Chapter 1: Renaissance
Rhys proceeded slowly on the illuminated path. Beyond the soft glow everything was dark and unknown. Rhys felt obliged to continue, as if something was waiting for him at the very end and after an inconceivable amount of time, he could finally spot the end of the monotonous road. A red gate was opened wide before him, the immense light from within made his eyes burns, making it difficult to see beyond. Rhys decided to continue walking, his eyes partially closed due to the radiating colors. When he opened them again, he found himself in a vast garden that seemed endless. There were lots of flowers and colorful bushes, but the only tree was the one in front of him. An olive tree, it was incredibly tall and of a glowing green, its branches extended with such a strange array that they intertwined themselves one with the other. Its fruit was barely visible, probably still growing. Rhys relaxed in the pure and light scent of the atmosphere. It wasn’t long after that his peaceful meditation was disturbed by a repetitive sound, irritating and loud. With the approaching of the noise everything began fading and to his displeasure he woke up in a familiar room.
Rhys growled into his pillow and hid his face in it before sighing. He hadn’t had strange dreams like that in ages but Yvette had always told him that every dream had a meaning behind it. He promised himself that he would look it up on the web later.
After many minutes passed he was finally able to sit up in bed and stretch. He immediately eyed the motivational poster in front of his bed- the one with Handsome Jack situated on a throne in the middle of Pandora’s desert wasteland. Jack’s smile was intense and penetrating, almost creepy to look at first thing in the morning. Rhys made a mental note to swap it with something a little less intimidating later. After putting on his third favorite pair of socks, (the blue ones with the yellow H on the front) he trotted towards the bathroom, yawning and scratching his back a bit. He definitely needed more sleep, probably a side effect of last nights horror film marathon with Vaughn. Thinking about that last film with the giant spiders still sent shivers down his spine.
After taking a shower and adjusting his hair it was time to eat something. He didn’t really like eating this early in the morning but last time he skipped breakfast he’d found himself almost fainting two hours later in the hallway at work. That was definitely his body telling him to be more mindful about meals without any room for arguing.
As he was munching on some toast with grapefruit jam he glanced at his watch. It was still 8:40 am, he wasn’t late. With that in mind he decided to prepare some food for his best friend who was going to be up soon. Thank god they had different timetables or they would have had a problem with only one bathroom.
At 9 o’clock he entered his workplace and made his way to the Information Security department where he spent his days mostly maintaining Helios’ firewalls and patching bugs all around the station. The exciting part about his job was that he had time for research and data mining with his access and at the moment he was working on an application that gathered data from the shops on Helios and sent daily statistics to the shop’s owners. While others seemed to always rely on Pandora and Eridium to make money he was probably the only one thinking about business on Helios first. They had lots of stores and markets and since everyone on Helios spent their money in them it wasn’t really a bad idea trying to improve local business.
The morning passed quickly- his job wasn’t particularly difficult but that was mostly thanks to his echo eye and his robotic arm. He didn’t really have a choice about the arm since he’d been injured in an incident that had crippled him. Without his leading arm he couldn’t really work so he got the arm with the assistance of his insurance payout. During that period he also began reading about robotics and found out about the Echo-eye implants that could really be a boon for his kind of work. He had plans to get promoted and become head of the department and so it seemed like a perfect fit. Unfortunately, Mr. Henderson was still his boss and his promotion still seemed distant.
“Still dreaming about that promotion huh, robo-boy?”
Rhys quickly opened his eyes, he wasn’t even day-dreaming or thinking, he was very nearly sleeping but saw no need to let Assquez know that.
“No, just thinking about what to eat for dinner.” His robotic hand traveled through his hair as he lied to his co-worker.
“See? You’re not gonna climb the ranks with that attitude. You should focus on your work- like me.”
“Then why are you even at my desk? There’s still a pile of papers on yours and if I can see them from here.. There must be a LOT.” Bam, shots fired!
“Uuh, just checking on you, you know. I have to report Mr. Henderson if someone’s slacking.” His voice became hoarse as he tried to recover from Rhys’ sick burn.
“Even if I wear glasses that doesn’t mean I can’t see clearly for myself.” Just like always, Henderson stormed out of his office with perfect timing. He seemed stressed and had a thick project folder under his arm but that didn’t stop him from scolding Vasquez for the hundredth time.
“I want those documents filed before this evening, Hugo. And we need a preview of that presentation, Matthew. Let Rhys help you with that data from the last two months, we need to impress our CEO with this and I need you to give it your best.” After he finished assigning tasks he seemed content to leave the department. Soon everyone got up and surrounded Matthew, checking in on how was his work was going.
Rhys didn’t need to join them, he had received a copy of the early draft version of the presentation just the day before. Collecting data wasn’t a hard job, he just had to re-read some papers and watch instructional videos for the experimental system that they had been trying to implement on a base down on Pandora.
Henderson wasn’t wrong; impressing Handsome Jack was not an easy task, in fact Jack was the one who had developed the entire security system on Helios and he had done a pretty impressive job.
“Oh my god Matthew, this is full of typos! I will have to proof it when you’re finished.” Diana’s strained voice echoed through the room. She was really good at writing, in fact, Rhys wasn’t even sure how she ended up in their field instead of something more focused on communication or copy-editing.
Noon came quickly and Rhys met with Vaughn at their usual spot in the cafeteria. They didn’t really have any time or the will to cook every day so they usually ate there.They ordered the special dish of the day; a strange fish found in some of Pandora’s lakes.
“So,” Vaughn asked, his mouth full of half-chewed food, ”how was work today? Getting on Henderson’s good side,yet?”
“Don’t talk while you’re eating.” Rhys let out an exasperated sigh. “And no, still no signs of any promotions. But we’re working on a big project- there isn’t really any time to think about it.”
“Understood. And that girl from the club- have you talked to her?”
Rhys suddenly remembered that girl who had hit on him the other evening when they were partying for Yvette’s birthday. “Bro, for the third time, I don’t really like her and her sassy attitude.” Rhys took a bite of his lunch. Despite the odd color of the fish (a strange shade of pink) it wasn’t that bad; it was tender and had a somewhat spicy taste to it.
