud knock on the apartment door startled them both. Tim groaned, recognizing the aggressive pounding that followed.

“Sorry, Angel,” he said. “Looks like I’m not staying in tonight.”

He stomped out as the pounding continued. He yanked the door open.

“I swear, you just like to look at this damn good body, because you always come right when I get out of the shower,” he said, gesturing to his still-wet self.

“Too much flesh,” Wilhelm said, shoving Tim out of the way and going into the apartment. “Get dressed. Jack’s got a job for us. And don’t spend an hour on your hair this time.”

Tim didn’t bother arguing that Jack’s hair was as stubborn as the man himself. Instead, he retreated to the bathroom, dressed hastily, and towel-dried his hair as best he could before styling it and heading out.

Wilhelm had helped himself to a beer while he waited. “Come on, not-Jack.”

“Do I at least get to know what this job is?” Tim asked as he followed Wilhelm out of the apartment.

“Take a wild guess,” Wilhelm said.

“Oh, jeez, do these freaking morons ever learn? They always get caught when they try to steal something,” he groaned. 

“Our job is to figure out who they smuggled it off Helios to,” Wilhlem said.

“What, exactly, did they smuggle off?” Tim asked.

Wilhelm shrugged. “Does it matter? I think I’ll start by breaking both their feet and making them run from you this time.”

“Charming,” Tim said. 

Wilhelm revelled in the violence, but Tim was always relieved that Wilhelm didn’t force him to join in more than he convincingly had to. Nisha, on the other hand, always forced Tim to join in the violence. She liked to say she was toughening him up.

Wilhelm led the way down to the prisons in Helios. He pressed his beer against Tim’s chest, and Tim chugged the rest of it in hopes he could somehow manage to get drunk and not have to morally deal with what they were about to do.

Unfortunately, the end of a beer did not get him wasted, and he followed Wilhelm inside the “interrogation” room. 

A man was chained to the chair in there. He looked up at them in fear, eyes going wide as they landed on Tim.

“What, you thought you were going to steal and I was just going to turn a blind eye to it? Not a chance, kiddo.” Tim loomed over him, twisting his face into a perfect copy of Jack’s smug, cruel smirk. “Let’s have a chat, shall we?”

“Jack, his feet,” Wilhelm said longingly.

Tim wondered how he’d gotten mixed up with these lunatics. “Well, I guess he doesn’t need his feet to talk. Go ahead.”

The man screamed in terror, blubbering about how he’d tell them everything. Wilhelm cheerfully ignored that in favor of breaking both his feet, and unchaining him from the chair.

He yanked the man away from the chair. “If you fall, I’ll start cutting off your fingers.”

“Stand right there, pumpkin,” Tim said, circling around him. “Who’d you smuggle it off to?”

“A woman from Maliwan,” he sobbed, legs trembling as he tried not to fall off his shattered feet. “I don’t know her name, I swear.”

Wilhelm stepped on his foot. He shrieked, falling to the ground. Tim shot Wilhelm an exasperated look.

“I was just double-checking,” Wilhelm said, pulling out his knife. “Pinky, or thumb?”

“Middle finger, so I could flip you off three times simultaneously,” Tim said. He sighed as Wilhelm took that a little too literally and chopped off the man’s middle finger, holding it out to Tim. “It was a joke. Don’t you people know what a freaking joke is? Stop holding that out to me. I don’t want it.”

Wilhelm shrugged and tossed the finger aside. He yanked the man back to his feet, ignoring his screams.

“Can I gag him?” Wilhelm said.

“What? No. How is he supposed to answer me if he’s gagged?” Tim said. “Maybe replace that brain with an artificial one. It might be a little smarter.”

“You’re both monsters!” the man sobbed.

Tim knew it was true. It had been true for a long time. But still, that hollowness grew, and his stomach twisted. 

He was a monster. He was Handsome Jack. 

He took a slow breath, pushing aside his horror and revulsion at himself. He let himself slip into the role, and grasped the man’s hand, digging his fingers against the man’s missing one until his screams hurt Tim’s ears.

“You’re going to tell me everything you do know,” Tim snarled, a smile slicing across his face. “Or you’ll wish we just killed you.”

When it was over, they left the man a mutilated mess on the floor, slamming the door and sealing him inside to die. Wilhelm wiped his hands off on a rag outside the room.

“Go let Jack know what we learned,” Tim said.

Wilhelm scowled. “Why do I have to do it?”

“Because you’re his enforcer.”

“You’re him!”

“And as Handsome Jack, I’m ordering you to do it,” Tim said.

“Fuck you, not-Jack,” Wilhelm said, but the torture session had left him in too good of a mood for any venom to be in the words. “Are you going to the shooting range?”

“I’m going to bed,” Tim said, stretching a little. “Don’t give me that look. Last time we went to the shooting range, you popped my shoulder out of the socket.”

“It’s not my fault you’re a fragile little man,” Wilhelm said. “I was just trying to congratulate your shot.”

“Feel free to tell Jack he’s a fragile little man and see how that goes,” Tim said. “I’m tired of dealing with him today, and tired of shooting things. I’m going to bed, and if you come pounding on the door and waking me up, I’m going to be freaking pissed.” 

He left Wilhelm to deal with Jack, returning to the apartment. He changed into shorts and a T-shirt, and collapsed onto his bed.

He reached for the bottle next to his bed. He hadn’t been able to sleep without nightmares in years, so Jack had gotten something whipped up in R&D to knock him out throughout the night.

“Timothy, wait.”

Tim’s fingers curled around the bottle. He wet his lips. “I’m going to bed, Angel.”

“Don’t take that. I’ve told you before, it’s addictive,” she said. “It has traces of Eridium in it.”

“I know.” His grip tightened. “But it keeps the dreams away.” He dropped his voice to a whisper, unable to help the despair that slipped into his words. “I don’t want to dream.” 

“It’s just one more way for Jack to control you. It’s not enough Eridium to harm you, but enough to keep you subtly addicted. You’ll have withdrawals if you try to stop, and it’ll send you right back to Jack begging for more. Even mild Eridium addiction is painful to come off,” she said. “Please, you need to reduce how often you take it until you gradually stop your addiction.” 

“What does it matter?” Tim said, pulling the bottle off his nightstand and opening it. He helped himself to his usual amount. “I’m Jack’s. That’s not changing anytime soon. Might as well dull the nightmares.”

“I don’t want you to be his,” Angel said, and Tim nearly dropped the bottle in surprise. “You should retain some independence from him. Even if it’s just in your sleep. Please, at least think about stopping with that stuff, Timothy.” 

“Why do you care?” he said, voice strained. 

She was silent for so long, Tim didn’t think she’d answer him. But finally, she spoke again.

“You’re useful to him. He doesn’t want to lose you. So he controls you however he can, and this is just one more safeguard against you ever leaving him. Right now, it’s a mild Eridium addiction. But before you know it, it’ll be worse. You won’t even recognize yourself anymore. You’ll be Jack’s, and you’ll give in because giving in is better than being a desperate mind trapped in a body you no longer own,” she said. 

He squeezed his eyes shut, burying his face against the pillow. He missed his mom. He missed his home. He missed his old face, though he couldn’t quite picture it anymore.

But missing those things accomplished nothing. He was Jack’s. He was Jack. He-

“It’s too late,” he said at last. “This is my life now.”

“You hate it,” she said.

“It doesn’t matter.” It couldn’t. 

“It should.”

He set the bottle down, exhaustion washing over him. “I’m going to sleep. Goodnight, Angel.”

“I would wake you,” she said softly. “If you were having nightmares, I mean. I would wake you up.”

Pain pressed against the hollowness in him. “I won’t have any. Goodnight.”

“Goodnight, Timothy.”

She sounded as sad as he felt. But they were both nothing more than property of Jack, and resisting that meant punishment. Tim had learned a long time ago to bow his head and accept his place at Jack’s side if he wanted to stay alive.

He didn’t dream that night, but Angel monitored him through the ECHO, just in case.

Chapter Text

“Son of a taint, I hate my life!” Tim said.

“What this time?” Jack asked.

“You ate my cereal!” Tim said.

“Uh, my cereal, kiddo. Who do you think pays for all the food here?” Jack said, taking the empty box from Tim and smacking him in the head with it. 

“You put the empty box back just to be an asshole,” Tim said, narrowing his eyes at Jack. 

Jack’s lips twitched a little, confirming Tim’s thoughts. “Find something else to have for breakfast. We have work to do today.”

Tim stared at the empty cereal box in despair before turning to grab bread and just making some toast. “I have very few joys in my life. Cereal is one of them. Stop doing this to me.” 

“Stop whining,” Jack said, finishing up his own breakfast. “Bring that with you so we’re not late.”

“What do you care if we’re late? You’re the CEO,” Tim said.

“I don’t pay you to question me,” Jack said, snapping at Tim. “Let’s go, let’s go. Time is money and I really, really like money.”

Tim grumbled a curse under his breath, but grabbed his toast when it popped and scurried to follow Jack. He stared dejectedly down at his dry toast, and silently mourned his cereal. 

They made their way to Jack’s office. Tim resisted the urge to scream when they stepped inside.

“About time,” Nisha said, sitting on Jack’s desk. Wilhelm was leaning against the wall, arms crossed.

“Oh, is that toast? I’m starving,” he said, snatching one of the two pieces from Tim’s hands.

“That’s my breakfast!” Tim argued.

Wilhelm held it out. “Then try to take it back.”

Tim eyed the cyborg warily. “Enjoy your toast.”

Wilhelm let out a triumphant noise and devoured Tim’s breakfast. Tim ate the remaining piece before that was taken from him too.

“Are you two done yet?” Jack asked.

“If someone hadn’t eaten my cereal, this wouldn’t have happened,” Tim said.

“You can really hold a freaking grudge,” Jack said, taking his seat at his desk and gesturing at them to gather around. “Now, the Crimson Raiders are getting to be a real freaking headache. Wilhelm, I’m sending you down to Pandora to deal with it. Nisha, you’ll keep an eye out around the Dust, just in case.”

“And him?” Nisha said, nodding to Tim.

“He stays here,” Jack said. 

“Of course he does,” Nisha said, rolling her eyes. “Stop coddling him, Jack.”

“I need him taking care of Hyperion business. Besides, Handsome Jack doesn’t waste his time personally taking out bandits,” Jack said. 

“He can come with me,” Wilhelm offered.

“Last time I sent him to Pandora with you, he came back with his leg broken in three places,” Jack said in irritation.

“I am right here, guys,” Tim reminded. 

Wilhelm ignored him. “I tried to grab him before the vehicle hit him.”

“But you didn’t, and he broke his leg in THREE PLACES,” Jack said. “It took three weeks for health kits to fix him.”

“Let’s attack the bandit camp, not-Jack. It’ll be fun,” Tim said in a cheap imitation of Wilhelm’s voice. 

“Well, you should’ve moved out of the way when they drove at you,” Wilhelm said.

“They used a cryo weapon to freeze my feet!” Tim said.

“I did try to grab you. You saw it,” Wilhelm said.

Tim threw his hands up in frustration. “Jack, why am I here if I’m not part of taking down the Crimson Raiders?”

“Who said you’re not?” Jack said, shooting him a look. “I have a plan to attack Sanctuary.”

“You do?” Nisha said. “Well, that’s the first we’ve heard of it.”

“You don’t need the details right now. But Wilhelm, you’ll kill their supply forces for me to weaken them. We’ll go from there,” Jack said. “Timmy, you’ll build me a virtual layout of Sanctuary. When we launch our assault, I want to hit the key points right away.”

“How am I supposed to do that?” Tim said.

“Angel will help you,” Jack said. “Whatever she can’t help with is your responsibility. If you have to capture some Crimson Raiders and torture them for information, then do it.”

Wilhelm looked disappointed that he didn’t get to join in that part of Tim’s assignment. Tim just hoped it didn’t come to that, but he knew his luck.

“Timmy, go get started on your assignment. Wilhelm, you stay here so I can go over details with you. Nisha, go canvas the Dust for any Crimson Raider allies to keep an eye on,” Jack said, waving Tim and Nisha away.

Tim left the office, going back to the apartment. He had a small office in there. Despite the size, it was decked out with technology that was so expensive it made his head spin at the thought of the cost. 

He shut the door and sat down at his desk, going through the security measures to access his computer. Jack would expect this assignment done promptly, and Tim didn’t dare face the consequences for taking too long on something so important.

“Hey, Angel,” he said, setting his ECHO on the desk. “We’re working together again.”

“I know. I was listening in,” she said.

He’d hacked into his own ECHO to give her access at any time to listen in. Jack had some technology installed in his office and the apartment to prevent her from accessing their tech in there, but Tim got lonely in the apartment sometimes. Maybe it wasn’t his smartest move, but he’d been desperate for the company when he decided to do it.

“Do you know what his plan is?” Tim asked.

“In part,” she said, sounding uneasy. “I...Timothy, I don’t like it.”

“It’s got to be done,” Tim said. 

“Does it?” Angel challenged. “They’re trying to stop Jack from killing thousands of people. Is that really such a bad goal?”

No. But Tim had his orders.

“Just tell me what you can. Please,” Tim said.

Angel reluctantly helped him construct a basic model of Sanctuary. When that was set, she filled in what more in-depth gaps she could.

“I don’t know everything,” she said. “I can only observe so much of the layout. You’d need an insider to get more,” she said at last. “Timothy, you’ve been doing this for hours. At least take a break to get lunch. You always forget to eat when you start working.” 

“Alright, mom,” Tim grumbled, pushing away from the desk and stretching. His body popped alarmingly, and he decided that Angel was right and he needed a break.

He wandered into the kitchen and dug through the cupboards in search of something to eat. He settled on making himself a sandwich, and sitting on the couch in the living room area while he ate.

“What will you do when Jack wakes the Warrior?” Angel asked him.

Tim shrugged. “I dunno. Rule Pandora, I guess? Not exactly the career I had in mind, but at least I get solid medical benefits.”

“I’m serious, Timothy,” she said.

“I know.” He set his sandwich down, his appetite gone. “What else can I do, though? Jack is going to wake the Warrior. We all know that. And when he does, no one will be able to stop him. If I was stupid enough to try and flee, he’d just find me eventually.” 

He’d thought about fleeing before, plenty of times. Over the years, those thoughts disappeared gradually, replaced with thoughts of the consequences of running. 

Jack had made it very clear that Tim belonged to him, and he had no intentions of letting Tim go. 

“What if I could help you?” Angel said.

“No.” Tim said it firmly, despite the longing in his chest. “I’m not leaving, Angel. I’m Jack’s.”

“You’re not,” she argued. “Think about it, Timothy. You could leave. Wean off the Eridium addiction, and then leave.”

“I can’t leave,” he snapped, fear underlying his words. He raked his hands through hair that wasn’t really his, and winced at the brown strands that fluttered to his lap. It was the wrong shade. It wasn’t Timothy Lawrence’s hair. It was Jack’s, because he was Jack, and nothing was ever going to change that. “I learned my place, Angel. Maybe you should.”

It went eerily silent. His breath caught in his throat, and he closed his eyes, swallowing against the lump that had formed.

“I’m sorry,” he said quietly. “I didn’t...Look, it’s too late for me, kiddo. I can’t get out. I’ll never be free of Jack, even if the bastard met his maker five minutes from now. I hope you don’t get as stuck as I did. I’m sorry I said that.” 

“You’re not a bad man,” she said, and his heart broke at her words. 

“Maybe not when this all started. But I have a lot of blood on my hands. It doesn’t even make me sick anymore,” he said, bowing his head. “It’s just part of the job.” 

“It’s not impossible to leave,” she said. When he didn’t have another outburst, she tentatively continued. “I could help you, Timothy. You’d need to get off the Eridium addiction first. But once you did, I could disguise your DNA signature so you could get off Helios. Leave your watch behind and only take your guns. I could locate Athena for you. She might hide you. If not, I’d help you find somewhere safe from Jack.”

“No.” He sounded exhausted. “I’m not leaving.”

Because he couldn’t imagine not belonging to Jack anymore. Because somewhere down the line, he’d come to care for Jack in the same twisted, sick way that Jack cared for him. They were dangerously broken men, and they had become a pair without even realizing it.

It’s why Jack wouldn’t send him off Helios into the chaos of Pandora. Tim was a competent fighter, but he didn’t have the experience and the cruel streak of Wilhelm and Nisha. There was always the chance his old morals would slip in at the wrong moment and he’d hesitate long enough to get himself killed.

And Jack didn’t want him dead.

He was never quite sure what he was to Jack. Different things at different times, maybe. A friend. A right-hand man. A pet. Property. 

Whatever he was, he was one of Jack’s favorites. Even thinking of leaving would be a betrayal to Jack. 

There was a soft beeping from the door, and Tim straightened up. The security. Jack was here.

Sure enough, the door swung open and Jack came in. Tim couldn’t see him from where he sat, but he knew Jack’s footsteps.

Jack swung around to Tim’s side, heading for his office before noticing Tim on the couch. “What are you doing? I gave you a job. Why am I the only one who does any work around here?” 

“I did what I could with Angel’s help,” Tim said.

Jack shot him a look. “How?”

Tim realized his mistake too late. Angel wasn’t supposed to be able to contact him in the apartment.

But he was a trained actor, and he’d been working for Jack for years. “I did the bulk of it in your lab space in R&D then came here for lunch. You know, since someone ate my cereal.” He gestured to his sandwich. “Besides, once she couldn’t give me anymore, I just transferred what I had to my office.”

It was all believable, and Jack had no reason to suspect that Tim and Angel had kept in contact after first working together. He shrugged it off, to Tim’s relief.

“How much is done?” Jack asked.

“I don’t know, exactly. Angel didn’t know much of the interior, but the exterior is complete. It’s just a matter of filling in gaps,” Tim said.

“Then fill them in.” Jack nodded to Tim’s watch. “Shouldn’t be hard to find and capture some bandit scum for information.” 

Tim wished he hadn’t started eating, because the little he’d had turned sourly in his stomach. He didn’t want to torture someone again. The screams from yesterday still rang in his ears.

“Maybe we could get an inside man,” Tim said casually. “Could be more useful.”

“We don’t have time for that,” Jack said impatiently. “I can’t start my plan until I know the layout. I want to take out their medical clinic and weapons dealer with this attack. That’ll cripple them. And any other key areas need to go.”

Tim knew he should say he’d get right on it. But he found himself hesitating, and cursed himself for it.

Jack noticed. Of course he did. He had meticulously groomed Tim, and these moments of weakness were a glaring blemish on his efforts.

Jack towered over him. “Timmy, you’re going to go down to Pandora, capture a Crimson Raider, and get me the information I want.”

Tim’s mouth had gone dry as he stared up at Jack. All he had to do was say yes. All he had to do was embrace that hollow nothingness eating up his guilt and hesitation. 

All he had to do was be Handsome Jack.

But Angel didn’t want him to be. Angel, who read him articles about cats, who offered to wake him from his nightmares, who didn’t want him to be Jack’s.

He was confused, and so he hesitated again. 

Jack sighed heavily before grabbing him by the shirt and roughly hauling him to his feet. “Timmy, I gave you an order.”

“I-” Just say yes, just say yes. Jack wouldn’t hurt him so much if he’d just cooperate. 

But the words wouldn’t leave his mouth. 

Jack slammed him against the wall, hands around Tim’s throat. “Everything I freaking do for you, and you won’t do this for me,” he hissed. “I give you everything. I made you. And you have the damn nerve to go against me. How many times do I have to teach you your place before you stay in it?”

Tim stayed as still as he could, terrified Jack would choke him into unconsciousness if he moved wrong. He met Jack’s furious gaze, willing himself to stop resisting, to just fully give in.

“Timmy.” Jack tightened the pressure on Tim’s throat. “I am all you have. Without me, you’d be dead, and you know it. This is what I get for having your back all these years?”

His resolve weakened. He’d saved Jack’s life plenty of times, sure. But Jack had saved his, too. Jack had kept him up on Helios, safe from the Crimson Raiders and the bandits and their corporate enemies. Jack had made sure he had access to the best technology, the best equipment, the best training. He gave him a secure place to live, kept him fed, kept him cared for medically.

Took away his nightmares.

“I’ll go, Jack,” Tim said quietly. 

“You’re damn right you will.” Jack backed off slowly. “Don’t you dare disappoint me.”

Tim bowed his head. Jack gripped his shoulder roughly, possessively. 

“I gave you a chance when no one else would’ve looked at you twice,” Jack reminded him. “I gave you a place to belong. I always look out for you. So you’re going to do this one thing for me. It’s the least you owe me.”

“I know.” Tim slowly lifted his head. “I’ll get my gear and head to Pandora, Jack. I’ll have the map done as soon as I can.”

“I want a progress update before you go to bed tonight,” Jack said. He finally backed off Tim, heading for the door. 

When he was gone, Tim sank onto the couch, putting his face in his hands. He hadn’t slipped up in so long. And here he was, proving once again that he was stubborn, that Jack needed to hurt him again.

“Timothy,” Angel said. “He has no right to say those things to you. You don’t belong to him.”

“I signed a contract. I do,” Tim said, lifting his head.

“No. You’re more than your face, Timothy,” she said fiercely. “You do not belong to Jack. It’s just one more way for him to manipulate you. Don’t fall for it. Please.” 

Tim got up and dumped his lunch in the garbage, his appetite long gone. “I’ve got to get to work, Angel.”

She was silent for a while, and he figured she was finally too disgusted by him to keep talking to him. He wouldn’t blame her.

But then she spoke again as he gathered his weapons and gear. “I can guide you to someone. If you go on your own, you risk stumbling onto a group of them. Let me help you, at least.”

“You don’t have to,” Tim said, because he didn’t want to drag her into this violence too.

“I’d rather you were facing off against one or two Crimson Raiders than a whole unit. Head to the fast travel station, and I’ll put in a location for you,” she said. 

He was too tired to argue. “Sure. Thanks, kiddo. Shit, I can’t even take a lunch break without that chode bothering me.”

“Timothy…” Angel sounded nervous. “Your lack of appetite is one of the signs of an Eridium addiction. You’ve been eating a lot less lately.”

“Being threatened by Jack typically makes me lose my appetite, no Eridium involved,” Tim said, not wanting to admit that he hadn’t been quite as hungry lately. 

Angel was quiet again, and Tim knew she was debating if she wanted to have the argument about the bottle next to his bed again. In the end, she just urged him to go to the fast travel station before Jack came back.

Tim did so, and Angel had it programmed for him when he reached it. He set out to whatever destination she’d chosen for him, and found himself in the Dust.

“I’m not going to Lynchwood,” he said stubbornly.

“I’m not asking you to. The Crimson Raiders have a contact out this way. There’s a small group of them heading through the area for supplies,” Angel said. “I sent the location to your ECHO.”

“Small group?” Tim asked, checking his ECHO and setting out.

“Just three,” she said. “They’re armed, but not heavily. They were planning to take a vehicle back to the fast travel station with their supplies. But for now, they just have some guns on them. Nothing you can’t handle.” 

He could handle three of them easily. He hurried to the spot Angel had given him, taking out his sniper rifle when he found a suitable perch. He looked down the scope, finding the group heading his way.

They were talking with each other, hands resting on their guns but stances otherwise relaxed. The biggest danger in this area was the creatures roaming about, and there were currently none in sight. They didn’t expect Handsome Jack to start picking them off.

The area was wide open, no cover for them. Tim swiped his watch, bringing his digi-Jacks to being.

“I’m going to pick them off,” he informed them. “You crowd the survivor so he can’t get away.”

They crouched low, out of sight, waiting for him to fire. Tim aimed, his finger hesitating on the trigger.

They were laughing now at something one of them had said. They looked happy. They didn’t know two were about to die while the survivor endured a worse fate, all so Jack could destroy their home. 

“You can leave,” Angel said silently. “You’re on Pandora. Leave the watch behind, and I’ll block Jack from your ECHO. The contact they're going to meet, her mother knows you. She might be willing to help you.”

“That’s why you sent me here,” he said, and his hands began to tremble, making it hard to aim. “I can’t. I can’t leave him, Angel.”

“Your addiction is growing. I wouldn’t be surprised if Jack is subtly increasing the Eridium in that drink to keep you chained to him,” she said. Slight desperation tinged her words. “Timothy, if you don’t leave him soon, you’ll never be able to. You can go right now and never look back. I’ll protect you.”

He could leave. Go to this contact’s mother, whoever she was. Hide away while Angel kept Jack from tracking him.

And then what?

He was stuck looking like Jack. He was prone to outbursts of Jack’s personality thanks to the DNA injections. And Angel was right; mild as it was, he’d developed an Eridium addiction.

He’d never last on his own. But Jack would take care of him, just like he always did. Timothy Lawrence had sacrificed any chance at a normal life, and that was his burden to bear now.

Tim steadied his hands, aimed, and fired. 

The body hit the ground just before the other two began to yell, drawing their own weapons. With no cover, they charged in the direction the shot had come from, trying to weave unpredictably. 

Tim signaled to his digi-Jacks, and they surged forth as he fired on the second one, catching the man in the gut. He hit the ground with a scream, weapon flying from his hands.

The third man fired on the approaching digi-Jacks, desperation growing when he realized they couldn’t be injured. The red Jack shot the man in the leg, sending him falling to the ground.

Tim switched to his pistol and hopped down from his perch, casually strolling over to them. Guilt whispered at him, and he focused on that hollow feeling instead. It was so much easier to sacrifice his morals, his emotions, his guilt, than to live with any of it.

“Handsome Jack,” the man snarled, aiming at Tim. He cried out as the digi-Jack’s laser caught his arm, and dropped his gun.

Tim kicked it away. “Heya, kiddo. Got some questions for you, so you’ll be coming with me and-” The one he’d shot in the gut moaned as he reached for his gun. “Hey, I’m talking. Don’t be rude.” He lifted his pistol and fired, putting a bullet in the man’s head and silencing his moans.

The survivor let out a despaired noise, staring in horror at his dead companion. Hate-filled eyes found Tim.

“I’ll kill you,” he snapped.

“You’re not really in a position to make that threat, pumpkin,” Tim said, digging his sneaker into the man’s leg wound. The man yelled in pain, and Tim casually lifted his gun. “Fair warning, kiddo: This is going to hurt.”

He brought his pistol down on the man’s temple. He crumpled to the ground unconscious, and Tim dug in his bag for a cloth bag to put over the man’s head. He bound his arms and legs, and hefted him over his shoulder, grunting with the effort. 

“You couldn’t have led me to a lighter one?” he whined to Angel.

“It’s not too late to flee,” she said, without much hope.

“It was too late years ago,” he said coldly. He closed his eyes briefly, tightening his hold on his pistol. “I’m sorry, Angel. But I’m a lost cause.”

“Not to me.”

A choked sound escaped him involuntarily. He ground his teeth together, knowing Jack would punish him for such a display of weakness.

“Come on,” he said to his digi-Jacks. 

The walk back to the fast travel station was quiet, but he knew Angel was still listening in. He hesitated before activating it, an apology lingering on his tongue. 

In the end, he swallowed the words. All the apologies in the world wouldn’t change anything. So Tim activated the fast travel station, and returned to where he belonged.

Chapter Text

The man’s screams rang in Tim’s ears.

He sat in his office, hands pressed to his ears, trying to drown out the sound. It had been nearly an hour since he’d finished torturing the man, and still the sound lingered.

The man hadn’t even been entirely helpful. Leave it to Tim to capture a man who didn’t spend much time at Sanctuary, and tended to act as a field agent. While he did let a few supply points slip in an attempt to get Tim to stop hurting him for a few moments, he didn’t have much to say on the layout of Sanctuary. 

Tim would have to capture another one. Go through this yet again.

A hand gripped his shoulder, and Tim jerked, reaching instinctively for his gun. Jack caught his wrist, irritation flickering across his face.

“What the hell are you doing?” he asked. 

“That guy’s screaming gave me a headache,” Tim said, letting Jack’s hand linger on his shoulder, suddenly desperate not to be alone. 

“Did he give you what you need?” Jack asked, not taking his hand away. Instead, he tightened his grip. It was possessive, but it was human contact, and Tim needed that right now. 

He leaned into the touch, just the slightest. “Hardly. He was a field agent. I got some supply line locations, but not much in the way of Sanctuary’s layout.”

“Son of a taint,” Jack groaned. “Why does it take you so long to do simple tasks?”

“I’ll get it done,” Tim said.

Jack finally pulled his hand away. “Go to bed. You’re useless to me if you’re not focused. Tomorrow morning, I want you to go out and catch one of those bandits that’s actually going to have information for us.”

His heart sank, but he nodded obediently. “Sure. I sent you the supply line locations.”

“I’ll get Wilhelm on it. He’s getting impatient for his part in this, but I want that layout before we start,” Jack said.

Tim got up, and Jack followed him to his room. Tim changed into sleep clothes and sat on the edge of the bed.

Jack leaned in the doorway, crossing his arms. “Are you done throwing a tantrum?”

Tim gripped the bottle on his bedside table. “I wasn’t throwing any tantrums. I just need to sleep. That’s all, Jack.”

Jack nodded at the bottle. “Then sleep.”

Tim drank his usual amount and set the bottle back on the nightstand. Jack looked satisfied, and left the room, shutting the door with a decisive slam.

“Timothy, he increased the dosage.” Despair coated Angel’s voice. “I was right; it’s a control method. I guarantee he’s doing it to experiment. He’ll take it away if you refuse to obey him again. He’s trying to get you even more hooked on Eridium without it permanently damaging your body.” 

Tim could feel the exhaustion hitting him faster than usual. “I’m fine. Really. It’s not that much.”

“You have no idea what Eridium will do to you over time!” Angel cried. “You need to cut down on it. Drink less, then take it every other night, then every two nights, and so on until you’re off the stuff. Dump it down the sink so Jack doesn’t catch on. Just don’t let him do this to you, Timothy, please.” 

She sounded scared. Tim bit his lip hard. He didn’t want to be an Eridium addict. But he also didn’t want to face his nightmares.

“I’ll take less tomorrow,” he said at last.

“Don’t go down that path,” Angel begged. “Eridium will destroy you. If you don’t listen to me about anything else, at least listen to this.” 

The drink had taken hold of him, and Tim closed his eyes, lying down and curling up. Jack only used the Eridium to help Tim. He wouldn’t give him enough to hurt him. He wouldn’t do that. 

Angel’s voice and the screaming of the man he’d tortured drowned out of his head as he fell into nothingness. 

***

“Come on, kiddo, don’t make this any harder on yourself,” Tim said, dropping the man’s finger into his lap.

The man gasped for breath, tears streaming down his face. “F-Fuck you. I’m not telling you anything.”

Tim gestured to the dead Crimson Raider from yesterday. “Yea, that’s what he said too, and guess who’s going to destroy your supply lines when I’m done here?”

“You’re a monster,” the man spat. “The Crimson Raiders will stop you, you fucking psychopath.”

“Oh yea, they’re doing a great job of it,” Tim said, gesturing to the interrogation room the man was chained up in. “Really, I’m about to surrender.”

“Do what you want. I’m not talking,” the man said, and braced himself for more pain.

Tim had to admit that the guy was sturdy, if nothing else. He’d yet to tell Tim a damn thing, and his left hand was almost fingerless, his nose was broken, and he’d lost three teeth. 

Tim pulled out a knife. The man lifted his head despite his tears.

“You’re going to look me in the eyes while you do it, you bastard,” he said. 

Tim didn’t want to. 

He forced a smirk. “What, you want to get a last gander at this handsome face? Can’t say I blame you.”

He got back to work, and the screams pierced his ears, expanding that hollowness inside him as he tried to hide from it. It wasn’t Timothy Lawrence doing this, he told himself. It was Handsome Jack. 

He wasn’t sure there was a difference between them anymore.

Despair settled deep in him when he’d pried what he could from the man. It was more than he’d had before, but not enough to please Jack. The man stared at Tim with dead, mocking eyes, having told him the location of the weapons vendor, but not the medical clinic or anything else helpful.

He’d have to do this again. And again, and again, until he had what Jack wanted. 

Tim left the room, feeling numb. He returned to the apartment, staring at his bloodied hands once he reached the bathroom.

“You should shower,” Angel said, her voice too soft. 

Tim couldn’t bring himself to speak. He stripped and turned the water on, gently placing his ECHO on the bathroom counter.

“Listen to this article, Timothy,” she said. “This cat attacked a rakk to rescue the little girl who fed it daily.”

Tim watched the rust-colored water swirl at his feet as the blood washed off him. Angel read the article, but Tim barely registered the words. He focused on the sound of her voice, hoping it would drown out the screaming ringing in his head. 

He pulled his mask off, fingers lightly tracing the outline of his scar. He knew what it was to beg, to scream, to suffer. And still, he did it day after day to others. 

“Oh, I’m the freaking worst,” he groaned. “Seriously, I suck.”

“Are you...announcing that to me, or just talking to yourself?” Angel asked.

“Yes.”

“That’s not an answer, Timothy.”

He pushed his wet hair out of his face. “I need to get that information added to the layout.”

“You need to eat something. You skipped breakfast, and it’s past lunch time,” Angel said.

“I’m not hungry. I just cut a man to pieces. It doesn’t exactly get the stomach growling.” He paused. “Well, maybe for Wilhelm. But I’m slightly less of a psychopath.”

“Then have something light,” Angel said. “Just stop skipping meals. You’ll get sick.”

“Jack won’t let me,” Tim said automatically. He pressed his forehead to the wall, his hair falling back in his face. “Jack will make sure I’m eating enough to stay healthy. He always does.”

“Only so you can do his work for him,” Angel said. “It’s not...it’s not love or care, Timothy. It’s beneficial to him to keep you in good health.”

Love. Care. Tim hadn’t experienced either in so long, he wasn’t sure he’d recognize them anymore.

Jack’s care was twisted, wrong, dangerous. But it was all Tim would ever get, and he embraced it, desperate for the scraps of what he’d once known before this life. 

He shut the shower off and grabbed a towel, drying off and pulling on sweatpants and a hoodie. He had no plans to go back out of the apartment today, and Jack would just have to pay him overtime if he wanted Tim to do anything else.

But those screams rang in his ears. He should go right to his office and get to work, but he found himself drifting towards his bedroom, his ECHO still in the bathroom.

“Timothy?” Angel’s voice, distant and worried. “Did I upset you?”

He ignored her, sitting on his bed and lifting the bottle. It...It was just a little relief. Jack wouldn’t let him get too hooked. And he couldn’t work like this, anyways. A quick nap would fix him up and he’d be good to go again.

“Timothy?” Angel’s worry had grown. “Timothy, I can only hear you when you’re in the apartment. Please say something so I know you’re okay.”

He uncapped the bottle. Drank a little, just a little. He hesitated, then took another swallow, because he couldn’t stop picturing the blood on his hands.

“Timothy, you’re going to take more of it, aren’t you?” Worry had turned to alarm. “Don’t. This is what he wants. You’ll be reliant on it, and by extension, on him. Please, I can’t bear to see this happen to you too.”

Me too? Tim thought, mind already going fuzzy with relief. He wondered who else had been addicted to Eridium. 

Then he didn’t wonder anything at all, and the world fell blissfully silent and dark. 

***

“Timmy!”

Tim cracked his eyes open as someone shook him roughly. It was dark in the room, and it took his eyes a moment to make out the shape of Jack.

“Jack?” he mumbled, rubbing at his eyes. 

Jack scowled, flicking the light on. Tim winced at the sudden brightness.

“Why are you so lazy?” Jack whined. “I gave you a job.”

“I just needed to nap so I could focus,” Tim said. He checked the time, face paling a little. Well, that had certainly been more than a quick nap. “Oops.”

“Yea, oops,” Jack said, tossing Tim’s mask onto his lap. “That was sitting in the bathroom. Put it on.”

Tim did as he was told, slipping the mask into place securely. He sat up, stretching, his body tingling a little.

Jack nudged the bottle away from him. “Don’t take as much tonight. You’ll knock yourself out all freaking day.” 

He grabbed Tim’s arm and pulled him out of bed. Tim allowed himself to be pulled to his office and pushed into his chair.

“Let me see what you have so far,” Jack said.

Tim pulled up the layout. “I got some information from the guy I questioned earlier that I haven’t added yet. The weapons vendor is here.” He pointed. “That was the only main point I was able to get from him, though.” 

“Put that in,” Jack said. “I’m ordering us dinner. I don’t need you fainting on me when you’ve got a job to do.”

He left the room and Tim scrubbed at his eyes before getting to work. He put in the information the man had given him, groaning at how empty the layout still was. He didn’t think it was going to be this hard to map out Sanctuary.

He got up and returned to his room, too hot in his sweatshirt. But he froze as he stepped into the room, panic striking through him.

The bottle was gone from his bedside.

He stumbled over there, checking either side in case it had fallen. He’d seen it there when Jack took him from the room, he was sure of it.

How was he supposed to sleep without it? He couldn’t deal with those nightmares. He couldn’t.

His hands trembled as he gripped the nightstand. An urgent need whispered through his body, threatening to become a full blown consumption if he didn’t find that bottle. 

He needed it. He needed it. He-

“Timmy?”

Tim spun around. “Where’s the bottle, Jack?”

Jack held it up, and Tim nearly fell to his knees with relief at the sight of it. Jack watched his reaction, and his eyes glinted with that sadistic delight of his.

“Was just checking if you need a refill.” He set it on the nightstand and grabbed Tim’s shoulder, guiding him out of the room. “But if you don’t get that layout done, the refill might be delayed.”

His heart stuttered. “I’ll get it done. I will, Jack.”

Jack pushed him into a chair at the counter. “Food’s on it’s way.”

Tim pressed his trembling hands into his lap to hide them. Part of him felt terrified, and part of him felt nothing at all.

Because Angel was right; he was addicted to something only Jack could supply him. But in the end, none of it mattered. He was Jack’s, and that wasn’t going to change.

Chapter Text

Tim dragged his feet along. “Wilhelm, please, shut up,” he begged.

“Hmmmmhmmm MAINFRAME hmmmm,” Wilhelm continued on.

“This is it. This is what breaks me as a person. I survived all that shit on Elpis just to kill myself on Pandora because you won’t stop singing that stupid freaking song,” Tim said, throwing his hands up in defeat. 

Tim was wandering Pandora in search of Crimson Raiders, and Wilhelm had called him out of sheer boredom. Tim regretted answering the call.

“At least you actually get to do something,” Wilhelm said, finally, mercifully, abandoning his poor attempt at singing. “Jack promised me I got to kill the Crimson Raiders, and I haven’t killed any Crimson Raiders yet.”

“Then find me a Crimson Raider, subdue them, and I’ll come get them,” he said.

“Jack doesn’t want me to leave my current post,” Wilhelm said moodily.

“That’s not my problem.”

Wilhelm took a deep breath to start singing again.

“Okay, okay,” Tim said hastily. “You don’t have to torture me just because you can’t torture the Crimson Raiders.”

“I’m bored,” Wilhelm said firmly.

“And I’m busy. I just spotted a group of Crimson Raiders,” Tim lied. 

“You’re such a liar-”

“Oh no, being shot at, gotta go.” Tim hastily hung up on Wilhelm. He let out a sigh of relief. 

“Thank you,” Angel said, sounding as relieved as Tim felt. “I was tempted to make your ECHO spontaneously combust just to shut him up.”

“You were listening to that?” Tim said.

“Unfortunately.”

Tim found some shade and settled down under it, uncapping his water bottle and taking a swig. “Want to help me find some Crimson Raiders so I can hurry this up already? Believe it or not, trudging around Pandora in the heat when I look like Handsome Jack isn’t my favorite hobby.”

“Timothy, can we talk about yesterday?” Angel said, her voice cautious. Tim stiffened. “You’re starting to use it as a relief. That’s dangerous. It gives Jack more control over you. I heard him threaten to delay your refill if you didn’t get your work done fast enough.”

“It’s none of your business,” Tim snarled. He recoiled at his own tone. “Sorry, I- Sorry. But it’s not your concern, Angel. I can take care of myself.”

“If that were true, you wouldn’t be in this mess,” she said. “I’ll lead you to a Crimson Raider, but you have to promise me to hide their ECHO in your pack, okay?”

“What? Why?” he asked in surprise.

“Just do it, Timothy,” she said. “Trust me.”

He hesitated. But she talked to him. She tried to look out for him. She was probably the closest thing he had to a friend these days.

“Fine.” He took another drink of water and stood up. “Lead away.” 

Two hours later, Tim had the newest victim bound up in the interrogation room. This one he was going to let sit for a bit, with nothing but the company of the dead bodies of the other two and the stench of blood and waste. 

He sat in the apartment’s bathroom, the door locked. He took the ECHO out of his pack.

“Why did you have me take this?” he asked. “So I could try to spy on the Crimson Raiders’ communications?”

“No. So you can contact Athena,” Angel said.

“Not this again,” he groaned. “I’m not leaving, Angel.”

“She won’t know it’s you contacting her. She’ll think it’s just someone from the Crimson Raiders. Just ask her where to obtain Eridium,” Angel said. “If you leave, you’ll need a supply until you come off your addiction.”

Tim stuffed the ECHO back in his pack and stood up, unlocking the door. “I’m not leaving. I can’t. I won’t.”

“Jack will destroy you,” Angel said, her tone solemn. “I’ll have to sit here and watch him kill the man you were. He’ll ravage you with torture, manipulation, and addiction. You’ll be his. You think you are now, but you don’t know what he’ll do to you to make sure you can never even think of escaping him.” 

“I have nowhere to go,” he said, gripping his bag tighter. “My mother thinks I’m dead. Athena will never help me after I stayed with Jack. There is no one, Angel.”

“There’s me.”

He closed his eyes. “I appreciate that. But you know it’s not enough to make me leave.”

“Will anything be enough to make you leave?” she pleaded.

“No. Not anymore.” He touched his masked face. “Even if I left, I’d end up dead with the way I look. I sealed my fate. I’m done fighting back.”

He tossed his bag in his room and left to go get answers from that Crimson Raider. 

***

Two weeks, and Tim still hadn’t finished the layout.

The Crimson Raiders had gotten smart, starting to take their own lives as soon as Tim attacked. Word got out that someone was abducting them, and they were much more cautious. 

Tim was frustrated with himself. He’d sniped a group of them and taken a survivor hostage, not realizing one of the ones he’d thought he’d killed had only been playing dead. They’d reported back to Roland, according to Angel.

So now they knew someone was picking them off in the open, and were always on the lookout for a sniper. They also knew it was likely a double who was targeting them, and the fact that he was taking one survivor meant he was after information.

He sat now, rolling the nearly empty bottle between his hands, sweat gathering on his brow. He wiped it away, wetting his lips and trying to calm himself.

He’d get it done. He would. He just had to make the drink last until then.

Sure, he could sneak away on Pandora and get Eridium. But injecting it was…

No. He didn’t want to inject it. Injecting it made him seem like an Eridium junkie, which he wasn’t. He just needed it to settle his nerves a little. To sleep through the night.

Eridium in a drinkable form was hard to come by, and hard to get right. Too much, and you’d end up looking like those Lost Legion chumps on Elpis. 

Tim shuddered and pushed the thought out of his mind. He had more control than that.

He forced himself to set the bottle down and leave his room, returning to his office. He stared at the incomplete layout, and a surge of anger had him slamming his fists against the desk hard enough to make his arms tingle. 

“That anger is from the Eridium,” Angel said. 

“Not this again, Angel,” Tim said, gritting his teeth.

“Alright, sorry. If you don’t want to accept that you officially have an addiction and that Jack is upping the dosage to keep it that way, that’s your problem,” she said, her tone sharper than usual. 

“I just need to finish this layout,” he said, taking a deep breath to keep his calm. “Any bandits wandering around I can go pick off?”

“You were reluctant to kill them two weeks ago. But now that your fix is dwindling, you’re more than eager to kill them off,” Angel said. “But you’re right, you definitely don’t have a problem.”

Tim leaned back in his chair, staring at the ceiling and counting to ten in his mind before he snapped. “Angel, I-”

“You haven’t eaten at all today, and it’s almost dinner time,” she said. “At least go take a break. You won’t make any progress staring at it. You can think better on a full stomach.”

“I’m not hungry,” he argued.

“Which is a problem that you’re just going to pretend doesn’t exist,” she said.

“I’m very good at ignoring my problems,” he said, but got up reluctantly. He should eat something before he made Jack mad, at least. 

He went into the kitchen, and made himself a small sandwich. He’d only managed one bite into it before the door to the apartment opened.

“Oh, you’re actually eating,” Jack said as he and Nisha came into the kitchen.

“I was busy working. Lost track of time,” Tim said, forcing another bite. 

“Not working very hard if you haven’t finished that layout,” Nisha said, leaning against the counter. “Only you could manage to fuck up so spectacularly, not-Jack.”

“You’re not legally required to insult me every time we see each other,” Tim reminded her. 

“But you make it so easy,” she said.

“That’s a fair point, but regardless.” He set the sandwich down, then picked it right back up at Jack’s look. “Alright, alright, mom, I’m eating.”

“You need to get it done, or I’m letting Wilhelm have at you. He keeps singing that stupid song,” Jack said. “Says he won’t stop until he’s not bored anymore.”

“Uh, block him, hello,” Tim said, tapping his own ECHO. “Will he break my jaw next time he sees me? Absolutely. Do I have peace and quiet in the meantime? Absolutely.” 

“Whatever. Just get that layout done.” He grinned a little. “You’re running out of time, Timmy.”

The memory of the feel of the nearly empty bottle in his hands made his palms twitch. “I’ll get it done, Jack.”

But he was running out of time.

It was okay, it’d be okay. He’d go out hunting first thing in the morning with Angel’s help. He’d take more than one alive this time. He’d hunt them closer to Sanctuary, even if that was more of a risk to himself. With his digi-Jacks, he’d be fine. 

“It’s getting late,” Jack said, stretching a little. “This handsome face needs beauty rest for now. You staying or going?”

“Staying,” Nisha said, pushing him towards his room. 

Tim waited until they’d left before dumping his food in the trash and retreating to his room. He shut the door and sat on his bed, picking up the bottle and staring down at it.

“Angel, I’m going to hunt them closer to Sanctuary,” he said. “Take a few alive, maybe. Can you help me?”

“What? Timothy, that’s dangerous!” she said. “If they find out there’s a Jack close to Sanctuary, you’ll be the one hunted.”

“I’ve got to take that risk. I’m running out of time.” He gripped the bottle. “Jack isn’t happy with me. You know what he’s like when someone fails him.”

“Okay, I’ll help you. But only if you don’t get too close to Sanctuary. If they take you prisoner, you’ll be tortured for information,” she said. 

“Like I’ll fare any better here if I fail this assignment?” Tim grumbled. “I’ll head out early in the morning.”

“You need to eat breakfast this time,” she said.

“Alright, you know what? You’ve taken on the role of my chastising mother, and Jack has taken on the role of my eternally disappointed father,” Tim said, throwing himself back on the pillows. “I’m an adult. I can take care of myself.” 

“You’re absolutely horrible at taking care of yourself,” Angel said.

“Well...Okay, fine, I am. But you don’t have to say it out loud,” Tim said defensively. He uncapped the bottle and tipped the drink into his mouth, his body calming as he swallowed it down. He set the bottle on the bedside table, hearing the little remaining liquid sloshing inside. He had to get this job done. 

Angel said something else to him, but Tim was already out.

Hell, he felt like he’d just barely drifted off when someone shook him roughly.

He rolled away, mumbling something even he couldn’t understand. He was shaken harder, but he tried to shrug it off.

A sharp pain ran down his arm, and he jerked away, reaching for the gun under his pillow. Jack caught his wrist roughly.

“Jack, what the hell?” he said irritably. 

But then he noticed Jack’s dark expression, and his heart sank. Oh no. 

“Timmy.” Jack’s voice was cold, calm. He held up an ECHO. “What’s this?”

Tim looked hesitantly from it to Jack. “An...ECHO?”

“It was in your bag.” He tightened his grip on Tim’s wrist.

Tim stared at him in confusion before realization hit him. “Oh, right. I took it off one of the Crimson Raiders two weeks ago. I forgot about it.”

“Oh, you forgot about it?” he said in mock surprise. “That’s why it was hidden at the bottom of your bag with updated security protocols?”

“It...what?” Tim frowned. “Jack, I haven’t touched it since I got back with it. I forgot I even had it.”

Jack yanked him so he fell out of the bed. Tim hit the ground hard, and wheezed as Jack’s foot came down on his stomach, hard. He crouched down and gripped Tim’s hair, pulling his head up so that their eyes met.

“I broke past the security on it. I read the messages. Don’t you play dumb with me, you backstabbing little shit,” he hissed.

Tim’s heart beat far too fast. “What messages? Jack, I don’t know what you’re talking about!”

Jack released his hair in favor of wrapping a hand around his throat, the grip tight enough to bruise but not tight enough to choke him. “Athena.”

“What about her?” Tim asked in panic. 

Jack spun the ECHO so Tim could see the messages on it. “You’re really going to play dumb when I’ve got the freaking evidence? I knew you weren’t the brightest, but I didn’t think even you were this damn stupid.”

Tim stared in horror at the messages. 

Because it was a conversation with Athena, taking place over the past two weeks. And it started out by saying it was Tim.

It was Tim saying he’d stolen the ECHO to contact her. Tim saying Jack was hooking him on Eridium and he needed help escaping. Tim saying he was being sent to Pandora to hunt the Crimson Raiders, and begging Athena to hide him and help him shake the addiction so he could escape Jack for good.

Angel. 

Tim’s mouth had gone dry. She’d locked the ECHO in an attempt to hide the messages. She’d been going behind Tim’s back to contact Athena.

And even worse, the latest message said he was going to hunt near Sanctuary, and if Athena came and met him there, they could make it look like he’d been kidnapped so Jack wouldn’t get suspicious when he didn’t come back to Helios.

Tim just stared at the messages, feeling ill. He’d have to sell Angel out if he wanted to avoid punishment. Tell Jack they’d been in contact all this time, and that she wanted him to run away from Jack. That stealing the ECHO had been her idea, and he hadn’t known she was pretending to be him to contact Athena.

But he didn’t know what Jack would do to her to punish her. And she was the closest thing he had to a friend.

“Jack,” he whispered, closing his eyes. 

He didn’t say he’d done it. But he didn’t deny it, either. 

“Everything I’ve done for you, and you betrayed me!” Jack exploded, grabbing Tim’s hair again and slamming his head against the nightstand. “Oh, you’re going to pay for that, kiddo.”

“Jack, please,” Tim begged, because he hadn’t, he hadn’t betrayed Jack, he wouldn’t. 

Jack grabbed the bottle off Tim’s nightstand, uncapped it, and poured it on the ground. Tim let out a soft cry of despair.

“You were stubborn back after Elpis,” Jack said, hauling Tim to his feet. Tim swayed unsteadily, his head throbbing. “I taught you your place. Now I’ve got to do it again. And I will, Timmy. You can count on that.”

Tim stumbled along after Jack. Nisha was waiting out in the living room, cocking her head to the side curiously as Jack dragged him.

“What? You found something?” she said.

“See, Timmy, Nisha wanted your Winning Hand glove to go to the casino tomorrow for some work, and instead I found that ECHO buried in your bag,” Jack said.

“ECHO?” Nisha said curiously.

Jack tossed it to Nisha. “Timmy here thought he’d rejoin Athena.”

Nisha read through the messages and looked up at Tim with the same dark expression as Jack. “Well, that wasn’t very smart of him.”

“Let’s go,” Jack said, dragging him along again.

Nisha followed them, gun in hand in case Tim tried anything. Tim was too scared, too confused, to even attempt to break free, though.

Panic swelled his chest as Jack and Nisha brought him to the Helios prison cells. Jack threw him into one of the isolated ones, and Nisha chained his hands to the wall behind him.

“Jack, please!” Tim cried as Jack headed for the door. “I didn’t betray you!”

“Get his watch,” Jack ordered.

Nisha unlatched the watch, handing it to Jack. Tim struggled against the chains binding him, knowing it was futile.

“I have plans to get you to cooperate, Timmy. We’ll make sure this doesn’t happen again. Don’t worry, kiddo; I always look out for my team,” Jack said, and slammed the door, leaving Tim alone in the dark. 

Tim trembled in the darkness, terror filling his veins where the Eridium was fading. This time, the only screams ringing in his ears were his own as he yelled for Jack.

Chapter Text

Tim pulled against the chains binding his arms so hard that he reopened the wounds he’d already put there. 

He tried to surge for the door to his cell, chest heaving and sweat soaking his shirt. He’d been locked in here for three days. There was no light, no food, no water, no people.

No Eridium.

He was too anxious to sleep, too afraid of the screams lurking just beneath his thoughts. He cursed Jack, begged for him, hated him, needed him. 

He hated Angel. He wished he’d listened to her. He wished he’d never met her. He wished he’d fled when she told him to. 

His thoughts crashed together in a confusing jumble, and he screamed out in frustration, yanking harder. Blood coated his hands from the cuts on his wrists, and his bottom lip was shredded from chewing on it obsessively. 

“Jack!” Tim cried, voice hoarse. He panted for breath, his veins feeling like they were on fire. His head throbbed, and his body struggled to cooperate with him. “Jack!”

He was going to die here. Jack was going to leave him to die of thirst or hunger or withdrawal. 

“Jack,” Tim pleaded. He got no answer, and yelled as he tugged even harder at his restraints.

He didn’t know when he’d become this pathetic, screaming thing. He wanted to go back home and pretend none of this had ever happened. Just go back to his mom, and his boring life.

But he couldn’t. He never could. 

He yelled until his throat felt raw. He was hot and cold, and he felt sick to his stomach. He battled back his nausea, knowing he’d have to sit in the cell with it if he got sick.

Is this what his victims felt like? Left alone to suffer, never knowing what was coming next, only knowing that they’d never make it out alive. 

It was hours before the cell door finally opened.

Jack came in and loomed over Tim. “Look at you. Just as pathetic as the day I met you.”

Tim weakly lifted his head. “Jack, please,” he choked out. “Please, I didn’t. I didn’t.”

“Still lying?” He sounded annoyed, and crouched in front of Tim. He held up a very familiar bottle, and Tim’s eyes widened. 

He threw himself forward, and Jack smirked as the chains caught him. He slowly waved the bottle just out of reach of Tim, and Tim couldn’t help the whimper that escaped him.

“Tell me the truth, Timmy,” Jack said.

He hadn’t done it. Angel had, because they’d kept in contact behind Jack’s back. That was the truth.

But the scrap of his mind that wasn’t begging for Eridium thought of Angel reading him articles about cats to calm him down and keep him company. He thought of her begging him to flee before this very thing happened. He thought of what Jack would do to her if he knew she’d been behind this.

“I did it,” he said, focusing his gaze on the bottle. “I was going to leave you.” He wet his ruined lips. “I’ve learned my goddamn lesson.”

“You’re right you have,” Jack said, uncapping the bottle.

Some part of Tim despaired at the sight of the open bottle. Just a few more days, and the Eridium would be out of his system. The withdrawals would be miserable and painful, but then the stuff would be out of his system and he could recover from it. 

He didn’t want this to be his life. 

“Ask for it,” Jack commanded.

He didn’t want to. But the screams were rising in his mind again.

“Please,” he whispered. 

Jack moved the bottle towards him. Against his will, Tim craved the moment the drink hit his lips.

“STOP!”

Tim and Jack both startled, and some of the drink splashed onto the cell ground. Tim drew back in fear at the anger on Jack’s face.

“Angel?” he said, grabbing his ECHO. “What the hell?”

“He didn’t do it, Jack,” Angel said. “I did it. I told him to steal that ECHO to spy on Crimson Raider communications, and I put the security on it. I contacted Athena and pretended to be him. He didn’t know about it.”

Jack gripped the ECHO tighter. “And why would you do something stupid like that?”

“To get him away from you,” Angel said dryly. “You were hooking him on Eridium. I wasn’t going to let that happen.”

Jack looked furious. “Angel,” he snarled. “We’re going to have a long talk about this.”

“He never betrayed you,” Angel said, her voice strong in the face of Jack’s anger. “Leave him alone.” 

Jack grabbed Tim by the throat and pulled him forward, tipping the drink into his mouth. It caught Tim by surprise, and he swallowed so fast that he choked, turning his face away from Jack as he tried to control his sudden coughing.

“No!” Angel cried.

It was only moments before the Eridium sent a buzzing along Tim’s nerves. He leaned towards Jack, eyes wide.

“Look at that, Angel,” Jack said in satisfaction, gripping Tim’s shoulder. “He wants more.”

“You’re a monster!” Angel snapped. “Leave Timothy alone! I’m the one who sent those messages!”

“And we’ll deal with that in a few minutes.” Jack allowed Tim a few more sips before standing up. “Someone will get you water, other-me. You just sit tight, kiddo.”

The cell door shut. Tim bowed his head as tears burned at his eyes.

Angel had tried to protect him. But it was too late, far too late. He was Jack’s, right down to his fucking addiction.

***

Jack came to him every two days, at first. He’d grant Tim a few sips to ease the pain of withdrawal, then let it tease him again until he begged for more.

The drink didn’t put him to sleep anymore. Jack must’ve had R&D make something new. Tim knew the traces of Eridium in it were stronger, but anything was better than sitting alone with nothing on his mind but his growing addiction.

He heard nothing about Angel. Jack didn’t bring her up, and Tim didn’t dare ask.

Then Jack came every other day to let Tim have some of the drink. Tim knew he should’ve been alarmed by how fast the cuts on his wrists from the chains were healing once the Eridium was in his system more, but he couldn’t bring himself to focus on anything but the next time Jack would come to his cell.

And then Jack came every day.

Tim lost track of time. His world narrowed to those moments the cell door would swing open to reveal Jack with the bottle in his hand.

As the cell door swung open now, Tim looked up hopefully. Jack didn’t have the bottle in his hands.

Jack crouched before him, lightly patting his cheek. “Chin up, kiddo. You look like I shot your puppy.”

“Where-” Tim started.

“Ah, ah, ah.” Jack raised a finger. “I’ve had some long talks with Angel about everything. You might not have sent those messages, but you didn’t tell me Angel was trying to make you leave. That’s still a betrayal, Timmy.”

“I wasn’t going to leave,” Tim said urgently. “I told her no.”

“She said you did. But she still got in your head, and I need to drown her out.” Jack stood up and began to free Tim from his restraints. “I have a new position for you, effective immediately. Behave yourself and maybe I’ll actually let you back.” 

“What?” Alarm rang through Tim. “But I never planned to leave, Jack!”

“I need to be sure of that, other-me,” he said, pulling Tim to his feet. “You’re going for an extended stay at the Handsome Jackpot.”

“The casino?” Tim shook his head. “No, Jack, please. I didn’t listen to her. I didn’t leave. I wouldn’t.”

Jack slammed him against the wall. “Don’t argue with me. You’re on thin ice right now, cupcake.”

Tim swallowed down his protests and nodded weakly. Jack dragged him out of the cell.

“I had R&D make me a little something for you. See, I wouldn’t leave my team hanging. So they gave me this.” He pulled out a bottle, and Tim could see a timer on the cap of it. “It’ll only unlock after a certain period of time, so I can control how much you’re intaking. It also controls how much you can drink at a time.” He glanced at Tim, who was just barely biting back an argument. “Liquid Eridium is dangerous, other-me. Too much of the stuff and you’ll look like those freaks on Elpis. I’m doing this to protect you.” 

Tim clenched his fists. Liquid Eridium was also hard to come by. He’d likely be watched carefully on the casino, in case he tried to get it off someone there. 

As if reading his thoughts, Jack grinned. “This isn’t a vacation. You’re going to be watched the whole time. If you fail me again, you will regret it.”

Jack surprised Tim by taking him back to the apartment. He shoved Tim at his side.

“Go shower. You smell gross,” Jack said. 

Tim retreated into the bathroom, hastily stripping out of his clothes and getting into the shower. The warm water felt good after so long of sitting in the cold, dank cell. 

But he missed Angel reading to him. He was desperate to know what had happened to her, but he didn’t risk asking Jack. Best for the two of them not to make Jack any angrier over the whole situation.

Tim showered quickly and got out, towel around his waist. He went to his room, where Jack sat on his bed. Bags were packed at the foot of it.

“Here,” Jack said, holding out an ECHO. “I got you a new one.”

A new one Angel couldn’t communicate with him on, no doubt. Tim took it numbly, the hollowness expanding inside him. He was going to be alone again. He’d never even know what happened to Angel, he was sure of that now. Jack would make him suffer with his own thoughts of what had become of her.

Jack took out a glove and held it up. “Winning Hand,” he said. “I debated on grafting it to you, but for now it’ll just be a glove. Fail me, and it’ll be grafted in a heartbeat. I’m not afraid to make the casino your permanent placement if you mess this up.”

Tim took the glove and pulled it on over his hand. Jack waved him towards the closet. 

“Get dressed,” he said.

Tim did as he was told. His hands trembled, and his mind flashed to that bottle Jack had held out. He closed his eyes tightly. 

No, no. He couldn’t lose himself too much. He couldn’t bear to go through those withdrawals again, which is exactly what would happen if he kept messing up. He’d rather have controlled, reliable access to Eridium than no Eridium at all, or uncontrolled access to the stuff. He didn’t ever want to end up like the Lost Legion Soldiers. 

He finished dressing and turned to Jack. Jack got off his bed and kicked his bags at him.

“Carry your own stuff. You’re so lazy,” Jack said.

Tim picked up his bags. He looked at his room, his mind refusing to comprehend that Jack was really doing this to him. 

“Come on,” Jack said impatiently. “I’m a busy man. I don’t have all day.”

Tim forced himself to move. He walked slowly, hoping Jack would tell him to set his stuff down and stay.

But he didn’t. They left the apartment.

Jack led Tim to his office. He activated the fast travel station, and Tim’s heart sank when it took them to the casino.

There was a man in a security uniform waiting for them. He was stern-faced, eyes darting between Tim and Jack before he nodded at Jack.

“Sir,” he greeted.

Jack shoved Tim forward. “This is him. You’re going to have eyes on him at all times, and report everything he does back to me.” He took the bottle out of his pocket, and Tim was disgusted at his own racing heart. “This is his. No one takes it from him, or else he’s allowed to, I dunno, cut their arms off or whatever.”

“Yes, sir,” the guard said. 

Jack grabbed Tim’s gloved hand and held it up. “He’s the only doppelganger here with a glove instead of it grafted to him. Even you idiots should be able to get that right. Oh, and he was expensive as hell. Make sure he doesn’t die.” Jack dropped Tim’s hand and turned to face him. “You, play nice with the other doubles. You’ve been here before. You know what I expect out of you.”

He’d worked at the casino loosely, when Jack wanted him to keep an eye on some suspicious person. The doubles typically left each other alone and stayed to their assigned areas. Assassination attempts were rare, but that didn’t mean that the doubles weren’t in danger. Any angry person could lash out and try to kill them.

“My weapons,” Tim said at last.

“Packed ‘em,” Jack said, kicking one of Tim’s bags. “You’ll be here until I determine where your loyalty lies.” Tim couldn’t help the flash of frustration on his face. Jack clapped him on the shoulder roughly. “I’m doing this for your own good. I always look out for you. Prove yourself, and you can come back.” He pressed the bottle into Tim’s hand. “Don’t fail me.”

Tim tightened his hold on the bottle. “I won’t.”

“He’s all yours,” Jack said, turning away from Tim and motioning at the guard. “Get him set up and put right to work. Keep him busy. I recently learned he likes to misbehave when he has too much free time.”

Tim ground his teeth together, swallowing back the curses rising in his throat. He hadn’t misbehaved. He’d told Angel he wasn’t going to leave Jack.

So why the hell did he have to be punished for what Angel had done?

He watched Jack activate the fast travel station. He smirked at Tim just before flashing away.

“Sir, come on,” the guard said gruffly. 

Tim reluctantly followed him through the halls. The guard led him to the housing section for the employees, taking a key out and opening one of the doors.

“It’s tuned to your Winning Hand,” he said as Tim went inside. “You won’t need the key.”

Tim threw his stuff inside, and carefully pocketed the bottle. He had no desire to sit inside with his miserable thoughts.

He hadn’t betrayed Jack. Jack had betrayed him. 

Leaving him here even though Tim hadn’t done a damn thing wrong. Sure, he’d kept talking to Angel when he shouldn’t have. But it was just for a little company. He’d never planned to leave Jack. 

Anger seeped from that hollowness in him. It raced along veins aching for another fix of liquid Eridium, hazing his mind with it.

He turned to the guard, a sharp grin on his face that had the guard doing a double-take. He knew he could look just like Jack.

Because he was Handsome Jack.

“Lead the way, kiddo. I’ve got a job to do,” Tim said.

Jack wanted him to leave him here? Jack wanted to turn his back on Tim when Tim had done nothing wrong? Jack wanted to betray Tim and say it was the other way around? 

Tim would make him regret that.

Chapter Text

Zane Flynt looked around the casino.

He’d come here just a few times before, and found that it was a great place to gather information. Plenty of wealthy idiots wandered in here, and were willing to spill as much information as money once they had a few drinks in them. Get them on a winning streak and coax them along, they’d tell you their whole life story to brag about how they’d ended up riding a winning high at that very moment. 

Even Hyperion opponents tended to drift in. It was a great place to go when you needed some information and a bit of entertainment.

Zane walked along, the sounds of machines and conversation filling his ears. Nearby, a woman sobbed as she turned her wallet upside down, no money coming out as she shook it. A man three seats down from her hollered triumphantly as he earned himself a payout. 

The whole place was chaos, and Zane grinned. 

He’d get himself a beer and then settle at the slots to work up some conversation. That usually pointed him in the right direction of where he needed to be for what he wanted.

Once he had his beer in hand, he headed for the busiest slots he could find, eyes roaming over those sitting and playing. He found a woman who appeared to be on a winning streak, and set himself by her.

“Oi, these machines lucky?” he asked as she won yet again.

“You bet!” she said, looking positively delighted. “Third win on this one.”

“Well, pass along some of that streak,” Zane said, trying his own luck. It came up a loss, but he laughed it off. “Not off to a great start.”

“Keep trying,” she urged. “I lost seven times before I hit the first win. But now I’m on a roll!”

Until she lost her streak and blew everything chasing it. “Will do, lass. Busy in here today.”

“Hyperion employees,” she said. “They’re drinking and gambling. Celebration, I hear.”

“Celebration, eh?” Zane said.

She shrugged. “No clue what. The security bots stay by them, though, so they must be important. I- FOURTH WIN!”

“Good on ya,” Zane said, getting up. “Mine ain’t so lucky. Maybe another drink’ll turn things around.”

She was too absorbed in her latest win to pay him any mind as he left. He felt satisfied, at least having confirmed the targets he wanted were here.

There was word that Handsome Jack’s men had recently developed some advanced guns with unique properties. Zane had been hired to steal the schematics, though he wasn’t quite sure where they were hidden away. 

That’s what he was here to discover. A tip had led him towards a group of scientists and developers who might be involved, and he’d tracked them here. If they were celebrating, they might have finalized the schematics and were planning to have them approved for mass production. 

It didn’t take him long at all to find the targets he was looking for. The extra security bots swarming the specific area helped give it away.

There was a group of them, all in Hyperion clothing. They were on the slots, and Zane sat in the area across from them so he could observe.

They were all drinking, which was good. Easier to get information from an inebriated target. Also easier to take them out if they got feisty. 

But after a half hour, just as Zane was considering going over to them, they got up and headed for a door marked VIP. The door slid open and the group disappeared inside, the door sealing firmly behind them.

“Well, shite,” Zane said.

He got up, heading for the door. He could easily afford to get into the VIP areas of the casino. Once in there with them, he could pick out a target to get close to for information. Buy them a few drinks, bring up the conversation naturally, and go from there. He doubted he’d even have to kidnap and torture anyone for this job. 

But when he reached the door, a human guard cut him off. “VIP only.”

“Got the cash,” Zane said.

He shook his head, though. “Invite VIP only. All members of the group are accounted for inside. Find another VIP room.” 

“What?” Zane said in surprise. “But Dave told me I could come buy him a drink.”

The guard didn’t move. “Then tell him to meet you in another VIP room or at the bar. You’re not getting in here.”

“Is there a problem?”

Zane mentally cursed. He recognized the voice all too well, because Handsome Jack sure did love to hear himself talk.

As he turned, sure enough, there stood Handsome Jack. Or one of his many casino doubles, at least.

This one had the mean, mocking look of Jack down perfectly, and Zane had to remind himself sternly that the real Jack would never bother himself with a mild argument in the casino. No matter how convincing this double was, he was still just a double.

“Handsome Jack, sir,” the guard said, bowing his head a little. “No problem here. Just telling this guy to get lost.” 

“Oi, I thought anyone could go into these VIP rooms with the cash? Got a pal in there I owe a drink to,” Zane said.

“It’s invitation only, sir,” the guard informed the double.

“Oh, those guys,” the double said in disinterest. “Sounds like a boring freaking party to me. You’re better off drinking alone, kiddo.” 

Zane didn’t want to draw too much attention to himself, especially not when it came to the doubles. He didn’t know if they reported any suspicious activity directly back to Jack, and he’d rather not take the risk. This place was too valuable for information.

But as he looked at the double again, he noticed something.

All the other doubles he’d ever seen around here had something called Winning Hand grafted to their hand. He’d seen them use it to access restricted areas and override security systems and machines around the casino. He’d been disappointed to see that it was grafted to them, because it meant he’d either need to kidnap them or kill them and cut their hand off to use it for himself, and that was too risky.

This double wore only a glove. 

It was the Winning Hand, Zane was sure of it. But it was just a removable glove placed securely over his hand. 

Well, hello. A glove he could steal. 

“Alright, not worth a fight,” he said, raising his hands in defeat. “I’ll be on my way.”

“Do that,” the double said, and turned to the guard. 

Zane backed away from them, made sure they weren’t paying attention, and looped around to hide behind a cluster of slot machines. 

“-long are they going to be in there?” the double asked.

“All night, from what I’ve been told,” the guard said. “Handsome Jack- er, the real one- said to keep a good security detail on them.”

“Well, no shit,” the double said. “But no way in hell you’re putting that on my freaking head. If Jack wants me to babysit his scientists, he can grow a pair and tell me to my face. Er, his face. Whatever. They’re your problem.”

Interesting. This double didn’t seem to be very fond of Handsome Jack, despite wearing his face. Some of the doubles seemed to worship Handsome Jack, but not this one. 

“Sir, Handsome Jack specifically put them in your section,” the guard said firmly. “He wanted you to keep an eye on them.”

“He didn’t tell me that,” the double said. “Besides, I have better things to do than watch a bunch of lightweights get bombed off two beers and make science jokes. I don’t even understand half the words they say, which makes me even angrier about how much money I spent on college.”

“You know I’ll have to report it back to Handsome Jack if you refuse this assignment.” The guard’s voice had a threat under it, surprising Zane even more. He didn’t think the guards were higher on the food chain here than the doubles, but this one seemed to have no problem threatening a double to his face.

It was tensely silent. Zane didn’t dare peek out from his hiding spot in case they saw him.

“They’re fine while they’re in there,” the double said at last, his voice cold. “Contact me if any of them leave. I’m making it your job to see to it that no unauthorized people get into that VIP room, and if you fail, I will put a bullet through your jaw for having the nerve to speak to me like that.” 

Zane listened to the angry footsteps disappear. He crept out from his hiding place, and saw the pale-faced guard staring after the retreating double.

Zane hurried after him, making sure to keep a careful distance so he didn’t raise the man’s suspicion. He needed to get his hands on that glove.

If he did, he could surely find a way to either sneak into the VIP room, or break into the security room and access any security cameras in there to eavesdrop. 

He wasn’t quite sure how he was going to take the glove. Knock the double out and steal it? Get the man drunk and convince him to hand it over? Tell him he was sabotaging Jack and hope it didn’t end with a bullet in his head?

The double went up to one of the bars, slamming his gloved hand on the counter to get the bar tender’s attention. “My usual.”

The bartender slid him a drink moments later, looking nervous. He relaxed when the double took a sip and headed away from the bar. 

Zane continued to follow him, waiting for an excuse to talk to him. He’d considered offering to pay for his drink, but was glad he hadn’t as it seemed the guy got free drinks. 

Which was even more bizarre. He’d never seen any of the doubles drinking on the job, not even in the vice district. Just who was this guy, and why did he seem to get different treatment than the rest of the doubles? 

He saw his opportunity as the double passed by an open doorway. Zane could see a clearly drunk man staggering towards the doorway, and the double was paying him no attention as his gaze was focused on a crowd up ahead.

Zane sped up so that he was right behind the double. He reached him just as the drunk guy stumbled out, crashing into the double and spilling his drink on the double and Zane.

“You-” the double started.

“Feckin’ watch it, you worthless drunk!” Zane said, swinging his fist into the man’s jaw. He grabbed the guy’s nearly empty glass and held it out to the double. “Care to do the honors? Only fair that you get a shot in on him too.”

The double took the glass and smashed it over the guy’s head. He fell to the ground with a cry, and the double ground a shoe into his gut until he wheezed.

“Hey,” the double called impatiently to a security bot. “Get this jackhole the hell out of my casino. And take his wallet while you’re tossing him out. He can pay for a new shirt for me.”

The bots grabbed the man, who struggled weakly. Zane kicked him in the knee hard enough to earn another cry from him.

“Cry all you want. I liked this shirt,” Zane said, kicking him again.

He heard the double snicker in amusement. He turned to face him, realizing they were both covered in beer.

“Oh, you’re that guy,” he said.

“That’s me,” Zane said. “I was trying to get to the vice distract, but no way in hell I’m going looking like this.” He sniffed his shirt. “I didn’t even think you served cheap beer here. I wouldn’t give this to a skag.”

“Of course it’s cheap beer. And it’ll cost you half a fortune for a glass of it,” the double said, scowling down at his shirt. “And now I’m wearing it. Fantastic. This day is just- it’s great. It’s freaking great.” 

“It’s about to get even worse, lad. You spilled your drink when he hit you,” Zane said.

The double looked at the spilled drink in his hand. He stared at it in despair before releasing the glass and letting it shatter at his feet.

“Shit,” he said at last.

“I feel ya,” Zane said sympathetically. “I’m havin’ one of those days too. Care to catch a drink?”

He turned his nose up at Zane. “What, with you? No freaking way. I don’t associate with poor people.”

Zane took out his ECHO and flashed his bank account at the double. “Ah, about that.”

“Holy shit, I hate rich people,” he whispered. “Alright, fine, fine. But come with me. And you’re paying. Hell, that’s a lot of money. What do you even do?”

“A bit of freelancing,” Zane said. 

He snorted. “A bit.”

Zane grinned at him. “What, you’re telling me Handsome Jack can’t afford to pay for his own drinks? He has to rely on some freelancer?” 

“Jack can pay for his shit just fine. I, on the other hand, am not beneath letting others buy me things,” the double said.

He pressed his gloved hand to a panel outside a door. It slid open, and he led Zane through it. Inside, there was a bar at one end, and a gathering of tables and couches spread throughout. It was quiet inside aside from music playing over the speakers, and there were only a few groups of people.

“Authorized access only,” the double informed him, claiming a table. “Go get us drinks.”

“What do you want?” Zane asked.

“Ah, hell, just get me anything with vodka at this point,” the double said, waving him away.

Zane shrugged and went up to the bar, ordering two drinks. He decided to take pity on the double since he was planning to rob him, and ordered him a double shot.

He turned once he had the drinks, and realized the double had been watching him carefully to make sure he didn’t slip anything into the drink. He was glad he hadn’t tried that, because something told him this guy would know in a heartbeat if he was drinking anything spiked.

He returned to the table and slid the double his drink. Like he’d guessed, the double took a small sip to test it, and glanced down at the watch on his wrist before taking a large sip.

“You got a name of your own?” Zane asked.

“Jack,” he said, and he said it so easily that Zane wondered if his name really did just happen to be Jack. 

“I’m Zane,” Zane said.

“I don’t recall asking,” the double said, but the alcohol took the bite out of his words. He seemed relieved to have a drink in hand. 

The door to the place slid open before Zane could say anything else. The double tensed as a guard came in, walking right over to their table.

He reached for the double’s drink, but Zane snatched it away. “I didn’t buy that for you.”

The guard shot him a glare before turning the look on the double. “You’re on duty.”

“And? One drink won’t impair me,” the double said. “I’m not breaking any rules.”

“Go monitor your area,” the guard said, and he had the same threat in his voice as the other guard. 

“It’s mostly cleared out right now,” the double argued. 

“Go,” the guard said. At the double’s defiant look, the guard gave him a chilling smile. “You’re low on it. Now’s not a good time to pick a fight.”

Anger whipped across the double’s face, twisting him into a perfect image of Handsome Jack’s fury. For a moment, Zane genuinely thought he was going to murder the guard.

They stared each other down, the double’s grip tightening on his glass, ready to swing it as a weapon. Zane tensed for a fight, ready to help the double to earn his gratitude.

But then a soft beeping came from the double’s pocket.

The guard looked pleased as the fight seeped out of the double. “I think that decides the matter.”

The double got up, shoving the guard so hard that he nearly fell over. Zane watched as the double took a bottle from his pocket, uncapped it, and took an eager swig of whatever was inside. He shut the cap and put it back in his pocket with a trembling hand.

Zane saw the quick shiver pass over the man. His eyes shot to the man’s veins, but they weren’t the purple-tinted mess of an inescapable Eridium addiction.

Still, Zane knew the signs, after hunting down an Eridium addict who had stolen a supply of the stuff from one of his clients. It was a nasty addiction, and a quick way to die a horrible death.

But the double seemed to have it under some semblance of control if his veins weren’t turning purple yet. It was when the veins started to glow a deep purple that the user was too gone to save. 

Zane watched the double leave the room without a glance back. The guard followed him, looking smug. 

Zane grabbed the double’s drink. It sounded like the double was being controlled with his addiction, but two could play at that game.

After waiting a few minutes, Zane left the room. He slowly made his way back to the area he’d first seen the double in, and it only took a little searching to find him irritably leaning against a wall and watching a small group of gamblers argue over who got to use a certain machine.

“I’m rich, but I still hate being wasteful,” Zane said, moving next to the double and holding the drink out.

The double took it and downed it alarmingly fast. “They’ll just chase you off again.”

“Why?” Zane asked. “I’ve seen the doubles socializing before.”

“Because they’re not me.” His tone was bitter. “Go off and lose all that money or whatever. Those bastards are just going to throw you out if you keep trying to talk to me.” 

Zane frowned at him, then lowered his voice. “Is it because of what’s in the bottle?”

The double tensed. Zane knew it was a dangerous thing to bring up, but maybe he could bargain with the double. 

“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” the double said flatly.

“Eridium is nasty stuff,” Zane said, shaking his head. “They’re threatening to keep ya from it, aren’t they?”

“I don’t use,” he said.

“No need to lie to me, boyo,” Zane said. “I said I freelance. One of those freelance jobs happened to land me with quite a bit of Eridium.” This part he had to play carefully. The double clearly hated his own addiction and his vulnerability as a result of it. “You seem to hate using the stuff. But being under someone’s control with it, now that’s a nasty business. If you help me with a job, I’ll give you a supply. What you do with it is your business. I’ll even pay you half up front, and if you want to keep it and throw me out, so be it.” 

The double looked pained for a moment, but then his expression shut down and he just stared at Zane. “I don’t work with bandits. Get out of my face.”

“I ain’t a bandit,” Zane said indignantly. “That’s me brothers.”

The double began to turn away from him. Zane was going to lose him at this rate, so he might as well do something drastic.

He reached out and lightly rested his hand on the man’s arm. Hell, he didn’t even know how old this guy really was. He looked like Jack, but he could be half Jack’s age. He could just be some young man they hooked on Eridium to force into the job, for all Zane knew. 

It made him surprisingly angry. Eridium was nasty stuff, and Jack and his people were clearly aware this guy was hooked on it. They were using it to control him and keep him in line. If his addiction got too out of hand, he’d wind up mutated and dead.

The other doubles hadn’t seemed to be hooked on anything. Once again, Zane wondered just what the hell was up with this one. Were they grooming him for something bigger, and trying to break him down now so they’d have complete control over him later?

Whatever the case, the gentle touch on his arm had him stiffening in a way that told Zane he rarely knew such a thing. He didn’t face Zane, but that pained expression flashed across his face again.

Ah, dammit. Zane actually felt kind of bad for the guy.

“Like I said, I’ll pay you up front, and you can decide to throw me out. This isn’t a way for me to use you like they are.” He shook his head in genuine disgust. “Bloody bastards. You at least deserve the chance to free yourself.”

The double let the touch linger just a moment longer before shrugging Zane’s hand off. He spun to face him, gripping his shirt and slamming him against the wall, getting in close, his face furious.

“There’s an area in the Spendopticon hidden by a wall of water. Be there in two hours,” he said, and shoved himself away from Zane, walking away without a look back.

Zane fixed his shirt and retreated from the area, noting two guards nearby. One was watching him, and one was watching the double.

Two hours, then. Plenty that Zane could do to kill time until then. He just hoped the double was actually willing to work with him on this, for both their sakes.

Chapter Text

Zane spent the two hours looking for an alternative way to get the job done, just in case. He found none, of course.

His idea to get into the security room to eavesdrop was a no-go, as the security room appeared to be beyond a restricted area he needed codes to disarm. He had a feeling that only a select few people would know those codes, and didn’t want to risk kidnapping the wrong person.

