Chapter 1: She Never Kept The Same Address
Seeing Aurelia walking through the streets of Lynchwood was surreal. The woman’s immaculate clothing starkly out of place, all white and blue in a sea of burning amber. Hair having turned more grey, only streaks of black left in it. Her intimidating stature not stooped an inch.
For Athena, Nisha, and Timothy it was like seeing a ghost.
For Angel and Gaige… mostly just confusing.
Both looking to their elders with a curious, intense gaze as they waited to be introduced. But they were left just blindly following, not understanding how Aurelia could even possibly know where she was going.
Had she been here before? How did she know everyone else? Did she know everyone else? She could always just be a friend of Nisha’s, used to visiting her in Lynchwood. But that didn’t make sense, Timothy had jumped to attention and been at her beck and call in a heartbeat. So she must know the both of them. Athena didn’t look surprised either. Where’d she come from and why was she here now?
“Who is she?” Gaige interlaced their fingers on the back swing, lagging her back, “I don’t… recognize her.”
Of course, Gaige was thinking about Angel’s almost total omnipresence. Thinking surely her super smart, cool, clever girlfriend knew who this badass was.
Angel wasn’t used to not knowing things, whispering to Gaige her best guess, “Well… I couldn’t watch what was going on while everyone was on Elpis… she must be another one of the Vault Hunters from back then? They’ve mentioned a woman named… something with an ‘A’? I’m sorry, it’s not much to go off.”
She barely closed her eye in time to brace for the jump-peck on her cheek. Gaige just swinging her hand harder, “Don’t apologize, I mean, you already know soooo much. Can’t know everything.”
The others didn’t catch their quiet aside, too preoccupied with Aurelia pushing open the doors to city hall like she owned the place.
- - -
Inside, the somewhat shabby room was cut in half by a large meeting table spanning the length of the slightly rotted wood floor. Countless nicks and carvings in every available surface, commemorating lost loves or someone having been there. Chairs a mismatched mess, constantly in a state of being broken and replaced.
Aurelia didn’t hesitate to sit at the head, a seat usually reserved for Nisha. A nice one, high backed and cushioned. The yellowy glare at that was acknowledged but surprisingly Nisha didn’t challenge her. Merely pulling up the closest chair and sitting down with a slightly less combative than expected, “What are you doing here?”
“Oh, Aurelia by my stars and spangles!” the woman shifted down from her posh accent to an embellished cowgirl one, “I’m just so gosh darned excited to see you again! Howdy, howdy, howdy!!”
“I ain’t sound like that,” Nisha seethed.
“No you don’t because you didn’t wax poetic about seeing me for even a second!” Aurelia flipped a hand in a circle, “None of you did! Never in my life have I been more disappointed! And here I thought I’d show up to rausing applause. I should just pack myself back up on your disgusting little train and leave again.”
Eyeballing the bags on the ground, thinking about how much he didn’t want to drag them back through Lynchwood again in the same burning afternoon, Timothy gave her at least a fragment of what she wanted, “For what it’s worth? I missed you a lot, Aurelia. Thought I was never gonna see you again.”
“Kiss ass bi-” Nisha shot him a glare, cut short by a sharp kick to the shin by an immaculate leather boot.
“And that’s why you were always my favorite, my dear Timothy,” Aurelia dug around in her pocket and handed him a couple hundreds which he stooped to grab, “You always know just to say. Buy yourself something nice, darling.”
He didn’t seem demeaned by the way she patted his head like a little boy after he took the money, eyeballing it greedily.
“It’s not that we’re unhappy to see you, it’s just… sudden,” Athena pulled out a seat and leaned over the table at her, “And you kinda came in hot. Ironically.”
“Well, it’s quite important and I’d say it’s decently time sensitive,” Aurelia crossed her legs, hands neatly stacked on her knee, “How would the five of you like to help me take down Helios? I’ve got an ‘in’, as they say.”
The way she leaned on that word said ‘they think I’m a doddering old rich lady.’
“So that’s what you’ve got rattling around in your head?” Nisha didn’t sit, even as the other did. Standing there, arms crossed, almost like she expected her chair back.
“Well, you see, I wasn’t invited along on your little… Jack Off-”
“Please don’t call it that,” Tim groaned.
Aurelia obliged, silently, “Well, I didn’t get to come and kill Jack so I want a piece of the proverbial pie. I was just as duped into helping him as you’d all been, I’m quite disappointed in all of you that you didn’t get ahold of me. You didn’t even try.”
Her gaze was most pointedly aimed at Timothy, who defended himself with, “Nobody had any idea where you’d went or how to get ahold of you…”
“I own a whole planet,” she scoffed.
“Yeah, you never told us where the planet was or even what it was named,” Nisha cut in.
Athena corroborated, “Not to mention Jack blocked interplanetary communications.”
While she was self-important, she wasn’t unreasonable. Aurelia pursing her lips, “Well. I want my dues. And are you even going to introduce me to these young ladies or am I to stare at them vacantly for the rest of my visit? Perhaps rename them myself? Hilda and Anastasia?”
“Why do I have to be Hilda?” Gaige complained.
“Smart girl,” Aurelia tilted her head, nailing Gaige in four words, “Impudent though.”
“The redhead is Gaige, one of the Vault Hunters going after Jack,” Athena nodded towards her, “And the other is Angel, she’s-”
“Well,” Aurelia examined the girl, from head to toe, “I can take a guess who she is, given that unlike you all I’ve lovingly kept tabs on what you’re up to.”
Jack’s daughter. Her healthier appearance made that even harder to hide. Tall and strong, sharp features, with those telltale blue-green eyes peeking from behind her shaggy black hair.
“Is it that obvious?” Angel lamented.
“Well, if you makes you feel any better, you’re a great deal less ugly and unpleasant than him,” Aurelia replied before turning her attention back to the older crowd, “Well then, with that taken care of, what do you say?”
For a second Athena and Nisha looked between themselves, both knowing the answer.
Nisha answered for both of them, “Can’t. We just started up Lynchwood again and if we leave now the whole thing would just fall to pieces. End of the day I’m not a Vault Hunter anymore, I’m a Sheriff. Got responsibilities now.”
Aurelia opened her mouth but wasn’t able to talk as a spark had leapt into Angel’s eyes, “You don’t need all of us, right? Me and Gaige could go.”
“Absolutely not,” Athena’s look stony even in the face of Angel beginning to pout, “You’ve never been off planet let alone right into the heart of enemy territory.”
“I killed Handsome Jack.”
“You had all of us with you.”
“I mean, I’ll have Gaige and Aurelia,” Angel instantly putting a ton of faith in the tall, imposing woman despite knowing nothing about her. Feeling like it was a safe bet regardless.
Looking down at her nails blatantly not visible through her gloves, Aurelia grinned at the praise, “I do like to brag and I am QUITE good at what I do.”
“And I became a Vault Hunter as a totes untrained fresh high school graduate!” Gaige vouched, “Well, I mean, I didn’t graduate but still! She’s got way more experience than I did then!”
“I took down Saturn too,” Angel nodded.
“Well, she sounds more than capable to me,” Aurelia replied, pulling out an abnormally immaculate ECHO device and tapping away on it, “Of course, I’d pay them both handsomely. Pun intended.”
“No way,” Athena stood up, pushing her chair back with a loud noise, “It was nice seeing you but maybe it’s time for you to go, since this whole thing is such a pressing matter. Better get up there and crash it or take it over or whatever you’re trying to do.”
As they’d debated her fate Angel’d stayed quiet. Lost in thought for a moment but as the awkward silence fell over them…
“I’m twenty-two, almost twenty-three,” Angel said, slowly as if the concepts were foreign to her, “I’m an adult, you can’t stop me.”
That brought things grinding to a standstill.
“She’s right, you know,” Aurelia’s voice dripped with smugness as she stood back up and walked over to her, hands on Angel’s now-strong shoulders, “Bright young woman like her can do whatever she wants. Isn’t that right, dear?”
“It is,” Angel stood her ground, only softening the very edges, “I don’t… want to make you guys mad or anything but… I only killed my dad, not his legacy. As long as that space station is hanging over my head, Jack’ll always be alive. This is my chance to change that, my first real journey as a Vault Hunter. Not in bits and pieces, not with anyone holding my hand. I’m ready.”