“But she was so hot, bro! And she looked like she was really into you.”
“She was drunk,” Rhys corrected. “She probably doesn’t even remember giving me her number,” Rhys added bitterly, but he was used to having bad luck with the ladies.
“That’s... sad. So uh, changing subjects! Are we going to that Halloween party next Sunday?”
“Yeah, bro. I mean, I hope Henderson will find our project interesting enough to be sent to Handsome Jack. Otherwise, I will be enjoying the party from my office, busy with rewriting everything from the start.”
“He probably will, bro. Or well, I hope he does. If not, I will enjoy wearing your clothes and socks for the time being.”
“You’re not touching my socks bro, I swear I’m bringing them with me at work instead of leaving you alone with them.” They were limited edition and he definitely didn't want to leave them in wrong hands even if Vaughn is his best friend- he really didn't trust him in the area of taking care of nice clothing. He would never forget the travesty of Vaughn’s last white shirt- lost to the woes of straining from peach-flavored ice cream.
They continued joking for a while until Vaughn became more serious and lowered his voice so that only Rhys could hear him. “Bro, I got some gossip for you, big affairs.”
“There are some rumors saying that Handsome Jack is- in reality- not Handsome Jack anymore,” Vaughn added with a scary tone, he really had a knack for drama.
“What does that even mean?”
“He might not be... human.”
Rhys arched his eyebrow. Of all the gossip he had to listen to, this was definitely the silliest. “So what, our CEO is an alien or something?”
“Nono... Worse. Some believe that he is... a giant spider.” As Vaughn whispered the last three words, Rhys couldn’t help but think about that horrible movie from last night. It was like the spiders were right there, tickling him.
Actually, if he wasn’t mistaken it did feel as if something was crawling on him.
“OH MY GOD.” Rhys quickly got up, flailing his arms only to find that there weren’t any spiders but it was in fact Yvette behind him, she’d been the one tickling him with a devious grin.
The other two looked at each other and cracked up.
“I can’t believe how evil you two are.” Rhys pouted. ”I’m going back to work.”
“Awww, Rhys! Don’t be mad- you’re so cute when you’re scared!” Yvette tickled him again on the back of his neck and Rhys sighed. Those two would definitely be the death of him with their sense of humor.
“Seriously, I have to go guys. Are we meeting tonight at the pub?”
“Sure. But you’re buying! See you guys later.” Yvette fled, intent to avoid paying, again.
Rhys’ afternoon carried on normally enough after that, but Mr. Henderson had been oddly absent.
Vasquez and Diana began gossiping about Henderson being in some strange affair and Matthew had tried to shut them down.
The loud chatter of the office slowed to a stop the moment the lights started to flicker and finally dim into the low red glow of backup power while many echo devices began ringing, beeping, and vibrating with notifications all at once. The friendly (by Hyperion standards) atmosphere died away completely when a booming, angry voice filled the room via intercom informed them that they were currently experiencing a cyber attack and as it turned out the CEO wasn't very happy about that.
“Sir, we can't stop the virus- it’s spreading on every system on Helios and we can't seem to find the source computer that’s coordinating the attack on our networks.”
“Then I would suggest trying harder and Oh- I dunno, doing your jobs, you useless code monkeys,” the voice on the intercom added with growing irritation.
“We’ll do another scan, sir, but we need more time to assess the situation.”
“There is no time, you idiot! Figure out what this is and contain it, in like 10 minutes if you want to keep breathing because if this thing doesn’t cut off your life support I will personally vent your entire department.” Handsome Jack’s voice echoed across the office making every employee all the more anxious.
Rhys, who had been sitting in the a far corner with a laptop on his lap, complained quietly under his breath- searching for the breach was hard enough without having to listen to his CEO’s threats and tantrum on top of things. It was a multi-pronged attack, on one hand many devices were overwhelming the servers with junk requests slowing down internal communications while other systems had been knocked completely off-line and would need a manual restart once the source commands were cut off. He needed to find the control of the virus to stop the barrage of data and give those vital systems a chance to get back online so the whole of Helios wouldn’t freeze or suffocate in their offices if it took down any other vital station systems.
“Attention please, we are under attack. I repeat we are currently experiencing a cyber attack. All employees must report any suspicious activity to the nearest supervisor. We suggest that any Information Securities personnel join our researchers and report immediately to our security line should they have any information on the current breach.” It was the twentieth time now that the oddly flat yet cheery voice had repeated the message. The entire station was tense and many workers in the other departments were gathering around Information Securities just to watch them scurry around in panic.
“Rhys, look at this! This hacker must be a good one; I tried tracking the signal back to origin but it shows me millions of locations from all around Helios, Pandora and even Eden 5.” Steven, the one seated in the desk next to him, was fully immersed in his findings and was already overreacting.
A gasp echoed through the room and the others began whispering.
“We have to channel the traffic elsewhere. Otherwise any attempts to get us back online will be a losing battle” Vasquez for once seemed truly focused on his task, Rhys assumed he was thinking about a promotion as a reward for the source of the breach- just as Rhys himself was doing.
He quickly searched for a map of Helios in order to localize all the possible places where the hacker could have had physical access to a terminal with sufficient permissions to get into all these systems. There was Henderson’s office of course; he had a computer which provided all the necessary permissions and information. There was also an office on an upper floor which seemed to belong to a series of high ranked personnel, probably in charge of communication and exchanges with admin level access. The other possible places were on an even higher floor- unreachable to most since they were generally highly secured.
Everyone seemed to be concentrated on discovering how to cut off the botnet slowing down their movements so they could find out more. Rhys decided to investigate more on how the hacker had gotten in and locating their point of entry and maybe the hacker themself (if they were even still on Helios). He quickly made his way to the nearest elevator and hit the button to go up to the easier-to-access upper floor finding that, to his frustration, the station was on lockdown and he needed permission and proper identification to go where he needed; so he made a call to the office on the 14th floor, just like the alarm message had instructed.