Getting that Winning Hand access would be easiest if he could’ve stolen the double’s glove, but it wouldn’t be possible with the man being watched so closely. And cutting the hand off another double would draw too much attention. 

He hid himself near the VIP room the scientists had gone into, but from what he’d picked up on from listening to the guards, it sounded like they’d be in there for a long while, if not all night. He could always follow them when they finally left, but they’d likely have a large security detail on them. 

So the double was his best bet. He already had several contingency plans for getting out of the casino if the double betrayed him to security or Jack, just to be safe.

So when the two hours passed, Zane found the area he’d been told about. Beyond the water, there was a fairly large room inside. Zane scoped it out for any threats, and was satisfied when he found no threats and no security measures.

He also found no double.

He paced the room again, hand lingering near his gun in case this was a trap. But time passed, and no one came in. 

He really hoped the double hadn’t backed out. That would make this whole thing a pain. 

“You there?”

He spun, aiming his gun. And then lowered it when he realized he was aiming it at an ECHO.

“Aye, been waiting for you. Could’ve warned me you were just going to leave an ECHO here,” Zane said, picking it up.

There was a video feed of the double. He was crouched over it, his cheek propped in his palm. It looked like a casual, bored position, but Zane realized he was probably doing it to hide the fact that he was talking. 

“I couldn’t physically meet up with you,” the double said, and sure enough, his voice was quiet and he moved his lips as little as possible. “They watch me too closely.”

“Have you thought over the offer?” Zane asked hopefully.

“Yes.” He hesitated before his expression hardened. “I’ll help you with whatever the hell you’re doing, but you’ll pay me three months Eridium up front, and three months on completion. And it has to be liquid Eridium, not the bars.”

“That I can do,” Zane said with a nod. “If you give me an hour, I can get the upfront payment.”

“And one more condition,” he said. “You get me out of this casino.”

Well, Zane hadn’t been expecting that, but it wasn’t an unreasonable request. “I can do that.”

“We do it on my terms when the time comes,” the double said. “You leave without me, I get Jack involved. You try to betray the deal, I get Jack involved.”

“Sure, sure. But what if you try to betray me?” Zane said. “I need some insurance, surely.”

“That’s your problem. I’m getting the hell out of this place, and if you think I’d jeopardize that, that’s your issue,” he said. 

“Alright, but how are we supposed to do this if I can’t even meet up with you?” Zane said.

“You get the Eridium, leave it in there where I tell you to, and then I’ll do whatever you need.” He subtly shifted so his gloved hand was in view. “You need this, don’t you?”

Smart lad. “Aye.”

“Then get the Eridium. You have one hour, and then I’ll contact you again.” The feed cut, and the double was gone. 

Zane didn’t waste any time. He got right to work, getting in touch with contacts to get his Eridium into a liquid form and sent to him. 

He certainly didn’t trust the double, but he trusted that the double wanted to get out of here. Besides, the double hadn’t said it, but Zane had a feeling if anyone even suspected he’d made a deal to get his hands on his own supply of Eridium, he’d face some harsh consequences.

By the time his contacts got him what he needed, the hour was almost up. Zane met with one of them to make the switch, paying them and taking the supplies before hurrying back to the room with the ECHO in it.

He waited for the double to contact him, and was tempted to ask the guy his name again. Was it really Jack? Because that would be inconvenient as hell.

The video feed came on. Zane turned the ECHO so the double could see the Eridium.

“Three months supply, liquid,” he said. 

“Put it in the safe on the shelf.” His voice was a little hoarse, and he cleared his throat nervously.

Zane did as he was instructed, shutting the safe door and locking the Eridium in there. The double nodded, chewing on his lower lip without seeming to realize he was doing it.

“What do you need?” he said at last.

“Access to that VIP party. Either get me in, or get me a way to eavesdrop on them,” Zane said.

“I can let you eavesdrop with the ECHO you have. I can get you a video feed of the whole room,” the double said. “Just hang on a few minutes.”

The feed cut, and Zane sat against the wall with the ECHO balanced in his lap as he waited. Eavesdropping would be the first step. Once he knew more, he’d see how long he’d need the double for. 

It wasn’t very long before the feed came back up. This time however, Zane was watching the VIP room, though with no audio.

“There,” the double’s voice said. “Have at it. Contact me when you need me again, or when this is over so I can get my other half.”

His voice cut out and the audio from the feed filled in. Zane settled back, getting as comfortable as he could. There was no telling how long this would take. 

Most of the conversations were boring and of little interest to Zane, though he forced himself to keep paying attention. He hated having to be patient like this, but he was still good at it.

It was hours before he finally got what he needed.

“-just going to head right back to the labs tomorrow,” one of the scientists said. “The schematics will be fine without us for the night.”

“Why did Jack have to stick us in some remote lab? This would’ve been safer on Helios,” another scientist complained.

The first one shook his head. “Not after those samples got stolen. We’re better off in the remote lab. Besides, we’ll be free of it soon enough. Just have to finalize everything and let Handsome Jack deal with the production.”

“I guess. But all those skags are around lately!” the other one said.

“Have another drink and forget about it,” the man said, holding up his own drink.

Their conversation shifted, and Zane connected a feed to the double. It didn’t go through, and Zane waited until the double contacted him.

“Had to get away,” he said. “What do you need now?”

“A remote lab, got a bit of a skag problem?” he said. “Know the place?”

The double furrowed his brow before understanding lit his face. “Oh, you’re after those weapon schematics.” He shook his head. “I’m not as in the know as I used to be, but that project was going on before I got sent here. Yea, I know the spot.”

“Care to share with a friend?” Zane said with a sweet smile.

The double raised an eyebrow. “If you’re going after that lab, that means you’re leaving soon. I’ll give you the location when you get me out of here.”

“Fair enough,” Zane said. “You said we’re doing this escape on your terms?”

“Yes. I have a, uh, bomb in my face I need to take care of before I can go,” the double said. “So I need you to cause a distraction. Go find Ember in the vice district, and tell her-” He stopped, cleared his throat. “Tell her the gloved-hand jackass sent you, and we need to get attention off me long enough for me to use the access codes.”

“A...bomb in your face,” Zane said. “Employment here sucks, doesn’t it?”

“You have no freaking clue,” the double groaned. “Just go find Ember. I’ll be ready to move immediately. That’s just phase one, by the way.”

He wasn’t getting that location without the double, so Zane stood up. “Ember in the vice district. Got it.” 

He left and made his way to the vice district. It was a good place to get information and have a good time, but Zane wasn’t here for pleasure right now. He spotted a lone dancer, and made his way up to her.

“You seen a lass named Ember around here?” he asked.

“Oh, you’re after her,” the dancer said, eyeing Zane and letting a secutive grin curve her lips. “Care to try someone new?”

“Another time,” Zane said, but paid her because he wasn’t an asshole. “Ember?”

“That way, first right,” she said, pointing.

Zane hurried off, following her directions. He entered the indicated room, and found Ember immediately.

Well, actually, he found the fire first, and then found the woman behind it. She had a small crowd gathered around her, money flying her way as she did an impressively elaborate dance with the use of fire.

Zane politely waited for it to finish before getting as close as he could. Plenty of people were trying to catch Ember’s attention.

“Oi, Ember!” he called. “Got a message from the gloved-hand jackass.”

That got her attention. She spun to face him, surprise on her face. She shooed the others away, grabbing Zane’s arm and pulling him to a quiet section of the room.

“And who are you?” she asked, eyeing him. “You’re not familiar.”

“Name’s Zane,” Zane said. “The double with the glove on him sent me to find you. He said he needs a distraction to get a bomb out of his face, or some nonsense.”

She looked even more surprised. “He wouldn’t need to do that unless…” Her expression went solemn. “Good. He should’ve done this a long time ago. If it’s a distraction he needs, I’ll make it grand.”

“I take it fire will be involved?” Zane said eagerly.

“But of course,” she said, brightening at the thought. 

But something was eating at Zane. “Why’d he have to send me to tell you?” 

“Because he is banned from the vice district, and from contact with me and many others,” she said.

“Why? He get a little crazy in the vice district?” Zane said.

“It is because some of us were kind to him,” Ember said, and there was anger in her voice. “He is not allowed to have that in his life. That is why, if he is finally making his escape, I will burn this casino to the ground to help him flee.” 

The more Zane heard about what they did to this double, the more he also wanted to see the poor guy make an escape. “Anything I can help with?”

“You are clearly working with him. If he didn’t tell you to stay and help, he’ll probably need you for something else. Leave the vice district, so you don’t get caught up in the flames,” she said. She met Zane’s eyes. “Get him out of this place. Jack has been smothering his flames for far too long.”

“Yes, ma’am!” Zane said, because he was worried any other response would end with him as well-done barbecue. 

He had a million questions, but he scurried away from Ember and took the fastest way out of the vice district. Just what was he getting himself into, getting involved with a double who was being singled out so specifically?

Still, it was downright awful. They drugged the guy, and were apparently keeping him isolated from anyone who was willing to be his friend. Had he pissed off Handsome Jack, or was there something else going on here?

Right, not his business. His business was stealing those schematics. The rest was just curiosity he couldn’t bother indulging in. If answers came out along the way, then great. If not, Zane still had to walk away when the job was done. The double would be on his own.

Zane had just reached a waiting area in the casino when the alarms blared.

“-an explosion in the vice district!” a guard cried into his ECHO as he rushed past Zane.

Guests looked startled, but the employees were hurrying to reassure them that the trouble was isolated to the vice district. Zane crept closer to listen.

“-was an explosion,” an employee was assuring a frightened group of gamblers. “It’s been contained to that area, and we’re locking the area down. Don’t even worry about it.”

Zane realized he wasn’t quite sure what to do now. He retreated back to the area the double had left the ECHO for him at, sneaking in when no one was looking. He sat down and placed the ECHO in his lap, hoping Ember was okay. She probably could’ve done something that at least wouldn’t lead back to her.

But she had style and flare, that was for sure. Zane could respect that. 

He kept himself busy by reading chat sites on his ECHO. As far as he could tell, the casino really had managed to contain the explosion and the resulting fires to the vice district, but it was packed with security. 

With those scientists in the casino, Zane knew they wouldn’t take any chances of this thing spreading. They’d be questioning everyone in there to find the source. He hoped Ember would be okay, but was glad he’d left before the chaos started. Slipping away would’ve been a challenge. 

He’d been reading the online discussions on what happened for a while before the other ECHO came alive with the double’s voice.

“Are you there?” he said, sounding out of breath.

“Oh, you’re still alive!” Zane said brightly. “Had me worried for a second.”

“Hell no, I am NOT dying in this freaking casino,” he said. “I did what I had to do, the bomb won’t be a problem. I hope. If it is...well, we’re all dying at some point, right?” He didn’t sound like he particularly liked the thought of his face suddenly exploding, but sighed and moved on. “Ember, as usual, took it too far.”

He sounded fond, though. “She wanted me to get you out of here.”

He was silent for a long moment. “Right. Well, better not let this distraction go to waste, then. Alright, phase two.”

“And phase two is…?” Zane said. “Is it the phase where I learn your name so I can stop mentally referring to you as ‘the double’?”

“I told you, my name is Jack,” he said. “Regardless, phase two. Phase two, we make it look like I was kidnapped, so that Jack isn’t too suspicious of me disappearing.” 

“Riiiight. And when Handsome Jack is hunting me down for kidnapping you?” Zane said. “Wait, would he even care if a double goes missing?”

“If I go missing, he’ll do whatever he can to get me back.” The double’s voice was dark and furious. He cleared his throat. “But, uh, we’ll make sure he doesn’t know you have me. For my own safety.”

“Oh of course, I’d hate for you to be in any danger. I’ve known you for several hours now, after all. Practically brothers,” Zane said.

“Shut up, it benefits both of us if Jack is clueless in this. Anyways, with Ember’s distraction, the bulk of the guards are dealing with the mess in the vice district, making this even easier. I’m in the section by the VIP room. There’s a generator nearby. If you shoot that, it’ll cause a minor explosion- minor, because I’m not Ember- but enough to kick up a good deal of smoke and confusion. The guards will try to protect the scientists in the VIP room rather than bother with me. You’ll- shit, I’ve got to make this convincing. Alright, you’ll meet up with me, and I’ll make sure there’s a good amount of my blood to throw Jack off. Hey, any chance you have an EMP?”

“I always come prepared, boyo. Of course I do,” Zane said.

“Let it loose right before you shoot the generator,” the double said. 

“Any particular reason for that?” Zane said. He’d upgraded his gadgets to resist a basic EMP, so it wouldn’t be an issue.

“Yes,” the double said, but didn’t elaborate. “We’ll have to move fast. The second the guards realize I’m gone, they’ll lock the casino down. And if I fast travel, Jack will be able to track my DNA signature.”

“Then we need more time. I can get us out if we make it to the ship compound,” Zane said. “But, you know, we have to make it there.”

“Shit,” the double grumbled. “Alright, alright. Uh...Oh, idea! Come on down now and shoot the generator as soon as you get here. I’ll have the rest covered.”

“Can I trust you?” Zane said.

“You can trust I’m getting this fine ass out of the casino, and also that I disgust myself. Ugh. ‘This fine ass’, really?” He groaned. “Just...Just get here.”

He cut the feed. Zane stood up, and took the ECHO with him. He made sure he had his EMP ready before taking off for the area he’d met the double in. 

Sure enough, he spotted the generator the double had been talking about. He hid himself and looked around, spotting the double leaning casually against the wall and watching a large group of gamblers nearby.

“Well, here goes nothing,” Zane said with a shrug, and activated the EMP. He rolled a grenade to the generator, and darted out as soon as it went off.

The explosion was...a little bigger than he’d planned. Ember had inspired him a little too much.

Still, the guards cried out as smoke rushed through the room, obscuring visibility. Zane used his cybernetic eye to make his way through the sudden mess to the doppelganger.

He grabbed the man’s arm. “Just me!” he said hastily.

Screaming and gunfire had started up behind them. “That would be my distraction. Follow me, and let’s get the hell out of here.” 

Zane pulled his hand away and hastily followed the double into a room. The double darted through it and over to a vent, kicking it open. He climbed in, and Zane followed him.

“Pull the cover back over,” the double ordered as he crawled along surprisingly fast.

Zane did as he was told and followed him. “So what was all the screaming and shooting about?”

“I started a rumor among the group that there were secrets to consistent winning hidden in that VIP room,” the double said. “You’d be amazed at the things these freaking morons actually believe. Seriously, I once convinced a guy that I was actually Jack’s mother who took on the role of his body double to pay him back for missing his tenth birthday.”

They crawled along the vents, the double seeming to know exactly where he was going. It was a bit before he slowed.

“Alright, you know where your ship is?” he asked.

“Sure do,” Zane said with a nod.

“Then we bust out of here and head for it,” the double said.

He kicked open the vent, tossed out three grenades, and jumped down. Zane sighed. Not subtle, that one.

Still, he followed, grabbing the double’s hoodie and yanking him towards the ship. The double ducked his head as they got onto Zane’s ship, an explosion rocking the whole area.

“I, uh, might’ve accidentally blown up a ship,” the double said, rubbing the back of his neck.

“Sneaking? Stealth? Subtlety?” Zane said, starting up the ship and speeding for the exit before the place went on lockdown. “Ever heard of ‘em?”

The double dropped into a seat, looking moody. “Shut up and finish kidnapping me.”

Zane flew them clear of the casino. As he did so, the doppelganger slipped his watch off and held his hand out.

“Tell me you have that spare ECHO?” he said.

Zane tossed it to him. “What for?”

“To disable the tracker in my watch. With any luck, Jack will think you broke it,” he said, connecting the watch. 

“Why not just leave it behind?” Zane said.

“Not all of us are rich enough to just leave our watches behind,” the double said, his concentration going to the ECHO. “Sh. I’m working.”

Zane let the silence settle over them. He preferred to work alone, but right now, he needed the double. 

It was only after a while that he glanced over and noticed that the double had wrapped his jacket around his arm. Zane frowned.

“What’s that for?” he asked.

“Huh?” the double looked up and followed Zane’s gaze. “Ah, shit, I forgot.”

He pulled the jacket away, revealing the rolled up sleeve of his hoodie and an alarming gash in his arm. Despite how bad it looked, it had already stopped bleeding.

“I cut myself so it looked like I’d been badly injured.” He dropped his gaze back to the ECHO, frustration slipping over his expression. “Doesn’t really matter. The Eridium kept me from bleeding to death before I could get a health kit.”

He took a health kit out and stuck it in his arm. He disconnected his watch and put it back on his wrist, tracing his fingers over the face of it gently.  

“So, we’re out,” Zane said. “Where to?”

“Pandora,” the double said.

“Alright. But for the love of me sanity, what the hell is your real name, boyo?”

“Jack,” he said in irritation.

“Your name is really Jack? It’s not like...I don’t know, Richard or something?” Zane said. “Jack found a double named Jack?”

“It’s Jack Lawr-” He froze, eyes going wide in horror. “I...no, wait. It’s not Jack. It’s- oh, hell.” He scrubbed at his face. “It’s Timothy. My name is Timothy. I forgot.”

Zane didn’t ask how he could’ve possibly forgotten his own name. The guy seemed damned messed up from his time at the casino. 

“Timothy, then,” Zane said. 

“Or, uh, Tim, I guess,” he said, looking uncomfortable. “Whatever. What was yours again?”

“Zane,” Zane said, deciding to leave out the Flynt part for now. Handsome Jack hated bandits, and Captain hadn’t exactly endeared himself to Jack. Best not to connect himself to his brother. “So, Timothy, what about that upfront payment?”

“When Ember set off her distraction, I claimed I was going to Jack’s tower to get a security update and see if our charges were in danger. I grabbed it on the way,” Tim said, gesturing to his bag. 

“Well, that whole escape went pretty well,” Zane said.

Tim shook his head. “Only because the guards thought the scientists were the targets. If those scientists hadn’t been there, I never would’ve been able to escape. Besides, it’s not over yet. By now, they’ll have reported to Jack that I’m gone. He’ll hunt the whole damn galaxy to find me.” 

“Why?” Zane asked, because he felt it was only fair he knew why they now had Handsome Jack to worry about it. “You aren’t a regular double, are you?”

“I’m…” Tim turned his head away. “Doesn’t matter what I am to Jack. The fact is, he’ll want me back. Badly.” He paused, and stared out the window of the ship, suddenly looking small. “I left. I actually left.” 

“You gonna be alright, boyo?” Zane asked.

Tim didn’t answer. He just stared out the ship, looking scared and confused. It was such a bizarre thing to see on Handsome Jack’s face, that Zane turned away from him, unsure what to say.

He might need Timothy’s help, but he sure as hell didn’t need Tim’s problems. So he dropped the questioning, and piloted them along in silence.

Chapter Text

Zane was relieved when they arrived on Pandora. Tim hadn’t spoken a word, just fidgeted with his watch and stared out the window. 

Zane landed the small ship, glad he hadn’t paid much for the thing. He had a feeling it’d be rotting here.

“Let’s get a move on, then,” Zane said.

“Wait.” Tim lifted his ECHO. He wet his lips, his hands shaking just slightly. When he spoke, his voice was barely more than a whisper. “Angel?”

They waited for a long moment, but there was no response. The despair on Tim’s face was so raw that Zane turned away from him.

What the hell had they done to this guy?

“Come on, lad,” he said, grabbing his things. “Do you have weapons on you?”

“Yea.” Tim cleared his throat, and when he spoke again, he sounded more like Jack. “Yes. I had all my weapons on me in the casino. But, uh, my face?”

“Oh! Right,” Zane said. “Yea, that’s a bit of a problem, isn’t it? Didn’t think that one through.”

Tim stared at him. “You didn’t once stop to think that wandering Pandora with Handsome Jack would be a problem?”

“Not really,” Zane admitted. “That whole casino escape sort of took my attention.”

“Oh boy, what have I gotten myself into this time?” Tim said with a sigh. He stood up and pulled his hood up, hiding his face as best he could. He zipped the jacket up to hide the Hyperion logo on his hoodie. “Best I can do for now.”

“Why not take the mask off?” Zane offered.

Tim shook his head. “Trust me, Jack will be looking for me masked or unmasked.”

“Still, might be a little easier to hide you,” Zane said. 

Tim hesitated. Zane shook his head.

“Whatever’s under that mask isn’t going to send me screaming, boyo. Trust me, I’ve been in this business a long time, and seen a lot of shite,” Zane assured.

“Fine. But only because it’ll keep down sightings of Handsome Jack,” Tim grumbled, and pulled his mask off. 

Zane had assumed Handsome Jack was hiding some sort of mutilation beneath the mask, and it turned out he was right. The vault symbol carved through Tim’s face, a brand long healed. It left him blind in one eye, and Zane supposed he was lucky it was just the one, because it cut dangerously close to his blue eye. 

Tim gently put his mask in his bag. “Might need that later. Being Handsome Jack might come in handy for this.” 

They left the ship and Zane let Tim lead the way. He looked around Pandora, frowning as he did so.

“What is it?” Zane asked.

“I just...haven’t been here in a while. I’ve been locked up in that casino for so long,” Tim said. “Shit, I hope he doesn’t send Wilhelm looking for me.”

“The enforcer?” Zane said, frowning. “Lad, he’s dead.”

Tim stopped so suddenly that Zane nearly ran into him. “Dead? Wilhelm?”

“Aye, the cyborg fella,” Zane said. “I was doing some research for this job when I caught wind of it. Killed by those Crimson Raiders not too long ago now.”

Tim stared at Zane, as if waiting for him to declare this conversation just a joke. When Zane just stared back, Tim closed his eyes for a brief moment.

“He didn’t even tell me,” he said quietly. He opened his eyes, a flash of fury on his face. “Right, you want those schematics. Come on.” 

“Will this be an easy in and out job?” Zane said. “Or a fun shoot a lot of people job?”

“Shoot a lot of people,” Tim said. “The facility is small but heavily guarded. I can get us past the initial defenses, but doing so might draw Jack’s attention.” He slipped the glove off his hand and stuffed that in his bag. “With me missing, he’ll no doubt send- well, not Wilhelm, because apparently he’s freaking dead, but he’ll send someone to check and see if I’m there. Nisha, probably. Unless she’s dead too. Oh, hell, don’t tell me she’s dead too. Jack’ll be in such a bad mood.”

“The Sheriff of Lynchwood? Still kicking, as far as I know,” Zane said. “Say, Timothy, it’s driving me crazy. How old are you?”

“Me?” He looked startled. “I’m...um...I’m…” He seemed genuinely baffled. “I don’t remember. I was...hell, how long have I been with Jack? I was in my 20s when I joined him.”

“Younger than him, then,” Zane said. “It was driving me absolutely nuts. You could be a teenager for all I bloody know looking like that.”

“Son of a taint, I’m not that young,” Tim said. “How old are you? Either you’re twice my age, or you did not age well, kiddo.”

“It’s rude to ask a man his age,” Zane said.

“But you just-”

“Can’t believe I got stuck with some rude kid,” Zane said, shaking his head. 

“Oh, piss off,” Tim said, glaring at him. “You need me. Don’t be a bastard to me. I got enough of that for a lifetime from Jack.” 

“Lighten up and learn to have a little fun!” Zane said.

Tim held a hand out. “Wait. Did you hear something?”

“Me own glorious voice? Or are you referring to the sounds of bandits trying to sneak up on us?” Zane said.

“Man, I am so out of practice,” Tim groaned, drawing his gun just as the bandits surged forth at them. “I didn’t even notice at first. Stupid freaking casino.”

“Think of it as a warmup!” Zane said, taking his own gun out and firing on the bandits charging them.

The noise attracted the attention of rakks, who swooped in low and tried to claw at Tim. He swatted them away, and Zane shot a bandit trying to take advantage of his momentary distraction.

“Behind you, kiddo,” Tim called. “Badass!”

Zane clicked his digi-clone device just before the Badass swung his weapon down. It swung harmlessly through the digi-clone, and Zane continued to merrily fire on the bandits.

“Whoa, okay, that was unexpected,” Tim said in surprise.

“I have a few tricks up my sleeve,” Zane said. “On your left, boyo.” 

Tim ducked out of the way as a bandit swung his weapon at Tim. Tim came up under him, slamming his gun into the bandit’s throat to drive him back, and shooting him in the chest several times as he gagged and clutched his throat. 

Zane let out a whistle. “Bit ruthless, aren’t ya?”

“I have a lot of pent-up anger. And trauma. But I can deal with the anger right now, at least,” Tim said, jumping away as shots caused his shield to ripple. 

More bandits were joining the chaos, and the rakks were still swooping in at the two of them. Zane was able to mostly avoid trouble by switching with his digi-clone. He considered releasing his SNTNL to speed up the fight, but for as annoyed as Tim seemed whenever he was caught off guard by an attack, he did seem to be relaxing into the violence. 

It was probably best to let Tim take his anger out on bandits, rather than let it stew more and erupt at Zane. Zane slowed his own assault to leave more bandits for Tim.

Two rakks swooped at Zane, screeching. He shifted his attention to them, and realized too late that the Badass had slipped past him.

The Badass slammed into Tim from behind him, sending him flying forward. Tim hit the ground hard, his gun sliding away from him. He rolled away before the Badass could break his spine with a stomp.

“Oh, you’ll regret that one, pumpkin,” Tim promised, and swiped his fingers against his watch.

“Hey! You have ‘em too!” Zane said in excitement as two digi-clones surged forth from the watch. One was blue, but the other was a red Badass, matching the size of the Badass currently threatening Tim.

“See now why I didn’t want to leave that behind?” Tim said, getting to his feet and picking up his gun. “The digi-Jacks are useful.”

Sure enough, they were driving the Badass back, giving Tim time to recover his shields and begin firing again. Zane regrouped with him, and the two went on a rampage together, taking out bandits and rakks. 

They stopped to catch their breaths when the battlefield finally fell silent. Tim dismissed his digi-Jacks and holstered his gun.

“I’ve been working casino security so long. It’s been a while since I’ve had a real fight,” he said at last. “I forgot how freaking terrifying it is.”

“You seemed to be handling it just fine,” Zane said.

“Well, I’d hope so. I was a vault hunter,” Tim said.

“A vault hunter!” Zane said. “Did you get to fight weird vault aliens?!”

“Unfortunately,” Tim grumbled. “As thrilling as near-death at the hands of a vault monster sounds, I’m glad those days are over.”

“So how’d a vault hunter wind up running casino security?” Zane asked as they got walking again. 

“Because Jack is an absolute chode,” Tim said. “What are you after the schematics for?”

Touche. “Don’t touch that topic, got it.” 

There was a beeping noise, and Tim took the bottle from his pocket. He helped himself to a swig before putting the bottle back.

“Is that thing on a timer?” Zane said.

“Can’t have me overdosing,” Tim said bitterly. 

“Well, you’ve got your own supply now. Three months of it to get yourself clean or find a supplier,” Zane said, and found himself hoping it was the first option. He couldn’t help the pity he felt for Tim. He was young, Eridium addicted, and kept on a short leash held by that megalomaniac Handsome Jack. 

“Yea,” Tim mumbled, touching the pocket he’d put the bottle into. “Six months, when this is all over.”

“I’ll keep my end,” Zane assured him. “You help me get those schematics, and the Eridium is yours.”

“It screws Jack if you get them. That’s just a bonus,” Tim said. 

He was burning with curiosity, but he’d already asked enough questions, so he resisted the urge. He wanted to know how Jack had gotten his hands on Tim, and why he was keeping him locked up in the casino. Grooming him, or punishing him?

But it didn’t matter. They’d part ways when this job was over, and Tim’s addiction and past would be his own problems to deal with. 

Still…

“You know, your digi-Jacks seemed just programmed for battle,” Zane said.

Tim nodded. “That’s why I have them. Battle. I needed your EMP to put them offline long enough for me to sever Jack’s connection to them. He can track me and monitor my vitals through them when he’s connected. But he can’t reinstate the connection remotely. He needs to have the physical watch to do it.”

“I could show you how to program personality into them,” Zane offered. The idea of Tim being entirely alone with his addiction when this job was over made him feel guilty, especially since he was giving him an uncontrolled supply that Tim could easily overdose on. “I programmed mine with a personality. I heard yours yelling out some phrases. Mine can’t talk, but it still keeps me company.”

“You’re not touching my watch,” Tim said sharply.

“Don’t need to. I can just teach you how, and you can do with the knowledge what you please,” Zane said, shrugging. “I have an interest in digi-clones, obviously. Taught myself how to program them.”

“I…” Tim looked away. “Yea, fine, whatever. But you’re not touching my watch.” He looked up at the sky, squinting his good eye at the sunlight. “We’ll need to stop for the night eventually. We won’t make it there in one go. You can show me when we find a place to set up for the night.”

“A sleepover! Classic,” Zane said.

“I’m so regretting this decision right now,” Tim said. 

They walked along in silence, stopping twice to take out stalkers gathered up ahead. Zane was impressed at Tim’s ability with a sniper rifle, but realized that sniping left him vulnerable thanks to his blind eye. Zane kept him covered, and they managed to avoid any trouble.

After they’d gone a fair distance, Tim finally broke the silence. “Who killed Wilhelm? You said the Crimson Raiders, but was it...I dunno, Roland or Lilith?”

“The vault hunters,” Zane said. “At least from what I heard.”

Tim furrowed his brow. “Vault hunters?”

“You didn’t know? Apparently there’s a set of ‘em Jack failed to kill who joined up with the Crimson Raiders,” Zane said. 

“What? No, that’s impossible,” Tim said immediately. “Jack wouldn’t have failed to kill them.”

“Well, he did,” Zane said. “I’ve been keeping a loose eye on the whole mess. Six vault hunters survived an attack by Jack, and ended up joining those Crimson Raiders.” 

“What about Sanctuary? Jack said he had a plan to attack it,” Tim said.

“Oh, it’s flying now,” Zane said, gesturing vaguely to the sky. At Tim’s look, he shook his head. “Wish I was kidding, but it really is flying now. Jack attacked it and it, ah, went airborne to escape, I guess?”

Tim raked a hand through his hair. “No, no, no. This is all wrong. Why the hell didn’t he tell me? Why didn’t he come get me?” 

Zane caught his hood as it fell back, and tugged it back over Tim’s head. “Oi! Keep yourself together, Timothy.”

“Oh, piss off, grandpa,” he said, and his tone was a perfect match to Jack’s cruel, mocking tone. 

“What’s gotten into you?” Zane said. 

“He abandoned me!” Tim cried, fury and pain mixing together. He recoiled as if he’d been struck for daring to say such a thing.

“Ah, this that trauma part, then?” Zane said.

“He just...Look, this whole thing is fucked up, okay? Wilhelm is dead, the Crimson Raiders have vault hunters helping them, Sanctuary is flying, I ran away from the casino…” He dug the bottle out of his pocket, and Zane realized that he didn’t even notice he was doing it. He tried to flick the cap off, and swore loudly when it didn’t work, glaring at the timer on the bottle. “Son of a taint! That absolute freaking chode!” 

Zane caught his arm as he reached for his bag. “Will you just take a deep breath or something? You start taking that stuff to clear a bad mood, you’ll be dead in a few hours. Probably a few minutes. You seem like you’re always in a bad mood.”

“He locked me in the casino!” Tim said, trying to tug his arm away.

“Which sucks. But messing up your body with Eridium doesn’t get back at him,” Zane said, but released Tim’s arm. “I can’t stop you. But there’s my warning, Timothy.” 

Tim’s hands were shaking badly now, and he shoved them in his pockets. Zane wasn’t surprised at his behavior; Eridium addiction would make a person unpredictable, but the manipulation and abuse at Jack’s hands clearly messed Tim up even without Eridium. 

“Right, sorry, I’m the worst,” he said at last, closing his eyes. “Got a little overdramatic for a second there. I just...need a little to steady myself.”

Zane couldn’t stop him, though he’d certainly try if Tim took too much. He needed Tim alive and semi-coherent for this job. 

But he watched as Tim took out the three month supply and allowed himself to have just a little. He saw the hesitation before Tim took just a little more, then forced himself to put it away. His hands steadied, his shoulders releasing their tension.

“Most people just inject it,” Zane said as they got walking again.

“I’m a little bitch. I don’t like needles,” Tim said. 

“You’re surgically altered, then?” Zane said. He’d been wondering, pretty certain that Tim was surgically altered, but unable to confirm it.

“Yea.” Tim shifted uncomfortably. “Stupid student loans.” He shoved his hands back in his pockets. “So, uh, are you a mercenary, or…?”

“Something like that,” Zane said. “Right now, all that matters is that I’ve been hired to get those schematics.” 

“Easy enough. Well, no, actually, not easy at all. But easier with my help,” Tim said. 

Well, it’d certainly be easier if Tim hadn’t just set a dangerous precedent for himself. If he turned to Eridium every time he got stressed or angry, he’d be dead before they ever reached this facility.

Zane would have to keep Tim’s addiction under control somehow, at least long enough for them to finish this job. After that, they would part ways, and Tim would be on his own, regardless of if Zane felt bad for him or not. 

Because Zane did feel bad for the kid. But Tim wasn’t his responsibility; getting those schematics was. So he’d do what needed to be done, and would just have to hope Tim had a plan for when this was all over.

Chapter Text

They found a quiet, secluded place to set up a makeshift camp for the night. Zane got a small fire started to keep them warm, and Tim hunted a large skag for them to eat.

They sat now, cooking skag meat over the fire. Zane had already dug into it, but Tim was just staring out at the landscape.

“Eat, lad,” Zane said, nudging him.

“Hm? Oh, I’m not hungry,” he said, shaking his head.

Zane shrugged, not pointing out that it was likely a result of his addiction. “At least try to force a bit down. I don’t need you fainting on me in battle.”

He stared down at the meat, but didn’t move to eat any. Instead, that beeping came from his pocket, and he looked relieved as he helped himself to Eridium. 

“How about that watch upgrade?” Zane offered when Tim stared longingly at the bottle.

Tim nodded, and Zane moved closer to him. Tim carefully took his watch off and hooked it to his ECHO, accessing the watch’s code.

Zane patiently explained how to make the upgrades, and what Tim could do. Tim showed Zane the code, and they slipped into excited conversation about ways Tim could upgrade the battle capabilities. 

It was the first time Tim seemed genuinely enthusiastic, so Zane kept the conversation going until Tim seemed too tired to stay up any longer. He backed off as Tim strapped his watch back to his wrist and shrugged off his jacket, resting his head on it.

“I’ll take watch,” Zane said, used to going long periods of time without sleeping for jobs. 

Tim helped himself to some of the Eridium Zane had given him, and closed his eyes, not arguing. Zane was assuming the only reason Tim was trusting him to keep watch was because Zane needed him to find that facility. He wouldn’t dare kill or leave Tim without that information. 

The Eridium left Tim sleeping like a corpse. Zane actually had to check to see if he was still breathing a few times, because his hoodie made it hard to see if his chest was rising and falling. 

With him out thoroughly, Zane decided to do a little snooping. He checked Tim’s ECHO, but it appeared to be just a spare he’d confiscated off someone in the casino, and had no personal information or contacts. He checked Tim’s bag, and also found nothing helpful. The Eridium, spare ammo, some health kits, and little scatterings of canned food, bottled water, and gear that could come in handy. 

Instead, Zane sat and studied Tim’s scar. It was a brand, ruthlessly pressed into his flesh. Zane wondered how Jack had gotten the original one, and why he’d bothered branding Tim to match if Tim was just going to wear the mask most of the time anyways. 

Probably a control thing. Jack seemed to have a fondness for finding ways to control Tim. 

He carefully took the bottle of Eridium from Tim’s pocket and looked it over. It was a decent size, but from what Zane had seen, only allowed Tim to drink a certain amount at certain intervals. When this ran out, Tim would be in control of how much he took. 

Zane slipped the bottle back into Tim’s pocket. Nothing he could do to help the kid. 

He leaned back and kept watch throughout the night. There was no point in trying to wake Tim to switch; Zane wasn’t even tired, and Tim would be groggy for a bit after being woken from his Eridium-induced slumber. 

By the time Tim finally woke up, Zane was ready to eat and get moving again. He’d started cooking some of the leftover skag meat just a few minutes before Tim sat up, rubbing his head.

He seemed a little disoriented at first, before catching sight of Zane and seeming to remember why he wasn’t back at the casino. He stretched, rubbing at his good eye.

“You didn’t switch with me,” he said.

“No point,” Zane said.

Tim shrugged and pulled his jacket back on. “Shit, I forgot how sore sleeping on the freaking ground makes my back.”

“Here,” Zane said, holding out a piece of cooked meat. “Hungry or not, you’re eating that. I haven’t seen you eat a thing since I met you.”

“You met me yesterday,” Tim said, taking the meat. “I’m not even hungry.”

“Eat,” Zane said sternly.

Tim’s eyes widened a little, and he looked surprisingly sad for a moment. But then he shook himself and looked away as he nibbled at the meat until it was finally gone. 

“We should head out and-” Zane started.

“Zane Flynt.”

Zane turned to Tim, opening his mouth to ask how Tim knew his last name. But then he froze, because Tim was staring at him in terror, and he realized the voice had come from his ECHO.

“Oh, I’m in trouble,” Zane whispered.

Zane slowly lifted his ECHO. Tim looked ready to bolt if Jack’s voice came through it again, so Zane offered what he hoped was a confident grin to soothe him a bit. 

“Zane Flynt, mercenary and assassin,” Jack said, in that mocking tone of his. “Brother of Captain Flynt, the bandit.”

“That’s me!” Zane said cheerfully. “Need a job done? I’ll give you my fee.”

“It took us a while to identify you,” Jack said. “But the guards noticed you trying to get one of the doubles alone. And now that double is missing.” The humor dropped from his voice, and it became a threat. “Where’s my doppelganger?” 

“Haven’t seen him,” Zane said. “We can discuss that fee if you want me to look for him…”

“Here’s a little secret: You kidnapped the one doppelganger who won’t survive more than a few days,” Jack said.

The Eridium. Tim might survive the withdrawals, but if his supply ran out, it’d make him a useless hostage. Or if he was denied his dosage. 

“Then I’ll have to make use of him quick, won’t I?” Zane said, because it was pointless to pretend he wasn’t the one who had Timothy. 

Jack laughed. “Someone’s got balls. A shame I have to kill you.”

Tim’s breathing was growing unstable, and he looked on the edge of panic. He pressed his hands over his mouth to keep his ragged breathing quiet, and stared at the ECHO with terror in his good eye. 

“You’re pretty fond of your own face. I’ll take care to mail his head back to you, as a courtesy,” Zane said, because the way Jack treated Tim was horrific, and he hated the bastard.

Tim’s eyes widened at Zane’s words. Zane leaned back in satisfaction as Jack swore.

“Oh, and I know all about his little addiction,” Zane said. “Thanks for that, by the way! Won’t take long to break him and get everything I want to know about that fancy casino of yours.” 

“He won’t tell you a damn thing,” Jack said.

Zane laughed at that. “Sure he will, boyo. That’s what you get for hooking him on Eridium. Let him hit withdrawals and dangle that bottle of his in his face, and he’ll tell me anything I want to know.” 

“I’m getting him back, and when I do, I’m going to kill you nice and slow,” Jack warned, and the feed cut.

“Holy shit,” Tim choked out. “Holy shit. Holy SHIT.”

“You gonna be alright, boyo?” Zane said.

“You just…” He spluttered for a moment before finding words again. “You taunted Jack! Handsome Jack!”

“Well, I always thought he was an arse,” Zane said. “Not that handsome, either. Ah...no offense.”

Tim gripped his hair, tugging on it savagely. “He’s going to kill us. He’s going to find us and kill us. We’re dead.”

“Don’t go buying your headstone just yet, Timothy,” Zane said, gripping his shoulder and shaking him a little. “He has no idea where we are, remember?” 

“I can’t believe I survived fighting crazy bastards on the freaking moon just to die on Pandora because I don’t know how to think through decisions,” Tim said miserably. “Oh, man, what the hell.”

“Timothy!” Zane shook him again. “We’re not dying and- wait, did you say the moon?”

Oh, wait. Focus. Right. 

“That’s a story you’re telling me later, for sure,” Zane said. “But for now, let’s get moving again. Hopefully he thinks I’m just using you to get information on the casino.” 

Tim hesitated. “Why didn’t you just torture me for information? Not that I’m complaining. Please don’t torture me. I’ve suffered enough in my...however many years I’ve unfortunately been alive. But you knew I had that thing with Eridium. Why not use it against me?” 

“Don’t go thinkin’ I’m some saint. I’m not against torturing for information,” Zane said. “But, I don’t know, just didn’t seem right in this case. Besides, you were willing to help me for payment. Still, Jack seemed pretty confident that you wouldn’t tell me anything, even if you were suffering withdrawals.”

“Because in the past, I wouldn’t have told you anything,” he said bitterly. “But that was before Jack locked me in the casino.”

No, no, no. Zane forced himself not to ask anymore about it. He was getting too far into Timothy’s life, and that was dangerous. If he got attached to him, he’d be too worried about Tim’s addiction to leave him when this was all over.

But, hell, he felt bad for him.

Just one question, then. One that might shrink his pity.

“Did you choose to work for Handsome Jack?” Zane asked.

“Yes and no,” Tim said. “He wasn’t Handsome Jack when I took the job. He was just a Hyperion programmer, and I was broke as hell. But once he became Handsome Jack and took over Hyperion, I couldn’t get out. I was under contract, stuck looking and sounding like him, and had a bomb in my face.” He looked at Zane, some of that terror back in his eyes. “Look, I’ll help you, okay? I’ll help you get those schematics. Just...please don’t hand me over to him. If he gets me back…” Tim shuddered.

Zane slapped him on the back, his pity growing. Shit, he hadn’t even willingly worked for Handsome Jack. He probably thought he’d just taken a bizarre but easy enough job, and now here he was, Eridium addicted and being hunted down by his boss.

“In case you couldn’t tell, I think Jack’s a prick, and the last thing I’ll do is hand you over to him,” Zane said, grinning. “It’ll piss him off more if I don’t. We both win. Shall we get a move on?”

“I feel like I’m walking to my own grave,” Tim said, but grabbed his bag. “Come on. Let’s get this over with.”

***

Tim couldn’t get his mind off Eridium.

He was terrified and confused and angry, all at once. His mind begged for the Eridium in his bag, assuring him that it would soothe this confusing tangle of emotions inside him.

Wilhelm was dead.

Wilhelm was dead, and Jack hadn’t told him. They had attacked Sanctuary, and Jack hadn’t told him. 

He hadn’t seen Jack since the day Jack left him at the casino. He was constantly reminded of what would happen to him if he slipped up, but Jack himself never appeared. 

Tim had obeyed everything he’d been told to do. He worked hard, desperate to get himself back to Helios and at Jack’s side.

But it never happened.

And then he’d met Ember in the vice district. It was the first time he had contact with someone who was nice to him since Angel. They’d even started flirting.

But then the guards had reported it to Jack, and Jack put an end to it. Tim was banned from the vice district, and locked away in his room with no Eridium for three days as punishment, and was beaten when his withdrawals had him snapping at the guards.

The lesson had been well learned. Tim was not allowed to have people care about him.

Why didn’t he ever think through his damn decisions, though? He’d dreamt of leaving the casino before, of course. Mentally plotted all the ways he could do it, knowing it would never happen.

Then Zane appeared, offering to give him Eridium rather than controlling him with it. Offering him a way out of the casino, and a way to get back at Jack, all at the same time. 

Tim had been angry and desperate, and so he’d agreed to it. And now Jack was hunting them down.

If he found Tim, he’d lock him away, letting withdrawals tear Tim to pieces. 

“Timothy?”

Tim jumped a little. “What?”

Zane had held out a hand to stop him. “Uh, you’re a little too in your own head right now, Tim. You were about to walk into that gathering of skags there.”

“Oh.” Tim looked ahead and, sure enough, six skags were gathered together up ahead, roaming about and unaware of them for now. “Oops.”

“Whoa, hey, that isn’t going to help,” Zane said.

Tim looked at him in confusion before realizing he’d grabbed the bottle of Eridium from his pocket. He blushed and shoved it back. 

“Habit,” he grumbled, grabbing his gun instead. 

Zane took out his gun, and the two charged in, catching the skags by surprise. They’d killed two of them before the other four realized they were under attack and began to charge them.

Tim found it interesting to watch Zane fight with his digi-clone. His clone was stationary, but being able to switch with it gave him an advantage, and an escape from sudden attacks.

Tim didn’t bother bringing out his digi-Jacks for this fight. It relaxed him to fire relentlessly on the skags. Violence had become a natural part of his life, and a way to release his frustration.

But that hollowness sat heavy in his chest. He felt less frustrated, but less fulfilled as the skags fell dead at his feet. 

Is this all he’d become? Just some addict gunning his way through a shithole planet?

“Timothy!” 

Zane grabbed him just as a stalker stabbed into his leg. He hissed, cursed himself for getting distracted by his own thoughts, and aimed his gun. Zane jerked him out of the way of a follow-up attack, and Tim readjusted his aim before shooting the damn thing dead.

“You are really out of practice, boyo. How’s the leg?” Zane said, releasing him. “Need a health kit?”

“No.” Tim shook his head. His leg hurt, but the Eridium would keep him from bleeding too much. “It’s fine.”

Zane turned to make sure nothing else was lurking around, and Tim couldn’t help but stare at him. Jack had said his name was Zane Flynt, and that he was the brother of that bandit Captain Flynt.

But Zane had kept him covered. Had been nice to him. Made sure he ate. Showed him how to change the code on his digi-Jacks so they could be more like friends than battle drones.

Tim’s heart ached. He missed Angel.

He’d hated her, in those moments of withdrawal. He’d hated her when the guards beat him. He’d hated her during the long, sleepless nights spent isolated in his room, waiting for the timer to be up so he could take his dosage and pass out. 

But in the rare moments where his mind was his own, he’d missed her desperately.

She’d been trying to protect him. Trying to get him out of Jack’s hands and into the hands of someone who would care for him. She’d tried to stop his addiction before it hit this point. 

She was his friend, and she’d cared about him.

And he didn’t even know what had happened to her.

He wasn’t surprised she hadn’t responded when he tried to contact her. He didn’t know how to connect a call to her, and he was using a stolen ECHO. Jack had blocked them from communicating while Tim was in the casino. 

If she really was an AI, had he reprogrammed her, or destroyed her? If she was actually a person, had he killed her, or tortured her too?

“Coast is lookin’ clear,” Zane said. He frowned at Tim. “You alright?”

Tim swallowed against the lump forming in his throat. This was a temporary partnership, and Zane was protecting Tim because Tim was useful to him. That was all.

But he had been so lonely for so long. He’d gone so long without anyone asking him if he was alright. 

“Fine,” he managed. 

“Any chance Jack will suspect we’re going for this facility?” Zane asked as they got moving again.

“I doubt it. After all, you could’ve kidnapped one of the scientists, but you took me instead. At least he seems to buy that you really kidnapped me,” Tim said, relieved at that. It meant slightly less punishment if he was recaptured by Jack’s forces. 

But Zane had said he wouldn’t let Jack get Tim back.

Tim clung to that, knowing it was foolish. He was terrified for Jack to get him back. Jack would shatter his mind if he got his hands on Tim again. Having Tim’s addiction used against Jack would drive him crazy. Jack would be furious about that. 

And what right did Jack have to be angry? He was the one who had hooked Tim on Eridium. Yet he’d gladly blame Tim for being weak enough to become addicted.

Tim felt as scared as he did angry. Zane had asked him his age, and he genuinely couldn’t remember. How old had he been when he joined Jack? 23? 24? How long had it been since then?

He’d forgotten his age. And his name. 

No one had called him Timothy in...two months, he thought. Was that how long he’d been in the casino? Everything seemed to blur together.

He’d lost himself, and been entirely unaware of it. 

“Zane,” he said, clenching his fists. “If Jack gets me back, and you can’t save me...kill me. If we’re cornered and there’s no way out, promise you’ll kill me.”

Zane frowned. “You’re a pessimist, aren’t ya?”

“I mean it. I won’t let that bastard win. I won’t let him get me back and…” He shook his head, feeling desperate. “You don’t understand what he’ll do to me if he gets me back.”

Tim jumped as Zane put a hand on his arm. “Calm down, Timothy. Jack isn’t getting his hands on you. I’m not lettin’ that happen. But if you’re going to be lost in your own head, you’ll be a liability. You need to calm down.” 

He knew Zane was right. He took a deep breath, not shrugging Zane’s hand off. Shit, how long had it been since someone had touched him to comfort him instead of hurt him? 

“Yea, sorry. Imitating Jack tends to make a guy overdramatic,” Tim mumbled.

“Tell ya what, Timothy. I doubt that’s the last we’ve heard of Handsome Jack, so we’ll make him as anxious as you!” Zane said. “I’ll pretend I’m keeping you off Eridium to break you. Make Jack nervous about you spilling his secrets and whatnot. You know a lot of stuff that could damn him, or just the casino stuff?”

“I...don’t know anymore,” Tim admitted. “Nisha, Wilhelm, and I used to be his most trusted employees. But once I got sent to the casino, he never contacted me again. Like I said, I didn’t even know Wilhelm had died. I still know things that could damn him, sure. But not as much as I used to.”

“Good enough for me,” Zane said with a shrug, dropping his hand from Tim’s arm. 

And he didn’t ask what Tim knew, or how he’d ended up at the casino. He seemed a curious sort, but never pushed Tim for answers. 

Tim hadn’t been thinking clearly when he’d agreed to help Zane. If he had, he’d have been too paranoid to take the deal, afraid that Jack had set it up to test him. 

But he’d been angry and lonely and craving his next Eridium fix. So he partnered up with Zane.

As scared as he was of Jack, he couldn’t quite bring himself to regret the decision yet.

Although, that would change the second Jack came after them, no doubt. Tim dreaded Jack’s wrath, even when he hadn’t been the one to cause it. But now? Now, he was absolutely screwed.

Unless Zane kept his word, and kept Tim safe from Jack.

“A few more hours and we’ll be there,” Tim said. 

Zane grinned. “Yes! Need me a good break-in and theft to liven things up around here.”

“You’re a crazy freaking bastard,” Tim said.

“Well, if you’re going to be moody the whole time, one of us has to be excited for this,” Zane said.

“Whatever you say,” Tim said.

“Well, since we’ve got a few hours...care to tell me about you fighting on the moon? You can’t leave me hanging on that one!” Zane said.

Tim sighed heavily. But Zane seemed genuinely excited to hear the tale, and they did have several hours. So Tim launched into the story, and some part of him warmed at finally having someone to talk to after so many lonely nights in the casino.

Chapter Text

“Holy moon on fire, boyo! You’ve lived quite a life!” Zane said, staring at Tim wide-eyed.

Tim shifted uncomfortably, having finished telling Zane about the whole Elpis mess. “Trust me, it wasn’t a very exciting life until I showed up for my first day on the new job and the freaking station was under attack.”

“So a vault artifact did that to Jack’s face?” Zane said, nodding to Tim’s face.

Tim tried not to think of his flesh burning, the pain tearing him to shreds as he shrieked in agony. “Yes. He branded me to match.” 

“Tough luck, lad. Shame you lost the eye.” He tapped his own eye patch. “You ever considered a cybernetic eye?”

“Jack won’t let me,” Tim said.

“Well, when this is all over, I can give you the name of a guy. Tell ‘im Zane sent you and you might even get a discount,” Zane said. 

Tim looked startled. “But Jack-”

“What Jack says doesn’t matter anymore. You slipped the leash. With a lot of explosions, I might add,” Zane said.

Tim seemed lost at the thought of being free. Oh, not good. Zane did not like the way his heart tugged at the sight of the kid right now. 

Do. Not. Get. Attached.

“Stop looking so down, Timothy!” Zane said, nudging him. “You could be back at the casino playing babysitter to a bunch of drunkard scientists right now. Count your blessings.”

Tim struggled to push the lost look off his face. “So, uh, Flynt, huh?”

“Oh, you did catch that,” Zane said. “Aye, me brothers were Captain Flynt and Baron Flynt.”

“Were?” Tim furrowed his brow. “Captain Flynt was still a headache before I went to the casino.”

“Hard to bea headache when you’re dead,” Zane said.

“Oh.” He glanced at Zane. “I’m...sorry? Unless him being dead is good. Then...congratulations?” 

“He used to send assassins after me all the time,” Zane said dismissively. “Lost count of how many times he tried to kill me. But look who’s still alive!”

“Ah...right,” Tim said. 

Zane stole a look at Tim, who seemed unsure what to say now. Zane didn’t dare ask about Tim’s own family; for all he knew, Jack had killed Tim’s family, and it’d be a sore subject. 

Still, from the story Tim had told him, Tim had helped Jack rise to power. Granted, he hadn’t realized the man was a raging psychopath until it was too late. But still, it was no wonder Jack was so desperate to get Tim back. If Tim had been around that long and was still alive, he not only knew a lot, but was probably valuable to Jack in some way. 

“Well, one less bandit on this pisshole of a planet, at least,” he said, perfectly mimicking that mocking tone of Jack’s. But right after the words left his mouth, his eyes widened and he slapped his hand over it. “Oh, jeez, of all the times. I’m sorry. I didn’t mean that. Er, uh, I did but- not me? Sorry.”

Well, that was certainly odd. “Don’t worry about it, lad.”

“Stop being an asshole, Jack,” he muttered, pressing his knuckles to his forehead.

“Timothy,” Zane said. 

Tim didn’t even react to the name.

Zane reached out and put his hand on Tim’s arm. Tim jerked in surprise, but didn’t try to pull his arm away.

“Timothy,” Zane repeated. “Your name is Timothy, not Jack. Unless you were lying to me, in which case, your name could be Gregory for all I bloody know.” 

His face paled. “It’s Timothy. Right. I’m Timothy.” 

Leave it to Zane to pick up the mentally, physically, and emotionally damaged body double for this job. Still, he let his hand linger on Tim’s arm, because Tim seemed to take some comfort in it.

But then he pulled it away, and sternly reminded himself that the job was more important. “How close are we?”

“It’s just beyond that hill,” Tim said, pointing. “We’ll be there soon. But we need to scope it out. He’s probably added extra security since I was last here.”

“You’re been there before?” Zane asked.

Tim nodded. “But don’t get your hopes up. Jack sent me to do a few check-ins on their progress. I don’t know the inside of the building that well, especially since I haven’t been there in months.” 

“Still, any sort of insight on the layout will be useful,” Zane pressed.

Tim sighed. “Alright, alright. There are only two ways in or out of the building, both heavily guarded. The second exit is emergency only, and can only be opened from inside the building. If you want to get in, we have to go in through the front. I can handle that, hopefully. Once we’re in, there’s another security door that I can get us through. That’ll lead down…” He paused, concentrated. “There’s a hallway, several doors off to both sides. Ignore all of them. We’ll want the elevator at the end of the hall. The schematics will be under heavy lock and guard in the basement section.”

“You’re sure?” Zane said.

“Pretty sure. They were doing the design work in the upstairs sections- those side doors are either living quarters, testing rooms, or manufacturer rooms. The finished product will be in the most secure section, which is the basement. I’m not sure the exact location, though,” he said. “But I might be able to bluff us in. The trouble will be if Jack ordered them to check in with him before letting anyone down. But I think I can lie our way through. We might just need to make a quick escape.” 

“I’m good at quick escapes,” Zane said brightly. 

They hurried along until the facility came into sight. Sure enough, there were loader bots shambling about, and two human guards in front of the door.

Tim took his mask out of his bag and clipped it into place. He unzipped his jacket to reveal the Hyperion logo on his hoodie, and attempted to style his hair with his hands.

“Follow my lead,” he said.

“Whoa, hold on,” Zane said, catching his arm. “You aren’t planning to go strutting through the front door, are you? With your sniper rifle, we could take out all the outside security in a flash.”

“We could, but that’ll alert the guards inside that we’re here and hostile,” Tim said. “This is the safest way to do this. I hope.”

Zane looked down at the facility, motioning at Tim to wait where he was. Zane got up and made a slow, careful canvas of the building, circling around it from a safe distance. 

Sure enough, he spotted inconspicuous security cameras posted around the outside. He also saw the other exit Tim had mentioned, blended into the wall so well that Zane wouldn’t have noticed it if he hadn’t been looking.

He returned to Tim. “Alright, we do it your way.”

“No surprise there, pumpkin,” he said, and groaned. “Son of a taint, I hate myself.” 

Zane held a hand out to him and Tim took it. Zane hauled Tim to his feet, and was unsurprised to hear that beeping from his pocket.

“Perfect timing,” Tim said, taking it out and helping himself to his fix. He pocketed the bottle and gave the Eridium a moment to enter his system. “Alrighty then, let’s do this thing. Follow my lead, and play along.”

The two left their secure spot and approached the building. The loaders spun, aiming at the two of them. But they slowly lowered their weapons and went back to shambling about.

The guards were tense as the two approached. One had a gun in his hands, though he didn’t dare raise it.

“Sir,” the guard without the gun said. “We weren’t expecting you.”

“It’d hardly be a surprise visit if you were,” Tim said, slipping into a perfect imitation of Jack, from his tone right down to his stance. “This is why you get paid to stand here and look threatening. Leave the thinking to the higher-ups, will you? Let us through.”

“We can’t do that, sir,” the guard with the gun said. “By your own orders, no one is allowed in this building.”

“I’m sorry,” Tim said, holding up a hand. “Am I not allowed to override my own orders now?” He jerked a thumb at Zane. “I’ve got this chump from the Preserve testing facility here to see about slag adjustments. So you’re going to move out of my way, or I’ll show you how to use that gun, cupcake.”

The guards glanced at each other nervously before slowly moving aside. Tim stepped up to the door with a confidence Zane doubted he actually felt.

Tim pressed his hand to the scanner beside the door. A light ran along his palm, and he winced and sighed in irritation as a needle pricked him, a drop of blood hitting the scanner.

“Handsome Jack confirmed. Welcome back, handsome,” an automated voice said, and the doors slid open. The guards seemed a little more at ease.

Zane didn’t let his surprise hit his face. So, Tim had Jack’s DNA, too? That explained his lapses.

Tim strut inside, and Zane followed with a relaxed air about him. The doors slid shut behind them, and a woman stood between them and the next security door.

“Handsome Jack, sir,” she said. “We weren’t expecting you.”

“You people really need to pass a dictionary around and learn the meaning of ‘surprise visit’,” Tim said. “I’ve got business here. Tell me no one was stupid enough to move those schematics out of the basement while I was gone, sweetheart.”

It was a gamble, and they both knew it. If the schematics had been removed from the facility, or had never been in the basement, then Tim had just revealed them as fakes.

But the woman nodded. “Of course, sir. They’re still in place.”

“Finally, you idiots actually got something right,” Tim said. 

He approached the security door and pressed his hand to it again. He was pricked again, but the door didn’t open this time.

“Recognize Handsome Jack,” Tim said.

“Voice signature confirmed. Welcome back, handsome,” the automated voice said, the doors opening. 

A long hallway stretched out before them, and Tim led the way down it. Sure enough, there were plenty of doors off to either side.

“This is going too well. I don’t like it,” Tim said quietly. “Something isn’t right.”

Normally, Zane would tell him he was just being paranoid. But Zane had a bad feeling about this himself.

“Stay on your guard, lad,” he said. “And whatever happens, stay close to me. I’ve got a barrier that’ll buy us some cover if we get in a tight spot.” 

They reached an elevator, and Tim swore softly. “Seriously? There wasn’t this much security last time I was here.”

He stepped forward and pressed his hand to a panel. Instead of pricking him, it scanned his blue eye.

“Recognize Handsome Jack,” Tim said.

“Identity confirmed. Welcome back, handsome.” The elevator door opened.

Zane didn’t particularly care to get in an elevator when he had such a bad feeling, but there was no choice. He followed Tim on, and the doors shut, the elevator rattling softly as it descended.

But something else was eating at Zane. “Timothy, you said there wasn’t this much security last time.”

Tim shook his head. “There wasn’t. At the doors to get in, sure. But not the elevator. It just needed a voice command or a security key to let you on. It didn’t have to scan my eye.” 

Zane just nodded, not wanting to put Tim into a panic with his thoughts. But was it possible Jack had put this system in recently to, say, keep an eye out for his missing doppelganger?

Oh, Zane didn’t like this one bit.

But they were too deep in it now, and he needed to get those schematics. Maybe Jack had installed the extra security since the completion of the schematics, knowing rival companies would try to steal them. It might have nothing to do with Tim.

Still, Zane was on guard now, just in case. He couldn’t entirely dismiss the idea, even if it could be a slim chance. 

The elevator door opened, and Zane was prepared to draw his gun and begin firing immediately. But there was no one there.

“I so don’t like this,” Tim hissed. “It’s too quiet down here.”

“There,” Zane said, nodding. “Two guards.”

“Then that’s not the door we want,” Tim said. “It’s a distraction.”

He looked around the basement, carefully eyeing each door. He finally pointed at one.

“That one,” he said. “It looks like a basic security key and a password are all you need to get in, but I guarantee there’s something else.”

Zane realized the guards were watching them now. But they made no moves towards them, and Zane was hoping it was because they thought this was the real Jack to have made it so far. 

They approached the door, and Tim entered a password. The keypad beeped and turned green, but the door didn’t unlock. 

“Override security,” he commanded. 

To Zane’s surprise, that actually worked. There was a soft click, and Tim seemed relieved as he grabbed the handle. He cautiously opened the door, and ushered Zane in.

“Shit, I don’t have the keys,” Tim said, frowning at the locked drawers in the room.

“Don’t need them,” Zane said. “Have your digi-Jacks laser off the locks, will you?”

“Hey, that’s not a bad idea,” Tim said, swiping at his watch. “Get those locks off as quietly as you can.”

His digi-Jacks moved about the room, lasering the locks off the drawers and cabinets. When that was taken care of, Tim dismissed them.

He and Zane began to pull open drawers and search through papers stored in there. Zane pocketed anything that looked useful or like he could sell.

“Gotcha!” he said triumphantly when he finally found the schematics. He eyed them carefully to make sure they were real.

“Let me see.” Tim stepped up beside him and scanned over the schematics. “That’s the real deal. See that Hyperion symbol there? That means it’s real. Fake copies wouldn’t have that, or would have it in a different spot.”

“Let’s get the hell out of here,” Zane said, tucking the papers away securely.

“I’m afraid you won’t be doing that.”

They spun to find the guards blocking the doorway, guns drawn and trained on them. Tim stepped forward.

“What the hell do you idiots think you’re doing? Do you know who you’re pointing that at?” he snarled.

Both men faltered, but neither lowered their guns. Zane couldn’t blame them; even he was having trouble reminding himself that this was Tim and not Jack.

“T-The real Handsome Jack wouldn’t have to go to this trouble to get the schematics,” one of the guards said at last. 

“Oh yea? And if I’m a fake, then how did I get past the DNA scans?” Tim said. “You know what? Just shoot yourselves in the head and spare us from you trying to think ever again.”

“Then you won’t mind if we ask you to wait here while we contact Helios to confirm,” the guard said.

Zane let out a whistle. “Ohhh, so sorry, I do mind.”

His SNTNL shot out, firing on the guards. They cried out in surprise and tried to duck away, but Zane and Tim had both drawn their guns and fired at the guards until they laid dead.

“This is bad, this is really bad!” Tim said, hysteria creeping into his voice.

“Panic later, lad. We’ve got to go,” Zane said, grabbing his arm and pulling him along to the elevator. “Be ready to fire the second those doors open.”

They got on the elevator, and Tim aimed his gun at the doors as they went back up. Zane just hoped the dose of Eridium didn’t affect his ability to fight. 

The doors slid open, and Tim nearly dropped his gun.

“Uh-oh,” Nisha said, aiming her gun at his chest, the crowd of loaders behind her preparing to fire. “Someone isn’t a hostage after all.”

“Timmy.” Jack’s voice came out of Nisha’s ECHO, and Tim flinched back at how cold it was. “I sent Nisha to rescue you, because I always have your damn back. And here you are, working with a thief and betraying me.”

“Jack,” Tim choked out. 

“You never learn, do you?” Jack said. “You always have to be stubborn and rebel against me, no matter what I do for you. Nisha, get him back. This time, I’ll make sure he learns his place.”

Zane gripped Tim’s shoulder as Tim trembled. “He’s not getting you back, Timothy,” Zane said firmly. “But it’ll be a lot easier to get you out of here if you’re shooting instead of panicking, got it?”

“G-Got it,” Tim said, his voice small and terrified.

“I’m not letting him get you,” Zane promised, anger swirling through him at the thought of what Jack would do to Tim. Ah, hell, he’d gotten attached to the kid. 

Well, nothing to be done about it now. He’d get them out of here, find a safe place to dump Tim, and go on his way. He worked alone, and he wasn’t bringing a traumatized kid with him, no matter how fond he’d grown of him in such a short time. He’d just point him in the direction of someone who could give him work, and let Tim handle the rest.

But first they had to get out of here. Nisha was still aiming her gun at Tim, a grin on her face as she took in his terror.

“You should’ve just been a good little doppelganger and done what you were told,” she said, and fired at him. 

Zane grabbed Tim and yanked him out of the elevator so they weren’t cornered. “Focus, Timothy! Kill or be captured, your choice here.”

Tim shook himself and swiped his watch, the digi-Jacks springing to life. Nisha paid them no mind at first, until they began firing on her.

“Jack,” she snapped.

“He severed my connection from them!” Jack said in annoyance. “Just run the battery down.” 

“Oh, about that! We’ve got a neat little surprise for ya!” Zane said, and summoned his own digi-clone.

“Jack!” Nisha said again.

“I see it, I see it. Just find a way to deal with it,” Jack said. 

So Jack was watching them. Zane didn’t see any security cameras, so Jack must be using the loaders’ feed to watch the fight. 

Zane unleashed his SNTNL, and the chaos of 3 digi-clones, the SNTNL, and Tim and Zane shooting was enough to keep the loaders distracted. Nisha, however, was focused solely on Tim, trying to drain his shield with well-placed shots.

Tim, to his credit, was keeping his panic at bay. He tried to move around unpredictably to make himself a harder target, and returned fire on Nisha with a determination that Zane could appreciate.

“Fighting back is pointless, not-Jack,” Nisha said. “This guy here is just going to ditch you now that you gave him what he wants. You’ll be all alone, and it won’t be long before you run out of Eridium.” Tim’s next shot missed as his hands shook. Nisha’s grin grew. “You’ll die alone, crying from withdrawals. All because you betrayed Jack.”

“Don’t listen to her, lad,” Zane warned as Tim hesitated.

“Timmy, surrender to Nisha, and I’ll even let you stay on Helios this time,” Jack said. “If you behave, you can have your old room back. I’ll even take the nightmares away.”

The raw look of pain on Tim’s face had Zane grabbing him and yanking him out of the way of Nisha’s next shot. “He ain’t going back with you, you lyin’ bastard. You’ll just lock him up until he’s begging for a fix of the stuff you hooked him on.”

“Nisha, get him back, and kill that freaking asshole,” Jack said.

“With pleasure,” Nisha said.

“Ah, so sorry, lass! I’m not planning to die today,” Zane said. “Maybe another time.”

She moved to shoot him, and he switched with his clone, which began firing on her. Tim seemed rooted to the spot though, and so Zane reluctantly went back over to grab him and haul him away from Nisha.

“Timothy, focus,” Zane said sternly. “I can’t get you out of here if you won’t help yourself. I can get you away from Jack, but I can’t get him out of your head. Only you can do that.”

Tim gripped his gun tightly. “I can’t kill her,” he said quietly. “I can’t- we were teammates.”

“Then I’ll handle her, and you take out the loaders,” Zane said, shoving him at them. “You better watch my back, Timothy.”

Tim swallowed hard and nodded, expression firming back into that earlier determination. “I’ve got your back. I promise.”

Zane wasn’t really sure Tim’s promises were worth much, but it was better than nothing. He dashed at Nisha as Tim moved for the loaders, and the hallway became a confusing echo of gunfire. 

Nisha was a good shot, and Zane was glad he had his digi-clone to throw her off. But his digi-clone was running out of time, and he regretted summoning it at the same time as Tim’s digi-Jacks, because he was sure they would need to recharge at the same time.

Sure enough, his digi-clone vanished, and Tim’s vanished not too long after. The SNTNL was still zooming around, firing on the loaders, but even that wouldn’t last forever. 

The hallway was also too small to risk using grenades in. The explosion might not hit Tim directly, but the force of it would be enough to throw him at a wall. Zane couldn’t risk it.

This is why he liked to fight alone. But at least Tim was keeping the loaders off his back, having switched to a corrosive SMG to wipe them out quickly. He seemed to know all their weak spots, and dashed between them to make himself a harder target. 

It allowed Zane to focus on his fight with Nisha. He tried to get in close and swipe a melee attack at her, but she retaliated by ducking away and trying to catch him in the jaw with her gun. Zane just barely managed to stumble back without getting hit. 

Jack began to laugh over Nisha’s ECHO. “You idiots actually think you’re going to get away, don’t you? Well, surprise. It’s not happening, kiddos.”

Before Zane could react, a shot rang out, louder than the rest. Tim cried out in pain, his shield shattering and blood splattering from his shoulder.

He dropped to his knees, pressing his hand to the wound. “Sniper, Zane!” 

Zane had seen where the shot had come from, so he put Nisha between himself and the sniper. The shooter had been hiding in one of the side rooms, and wouldn’t be able to move positions without exposing themselves.

“The door four down on the left!” Zane called to Tim. 

Tim grit his teeth as he got up. He hissed in pain as the recoil from his next shot jerked his injured shoulder, which was no doubt what Jack had been aiming for. Weaken Tim, and force Zane to focus on him instead of Nisha. 

Zane started to move towards Tim, keeping Nisha between himself and the sniper. He couldn’t just leave Tim vulnerable like this.

“No!” Tim said. “I’m fine!”

Nisha laughed. “He’s not fine. He’s always been a coward. A little scratch like that is all it takes to break him.” 

Zane stole a quick glance at Tim. He was having trouble shooting, but he braced his gun against his chest to ease the recoil, and grit his teeth as he did his best to keep the loaders from getting past him to Zane.

Zane threw his barrer out to Tim. “Take that. I’ll deal with this one.”

Nisha glared as the barrier sprang up between Tim and the loaders, also protecting him from the sniper. It wouldn’t last forever, and Zane had to move fast.

He shot at Nisha, trying to drive her back and weaken her shield. He was so focused on that, he almost missed the grenade bouncing down the hallway.

It went off just as it passed the room the sniper was in, shaking the building and sending a wave of smoke back at them. Tim grabbed Zane’s arm and yanked him.

“He’ll send more loaders,” Tim said as he dragged Zane along. “We need to get to that emergency exit and get the hell out of here, Zane. Nisha is buying time for something.”

“Your shoulder?” Zane said.

“I am going to be an absolute drama queen about how much it fucking HURTS when we get out of here,” Tim ground out. “But I’d rather get shot than captured, so move those legs, pumpkin. Ah, god, just shoot me again.” 

He shoved open a door and pulled Zane through. Zane kicked it closed and hoped they could actually reach the exit. 

“No, no,” Tim said in despair as the door came into view. “Zane, buy me time. There’s heavy security on this.”

“You got it, lad,” Zane said, spinning and aiming at the door. At least he knew where the enemies would be coming from this time. 

The door burst open, loaders trying to pour through. They were too big, though, and Zane began to fire on them as they got caught up.

“Shoot there,” Tim said, pointing at their weak spot before spinning back to the security system. “Just a minute or two. I can...get this…” 

They would be lucky if Zane could buy them a whole minute. By two, the room would be swarmed. But he didn’t dare pressure Tim anymore. 

Two loaders slipped through, and Zane steadied his stance and fired relentlessly on them. He’d dealt with much worse than Jack’s cannon fodder loaders, and he’d be damned if this is how he went down.

But then an explosion sent part of the doorway flying at them, and Zane barely had time to throw his barrier down to protect them. A large loader stomped in, Nisha smug behind it. 

“Timothy, what the bloody hell is that thing?” Zane said cautiously.

Tim glanced over his shoulder just long enough to see it and curse. “WAR loader. That’s what Nisha was waiting for. Try to shoot its arms off before it burns us alive. It can also stomp to knock us back, but your barrier should keep us safe from that. I’ve almost got this, I swear.”

Zane tried to shoot the thing’s arms, but Nisha was quick to fire on him and try to throw off his aim as the WAR loader got closer to them. This was definitely not a good situation, and if that thing got too close, they were screwed. 

“Timothy?” Zane said anxiously. “Any time now.”

“Got it...got it...GOT IT!” Tim cried out triumphantly as the door swung open, just as Zane’s barrier disappeared.

The WAR loader stomped, sending them both falling to the ground in surprise. Tim cried out as he put pressure on his injured shoulder to catch himself.

“We’ve gotta go,” Zane said.

“Kill the old guy,” Nisha said as the WAR loader loomed over them.

“No!” Tim cried, lurching to his feet and grabbing Zane. He shoved Zane out the door just as Nisha caught the back of his jacket. “Zane, run!”

Zane reached out to grab Timothy. But Tim grasped the door handle as the WAR loader aimed at Zane. 

He met Zane’s eyes as Nisha moved her arm up to bring her gun down on his head. Before the loader could fire at Zane, before Nisha could incapacitate Tim, before everything could go to complete hell, Tim let out a torn cry and yanked the door shut.

“Timothy!” Zane yelled, slamming his hands on the door.

But it was too late. Zane had failed, and Jack had gotten Timothy back.

Chapter Text

Zane didn’t waste time trying to get through a door that wouldn’t open. Instead, he moved around and hid himself in a spot where he could see the front door and the emergency exit. The front was swarmed with loaders, but he focused on the doors themselves, waiting for Nisha to come out with Tim.

But she didn’t.

Zane waited and waited, but the loaders thinned out and Nisha never emerged. He swore softly, realizing there must have been a fast travel station inside somewhere. 

Zane touched his bag. He had the schematics. 

He could return to his client and turn over the schematics for his payment. Go have a drink or two to honor Tim, and move on to the next job.

He’d never planned to stick around Tim when the job ended. Set him up with some work, maybe, but not keep in touch or anything. 

Going after Tim now would be foolish. He had what he’d come for, and Tim knew the risks of leaving Jack. 

But Zane couldn’t get Tim’s cry out of his head. That scared but determined look in his eyes as he slammed the door shut to damn himself but protect Zane. 

“Ah hell, I’m not leaving him,” Zane said to himself, sitting back. “This is what happens when you get attached to the traumatized doppelganger you coerced into helping you, Zane!” 

Zane sighed heavily and tried to think. What would they do to Tim now that they had him?

They wouldn’t bring him back to the casino, he was sure of that. He’d escaped it once, and he could escape it again.

If Jack had sent him there as a punishment, then maybe it meant Tim had an ally on Helios? They might not risk bringing him there just yet, either.

“Think, think,” Zane mumbled to himself. If Jack wanted to pay someone back for betraying him, what would he do?

Lynchwood. 

They’d take him to Lynchwood, and withhold Eridium from him. He’d be too sick with withdrawals to escape, and Nisha would have the entire town there to catch him if he escaped before.

They’d withhold the Eridium, and taunt him about sending him back to Helios. Break him mentally before sending him back to Jack for physical torture. Tim would be scared out of his mind with what Jack would do to him, but too desperate for a fix to resist Jack. It would be the perfect way to start beating him into submission. 

How long would it take for the withdrawals to get bad? By tomorrow, he’d be in a bad state. But in two, three, maybe four days, he’d be begging for a fix of Eridium. He’d be too sick and too weak and too desperate to fight back, and then Nisha would send him to Jack.

Zane had to rescue him before he hit that point.

He couldn’t dare fast travel, though. If he did, he risked Jack picking up his DNA signature. It was a slim chance, but he wouldn’t take the risk. If Jack knew Zane was coming to rescue Tim, he’d have Nisha send Tim up to Helios, where Zane wouldn’t be able to reach him. 

They had the advantage of fast travel stations, meaning Nisha was probably securing Tim somewhere in Lynchwood right now. Likely her own home, where it was secure and she could keep a better eye on him.

Driving to Lynchwood would take a day and a half, and that was if he didn’t run into any trouble or stop to sleep. He hadn’t slept last night, and the exhaustion would start to creep up on him.

There was no choice, though. He’d promised Tim he wouldn’t let Jack get his hands on him. Zane was going to rescue Tim before Nisha turned him over to Jack, and that was that. 

“That bastard owes me big time for this. And I owe myself big time for getting attached to that overdramatic, moody arsehole,” Zane said, standing up and making his way towards the nearest Catch-A-Ride. 

Tim had saved Zane. It was Zane’s turn to save Tim. 

***

“Wait!” Nisha cried to the WAR loader as Tim slammed the door.

It didn’t fire, and Tim was just relieved about that, at least. If it had, it would’ve hit Tim.

“Jack, your doppelganger helped the thief get away,” Nisha said.

“Don’t bother. By the time you get that door open again, he’ll be gone. Besides, I’m already planning to upgrade those schematics, so whoever he sells them to will have an outdated version, and we’ll be able to tell who hired him,” Jack said. “Just handle the other-me situation. I’m sending people to clean up his mess.”

Nisha dug her fingers into the bullet wound on Tim’s shoulder, and he cried out in pain. She held him upright, pushing him up against the door.

“The bleeding was slowing. Eridium is cheating, not-Jack,” she said, digging her fingers in harder.

She finally pulled them away, and Tim panted heavily as he pressed his hand to the wound. He scrambled to embrace that hollowness in him, but terror had formed a barrier around it.

He’d given himself up to Jack, and for what? To save some mercenary he barely knew? What a freaking idiot he was.

Except...no. No, that wasn’t Timothy Lawrence talking. 

Timothy Lawrence had endured withdrawals to protect Angel. And here he was, prepared to endure worse to protect Zane. A stubborn fool, but not cruel. He wasn’t Handsome Jack, even if he forgot that some days. 

“Let’s go, not-Jack,” Nisha said, hauling him along roughly. “Oh, wait. I almost forgot.”

She stopped and dug in his pocket. He watched in despair as she took the bottle and put it in her own pocket.

She dragged him along again to one of the rooms. Inside was a fast travel station that Tim was certain hadn’t been there last time he’d been at the facility.

“Newly installed last month,” Jack said, sounding smug. 

Of course Tim hadn’t known. Tim didn’t know anything that had happened since he’d been locked in the casino. 

“See, other-me, I suspected that Flynt was after those schematics. I thought he took you to get through the facility,” Jack said. “I upped the security so that I’d know if it was you being used to get through it all, and had Nisha ready to move to get you back. I should’ve known you went with him willingly, you traitorous shit. So what did he pay you? What was worth more than all the things I’ve done for you?”

Tim kept his mouth shut. If he told Jack about the Eridium, he’d be in even more trouble.

“Ah, well,” Jack said dismissively. “You’ll tell me in a day or two, I’m sure.”

Tim’s face paled. They were going to keep Eridium from him.

Nisha activated the fast travel station, and Tim trembled. They flashed away from the facility, and Tim closed his eyes. 

He still remembered the inside of that cell on Helios. The clawing, burning pain of withdrawal. His thirst for Eridium overpowering his dehydration, his hunger, his fear. The chains digging into his raw wrists as he threw himself at the door, screaming like a lunatic. 

But when he opened his eyes, they weren’t on Helios.

They were in Lynchwood. Tim looked around, dread growing steadily in his stomach. Why were they taking him here?

“Come on,” Nisha said, hauling him along roughly towards the building she’d made her home. 

The WAR loader followed them, probably in case Tim tried to escape. He felt his terror growing into desperation, and wondered if he could yank his arm free just long enough to summon his digi-Jacks. If he could, he’d be able to make a run for it.

They were almost at the house. Now or never.

He couldn’t go back to that screaming, pathetic creature in the cells. He couldn’t be isolated for months again. He wouldn’t survive it mentally. 

Tim gave a sudden, fierce yank of his hand, catching Nisha by surprise. He flung his hand at his watch, only for the WAR loader’s blast to slam into his back.

His shield took the brunt of it, but it was still enough to send Tim flying to the ground. He yelped as pain tore at his injured shoulder, and again as Nisha’s foot came down roughly on his hand.

“You forgot about his watch, didn’t you?” Jack said.

“Shut up.” Nisha bent down and pried the watch off Tim’s wrist, pocketing it. “You’ll pay for that one, not-Jack.”

“Save some for the rest of us, will you?” Jack said.

Tim felt cold. This was just stage one of hurting him. Jack had hell planned for Tim, and Nisha’s grin at his expression said she knew it. 

She got her arms under him and pulled him up to his feet, gripping his arm tightly this time. “Try that again, and I’ll break both of your hands.”

“Wilhelm,” Tim said as he was pulled along. “You didn’t tell me he was killed, Jack.” Hysteria was bubbling up inside of him, spilling over. “You didn’t tell me anything! You locked me away and forgot about me, you bastard!”

“And here comes one of his infamous tantrums,” Jack said with a sigh. “The Crimson Raiders got some vault hunters in their ranks, and those jackholes killed Wilhelm. If you hadn’t been at the casino for going behind my back, maybe you could’ve been there to help him.”

Tim winced. Was that true? Would Jack have sent them to fight together? Could he have rescued Wilhelm?

“I would’ve sent you as his backup. With your watch and sniper rifle, you could’ve kept him covered,” Jack continued. “But you weren’t there, because you lied to me. I didn’t forget about you, kiddo. I knew you’d feel guilty, so I didn’t tell you about Wilhelm. I was going to tell you once we’d avenged him. In fact, once we found a way to Sanctuary, I was going to bring you back to help avenge him. But you just had to go and betray me.” 