For all Nisha’s commanding nature she looked to Athena for this one, not as confident in her ability to make guardianship decisions still.
Athena’s sigh was heavy, “If you must, take Timothy too.”
Gaige’s whoop of victory filled the room in a sharp spike of noise, “HELL YEAH! C’mon, babe, let’s go PACK!”
Angel wasn’t able to protest that one, dragged away in a tornado of excitement before she could barely register anything that had just transpired.
- - -
“You’re secretly hoping one of them will offer to go too, huh?” Nisha affectionately ran a hand through Athena’s hair, ending in a sharp, teasing tug.
The ECHO in her hands was hovering over the name ‘Lilith’, Athena staring pointedly at the worn out carpet at her feet, “Maybe.”
“If you could pick one person to go with th-”
“Ohhh, good choice,” Nisha slid down around her shoulders, peck on the cheek, “I would have picked Krieg. Wanna see the ECHO footage of the dude just going apeshit on some Hyperion desk jockeys.”
“I don’t like this, Nisha.”
“Me either but… Angel’s right. She’s an adult.”
Sighing heavily again, Athena closed her eyes, “Tell me it’s going to be alright.”
“It’s gonna be alright, probably.”
Nisha laughed, running a hand across her shoulders, “Call Lilith, let her at least know what’s going on. Maybe she’ll offer someone. Hell, maybe she’ll go. Won’t know until you call her.”
Athena nodded and finally pressed the button.
Chapter 2: The More Things Change
Sorry this took so long, Holiday Season took me straight out of commission for a full month.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
Standing at the shuttle launch pad, an uncomfortable wave of deja vú washed over the former Vault Hunters.
Still Hyperion branded, the place was just as empty and do-it-yourself as it had been way back when they’d first gone up on Elpis. That ride up hijacked by bandits, sending them crashing into the surface of the moon, unable to breath, brains rattled, covered in bruises…
Nisha swallowed heavily, thinking of Angel colliding into the surface of the planet like that.
But it wasn’t going to be that, they weren’t going up alone this time. Not only would Athena and Nisha be holding down the fort when the bandits curiously swarmed the tasty looking new target but Lilith’d promised to bring Roland and come help.
Angel was going to be fine. She was going to dock off on Concordia then get shuttled up to Helios. Nothing was going to go wrong. Because, you know, being on Helios is so much better. Probably be safer crashed onto the surface of Elpis than in that deathtrap.
For a couple days, they’d been stuck ruminating on this. Both Nisha and Athena knew they couldn’t really stop Angel, she was an adult, but of all things she could have decided for her first ever mission… man, couldn’t she have just stayed on Pandora? Maybe even somewhere nearby?
Despite her best efforts to hide it, Athena could tell Nisha was much more perturbed by this than she’d ever let on.
Athena’d held her extra tight these past few nights.
Nisha looked up to Aurelia confidently walking in front of them to Angel happily trotting after her with H4L0 keeping pace. Chatting idly, surprised that the rich woman was willing to be so… friendly.
Especially considering the modified Claptrap unit interrupting the much more calm conversation she was having with Angel. Calm voice replaced by the screeching one every so often.
Then again, Aurelia was far from heartless as much so as she’d like to project that persona.
Daughter of Handsome Jack. Hard not to feel some measure of sympathy for the girl, even with a slightly obnoxious companion.
Getting close to Aurelia… a weird aunt for Angel. A stressful thought, not necessarily from distrust or a lack of fondness for the self titled rich bitch but the woman didn’t put down roots. The idea of Angel becoming a planet hopper on Aurelia’s dime was stressful, to say the least.
Nisha unconsciously tightened her grip on Athena’s hand painfully tight. Her admittedly plain ring digging into pale skin, leaving an imprint. But Athena would die before pointing it out.
The small group leaning against the half-asses safety rail had their back to them, chatting animatedly over something. Lilith and Roland instantly recognizable, even from a distance, but obscuring whoever they were talking to. A pile of bags at their feet.
“Are you sure you want to do this?” they overheard Roland, “I know we’re not hard up for mechanics but Sanctuary wouldn’t turn its proverbial nose up at a black marketeer if you went back to that.”
The voice that answered in turn was unmistakable, if only because the accent wasn’t exactly common down here, “I just… think it’s time for me to go home. I’m grateful for being able to stay there while Jack was being dealt with but it’s just. Not the place for me. Got some friends up there, some connections. Just need to rebuild, I mean I only came down here to be with…”
As if on cue, Athena walked into view. Hand crushed in Nisha’s, grip only tightening at seeing Janey.
The unburnt half of her face went bright red, “Uhm, hey, there! Not… not looking to make things weird, just… looking to go back up to Elpis. Just… not a lot of rides up there.”
Lilith put a hand on her shoulder, “Yeah, not to like, spring this on you but she’d been asking us about help getting home and I figured since you and Nisha aren’t going…”
“It’s fine,” Nisha seethed just a bit, “Don’t exactly object to you being as far away as physically possible.”
“Ohhhhh, there is a juicy story here and I am very much looking forward to unearthing it at a later point in time,” Aurelia cut in, snapping her fingers to get Timothy to begin piling their luggage in.
He paused for just one second, rooting around in a dirty pocket and going to hand a list to… he switched trajectories at the last second, leaving the list with Athena, not Nisha, “This is a list of things Dukino needs, I found it pinned outside his dog house and now I’m giving it to you. Just keep telling him I’ll be back soon, okay?”
Athena thought it was an incredible exercise in pointless stupidity but nodded, “Alright.”
He looked uncertain though, gazing towards the direction of the town before the snapping of Aurelia’s fingers got more insistent. Beginning to lug in the bags and boxes with his head down.
“Make sure you keep sending Axton messages every once in a while,” Lilith addressed Gaige, hands on her hips, “He doesn’t show it but he worries about you. His lil’ baby sister.”
“But I’m gonna be sooo busy,” Gaige protested, wiggling her ECHO device, “I’m an adult, I don’t need a babysitter.”
“Yeah but Axton needs some peace of mind,” Lilith held out a pinkie, “Redhead Squad Pinkie Promise?”
“Auuugh,” Gaige hooked fingers with a quite shake, “Fine, fine, Redhead Squad Pinkie Promise…”
Rolling up, H4L0 banged into Angel’s thighs next to her girlfriend. Burying her optic in soft skin that definitely was going to be bruised later, “I’m going to miss you so much! Promise me you’re going to be super, super, super, super, super, super, super, super safe up there!!”
Her metal chassis made a hollow noise when Angel patted it, “I promise, H4L0. I don’t take any too-big risks.”
Mechanical sobs distorted her words, “But this is already one! I just-”
“I would rather like to get off of this filthy hellhole as quickly as possible,” Aurelia cut the good-byes off short, “No offense but also most certainly offensive. No need to point it out, I am quite aware. Come along.”
Hooking a gloved finger, she gestured for them to follow her. Timothy crouching to accept a tight hug from Athena and what was essentially a combination headlock/noogie from Nisha. Smoothing his long, ratty hair back down before clomping up the metal steps.
“I know you’re worried about me doing this but… thank you for not trying to stop me,” Angel reached up for Nisha first, tightly wrapping her arms around her shoulders.
A firm hand gripping her shoulder, Nisha tried to muster up something, anything, supportive in a more normal, maternal way but even with a year and a half under her belt she still found herself lacking in that department, “If anyone even looks at you cross eyed, blow their brains out.”
Laughing behind her hand, Angel shook her head as she pulled away, “I think maybe I shouldn’t do that.”
“An’ I think maybe you should.”
“If anything starts going south up there you can always call me,” Athena got her hug in turn, “I don’t want to leave Lynchwood undefended if I can help it but if you need me up there for any sort of emergency… don’t hesitate.”
“Okay, I promise,” Angel replied, pulling back and trotting over to Gaige, “We’ll be home before you know it.”
Feeling awkward, Gaige did a couple finger guns at them with a slightly uncomfortable, out of place, “See ya later, alligator.”