He was waiting in queue for what seemed like ages (something he could thank the breach for, he supposed) before he could finally speak with someone.
“Felix 011 speaking, have you got any information for us, worker n.3457, also known as,” a pause and Rhys knew what was coming next, ”...Rice?” Well, at least Rice was less embarassing than Felix 011. What kind of a code name was that?
For a moment he’d also thought it had been a robot who had picked up his call but after hearing the pause between the number and absolute mess they had made of his name (never mind the confused tone) he got the confirmation that it was, in fact, a real human or at least a properly synthesized A.I. on the other line.
“Oh yeah. It's Rhys. I'm in Information Securities. Hm, you probably already know there are a number of places where the hacker could have had access to the right information, but can you verify this office; I'm sending you the position.” Thanks to his echo eye, it was pretty easy to share locations and stuff while being on a call with someone, even with the slowed network connectivity. He sent it immediately, not waiting for a response. “My colleagues are trying to minimize damage, so I wanted to pinpoint how this happened while they get things under control. Having poked around with my echo eye I have reason to believe it’s on your floor.”
“Oh yeah! You're the one with the eye! Good idea, Rhys, I'm dealing with lots of calls right now so I’m gonna be quick and up your permissions. Your position is being monitored, so uh, good luck!”
The tell-tale click signaled the call had ended as another notification- not a garbage message this time- informed him that he now had permission to go almost anywhere on Helios, now that was something he probably couldn't have done normally, but they were probably so desperate they had been vague in granting permissions. Or maybe it was because of his echo eye? It was directly connected to the Hyperion network and could be monitored by someone high in the ranks, if he tried to do something suspicious they would know and be able to find him easily.
As the doors finally opened, some well-dressed business people stormed out, seemingly overjoyed to have been released from the elevator that had been their tiny prison and in their rush nearly made Rhys lose his balance. They didn't even stop to apologize but he couldn't blame them.
Some networks on Helios were currently offline, overwhelmed with traffic and the culprit was probably thinking about money in ransom to stop the attack or maybe worse, leaving the company offline for weeks or more in order to cripple the business. It was definitely a bad situation either way.
The elevator stopped and Rhys quickly followed the map on his echoarm to navigate the maze of empty offices. After a few turns he found himself in front of a large wooden door of which he entered without knocking. He was caught off guard by the bizarre array of furniture. There was a big, black wooden table in the middle of the room. Behind it, a strange cubic table with two red led lamps on it and a computer in the middle. At the right side of the room there were some pink colored armchairs and a strange metallic door that lead to an adjacent room. He wasn't used to see much colors in his workplace, his office was grey, boring and dull. This, instead, was on a whole new level. However, it was odd that nobody was currently here, especially since the door hadn’t even been locked.
As he began scanning his surroundings with his echo eye a strong headache hit him.
“Ugh, what the..!” A strange signal was interfering with his echo eye beyond the constant spammy messages. In fact, everything went blurry and some actual error messages popped up. There had to be something generating the field that was interfering with his system’s function. It was strange though, since that kind of technology was not allowed outside the experimental labs.
Rhys tried to recalibrate his systems to account for this unexpected input and track the signal, but before having the time to do so, he heard a muffled voice coming from the other room. As he slunk over to the wall, pressing an ear to it, the voice became clearer.
“No sir, the station is on lockdown and the hanger has been locked up tight- I’ll need more access to get those doors open. I'm sending you all the files but it may take a while, there’s a lot here and the network has been slowed with our attack- it’d be so much faster if I could just hand you this damn drive,” complained the voice.
Okay, something was definitely fishy and it wasn't Rhys’ lunch from earlier in the day. But he had a plan and his plans were always great.
He sent Vaughn a message with a brief overview of the situation and asked him to inform someone of his current position. As the message went out, he got up and peeked through the door: a tall brown haired man was typing furiously on a strange echo device- that was definitely something not from Helios. Rhys was relieved to note that the weird signal had been turned off at some point as his vision wasn't glitching anymore.
It was only when he had crept into the room and closed the door behind him that he noticed that the man was carrying a gun. And not an Hyperion one, it looked like... Jakobs? Okay, now he was definitely scared. Of all the things he had done for this promotion, trying to catch- alone, a corporate spy from another company in-person was the worst by far.
Now Rhys, he thought to himself, try to remember those boring 5 hour courses on defense that you had to take for a week before coming to Helios.
To his dismay, someone shouted from the hallway and the sudden noise caused the intruder to flinch and turn around.
“Oh,” was the only thing Rhys could think to say as they made eye contact. This was definitely a bad situation. Rhys lifted his hands up to note that he was unarmed and tried to back towards the door.
“No, no- stay put.” The culprit motioned with his gun. “You're definitely a lucky surprise, I was just looking for someone who could help me escape this goddamn space station.” He typed some more on his little device and turned it off afterward.
“U-uh.. I don't think you’ll get out of here easily.” Rhys’ shaking voice betrayed his own lack of confidence in the situation and the hacker began giggling.
“Oh no, man, don’t you worry about that. I'm gonna get outta here and I'm gonna do it now.” he added as his fist collided with the table making Rhys startle.
“So, give me the super password for the hangar... Or nerd stuff like that. I dunno, authorization or something?”
How could guy as dumb as this enter Helios and bring it to its knees without being caught?
“I-I don't have that kind of access... I'm just a middle-manager?” That sounded a little less lame in his head.
“For fuck's sake, of all the guys working on on this station it had to be a NOBODY who wandered in here?!” The man began raging against the desk, throwing everything on the ground and roaring insults.
It was an embarrassing situation and Rhys didn't really know who of them was lamer.
The man even threw a lamp against the window and thank god Handsome Jack had demanded double reinforced windows after what happened with the vault monster’s eye back when the station was still under construction or they would have had a problem here.
In the middle of the other’s tantrum Rhys remembered that he’d informed Vaughn of his position. Knowing that, he felt a little better- he just had to stall for time and try not to get killed until then.