No, no, no. If he’d just behaved a little longer, he would’ve gotten out of that goddamn casino. He would’ve been able to avenge Wilhelm. He could’ve taken his place back at Jack’s side. Jack would’ve protected him again, and made sure his addiction didn’t grow too much.

And he’d screwed it all up, just like he always did. 

Nisha brought him inside and down to a basement. There were old cells in there, and she threw him into one, chaining him to the wall. He tugged at them experimentally, but it hurt his shoulder.

Nisha held the bottle up. “If you tell me where I can find Flynt, I’ll give you the next fix.”

Tim stared at the bottle longingly. But he didn’t know where Zane would go, and even if he did, he couldn’t betray him. Zane had tried to protect Tim from Jack. He’d tried to stop Tim from shutting that door, knowing it could kill him.

“I don’t know,” Tim said at last. 

“Who was he working for?” she tried instead.

“I don’t know. He didn’t tell me anything,” Tim said. 

“Oh, then what’d he pay you with? Last chance,” Nisha said, holding the bottle out.

Tim realized he was biting his lower lip hard enough to make it bleed. He forced himself to stop.

“I have nothing to tell you,” he said.

“You will soon enough. Have fun down here, not-Jack,” she said, locking his cell and heading for the stairs.

The lights switched off, plunging Tim into darkness. He knew the WAR loader was guarding the stairs, but it’s not like he could get out of the chains anyways. Even if he could, he wouldn’t be able to get the cell door open. 

Tim closed his eyes, tasting blood and realizing he’d bitten through his lip already. He didn’t want to be alone, with no company but the darkness and his own thoughts.

He tried to think of the stories Angel had read him. He replayed her voice and Zane’s voice calling him Timothy, over and over again. They never called him Jack. They corrected him when he called himself Jack. It meant they saw someone else beyond that cruel face. They heard Jack’s voice, but Timothy’s words. They knew he’d once been someone else, and they acknowledged that fading part of him.

Angel. What the hell had Jack done to her?

Did she know he’d fled the casino? Did she know Jack had recaptured him? Would she try to help him again?

Was she even still alive?

He dug his nails into his palms to steady himself. He should’ve listened to her when she told him to run.

“You idiot,” he whispered to himself. “You did this to yourself.”

Would Zane come for him?

No. No, he didn’t think Zane would, painful as the realization was. 

Why should Zane? Protecting Tim hadn’t been part of the deal. He’d paid Tim upfront, and gotten him out of the casino. Protecting Tim had been a bonus that had run out the second Tim slammed that door between them. Tim had made his own choice. 

Zane had the schematic, and he’d go sell it to his client. Worthless, but they didn’t know that. 

Zane would pick up his next job and gradually forget all about Tim. Tim couldn’t blame him. Sometimes he wished he could forget himself.

He hunched up in the darkness, alone and scared. He wanted his mom. He wanted his old life back. He wanted to close his eyes and wake up in his bed at home, the smell of his mom’s cooking coming through the door. He wanted to sit up and tell himself this had all been a bad dream.

But his arms were already starting to tingle. The cravings would take him in just a few hours, and then his mind would belong to his addiction. 

Nisha would keep the Eridium away from him until he begged for it, his body and mind devoured by cravings. Then she’d pass him along to Jack to let him finish breaking Tim.

Timothy Lawrence would not survive this. But at least he’d done one last good thing before Jack broke him for good.

Chapter Text

By the time Zane reached Lynchwood, a day and a half had passed. 

Tim would be suffering withdrawals right now. With the extra doses he’d been taking thanks to Zane’s supply, it’d be worse than even Jack and Nisha had been expecting.

Zane would have to be careful. Tim would likely swing between uncontrolled violence and desperate begging. He’d be unstable until he got a fix, and Zane couldn’t risk giving him too much. 

And that was all assuming Tim was still here, or ever had been.

But Zane had thought it over while he drove, and he felt confident he’d find Tim here. Mental torture was something Handsome Jack enjoyed, and what better way to mentally torture Tim than leave him locked up somewhere to imagine his own worst nightmares of what Jack would do to him?

Zane ditched his vehicle and got a move on, creeping along the town to observe. He had a feeling not much went on here without Nisha knowing about it. He’d have to be very careful so he could either sneak Tim out, or get the drop on Nisha before she could call for backup or send him to Helios.

He took out a marauder mask and pulled it over his head to disguise himself, shrugging out of his jacket so the symbol on the back wouldn’t give him away. It wasn’t his best disguise, but it should let him pass through here without much scrutiny, at least. 

He moved through the town at an easy pace, scoping it out. Once he had Tim, he had to either find a safe place to hide them, or a way to make it back to the vehicle.

Getting back to the vehicle meant getting through the town, so that seemed out of the question. But if his withdrawals were bad enough, Zane might have to knock him out and carry him to make sure he didn’t give away their position with screams. He didn’t like the idea of hauling a full grown man around in this heat for too long.

It didn’t take Zane long to find Nisha’s house. From the outside, there were only two guards at the doors leading into it. But Zane was positive there was more security inside, including the WAR loader he hadn’t seen leave the facility.

He found a perch where he could stay hidden, and ditched the mask. He switched to a sniper rifle and used the scope to get a better view into the house.

Most of the windows were blocked by boards or curtains, but one of them he could just see through thanks to the curtain blowing aside partially. There was no sign of life in the house, but Zane settled himself in to keep watch.

As badly as he wanted to get Tim out of there, rushing in blind would just screw them both over. Zane instead stayed focused on the door and the partial window view.

It was nearly two hours before it paid off. Nisha herself finally passed by the window, a loader following her. 

So she was inside, along with security. A stealth mission to get Tim out would be best, but he had a feeling it’d turn into an assault before long. 

Zane touched his bag, thinking of those schematics. He could leave now, rather than risk his life for some guy he’d just met.

It would be the smart thing to do. Tim hadn’t been the first struggling stray he’d picked up, and he certainly wouldn’t be the last. Zane couldn’t save everyone, and he sure as hell couldn’t risk his own life trying. 

But he thought of that lost look on Tim’s face. He thought of the way Tim reacted to hearing his own name. Every time Zane called him Timothy, Tim seemed to get just a little more light in his hollow eyes. 

“Alright, Zane, you’ve now learned to never go to a dog shelter. You’ll come home with every sad-eyed puppy you see,” Zane grumbled to himself. 

Nisha likely wouldn’t be leaving the house until Tim was gone. Sitting here waiting for her to would just mean Tim suffered longer. 

Instead, Zane aimed his sniper rifle down on the town below, scanning it carefully. He spotted a generator, several residents lingering by it. Well, good enough as anything. Might as well keep up with the explosion trend.

“Thank you Ember, you fiery goddess,” Zane whispered, and pulled the trigger. 

A moment later, the generator exploded, sending the residents flying. The nearby buildings that were built primarily from wood caught fire quickly, and residents began to yell and run towards them to try and smoother the quickly growing flames.

The guards by the door hesitated. One disappeared into the house, likely to warn Nisha, while the other ran to the edge to peer down at the town and see what was happening.

Zane moved swiftly. He left his perch, heading for one of the windows at the back of the house. Hopefully the distraction would at least draw Nisha to the front to see the chaos.

He wrapped his jacket around the butt of his gun to muffle the noise, and slammed it against a window. The shattering wasn’t loud, but it was enough to make Zane wait to see if anyone noticed.

No one came running, so he carefully climbed in, and hid himself behind a statue in the hallway. He wouldn’t have much time.

Where would they keep Timothy?

Likely not on the first floor. Either the top or the bottom, some place without windows. The bottom floor would be his best bet, because there were no windows, and Tim would have to make it up the stairs and to an exit without getting caught, rather than slipping out of a room and heading for the nearest window.

Plus, the stairs could be guarded. That would be a problem, but Zane would figure something out.

He crept along, hearing voices the closer he got to the front of the house. He was keeping a careful eye out for stairs, or a door leading to the basement, but hadn’t come across anything yet.

“-don’t think it’s related, Jack.” Nisha’s voice drifted back to him. 

“Well make sure it isn’t related, Nisha,” Jack said in annoyance. “I’m not losing him again.”

“He’s locked up and too sick to move,” Nisha said. “Likely, one of those idiots shot at another idiot and set off the explosion. It’s not the first time this has happened. Besides, who the hell would go to the trouble of rescuing that coward? Flynt took the schematics and ran, and Athena doesn’t know we have him here, if she’d even care.”

“If it looks like someone is after him, send him up,” Jack said.

“Jack, you’re being paranoid. I’ve got him locked up and guarded, and no one would bother coming for him. He hasn’t told me what Flynt gave him yet to get him to cooperate, but he’s breaking fast,” Nisha said. “By tomorrow, he’ll tell us everything we want to know. I’m surprised he hasn’t pissed himself yet, either. I keep telling him the things you have planned for him.”

“Just make sure he doesn’t get away again. I’ve invested far too much in him to lose him. You keep at him, and I’ll make sure I break him for good this time. That spineless traitor will never disobey me again when I’m done with him,” Jack said, and the dark anticipation in his voice sent a shiver through Zane.

He had to get Timothy away from these bloody people.

“Calm down, Jack. He’s fine. Well, he’s not fine at all. But he’s here and he’s not going anywhere,” Nisha said, her voice getting closer.

Zane ducked into a room with an open door, hiding behind the door. He watched Nisha’s shadow pass by as Jack said something he didn’t catch through the ECHO. He listened hard until Nisha’s voice sounded like she was heading upstairs. 

He crept back out and down the hallway, towards the entryway of the house. A few loaders milled about, but no human guards. The front door had been locked, probably to keep the human guards at the door from coming back in. 

Zane finally spotted a door, bolted from the outside. The chain bolting it was thick enough that Tim wouldn’t be able to get it open without breaking the door down, alerting Nisha that he was attempting to escape. That had to be where he was being kept.

Now how to get down there? The loaders were patrolling around, and he hadn’t seen the WAR loader yet, meaning they’d either sent it up to Helios or kept it in the basement to guard Tim closely. 

He doubted an EMP would work on these loaders. Even if it did, they’d hit the ground hard, and the sound would draw Nisha. 

It was risky, but he had an idea. Not his best, for sure, but better than nothing. Here was where the stealth part of his mission ended.

He backed up halfway down the hall and slipped into a side room. He unlatched the window and pushed it open, summoning his digi-clone just outside it.

“I’m going to shut this window, and after thirty seconds, you’re going to shoot it in, toss a grenade into the room when the loaders show, and then dismiss yourself,” Zane instructed the clone. The clone nodded and aimed his gun.

Zane closed the window and scurried out of the room. He hid as close as he dared to the patrolling loaders, mentally counting down the seconds.

The window shattered, and the loaders immediately headed for the noise. As soon as the last one was past him, Zane darted to the door, unbolting it and throwing it open. There was no point closing it, since it being unbolted would give away his presence anyways.

Zane summoned his SNTNL and readied his gun as he moved down the stairs. He wouldn’t have much time. Nisha would hurry right over here the second she suspected someone had come for Tim.

But of course, the damn WAR loader fired on him the second he hit the bottom of the stairs.

Zane tossed down his barrier, his SNTNL already targeting the WAR loader. Zane aimed at the weak points Tim had shown him, firing relentlessly on the thing in his frustration to find Tim and get him out before they ran out of time.

Thankfully, Zane had thought to bring a corrosive weapon with him. The WAR loader was sturdy, sure, but not sturdy enough to survive an onslaught of critical hits with a corrosive weapon. Its arms fell off, one after the other, and then it was just a matter of finishing it off.

Zane didn’t even wait to see its body hit the floor. He rushed past, towards cells at the end of the basement.

“Timothy!” he cried, stopping in front of the last one.

Tim was chained up, his shirt drenched in sweat and his breathing shallow. His wrists were bloodied from pulling at the chains, and his bottom lip had been chewed raw. He weakly lifted his head, bloodshot eyes staring at Zane without comprehension.

Zane didn’t have the key to the cell, so he fired a corrosive round at the lock and yanked the door open. Tim flinched back hard as Zane approached.

“Just me, lad,” he said, firing at the chains. “We’re getting you out of here. You’re a pain in the arse, you know that?”

“Zane?” His voice was cracked and weak.

“Zane Flynt, three-time champion of the ‘Galaxy’s Sexiest Hitman’ award, that’s me!” Zane said with a cheerfulness he didn’t feel. The kid was bad. He didn’t know how he was supposed to get him out of here.

The chains fell away from the wall, and Zane hacked them away as much as he could until only the cuffs and some loose chain were stuck to Tim’s wrists. Zane got a hand under his arm, and Tim flinched again.

“I didn’t tell them,” he choked out. “Please, don’t hurt me. I didn’t tell them anything!”

“I’m here to help you, not hurt you,” Zane said, hauling Tim to his feet. 

He realized Tim had bruises on his face, and a nasty cut just under his good eye. It looked like Nisha had gotten her own fun out of his captivity. 

“The Eridium?” he said, his voice pleading now. “I didn’t tell them anything. I didn’t. Please, just a little. Anything.”

“When we get out of here,” Zane assured, leading him along. 

Tim’s bag and weapons were in the next cell over, and Zane got them out, handing them to Tim. Tim’s hands shook too badly to be useful, so Zane had to get him settled before pulling him along again.

Tim’s legs barely cooperated with him, and Zane couldn’t risk letting him go without him falling. The stairs were a nightmare to get up, and Zane’s grip on Tim tightened the slightest as Nisha eyed them from the doorway.

“I was wrong,” she said. “You did come back for the coward. Too bad, he doesn’t want to go with you.”

Tim grabbed at Zane’s jacket, trembling harder. Zane kept his eyes on Nisha.

“Jack,” Nisha said. “Go back down those stairs and get in your cell. If you do, I’ll give you Eridium.”

Tim’s grip tightened and he flinched. But he looked over his shoulder, and Zane could tell he was seriously considering it.

“I’ll give you a fix, Timothy,” he said quietly. “Don’t do what she says. She’ll hurt you again.”

Tim’s breathing hitched. “No, no. I don’t know anything. I don’t.”

“Jack,” Nisha said more sternly. “You don’t want to make the real Jack any angrier, do you?”

“No,” Tim whispered, and clutched at his head. “No, please, I didn’t-”

“You did,” Nisha said. “And you betrayed him before, too. You had to be punished because you couldn’t learn your place, and Wilhelm died because of it. Then just when Jack is getting ready to let you out again, you went and turned traitor.” 

“Oh, enough of your blabberin’,” Zane said, aiming his gun at her. “If Jack hadn’t abandoned the lad in the casino for so long, he wouldn’t have been desperate enough to leave it.”

“Other-me,” Jack said over Nisha’s ECHO. “Get back in that damn cell. You’re on thin freaking ice with me, kiddo.” 

Tim practically clung to Zane, his breathing erratic. He didn’t move, though. 

“First Angel, then Wilhelm, and now this guy too? How many people have to pay for your mistakes, other-me?” Jack said.

“Angel?” Tim’s voice had gone high-pitched with fear. “What the hell did you do to her, Jack?”

“You’ll never know if you leave now,” Jack said smugly. “Go back on your own, and I’ll let Nisha give you Eridium. You might even find out what happened to Angel.”

“I- I have to, I have to go back,” Tim said, his grip on Zane already loosening.

Zane gripped his jacket. “Oh no you don’t. I didn’t come all the way here just to watch you walk yourself right back into that cell. Not that it’ll do much good to hold you. I’d say sorry about melting your locks off, but you’re a bit of a bitch, lass.”

“Jack?” Nisha said.

“Yea, go ahead and kill him. Just make sure the doppelganger goes back in his cell. Or, uh, a cell with a working lock, actually. Son of a taint, I am not paying to fix that, Nisha. That’s on you,” Jack said. “And if he gets away again, I’m going to be real damn pissed.”

“Then stop distracting me,” Nisha said.

“Lovely as this has been, I’m done with you sick bastards,” Zane said. “And that’s coming from someone raised in the Flynt family.”

He summoned his digi-clone behind Nisha, the two firing on her simultaneously. Zane shielded Tim with his body, subtly pushing him off to the side.

As soon as Nisha was trying to quickly reload, Zane swapped places with his clone and shoved her down the stairs.

Nisha let out a startled cry as she lost her balance and crashed down the stairs. Zane ran for Tim, grabbing him.

“My watch!” Tim said, pointing at Nisha.

Zane swore and rushed down to where she was trying to recover from the fall, her gun having slid away from her. He slammed the butt of his gun against her head and dug into her pockets until he found Tim’s watch and the bottle of Eridium.

He ran back for Tim, grabbing his arm and pulling him up the stairs. The surviving loaders were waiting there, firing on them immediately. Zane sent out his SNTNL to distract them, and instead of running for the door, ran back towards the broken window he’d come in through.

Tim was struggling to keep up, but Zane didn’t let him fall behind. They reached the window, and Zane had to basically push Tim out of it before following. 

Tim barely had time to get sick on the ground before Zane was hauling him along again. He heard the unmistakable sound of a moonshot cannon, and then crates were slamming into the ground near Nisha’s place. Zane pulled Tim behind cover, hoping they wouldn’t be spotted.

Tim was shivering, curling up into a miserable ball. Zane put a hand on his back, scanning for the quickest escape route. 

The loaders Jack had sent would fan out and search thoroughly for them, no doubt. Best to get away fast.

“Timothy, get on my back. It’s not ideal, but you’re moving too slow right now,” Zane said, pulling Tim up and crouching.

Tim climbed onto his back, and Zane took off running as fast as he could. Tim, thankfully, wasn’t very heavy. Still, he was a grown, muscled man, and it wasn’t an easy run.

Zane headed for the edge of town. Getting Tim up and over the mountains bordering Lynchwood would be difficult, but Jack wouldn’t expect them to use that as an escape route. Plus, it would be easier to hide there than anywhere else.

Tim’s grip on him was tight, and he was trembling again. He pressed his head against Zane’s shoulder, moaning miserably as he was bounced about as they ran.

“If you get sick on me, I’m going to drop you right on your arse,” Zane warned.

“Nothing left in my stomach,” he mumbled, his grip tightening. “Please, it hurts. I didn’t tell them anything. Just a little. Please.”

“Hang in there, Timothy. Just a little longer now,” Zane said, and felt bad at Tim’s whimper.

Climbing was even harder, especially since Zane was worried Tim might pass out and fall off him at any moment. He climbed with one hand supporting Tim, slowing him down. Still, the loaders had mostly spread towards the town in search of them, which was good. Few were patrolling the mountained borders of the town. 

Zane was trying to put more distance between them and Lynchwood when Tim began to strangle him.

Tim’s arms went roughly around Zane’s throat, cutting off his air supply. If Tim had been anyone else, and if Zane hadn’t been aware this was a possibility, he’d have flipped Tim hard enough to break his back.

Instead, he gripped Tim’s arms and yanked them away from his throat, dropping Tim off himself. Tim scrambled to his feet and lunged at Zane, his eyes wide and crazed.

“I saw you take it from her! I know you have it!” he cried.

Zane deflected his attack. “Aye, I do. Here. Here, no need to choke me. You can have the bottle back.” 

Zane lifted it carefully from his pocket and held it out to Tim. Tim snatched it away, breathing heavily as he tried to uncap it.

“No!” he snarled, the timer still counting down to his next fix. “Son of a taint, no! Open it!”

“I can’t, lad,” Zane said, shrugging. “You know only that timer can.”

Tim sank to his knees, violence switching to desperation as he clutched it to his chest and hunched up over it. “Please. Please, I was good, I didn’t tell them anything. I didn’t!”

“I know. But we need to keep moving,” Zane said, crouching down beside him and putting a hand to his shoulder.

Tim leaned into the touch and shuddered. When he spoke again, he sounded moments away from crying. “What did he do to Angel?” 

“I don’t know who Angel is, Timothy,” Zane said. “Come on. We’ve got to get moving.”

“Why didn’t I listen to her?” he moaned, slamming a fist against the ground. “Oh, hell, don’t let him get me again. I can’t- It was so dark. There was no one.”

“I’ve got you now,” Zane said, and helped Tim to his feet. 

Tim gripped his arm. “I need some. I need it, Zane, please, it hurts. It hurts.”

“We need to get away, or Jack could find us,” Zane said, pulling him along. “Can you walk? I’ll carry you again if I have to, but you’re throwing out my back.”

Tim looked miserable. “If I walk, can I…?”

“Not yet,” Zane said. “But I promise, I’ll get you some Eridium when we’re safe. I know it hurts, but you need to hang on a little longer.” 

Tim moved slowly, and had to stop several times to dry heave. Zane urged him along as fast as he could, but would let Tim stop to suffer through his episodes of uncontrollable shaking. When his temper flared into violence, Zane restrained him until it passed into begging, and then got him moving again.

And this was only a day and a half without Eridium. If Tim had carried on like this for just another day or two, they would’ve thoroughly broken him. He never would’ve mentally survived being sent back to Jack in such a state. 

Tim complained of headaches, and Zane had to catch him more than once when his legs wouldn’t cooperate with him. It was a very slow process, but they made it out of the mountains eventually.

Zane kept them going until he found them an abandoned set of buildings out in the Dust. They went into one and Zane was relieved to find a bed for Tim to lie on. Tim’s hoodie and jacket were both drenched in sweat, so Zane got him to take them off, hoping he could find someplace to wash them.

Zane checked Tim’s bottle. He’d considered giving Tim a dose of the Eridium from his bag, but decided against it. Best not to remind Tim he had the access to it. He needed controlled doses to get himself back up to speed. 

“This’ll go off soon enough,” Zane said, setting the bottle back in Tim’s eager hands. “Jack will no doubt have them combing the Dust for us, but we can’t leave with you in this state. I’m going to hunt us something to eat, but I’ll be right by, so don’t you go trying to leave.”

“I won’t,” Tim said, eyes locked on the bottle’s timer.

“After you get a dose, I want you to sleep for an hour, and then we’re setting off again,” Zane said.

His own exhaustion was starting to creep up on him, but he’d just have to shake it off a little longer. He’d gone longer without sleep, and while it wasn’t pleasant, he could manage.

He turned to leave, and Tim gripped a fistful of his jacket. Zane looked over his shoulder at him.

Tim didn’t meet his eyes. “You came for me. I didn’t think you would.”

“I told you I wasn’t letting Jack get you. Granted, I made no promises about Nisha,” Zane said. He hated the mixture of sorrow and hope in Tim’s bloodshot eye. “You’re safe now, Timothy. We’re gettin’ out of here, and I’ll take you someplace Jack won’t find you.”

He didn’t mention that he wouldn’t be staying with Tim. He didn’t want to see the sorrow overpower the hope.

“Thank you,” Tim whispered, curling up on the bed.

“You can thank me by staying put while I get us food. I’ll be right outside this place,” Zane said.

He left the building, making sure he was in sight of it in case Tim tried to make a run for it. He doubted Tim would, but when the withdrawals turned him violent and desperate, there was no telling what he’d do. 

Zane settled himself with his gun, waiting for the inevitable spiderant to wander by. They weren’t very good for a meal, but it was better than nothing, and it’s not like Tim would eat much anyways.

It was nearly a half hour before spiderants passed by. Zane took them out swiftly and collected the bodies, dragging them back to the building Tim was in. There was a fireplace inside that they could cook the meat over. Zane would force Tim to at least eat some, as he doubted Nisha had fed him.

Zane entered the building. “Timothy! I’m going to make us dinner. Do you need water or anything?”

Tim didn’t answer, and Zane got a bad feeling in his gut. He was positive Tim hadn’t left the building. Maybe he’d fainted? It wasn’t time for his dose yet. 

Zane cautiously entered the room. His eyes widened in alarm.

“Timothy!” he cried, rushing over to where Tim laid on the ground, unmoving. 

Zane looked between Tim and his open bag in despair. Tim hadn’t mentioned the Eridium in his bag, and so Zane had assumed he’d forgotten about it in his ravaged state.

“Oh, no, this is bad. This is really bad,” Zane said, pressing his fingers to Tim’s throat for a pulse, since his chest didn’t look like it was moving.

His pulse was faint. Eridium stained his mouth and chin, some having even dripped onto his bare chest. He’d gotten into it while Zane was gone, and Zane didn’t know how much he’d taken.

All he knew for sure was that Timothy had just overdosed on Eridium, and that was something that not everyone survived.

Chapter Text

Tim had taken it in liquid form instead of injecting it, but Zane didn’t know how long it’d been since he’d taken it. Still, he got Tim upright, jammed his fingers down his throat, and forced Tim to throw up as much of it as he could. 

Tim didn’t wake after that, though. He just laid limp in Zane’s arms, and Zane carried him to the bed, sitting him upright against the pillows in case he got sick again. 

Zane considered giving Tim a health kit, but dismissed the idea. Health kits wouldn’t help with an Eridium overdose. For all Zane knew, the two substances mixing together might make things worse.

He pressed a hand to Tim’s forehead, which was burning to the touch. He was sweating worse than before, his breathing so shallow that Zane had to check his pulse multiple times to be sure his heart hadn’t stopped.

Zane checked the supply, unsure how much was actually missing since Tim had taken some on their trip to the facility. Still, too much was missing for it to be good.

“You idiot! Or I’m the idiot! Or we’re both idiots!” Zane said, pacing the room anxiously. 

He sat on the bed and grabbed Tim’s arm, checking him. His veins weren’t purple, but they definitely weren’t their natural color, either. Not good, not good. 

Zane had never dealt with an Eridium overdose before, and had no idea what to do. He forced Tim to drink a little water, and just stayed next to him to check his pulse. Tim didn’t move or make any noises, and Zane just hoped he hadn’t slipped into a coma. 

After a few hours of sitting there waiting for any signs of life, Zane took out his ECHO. He connected a feed to his client.

“Flynt,” the client said curtly. 

“I’ve got the schematics, but I hit a snag. I’m staying low until I’ve shaken Hyperion’s forces. When I’m sure I won’t lead them back to you, I’ll bring them to you,” he said, because he still had a job to do. 

“Are you the reason Hyperion is crawling all over Pandora?” he said. “I thought you were supposed to be discreet.”

“Never promised that. Besides, I’ve always come through. Like I said; I’ve got the schematics. Just give me time to shake them if you don’t want them following me,” Zane said.

“Fine. But you only have until the end of the week before I cut your pay,” he said and hung up.

“Arsehole,” Zane grumbled. He touched Tim’s shoulder. “Hear that, Timothy? You’ve got to wake up so I can get a move on.” 

Tim didn’t react to that. Zane shook his shoulder lightly.

“Come on, boyo,” he muttered. “I can’t have you dying on my hands.”

He should’ve been smarter. He should’ve taken the Eridium with him, or not let Tim leave his sight. Instead, he’d left Tim alone with a bag full of three months worth of Eridium, and never thought twice about it. 

Despite how tired he felt, Zane didn’t dare let himself sleep. He stayed up all night monitoring Tim’s condition, and occasionally giving him some water. 

Tim didn’t wake for a long time.

When he did finally stir, he just moaned, body twitching uncontrollably. Zane held his arms down before he could thrash and hurt himself. 

“Timothy? You with me?” he said.

Tim spasmed again, and Zane rolled him onto his side as he got sick again. Zane put a firm hand on Tim’s back, waiting until the dry heaving had stopped before gently rolling him against the pillows again.

“Okay, good, I think? I think that was good. Get it out of your system,” Zane said, patting his shoulder.

Tim fell still again, and Zane sighed. He got a rag and wet it, cleaning Tim up as best he could before settling in next to him again.

The twitching and spasms happened several more times, though Tim didn't get sick again. When his eyes finally opened, he was clearly disoriented. He closed them again, and Zane held him still as he tried to get up.

“Jack,” he wheezed. “Jack?”

“Not Jack,” Zane said. 

Tim pressed himself against the mattress. “Hurts. Jack, hurts.” 

“I’d like to think you’ve learned your lesson, but you seem the type to repeat your mistakes,” Zane said. “Timothy, are you in there?”

“Angel,” he whispered.

He’d mentioned the name before. Someone from Helios, maybe? It sounded like whoever she was, she’d befriended Tim and paid for it at Jack’s hands. 

Tim began to spasm again, and Zane sighed and restrained him. It was while holding him that he realized the bullet wound in his shoulder had mostly closed, though the remaining edges of it were tinged in dark purple.

“Oh, boyo, that’s not good. So, so not good,” Zane groaned. He lightly touched a finger to the wound, and Tim began to scream. “Whoa, okay, don’t touch that! Got it!” 

Why couldn’t Tim have just overdosed on heroin or something? At least then Zane would know what to do to help him.

Eridium was still too new, too unstudied. Most of the research into it was from Hyperion, and they didn’t share the research with the public. An Eridium overdose wouldn’t affect someone the same as a regular drug overdose. For all Zane knew, it was melting Tim’s internal organs, or he was sprouting wings with every spasm. 

Zane had heard a rumor that Eridium could power up Sirens, but that it was dangerous to them in large doses. If it supercharged a Siren, just what the hell would it do to a normal man like Tim?

He supposed he was about to find out. 

Tim would fall dead to the world for lengths of time, before suddenly spasming again. Sometimes he was just lucid enough to cry out for Jack, for Angel, for his mother. 

And that made Zane realize that if Tim didn’t survive this, Zane wasn’t quite sure what to do with him. Bury him in an unmarked grave in the Dust? It’s not like he’d send Tim’s body back to Jack. But he didn’t know who this Angel was, and he didn’t know who Tim’s mother was or if she was even alive. 

No, no, he couldn’t think like that. He hadn’t been gone long enough for Tim to have fully digested it before Zane made him throw some up. Unless Eridium digested faster?

Shit. Zane didn’t know enough about Eridium for this.

But Tim was still alive, so that was a good sign. He hadn’t had any fully lucid moments yet, but the fact that he was waking up enough to cry out for people from his past was probably a good sign. Unless he got stuck like this. 

“You’re more trouble than you’re worth,” Zane informed Tim, but didn’t leave his side. 

Hours had passed before Zane’s ECHO came alive with Jack’s voice.

“Alright Flynt, where’d you take him?” Jack said, a threat lurking just beneath his words. “He got you what you wanted. Why keep him?”

“Why not? He was useful, getting through those security systems,” Zane said. But anger surged through him as he looked at Tim’s sickly form. This was Jack’s fault. “And he did that for me willingly. I didn’t have to hook him on a substance that’ll kill him for him to help me.” 

“It’ll only kill him if you don’t give him back to me,” Jack said. “He can’t control himself. He never could. Even if you managed to find liquid Eridium for him, he’d overdose on it.”

“That ain’t true,” Zane said fiercely, and resisted the urge to slap Tim for doing just that. “He’s outta your hands now, Jack. Move on to the next double.”

Tim began to spasm again, and Zane hurried to grip his arms, hoping Tim didn’t start crying out. Just what he needed; let Jack know Tim had overdosed shortly after being back in Zane’s hands. 

“No way, kiddo. He’ll come crawling back to me,” Jack said, sounding smug and sure of himself. “He’s got no one but me.”

Tim slowly fell still beneath Zane’s grip. Zane used the rag to wipe sweat from Tim’s forehead, and pulled the mask off his face, setting it on the nightstand.

“Is that so? Lad’s got potential. I think I’ll take him off-planet and hook him up with some clients. I’m sure they’ll love the Hyperion information he has,” Zane said. 

“He wouldn’t dare,” Jack snarled. “You think you’ve got him, but he’ll come crawling back to me by the end of the week. He is nothing without me, and he can only deny that for so long.”

The feed cut, thankfully. Zane pinched the bridge of his nose.

“He may not be wrong, Timothy,” Zane said quietly, looking at the scarred face lying on the bed.

Tim had been with Jack for years. Jack had hooked him on Eridium, and likely manipulated and abused him in plenty of other ways. He’d probably stripped all power and self-worth from Tim, and made Tim dependent on him. 

This wouldn’t be an easy knot to untangle. But if Tim survived this overdose, Zane would do what he could to get the kid back on his own two feet. 

***

It was almost two days before Tim became lucid enough to talk again.

As his spasms grew more infrequent, Zane allowed himself to sleep for fifteen minute intervals every hour or two. He was thankfully awake when Tim came to.

“Jack?” he said. He didn’t cry out for Jack this time. “Jack?”

“Jack’s not here,” Zane said.

“Jack? Where is Jack?” Tim asked, his good eye searching the room and squinting. “I can’t- I can’t see out of my-”

“Timothy, you’re blind in your left eye,” Zane reminded softly. 

“I’m...what?” His arm jerked, as if he’d tried to move it. “My body won’t...I can’t…”

“Alright, calm down, Timothy,” Zane said, relieved that he was able to talk, despite being confused. “Just calm down. All you need to know is that you’re somewhere safe right now. What do you remember?”

“I don’t know,” he whispered, closing his eyes. “It’s all jumbled. Did- Angel, what happened to Angel?”

“I don’t know who that is,” Zane said. He carefully placed a hand on Tim’s shoulder, nearly sighing when Tim leaned into the touch. This poor damn kid. “Do you remember me?”

He opened his eyes and stared at Zane for a long moment. “Zane,” he said at last. “The casino. I shut the door but...but you came for me. In the cell.”

“Aye. I got you out of there, and found somewhere for us to hide while you recovered,” Zane said. “Do you remember taking the Eridium in your bag when I went to get us food?” 

Tim jerked again, his blue eye widening. Tears filled it, and Tim let out a cry of despair.

“I’m gonna take that as a yes, then,” Zane said.

“No, no.” Tim sounded horrified and miserable. “I remember needing it and- I didn’t mean to take so much. I don’t even remember taking it. I just remember-” He flinched away from Zane’s touch, shutting his eyes and turning his head away. When he spoke, his voice was small. “I didn’t mean to. Please don’t hurt me.”

“Trust me, I think you’ve been punished enough for that overdose.” Zane eyed the healing bullet wound on his shoulder. The purple tint had thankfully been reducing bit by bit. “Another stunt like that, especially anytime soon, could be enough to kill you, though.” When Tim still didn’t open his eyes, Zane frowned. “Oi, Timothy, you get that I’m not Jack, right? I’m not going to lock you in a cell all alone or beat you for what you did. It was stupid as shite, but you clearly know that. And...honestly, it was partly my fault. I should’ve known better than to leave you alone, or to leave the Eridium where you could get at it.” 

Tim opened his eyes and looked at Zane, shocked and afraid. “What?”

“We both fecked this one up, Timothy,” Zane said, and forced a grin. “But you survived, so live and learn, eh?”

“You’re not mad?” He flinched back as the words left his mouth.

“Nah. No point in it. It’s not your fault you’re hooked on the stuff,” Zane said. He leveled Tim with a serious look. “I mean it, though. One more overdose could be all it takes to ruin your body permanently. Not a lot is known about Eridium, but I’ve seen what too much does to people. You need to kick the habit if you don’t want to end up dead of it.”

“I know.” He half-buried his face in the pillow. “I never wanted this. I just wanted to get rid of the nightmares.”

“We can’t quit you off the stuff cold turkey, not after that overdose. That would be too dangerous. But I can’t stay with you forever, Timothy. I have to meet with my client in a few days,” Zane said.

Tim lifted his head. “The schematics. Jack is going to alter them and trace back to whoever hired you when they produce their stolen version.”

Zane shrugged. “Not my problem.”

Tim laughed weakly. “Right. Take the money and run.”

“The mercenary motto,” Zane said, surprised by how relieved he was to hear Tim laugh. “How are you feeling, by the way?”

“Wretched.” He dropped his head back on the pillow, and fear flickered across his face. “My limbs aren’t moving how I want them to. My body is numb. It feels like my veins are on fire.”

All of which could be permanent conditions. “Ah, that’ll probably go away in an hour.”

Tim gasped and Zane saw the spasms coming just in time to grab Tim’s arms and keep him pinned down. Tim whimpered as he tried and failed to control his body. When the spasm died down, Zane released him and sat back.

“That’s happened a lot, hasn’t it? You were ready for it,” he said, biting his lip.

“A few times,” Zane said. 

“Angel was right. Fuck, she was right. I- I can’t live like this. I’ll be dead in a week, if that.” He stared helplessly down at his uncooperative body. “Jack is the only one who can fix me.”

“Jack will make you worse,” Zane said, his voice coming out sharper than he’d intended. No, he couldn’t let Jack be right. He couldn’t let Tim go crawling back to Jack. “Jack hooked you, and he planned to keep you hooked. It was a way to control you. Breaking the addiction won’t be easy, especially after this, but it’s on you now, Timothy. If you go back to Jack, he’ll torture you until you’re broken, and you’ll never be free of him or this addiction.”

“I can’t make it on my own!” Tim cried. “I’ve been Jack’s for years. I have no one out there for me. Nowhere to go. No money. Nothing. I was stupid to ever leave the casino.”

“You’re doing the overdramatic thing again,” Zane said. “While you were overdosed, you cried out for three people. One was Jack. One was this Angel girl. The other was your mother. Could Angel or your mother help you?”

Tim shook his head, looking overwhelmed. “Angel...I don’t even know if she’s still alive. She knew Jack was hooking me on Eridium and tried to get me off Helios. It’s what got me sent to the casino. I don’t even know if she’s a real person or an AI, but either way, Jack’s got his hands on her. I don’t even know how to contact her. And my mom...they faked my death when I took on the role of Jack’s body double. She thinks I’m dead. I can’t go back to her, not like this. I don’t want her to know what I’ve become. I’d rather have her think I died in an accident than know I became a killer.”

Zane’s own parents probably would’ve been disappointed if he hadn’t become a killer, so he couldn’t relate. “You have no one?”

“Athena, maybe. But even that’s a longshot. And I don’t want to risk drawing Jack to her and her girlfriend,” he said. Exhaustion coated his voice. “There’s no one, Zane. No one but Jack.”

“Jack isn’t the one who sat here for nearly two days making sure you didn’t die,” Zane said. 

Tim winced. “I didn’t mean-”

“I know.” Zane put his hand on Tim’s shoulder again. “We’ll figure something out. For now, I’m going to get you some water, and then you should sleep. I’ll do what I can to get you back up to health, but I don’t know if this overdose will have any lasting or permanent effects on you.”

“Yea, well, that’s my consequence to live with,” he mumbled. “Zane...thanks. You came for me, and you didn’t let me die when I fucked up again.” 

“Unfortunately I got fond of your moody, overdramatic personality somehow,” Zane said, standing up. He’d hidden the Eridium just in case Tim woke up, and was glad he had. “I’ll be right back.”

He hurried along this time, getting fresh water for Tim and returning to the room. He doubted Tim could move even to get to the Eridium, but he wasn’t taking any chances after his recent screw up with it.

He had to help Tim drink the water. Pain was etched across Tim’s face, but he stayed quiet as Zane settled him back against the pillows.

“Well?” Zane asked him.

“It hurts,” Tim whispered. “God, it hurts. And I want more. Zane, I need a little. Just a little bit. Please. It hurts.”

Zane took out the bottle. “You can have some when the timer goes off. It’s best to get you back under a controlled dose.”

Tim looked ready to argue, but a minor spasm had him swallowing it back. Zane shook the bottle subtly, and realized just how low it was on Eridium. He wasn’t sure how to refill it when it ran out, meaning he’d have to manually give Tim Eridium if it came to it. 

And he couldn’t do that for long. He had to get back to his client, and he couldn’t bring Tim. His client would shoot Tim on sight for the way he looked. 

“Just try to get some sleep,” Zane said. “I’ll wake you up if anything happens.”

Tim stared at him in surprise. Zane frowned.

“What?” he said.

“I- Nothing. I was just thinking of Angel,” he mumbled, looking away. “Thanks. Sorry I’m the freaking worst.”

“Maybe in the top ten, but not the absolute worst,” Zane said, offering him a grin. “Rest up, lad.”

Tim closed his eyes, and it was only a few minutes before he was out again. Zane stayed by his side again, unsure what would happen next but just hoping Tim recovered from this.

Chapter Text

Tim was scared, and Zane knew it by the way he slipped into Handsome Jack more often. He’d get rude or dismissive, pretending that the whole situation didn’t bother him. But Zane saw the way that his fingers and toes twitched as he tried desperately to get control back of his body.

After a day with no control coming back to him, Tim turned back to being overdramatic. 

“Just leave me,” he said, staring at his body hopelessly. “I can’t move my arms or legs. We’re on freaking Pandora. I’ll die like this anyways.”

“I’m not leaving you,” Zane said. “The feeling might come back.”

“The only feeling is that burning pain,” Tim said, gritting his teeth in frustration. “This? This is not good, kiddo. This is so beyond bad that it’s a new low, even for me. Imagine being trapped on Pandora, looking and sounding like Handsome Jack, and you can’t even lift your hand to beg them not to shoot you.”

“Well, good thing my arms are workin’ just fine in the meantime,” Zane said. 

He’d forced Tim to drink more water and eat a little something. Tim had no appetite, and barely managed to eat anything, but he did keep the scraps down, so that was a good sign. 

His limbs not moving aside from the spasms was a bad thing. But the spasms had been growing less frequent, and Zane hoped that meant the Eridium was leaving his system at last. 

“Maybe if we get you out of bed?” Zane offered. “Lying around like a bum can’t be good for you. Or maybe it is. I have absolutely no medical knowledge beyond how to kill someone.”

“Comforting,” Tim said.

“Well, can’t hurt to try. I hope,” Zane said, pulling Tim’s arm across his shoulder. He took the bulk of Tim’s weight against himself as he pulled him out of bed carefully. 

He had to stop to shift Tim’s legs so that his feet were touching the ground, then hauled him upright. Tim swayed dangerously, but Zane kept a firm hold on him.

“No,” Tim said, shaking his head. “I can’t move my legs. It’s like I can feel every part of my body, but I can’t remember how to make any of it work. The most I can do is move my head.”

Zane sat him back down, and then hooked Tim’s arms around his neck. He pulled him up so that Tim was against his back, but his feet were still on the floor.

“I’m going to walk,” Zane said. “Just try to get your legs to move with me.”

He slowly walked across the room, Tim’s legs dragging uselessly behind him. Tim’s hands twitched relentlessly as he tried to cling to Zane, but he couldn’t seem to manage walking or grabbing. 

Shit. The kid was bad. 

“Alrighty, that’s not working,” Zane said.

“Wait,” Tim said, his voice strained. “Please, wait. I think I took a step. I- No, sorry, it’s stupid. It’s so stupid. Just set me back down.”

“No, no, a step is progress,” Zane said, turning them and walking slowly back across the room. “Come on, you learned how to walk once. You can do it twice!”

He walked back and forth despite how heavy Tim was against him. If he’d been with Jack all those years, he doubted anyone had cared much about the fate of him. The least he could do was walk around a room to give the kid a chance to walk again.

Tim let out more frustrated noises than triumphant ones, but when he did let out a little cry of relief, Zane encouraged them to keep going. He was sore from lugging Tim around, but Tim did manage to take a few steps here and there, which meant he’d hopefully get full movement back in his legs as the Eridium left him.

“Okay, I need to sit. You probably need to sit even more,” Tim said after a while, sounding exhausted. “Good news is that my legs do still work. Partially. Very partially.”

“Partially is better than not at all,” Zane said, getting Tim settled back into the bed. “Your hands were able to grab me a few times to hang on, too. Seems it’s just a matter of time to get you up and going again.”

Tim shuddered, and Zane knew the look that came over his face. He should’ve expected it, given how much strain Tim had just put on his already ruined body.

“Zane-”

“I know,” Zane said, sitting next to him and taking the bottle out. “Just a few minutes.”

He wasn’t sure how much to let Tim have. His usual dose? Half that? Could he really control it? Tim would likely chug whatever he was given the second he had the bottle to his lips. 

When the timer finally went off, Zane decided to just let him have the dose. Tim tipped his head back and Zane poured the Eridium into his mouth. Tim drank it greedily, letting out a contented sigh when he’d swallowed it down.

“That’s all,” Zane said firmly, capping the bottle. “Rest up, boyo.”

“I’m not tired,” he said, eyes locked on the bottle.

Zane pocketed it. “Well, you told me about your time on the moon. I could probably keep you entertained with a story or two of my own.”

Tim was gnawing at his bottom lip aggressively, but he nodded. Zane didn’t bother to point the bad habit out to him; the Eridium still in his system had been healing his abused lip. 

Zane told Tim some of his wildest stories. Tim stared at him wide-eyed, clearly trying to determine if Zane was lying or not. But it seemed to get his mind off the Eridium, so Zane dredged up his most outrageous tales to keep him occupied.

“-and that’s why I’m banned from that bar,” Zane concluded his latest tale.

“No, no way. Even Jack wouldn’t do that,” Tim argued.

“Well, Jack’s a little bitch, then! It was a good way to stir the drinks. Added flavor. And I gave the arms to a lass studying to be a doctor after, so they got an added use,” Zane said.

“Holy shit. And I thought my life was crazy,” Tim said. 

“It’s not all that great. Hard to get a bloody moment’s peace nowadays. Always someone trying to kill me,” Zane said with a sigh. “I’ll probably retire in a few years.”

“I’m...not even sure what you do after retiring from that,” Tim said.

Zane shrugged. “Dunno! Maybe I’ll build a garden or something.”

Tim snorted. “Oh yea, you seem the gardening type. Total green thumb.”

Zane opened his mouth to respond, but was cut off. 

“So Flynt, how’s he doing?”

Tim froze, horror washing over him. Zane grabbed his ECHO, and reached out to put a hand on Tim’s shoulder, shooting him a look.

“He’s just grand, actually,” Zane said cheerfully. “We were swapping some stories and such. Hell of a time he had up on the moon. Shame about that artifact that got smashed into your face, though. It sounds like it hurt.” 

Tim’s eyes widened. Zane wasn’t sure why he was still surprised that Zane had the nerve to say that stuff.

“It did hurt,” Jack said, his voice cold and mocking. “But maybe the brand hurt more. Timmy sure did scream himself hoarse when I branded him.”

Tim shrank back, shuddering, his breath hitching. Zane squeezed his shoulder.

“Well, we all have our moments. I once stubbed my pinky toe on a corner and screamed so hard I lost my voice for three days,” Zane said. “Happens to the best of us.”

Jack ignored that. “You have those schematics you wanted. So how about we make a deal? I won’t put a bounty on you if you turn him over to me.”

Zane laughed good and hard at that. “Oh, boyo, I’ve got plenty of bounties on me. Me own brother sent assassins after me as a way to check in. Trust me, that doesn’t scare me. Try harder.”

“Then how about this: I’ll give you the schematics to our most advanced sniper rifle. I was having it made for my doppelganger, but seeing as I’m going to break both his freaking hands when I see him, he won’t be needing it for a while. I’ll give it to you, and you can sell it to the highest bidder. All you have to do is give the double back to me,” Jack said.

Zane frowned. He actually had been contacted about a job to steal those schematics, with quite the hefty payout. But he’d turned it down, because the schematics were so carefully guarded, that even he hadn’t been able to get a lead on how to get them.

With a payout like that, he could take the money and lie low for a bit to get some of the bounty hunters off his back. He could get himself some new weapons and tech, kill some of his enemies, and then go about his business again.

He looked up and realized Tim was watching him in defeat. He flicked his gaze away from Zane and just nodded. 

“Nah,” Zane said, and Tim looked at him in surprise. “Forgive me if I don’t quite trust you. You’re a bit of a shady bastard, after all. Stick a bounty on me and see if it ever gets filled before someone puts a bullet in that ugly face of yours.”

“That’s MY face, you asshole!” Tim said, scowling. He realized he’d spoken, and flinched back.

“There you are,” Jack said darkly. “We both know you’ll end up back here. Is this what you do? First you get Angel in trouble, then you get Wilhelm killed, and now you’re betraying me. Without me, all you are is a worthless addict. Come back willingly, and I won’t punish you as much.”

“You just said you were going to break his hands,” Zane pointed out. 

“Come back, other-me. Bring me Flynt so Nisha can pay him back for pushing her down the stairs and concussing her, and I’ll actually be happy with you.” His voice took on a tone that was smug and reassuring. “I always look out for you. I’ll help you with that addiction. We’ll break it together. I’ll tell you what happened to Angel. I’ll let you join my team again so you can avenge Wilhelm. All you have to do is come back.”

Tim’s hand twitched violently, and he actually managed to raise it off the bed. Zane grabbed it and shook his head at Tim.

“Don’t,” he said in a low voice. “He’s lying. You know he is.”

“You left me,” Tim said, sounding lost and angry. “You left me in the casino! You abandoned me when I didn’t even betray you! I told Angel I wasn’t going to leave you, but you abandoned me anyways!”

“I didn’t abandon you,” Jack said. “I was going to come get you soon. If you had just waited another week or two, I would’ve come back for you. You were finally behaving yourself and earning back my trust. But then you went and teamed up with a freaking bandit.” 

Tim looked at Zane again, then down to where Zane was still keeping a hold on his hand. He swallowed hard, and shook his head.

“I’m not coming back, Jack. If you wanted me with you, you shouldn’t have sent me away,” he said.

“Attaboy, Timothy!” Zane said proudly. “There you have it, Jack. Timothy here has spoken, and I stand by his decision. He doesn’t want to come back, and I’ll be making sure you don’t get him back. Now quit calling me. I have exes who are less clingy than you.”

“I’ll get him back,” Jack snarled. “And when I do, I’ll make damn sure that little bastard pays.”

The feed cut, and Tim slumped back, staring up at the ceiling. Surprising Zane, he began to laugh, though it was a hysterical sound.

“Oh my god, I just did that,” Tim finally managed around his laughter. “I really freaking surgically altered myself just to quit. I hate my life. Have I mentioned that? I really, really hate my life. And I hate Jack. And I hate myself. I’d slap myself if I hadn’t wrecked my arms with an Eridium overdose. I think I did my mom a favor by making her think I’d finally freaking died.”

“Get ahold of yourself, lad,” Zane said, releasing his hand to shake Tim’s shoulder a little. “I can’t have you cracking up on me just yet. On the brightside, you managed to move your arm. That’s an improvement.”

“Good, maybe I can slap myself.” His expression shifted to one of concentration, then disappointment. “Nope, not yet.”

“I’d do it for you, but I feel bad slapping an invalid,” Zane said. “Also sorry about calling you ugly. But, well, Jack’s got nothing on this face.”

“Riiight,” Tim said. “Zane, listen. I don’t know what the hell I’m supposed to do next. And I know I can’t rely on you forever. But if you could just...I don’t know, just help me get moving again? If I can move and shoot again, I can find somewhere to hide and just hope the Crimson Raiders actually manage to kill Jack. And if it seems like my body is too damaged to get proper movement back then just...shit, I don’t want to die, but just put a bullet in me. I won’t survive like that, and we both know it.”

It was true, but Zane didn’t like the thought of putting Tim down like some old dog. “One thing at a time, lad.” He was running out of time to get those schematics to his client, but Tim’s condition was showing improvement. “Come on, let’s try to have you walk again. And good on you for finally telling that lying bastard off.”

He helped Tim up, getting him situated against his back again. They were both relieved to find that Tim was able to walk a little bit, though it tired him out quickly, and there were times when his legs wouldn’t cooperate.

“Do you know much about Eridium?” Zane asked as they moved along the room. “Hyperion holds most of the research on it.”

“I never looked into it,” Tim admitted. “But Angel made it sound like I wasn’t the first person Jack used it on. She was scared. Whatever happened to the other person or people, it made Angel desperate to get me away from Jack before he got me irreversibly hooked on it. I know too much causes mutations. I saw that with the Lost Legion on Elpis. It doesn’t affect everyone the same. And as far as I can tell, it can have different effects on the body. If I overdosed ten minutes from now, I might wake up with my arms and legs working fine, but blind and deaf.”

“Let’s try not overdosing ten minutes from now,” Zane said.

“I would,” Tim said bitterly. “If I had access to it, I would. It’s like my body is constantly crying out for it. Like I’m going to go up in flames if I don’t get it in me. I’m trying to resist it, I really am. But if I was addicted before, I’m hopeless now. This won’t be easy to kick, if I even can.”

“One thing at a time,” Zane repeated. “Any clue how to refill that bottle?”

“No. Jack was always in charge of that,” he said. 

“Well, I’m sure I can figure it out,” Zane said, hoping it was true. 

“Why are you helping me?” Tim’s voice was small. “You don’t have to. You barely know me. And I’m Jack.”

“You’re Timothy,” he said. “And like I said before, I somehow got fond of your overdramatic whining.” He fell silent for a moment as he dragged Tim along, feeling the weak attempts at walking from Tim. “I work alone. Always have. I know what it’s like when you get lonely but you can’t trust anyone. Not to get sentimental on you, but I see the way you lean into it whenever anyone touches you without the intent to hurt you. You’re desperate for someone who wants to be near you without hurting you.”

“Jack isn’t always the best company,” he said. “But him, Nisha, and Wilhelm were all I had. Well, and Angel, for a while. But we weren’t even supposed to be talking. She was the only one who ever called me by my name. She...once offered to wake me from my nightmares so I didn’t have to take the Eridium anymore. I wish I’d listened to her. I wish I knew what happened to her.”

Zane couldn’t offer him comfort there. “I can’t stay with you long, Timothy. You know that.”

“I know.” Zane was pretty sure he was gnawing at his lip again. “I don’t know what I’ll do. But if I go back to Jack, he’ll break me. I know that. Physically, mentally, emotionally. I’ll be hooked on Eridium permanently. He’ll isolate me for months in the dark, probably. I’ll be begging for him to let me out, even if it’s only to hurt me. I don’t want that.”

“I don’t think anyone does,” Zane said. “I can’t bring you with me. But I might be able to set you up with some light jobs, if you don’t mind getting your hands dirty.”

He let out a bitter laugh. “I’m Handsome Jack. Murder is second nature by now.”

“It doesn’t have to be murder,” Zane said, alarmed by how hollow Tim’s voice sounded when he said that. “I’ve got a guy on Promethea what’s always looking for someone to run extermination on the creatures around his business. We’ll find you something, lad. Just have to get your arms and legs back in gear, or you’ll be a hard sell.” 

They moved along until they were both too tired to keep it up. Zane lowered Tim onto the bed, and sat down next to him.

“Sleep,” he said. They were running out of time, but Tim didn’t need to know that just yet. “I’ll wake you when it’s time for the next dose.”

Tim closed his eyes and was asleep within minutes. Zane checked the timer on the bottle and allowed himself to lean back and close his eyes. 

This whole thing was a mess. But even though he was scared and desperate, Tim had refused to go back to Jack. He’d made his decision, and Zane would do everything he could to keep Tim free of Jack.

Chapter Text

When Zane woke up, Tim wasn’t in the bed. 

Zane jerked upright, hand going to his gun in case Jack’s forces had found them. Had someone kidnapped Tim in the night? But why leave Zane alive?

“I’m fine. I’m right here, Zane.”

Zane spun around and found Tim sitting in a chair by the window. He’d poked the curtain aside just enough to peek out at the world beyond.

“Uh...how’d you get there?” Zane asked, slowly lowering his hand from his gun.

Tim gave a bitter smile out the window. “I walked. I had this surge of burning pain that woke me up. I got sick twice- I cleaned it, don’t look at me like that -and when it all finally passed, I could move again. It still hurts, but not as bad as before.” He lifted a trembling hand to the healing bullet wound on his shoulder. The purple color had faded enough that Zane could barely see it from here. “I think the excess Eridium is almost out of my system. And you know what sucks? I want it back. I want to take more. My first instinct was to look for my bag.”

“I hid it, so good luck with that one. I’m almost as good at hiding as I am at killing,” Zane said, stretching and standing. “Let’s get you something to eat. And don’t tell me you’re not hungry, because you’ve hardly eaten a damn thing. If you’re still feeling alright in a few hours, we’d best set out.”

“Set out for where?” he asked, getting up and following Zane out to the kitchen.

“Like I said, I know some people. I’ll get you set with someone, and head on me way,” Zane said, taking out the spiderant meat he’d put on ice. “Go light the fire, will you?”

Tim moved to the fireplace, and Zane was relieved to see that he seemed alright. A little clumsy with his hands, but that was to be expected.

“Promethea, huh?” he said. “It’s almost as much of a shithole as Pandora.”

“Aye,” Zane agreed. “But Handsome Jack doesn’t occupy Promethea.”

“That is a fair point,” Tim conceded. He finally managed to get the fire going, and held his hands out over it to warm them. “What if Jack puts a bounty on me? Anyone would turn me over for what Jack would pay.”

“Not my people,” Zane said. “I’ve got some who need the workers more than the money. Besides, Jack hides his face for a reason. If you keep the mask off and try to disguise your voice, they might not know.”

He didn’t suggest that Tim try to cut or dye his hair. One step at a time. Something like that might send Tim into a panic. He’d clearly been groomed to be Handsome Jack, and altering his appearance would likely be met with punishment.

“Great. So I go from working for one of the wealthiest men in the galaxy, to shooting ratches in the gutters,” Tim said. “This is exactly what I had in mind when I went to college.”

“A college man!” Zane said.

“Student loans shoved me right into Jack’s greedy hands,” he said moodily. “I knew I should’ve listened to my mom and gone to community college.”

“Ah, the whole educational system’s a scam,” Zane said.

“Ain’t that the freaking truth,” Tim grumbled.

Zane came over and cooked the meat above the fire. Tim sat back, keeping close for the warmth. Zane got him a glass of water, which he managed to finish.

When the meat was cooked, Zane handed some to Tim. Tim eyed it warily.

“It’s dead, lad. It’s not going to hurt you. Just eat it,” Zane said.

“Do I look like I have a poor person's palate? This’ll definitely make me sick,” he said. He groaned and pressed a hand to his head. “Dammit, sorry. Jack moment. That damn DNA.” 

Zane could tell when he’d slipped into those Jack moments, because his voice got rougher. When he was just speaking to Zane normally, it was a lighter tone. He wondered if Jack used to speak in that lighter tone before he divebombed into the deep end of crazy. 

Tim only managed to eat half of his meal, but he at least held it down. Zane let him have his next dose when the timer went off, hating the way Tim eagerly snatched it away from him and shook it for every last drop it would give him.

“Now what?” Tim asked.

“We’ll take you out for some practice shooting, and if you seem okay, we’ll get going. There’s a mechanic nearby we can go get a vehicle from. Probably a map, too. This place always confuses me,” Zane said. 

“Maybe that’s the dementia setting in, grandpa,” he said. “Oh, hell, sorry, sorry. Dammit.”

“That wasn’t entirely a Jack moment,” Zane said, narrowing his eyes at Tim. “Your voice only got a little rougher that time.”

“I- think I’m funny, sometimes,” Tim said. “My jokes usually ended with Wilhelm punching me.”

“Can’t say I blame him.” He held a hand out to Tim and hauled him to his feet. “Let’s get going, then. I’ll let you do the shooting, and I’ll just cover you.”

Tim nodded and grabbed his gun. He followed Zane outside, and switched to his sniper rifle, climbing up onto a crate to get a better view.

“I can boost you up onto the roof,” Zane offered.

Tim’s face paled. “No, that’s alright. I can see fine from here.”

“What’s wrong with the roof?” Zane asked.

“I have a thing with, uh, with heights,” he mumbled. 

“You were on the moon though? Zero gravity and all that?” Zane said in confusion.

“I know, I know! It was a horrible time and involved a lot of screaming that no one ever let me live down!” he said, looking through the scope. “I don’t want to talk about it.” 

His hands trembled enough that his shot wasn’t quite on target, but he had enough control to strike a distant spiderant. The recoil sent his shoulders jerking back, but Tim grit his teeth, realigned the shot, and took the trembling into account this time as he took down the spiderant. 

More dug out of the ground and rushed at their position. Tim only managed to snipe one more before he had to switch to his pistol, leaping off his perch.

Zane took a little pity on Tim, and at least distracted some of the spiderants so Tim could have an easier shot. He managed to steady his hands for some of his shots, and took the trembling into account to smooth out the rest.

Tim also managed to move around and dodge attacks fairly well. They only caught him two or three times, and his shield absorbed the brunt of each hit.

Zane was pleased when Tim managed to take the spiderants out on his own. Just yesterday, he’d been worried Tim would never regain movement in his arms and legs. 

But now he strolled over, looking so much like a smug Jack that Zane knew it was to hide his relief. He clapped Tim on the back.

“There you go!” he said. “Right back to it.”

“Right back to killing things. Freaking love my life,” he said with a sigh, holstering his gun.

“Let’s get our stuff together and head out,” Zane said. “And for the sake of celebrating your functional limbs, I’ll be keeping a hold on your Eridium until we part ways.”

“But-” Tim started angrily.

“Timothy,” Zane said, raising an eyebrow. “Overdose.”

Tim hung his head in angry shame. “Fine.” 

They went back into the house and Zane waved Tim away to get dressed and gather his things. He dug out Tim’s bag, shifted the Eridium into the bottom of his own, and met Tim in the bedroom, tossing him his pack.

“Oi! Ain’t you gonna be hot in that?” Zane said as Tim pulled his jacket on.

“I’m hot in anything,” Tim said, and groaned. “I am disgusting. Absolutely disgusting. Next time, just let me die.”

“Overdramatic little bastard,” Zane said, but it was fond. “Get a move on. We’ll get ourselves a vehicle and a map, and be on our way.”

“But I can’t get off-planet,” Tim said. “Jack will trace my DNA signature if I fast travel.”

“So we won’t fast travel,” Zane said. “You saw my bank account. I’ll buy us a ship if need be.”

“Rich people,” Tim said miserably. 

Zane clapped him on the back again and shoved him towards the door. “Get going, Timothy.” 

They left together, and Tim tipped his face towards the sun. He seemed relieved to be out and moving around, and Zane realized that Tim had probably been terrified he’d be permanently damaged from the overdose. Sure, he’d known Tim was scared. But the extent of that fear had never really crossed Zane’s mind, because he himself had been so worried. 

Zane pointed to a cluster of damaged, deserted vehicles up ahead. “Race ya?”

Tim grinned. “You’re on.”

They took off running, and Tim was surprisingly fast. It made Zane feel even more out of shape considering Tim couldn’t walk yesterday.

Tim reached the vehicles first, putting his hands on his knees to catch his breath. Zane stopped next to him, trying to catch his breath as well.

“Damn, do you have asthma? Are you okay?” Tim said.

“Ah, shut it,” Zane said, lightly hitting him in the ribs. “I’m probably twice your age, if not more. I can’t run like I used to.” 

“We’ll take it easy for your sake, then,” Tim said, patting him on the shoulder sympathetically.

“Smart-mouthed arsehole,” Zane said, but grinned at him. “Maybe I can’t run like I used to, but I’m plenty good with a gun still. Watch that attitude of yours.”

Tim snorted. “Like you could do any worse than Jack. He once broke all my toes because I tripped and woke him up from a nap in his office.”

“And that is why you don’t go back to him,” Zane said. “I’d probably just throw a pen at your head or something if you did that to me.”

“So, mechanic?” he said, hastily switching the subject. “Who is this person?”

“Dunno! Never met her,” Zane said. “I just know she’s settled out here from some contacts. If they use her, she’s got to be trustworthy enough. But, uh, you best put your hood up and let me do all the talking.”

“Right,” Tim said, pulling his hood over his head. “I forgot about my face for one blissful minute.”

“Drama queen,” Zane said.

“Blame Jack,” Tim said.

“Oh, no, Timothy. I think you were a drama queen well before Jack entered the picture,” Zane said, and smirked at Tim’s glare. “But you didn’t say no.”

“Oh, shut up,” Tim said. “You’re the freaking worst, you know that? Okay, maybe not the worst. But you’re in my top ten.” 

“Not even in the top three?” Zane said.

“Jack, Nisha, the guy from accounting who always calls me Jacky-boy,” Tim said, listing them off on his fingers. “But you might be number four.” 

“I’ll work my way up,” Zane promised.

“Please don’t,” Tim begged.

They bickered back and forth as they walked along. Zane kept a careful eye out for any sign of being followed, since Tim had been walking out in the open without his hood up. Stupid of them both to forget just whose face he wore. 

Zane couldn’t wait to be clear of this place. If they were being followed, it’d have to be from a significant distance since they were out in the open right now. It’d make it hard to detect if a person or creature was stalking them, waiting for a good moment to strike.

He was relieved when the mechanic’s place came into view. He led Tim over there, trying to partially block Tim with his body so anyone here couldn’t get a good look at him.

Tim’s hair was just barely tamed and wasn’t in Jack’s usual style, and the scar helped obscure his face. The ruined eye hid Jack’s noticeable heterochromia. All of that helped, but any close look at his face could reveal that he was, indeed, Jack.

“Anyone around?” Zane called as he looked at the lot. Plenty of junk piled along the edges, but he could see the useful scrap lying amongst it. There was an open garage up ahead, but he didn’t want to walk in and give the mechanic a fright. That was a good way to end up with a bullet in the chest. 

“Over here!” an accented female voice called.

Zane and Tim wandered over to where it had come from. A woman was crouched in front of one of the junk piles, digging out scrap. 

“What d’ya need?” she said without looking up.

“A vehicle and a map, preferably,” Zane said. “Just trying to get out of here.” 

The woman finally stood and turned to face them. She pointed. “There’s a fast travel just over there you can help yourselves to.”

“We have one more stop to make in the area before we go,” Zane lied. “We were hoping to get a vehicle and head on there.”

She wiped her hands on a rag and shrugged. “That probably ain’t for the best. Hyperion’s been crawling all over the area lately, attacking on sight.”

Tim stiffened a little beside him before forcing himself to relax. Zane was just glad Hyperion hadn’t come around the place they’d been staying in. There’s no way he could’ve fended them off and protected Tim at the same time. 

“That’s a chance we’re willing to take. What’s your name, lass?” Zane said.

“Ellie,” she said, and put her hands on his hips, eyeing him carefully. “And just who’re you two?”

“I’m Zane, and this is Timothy. We’ve an errand to run, and then we’re on our way from here,” Zane said. “Hyperion or not, we’ve got to get our business settled before we can move on. We’ll pay you. Just need a vehicle, is all.” 

“Alright, but don’t say I didn’t warn ya,” Ellie said, leading them over to the Catch-A-Ride station. “I’ll get you set with something sturdy in case you run into trouble, but it’ll cost you.”

“Sure thing,” Zane said. 

It was a few minutes before Ellie had a vehicle and a map ready for them. Zane paid her nicely, hoping it would keep her quiet if Hyperion came asking questions. 

“Thanks, lass,” Zane said as he hopped in the vehicle alongside Timothy. 

“Don’t say I didn’t warn you,” Ellie said, watching them slowly pull out of the barrier around her garage.

Tim was looking at the map. “Where do you want to head to? Our best bet is probably somewhere lowkey that Jack won’t be searching for us in. Away from Hyperion occupation, at least.”

“We could-” Zane started.

Something rolled under the vehicle.

“Timothy!” Zane cried, reaching to grab him and yank him out, aware his gaze was too focused on the map to have noticed, and even more aware that neither of them had time to get out. 

The explosion shredded through the vehicle, sending Tim and Zane flying in different directions and shattering their shields. Zane landed hard on the ground, tucking himself up to protect his head and spine as best he could. He rolled a bit before coming to a stop, sore but in one piece.

He was too dazed to get up, his ears ringing and his eyes finding only the smoke from the flaming wreck of vehicle. His thoughts were muddled, just replaying that grenade rolling under the vehicle over and over.

But then the fog of his mind lifted enough for him to regain some sense. He tested his body, relieved to find nothing broken. He carefully sat up, wincing at a sharp pain in his shoulder from how he’d landed. 

“Timothy?” he called, looking at the wreck, the smoke obscuring his view. “Timothy!” 

He shakily got to his feet, giving his legs a moment to readjust after the shock of the explosion. He trudged forward, careful of the debris littered across the ground.

“Timothy!” he called, and coughed as the wind sent smoke into his face. “Tim, where are you? Timothy?”

Like a fool, he didn’t notice the man sneaking up on him.

He was struck across the back of the head hard enough to send him to his knees and make his vision waiver. Muscle memory had him rolling away just before the second blow hit the ground. He scrambled for his gun, rolling onto his back and aiming it at the man wielding a heavy piece of scrap.

One of the local bandits. Not Hyperion. 

Zane ignored the pain in his head and rolled out of the way of another blow, using the momentum to get to his feet and jam the gun against the man’s temple. The man let out a surprised noise.

“Who are you?” Zane demanded, gripping his wrist before the man could attack with the scrap again. Too worried about Tim to play around right now, he promptly broke the man’s wrist and watched the scrap fall from numb fingers as he screamed. “Who are you, and why are you attacking us?”

“The b-bounty!” the man cried, looking at Zane in fear. 

Hell, Jack had put a bounty on him after all. And that meant these guys would probably kill Timothy just to get him out of the way so they could focus on Zane. Zane didn’t know if the bounty wanted him dead or alive, but either way, it left Tim as nothing more than a bother and a loose end. 

Zane shot the man in the head, turning to go find Tim before they could kill him. He was so stupid for not expecting an attack. Of course Jack would put a bounty on him. Of course he should’ve known to hide his face too, at least until they got off Pandora.

“Ti-” he started to call, but then a figure lunged at him out of the smoke, wielding scrap to attack.

Before they could strike, a gunshot hit them and sent them falling to the ground with a wet cry. Zane looked over, and relief washed over him as Tim staggered towards him.

There was a nasty cut on his forehead, gushing blood down over his blind eye. But other than that, he didn’t appear to have any major injuries. 

Tim pressed a hand to the cut and pulled it away, looking at the blood on his hand with mild annoyance. “Let’s take these guys out. Good thing you’re rich and can get us another vehicle from Ellie.”

“Just using me for my money, are ya?” Zane said.

“In case you hadn’t noticed by the fact I surgically altered myself for it, I will literally do anything for money,” Tim said.

Someone came out of the smoke, jumping on Tim’s back and sending him to the ground. Zane tried to surge forward to get them off, but he was struck in the leg, sending him falling to one knee.

“I got him! I got him!” the one sitting on Tim’s back now said. “Kill that guy and let’s go.”

Oh no. Zane wasn’t the one they were trying to take alive.

Tim struggled, but the guy on his back gripped his hair and slammed his head against the ground. Tim snarled out a curse as his cut began to bleed even worse.

“I am really sick of this shithole planet!” Tim snapped, and swiped his watch.

His digi-Jacks burst forward, and the remaining men began to cry out and fire on them. Zane sent out his SNTNL to hunt down anyone still lurking among the smoke, and hurried over to help Tim up.

“You alright?” he asked.

“Fine, aside from the brain damage,” Tim grumbled. “You?”

“Threw my shoulder out with that landing,” Zane said, rubbing it. “Also I might be sporting a mild concussion. But good aside from that.” 

“They wanted me alive, and you dead,” Tim said, looking a little bewildered. “Why?”

“Got a bounty out, apparently. I thought it was a bounty on my arse, but apparently we’re missing something here. Let’s clean up the lot of them and do some investigating,” Zane said.

They stuck close together as they moved around the area, shooting any surviving attackers that the SNTNL and digi-Jacks had missed. When they were certain they’d cleared everything out, they slowly retreated the short distance to Ellie’s.

“Told ya,” Ellie said as they reentered the area. “I’m surprised you two survived.”

“Thanks for the help, sweetheart,” Tim said dryly, his voice rough. His eyes widened and he slapped a hand over his mouth.

Zane sighed heavily as Ellie’s eyes widened. Tim’s hood had fallen back during the fight, and they’d been too concerned with their safety to pull it back up.

“That’s-” she started, reaching for a gun.

“That’s a man with a voice modulator,” Zane said hastily. “It’s not who you think.”

Tim slowly raised his hands to show he wasn’t about to attack. “I know what this looks like. We’re just trying to get out of here. I saw the way you were looking at Zane before. You knew about the bounty, didn’t you?”

Ellie looked suspicious and unhappy, but she nodded. “Handsome Jack put a bounty out on him,” she said, nodding at Zane. “Dead or alive. And a bounty on you. Said that one might be traveling with a man who had a distinctive facial scar. Wanted that one alive with no permanent injuries. A very, very hefty payout. But I ain’t no bounty hunter, and I wanted to get you two the hell away from me before that kind of thing happened.” She gestured to the rising smoke. “Hyperion will be over here any minute to investigate.”

“Then we need to be gone,” Zane said. At Ellie’s look, he pointed to Tim’s disfigured face. “Hyperion did that to him. Can you blame him for trying to get away?”

“What if I told you that Jack is after us because we screwed him over?” Tim tried.

Ellie’s face brightened just the slightest. “Then I’d have a better opinion of you.”

“I betrayed him, teamed up with Zane, and we robbed Jack. Now he’s mad, and my fine ass is on the line,” Tim said.

Zane elbowed him. “You did it again.”

“I did? Oh, shit, I did. ‘Fine ass’ ugh. I suck,” he said in disgust. “Anyway, point is, we just want to get the hell away from Jack. We’re not trying to bring him to your doorstep. If Hyperion shows up, tell them we robbed you for a vehicle, and some bounty hunters ambushed us and captured us.”

“I’ll pay you,” Zane offered.

“Better be a damn lot,” Ellie said.

“Can do!” Zane said.

“Rich people,” Tim whispered in despair. 

Zane transferred credits to Ellie and she promptly got them a new vehicle and map. Zane hopped in, Tim staggering a little as he headed for his side.

“You gonna be alright?” Ellie asked him.

He pressed his hand to the gash on his head. The bleeding had slowed, likely thanks to the Eridium, but his body was still messed up from the overdose and the bleeding hadn’t stopped yet.

“Maybe I’m finally going to die,” he said hopefully.

“Oh, get in the car you absolute drama queen,” Zane said. “Don’t make me honk the horn.”

“I-”

“Dammit, you made me do it.” Zane laid into the horn.

“Asshole!” Tim called over the noise, dragging himself into the vehicle and swatting at Zane’s hands. “Stop that! I have a headache!”

“You are a headache,” Zane said, but with enough fondness that Tim only glared instead of yelling at him. “Thanks for the ride, and sorry ‘bout the trouble, Ellie!”

“Just get the hell outta here and don’t you come back,” Ellie said, waving them away and heading for her garage.

Zane took off, actually paying full attention this time. Tim once again had his focus on the map, though his hand was back against the gash. 

Zane drove a safe distance from the wreck, until it was only a distant smoke. He pulled over in what shade he could find, and Tim looked up with a frown.

“What are you doing?” he asked.

“Making sure you don’t die,” Zane said. He’d seen the growing tremble of Tim’s hands, and his irritated fidgeting. He was craving Eridium.

Zane took out a health kit and gave it to Tim, using another on himself. Tim injected himself with it, tossing the empty vial out of the car.

“That’s littering,” Zane said.

“This whole planet is a trash heap,” Tim scoffed.

“Doing it again.”

“Shit. Sorry.”

Zane reached out slowly. When Tim didn’t flinch away, Zane tilted his head down to get a better look at the wound.

It was deep, but not deep enough for stitches. The health kit had already helped it stop bleeding, and would probably have it mostly sealed in a bit. 

Still, Zane dug out his first aid kit and cleaned the blood from Tim’s face. Tim winced as Zane ran a wipe over his ruined eye, and Zane tried to be more gentle. Likely it was just phantom pain, but it was still enough to set Tim’s knuckles white as he clenched his fists tightly. 

Once he’d wiped up the blood, he bandaged the wound, trying not to get the bandages stuck to Tim’s hair. Satisfied with his work, he put the first aid kit away.

“The Eridium would make it faster,” Tim said, chewing at his lip.

“So would another health kit,” Zane said.

Tim glared and opened his mouth to argue. Zane turned the radio up so loud that Tim winced, pressing a hand to the bandage.

“I have a headache, you freaking jackhole!” Tim snapped.

“What? Can’t hear you over this absolute bop,” Zane said, and got driving again.

He allowed Tim to turn the radio down. Tim studied the map and directed Zane where to go, their only real destination being the hell away from the Dust. Zane had to maneuver them away from several gatherings of Hyperion guards trying to inspect vehicles. 

Once they were clear of the Dust, Tim tucked the map away. He seemed exhausted, his body still adjusting from the overdose.

“Sleep, lad. I’ll find us a place to go,” Zane promised.

“Will you wake me for the next dose?” he asked anxiously.

“Reliable is my middle name!” Zane said.

“Asshole,” Tim mumbled, but shrugged out of his jacket and balled it up against the window. He rested his head against it, careful of his wound. His eyes slipped closed, and he was out almost instantly.

Zane turned the radio off so it wouldn’t wake him. The only sounds became the wind whipping against the windshield, the rumble of the vehicle, and Tim’s soft breathing. 

Their time together was nearly up. Zane glanced at Tim, and found himself genuinely upset that they’d be parting ways soon.

Tim was a damaged kid, struggling with trauma and addiction. But he wasn’t a bad person, not in the way Jack had tried to make him. Even with a gash in his head and bandits trying to kidnap him, he’d rescued Zane. 

Zane would get him somewhere safe. It was too risky to bring Tim along on a job with him so long as Jack was alive with a bounty out on the two of them. But the least Zane could do was get Tim somewhere safe, and find a way to help him come off his addiction.

Chapter Text

Zane pulled the vehicle over. Tim was still out cold, and Zane considered letting him sleep while he went to secure them a way off Pandora.

But the thought of someone finding Tim alone and passed out had him changing his mind. Better to be safe than sorry.

“Oi, Timothy,” he said, reaching over and shaking his shoulder.

Tim jerked awake violently, yanking his shoulder away from Zane. Before Zane could even speak, Tim’s gun was in his face.

“I know I blasted the radio, but this is just rude,” Zane said.

“Zane?” Tim was breathing heavily. He slowly lowered the gun. “I thought…”

“I was Jack?” Zane said.

Tim holstered his gun, looking away. “Yea. Sometimes he’d strangle me if I fell asleep doing paperwork. I just thought...Sorry. Sorry.”

“No harm done,” Zane said. Well, harm to Tim’s mental state, likely. But no one got shot, so that was a bonus. “I’m going to head inside and talk to a contact about a way off Pandora. Will you be alright out here?”

“Hopefully,” Tim said. “With my luck, someone else will blow the vehicle up while you’re gone.”

Zane took out his first aid kit and placed it in Tim’s lap. “There, clean the wound and change the bandages while I’m gone. The health kit should’ve mostly fixed you up, but we don’t need you getting an infection right now.”

“That would also be my luck.” Tim bit his lip hard and looked at Zane.

Zane took the bottle out of his pocket and handed it to Tim. “I’ll be back. If anything happens, just scream really loudly.”

“That won’t be a problem, as anyone on Elpis can attest to,” Tim grumbled. 

Zane left the vehicle and disappeared into the building they were parked near. Tim stared longingly at the timer on the bottle before forcing himself to set it down.

He carefully pulled off the bandages and checked his wound. Like Zane had guessed, it was mostly fixed up and was just a small cut now. Wouldn’t even scar, as long as he didn’t pick at it.

He cleaned it and rebandaged it. He tugged his hoodie down to look at the bullet wound.

The purple color had faded from it. He traced a finger over it, shuddering at the memory of seeing it when he first woke up from the overdose.

The overdose.

Tim didn’t even remember taking all that Eridium. He just remembered needing it so desperately. He’d lost himself, fading away into a frenzied thing.

And then the pain. He couldn’t stop thinking about the pain.

It was like his insides had been set on fire. Even now, the flames had faded to embers, but his thoughts stoked them until his body felt hot with the need of it. Sometimes he got sharp jolts of longing, whipping into violence and anger when he couldn’t get his hands on the stuff.

Blood tickled his chin. He’d bit open his lip again.

“Stop it,” he whispered to himself, running a hand through his hair. “Stop. Angel would be broken hearted to see you, you stupid addict.”

Angel. Was she okay? 

Had he gotten her hurt? Killed? Was she suffering a worse fate than him?

And Wilhelm. Dead. 

Could Tim have helped him, if he’d only been around? Had Jack really been planning to finally pull Tim from the casino to avenge Wilhelm?

Tim didn’t know. He’d never know. He’d never know if he could’ve saved Wilhelm, or if Jack had been telling the truth.

The bottle beeped. Tim felt something trickle down his cheeks, and wiped the tears away with a trembling hand.

He took his dose, hating the relief flooding him as it entered his abused system. He set the bottle down in Zane’s seat, knowing he couldn’t control himself. He wondered what his mother would think of him now.

He missed her. He missed her so much. But not enough to show her the monster he’d become.

“Come on, get it together, Jack,” he growled, wiping the blood from his chin. He froze. “T-Timothy. Not Jack. Shit.”

He kept forgetting his name. Zane tended to use his name frequently, for which he was grateful. He’d keep forgetting if not for that.

Tim slumped back in the seat, still feeling tired. He wondered if his body would ever get back to normal, or if the overdose had permanently damaged his system. He’d suddenly get exhausted, or his fingers would start tingling, or he’d get awful headaches. Most of it he could hide from Zane, but not from himself.

He was just grateful he could move again. Hell, that’d been terrifying. He really thought he’d lost control of his body forever.

It was his worst nightmare. Trapped in a body he had no control of. Forced to look down and see Jack’s sturdy build instead of the lanky one he’d always known until the surgery. Hair the wrong color falling into his one good eye, unable to brush it away. Defenseless against all the horrors in the world. Constantly reminded that he no longer belonged to himself, and this body that was his but wasn’t had become nothing more than a cage for a damaged mind. 

Tim wiped the tears away again, frustrated at himself. Jack would punish him for crying. Handsome Jack didn’t cry, after all. 