They could hear her berate herself quietly under her breath for that as she scrambled up after Angel.
Pausing, Janey stopped with a foot on the ramp before turning back to them.
“Athena…” she started, ignoring the icy cold glare coming off of Nisha, “You too, Nisha… I just… wanted to apologize for all the trouble I gave you back on Sanctuary when all the Jack stuff was going on. It was… wrong of me. Shouldn’t have put my problems on you two. Just wanted to say that before I left, figured I might not really get another chance.”
Before answering, Athena gave Nisha a quick once over. Given her wife was doing little more than regarding that statement carefully, she felt at liberty to accept the apology, “I accept your apology-”
Not given an opportunity to finish, Nisha cut in sharp as a knife, “But don’t do it again.”
“Wouldn’t dream of it,” Janey nodded towards the ship, “Just… gonna head back up and go on with my life. I’m… glad for you two. Glad a sweet girl like Angel’s got a pair of kinda-moms that love her that much. Maybe after all is said and done we can just be friends. The three of us.”
The last part was so blatantly to placate the still annoyed, if slightly less so, cowgirl.
“Maybe,” was Nisha’s only reply.
Some awkward waves were exchanged as Janey boarded the ship.
It wasn’t long before the bandits started showing up but unlike their launch, this one went smoothly and without a single hitch as they were mowed down by the remaining Vault Hunters.
- - -
Unlike the shuttle their original crew had taken up, this one was much nicer. Feeling more like a private jet than a broken down space bus.
It was hard for Angel not to feel excited, strapped tightly into the plush chair between Gaige and Timothy. The former holding onto her hand and amicably chattering on about how they should tooootally sneak off and have a super fun space-date while they’re up there.
The latter’s hands were gripping the armrests so tightly that Angel had some idle fears about him breaking his fingers.
Angel had heard tale told of the crash onto Elpis’s surface and given everything about Tim it made sense he was halfway to a heart attack. Even with Aurelia across from them, giving him a vague and honestly kind of disinteresting overview of what she’d been doing since he last saw her.
Everything certainly having been more fun to experience than fun to hear about.
Amazingly, Timothy’s death grip didn’t let up an inch until they approached their destination. A small docking bay on Elpis, Aurelia had explained, a drop off there, a night or two in Concordia, then they were to meet a “business connection” up on Helios.
He hadn’t even flinched as Aurelia tied the bandana around his jaw for him, chastising him for not come up with a more elegant solution before coming with. His head ducked and his hood pulled up.
When he’d removed his mask, he’d insisted the girls look away but he couldn’t completely hide the scar that oddly burned through his face. Decimating one of his eyes.
Angel wished she’d stolen a peek, curiosity clawing at her like a feral skag pup.
A gentle jostle and they were there, Angel curiously catching up to Aurelia’s long strides to ask, “Do you really think they’ll allow all of us to come up with you to meet your Hyperion contact?”
“Well, not to the meeting proper but...” Aurelia stepped off the ship and onto a place she didn’t think she’d ever see again. Her thoughts abruptly cut off as she saw their once base of operations’ current state.
Like crawling ivy every section of the docking bay had been plastered with Hyperion propaganda. Posters bearing Jack’s angular visage seemed to smile plastically at them from every angle, the word “Hyperion” gracing every surface, everything that gaudy shade of dandelion yellow.
“I…” Aurelia was uncertain for once in her life, “I apologize. Simply didn’t expect… this. You will… it is just going to be me and Timothy going to the meeting. Me as the doddering old rich woman and Tim as my- obviously disguised- young bodyguard. We are allowed to bring up visitors as well, Jack was quite big on showing off so there’s a market for ‘tourism’, as he called it. Propaganda, I’d call it.”
Turning her attention back to the issue at hand she instructed Tim to begin hauling their stuff off the ship, Janey and Gaige trailing after him to help the poor bastard with the gargantuan task.
Leaving Aurelia and Angel staring out at the changed landscape of the station.
“Well, that’ll be… fun?” Angel questioned, desperately trying not to make eye contact with the posters of her father, “Maybe a little weird. I’m not… super crazy about seeing dozens of my dad staring back at me from every angle…”
Aurelia jerked her head up at that, looking around and seeing nothing but an automated check-in for their ship. Her words sharp, “Angel, pay things a bit of mind and never say anything like that again for the duration of the trip unless you’re a fan of… well, I don’t even know what they’d do to you but you can be certain it won’t be pleasant.”
“OH,” Angel slapped her hands over her mouth, “Sorry! I didn’t… think…”
“This will be a bit of a touchy operation, don’t mistake this for nothing but a fun little vacation,” Aurelia chastised, crouching to her eye level with a cold, solemn stare, “When I say you’ll be a ‘visitor’ up there you will still need to be on your guard. You’re not truly a visitor. You’re a scout, a guard, and potentially will have to use your powers to plow through the Hyperion guards.”
Glimpses of the ice queen were peeking through the coat of droll amusement Aurelia had been filtered through until now.
Angel felt like she should probably be more intimidated but instead she rather found herself wishing she was more like the woman.
“I understand,” she nodded, returning a stern one-eyed look that was a poor imitation of Aurelia’s and faltered quickly, “I’m sorry, I’ve just… I helped take down my dad but I’ve never really…”
“You haven’t been a Vault Hunter.”
It’s not an accusation.
Angel nodded, “Even if I don’t know if I’ll ever… be actually looking for a Vault.”
“I’m sure you will, eventually,” Aurelia’s somber mood melted away again to the light amusement she lived most of her life in, “You Sirens always seem called to them, like a moth to a flame. If I’m correct, you’ll have many adventures after this one. This is simply your first.”
The others rejoined them, all three bearing varying amounts of heavy, heavy bags. Timothy not only bearing the brunt of it but the bandana tied around his lower face certainly wasn’t helping with the whole “breathing” situation.”
As weirded out as the rest of them were, Janey was much more uncomfortable. Face blanched, making her scars stand out starkly against pale skin as they walked through customs into the heart of the city, “I never would… I never would recognize this place. I lived here for so many years and just…”
If the outside had been plastered, the center was caked. Almost indistinguishable, they never would have guessed this was the same seedy underbelly they’d spent so long in all those years ago if not for the general shape of the architecture. The array of storefronts all wrapped around a deep pit leading even further into Concordia’s guts.
Everything had been ripped out and rebuilt Hyperion, each storefront and bar demolished to be replaced with some yellow, metal version of it.
Foxxi’s Bar. Jack probably thought that one was real clever.
It was like every single store had its own Hyperion guard positioned outside. Gun in their hands, watching the people pass by. Poor Concordian citizens replaced by corporate underlings, all seeming to be on break from their jobs at Helios above.
From a slum to a vacation destination.
But for all the destroyed architecture and gaudy rebuilds there was one thing that left Janey truly dumbstruck.
It wasn’t a secret to Timothy and Aurelia. The place where Janey’s store had once stood was completely taken down, replaced by a Hyperion branded cafe. Yellow umbrella’d tables littering the area around it so people could gaze up at Helios watching them above.
“But my… I owned it, I wasn’t… I wasn't a renter and I didn’t sell it when I left,” Janey’s disbelief at odds with the fact that didn’t mean jack to Hyperion, “I have to… I have to see if anything of mine is still mine.”
The cold hand on her shoulder wasn’t a comfort, “Do you want to leave your bags with us while you get your affairs in order? Rooms 501 through 503.”
Janey’s voice was small, “Thank you.”
At that, she quickly power walked towards the other side of the gulf to recover what she could.
- - -
Steering themselves away from the old bed and breakfast they used to stay was weird, even weirder taking that old elevator up and finding themselves in a luxury hotel rather than the old Meriff’s office.
The second they stepped off the elevator they were accosted by an attendant piling their bags onto a trolley, chirping happily about escorting them to their rooms.
A relief to Timothy, who was more than happy to no longer be carrying three fourths of the bags.
“Me and Timothy have our own rooms but I figured you girls wouldn’t mind sharing one, Nisha said Gaige stays in your home a lot,” Aurelia handed out the keycards, “Which was fortunate considering there weren’t a lot of vacancies. Apparently in our absence Concordia became quite the hot spot for Hyperion goons looking to take some time off from their miserable little lives.”