Distracted by his thoughts, Rhys had not realized the man had actually calmed at some point and was now rummaging through a leather bag. “Let’s go, legs; you lead the way.”
The man shoved Rhys by the shoulder and he felt something cold and metallic pressed against his head.
“Make any sudden moves and I won’t hesitate to shoot you.”
“B-but.. we’ll get caught as soon as any security checkpoint scans us!” No no, this is bad; he’d have to convince the man to stay put for at least five more minutes.
“That's why we’ll use this little trick.”
A low click echoed through the room. Rhys hadn’t really had time to ask about it because he immediately collapsed to his knees in agony, his hands pressed to his temples and pained tears forming in his eyes.
It was the same signal generator from earlier and being so close to it was overwhelming.
“What the fuck..?!” It didn't take long for the man to realize that Rhys had cybernetics embedded into the side of his head and it didn't take much for him to get the wrong idea about those.
“What?! You've got a tracker in your head? Or is that a camera? Fuck, either way, I'm screwed!” A knee collided with Rhys’ jaw, the force driving him into the wall. “FUCK YOU” screamed the spy, aiming kick after kick to his stomach, forcing the air from Rhys’ lungs.
The last thing Rhys saw before blacking out was a light coming from the door and someone shouting at his attacker.
Chapter 2: Still a long way to go
Rhys’ eyes were heavy and hesitant when he opened them again a while later in a completely different location than he last remembered being. Despite a strong light coming from one ceiling fixture and making his human eye burn, he noticed that he was no longer held hostage by the intruder.
The room was completely white, except for a single, black plastic chair situated next to the very uncomfortable bed he was lying with a stiff, old mattress. At least he seemed to have lots of bedding- he had always been sensitive to the cold which was another reason why he liked being on a space station free of seasons and weather changes.
The instant he tried to sit up on the bed an intense pain tore through his chest, halting his progress and returning him to his previous position. He growled a little in frustration as he felt his body weak and tense and his head felt like it was spinning, a sudden vertigo overwhelming him.
“Sir, can you hear me?” The sudden appearance of a woman spooked him but he was glad to find he wasn’t alone since he wanted to know what had happened and he found himself really anxious about it. Judging by her medical gloves and the stethoscope that was hanging down her neck, she was a nurse. She was a redhead with big, green doe eyes and freckles sprinkled across her nose, definitely what Rhys would consider a dream girl except that this wasn't a dream and Rhys wasn't in any position to even think about flirting. Not that in any other situation he would have done that- he thought himself terribly shy and came off as goofy with his long, uncoordinated limbs.
“Yeah.. I tried to sit up but apparently my body had other plans.” He tried to reach his hair and comb a hand through it like he always did when he felt embarrassed but was immediately stopped by the girl.
“You were brought here by our CEO’s PA; they told us someone was pretty viciously assaulting you and you lost consciousness.” Her warm hands released him once she made sure Rhys wasn't trying to move anymore.
“We are still waiting for some final results but the doctors don’t think anything is broken.” Another woman at the door whispered something and the nurse above him collected herself and got up from the chair, smiling warmly at Rhys, a reassuring aura surrounding her.
“Try to relax a bit and limit your movements, we applied an oil that will reduce the swelling of your bruises and improve blood circulation to encourage a speedy recovery.” As she made her way out the door, Rhys sighed and stared up at the white ceiling, some thoughts passing through his mind. Handsome Jack was probably angry about the fact that he hadn't called for any help and instead had gone right for the hacker unarmed and alone. Did they even catch him? Rhys’ mind returned back to the present when new voices echoed through the room and Rhys found himself hoping that they were actually Hyperion soldiers.
His wandering thoughts came to an end as yet another woman entered his room, this time not a nurse judging by her clothes; a knee length grey skirt with a white blouse that was buttoned modestly to the top. She had short blonde hair and a pair of sleepy blue eyes that did nothing to hide her lack of enthusiasm.
“Rhys, am I right?” Her voice was familiar but he hadn't really got the time to think about it.
“Yeah that’s me, so uh- who are you?” He didn't want to sound impolite, but he’d had a very strange day and wasn't in the mood for additional weirdness.
“Handsome Jack’s personal assistant, my name’s Felicity. I'm not here to be thanked; I have to give you an important message- it's about what happened earlier.” Rhys nodded quietly, his heart was beating fast, a very real fear of the possibility of a punishment for his rash actions.
“Regarding the disturbance earlier today, our CEO’s last decisi-” She began reading what appeared to be some pretty important papers (judging from the many covers, quality, and weight of the paper) only to be interrupted by another figure storming in the room- for what Rhys assumed to be a hospital room there was a lot of traffic in this small space.
“Woah Felicity, stop right there. You're not reading with the proper tone .” Rhys range of vision couldn't quite reach Rhys’ newest guest at first, but as the man made his way to the bed, Rhys understood immediately who he was in the room with.
“Why are we even reading this junk in the first place when I can personally use my own, super attractive voice?” Handsome Jack appeared in front of him- the real one. In any other situation Rhys would have asked for an autograph or something (he was quite a fan of him) but at the moment he was frightened of what was going to happen, of what punishment his CEO had in mind for him.
“So Rice...” there was a pause where Rhys heard the documents held by Felicity being handed off to Jack. “No- Rhys . Let’s talk about what happened.”
“S-Sir, I'm really sorry. I should have called for help sooner, I shouldn't ha-”
“Woah woah stop, enough already- I'm not here to scold you. Cupcake, you did great . Except for the part where that criminal beat the hell out of you; that's really not something to be proud of.” He coughed a little, pacing at the foot of Rhys’ bed over and over again, making him almost nauseous from a mixture of fear and disorientation.
“But what I like about you... no, not in that sense. About your actions- Yeah- what got my attention is that you had the guts to make a decision without even thinking about what could have happened to you.”
Rhys wasn't following the man’s discourse anymore, he was probably still under some effects from medication and was finding it really hard to understand Jack’s fast and constant chatter.