Tim pushed open the door. He shrugged his jacket on, zipping it to hide the logo on his hoodie. He pulled his hood up and got out of the vehicle, needing to stretch his legs and move around. Needing to remind himself that he could still control his body.

Tim walked along, staying fairly close to the vehicle. He crouched and lifted a small rock, flinging it off into the distance. His fingers tingled, and he shook his hand until the feeling went away.

He didn’t dare risk shooting and drawing attention to himself. Instead, he found a shaded spot and sat down, just picking up little rocks and throwing them at targets he mentally set for himself. It was a decent way to test his control of his arm.

He did that for a long while, relaxing into the motions. Rather than let his mind wander to Eridium, he instead thought of the articles Angel had read him.

“Timothy?” 

It was Zane’s voice, and the genuine worry in it twisted Tim’s stomach and pushed at the hollowness in his chest. He stood up and turned towards the vehicle, where Zane was looking at the empty passenger seat.

“Over here,” he called. “Needed to get out and stretch a bit.”

Zane looked over, the flicker of relief on his face twisting Tim’s stomach even more.

He’d been worried about Zane when the vehicle exploded. Afraid for the other man. When he’d seen one of the bounty hunters about to attack him, he’d pushed past his pain and disorientation to protect Zane.

And the truth was, he didn’t want to leave Zane’s company.

He liked the older man. Zane was brash at times, but never cruel. He teased Tim relentlessly, but he also got Tim on his back and dragged him around because he hoped Tim could walk again. He sat up and cared for Tim even when Tim had stupidly overdosed. He endured Tim’s violent outbursts with patience.

Tim had only seen him as a method of escape at first. Now he found himself thinking of Zane as a friend.

“Come on, lad,” Zane said, gesturing him over. “I’ve got us a ride off this planet.”

Nothing good could ever last. Tim had long ago swallowed that bitter pill. His friendship with Angel had been cut short by Jack, and now he was going to lose Zane, too.

But he wouldn’t be a burden to Zane. Not after all Zane had done for him.

So Tim got moving, bringing himself to Zane’s side. He looked up at Zane, mentally cursing the other man for being so damn tall.

“Do you have to be as tall as you are irritating?”

Zane raised an eyebrow. “You did it again.”

“Oh, thought that was just in my head,” Tim said, rubbing the back of his neck. Freaking DNA. 

“Ah well, I’m well aware I’m tall and charming!” Zane said brightly.

“Pretty sure I said irritating.”

“No, no, it was definitely charming. You said charming.”

“Absolutely not, but moving on. A way off this shithole?” Tim said. As much as he didn’t want to leave Zane, he absolutely wanted to leave Pandora.

“Come on, then. I got us a ship,” Zane said. “I’ll take you to Promethea and hook you up with that contact of mine. I’ve got an old safehouse out there I never use anymore. You can have it.”

“You can just gift people safehouses? Man, I freaking hate rich people,” Tim groaned.

“Well, I haven’t used it in years. No point in keeping it to myself,” Zane said with a shrug. “It’s all paid off and whatnot. Bought it under a fake name, so Jack won’t track it back to me. You should be alright there.”

Zane opened the vehicle door and tossed Tim his bag. Tim slung it over his shoulder and waited for Zane to gather all his things out.

“Here.” Zane tossed Tim the bottle. “No point in me holding onto that now that your hands work again.”

The bottle was almost empty. Tim rolled it between his hands anxiously, and jumped when Zane smacked at his shoulder.

“Your lip,” he said. “Stop gnawing it off your face.”

“Mind your own business,” Tim said, but ran his tongue over his lip and winced at how torn up it was. 

He followed Zane down the road to another, larger building. Zane entered a code to a door, scanning his palm and pushing the door open.

Inside was a small ship. Tim’s head hurt at the thought of the cost. He didn’t have Jack’s money to spend anymore.

Back to being poor and ugly. Different face, different life, same problems. 

Freaking grand. He really wished he’d just gone to community college. 

“Come on,” Zane said, tugging him forward by his sleeve. “Stop standin’ around staring off into space and let’s actually go into space.” 

They got into the ship and Tim settled into a seat while Zane inspected it. Apparently satisfied, Zane sat down and started up the ship.

“Your lip,” Zane said.

Tim hadn’t realized he’d been biting it again. “Habit.”

“Addiction habit,” Zane said. He gestured to Tim’s bag. “You’ve got some food in there. Eat something, will you?”

“I’m not hungry,” Tim said. He never seemed to feel hungry anymore. 

“You need to eat,” Zane said. He pressed a button, and the large door in front of the ship slid open to reveal the outside world. The ship was thrumming with power, waiting to take off into the sky.

Tim opened his bag and dug out a protein bar. He tore open the wrapper and nibbled at it, just to get Zane off his back.

“Here we go!” Zane said, and the ship lurched forward.

Tim readjusted himself so he wouldn’t fall off his seat as Zane maneuvered them into the air. He considered pretending to drop the protein bar so he wouldn’t have to eat it, but dismissed the idea. Zane seemed like the type to make him eat it off the floor if that’s what it took.

As they left Pandora behind, a weight lifted from Tim’s chest. Pandora was Jack’s domain. Maybe Tim wouldn’t be safe anywhere else either, but Jack didn’t have the sort of Hyperion occupation on other planets that he had on Pandora. 

“Timothy,” Zane said after setting a course for Promethea. He turned to face Tim, his expression uncharacteristically serious. “We need to talk.”

Tim’s stomach sank and cold fear washed over him. Jack would do that sometimes.

“We need to talk, kiddo,” he’d say. And maybe they’d start out talking, but Tim would usually wind up in medical by the end of it, his bones broken or his throat heavily bruised. Sometimes it was because he’d screwed something up. Sometimes it was just because Jack had a bad day.

“Easy now, lad,” Zane said. “I’m not going to hurt you. When I say talk, I mean actually just talk.”

Tim shook himself a little. “Right. Talk. Words. I can use those. Talk about what?”

“You know what. Oi, stop biting your lip. It’s making mine feel sore,” Zane said.

Tim wanted to say he had the addiction under control. But he knew that was a damn lie, and he knew that once that bottle ran out, he wouldn’t be able to control himself. If he overdosed again, he’d likely die, especially without Zane there to look after him.

“I’ve been thinking about it. I owe you another three month’s worth of Eridium, after all,” Zane said. “The most I can do is bottle them off into small doses for you to take. And then I thought, nah, he can’t control himself after that overdose. You’re craving another big hit like that too much. So I had another idea.”

“Which is?” Tim asked, shame washing deep in him that they even had to have this discussion. 

“Your watch,” Zane said. “If you’d let me make adjustments, I might be able to set it so it monitors you. If you start taking too much, it’ll release the digi-Jacks to stop you. You can watch me make the adjustments.”

Tim touched his watch, heart beating fast. But Zane was right; he couldn’t control himself. He needed help.

“Alright,” he said slowly. “But I get to watch you.”

Zane held his hand out. Tim reluctantly took his watch off, handing it to Zane and moving closer so he could see as Zane hooked the watch up to his ECHO.

That watch had been Tim’s protection since he started working for Jack. The thought of anyone tampering with it sent him biting his lip so hard it started to bleed again.

But Zane worked slow so that Tim could see each change he was making to the code. He added to their protection protocol, and Tim began to twitch a little as he saw how much Eridium he was allowed to take before the watch would react.

“I’m going to lock that code so that you can’t alter it,” Zane said. “That okay with you, boyo?”

“No,” Tim snapped.

“Well, I’ll be sure to be at your funeral,” Zane said. “Might be the only one who shows up, but I’ll drink enough for a whole party.”

Tim pressed his hands together roughly, bowing his head. “Fine. Fine. Do it. Shit.”

Zane turned away for this part, and Tim felt anxious as he watched. But then Zane held the watch out to Tim, and he strapped it to his wrist. He hastily flicked his digi-Jacks into being to make sure they were okay.

They appeared before him, waiting for orders since there was no immediate threat. Tim swallowed around the lump in his throat.

“Override Eridium protection protocols,” he ordered.

“Override denied,” the blue one said. “You are not authorized to do that.” 

“Quit glaring at it,” Zane said, kicking Tim in the shin. “This is the only way I can think of to protect you.”

Protect him. No one had tried to protect him since Angel. No one had protected him when they beat him in the casino. No one had protected him when they withheld Eridium from him as punishment, a punishment only possible because Jack had hooked him on it.

But Zane had come for him when Nisha locked him in a cell and deprived him of Eridium. Zane had protected him when he overdosed. Zane was protecting him now.

Tim felt overwhelmed. Angry at his addiction, angry that he was being restricted. Scared about the bounty on him, and what Jack would do if he was recaptured. Sad to know he’d be losing Zane soon. And relieved Zane had been there for him at all.

“Thank you.” His voice came out choked, small. He cleared his throat and turned away.

A warm, strong hand landed on his shoulder. It wasn’t the possessive grip of Jack’s hand, but the comforting touch of Zane’s. 

“You’re welcome,” Zane said. “Let’s get you to Promethea. Exterminator Timothy! It’ll keep you busy for sure. That ratch problem is nasty there.” 

“Fantastic. My mother would be so proud. I’ll send her the first ratch I kill to stick in the baby book,” Tim said. 

“Well, we’ve still got a ways to go before we reach Promethea. Care to play some cards? I won’t even make you bet,” Zane said.

Tim snorted. “I don’t have any money to bet, kiddo.”

“How about this: Every time I beat you, you have to take another bite of that protein bar you’re trying to hide because you thought I forgot about it,” Zane said.

Tim glared and pulled the protein bar back out. “Deal. But every time I win, you have to give me money. Don’t look at me like that. I’m broke and I have no shame.”

“Ah, what the hell? I can afford it,” he said, grinning as Tim glared harder. He took out a deck of cards. “Let’s do this, then.”

Zane figured it couldn’t hurt; Tim technically won either way. He lost and he had to eat. He won and got a little money to get him started on Promethea. 

Plus, it would get his mind off Eridium. They both knew they’d need to have another talk about that when they reached Promethea.

But for now, they had time to kill. So they dealt the cards, began their trash talking, and enjoyed their time together as it slowly came to its end.

Chapter Text

Zane landed the ship on Promethea. Tim’s stomach was much fuller than his pockets after their card games, and he was sulking in the seat next to Zane.

The bottle beeped in his pocket and he yanked it out, helping himself. The only good thing about it was that it would hopefully heal up his raw lip. Zane couldn’t quite get him to stop chewing it. 

“Right, then. Follow me,” Zane said, gathering his things.

Tim grabbed his stuff and followed Zane off the ship. He looked around Promethea with disdain, probably used to the luxury of Hyperion.

“It’s not as bad as it looks. Well, actually, it is. But it’s better than the cell Jack would’ve stuck you in,” Zane said. 

Tim couldn’t argue with that. He reluctantly followed Zane along too-quiet streets, feeling tensed for a fight at any moment.

But they made it where they needed to go without anyone attacking them. It was best not to get too complacent, but he figured he’d at least be a little safer here than Pandora when it came to the bounty. Besides, Jack couldn’t release that he was looking for a body double without revealing that Tim’s scarred face was a perfect match to his own. 

Zane put in a code and the door in front of them swung open. A beeping came from inside, and Zane casually strolled in and disarmed the alarm.

“Plenty secure in here,” he assured Tim as Tim stepped inside. “I’ll give you all the codes, and hand over security camera access exclusively to you.”

“This it, then?” Tim asked.

The safehouse was small but comfortable. It was in an inconspicuous neighborhood, close enough to the central part of the area for easy access, but on the outskirts enough not to be loud or active. Tim examined the various rooms, but found nothing personal inside. Nothing indicated that Zane had ever stayed here.

“This is it,” Zane confirmed when Tim returned to where he was waiting. “There’s some canned food and bottled water in the kitchen, but shopping for food is on you. You can set the place up however you want. It’s all yours.”

All his.

Tim had never had a place all to himself before. He’d lived with his mom until he worked for Jack, and then he’d lived with Jack. 

The silence had settled between them, and Tim felt it like a noose. He wouldn’t wake up to the sound of his mom clattering pots and pans together too loudly in the kitchen. He wouldn’t wake to the sound of Jack yelling his name. He wouldn’t come home and find his mom reading on the couch, or Jack waiting for him with a drink in hand.

Alone.

Tim suddenly felt afraid.

That warm hand landed on his shoulder again. “Calm down, Timothy.”

“I am calm,” Tim lied. “I just...I’ve never lived alone before.”

“So get a pet,” Zane said, letting his hand linger a moment longer before pulling it away. “Program your digi-Jacks to keep you company. Make a friend. This’ll take some getting used to, but it’s better than being at Jack’s mercy. Now, come with me, and we’ll get you set up with that contact.”

Tim followed Zane back out. Zane pointed out locations to him as they walked along the streets of Promethea. They passed a few people, and Tim made sure his hood was up and his jacket hid the Hyperion logo. He’d definitely have to get himself some new clothes. 

Most of the people paid them no mind, though. Tim was grateful for that, at least. 

They reached a building and Zane led him inside. Tim looked around the place as they walked down a hallway. It appeared to be some infrastructure and building repair company.

“Can I help you?” a secretary asked as they approached her desk.

“Aye, tell Peter that Zane’s here,” Zane said.

She got up and let herself into the office behind her. A moment later, she came back out and waved them forward.

“He said to go on in,” she said.

“Thanks, lass,” Zane said, heading inside with Tim.

A man sat behind a desk, arguing on the phone. He glanced at them and held a finger up to Zane, then gestured at the chairs in front of his desk.

“Well, he signed the contract,” the guy said as Zane and Tim sat down. “I’m not liable for his death. That’s the third exterminator from that company that got himself killed on the job! Tell them we’re done and moving on. Sure, fine, but if they try to contact me, push it through to Jimmy to deal with.” He hung up the phone and rubbed his temples. “This better be good, Flynt. I’ve got to find a new exterminator and a new HR person before the weekend.”

“Good news, Peter! I’ve got a man for the first one,” Zane said, slapping Tim on the back. “This here’s me boy Timothy. He used to be a vault hunter. Plenty fine shot.” 

Peter was eyeing Tim carefully. “Where’d you get the scar, son?”

“Uh...Elpis?” Tim said, because saying he’d been branded didn’t sound like a way to secure the job. 

“Might as well go right out with it, Timothy,” Zane said, tugging his hood down. “He used to be a body double for Handsome Jack. Jack wants him back, put a bounty on him and everything. But he’ll be more use to you as an exterminator than a paycheck.”

“Zane!” Tim hissed.

“What? He would’ve found out anyways,” Zane said, shrugging. “I wouldn’t have done that if I thought it’d put you in danger.”

“He’s right. The last thing I want is money from Handsome Jack. The prick would probably just kill me and take it all back, anyways. I never do business with Hyperion,” Peter said dismissively. “You’re sure he’s not an agent?”

“Positive,” Zane said. “You can trust Timothy.”

Peter shrugged. “Alright, you’ve never tossed me a wash-out before. I’ll hire him on a trial basis, and if he can get the job done, I’ll hire him on full-time. Fucking ratches are rampant lately. You gotta supply your own weapons, kid.”

“Not a problem,” Tim said.

Peter opened a drawer in the desk and dug out paperwork. “Here, fill that out. I couldn’t care less what name you put on the contract. Most of Zane’s guys use fake ones anyway. Just bring it back tomorrow and we’ll start you. And read the fine print, for sanity’s sake. I’m sick of these assholes losing a limb and trying to sue me for it. It’s not my problem if you suck at your job.”

Tim took the paperwork. He’d survived Elpis; taking out ratches would be nothing.

“If that’s all, get out of here. I’ve got to get a jump on that HR person,” Peter said, waving them away. 

“You or any of your workers betray Timothy for that bounty, I’ll be back,” Zane said cheerfully.

“Don’t go threatening me. The kid’ll work alone, and I’ll be the only one who knows who he really is,” Peter said. “I’m sure as hell not getting involved with that psychopath Handsome Jack.”

“Good enough.” Zane gave Tim a light shove towards the door. “Good to see ya, then.”

“If you find a runaway HR guy, send them my way,” Peter called as they shut the door.

“Easy enough,” Zane said to Tim.

“Too easy,” Tim said nervously.

“Nah. He keeps losing exterminators, and the ratch problem has been growing worse. It hurts his business, which costs him money,” Zane said. “He’s a hardass but he’ll pay you fairly if you’re getting the work done. Plus, he’s got a vendetta against Hyperion since they pushed out one of his branches from Pandora. Blew the facility up and cost him a fortune in losses. He won’t sell you out.”

They left the building and Tim tucked the paperwork securely into his bag. It’d be hard to shake the paranoia that this guy would sell him out at any second, but if Zane trusted him, then Tim would just have to believe in Zane for now.

Besides, he didn’t exactly have any other options. With his face and voice, he’d be lucky to get hired anywhere else. He needed an income or he’d be screwed.

“Let’s get you some new clothes. Can’t have you walking around in that gaudy Hyperion yellow forever,” Zane said.

“Don’t you have to go?” Tim asked.

“Not just yet. Besides, I don’t trust your fashion sense after you spent so long with Jack,” Zane said.

“Fair point. Let’s go,” Tim said.

Zane took him to a clothing store and offered to pay for a new wardrobe for him. Tim once again cursed the rich, but decided to take advantage of the offer.

They bought him a good amount of new clothes, Zane taking charge since Tim’s fashion sense had basically become Hyperion T-shirts and hoodies over his jeans. He hadn’t exactly had much of a fashion sense before working for Jack, but it was especially bad now.

They stopped to get dinner from a little restaurant and brought it all back to the safe house. They tossed the clothes down on the couch in the living room and sat at the little table in the kitchen. 

Tim wasn’t hungry, but Zane forced him to eat half his meal before allowing him to stop. When Zane had finished his food, he leaned back in his chair and gave Tim a look that had him shifting uncomfortably.

“I’m leaving soon,” he said at last. “We both knew I’d have to.”

“I know,” Tim said. “I’m not a child. I don’t need you looking after me.”

“Oh, boyo, that’s a lie and we both know it,” Zane said. “But I can’t stay. I’ve got work to do, and now so do you. It doesn’t mean I’ll be gone forever. I’ll come check in on you, or call you over the ECHO to see how you’re doing. But I can’t stay.”

“Yea, I got that,” Tim said. He sighed. “Out with it. We both know what you’re going to say. Might as well quit dancing around it.”

“Your addiction will kill you,” Zane said, and Tim winced. “It’ll kill you slowly and painfully. You need to cut it, Tim. You need to.”

“Angel begged me to slowly lower the dosages I was taking until I could cut the stuff,” he said.

“Do that,” Zane said seriously. “I’ll get the other three months to you by tomorrow. That’ll give you six months to get yourself off the stuff, because after that, you’re on your own for a supplier. I won’t fuel your addiction. I won’t be the one to send you to your grave like that.” He met Tim’s eyes. “I don’t want to see you die, Timothy.”

Tim’s throat felt constricted. He couldn’t drag his gaze away from Zane’s, searching for the lie and not finding it. Zane cared. Zane really cared.

“I don’t want to die,” Tim said at last. “I don’t know how to…” He trailed off and shook his head. “I’ll do what I can. I promise.”

“Keep that promise. I want to see you get the hell off that stuff,” Zane said. “I’ll divide it into doses for you before I go, and I’ve got a timed safe in the basement. I’ll put it in there. It’s not as controlling as that bottle of yours, but it’s something.” 

“Thank you,” Tim said quietly. “You’re a...good friend, Zane.”

“You’re making me sentimental,” Zane said, kicking him under the table. “I can’t even get some information out of a double in the casino without winding up basically adopting him anymore.”

“Shut up,” Tim said, kicking him back and trying not to smile. 

“You go put your clothes away while I divide up the Eridium and stick it in the safe. Pick whatever room you want as your bedroom. I can help you rearrange the place before I go,” Zane said, getting up.

Tim gathered his new clothes and wandered upstairs. There was already a bedroom set up, so Tim claimed that. He opened the closet and hung up his clothes, sticking the rest in the nearby dresser. He faced the room, frowning at how devoid it was of personality.

Maybe he’d go to the store and get a painting or something to hang on the wall. There was a waterfall his mom used to take him to when he was a kid. He’d always loved to swim by it and then sit on a nearby rock drying off as he watched the water endlessly cascade down. He hoped he could find a painting that reminded him of that peaceful scenery.

He jerked as that sudden burning spiked up, and dropped to his knees, gritting his teeth until the feeling passed. Son of a taint, this was going to be hell.

He got back to his feet before Zane found him like that. He took a slow, deep breath.

“Get it together, Jack,” he whispered. He pressed his knuckles to his forehead. “Tim. Not Jack. Timothy. Timothy Lawrence.”

No one would call him that anymore. 

What if he forgot again? What if, like his age, he completely forgot?

“Timothy.”

He slowly turned to face Zane. “I forgot again.”

“I know. That’s the second time I’ve called your name,” Zane said, standing in the doorway. “This is going to be hard. That whole trauma thing isn’t just going to go away. But I believe in you, lad. I really do. You need time to adjust, and then you’ll find your own rhythm of life.”

He opened one of the nightstand drawers and took out a pad of sticky notes and a pen. He wrote something and then tore the page off, going over to the mirror in the room and sticking the note on it.

You are Timothy Lawrence, and you are more than your face.

Tim read over the words, and caught sight of his mutilated reflection in the mirror. The blinded eye, the scar tearing through him, the ruined lip he just kept chewing on, the blue eye that wasn’t really his, the messy brown hair with a gray streak that made him look so much older than he actually was. 

It wasn’t his face. But Zane believed he was more than it.

“Timothy Lawrence,” he said to his reflection. 

“Aye, Timothy Lawrence. I’m not friends with Handsome Jack; I’m friends with Timothy Lawrence,” Zane said. “As overdramatic as he is, and as many headaches as he gives me, that lad’s my friend. That lad is you.”

Tim turned away from his reflection. He wasn’t quite ready to face that part of himself.

“It’ll take time,” Zane said. “Speaking of time, we’re out of it.”

“I know.” Tim felt that hollowness pushing at his chest again. “You’ll keep in touch?”

“Loosely,” Zane said. “It’s hard to check in when I’m on jobs. I have to go dark a lot. But I’m going to give you an emergency contact you can use. If Jack finds you, or you think someone is after you, you call me. You can ping your location from your watch to me, and I can come help you.” He grinned. “I’m going to miss pulling your arse out of the fire. Think you can handle yourself for a bit?”

“Of course I can,” Tim grumbled, but he felt better knowing Zane would be there if he needed him.

Zane clapped a hand to his shoulder. “Not at all what I was expecting out of this job. What a week!”

“Thanks for everything, Zane,” Tim said sincerely. “I’m a massive fuckup and I look like that douchebag, but you still saved me.”

“I’ve met worse fuckups. Hell, I’ve been related to worse fuckups,” Zane said. “You’re a good one, Timothy. Hang in there, will you? If I come back and you’ve given up, I’ll beat your arse and drag you to some sense.”

“I’ll hold you to it,” Tim said.

Zane surprised him by giving him a hug. When Zane pulled away, Tim stared at him wide-eyed.

Zane shrugged. “You looked like you needed it.”

He couldn’t remember the last time he’d even been hugged. “I- yea. Yea. Thanks. Get going before you make me sentimental too. Asshole.”

He walked Zane downstairs. Zane took a few minutes to show him the timed safe and give him all the various codes for the house. Once that was all set, they went to the front door.

“It’s not goodbye. Quit looking at me like that,” Zane said, but he was lingering. “I’ll be back eventually. I’ve got some jobs lined up, but when I have free time, I’m coming here and you’re buying me a drink with your own hard-earned money.”

Tim snorted. “Really? You’re rich enough to bribe people, give me a house, and buy spaceships. You can buy your own freaking beer, kiddo.”

“Gonna miss that moody attitude,” Zane said. “I’ll be back, Timothy.”

It was Zane’s promise.

“I’ll be here,” Tim said.

It was Timothy’s promise.

They met each other’s eyes and gave a nod to seal the deal. With nothing left to say, Zane went on his way. Tim watched him go until he was out of sight.

Once Zane was gone, Tim shut the door and turned to face the empty, quiet house. With nothing to do and not wanting to be alone with his thoughts, Tim took out the paperwork, getting to work on his new future.

Zane returned to the ship. He got it going and left Promethea behind, the schematics safe in his bag and Timothy safe in the house. He set a course to meet up with his client, several jobs laid out ahead of him.

But they’d meet again. They’d keep their promises and meet again. 

It just wouldn’t be how either expected.

Chapter Text

“I am begging you to stop this,” Fl4k said.

“We’re all begging you to stop this,” Moze said.

“I am NOT GOING TO STOP THIS WOOOOO!” Zane slammed into the horn as he drove them off yet another makeshift ramp he’d come across.

Amara gripped the dashboard as they crashed back down. “Zane! We’re still being chased!”

“I didn’t forget,” Zane assured, spinning the wheel.

The others grabbed on for dear life as the vehicle skidded around to face the oncoming vehicle. It started shooting at them, and Zane began to fire back, picking up speed as he headed straight at them.

“Not the bitch game,” Fl4k said in despair.

Moze gripped their shoulder. “Oh shit, it’s the bitch game.”

“Zane!” Amara said, glaring.

“No, no. Just watch,” Zane said as they got closer.

The others braced for impact, but the enemy vehicle swerved in panic at the last moment. They hit an outcropping of rocks, the vehicle rolling violently.

“Haha! You’re the bitch!” Zane cheered, swinging the vehicle around and firing on the enemies until their vehicle exploded.

“Who let him drive?” Moze said.

“Shut it. You’ve got a helmet on, so you’re fine,” Zane said. 

“I don’t even have bones but if I did, I would fear greatly for them,” Fl4k said.

“Are you guys there?”

Amara grabbed her ECHO. “We are somehow still alive, Lilith.”

“Oh no,” Lilith groaned. “You let Zane drive again, didn’t you?”

“We raced to the vehicle and I won fair and square,” Zane argued.

“He used his digi-clone to cheat,” Moze said.

“It was a clever use of resources,” Zane argued.

“Cheating,” the others chorused.

“Bah! You’re all sore losers. What’d ya need, Lilith?” Zane said. 

“Come on back. I have a new mission for you guys,” Lilith said.

“Be there soon!” Zane said, and picked up speed.

“Or we may never make it at all,” Amara said. 

“Have you always been this bad at driving?” Moze said, gripping the door handle as he took a sharp turn.

“Nah, I can drive just fine. I just like to have some fun, unlike you lot,” Zane said. 

“Slaughter is fun. Suicide is not. Please slow the vehicle,” Fl4k said. 

Zane did nothing of the sort, and the others hung on for dear life until they’d reached the nearest fast travel station. They spilled out of the vehicle looking ready to kiss the ground.

“You all remind me of this overdramatic friend of mine,” Zane said as he watched them. He paused.

He hadn’t thought of Timothy in a long while. 

He shook it off. “Let’s get going. I want to know what this new mission is all about,” he said. 

They activated the fast travel station and found themselves up on Sanctuary. They talked amongst themselves as they made their way through the ship to where Lilith waited for them.

“So, new mission?” Moze asked.

“New mission,” Lilith confirmed. “We just found out that the COV have been running underground fighting rings.”

“And?” Amara said, looking far too eager.

“They’re not normal fighting rings. Specialized,” Lilith clarified. “They’re basically rip-offs of the Circles of Slaughter, but at the end, you get to fight a...special boss, let’s say. Each ring has its own special boss. You might go to a ring on Promethea to fight me, or a ring on Pandora to fight Handsome Jack. They’re likely using a cloaking device to make their strongest fighter look like this special boss.”

“I like this mission already,” Amara said.

“But what does this have to do with us?” Moze said.

“There are prizes for winning,” Lilith said. “Three of the rings have gone undefeated so far, and we suspect one of them might have a map leading to a vault key as a prize. You guys will break into teams and defeat these rings.”

“Yes!” Amara cheered, flexing her arm.

“Oi, I call working with her,” Zane said. “That’s the kind of enthusiasm I like!”

“I enjoy the slaughter,” Fl4k said.

Moze shrugged. “Good enough enthusiasm for me. I’ll go with them.”

“As I said, there are three. Moze, Fl4k, you two will go to the one on Eden-6. Zane, Amara, you’ll take the one on Pandora. If neither of those have what we’re looking for, the four of you will fight the last one together,” Lilith said. “Getting the locations of them is difficult, but Vaughn and Wainwright Jakobs were able to help us. We’ll be working on the location of this third undefeated ring while you guys handle that.” She looked at them with a serious expression. “This won’t be easy. Be ready.”

“Oh, I’m ready,” Amara said.

“Love that attitude! Love it,” Zane said. 

“I’m sending you all the locations now. Get going, and check in before you enter,” Lilith said.

They headed back to the fast travel station. They watched Moze and Fl4k disappear before setting their location for Pandora.

“I wonder who our special boss will be,” Amara said as they walked to the Catch-A-Ride.

“Handsome Jack? Oh, or maybe one of me brothers! I’d love to kill them,” Zane said.

“But remember, this is the COV. We could be fighting Lilith, or Roland,” Amara said. 

Zane grinned. “Maybe we’ll be fighting Vaughn. Bandit life!” 

They went back and forth on who they could fight once they were in a vehicle- Amara threatened to punch Zane if he took the driver’s seat -and headed for the location they’d been given. Zane found himself excited for a good old fighting ring. 

When they reached the location, it was just a cluster of abandoned buildings. They got out and observed the place carefully.

“There,” Amara said, nodding. “That’s the only door here not covered in dust.”

They opened the door and entered the building, both on guard. Inside, there was a short hallway that led to another door. It let out onto a staircase heading down, and they took the stairs, noise growing as they went farther underground.

The noise distinguished itself as cheers and yelling. There was a large glass window that looked out over a small, underground stadium. People had gathered around the stadium to watch the fights, but the way in was currently guarded by two COV members.

“Hold up,” one said, holding his hand out to them.

“We’re here to fight, and if you try to stop us, you will be our first victory,” Amara said.

He took one look at her arms and stepped aside, pulling the door open. “The guy in the booth will get you set up when this fight ends. Go talk to him.”

They stepped through the door and looked around until they found the booth. They approached it, but stopped to watch the current fight.

Three men were fighting against a wave of enemies, and Zane could already tell who the winner of this one would be. Those three looked exhausted.

“Not even making it to the special boss,” Zane said, shaking his head and turning back to the booth. 

The man inside watched them as they approached. “You here to get yourselves killed?”

“We’re here to win,” Amara said. 

“Sure, sure. When those three finally bite it, you can go in. The gates down there will open. I’ll let the attendant know you’re coming. Try to make it past the second wave, will you? The crowd’s getting bored as hell.” 

“That won’t be a problem,” Zane assured.

They left, heading for the gate. Amara looked around at the crowd.

“They don’t seem to know who we are,” she said.

“Works in our favor. If they’re busy running these rings, they probably don’t pay attention to all those broadcasts about us that those bloody Calypsos put out,” Zane said. 

There was a horrible screaming from inside the ring, and the crowd began to let out disappointed yells. Zane and Amara glanced at each other.

“Guess we’re up,” he said. 

“Let’s do this,” she said, grinning. 

“Hey! Are you the next two challengers?” the man at the gate called to them. “Hurry it up. The crowd’s getting restless. At least put on a good enough show to up the bets.”

Amara didn’t bother to answer; she shoved him out of the way and strode through the gate. Zane followed, heart beating fast in eager anticipation.

He was aware that the man in the booth was announcing them as the new challengers, and that the crowd was yelling. But he was focused on scanning the little arena and making a plan of attack.

“You ready?” Amara said.

“Always,” Zane said. “I’ve got crowd control and distraction, and you beat the absolute shite out of ‘em.”

“This is going to be fun,” she said.

There was a loud beep, and gates around the ring opened. Enemies poured in, none looking particularly strong, but in high numbers. Zane and Amara took off running, having gotten used to fighting like this in the Circles of Slaughter.

Zane released his SNTNL as Amara began beating the hell out of any living thing she could get her hands on. As a crowd of them tried to rush Amara, Zane rolled out of the cover he’d found and opened fire on them, easily faking them out with his digi-clone when they got too close.

He saw a bright burst of blue from the corner of his eye, and heard the screaming of COV cannon fodder as Amara took them out with her Siren powers. The two fell into an easy rhythm of violence and destruction as they tore their way through the ring.

The crowd was growing steadily louder, probably excited to finally have challengers putting up a real fight. Zane and Amara took out the first wave with no problems, and fell back-to-back as the beeping came again and the second wave poured in.

No time to rest, then. Zane could work with that.

He wasn’t sure how many waves they’d have to fight to get to this special boss, but it didn’t matter. Amara was having fun, and he was getting a good workout from this. 

The second wave proved more of a challenge, but Zane’s barrier saved them from an onslaught of grenades, and they retaliated viciously. They wiped the final remnants of the wave to the sound of cheering around the ring.

“Think we’re finally winning them over,” Zane said, trying to catch his breath as a third beep blared out.

“Getting tired already?” Amara said.

“Not a chance,” Zane said, lifting his gun as they found themselves surrounded again.

A Badass in the third wave caught Amara off guard, but Zane shot him in the back to distract him, giving Amara enough time to get back to her feet and finish him off. Zane had to focus more on disorienting their opponents with his gadgets to buy Amara breathing room, as this wave was smart enough to focus on her.

They made it through, but both were starting to feel tired. As the fourth wave surged forth, they opted for cover to buy themselves a little time to breathe, fending them off with grenades.

“Fifth round should be the special boss, I hope,” Zane said, throwing down his shield as the enemies tried to rush them. He abandoned wild shooting for slower, more precise shots.

“Then let’s finish these assholes off and get to it,” Amara said.

They dove out of cover and pushed their way through the fourth wave. They slowed to catch their breaths a few times, knowing they’d need to pace themselves a bit to survive what would hopefully be the final round.

But as they killed the last enemy of the fourth round, the beeping didn’t come. They glanced at each other as they caught their breaths.

“Our newest challengers have done it, folks,” the announcer from the booth cried, riling up the crowd. “They’ve made it through the first four waves, the first to do so this week. But now they face one of Revenge Rings three undefeated bosses. Let’s see how well our newest challengers fare against Handsome Jack himself!”

“Argh, that bastard!” Zane said, scowling. “Had a run-in with him, oh, seven years ago now? Total prick. Hell, Amara, we forgot to check in with Lilith.”

“Later,” Amara said, readying herself. “I doubt we’re facing this boss alone. He’ll have backup.”

Sure enough, the beeping came, and more COV poured out. A gate at the very end opened, and a very convincing Handsome Jack stepped out, his masked face fixed into a dangerous grin. He wasted no time in aiming and firing on them.

“You picked the wrong person to fight, kiddos,” he said.

“Still a prick,” Zane said, dodging away from his shots. “Let’s finish this up and get that prize, shall we?”

“If no one has killed him yet, I’d bet he’s got a few tricks up his sleeve. Let’s try to thin his backup a bit, and then focus on him,” Amara said.

“Good plan,” Zane said, and sent his SNTNL to get to work on that. 

They tried to avoid Jack’s attacks as they fired on his backup. He continued throwing out typical Jack taunts.

The whole thing brought Zane’s mind back to Timothy.

It wasn’t the time to think of the kid, but he couldn’t stop himself. He hadn’t seen Timothy since the day he left him at the safehouse. 

No, no, he had to focus. They had a mission, and Zane had to see it through.

Jack’s laugh echoed around the ring. “You can’t hide forever, kiddos.”

Something wasn’t right about this. Zane peeked out as Jack fired on Amara.

“Come on, pumpkin. Quit hiding,” he said.

Only his mouth didn’t move. It stayed fixed in that same grin. 

Zane frowned, focusing in on Jack. He was relentlessly moving at Amara, his movements almost desperate. Amara was trying to fend him off, but his COV backup was keeping her from focusing on him too much.

His eyes weren’t moving, either. 

Timothy’s mask had hidden the fact he was blind in his left eye, but it had shown his true right eye. It had allowed his mouth to move. 

That wasn’t a cloaking device, then. The mask was real, and it was completely covering this guy’s face. 

Jack got too close to Amara, and she punched him hard enough to send him to the ground. He cut his palm on the ground, but barely seemed to notice it as he stood up and gripped his gun again, firing even more, his hands shaking.

The bleeding had already stopped. The mask shifted just slightly, as if the person had started chewing on their lip.

“No,” Zane whispered in horror, because it couldn’t be, it couldn’t be.

He’d lost contact with Timothy years ago. He’d been told Tim had quit his job and left the area. 

Zane’s eyes shot to Jack’s wrist, where the real Jack had worn his watch. There was indeed a watch there, but it was far too familiar.

Amara punched Jack so hard that his shield broke from the impact. He stumbled back, but despite the danger, he moved towards her again, still shooting. Amara lifted her gun to put a bullet in Jack’s head.

“No!” Zane cried, lurching out from his cover.

Because it wasn’t Jack.

Amara was about to kill Timothy Lawrence.

Chapter Text

Zane’s cry startled Amara enough that her shot went wide and missed Tim. Zane grabbed her arm and yanked her behind cover.

“Zane, what the hell?” she snapped.

“I know him,” Zane said, horror rushing through him. “Amara, I know him!”

“It’s Handsome Jack. Or a cheap knock-off,” she said. “We have to kill him to finish up our mission.”

“No.” Zane shook his head. “No, that’s- We can’t kill him. Let me handle this. Please.”

Amara didn’t look happy about it. “Fine. I’ll keep the COV off your back.”

Zane left cover and Tim lifted his gun to fire on him. Zane put his hands up.

“Timothy,” he said, and Tim didn’t react to the name. “Timothy, stop! It’s me! It’s Zane Flynt! Remember me? The whole casino escape?”

Tim began to shoot at him. He pressed forward with an urgency Zane knew the source of.

“You need Eridium,” Zane said.

It was enough to give Tim pause. Zane pressed the hesitation.

“I can get you Eridium,” Zane said. “You know I can. I’ve done it before. Just set the gun down and let me help you, lad.”

“Man, you’re such a freaking idiot,” Jack’s mocking voice echoed, and Zane realized there was something subtly strapped to Tim’s neck. Prerecorded lines must be playing out of it, which wasn’t good. It meant either Tim was refusing to speak because he was fighting against his will, or he was too drugged up to speak at all. 

A slight spasm jerked Tim, and he desperately raised the gun again, firing relentlessly on Zane now. Zane staggered back, throwing down his barrier.

“Zane, this guy sure as hell doesn’t seem like he knows you,” Amara said impatiently.

“He’s drugged. They drugged him,” Zane said. “Amara, I’ve got to get him out of here.”

“The prize-”

“Screw the mission,” Zane said, anger swirling in his chest. Had they hooked Tim on Eridium to get him to do this? Was the poor kid being used all over again? “I’ve got to get Timothy out of this place.”

Amara took a look at his expression. “Alright. But it won’t be easy.”

“We’ll have to knock Timothy out, most likely,” Zane said as Tim continued to shoot at them. “Lad’s out of his right mind. Oh, also, don’t let him swipe his watch, or we’re positively fecked.”

“You find a way to knock him out, and I’ll deal with these obnoxious COV,” Amara said.

Zane picked up his barrier and ran at Tim, hoping to catch him by surprise. Tim staggered back as Zane slammed into him, but managed to keep his balance.

“Sorry, Timothy,” Zane said, and moved to slam the butt of his gun down on Tim’s head.

Tim swiped his watch.

“Oh hell, Tim, I just told Amara not to let you do that, and now I’ve gone and let you do that!” Zane hissed, stumbling back as the digi-Jacks burst forth, aiming at him. “Now you’re just making me look bad.”

“Did you really think I’d come unprepared? I’m the hero, baby. I don’t lose to bandits,” Jack’s voice said.

“Timothy, I’m sorry I blasted the radio when you had a headache, but murdering me is a little excessive,” Zane said, cautiously backing away from the digi-Jacks.

“Timothy,” the blue one echoed.

Zane slowed, hope blooming. “He altered your code, didn’t he?”

“Too much Eridium in his system,” the blue one said. 

“I can help him, but only if you don’t kill me,” Zane said. “I’m the one who set your code to keep him from overdosing on Eridium again.”

The digi-Jacks looked at each other, flickering with silent communication. They lowered their weapons. 

With a flash, they were gone. Tim swiped at the watch again, and Zane could see the frustration building in the tense set of his body. It erupted into anger as he began to fire on Zane again.

“No digi-Jacks to help you now, lad,” Zane said, carefully circling Tim. 

Now he understood how Tim had gone undefeated in this ring. If he got into a bad situation, his digi-Jacks could save him. If he got injured, the Eridium healed up his wounds quickly. And driven by a need for another fix, Tim was entirely focused on getting the kill. 

Zane didn’t know what the hell was going on, or how Tim had ended up here. But he was damn well going to find out. And if he discovered that the COV had kidnapped and drugged Tim, he’d tear them apart with his own two hands.

Tim suddenly lunged backwards, and Zane barely had a chance to roll out of the way before a Badass was slamming the ground where he’d been standing. Tim was retreating, which couldn’t be a good sign.

Zane focused on taking out the Badass, who was clearly trying to protect Tim. He had just managed to break the Badass’s shield and lined up for another shot when a bullet struck him with enough force that his shield shattered.

“Zane!” Amara cried. “Jack is a sniper!”

“Ah, hell, I forgot about that,” Zane said, rolling behind the Badass as another shot rang out. “Bloody arsehole.” 

Zane shot the Badass dead, and crouched behind it while his shield regenerated. This could work to their advantage, Zane realized.

As long as Tim hadn’t gotten a cybernetic eye, then he was still blind on one side. Sniping meant he couldn’t see anyone coming up on his left side.

“Amara, draw his attention,” Zane said. “He’s blind on his left side. I might be able to catch him while he’s busy sniping.”

“Great, I love being target practice,” Amara said, but left her cover to catch Tim’s attention. 

Zane tried to creep around the ring, hoping Tim’s mind was too muddled by Eridium to realize he’d disappeared. Tim didn’t even seem to recognize him, and Zane didn’t like that Tim hadn’t made a single sound since this all started. Just what had they done to him?

The digi-Jack had said there was too much Eridium in Tim’s system. But just how much? If he was still able to function this well, then either it was slightly above his normal dose, or he’d been drugged for so long that his body had adjusted to a dangerously high amount. 

Zane moved faster. He had to get Tim out of here and figure out what was happening.

Tim came into sight, his body pressed to the ground to make himself a smaller target. He was focused down the scope of his sniper rifle, trying to get in a good shot on Amara. 

His digi-Jacks had come back out, guarding either side of him. The red one on his left side noticed Zane, and Zane froze, grip tightening on his gun.

The red digi-Jack glanced at Tim, flickered the slightest, and then made a subtle gesture for Zane to keep coming. 

They might remember him, then. Remember that he was Tim’s friend, that he’d helped Tim, that he’d adjusted their code to keep Tim from overdosing again. 

Good thing he hadn’t sent Amara to do this. 

Zane crept forward, flipping his gun around so the digi-Jacks would know he didn’t intend to shoot Tim. Zane stepped carefully so he didn’t give himself away as he got closer and closer to Tim’s blindside.

He raised his gun high as the crowd grew deafening. The digi-Jacks flickered but didn’t move to stop him, and Zane brought the gun down on Tim’s head.

Tim slumped to the ground motionless. The gun fell from his hands, and Zane nudged him with his foot. Tim didn’t move.

The eyes on the mask were still open, but Zane didn’t have time to deal with that. He knelt down and hooked Tim’s sniper rifle to Tim’s back. Then he hauled Tim up onto his own back, limp arms hanging over his shoulders. He made sure he had a steady grip on him before moving for Amara.

“What the hell are you doing?” the announcer demanded.

“Oi, he’s coming with us!” Zane said. “You can try to stop us, but that won’t work in your favor, boyo.”

“Kill them and get Jack back,” the announcer snapped. 

Zane and Amara had mostly wiped the final wave of COV enemies, but the ones who remained redoubled their efforts of attack. Zane got Tim steadied with one hand and gripped his gun in the other.

But as some COV approached him, the digi-Jacks surprised him by shooting at them, taking protective stances in front of Zane and Tim. 

Amara caught up to them, looking anxiously at the digi-Jacks. “Uh…?”

“I think they’re on our side?” Zane said. “Or at least on Timothy’s side, and therefore our side by default.”

The digi-Jacks suddenly disappeared mid-attack. Zane glanced down at Tim’s watch.

“EMP,” he said, lifting his gun. “Amara?”

“I’ll punch us through those doors,” she said, nodding to the nearest gate. 

“Great! I’ll shoot things,” Zane said, and began doing just that. 

He kept Amara covered as she broke down one of the gates. The announcer was yelling at more COV to attack them, but there didn’t seem to be many left.

“Don’t let them take Jack!” the announcer said furiously. “He belongs to us!”

“I’m borrowing this,” Zane informed Timothy’s unconscious self as he took his sniper rifle. Zane aimed at the announcer, fired off a shot, and was satisfied to see the asshole slump dead against the wall.

“Zane, focus!” Amara said as bullets struck her shield.

“Right, right! Sorry,” Zane said, switching back to his gun and firing on the COV.

Amara got through the gate and pulled at Zane’s arm. Zane followed her out, and Amara waited until the COV had followed them to the door before using her Siren powers to wipe out a chunk of them.

“Lined right up for me,” she said in satisfaction. “Now let’s get the hell out of here. There’s got to be another exit than where we came in.”

They ran for the nearest door and burst through it. Sure enough, there was a set of stairs, and Amara urged Zane up first so she could keep him and Tim covered.

“So who is this guy, and why are we risking so much for him?” she demanded as they thundered up the steps.

“Lad’s an old friend of mine,” Zane said. “He was a body double for Handsome Jack, but left his employ and helped me with a job. Haven’t seen him in seven years.”

They reached a door at the top and shoved it open, exiting out the back of the building. They could hear COV pursuing them, and ran for the vehicle. Zane didn’t even argue as Amara claimed the driver’s seat. He threw Tim into the vehicle, and hastily climbed in next to him.

“Let’s get him back to Sanctuary,” Zane said. “I want Tannis to look him over.”

“He didn’t even act like he knew you,” Amara said as she sped away. 

“They drugged him. Jack hooked him on Eridium as a way to control him, and it seems like those COV bastards were doing the same,” Zane said.

“Eridium?” Amara said sharply. “That’s deadly.”

“Which is why I want Tannis to look at him,” Zane said. He took out his ECHO. “Lilith?”

“Zane! There you are. You guys went dark on me,” she said.

“We, uh, forgot to call you when we got here. But plans have changed,” Zane said.

“What do you mean?” Lilith asked.

“Turns out I knew the special boss of this ring. He’s with us, and we need Tannis to look him over.” Lilith started to say something about the map, but Zane cut her off. “His life was more important than the chance of getting a map. He needs medical attention. We’re on our way back.”

He cut the feed, and shifted Timothy. The mask was creeping him the hell out, so he gripped it and pulled it off. 

The same scarred face from all those years ago greeted him, and Zane was disgusted to see Timothy’s mouth excessively taped closed. No wonder he hadn’t made a sound. Zane carefully peeled it away.

Timothy was worryingly pale, his destroyed bottom lip already healing from the Eridium. Now that Zane actually had a chance to look him over, Timothy looked dangerously gaunt.

Dread stirred in Zane’s stomach. Where Jack had worn his sleeves partially rolled up, Tim’s were down to his hands. Zane gripped the edges of Tim’s sleeve.

“Zane?” Amara said, glancing at him.

Zane gave her a grim look. “You know how to tell Eridium will be the death of a man?”

“Their veins will glow purple,” she said softly. “Zane, he’s not a Siren. He’s just a man. If they were pumping him full of Eridium, he won’t survive the withdrawals, but he won’t survive continued doses, either.” 

“He overdosed, years ago. I thought he was going to die,” Zane said, gripping Tim’s sleeve tighter, unwilling to pull it up and look at his veins. “I’d left him alone in a room with Eridium, and found him overdosed on the stuff. I think the only reason he survived is because it was liquid Eridium. He drank it, and I made him throw it up. Even then, when he finally woke up, we both thought he’d never be able to use his arms or legs again. It took days for it to leave his system.”

“If his veins are that bright purple of a doomed man, it might be kinder to him to put him out of his misery while he’s still unconscious,” Amara said. 

Kill Timothy.

Zane didn’t know if he could bring himself to do that. He didn’t even know if he could bring himself to pull up Tim’s sleeve.

But he owed it to Tim. He’d promised to come back for Tim, and he hadn’t, not until it was too damn late. He owed Tim this. 

“Alright boyo, let’s see what trouble you’ve gotten yourself into this time,” Zane said.

He forced himself to roll Tim’s sleeve up. His dread twisted into despair as he stared at Timothy’s arm.

His veins were purple.

Chapter Text

“No,” Zane found himself whispering. He gripped Tim’s arm, staring at the purple veins there.

Amara pulled the vehicle over by a fast travel station. She looked at Tim’s arm, and shot Zane a sympathetic look.

“Don’t look at me like that. He’s not too far gone,” Zane argued. “Yes, this is bad. But they’re not- they’re not glowing purple.”

“Zane, it’d be a miracle to recover from that,” Amara said, gesturing to Tim’s arm. “Even if he did, there would be permanent damage.”

“He’s beaten it before. He at least deserves a chance to try again,” Zane said. 

But really, he couldn’t bring himself to give up on Timothy, bad as it all looked. He knew Amara was right. It wouldn’t even be Timothy when he woke up. This kind of addiction would have twisted him by now. He’d likely never make a full recovery.

Still, Zane owed it to him.

He’d meant to go back and visit Timothy. He really had. But he fell into a string of jobs, and before he knew it, a year had passed. Handsome Jack was dead, and the bounty on Timothy and Zane had died with him.

Then Zane tried to get in touch over ECHO, only to later learn from Peter that Tim’s ECHO had been broken on a job and he was waiting for a new one. Then a new string of jobs, which he took because Peter had assured him that Tim was doing just fine.

It went on like that. Tim was doing so well that he was often shipped out to other planets to do jobs for the branches there. He became known for breaking his ECHOs on the job, but he was also efficient enough that it was worth the cost of replacing them.

Zane had tried to stop by the safehouse three separate times while running jobs on Promethea, but Tim had been away for work all three times. All Zane learned was that Tim had formed a friendly relationship with his neighbors, and taken in two cats. 

But life had gotten busy. The more jobs he took, the more enemies he made. Zane found himself constantly on the move. He never made it back to check on Timothy.

He’d called Peter at one point to get Timothy’s newest ECHO connection. It was then that Peter had told him the news.

“The kid quit,” he’d said, sounding irritated. “I don’t have time to track him down. I’m busy finding someone else to take over. He’s not at his place anymore, either.”

It should’ve raised an alarm. Zane should’ve gone right over and questioned Peter. He should’ve inspected Timothy’s safehouse. 

But Tim had been working there for years, and Zane had assumed the invasion of COV and Maliwan had driven Tim to leave and attempt to find a quieter place to live. He’d had his share of corporate wars and psycho killing. It made sense he was done with it and wanted to get the hell away.

“We take him back to Tannis,” Zane said firmly. “Do what we can for him.”

Amara didn’t argue with him. They got out of the vehicle, Zane getting Tim situated on his back again.

Amara activated the fast travel station and they found themselves back up on Sanctuary. Zane carried Tim up to the medical room, Amara following quietly behind him.

Lilith and Tannis were both waiting in there. Zane lowered Tim carefully onto a bed.

“Is that Jack?” Lilith said in surprise.

“A body double,” Zane explained. “I met him years ago, before Jack died. He helped me with a job and fled from Jack. Jack had hooked him on Eridium, and well…” He trailed off and lifted Timothy’s arm for them to see.

“Oh, shit,” Lilith said, eyes going wide. 

Tannis took one look at his veins and shook her head. “His chances are abysmal, and it’d be a waste of our time and resources to try treating him.”

“Waste or not, we’re doing it,” Zane said firmly. They looked at him in surprise, but he didn’t back down. “This lad’s a friend of mine. He disappeared a while back, and instead of investigating, I just assumed he’d left to avoid all the corporate wars and COV activity. That’s on me. So you’re going to treat him, and I’m going to go talk to his old employer and investigate his house to see what the hell actually happened to him.”

Tannis sighed but moved towards him. “If you insist. I don’t need him waking up and attacking us, so I will be sedating him until you return.” 

“I’ll go with you, Zane,” Amara said.

“I’ll send Moze and Fl4k to investigate the ring you two were at,” Lilith said. She glanced at the double. “Tannis, I’ll send someone here in case he wakes up.”

Zane took a long look at Timothy before leaving medical with Amara in tow. Guilt was crushing his chest, but he had to push it aside and focus on finding out what had happened to Timothy.

He activated the fast travel station and took them to Promethea. Amara allowed him to drive the vehicle they got, and he didn’t waste time playing around in it as he drove to Peter’s business.

He led Amara inside it, heading to Peter’s office. A secretary glanced up at them.

“Tell Peter that Zane Flynt needs to talk to him,” Zane ordered.

“Y-Yes sir,” she said, scrambling to get up and go into the office. She came back out a few moments later. “Right this way.”

Zane and Amara went inside. Peter sat at his desk, gesturing to the chairs across from it without looking up from the paperwork he was reading.

Zane smacked the paperwork out of his hands. Peter looked up in startled annoyance.

“What the hell, Flynt?” he said.

“You said Timothy quit,” Zane said.

“What, the kid? Yea, I told you he quit a while back,” Peter said, scowling. “Damn good investment until he did.”

“He told you he quit?” Zane pressed.

Peter shook his head. “No. Didn’t show up for three days. I sent someone to his house to see what the hell that was all about. No one answered. Neighbors said they hadn’t seen him, either. I tried contacting him on his ECHO, but nothing. He never showed up again, and I sent guys out to find him two weeks later. Still no sign of the kid. He just up and left, like half this place when Maliwan helped themselves to our streets. He was the third of my employees to leave without a damn word to me.”

“And you didn’t tell me he’d just disappeared without a trace?” Zane demanded.

“He’s not my responsibility,” Peter said, glaring. “A lot of them ran with their tails between their legs when Maliwan and these damn COV showed up. I figured it had to do with that bounty you said he had on him.”

“Did he say anything before he disappeared? Anything suspicious?” Zane said.

“Oh, yea, he actually told me the ghost of Handsome Jack was coming to spirit him away,” Peter said, and glared harder. “No, dumbass. He showed up, did his work, got his pay, and went on his way. He always worked alone, and never made friends with anyone around the company. What’s this even about? He’s been gone for a long damn time. Why are you questioning me about it now?”

“Because I just found him,” Zane said.

“So? What’s the problem?” Peter said.

“I found him drugged up and forced into a fighting ring,” Zane said.

“Oh. Sucks for the kid, then,” Peter said. His eyes widened, then narrowed. “Oh, no. I didn’t sell him out. He was making me more money than any sort of bounty or sellout would’ve gotten me. I had nothing to do with the kid going missing.” 

And Zane felt frustrated, because he already knew that. Peter wouldn’t have sold out Tim. 

“Argh, this is frustrating!” he said. “Everything with Timothy is always such a headache. Pain in the arse bastard. Fine, fine. I’ll go search his place. Did your guys ever go inside?”

“Nope. Too much security, they said,” Peter said, waving him away. “Quit bothering me.”

Zane was tempted to punch him, but decided that it wouldn’t help the situation. Instead, he led Amara out and they climbed back into the vehicle.

“This is sounding like he was kidnapped, Zane,” Amara said.

“Aye, but we won’t know for sure until we check his place. It had heavy security. They shouldn’t have been able to get in,” Zane said. “Even if they did kidnap him, there’s still the mystery of how they even found out about him. I personally hid him on Promethea and set him up with a secure job so that Jack wouldn’t find him.” 

They reached the house and Zane got out, hoping Tim hadn’t changed the security codes. Thankfully, the first one worked, and the door swung open.

The stench hit them almost immediately.

“Oh, hell,” Amara said, eyes watering as she clapped her hands over her mouth and nose. “Something has been dead in there a long time.”

Zane hastily disabled the inside alarm. “At least we know it’s not Timothy. He wasn’t living with anyone, as far as I know.”

“Maybe he killed some of his kidnappers?” Amara said.

“Only one way to find out,” Zane said, and braced himself.

He covered his mouth and nose as he moved into the dark house. He flicked on the lights, and disaster took shape.

Tim had definitely been attacked here.

The place was a mess. One wall had a Tim-shaped dent in it, the few paintings that had been hung there shattered on the floor. There was dried blood on the wall and floors, and a rug had been yanked messily askew, as if someone had tried to grab it while being dragged. There was extensive water damage, though the water itself had long since dried up.

And the cats.

Two cats lay dead and mutilated, the stench of decay pouring off them. They’d died gruesome deaths, and Zane had to look away.

“Zane?” Amara said, pointing. “Gun here.”

“That’s Timothy’s,” Zane said as soon as he spotted it. There was blood dried on it. Zane picked it up and realized it was almost out of ammo.

“He fought back,” Amara said, watching him. 

“He didn’t win,” Zane said, lightly setting the gun down. “You check upstairs. There’s something I need to check in the basement.”

He went down to the timed safe in the basement and put in the override code, something he hadn’t given to Tim in an attempt to keep the addiction under control. It was a moment before the safe clicked open.

Zane pressed his hand to the wall for support, his chest aching at the sight. He thought of Tim’s purple veins, and wanted to scream.

There was a month’s supply of Eridium left in here. Tim had been living here for years. He’d gotten clean.

He’d gotten clean, and then been kidnapped and pumped full of Eridium. And Zane had never once spared a thought towards his fate. 

“Okay, this is bad, this is bad,” Zane whispered to himself, staring at the Eridium Tim had never taken. “Oh, Timothy, boyo, I really fecked that one up, huh?”

He pushed himself off the wall and searched the basement a bit for any other clues. There was nothing, so he went upstairs, where Amara was searching Timothy’s destroyed bedroom.

“It was like this when I got in here,” she said, looking over her shoulder. “They must’ve been looking for something.”

“He didn’t take much with him when he left,” Zane said. “The only things of significance were his mask and his Winning Hand glove.” 

The nightstand drawer was open, and Zane saw a very familiar bottle. He went over and picked it up, shaking it. Empty. 

He turned and saw a painting on the floor, its frame shattered. It was a waterfall, a calming scene. The only painting or picture in Tim’s entire bedroom.

“There’s cat fur all over the bed,” Amara said, shifting the blanket to see if there was anything under it. 

“Something tells me Tim didn’t mind the company,” Zane said as he checked in the closet. Tim’s clothes were in a heap on the floor, pockets all turned out. “They were looking for something, but I don’t know what.”

He moved to the mirror. On the ground was a torn note.

Zane picked up the pieces and laid them out on a broken dresser. They were too torn to rearrange, but he knew what they’d say if he could.

You are Timothy Lawrence, and you are more than your face.

Except he hadn’t been, in their hands. He’d been nothing but his face. 

They carefully searched every room in the house. Zane was unsurprised to find that both the mask and the Winning Hand were missing. He was also unsurprised to find that the security cameras had all been destroyed, their recordings deleted.

“They wouldn’t have gone to all that trouble for his mask and his Winning Hand,” Zane said. “There had to have been something else. We’ll need to ask Tim when he wakes up.”

“Zane, he’ll be out of his mind when he wakes up, and you know it,” Amara said. “I’d be surprised if he didn’t suffer brain damage from all that Eridium.”

Zane did know it. But he also remembered Tim’s small, scared voice pleading with him to keep going because he’d managed to take a step. He remembered dragging Tim around on his back as Tim’s hands twitched uselessly and he struggled to move his legs.

He’d done it. It had been a terrifying time, and it had looked grim. But he’d done it. He’d recovered.

Maybe he could manage just one more spot of luck. He deserved it after everything he’d been through.

“We don’t know what Eridium does to someone. It hasn’t been studied enough. Let’s get back to him and see if we can help,” Zane said. 

“You won’t give up on him, will you?” Amara said.

“I can’t. This...This feels like my fault,” Zane said. He’d left Tim alone with the Eridium seven years ago, and Tim had overdosed. He’d left Tim alone once again, only to find him heavily addicted to Eridium. “I can’t, Amara.” 

“Whatever happened here, that isn’t on you,” Amara said.

“I promised him I’d come back for him, and I never did, not even when he disappeared,” Zane said. “That is on me, lass. Let me at least bury his cats.”

“I’ll help,” she said.

They endured the stench and got the cats rolled into plastic bags. They took them outside, burying them in the small patch of land behind the house, and Zane felt sad as he threw the dirt over their destroyed bodies. They were probably Tim’s only true company in all those years that Zane left him alone. 

Amara let him have a silent moment before they shut the house back up and left. They returned to Sanctuary, and headed into medical.

Tannis had hooked Tim up to various machinery. He looked even worse with all the wires and tubes coming out of him.

“I don’t know how they gave it to him, but when I knew him, he was drinking liquid Eridium,” Zane said. “Seemed that’s how Jack got him hooked on it.”

“Lilith got us a supply to sustain him for now,” Tannis said. “I still think this is a waste of time.”

“May not be. He was attacked in his house- a house that used to be mine. The security on it was still in place. I don’t know how they got in. But they were looking for something,” Zane said. “There was a fight, and then they ransacked the place. If the COV wanted something from him, it can’t be good. He had a lot of intel on Hyperion.”

“This man will not be able to tell us much, if anything at all. I’d be surprised if he’s more than a drooling vegetable when this is all over,” Tannis said. “That Eridium has wrecked his system, and I don’t know how to properly drain it from him without leaving permanent damage behind. There may not be a way to do it.”

“We’ll have to keep giving it to him for now, and try to slowly lower the doses,” Zane said.

“That means we’d need to wake him up,” Lilith said, coming into the room. “We don’t know the last time he got a dose. If we give him one too soon, we could kill him. We’d have to judge if he’s starting to suffer withdrawals. That’d be the safest time to give him a dose.”

“Timothy, you absolute bloody headache,” Zane groaned.

Lilith froze. “Did you just say his name is Timothy?”

“It is,” Zane said, glancing at Lilith. “Why? You know him?”

“He was on Elpis,” she said slowly, looking at him. “I forgot all about him. But when Jack’s daughter Angel contacted us to lead us to her, she...gave me recordings. She asked me if we ever found a body double named Timothy Lawrence, to give them to him.”

“Timothy was worried sick about her,” Zane said. “Jack wouldn’t tell Tim what he’d done to Angel unless Tim came back to Helios. Even then he probably wouldn’t have told him.”

“I never listened to the recordings, because they weren’t mine to listen to,” Lilith said. “But I kept them all this time. It was the least we could do for Angel.” 

“Hear that, Timothy? Gotta wake up so I can yell at you and then let Angel yell at you through recordings,” Zane said, touching his hand to Tim’s shoulder. “Alright, let’s get this nasty business over with. Is there a way to restrain him before we wake him?”

“I could-” Amara started.

“A nonhuman way to restrain him?” Zane amended.

“Here.” Tannis came over and Zane helped her carefully strap Tim to the bed so he couldn’t hurt himself or them.

“He’ll be bad,” Lilith warned. “I’ve used Eridium before, and it was bad even for me. I can’t even imagine the pain he must be in right now.”

Tannis injected something into Tim and backed away. “I dislike being torn to shreds by drug addicts, and will leave this to you. Let me know when I should sedate him again.”

It was only a few moments before Tim’s eyes slowly opened. The blue one was horribly bloodshot, and Zane could see why they’d hidden it beneath the mask now.

It shot around, and Tim began to struggle against the bindings. He gasped for breath, breaking out into a sweat and struggling harder.

“Timothy!” Zane said, touching his shoulder. “Tim, lad, it’s me. It’s Zane.”

Tim threw his head back, teeth grinding together. He let out a cry of pain, the whole bed shaking with his efforts to thrash.

“Let me go! Let me go! I’ll do it!” he cried. “I’ll kill them, just give it to me! Let me go! It hurts!”

“Timothy!” Zane tried again, gripping his shoulder a little tighter. “Calm down.”

“It hurts, it hurts,” Tim moaned, tears gathering in his good eye. “I’ll do it, just give it to me, please, please, it hurts.”

“Zane,” Lilith said quietly. “Let’s put him back under.”

Tim screamed, tugging so hard at the bindings that Zane was worried they’d come off. He kept repeating “It hurt it hurts it hurts” over and over again, a haunting chorus between his screams. Zane squeezed his shoulder.

“Knock him back out, Tannis,” Zane said. “I think we have our answer.” 

Tannis seemed relieved to do so. Tim’s struggles died down as she injected him, and he was out again soon.

“We don’t know how much he was getting. This is going to be a guessing game,” Lilith said.

“We could very well end up killing him,” Tannis said. “I have no experience with this sort of thing.”

“We have to try. He’ll die without it,” Zane said.

“Very well. I shall do my best not to kill him,” Tannis said, and got to work with the Eridium. 

Zane took a seat by Tim’s bedside, staring at his purple veins. Tim’s breathing was shallow, and his fingers twitched even in his sleep. 

He’d left Tim on Promethea, and this had become Tim’s fate. Regardless of if it really was Zane’s fault or not, he was going to do everything he could to see Tim recover from this as much as he could.

Chapter Text

With the Eridium so potent in Tim’s body, Tannis decided it was best to give him a little liquid Eridium, and then inject the rest. It was impossible to tell if they’d been injecting Tim or not since the Eridium would’ve healed the puncture wounds almost instantly.

Lilith sent Amara to help Moze and Fl4k take down the final ring and go investigate the one they’d found Tim at. Zane stayed in medical with Tim.

They tried waking him once after giving him Eridium, but Tim was so dazed and out of it that he just stared at the ceiling, mumbling “it hurts” over and over again. They put him out again shortly after.

Lilith tried to use her contacts to find out what she could about Eridium. Zane asked around with his contacts, but it was the same problem as last time; Hyperion held the bulk of Eridium research. 

“What do you think they were after?” Lilith asked, sitting on Tim’s other side.

“Could’ve been anything. For all I know, he had some key they needed. Timothy had a lot of Hyperion knowledge locked up in that head of his.” Zane stared down at Tim. “We can’t even tell if they tortured him to get information before drugging him. The Eridium would’ve healed the wounds.” 

“We killed Wilhelm and Nisha, but never faced him,” Lilith said. “I didn’t even know he was still with Jack.”

“Jack locked him in a casino,” Zane said. “He was in there when Wilhelm died, but escaped with me when Nisha was still alive. She captured him, locked him up, and forced him to suffer withdrawals. It was a way to torture him before sending him to Jack, but I managed to rescue him. Nisha never caught back up to us.” He sighed heavily. “He got clean, Lilith. I paid him for his help with six months worth of liquid Eridium. I found a month’s worth of that Eridium locked away in the basement of his house. He got clean just for the COV to capture him and drug him up a few years later.” 

“Maybe it’s best to get you back out there,” Lilith said, standing up. “Sitting here and watching him decay like this can’t be good for you. It’ll take a while to bring him down from this, if we even can.”

He knew she was right. But last time he left Tim, Tim got kidnapped. 

He was being ridiculous. Tannis would be here looking after him. Plus, who was going to make it up to Sanctuary to kidnap Tim?

But still, he was worried. Shit, that attachment thing was back. 

“Fine.” Zane reluctantly got up. “But you call me if there’s any change, or if you’re going to wake him up again.”

“Right now, I think it’s best to keep him out,” Tannis said. “Partly because his violent outbursts frighten me, but also for his own safety.” 

“Timothy has no sense of self preservation. Believe me, that boy once locked himself in a room with Nisha and a WAR loader,” Zane said, but there was a fondness to his voice. “Just take good care of him, will you?”

“I will do my best to keep him alive,” Tannis said, which wasn’t comforting.

“We’ll look after him, Zane. The ring you rescued him from had been cleared out when they showed to investigate, but we’ve got people keeping an eye out for anyone who was there,” Lilith said. “Go rejoin the others, and we’ll call you if anything changes.” 

Zane took one last look at Timothy before he left the room. There was nothing he could do to help him right now, except to keep investigating what that’d been after when they took him and how they even found him.

***

Two weeks had passed since they found Timothy, and they were still no closer to any answers.

They hadn’t been able to find anyone from the ring that had Timothy in it. They’d broken into several other rings and tortured their runners for information, but no one seemed to know anything.

None of them had a map to a vault key fragment, either. Dead ends all around.

Zane busied himself with killing COV members alongside the others as they worked to stop the Calypsos. Vaughn had offered to keep an eye out for any of the ring members, but had yet to find anything. 

“Ah, there, you son of a bitch,” Zane said, shooting down the last COV of the camp they were currently raiding. “Moze! Didya half to set that building on fire? I’m roasting alive over here.”

“Sorry, sorry,” Moze said, fanning herself off with her hand. “I didn’t realize it was that hot out.”

“Nothing useful here,” Amara said, digging through their stuff. “Will we ever stop hitting dead ends?”

“Ugh, not again.” Moze sat down and tipped her head up towards the light breeze blowing through. “These damn Calypsos are just fucking with us now.”

“Zane?”

Zane immediately lifted his ECHO at the sound of Lilith’s voice. He was always waiting for the bad news. Always waiting for the “Zane, he didn’t make it”, the “Zane, Timothy flatlined”. Waiting to hear that Timothy died without Zane there by his side.

“Lilith, what’s going on?” Zane asked, trying to keep his voice casual. “Tell me you have some good news, because ours is bad.”

“Another dead end?” she said with an annoyed sigh. “Well, send them on to the next camp, and you come back. Tannis thinks Timothy might be coherent enough to speak if we wake him up.”

Zane’s stomach twisted a little in anticipation. “Right, then. I’ll be back soon.” 

“Go on, we heard her,” Moze said. “Good luck with the junkie.”

“They drugged him, Moze,” Amara said, kicking at her. “It’s not his fault.”

“Fine, good luck with the reluctant junkie,” Moze said. 

“I’ll catch up to you lot later,” Zane said, giving them a casual wave and forcing himself not to sprint to the nearest fast travel station. 

He made his way there, and fast traveled up to Sanctuary. He hurried to the medical room, where Timothy was still hooked up. He still looked bad, and Zane couldn’t tell if it was him being hopeful, or if the purple color really had faded from Tim’s veins a bit.

“I’ve been trying to bring his dosage down without killing him, and believe I have partially succeeded. Now, he might be coherent enough to speak, but that also means he’ll be coherent enough to feel pain,” Tannis warned. “We have no idea how damaged he is from all that Eridium, or how much pain he’s in from us attempting to lower his dosage of it. Therefore, I will be standing a very fair distance away and be prepared to sedate him again immediately.” 

“We won’t know until we try,” Lilith said, looking at Zane.

He took the seat next to Tim and nodded. “Go on and do it. We’ve hit all the dead ends we possibly could. Without talking to Timothy, we won’t know what happened to him, or what the COV were after.” 

They restrained Timothy again before Tannis injected him with something. Zane forced himself not to shake Timothy and call his name.

Tim came to slowly, whimpering as he did so. He opened his eyes, and panic flashed on his face.

“Timothy?” Zane said.

“I c-can’t see- I can’t-”

“Lad, you’re blind in your left eye. You have been for a long time,” Zane said. 

Tim’s breathing was becoming unsteady as he tugged at the restraints. “I can’t move! I can’t move!” He jerked his head side to side. “It hurts! IT HURTS!”

Zane put his hand on Tim’s shoulder. “Timothy! Timothy, it’s Zane. You’re somewhere safe. We restrained you for your own safety.”

“And our safety,” Tannis said.

“Tannis, not helping,” Lilith hissed.

“Jack!” Tim wailed. “Jack, it hurts! I’m sorry! I’m sorry!”

“Zane,” Lilith said nervously. “Maybe we should put him back under.”

“Wait,” Zane said, because as hysterical as he was, this was the most coherent Tim had been. “Timothy. Calm down. Just calm down. It’s Zane. Remember me? I hauled you around until you could walk again. I didn’t let anything happen to you when you overdosed. I’m here now.”

Tim looked towards Zane’s voice with fear in his bloodshot eye. His hand jerked relentlessly against the straps keeping his arms pinned, as if he was trying to reach out for Zane.

Zane squeezed Tim’s shoulder. “There. It’s me. You know me. You know I’ll annoy the hell out of you, but I’ll never hurt you.” 

Tim craned his head more, because Zane was on his blindside. “I can’t see you with my- I can’t see-”

“I know. It’s alright,” Zane said. “Just calm down. Do you remember what happened to you?”

“W-We were fighting,” Tim stutered, jerking again. “Elpis. And- Athena- Aurelia- We had to...” He closed his eyes, a spasm wracking his body. “I’ll be good,” he whispered. “I’ll do it. I’ll do it. Just give it to me. Please don’t hurt me again, I’ll do it, I swear I will, I just need a little, just a little.” 

“This isn’t helping,” Lilith said, stepping forward.

“Timothy,” Zane said, but Tim didn’t respond. He shook Tim’s shoulder. “Timothy?” When Tim still didn’t respond, Zane took a deep breath. “Jack?”

Tim’s eye opened and he looked at Zane. 

“What’s your name?” Zane said.

“Handsome Jack,” Tim said automatically, cringing away. 

“No, lad. No. Your name is Timothy Lawrence,” Zane reminded him. 

“No!” Tim cried, struggling again. “No! No! I’m Jack, I know I am, I swear, please, just stop, stop, IT HURTS!”

“Put him under,” Zane said, because he couldn’t bear to see Timothy like this.

Tannis stepped forward and injected Tim. He cried out again, but his struggles began to die down.

Tim looked to Zane again, his arm jerking towards him. Then his eye closed, and he was out again.

“He doesn’t know who he even is,” Lilith said.

“Anger and trauma,” Zane said, looking at Tim. “He couldn’t always remember his name back when I was with him, either. He mentioned two names?”

“Athena and Aurelia were women on his Elpis team,” Lilith said. “Athena is the one who told us what happened on Elpis. Aurelia is the sister of Sir Hammerlock.”

“Oh, that Aurelia,” Zane said. “Could that be a lead? She’s working with those COV bastards.”

“Let’s contact Athena first, and see what she knows. Tim did mention her too, after all,” Lilith said, getting up.

Zane followed her out, and they went to the front of the ship. Lilith called Athena, and it was a few moments before she appeared digitally.

“Lilith,” she said in a cold voice.

“You told us about Jack’s doppelganger that you worked with,” Lilith said. “Do you know what happened to him?”

“Timothy? No. I never saw him again. He had a bomb in his face, so he couldn’t leave Jack.” There was a frown on her face. “I thought he contacted me once, but it turned out it was Jack’s daughter pretending to be Tim. She said Jack hooked him on Eridium and he needed help escaping. I never knew what happened to him when Jack died. I tried to find out, because Timothy was so young that I felt bad. But I couldn’t find a trace of him.”

“That’s because he escaped Jack with me,” Zane said. “Jack was killed not too long after, and I’d hidden Timothy on Promethea. Lost touch with him, and just found him seven years later, drugged up with Eridium and the star of a fight ring.”

“A fight ring?” Athena sounded genuinely surprised. “Timothy? He hated fighting. And damn Jack for that Eridium thing. We saw what Eridium did to the Lost Legion Soldiers.”

“Jack hooked him on it, I have evidence that he got clean, and then he was kidnapped and it seems like he was forcibly injected with it,” Zane said. “We just got him to wake up. He mentioned your name, and Aurelia’s.”

“No, I haven’t seen him since I quit Jack’s employ,” Athena said, shaking her head. “As for Aurelia, she also left Jack. She and Timothy never liked each other. I doubt he would’ve kept in touch with her.”

“So there’s a chance she took him?” Zane said, and wished he could get his hands on the bitch. “If she didn’t like him, I’m sure she would’ve had no problem tossing him into a fight ring.”

“But that still doesn’t explain how she would’ve even found him,” Lilith said.

“Or why she would’ve gone after him,” Athena said. “They didn’t get along, but she’d never hurt him before.”

Zane thought of something from the house, and his eyes widened. “Shite, I just thought of something. Lilith, we need to wake him up again.”

“What? Zane, he doesn’t even know who or where he is. You won’t get information out of him,” Lilith said.

“Listen, I think I know how to confirm if this was Aurelia,” Zane said. “We’ve gotta wake the lad up.” He glanced at Athena. “Sorry to bother you with this. I’m not sure why he yelled out your name if you haven’t even seen him in years.”

He saw the quickest look of guilt flash on her face, there and gone. “He didn’t want me to leave him with Jack. But we had no choice. Jack would’ve killed him.” Her expression turned grim. “Maybe that would’ve been the better outcome. Good luck with him.”

They returned to medical. Zane gestured to Tim.

“Wake him up. I’ve got some questions for him,” Zane said.

Tannis pursed her lips. “It’s not good to keep waking him and knocking him back out like that.”

“This is important,” Zane pressed. 

“Very well. But the consequences of this are not on my head,” she said, going over and injecting him.

Zane waited until Tim had woken up again. Tim whimpered, tugging at the restraints.

“Just me,” Zane assured. “Timothy, did Aurelia take you?”

Tim’s good eye widened in horror, and he began to struggle even harder against the restraints, his breathing coming sharp and fast. Zane was afraid touching him would only send him into a deeper panic, and restrained from doing so.

“Ice. The ice. It hurts,” he cried, trying to jerk away. “Hurts, it hurts, the cats, please don’t, please, let them go, let me go, it hurts, ZANE!”

Zane jumped as Timothy cried out his name. Tim had closed his eyes again, his body starting to spasm.

“Zane, help! Make her stop! Stop!”

“Timothy, it’s alright! No one is hurting you,” Zane said, and did touch his shoulder now. “It’s alright. She’s not here.” 

“I don’t know anything! I swear! Leave me alone! Zane!” Tim’s breathing had become so erratic that he couldn’t even scream. 

His whole body seemed to lock up for a moment before his head lolled to the side and his body began to convulse alarmingly. Tannis hurried over to inject Tim with Eridium.

“I told you,” she said simply.

“You know, Tannis, there’s a time for the ‘I told ya so’ speech, and this really isn’t feeling like a good one,” Zane informed her as Tim’s convulsion grew worse before slowly dying down.

His own heart was beating hard. Timothy had cried out for him. He’d begged Zane to help him.

And Zane hadn’t been there.

“Oh dear,” Tannis said, hastily taking the straps off and rolling Tim onto his side as he was violently ill, heaving up purple-tinted sick. “I’m not sure if this is normal, or if his body is rejecting the Eridium.”

Tim’s fingers scrambled for purchase, and Zane caught one of his hands, trying to hold it still so Tim didn’t knock himself off the bed. He was sweating horribly, his skin burning with fever. He was trying to gasp in air, his whole body convulsing.

“I...I think his body is rejecting the Eridium,” Lilith said, shooting a nervous glance at Zane. “Zane, this isn’t good. He-”

“He’s not dying,” Zane said firmly. Sure, this was worse than when he’d overdosed. But he wasn’t going to die here, not incoherent and never knowing that Zane did come for him in the end. He couldn’t, because Zane wouldn’t be able to live with the guilt of failing Tim if he did. 

“Can you put him back out, Tannis?” Lilith asked.

Tannis injected Tim. Instead of falling asleep, he began to scream.

Tannis frowned. “That’s not supposed to happen.”

Tim’s veins where Tannis had injected him grew alarmingly purple before the color faded out. Zane gripped Tim’s hand harder.

He couldn’t tell if it was tears or sweat or both pouring down Tim’s face. The three of them pinned him to the bed, keeping him on his side as he was sick again, his body falling into more convulsions.

“Zane, he’s suffering,” Lilith said.

“He’s endured a lot,” Zane said, refusing to put Tim down like a damn dog. 

It couldn’t have been more than a few minutes that it lasted, but it felt like hours before Tim’s convulsions died down. He trembled and whimpered, curling up on himself in a miserable little ball.

“Hurts, hurts, it hurts,” he whispered.

“I can’t put him back out, as you both just saw,” Tannis said. “And I’d prefer not to strap him back down on his back, because seeing a man choke to death on his own vomit is unpleasant.” She spread her hands. “I am not babysitting him.”

“I’ll stay with him,” Zane said, releasing Tim’s hand and putting his hand on Tim’s back instead. Tim’s shirt was drenched through with sweat. “Go get a washcloth so I can clean him up, will ya? Tannis, help me get his shirt off.”

Lilith went to fetch a washcloth while Zane and Tannis worked together to get Tim stripped to the waist. They laid him back down carefully, and Zane hated the sight of his purple-tinted veins.

Lilith returned and Zane took the washcloth, cleaning Tim up as best he could with it. Tim’s hair clung to his forehead with sweat, and he was still shivering. His breathing was labored, but it wasn’t the erratic gasps for air of before, so that was an improvement.

“He may be like this permanently,” Tannis warned them. “Just suffering these attacks until his body finally gives out.”

“I could’ve put a bullet in the lad’s head seven years ago when he overdosed, and I didn’t. I could’ve put a bullet in his head when he woke up and couldn’t move his body, and I didn’t. I’m not doing it now. Give him a chance to fight. He’s surprisingly good at it,” Zane said. 

“This will be your call, then. But I know what I would do,” Tannis said, heading over to the corner of the room to get back to her work.

“Zane, it’s okay to have hope. But don’t make him suffer,” Lilith said quietly before leaving.

“Ah, they don’t know you like I do, Timothy,” Zane said, taking Tim’s hand again. “You’ll wake up, be overdramatic as hell about this, and get back to normal after a bit. That’s all.” 

He felt the faintest pressure on his hand and looked down as Tim attempted to curl his fingers around Zane’s. Zane put his free hand on Tim’s back, hating the feverish burn of his skin. 