“It sure as hell did! I mean, I don’t know what it was like before but we are going to get soooo much crazy room service!” Gaige threw up her arms, several pairs of judgemental eyes jerking over to her from other guests, “I have never been in a place so NICE! Ever! This is the type of place my dad DREAMED of taking me when I was little!”
“Well, like I told your little girlfriend, you may have some fun but I am absolutely imploring you BOTH to remember that this isn’t just a vacation,” Aurelia regarded the dull eyed bellboy all but prancing away as soon as they reached their doors with a fistful of too-big bills he definitely thought he wasn’t supposed to get.
“It can be a liiiiiiiiittle bit of a vacation, right?” Gaige held metal finger impossibly close together, “Just a bit?”
“A bit,” Aurelia emphasized, “But no more than a bit.”
“Can we jump on the bed?” Gaige tapped her keycard on the door, big, green eyes pleading for a yes.
“If you break it, I’m not going to pay for it.”
Pouting, Gaige rolled her eyes, “Fiiiiiine, I’ll pay for it if we do. C’mon!”
Angel wasn’t given a chance to respond before the door slid open and Gaige raced in.
“What if I break the bed jumping on it?” Tim dryly cracked to Aurelia, half smile on his face that was hidden by the bandana.
“Oh, you have a back up in there,” Aurelia nodded at his room’s door, golden plaque shining, “There were only one of each type of room left. I’ll replace the first but if you break the second too I’m not doing both.”
“Hey, whatever, I’m totally gonna do it now,” Timothy looked almost excited, good eye lighting up.
Before Aurelia could chuckle, pat him on the shoulder, and impart some aunt-ly little dig at him they were interrupted. Finger tapping on her shoulder almost completely engulfed by the wide spread of fur bursting from her jacket, voice so much smaller than normal that it was unrecognizable, ”Uhm, Aurelia?”
Ready to be annoyed, Aurelia turned to tear whoever dared to interrupt them a new one but instantly softened, “Janey, dear, are you here for your things?”
“I’m… I don’t…”
“I don’t tolerate mumbling, speak up.”
Janey took a second to gather herself before looking up the towering woman, “My little apartment hidden behind the shop was taken too. All the apartments, really. There’s no vacancy anywhere in Concordia and I don’t… I don’t have a way back to Pandora. I really, really, really, truly and desperately hate to ask but… can I stay with you?”
“Oh absolutely not,” Aurelia rolled her eyes, “I haven’t had to share a room since the last time I was here and I don’t intend to ever do it again.”
Crushed, Janey obviously hadn’t been expecting that answer, “I ju-”
“You’ll room with Timothy,” Aurelia didn’t bother asking him, sliding her keycard with a click, “He’s used to sleeping on couches so he’ll be happy enough sharing a room where he still gets a bed. I’ll see you all tomorrow afternoon, we’ll have a day or so to kill until our clearance to go up to Helios so, stay up all night if you want.”
She didn’t wait for a reaction before stepping into her own room, leaving them alone together.
As much as he didn’t relish the idea of sharing his room, Timothy wasn’t about to be an asshole about it as he ruffled Janey’s hair, “Roomies, gonna braid each other’s hair and paint each other’s nails. Talk about bo- er, girls. Uh, what else do you do at sleepovers?”
“Pillow fights but I’m not looking to get smeared across the wall by a Vault Hunter.”
“Me either, but we can order cookie dough ice cream, right?” Timothy threw an arm around her shoulder and escorted her inside, “Be making each other best friend bracelets by the time we pass out. Don’t… don’t show it to Aurelia, I think she might cut our hands off if she sees ‘em.
“Deal,” Janey said, despite being not entire sure if what he’d said was a joke or not.
me, at every opportunity: what if timothy and janey were normal people friends?
Chapter 3: Strike A Concordia
it's all copasetic to write three different heart-to-hearts in one chapter, right? right?
Angel woke up upside down, head and shoulders hanging off the bed and staying up only by virtue of the blankets wrapped tightly around her waist. Weighed down by a tightly curled up Gaige clinging to the other side of it tightly. Fast asleep.
Clumsily, Angel managed to flip over and keep herself from the looming concussion she would have suffered had she woken up not ten minutes later.
The bed was plush, unbelievably so. Nicer than anything that Angel had ever slept on before, even before things had gone to hell. Every padding crawl towards Gaige sinking in halfway to her elbow.
Ripped and ratty skull pajamas looked out of place on the should-be immaculate white sheets, now littered with more than a few mismatched stains from last night's feast. A litany of half to mostly eaten desserts scattered around their bed.
“Gaige?” Angel patted at one frosting covered cheek, “You look like a bakery attacked you.”
“I FEEL like a bakery attacked me…” Gaige mumbled, coming to and wiping at her face, “Auuuughgghhhh why is so much of it on my FACE.”
“Because you smeared one on my face and I had to retaliate,” Angel replied, pointing off the fancy off planet sugar buns off to the side, “I’m not a weak little girl anymore, I have to defend myself.”
“It was just wedding practice! Y’know, when you just smush the cake into the bride’s face!”
“But you’ll also be the bride, do I not need practice as well?”
A sharp rapping at their door interrupted their weird, circular argument, Aurelia calling out to them, “Are you girls still asleep in there? It’s almost noon! Important meeting in my room in five, don’t eat anything we’ll be having a late brunch. Which also might be lunch. I’m not entirely sure at this point, honestly. Stay in your pajamas, if you wish.”
They could hear the clicking of her heels as she walked to the next room.
- - -
Closer to the door, Timothy got a similar wake up call. Groggily propped up on his elbows and blinking dumbly at the new information quickly rattled off to him.
Groaning, he swung his legs off the bed to a cacophony of noise as he kicked the trash bin full of empty beer bottles. Looking down he wasn’t entirely sure if he wanted to stay in his jammies, Janey’d already taken a jab at the cutesy kitten pattern on his baggy pants. Worn Hyperion T-shirt on top a weird reminder of worse times but damned comfy so he kept it.
Janey was still out cold, facedown on the pillow and most certainly nursing a hell of a hangover. Tattoo’d arm dangling off the edge of the bed.
Did Aurelia want Janey to come too? Timothy felt like he should bring her nonetheless, at least until they got her into her own place. Just felt… weird and wrong to leave her alone.
Walking across the room and grabbing her arm, he gave it a shake that made the skags dance, “Janey? Hey, Janey?”
Muffled protests as she pulled her arm away and took a few smacks at him. Tucking it under her pillow so he couldn’t grab it again.
More authoritatively, he grabbed the sheets and tugged. Successfully rolling her over and exposing her to the cold air of the hotel room, the woman rolling up into a ball despite the sweatpants. Aiming a kick at him from this position, “M’heads killing me. Leave me alone and just let me sulk in the nice, soft bed…”
Tim knew well from last night exactly how fucked up Janey was about everything that had gone on. Breaking up with Athena, her stupid decisions in the wake of that trying to get Athena back, her shop being gone, not knowing what she was going to do next…
Painfully feeling like she was never going to find another girlfriend. Never get married. Adopting some kids? Off the table.
A weird moment of friendship, the two of them sitting on the floor. Leaning against her bed. Each with a beer in their hand.
He’d talked about his own similar concerns.
Timothy knew he didn’t feel like he belongs in Lynchwood with the rest of them. It was a casual, almost lazy life compared to what he’d become used to. He knew it was fucked up but he just felt like he needed to be doing something more than just patrolling a town aimlessly with his weird pet.
Didn’t say it to her but he knew what it was. Some weird, dark compulsion to be constantly on alert, on a mission, have a neat little set of boxes to tick off.
But the boxes tended to be “go here, murder this.”
Free from Jack’s influence though… he could use those skills to help people, rather than harm. Try to make up for what he’s done, fix things.
His face was a curse though and he had no idea where to even begin being a mercenary. Even when they’d been on Elpis all the little jobs they’d taken had been offered to them largely by their connection to Jack and Hyperion.
The two had barely made it back into their respective beds as the end of the evening had gotten foggy.