“-and you know here on Helios we have lots of workers and most of them are all brain and no balls..” Jack stopped his monologue to take a look at his captive audience who was staring intently at the ceiling with a yawn escaping his lips. Good thing Jack was in a fantastic mood otherwise he would have ripped into the kid.
“Are you listening to me, cupcake?” In response, Rhys mumbled something under his breath and closed his eyes, his body slowing drifting into unconsciousness.
“Whatever, I want you to be an icon for the peons. Show up at my office on Monday- you will be working directly with this handsome guy.” More than that, Rhys couldn’t make out from the low, distant voice of his CEO discussing something with, presumably someone else.
Rhys didn't really understand how he ended up in this situation but apparently he had gotten into Handsome Jack's personal team and good graces. Most of the other members were currently down on Pandora where they tended to stay with only one other lingering on Helios- that woman, Felicity who had been interrupted by Jack back at the hospital, his PA, and she seemed really delighted to find that Rhys would be working with her.
“You know Rhys, doing this job all on my own has been some kind of hell. For a short while we had another working here but... He tried to steal one of Jack’s projects and you know- he got what he deserved.”
Rhys scratched his head, a worried frown mixed with confusion was clear on his face. Seeing Felicity as a normal, flesh and blood woman was still a little bit weird. Everyone on the station believed she was just an A.I. But really, this wasn’t even the strangest thing on Helios.
“Uhm, Felicity, do you have any advice on things I should keep in mind when working with him?” Better safe than sorry.
“Oh boy, I didn't want to scare you- for what it’s worth I can tell from your files that you are well-suited for this position and you don’t seem the type who would easily get on Jack’s nerves. You are kind, reserved, and you don't look like a fool who would steal from his murderous boss.” Felicity patted him on the shoulder and looked him straight in the eyes, her tone becoming serious. “However, keep in mind not to talk about his family. That's a dangerous topic, once an employee mentioned his wife and...” She didn’t need to finish her warning, her grim expression was all he needed to see to understand what had happened.
“And.. Oh god I know this might sound stupid but, even if he gets flirty, and he probably will- don’t get too attached?” She slowly pressed the palm of her hand to her forehead, an exasperated sigh escaping her lips. “We had this woman before who assumed she was exclusive with Handsome Jack and if you look hard enough maybe you can still find her floating between the planets.”
Rhys found himself blushing from even considering falling in love with someone like Handsome Jack. First of all he wasn't interested in men, second- he wasn't interested in men who could kill him without hesitation if he failed to perfectly meet all of his ridiculously high expectations. And the third and most important thing- Rhys was serious about staying professional in his workplace and knew better than to even think about that possibility. Even if Jack was one of the sexiest women in the six galaxies, Rhys knew better than to act on desires that could compromise his rise up Hyperion’s ladder.
Unfortunately for Rhys, his words didn’t come out that way. “I wouldn't fall for him even if he was the last human being on this space station, Felicity, I swear.”
“Are you sure about that, pumpkin?” Handsome Jack took that moment to saunter out of the elevator and eye them both with a look of superiority as he struck his classic heroic pose.
And yeah, that was the best timing for that, Rhys. Good job , Rhys berated himself internally.
Felicity grinned and turned to Jack, her hands swiping through some documents on her tablet and Rhys wanted to jump right out the window and never show himself in front of his CEO again. It was his first day on the job and he’d already said something stupid- and offensive, to his boss.
“Sir, today's schedule is boring but important; you have a meeting with Tediore about that new gun prototype collaboration and in the afternoon you need to meet with R&D to go over their newest project proposals.” Felicity’s tone was plain and lifeless, it was like hearing a machine speaking. Rhys made a mental note to follow her lead and not show too many emotions with Jack.
“Oh god damn it, Felicity, why do I have to listen to all these idiots ramble on about their inventions? I'm going to die from boredom... or someone else will.” Jack sighed heavily. Rhys had already seen his CEO’s annoyance with meetings and he was unsure how someone could be so childish and still have so much power in their hands.
“Please sir, don't- those are our last proficient scientists and we have no assurance that any replacements will be any less ‘boring’.”
“I guess you're right. You- cupcake”, Jack gestured at Rhys, ”come with me.” He commanded as he stalked towards the giant metal door leading to his office.
Rhys swallowed nervously and threw a fearful look at Felicity who only answered with a smile and a nod of her head. The door before them opened slowly, revealing a dramatically lit room dominated by grand statues and trickling waterfalls. At the far end of the room there was a desk and a giant yellow armchair. Jack walked directly to it and Rhys followed cautiously, his eyes inspecting his surroundings. When Jack got to his chair he looked at Rhys and then at a black leather sofa and a wooden table sitting in a corner of the room.
“You can work from there, “Jack gestured, ”and since there aren't any problems with security at the moment I’ve got some papers for you, you know- bureaucracy and stuff. You just have to read them carefully, compare them with our data, find any mistakes, and if they’re all good then bring them to me to sign.” Rhys sat slowly on the sofa and began looking over his assignment, his schooling had prepared him for all kinds of jobs but this was some seriously important business and he wasn't really sure if he was the best-suited for it. Apparently being the ‘guy who saved helios from a massive cyber attack and possible economic failure’ meant that he had to work as a secretary for his CEO. Ugh, at least now he assumed he had better pay.
“After that, I want you to make a detailed list of all our guns and other weapons and their annual profits. Gotta make room for the new prototypes and I just wanna be sure.” Rhys nodded his head and began his task, just to be interrupted a few seconds later.
“You know, I won’t bite if you say something.”
“Yes sir, I'm sorry.” He hadn’t noticed that he’d been so silent. It was probably safe to blame the anxious atmosphere from his previous blunder.
The morning only became more and more draining as time crawled by. Jack wasn't often in his office and Rhys didn't really enjoy the solitude. Mostly because the poor lighting and constant churning of the waterfall had come to irritate him.
He had finished reading his papers thirty minutes before his lunch break came. Not in the mood to go in the cafeteria and listen to Vaughn’s endless questions, he just ordered some food and chatted with Felicity in the hallway. She joked about what had happened earlier that morning and Rhys tried to defend himself saying that at least he definitely wouldn't have romantic problems with Jack after all of this.