Zane kept his hold on Tim’s hand. Tim would come out of this. He was stronger than he looked. It would be hell, but he’d pull through, and when he woke up, Zane would be right there at his side.

Chapter Text

“Any word on Aurelia?” Zane asked as Lilith came to bring him food and water.

“Nothing yet,” Lilith said.

“She attacked him. There was water damage in his house. Likely from her ice melting,” Zane said.

Tim had only suffered two more mild convulsions since that bad episode. He seemed to fall asleep at times, but Zane was well aware that Tim was at least partially awake the rest of the time. 

“But what would she want with him?” Lilith asked.

“She might’ve suspected he knew something about Hyperion that could help the COV,” Zane said. “Having access to their technology could give the COV a big advantage. Or if Jack had hidden away useful information, Tim likely would’ve known it.”

“How is he?” Lilith asked, glancing at Tim.

“Bad.” Tim kept crying out for Jack, for Angel, for his mom.

And for Zane.

Those were the worst times. Had he cried out for Zane’s help when he was attacked? Zane had given him an emergency frequency to reach him at, but if Tim was caught off guard, he wouldn’t have had a chance to call for help. 

“Lilith, you said Angel gave you recordings. Could I have them? Maybe hearing her voice will calm him down a bit,” Zane said. “He seems to get so lost, he doesn’t know what time period he’s in.”

“Sure,” Lilith said, taking her ECHO out. It was a few minutes before she nodded to herself. “There, all sent to you. I’m...curious, honestly. But I’d rather not listen to something personal for him, so I’m going to leave you two alone.”

“Thanks. He’d probably appreciate that,” Zane said.

He waited until Lilith was gone before pulling Tim a little closer to himself and setting the ECHO down near Tim’s head. He found the earliest dated recording and hit play.

“Timothy, it’s me,” a girl’s voice said. “I’m recording this in the hopes that I can find a way to send it to you. I’m...I’m so sorry, Timothy. I’m so sorry.” Her voice wavered, like she was about to cry. She paused for a moment, and when she spoke again, it only trembled slightly less. “I didn’t mean for any of this to happen to you. I was trying to help you, I swear it.”

“Angel?” Tim muttered, stirring a little and trying to lift his head. “Angel?”

“I should’ve told you I sent those messages. But I knew you were afraid of Jack, and I knew you were in denial about your addiction,” Angel’s voice continued.

“Angel,” Tim said more urgently. “Got...Got clean...Swear it…”

“I wanted to get you out before you permanently became Jack’s. And now I’ve ruined everything. But I swear to you, I will do everything I can to save you. You’re my friend, Timothy. Maybe my only friend. And I won’t abandon you. If there is a way to rescue you, I’ll find it. If there is a way to get in touch with you, I’ll find it. I hope I can get this to you so you know I’ll never give up on you,” Angel said. “I’m so sorry about what I caused, Timothy. Jack won’t tell me what he did to you, only that he sent you off Helios and that he’ll never let you off Eridium now. But I’ll fight for you. Please, Timothy, hang in there. You protected me even when I screwed you over like that. I will do whatever it takes to save you, friend.”

There were tears down Tim’s face, and he moaned a little. “Didn’t...Didn’t betray Jack…”

The recording had ended. Zane was tempted to play the second recording, but Tim was still crying, mumbling something against the pillow that Zane couldn’t quite make out. 

“Angel?” Tim said, lifting his head and reaching out blindly. Zane caught his hand, and Tim let out a despaired noise. “Gone...Angel...dead…” He yanked his hand away from Zane, nearly striking himself in the process.

“Timothy,” Zane said, resting his hand on Tim’s shoulder. “I’m sorry.”

“I have an idea!” Tannis announced, coming over to them.

“An idea?” Zane said cautiously.

“It might very well kill him,” Tannis said proudly.

“Uh, Tannis, maybe this whole doctor thing wasn’t quite the right calling for you,” Zane said.

“Well, he’s dying anyways,” Tannis said with a shrug. “This’ll either save him, or speed up the process.”

“Again, not quite the right calling.”

Tannis gracefully ignored that. “The Eridium heals his body. In order to do that, it appears to gather in that spot. Observe.” She took out a knife, turned Tim’s hand over, and cut his palm lightly.

Tim’s whole arm began to tremble violently, and his breathing sped up. The purple beneath his skin gathered around the wound as the bleeding stopped before it’d barely even begun.

“Now, I have absolutely no idea what I’m doing when it comes to Eridium, but if it’s primarily in his veins from them injecting him, then perhaps we can cut, say, his hands, and cut off circulation to trap it there,” Tannis said. “With it trapped, I’m hoping I can extract it. Or perhaps his limbs will fall off. It’ll be a potentially messy experiment.” 

“You’re just going to bleed the boy dry?” Zane said, raising an eyebrow. “That doesn’t seem much like a solution he’ll survive.”

“As it stands right now, his body is failing,” Tannis said, and Zane’s throat went dry. He’d known just from observing, but hearing it confirmed dredged up the guilt and smothered him with it. “With each convulsion episode he suffers, he grows weaker. At this rate, he’ll be dead in a matter of days. And it’ll be a very slow, very painful death that he’ll be, in some sense, very much aware of.” 

Zane looked down at Tim, who was shivering again, his injured hand clenched into a fist, his face drawn with pain. The purple running beneath his skin traced an ugly pattern through him.

“Alright,” Zane said slowly. “But if it’s too much for him, you stop it.”

“It’ll be best if you’re not here,” Tannis said. “I have a feeling this is going to get ugly, and I don’t need you yelling at me. I dislike being yelled at.”

“But-” Zane started.

Tannis shot him a glare. “I am banning you when I do this. You watch over him while I go prepare.”

Tannis disappeared and Zane groaned, leaning back in his chair and rubbing at his eyes. He reached out and carefully pried Tim’s hand open, looking at the healed cut there.

“Oh, boyo, I might’ve just doomed you,” Zane said, patting his hand sympathetically. “In all sincerity: My bad.”

He decided to play the second recording, just in case Timothy was in his final hours. He hated to think about that, but the truth was, Tannis was right.

Tim was growing weaker. His fever was getting worse, and no matter what Tannis did, she was barely able to control it. If they didn’t try something soon, he’d just keep shutting down hour by hour, until he finally died. And he was awake. He was awake enough to cry out for help, which meant he was afraid. 

Zane nudged his ECHO back towards Tim. He started up the second recording.

“Timothy, it’s me again. I haven’t been able to find a way to contact you.” Angel sounded frustrated. “I’m trying everything I can. I hope you haven’t thought that I forgot about you. I hope I can get this and the other recording to you. I tried to eavesdrop on Wilhelm and Jack today. Wilhelm kept asking when Jack was going to bring you back to Helios. I...It was good to have it confirmed that you were still alive. I didn’t think Jack would kill you, but it’s still damn good to have it confirmed.”

“Angel?” Tim whispered, gripping the ECHO weakly, trying to drag it towards himself. Zane pushed it closer to him.

“Jack just kept saying you weren’t ready to come back. I suspect he won’t bring you back until he can be sure I won’t be able to contact you in secret again,” Angel said. “He was so mad at me. But I’m okay, Timothy. He can’t do anything worse to me than what he’s already done.” She was bitter now. “He just kept saying I was trying to take you from him as revenge. I hope he isn’t feeding that shit to you. It was never about revenge against Jack. When we worked together for the first time, you were so kind to me. You treated me like an actual person. No one’s done that in years, Timothy. I did all of this because you’re my friend and I couldn’t bear to see Jack hurt you the way he’s hurt so many others. I didn’t want to see him stomp out all the kindness in you. He was trying so hard. We both know he was. And he was winning. It’s why I tried to get you out. I hope you understand. I’m never giving up on getting these messages to you, and doing what I can to save you, Timothy. I miss you.”

The recording ended. Tim cracked his eye open, pawing weakly at the ECHO.

“Angel?” he said.

“She was trying to find you, lad,” Zane said. “She never forgot about you.”

“It hurts,” Tim said, his voice choked.

“I know.” Zane reached out and pushed Tim’s hair away from his eyes. “We’re going to do what we can to save you, Timothy. You just need to hang in there and fight this.”

“W-Want...my mom…” Tim whimpered.

Zane made a silent promise that if Tim didn’t survive whatever Tannis had planned for him, Zane would find Tim’s mom. He’d cremate Tim and send the ashes to his mother. He’d tell her Tim had faked his death, and been forced to work for Handsome Jack. And then he’d tell her how strong Timothy had been to escape, get clean of his forced addiction, and became a genuine hard worker. She wouldn’t have to see what had been done to him; the facial scar, the purple veins, an unfamiliar body that had hidden her son within it.

But at least she’d get to bury him. Get some kind of closure, without disrespecting Tim’s wishes of her not knowing he’d become a killer. 

“Oi, look how you’ve got me thinking! Now I’m being the overdramatic one. Wouldn’t have even bothered mailing me own brothers’ ashes to our parents,” Zane said, shooting Tim a look. “When the hell did I basically adopt your troubled arse?”

He carefully took his ECHO away from Tim’s hand. Tim opened his eyes, gripping weakly at the sheets.

“Well, since you’re awake, I might as well entertain ya. Oh, let me tell you about the time me brother Captain took me to hunt this giant skag!” Zane said.

He launched into his story, well aware that Tim probably wasn’t processing what he was saying. Still, Tim seemed to be somewhat aware of his voice, and leaned towards him a little. 

Zane kept telling stories, allowing Tim to grip at his hand. He hadn’t even been aware of just how long he’d been talking to Tim until Tannis came up to them.

“Zane, I have prepared everything as well as I can,” she said. “Get out of my sight so I can begin.”

“Tannis, are you sure about this?” Zane said.

“Not at all. But it needs to be done now, before his body starts to really shut down. Once that happens, he’ll never recover, even if this does work,” she said. 

Zane slowly stood up. He looked down at Timothy, who still had a weak grip on his hand.

“Listen, Timothy. I’m leaving for a bit. Don’t you dare die while I’m gone, got it? I need you to come around so I can make fun of you for becoming a cat lady,” Zane said, squeezing his hand. 

Tim didn’t respond, his breathing labored again. Zane reluctantly pulled his hand away from Tim’s and nodded to Tannis.

“Take care of him,” he said. “And if it’s too much for him, stop it. If you know he won’t survive what you’re doing, just stop it and come get me. I’ll be the one to...Well, if it needs to be done, I owe it to him.”

Shit, he really was becoming overdramatic. He needed Tim to wake up so he could take on the role of drama queen again.

Zane took one last look at Tim before forcing himself to leave medical. He didn’t know how long this would take.

Instead, he made his way to his room. He summoned his digi-clone to keep him company as he worked on a prototype SNTNL to test out some upgrades, hoping the work would clear his mind a bit.

He found his thoughts continuously drifting to Timothy. If he’d just checked in on the kid, would he have been able to help him? If he’d investigated as soon as he found out Timothy had disappeared, could he have found him before they got him so heavily addicted to Eridium? 

There was a knock on his door, startling him out of his thoughts. “Come in.”

Lilith entered. “Hey. Tannis told me she was starting that, uh, procedure on Timothy. I figured you could use something to get your mind off it. I want you to contact Sir Hammerlock, and see if he knows why Aurelia would be after Timothy.”

“Hammerlock doesn’t know where Aurelia is. We already asked him,” Zane said.

“Yes, but you didn’t ask him why she’d be after Tim. It can’t hurt to try,” she said. “It’ll give you something to do, at least. I know you don’t want to leave Sanctuary until this is over.”

“Well, that’s what I get for letting myself get attached on a job,” Zane grumbled. He sighed and scrubbed a hand down his face. “Point taken. I’ll call Hammerlock. Thanks, Lilith.”

She left him alone, and he set his ECHO on his desk. He connected a feed to Hammerlock and waited.

“Hello, vault hunter!” Hammerlock greeted.

“Hammerlock! Got a few questions for you, boyo,” Zane said. “I know you said you weren’t sure where Aurelia was at. But do you know why she’d be after a Handsome Jack doppelganger?”

“I apologize,” Hammerlock said. “I’ve no idea. We don’t keep in touch.”

“Any reason to believe Hyperion access could help the COV get control of vaults?” Zane said.

“Not the vault here,” Wainwright cut in. “But Handsome Jack was obsessed with the vaults, right? He might’ve had some information no one else knew about.”

“Suppose so. If anyone would’ve known, this double would’ve,” Zane said. “I just can’t figure out how she found him. He was hidden on Promethea. Had been for years.”

“Promethea isn’t the sort of place Aurelia would go without purpose,” Hammerlock said. “My guess is someone else found the double, and sold him out to Aurelia. I doubt she would’ve found him there by chance on another job.”

“Still gets me no closer to answers,” Zane said, and blew out a sigh. “Ah, sorry, don’t mean to make it sound like I’m blaming you. Just thinking out loud. Well, thanks anyway.”

He cut the feed, no closer to answers. It seemed the only way to find out what had happened was to either catch Aurelia and question her, or get Tim back mentally. Neither of those seemed to be likely outcomes at the moment. 

There was nothing more he could do at the moment. They’d exhausted every avenue aside from questioning Aurelia and Tim. 

Zane just had to trust Tannis for now. She might seem cold, but she’d do her best to keep Tim alive. She was smart, and she wouldn’t have tried this if she could’ve found any other way to try and save him. 

So Zane turned his attention back to his SNTNL prototype. It was a waiting game now, and all he could do was hope Tannis was successful.

Chapter Text

Zane wasn’t sure how long he’d been waiting before Tannis came over his ECHO and directed him to return to medical. Zane basically shot out of his seat, but then paused.

She hadn’t said if Tim was alive or not. He could very well be walking in to get the news his friend had died. 

“Everybody dies sometime. Might be a mercy to the boy now,” Zane mumbled to himself, forcing his legs to get moving. He’d endured the death of friends before, and it sucked, but he’d make it. Horrible as it’d be, he’d make it.

Still, he found his feet dragging as he got closer to medical. He took a deep breath and stepped through the doors.

Tim was hooked up to even more equipment than before, with an oxygen mask secured over his face now. But that meant he was still breathing. Zane could see the slow rise and fall of his chest.

And his veins were only a very faded purple, hard to notice.

“I believe I have succeeded, and he was only clinically dead for a few seconds,” Tannis said, looking pleased with herself.

“Clinically...you know what? Don’t tell me about that part,” Zane said. “Tell me the good news, and we’ll pretend you didn’t kill Timothy for a few seconds.”

“He still requires liquid Eridium to keep him alive, but with any luck, he might come off of it some day,” Tannis said. “I doubt you want to hear about the screaming and the blood and the Eridium being extracted from his veins. Or the part where he was very much dead.”

“You know, now that you mention it, I really don’t think I want to hear it,” Zane said, glancing at the dried blood on Tim’s arms and legs. There was quite a lot of it, and he’d failed to notice before because he’d been so fixated on Tim’s chest still rising and falling.

Now he took in the scene, seeing the stains of Eridium and blood on the floor surrounding Tim, the empty health kit vials, and the thick bandages around his hands and feet.

“I was able to knock him out with the sedative this time, which was wonderful because he wouldn’t stop screaming,” Tannis said. “Do not ask me to wake him. He will be in excruciating pain, and I have a headache as it is. When the sedative wears off, he’ll wake on his own. I’ll probably have to put him back under. The health kits kept him from dying of blood loss, but while his system corrects itself, they aren’t as potent as they would be on a normal man. I doubt they’ll do much, if anything, to ease his pain.”

Zane took the seat besides Timothy’s bed. “Get me a washcloth and a bucket of water. I’m going to clean him up and sit with him until he wakes.”

Tannis did so and left Zane alone with Tim. Zane carefully cleaned the blood and Eridium from him, trying to ignore the faint tremble of his hands. 

Timothy was alive.

“You overdramatic son of a bitch,” Zane said, shaking his head. “Just wanted to give me a fright as revenge. Just wait until you wake up, you bastard.” 

His hand was shaking too badly now. He lowered the washcloth and waited for Tim to wake up.

***

Zane dozed on and off as he waited for Tim to wake. Lilith brought him food, and Tannis came by periodically to give Tim Eridium, water, and food. She’d check his vitals, seem pleased enough with her work, and go on her way again.

Zane entertained himself by catching up on news around the galaxy, seeing what corporations were making what moves, who’d been killed, and where COV activity was spiking. When he tired of that, he began to read up on new available technology, seeing if anything would suit him.

It wasn’t until the next day that Tim began to stir.

He took a shuddering breath as he tried to move his arms. Zane sat up attentively.

“Jack,” Tim croaked, and a whimper escaped him. “Oh, shit. Jack!”

“Timothy,” Zane said, leaning forward. “Calm down. Don’t try to move.”

“Z-Zane?” His whole body jerked and he cried out.

Zane reached out and held him still. “Aye, it’s me. And I just told you not to move. I see you’re still stubborn.”

Tim seemed to be breathing...well, not okay, but breathing. Zane removed the oxygen mask, and Tim took another shuddering breath.

“Alright, you’re fine, lad. Well, okay, you’re not fine at all. But we’ve got you somewhere safe,” Zane said, and lightly gripped Tim’s wrists to keep him from trying to move his arms again.

“Hurts. It hurts, Zane, it hurts,” Tim gasped.

“I know,” Zane said. “Stay still.”

“What the hell happened to me?” Tim ground out, and cried out again. “Oh, god, what happened to me? It hurts! Make it stop!”

He was struggling again. “Timothy! Quit moving and it’ll hurt less.” Tim kept struggling, and Zane shot him a glare. “What did I just say? Stop moving, or I’ll have to sedate you again.”

Tim was practically hyperventilating now. “No!” he screamed, fighting harder against Zane’s hold. “Please, no more! No more! It hurts! I’ll do whatever you want, just please, don’t do it again!”

Oh boy. This wasn’t going well.

“Timothy,” Zane said, keeping his voice calm. “I’m not going to hurt you. No one here is going to hurt you. We’re trying to help you. Someone kidnapped you and injected you with a lot of Eridium. We’re trying to get it out of your system.” Tim was still quickly descending into a panic attack, so Zane released one arm and reached out, pushing his hair out of his face gently. “Timothy, you are safe. I promise.”

“Zane?” Tim whispered.

“Right here, lad,” Zane assured.

Tim’s breathing evened out the slightest. His struggles slowed, and he stared at Zane with terror in his eye.

“Don’t let her get me again,” he begged.

“Aurelia?” Zane said. Tim only whimpered in response. “She’s not getting you. No one is. I didn’t let Jack get you back, and I sure as hell won’t let Aurelia. Just calm down and take it easy, Timothy.” 

It was a bit before Tim fully stopped his struggles. He laid still, looking too afraid to move, his good eye slowly looking around the room.

“You’re on Sanctuary. We found you in a fight ring, got you out, and brought you here for medical attention,” Zane explained.

“Sanctuary?” His breathing jumped again. “C-Crimson Raiders?”

“They won’t hurt you,” Zane said firmly. “They’ve been treating you. I told them you’re my friend. You’re safe here. But you had a dangerous amount of Eridium in you, and we’ve been trying to get that out of your system without killing you.”

“Injections,” Tim said, closing his eyes and trembling. “Over and over again. Over and over. They wouldn’t stop. I begged them. It hurt so much. Dying. Dying. Dy-”

“Shhh,” Zane said, pressing a light hand to Tim’s shoulder because he was working himself into a panic again. “It’s alright, lad. We got you out of there.”

He’d clearly been through hell, and Zane didn’t want to make him keep thinking about it. Instead, he took out his ECHO, hoping to distract Tim.

“Here, I was just reading this article on new digi-clone technology. Listen to this!” he said, and launched into reading it. 

He’d nearly finished the article when Tim finally fell back asleep. Zane lowered his ECHO, staring at Tim.

His skin was still feverishly hot, and sweat coated him once more. Zane hoped Tannis was giving him plenty of water. 

But the purple in his veins had faded, which was the most relieving thing. Would he actually pull through this?

They wouldn’t know the extent of the damage he’d faced until he was up and moving around. He could move and talk, but not particularly well.  

It was a bit before Tannis came back over, liquid Eridium in one hand and a bottle of water in the other. She held them out to Zane.

“Since you are here, you can deal with this,” she said.

“Lucky me,” Zane said, but took them. “I’m going to let him sleep a little longer.”

“No,” Tannis said, pointing at the Eridium. “I have him on a very strict schedule for that, and I suggest you follow it because he will likely die if you don’t.”

“Suppose I can’t argue with that,” Zane said, reaching out and gently shaking Tim. “Timothy, wake up. Come on, you lazy bastard. Up.”

“Jack?” Tim muttered.

“Hell no. I’m way more handsome, and way less of a psychopath,” Zane said.

“Jack?” Tim said again, cracking his eyes open. He tried to surge upright, and cried out in pain. “Jack, I’m sorry! I didn’t mean to fall asleep! I only took a little, I swear!” 

“Uh…” Zane said, looking to Tannis.

She shrugged. “I have no idea if this is normal.”

“Timothy,” Zane said, grabbing his arm before he could try to get up again. “Oi, stop that. You’re hurting yourself. Jack isn’t here. Hasn’t been for seven years.” 

“Seven…?” Tim looked to Zane in bewilderment. Realization slowly came to his eyes. “Seven years.” He hung his head, shoulders hunching. “He’s...right. Gone. Angel, too.” His shoulders shook, but he didn’t cry again. Zane pat him on the back lightly.

“Here. You need to drink this,” Zane said, holding the Eridium out.

Tim looked at it and his eyes widened. He tried to scramble away, but Zane caught him and held him still.

“Easy, easy! I’m not going to hurt you,” Zane said. “I’m trying to get you to stay still so you don’t get hurt.”

“No, please,” he begged, eyes locked on the Eridium. “Please. I got clean. I did it.”

“I know,” Zane said, his voice soft now. “I know you did, lad. And I’m proud of you. This isn’t your fault. But you need to take it so you don’t die. Your body needs this stuff right now. So you’ve got to drink it, and then drink this water because you’re sweating oceans.”

“I want it,” Tim whispered, closing his eyes. He tried to wrap his arms around himself, but it seemed to hurt too much to lift them, and he let out a soft, despaired noise.

“Come on, Timothy. I won’t let you take more than you absolutely need to, and only to keep you alive,” Zane said. “I didn’t pull your ass out of a fight ring just to see you die now. Take it, and then drink the water.”

Tim tried to lift a trembling hand, but it was too much effort. Zane instead brought the Eridium to his lips and tipped it back. Tim greedily drank it all down, chasing the last drop as it rolled down the side of the glass. 

“Water,” Zane said, uncapping it and holding it for Tim.

He drank that much slower, but managed to finish off nearly half the bottle before shaking his head. Zane set it on the table next to his bed, satisfied Tim had at least managed that much.

“What do you remember?” he asked, hoping the Eridium steadied him a bit.

“She came to my house.” Tim swallowed thickly, his whole body shaking. “Said...Said Athena was looking for me. I let her in.” He closed his eyes. “I let her in.”

“You didn’t know,” Zane said. “Go on. What happened after you let her in?”

“Thought she was alone. She...She wasn’t.” His breathing hitched, and he took a few moments to calm himself as best he could. “They all came in. She attacked me. I fought back. I tried, I really did. My cats attacked her. She- Oh, god, she killed them.”

Zane put an arm around Tim’s shoulders. “I buried them. I went to the house to investigate your disappearance, and we found the cats. I buried them, Timothy.”

“She stabbed me with ice. Pinned me to the wall. Made me watch her do it.” He was trembling harder now, his breathing growing erratic. “I begged her not to. Told her I’d go with her. She killed them slowly.” 

“Take a moment, lad,” Zane said, not wanting him to spiral into panic again. 

He kept his arm around Tim, feeling Tim lean into his touch, just like he had all those years ago. It struck Zane then that Tim hadn’t changed his appearance in all that time. He still looked exactly like Jack, and Zane didn’t even know if that was by choice or if the fight ring had forced him to look like Jack.

“I tried to kill her for it,” Tim whispered. “I used to...used to be good. At killing people. But there were too many of them. I was barely conscious. They tied me up, searched the house. Took me with them when they left. Beat me, over and over and I-”

“Alright,” Zane said, because Tim was starting to hyperventilate. “Enough of that. Enough. Here, drink more water.”

Tim obeyed, taking slow sips. Zane pulled his arm away and held the bottle to Tim’s lips until he pulled his head back from it. 

“I thought you forgot about me,” he said quietly.

Zane splashed the water against Tim’s face. Tim startled away in surprise.

“That’s what you get for being stupid,” Zane said, and splashed him again.

“Stop it!” Tim said, trying to lift his arms to defend himself.

“You need a shower. I’m doing you a favor,” Zane said, grinning as he splashed Tim once more.

Tim attempted to shake his hair out of his face, glaring at Zane. “Asshole.”

Zane reached out and pushed Tim’s hair out of his eyes for him, taking pity on the boy. “I never forgot you. And...I owe you an apology. Peter told me you’d quit and left the area. I assumed it was to get away from the growing corporation war and the COV there. I should’ve investigated as soon as I heard you’d disappeared, and I didn’t. And then I saw you in that fight ring.”

“How did you know it was me?” He looked so scared, so desperate. “I didn’t even know what was happening. I had to kill for Eridium. It’s the only way they’d give it to me. I had to put on a good enough show, or they punished me.”

“I just...knew,” Zane said, hands tightening on the water bottle. “I just know you, Timothy.” 

He put his arm out and allowed Tim to lean against him. Tim shook against him, and he put his arm around him. Tim had been alone and abused for far too long.

“I don’t know what happens next,” Tim said, pressing closer to Zane. “She’ll want to get me back. They were using my DNA and voice signature to break into Hyperion facilities.”

“Jack’s DNA can still get in?” Zane said.

Tim nodded. “Jack and his daughter were both dead. No one thought to take his DNA out of the security system. They didn’t know about me. But Aurelia was on the Elpis team; she knew.”

“What were they after?” Zane asked.

Tim shook his head, looking scared again. “I don’t remember. They’d started d-drugging me by then.”

He’d been through enough. “We’ll figure it out. Get some rest.”

He lowered Tim back against the pillows, helping his uncooperative limbs get comfortable. Tim looked at him anxiously.

“I’ll stay, you needy brat,” Zane said, but softened his words with a grin. 

Tim gave a slight nod and closed his eyes. When he was asleep again, Zane let the grin drop.

Tim seemed emotionally messed up right now. Zane didn’t know if it was from the Eridium or the trauma, or both. 

After Tim had rested a little, Zane would try to get him to walk and do basic tasks so they could see the extent of the damage. He was struggling to move his body the longer he was awake, but he was still able to do it. It seemed best not to have him lie around too much.

“Later,” Zane muttered, tugging the blanket up over Tim a little more. He’d started shivering again.

But Tim had said Aurelia was still after him. That either Aurelia or the COV had been using Tim to get something from Hyperion. 

They needed to find out what. If Hyperion had access to a vault key or information on one, then the Crimson Raiders needed to get their hands on it.

All that could come later, though. For now, Zane sat silently besides Timothy, watching over him, and miserably letting the words “I thought you forgot about me” run a slow loop around his mind.

Chapter Text

When Zane woke up, Tim was staring at the ceiling. Zane stretched, catching Tim’s attention.

“That lady came to give me Eridium while you were sleeping,” Tim said warily. “She said I’m ‘horrifically ugly’ and she wishes I’d cover my face.”

“That’s just Tannis. You get used to her,” Zane said. He got up, and Tim looked alarmed. “Oh, quit being overdramatic. I’m not going anywhere. I want to get you up and walking around.”

“I...can’t really feel my legs,” Tim said, trying to move them. “I can sort of move them. Not well, though. I don’t know if I can stand right now.”

“Only one way to find out.” Zane held his hands out. “Here, take my hands and try to pull yourself up. We need to get you moving around so you don’t just sit there and decay.”

“But-” Tim started.

“I won’t let you fall,” Zane said.

Tim stared at him for a moment before giving a slow nod. His arms trembled as he lifted them, but he gripped Zane’s hands. His expression strained as he attempted to pull himself up, only managing to get halfway before Zane finally gripped him back and pulled him the rest of the way.

Tim clumsily swung his legs over the side of the bed. Zane allowed Tim to cling to him as he tried to stand. His legs seemed to be too weak to support his weight, so Zane hooked an arm around him and helped him up, holding him so he didn’t immediately crumple to the ground. 

“Let’s just walk to the wall there,” Zane said.

It was a horribly slow process. Tim managed to get his legs to move, but he couldn’t keep himself upright. He also grew lightheaded, and Zane had to catch him as he swayed.

They made it back to the bed and Zane sat him down. “Well, you can walk and move your arms, so you’re doing better than last time.”

“I...I get confused,” Tim said, staring down at his hands. “I forget where I am. Who I am. Who you are. I think I’m at Helios, or the casino, or my mom’s house. It’s so hard to keep track if I’m not talking to you.” 

“Good thing I can talk all day then,” Zane said cheerfully.

Tim groaned. “Shouldn’t have said that.” 

“I want to work your arms and legs. It’s not good to just have you sitting here,” Zane said. 

“It all hurts,” Tim said miserably. “That burning. I feel like I’m on fire. Fuck, it hurts.”

“We’re doing everything we can for you, Timothy,” Zane said.

“It wasn’t...good. Like on Helios, or the casino. It didn’t help. They injected me with so much. It hurt. Felt like my limbs were tearing apart. But it hurt worse when they wouldn’t give it to me. I’d scream until I lost my voice. They had to wrap my wrists, because I was shredding the skin faster than the Eridium could heal it from how hard I pulled on the restraints. Sometimes I’d have seizures.”

Zane took a deep breath in through his nose so Tim wouldn’t notice. He wished he’d torn every last one of those fuckers to pieces. 

“You’re here now, and we’re trying to sustain your body while also working you off the Eridium,” Zane said. “If it gets worse, you need to tell us. We have no clue what we’re doing, to be quite honest.”

“Jack would’ve known,” Tim said, and winced. “Sorry. Sorry. I know you’re trying.”

Before Zane could respond, the door opened. Lilith came in, and Tim flinched back, leaning automatically towards Zane in fear.

“Tannis said he was awake and talking,” Lilith said, looking Tim over. 

Zane glanced at Tim, and frowned. Tim’s expression had hardened, and he had that slightest trace of Jack’s sneer.

“He also has fully functional ears, cupcake,” Tim said, in that rough voice of his.

“Oi, you’re doing it again,” Zane said, elbowing him roughly. “Cut it out, you little arsehole.” 

Tim glared at him, and then the sneer slid away. He looked confused, afraid.

“I- It just kicked in,” he stammered. “The DNA.”

“I know. Probably because…” Zane traced the outline of the scar. “Lilith did it to Jack. Makes sense you’d get defensive around her. But she’s not going to hurt you.” 

“DNA?” Lilith said.

“I’m injected with Jack’s DNA. Sometimes I, um, say things,” Tim mumbled.

“He means sometimes he’s a bloody git like Jack was,” Zane translated. “Though he did once say I was as charming as I was tall.”

“Irritating,” Tim said automatically. He paused, and flicked a tentative smile at Zane. “I definitely said you were irritating.”

“Charming,” Zane said, smirking. “Your memory’s not too great right now. The word you used was ‘charming’.” 

Lilith pulled up a chair and sat down at the end of Tim’s bed. He looked nervous again, gnawing at his bottom lip.

“Tim,” Zane said, nudging him. “Your lip.”

“Oh,” he said, and stopped for only a moment before resuming chewing on it. Zane sighed and didn’t press the matter.

“We need to talk about what happened to you,” Lilith said.

“I already told Zane what I could remember,” Tim said, a little too hastily.

“He seems to have some gaps. Understandable, since they were drugging him,” Zane said.

“Beating me,” Tim said hollowly. “They tortured me at first. Then they drugged me.”

“Tim, this is important,” Lilith pressed. 

Tim’s breathing was growing unsteady again. “Beat me. Broke my fingers, then my toes. Threatened to blind my good eye. Cut me just under it. Stabbed me. No food, no water.” He hunched over instinctively. “I didn’t know anything! I didn’t know! Jack never told me what happened to it! I don’t know! Stop!”

“Lilith, I don’t think this is helping any,” Zane said, resting his hand on Tim’s back. Tim flinched away from his touch. “Timothy. Tim!”

“I don’t know, I don’t,” Tim choked out. “He didn’t tell me. He didn’t tell me, I swear!”

“Jack,” Zane tried.

Tim swung his head around to look at him. Zane touched his back again, and Tim didn’t flinch away this time.

“Just me, lad,” Zane said. “Your name is Timothy. You’re currently on Sanctuary, safe. Remember?”

“Zane,” he said at last. 

“Zane Flynt, at your service,” Zane said. “Lilith was just leaving.”

“Zane,” Lilith said, shooting him a look. “This is time sensitive.”

“How? We’ve got Timothy here. They can’t use him anymore,” Zane said. “Let the boy rest and recover before you grill him. Whatever they were looking for, I doubt they got it.”

“Never found it,” Tim said, shaking his head wildly. “It wasn’t in the lab.”

“The lab?” Lilith said.

“Lilith,” Zane warned. He’d suspected Tim might’ve been lying about how much he could remember, but had also suspected the memories were too traumatizing for Tim to face right now.

“Nakayama. I don’t know. I haven’t seen him in years, I swear, I swear, I don’t even know if he’s alive, just please don’t, please stop,” Tim said, growing increasingly panicked.

“Okay, alright, you’re fine,” Zane said, pulling him a little closer. “Timothy, it’s just us. No one is going to hurt you.” 

He wasn’t sure how to calm Tim. Lilith stood, and Zane was relieved that line of questioning was over, at least.

“Angel,” Zane said to Tim. “Do you remember Angel?”

“Angel?” Tim clung to the name like a lifeline. 

“Aye, Angel. She left you ECHO recordings. Maybe you should take a listen,” Zane said.

He wasn’t sure if they would upset Timothy. But maybe hearing her voice would help him, even just a little.

Clarity slowly returned to Tim’s eyes. “Angel? ECHO recordings?”

“She gave them to me,” Lilith explained. “Said if I ever met a doppelganger named Timothy Lawrence, to give them to him. I swear I haven’t listened to them.”

“I played two of them for you while you were out of it,” Zane said, taking out his ECHO and handing it to Tim. “Here.”

Tim held the ECHO gently, staring at it. Lilith left the room, giving them privacy.

Zane figured Tim wouldn’t want him to leave, but he also wanted Tim to have some privacy. He gestured to one of the nearby computers, just a few feet from Tim’s bed.

“I’m going to plug myself into that and do some research,” he said.

Tim gave a slow nod, watching Zane go to the computer. Zane put the earbuds in, and turned himself so that he would be able to see Tim if he gestured for Zane, but so that he wasn’t staring right at the boy’s face.

He just hoped this didn’t make things worse for Tim.

***

Everything hurt.

Tim could barely get his fingers to curl around the ECHO, the memory of each one being broken burned into his damaged mind. His memories kept crashing together and jumbling in his head, making it hard to remember where he was, who he was.

Sometimes he was just Timmy Lawrence. He’d wake up and look around the room in confusion, his mom’s voice echoing in his ears.

“Up, Timmy. You don’t want to be late,” she’d say, but she wasn’t there, not really. She hadn’t been for a long time.

Sometimes he was Timothy the vault hunter. Gunfire rang in his ears, and he tensed up, waiting for a Scav or a Lost Legion Soldier to attack him.

Sometimes he was Jack. He’d wake up, wondering why he wasn’t in his apartment. He’d wait for Jack to come to him, growing increasingly frightened when he didn’t.

And sometimes he couldn’t remember who Zane was. It would take his brain a long time to make the connection.

He still couldn’t believe this was real, most of the time. He kept waiting to wake up back in his cell at the fighting ring, one of those cursed moments of clarity where he remembered that he was Timothy Lawrence, that he’d been kidnapped, that he was being drugged and forced to fight.

Zane had come for him. But had he come too late this time?

Tim tried to ignore the vicious burning, his veins feeling like they were on fire. He’d endured a lot of pain at Jack’s hands, which was the only thing that saved him from continuously screaming and begging for relief now.

He stared down at the ECHO, afraid to hit play. 

Angel. Dead.

He’d heard the news, after Jack was killed. Sat there in numb silence. Jack’s own daughter. Trapped and hooked to Eridium, all that time. Tim had never saved her. Never even known.

He’d drank himself into a blackout that night and woke up to the apartment destroyed. His digi-Jacks had kept him from overdosing again, forcibly knocking him out once when he tried to break into the safe.

Tim looked at Zane, who was turned away just enough that he couldn’t see Tim’s face. Tim clung to the knowledge that Zane was here now, that Zane wouldn’t let the Crimson Raiders hurt him just because he looked like Jack.

Tim took a deep breath. Angel had made these recordings for him. He owed it to her, since he’d failed her in every other way possible.

He hit play.

He listened through the various logs. Most of them were Angel growing increasingly frustrated at her lack of progress in discovering what Jack had done to Tim. 

“I’m sorry Timothy,” she said in one, sounding so close to tears that Tim held the ECHO closer. “It’s a game to him. A way to punish me for caring about you. But I will not give up. I swear.”

It was a few more recordings before she caught him off guard.

“Wilhelm is dead, Timothy. I don’t know if Jack told you,” she said. “I know you and Wilhelm were...not friends, not really. But I know he was the closest thing you had, besides me. So I hate to say this, but it wasn’t an accident, Timothy. The vault hunters were meant to kill him.”

Tim stared at the ECHO, uncomprehending.

“Jack needed them to beat him, but it had to be convincing. He did something to Wilhelm. They had drinks together before he sent Wilhelm out there. I think...I think he slipped something into Wilhelm’s drink.” She fell silent for a moment. “I’m glad you’re not here, I think. I don’t know where you are, but wherever it is, I hope it’s safer than Helios. Jack is desperate to get access to Sanctuary. I’m glad you’re not here to be just another piece of damn cannon fodder to him.” She took a deep breath. “I’m going to get him into Sanctuary, Timothy. This is what Wilhelm died for. What he was probably murdered for. Jack killed him just as surely as the vault hunters did, I know it. And now I’m going to betray them. And I don’t want to. I don’t want to.”

“Angel,” Tim whispered, desperate to comfort a girl who had been dead for seven years.

“But I have to. Oh, dammit, I hope you’re not still hooked on Eridium. I can’t stand to see this happen to you too. I have to do what he says, but I am so tired of helping him hurt and kill people. I don’t want to do it anymore. I wish you were here. You would understand. I miss you like hell, Timothy,” she said quietly. 

Tim didn’t know if he could keep listening to this. He touched his cheek and found a tear there. He played the next log.

“There’s something I never told you, Timothy. I let you think I was an AI. I...I wish I told you the truth, but there were a few reasons I didn’t. If Jack found out, he would’ve killed you. If you found out, you might’ve tried to save me. And I was, hell, I was ashamed. After everything Jack did to you, how could I possibly admit to you that I was his daughter?” She let out a hollow laugh. “Yea, Timothy, Handsome Jack is my father. I’m not an AI. I’m a person. He had me locked up securely in the Bunker, hooked to Eridium to charge the vault key. I’ll die without the Eridium. It’s irreversible now. My dad said he’ll make sure I have an endless supply to keep me alive. I don’t want to be alive, though. Not when it means my whole existence is just hurting people.”

Tim hugged the ECHO to his chest. She’d lied to protect him.

“I told the vault hunters how to stop Jack. They’ll come here, and they’ll find out the truth, and I’ll ask them to destroy the Eridium injectors. I’ll die. But I’ll die on my terms. I never got to live on my terms, but I can get this. Revenge on the father who locked me up, and a choice over my own life. I’m...scared, Timothy. But I’m also relieved. It’ll be over. The world will be safe from the Warrior, Jack won’t get to hurt me anymore, and hopefully they’ll defeat him and you’ll be freed, wherever you are. The only thing I regret is that I never found you. I tried so hard. Please know that I tried. I’m so sorry I failed you. I’m so sorry I got you hurt. And I’m so sorry I didn’t save you. I hope you can forgive me.”

“I do,” Tim whispered. “Oh, kiddo. I do.”

“I’m going to give these recordings to Lilith. I hope she can find you and give them to you. And I hope when you find them, you understand. I don’t want you to be sad about my death. This is my choice, and it’s the only choice I’ve had complete control over since I was a child,” Angel said. “I know Jack took control of your life, too. I hope you get your choices back someday. It’s your life, Timothy. It might be his face and his voice, but it’s your life. Please live it how you want. That’s all I ever wanted for you.” 

Tim closed his eyes. He wished he’d gotten to talk to her just one more time.

“I was isolated for so long. You were my only real friend in it all, Timothy. I hope when you hear these, you’re a free man. And I hope you know that you gave me the strength to make this decision. You are my very best friend, and I love you. I wish I could’ve spoken to you again. But I know you’re out there somewhere, alive. You still have a chance. And if stopping Jack gives you that chance, then it’s the biggest benefit to this decision.” He could hear the smile in her voice. “If you can find it in you to forgive me, I want you to rescue a cat and name her after me, okay? It’ll be like I’m still there to bother you and look after you all at once. Goodbye, Timothy. Thank you for everything, and just know that I never once forgot about you, friend.”

The recording ended. Tim played it again. And again. 

He stared at the faded purple of his veins. Jack had stolen so much from him. And when he finally got free, Aurelia showed up and stole it all out from under him again.

Angel wanted him to live. To be free.

Getting off Eridium had been his choice, and Aurelia had stripped it from him. He clenched his fist, ignoring the burning it sent through his fingers and up his arm.

“Zane,” he said loudly, waving his hand a little.

Zane pulled an earbud out and turned to Tim. He didn’t comment on the tears drying on Tim’s face.

“You need me, boyo?” he asked.

“I want to try to walk again. Please,” Tim said.

Zane didn’t even hesitate. He got right up and came over to Tim, holding his hands out.

Tim grasped them, gritting his teeth against the horrible pain that ripped through his body as he tried to haul himself up. Sweat broke out across his forehead, but he tried to push past the pain.

“Whoa, easy there, lad. You’re overdoing it already,” Zane said.

“Let me,” Tim ground out. 

Zane didn’t argue, though he did frown at Tim. Tim managed to get himself upright, but Zane had to catch him before he fell. He pulled Tim’s arm across his shoulders, wrapping an arm around Tim’s waist to support him. 

Tim grew lightheaded and tired quickly, his whole body trembling with pain. But Zane took on more of his weight, and Tim forced himself to keep going.

“Timothy,” Zane said at last. “Want to tell me what this is all about?”

“Aurelia,” Tim said. “I want to get revenge on her. She did this to me. Her and those COV bastards. They stole my freedom from me, and I won’t let them get away with it.”

“That’s the spirit!” Zane said. “Alright, count me in. Let’s get you into fighting shape, eh?”

Right now, Tim didn’t feel like he’d ever be in fighting shape again. His vision was wavering, and his mind was having trouble concentrating. He was slipping again, some part of him whispering that it was time to go wake his mom up because she’d fallen asleep on the couch again and it’d hurt her back to sleep like that. Another part of him whispered that he had to finish the Sanctuary layout before Jack got mad.

“Zane?” Tim said, slipping more and more. He gripped Zane’s jacket.

“Right here,” Zane said.

“Need to sit,” Tim said, pressing a hand to his head as it ached terribly. “Don’t give up on me. Please.”

“I’m no quitter, and I’m not letting you be one either. We’re going to have you running and gunning in no time. Revenge, here comes Timothy Lawrence.”

Who?

He was Jack. 

He was Timothy.

He barely registered it as Zane laid him back down and sat next to him again. It suddenly occurred to him that he didn’t even know why Zane was with the Crimson Raiders. But he was too tired to ask. 

It was going to be hard work. But he’d do it, and win his freedom back, just as Angel had done. Just as she wanted for him.

He’d honor it as a last request from her. Maybe he couldn’t save her in the end, but he could save himself and make sure her sacrifice was worth it.

Chapter Text

Getting Tim back up into fighting shape was a painful process.

He hit periods where his body convulsed from the lack of Eridium. He’d grow violent, falling so deep into Handsome Jack’s arsenal of threats that Zane had to remind himself that Tim was just a double and not the real thing. But then Tim would grow desperate, crying and begging for more.

His convulsions grew dangerously extreme twice, in which Tannis promptly announced he might very well be dying. He pulled through both times, but slept for a long time afterwards.

When he wasn’t suffering those episodes, Zane would help him practice walking, and get him to do arm and leg exercises to strengthen his muscles and his control. Tim was slowly getting better at all of it, and even managed to walk from his bed to the wall without help, though he needed to rest after.

The scariest was when he got confused.

He’d forget who he was, or who he was with, or what time period he was in. He’d ask Zane who he was. He’d insist he had to go finish a project for Jack. He’d ask where his mom was, and if she wanted him to start dinner. He’d pick up Zane’s ECHO and ask Angel if she was listening in. 

Sometimes it was nearly impossible to bring him back to the present time. Tannis said that his physical condition was improving for the most part, but that his mental condition was less than promising.

Currently, Tim was asleep after getting confused and thinking he was back with his mom. Zane had coaxed him to sleep, assuring Tim his mom would be back when he woke up and just hoping Tim woke up more aware of the fact that he hadn’t seen his mom in roughly a decade.

“Tannis, is this permanent?” Zane asked.

She shrugged helplessly. “Possibly? I don’t know. I don’t think anyone knows. It may be a combination of withdrawals and trauma. Or it might be a permanent result of the damage his body sustained from the injections. It could fade over time, or get worse. He might be convinced forever that he’s a teenager living with his mom, or that he’s a hideous body double working for Jack. There’s no way to tell.” At Zane’s look, she spread her hands. “I did not inject him, and am not responsible for the damage. However, I can say that his vitals have been stable more consistently than they aren’t. It’s a vast improvement over when you brought him here. He seems to be regaining strength and control.” 

Zane took out his ECHO. “Oi, Lilith.”

“Yes?” Lilith responded a moment later.

“Mind if I take Timothy down for target practice when he wakes up?”

Lilith hesitated. “I don’t know, Zane. Should we really give him a gun with his current mental state?”

“We’ll be alone down there, and I have my shield. Even if he went nuts and shot at me, I’d incapacitate him before he did any damage,” Zane said. “If he has something to focus on, I’m hoping it helps lessen these mental lapses of his.”

“Alright,” she said, though she sounded reluctant. “But try not to let anyone see him.”

“Got it,” Zane said, and cut the feed.

He waited a few hours until Tim finally woke up. He slept often, and Zane wasn’t sure if it was good or not. He wasn’t sure if any of this was good or not. 

“Timothy?” Zane said. He always tried to say Tim’s name when he woke up, just to remind him who he was.

“Zane?” Tim muttered, rubbing at his eyes.

Good. “The best sight to wake to. You’re welcome.” He helped Tim sit up. “Come on. We’re going to take some target practice.”

“Target practice?” he said curiously. He furrowed his brow. “I keep forgetting to ask you. Why are you with the Crimson Raiders?”

“Because I’m a vault hunter,” Zane said.

“A-” Tim stared at him in disbelief. “You were a mercenary!”

“I retired. Too many people were trying to kill me, and I couldn’t even enjoy a drink in peace,” Zane said dismissively, trying to help Tim up. “I took up vault hunting. Gardening wasn’t quite my calling.”

“You’re the only person I know who’d pick up vault hunting as a retirement gig,” Tim said.

Rather than make the poor kid walk all the way down to the shooting range, he got Tim a wheelchair. Tim didn’t even complain, knowing how exhausted he got from just walking around the medical room. He sat down, and allowed Zane to hand him a hoodie.

“Just pull the hood up. Lilith isn’t ready for people here to know about you quite yet,” Zane said.

Tim did as he instructed. Zane wheeled him out of the room and headed for Marcus’s.

“What is this place?” Tim asked in surprise, looking around.

“A ship,” Zane said, realizing Tim must not have heard about the new Sanctuary. “Sanctuary III, they call it.”

It took some work, but he got Tim down to the shooting range. He helped Tim up and handed him a pistol. Zane hopped into the range and arranged some various targets for Tim before standing at Tim’s side.

“Have at it,” Zane said.

Tim took a deep breath and aimed the gun. The recoil caused his shot to go wide, his hands jerking back almost comically.

Tim grit his teeth and steadied himself, firing a much more accurate shot this time. He aimed at the different targets, his shots unsteady but managing to hit in the general vicinity of where he was trying to aim.

“Sniper rifle?” Tim said.

“Might be too heavy for ya right now,” Zane said.

“Let me try,” Tim said.

Zane obeyed, heading up to fetch Tim’s sniper rifle. He returned with it and gave it to Tim, who was leaning against the wall for rest.

He straightened up and aimed his sniper rifle at a target in the far corner. The recoil sent him staggering back a bit, the shot missing. Tim tried again. And again. And again.

It was the fifth shot before he struck the target. He hit it again on the next try, but Zane could see how quickly this was tiring him out.

Still, he stayed silent. Tim needed this. He needed a mission to focus on, and if it was revenge against Aurelia, then so be it. 

Tim set the sniper rifle down with trembling hands. He stared at the targets, and Zane reached out to touch his arm.

“I killed so many people in that ring. All for Eridium,” Tim whispered. He clenched his fists. “I could deal with her mocking me for being too broke to pay my student loans. But this? Oh, this I’m not forgiving. No way, kiddo. I’m going after her.”

“Uh, forcibly drugging you and making you kill in a fight ring is a little different than saying ‘haha you’re feckin’ broke’,” Zane pointed out.

“I...yea, fair point,” Tim said, deflating a bit. “Still, you get my point. Right?”

“Always up for a bit of revenge,” Zane said brightly. 

“Zane, she was after…” He pressed a hand to his head, wavering a bit. Zane grabbed his shoulder in case he fell. “Nakayama. She wanted…” His lip was bleeding. He’d started chewing it again.

“Let’s get you back to bed,” Zane said, urging him into the wheelchair. “Your shooting needs a little work, but it’s not bad considering you technically died not that long ago.”

“I what?” Tim said in alarm.

“Uh...Forget I mentioned that?”

“I technically died? What does that mean?!”

“Exactly what it sounds like. So! How about I show you my room before we bring you on back to medical, huh?”

“You’re trying to distract me! What do you mean I technically died?”

Zane whistled loudly as he wheeled Tim towards his room. Tim called him something that sounded vaguely like “fucking asshole” but had probably been “wonderful friend”. 

“Here we are,” Zane said, shutting his door once they were in and helping Tim up. 

Tim looked around, taking in the sight of all the weapons on the wall. “Been busy?”

“Oh, you could say that,” Zane said. 

Tim seemed tired, so Zane guided him over to the bed. Tim sat heavily on it, his eyes already falling shut.

“You rest up, boyo. You’re safe in here, I promise. I’ve got to go make a quick call, but then I’ll be right back,” Zane said.

Tim was already asleep. Zane slipped out of the room, taking out his ECHO and establishing a call.

“Vault hunter?” Rhys said.

“Rhys! Need to have a chat with you and that fine mustache,” Zane said, because a little flattery never hurt in getting what he wanted.

“About what?” Rhys said curiously.

“Business,” Zane said, which was technically true. “Two hours from now work?” 

“Uh...sure?” Rhys said. “Do I, uh, get to know what this business is?”

“Of course you do! In two hours. See you then!” Zane cut the connection.

He returned to his room, getting some work done on his laptop as Tim slept. He hoped the exhaustion didn’t last, because it’d be damn hard to get revenge if Tim had to stop for a nap after every battle. 

Zane let Tim sleep for an hour and a half before going over and waking him up. Tim picked his head up groggily.

“Just a few more minutes, ma,” he mumbled.

Zane shook him again as he dropped his head back onto the pillow. “Timothy! Up and at ‘em. I’m not carrying you. Come on, get up.”

Tim rubbed his eyes. “Zane?”

“Your favorite,” Zane said, pulling Tim so he was sitting up. “I’ve got a meeting to get to in a bit. I’m taking you back to Tannis.”

He saw the fear strike Tim’s face, but he didn’t speak. Zane helped him up.

“I’ll come back right after,” Zane said. “I won’t be gone long.”

“You can be gone as long as you want,” Tim said, not meeting his eyes. “You can’t look after me forever. You’ve got a life to live.”

“I do,” Zane agreed, helping Tim along. It’d be good for him to walk back to medical and stretch his legs, rather than sitting in the wheelchair and having Zane do the work for him. “But I’m still coming back right after my meeting. I just want Tannis there in case you have another episode.” 

Tim grew tired about halfway to medical, but he pushed through. It took a bit to get him up the various stairs, but he swatted Zane away and did it himself.

“Shit, I sound like you after we raced to the vehicles in the Dust,” Tim said, trying to catch his breath at the top of the stairs.

“Hey,” Zane said, glaring at him. “We can’t all be young.”

Tim waved his hand dismissively. “I don’t even know how old I am. Definitely not in my 20s anymore. Am I going to be this winded for the rest of my life? Getting old sucks.”

“I think you running out breath has more to do with the Eridium than your mysterious age,” Zane said, pushing him along again. He was going to be late meeting with Rhys at this rate. “Move those legs, boyo. We’re almost there.” 

They reached medical and Tim practically collapsed on the bed in there. But he’d made it here without help, so that was a good sign.

“Tannis! I’ve got a meeting. Keep an eye on him until I get back. He’s already asleep,” Zane said, glancing down at Tim. “If he wakes up, just try to orient him, will you?”

“Fine, but this is not becoming a common thing. Also, I will be taking blood samples to study,” Tannis said.

“Only when he’s awake, and with his consent,” Zane said, because Tim had been through enough. “If he says no, don’t press him. He was kidnapped, tortured, and drugged.”

“Very well,” Tannis said, but didn’t look happy about it.

Zane left and retreated to the fast travel station. He took himself to Rhys’s office, startling Rhys as he appeared.

“You’re a little late,” Rhys said.

“Aye, and that’s part of what I’m here to talk about,” Zane said, sitting across from Rhys’s desk.

“About...promptness?” Rhys said.

“About Hyperion,” Zane said.

Rhys paled a little. “Oh.”

“Listen up, boyo. Seven years ago while working a job, I met one of Handsome Jack’s doubles. A surgically altered doppelganger by the name of Timothy,” Zane said.

“Timothy?” Rhys said, going wide-eyed. “As in Timothy Doppleman?” 

Zane frowned. “What now?”

“You know, the Handsome Jack Tames Pandora, uh, movie?”

“You’re not trying to tell me that Timothy was in a Handsome Jack porno. You’re really not telling me that right now.”

“I-”

“You watched it?”

“No! Well...No! Forget it. Forget I brought it up.”

Zane stared at Rhys. Rhys stared at Zane.

Zane held up a hand. “I will forget that Tim’s been in Handsome Jack porn, and I will also forget that you’ve watched it. Moving on. Timothy teamed up with me, helped me pull off a job, and I helped him escape Jack’s wrath over it. I brought him to Promethea to hide and work.”

“I’ve never seen a Jack double here,” Rhys said hastily.

“Not what I was going to ask. Timothy was kidnapped, tortured, drugged heavily with Eridium, and forced into a fight ring run by the COV. We recently rescued him and got him coherent again. Er, well, semicoherent. Anyways, they were after something and trying to use him to get it. If we press him too much on it, he spirals into a panic attack and thinks he’s being tortured again. I’m hoping you can help us get some answers,” Zane said.

Rhys shook his head. “I haven’t worked for Hyperion for a long time. And I was never high enough in the ranks to know the secrets.”

“Timothy mentioned a name. Nakayama ring any bells for you?” Zane said.

Rhys paled again, and dropped the pen he’d been holding. “Nakayama?”

Zane nodded. “Timothy mentioned something about this Nakayama and a lab.”

Rhys looked to the corner of the room. Zane followed his gaze and realized Zer0 was standing there. Zer0 gave Rhys a slight nod.

Rhys took a deep breath. “I know what they were after. And they won’t find it, because I destroyed it years ago.” 

“Oh?” Zane said, leaning forward a little. “And what was so important to them that they were willing to nearly kill Timothy over it?”

Rhys looked horribly nervous, and dropped his gaze. His voice was little more than a whisper when he spoke again. “Handsome Jack.”

“I...don’t think I heard that right?” Zane said, furrowing his brow.

“An AI Jack,” Rhys said, picking up his pen again so he could fidget with it, hands still trembling. “I found it on accident. Nakayama made it. I...downloaded it into my system. I didn’t know.” He swallowed hard. “That’s why Helios crashed. The AI Jack tried to- Well, he was a psycho asshole. In the end, I crushed the system he was trapped in to destroy the AI. It’s gone. Only a few people know about that, though.”

“What in the bloody hell would the COV want with an AI Jack?” Zane said.

Rhys shrugged helplessly. “It was practically Handsome Jack himself. He could’ve gotten them into Hyperion’s systems, I’m sure. Told them things they thought had died with the real Jack.” He gripped the pen tighter. “But he’s gone. He was far too dangerous.”

“Huh,” Zane said, mind whirling. What the hell would the COV want with something like that? And why use Timothy to get it? And how the hell had they even found Timothy?

He’d answered one question and dredged up a million more. But pressing Tim on it could be dangerous, especially given his precarious mental situation. 

“Thanks, Rhys,” Zane said, standing up. “I’d best get back to Timothy.”

“Zane, that AI was nasty business,” Rhys said, looking to Zer0 again. “Whatever they wanted it for, it can’t be good. And if that doppelganger knows anything about it, keep him the hell out of their hands.”

“That’s the plan, regardless of what he knows,” Zane said, heading for the fast travel station.

He took himself back to Sanctuary. He didn’t want to upset Tim again, but he needed to know what they were dealing with here.

So he headed back to medical, where Tim was awake again. He sat down next to him.

“She wants to take my blood,” Tim said.

“I told her that’s your choice. It could help,” Zane said. “If she studies the effect it’s having on your body, we could find a way to reverse it, or at least control it.”

Tim’s shoulders slumped a little. “Fine. Hey, weird lady. Go ahead and drain me.”

Tannis didn’t even seem to mind the insult, perking right up instead at the thought of studying Tim’s damaged body. She grabbed her things and came right over, Tim shrinking back instinctively at the sight of the needle in her hand.

Zane put a hand on his back to steady him a bit. “So, at my meeting, I learned a few things. Handsome Jack Tames Pandora?”

Tim shot him a dirty look. “I didn’t WANT to do it. I’m a trained actor, and I’m a surgically altered body double. Jack made me do it- Ow!”

“Don’t be a baby,” Tannis said.

Zane didn’t want Tim to look at the blood being pulled from his body. “Any other movies I should know about, lad?”

“No!” Tim said, glaring harder. “Just- Just forget about that. Really, forget about it. I’ll freaking beg if I have to.”

Tannis took the needle from his arm, cleaned the injection spot, and bandaged it. Zane let the teasing drop.

“We need to talk seriously, though. This might upset you,” Zane warned. “But it’s important.” 

Tim looked exhausted. “Yea, alright. Go for it.”

“I spoke to Rhys, who used to work for Hyperion. You mentioned the name Nakayama. Rhys said the fella built an AI of Jack.”

Tim was shaking again, but he nodded. “He’d started it when we were on Elpis. It was a piss-poor project at the time. But I guess he improved it. Jack never talked about it to me.” His voice climbed up into a slightly hysterical tone at the end there. “Aurelia was with us on Elpis, so she knew about it. She thought I’d know something about what happened to it. I didn’t. I swear I didn’t.” He was rocking himself back and forth now, arms wrapped protectively around his ribs as if expecting a blow there. “T-They wanted to find it and...and…”

Zane pulled him a little closer. Tim let out a soft sob.

“Put it in my head,” he whispered, pressing his arms harder against himself. “Jack’s knowledge, combined with his DNA and voice signature. It’d be like having Jack back, but under their control. They could get all of Hyperion’s secrets, and find out what Jack knew about the vaults and Eridium and the Eridians.” 

“The AI is gone. Rhys destroyed it years ago. They can’t do that to you, Timothy,” Zane said firmly. 

“But they can still use me to get into Hyperion facilities and steal their secrets. They can throw me into the fight ring to make them money,” he said, growing panicked again. 

“They’re not going to. We’re going to get you back up to health, and go take out Aurelia. We’re going to defeat the COV, and you’ll be safe again,” Zane promised him. “I’m not leaving you this time, Timothy. We’re doing this job together. Just like the old days, huh?”

Tim looked at Zane with wide, frightened eyes. “Together?”

Zane nodded. “That’s the word I used. So don’t dwell on any of that shite, okay? Focus on getting back up to fighting shape so we can do this thing. I’ll even let you put the bullet in Aurelia’s head. Deal?”

Tim swiped an arm across his eyes. He held his hand out to Zane. Zane grasped it and they shook on it.

“Deal,” Timothy said, and Zane was relieved to see determination overtake the fear. He just might make it after all.

Chapter Text

Tim spent the week working hard to get himself back up to shape. Zane helped him take laps around Sanctuary, and brought him down to the firing range daily for practice. When Tim was too tired to move around, he’d lift weights in bed, or do exercises with his legs.

Tannis continued running tests on him, and trying to find a level of Eridium that could sustain him without hurting him. The more she adjusted his dose, the less he had his violent episodes, and the less he slipped mentally.

Tannis warned that the convulsions he suffered would likely be permanent, though not necessarily common. Tim seemed alright with that, as long as his mind wasn’t permanently damaged. 

He slipped more and more back into himself, and Zane figured that was a result of a better dose of Eridium as well as growing confidence as his strength came back to him. 

He still slept a lot, but less than when he’d first started working on getting back up to shape. His appetite was still a mess, but he was able to eat solid food and keep it down. 

Now, they sat together in medical, Tim with a partially eaten meal pushed away from himself. He was resting after having exercised and eaten, looking much healthier than when they’d first brought him in.

“So you had a crush on her, eh?” Zane said, nudging Tim.

Tim blushed and shoved his arm away. “Shut up. She tried to kill me.”

“Oh I saw you drooling when we walked by the bar earlier! Don’t give me that!” Zane said, grinning.

Finding out Moxxi was on the ship had been a shock to Tim, and he’d begged Zane not to tell her he was here. Still, he saw the way Tim peeked into her bar whenever they walked by it.

“Shut up, you freaking a-hole!” Tim groaned. “I don’t want her to see me like this. Bad enough I look like her prick of an ex, but also the malnourished, traumatized version of her prick of an ex.”

“You wouldn’t be malnourished if you’d eat,” Zane said, nudging Tim’s plate closer.

“I’m not hungry,” Tim said, pushing it away. “Stop trying to make me eat all of that. I swear, you’re worse than my mom sometimes.” 

The doors to medical slid open and Zane looked over. “Amara! Moze!”

“Zane,” they greeted. They both looked to Timothy, who eyed them back warily.

“He looks a lot better than when we found him,” Amara said at last.

“Yea, his ears really recovered and work just fine, kiddo,” Tim said. Zane elbowed him roughly. “Ow! I- Oh, sorry, I did it again. Shit. My bad.” 

“Timothy, that’s Amara, she helped me get you out of that fight ring,” Zane said.

“You tried to kill me,” Amara informed him.

“But I didn’t succeed, and that’s what counts,” Tim said.

“That’s Moze. She wasn’t there,” Zane said. “And...where’s Fl4k?”

“They took their pets down to Ellie’s to run around,” Moze said, seating herself on the end of Tim’s bed. 

“Gotcha. Well, this is Timothy,” Zane said. They’d been so busy chasing down the COV, they hadn’t been back to Sanctuary much. When they had, they hadn’t come to see Timothy, giving him his privacy since his mental condition had been so precarious. Zane had told them Tim was doing better, both physically and mentally.

“We think we’ve tracked down Aurelia,” Amara said. 

Tim sat up a little straighter. “Where?”

“Eden-6. She’s occupying the Jakobs manor, from what we can tell,” Moze said. “Offered to pay us to go the hell away. Said a vault hunter’s loyalty is always for sale.”

“That freaking bitch has to diss me when I’m not even there,” Tim hissed. Zane shot him a curious look, and Tim blushed and looked away. “I, uh, might’ve almost betrayed Jack for money back in the day. Tassiter hired us out to get rid of Jack. I had student loans to pay, okay?” 

“Getting back to the point,” Zane said. “I don’t know if you’re up to this just yet.”

“I am,” Tim pressed. “I can prove it. Let me help you clear out a COV camp. I’ll prove I can do this.”

“Timothy-” Zane started.

“She was going to put that damn AI in my head!” Tim said, clenching his fists. “She kidnapped me, murdered my cats, tortured me, and then drugged me with so much Eridium I’ll have convulsions for the rest of my life. All so she could put an AI in my head and let Jack walk around in my body to do her will.” 

“Can’t hurt to let him try,” Amara said. “He was fighting just fine when we found him.”

“Well, when we found him, he wasn’t trying to recover from dangerous Eridium injections,” Zane pointed out. “But it’s not my place to stop you. Alright, we’ll take you to a COV camp, and if you can hold your own, we’ll let you help us hunt down Aurelia. I promised you that you’d be the one to put a bullet in her head, and I meant it.”

“Right back to killing people,” Tim said with a sigh. “Guess this is just the life I’ll live. Thanks Jack.”

“I’ll go get Fl4k,” Amara said, leaving the room.

Moze was eyeing Tim’s scar curiously. “Did Jack brand you? That sucks.”

“That’s one way of putting it,” Tim said. 

“Timothy, what do you plan to do after taking your revenge on Aurelia?” Zane asked.

Tim paused, then shrugged uncomfortably. “I hadn’t really thought about that.”

“Well, I wouldn’t think on it too hard. The way the Eridium damaged your body, I doubt you’ll live a very long life,” Tannis said.

“Tannis, maybe don’t say everything that comes to mind?” Zane offered.

“No, she’s right,” Tim said, running a hand through his hair. “Zane, what they did to me permanently damaged me in a lot of ways. We both know it.”

“Quit it. You’ll live to be old and grumpy,” Zane said.

“I’m not saying he’ll die tomorrow. But don’t expect to see yourself dying peacefully of old age,” Tannis said. 

“Alright, alright,” Tim said, shooting her an irritated look. “I’m not dead yet. It’s a miracle I survived my 20s considering Elpis, Jack, and the initial Eridium overdose. For now, I’m...not good, actually. But I’m still breathing.” 

Zane desperately wanted to get Tim’s mind off dying young. The kid probably wasn’t even in his mid-30s yet, and he was already accepting an early death. 

“Oi, Timothy. Been meaning to ask you. Did they make you look like Jack, or did you never change your appearance?” Zane asked. It wasn’t a much better topic, but he was curious. 

Tim shrugged again, dropping his gaze. “I cut my hair, about two years ago. I thought about dying it to my natural color, but I didn’t want to...You know, it’s not really my face anymore. I got lazy about shaving, too. But when they put me in the fight ring, they made me wear a wig until my hair grew back out, and made me shave. I had to be the perfect Jack to draw in crowds to try and kill me. With my digi-Jacks, and the Eridium healing me, I was practically unbeatable. They made a lot of money off me.” 

“That’s rough,” Moze said. “Amara said you didn’t recognize Zane.”

Tim shook his head. “No. I don’t really remember much of what happened in the fight ring. I just knew I had to win. I don’t even know when I realized Zane was with me. This whole thing has been jumbled in my head.” 

“How’d you recognize him, Zane?” Moze said. “He could’ve been any double.”

“Honestly? The biggest give away was him chewing his lip to pieces,” Zane said, cracking a grin at Tim’s glare. “It’s some bad habit you’ve got there.” 

“I don’t even realize I’m doing it,” Tim admitted. 

“Well, regardless. I just knew it was him,” Zane said. “Lucky thing, too. Amara was about to splatter his brains all over the place when I figured it out.”

Whoops, he cycled back around to Tim dying. 

“But we got him out,” Zane added hastily. “Your digi-Jacks helped.”

“I altered their code,” Tim said, looking down at his watch. “Before I got my cats I was, uh, lonely. Which didn’t help with the whole addiction thing. So I altered their code so I could at least have someone to talk to. And I might’ve added some extra protection in once Maliwan and the COV showed up. I didn’t know if any of them would try to gun me down for looking like Jack.”

“Cat lady,” Zane teased.

Rather than laugh, Tim looked genuinely sad. “They used to follow me all around. One got out when I left the door open to check something outside, and I thought she’d never come back. But she came back within the hour and had brought a dead mouse as a gift to me. She looked so proud of herself. It was nasty as hell, but it was still touching.”

“Ah, hell, I’m sorry for bringing it up,” Zane said.

“That’s alright. When this is all over, I want to rescue one,” he said, the slightest twitch of his lips hinting at a private smile. 

Amara and Fl4k came into the room, and the hint of a smile dropped off Tim’s face. He sat up, swinging his legs over the side of the bed to get up.

“You lot go on to the fast travel station. We’ve just got to get Timothy here set up with his weapons,” Zane said.

“And, uh, clothes,” Tim said. He’d been borrowing a pair of shorts and a T-shirt they’d found that were just a little too big on him. “Clothes would be nice.”

“Yep, don’t want to watch Handsome Jack get dressed,” Moze said, hopping off the bed. “Catch you guys in a few.”

They all left medical, and Zane gathered Tim’s weapons and clothes from the locker they’d stored them in. Tim looked at the clothes warily. They were Handsome Jack’s usual outfit.

Tim opted to just put his jeans and the yellow Hyperion shirt on, ditching the extra layers. He checked his weapons, looking satisfied.

“Here,” Tannis said, coming over and handing Zane a water bottle. “Liquid Eridium. I will leave you in charge of this, because I absolutely do not trust him with it. You know when he needs it.”

Zane tucked it in his bag with a nod. Tim scowled a little, but didn’t argue. 

They left medical, and Tim ducked his head as they moved along. They reached Zane’s room, where he gathered his things and tossed a jacket to Tim.

“There, so you can hide your face if you want. Or that gaudy logo,” Zane said.

Tim shrugged it on and rolled the sleeves up, pulling the hood over his head. “Thanks.” 

The two left and met the others at the fast travel station. Zane put his hands on his hips.

“This is mostly to see how Timothy does in a fight,” Zane reminded them. “We’re more backup than anything.”

“They better watch out for his sniper rifle,” Amara grumbled.

“Did I try to headshot you? My bad. Eridium and all,” Tim said, rubbing the back of his neck. “Please don’t, ah, hit me? You look like it’d really hurt if you hit me.”

“It would,” Amara assured him. “But you didn’t know what you were doing, so I’ll let it slide.”

“Let’s get going!” Zane said, activating the fast travel station.

Tim heaved a deep sigh as they appeared on Pandora. He looked around, shoving his hands in his pockets.

“This shithole,” he said miserably. “The nice part about being heavily drugged with an alien substance is that I didn’t know I was even on Pandora most of the time.”

“Bet you’re glad to be back,” Zane said, grinning widely and nudging him.

“Oh yea, love being back on Pandora where Wilhelm, Nisha, and Angel were all killed and I was held captive and forced to be the final boss in a fight ring,” Tim said dryly. “So glad to be back here.” 

“I meant to ask. How’d they get away with drugging you with the digi-Jacks?” Zane asked as they walked towards the nearest Catch-A-Ride.

“The first time they drugged me too much, the digi-Jacks came to stop them,” Tim said. “Killed three of them. But Aurelia used an EMP to stop the watch. She remembered I had it. After that, they took it off and locked it up except when I was being sent in to fight.”

Zane digistructed them a vehicle and hopped in the driver’s seat. The others groaned loudly.

“What?” Tim said, frowning at them. 

“Just...You’re going to wish you had died,” Moze said, clapping him on the shoulder before reluctantly climbing in.

The others copied her, allowing Tim to claim the front seat. Zane gunned the vehicle into motion, and Tim hastily gripped at the door for balance.

“What the actual hell, Zane?” Tim said, glaring at him. 

Zane laughed heartily. “Livening the trip up!”

“You’re a nightmare,” Tim snapped as Zane took a sharp turn that flung him into the door. 

“And just for the good old days…” Zane reached out and turned the radio up loudly, laughing louder at Tim’s dirty look. 

“Did you keep this man alive just so you could kill him yourself?” Fl4k asked.

“That’s the vibe I’m getting right now, kiddo,” Tim said, wincing as he shoulder slammed into the door with another sharp turn. “Son of a taint, Zane, I barely survived the last time I was tortured. Stop putting me through it again. You’re adding to that trauma thing.”

“You’re such a drama queen,” Zane said, but slowed the slightest.

“Did he just slow down? He did! He never slows down for us!” Moze said, glaring at Zane.

“You weren’t all knockin’ on death’s door recently,” Zane pointed out. 

“We are every time we enter a vehicle that you are driving,” Fl4k said.

“Drama queens, the lot of you,” Zane said. 

He drove until they reached one of the smaller COV camps that frequented Pandora. He stopped the vehicle, and they all got out, Tim already grabbing his sniper rifle and looking around for a perch.

“Here,” Zane said, nodding towards a high-up cluster of rocks. “I’ll boost you.”

Tim eyed it a bit nervously. Zane rolled his eyes.

“It’s not even that high!” he said.

“Shut up. Fine,” Tim grumbled.

Zane held his hands together and Tim stepped onto them. Zane lifted him up, a little relieved at the weight Tim had gained back under their care. 

Tim pulled himself the rest of the way up and laid himself flat against the rocks to make himself a smaller target. He looked down the scope, eyeing the camp. Zane drifted so that he was on Tim’s left side, just in case. 

“There aren’t too many of them, but there is a Badass,” Tim said. “And...I don’t know what that thing is. Another Badass, maybe? I’ve never seen anything like him.”

“Two Badasses? We’ve got this,” Amara said.

“Fire away, Timothy,” Zane said. “We’ve got your back.” 

Tim aimed and fired off a shot. Zane heard startled commotion from the camp, but Tim didn’t give them much time to find cover before he fired again. He fired once more before switching out his sniper rifle for a pistol.

“They’re taking cover and readying for an attack,” he said, hopping down and trying to catch his balance as he landed. He managed not to fall, and strode for the camp with a determination that had Zane wanting to cheer in pride. And to think the kid had been dying not that long ago.

Their little group stormed into the camp, Zane and the others firing to keep the COV from converging on Tim. Tim didn’t move quite as fast as he used to, but he was able to move fast enough to dodge most melee attacks. His shots struck their targets for the most part, and the more success he had, the more confidence he seemed to gain back. 

Until the Anointed appeared behind him.

“Timothy!” Zane cried in alarm.

Tim had barely turned before the Anointed struck him with incredible force, sending him flying back. He hit the ground hard, rolling a little but managing to keep a hold on his gun.

“Oh, hell, of course he wouldn’t recognize the Anointed,” Zane said, mad with himself for not checking when Tim wasn’t sure what he was seeing. “He’s been drugged and locked in that fight ring since Troy started making the bastards.” 

Tim shakily got to his feet, but the Anointed had teleported in front of him, grabbing him with one hand and pulling the other back into a fist. Zane ran towards them.

He didn’t manage to reach them before the Anointed punched Tim again, this time knocking him back against the side of a building. Zane sent out his SNTNL, having it target the Anointed so he could buy Tim some time.

He reached Tim’s side and helped him up. Tim winced, and Zane had no doubt he was badly bruised from the assault. But nothing appeared to be broken, which was a plus.

“They’re called Anointed, they can teleport around, and as you’ve learned, they hit very hard,” Zane said.

Tim pushed his hood back and winced at the movement. “The hell? I’ve never seen anything like that.”

“I’ll explain later,” Zane said. “You alright?”

“My internal organs might be ruptured from that hit, but I’ll live. Probably,” Tim said, aiming his gun. “How do we kill it?”

“Stay away from it. Keep moving and shooting. They’re slow when they’re not teleporting,” Zane said. “I can distract it with my digi-clone, but it’ll go after you again if you start shooting.”

“Good thing I’ve got my own digi-clones,” Tim said, swiping his watch. “It can’t target all of us at once.”

“Fair enough. Let’s get the sucker. The others are keeping the cannon fodder off our backs,” Zane said. 

They took off, and the Anointed looked around. With one target suddenly turning into five, it focused back on Tim, probably because he’d been the original target.

Tim kept on the move, though. His red digi-Jack moved closer to him just in case, and they all fired on the Anointed.

It only managed to get one more hit in on Tim before their combined firepower had it thrashing and turning into an Eridium statue. Tim stared at it in disbelief.

“The hell?” he said at last.

Zane struck it, shattering it. “Like I said, I’ll explain later.”

“I...Don’t think I want to know anymore,” Tim said, shaking his head. “I’m just going to go kill some COV bastards and hope this never happens to me again.”

He was moving a lot slower, though Zane attributed that to his new injuries. Still, Tim joined the others to take out the COV. Zane took pity on him and killed off the Badass before it got a chance to knock the battered double around.

When the camp was cleared, Tim sat down heavily, holding himself awkwardly to relieve the pain of his injuries. Zane dropped next to him and gripped his shirt.

“What?” Tim said, looking over his shoulder. “Want to get a look at this fine body?”

“Doing it again,” Zane said.

“Ugh. I disgust myself.”

“Not just yourself, boyo.” Zane tugged Tim’s shirt back so he could see Tim’s back. Sure enough, a sickly pattern of bruises decorated his back from when he’d struck the building. “Bad news is that you look like you got beat to shite by an Anointed. Good news is, there’s not enough Eridium in your system to heal it.”

Tim raised the front of his shirt to show off the bruises growing on his chest and stomach from the initial punches. “Good news is this somehow didn’t rupture anything or break my ribs. Bad news is, it freaking hurts.”

Zane released his shirt and pat his shoulder. “Still, you held your own just fine.”

“I told you I could,” Tim said, looking pleased with himself.

“Not-Jack.”

Tim flinched so hard that Zane had to catch him before he fell over. The others looked around, and Amara picked up an ECHO that must’ve belonged to the Anointed.

“I see we’ve finally located you,” Aurelia’s voice said through it. “Now, you’ll return yourself to us.”

“And what would he do that for?” Zane said, hating the way Tim’s face had paled horribly. 

“He is property of the Children of the Vault,” Aurelia said, as if it was obvious. “I was informed it was you filth who stole him. When we couldn’t locate him, we assumed he’d died in your inadequate care. So when one of the Children of the Vault from this camp reported that he was attacking them with you, well, I was surprised, to say the least.”

“No,” Tim whispered, gripping at his hair in despair. He’d taken his hood off, thinking he was safe down here. Jack had been dead for seven years, after all. He’d never even considered that Aurelia would have the COV keeping an eye out for him.

Zane put a hand on his back, careful of the bruises there. “He would’ve died if you kept him. We’ve got him recovered, and he’ll be stayin’ with us.”

“It’s gone, Aurelia, it’s gone,” Tim said, panic gripping his chest tightly. “It’s been destroyed. You can’t- Just leave me alone!” 

“Jack was an egomaniac, and I highly doubt he only had the one. You will return to us, we will continue the search, and if you refuse, you will be hunted down and forcibly returned. If you do not wish to cooperate, I’ll have to make you cooperate again,” she said curtly.

“If there’s one thing I’ve learned about Timothy, it’s that he’s stubborn as hell,” Zane said, pulling Tim a little closer. “Good luck trying to get this overdramatic, rebellious little bastard to cooperate with you.”

Tim looked to Zane with terror in his eye. Zane gave him a reassuring grin, and Tim leaned into his touch.

“No. No way. I put up with you enough on Elpis. Screw you. You’re not getting me back so you can stick some AI in my head and boss it around!” Tim said. “I’m coming to do what I’ve wanted to do since the moment I met you: Put a bullet in your goddamn head.”

“That’s my boy!” Zane whooped, shaking Tim a little. “Put a bullet in her head, rob her corpse, and use the money to pay for your celebratory drink!”

“I see you refuse to cooperate,” Aurelia said in disgust. “Very well. Enjoy your freedom while you have it, because when I get you back, I will make you beg for Jack’s brand of torture.”

The ECHO feed cut. Tim slumped back against Zane, his hands trembling.

“Oh, hell,” he choked out. “I am so screwed. Why do I always piss off rich people who want to torture me?”

“That was pretty badass,” Moze said, nudging him with her foot. “You going to be okay?”

“No,” Tim said.

“Drama queen,” Zane said fondly.

“Why does she want you back so badly?” Amara said.

“If she finds a copy of the AI Jack and puts it in my body, it gives her unbelievable control. She’d be able to take over Hyperion, and have armies at her command. I bet she’s working with the COV for the sake of their resources, and plans to take me- the AI- whatever, whoever- for herself once she has it,” Tim said. “Trust me, you don’t want that. They took my mask and my Winning Hand when they kidnapped me so that the AI Jack could fully use my body to take over the attack system in the casino.”

“Attack system?” Fl4k said, sounding far too interested.

“Er- long story. Don’t worry about it unless they get me back,” Tim said. “Um, it would be very bad for you guys if they got me back. So maybe don’t let them do that?”

“We put a lot of work into getting you out of the fight ring and keeping you alive. I feel obligated to keep you alive now,” Amara said.

“A ringing endorsement of my safety,” Tim said.

“So you’re not sure what Aurelia is after?” Moze asked.

Tim shook his head. “No. But I can promise she’s just using the COV until she gets it. She has her own agenda. Like I said, there’s a lot she can do if she gets that AI in my head. Even without the AI, she can still use my DNA, voice signature, appearance, and knowledge to get into secure Hyperion facilities that went into lockdown when Jack died.”

“Well, you’re clearly up for a fight,” Zane said. “I say we let these three do some digging to see if they can find what Aurelia is after, and you and I go talk to Rhys.”

“Who?” Tim said.