Janey in particular had been set on just crashing on the ground, only on her bed by virtue of Timothy hauling her there. Dumping her on it like a sack of potatoes before shambling to his own.
“Aurelia told us to meet her in her room, don’t know if she wants you…” Tim trailed off.
“Then just leave me here, have a cry in the room by myself,” Janey buried her face deep in her pillow, “I think I need that.”
“Yeah but I need the scary rich lady to not be mad at me so, like, can you do it for me?”
For a second as Janey lulled her head to the side it looked like she was going to tell him no but instead a smile cracked across her face.
“When the hell did we put that pink streak in your hair?”
- - -
“You look like a teenage girl attacked your head,” Aurelia chastised, pinching at the singular long pink streak, “Why?”
“I mean, Jack fucked with it so it was growing in grey and Janey had some extra hair dye in her luggage…” Tim pulled his head away, pushing the long strand back into place.
“Doesn’t take a lot to do my own,” Janey tugged at it, nestled in the blonde, “Don’t really remember doing it though.”
“So I left you alone and immediately you became a drunkard,” Aurelia chastised, “And dragged the poor girl into it as well. Am I to expect you to slop around drunkenly when we’re up on Helios?”
“I’m not an alco…” Tim decided against lying to the woman, he was certainly skirting close enough, “I’m not going to be drinking on the job.”
Across from them, Gaige was whispering to Angel, “Hey, what is this?”
The held up some unknown little hors d'oeuvre with unidentifiable meat piled on it. Actually, was it meat? She wasn’t entirely sure.
“I dunno,” Angel whispered back, “But I’ll give you five bucks if you eat it.”
Giggling wildly behind her hand, Angel tried to stay quiet as Gaige shoved the whole thing in her mouth. Face immediately dropping to disgust as she choked it down.
“Are you girls having fun?” for once the edge of annoyance in Aurelia’s voice was aimed at them.
“Yes,” Angel sheepishly answered as Gaige wiped her mouth, “Sorry.”
But Aurelia wasn’t too shaken by their childish behavior, cutting neatly into her opulent omelette, “Well, I have good news and bad news. Well, I suppose not to much ‘bad’ as ‘inconvenient’. Imagine some of you might enjoy a little romp around Concordia while we wait…”
“What’re we waiting for?” Gaige choked down her food, “For ‘em to gelatinize into their office chairs a little bit more?”
“No, as much as I enjoy a good corporate jelly,” Aurelia left that disgustingly unexplained, “It’s bureaucracy, of course. The whole thing a box of bullshit wrapped up tightly in a red tape bow and silly me forgot to bring my scissors.”
The sharp cutting motion she made at her neck ambiguous but enough to catch her general drift.
"What do you want us to do in the meantime?" Timothy asked, "Load up on guns? Supplies?"
"Always an obedient boy, waiting for his next task," Aurelia tapped her fork on his plate, "First eat, then just… amuse yourself. Hyperion gutted Concordia and turned it into a tourist trap. Go get trapped."
Only Janey didn't seem placated by her words, looking down even more uncertain into her scrambled eggs. She knew Concordia was the only civilized place this side of the moon, no other major hubs within reasonable driving distance. And what if she made the long drive only to find another Hyperion-gentrified vacation destination?
Could she make it as a Scav? Maybe she should make a makeshift mask and practice her unintelligible screaming…
Her strife went mostly ignored, save for one.
- - -
As Janey left Aurelia to her miserable paperwork and watched the girls scamper off she felt even more adrift.
Timothy was right, even Janey herself was unsure if Aurelia intended to bring her with to Helios. If she'd been assimilated into the plan. It seemed like she had but what would even be the point of that? She didn't even have a gun beyond a shitty side arm. Should she go and buy a real gun? She's never even shot one, what if-
A hand clamping on her shoulder stopped her dead in her tracks to nowhere, nearly toppling her over.
Too dazed by her own thoughts to respond she just stared dumbly up at the mostly hidden Timothy, eyes only visible.
"You okay?" he asked, despite knowing the answer.
"Tip top shape, mate," Janey lied, snapping her hand into an unconvincing finger gun.
"Wow! You're a terrible liar," Tim started pushing her down the hallway, "Because you look like you're gonna puke your guts out."
Catching her reflection in one of the many mirrors decorating the hallway she knew he was right. Dead woman walking.
"I don't know what to do," Janey just continued the theme of last night, "And now that I'm awake and not drunk and looking at this situation with dreadfully clear thoughts… I'm proper fucked, aren't I?"
"I dunno, maybe," his words didn't start off a comfort but hopefully would end up there, "But if you want… I could help you try to find something, somewhere in Concordia for you. Gotta be some dark alleyway where wayward souls can peddle questionably legal goods in private."
"I'll have you know all my scrap was perfectly legal!"
"Like the first thing you told us was that you were a black marketeer.”
Janey opened her mouth to contest that before snapping it shut again, “Fair enough.”
- - -
Tugging at the edge of her ratty shirt, Gaige looked around at the judgmental eyes following them, "Wow, you ever just feel like the most underdressed loser in the room? Because I feel that like, in my bones right now."
"Not really," Angel kicked out a black cowgirl boot in surprisingly good condition, "I get the nice hand me downs because people feel bad for me."
It was true. Seemed like whenever someone up on Sanctuary came across some article of clothing they didn't need anymore that it was shipped out to Lynchwood. Currently Angel was sporting a black and purple dress that had most certainly been Moxxi's in a past life. Neat and careful stitches holding the front shut. Fashionable and covered by an only slightly beat up old leather jacket from Lilith.
Pulling back up her perpetually falling sleeve, Gaige watched a particularly disgusted stuffed suit pass by, "How am I supposed to go up on Helios like this? I stand out like a sore thumb. Hell even if we make it up there, with all these goonies staring at me like, I feel like I'm screaming 'Vault Hunter looking to infiltrate Hyperion.'"
"I'm pretty sure Aurelia has outfits for up on Helios, the fashion there is… particular," Angel recalled something she half heard whispered to Timothy, "But… you have a point about being noticeable down here… we could always go outfit shopping? Aurelia said she'd cover any minor expenses."
"Oh my god, I haven't been clothes shopping since being back on Eden-5," Gaige perked up, "Let's do it, there's only a billion signs pointing to the shopping district."
- - -
As they crept away from the center of Concordia, into deep recesses that Timothy’d never been in before, they found bits and pieces of what had been here before.
Crammed together into nooks and crannies, the former citizens of Concordia hadn’t been wholly displaced. Just moved into a much, much smaller space and much… sadder. And much more cautious, once friendly faces eyeing them with suspicion until recognition slunk onto their faces at the sight of Janey.
A look of confusion from some, pity from others.
Neither making Janey feel terribly welcome, tugging her vest around her as she ducked into a vacant side area riddled with dumpsters, “I’ve never had so many people just… staring at me.”
“I have. More, honestly,” Tim replied, “Jack was always making me give inspirational speeches for him.”
“You got one for me now?” Janey asked, a bit more sincerely than intended.
Straightening up, he towered over her. Even with the bandana over his mouth she could tell he was cracking an oversized, plastic smile. Voice thunderous in the enclosed area, “Hey kiddo, Jack here! Now you may be telling yourself, man, my life is absolutely pathetic. And you’re right! But you know whose isn’t? Me. And you know who believes you can do it or else? That’s right, also me! So unless you want me to shove you into an airlock with a bunch of starving Rakk, do it! Seriously! Or Else! I cannot stress that enough.”
Cracking up, Janey nailed a firm punch to his left tit, “That was awful!”
“Hey, it was awful but it was corporate sponsored also somehow it worked?” Tim shrank back down to himself, “I mean, I guess because of that time he, you know, actually did it. Like meat in a blender, ejected into space.”
“Augh, that’s horrible,” Janey crinkled her nose in disgust, “Why did he-”
“Why did he ever do anything?” Tim crossed his arms and leaned against the only clean spot on the wall, “Do you want a shitty Tim speech instead?”
“I mean, it’s gotta be better than that, right?”