“Rhys don't be so stuffy. You know, as long as you don't irritate Jack with those... taboo items you can act as you would usually. Nobody will kill you if you go to the bathroom or if you take a break to visit the vending machines,” Felicity tried to comfort him.
Rhys wasn't used to all this tension during work and he found it difficult even to enjoy his delivered and delicious lasagna at that moment. Cafeteria food was nothing compared to this; Rhys had just had to press a button and ten minutes later a chubby man came to the floor to deliver his order. Felicity explained that this was some sort of executive menu and they would change it every two days. She also said that Jack had different choices- he had his personal chef and one other person assigned to taste his food before him- just in case someone wanted to poison him. Nobody knew though how and where he consumed his meals since he always had meetings in the morning and early afternoon.
“Doesn't he have, like- a giant house on one of the upper floors?” Rhys asked shyly, unsure if Felicity could talk about these kinds of things.
“He does but we don't really know the details. Rhys, You’ve barely touched your meal.” Felicity changed the subject quickly and with her fork she stole a bite of Rhys' food. She was fearless and Rhys had no doubts she could handle Handsome Jack and all of his mood swings.
“Sorry, I was just thinking. You know, this is a whole new world for me and I think I need some time to get used to this routine.” Rhys smiled warmly, he was really glad that he was in good company at least. He expected Felicity to be a strict madame with no sense of humor but luckily he had been proven wrong.
“So how are my two favorite ladies doing? Have you been painting your nails while I've been out?” Jack seemed to suddenly appear from the lift and sauntered up to them. Rhys nearly had a heart attack and he swore he would die if Jack kept on scaring him like that.
“S-sir! I left the papers on your desk, there was one only discrepancy but I've already talked with R&D's Aquarium Chief and they will be sending another document with corrections.” Rhys spoke quickly, his heart beating faster. Oddly, Jack only patted him on the head and moved on towards his office.
Rhys quickly collected himself and waved at Felicity before following him.
“Cupcake, where are you from? Like, the planet your mother and father did The Deed on.”
Rhys stopped and looked over to Jack who was attempting to balance a pencil on his nose, his feet propped up on the desk. He was clearly bored and Rhys convinced himself that he was only asking to kill time.
“Well? Eden 5? Eden 6? There aren’t many habitable planets.” The older man quickly grew impatient and shot a glare at Rhys' direction, waiting for an answer.
“Uh, Eden 5, sir.” Rhys’ voice was still a bit shaky with insecurity. He didn't know what Jack could possibly want or why his sudden interest. Never mind that he wasn't really excited to talk about his family.
“Really? So you were one of those rich-ass kids who could just have stayed at home sleeping all day?”
“No sir, my family wasn’t exactly wealthy. I wanted to move out as soon as possible- not cause them more problems.” Thinking about that last conversation with his mother still made him a little bit sad. He’d ruined their relationship and there was no way he could go back to fix that.
“Aww, what a cute little pancake. So are your parents proud of you working for the most powerful man in the galaxy?”
“Uh, I haven't spoken with them for a while, sir.” His cybernetic hand scratched the back of his head nervously.
“Dum dum, you're boring as hell.” Rhys knew this and didn’t really need a reminder but he was relieved all the same, he wasn't sure how long he could have dodged all those questions and he was glad that Jack had grown bored of him.
An hour passed and Rhys' list of Hyperion's weapons was coming to an end. He was really proud of his work, the data was so meticulous and detailed with color coding for readability, it was probably one of those things you could easily stick on the wall and keep forever like art.
Even Jack seemed interested by it- or so Rhys assumed- since he kept walking around the sofa while talking on his echo, glancing every now and then at what Rhys was writing.
Rhys found that situation relaxing and discovered that being the center of attention while he worked made him forget just where he was working- in his CEO’s office under the direct supervision of said CEO.
Just as he was about to finish and save his progress Jack stormed out of the door, demanding Felicity to postpone his meetings by one or two hours.
Rhys left the list on his desk, a little disappointed to have it finished just as Jack had to leave. Was he already becoming a needy pet in search of compliments? No, no, that couldn't be. He just wanted to be sure his completed task was satisfactory.
Just as he was about to leave he noticed a frame on Jack's desk. He usually wasn't the curious type but Jack would be gone for an hour or more so he saw no harm in just poking around a little bit.
“A little girl?” Rhys glanced over the dark haired girl in the frame. She had bright blue eyes, just like Jack's left eye. She was smiling warmly, but at the same time, it looked like she was worried about something…
“Rhys?” He flinched and nearly dropped the photo he was pretty sure he wasn’t supposed to be holding.
“Oh, I-I'm sorry!” Rhys practically begged before he noticed that the figure at the door wasn't Jack to his great relief. “Felicity, thank god..”
“You sneaky little dope, if you want to snoop around at least try not to let your guard down!” Felicity reached him and chuckled lightly.
“Yeah, you're right. I was just about to go home, no Handsome Jack VIP office tour I swear!”
“I know, I know. I can’t blame you. That photo got my attention too, my first day here.”
Rhys suddenly became curious about it. Maybe she knew something more? “Do you know.. Something about her?”
“Eh... A little bit, but let's talk about it another time, it's getting dark and children should head home.” She was definitely hiding something but he didn’t push it, it was only his first day. It was logical that she didn’t want to tell him everything about their CEO, after all, he still had to prove he was a good and trustworthy employee.
Distracted by his thoughts, it took Rhys a moment to register the teasing in Felicity’s last statement. “Hey! I'm not a kid and it doesn’t even even get dark- we’re on a space station.” He very maturely retorted.
“Ah-ah, go home!” Felicity dragged him out of the office and closed the door behind her, a playful grin spreading over her face.
As Rhys was about to take the lift, he heard her mumbling something under her breath, but he couldn’t really catch it, instead what was really noticeable was Felicity’ strange expression, a mixture of a grin and a tense smile. That image bothered him during the entire evening.