“Rhys. CEO of Atlas. He’s ex-Hyperion, and is the one who told me the AI Jack was destroyed,” Zane explained. “We’ll see if he knows anything about copies of the AI, or if the AI mentioned anything to him that Aurelia could’ve been after. Then we’ll regroup and see if we can’t pin the lass down to give her that overdue bullet.” 

Zane stood up and held a hand out to Tim. Tim took it, allowing Zane to haul him to his feet and desperately trying to ignore the throbbing pain in his back from the attack. It had sent his veins aflame with the desire for Eridium, and he couldn’t quite hide the tremble of his hands, or the overwhelming rage clawing its way through him.

“Here,” Zane said, taking out a health kit and handing it to Tim.

That eased his rage. Zane didn’t just pull out a health kit and jab it into him roughly like Jack, Wilhelm, or Nisha did. He handed it to Tim and let him do it himself.

Tim gently injected the health kit into himself, the pain easing considerably. His veins still burned with need, but it wasn’t as bad as before. 

“I-” Tim started, and Zane reached out and caught him as the convulsions started up.

He lowered Tim to the ground, holding him so he wouldn’t thrash about and hurt himself. The others watched silently.

Tim grit his teeth against the cry rising in his throat. Everything hurt, it hurt so damn bad, and he wanted something to make it stop. His body was rejecting him, threatening to tear itself apart.

It was a few minutes before it finally eased, from spasms to twitches to stillness. Zane held onto him a few beats longer before slowly releasing him.

“Good?” he said.

“Something like that,” Tim said, struggling to get up. Zane caught his elbow and helped him to his feet. “Sorry. Guess that’s something I’ll have to get used to.”

“That’s permanent?” Amara said.

“According to Tannis,” Zane said grimly. “But it’s not the worst thing he could suffer permanently, given how much Eridium they pumped into his body.”

“Enough about it. My body was fucked up before the Eridium,” Tim said, gesturing to his scarred face. “I lost my left eye because Jack was mad I still had his face and he didn’t. The convulsions are just one more thing to make my life shit.” 

“Overdramatic,” Zane said, and lightly smacked Tim’s shoulder. “Your lip. Cut it out.”

“Okay, mom,” Tim said, but stopped chewing on his lip. “Let’s go already. Before that happens again.”

“We’ll contact you three later,” Zane said.

“If that one lives,” Fl4k said.

“You know, your new friends are really charming,” Tim said. 

“I did help save you, even though you tried to kill me,” Amara pointed out.

Tim threw his hands up in defeat. “I was drugged. To hell with it. Let’s go, Zane.”

Zane slung an arm around Tim’s shoulders. “Trust me, you’ll never live it down. Did I mention you shot at me with your sniper rifle?”

“Drugged,” Tim hissed. “I would’ve shot at my own mother if they’d tossed her in there.”

Zane dragged him towards the exit of the camp. “You guys take the vehicle. I’ll give Timothy a chance to stretch his legs.”

They left, bickering as they went. But for as hard as it was to see Tim suffer those convulsions, knowing they were likely permanent, it made Zane thrilled to see Tim back up to fighting and standing up for himself against Aurelia. They were going to kill her and set him free. Zane would not fail Timothy again.

Chapter Text

They fast traveled to Atlas HQ, but Zane was polite enough not to fast travel into Rhys’s office without a warning. Although that politeness might’ve had to do with the sword-wielding assassin that tended to linger in said office.

Zane made Tim pull his hood up as they made their way along towards Rhys’s office. The last thing they needed was for trigger-happy Atlas soldiers to see Handsome Jack wandering around.

They reached Rhys’s office and Zane knocked on the door. “Oi, Rhys! It’s me again! Got some questions for you.”

The door opened, Zer0 standing there. He eyed Tim, and Tim shifted uncomfortably, trying to duck his head.

“No need for that,” Zane said, tugging the hood back. “This is the double I mentioned when I was here before. Timothy.” 

Zer0 led them inside and over to Rhys’s desk. Rhys was furiously signing paperwork, gesturing at them to sit. They did, and waited.

Rhys finally looked up, and nearly knocked himself back out of his chair. Zer0 caught him easily, pushing the chair forward before it could tip back too far.

“That was a heart attack,” Rhys said, slapping a hand over his chest as he stared at Timothy.

“This is Timothy,” Zane said. “The lad I told you about before. We...didn’t exactly cure him, but we got him up and going again. We had some questions for you about the AI Jack.”

“Timothy. Right. The one we...talked about,” Rhys said, color coming to his cheeks. 

“Jack made me do those stupid freaking movies!” Tim said miserably. “You know what? Let’s not mention it. Evil AI? Yes? That actually sounds like a more pleasant conversation than the, um, movies.” 

“Was there just the one AI Jack, boyo?” Zane asked.

“That I knew of,” Rhys said, dropping his gaze. “Like I said, I accidentally downloaded it into my cybernetics.”

“How much of a freaking idiot do you have to be to do that?” Tim said, his voice rough and mocking. “A+, kiddo. I can see why they made you CEO.”

“Timothy, you’re doing it again,” Zane said patiently.

“What? Oh, sorry,” Tim said, shaking his head. “But it was a really dumb thing to do.” 

“I didn’t do it on purpose!” Rhys said.

“Why don’t you tell us what happened,” Zane said.

Rhys sighed and launched into his tale of the vault key, the AI Jack, and Helios crashing. Zane glanced at Tim throughout, seeing the way his face had paled as Rhys went on. But Tim didn’t slip into a mental lapse, so that was good, at least.

Until Rhys mentioned Jack wanting to put the exoskeleton in him.

Zane saw the moment Tim cringed, his nails digging into his palms. His lip was bleeding from how hard he was biting it.

“Timothy,” Zane said, holding up a hand to Rhys to stop him. He pressed his other hand against Tim’s back. “Look at me, lad.”

“They were going to do that to me, Zane,” Tim choked out. “If that thing hadn’t been destroyed, Aurelia would’ve- she would’ve-”

“But she didn’t, and she can’t,” Zane said firmly. 

Tim touched his face, wincing as his fingers brushed the scar. “He would’ve been in my head. My body. It’ll never really be mine again, but I would’ve just been a damaged mind trapped in Jack’s body. And…”

“Stop.” Zane pulled Tim’s hands away from his face. “It didn’t happen. It won’t ever happen. You are fine, Timothy. You’re fine. I’m with you til the end on this one. Promise.” 

“Zane?” Tim said quietly.

“Right here. Stay with me, lad,” Zane said, pulling him a little closer. He was slipping into a mental lapse, Zane could see it. That disoriented look was slowly claiming his face. “Oi! Timothy. Do you want me to drive us back to the fast travel station when this is over?”

That seemed to bring him back, at least a little. Tim blinked a few times before looking up at Zane with Jack’s sneer fixed in place.

“What, so you can blast the radio and drive like a freaking brain-damaged bandit? Not a chance, kiddo,” he said.

“Doing it again,” Zane said, slowly pulling his hand away. “Go on, Rhys.”

Rhys was staring at Tim. Zane snapped his fingers in Rhys’s face.

“Finish up the tale,” Zane said.

“Oh, right,” Rhys said, shaking himself. He carried on, finishing up to the moment he crushed the eye and destroyed the AI.

“You said he sounded...scared?” Tim said quietly.

“Yea.” Rhys stared down at his desk. “But he was too dangerous.”

“No, I know. I know. It was...for the best,” Tim said. He let out a bitter laugh. “First Claptrap, then Wilhelm, then Nisha, then Jack, and now Aurelia. The whole damn Elpis team will be dead before I know it. I’m after Aurelia, with the damage to my body. Guess Athena gets the honor of sole survivor.”

“Quit being overdramatic. You’re not dead yet,” Zane said. “And quit biting your lip.”

“You don’t really think there’s another AI Jack out there, do you?” Rhys said, looking panicked.

Zane pointed a finger at him. “Oh don’t you go starting too! I can’t keep you and Timothy calm at the same time.”

“There could be,” Tim said. “Nakayama was obsessed with Jack. But likely, that obsession had him focus on the one to get it perfect. If there are others, they won’t be that advanced. Failed projects, if anything. Useless to Aurelia.” 

“So...you’re safe?” Rhys said hesitantly. “Am I safe? Please tell me I’m safe. I don’t think I can handle Jack screwing me over anymore.”

“Join the club, kiddo. Seven freaking years and he’s still getting me beaten and drugged,” Tim said, crossing his arms. “But if Aurelia doesn’t know about your involvement, you’ll be fine. This fine ass, however, will not be.” He ducked away from Zane. “I know, I know! I said it again. I’m horrified at myself and I’m moving on from it.”

“They want him because he can pass fully as Jack,” Zane explained to Rhys.

“Almost fully,” Tim corrected. “But enough for what Aurelia is after, most likely. The real Jack would just have knowledge I don’t have, which is why she’d want him in my head.”

“He’s got Jack’s DNA,” Zane said when Rhys just stared. “That’s why he’s a huge arsehole sometimes. Sometimes it’s got nothing to do with the DNA, but try to give him the benefit of the doubt.” 

“But I’m safe?” Rhys said again. “I’ve had my share of fighting crazy CEOs and vault monsters.”

“Must be nice to bow out of that life,” Tim grumbled. “I’m still living it.”

“You’re so moody! Nothing wrong with a good vault monster fight,” Zane said.

“Yes, you’re safe,” Tim said as Rhys opened his mouth to speak again. “Even if they somehow found out and came after you, I think the assassin acting as your shadow would make them think twice. It’s making me think twice, and I’m not even your enemy.” 

“Ah, Zer0 wouldn’t hurt ya,” Zane said. “He’s a good man...robot...assassin...thing. Good guy, is what I mean. A little short on fingers, but not on humor, and that’s what counts.”

Zer0 flashed “:D” on his helmet. Tim gave an unsure nod.

“Riiight,” Tim said. “Well, at least we know what the AI Jack got up to when some idiot freed him. Oh, shit, sorry, that was only partially me, I swear. Anyway, that’s one less threat to us now, and thank god for it.”

“Let us know if they come snooping around here for you,” Zane said, standing up. “For now, I think we’ve learned what we can, and we best head out to find the others. Aurelia isn’t going to kill herself, unfortunately!”

“She better not kill herself. That’s my only goal in life right now,” Tim said, also moving to get up. 

“Oh, no,” Zane said, seeing the way Tim’s body gave a jerk.

He reached out and caught Tim before he could fall, a convulsion rocking through him. Zane sat him back down, holding him there as the convulsion worked its way through him.

“Is he okay?” Rhys asked, eyes wide. 

“Result of them drugging him with Eridium,” Zane said grimly. “He’ll be alright. Won’t ya, Timothy?” 

Tim had closed his eyes, his teeth grinding together as he fought back a cry of pain. Zane squeezed his shoulders lightly, unsure how else to offer him any comfort.

This convulsion passed a lot quicker than the other one. Tim slowly uncurled, blood trickling from his lip to his chin, having bitten through it. Rhys awkwardly held out a tissue to him.

Tim took it and wiped the blood away, the lightest tremble to his fingers. He fumbled the tissue a little, and glared at his own hand. He flexed his fingers a few times before managing to throw the tissue away.

“Better?” Zane asked.

“Just went a little numb in my fingers,” he said, shaking out his hands. “I’m fine. As fine as I’ll ever be, at least.”

Zane helped him up. Rhys stood and walked with them to the fast travel station.

“Good luck,” he said to Timothy. “I know what Jack does to a person, and I was only with him briefly. I can’t imagine what you endured.”

“If anything good has come of today, it’s that my stupid little chin fuzz on Elpis actually wasn’t the worst facial hair to ever exist,” Tim said. He groaned. “Sorry, sorry. Dammit. I did it again.”

Rhys looked horrified. “You don’t like my mustache?”

“It’s, uh...No, no I don’t,” Tim said, shrugging his shoulders. “But to each his own, I guess?”

“It’s a fine mustache, boyo,” Zane assured, clapping Rhys on the shoulder. “It’ll win you wars.”

“Or scare off your enemies so wars never start in the first place. That’s a damn bad mustache,” Tim said. Zane grabbed Tim’s hand and pulled it up so that it covered Tim’s mouth.

“Leave that there, will ya?” Zane said. Tim nodded miserably. 

But then Tim pulled his hand away. “Actually, Zane, can we…”

He trailed off, but Zane knew. He nodded and guided Tim towards the door instead.

“Thanks, Rhys,” he said. “You and your fine mustache have a good one, and let us know if there’s any trouble.”

They left the HQ, Tim going silent as they walked. Even lost in his own head, he knew the exact route he was taking.

They stood outside the house a bit later. Tim stared at it, sorrow and anger and fear warring for dominance on his face.

Zane wanted to pick the kid up and carry him far away from this place. This place where he should’ve been safe, but instead had his freedom torn from him once again. This place where he’d cried out for help that never came.

But this was Tim’s demon to face. Zane wouldn’t stop him. He’d just stay with him.

Tim took a deep, shaky breath and walked forward.

It was easier with Zane at his side. He could still remember the day they came for him.

He stopped at the door. Aurelia had knocked on it, and told Tim that Athena was looking for him. Said she’d contacted Aurelia and offered to pay her with information if Aurelia sent Tim to her. And like a fool, Tim had let her in. Because he trusted Athena, and he’d been lonely.

He put in the code and opened the door. The smell hit him, making him gag a little. Zane moved past him to disarm the second alarm. 

Tim stood outside, breathing in the horrible mix of fresh air and decay until his nose had adjusted somewhat. He pulled his shirt up over his face, Zane copying him.

He forced himself to step into the house. They’d attacked him in the little living room.

The rug was still messed up. One of the COV had knocked him down, his gun falling from his hands. He’d scrambled for it, and they’d dragged him back towards them.

His gun was still there, blood on it. He hadn’t been wearing his shield when they came for him, and a shot to the arm had left blood running down to his hand. 

And suddenly, he was back there.

His heart raced. They surrounded him in the living room, guns aimed at him.

He tried to calm himself, to remind himself that they wanted him alive. That gave him an advantage. His shield was nearby, if he could just reach it. His arm was bleeding from that first shot, but he’d live.

“Drop the gun, and make this easy on yourself,” Aurelia commanded him.

Tim slowly lifted the gun. Then he shot the closest COV, and darted through the gap for his shield.

His fingers closed over it just as they caught his shirt. He strapped it to himself, relieved when it briefly flared up around him, absorbing their gunshots. 

Zane. He could call Zane for help. He had the emergency contact.

But he’d put it next to his bed. He was the most vulnerable when he slept. 

Tim ran for the stairs, but they yanked him back by his shirt. Tim ducked away from a fist, and came up with a hard punch of his own, feeling a nose break under the force of his fist. He drove his knee into the attacker’s gut, and followed up with three shots, until the attacker was a bleeding mess on the floor. 

Someone tackled him to the floor. Tim kept his grip on his gun, swinging it around to crack them in the temple with it.

He hadn’t fought people in a while, but damned if he’d let them take him now. He’d gotten free, and gotten clean, and he wasn’t letting himself become a victim again. He’d fight to the death to keep his freedom. 

And fight he did.

He shot and punched and kicked and even bit them twice. He smashed a lamp over the head of one of them, and followed it up with a shot to their throat. He became a whirlwind of desperate anger, killing anything that dared to threaten him, that hollowness expanding to consume his fear. If he could just take out enough, he could call Zane for help and escape.

That was when the ice caught his feet.

Tim cried out, unable to move. Aurelia was watching calmly.

“My, my. You have grown into a wild thing without your master to call you to heel,” she said in disgust. “Best to leash you again. You were never meant to be anything but a pet, after all.”

“Fuck you,” Tim said, and shot at her.

“None of that,” Aurelia said, and gestured.

One of the COV threw himself at Tim with enough force to send him flying into the wall. He felt it dent beneath the force his body struck it with, and before he could gather his senses, something sharp pierced through his shoulder, pinning him to the wall.

Tim cried out in agony, and something pierced his other shoulder. He dropped his gun as his fingers fell numb.

Aurelia moved towards him. He grit his teeth as his vision wavered. He couldn’t give up now, even if that meant tearing his arms from his body.

There was a vicious hissing, and then Aurelia cried out in surprise. Tim struggled against the ice as his cats bit and clawed at Aurelia.

She kicked them away from herself hard enough that they struggled to get back up. Tim fought harder.

“No!” he cried as Aurelia strode towards them. “No, stop! Stop! Leave them alone!”

“Timothy.” 

It was a word, far off in the distance. He didn’t recognize it. His ears were ringing.

Aurelia was at his cats now.

“Stop it!” Tim cried, because he’d had no one else for years. Just him and his cats, the strays he’d picked up, nursed back to health, and loved. “You bitch!” She lifted a knife and grabbed the gray cat by his scruff. Tim struggled so hard that blood poured down his shirt. “No! Zane, help!”

It left him involuntarily. Zane had come for him last time. Maybe he’d come again. The emergency contact was just upstairs, tucked away in his dresser, disguised to look like the address to a local pizza place in case anyone broke in and found it. If he could just...just reach it…

His vision wavered again. “Zane!”

Aurelia began to slice into the cat. Tim howled in rage.

She was speaking, but he couldn’t register the words over the cat’s cries of pain. It’s eyes fell to Tim, begging for help, trusting Tim to keep him safe.

And Tim couldn’t. 

“Stop,” Tim begged, horror twisting his stomach. “Stop, please, I’ll do anything, just stop! I’ll go with you! Please!” 

Aurelia did not stop. She put her foot on the tail of the white cat to keep her from running away as she continued to mutilate the gray one. 

The gray one died slowly and horribly and Tim begged and screamed and pleaded. And when Aurelia got to work on the white one, Tim started up again only to find the same outcome, and tears coating his cheeks. 

“Timothy.”

He couldn’t tear his eyes away from his cats, despair settling over him like a blanket. And when Aurelia and the remaining COV swarmed him and began to beat him viciously, he could only beg them to stop, reduced back to that pathetic thing he’d been so long ago on Elpis.

They tied him up and left him barely conscious on the floor as they began to storm his little house and invade every inch of privacy he’d had for the past few years. He could see the cats from where they’d left him lying. He sobbed silently, too injured to try and free himself any longer. He was fairly certain they’d broken one of his arms and his foot.

“Zane,” he croaked out, pushing past the pain to try and drag himself to the stairs. He needed help, he couldn’t go back to being at someone else’s mercy. He was terrified and alone and desperate and, “Zane, help, please, help,” no one was coming.

“Timothy. I’m right here. I’m right here, lad.”

It was Zane’s voice. Tim jerked his head up, surprised when it didn’t hurt his body. 

Zane was there, fuzzy and distant. Tim reached out for him, positive it wasn’t real. It was a cruel hallucination, just one more thing to torture him.

But Zane reached back. Zane caught him. 

And then Tim was standing in his destroyed house, the smell of decay thick in his nose. He was standing in Zane’s arms, trembling violently. 

“No one is hurting you,” Zane was saying, keeping a hold on him. 

Tim realized he was favoring one foot, and cradling his arm. He slowly adjusted himself.

“Timothy? You with me?” Zane said, his voice sharp but concerned.

“I- Yea, sorry. The trauma and overdramatic thing,” he said, aware his voice was weak. “Sorry.” 

“You cried out for me,” Zane said quietly.

Tim had to sit. His legs wouldn’t hold him up anymore.

Zane pulled him over to the couch and he dropped heavily onto it. His head hurt.

“I couldn’t get to the emergency contact number,” Tim said quietly. “And by the time I thought to use my digi-Jacks, I couldn’t use my arms. I was...scared.”

Zane put an arm around him and pulled him close. Tim took a desperate, scared comfort in the gesture. He wasn’t alone this time. Zane was here, and Zane was going to help him get free again.

“I killed some of them. They must’ve taken the bodies away so no one would know who took me,” Tim said. He looked up at Zane. “You said you buried them? My cats?”

“Aye,” Zane said, helping him up. “Let’s go see them. Get you some fresh air.”

Zane kept a steady hand on his back as they walked out to the little yard. Tim could see the recently disturbed ground, and he stumbled to a stop. He’d failed them.

“What were their names?” Zane asked.

“The gray one, his name was Skitter. He was so damn skittish when I found him. But in the end, he used to curl up right on my chest just to be close. The white one, her name was Mari. She reminded me of this white stray that used to curl up under the marigolds in my mom’s yard.” Tim swallowed thickly. “They were kittens when I found them. Strays I’d pass and feed on my way to and from work every day. They followed me home one day and never left. And I let her kill them.”

“You didn’t let her do anything,” Zane said. “She attacked you and killed them. That’s not on you, lad. From that episode you were having in there, it sounds like you fought like hell. You did what you could for them.”

Tim couldn’t bring himself to speak. He hadn’t done enough for them. 

“Wait here,” Zane said.

He disappeared inside. Tim knelt before the makeshift graves and whispered a silent apology.

He just kept failing. First Angel, now the cats. He couldn’t bear to keep losing the few good things in his life.

Zane returned a few minutes later. He’d broken off pieces of wood from one of the broken dressers in Tim’s room and written the cats’ names on them. He handed them to Tim.

Tim laid them gently on the ground. He brushed his fingers over the dirt before standing.

“Revenge,” he said to Zane. 

“Revenge,” Zane said, putting his arm around Tim. “You’re not alone anymore. I’m sorry you ever were.”

No, Tim wasn’t alone anymore. He tentatively brought his hand up to Zane’s shoulder.

“If you’re not too old for the job,” he said.

“Listen to the nerve of ya!” Zane said, but he was grinning widely. “Plenty young for killing, lad. Shall we get to it?”

“Please,” Tim said with a nod. “Thanks, Zane.”

“It’s what friends do,” Zane said.

The word warmed Tim. He’d been alone and afraid for so long. Not anymore.

“Friends can buy me a drink,” Tim said. “I think I need it.”

“I never say no to a drink. Let’s head to Sanctuary and make a plan over some alcohol,” Zane said.

They walked along, side by side. They’d finish this together, one way or another.

Chapter Text

The others weren’t on Sanctuary when they got back. Zane led Tim towards Moxxi’s bar, and Tim gripped his sleeve.

“Hey! I meant a drink that doesn’t involve me seeing Moxxi,” Tim hissed.

“We aren’t overflowing with bars up here, unfortunately,” Zane said. “Come on, Timothy. You’ll be fine!”

Tim groaned and followed Zane, ducking his head as they entered the bar. It was surprisingly empty in there, only a few people lingering about with drinks. Moxxi herself was wiping up the bar, and Tim’s heart began to beat a little faster at the sight of her.

“Oi, my usual, and your strongest for him,” Zane said, jerking his thumb at Tim.

“And who is he?” Moxxi said.

Tim had ducked his head again. Zane tugged him forward onto a stool and yanked his hood back.

To Tim’s surprise, Moxxi only gave him a mischievous smile. “Timothy. Lilith told me you were on Sanctuary.”

“I- You remember me?” Tim said in confusion.

“Of course I do. What, you actually thought I believed you were Jack when we went to dinner?” she said.

Tim opened his mouth. Shut it. Opened it. Shut it. Looked to Zane helplessly.

“Okay, maybe not your strongest. Don’t know if the lad can handle it with his body messed up. But something strong enough that he stops looking at me like that,” Zane said. 

“She remembers me!” Tim hissed as Moxxi moved away to get them drinks. 

“That’s a good thing, Timothy,” Zane said, deciding not to tell Tim about his own history with Moxxi. Probably a thing better left unsaid. 

“Here you go, sugar,” Moxxi said, sliding Tim a drink. 

Tim picked it up and looked ready to chug it. Zane caught his wrist.

“Uh, boyo? Reminder that you could probably get drunk off water at this point,” Zane said.

“Good,” Tim said, and helped himself to his drink. 

Zane shrugged and grabbed his own drink. Moxxi was eyeing Tim’s face, which made Tim even more nervous.

“I’m glad Jack’s dead,” she said at last. “It’s a shame what he did to you. It’s good to see you alive, Timothy.”

“Um, yes, you too, Moxxi. I mean, uh, you know- just, uh, good to see you?” Tim babbled.

“Oh for the love of- Moxxi, get a second drink ready for the lad,” Zane said. “And for me. I might need it more.” 

Tim finished off his first drink, looking miserable. Zane grinned and shook his shoulder a little, and Tim scowled and elbowed him away.

But then Zane saw the sudden jerk of Tim’s arm. He snatched the glass from Tim’s hands before he could drop it, set it on the counter, and gripped Tim as the convulsions started up so he wouldn’t fall. 

Moxxi hurried around the bar and helped Zane hold Tim steady. “Did the drink do this to him?”

“Not sure what does it to him,” Zane said. “I’ll take him to Tannis when this settles and see if she has any ideas. They were getting less for a bit, but this is the third one he’s had in a fairly short time.” 

A pained whimper slipped past Tim’s teeth. He bowed his head as he suffered through the convulsion, and Moxxi put a reassuring hand on his back. He leaned into the touch as best he could. 

“Damn Jack,” Moxxi said, shaking her head angrily. “Lilith said you told her Jack originally hooked him on the Eridium. I wish we’d killed the bastard on Elpis.” 

They both held Tim until the convulsions died down. He panted for breath as his body finally stilled, and neither released him.

“You with us?” Zane said.

Tim nodded and winced, pressing a hand to his head. “Fine. Just have a headache.”

“Let’s get you to Tannis. I don’t like how often this is happening,” Zane said.

Moxxi helped Tim up, letting her hand linger on him. “Will you be alright, Tim?”

“No,” he said. He forced a smile, small as it was. “But the drink was damn good.”

Moxxi returned the smile, hers much wider. “Come back for another one sometime, sugar.” 

Zane pulled Tim’s hood up and led him out of the bar. Tim was a little shaky on his feet, but he didn’t seem in danger of falling.

They reached medical, where Tannis and Lilith were standing and talking with each other. They looked up at the two of them.

“Is everything alright?” Lilith asked.

Zane shook his head. “Not sure. He just suffered his third convulsion in a pretty short time.”

Tannis sighed. “Tell me what happened before each.”

Zane and Tim sat on one of the beds and told Tannis what had happened. She listened, though she looked more thoughtful than concerned.

“It appears his body is reacting to injury, or anything it perceives as ‘wrong’,” she said at last. “His system thinks the Eridium should repair him, but there isn’t enough Eridium in him to do so. That’s my best guess, at least. It should die down as time goes on and his body adjusts. Or maybe not. Hard to say, really. He’s the only person I’ve heard of who survived such a high amount of Eridium in his system.”

“Great, I can’t even get drunk anymore,” Tim groaned. “Fuck Jack, and fuck Aurelia.” 

“I don’t know if it’s safe to send you after Aurelia,” Lilith said, shaking her head. “If this happens, it’ll leave you vulnerable.”

“I’m going after her,” Tim said flatly. “She did this to me.”

“And if she hurts you and your body tries to heal itself? If you suffer a convulsion during a fight? It’ll leave you vulnerable, and distract the others. Everyone will be in danger,” Lilith said. “It’s not a good idea to send you out there.”

Tim stood up, shaking with anger. “You don’t understand. They tortured me. They drugged me with Eridium after I spent months working hard to get myself clean of that stuff. They forced me into a fight ring. They wanted to put an AI of Jack in my head. I watched Aurelia mutilate my cats while they were still alive. I had freedom, and she stole it from me. My body will never recover from what was done to me. No one is stopping me from going after her.” He gave a sharp grin. “I dare you to try, sweetheart.”

“Doing it again,” Zane said, tugging Tim back down onto the bed. “Calm down, both of you. We’re not fighting each other. Lilith has a point, and Timothy has a point.” Zane met Lilith’s eyes. “It’s Timothy’s decision to make. I’ll look after him if something like this happens. But he knows the risks, and it’s his choice to make in the end. He’s had his choices taken away enough.”

Lilith didn’t look happy about it. “I know we can’t stop him from doing it on his own. But I’m asking you to think about the risks, to yourself and to the others.”

“They don’t have to come with me,” Tim said.

“Overdramatic little bastard!” Zane said, smacking his shoulder. “I never miss a good revenge showdown. Of course I’m going with you.” 

“This is happening,” Tim said, and Zane elbowed him roughly and nodded to his lip. “Maybe I’ll never recover from the way they drugged me. Maybe I’ll die young. Maybe I’ll never feel free or safe again. But at least I’ll know I fought back.”

“I can’t stop you,” Lilith said.

“It’s a horrible idea, really,” Tannis said. “If she’s aware you’re after her, she could be ready to drug you again as soon as she sees you. She could turn you over to Troy Calypso to make you one of those Anointed.”

Zane’s mind instantly conjured up the thought of Timothy as one of those giant, teleporting beasts. He viciously shoved the thought from his mind.

“Our advantage is that she wants Timothy alive and intact. Even without the AI Jack, she wants to use Timothy to access Hyperion, and she can’t do that if he’s an Anointed,” Zane said. “He fought just fine at that COV camp. He can hold his own, and I’ll be there to back him up. Besides, we need to take down Aurelia one way or another.” 

“Well, if he insists, at least let me collect more samples before he dies,” Tannis said.

“You’re just a ray of freaking sunshine, aren’t you?” Tim said, but shrugged the jacket off so she could get at his arm.

Tannis took more blood samples from Tim. Tim pulled the jacket back on, rubbing at his arm.

“So why doesn’t my body start freaking out to heal that?” Tim asked.

Tannis shrugged. “It was an educated guess at best. To expand on it, I’d say your body does not concern itself with minor wounds like needle marks or your horridly shredded lip.”

“It didn’t react before until I gave him a health kit,” Zane said.

“Well, you said it was just to heal bruising. His body might not have registered it as an urgent wound until the health kit alerted his system to begin healing. This is all guesswork,” Tannis said. “I’m hoping the blood samples can tell me more. Oh, I know! Let me run some imaging on your body.”

“Imaging?” Tim said in alarm, looking to Zane.

“Don’t be a baby,” Tannis said. “Nothing that’ll hurt you, I assure you. I could live happily without ever hearing you scream in pain again.” 

“Just go on. The more tests she runs, the better chance we have at figuring out what’s happening to you,” Zane said, giving him a light push forward. “I’m going to wait right here.”

Tim got up and let Tannis lead him away. Zane laid down, feeling tired but forcing himself to stay awake in case Tim needed him.

“Zane, I don’t like this,” Lilith said, sitting in the chair next to the bed. “He’s going to get himself killed.”

“You heard Tannis. He’s dying,” Zane said, the words bitter in his mouth. “He might have 40 years left in him, or 4 weeks. We don’t know anymore, Lilith. Jack and Aurelia took his whole life from him. Give him a chance to settle his mind on it all. It’s his decision to make.” 

“Let’s say he kills her. Then what?” Lilith said. 

“I don’t know. We’ll cross that bridge when we get to it,” Zane said. “The first time he escaped, he had to go into hiding because Jack was still alive. This time? I’ll find him somewhere safe, actually keep in touch with him, and let him do whatever he feels he needs to do to be at peace. Lad deserves that much.”

“And if he dies?” Lilith said, quietly.

“He won’t,” Zane said, and forced a grin. “Not on my watch. He’s a stubborn bastard, and he’ll cling to life.” 

“We had to kill Jack’s daughter to free her, Zane. I hope it doesn’t come to that for Timothy, but we still don’t know the extent of the damage that Eridium did to him.” She stood up. “I’m not trying to...I just want you to be ready for anything. Even losing him.”

But Zane didn’t want to think about losing Timothy. 

He hadn’t meant to get so attached to the kid in the first place. But Tim was broken and scared and lost, and Zane’s pity over that had turned into a protectiveness. He’d do anything to keep Tim safe.

He could still remember the way Tim had pushed past his own pain to shoot Zane’s attacker. Even with a gash sending blood pouring down his face, he’d protected Zane.

Zane pinched his arm anytime he began to drift off to sleep as he waited for Tim. He instead tried to think of what would come next for Tim.

He couldn’t return to that house where he’d been attacked. He’d never feel safe there. But if he wanted his job back, Zane was sure he could get it. They could buy him a new place to live, with more security. Or Tim could join the vault hunters here on Sanctuary. Whatever he wanted to do, Zane would help him.

It was a while before Tim came out, looking exhausted. Zane gestured at the bed next to the one he was on, and Tim collapsed onto it, closing his eyes.

“You alright?” Zane asked.

“Fine. Just tired from earlier,” he muttered, and was out.

Zane sat up and walked about until he found Tannis. “Anything?”

“Extensive damage,” Tannis said. “As I said, don’t expect him to live a long life. As far as I can tell, he may always need some Eridium in him to keep his body going.”

He’d worked so hard to get clean. Zane had to take a moment to contain his anger so he didn’t take it out on Tannis.

“Anything about the convulsions?” he said.

She shook her head. “I’d have to run more tests. Likely injure him and see what happens.”

“We’ll hold off on that for now,” Zane said. “Thanks, Tannis. And...don’t tell him unless he asks. No need to scare the poor boyo, but no need to keep this information from him either.”

“I’m still studying the images. I’ll let you know what else I find,” she said.

Zane nodded and retreated back to the bed he’d been on. He closed his eyes, unable to sit and think about the shit turn Tim’s life had taken. 

He thought of Tim’s mental lapse in the house, the way he begged and screamed and cried out for Zane. He’d fought like hell only to have his life ripped away yet again.

Zane fell into a troubled sleep.

***

Tim woke to find Zane asleep in the bed next to his. He sat up slowly, his body aching from the convulsions. He had to shake his numb fingers to bring some life back to them.

He just had to hang on long enough to get his revenge on Aurelia. He was well aware his body would shut down on him someday, but if he could just keep it going long enough to avenge the life she’d stolen from him, he could die at some sense of peace.

Hell, he was being overdramatic again. He got up, pulling the hood over his head and leaving medical. He needed to be out of there, because it was just making him think too much of death. 

Instead, he headed down to Moxxi’s bar. She looked up at him, and it sent a pang of regret through him when she smiled at him.

Just what could’ve been?

“Uh, no more alcohol,” Tim said, leaning against the bar. “Do you have soda or something?”

“Sure thing,” she said. “What are you after?”

“Whatever, at this point,” Tim said. “I just need something with caffeine. Please.” 

She got him a soda and he moodily drank it. It’s not like he’d ever been a huge fan of alcohol, but sometimes he and Jack would share a drink after a long day at work. And Wilhelm liked to get them drinks whenever they’d go to the shooting range together. Tim had drunk some of the strongest, nastiest beer of his life hunting down targets on Pandora with Wilhelm. 

He slowed his sips as he thought of those days. He could remember one time when Jack had sent the two of them down to Pandora to hunt a scientist who’d taken important notes and fled with the intent to sell them.

They killed the scientist and recovered the notes, but decided to wait until the morning to tell Jack. Instead, they set up camp and Wilhelm got them some Pandoran moonshine that reminded Tim of the rubbing alcohol his mom used to put on his cuts. It had smelled so strongly it made his eyes water.

But they’d drank it, and become increasingly drunk, whooping and hollering as they shot at any passing beast or bandit. Wilhelm had slapped Tim on the back so hard to congratulate him that he’d sent Tim flying forward, and they’d laughed for so long Tim was afraid he’d never stop. 

Jack had sent Nisha to retrieve them in the morning, but instead of punishing them, she’d helped herself to the rest of the moonshine. They were still riding their drunken high, the hangover looming in the distance as the three of them lured out skags to shoot. 

They’d stayed until nearly dark, when Jack finally got pissed enough to demand they come back. They had, and Jack had grumbled about them being imcompetent drunks. His punishment had been to make all of them work despite their horrid hangovers. 

But it had been...fun. It had reminded Tim of the Elpis days. It was one of those rare times where they all got along.

“Timothy?”

Tim startled, worried he’d slipped into a mental lapse. But no. It had just been a memory, not that all-consuming disorientation.

“Sorry. I was just thinking,” Tim said to Moxxi. He finished off his soda and set it down. “Thanks for that, Moxxi. I better get back before Zane worries about me.”

“Here, take one to go,” she said, refilling his glass and handing it to him. She winked at him. “I always did like you better than Jack.”

He blushed furiously as he took the soda. “I, um, I’ll bring the...glass back? T-Thank you.”

He hurried out of there before he could make an even bigger idiot of himself. Rather than return to medical, he went down to the shooting range.

He set the targets so that they moved around, and let his mind focus on tracking and firing at them. It was a good distraction, and reminded him of that drunken time on Pandora with Wilhelm and Nisha. 

“Can’t believe you went shooting without me, you backstabbing bastard.”

Tim jumped so bad that his shot completely missed. He spun to face Zane, forcing himself not to aim his gun on instinct. 

Zane leaned in the doorway, looking a lot less tired than he had before. Tim holstered his gun.

“Are you okay?” he asked Zane. 

“Me? I’m fine,” Zane said curiously.

“You just...haven’t been sleeping much,” Tim said with a nervous shrug. He’d been so lost in his own misery that he hadn’t been paying attention to Zane’s exhaustion. Some friend he was.

“Nah, I’m fine, boyo,” Zane assured, coming over. He lifted Tim’s drink and frowned at it. “Soda? Damn. I was hoping it was beer. Could go for a drink.”

“I’ll live a nice sober life after that last incident,” Tim said, taking his drink back from Zane and finishing it up. 

“Amara called me. Woke me up, but I was polite enough not to mention it to her,” Zane said. “We’ve got Aurelia’s location on Eden-6. We need her for access to a vault key fragment. We’ll be going with you to help take her out. I already told the others that the final shot is yours.”

Tim nodded, then winced as Zane hit him in the arm. “I don’t realize I’m biting my lip! Leave me alone, you asshole.”

“Are you ready for this?” Zane asked.

“No. But I need to do it,” Tim said. “I never fought back against Jack. I just ran from him. I’m done running, Zane.”

“That’s what I like to hear! Proud of you, boyo,” Zane said, slinging an arm around his shoulders. “Let’s go take her out.”

Tim put his arm around Zane, feeling a lot better knowing Zane would be there to have his back this time. “Yea. Let’s do this, Zane.”

He was scared and nervous. His body didn’t work like it used to after everything they’d done to him. He could very well suffer a convulsion during the fight and get himself killed.

But he was going to fight. He’d lost his freedom too many times to lie down and take it this time. With Zane at his side, he was going to put down Aurelia for hurting him.

Chapter Text

Tim and Zane prepared and left for Eden-6, meeting up with the others along with Wainwright Jakobs and Sir Hammerlock. Both seemed surprised to see Tim.

“This here is Timothy,” Zane explained. “The double I told you Aurelia was after.”

“Aurelia tried to capture you?” Hammerlock asked.

“She did,” Tim said dryly. “She attacked me, murdered my cats, tortured me, drugged me with Eridium, and tossed me into a COV fight ring. Not a fan of her.”

Hammerlock looked horrified. “My word! I’m terribly sorry. That’s vile, even for her. I apologize you had to be put through that.” 

Tim looked tired even thinking about it all. “Appreciated.”

“Hammerlock is Aurelia’s brother,” Zane informed Tim. “He’s a good one, though. Don’t look at him like that, or I’ll smack you. That’s Wainwright Jakobs, by the way.”

“I…” Hammerlock closed his mouth.

“Go on, boyo. Spit it out,” Zane said.

“It’s not fair of me to ask. Not after what she did to you. But...she is still family,” Hammerlock said, a little helplessly. 

Tim absolutely planned to put a bullet in her and finish her off. But he knew that helpless look. It’s the look he’d had the first time Jack had casually mentioned the idea of killing Tim’s mom for laughing about his “death”. 

“If she can’t be reasoned with, I’ll at least make it quick,” he said at last. 

“I thank you greatly,” Hammerlock said, and seemed sincere about it.

“We told Aurelia we’d take her payment to leave Eden-6,” Amara said. “It’s no doubt a trap, but we’ll be prepared. Wainwright will be exploring the Manor while we distract Aurelia. I’m assuming it’ll break into a fight when she realizes Timothy is with us. She seemed to really want him back.”

“Not happening,” Tim said, and was glad to see Zane’s expression darken as he nodded in agreement. “But, uh, do you guys have a plan for when the fight does break out?”

“We fight back,” Moze said.

“Incredible plan, forget I even asked,” Tim said.

“Stick close to me. My barrier can buy you a little breathing room,” Zane said to him. 

Tim rubbed at his shoulder as the memory of being pinned to the wall flared up. It was a horrible ghost pain, but dull compared to the pain that sometimes flared up in his facial scar.

“We should go,” Amara said.

“We await the hunt,” Fl4k said, their skag bouncing in excitement next to them. 

“Then let’s get this nasty business over with,” Wainwright said.

“Do be careful, Winny,” Hammerlock said.

“Of course, Alistair. We’ll be back before you know it,” Wainwright assured.

Tim hoped that was true. He was trying not to think about the possibility of getting recaptured. Instead, he thought of Zane coming for him when he was locked up in Lynchwood, fighting his way out as he tried to drag Tim along, never giving up on him when it would’ve been so easy to.

Their group left and got into a vehicle- Amara claimed the driver’s seat, for which Tim was grateful. He, Zane, and Moze sat in the back of the vehicle together, squished together.

Tim didn’t like the feeling of being trapped, so he rolled down the window and stuck his head out. The wind whipped against his face, making small sparks of pain flare along his scar. Still, it was fresh air, and he breathed it in desperately. 

“Timothy,” Zane said quietly, touching his arm. “It’s time for another dose.”

Tim looked at Zane’s face, and his stomach twisted. “It’s permanent, isn’t it? I’ll die without it.”

“It’s not your fault. I know you got clean,” Zane said, uncapping the bottle in his hand. “Let me- This doesn’t have the portion control that the one Jack gave you did. I’ll see if Tannis can make one for you.”

Tim felt miserable as Zane tipped the bottle into his mouth. His whole body shivered as he swallowed down the Eridium, warmth and relief floating along his limbs so easily that it disgusted him. This was his life now.

As much as he wanted to blame Aurelia, he knew part of the blame fell to him. Angel had begged him to flee Jack, and he hadn’t. Not until it was too late, at least. 

“Timothy,” Zane said, shaking his arm until Tim reluctantly looked at him. “It’s not your fault, lad. You got clean. Don’t blame yourself for this.”

“I didn’t leave Jack when Angel told me to,” Tim said.

“And where would you have gone? You saw how he hunted you down when you left with me. You never would’ve made it on your own, and especially not with your addiction at the time. That still doesn’t make this your fault,” Zane said.

Tim bowed his head. It was his fault. Jack told him all the time that if he could just behave, or just be stronger, Jack wouldn’t have to hurt him. If he’d been more loyal, maybe Jack wouldn’t have given him the Eridium. 

“Trauma thing again, huh?” Zane said. “We’ll work on it. Keep it in mind, at least. No one else blames you for what was done to you.” 

Tim fell silent, but Zane was just glad he’d put the idea in the kid’s head. He’d seen what years of abuse could do to someone. It wasn’t something Tim would be able to shake overnight. Sure, it had been years since Jack had died. But Tim had been mostly alone during that time, and likely hadn’t worked through any of his lingering issues from Jack’s abuse. Piling Aurelia’s abuse on top of that would only make him worse.

When they arrived, they had to fight their way to the Manor. Zane ordered Tim to hang back and snipe, partially to keep Aurelia from knowing he was there, partially to keep him from being injured and potentially suffering a convulsion, and partially because Tim always needed a goddamn nap after being active for too long. 

It worked out in their favor, though. Having Tim around to pick off enemies made things go a lot faster, especially when he’d swipe his digi-Jacks into being to join the fray. 

“He is not as useless as I thought,” Fl4k announced as they moved towards the Manor.

“He is not as deaf as you thought, either,” Tim said, catching up to them.

“Hanging in there?” Zane said.

“Yea, mom,” Tim said in annoyance. “I’m fine. I feel fine.” 

Zane very much doubted that, but he didn’t press the issue. He just tugged Tim’s hood up, ignoring the scowl Tim shot him.

Ah, hell, when had he basically become a dad? Next he’d say things like “let’s rock and roll” when they got ready to leave the bar.

They reached the Manor, checked in with Wainwright, and went up to the door. Zane was taller than Tim, so he blocked Tim with his body as they rang the doorbell.

A digital image of Aurelia appeared, and Zane heard Tim take a shuddering breath behind him. He didn’t dare move to offer him comfort, though.

“Right on time, vault hunters,” Aurelia said. “Please, do come in.”

The doors swung open and their group cautiously entered. Tim had ducked his head in an attempt to better keep his face hidden. 

“I’ll be with you in just a moment,” Aurelia said as they walked farther into the hallway. “Wait for me in the dining hall, and we’ll discuss your payment...whore.”

“That lady never freaking changes,” Tim grumbled. 

“Are you saying you wouldn’t have let her pay you to leave Jack?” Moze said.

“Oh, I absolutely would’ve. No loyalty where cash is involved. Student loans, baby,” Tim said. “Nothing kills your morals like student loans.”

“The poster child for advanced education,” Moze said, snickering. 

“Let’s get to the dining hall,” Amara said. 

“Stay close to me. My barrier could keep you safe if something happens to you,” Zane reminded Tim.

“I know, I know!” Tim said. “It’s not like I can hang back and snipe in this place.”

They reached the dining hall and looked back at Tim. His heart was slamming, and he felt dizzy and sick with anxiety. He didn’t know if he could face her and keep his composure. He didn’t know if he’d slip into a mental lapse again.

But he did know he couldn’t live knowing she was out there looking for him. He did know she’d permanently damaged his body and mind, and he was going to find out why and then put her down for daring to do that to him after all he’d survived before. 

“Do it,” he said, pressing his hand on his pistol.

Amara flung the doors open, and their group stepped through. They’d barely entered the room before something caught them, lifting them into the air, immobilizing them.

“Oh, shite!” Zane hissed. 

“We have been tricked,” Fl4k said.

“Yea, no shit!” Tim snapped. “What the hell is this?”

“Phaselock. Which means…” Amara trailed off.

“Ah, I see you’ve brought the doppelganger back to me,” Aurelia said, her and Troy Calypso stepping forward together. “Well, at least you were useful for something. Troy, you may do as you wish with these vault hunters, but the doppelganger remains mine.”

Tim tried to struggle and found he couldn’t. Panic threaded through him steadily.

Aurelia stepped up to him, eyeing him over. “It looks as though they’ve mostly drained the Eridium from your system without killing you. I suppose we can lock you in the Wildlife Exploitation Preserve for experiments while I decide what to do with you.”

“He isn’t an experiment!” Zane said, trying desperately to reach for his gun. “And he’s not going with you. You’ve done enough to him.”

Aurelia scoffed. “I have nothing against him personally. He is a means to an end, and he will serve his purpose. Although I never did like him. Poor sense of humor, and very whiny.”

“Well...can’t entirely argue that point, but you’re still a bloody bitch and you’re not getting him back,” Zane said. 

“Observe,” Aurelia said. “Troy?”

“Sure, have it your way. As long as I get the others,” Troy said, and Timothy suddenly dropped to the ground hard.

He was trying to get to his feet, but his limbs were shaking. Aurelia promptly stepped up to him, and a vial flashed in her hands. The contents inside were a brilliant purple color.

“Move!” Zane cried.

Tim shoved himself to the side just before she could plunge the vial into his neck. He grabbed his pistol, and swiped at his watch. Nothing happened.

“What, you thought I forgot about the watch?” Aurelia said. Tim aimed his pistol at her, and she looked mildly annoyed. “I miss the days of you cowering behind any cover you could find, honestly. Lower the gun and-”

Tim began to fire, and Aurelia sprang into action. Zane could only watch helplessly as she and Tim circled each other, and the ice shot out at Tim.

It caught his shooting arm, and he cried out at the sensation. His gun fell from numb fingers, and he scooped it back up with his other hand.

“Tim, your left!” Zane yelled.

Tim ducked back just in time to avoid the ice coming at him on his blindside. Aurelia began to shoot at him, and Tim fired back, though his shots weren’t as accurate.

Zane wanted nothing more than to jump down to Tim’s side. How many times did Tim have to suffer because Zane failed him?

Aurelia caught Tim’s foot with ice. He moved to shoot himself free, but Troy Calypso raised his own gun and fired on Tim.

Aurelia pressed the advantage, moving closer and switching to a shotgun. Tim tried to free his frozen leg, gritting his teeth as his shield broke, leaving him exposed.

“I warned you,” Aurelia said, lifting the vial. “This didn’t have to happen if you’d cooperated.”

“I am so sick of you people saying that to me!” Tim snapped, and managed to catch her wrist, dropping his gun to do so. He yanked her wrist down so that the vial hit the ground, and smashed his fist onto it. “Inject that, kiddo.”

Aurelia sighed. “You never were a pleasant man to deal with.”

She shot him in the leg.

Tim cried out in pain as blood splattered the ground. He reached with his good hand, trying to put pressure on the wound.

“No!” Zane snarled, because the wound was bad, and he knew what would come next.

Sure enough, he saw the jerk of Tim’s body. Tim cried out helplessly, scared eyes shooting to Zane, begging him silently for help.

And Zane couldn’t give it. He was right here, right goddamn here, and all he could do was watch.

“This is new,” Aurelia said curiously as Tim fell to the ground, his body convulsing. “An effect of the Eridium? Interesting.”

“Don’t you touch him,” Zane said, fury slipping into his voice.

“Deal with them. I’m taking this one with me,” Aurelia said, snapping her fingers. Two COV came to her, grabbing Tim’s arms and legs and dragging him along as he suffered his convulsion, his wound leaving a bloody trail as they carried him off.

“Timothy! Dammit!” Zane said.

“Trust me, that shouldn’t be your focus, vault hunter,” Troy said, grinning widely as Aurelia left the room with Timothy and the two COV. “You’ve got other things to worry about. I haven’t quite decided what I’m going to do with the four of you yet. Do I kill you slowly and broadcast it? Or take the Siren for myself? That other Siren’s powers were so useful.”

“Try it,” Amara growled. “If you think you’re hideous now, just wait until I punch you in the damn face, rat boy.” 

Troy opened his mouth to say something, and a gunshot rang out.

Troy cried out, and they all looked to where Wainwright stood on the upper balcony with a gun. All of them except Zane, who barely registered the argument between Wainwright and Troy as he focused on the door Aurelia had gone through.

So he was surprised when he hit the ground, the others falling next to him. Troy was taking off after Wainwright, and COV were pouring into the room to stop them from following.

“Zane, focus!” Amara said. “We can get him back. But only if we’re efficient.”

“Focused,” Zane said, sending out his SNTNL. 

Amara was right. They couldn’t help Tim if Zane was so distracted that he couldn’t take out their enemies efficiently.

So they cleared the room, Zane forcing himself to focus despite how impatient he was. They burst through the door Aurelia had gone through, but the only sign of where she’d gone was the blood trailing down the hallway. 

They followed it, and it stopped at a door. Zane tried it, cursing loudly when he found it locked. He tried to kick it down, but it held firm.

Amara pushed him out of the way and tried to punch her way through. The door splintered, but they found it was blocked by stacked steel crates.

Together, they knocked those back and entered the room. Gunfire met them, and they ducked back out into the hallway, readying their weapons before going back in and firing on their attackers.

There were only a few COV lurking in here. They dispatched them with ease, but Zane’s heart sank as he looked around.

“It’s empty,” he said, clenching his fists. “She tricked us.” 

“We’ll find him. She couldn’t have gone far,” Moze said.

“It’s dangerous to split up, but maybe we should,” Amara said. “We need to keep in contact, though. We have no idea what’s lurking in the Manor. Zane and I will take this side, Moze and Fl4k, you guys take the other side. Be thorough.”

They split off, and Zane tried to concentrate as they began to check all the rooms along the way. He wouldn’t fail Timothy again. He couldn’t.

“Zane, focus!” Amara said. “We’ll find him. She didn’t drug him. He’ll recover from that convulsion and be able to fight back.”

“Unless she had more Eridium on her.” Zane took a deep breath, but it didn’t help. “Amara, we both know there’ll be no saving him if she gets him that drugged again. The damage to his body is already too great. He’ll need a heavy dose of the stuff to survive, and that’s no way to live.”

“Then shut up and let’s find him before that happens. He’s not helpless,” Amara said. “He just needs to hold her off long enough for us to find him.”

She was right. Aurelia didn’t know that Tim was mobile after his convulsions, even if he was slowed. He could still use his gun if she let her guard down. 

They ran along the manor, and desperation drove Zane. They had to find Timothy, before Aurelia sealed his fate with Eridium.

Chapter Text

By the time Tim’s convulsion had ended, he’d lost track of where he was. They’d dragged him into some room, and he closed his eyes, pretending to be unconscious.

“Ow!” he hissed as someone kicked him.

“Stop pretending to be out,” Aurelia said.

Tim opened his eyes and glared at her. “What the hell do you even want with me?”

She ignored him, pacing back and forth. At some point, they’d bound Tim, though he hadn’t noticed them doing it. They’d also taken his watch. Fantastic.

“It appears to be too dangerous to reintroduce your system to heavy Eridium use,” she said, more to herself.

Tim answered her anyway. “No shit. We saw what it did to the Lost Legion Soldiers. What did you think was going to happen? I’m not a Siren. I can’t...I can’t survive that.”

He swallowed back his fear. If he succumbed to it now, he would never get free.

“No matter. I’ll find something else,” Aurelia said.

And Tim knew why she’d done it in the first place. Tossing him to the COV fight ring made it seem like she was still cooperating with them. In reality, it was a way to test her control of him.

Helplessly hooked on Eridium, he was forced to do what he was told, and she could see the extent of that control. If she stuck the AI Jack in his head, it meant Jack would be able to think for himself, but be stuck in a body that Aurelia controlled. He’d be forced to cooperate with her if he didn’t want to be stuck in a decaying body. 

“You could let me go?” Tim offered.

She didn’t even dignify that with a reply. Instead, she took out her ECHO and began to press at the screen rapidly.

“For now, we’ll stick you in the Preserve and study you,” she said at last.

“What the hell do you even want from me, lady?” he snapped, his fear twisting into anger. “What could you possibly want from me?”

“Why, Hyperion of course,” she said, as if it was obvious. “I have ambitions, and you are a means to an end. I was unable to find any other double with Jack’s DNA. Believe me, I wouldn’t have bothered with you unless necessary.”

“But why Hyperion?” Tim demanded.

“Their technological advances and knowledge on Eridium and the vaults interest me,” Aurelia said.

“Oh my- You murdered my cats, tortured me, and drugged me almost to death because you wanted Hyperion to be your new side hobby?” Tim said incredulously. 

“It would also give me the pleasurable benefit of driving the Jakobs company off Eden-6, and my brother with them,” she said, a grin playing on her lips. 

“You ruined my life to be a dick to your brother?” Tim stared at her, and a hysterical laughter bubbled out of him. “I have to suffer convulsions for the rest of my likely short life, because you wanted to be an asshole to your brother? My CATS! You killed my cats over this!” He struggled against the restraints binding him. “I’m going to punch you in your dumb fucking face, kiddo. Let me go!” He struggled harder, Aurelia looking bored with the whole situation. “You ruined my life!”

“You did that quite on your own. Signing your life away to a man like Jack? This was a mercy to you,” she said.

“Mercy?” He ground his teeth together, a headache throbbing steadily now. “I’m going to kill you, and that’ll be the damn mercy.”

She came over and placed her foot on the wound in his leg. He managed to bite back the cry of pain, but just barely.

“You will cooperate, and this will go much easier for us all,” she said. “If you’d just cooperated in the first place, there would’ve been no need to torture or drug you.”

“The AI Jack is gone,” Tim spat. “It was found and destroyed.”

“Even if that is true, you are still more than enough to access what I need. We’ll take you to the casino and use you to gain hold of what Jack was hiding in there. That’ll be a sufficient start to taking over Hyperion,” she said.

It was all a damn game to her. She’d gotten bored and become a vault hunter for Jack, and now she was bored and planning to take over Hyperion to amuse herself. And she was going to use Tim to do it, regardless of what it did to him.

And Zane.

Zane and the others were at the mercy of that Calypso fucker. For all Tim knew, they were dead.

No, no. Zane and his friends were stronger than that. They’d be okay. Tim would find some way out of this mess and reunite with them. They could kill Aurelia and the Calypsos.

He wasn’t going to be a prisoner to anyone else. Angel wanted him to get free, and that was exactly what he was going to do. He just had to-

“Ow! Stop it!” he snapped as Aurelia dug her foot into his wound again.

“You weren’t focusing,” she said. “Where did you obtain the information that the AI Jack was destroyed?”

“The vault hunters found it out,” he said, which was partially true. 

Aurelia crouched in front of him. “You know plenty of Hyperion secrets. You’ll do, if I can’t find the AI.”

“Sure, I can even tell you what shampoo Jack used,” Tim said. “What, you think he’d freaking tell me everything? What I know barely scratches the surface of Jack’s secrets, kiddo. He locked me in the casino towards the end of my time there, and didn’t tell me a damn thing. You’re wasting your time.”

“We’ll see,” she said simply, standing up. She took out another vial, and Tim was horrified to see Eridium in it.

He- No, no, no. He couldn’t do this again. He was bound. If she came close to him with that, if she injected him, then it was all over. All over, all over, and he wanted-

Zane, shooting the chains that bound him in that cell, pulling him out. Zane, standing between him and Nisha. Zane, calling him-

“Timothy.” His mother’s voice, exasperated and disapproving. “At least look into community college. You’ll never be able to pay this schooling off, and I don’t have enough money to help you!” And Tim opened his mouth to tell her that he could handle the-

“Student loans,” Jack said, getting a good laugh out of it as he slapped Tim on the back. “I’m rich enough to buy that school you went to. Aw, man, you’re so poor it hurts to think about. Here, have another drink, kiddo. Don’t say I never gave you anything. I’m always-”

Looking out for him. Not Jack, who abandoned him in the casino. But Angel, who begged him to stop taking the Eridium, and Zane, who protected him and comforted him. 

“Keep me sober from that stuff, and I’ll make a deal with you,” he said, because if nothing else, Jack had taught him how to negotiate or buy time.

“You are in no position to make deals,” Aurelia said.

“I can get you into that casino for that army you want hidden in there. I know where it is and how to get you control of it. If you let me stay sober, I’ll do that for you,,” Tim said, his mind thinking quickly. He just needed to buy time to find a way out of this. 

Aurelia eyed him. He kept his expression steady, forcing himself to meet her eyes. 

He would not be a victim again. Zane and Angel had worked too hard to keep him safe, and now it was his turn to save himself. 

“I’ll die if you start injecting me, after what the vault hunters did to me,” he said, trying to sound bitter about it. “They ruined my body. But I’ll cooperate with you if you keep the Eridium away from me. You can stick me in the Wildlife Preserve and run all the tests you want on me. It might be the only way to fix me.”

She put a hand on her hip. “Are you actually going to cooperate?”

“Do I have a choice? Thanks to what they did to me, I’m dying,” Tim said, shaking his head. “Hyperion information is the only chance I have at living.”

“I hope you don’t think I’ll believe you, given you were Jack’s pet for so long,” she said, kicking his wound again. But she put the vial away, and that was what mattered. “However, I need you alive.”

Alive was not always good, but alive and not drugged certainly was. It was a start, at least.

Still, Tim had to figure something out quickly. He still needed Eridium to survive, and Zane had the liquid Eridium with him. He could only hang in so long before he needed a dose.

Aurelia grabbed his jacket and yanked him along, his body dragging on the ground. He scowled, wondering when he’d lost all his dignity.

His wrists were bound tightly, as were his ankles. But…

Tim glanced at Aurelia. She had her ECHO out, sending a message to someone. He looked at her pockets, trying to judge which one she’d put his watch in. She’d keep it with her, he was sure of that. 

She shifted to get a better grip on him. The pocket on his good side looked to be empty. Which meant...But, no, if he was wrong, she’d drug him. 

But if he didn’t do anything at all, she’d probably knock him out and take him off Eden-6. He needed to escape now, and get to Zane to save him if he was in trouble. 

Tim braced himself as best he could, and flung himself forward into Aurelia’s knees.

She hit the ground and Tim threw himself on top of her. She tried to grab him and pull him off, but he caught the pocket of her coat with his teeth, jerking his head back to pull it open. Aurelia stuck him in the head and he grunted and flipped himself around, kicking her in the back as hard as he could.

He dug his hands into her pocket, his fingers touching the watch. She grabbed his throat just as his fingers brushed over the interface.

The digi-Jacks burst forward, wasting no time in firing at Aurelia. She tightened her hold on his throat, cutting off his air supply.

“You think I can’t make them go away again?” she said, glaring at him. “You filthy little creature. You never learn. No wonder you fit in just fine with Jack and his group of brainless bandits.”

Black splotches danced across his vision as his digi-Jacks continued to fire. She couldn’t activate the EMP without taking a hand away from his throat. He just had to...hang in there...a little...longer…

One of digi-Jacks surged forth and lasered through the bindings on his wrists. Tim threw his hands forward, clawing at Aurelia’s eyes desperately.

It was enough to make her pull her hands back. She struck him in the face and blood ran into his good eye as he gasped for air. He tried to wipe it away, but a gunshot struck his shield, and he started to move back. The digi-Jack freed his ankles and Tim threw himself forward at Aurelia before she could use her EMP on them.

She fired again and again, until his shield was in danger of breaking. Tim finally backed off, the digi-Jacks closing before him.

“Run,” the blue one said to him, both looking determined to keep Aurelia back.

He’d have seconds, at the most. His leg was still injured, fresh blood running down it. The door was across the room.

Tim ran anyway. He ignored the agony in his leg, and ran. He couldn’t win a fight against Aurelia in here. He needed to get out into an open space where it’d be easier to dodge her ice. 

Tim burst through the door, yanking his gun out of its holster. Something struck him from behind, and he flew out into the hallway, hitting the ground hard and rolling. 

His leg trembled as he attempted to stand, and his body jerked. He grit his teeth, trying to focus as he wiped the blood from his good eye. Not now. Not now.

“I am really freaking sick of rich people,” Tim informed Aurelia as she strode through the door with her gun raised.

“You are worthless and helpless without that watch of yours,” she said. “Stand down, before I have to break your legs to make you cooperate.” 

“Cooperate,” he sneered. “Like hell. I cooperated for Jack, and he drugged me and locked me in a casino. I’m done cooperating for you people. My life sucks, but it’s my life and I’m not giving it up to you.” 

“It’s a very pathetic life,” Aurelia said.

“It is, but you really don’t have to say it out loud,” Tim said. “Salt in the wound, sweetheart.”

He couldn’t beat her one on one. He was injured, recovering from what she’d done to him, and down his digi-Jacks. He was slow as it was thanks to his leg injury, and her ice would only make it worse. He had to think of something else, and fast. 

Running wasn’t an option. She’d catch him before he made it far. This was unfamiliar territory, anyway. Probably crawling with COV all throughout the building and-

All throughout the building. But they hadn’t come across any outside. Which meant outside was his best bet.

“Bad idea, bad idea, bad idea,” Tim hissed to himself as he began to fire on Aurelia. 

He circled around, trying to lure her towards the far wall. She was matching his movements, trying not to let him get too close, unsure what he was going for right now. 

His shield was getting low, but she was almost in position. Just a little farther...just…

“Go to hell and bother Jack already!” Tim cried, flinging all his grenades at her. 

She tried to move, but he fired relentlessly, aware this was about to hurt. Sure enough, the grenades hit the wall and went off, sending the side of the house exploding outwards, smoke swarming the area. The blast sent Tim back, and he hit the far wall hard.

“Still alive, I think,” he groaned, wincing as he tried to get up. His injured leg gave out, and he sat down hard, trying to catch his breath. No way she would’ve survived that. No freaking- “Oh, son of a taint!”

There she was, in all her irritating glory. Frozen in a damn ice chunk, safe from the explosion.

Tim used the wall to haul himself up and limped as fast as he could for the hole he’d made. Maybe he could lower himself and hide from her before she unfroze. He had no other options right now, because she was going to be damn pissed when she came out of that ice. 

The ice shattered, sending Tim stumbling forward. He caught himself before he pitched over the broken ground into the drop awaiting him.

“Oh no,” he whispered.

“Oh no is right,” Aurelia said, and gripped his jacket, shoving him forward so that he dangled over the edge.

“You won’t kill me. You need me!” he said, heart slamming. 

“I won’t kill you,” she agreed. “But that doesn’t mean I won’t maim you.”

“Should’ve gone to community college,” Tim whispered.

“Oi, you throw that kid off the edge, I’m putting my foot right up your arse and sending you after him!”

Tim’s head whipped around. Zane and Amara were running down the hallway at them, guns drawn. Relief washed over Tim. Zane was alive, and seemed unharmed. 

“If you fire at me, I will drop him,” Aurelia said simply. 

“It would be worth it,” Tim said, and grunted when she pushed him farther forward. 

Zane and Amara stopped when they got close enough to have Aurelia pushing Tim forward even more. They all waited tensely, at a standstill. 

If Zane and Amara fired, Tim would fall. If Aurelia pulled Tim back to safety, they would fire. Neither wanted to make a move first. 

So Tim would.

He glanced to make sure Aurelia was focused on Zane and Amara. Then he dug one foot into the ground and threw himself backwards against her.

She tried to throw him forward, but lost her balance. Tim slipped as well, arms pinwheeling as the momentum sent him towards the hole.

Great. He’d survived Elpis, Jack, and Eridium just to die falling out of a hole he’d blown in the wall.

Someone caught a handful of his shirt and yanked him forward. Tim hit Zane’s chest hard enough that they nearly fell over, but Zane managed to keep them steady.

“Headache,” Zane informed him.

“You okay? Did that fuckboy hurt you guys?” Tim asked.

“Lookin’ a lot better than you, boyo. But now’s not the time to chat,” Zane said, turning and aiming his gun at Aurelia as she exchanged fire with Amara. 

Tim tried to move away from the hole in the wall, but his leg began to give out. Zane caught him, tossing his barrier down between them and Aurelia.

“Watch my back,” Tim said, sitting down and shrugging out of the jacket. “And sorry about your jacket.”

“Ah, I’ve got more. Patch yourself up,” Zane said, moving in front of Tim protectively.

Tim tore one of the sleeves off the jacket and wrapped it tightly around his leg wound. He tore off the other arm, tying it around his head to stop the blood from getting into his eye again, glad that he hadn’t suffered another damn convulsion over that injury.

The jacket was now a vest, and Tim pulled it on because he couldn’t bring himself to abandon something Zane had given him. He reached out, catching Zane’s sleeve.

Without turning, Zane offered his hand and hauled Tim to his feet. Tim grabbed his gun and joined the other two in firing on Aurelia.

“I tire of this,” she said, and ice raced out at Tim and Zane.

Zane’s barrier failed in the onslaught, and the two were thrown back. Tim hit the wall, and flung out his arm on instinct, just barely managing to catch Zane’s arm as he was thrown past.

The force of Zane falling dragged Tim forward, and he barely managed to wedge his body against the wall to keep them both from falling. Zane dangled over the edge of the destroyed wall, reaching up with his free hand.

Tim caught it, trying to pull Zane up. But he had nothing to grab onto, and was hardly keeping himself from sliding forward.

“I’ve got you,” Tim said, his voice strained. 

“With how many times I’ve pulled your arse out of the fire, you better have me!” Zane said. His expression drew grim as Tim slipped forward. “Tim, you won’t survive the fall.”

“Stop being overdramatic. I’m going to let go of your hand, and you’re going to give me your digi-clone device. I’ll summon it up here, and you can swap,” Tim said, well aware they’d both fall if they didn’t do something fast. Zane might survive the drop, but Tim would never be able to land properly with his injured leg.

Zane nodded. Tim released his hand, and Zane hurried to pull out his digi-clone device, handing it to Tim. Tim summoned the clone, relieved when it stood on solid ground, firing at Aurelia. Amara must be keeping her distracted. 

Tim handed the device back to Zane, who quickly used it. He caught Tim’s leg and hauled him back to safety as soon as he was on solid ground.

“You alright, Timothy?” Zane asked, helping him up.

“You’re heavy,” Tim said, stretching his shoulders.

“How the hell did that hole even get there?” Zane asked.

“Uh...Aurelia did it?” Tim said.

“We’re going to have a long damn talk about your bad ideas when this is all over.”

Tim scowled, but couldn’t argue. He’d been hoping to knock Aurelia out of the house, and either kill her or leave her injured with no immediate allies. He hadn’t expected her to try to fling him and Zane out of the house instead. 

“Zane!” Amara cried.

They both looked over just in time to see the COV running down the hall at them, guns drawn. Aurelia looked smug at the sight, though Amara had driven her back a considerable distance. 

A Badass was the first to reach them, trying to slam into Zane. Zane grabbed Tim and yanked them both away from the hole in the wall, shooting Tim a look which he promptly ignored.

The COV fell on them, swinging melee weapons and firing guns. It became a whirlwind of activity, and through it, Tim saw Aurelia fleeing.

“Oh no you don’t!” he said, taking off after her despite the pain in his leg.

“Timothy!” Zane yelled, but was too busy trying to keep the Badass off himself to stop Tim. “Dammit! That kid is such a feckin’ headache sometimes!” 

“Go after him!” Amara called. “I’ve got this. He’s too injured to fight alone.”

Zane did a quick observation of the situation. He gunned down three COV before nodding to Amara and taking off after Tim.

He just hoped Aurelia hadn’t been running off to lure Tim into a trap alone. Oh, he was having a long damn talk with Tim about his bad ideas when this mess was over with.

Chapter Text

“This was such a bad decision,” Tim whispered as he stared in despair at the giant creature waiting to kill him.

What had Zane called these things? Anointed?

Whatever it was, it had teleported to Tim and nearly smashed his skull in. The only thing that saved Tim was that it had come up on his right side instead of his left.

Tim dragged himself backwards, gun at the ready. His leg hurt, so he wouldn’t be able to move around much.

But Aurelia was nowhere in sight. As bad as that was, it also meant nothing to stop his digi-Jacks.

He swiped them into being, and they immediately moved in front of him and fired on the Anointed. Tim moved as fast as he could through the theater as COV came pouring in.

He was outnumbered, but he’d faced worse odds on Elpis. Granted, he had a team at his back and a perfectly functional body back then. But still.

He opted for a shotgun, firing his way through the COV as his digi-Jacks distracted the Anointed for him. He wished he’d saved at least one grenade, because that would come in damn handy right now.

“I’m stupid, I’m stupid,” Tim hissed, digging his elbow roughly into the chest of a COV who tried to melee him from behind. He spun, his leg throbbing. He allowed it to give out, dropping away from the swing of the melee weapon and firing at the attacker’s knees instead. They cried out in agony as the shotgun blast tore through their left knee. “I feel you on that one, buddy.” Tim pat his own injured leg before putting the poor sucker out of his misery. 

Before Tim could get up, another COV attacker threw themselves at him, knocking them both to the ground. They crawled on top of Tim, weapon held high, and he-

-begged Jack not to bring the brand down on his face, screamed until his throat was raw-

-threw up his hands in defense, managing to catch the blow with his arms and-

- “Stop, Jack!” Tim begged as Jack dug his knees into Tim’s chest and rested his hands against his throat. “I didn’t let her get away on purpose, I swear, I swear!”

And it was a lie, a damn lie, because Tim didn’t want to kill that woman. She was just a scientist who didn’t want to hurt people at the Preserve, and why should she die for that?

“You’re going to hunt her down, bring her back here, and kill her nice and slow, other-me,” Jack said, leaning closer to Tim. “Wilhelm is going in the room with you to make sure you do it right.” He lightly pat Tim’s cheek. “Heroes have to get their hands dirty to get the job done sometimes, kiddo. You’ll learn.”

He didn’t want to learn. He didn’t want to be a killer. 

“Jack, stop!” Tim cried in alarm as Jack began to tighten his hold on Tim’s throat. “I’ll do it, I promise! I’ll do it! I’ll-”

“Timothy!”

Tim jerked upright, gasping for air and touching his throat. Zane was leaning over him, the COV attacker dead on the ground. 

“Jack’s not here. But that feckin’ Anointed Goliath is going to kill us both if you don’t get your mind in the present, lad,” Zane said, shaking his shoulder a little. “You with me?”

“I- Yea, I think so,” Tim said, shaking his head and trying to focus on the moment. Shit. “I don’t know what happened.”

“Later. Up,” Zane said, hauling him to his feet. “Amara’s holding back the COV that attacked us in the hallway. The big fella here is our responsibility.” 

“Then let’s kill it,” Tim said, because that moment all those years ago hadn’t meant a thing in the end. He’d hunted that woman down, and tortured her, and become a killer. He couldn’t change that. 

Tim checked his watch. His digi-Jacks were getting low, but they still had a little time, and had hopefully made a dent in this thing’s health.

“What in the freaking absolute hell is THAT?” Tim said as the Anointed shot…”Are those flaming skulls? Is it shooting flaming skulls at us from its own head? I literally just wanted to kill Aurelia, and now that thing is shooting flaming skulls at us from its freaking head.”

Zane tossed down his barrier, and they crashed into it. “How well can you move?”

“Not well,” Tim admitted. “If you can keep him distracted, I can get somewhere and try to snipe.”

“Go. I can handle the distraction bit with my digi-clone,” Zane said. “Careful of your left side. There are still plenty of COV milling about.” 

“I’ve been fighting with my blindside for years,” Tim grumbled, hefting his sniper rifle onto his shoulder and heading for the opposite side of the theater. “Just keep its attention on you!”

That, Zane could do. He was still a little shaken up from rushing in here to see Tim suffering a mental lapse and about to have his head cut off by a psycho, but Tim seemed to be alright now. 

He wondered if the convulsions made Tim more likely to suffer a mental lapse. Then he decided that was a problem to throw at Tannis, and he had a goddamn problem all his own right now.

The Anointed was huge, and it was pissed. It was swinging viciously at Tim’s digi-Jacks, the blows passing harmlessly through their bodies and only making them distort a bit. 

Zane summoned his digi-clone and began firing at the Anointed. That seemed to catch his attention, as he spun to Zane and clapped his hands together hard enough to send out a shockwave at him. Zane leapt over it.

“That’s a new trick,” he said, and swapped with his clone as the Anointed attempted to teleport to him. “That, not so much. I can do the whole teleporting thing too, boyo.” 

A shot rang out and the Anointed let out a cry of pain as Tim’s shot struck him. Before he could turn his attention on Tim, Zane risked running up and catching him with a melee attack, swapping with his clone before the Anointed could strike at him. 

Tim got another shot in on the Anointed, and Zane began to fire his own shots. The Anointed did not like the sudden assault from either man, but focused his anger on Zane.

Zane could easily swap with his clone and throw down his barrier to deal with most of the Anointed’s attacks. Tim’s shots were slow but accurate, and Zane figured they’d take the big guy out without too much fuss, even after Tim’s digi-Jacks had disappeared to recharge. 

Until things, naturally, went wrong.

Zane’s clone had to recharge. Zane began to move around and fire, never staying still. Tim kept the COV off him by sniping them out when they got too close, but there were brief periods where they attempted to charge in at Zane when Tim was reloading.

It was during one of those times that a Tink caught Zane in the legs and knocked him down.

Zane hit the ground hard, just as a shockwave came through. It shattered his shield, and he hastily rolled onto his back and shot the Tink dead before it could get him with a follow-up attack.

Two more enemies rushed at him, and he took them out as swiftly as he could, vaguely aware that Tim had yet to fire another shot. He couldn’t worry about that right at the moment.

“Zane!”

It was Tim’s voice, close and frantic. Zane turned just in time to see the Anointed pulling back it’s arm to strike him.

Before he could scramble out of the way, Tim leapt in front of him, arms thrown out protectively. The Anointed caught him with the swing instead, sending Tim flying into the wall hard enough to shake the room a bit.

“Tim!” Zane said in alarm, pushing himself out of the way of a follow-up attack. He signaled for his SNTNL to attack the Anointed, grateful when it was enough to distract him.

Tim was slumped against the wall, teeth ground together and hunched in a position that told Zane the blow had broken Tim’s collarbone. Tim opened his eyes and immediately began to crawl for the exit to the theater, grunting in pain as he went.

No, no, no. An injury like that…

“Timothy!” Zane said, trying to run for him.

“Kill it!” Tim snapped, reaching the exit. His body jerked, and he dragged himself out of the theater, kicking the door shut and leaving Zane alone with the Anointed.

No. He was going to suffer another convulsion. His body always moved uncontrollably when he did. He was going to hurt himself worse if no one was there to restrain him.

But he’d known the risks. He’d fled the battlefield so Zane could focus on the Anointed without worrying about Tim. 

“Damn you,” Zane said, and shot relentlessly at the Anointed.

He needed to focus on the immediate threat in front of him, but his mind kept slipping to Tim. It was too loud, too chaotic, to hear if he was yelling in pain out there. 

He tried to keep swapping around the room with his clone to keep the Anointed busy. But as more time went on and he chipped at the thing’s health bit by bit, the more worried he grew. Had Tim lost consciousness from the pain? Had the COV found him out there? Would Amara get to him first? What would happen if even one COV slipped by Amara and found Tim injured and convulsing? 

He let himself get too distracted. Foolish, dangerous. But that’s what he got for getting so damn attached to Tim.

The Anointed struck him from behind, and only because Zane miscalculated how long his digi-clone had left before recharging. The blow sent him flying forward and he hit the ground hard enough to wind him.

Zane struggled to get up, and winced, realizing he must’ve injured his ankle when he landed. He dragged himself forward, signaling at the SNTNL to attack the Anointed.

The Anointed was having none of it. He smacked the SNTNL away from himself and sent out a shockwave that flung Zane forward and shattered his shield. Zane hissed in pain as his ankle refused to cooperate.

The Anointed towered over him, hands raised. Zane pressed one hand to the ground, hoping he could push himself out of the way right before the Anointed struck him. It’d buy him some time to get back up so he could put distance between them.

“No!”

It was Tim’s voice, surprisingly loud. He slumped in the doorway, hair plastered to his sweaty forehead and heaving for breath. His arm trembled as he fired his gun at the Anointed, drawing its attention away from Zane. 

“N-Not...him…” Tim ground out, and swiped his watch. “Pr...Protect Z-Zane.”

“But-” the blue one started.

“Go!” Tim snapped, and slid down to the ground, swaying dangerously. He pressed against the doorway for purchase and began to shoot again.

Zane used the distraction to roll away from the Anointed. He dragged himself to his feet, took the weight off his bad ankle, and began to fire again.

The red digi-Jack came to his side while the blue one tried to draw the Anointed’s attention. With all the gunfire on his already worn down body, it didn’t take long before it let out a roaring cry and crystalized into Eridium.

Zane slammed the bastard to pieces and limped to Tim as fast as he could. He dropped at Tim’s side, too afraid to touch him.

“Timothy?” he said. 

“You...o-okay?” Tim said, gun dropping from his hand as the digi-Jacks finished off the few remaining COV.

“Bit of a sore ankle, but still alive thanks to you,” Zane said. “Let’s get you to Tannis. Timothy?”

Tim’s head lolled to the side, his eyes closed. Zane cursed silently, and carefully got his arms under Tim, lifting him up. 

“Guys?” Zane said into his ECHO.

“Zane!” Amara said in relief. “They drove me into a room and, um...never mind, are you okay?”

“They locked her in and barricaded it,” Moze said helpfully.

“Moze!” Amara snarled.

“Me ankle’s messed up, and Timothy’s in rough shape. We just took down a big bad in the theater, but lost Aurelia. Come search here while I take him back to Sanctuary for medical attention,” Zane said. 

“Sure, sure. Just let us finish getting Amara out,” Moze said.

“I hate you,” Amara said.

“I imagine you will not live this incident down,” Fl4k said.

“Oh, she definitely won’t,” Moze assured.

“Wish I could come see it, but the lad’s got a shattered collarbone and I’ve got to get him tended to,” Zane said. “Good luck getting Amara out of there, and be sure to send me a video of it.”

“Zane! Oh, fuck you, go back to Sanctuary,” Amara said.

“Just you, though. If we all go back, she’ll be trapped here forever,” Moze said, snickering.

Zane cut off the feed to let them bicker amongst themselves. He found the nearest fast travel station and took them up to Sanctuary, hurrying to medical as fast as he could without jostling Tim about.

“Zane?” Lilith said, looking over at him from where she was talking to Tannis. “Holy shit, what happened to him?”

“Long story. His collarbone is definitely broken and he was shot in the leg, but I don’t know what else he suffered,” Zane said, gently lying Tim on the bed. “I need a health kit for myself. Twisted my ankle in a fall.”

Lilith got Zane a health kit while Tannis tended to Tim. Zane sat down in the chair next to Tim’s bed and explained what had happened to Lilith and Tannis.

“So Aurelia got away?” Lilith said grimly.

“Unfortunately. But we’ll find her again. The good news is that she wants Tim alive, so I doubt she’ll try to drug him again. She saw him have that convulsion,” Zane said.

“This shouldn’t take too long to heal with health kits and his usual Eridium intake,” Tannis said. “I did sedate him due to the pain, though. I dislike his scream. Something about hearing Handsome Jack shriek in agony disturbs me on levels I’d rather not acknowledge.”

“Appreciated,” Zane said. “My ankle should be good in a little. Want me to head back to the others?”

He didn’t want to, not really. He didn’t want to leave Tim’s side.

“No, that’s alright,” Lilith said, much to his relief. “They can handle it from here. You just rest up. I’ll bring you some water.”

“Thanks,” Zane said. 

When she had left, and Tannis had finished with Tim, Zane moved the chair closer. Tannis had taken off Tim’s shirt and cut his jeans to wrap his wounds. The one on his head had been bandaged, and he looked in bad shape. Zane knew he’d be okay in a few days thanks to health kits and Eridium, but he still didn’t like how pale and sickly he looked now.