“You’ll live. No matter what happens, if our search continues to fail, if there’s no place on Concordia, if you have to take a shitty job, if you have to go back to Sanctuary… you’ll live,” Tim tilted his head up, “Nobody’s gonna hunt you down, you’ve survived this long and as far as I’m concerned you’re going to continue being alive. Being friends with Vault Hunters, being engaged to one… yeah it shook up your life but look at this place. Even if you’d stayed here you would have had your life forcibly displaced and just… I think it made your life turn out for the better, even if you don’t right now.”
The look on Janey’s face was split, scarred arms crossed and glancing out towards her former neighbors passing by.
“We’re your friends, Janey,” he continued, false confidence coating the anxiety he was starting to feel giving this speech, “Your big, terrifying, scary friends who can do shit like freeze people into popsicles or tear through rooms of people with murder holograms of a dead dictator or a big fucking kill bot or just… god, exploding people’s organs. That… mildly horrifying thing Angel does.”
It seemed to be working a bit though, Janey chancing a joke, “Would you really tear through a room of people for me?”
“Are they bad people?”
“Yeah, sure then,” his reply just a touch too serious, “My standards for mass murder are like, way, way, way too low. Like, I’d probably kill a person for a bag of corn chips if you told me they looked at you wrong.”
That was mildly alarming but Janey pushed that aside, stepping forward and giving Tim a tight hug around the wait, “Thanks, Tim. I’m glad you’re willing to commit casual, horrific murder for me.”
Patting her back, Tim assured her, “Anyone else would too. Even Athena still. Hell, maybe even Nisha one day but like, if you got a different girlfriend and stopped being a weird threat to her.”
“Do you really think I’ll find someone else?” Janey’s words muffled against his sweatshirt.
“Oh yeah, like half the lesbians on Pandora are starving for a woman not ranting, raving, and screaming about meat. The other half are the ones that are the ranting, raving, and screaming about meat. Between the two you’ll find someone to marry you. I just ask one thing of you.”
“What?” Janey let go, peering up at him quizzically.
“Get bacon wrapped scallops for the wedding and then also don’t judge me when I eat a whole plate of them.”
Huge smile on her face, Janey gestured for him to follow, “Sounds like a deal but in the meantime how about we just focus on trying to find out if there’s any open shopfronts left?”
- - -
“I can’t believe you talked me into matching outfits,” Gaige tugged at the red tartan dress, black belt unusually shiny around her waist, “I never thought I’d be in one of THOSE couples.”
“It was the only dress there that was punky and they came in red and purple,” Angel fiddled with the edge of the short leather jackets, “Besides, apparently, I’ve always dreamed of matching outfit girlfriends. I happen to think it’s cute.”
“And that’s the only reason we’re doing it also you said we could get ice cream and stare out at the stars.”
“And you said matching outfits was corny.”
Gaige’s shove was deeply hearthearted, “Shut uppp apparently we’re both corny, alright?”
The ice cream shop was weird as hell, everything on it Hyperion branded from the spoons to the flavor names. Gaige tried not to cringe too much at the names of their cones, New-U Blue and Jack’s Favorite. Blueberry and lemon.
Frankly, with the look on her face when it was handed to her, Gaige was surprised that Angel hadn’t foregone her favorite lemon ice cream.
Idly, Gaige had a moment where she wondered if favorite flavors were genetic.
But soon the names were forgotten as they walked hand-in-hand down one of the abandoned jutting docking bays, overlooking the surprisingly undeveloped land surrounding the condensed city. The view was gorgeous, honestly. Neither of them could deny it. Even with Helios looming above it, somehow almost beautiful itself despite it’s terrible nature.
“When Aurelia talks about taking down Helios…” Gaige spoke confidently as she leaned on the broken down, old machinery, knowing everyone was far, far out of earshot, “Does… is it going to crush Concordia?”
It seemed almost plausible, the eye staring down at them coldly.
“I don’t think so,” Angel shook her head, taking another lick at her ice cream, “The way Aurelia was talking about it, sounded pretty confident that it was going to crash into Pandora. Pretty empty area too, sans some particularly aggressive bandit camps.”
“Are you scared at all?” Gaige asked, “I know you were with us taking down Jack but this… this is really suffocating, I guess. Don’t know how else to describe it. We’re going to be totally surrounded, totally isolated…”
“I’m not,” Angel didn’t have an ounce of hesitation in her voice, “I know it sounds like I’m bragging but… I remember looking at the blueprints for years, watching the progress through diagrams. It’s surprisingly easy to take down Hyperion technology, the whole thing plays like it’s advanced but they integrate too many systems they shouldn’t. Held together by paperclips and rubber bands at critical places…”
“But if it explodes or something we’re just… floating in space…”
“You’re scared, aren’t you?”
“What?!” Gaige jumped back, nearly dropping her cone, “Psh, no, I’m the biggest badass on the face of…”
The look on Angel’s face said she wasn’t buying it.
Gaige shrunk back down, taking a bite out of the blue treat, “Alright, I am. I wish… I wish everyone had come with us. Or at least… Axton. He’s been there for me ever since I landed on Pandora, I was only alone for a day or two until he picked me up. He’s like my big brother, I just feel safer when he’s around me.”
“Why didn’t he come?”
“I… asked him not to.”
Angel quirked an eyebrow, ”Really?”
“I wanted to do it on my own, sometimes I feel like… everyone else is carrying me. They’re all such massive badasses and I’m just… some girl,” Gaige curled her metal hand against the railing with a scraping noise, “Some girl with a big bot. I just want to prove I can do it without them and make them proud but… looking up at Helios from this close…”
“We can do it.”
The sheer confidence in Angel’s voice was such a far cry from the meek girl she’d first met up on Sanctuary that it threw Gaige for a loop for a second. All of it hitting her at once, how much Angel had changed in such a short period of time.
Failing to come up with any smart words about how proud she was, Gaige just bounced up on her tippy-toes and planted a kiss on Angel’s lips. Leaving a comically perfect blue outline when she dropped back down.
“Ha, looks like you were makin’ out with a smurf.”
“You’re short enough,” Angel smirked.
“Hey!! Watch it up there, gonna give me a complex!!”
- - -
The four of them returned late at night, Janey taking a moment to tell the two girls how cute their fancy new outfits were before heading in with a promise to get Tim something too from room service.
He himself had already told her he wanted to check up on Aurelia before retiring to sit on the couch of their room and watch The Young and the Shieldless with her over a pepperoni pizza and sodas the size of their heads.
Knocking on her door yielded her cracking open her door too quick, looking more frazzled than he’d ever seen her. Her answer curt, “What?”
“Just checking in on you,” Tim replied, pushing on the door which she let swing open, “I mean, the rest of us got a day off and you…”
Aurelia didn’t have to say what she was doing, the coffee table of her lavish sitting area was absolutely plastered with half finished paperwork. Some pages splattered lightly with spilled red wine from the many empty glasses littered around the area.
“I am embroiled in my own personal hell?” Aurelia slumped back onto the plush yellow sofa, waving at the door, “Close it, close it. I don’t want anyone to see my shame. Hyperion bastards gave me a stack of paperwork a mile high. Some trifle about me being a potential ‘disgruntled former employee.’ I’ll show them disgruntled, when I crash them onto the garbage ball below.”
“You sound like a supervillain,” Tim took a liberty in telling that joke, one he knew Aurelia wouldn’t allow of most people. Knowing she double wasn’t going to do anything as he sat, tugging down his hood and bandana, and snatched up a pen and a piece of the should-be unintelligible papers, “Good thing you’ve got your evil henchman here to help you.”
“You know I hate when you play bad guy with me,” Aurelia lolled her head over, a smile betraying a fondness at the old game, “One day someone’s going to take you seriously.”
“I mean, we ARE going to be killing thousands of Hyperion workers in the next couple days,” Tim looked towards the closed window, blackout curtains keeping it dark, “Not all of them are bad people, most are just braindead middle managers.”
“Are you getting cold feet, Timjamin?” Aurelia peered at the piece of paper on the table in front of him, being filled out with a fervor, “And when exactly did you become a red tape belt in paperwork?”
“Jack hated doing paperwork but didn’t want random people to do it for him. Always told me that I had a face he could trust. Har de har har.”