Chapter 3: Angelus
Over the next two days Rhys didn’t see Jack at all. He had just disappeared after storming out of his office that afternoon. Felicity had explained that there were some complications on one of the bases on Pandora. Apparently, some vault hunters had tried to murder the scientists and in the process they’d accidentally freed one of the experimental creatures- tested with eridium of course. By the way Felicity was explaining it, this was one of the most dangerous creatures Hyperion had in their control.
“But don't worry, Rhys. He is Handsome Jack. Despite him being an asshole and a bit of a child, he is clever and capable in the battlefield.” Felicity stroked his shoulder and smiled warmly. He didn't think he looked so worried about his boss. He wasn't that worried- he was just thinking about what would happen to him, his job, and the space station if Jack was killed.
“He’s sure to return tonight, I've heard that they captured the creature this morning and now they are just monitoring the situation to see if the other vault hunters will come and try to finish their colleague’s work.”
Rhys nodded and continued processing some data he had to bring to the accounting department before the end of the day. With Jack away from Helios, he had to work in another office with Felicity. Jack had no interest in leaving him alone in his office for so long and apparently that was for the best after that one time Jack was coming back from a trip to pandora and he’d returned to find his previous PA sleeping in his armchair. Food and drinks all scattered over his desk. Felicity didn't have to explain what happened next.
“So, how long have you been doing this?” Rhys asked Felicity, not wanting to sound nosy but the silence was making him nervous, so he tried to make conversation.
“Hm, I started in January I think. So... 9 months. How long have you been on Helios?”
“It will be three years in a couple of months. I came here when I was pretty young because I sort of ran away from home after my exams.”
“Rhys! I didn't expect you to be one of the bad boys!” Felicity looked surprised and he couldn't blame her. “What happened with your parents?”
“Oh, some family stuff. Money problems and all of those typically inconvenient things.” That was only half the truth, but Rhys didn't really want to talk about what had actually happened- he still felt guilty. Just as Felicity was about to ask more they both heard a crash in the hallway and a female voice shouting at someone.
“I don't really need a creepy guy stalking me wherever I go! I'm eighteen, you know.”
“Uh-oh, here comes trouble..” Felicity got up and gathered all her papers into one of her folders.
Rhys was a bit confused and looked at her trying to get an explanation but it wasn't long after that a black haired girl stormed through the door.
“Felicity! Where is he?” she demanded. She was skinny and pale, her black hair was tied in a high ponytail, leaving only a few loose strands at the right side of her face. She looked like one of those ‘troubled teenagers’, wearing all black and misbehaving constantly; she lived up to this first impression.
“Angel, shouldn't you be in class? You know Jack won't be too happy to know you're skipping your studies like this.”
“Whatever, he always leaves me like this without actually giving me an explanation and I'm tired of it! Every time when he isn’t around I have to be followed by these guards and stalkers.”
“I'm not a stalker, miss! I was officially assigned to make sure you stay safe.” The man behind her seemed to be at a loss, he was just doing his job and she was making him look like he was a maniac.
Her lips curled and she folded her arms across her chest. It seemed like she wanted to say something but her attention was caught by something- no, someone else.
“And who is he?” She pointed her finger at Rhys who was quietly looking at the scene before him. Being dragged into this at all made him feel uneasy.
“ He is Rhys; the employee who halted the cyber attack the other day; he worked in Information Securities before but now he's a part of the team,” Felicity explained carefully.
“Oh wow, really? That's convenient!” All the tension disappeared from her voice and she quickly made her way to Rhys' desk.
“Rhys can you help me fix my computer? Jack usually helps me but since he’s out and I can't really call just any technician to help me. Nevermind this useless guard only made it worse by clicking random stuff.”
“Hey! I was just trying to help!”
“Yeah, yeah.. I'm sure daddy won't mind if you leave some work behind and help me!”
“Wait, Angel, Rhys doesn't know th-” Felicity tried to say something but she was cut off by Rhys' surprised voice.
“D-daddy?!” Rhys blurted in surprise. “Is Handsome Jack...” He didn't think Jack had a living daughter. Everyone believed Handsome Jack’s wife and daughter had died in an accident years ago. Either this was a joke or some serious secret stuff he didn't want to get involved in.
“Buuuuh, so what? Come on, let's go!” Angel grabbed his hands and made him follow her through the room. Rhys looked at Felicity, trying to get some help. He couldn't really say 'no' to Handsome Jack. And since apparently, this was his daughter, he couldn't say no to her either!
“Well I think this isn't a problem as it would mean Angel has more protection with her- I'm sure Jack wouldn't mind. Go on, Rhys, I will finish your task here.” Felicity sighed and motioned to all of them to get out of the room. She wasn't really surprised, maybe this was some kind of routine? Jack's daughter coming down from their home on the upper floors, loudly complaining about every little thing.
Rhys had just gotten in the elevator with Angel and her guard when suddenly his echo beeped, warning him that he had received a message with high priority- it was from Felicity.
“ Rhys I know this happened very fast and you haven't had the time to understand things properly but I will talk to you later. I just wanted to let you know that it's extremely important not to talk about Angel with anyone else. Jack keeps her close to him; he sends her to a private school and her few friends don't even know about her father being Handsome Jack. We have to be careful- his enemies would probably try to hurt her if they knew of her existence. ”
In the meantime the elevator came to a stop and they walked through a long yellow hallway that ended with a metal door, it had no windows and was poorly lit. It was actually pretty creepy and Rhys chose to distract himself with more of the message, “Also this message will be deleted automatically so I hope you read fast. Oh, and Rhys, don't even think abou- ” Rhys was not as fast a reader as he’d hoped when he was still trying to finish going over the message when it deleted itself. He wanted to ask Felicity what was missing in the text but Angel dragged him inside before he could.
Rhys found himself in the middle of a dark room with elaborate parquet floors and walls made from real wood; probably coming from some of the more exotic and expensive planets near Eden 5.