“Screw you, boyo,” Zane said, rubbing a hand against his forehead. “Always giving me a headache.”

But he couldn’t stop picturing Tim slumped in that doorway, barely conscious and no doubt in agony. Still, he’d forced himself to stay upright and fight, all to protect Zane. He’d given up his only defense with the digi-Jacks so that they could protect Zane.

“Feck, I think I emotionally adopted your troubled arse,” Zane groaned. “Should’ve never taken that job.”

But what if he hadn’t taken that job? Would Tim have been killed after Jack’s death? Would Tim have stayed locked in the casino until someone killed him for looking like Jack? Would Jack have brought him out to open the vault and wake the Warrior?

Zane didn’t know. All he did know is that if he hadn’t gotten Tim out of that casino, there was a good chance Tim would’ve died. Been killed, or died of an overdose eventually. 

“Shite, I’m glad you’re alive, lad,” Zane whispered, and closed his eyes, resting a hand on Tim’s arm. “Real damn glad.”

Aurelia was still out there. But they’d find her later. For now, all Zane could think about was Tim coming to protect him, and how damn grateful he was that Tim was still alive and at Zane’s side.

Chapter Text

Tim was so used to being in pain that it didn’t really phase him when he woke up. He grunted and tried to shift his arm, agony shooting through him and making him jerk away with a surprised cry.

“Easy!” Zane said, pushing him back down. “It’s alright. You’re on Sanctuary.”

Tim looked around and slumped against the pillows. “Great. Back in this place.”

“Broken collarbone,” Zane informed him. “It’ll heal up quick, Tannis says.”

“That explains the pain. I broke it once before, when Jack pushed me down the stairs.” He couldn’t even remember why Jack had been so angry. Something Nisha had said over the ECHO, he thought. Tim just happened to be standing next to him, so Jack struck out and knocked him down the stairs, then yelled at Tim when he woke up in medical for breaking so easily.

Tim looked over Zane, glad to see he seemed okay. Tim didn’t remember much after being injured. He’d crawled out into the hallway and suffered a bad convulsion, growing worse as more pain than usual tore through him, unable to stop his broken body from thrashing around.

But when he’d come out of it, the only thing on his mind had been getting to Zane. Zane needed him, so he dragged himself through that door, just in time to see the Anointed about to kill an unshielded Zane.

Everything had frozen in that moment. Tim pushed through all the pain, through his wavering vision, to fire on the Anointed to draw his attention away from Zane. 

“Zane, are you okay?” Tim asked.

“Me? You’re the one beat to hell,” Zane said, raising an eyebrow. “I just hurt my ankle.”

“I just…” Tim dropped his gaze, fidgeting with his hands. “I saw him about to kill you. And I just reacted. I’m sorry I...It wouldn’t have happened if I hadn’t gotten hurt. I distracted you. Lilith was right, and I almost got us both killed. I’m sorry. I know that’s not enough, but it’s all I’ve got.” He swallowed past the lump in his throat. “I’ll stay here while you guys take care of Aurelia. I won’t- I won’t be the reason you get hurt. I won’t.”

An arm went around his shoulder, and then he was being pulled against Zane. Tim froze up. He hadn’t been hugged since-

Since the last time Zane hugged him.

Tim closed his eyes, leaning against Zane. “I’m sorry. I was stubborn, and you almost died for it.”

“Shut up,” Zane said, his voice light. “Overdramatic bastard. We’re going to get you healed up and then go take out Aurelia. You did fine, lad. You did damn fine.” He hugged Tim a little closer. “You saved my life twice.”

“Yea, well, it was about time I paid you back for saving mine,” Tim said, turning a little so he could put his arm around Zane. He was shaking, and he wasn’t quite sure why. He felt something tickle his cheek, and tightened his hold on Zane. “Thank you. I don’t know if I ever said that.”

“I wasn’t there when you needed me,” Zane said, and rested his cheek against Tim’s hair, letting Tim curl against him, giving him the comfort he should’ve never needed. If Zane had only checked in on him like he’d promised. “That’s never happening again. We’re a team.”

We’re a family.

Family had always meant violence to Zane. It was assassins as a greeting, it was shooting with his brothers, it was blood and murder and aggression. It was the Flynt way.

But he wanted it to be this.

He wanted it to be Tim feeling safe in his embrace. He wanted it to be having each other’s backs, fighting through the pain to keep each other safe. He wanted those hard, painful moments of dragging Tim back and forth in a room on his back to be worth the few steps he managed to take. 

And Tim heard the meaning beneath the words. He squeezed his eyes shut, because he’d really believed he’d never have a family again. His mom had long since mourned him and moved on. He’d given up his family for money, and that had been his burden to bear.

But he held onto Zane, knowing Zane meant it when he said that was never happening again. Zane would look out for him, and he would look out for Zane, because that’s what family did. They might get on each other’s nerves. Maybe Zane would blast the radio loud when Tim had a headache. Maybe Tim would be so overdramatic that Zane would want to smack him. But at the end of the day, Tim would throw himself before the Anointed to protect Zane, and Zane would come for him when he was chained up in the dark. 

They sat like that for a long while. It was only when they heard the doors to medical slide open that they finally pulled apart.

Tim laid back against the pillows, struggling to get into a comfortable position. Zane offered him water, and Tim had just begun to drink it when Lilith approached them.

“We’re searching for Aurelia,” she said. “But Timothy, if we were to find her today, you aren’t well enough to-”

“He’ll go,” Zane said. “He’ll stay back, out of sight. But he’ll be there. I promised him he got to deal the final blow to her.”

“You got to kill Jack, and I get to kill Aurelia,” Tim said to Lilith.

“I can’t stop you,” she said, lifting her hands as if to disarm the coming fight. “I was just making an observation. Zane, a word?”

Zane got up and followed Lilith out of medical. She crossed her arms, worrying at her lower lip.

“Oi, cut that out. I spend half the damn day telling Timothy to stop chewing his lip, and I’m not doing it for you too,” Zane said.

“I...saw, when I came in,” she said at last. “Zane, he’s not well. And I don’t just mean his current injuries. We have no idea what that Eridium did to him, or how long he’s got left.” Her expression grew sad. “I just don’t want to see you get hurt if he takes a turn for the worst.”

“He doesn’t deserve to go the rest of his life unloved just because he’s sick,” Zane said angrily. “He was alone when Aurelia took him. He was alone when he was tortured. He was alone when he was drugged out of his mind and health. I got him back, and he is done being alone. Even if his condition deteriorates by tomorrow, I’ve got him.”

“I’m sorry. I worded that wrong.” She shook her head. “Losing Roland...hurt. It hurt more than I can say. And I know what it did to Tina, mentally and emotionally. I’m just worried about you, Zane. I don’t mean to be a pessimist. He could live another forty years just fine for all we know. I hope he does. I just don’t want to see you get hurt, that’s all.”

“Some things are worth getting hurt for,” Zane said. “Appreciated, but keep your concern to yourself. I’m not leaving my kid again.”

She opened her mouth, eyes going wide. Then she promptly shut it and nodded, and Zane was glad she hadn’t mentioned his slipup. 

Shit. He’d gone way past attached when it came to Timothy.

He turned and left Lilith out in the hallway as he returned to Tim’s side. Tim glanced at him.

“What did she want?” he asked.

“Crimson Raider business,” he said, shaking his head. “Don’t worry about it.”

Before he sat, he went to fetch food for both of them. He set a plate down on the nightstand next to Tim’s bed, but Tim didn’t even look at it.

“Timothy,” Zane said sternly.

“Huh?” He looked over and noticed the food. “Oh. I’m not hungry.” 

“You’re eating something, or I’m shoving it all right down your throat,” Zane warned.

“Okay, mom,” Tim said.

“Bet I’m a better cook than your mom. I mean, I didn’t cook this. But if I did!” Zane said. 

Tim laughed a little. “You definitely are. Cooking wasn’t her speciality.” He gave a small, fond smile. “But she liked to do it. She was always trying out new recipes. This one time when I was a kid, I tried to make her dinner to be nice. I poured god only knows what spices into it and it tasted horrible. But she ate it, because she didn’t want to hurt my feelings. Then the next day, she started teaching me how to cook so I never put her through that torture again.”

The smile had slipped off his face as he spoke, his eyes growing impossibly sad. He cleared his throat, shrugged, and winced at the movement.

“Maybe I could kill Aurelia with my cooking. I took after my mom with that one. Jack always had us order meals,” he said. 

Zane got up and searched around until he found shorts and a hoodie. He tossed them to Tim.

“Get dressed,” he ordered, because he couldn’t bear that sad look on his face.

“What? Why?” Tim asked. 

“Just do it. You’ve gotta be sick of this place. I know I am,” Zane said.

Tim struggled to get dressed, but Zane allowed him to do it on his own. Once Tim was dressed and had managed to stand, Zane picked up their food and gestured at Tim to follow him.

It was slow going. Zane’s ankle was much better, but the gunshot wound on Tim’s leg had been bad, and health kits had yet to do much for it. He limped along determinedly behind Zane, trying his best to keep up without complaining. 

Tim groaned when Moxxi’s bar came into view. Zane led them in and set their food at the bar, waiting for Tim to reluctantly take a seat.

“You look rough,” Moxxi said, coming over to them.

Tim tugged the hoodie down. “Broken bones. Again.”

“Lad’s not eating. I was hoping a change of scenery would help,” Zane said.

Moxxi smirked at him and leaned closer to Tim. “Why don’t you eat up while I get you something to wash that down with, Tim?”

Despite the cleavage in his face, Tim’s eyes were locked on Moxxi’s as he stammered. “O-Oh, um, y-yes ma’am. I’ll eat.”

Zane barked a laugh as Moxxi backed away. “Smooth, Timothy.”

“He’s a sweet one. Leave him be,” Moxxi said, throwing a coaster at his head. “You could take a lesson from him.”

“From me?” Tim said in surprise. “I mean, uh, yea, he totally could. Write that down, Zane.” 

“Shut it and eat,” Zane said, pushing Timothy’s food closer to him.

Tim reluctantly picked at his meal. He never seemed to feel hungry anymore, and thought of Angel telling him that it was a sign of an Eridium addiction.

His stomach twisted as he thought of the fact that he’d be addicted the rest of his life. He needed it to survive now, after working so hard to get clean of the stuff.

A hand touched his cheek and he flinched. Moxxi let her fingers linger as she used her free hand to slide a soda to him.

“I like it better when you smile,” she said.

“Why? It’s Jack’s smile,” Tim said. “And Jack was a prick to you.”

“Jack was. You never were.” She let her hand linger a moment longer before dropping it to get Zane’s drink. “Jack never really smiled. He always had this cocky smirk on his face. It’s a shame. He would’ve looked a lot better if he had a smile like yours. You do his face justice.” 

Tim fumbled for words, and Zane saved him by forcing him to take another bite of his food. Moxxi winked at Tim before sauntering off to greet a customer who’d sat at the end of the bar.

“You’ve got a chance,” Zane said, elbowing him playfully.

“Shut up!” Tim said, face going red with embarrassment. “I don’t want to talk about it. Agh, you brought me here just to embarrass me!”

“I would never,” Zane said innocently. 

Tim scowled and drank his soda, looking disappointed that it couldn’t be something stronger. Zane sipped his beer and propped an arm on the counter.

“Those convulsions should fade over time,” Zane said.

“Should, but it doesn’t mean they will.” Tim looked tired. “We don’t know what will happen to my body, Zane.”

“No one likes a pessimist, Timothy,” Zane said. He kicked Tim’s shin. “Oi, your lip. Quit it.”

“I’m not being a pessimist. I’m being realistic. It’ll be too hard to get my hopes up and then…” He shrugged the slightest. “I’d rather expect the worst and be surprised than expect the best and be disappointed.”

Zane got that, he really did. But he couldn’t just sit here and accept that the rest of Tim’s life would be convulsions and mental lapses, needing his regular doses of Eridium to stay alive even as his body began to shut down.

“Oi, Tim,” Zane said, because he had to ask while Tim was as healthy as he was apparently going to get. “Would you want to see your mom again?”

Tim choked on the little bit of food he’d been chewing. “What? No! She can’t see me like this!”

Zane raised a hand in apology. “Just checkin’.”

“Look at me! Imagine if Handsome Jack, who has been dead for seven years, showed up at your house and claimed to be your son, who has been dead for even longer. And then I’d have to explain that I’m dying of a forced Eridium addiction, and that I’ve been a murderer because I couldn’t pay off the student loans she warned me about. No way, no way in freaking hell, kiddo. Timothy Lawrence is dead, and that’s that,” Tim said. He hesitated. “Um, but if I do die…”

“Yea, I know.” Zane put a light hand on his good shoulder. “I know, lad. I’ve got you.”

“Thanks,” Tim said, pushing his food around on the plate. “Shit, this sucks. I wish I could have a drink.”

“I’ll have one for ya,” Zane said, clinking his beer against Tim’s soda.

“Gee, thanks,” Tim said. 

“Always lookin’ out for you,” Zane said, grinning and taking a swig of his beer.

Tim didn’t eat much, but he at least picked at his meal until he’d made a decent dent in it. He absentmindedly pushed it away and instead watched the people moving around the bar.

“Timothy,” Zane said, and waited until Tim had faced him. “When this is all over, would you want to stay here on Sanctuary? At least until the Calypsos are dead and this whole COV craze calms back down. I’ve got to fight the good fight against these bloody influencers, but you could stay here and help out around Sanctuary or with less risky missions to stay active. Tannis could keep studying the effects the Eridium had on you to see if we can help you any.”

Tim was quiet for a long time as he thought it over. Zane didn’t press him. This was going to be Tim’s choice, because Zane was done seeing them taken away from him.

“I don’t know,” Tim said at last. “I...can’t go back to Promethea. I’d never feel safe. I don’t know if I’d feel safe anywhere, to be honest.” He hesitated. “Can I have a cat here?”

“‘Course you can! Seriously, we have this annoying little devil named Pippie hoppin’ around the crew quarters. I’ve kicked it a few times because the noises it makes are worse than torture, but it keeps following me around. I’d welcome a cat at this point,” Zane said.

“Well, I’ll think about it,” Tim said, playing with his glass. “You’d really let me stay here?”

“Don’t put it like that. I said earlier that we were a team. Remember, emotional hug and all?” Zane said. “I meant it, lad. I really did. You’re always welcome wherever I am.”  

“Ellie could always use some help getting scrap off Pandora. You could clear out some of the smaller COV camps to take theirs,” Moxxi offered as she drifted closer to them.

Tim furrowed his brow, and Zane realized that Tim hadn’t seen Ellie here. Tim looked to Zane.

“The Ellie from the Dust,” he confirmed. “That’s Moxxi’s daughter. She lives on Sanctuary with us and- What?”

Tim had turned to stare at Moxxi. “That...Ellie is your daughter?”

Moxxi put a hand on her hip. “That’s my girl. What of it?”

Tim pressed a hand to his face, closing his eyes. “Angel. She sent me to the Dust once, hoping to convince me to flee from Jack. She said the Crimson Raiders had a contact out there I could go to. She said the contact’s mother knew me, and might be willing to help.” He was chewing at his lip again, and reluctantly stopped when Zane kicked him. “You. Angel was trying to send me to you, Moxxi. And you know what? Instead of going to you, I killed two men, took another prisoner, and tortured him until his screams rang in my ears.”

“Maybe it’s best you didn’t. Ellie might’ve shot you on sight for showing up looking like Jack. Besides, you wouldn’t have met Zane,” Moxxi said.

“Aye, but he wouldn’t have been caught by Aurelia, either,” Zane said, still bitter that he hadn’t been there when Tim cried out for him. “Might’ve been for the best if he had gone to you for help.”

“No, Moxxi’s right,” Tim said, shaking his head. He glanced tentatively at Zane. “It’s been a real damn shitty life I’ve lived. But...not all bad. I met a guy as tall as he is irritating.”

“Charming,” Zane said, grinning. “You said charming.”

Tim returned the grin. “I definitely said irritating.”

They clinked their glasses together and downed their drinks. Moxxi got them more, and Zane was glad to see that Tim seemed to be in a better mood.

It was a bit before Moze, Amara, and Fl4k came into the bar, taking up seats around Zane and Tim. Tim grew nervous, but they only ordered drinks and turned to face them.

“You good? Zane said you were pretty rough,” Moze said.

“Fine. A little broken, but that’s nothing new,” Tim said. 

“Glad to see they finally pried you out,” Zane said to Amara, and snickered when Amara glared at him.

“How long will you take to heal?” Amara asked, prying her glare away from Zane.

“Not too long. A few days, maybe,” Tim said. “The Eridium speeds it up.”

“You are very fragile, even for a human,” Fl4k said.

“And you are very rude, even for a...a...what the hell are you?” Tim said.

“Irritated,” Fl4k said.

Tim sighed. “Set myself up for that one.”

“Are you staying with the Crimson Raiders even after Aurelia is dead?” Moze asked curiously.

“We were just talking about that,” Zane said. “Timothy’s still thinking on that one.”

“Please do. Zane actually slows down when you’re in the vehicle,” Moze practically begged.

“He wouldn’t be joining our team! I think he’s had enough of vault hunter life,” Zane said.

“More than enough,” Tim said miserably. 

“Hey, you never told us how you actually met each other,” Moze said, signaling for Moxxi to bring more drinks over.

“That’s...a long story,” Tim said.

“Long and full of adventure! Let’s give it to them, Timothy,” Zane said.

“Alright, alright,” Tim said. “But we’re glossing over the overdose part. No one wants to hear about that.”

“I do,” Fl4k said.

“Shut up, whatever the hell you are,” Tim said.

“Why don’t you start off with how you ended up in the casino, and I’ll tell them how I got hired for the schematics job, and then we’ll pick up at where we met outside that VIP room?” Zane offered.

Tim nodded. “Okay. So, Jack wanted to assault Sanctuary, and had assigned me to make a layout of it for him…”

Zane leaned back in his chair as Tim began the tale of how they’d come to meet each other. They still had a hard job in front of them, especially now that Aurelia knew injuries could cause Tim to suffer his convulsions and leave him vulnerable.

But for now, they were just friends in a bar, enjoying drinks and sharing stories. And as Zane listened to it all, he was damn glad he’d met Tim in the casino that day. For all the hardships they’d gone through, and for all the suffering Tim had endured, Zane was grateful to have Timothy in his life.

Chapter Text

Tim woke Zane that night with his screaming.

Zane jerked awake at the sound, having fallen asleep in the chair next to Tim’s bed. Tim was screaming, and his arms thrashed.

Zane tried to grab him and restrain him, but his body jerked, and the convulsion started. Tannis hurried over, helping Zane restrain Tim.

“This is bad, Tannis,” Zane informed her.

“I’m aware. As I said, I suspect his body is so used to being able to rapidly heal itself with Eridium, that it’s reacting on instinct now. I doubt he’ll ever truly shake these convulsions, but they should stop triggering as a result of injury. Probably.” She tightened her hold on his arm as his convulsion grew worse. “He aggravated the injury. Was he having a nightmare? I was not paying attention to him.”

“I fell asleep,” Zane admitted. “He was screaming, so I’d guess so. Seeing Aurelia and nearly being taken captive again must’ve disturbed him more than he let on. Can he hear us when he’s suffering these?”

Tannis shrugged. “I’m sure in a sense, he’s aware of our presence and our voices. But I’ve never thought to ask him if he remembers anything that happens during these episodes.”

“Go on,” Zane said as Tim’s spasms began to ease the slightest. “I’ve got him from here. Going to take him out of here for the night if he’s okay. A change of scenery might do him some good.”

“Very well. The Eridium for him is over there,” Tannis said, waiting until Zane had a secure hold on Tim before going back to what she’d been doing before.

Zane held Tim as his convulsion died down. They’d brought him back to medical to sleep after spending hours in the bar with the others.

Tannis had run some more tests on him, and Tim had passed right out, exhausted. Zane should’ve known that, without sedatives, he would suffer nightmares. 

“There you are,” he said as Tim’s body finally settled. “Timothy? You with me?”

Tim turned his head, chest heaving for breath. “Zane?”

“Right here,” he said, carefully pulling Tim closer and putting an arm around him. “You’re alright, boyo. Just worked yourself up with a nightmare, that’s all.”

“Sorry,” he muttered, and winced. “Shit. I hurt myself, didn’t I?”

“Do you remember?” Zane said.

He shook his head. “It’s just...pain. When that happens, it’s just pain. And I know you’re there, sort of. I can hear your voice, but not what you’re saying. You have that annoying accent. Hard to miss, even when I feel like I’m dying.”

Zane narrowed his eyes. “You can mock my accent when you don’t sound like the galaxy’s biggest douchebag.”

“Struck a nerve, kiddo?” Tim said, raising an eyebrow. He winced again. “Ow, shit, yep, definitely hurt myself again. I was having a nightmare and then...then it just hurt.”

“Here,” Zane said, holding out a health kit to him. “If you want to see if that’ll help. You’re not due for another Eridium dose yet.”

Tim took the health kit and tentatively injected himself with it. They both waited, but he didn’t suffer another convulsion, and relaxed as the pain eased.

“Come on,” Zane said, standing up and holding a hand out.

“What? Where are we going?” he said in confusion. 

“Busting you out of here for the night,” Zane said.

Tim took his hand and allowed Zane to help him up. Zane grabbed the Eridium and led Tim out of medical.

Tim was shirtless, wearing only borrowed sweatpants. But it was late enough that hardly anyone was still out and about on the ship, so Zane didn’t worry. Besides, if Tim did decide to stay here when this was all over, the people would just have to get used to his face. 

Zane led Tim to his room and let Tim claim the bed. He sat in his chair, kicking his feet up on the desk.

“Can you get back to sleep?” he asked.

Tim shook his head. “No.”

“What was the nightmare?” Zane asked instead.

Tim hesitated. “Just...Just that day.”

“And me not being there.”

Tim winced, and Zane knew it had nothing to do with his injury this time. “I’m a grown man. I can look after myself. What happened wasn’t your fault.”

“It wasn’t yours, either.” Zane leaned forward. “I’ll say it over and over until it sticks in that thick skull of yours. What was done to you wasn’t your fault, Timothy.”

Tim stood up. “Can we leave the ship? I need to get some fresh air.”

“You’re still hurt,” Zane reminded.

“I know, I know. But the health kits helped my leg a lot. I’m barely limping,” Tim said. “The rest of me has seen better days. But I’m not looking to pick a fight. I just need some air.”

“Alright. I know a guy who could direct us to some easy shooting, if you wanted to blow off some steam,” Zane said, getting up and gesturing to his closet. “Get dressed. We’ll get you some new clothes since your jeans are fecked. I’m taller than you, but you should be able to roll up the pant legs and be fine.” 

Tim dug through Zane’s clothes until he found a pair of jeans that looked like they’d fit him. He cursed silently at how tall Zane was, and how bad his collarbone injury hurt as he tried to bend down to roll the legs up.

“Son of a taint,” he groaned, sitting on the bed. “Can you, uh…?”

“I’m a grown man,” Zane mocked, but knelt in front of Tim and began to roll the legs up so he didn’t trip over them. 

“Shut up,” Tim said, half-heartedly kicking at Zane’s head. “It’s your fault for being as tall as you are irritating.”

“Charming.”

“Irritating.”

“Can’t hear you over the sound of how charming I am.”

“Asshole.”

“Headache.”

Zane stood up and held his hand out to Tim. Tim didn’t need it to get up this time, but he took it anyway.

They swung by medical to get Tim’s shoes, T-shirt, and weapons. Tannis didn’t look pleased at the last one, but she turned her back on them and went back to work instead of commenting on it.

They went to the fast travel station and Zane activated it. Tim glared at him once they reached their destination.

“I said fresh air! Not this pisshole of a planet. It smells like shit and bandits,” Tim scoffed.

“Doing it again,” Zane said.

“What? No, that was me, not Jack,” Tim said. “I hate this planet. It literally smells like shit and bandits.”

Zane sniffed the air and immediately regretted it. “Okay, true, but it’s a good place to shoot things.”

“That’s literally all it’s good for!” Tim said, but followed Zane.

“Oi! Vaughn!” Zane called as they walked through a Pandoran...town? Tim wasn’t quite sure what it was.

He wasn’t sure what the hell came out in front of them either. He was used to the bizarre, having spent the bulk of his time on Helios with a man who wore a fake face and another man who was a cyborg. But this was…

“What the actual hell are you, and why aren’t you wearing pants?” Tim said.

The man turned to him and his eyes widened. “Holy shit! That’s Handsome Jack! I mean, not really, because he’s dead. But that’s still Handsome Jack’s face! And voice! And...Zane, explain before I have a heart attack, maybe?”

“Vaughn, this is Timothy. Jack’s doppelganger. Timothy, this is Vaughn. He used to be a Hyperion nerd,” Zane explained.

“Turned to that BANDIT LIIIIFE after Helios crashed,” Vaughn said. “Wow, looking at your face is really unnerving.”

“Looking at a man in only his underwear is just as unnerving,” Tim said. 

“What, you don’t like a good man in just his underwear?” Zane said.

“Oh, no, I love a good man in just his underwear, don’t get me wrong.” He gestured to Vaughn. “This? This is not a good man. I’m not even sure this is a man. Look how small he is.”

“Are you absolutely sure he’s not the real Jack?” Vaughn said.

“Now that you mention it, I’ve never actually seen them in a room together at the same time…”

“Zane!” Tim glared at him.

“Anyway!” Zane said, clapping his hands together. “The lad and I are lookin’ for some easy shooting to blow off steam.”

“Hell yea, you could do us a favor, bro,” Vaughn said, pointing. “Skags are moving in over there. Mind killing them off and letting us know so we can collect them for meat?”

“Sure thing! Bandit life!” Zane said, bumping his fist against Vaughn’s. “Leave it to us. Timothy was an exterminator for years.”

“Yea, Timothy was an exterminator when he wasn’t sporting a broken collarbone,” Tim said. “I did once work with a broken hand, though.” At Zane’s look, he shrugged defensively. “I had two cats to feed.”

“Headache,” Zane said. “Let’s go. Thanks, Vaughn.”

Tim and Zane went in the direction Vaughn had pointed them in. They eventually spotted where the skags were, and climbed up onto a cliff overlooking the area.

“Oh, shit, this is really high up,” Tim whispered, inching away from the edge. “Really, really high up.”

It was dark out, and a cold wind bit at them as Zane used the scope of a sniper rifle to eye their targets. “It’s not that high up. Well, maybe a little. But exposure is good for fear! Or not. Me brother once locked me in a room with six birds and I cried. Killed them all, naturally. But cried doing it. Never fell for the old ‘Zane, there’s leftover cookies in that room’ trick again, no sir. Pulled a gun on him whenever he tried it.”

“You’re afraid of birds?” Tim said in disbelief.

“Feckin’ demons, the lot of them.” Zane lowered his gun and gestured at Tim. Tim reluctantly came closer. “There aren’t many of them, and most of them are small. Plus, we’re high up enough that they can’t get to us. Still, get your digi-Jacks out to watch our backs while we shoot, will you?”

Tim frowned. “I can’t shoot with my sniper rifle. The recoil will hurt too much. I’m not healed enough for that. I thought we’d be shooting at, like, targets or something. I was going to use my pistol.”

“Nah, trust me. Brace it on your good side,” Zane said.

Tim shook his head. “I can’t. Blind in the left eye, remember?”

“Trust me,” Zane repeated.

Tim sighed but got out his sniper rifle. He swiped his digi-Jacks into being. “Make sure nothing sneaks up on us.”

Tim sat down as close to the edge as he could bear to be. Zane went up on Tim’s side and took the majority of the sniper rifle’s weight in one hand, using the other hand to brace Tim so the recoil wouldn’t jerk him back.

Tim craned his neck awkwardly to be able to look through the scope. Zane let Tim guide the sniper rifle, and he pulled the trigger when the shot was lined up.

Zane tried to take the force of the recoil, but it still jerked Tim enough to have him hiss in pain. Zane tugged at the sniper rifle so that it was braced against his shoulder instead, but so that Tim could still look through it and pull the trigger. 

“Again,” he said.

“This is hell,” Tim informed him.

“You’re being overdramatic,” Zane informed him.

Tim sighed but readjusted himself and fired another shot. This time, the recoil only pulled on his good arm, while Zane’s shoulder took the force of it. The hand holding Tim steady kept him from pulling back with the recoil.

“See? Better,” Zane said. “Go wild, lad.” 

Together, they shot down all the skags. Tim seemed pleased when the last one fell, and they both lowered the sniper rifle to the ground.

“We should go tell your pantless friend,” Tim said.

Zane shook his head. “Nah, not just yet. It’s a nice night out. Let’s enjoy it a bit longer.”

Tim laid on his back, cushioning his head on his arm and staring up at the sky. “It’s so weird to look up there and not see Helios. I couldn’t believe it when it crashed.”

“Well, I’d say Rhys had pretty good reason to crash it,” Zane said.

“I know. He did. But…” Tim’s gaze fell to Elpis. “Everything Jack did, and it’s all just gone now. Only half our team is left, and Aurelia will be dead when this is all over. I’m dying myself.” He swallowed hard. “Did any of it ever even matter? All that pain, all that bloodshed, and for what? He woke the Warrior, and he still died. He sacrificed his daughter, and for what?”

“Don’t,” Zane said. He crossed his legs and tugged at Tim to rest his head on them so he didn’t have to stay on the ground. “One thing I learned a long damn time ago is that if you can’t change it, don’t question it. Don’t think of the ‘what ifs’. Don’t wonder what it was all for. You can’t change the choices you made, and even if you could, you can’t change Jack’s choices. He was always going to sacrifice Angel to wake the Warrior. He was always going to murder his way to the top. Nothing you did could’ve changed it.”

“Do you regret anything, Zane?” Tim asked quietly.

“Plenty. I don’t dwell on it.” The breeze pushed Tim’s hair into his bad eye, and Zane brushed it away, looking at the way the scar tore through what had once been his left eye. “Just one thing I can’t quite get out of my mind.”

“No, I- I didn’t mean-” Tim started.

“I know you didn’t. It’s still true.” Zane traced his thumb just under the ruined eye. “I should’ve come looking for you as soon as you went missing. I had no way to know you were taken, and as much as I want, I can’t hold that against myself. But I should’ve been checking in with you, and I damn well should’ve looked into it when you went missing. I’m sorry I wasn’t there. You said you thought I forgot you.”

“I’m not your responsibility,” Tim whispered. “I wouldn’t have blamed you if you had.”

“I didn’t.” Zane wanted to force a grin and crack a joke, but for once, this wasn’t the time. Instead, he took a breath. “I never could, Timothy. You mean too much to me.”

“I think some part of me knew you’d come get me out of there. They had to drug me so heavily because I kept fighting back. I never gave up,” Tim said. He looked up at Zane. “Before you got me out of that casino, I had this...this hollow feeling. It grew day by day. It’s not there anymore, Zane.”

“Feckin’ hell, lad, if you weren’t broken I’d hug you,” Zane said miserably. “I just wanted to steal schematics, not adopt Handsome Jack’s pain in the arse doppelganger.”

Tim tried to grin, but there was real joy in it. “Asshole. I’m a grown man. I don’t need a dad. Especially not one who can’t drive to preserve his life.”

“Ah, you’re no fun,” Zane said. The breeze picked up, and Zane shrugged out of his jacket. He draped it over Timothy, who was only in his T-shirt and starting to shiver. 

“Thanks,” Tim said, his voice quiet. “You always look out for me.”

Zane had never wanted children. Children could be used against him. In his line of work, anything you loved was a danger to you. 

And now, more than ever, he was glad he’d never had any. Because the knowledge that Timothy was likely going to die before Zane was excruciating. Especially now, looking down at him. He had a small smile on his face as he adjusted Zane’s jacket over himself, his eyes on the wide open sky above them.

The moment they wrapped up that mess with the Calypsos, Zane was going to turn his focus to learning what he could about Eridium. If there was a way to save Tim, he’d find it. 

As Tim fell asleep, his head nestled against Zane’s leg and the jacket keeping him warm, Zane absentmindedly brushed Tim’s hair away from his eyes again. If Tim had been broken when they first met, he was shattered now.

But Zane would pick up the pieces, one by one. First, they’d take out Aurelia. Then they’d find a place for Tim to live. And then Zane would search for a way to cure him.

“We’ll make it, boyo. I promise,” Zane said quietly. The wind carried his voice away into the night, but it was alright. Something told him Tim already knew.

Chapter Text

Tim woke only because a breeze sent his hair tumbling over his forehead and into his eyes. Before he could open his eyes and push it away, a hand was there doing it for him.

Tim cracked open his good eye and saw Zane’s hand, his fingers brushing away the last of the strands. Zane himself was staring up at the sky, unaware Tim was awake.

Tim closed his eye again, deciding to continue to fake sleeping. He was uncomfortable as hell, but he was warm and felt safe for the first time in a long time.

He shifted himself slightly, but it was enough to send a jolt of pain through his collarbone. He hissed in pain, eyes flying open. His body jerked in response, and anxious dread surged in him.

Zane automatically caught his arms to make sure he didn’t thrash during the convulsion. They both waited in tense silence, but Tim’s body didn’t begin to convulse, and the pain faded to a dull throb as he adjusted his position.

Tim let out a breath. Zane loosened his grip, but didn’t release Tim entirely. 

“You alright?” Zane asked.

“Fine, I think,” Tim said.

“Tannis said your body should convulse less as it realizes the Eridium isn’t there to heal you. Or somethin’,” he said.

“I just moved wrong,” Tim said. He was reluctant to get up, but his back hurt. Zane helped him sit up, and when the jacket dropped to his lap, Zane lifted it and put it over Tim’s shoulders.

Tim leaned back against Zane. Zane only shifted slightly to let Tim be more comfortable.

It was strange; for as long as Tim could remember in his old life, it had just been him and his mom. He’d never had a father figure in the picture. The closest thing he’d had was Jack, and Jack wasn’t exactly getting any #1 Dad mugs from Angel. 

He’d certainly never expected to find one in the form of a tall, brash, heavily-accented mercenary who liked to drink as much as he liked to talk. Tall as he was irritating. Tim turned his head so Zane wouldn’t see his smile. 

“Hey,” Tim said at last, nudging Zane. “You must be tired. Let’s head back. I’m okay now, really. Just needed some air.”

Zane stretched, careful not to jostle Tim. “Suppose I could go for a snooze. Got a leg cramp, too. Some kid fell asleep on me.”

“Kid,” Tim scoffed. “I’m an adult.”

“Ah, you’re barely old enough to understand what that means. Probably,” Zane said. “For all I know, you’re actually in your 80s and you’ve been lying to me this whole time.”

“Maybe,” Tim said, and tried to unsuccessfully remember his age once again. He couldn’t even remember his actual birthday anymore. Just Jack’s.

Zane got up and helped Tim up. Tim tried to hand the jacket back, but Zane shook his head.

“Nah, you’re shivering away,” Zane said, stretching again and shaking his legs out. “I’m not cold.”

Tim shrugged the jacket on and followed Zane. He could hear a rakk screeching somewhere in the distance, and realized he must’ve been asleep for a while. His digi-Jacks were gone. 

“You could’ve woken me up,” he said.

“You need the rest,” Zane said, nodding to Tim’s collarbone. “Your leg’s looking a hell of a lot better, though.”

“It feels better,” Tim said, glad he was barely limping. “The health kits are finally fixing it.” 

They returned to the occupied area. Tim looked around, but it was hard to make out details in the dark with only one eye. Not for the first time, he was bitter that Jack had partially blinded him. 

“Oi, Vaughn! We’re heading back to Sanctuary. Your skags are dead, courtesy of us. Yeehaw!” Zane said.

“Please never say yeehaw again,” Tim begged.

Zane frowned. “Yea, no, wasn’t a fan of that either.”

“It wasn’t a bad effort,” Vaughn assured.

“Don’t lie to him. It absolutely was.” Tim swatted Zane’s hand away. “Stop it, that wasn’t the DNA. I meant that, from the bottom of my heart, as Timothy Lawrence.”

“That damn DNA of yours! You can’t even tell when it’s creeping up,” Zane said.

“Well, it was not nice at all to meet you, and I hope you wear pants next time,” Tim said to Vaughn.

“Hey bro, it’s freeing. Try it some time,” Vaughn said.

“He did. He was in a porno,” Zane said.

“Zane!” Tim hissed.

Vaughn’s jaw dropped. “You’re THAT Timothy?”

“And on that note, goodbye, I’m going to go kill myself. I’ve been surprisingly bad at it so far, but I’m determined this time,” Tim said, grabbing Zane’s arm and dragging him towards the fast travel station. 

Zane’s laughter echoed through the night, and Tim was torn between wanting to join in or smack him. He settled for smacking his arm and activating the fast travel station.

They walked to Zane’s room, and Tim caught Zane’s arm as he headed for the chair. “What are you doing?”

“Going to sleep? You take the bed, boyo,” Zane said.

Tim’s chest ached. It was such a simple gesture, but Tim doubted Zane would ever know just how much it meant to him.

“No, I’m good,” Tim said. “You take the bed. I’m going to head to Moxxi’s for a drink and then go practice shooting with my good arm.”

“Don’t push yourself at the shooting range. We’re trying to get you healed up quickly,” Zane reminded, collapsing on his bed and closing his eyes. 

“Your jacket-” Tim started.

“Keep it. You tore up the other one. Besides, I’ve got plenty more,” Zane said, waving away the concern. “Hit the lights on your way out?”

“Yea, okay.” Tim pulled the jacket tighter around himself and flicked the lights off. “Goodnight, Zane.” 

He left the room and headed to Moxxi’s. She didn’t seem surprised to see him, and got him a soda as he sat down at the bar.

“I’m putting all your drinks on Zane’s tab,” she informed him.

He grinned a little. “Good.”

“He cares about you. A lot,” Moxxi said, leaning against the counter. “I think you should stay here, even when this business is finished. You need to be around people who care about you.”

Tim stared at his drink. “I think...I think I will stay.”

He couldn’t imagine leaving Zane again. He hadn’t wanted to the first time, but he also hadn’t wanted to be a burden. But this time, Zane wanted him to stay. 

“Plus, Tannis is probably my best chance at figuring out what’s happening to my body,” Tim said. 

“Zane will search for answers. I know him,” Moxxi said. She gave him that trademark seductive smile of hers, but there was something sincere and kind behind it. “Hopefully we can at least get you well enough to drink again. That one will be on me.”

“How do you not hate me, Moxxi?” Tim asked. “I was horrible to you.”

“Jack was,” she corrected. “You weren’t. It was a shame, what we had to do on Elpis. I was glad you survived it. Not so much Jack, but…” She shrugged. “I knew you didn’t fit in with that crowd from the moment I saw you. They were killers, and you still had humanity.”

“Not anymore,” Tim said bitterly.

“If that were true, you wouldn’t be here,” Moxxi said. “Zane wouldn’t have cared for you past the job you worked together. He doesn’t trust easily. He’s extroverted, but isolated. And yet, here you are, wearing his jacket. He wouldn’t have taken in some cruel killer. Neither would I. I would’ve dumped that drink right on your head.” 

“Yea, guess you would’ve,” Tim said with a sigh. “Thanks for, uh, not doing that.”

“Timothy, I’m all for a good revenge. But don’t let it consume you too much. If you do, you’ll be lost when it’s over,” Moxxi said. “You need something else to keep you grounded.”

“I’m dying, Moxxi,” Tim said. “Maybe not today, maybe not tomorrow, maybe not for another 20 years. But my body is fucked from the Eridium. I just...I don’t know what I want. But if my time is short, I want to…” He tugged on the jacket a little. “Zane’s my friend.” His family. 

Moxxi nodded in understanding. “At least stop being morbid. You’re fine for now, and you're a fighter. You had to be to survive what you did.”

“You were on Sanctuary, right?” Tim leaned forward a little. “Can you tell me what happened when they went to the Bunker?”

“I don’t know the story like the others do, but I’ll tell you what I can,” she said.

She went on to explain what had happened after Angel contacted the vault hunters, the assault on the Bunker, and Lilith being captured. Tim listened intently, wanting to know Angel’s fate as well as he could.

When Moxxi finished, Tim leaned back in his seat. She refilled his drink and didn’t speak, just let him process everything.

Angel. She’d suffered so much. She’d-

-come over his ECHO once again, startling Tim as he uncapped the drink. “Don’t! How many times do I have to tell you that Jack put Eridium in that drink, Timothy?”

“He wouldn’t hurt me,” Tim said.

“He just did the other day. Or did you already forget about him breaking your nose and then yelling at you for messing up ‘his’ face?” she demanded. “He’d damn well hurt you. He’d push you within an inch of your life, so long as you didn’t die. You know it. Don’t drink that, Timothy. Please.” 

“It takes away the nightmares,” he whispered, almost desperately. Because when he slept, he heard their screams. He couldn’t stop hearing their screams. And the blood. There was so much of it, and it drowned him, a bloody sea with corpses piled high. “It takes the nightmares away and I- I can’t-”

“Timothy.”

There was a hand on his shoulder, and he flinched. He’d done something wrong again. Jack had heard him being weak, and now he was going to break Tim’s nose again.

“Just me,” Moxxi said, pulling her hand away. “You were whispering to yourself.”

“Oh.” He’d lapsed again, and now he had a headache forming. He rubbed a hand against his forehead. “Sorry. I suffer these, um, mental lapses. Effect of the Eridium.” 

“Go get some rest, Tim. You look horrible right now,” Moxxi said.

“Thanks, love being told that by you,” Tim said, but stood up. His headache was growing worse by the second, and he had to stop and press his hand to his forehead again as his vision wavered. “If Zane needs me, tell him I went to Tannis. This isn’t normal. I don’t think, anyway.”

He left Moxxi’s and dragged himself up to medical. Tannis was writing something down when he stepped through.

“Hey,” he called to her, and winced at how loud his own voice sounded. “Can I get a health kit? My head feels like it’s about to explode. Is that another effect of the Eridium?”

Tannis spun to face him, looking far too delighted to hear he was suffering again. “More side effects? Sit down. Tell me exactly what you’re experiencing.”

“I’m-” He paused as his vision wavered again, because this time, the room didn’t just grow blurry. It shifted, becoming the room he shared with Jack before slowly falling back into medical. “Oh, no, not good, not good. That is definitely not go- Ah, shit!” 

The pain was growing unbearable now. Tim drew his knees up to his chest and put his head between them, gripping it like he could pry the pain out. He could hear Tannis saying his name, but it felt distant, far-off. 

It hurt, it hurt, it hurt.

Tim saw flashes of imagery. His mom, reaching out to grab him and yank him away from the hot stove, panic on her face. Jack, fist pulled back to strike because Tim had done something wrong again. Wilhelm, offering him a knife as a prisoner sobbed for mercy. Nisha, chaining him in that cell. Zane, pulling Tim onto his back so they could try to get him walking. 

And Angel. He saw her picture on Jack’s desk, that little girl with the black hair and the bright blue eyes. The smile on her face, because she had not yet discovered her father was a monster.

He let out a panicked noise as something was stabbed into his arm. Before he could jerk away, Tannis caught his arm.

“Health kit,” she said.

“Don’t do that,” he said hoarsely. “Let me do it myself next time.” 

But a minute later, the pressure in his head eased the slightest. He told Tannis what had happened, and reluctantly allowed her to run tests and imaging on him.

He didn’t like doing this without Zane here, but he had to stop being a child about it. He didn’t need Zane here to hold his hand all the damn time. Besides, as eccentric as Tannis was, Zane trusted her and that was just going to have to be good enough for Tim. 

After a while of studying Tim like a fascinating science experiment, Tannis urged him into one of the beds while she looked everything over. Tim felt tired, but not enough to sleep.

Still, he dozed off, flickering in and out of sleep for a bit. When Tannis threw a pillow at him, he jerked awake and glared at her.

“You are violent and I have no desire to touch you and make you assault me,” she informed him. “Your scans look...not normal, not at all. You’re horrifically damaged. But, surprisingly, there is nothing wrong with your head that I can see.”

“Surprisingly?” He glared.

“You’re not very intelligent. I expected some sort of brain damage, at least,” she said with a shrug.

Tim stared up at the ceiling. “Can you just get on with it? Why do you all have to insult me?”

“I’ve no idea what caused the sudden headache. It could be any number of things. My best guess is that you’ve simply overworked yourself lately. Your body isn’t what it used to be, and can’t handle the kind of running around and fighting that it used to.” She eyed him. “You might be able to work back up to some semblance of normalcy. Or pushing yourself might kill you faster. There is simply no way to know right now. Eridium is not meant for the human system, and certainly not in the amount you experienced.”

Tim stood up, his headache only mild now. “Well, we’re all dying anyway. I’ve got a job to do.”

“It is your life to gamble with,” she said. “I would advise against it, but you don’t seem the type to think reasonably.”

“Ma’am, I signed my life away to Handsome Jack. I absolutely am not the type to think reasonably,” Tim said, and headed for the exit. “Have fun exploring my damage, I guess.”

He went down to the shooting range, using his pistol with his good arm. The noise from the first shot ricocheted through his skull, sending a flare of pain. Tim grit his teeth and fired again, but he’d endured worse than a headache before, and he could keep going. 

But the more he shot, the worse his headache grew. His ears were ringing as he fired over and over at the targets, trying to picture Aurelia’s face on them.

But the pain became too much, and he slammed his gun down in frustration, pressing his hand to his aching head and doubling over as pain roared through his skull. “Dammit, dammit. Come on, you’re fine. You’re fine. Dammit.”

A hand rested on his back. Tim didn’t even jump; he’d grown accustomed to Zane’s touch by now.

He didn’t lift his head. Zane caught his hand and pushed a health kit into it.

Tim injected himself, and it was a few minutes before the pain began to ease. Tim slowly straightened up, but felt too frustrated and embarrassed to look at Zane.

“Moxxi said you looked like shite and went to Tannis. Tannis said you were being stubborn and suffering some pretty wretched headache,” Zane said.

“I’m fine. It’s just a headache,” Tim said.

“You look awful, lad. Let’s get something to eat,” Zane said.

Tim opened his mouth to say he wasn’t hungry, realized Zane would make him eat anyways, and shut his mouth. He holstered his gun and followed Zane.

“How’s the collarbone?” Zane asked.

“A lot better,” Tim said. “With all the Eridium and health kits, it’s practically fine again as long as I don’t move wrong.” 

“Ah, speaking of…” Zane took the bottle out of his pocket and held it out to Tim. “You’re about due. Might help the headaches.”

“You’re going to let me?” Tim said in surprise.

“I trust you,” Zane said.

“I don’t,” Tim said bitterly, taking the bottle. “Not anymore.”

“Well, if you get in over your head, I’m here to pull your arse out of the fire,” Zane said, grinning and elbowing him. “Just like old times, eh?”

Tim rolled his eyes and uncapped the Eridium. He forced himself to only take the amount he needed, and then thrust it back into Zane’s hands before he took more than necessary.

It would be so easy. A little more, and his headache would be completely gone. His collarbone would heal. He could sleep. 

But Zane took it from him and continued to lead him along. Tim was angry and relieved all at once.

They went to Moxxi’s and Tim dropped at the bar as Zane fetched them food. He, thankfully, got something light for Tim.

“You didn’t sleep very long,” Tim said.

“I’m feeling refreshed. Plenty of beauty rest,” Zane said, and Tim was glad to see that he did look a lot less tired than before. 

“You’re still looking rough, sugar. Should you be up?” Moxxi said.

“According to Tannis, nah,” Zane said. “But Timothy here is known for his stubbornness.”

Tim scowled. “I dozed a bit while she looked over my test results. I’m fine. And my headache is going away.”

“Well, here,” Moxxi said, giving him a mug of tea. “Might be better than soda right now.”

“Thanks,” Tim said, wrapping his hands around the warm mug. 

They ate and left to go back to Zane’s room. Tim felt much better now, which only irritated him. Was he doomed to suffer until he got Eridium into his system? 

But something else was eating at him. Something that made him feel...egotistical. Still, he had to bring it up.

“Zane,” he said, and his tone must’ve alerted Zane that this was serious. Zane met his eyes, full attention on Tim. Tim swallowed hard, because something like this would get him hurt if he said it to Jack. “Uh, never mind.” 

Because it was Zane, and he trusted Zane. But some part of him that had survived years with Jack told him to bite his damn tongue. Some part of him still remembered the feel of Jack’s fingers around his throat, choking the life right out of him for saying the wrong thing.

“Timothy.” Zane stepped forward, and his hand on Tim’s shoulder was reassuring. “Out with it, lad. You’re safe.” 

Safety. It had been so foreign to Tim for so long. He used to wonder if he’d ever feel safe again.

He looked at Zane and realized, with a terrifying clarity, that he did feel safe. He trusted Zane not to hurt him. He trusted Zane to have his back.

“Will you be okay when I die?” he said quietly.

Zane’s eyes grew sad. “No, Timothy. I don’t think I will be.”

“I can leave now and-”

“No.” Zane pulled him in, hugging Tim to his chest. “None of that. Some pain is worth it.” 

Tim didn’t think he was worth it. His own mom had laughed at the news of his death. He was a failure in everything, a disappointment to everyone. He wasn’t worth the pain. 

“Zane,” he said, and his voice cracked.

“Don’t you go spoutin’ off about not being worth it. I know what you’re thinking, and you’re thinking nonsense. You’re worth it to me, Timothy,” he said, and tightened his hold.

Tim hugged him back tightly, his eye blurring with tears. He let his head fall against Zane’s shoulder, and Zane didn’t comment on the way Tim trembled in his arms.

Zane thought he was worth the pain. The hollowness in Tim’s chest evaporated in the face of the warmth he suddenly felt. 

He would do whatever he could to make his death easier on Zane. He’d hide the pain he was enduring and try to give Zane good memories, especially since he didn’t know how long he’d have left.

“Thank you, Zane. I’m...really glad you bought me that drink in the casino. Really damn glad,” Tim said.

“You’re a pain in the arse, but I’m glad I met you that day,” Zane said. “Never did care for me brothers much. You’re a different story.” 

They stood there like that for a long time, just holding each other. They both knew Tim’s condition was deteriorating. They both knew he could die in the fight against Aurelia. 

But it was worth the pain. Having each other was worth all the pain in the world.

Chapter Text

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.”

“But-”

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. 

“Timothy!”

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.

Chapter Text

Zane pulled the vehicle to a careful stop. He’d slowed down despite his impatience because Tim had fallen asleep while he talked, and the boy looked like he could use the rest.

But the Wildlife Exploitation Preserve was just ahead and nap time was over. Zane reached over and shook Tim’s shoulder.

Tim was sluggish waking up this time too. He immediately began to shake out his hands as he looked around.

“We’re here. You’re up for this?” Zane said.

“Of course I am,” he said, grabbing his gun. “My hands even feel better.”

Zane knew that was a lie. Tim had fumbled a little and had to watch himself lift the gun. His hands were still numb.

Sill, Tim got out of the vehicle and followed Zane dutifully. Zane kept his eyes on the Preserve as they approached, determined to steal every scrap of information he could get his hands on. 

“Alright, boyo. Work your DNA magic,” Zane said, gesturing to the sealed doors keeping them out.

Tim shrugged and walked right up to a panel in the door. “Identify Handsome Jack. Override security protocols.”

The red light on the panel flickered briefly to blue and Tim lowered himself as a light came out to scan his right eye. He straightened up as the light turned green.

“Handsome Jack recognized. Welcome back, handsome,” an automated voice said as the doors slid open.

“Ugh, didn’t miss that,” Tim said. 

Tim pulled the hood over his head and went inside like he owned the place, slipping seamlessly into the facade he’d worn when Zane had met him all those years ago. There were more loaders than human workers here, but the humans all stared at Tim in confusion.

“Excuse me, sir, but who are you?” a woman asked, going up to him.

“Who’s in charge around here?” Tim demanded, pitching his voice a little higher to disguise Jack’s tone. 

“I am,” she said, suspicion growing. “Who are you?”

“Blake sent me,” Tim said, gesturing to Zane. “He’ll be overseeing the section the beasts are in. I’m just showing him the way.”

“I’ve never seen you before. And Mr. Blake didn’t mention anything about a new employee,” the woman said, putting her hands on her hips, her right one very close to a gun.

“Well if he didn’t authorize us to get in here, then someone freaking did,” Tim said. “Call Blake if you want. I’ve got to get him to Section Three so I can get back to my own job.”

The woman narrowed her eyes. “Alright, then get through that door up there.” She grabbed her gun. “And if you can’t, I’ll take my chances with Mr. Blake.”

Tim shrugged and strode up to the next door. There was a scanner there, which he placed his hand on, waiting as a light scanned it.

The door beeped once before opening. Tim turned to the woman.

“Satisfied?” Tim said.

“Mr. Blake-” she started.

She cried out as Tim pulled his gun and fired at her feet. “Mr. Blake sent me, sweetheart. Got a problem with it, then go file a complaint and quit wasting my time. Complain again and the next person I bring here will be to replace you.”

She looked scared and angry. Zane stepped between the two.

“Lass, I recommend you back off,” he warned.

She reluctantly backed away, never taking her eyes off Tim’s gun. Zane gave Tim a light shove past the door, waiting for it to close.

“Doing it again. A little too intensely this time,” Zane said.

Tim sneered at him. But then horror hit his face and he stared at the gun in his hand in surprise.

“I-It just happened,” he stuttered. He pressed his free hand to his head. “I was here, but I was also...it was back then and…”

“It’s alright.” It wasn’t. It wasn’t alright at all. His memories were mixing with the present. He was having his mental lapses even as part of him recognized what time period it was. “Just try not to shoot anyone, and let’s get on with this, yea? Probably just that DNA of yours.”

He needed Tim to keep a mental grip while they were here. If anyone found out he was a Jack double, he might be fine, or they might have orders to terminate him on sight. 

Tim led the way into the main building of the Preserve. A security guard held out a hand to stop them.

“Identity?” he demanded.

Tim glanced around, saw they were alone, and turned to Zane. “Care to tell him who we are? I would, but, uh, my hands are a little slow today.”

“Oh, sure, make me do all the hard work,” Zane said, and caught the security guard in a chokehold.

The man clawed at Zane’s arms, but Zane held tight. Tim crept ahead to check that they were still in the clear.

Zane let the unconscious body fall to the floor. “Where to, lad?”

“Toss him under that desk there and follow me,” Tim said.

Zane dragged the body to a nearby desk, stuffing it under there and shifting a chair in front of it to hide it as best he could. He followed Tim along the hallways.

Tim walked the building with an easy familiarity. Zane wondered how long Tim had spent in this awful place under Jack’s employ. 

Employees cast them curious glances, but no one called them out, especially once they saw how confidently familiar Tim was with the layout. That certainly worked to their advantage, but Zane worried that keeping the Jack facade up for too long would cause another mental lapse.

“The information will be in the most secure office. I doubt they would’ve moved the location, even after all this time,” Tim said as they went deeper into the building. “I’ll be able to get us in, but the problem is if there are already scientists in there. If a fight breaks out, they’ll set off the alarm. We’re deep enough in that it’ll be a challenge to get out.”

“You leave that to me. Mercenary, remember? I know what I’m doing. You just get me where I need to be,” Zane said.

He was used to sneaking around for jobs, so walking right down the hallway in plain sight was certainly an unnerving experience. But he had to admit it was going much faster and smoother having Tim with him. 

They reached the deepest, more secure section of the Preserve. Tim got them in with his DNA and the two stepped through the doors.

Tim froze as he looked at the enclosures around them.

He should’ve known this would still be going on, even with Jack dead. It was too valuable of research to just stop. Hyperion wasn’t exactly known for having a moral aversion to this kind of experimentation.

But he looked at the humans enclosed around them. Some were on the verge of dying, seizing on the grounds of their enclosures while a few scientists walked around and took notes. 

Their veins. Their veins were bright purple. Their bodies were mutated, twisted, wrong. They screamed in agony, thrashing about in a helpless, pained frenzy, tearing at their own skin.

And Tim knew why. Tim knew they wanted to pry that burning sensation from their flesh. They wanted to rip the Eridium out of themselves. They wanted to die.

His head ached. He  pressed a hand to it as his vision wavered. 

He looked up and stared into the enclosure in front of him. A man was in there, restrained as his body jerked and jolted, his veins bright purple, his scalp bloody from where he’d pulled his own hair out in his agonized delusions. 

“There’s got to be a way to use this stuff. Get them as powerful as those Lost Legion psychos we fought on Elpis without losing their minds,” Jack’s voice said beside him.

He turned, startled. Jack was crossing his arms, watching the man in the enclosure with sharp eyes.

Yes. Yes, Tim remembered now. They’d come together to get a report on the current tests. Jack wanted him to see it. He wanted Tim’s opinion, since Tim had been on Elpis. They were going to drag this man into one of the skag enclosures and let him loose to fight to the death.

But...no...he was here for...for…

His vision flickered. Another man stood beside him. He couldn’t remember his name. A sharp pain in his head, and Jack stood there once more.

“Timothy?” 

That wasn’t Jack’s voice. He knew that voice. He knew it. 

“Timothy, you with me, lad?”

He knew that voice, because that was the voice that always talked him through his convulsions. That was the voice that talked on and on while Tim drifted off to sleep. That was the voice that came for him in the dark.

“Zane,” he said.

“Aye, everyone’s favorite vault hunter,” Zane said. Tim realized Zane had a hand on his arm. “You okay?”

“Fine,” Tim said. Jack was gone. The restrained man was gone. He was in the present.

And he was scared.

“Fine,” he repeated, shaking his pounding head. “Let’s get moving. I always hated this place.”

Tim kept his eyes fixed on the floor as he led Zane along. He couldn’t risk a mental lapse right now. He’d get them both captured and thrown into one of those enclosures.

They got to the most secure room in the entire facility. Tim looked around to make sure no one was watching him before opening the security panel and pressing his hand to it.

“Handsome Jack recognized. Welcome back, handsome,” the automated voice said.

“Override security protocols,” Tim said, wincing as something pricked his hand. Dammit. He hated when they took a blood sample to confirm that order.

It was a few moments before the automated voice spoke again. “Security protocols overridden. Handsome Jack access granted.”

The door slid open and Tim’s shoulders slumped in relief. He slipped inside, Zane following him. Once they’d confirmed they were alone, they shut the door and Zane strode right over to the  main computer.

“Any help here?” Zane said.

“Let me see,” Tim said, going up beside him.

The two worked together as quickly but cautiously as they could, breaking through levels of security. Tim used to have a card that overrode all the security and granted him access, but without it, he had to rely on what he remembered from back in the day.

“That’s all I can do,” Tim said. “Can you get past the rest?”

“On it,” Zane said, his focus entirely on the computer now.

Tim backed away and instead watched the door. His fingers were tingling, the feeling finally starting to come back to them a bit. 

He wanted to get the hell out of this place. He felt muddled here, like his mind could slip through time at any moment. It was hard to keep his focus.

He had to, though. He had to have Zane’s back, the way Zane always had his. 

But his anxiety grew the longer Zane took. He knew it wouldn’t be easy to get into the system and extract the data that Zane was after. Still, the longer they were here, the riskier the mission got.

After a while, the door beeped.

“Zane,” Tim hissed, hand going to his gun.

“I’ve almost got it.” He didn’t sound as panicked as Tim felt. “Distract ‘em.”

The door opened and Tim watched as two scientists stepped through. He recognized one from the old days, surprised she was still alive after all this time. The other one was younger, someone he’d never seen before.

“Excuse me,” the one he recognized said in surprise. “Just who are you? How did you get in here?”

His brain struggled to recall her name. “Here on Blake’s orders...Allen.” Was her name Dr. Allen? He thought it was. Or something close enough.

He must’ve gotten it right, because she seemed even more surprised. “Have we met before?”

He’d ducked his head when they came in to hide his scar. “Blake has me overseeing work here from Helios. We’re uploading new data for you to analyze.” His muddled mind struggled to call up some believable lie because she was still looking at him with suspicion. “We got data on those Anointed creatures the COV have been using. We want you to look at it and tell us what you find.” 

“The Anointed?” She brightened. “We’ve been trying to get data on them for days.”

“Congratulations, kiddo, you got it,” Tim said, but snapped his mouth shut in horror. Oh, goddammit, of all the times to drop the “kiddo” thing. Fuck Jack and his stupid nickname habit.

Allen began walking forward. “Well, I’m going to upload my own data while you finish that up.”

Had she not noticed his slipup? Regardless, he had to come up with something else to keep her from getting too close to Zane.

“We’re-” he started, then let out a surprised noise as she surged forward and yanked his hood back.

“I knew it!” she said, backing away. “Nora, go sound the alarm! All the doppelgangers were supposed to be terminated back when Jack died!”

The other scientist bolted out of the room. Tim cursed and unholstered his gun, cursing even more at his unsteady hands.

“You’re the one who went missing, aren’t you?” she demanded. “Jack’s favorite lapdog. The addict.”

“Great, seven years and that’s my lasting reputation,” Tim said in annoyance.

“I’ll forever remember you as the whiny, overdramatic kid,” Zane said cheerfully. “Mind handling this problem? I’m not quite done yet.”

Tim wasn’t surprised Allen knew about his addiction. Likely, she’d been one of the ones to develop that bottle Jack had used to give Tim controlled doses. Hell, she’d probably helped Jack figure out the correct dose to keep him from mutating like the people trapped in this hellhole. She’d headed the experimentation unit here for a long time.

Anger swept through him. If she had helped Jack, then she was part of the reason he’d ended up this mess of a person. 

Tim leveled his gun at her as the alarms blared overhead. “You helped him get me addicted, didn’t you?”

“Your wellbeing wasn’t worth my life. I did as I was told,” she said, no regret in her expression. You didn’t stay alive in this position for so long if you had regrets. 

“Oh, good, then this will be satisfying,” Tim said as he began to shoot at her.

Her shield rippled with the impact of the bullets. She dove to the side, trying to get behind cover, but Tim relentlessly moved at her, swiping his digi-Jacks into being to guard the door. It would only be a few more seconds, maybe a minute if they were really lucky, before guards swarmed the place.

“Time’s up, Zane,” Tim said.

“Got what I needed.” Zane appeared beside Tim and caught his arm just as Allen’s shield shattered. “Wait.”

“Wait?” Tim said furiously. “She helped Jack hook me on Eridium.”

“I get that. I’m not stopping you. Just slowing you.” Zane knelt before her, effortlessly knocking away the gun she tried to draw on him. “You’re dying here, lass, no way around that. I might be able to talk my friend here into making it quick, though. If you tell me if you’ve found a way to reverse or slow the effects of Eridium.”

“You can’t stop it. Slow it, maybe. But it’ll just draw out the suffering.” She glared past Zane at Tim. “I hope you suffer. Don’t think any of us ever forgot how cruel you were.”

“Your wellbeing wasn’t worth my life. I did as I was told,” Tim mocked. “Out of my way, Zane.”

Zane reached out, grabbed Allen’s hand, and slammed it on the ground. He took her gun and shot her in the hand, standing up as she screamed.

“That’s for messing with my boy,” Zane said. “She’s all yours, Timothy.” 

Some of his anger ebbed away at the sight of Zane’s own barely contained anger. He could’ve made Allen suffer. He could’ve dragged this out, the way his addiction had dragged out his pain all these years.

Instead, he knelt before her and pressed the gun to her forehead. “Do you regret it?”

“No,” she said, meeting his eyes. 

“Then neither do I,” he said, and pulled the trigger.

“Up, lad, up,” Zane urged after Tim just knelt there staring at the body. “We’ve gotta go. I’ve got the data, but it won’t help us if we get captured.”

As if they heard his words, a swarm of guards charged through the door with raised guns, some being cut down immediately by the digi-Jacks. Loaders followed behind them, ignoring the digi-Jacks and focusing on Zane and Tim. 

Zane stepped in front of Tim and took out his gun, firing on the loaders. He dropped his barrier and nodded to Tim.

Tim didn’t need to be told what to do. He rolled a grenade into the chaos and braced himself.

Even from behind the relative safety of the barrier, the explosion nearly sent Tim to the ground. Zane caught his arm to keep him upright and the two bolted for the exit, Zane lifting the barrier and fixing it on Tim.

“Go for the exit! I’ll keep them distracted,” Zane said, sending his SNTNL out. There were too many enemies and he couldn’t focus on protecting Tim and taking them out at the same time. “I’ll meet you outside.”

“I’m not leaving you!” Tim said.

“Timothy, your hands are still struggling. You’ll slow me down. I’ve been in tougher spots on my own. Get out and I’ll meet you outside.” He met Tim’s eyes. “I promise I’ll meet you at the vehicle. Go!”

Tim opened his mouth to argue but then snapped it shut. “You better keep that damn promise, old man.”

He turned and took off down the hallway, slipping into a room so fast that Zane almost missed it. Tim knew this place; he’d be able to get out alright.

Zane backed down the hallway, leading the enemies away from where Tim had gone. Tim’s digi-Jacks were still fighting with Zane, a whirlwind of vicious attacks that made the whole thing a lot easier on Zane.

Still, they should’ve disappeared when Tim got too far from Zane. Zane didn’t like that implication.

He released his own digi-clone, lobbing another grenade farther down the hallway and taking cover just before it went off. He took quick stock of the area, realizing he’d backed himself into the open space framed by enclosures. Those still lucid enough to notice were watching him anxiously.

There was nothing he could do for them, though. He could already tell the enclosures were too study for any of his weaponry to break through. He’d have to send the Crimson Raiders to shut this place down soon. 

For now, he had to focus on getting out of here alive. As the enemies began to run into the area, he swapped with his clone to get behind some of them and began firing away. When they spin to fire back, he swapped with his clone again and darted off to the side.

His SNTNL weaved around the area, firing on them. The digi-clones were fighting with more urgency, which Zane assumed meant they were almost out of battery. 

Sure enough, they flickered away shortly after, leaving Zane with nothing but his own gadgets to defend himself. 

That was fine, though. He was used to making daring escapes. Usually he’d done a lot more research and knew the layout and all the exit locations, but he’d make do.

Loaders were slowly enclosing him in a circle, firing relentlessly at him. His eyes darted around. There. He could take out those two and make an opening for himself, maybe take cover long enough to let his shield regenerate and-

A shot rang out and one of the loaders fell dead. The live guards, who’d been using the circle of loaders as a shield against Zane’s attacks, looked around in startled confusion.

Another shot rang out a moment later, taking out a second loader. Zane sighed heavily.

“Stubborn. I’m going to kick his arse for this,” he said.

“The vents!” one of the guards cried in alarm. “He’s in the vents!”

Another guard began shooting at the vents along the ceiling, but one of his companions shoved his arms down. 

“You’ll cave in the ceiling like that!” he said.

“Might be a quicker death, honestly,” Zane said, and got back to work on picking his way through the attackers.

Shots were ringing out from the vents, always in a different spot. A few times the guards risked firing on the vents if they noticed where a shot came from, which set Zane on edge. But it was never long before another shot struck a loader, confirming that Tim was still alive up there.

A loader slammed into Zane from behind. He spun as he hit the ground, firing into it rapidly. It’s deadweight collapsed on him, leaving him pinned down. The enemies rushed for the advantage, all shots focused on him.

The grate on the vent closest to him was knocked off, striking a guard in the head. Tim leapt down from it, having switched from his sniper rifle to his shotgun. He swiped at his watch and fired with a grim determination.

“Oi! A little help!” Zane said, shoving at the loader.

“Working on it,” Tim said, gritting his teeth as the recoil made the shotgun unsteady in his still-recovering hands.

His digi-Jacks shielded him so he could help Zane get the loader off. He grabbed Zane’s hand, hauling him to his feet.

“I told you to get out,” Zane said.

“Lucky for you, I don’t listen well,” Tim said, aiming his shotgun again. 

“Have I told you you’re an absolute headache?” Zane said.

“Hey, you’re the one who keeps working to keep me alive,” he said with a shrug. “Speaking of, can we, uh, focus? Kinda have a lot of weapons pointed at us. Not a situation I care for.”  

“Will do, lad,” Zane said.

The two fell back-to-back and began firing. Tim nudged Zane and nodded towards a door farther down the hallway.

“If we can get in there, we can escape. Emergency exit,” he said.

“On it,” Zane said. “Go start unlocking it. I’ve got you covered.”

Tim ran for the door while Zane fired to keep the enemies off of him. He threw down his barrier to buy them extra protection.

“Zane!” Tim called. “Hurry up!”

Zane spun and ran for the now open door. Tim began closing it just before Zane reached it, and Zane managed to slip in as it clanged shut.

“They’ll override it. That won’t buy us much time,” Tim said, already heading for another door in the room. “Come on.”

“So that thing with the vents?” Zane said.

“Is this really the time?” Tim said in annoyance.

“No time like the present!” Zane said.

“The vents make up a good section of the ceiling in the containment areas, in case there’s ever an accidental release into the air,” Tim said. “I know the layout of them. Jack sent me into them a few times to spy on how the scientists behaved when they thought they weren’t being observed.”

Tim led them to an emergency door, overriding the security on it and shoving it open. They hurried out, Tim leading the way back to the general direction of where they’d left their vehicle.

They managed to reach the vehicle just as a swarm of loaders came out and began shooting at them. Tim didn’t even complain when Zane lurched the vehicle into motion and weaved it side to side to avoid the shots, tearing out of the area with alarming speed.

“Woo!” Zane cheered. “Successful mission. I love successful missions. And look at you! You didn’t even get hurt. Proud of you.”

“Oh, shut up,” Tim said. “Are you alright?”

“I’m fine,” Zane assured. “We’ll get this data back and Tannis and I can look it over.”

“Sure,” Tim muttered, looking out of the window of the vehicle. He doubted there was anything in there that could help him. He’d stay away while they looked into it. He couldn’t bear to see the hope die off Zane’s face. 

“Timothy,” Zane said, his voice that rare serious tone. “You know I’m not giving up on you, right? Even if there’s nothing here that can help, I’m not giving up.”

Tim’s throat closed up and he swallowed hard, fighting back his emotions. No one had ever cared about him so much. He didn’t deserve it.

“I know.” His voice was choked, unsteady. “I wish you would. It’d be easier.”

“I’m not a quitter,” Zane said firmly. 

“Can we go shooting before we go back?” Tim said.

“I’m always down for shooting skags,” Zane said.

Tim leaned back against the seat, shaking out his tingling hands. He didn’t know what was going to happen now that they’d stolen that data. He didn’t know what they’d find- or not find.

All he knew was that he just wanted to spend an hour or two with Zane. Just shooting skags and cracking jokes, like nothing was wrong, like Tim wasn’t dying. 

He didn’t have much time left and he knew it. But what time he did have, he wanted to spend with Zane. Because no one had ever cared so deeply for him before, and he’d never cared so deeply for anyone else before.

If nothing else, he’d die having finally found a family he cherished.

Chapter Text

Tim was suffering a bad headache by the time they reached Sanctuary. Zane gave him a health kit and sent him off to bed.

They’d stopped and shot skags for nearly an hour together, neither mentioning Tim’s deteriorating condition or the data they’d stolen. Instead, they swapped stories of Tim’s days as a vault hunter and Zane’s days as a mercenary. 

But Tim’s hands had grown shakier and shakier, his target off as his vision blurred. He didn’t complain about it, trying to push through it. But Zane insisted on going back so he could analyze the data.

He started towards medical, then paused and swung back around, heading to his own room. He opened the door to find Tim already on his bed.

“Oi, Timothy, can I see your watch? I want to upgrade it so that Aurelia isn’t able to stop it anymore. I think I can,” Zane said.

Tim unlatched the watch and handed it to Zane. “Thanks.”

It was such a change from seven years ago, when Tim had insisted on watching what Zane was doing. His trust had grown enough that he would hand over his most prized possession without hesitation.

Zane held it carefully in his hand, reaching out with his free one to drag the blanket over Tim as he closed his eyes. “I’ll be with Tannis if you need me.”

Tim muttered a reply that Zane didn’t catch, and then he was out. Zane backed out of the room, hoping that the rest would help Tim feel better. 

He made his way down to medical, nearly running into Lilith as he went up the stairs. She looked surprised to see him.

“Where have you been? We’ve been looking for you and Timothy,” she said.

“Uh, well, I kinda took him on a mission with me. Come on, I’ll explain in medical,” he said.

Lilith seemed confused, but she trailed after Zane into medical. Tannis looked up from what she was working on.

Zane took the datastick he’d stored everything on out of his pocket. “Timothy and I went and stole the Eridium data from Hyperion.”

“You did what?” Lilith said, eyes going wide.

“His DNA got us in and through to the room we needed,” Zane said, handing the datastick to Tannis. “I got everything I possibly could. Most, if not all of the data they had stored there. Maybe something can help him.”

“You actually took him to a Hyperion facility? With his fragile mental state?” Tannis said, and Zane felt worse because even Tannis sounded incredulous that he would do that.

Zane rubbed the back of his neck. “Ah...he might have suffered some mental lapses. But they were different. It’s like part of him still knew he was in the present, but part of him thought he was back in the past.”

“You are an idiot,” Tannis announced. “You’re lucky he didn’t get stuck in that confused state permanently. You do realize that by continuing to push him, you’re just going to kill him faster?”

“This could save him,” Zane argued. “What other choice do we have? He’s dying, and we’re running out of options.”

“Enough,” Lilith said, stepping between them. “It’s done. Let’s look over the data and see what we can find. Zane, I think it would be best if you stopped taking him out on missions. I know he’ll insist on going when you find Aurelia, but aside from that, it’s best to let him rest.”

“I know!” Zane said. “He’s sleeping right now. I’m taking care of him.”

“Poorly,” Tannis said, bringing the datastick over to her computer. “This will take some time to get through.”

“Have at it. I’m going to upgrade his watch while you get everything organized,” Zane said, heading over to another computer so he could get to work.

He let himself get lost in that work, carefully upgrading Tim’s watch. It was Tim’s best defense, especially as he grew weaker. If he went after Aurelia, then having his digi-Jacks could be the difference between life and death. 

He wasn’t sure how long he’d been working before he finally finished. He stood up with the watch, looked over at Tannis, and decided not to interrupt her.

Instead, he left medical and returned to his room. Tim was still sleeping, but he was shifting around, face strained and a light sheen of sweat on him.

“Trauma thing again, huh?” Zane said quietly. “Shit, boyo, I hope I didn’t feck up your brain by taking you there.” 

He set the watch down and went over, carefully putting a hand on Tim’s shoulder. Best to wake him before the nightmare got worse. 

He shook Tim’s shoulder, expecting his recent sluggish reaction to being woken. Except that it didn’t happen this time.

Instead, Tim woke with a startled cry, gripping Zane’s wrist. Had his hands been functioning properly, he probably would’ve snapped Zane’s wrist.

Instead, Zane managed to yank it away, just fast enough to grab Tim’s gun and toss it away before Tim could reach for it. Tim shoved himself backwards until his back hit the wall, his panicked breathing growing worse.

“Easy, easy!” Zane said. “It’s just me. You were having a nightmare.”

“Get away from me.” His voice shook. 

“Timothy,” Zane said, raising his hands slowly to show he wasn’t going to hurt Tim. “Calm down. You’re working yourself into a panic attack. You need to calm down.” 

His good eye darted around. “Where am I? Where’s Jack?”

“You’re on Sanctuary. Jack is dead,” Zane said. “He has been for seven years, Timothy.”

He let out a shuddering breath that might’ve been a sob. He put his face in his hands.

“I forgot,” he choked out.

“I know.” Zane put a hand on his shoulder. When Tim didn’t flinch away, he pulled him close. “It’s alright. Take a few minutes, lad.”

He shouldn’t have brought Tim to that place. But what choice did he have if he wanted any chance at saving Tim?

It was a while before Tim spoke again. “I used to have nightmares on Helios. All the time.” He gave a weak, humorless laugh. “The whole trauma thing. Jack beat me for it a few times. Then he gave me that drink laced with Eridium. That’s how it all started, Zane. I couldn’t face my nightmares, so I let Jack drug me.” 

He lifted his head, keeping himself pressed to Zane’s side. He looked exhausted.

“And you know what? I don’t even wonder how my life would’ve gone if I never worked for Jack. Not anymore. I’m here now. I’m a dying Eridium addict and, yea, that part sucks. But I’ve got someone who wakes me from my nightmares and doesn’t beat me for them,” he said.

“You’ve got low standards,” Zane said. “We’ll work on that. Do you want some water?”

He shook his head, finally pulling away from Zane. “No. I’m just...going to go back to sleep. I’m still tired.”

“Here,” Zane said, latching the watch back on Tim’s wrist. “Aurelia shouldn’t be able to stop you from summoning them anymore.” He took Tim’s hand and swiped his finger on the interface, watching as the blue and red digi-Jacks flashed forward. “Keep an eye on him while he sleeps, will you?”

“Zane?” Tim said, catching his arm as he stood up. “I know I said my ECHO is yours. But the watch is, too. Take care of them.”

“Quit talking like you’re already dead,” Zane said. “Get some rest, lad.”

He must be feeling horrible if he was talking like that. Zane could see how labored his breathing was as he laid down and curled up, closing his eyes. 

They were running out of time.

He hurried down to medical.

“Tannis?” he said.

“There was a locked bit of data in there. I managed to get into it, and I’m going through it now,” she said without looking away from the screen.

“You did?” Zane said in surprise. “Even I couldn’t break into that. I was going to ask Rhys for help if you couldn’t.”

“I’m quite good with technology, I assure you,” Tannis said. “This will still take me time to sort through, though. And yes, I’m aware he may not have much time, but you can thank yourselves for pushing his limits.” 

Zane wanted to argue, realized he didn’t have a defense because she was right, and sulked out of the room. He went down to the bar, Moxxi sliding him a drink before he’d finished sitting down.

“We stole data on Eridium,” Zane said, stopping to chug his drink and push the empty glass back for a refill. “Could give him a fighting chance. Or I could’ve made things worse.”

“Zane, I know he’s become like a son to you,” Moxxi said, filling his drink back up. “But you have to understand that Timothy is not a child. He’s a grown man, and he can make his own decisions. He knows the consequences.”

Zane knew that. But he also knew Tim had only done that Hyperion job for Zane’s sake.

“Nothing to be done about it now,” he said, because doubting what they’d done wouldn’t accomplish anything. He downed his second drink and instead turned his thoughts to their next move.

The others would be looking for Aurelia. Tim’s health was declining rapidly, but he’d insist on seeing that job through, Zane knew that. 

He could. Zane could urge Timothy to hang back and fight from a distance, then come in close for the final shot. He thought Tim might be okay with that arrangement. 

With that in mind, he grabbed a third drink and drifted over to where a group were playing cards at one of the tables. He joined in, letting his mind focus on the game and the bets involved rather than the morbid reality of Tim’s situation.

It didn’t help when, about an hour in, Zane looked up in time to see Tim entering. Tim didn’t notice Zane, instead heading right up to the bar and dropping into a seat.

Zane excused himself and went, sitting next to Tim. Tim only glanced at him briefly.

“Should’ve figured I’d find you in the bar, old man,” he said.

“No better place,” Zane said. “How ya feeling?”

“Fine,” he said. 

Neither believed it. Neither bothered to discuss it further.

“Here, sugar,” Moxxi said, sliding Tim a soda. 

Zane frowned. “Oi, have you been putting him on my tab this whole time? I just realized you never charge him.”

Tim gave a small grin as he lifted the soda. “I’m your problem, after all.”

“Headache,” Zane grumbled. “You’re my headache. This is what I get for picking up troubled doppelgangers in a casino.” He pushed his drink to Moxxi for a refill. “Gonna need that.”

Tim snorted. “Unless you blew all your money since those days, I think you can afford to get the tab.”

“I have high operating costs,” Zane said.

“And I saw your bank account.” Tim clapped him on the shoulder. “Tab’s all yours, Zane.” 

He caught Zane’s drink and helped himself to a few swallows. Zane snatched it away from him, glaring at him.

“That’s mine!” he said.

“I need alcohol, and I can’t have a lot of it. A few sips won’t kill either of us. Uh, I hope,” he said. 

“Zane! Timothy!”

Moze came running into the bar, looking out of breath. “I knew I should’ve checked here first. Ugh. Where else would Zane be?”

Zane glared between her and Tim. “You’re both judgmental arseholes.”

“But we’re not wrong,” Tim said.

Moze straightened up. “Well, whatever. Point is, I found you guys. And we found Aurelia.” 

Tim went rigid. “Where?”

“Still on Eden-6. We’re going to get her for sure this time,” Moze said.

Zane wanted to tell Tim to sit this one out. He wanted to send Tim to medical to rest while Tannis looked into the Eridium data. He knew damn well that this could be pushing Tim too far, that he could become too sick to ever recover even with the data if he did this.

But he respected Tim too much to do that to him.

“Are you ready?” he asked instead.

Tim clenched his fists. “Doesn’t matter, does it? Looks like this is happening now.”

“At least try and stay back from the fighting. I promised you’d get the final blow, and I meant that. But no need to wear yourself down if it can be avoided,” Zane said. “Let us do the heavy hitting.”

“I…” He hesitated, then gave a reluctant nod. “Yea, okay, Zane.” 

“The others are meeting with Wainwright and Clay now,” Moze said. “I came here to get you guys. Grab your weapons and let’s go. I’ll meet you at the fast travel station.”

“Hey,” Moxxi said as both men stood. “Next drink is on the house.”

Tim gave a weak smile. “We’ll hold you to that when we get back.”