“Normally I foist it on another but this is such a tight operation. I miss my legion of butlers and maids, they’d do any damn thing I asked them to. But then again, so do you, don’t you?” she teased, wiping off the edge of the one of the glasses, filling it, and handing it over to him.
He didn’t hesitate to drink it, every Vault Hunter far too used to sharing food and drinks like this, “Gives me a purpose. Half the time I’m just wandering around aimlessly, waiting for a kind of mean woman to tell me what to do.”
She didn’t take the kind-of insult to heart, shrugging it off, “Seems like rescuing Angel and helping Athena and Nisha did as well.”
There was an edge jutting out from that though.
Tim grabbed it and pulled, “Don’t exactly sound happy about that, somehow.”
Pursing her lips tightly, Aurelia averted her eyes and slowly drained the contents of her glass before setting it down. Ignoring the cracks showing in her icy exterior as she asked, “Why didn’t any of you even try to get ahold of me? Athena and Nisha I understand, trapped down on Pandora with the signal blocker but you… you mentioned being up on Helios. I know the communications aren’t blocked from there. Jack couldn’t without crippling the whole operation.”
“I didn’t have your number or anythin-”
“I’m not a hard woman to find on the ECHOnet, Tim. I own a whole damn planet. My name’s plastered across many a site with my ECHOmail address. You don’t have an excuse. They do. Why?”
Maybe it was the wine but the ice cold edge was missing from Aurelia’s glare mostly she just looked…
Sad. An expression foreign on her normally stern face.
For a long time, Tim didn’t answer. Nothing but the sound of the pen scribbling frantically across documents, the sound of papers being ruffled.
Face starting to return to its usual sneer, she opened her mouth but was cut off.
“Didn’t think you’d want to see us again. Especially me. After, you know, what you said to Jack.”
He knew better than to flinch as she got up and walked over. Long, fur-edged robe dragging on the ground, pushed to the side so she could sit next to him. Posture perfect, Aurelia was one of very few people in Tim’s life where he had to look up to meet her eyes.
When he tried to pull away from her hand reaching out he got a sharp, open handed rap on the head.
This time he didn’t try to escape, just closing his eyes as sharp nails dug into the metal clasps. Feeling that familiar but never-not-weird of the clips clicking apart. One, two, five times.
Always made him picture his skin peeling off, stiff mask being removed. Held in perfectly manicured hands, royal blue nails stark against the sallow skin of the second face.
Aurelia looked down at it for a second, silently bracing herself before finally looking up at her longtime friend’s demolished face.
But she did look up, eventually. Taking in the embedded arch burned into his skull. Green eye gone, replaced by a pale, sickly looking empty ball. His freckles had returned but could barely be seen for the poorly shaved stubble covering his lower face.
“You’re not him, Timothy. I don’t blame you.”
“But he’s who you think of, when you look at me,” Tim tried to take the mask back.
Aurelia jerked it away though, up and across to her own couch in a heartbeat, staring down the offending thing, “When you wear this garish thing, initially, yes. But not when you don’t. You’re you under there, despite everything he’s done to you. So I’m confiscating this until I decide what to do with it.”
Now that he took umbrage with, “I’m not leaving withou-”
“Yes, you are,” Aurelia was calm, turning it over in her hands and examining the eyeholes with a curious gaze, “Your face is covered all the time anyway, no? Now finish that paperwork, unless you want to be stuck on this godforsaken rock for any longer than we need to.”
- - -
It was late into the night that Tim set down the final, completed piece of paperwork after hours of Aurelia talking his ear off. Took him back, reminded him of their time here working under Jack. Back then Aurelia had protested having a roommate but had caved with little effort.
Timothy had always correctly assumed she was a bit lonely.
But he wasn’t staying here this time, slinking back to his room afterwards.
Surprised to see Janey was still up when he cracked the door open and she was just as surprised to see him too. Largely because Aurelia had made good on her threat to keep his mask.
But even as the large, ugly arch on his face silently stared her down, Janey was determined to not react to it. She remembered too acutely the looks she’d gotten for her own scars, burned across the left side of her body. The pitied looks from the citizens of Concordia when she’d limped back alone, without Steph. All of them knowing.
So instead of any of the many questions burning in her mind she just offered, “Already watched this week’s episode of The Young and the Shieldless but there’s still some pizza left over, if you want.”
“Yeah, that sounds great,” Tim crashes onto the couch nearly hard enough to break it, accepting the plate handed to him, “So, did Antonio tell Francesca that he cheated on her or not? Did Santiago get there first?”
“Are you going to make me retell you the entire episode?”
“I mean, yeah. Unless you’re gonna rewatch it with me.”
Chapter 4: When Pieces Fall Apart
Gaige tugged frantically at the edge of the skirt that was all but clamping her legs together in a vice, “Are you sure we can’t just wear what we wore yesterday? I mean, it’s not like we’re supposed to be hired by them or something.”
“This is true but if you wish to be wandering about up there, the more you blend in the better,” Aurelia looked down in disdain at her own teal number, “Not that I don’t sympathize with you, my dear, this is… truly abominable… But the more one can mistake you two for the children of bigwigs, the better.”
“I mean, technically I am,” Angel pulled her bangs down more firmly against her head as she gazed into her reflection on the glass wall, “But that’s actually worse for me.”
“Yes, perhaps pretend more of a braindead middle manager is your father. Not the leader of the whole shebang,” Aurelia gestured for them to follow, “Come along now, the shuttle is a couple platforms down. If we’re late they’ll leave without us and if I have to fill out all those forms again I will airlock myself to the cold embrace of the grave without hesitation.”
Timothy lagged behind, warily looking around behind the new mask. Despite his face still being covered he felt weird without the one that latched so much closer to his face. Whatever Aurelia had done with it, he wasn’t able to locate it stealthily in the time she’d taken to get ready.
He felt a pang of guilt remembering that. With Jack he’d done a lot of shit but somehow breaking into a dear friend’s room stung more.
Man, his priorities were fucked up.
Something else was bugging him too, another weird void in this situation.
While Janey had been privy to their meetings his initial thought had been correct.
Janey wasn’t coming with.
Even though it was a mercy that the poor, average, normal woman wasn’t being dragged along on such a dangerous meeting but the look on her face when Aurelia told her she was staying behind... No amount of Aurelia insisting that she could order whatever she wants from room service was turning that around.
Had to be hard, you know. Being on the edges of danger without ever being able to affect it.
Shaking his head, Tim couldn’t think about that too much though. Piling onto the shuttle he tried to push Janey out of his mind to focus on the mission.
At least she’d be at the celebration afterwards.
- - -
Arrival was uneventful but boring as hell. Gaige leaning against the barrier between lines as Aurelia filled out yet more paperwork. Immaculate eyebrows tightly knit as she furiously mumbled under her breath about these suffocating bureaucrats and how she’d like to give them a taste of their own medicine.
The disguises were working, initially at least. Angel and Tim in particular were rather modified, having to hide their bodies a bit more. Tim wearing a featureless full mask and a Hyperion suit with his long hair tied into a neat bun high on his head. Angel wearing long sleeves and this horribly itchy makeup to hide her tattoos.
It was making her want to claw her skin off.
“Sooo, you know all the cool spots on Helios?” Gaige grinned at her girlfriend, “Or are we gonna have a fun time getting lost?”
“We’re going to have a fun time getting lost,” Angel shrugged, “With some minimal guidance.”
Young and socially-dumb, Gaige didn’t catch the way Angel’d begun to wrap around herself as some realities set in. Arms crossed firmly in front of her as she started to pale a bit at the ugly yellow architecture. Too familiar. Too close.
So Gaige just pushed on, “We should like, talk in weird accents and see if we can get people to buy it. Oh, hey! You know what people from Eden-6 sound like? Hit ‘em with that, see if we can convince them we’re swamp witches. Gonna put a curse on ‘em.”
“Look, I just want to keep my head down,” Angel snapped back at her, hands digging into her own strong arms, “Can you cool it with the whole… I don’t want to call any attention to us up here.”