He followed Zane out and up to his room. The two gathered their weapons, Zane trying to sneak glances at how well Tim was able to use his hands.

He seemed steadier than before with them, but still a little clumsy if his mind wandered. He managed to gather all his equipment without help, though.

Zane checked to make sure he had Eridium for Tim. “Stick close to me, lad. My barrier will keep you covered, especially if you suffer another convulsion. Your watch should be good regardless of what Aurelia tries.” 

Tim hesitated, then put his arms around Zane. “It’s what I wanted, Zane. Thank you for sticking by me.”

“This isn’t goodbye. You’re not dying on me,” Zane said, but hugged him back tightly, well aware this could very well be it if they weren’t careful. “Overdramatic little bastard.”

They pulled apart slowly. Tim gave a nod to Zane before leading the way out of the room.

They met Moze at the fast travel station, waiting for her to set their destination. Zane felt simultaneously alert and detached as they met up with the others and were briefed on the situation.

This was a bad idea, and they both knew it. But it was what Tim wanted. Zane had to respect that, even if he hated it.

But as they made their way into the cellar and found fights breaking out, Zane found himself fighting harder than usual. Tim, thankfully, stayed out of the fighting as much as he could, opting to hang back and snipe when possible, and covering himself with his digi-Jacks whenever anything got too close to him. 

They worked their way through the area carefully and efficiently. As they stopped to check their ammo, Zane realized too late that Tim was running a fever.

He’d only reached out to pluck some bits of a broken barrel out of Tim’s hair. But his hand touched Tim’s forehead, feeling how feverishly hot the skin was.

Tim didn’t meet his eyes. Just pushed Zane’s hand away and brushed at his hair to get the rest of the broken bits out.

Oh, hell, Zane didn’t want to lose this stubborn, foolish kid.

“Hey, you ready to move?” Amara asked them.

“Ready,” Tim said, standing up. He offered a hand to Zane to haul him to his feet. 

Zane didn’t say anything and just followed the rest of them. He was no better than Jack or Aurelia if he took Tim’s choices away from him now, whatever the consequences may be. 

Instead, he took out his ECHO. “Oi, Wainwright, Hammerlock, I know you two are still hanging about here. Stay back, no matter what. This is going to get ugly.”

“But-” Hammerlock started.

“It’s over,” Zane said. “There’s nothing you can do to stop her or save her. She had her chance, Hammerlock.”

He was silent for a long moment. “I understand. I was going to try and reason with her but...I suppose I’d only be making things worse. Wainwright and I will stay out of sight until this is over.”

Zane had known Hammerlock was going to try and reason with Aurelia. He’d known because he wanted to do the same thing to save Timothy. And he knew the outcome would be the same for both of them; they were going to lose their family. 

“Nice call,” Amara said. “She wouldn’t show him the mercy he’d show her. Best to avoid that at all.”

“Oh, jeez, that’s not suspicious or anything,” Tim said as they came upon a hole in the floor.

Moze peered over it. “Looks like that’s our destination.”

“Is everyone ready? She’ll likely have blocked any way out,” Amara said.

Tim had backed away from the hole nervously. “Uh, maybe we can find another way down. I’ve got a t-thing with heights, and-”

“Everything you’ve been through and you’re going to let a hole in the ground stop you from revenge?” Moze said in disbelief.

“This one confuses me,” Fl4k said. 

“This is hell,” Tim groaned, but slowly inched his way back towards the hole.

“Close your eyes and roll when I tell you to,” Zane said, taking his arm. “This is it, lad.” 

Zane guided Tim forward. Amara jumped down first, Fl4k following. Moze gestured them forward and Zane tugged Tim down the hole.

“Roll!” he said, releasing Tim’s arm.

Tim obeyed, hitting the ground and rolling with it. He came up, hand on his gun as he looked around.

“How lovely of you to bring him back to me,” Aurelia said. “I must say, I was hoping Alistair would be foolish enough to show up, but I’ll settle for taking not-Jack back and killing the rest of you.”

“My name is Timothy,” Tim snarled, aiming his gun at her. 

“Irrelevant,” she said, calm in the face of his anger. 

The doors around the room burst open and COV forces poured in. Aurelia sprang into action, drawing her own gun and firing at Zane.

Zane stumbled back, caught off guard by her sudden focus on him. He began to return fire, trying to get behind a pillar for cover.

But then he realized what she was doing. She was driving him away from Timothy.

He cursed but was forced to duck as his shield got low. Tim was circling around, trying to come up on Aurelia’s side. She flung out her hand and a moment later, Tim cried out as he was caught up in a whirlwind. It flung him to the side, and Zane was alarmed at how slow he was to get back up.

But he did get back up, grinning savagely as he swiped at his watch. “I’ve got a trick of my own. Surprise, you frosty bitch. Zane upgraded them for me.”

He got the satisfaction of seeing Aurelia’s surprised look. The digi-Jacks surged forth, firing on her relentlessly, driving her back. 

Zane darted out from his cover and joined in the firing. The others were trying to keep the waves of COV enemies back, allowing Zane and Tim to deal with Aurelia. 

Aurelia tried to encase herself in ice when her shield got low, but Zane swiped his digi-clone into being. With the combined firepower, they tore through her protective layer of ice, leaving her surrounded.

Tim slowly walked up to her, his gun steady in his hands as he aimed it at her chest. “You stole my life from me. But the difference between us is that I get the satisfaction of seeing your death.”

She seemed unafraid, even with how close he’d gotten, gun focused on taking her life. “You whine and whine, but I heard you willingly took the Eridium while working for Jack. When one of my contacts spotted you on Promethea, I knew Eridium would be the best way to control you. You did that to yourself.”

“I got clean of it! That’s what I did!” He tightened his grip on his gun. “I got clean and I made a life for myself. You took that from me. I didn’t...I didn’t deserve that! What you did to me wasn’t my fault!” 

He looked over at Zane, his eyes pained. “I didn’t deserve it. It wasn’t my fault,” he repeated.

Zane gave a solemn nod. If nothing else, at least Tim had come to terms with that.

“As usual, I tire of your whining,” Aurelia said. 

She gave a sudden, sharp flick of her wrist. Ice shot out, flinging Tim into the wall with enough force to knock his gun from his hands. Before he could recover, more ice shot out, and Zane watched in horror as it pierced through Tim’s wrist.

Tim screamed, drawing the attention of the others. They tried to run to help, but the COV hurried to block them and drive them back.

“Stop!” Zane cried as Tim struggled in agony. “Stop, you’ll tear your own hand off like that!”

No, no, no. He’d suffer a convulsion and lose his hand if Zane wasn’t fast enough. Zane had to get his wrist free of the ice.

Zane spun and fired on Aurelia, trying to back himself towards Tim. He might still have time. Tim hadn’t convulsed the other night when he irritated his collarbone injury. The convulsions might be getting a little better. With any luck, it would take his body longer to react to the new injury, severe as it was.

Tim’s screams rang around the room, driving Zane to shoot more desperately. Aurelia returned fire, trying to catch Zane and trip him up with her ice. 

He dodged to the side. He could send the digi-Jacks to free Tim. But, no, that was too risky. It needed to be precise to save his hand at this point. And he’d need a health kit immediately to keep him from bleeding to death regardless of how he was freed. He’d need-

Zane cursed as his foot hit a patch of ice, knocking him off balance. Aurelia pressed the advantage, sending a blast of ice at him that knocked him to the ground, pinning him there.

Aurelia stepped up to him, kicking his gun away from his hands. She bent down and pulled the bottle of Eridium from his pocket.

“I’ll be sure to give this to him to heal him up,” she said, a slow, cruel smirk twisting her lips. She fired a shot into Zane’s shoulder, and he howled out in pain, blood pooling beneath him and staining his clothes. “Perhaps I’ll kill you nice and slow, just so he can watch. He seems quite fond of you, after all.”

“No!” Tim yelled. Both looked at him, surprised he hadn’t started convulsing yet. “Stay the hell away from him!”

“I don’t think I will,” Aurelia said, aiming her gun at Zane’s leg.

“I said- stay away- from-” Tim strained against the ice.

“No!” Zane cried in horror.

“-him!” Tim gave a final jerk, crying out as he tore himself free from the ice.

Zane watched helplessly as Tim’s severed hand hit the ground. 

“Get her!” Tim said.

The digi-Jacks both suddenly surged forward, firing at Aurelia with enough force to catch her by surprise. She tossed the Eridium aside in favor of grabbing her gun, leaving Zane to realize far too late what Tim’s plan was.

“Don’t!” Zane begged.

Tim dove for the bottle of Eridium, scooping it in his good hand as his body gave a telltale jerk. He caught the cap in his teeth and twisted it off, chugging a substantial amount of the Eridium.

Zane made a soft noise of distress and closed his eyes, turning his head away. He’d failed. After all this, he’d failed Timothy.

Tim yanked the bottle away from himself, forcing himself to toss it to the side. It hit the ground, the remaining Eridium spilling out and staining the floor purple.

His veins burned as the sensation of Eridium coursing through his body overtook him. But the small spasms rocking his body didn’t turn into a convulsion, and that was all that mattered right now.

With agony nearly blinding his senses as he got to his feet, he grabbed his gun and stormed towards Aurelia, firing on her until she’d stumbled away from Zane. Blood splashed against the ground as his wound bled freely, the Eridium yet to touch it.

His vision wavered. He looked at Zane’s bloodied shoulder, steadied himself, and pressed on at Aurelia.

“You took my life from me,” he snarled. “You took my freedom, my safety, my sobriety, my whole goddamn life. You will not take him from me too.” 

“You will die here,” Aurelia said, swinging her gun to aim at him.

The Eridium was making his arm burn, finally tackling his wound. “Probably. But I was dying anyway. Zane gets to live and spit on your freaking corpse.” 

She tried to send another wave of ice at him, but he dodged to the side. What had been a miserably feverish, sluggish body before was now driven by Eridium, short-lived as the boost would be. 

Aurelia went to fire another shot, but her eyes widened as she realized she was out of ammo. Tim slammed the butt of his gun against her face, sending her sprawling to the ground.

He knelt down, digging his knee against her chest until she choked for air. He placed his gun to her temple.

“I could make it slow. Make you suffer, like I did,” he said.

She glared at him defiantly, refusing to show any fear. “You just sped up your death. You’re only conscious because you adjusted to a high intake of Eridium. But your body can’t handle this kind of sudden overdose. And he’ll have to either watch you suffer until you draw your last breath, or put you down himself. You haven’t won like you think you have.”

“But he gets to finally see me free, after seven years,” Tim said. “I got to finally take that back, even if it cost me my life. Tell Jack I said ‘fuck you’ when you get to hell. You failed, Aurelia.”

She met his eyes. He pulled the trigger.

Tim stared at her corpse, his body beginning to tremble. The gun fell from his hand and his body tipped to the side.

“Got ya. I’ve got ya.”

Arms caught him, pulling him close. Tim took a shuddering breath. His vision was blurry, but he wasn’t sure if it was from tears or Eridium.

“I did it, Zane,” he whispered.

“I know,” Zane said. He forced a shaky grin. “Even had a good speech at the end there. I’m proud of you, lad.”

He was trying to hold Tim in a way that hid his injured arm from sight. It took everything Zane had to keep that weak grin on his face as the veins in Tim’s injured arm glowed purple.

Tim’s hand caught Zane’s shirt in a tight grip. “I’m...sorry…”

“You’re being overdramatic again. You’re going to be fine.” Zane took out a health kit, cursing mentally as his hand trembled. He held it out to Tim, carefully prying Tim’s hand from his shirt and putting the health kit in it. 

Tim took a moment to close his fingers around it. He looked up at Zane, then used the last of his strength to plunge the health kit into Zane’s injured shoulder.

“Bastard!” Zane said in surprise. “Oh, you stubborn headache. Feckin’ headache, Timothy, I swear.”

The grin had dropped off his face as he held Tim closer to his chest. He was shaking now, realizing how feverishly hot Tim was, how much blood he’d lost, how bad he looked.

No. No, this couldn’t be it. 

Tim put his hand on Zane’s arm, letting his head drop against Zane’s chest. “T-Thank you, Zane.” His voice was weak, strained. “Died with freedom and...and...a f-family.”

“No one is dying! She was the only one!” Zane said. “C’mon, lad, stay with me. Pull another miracle. You’re good at that.”

Tim closed his eyes.

“Hey, come on now, you owe me for covering the tab,” Zane said. “We’ll get you patched up and go shoot some skags. You’ll be fine, Timothy. I’ve got you.”

He had Timothy, but he had Timothy too late. Tim had torn his own hand off and taken too much Eridium all to save Zane. 

Zane held Tim close, as if he could keep the life in Tim’s body. He didn’t mind losing the family he’d been born with, but he didn’t want to lose the family he’d chosen.

“I’m glad you’re free,” he whispered at last.

It was what Tim wanted. He was willing to die for that sense of freedom. It was his choice to make, after having so many choices taken away from him for so long.

But Zane still let out an anguished cry as Tim stopped breathing and went limp in his arms.

Chapter Text

It became a blur after that.

Zane remembered it in fractured pieces. He remembered Moze nearly ripping Tim out of his arms as she jabbed a health kit into him and administered CPR to get him breathing again. He remembered the tauntingly slow rise and fall of Tim’s chest and his own relief at the sight. He remembered Fl4k sticking a health kit into Zane’s still-bleeding shoulder, because the first hadn’t managed to stop the bleeding. He remembered Amara taking Tim into her arms because Zane’s shoulder was too wrecked to carry him.

They’d gotten Zane up and hurried him along, Moze calling ahead to Tannis to fill her in and have her prep medical. They’d told Zane that the vaults could wait; Timothy and Zane needed medical attention. 

And now he sat in medical, his wound tended to, holding Tim’s remaining hand, ears strained to listen to the alarmingly slow beeping of his heartbeat.

Tim was hooked up to so much machinery that Zane couldn’t even keep track of which wires and tubes did which functions. Instead, he watched Tannis and a doctor Rhys had sent over on Lilith’s request as they rushed around the room, trying to keep Tim breathing.

But the doctor Rhys had sent- Zane couldn’t remember his name -came over at last. “Mr. Flynt, I’m sorry. At best, we can probably keep him alive through the night. He won’t survive another day in his condition. We have no safe way to drain the Eridium from his system. He’s not strong enough to survive the procedure we’d need to do to drain the Eridium from him, and it’s too much for his system to handle if we keep giving it to him in frequent doses.”

“You’re new here, so I won’t break your jaw for sayin’ that to me, boyo. Timothy here has survived a lot of hell. Don’t count him out yet,” Zane said.

“Zane,” Lilith said, putting a hand on his shoulder. “Timothy made his choices. Don’t let him suffer any longer than he has to.”

Amara pushed herself off the wall where she’d been standing. “Zane, he was willing to die to save your life. He made his sacrifice. I’m sorry, but it might be time to make your own sacrifice.”

Zane tightened his hold on Tim’s hand. “What about the Eridium data? There had to be something there.”

“There was,” Tannis said. “But it was just a prototype. It hadn’t been tested yet. I don’t know if Timothy would be strong enough to survive the operation it would involve.”

“Do it,” Zane said. Before anyone could protest, he took a deep breath. “If it fails, I’ll end his suffering. I swear it. But give him one last chance.”

“I will perform the operation on one condition,” Tannis said. “If he survives it, but it is clear he’ll have a miserable quality of life, you will give him the mercy of death. Even I have my limits. This is risky at best, and I will not stand by and watch a man suffer every day because of it.”

Zane gave a solemn nod. “I promise. If it fails, or if it’s clear that he won’t have any quality of life, I’ll...do it. I won’t make him suffer any longer.”

“Lilith, I require you and Rhys’s on-loan doctor here. Everyone else, leave. And yes, Zane, you leave too,” Tannis said. “We absolutely cannot afford any distractions during this.” 

“Zane, he may not survive this. It’s best to say your goodbyes to him now,” Lilith said quietly. “I swear to you, we’ll do everything we can to save him. But if it doesn’t work, I don’t want you to have regrets.”

She ushered everyone away to give him some privacy. He looked down at Tim’s face, his expression agonized as his slow, labored breathing gave a subtle rise and fall to his chest. The stump where his hand had been was heavily bandaged. His skin was flushed with fever, coated in sweat.

Zane brushed Tim’s hair away from his eyes, looking at the scarred face. He wondered what Tim had looked like before Jack altered him with surgeries and trauma. 

“If anyone can beat the odds, it’s you, lad,” he said quietly, squeezing Tim’s hand. “I got over my brothers’ deaths. But not yours, Timothy. You got your freedom back. Now I want to see you live the life you choose. So just...just…” He swore softly. “Hell, lad, I can’t pull your arse out of the fire on this one. You’ve gotta do it yourself. You owe me for that tab, so you better pull through. Moxxi’s got those drinks on the house for us, remember?” He stood up slowly, gently laying Tim’s hand back on the bed. “I won’t even blast the radio while you’re recovering. I promise. Come back to me, Timothy.”

He backed away, taking one last look at Tim’s face. He paused, then took Tim’s ECHO into his hands. He left the watch on Tim’s wrist, not daring to take that away from him while his heart still beat. If he couldn’t be with Tim in the end, at least they could.

Zane left medical. For all the things he’d had to do in his life, those few steps were the hardest.

He retreated to his room, shutting the door. He couldn’t bear the sympathies of his friends. Not when Tim had a chance, slim as it was.

Instead, he sat on his bed and placed the ECHO in his lap. He went into it, searching for the file he knew he’d find. 

Sure enough, there it was. Simply titled, “Zane”.

He clicked the first audio log.

“So, uh, I’m totally copying Angel here,” Tim’s voice said awkwardly. “But, you know, it’s all I have left of her. And maybe someday this is all you’ll have left of me. I can’t...give you much, Zane. But I can give you this.”

Zane closed his eyes. He saw that doppelganger from all those years ago, his chance at completing his mission. A man he didn’t realize at the time would become so important to him.

“I, um, I never really had a father figure in my life. I don’t think Jack really counts. Even if he did, he was a shitty dad. But then you came and you got me out of that casino. I didn’t trust you. Part of me considered killing you. I’m glad I didn’t. Didn’t try, I mean. You totally could’ve kicked my ass if I did. But then I found that, even though you were as annoying as you were tall, I liked being around you. So I saved you at that facility, and let myself get captured by Nisha.” He was silent for a long moment. “And you came to save me. When I was suffering and alone in the dark, you came to save me.”

He could remember the sight of Timothy in that cell. It haunted him.

“You could’ve killed me, or given up on me. When I overdosed. But you didn’t. Do you know, I twisted my ankle when I was a kid. My mom told me not to climb the tree in our backyard, but I did, and my shoe got stuck, and I fell and twisted my ankle so badly I couldn’t walk for almost a week. Well, I asked her to help me get a book down because it was on the top shelf and I couldn’t climb the ladder with my ankle so messed up. And you know what she did? She said ‘Maybe you’ll learn your lesson now’ and walked away.”

It was silent again. Zane could hear the sound of Tim swallowing.

“You didn’t do that,” he said, his voice cracking. He cleared his throat. “You didn’t make me suffer for my mistake. You dragged me around on your back until I could walk again. You kept me safe and cared for. You got me away from Jack and made sure I wouldn’t overdose again. You cared about me. And I thought, oh shit, I got attached to this guy. I stayed on Promethea because I didn’t want to be a burden to you after all you’d done for me. And I don’t want you to feel bad about not contacting me, Zane. Because I could’ve contacted you. I didn’t, because I didn’t want to bother you. I thought you were better off without me. You know I’ve always been pretty stubborn and stupid like that, though.”

“Stubborn, overdramatic bastard,” Zane whispered.

“Just...Just stop blaming yourself. I could’ve reached out to you and you could’ve reached out to me and we fucked that up, but when I was scared and alone in the dark, you came for me again. You got me out of that fight ring and you didn’t give up on me. I’m alive because of you. And, yea, this whole recovering from Eridium thing sucks, but I’m glad to be alive. I’m glad to be back with you, Zane. So, uh...thanks. Thank you. Shit, I’m bad at this.” He laughed weakly. “Just...thanks.”

Zane couldn’t bring himself to listen to the rest. Instead, he set the ECHO aside and stood up, grabbing his gun.

Sitting here wallowing in misery wouldn’t change anything. Instead, he went down to the shooting range, setting the targets to move so that he could focus as he fired. 

He wasn’t surprised when Amara joined him. She didn’t say anything, just fired alongside him for a while.

Zane finally lowered his gun. “Out with it, lass.”

“Does he have any friends or family?” she said.

“Dunno if his mom is still alive, but if she is, I’ll find her,” Zane said. “Send his ashes to her and let her know some version of what happened.”

“He has no one else?” she said.

“Not that I know of. I think Jack kept him pretty cut-off from the world,” Zane said. 

“What do you plan to do when he recovers?” she said. “Moze said she wants to join you guys on your skag shooting adventures. Fl4k said they want to see if Timothy can drive better than you. Personally, I’d like to have that bastard teach me how to snipe as well as he can.”

Zane tightened his hold on his gun, his chest aching. Timothy wasn’t the only family he’d gained over time.

“I don’t have plans. I just want to ask him what he wants to do,” he said at last. “And get the kid a cat. He wants a cat.” He smiled, just the slightest. “Hopefully he’ll be able to hold a drink again. He owes me a few and I hate drinking alone.”

“Speaking of drinks, why don’t you come to Moxxi’s with us? We’re going to play cards. We could use a reckless better,” she said.

He gave a small nod. Maybe he’d underestimated just how much comfort they’d bring him during all this.

So he holstered his gun and followed Amara to Moxxi’s bar. Moxxi set a drink down for him as he sat with the others.

“I’m charging you for that one. You get your free one when the two of you come together,” she said.

“I’ll hold you to that,” he said.

It was dangerous to get his hopes up. The only reason Timothy hadn’t died in his arms back there was because Moze got the health kit into him fast enough to get him breathing again. He was barely clinging to life. Maybe it was too much to expect another miracle out of him after all this time.

But just like Timothy had clung to the hope that Zane would come for him in the fight ring, Zane clung to the hope that Timothy would pull through this.

He deserved it. After all the shit he’d been through, his abusers were finally dead, and he could finally live without that anger and fear that had plagued him for so long. Life owed Timothy Lawrence one hell of a debt, and this was the chance to pay up on it.

And despite everything, Zane found himself grateful as he bet with his friends. They should’ve gone to the vault to stop the Calypsos. That should’ve been their main priority.

Instead, they sat here helping Zane pass the time and trying to keep his mind off of Tim. Zane had always been a lone operator before retiring, but now he was damned grateful for the people in his life.

They played late into the night. Zane knew he wouldn’t be able to sleep, but the others all looked exhausted.

“Head to bed,” Zane said, standing up.

“You shouldn’t be alone right now,” Moze said. 

“I’m fine,” Zane lied as cheerfully as he could. “Lost a lot of friends to this life. This isn’t my first tragedy, Moze.”

“No, but it’s your worst,” Amara said. “I know what I said to you back in medical, and I meant it. But he’s still fighting for his life up there, and that’s one stubborn man.”

“We could go down to Pandora and kill things?” Fl4k offered.

Zane shook his head. “I’m not leaving Sanctuary til I know the outcome, one way or another.”

“Then let’s head to Ellie’s. She can always use some help down there,” Moze offered.

Zane reluctantly agreed to go with them. He knew he needed to keep himself busy right now. 

So the group went down to Ellie, who certainly had work for them to do sorting through parts she’d gotten from a dealer down on Pandora. Zane was glad to do the heavy lifting and let his mind focus on the best way to organize all the various parts.

He even talked with Ellie about future vehicle upgrades and how they could make them happen. His mind never truly strayed from thoughts of Tim, but he did manage to keep himself distracted enough to lose all track of time.

So it surprised him when Lilith came down there.

Zane froze as she spotted him. Her expression was grim.

She held up a hand before he could speak. “He’s alive. Just barely, though. He survived the operation, but he’s far from clear yet, Zane. Tannis said you can go back up and sit with him now. But you need to be aware that there’s a very good chance he won’t make it through the night.”

Zane headed for the stairs and Lilith hurried to follow him. He didn’t bother with words as he hurried up to medical, letting himself inside.

Tim was still hooked up to various machinery, his skin alarmingly pale. His chest was heavily bandaged, raising Zane’s alarm as he saw the faintest purple tint to the edge of the top part of the bandages.

“What’d you do to him?” he asked, taking the chair next to Tim. He lifted Tim’s hand, pressing his fingers to Tim’s wrist to feel his weak pulse, matching the beeping of the machine next to him.

Tannis gestured to the bandages. “Like I said, it was a prototype. Actually, it never even made it that far. It was an idea. Jack was trying to find a way to keep Angel alive if he disconnected her from Control Core. He combined that idea with the idea to have Eridium-induced troops at his command.”

Tim’s arm was still showing purple veins. Zane looked up at Tannis.

“What did you do to him?” he repeated, voice steady.

“The purple veins will be permanent. I suspect the Eridium will spread through his body as his injury heals. He will always look like that,” Tannis said, nodding to Tim’s arm. “What I did was surgically implant a device that gives him doses of Eridium straight to his heart. The goal of that is to have the Eridium pumped through his circulatory system. In theory, it should heal his decaying body. He will live in a constant cycle of decay and repair. But if we can get the doses right, he may actually get back to some semblance of normalcy, and only be aware of that cycle when he pushes himself too hard and his body can’t keep up.”

“Straight into his heart,” Zane said blankly.

“I know how that sounds,” Tannis said, her voice taking on a defensive tone. “But when he drinks liquid Eridium, or when it’s injected into one part of his body, it isn’t enough to repair his whole system and can overwhelm his body. As I said, the theory in this is that it’ll pump the Eridium out to his system in even amounts to constantly repair the damage done to him.”

“Tannis, the other part of it,” Lilith said tightly. “He needs to know.”

“Oi, I don’t think I want to know,” Zane said, tightening his hold on Timothy’s hand. “What, did you decide to grow him a new hand out of the Eridium?”

“That’s hardly logical,” Tannis said.

“Tannis,” Lilith said.

“Oh, very well. Make me deliver the bad news.” Tannis turned her attention back to Zane. “If he survives, he will, as I said, have the potential to get back to some form of normalcy. There’s a good chance his convulsions will even stop, so long as he doesn’t suffer serious injury. However, that’s just physically. Mentally...there’s nothing we could do for him. He will likely suffer those mental lapses of his for the rest of his life. He may even become permanently trapped in one.”

“We’ll deal with that if it happens,” Zane said.

“Mr. Flynt, let us check your wound,” Rhys’s doctor said, tentatively stepping forward. He looked shaken after dealing with whatever surgery they’d put Tim through, though Zane couldn’t quite blame him. Eridium was nasty stuff.

Zane pulled his shirt off and allowed them to check his wound and change his bandages, administering another health kit. Once that was settled, Tannis and the doctor retreated a bit to give him as much privacy as they could.

“I’ll have the others brief me on the mission. Stay here with him. We’ll bring you anything you need,” Lilith said before leaving the room.

Zane stared at the bandages on Tim’s chest. Had he made the right call, letting more changes be made to Tim’s body without his consent?

He felt wretched for that. But Tim would’ve died without it, and it’s not like Zane could’ve woken him up and asked. 

Zane took out Tim’s ECHO and went into the file Tim had left for him. He stared at the audio logs there. There weren’t many, but they’d be all Zane had left of Tim if Tim didn’t pull through this.

He scrolled to the last one, took a deep breath, and pressed it.

“Hey, Zane,” Tim said. He sounded tired. “I’m dying. I can feel my body shutting down. My hands have been getting numb for longer periods. I think it’ll be permanent before long. My body hurts like you wouldn’t believe. The headaches are getting worse and more frequent. I’m tired all the time. I have no appetite. It’s uh, it’s not good.”

Zane looked at the wrapped stump where his hand had been. He definitely wouldn’t be feeling that one again. Zane grimaced.

“I’m sorry, Zane. I never meant to...I hope you understand why I’m picking this fight over a longer life. I hid from Jack. I’m not hiding from this. I want- I want to stand up for myself, for once. The first and last time, really. I’m tired of people hurting me. I’m tired of being so damn scared all the time. I didn’t help myself back then. I wasn’t strong enough to. I was a coward. But I’m done being a coward. If I die, it’s on my terms. I hope you can forgive me for that.”

“It’s your life, boyo,” Zane said quietly. “You finally took control of it.”

“I tried to hide the worst of it from you. I didn’t want to worry you. I never meant to hurt you.” He gave a weak laugh. “Guess I’m not used to people caring about me. Thanks for showing me what that’s like. I guess you’re charming, at times. Still as tall as you are irritating, though. Look, I was going to ask you to, I dunno, send my ashes to my mom, I guess. But instead, I want you to bury them or scatter them or whatever. That spot we shot skags that night. I fell asleep on your leg. You said I meant too much to you to forget. I’m sorry all I can leave you with is a memory. But just...just know that you were the best thing to happen to my shitty life. For as much as you piss me off, you’re my family, Zane. I don’t regret any of my mistakes. They led me to you. This will probably be my last recording. I don’t think I’ll make it much longer. But I’m glad for the time we had. I know we suck at the sentimental thing, but thank you. For everything. You saved Timothy Lawrence.”

The recording ended. Zane gripped the ECHO tighter, looking at Tim.

“Hang in there, lad,” he said. “I’m not scattering your damn ashes. I’m getting you healed up and taking you shooting there again. Better believe it.” 

It was a long, hard night.

Every time Tim’s vitals began to crash, Tannis and the other doctor rushed to try and save him. Once, when he was in immediate danger of flatlining, Zane begged them to give him Eridium.

But Tannis refused, saying his body would either adjust to the Eridium he’d get through whatever they’d stuck in his chest, or he’d die. Giving him anymore Eridium right now would risk causing an overdose.

Tim pulled through, just barely. When Tannis wasn’t tending to Tim, she was studying the Eridium data Zane had stolen, trying to find anything that could help stabilize Tim without endangering him.

Zane forced himself to stay awake the whole night, despite his own exhaustion and the persistent pain in his shoulder. Rhys’s doctor was so focused on Tim that it took him a long time to realize Zane’s pain and get him a health kit. Zane didn’t mind; he wanted them focused on Tim.

Zane’s friends brought him food, coffee, and water. Sometimes they sat and talked with him. Sometimes they’d play music to break the monotonous sound of machinery. 

Zane silently appreciated all of it.

He played Angel’s audio recordings for Tim, hoping that even in his unconscious state, he might be able to recognize her voice. Sometimes Zane found an article on his ECHO and just read to Tim, thinking of Tim falling asleep to the sound of his voice in the vehicle as they drove to the Preserve. 

He only allowed himself to doze off for short intervals. He knew he’d have to sleep at some point, but the quick naps bought him time. 

Tannis finally came over to him. “It’s a miracle he’s survived this long. That’s probably a good sign. I’m still studying the information you got to see if I can figure out the correct dosage for his implant. That’ll be crucial for his survival. But what he’s receiving now appears to be sustaining him.”

“You think he’ll pull through?” Zane said, terrified to be hopeful, but too desperate for anything less. 

“I think it’ll be touch and go,” Tannis said. “Touch and go is still better than dead. He’s already exceeded my expectations for survival, to be quite honest. He does have a habit of clinging to life. Just remember our deal, Zane. If the life he’s clinging to is just us constantly bringing him back from the brink of death, it becomes your responsibility to end his suffering.”

“I know,” Zane said tightly. “I’ll stick to my word. But the lad gets to fight for now. We see what happens.”

“I suppose we will,” she said, eyeing Tim before heading back to her computer.

Zane looked at where Tim’s clothing was tossed on the floor. They’d torn through his shirt and jacket in their rush to operate.

“You’re going to run me right out of jackets, lad,” Zane said, shrugging out of the one he had on to drape it carefully over Tim. “Suppose that’s the price I’ll pay for you pulling through. That and my bloody tab.”

He looked at Tim’s scarred face. Tim’s life for years had been a cycle of abuse, isolation, fear, and addiction. Over and over, he was subjected to those things, until he found himself barely clinging to life here. 

He’d start a new cycle. Decay and repair. But he’d finally have a future if he could recover and they got the dosage right. He’d finally break those horrific cycles he’d been living and get to choose a future for himself.

Timothy had to pull through. Zane couldn’t bear to see him lose the future he’d finally pried back for himself. 

He gripped Tim’s hand and listened to the sound of Tim’s heartbeat, unable to do anything more for him. This was Tim’s fight now, and Zane just hoped he won it.

Chapter Text

Tim’s condition worsened before it showed any signs of improving.

Twice, Zane felt an overwhelming dread as Tim’s vitals crashed again. Once he even put his hand on his gun, his whole body trembling as Tim wheezed and gasped for air that he couldn’t quite seem to get into his lungs, the machine monitoring his heartbeat growing erratic in a way that taunted it would grow silent soon enough. Tim had started to convulse, a choked noise of pain slipping past his lips.

Zane had started to pull the gun from his holster, his chest aching so badly he’d wondered if he would flatline too. 

But then the beeping had grown steadier and Tim had settled, panting. Zane had pushed his gun back and instead pressed his hands together, bowing his head over them and blowing out a small sigh of relief as Tim’s heartbeat stabilized.

He would’ve done it. He would’ve put a bullet through Tim’s head right then and there, to stop his suffering. 

As much as he wanted to see Tim recover, he couldn’t stand to see him suffer like that. It was the kind of cruelty Jack would’ve done.

But as the days stretched on, taking their toll on Zane, Tim began to subtly improve his condition. His heartbeat got a little stronger. His vitals stopped crashing so frequently. He breathed a little easier. His fever went down the slightest.

It bloomed a dangerous hope in Zane as he watched those changes take place. He even managed to fall asleep for a few hours after Tim had gone nearly a day without a critical change in condition.

It was over a week before Tim finally regained consciousness.

Zane was flipping through a magazine Moze had brought him when Tim began to stir. Zane had immediately tossed the magazine aside, gesturing to Tannis and Rhys’s doctor, who Zane had finally learned was named Dr. Reid.

The two hurried over. All three of them watched anxiously as Tim’s eyes slowly opened.

Tannis studied him. “Hm, this is borderline impossible. I wonder if all the Eridium made him somehow more than human. I cannot possibly understand how a normal human man could’ve survived everything he’s gone through.”

“Ah, shut it, ya buzzkill,” Zane said, his hands shaking as he took Tim’s hand. “He’s alive and he’s finally awake.”

“But not very responsive,” Reid said, holding a finger in front of Tim’s good eye and slowly moving it back and forth. Tim’s eye didn’t follow the movement.

“Oi, Timothy,” Zane said, reaching out to carefully shake his shoulder. “You with us?”

Tim didn’t respond. He was staring up at the ceiling, his eyes barely even open. His fingers twitched weakly against Zane’s grasp.

“He might still be delirious. He still has a low grade fever,” Reid said. “Not to mention the trauma his body went through.”

They tended to Tim for a bit, but when there was nothing more they could do for him and he still wasn’t responding, they left Zane to keep him company. Zane decided to just talk. He was very good at talking. 

And something told him Tim didn’t mind listening, much as he liked to complain.

Zane told Tim some stories from his days as a mercenary, repeating some he knew he’d already told Tim. He doubted Tim was comprehending the words anyway. He just hoped Tim could recognize his voice.

“-could’ve probably gotten in by just knocking on the door, but something about that chimney was really calling me,” Zane was saying when Tim’s eyes finally closed. “Dammit, Timothy, you always fall asleep at the good parts.”

But he’d woken up. That had to be a good sign.

Zane stayed attentive to Timothy after that. Tim woke up a few more times, but remained unresponsive, always just staring at the ceiling. Zane still talked to him each time until he’d fallen back to sleep.

With Tannis’s permission, Zane carefully worked Tim’s arms and legs so he wouldn’t just lay there decaying. Tim would need all the strength he could get when he fully regained consciousness. 

It was how Zane spent his days. He knew he should get out of medical and help his friends, but he just couldn’t drag himself away from Tim. No one ever asked him to leave, either. They just brought him what he needed and occasionally sat with him to keep him company.

It was a few days of this before Tim finally became somewhat aware.

He woke up, staring at the ceiling at first. Zane didn’t bother signaling Tannis or Reid over, instead thinking about what stories to tell this time. 

But then Tim turned his head the slightest, good eye gazing around the room with a blank expression. Zane sat up straighter.

“Timothy?” he said.

Tim didn’t respond to that. Zane swallowed hard.

“Jack?” he tried instead.

Tim’s gaze slowly went to Zane. Zane took Tim’s hand in his and shook his head.

“No, lad, your name isn’t Jack,” he said. “Your name is Timothy. Timothy Lawrence.” 

“J...ack,” he rasped.

“No,” Zane said sternly. “Handsome Jack is dead, and good riddance to the bastard. You’re my pain in the arse brat, Timothy Lawrence.”

“Is he talking?” Tannis said in surprise, coming over to them. “Huh, I wasn’t sure he’d still be able to talk.”

“What the hell does that mean?” Zane said.

“There were some...potential side effects of the surgery I may have forgotten to mention,” she said. She cleared her throat loudly. “Anyway, he’s still able to talk. That’s- Well, no, it’s not good, because he tends to whine a lot.”

“Leave him alone, he’s been knocking at death’s door for days,” Zane said. “He’s allowed to whine this time. Aren’t ya, Timothy?”

Tim was staring at him, but he closed his eyes. His fingers twitched against Zane’s hand, like he was trying to pull away.

“Timothy, can you hear me?” Zane said.

“Hurts,” Tim whispered.

“Yea, I figured that much,” Zane said. “It’s alright, though. It’s alright. We’ve got you. You’re gonna be just fine, lad.”

“Know that...v-voice,” he said.

“You better know it! It’s a great voice, and it’s been blessing your ears for a long while,” Zane said. 

Tim stopped trying to pull his hand away, instead curling his fingers around Zane’s hand. Zane leaned forward a little.

“C’mon, lad,” he urged. “You know me. I never forgot you. I never could. You mean too much to me, right? So now show me that I mean too much to you to forget.”

“Know it,” Tim muttered, tightening his hold on Zane’s hand.

“You know me. We’re a team,” Zane said. “We’re a family. A fecked up one, but a family nonetheless.”

“Zane,” Tim choked out, his body trembling. “Zane.”

“Aye,” Zane said in relief. “Zane Flynt, three-time champion of the ‘Galaxy’s Sexiest Hitman’ award. Adopter of overdramatic, emotionally traumatized doppelgangers. That’s me.”

“Zane,” Tim repeated again, quietly, desperately. Like he was afraid to forget.

Oh, hell, Zane had almost killed him. Zane had almost shot this poor kid dead. He’d almost given up on him.

“It’s me, Timothy. I’m right here,” Zane said. “You’re going to be okay.”

“Well, I wouldn’t go that far,” Tannis said.

“Ya know, Tannis, maybe right now isn’t the time for that,” Zane said politely. 

“I’m going to take some blood samples from him since he’s strong enough to be awake and talking now. Keep him occupied so he doesn’t try to fight me off,” Tannis said.

“Hey, Timothy,” Zane said, lightly patting Tim’s cheek to get his attention. “You did it again, boyo. You proved everyone wrong when they gave up on you. But if you have one more near-death experience, I’m going to lose my damn mind.” He pointed to his hair. “Look at this. I got so stressed my hair turned white.”

Tim made a noise that might’ve been a laugh. He closed his eyes, grip tightening on Zane’s hand. Zane had no idea how he’d explain Tim’s missing hand, but he supposed that was a problem for another day. 

Tannis backed away with the blood samples, Timothy thankfully none the wiser. Zane almost thought he’d fallen back asleep until he slowly opened his eyes, gaze fixing on Zane.

“Right, story time, then,” Zane said, reaching out and brushing Tim’s hair away from his eyes. It was starting to get long. Zane wondered if Tim would leave it that way.

He launched into another story, Tim watching him until he fell back asleep. Zane kept his hold on Tim’s hand, wanting to make sure Tim knew he was still here if he woke back up. 

Tannis came back a while later. “His blood is mixed with Eridium. It appears the device is doing its job and the dose must be alright if he’s still alive. I will make no promises about a full recovery and I certainly won’t guarantee his condition won’t take a turn for the worst unexpectedly. But for now...I think it’s okay for you to hope.”

“He’ll pull through. He’s a lot stronger than anyone gives him credit for,” Zane said. “Stubborn bastard is a fighter. Life was miserable to him, but he isn’t giving up on it yet.”

“He lives to complain another day,” she said with a sigh. 

Zane grinned at that. “It’ll be shitty music to my ears to hear him bitching again.”

Tannis just shook her head and left him to deal with Tim. Zane couldn’t help the hope spreading throughout him as he looked at Tim.

He just might pull through after all.

***

Tim would wake up, sometimes completely unaware of where he was or even who he was. But more and more often, he woke up aware of Zane.

And he started being able to speak more, though it exhausted him. He still couldn’t sit up, and Zane was almost afraid to ask him to try moving his limbs.

But it had to be done.

“Timothy,” he said during one of Tim’s aware moments. “I need you to do something for me.”

“Can’t do...much,” he rasped. 

“Yea, yea, lazy bastard.” Zane touched his arm lightly. “Lift your arm as high as you can, and clench and unclench your fist a few times.”

Tim struggled to lift his arm very high, but he did manage to get it partially up. Even better, he was able to clench and unclench his fist a few times with little trouble. He let his arm drop back to the bed, waiting for Zane’s next order.

“Alright, lift your legs, one at a time, and bend at the knee,” Zane said.

His heart rate kicked up as he waited. Tim struggled to get his left leg up for a moment, but then he was able to get it up and bend it. He had an easier time with his right leg, and relief washed over Zane that he still had mobility of his arms and legs.

Or, at least one arm.

Zane pressed his lips together. Did he bring it up? Tim would find out eventually. But was he strong enough to handle the knowledge now? Or should they wait until-

“Zane,” Tim said quietly. Zane looked at him, grimacing as Tim lifted his handless arm. “I know. I remember.”

“...Oh,” Zane said, furrowing his brow. “Kinda assumed you didn’t remember that. Would’ve saved me a mental struggle if you’d mentioned it earlier.” 

Tim refused to look at his stumped arm as he lowered it back to the bed. “Don’t...don’t regret it.”

“You saved my life,” Zane said.

Tim reached out with his good hand towards Zane’s shoulder. Zane tugged his shirt down to show the healed wound.

“No permanent damage,” he said. “A little scarring, but nothing too bad.” He pulled his shirt up and nodded to Tim’s missing hand. “We’ll get you a prosthetic one. I’m sure Rhys could help us out there. His is pretty fancy. And if not, I know a lot of people who could make you a damn good one.”

“Is everyone else…?” he said.

“They’re all fine. We were the only big injuries,” Zane assured. 

Tim reached up, his hand shaking as he touched the bandages on his chest. “N-Numb.”

“Your hand or your chest? Because both could be numb with you,” Zane said.

“Chest,” he said.

“Tannis, is that normal?” Zane called. “Lad says his chest is numb.”

“The area we operated on will likely remain numb. The constant Eridium pooling there will be too much for that part of his body to handle,” Tannis said over her shoulder.

Tim’s eyes widened in terror. “Operated?”

“Easy, lad, easy. It was the only way to save you,” Zane said, pulling Tim’s hand away from his chest. 

Tim’s breathing was going unsteady, his heart rate spiking. Zane put a firm hand on his shoulder.

“I’m sorry, Timothy. It was the only way to save your life at the time. I swear to you, I’d never let you undergo surgery without your consent unless there was no other option. In this case, there wasn’t. You were dying,” Zane said. “If you’re mad at me, I understand. It was my call, in the end. I opted to violate your body with surgery rather than lose you.”

Tim closed his eyes. “Never again. Rather die.”

“I understand,” Zane said. “You have my word. Never again.”

It was a long while before he got his breathing under control. Zane felt wretched about it, but the damage was done.

“Do you want me to leave?” Zane said.

“No!” His eyes flew open, his hand reaching out. “No. Please.”

“Alright, alright. I’m not going anywhere if you don’t want me to,” Zane said.

“Not mad. Just...need time,” he whispered.

“I get it. I do,” Zane promised. 

They sat in silence for a while after that. Tim looked around the room, still stubbornly avoiding the sight of his missing hand.

He looked down and seemed to finally notice Zane’s jacket partially draped over him. He lifted his arm, remembered his hand was gone, and lowered it. He lifted his other hand and gripped the jacket, looking to Zane.

“They tore the other one to fix you up,” Zane explained. “And your dumb arse tore the sleeves off the other one.”

“Like it...as a...vest,” he said, pulling the jacket higher and closing his eyes. 

The door to medical opened and Tim forced his eyes back open, looking over. Zane looked over too, unable to hide his grin as his friends walked in.

“He’s still hanging in there,” he said.

“We heard he was up and talking. Didn’t want to overwhelm him,” Amara said. “Is this okay?”

Zane looked to Tim. Tim just slumped against the pillows.

“Yea. Just t-tired,” he muttered.

“You can rest up. We’ll just keep you company until you fall asleep,” Zane said.

The others grabbed chairs and sat around Tim’s bed. None of them mentioned his missing hand or the bandages covering his chest.

“Here, we brought this,” Amara said, handing a juice box to Zane. “Gift from Moxxi for him. She figured his stomach couldn’t handle anything stronger than that.”

It took every ounce of self control that Zane had not to laugh as he poked the straw into the juice box Amara handed him. So much for recovering Tim’s dignity.

“You need to get better,” Moze said to Tim. “I want to see you and Fl4k have a sniping competition.”

“I would win,” Fl4k said.

“I’m missing...a hand,” Tim said. His speech was starting to slur in the way it did whenever he got too tired. “‘Course you’d w-win.”

“Nah, I think if we got you a new hand you’d still give them a run for their money,” Moze said, shaking her head. “What do you think, Zane?”

“I think Timothy here would put up a good fight,” Zane said. “Might just win, too.”

“One eye, one hand. Not a...good sniper…” he said, closing his eyes. 

“But we can get him a cybernetic eye, can’t we?” Amara said, looking to Zane.

“If he wants one, I’ll get him one,” Zane said. He touched his eyepatch. “I could get him one that’ll more than make up for the lost eye.”

“We probably should’ve gotten him one before. Didn’t you rescue him because he couldn’t see you coming on his left side?” Moze said.

“For something so weak, he is surprisingly resilient,” Fl4k said.

“Heard that,” Tim mumbled. “Asshole.”

“Oi, Timothy, before you pass out on us, Moxxi sent Amara up with a drink for you,” Zane said.

Tim forced his eyes open. “Drink?”

Zane held up the juice box to him, unable to hide his grin. “Might be a little strong for ya.”

Tim groaned. “Not a c-child.”

“Shut up and drink it,” Zane said, arranging Tim’s pillows so that he could sit up a little. He held the drink out to Tim, who glared, but drank it slowly. His glare faded, having not had anything besides water since regaining consciousness. He actually started to look content as he sipped away at it. 

“Hold your own drink, you brat,” Zane said.

“Too tired,” Tim said around the straw.

“I spoiled you rotten,” Zane said with a sigh. Still, he supposed he owed Tim. So he held the juice box steady for him until he’d managed to finish it.

Juice gone, Tim turned his head to the side and closed his eyes. Zane tossed the empty juice box onto the stand by Tim’s bed, pleased that Tim had managed to finish it and appeared able to keep it down. 

“Ah, he’s out,” Zane said after a moment, watching as Tim’s body relaxed against the bed the way it only did when he’d lost consciousness.

“I can’t believe he survived all that,” Moze said, shaking her head.

“Resilient,” Fl4k repeated.

Zane thought of his hand drawing his gun out of the holster and shivered involuntarily. For just a horrible, brief moment, he’d given up on Timothy.

“He’s getting better,” he said instead. “Able to stay awake longer and actually talk more. He can move his arms and legs. He’ll need physical therapy, Dr. Reid said. Lots of it. But that’s a small price to pay.”

“Is he staying here?” Amara said. “When he’s fully recovered, I mean.”

Zane shrugged. “He’s...not too happy about the surgery we put him through. But if he wants to stay here, he can. If not, I’ll fund him wherever he wants to move and get him set up.” 

“I can’t believe Zane adopted a doppelganger of Handsome Jack,” Moze said. 

“You do treat him like a son,” Fl4k said.

“Ah, shut it, both of you,” Zane said. 

“You didn’t give up on him back then. Anyone else would’ve put him down when they saw his veins after we found him,” Amara said, looking at the purple veins that had steadily been spreading along Tim’s body. Tannis had assured Zane that was just a permanent side effect of the device in Tim’s chest. “He’s lucky you love him so much, Zane.”

Zane wanted to instinctively argue about that. Loving anyone in his line of work was a death sentence to that person.

But he was retired, so he just leaned back and glanced at Timothy. So much for never having children in his life. And he didn’t even know how damn old this one was. 

“I’m glad he’s okay, Zane. We all are,” Amara said.

Zane looked from Tim to his friends. His hope grew. Timothy had a group of people here to support him now. He wasn’t alone anymore.

He’d never be alone again.

Chapter Text

Tim very slowly regained strength. Zane had him do small exercises from his bed. He was able to stay awake longer and hold longer conversations.

His body was still recovering, though. They tried to switch him back to eating on his own, but after being unable to keep anything down, they put him back on a feeding tube. 

Zane woke up one afternoon to find Tim sitting up. He’d arranged the pillows so that he could lean against them, and was staring at the ceiling with an expression that told Zane he was lost in thought.

Zane sat up and stretched, catching Tim’s attention. He rubbed at his eyes, wondering how long he’d been out for.

“You can go sleep in your room,” Tim said.

“Nah, I’m fine here. Tannis keeps it nice and cool in here,” Zane said.

“You haven’t left my side this whole time,” Tim said, not meeting his eyes. “Zane, go rest.”

“I’m fine. You feeling better? First time I’ve seen you sitting up without assistance,” Zane said.

“Yea, managed to get myself upright.” He looked at the bandages on his chest, touching them. “Will you tell me what happened to my chest already?”

“I’m not entirely sure myself,” Zane admitted. “Tannis! Tannis, c’mere.”

Tannis came over to them, looking annoyed to be pulled away from her work. Zane gestured to Tim’s chest.

“Can you explain now that he’s able to follow?” Zane said.

“Oh, very well. I suppose it’ll need a refill soon anyway,” Tannis said. “But I’m putting the bandages back on after. I don’t want him picking at it.”

She got at the bandages, carefully pulling them from Tim’s chest. Tim’s face paled as the last of the bandages fell away, and Zane didn’t think his own face looked much better.

Embedded in Tim’s chest over his heart was a silver device, covering part of his chest like a plate of armor, thin tubes burying themselves in Tim’s chest. In the center of the device was a window that showed a low amount of Eridium inside it.

“What the hell did you do to me?” Tim choked out. The skin around the device was dyed a faded purple. 

“This device is connected to your heart. It needs to be refilled every once in a while, hence the window there to show how much Eridium remains. It injects Eridium straight into your heart to be pumped out to the rest of your body to heal it. If you’ve been feeling dreadful, it’s because you’re still recovering and your body is aware of the cycle of decay and repair taking place. It’s also why the purple isn’t fading from your veins. It never will,” Tannis said.

“Shit,” Tim whispered, touching his chest. “Oh, hell, shit, fuck.”

“Lovely vocabulary. Anyway, Jack had theorized this device, at first to sustain Angel, and then to control Eridium-induced troops by introducing a higher dosage to them. I went with his guess at how much Angel would need to survive, and then lowered it a little to adjust for your human status,” Tannis said.

“You were building it before,” Zane said.

“I began constructing the device as soon as I found the data on it, yes. He was clearly dying and I figured you’d want a chance to save him,” Tannis said, surprising Zane. “Even so, this was a prototype. I didn’t exactly have time to perfect it. That’s why I wasn’t sure if it would work. All’s well that ends well, I suppose.”

Tim was still prodding at his numb chest. Tannis smacked his hand away.

“Don’t touch it. Needless to say, your days of fighting are over. I’ll try to tweak upgrades into that to make it more durable, but if someone were to break that, you would die within hours, if not minutes,” Tannis said. “Also, severe injuries will be too much of a stress for your body to handle with that implanted in you.”

Tim let out a soft noise of distress. Zane resisted the urge to put a hand on his shoulder.

“I’m sorry, Timothy. I thought it was for the best, but...I never meant to put you through this,” he said solemnly. “She said it could save you and I said yes. That’s on me, lad.”

“No I- But-” He closed his eyes. “I’m barely even human at this point.”

“Ridiculous. You’re just as human as Angel was when she was injected with Eridium. Unlike Angel, you get to continue living a life out in the open,” Tannis said sharply. “Had Angel survived to use this device, she would’ve had a much higher quality of life. We could’ve rescued her if we’d had this data back then. Be grateful we had it when you needed it.”

Tim stared at her blankly. He slowly reached a hand out to Zane, who caught it.

“You’re right,” he said quietly. “I’m sorry. It’s...a lot to take in.”

“Yes, well, you’re alive. And speaking of, I’m assuming Zane has yet to tell you. I may be able to save the feeling in your remaining hand with an operation. I figure you’ll want to preserve feeling in that hand given your current circumstances,” Tannis said.

“Tannis, not the time,” Zane groaned. 

Tim looked afraid, but then he looked at Zane holding his hand. “Will it be a risky surgery?”

“At best, it saves the feeling in your hand. At worst, you lose feeling faster,” Tannis said with a shrug. “No physical changes to your hand. I doubt it’ll even leave a scar.”

“Will you-?” Tim looked to Zane.

“I’ll stay with you,” Zane said. “I think it’s worth the risk. She’s right; if you lose feeling in that hand, you’re in trouble now.”

“Fine,” Tim muttered. “But not today. Please. I need to-” He swallowed hard. “It’s just a lot right now. Too much.”

“We’ll discuss it tomorrow. In the meantime, I will have Lilith contact Rhys about a physical therapist for you. The sooner I get you out of my space, the better,” Tannis said.

Neither argued with her. She’d started building that device right away to save him.

Tannis refilled the Eridium, showing Zane and Tim how to properly do so. She then rewrapped Tim’s chest so he’d stop touching it. She left them alone, and Zane wondered if he should wait for Tim to speak first.

“Zane,” Tim said, his voice oddly devoid of emotion.

“Yes, lad?” Zane said.

“Is it okay to cry?”

It hurt that he even had to ask. “Yes, lad.”

And he did. Tears welled up and spilled over, his bandaged chest heaving with sobs he tried to choke back. Zane shifted onto the edge of the bed and pulled Tim against himself, letting Tim cry against his chest, stroking his hair. 

“I’ve got you, Timothy,” Zane said, holding Tim tightly. “I’m right here.”

He didn’t tell Tim it would be okay. He didn’t know if it ever would be. All he could do was stay by Tim’s side while he navigated his new reality.

Tim gripped Zane’s shirt in his hand, pressing close to him as he cried after years of experiencing horrors. He’d survived, but at what cost?

Tim tried to get himself under control, but failed miserably. He couldn’t handle everything clashing in his brain right now.

They could’ve saved Angel. What if he’d stayed sober and stolen the data himself? Would he have been able to save her?

And what the hell was he now? His blood was mixed with Eridium. Purple veins claimed his body. His chest was disturbingly numb where that device sat embedded in his flesh, keeping him pumped full of the damn stuff.

Zane had let it happen. He hadn’t known what they were going to do to Tim; he’d just wanted to save Tim’s life at any cost. 

His hand. Gone, just like his eye. He kept lifting it to reach for something, only to remember with a quiet dread that it wasn’t there anymore. The phantom pain that struck him at times was nearly unbearable.

But it had been to save Zane. Zane, who had let them stick that thing in his chest. Zane, who had saved his life because he cared that much about Tim.

“I’m not mad,” Tim managed, voice hoarse with sobs. “I’m not, Zane, I’m not. I’m sorry. I’m sorry.”

“It’s alright, lad,” Zane said, tucking Tim against his chest, pulling his jacket up to cover Tim’s shoulders. “You don’t owe anyone an apology.”

“Lad”. He always called Tim that. He always said it like it meant something else.

Like it meant “son”.

Tim released Zane’s shirt to tug the jacket more securely over his shoulders. Jack would’ve put Tim through that surgery to keep him alive just to keep using him. Zane did it because he genuinely didn’t want to lose Tim.

Tim couldn’t be mad at him for that. 

“Can I stay with you?” he asked, pulling back just enough to look at Zane, vision blurred by tears.

Zane gave a weak grin. “Knew you were fond of me. ‘Course you can.” He pulled Tim back against himself, pressing his cheek against Tim’s hair. “Always, Timothy. You’ve always got a place with me.”

Tim closed his eyes, pressing his head against Zane’s chest and listening to the beat of his heart. He’d been willing to sacrifice his life to keep that heartbeat going. 

He was scared, he was in pain, he was a mental mess after everything he’d been through.

But with Zane’s arms around him, he took comfort in the fact that he was alive and he was where he belonged.

***

Physical therapy was rough, but Tim pushed on for Zane’s sake. They hadn’t gotten him a prosthetic to replace his missing hand yet, and his other hand had undergone surgery to save the feeling in it. It made the whole thing even more excruciating.

But Zane stayed with him through it all. Zane caught him when he was too tired to stand up any longer. Zane urged him on when he was so close to his goal for the day.

When Tim was resting, the others would come in to play cards or share stories. Tim appreciated it more than he could ever say. They never let him be alone.

He slowly worked his way back to eating on his own again, grateful to be off the feeding tube and even more grateful to actually be able to hold down food. It took him a while to work his way up to eating a normal diet, but he managed it.

Adjusting to the Eridium was not so easy.

The purple veins along his body made despair settle over him like a thick blanket. That numbness in his chest taunted him, reminding him just how much Jack had taken from him by introducing him to that Eridium-spiked drink all those years ago.

He listened to the audio logs Angel had left him. He wished he could’ve saved her, but Zane pointed out that if Angel hadn’t known about the data, there was no way for Tim to know about it either. There was nothing Tim could’ve done back then.

Now, the two sat playing cards together. Tim was pretty sure Zane was only letting him win out of pity, considering he’d lost the last six games.

The door to medical opened and Tim looked up. He blushed heavily as Moxxi came in, attempting to pull Zane’s jacket over his bare chest.

“Like I haven’t seen that body before?” Moxxi said. She sat down. “Here, sugar. I cleared it with Tannis.”

She held a drink out to him. He frowned as he took it.

“But I can’t drink liquor anymore,” he said.

“Sure you can!” Zane said. “Your body’s got that even, steady distribution of Eridium now, remember? It won’t perceive alcohol as wrong, or whatever the hell Tannis thought was happening.”

“I brought a drink for you too, sugar,” Moxxi said, handing one to Zane. “Timothy’s is light on the alcohol, just to be safe. But I did promise you a drink on the house. The juice box didn’t count. Consider this my get well soon gift to you.”

“And a way to keep him from dragging out my tab,” Zane grumbled.

“Shut up, old man. You’re rich, you can afford it,” Tim said, sipping at the drink cautiously. He forced himself to drink it at a steady pace, waiting anxiously for anything to happen.

But nothing did, and he relaxed back, Moxxi taking the glass from him. He gave her a small, genuine smile.

“Thanks, Moxxi,” he said.

“I’m glad you’re alive, Timothy,” Moxxi said. “They said you’re doing much better.”

“Able to walk again, at least,” he said. “I’m getting there.” 

“Well, feel free to walk down to my bar anytime,” she said, winking at him. “There’s always a spot for you there.”

“Oh, um, y-yes ma’am,” he stuttered.

“Oh boy,” Zane groaned. “Get me another drink, will ya? I can’t watch him make an idiot of himself like this when I’m sober.”

“Oh, shut up!” Tim said, elbowing Zane in the chest. “Such a freaking asshole.”

Tannis came over to their group. “That was your celebratory drink, because I am officially discharging you from medical. You’ll need to come back for me to evaluate how you’re doing, but you can leave and go sleep somewhere else now. You’ve regained enough strength to get out of my hair.”

“Discharged?” Tim said in surprise. 

“Caught me by surprise too,” Zane said, but he was grinning. “Come on, lad. You can stay with me. I’ll get Lilith to have another bed put in my room. Best to keep an eye on you while you’re still recovering. We can find you your own room later if you want.”

Zane helped Tim get out of the bed. Tim didn’t have any spare clothes in here, so Zane draped his jacket over Tim’s shoulders.

Tim put it on properly and held it closed against his numb chest. They’d found loose sweatpants for him to wear during his recovery, so he tightened the strings on them to make sure they wouldn’t slide down his hips as he followed Zane across medical.

Moxxi put her hand on his back. “Swing by some time, sugar. And congratulations.” 

“Think you’ve got a chance there,” Zane said, nudging Tim once they were out of earshot of Moxxi.

Tim blushed. “Shut up.”

Zane laughed, throwing his head back. “We’ll get you back in the dating game! Or...wait, were you ever in it?”

“Well, at the casino,” Tim said, rubbing the back of his neck. “Actually, you know what, let’s not go down that road. Yes, I was in the- well, not dating, exactly, but I- I’m shutting up now.”

Zane whistled and Tim punched him in the arm. “My boy’s got game!”

“Oh my god. Let me die next time,” Tim groaned.

“Overdramatic bastard,” Zane said fondly.

They went into Zane’s room and Zane dug around for a shirt to let Tim borrow. Tim pulled it on, struggling to dress with one hand and still unnerved that he couldn’t feel the shirt settling against the left side of his chest.

“We’ll get you new clothes,” Zane said.

“Hey, where’s that jacket?” Tim said.

“Uh, right there?” Zane said in confusion.

Tim shook his head. “No, the one I tore the sleeves off of.”

“That would be a vest, boyo,” Zane said, but dug it out and tossed it to Tim.

Tim shrugged the vest on. “I like this better. I’m going to keep it.”

“It’s all yours. Sleeveless isn’t my style,” Zane said. He sat down across from Tim, his expression turning serious. “What do you want to do now, Timothy?”

“Huh?” Tim said.

“You’ve got choices now, lad. You tell me what you want to do, and I’ll make it happen. I know you want to stay on Sanctuary with me. But I’ve got the Calypsos to kill, so I’ve got to set out again at some point. What do you want to do to keep yourself busy?” he said.

“Oh, um, I hadn’t thought about that,” Tim said nervously. It’d been a long time since he could decide for himself what to do. 

“Well, no need to choose now. Just something to think about,” Zane said, leaning back. “I won’t rejoin the others until you’re well enough to be on your own here for a bit. And don’t give me the ‘Zane, I’m fine’ shite, because we both know you’re still recovering.”

Tim was too tired to have that argument right now anyway. “Another time, then. Will everyone here be okay with me? I kinda-” He gestured to his face.

“Lilith and the others spread the story about us being friends to get people used to the idea of you being here. You’ll be fine,” Zane assured. “That’s another thing, though. Anything you want to do about your appearance?”

“Not right now,” Tim said. “I’ve had enough changes for now. But yea, someday, I’ll cut my hair again.”

Tim looked around Zane’s room. He still couldn’t believe they’d both survived everything to make it to this point.

“Here,” Zane said, handing Tim’s ECHO to him. “This belongs to you. I listened to two of the logs on there. Do me a favor, Tim?”

“What?” Tim said, taking the ECHO back.

“Keep recording. Doesn’t have to be for me, either. Just record the hard parts and the happy parts and...all of it. Then you can listen back. See how far you’ve come in a year or two,” Zane said.

“Oh,” Tim said breathlessly, looking down at his ECHO. 

Zane put his hand on Tim’s shoulder, squeezing it lightly. “You’ve come a long way. I think you forget that sometimes. This will make sure you don’t.”

“Sure,” Tim said, setting the ECHO down. “I will. Thanks, Zane.”

“I’m not great at this, but I’m getting there,” Zane said, grinning. But then the grin dropped off his face, his expression twisting into a grimace. “I’m going to be honest with you, Timothy. There was one moment, brief as it was, where I was drawing my gun to- you were suffering. Convulsing. About to crash. I couldn’t stand to see you in that much pain. But you were stubborn as usual.”

Tim just sat in silence for a long time before speaking again. “I don’t blame you. Anyone else would’ve shot me back when I overdosed. But you never gave up on me. Even when you wanted to, you didn’t. I’m really glad I’ve got you looking out for me, old man.”

He said “old man” like he meant to say “dad”.

“I’m glad I’ve got you there to save my arse when I need it, lad,” Zane said.

He said “lad” like he meant to say “son”.

Neither spoke. They just stood up and embraced. 

Tim couldn’t feel Zane’s chest pressed against his. But he could feel Zane’s hands on his back, over the spider design on the jacket he’d given to Tim.

Because that was Zane’s symbol, and now it was Tim’s. They were a team. A family.

They’d never give up on each other. Whatever came next, they’d face it together.

Chapter Text

“Think you can take care of the skag problem before you head back to Sanctuary?” Vaughn asked.

Zane stretched a little and grabbed his gun. “I think we can manage it.”

“I think I’m still motion sick from Zane driving us here,” Moze said.

“As am I,” Fl4k agreed.

“Shut it, both of ya. We’ve got some skags to shoot!” Zane said.

Their group had just returned from a raid against a gathering of COV. They still milled about, trying to replace the fallen Calypsos to keep their cult going. Zane doubted that would last too long. 

They’d been away for a few days on this mission. As eager as Zane was to get back to Sanctuary, he supposed they could spare a bit of time to take out skags for Vaughn. He’d been the one to tip them off about that COV gathering, after all.

“Let’s get this done. I could go for a drink at Moxxi’s,” Amara said, tattoos glowing faintly in anticipation of the coming fight.

They took off to where Vaughn indicated. His settlement always seemed to have a skag problem, but that was fine by Zane.

They found the skags easily enough. There was a surprising amount of them, but their group dove right in, firing away at them.

The skags snarled at them before attacking, the area becoming a chaos of charging skags and flying bullets. Zane grinned a little and summoned his digi-clone, swapping with it just before a skag could tear into him. He fired at some of the smaller ones and took a moment to reload.

A large skag charged at him as he reloaded, leaping with its claws out. Zane readied himself to dodge and catch it with a melee attack.

But a shot rang out and the skag fell to the ground, dead at Zane’s feet. Zane sighed heavily.

“I’m gonna kill him,” he said simply.

“Kill him later. Focus now,” Amara said, knocking a skag away from herself and into Moze’s line of fire. 

Zane took the advice, glaring in the general direction of where the shots were coming from each time another one fired. When nearly all the skags were dead, he gestured to his friends to finish off the rest, instead making his way off to the side.

He climbed up to a familiar spot, two digi-Jacks waiting there. They nodded to him and didn’t stop him as he advanced.

Zane bent down, gripped a handful of the vest with his symbol on it, and hauled Timothy to his feet. Tim struggled to keep hold of his sniper rifle.

“Hey, I was aiming!” he complained.

“You’re not supposed to be fighting!” Zane said.

Tim gestured to the area around him. “Uh, I’m not? It’s no different than when we come here for target practice.”

Zane shot him a stern look. But, despite knowing how mad Tannis would be if she found out, he found the stern facade cracking, a grin breaking through. He clapped Tim on the shoulder.

“Stubborn headache of a kid,” Zane said.

“Yo, Cyborg! Where are you? Tannis is going to kill you if you went shooting again.”

The voice came from Tim’s ECHO. Tim scowled and lifted his ECHO.

“Ava, I told you to stop calling me Cyborg!” he snapped. “And tell Tannis to shove it. Actually, no, don’t tell her that. She can hack my cybernetics. Tell her I, uh, went to the store.”

“Ohhh, you totally went shooting again!” Ava said. “I’m telling Tannis. I’m totally telling Tannis.”

“I freaking hate kids,” Tim grumbled.

“Welcome to my life, boyo,” Zane said, laughing as Tim stomped on his foot. 

“Maybe I won’t tell her if you-” Ava started.

“Nope, I don’t bargain with kids,” Tim said, cutting the feed. “Oh, fuck, Tannis is going to do some weird Siren shit to make me slap myself.”

Zane glanced at Tim’s cybernetic hand. “Can I watch?”

“Zane!” Tim glared.

“I’d say I was just kidding, but we both know I wasn’t,” Zane said. “Oi, you lot done down there yet?”

“No thanks to you two,” Moze called back.

“No thanks to us? I killed a few of them,” Tim said defensively.

“Didn’t Tannis just about kick your ass last time you snuck out to go skag shooting with Zane?” Amara said.

“Shut up,” Tim said.

“That’s a yes,” Moze said, snickering. 

“Let’s get going before she notices he’s gone again,” Zane said.

“She never lets me have any fun,” Tim said moodily. 

Tannis had upgraded the device on Tim’s chest to make it more durable. But there was still a high risk of it being broken during a fight, so Tim was technically supposed to have a permanent ban from fighting, especially since taking a bullet to his chest would likely shatter the device.

But that certainly didn’t stop Zane from taking him out skag shooting to keep his aim sharp. And it certainly didn’t stop Tim from sneaking out to act as backup to Zane when he knew there was low to no risk of him being pulled into the actual fight.

Still, Tim was rarely seen without at least his pistol, even when he was just hanging around Sanctuary. He’d gotten his sense of safety back for the most part, but Zane knew some part of him would always be traumatized by being kidnapped out of his own home by Aurelia.

The others reached them and they returned to Vaughn together to let him know the skags were dead. Vaughn noticed Tim as they approached.

“Hey, Rhys 2.0! You’re definitely not supposed to be here,” Vaughn said.

“Next time, handle your own skag problems then,” Tim said. “And quit calling me that. Will any of you ever just call me by my name?”

“I can’t, bro. Every time I do I just remember those movies you were in,” Vaughn said.

Tim unholstered his gun and held it out to Zane. “The left side of my chest. Just point and shoot. Preferably right this second.”

“Overdramatic,” Zane said, pushing the gun away. “Besides, I’m not letting you ruin another one of my jackets.” 

“I only ruined two!” Tim said, tugging at his vest. “And I kept this one. The other one was your fault. I was just trying to die and you signed me up for surgery.”

There was no anger in his voice when he said it. He’d long since recovered as well as he would from the surgery that stuck that device in his chest. It had taken time, but he could finally joke with Zane about it.

Zane was beyond relieved. He’d never meant to violate Tim’s body with more nonconsensual surgery. The fact that Tim could forgive him was something he never took for granted. 

“Can you two hurry this up? I want to have a drink and take a nap,” Moze said.

“You know neither of them can ever stop talking,” Fl4k said.

“Can you ever stop being a bitch?” Tim said.

“May I see that gun?” Fl4k said, holding their hand out. “I will gladly shoot you.”

Tim holstered it securely. “No. Absolutely not. I’m not giving you that pleasure.”

Zane slung an arm around Tim’s shoulders. “Well, the skags are dead, and your bandit life is safe again. We’ll be in touch, boyo.”

“Hell yea!” Vaughn said. 

They said their goodbyes and took the fast travel station up to Sanctuary. As soon as they stepped away from it, Tim’s cybernetic hand raised involuntarily, slapping him in the face.

“I freaking called it!” he cried.

Tannis lowered her arm. “I did not work so hard to keep you alive just so you could kill yourself.”

“I’m fine,” Tim said. “Well, my jaw might be broken after that. But I was fine until you made me hit myself.” He tugged his shirt up, revealing the protective plate around the device on his chest. “See? Not a scratch.”

“Zane, he is your problem,” Tannis said in annoyance, heading away from them. She looked over her shoulder. “But I require more blood samples soon.”

“Of course you do. When don’t you require more blood samples?” Tim said.

Tim had become a little pet project of Tannis’s. She was using his body to study the effects of Eridium. It benefited Tim in that she was better able to adjust his dosage of Eridium, which made him feel as healthy as he could given his condition. It also benefited Tannis by giving her a long term project and plenty of knowledge.

“Moxxi’s in a bit?” Amara offered.

“See you there in fifteen minutes!” Moze said, disappearing into her room.

Tim followed Zane into their room. At first, Tim had stayed here so Zane could monitor him while he recovered. But in the end, he’d never left Zane’s room, and neither man minded the arrangement. Zane liked being able to keep an eye on Tim and wake him from his occasional nightmares, and Tim took comfort in knowing someone was there to have his back if something happened.

“How did your- Angel, dammit, stop running under my feet!” Tim hopped to the side, Zane just barely catching him before he lost his balance as a gray cat darted past them.

The cat paused to rub against Tim’s legs before leaving the room. Tim had found her injured on Pandora, bringing her to Sanctuary to nurse her back to health. She had the run of the place, but tended to hide under Tim’s bed as if she was just waiting to run under his feet.

“That damn cat,” Tim said fondly. “Anyway, how did your mission go?”

“Fine,” Zane said, setting his weapons down. “We showed up, shot ‘em dead, and left. The usual. Anything on your end?”

Tim shook his head. “Nope. I’ve been working with Rhys to monitor COV activity, but either they’ve gone so far underground that we can’t pick up any movements from them, or they’re finally dying out. Zer0 and I followed a thin lead, but it didn’t turn out to be anything solid.”

Zane still wasn’t sure how he felt about Tim’s reconnaissance missions with Zer0, but he trusted Zer0 to get Tim out if things went wrong. “Hopefully they’re dying out. Not sure what we’ll do with some actual peace and quiet, but I’m sure some other problem will crop up before long.”

“Always happens,” Tim said. “But we’ll deal with the next problem when it happens. For now, let’s take advantage of some quiet around here.”

Zane grinned over at him. “You thinkin’ what I’m thinkin’?”

“If you’re thinking of raiding a bandit camp for their strongest moonshine, then yes, I am,” Tim said, returning the grin. 

“Nothing beats getting shitfaced off bandit moonshine!” Zane whooped. 

“But you’re not drinking and driving again,” Tim said sternly. “We’re lucky we didn’t die last time. I know I’m surprisingly good at not dying, but even I’m not taking that chance again.”

“Ah, I only drove us off one cliff,” Zane said dismissively. “Not like we were in an area with any innocent civilians around.”

“Still not happening,” Tim said, standing up. 

Zane couldn’t help but take a glance at him. He’d finally agreed to a cybernetic eye, opting for one that was as close a shade of blue as his remaining eye. It was a little brighter than his real eye, but having two blue eyes made him look just a little less like Jack. He’d also cut his hair short on the sides, leaving it a little longer on top, the gray streak in it having grown during the stress of recovery. The start of a beard traced along his jaw, though Zane wasn’t sure if that was by choice or just because Tim had forgotten to shave again. 

He’d reclaimed himself. He’d reclaimed his freedom, his body, his future.

He rarely had his mental lapses anymore, and when he did, Zane’s voice was usually enough to bring him back to himself. He didn’t look when someone called out “Jack” anymore. He only answered to Timothy. He worked reconnaissance and intelligence for the Crimson Raiders, using his cybernetics and the skills Jack had taught him to hack into enemy information alongside Rhys. 

“C’mere, lad,” Zane said, gesturing him over.

Tim looked at him curiously, but came over to Zane. Zane put an arm around his shoulders and pulled him in for a hug.

Tim immediately put his arms around Zane. He’d adjusted to being cared for.

To being loved.

“Zane?” he said, his voice slightly muffled.

“You just look better. That’s all,” Zane said, slowly releasing him. “Let’s go get those drinks, eh? My tab this time. But just this time.”

“I might have put a few on there while you were gone,” he said, ducking away before Zane could smack his shoulder, laughing. 

It was a damn good sound. Zane couldn’t even pretend to be annoyed with him. 

The two argued lightly about the tab as they made their way down to Moxxi’s bar. The others were already there, and Moxxi smiled as they approached.

“Your usuals?” she said.

“On his tab,” Zane and Tim said at the same time.

“Zane’s, then,” Moxxi said.

Tim smiled pleasantly, sticking his middle finger up at Zane. “Take that, old man.” 

“Feckin’ brat,” Zane said, pushing his middle finger down. “I’ll get my revenge, don’t worry. Might make Tannis slap ya again. Finding out she was a Siren who could control tech was the greatest moment of my life.”

Moxxi slid them both their drinks and leaned against the counter. “I have a job for all of you.”

“All of us?” Tim said, furrowing his brow.

“Yes, Timothy, even you,” she said.

“Now hold on, did you miss the part where Tannis made him slap himself? He can’t fight,” Zane said, lightly knocking his fist against Tim’s chest. 

“I’m well aware. But he’s our intelligence gatherer, and he’ll have plenty to share for this mission,” Moxxi said. “See, Jack had something that rightfully belonged to me, and I plan to take it back. Take a guess.”

“The Handsome Jackpot,” Tim said, eyes going wide in understanding. 

“Bingo. I just found out the place went into lockdown after Jack died. We’re going to break in, free it of Jack’s lingering control, and take it over,” she said.

“Lockdown?” Tim said in surprise. “Ember was still in there!”

“The fire lass!” Zane said. “If it means saving her, count me in. We did recover Timothy’s mask and Winning Hand after we killed Aurelia.”

“Yea, but we can’t bring Timothy with us,” Moze said. “He’ll get himself killed. That place probably has high security.”

“I don’t need to be with you. I can probably hack from here. At least enough to get a visual and lead you guys through the place,” Tim said. “If you need me there, you can clear the area and I’ll fast travel to you. Besides, if you can find Ember, she’ll help you out.”

“Sounds good to me,” Amara said. 

“Been a hell of a long time since I was there,” Zane said. He narrowed his eyes, turning to his friends. “Do NOT let me talk to any doppelgangers there. Adopting one was more than enough for me. I don’t need any more stubborn, overdramatic kids in my life.”

Tim scoffed. “I’m not a kid. And if that place has been in lockdown all this time, the doubles are probably dead. People will want someone to blame, and with Jack gone, that leaves the doubles. Besides, you know Hyperion put out a termination order on all the doubles. I’m probably the last of my kind. Which is...wow, it sounded kind of cool for a second, but it’s actually pretty sad.”

“I find it relieving that there is only one of you left,” Fl4k said.

 “Of course you do,” Tim grumbled. His expression became serious and he looked at Zane. “You’ll get Ember out of there?”

“Of course! Loved that lass. Great explosions,” Zane said. 

“Then we’ll do this,” Moxxi said. She looked to Tim. “You would’ve been in there if Zane hadn’t gotten you out all those years ago. I wonder...if we would’ve found you there, if things had been different.”

Tim shrugged. “Guess we’ll never know. There’s always the chance Jack would’ve pulled me from the casino to help wake the Warrior and the Crimson Raiders would’ve killed me alongside him. Either way, I’d probably be dead.”

“Instead, you live to grace us with your overdramatic presence,” Zane said.

“Hey, you’re the one who worked so hard to keep me alive. That’s on you,” Tim said. 

“You guys need to rest after your last mission. We’ll go over the details of this tomorrow,” Moxxi said.

“I’ll start trying to get into the security there. It’ll be tough, but Jack trained me so I should have a good chance at getting into anything he designed, at least,” Tim said. “The Winning Hand will give you access to a lot of areas. And Zane knows where my old hideout was. I’m sure it’s still clear. You can use that to regroup and plan.”

“We’ll deal with all that tomorrow,” Moze said, lifting her drink. “For now, booze.”

“Booze,” the others echoed back, lifting their own drinks and clanking the glasses together.

They drank and talked and laughed, well into the night. When Moxxi ushered them out to get some sleep, Tim and Zane went back to their room together.

“Will this casino job be okay?” Zane asked as Tim dug around for clothes to sleep in.

“Sure,” he said, looking up at Zane. He’d pushed his sleeves up in the bar, something he rarely did. His purple veins were a sight none of them liked, even after all this time. “I’m not that angry doppelganger you met back then, Zane. I’m free of Jack. It’ll be good to take down his casino and turn it over to Moxxi. And it’ll be even better to rescue Ember. But...thanks. For asking.”

“You’ve come a long way from the kid I met back then. I really am proud of you, Timothy,” Zane said.

Tim looked down at his purple veins, then tugged his sleeves down and pulled the vest snugger over himself. “That’s thanks to you. You helped me realize I didn’t deserve what was done to me. This is my life, and I call the shots now.”

“That’s my boy!” Zane said, throwing his arm around Tim’s shoulders and pulling him in close to his side. 

Tim put his arm around Zane. “You’re the biggest pain in the ass I’ve ever met. Tall as you are irritating.”

“Charming,” Zane corrected.

“Not even a little,” Tim said with the hint of a grin. He let his head drop against Zane’s shoulder, trusting Zane in a way he never thought he’d be able to trust someone again after everything he’d been through. “I don’t know what will happen when the COV is gone. But we’ll stick together.”

“‘Course we will. Team and family,” Zane assured. “Even if you feck up my jackets.”

Tim held up his cybernetic hand. “I literally tore off my own hand to save you.”

“You also tore the arms off me jacket.”

“I was bleeding!”

“Excuses, excuses.”

“Asshole.”

“Headache.”

Tim tightened his hold on Zane for a moment before releasing him. They both changed and crawled into their beds, flicking the lights off. Tim was unsurprised to hear Angel clawing at her food dish under his bed.

“I already fed you, you stupid cat,” he said, reaching under the bed to swat at her. 

“Can’t believe you’re starving that poor cat,” Zane said.

“Shut up, Zane,” Tim said.

He rolled over, pulling the blanket up over himself. He closed his eyes, unafraid of being stolen away again. Zane was here to keep him safe.

Zane closed his eyes, shifting until he was comfortable. He was content in the knowledge that Tim was just a few feet away, safe.

They’d come so far. Nothing would separate their little family ever again.

“Goodnight, old man.”

“Goodnight, lad.”

With tomorrow looming to be faced together, they both slept, peaceful in each other's company.