Wilting, Gaige’s face dropped, “I… okay. We’re still… going to go on a date, right? A lowkey one?”
Trying to smooth down the sharp edges beginning to poke up, Angel nodded guiltily, “Yeah, sorry. We’ll… just maybe take a tour or something. Blend in, break off if we see something fun.”
She didn’t want to wander, made sense.
“We’ll have fun,” Gaige promised, “Nobody will even look at us unless they think it’s because we’re like, the cutest couple ever.”
Angel forced a smile at that but deep down she knew there wasn’t much in the way of happy, healthy couples up on Helios. Mostly just terrifying power couples that refused to so much as hint that they held hands.
But even that wasn’t afforded to them as Aurelia waved them over.
She had only one second to impart the disappointing news on them, “We’re not able to split up the group, you’ll be coming with me. My apologies.”
“But you said-” Gaige started, voice too loud as Angel’s grip on her arm tightened and she quieted down, “But you said we could walk around.”
“Well, now you can’t,” Aurelia flicked her eyes up to the man ahead, “If you think I’m any more happy about it than you, you’d be incorrect. They’re on high alert for some reason and I had to just label all of you as my entourage, unfortunately.”
“I don’t like this,” Tim looked back towards the shuttle, “I think we should just turn around and leav-”
“Timothy, that’s your answer to everything,” Aurelia turned and followed their guide, feeling the sharpest spike of deja vu. This exact same sentence he’d said in nearly the exact same spot, three or four years ago.
He certainly hadn’t changed much on that angle.
Angel wouldn’t admit it out loud but being glued to the Vault Hunters’ sides was something of a comfort. Two-thirds as much protection although she didn’t quite relish the idea of being at the heart of things.
As they walked she put out some proverbial feelers, letting her powers take over just a bit. She never quite knew how to put them into words but she could hear the machines whispering to her. All of Helios a twisting mass of different electronics all calling out to her.
She never knew what they wanted but she could feel them nonetheless.
One was loud though, insistent on something that Angel could not place. Almost…
Sad. It felt sad and lonely and desolate.
Blanching, Angel looked a bit like she had before they’d gotten her bulked up and healthy. Pale and sickly and like she was going to pass out from the odd, suffocating force that nobody but her could sense.
Meant she couldn’t say anything either.
But she wasn’t able to think about that for long as their narrow hallway opened up into the main hub of Hyperion, a giant room punctuated in the middle by a colossal statue of Jack looming in the center. Hundreds and hundreds of worker bees milling about like they weren’t a cog in the machine keeping Pandora under lock.
Why had they even kept up the blockade? No messages, no travel…
When this was all over, could she see other planets? She’d only ever seen them in pictures on the ECHOnet. The giant looming trees of Eden-6, sprawling glowing cities of Promethea, the calm and peace of Athenas…
Maybe she could even convince Athena and Nisha to come with her, let them have a vacation. Take Athena to Athenas, make some dumb joke about her name being on it…
Nearly running into Aurelia’s back, Angel was pulled out of her thoughts. Gently tugged out of the way by Gaige so that their elders could go in first. Definitely not being used as human shields.
The small conference room felt suffocating compared to the spacious hub, them being crowded into it.
Suddenly, Angel felt acutely aware that she had no idea what their actual business was there. I mean, she knew about taking down Helios. What she didn’t know about was the convoluted lie that Aurelia had spun to get them up here.
Sneaking a look at Aurelia, she could see the woman was worried about the same thing.
- - -
Things only got more and more awkward as the conversation, no the interrogation, went on.
True to herself, Aurelia stayed perfectly cool as if the ice under her feet wasn’t too thin and showing cracks.
But even Angel with her shakey concept of what they were doing there could tell that this was definitely not the business that was to be expected. Instead of business terms and astronomical numbers it was all questions that dug deep past the skin.
Their interrogator was flanked by bodyguards on each side, both of them seemed to know more just like the man in front of them. Eyes floating past Aurelia and landing on the man next to her. Hunched over and pretending he was anywhere but here.
The girls too. Suddenly their disguises felt paper thin, even Gaige in the uncharacteristic suit. Red hair put up in a rather dignified bun and fake glasses glinting over her eyes. Pantyhose already ripped, unintentional and clumsy.
One thing and one thing only echoed in Angel’s mind.
Timothy was right and they should have gotten out when they had the chance.
It happened all at once.
Where Aurelia had been resting her arms on the plush chair she found herself trapped as metal restraints zipped out and clicked tightly into place.
Instantly, she commanded them, “SCATTER.”
The other chairs missed their marks for various reasons. Angel too fast for them, Gaige’s thin wrists letting her pull them out in time. Tim nailed by the left but not the right, terrifyingly just cracking it off to freedom. Breaking the chair like it was a brittle toy.
As the first bodyguard reacted, Aurelia nailed him with a sharp kick that sent her chair rolling backwards. Growling at her diadem trapped against her wrist, letting the ice build up around her hand menacingly but unfortunately the effort was futile.
Backing into the corner, Gaige went to raise her arm stopped by-
Angel’s voice was frantic, “It’s too small for Deathtrap in here!”
“What else am I supposed to d-” Gaige’s question was cut short by the handcuff clanked onto her metal arm with a sharp, disabling ‘zap!’ noise. Easily snapping her arms together, electricity crackling between them. Her voice panicking, “Run!”
Shoved away as she reached out her hands, Angel slammed to the ground but recovered in record time. Practically on all fours like an animal she managed to snake out the door despite the security rushing towards it.
Perhaps they would have caught her, had she not unintentionally started a corporate stampede. Disappearing among the crowd with her hunched over run. Hidden among a mass of black and yellow.
Her mind was racing though and that’s damned electronic voice kept calling out to her still.
Like she didn’t have other things to worry about.
- - -
Angel wasn’t the only one who had gotten away and the other person didn’t feel any better about it.
Unlike the others, he was still relatively free to fight back. Not caught by surprise like Aurelia or young and unsure like Gaige. Also, he was relatively certain that they’re attacked in a specific order to take out the most dangerous members first.
Jack had never taken him seriously, after all. His dossier probably said “coward, won’t fight back.”
But Jack’d never seen him against someone, something he wasn’t afraid of. Piles of knocked out or possibly dead bodies started littering the ground.
Numbers were not on his side though as Hyperion guards started banging on the door, threatening to pour in at any second, the idea of simply overpowering them feeling daunting knowing how many would be waiting outside.
Aurelia. Crackling of ice creeping up her arm and encasing the chair making him turn to her. Just break the armrest, towards her, don’t hit her body or bend the arm the wrong way, just-
“Are you a blithering idiot?! Get OUT,” Aurelia shouted at him, nailing him in the hip with another kick, “What good is it if we’re ALL captured?! Go find Angel, it’s not like they’re going to be able to take me out.”
She didn’t even have to answer, just giving him a sharp and pointed glare.
Mouth a grim line, Tim nodded.
Already hearing them running to the door, he beat them to the punch. Or rather, the kick. Bursting the door open and knocking over a bunch like heavily armed dominos before bolting in the opposite direction.
Acting like the rain of bullets in his general direction wasn’t terrifying.
Looking around he couldn’t even begin to guess at what direction Angel had taken but he could certainly see which one he was. Zeroing in on the small gaggle of confused body doubles being forced along the tide of panicked corporate shills.
He was trying with all of his might not to feel like a lion stalking an antelope as he shoved through the crowd towards them, targeting the slightly shorter, slightly slower one lagging behind. All too easy to hook an arm around him and drag him off.
Gunfire was still going off around outside, Tim not sure what the hell they were shooting at but not really wanting to know.
Tim tried to shove down the dark feeling in his gut as he noticed the body double wasn’t even trying to fight him. Frozen like a caught rabbit, hands clutching at his arm and staring up with scared eyes.
They matched. Tim knew Jack hadn’t been nearly as thorough with his other body doubles but the touch of difference and humanity was reminding him that the other double was, in fact, an innocent person.
Damn it, couldn’t Jack have had some semblance of quality control?
Scaling back the intimidating, Tim offered the ultimatum, “If you do what I tell you, I’ll let you go.”
The double nodded, fearfully and frantically.