When Angel switched the lights on Rhys audibly gasped- they had entered a living room and it looked like heaven. There was a white sofa in front of a large screen with countless video games in a tidy wooden closet under it. At the left corner there was a big table with four wooden chairs with a crystal statue on it- was it a crystal mini pony? Rhys couldn't really make out any details from this distance. Behind the sofa there were shelves loaded with books and a... a fireplace? An actual fireplace? Rhys couldn't believe his eyes- this place was so luxurious and it even smelled good too; a mix of lavender and grapefruit scenting the air.
Angel snapped him out of his awed inspection with an impatient wave of her hand. “Rhys! Are you still with us? My computer is in the other room.” Her guard sighed and followed as she headed towards one of the doors, which on being opened revealed a large and messy bedroom. Rhys had only one word to describe it: Purple. It was all purple; even down to her computer and bed sheets.
Was it in their DNA to be obsessed with a single color? There's a whole rainbow to choose from, come on!
“I clicked on something and apparently it was a virus and... nothing seems to work anymore.”
When she tried to press the power button, the computer angrily beeped at her and showed a black page with some error codes on it. Well, it was worse than what Rhys had imagined- the fastest way to fix it would probably be to erase everything and restore from an old backup, but he needed some time to do even that.
“Okay, I know how to handle this. It will take one hour, tops.”
“Great, Rhys! You're my new hero!” She jumped to her feet happily and trotted back to the living room, leaving Rhys alone with his work.
While Rhys was waiting patiently for the system to finish copying over system files from the restore point he leaned back in his chair to rest his eyes only to discover something tickling his nose. It was a strand of hair and when he realized that hair was Angel’s he nearly screamed and lost his balance, coming far too close to falling over.
“I made some cookies!” She declared without prompting as she shoved a plate in front of Rhys, an aggressive move that made it clear that he no choice about whether he could or could not choose to eat them.
“U-uh thanks, Angel...”
He politely grabbed one and on biting into it he realized despite the decent appearance the cookie was AWFUL. It tasted like she had swapped the sugar with salt and he felt his heart began beating fast with anxiety; there were at least a dozen cookies on the plate and he wasn’t sure if he’d be expected to eat them all.
“Don't worry, Rhys! You're resurrecting my beloved friend so I felt the urge to provide you with energy.”
“Oh you didn't really have to worry...” Rhys said, wishing she really hadn’t done this at all.
“How’s it going, by the way?” She curiously looked over to the screen, probably confused by the lines and lines of processes being run.
“I cleaned everything so there will be no traces of the corruption, unfortunately we will have to wait a bit more for it to reinstall everything it needs.”
“Oh, okay. Well, we’ll wait then.” Angel jumped on her bed and took one of the books from the little wooden bookshelf behind her. Rhys wasn’t really feeling comfortable in this situation. Mostly because he was really shy with people he didn’t know and silence did nothing to help.
Just as he was about to initiate small talk a disturbance coming from the other room made him flinch. Angel’s security guard immediately took the gun out of his waistband holster and stormed out of the room to see what had happened.
Rhys made out a muffled voice coming from the living room but before he could put the pieces together, Handsome Jack appeared in his field of view and eyed him right away.
“What the hell are you doing here?” Jack slowly stalked towards him, his knuckles white and by the look on his face, he was itching to strangle someone (probably him) but it seemed like he was trying to remain calm in front of his daughter.
Lucky for Rhys, Angel quickly stepped in to clarify the situation.
“Da-ad, stop. I asked him to help me with my computer.” Angel replaced the book she had been reading and got up from her bed, stretching a bit as she did so. “Since I can’t see outsiders, it was lucky that your new guy is pretty good with tech.” Her bitter tone made obvious the fact that she didn’t really appreciate her father’s strict rules.
“Sweetie, you know it’s too dangerous to leave you alone with people I don’t know. We’ve talked about this.”
Rhys wasn’t really used to a patient and gentle Handsome Jack and he found it to be a really embarrassing situation for him since he felt completely out of place and was unsure of how to handle this ever-changing situation.
“Uhh.. Your computer should restart now, I’ll just be going if you don’t need my help for anything else.”
Angel smiled at him and nodded, thanking him warmly, probably relieved that she could use her laptop again. However, her eyes looked sad after Rhys had announced his departure. He imagined even if they didn’t know each other, she had enjoyed the little company he had provided. She really looked like a lonely girl, maybe her father locking her up for all this time had contributed to make her easily excited over little things and to misbehave.
Before Rhys could take a step towards the door and his freedom, Jack had roughly grabbed him by his shoulder and turned Rhys to face him, eye to eye. “I believe that Felicity has already informed you of the confidentiality of this situation. I’m not killing you right now because you look harmless enough not to have any malicious intent towards my daughter. Besides, I already spent some money on you and it would be unpleasant to waste it like this.”
Rhys didn’t really know if he should feel relieved or upset by the backhanded compliment. Either way, he didn’t want to complain about it.
“F-Felicity clarified the situation, I won’t say a thing about her, sir.”
“Good boy, now get out of here.” Handsome Jack waved him off, traces of anger still present in his voice. At least Angel had protected him, otherwise he would have been dead meat already.
Heading out of their house, Rhys suddenly remembered he had plans for the night and relief flooded his mind, now grateful he finally had time to see his two best friends.
Rhys stared at his empty glass, many thoughts and questions passing through his mind. He wasn't a heavy drinker, he wasn't even used to drinking alcohol but sometimes he felt the need to disconnect a little bit from the world.
At least Vaughn and Yvette were with him, their company always made him feel more relaxed. The only complication was that he couldn't really share every detail he wanted with them. He had to keep some information to himself and that was what was making him even more anxious, being involved in secret affairs he didn't even want to be a part of.
“Bro, I hate seeing you like this. We can't help you if you won't even tell us what's happening.” Vaughn placed a comforting hand on Rhys’ shoulder and he instantly felt calmer.
Vaughn had been like this since they were children but Rhys didn't really mind, Vaughn’s outgoing personality always found a way to boost his day Besides, Vaughn was the only one left that could be considered part of his family. God only knows where his real family was. If his mother still hated him? If she still passed the nights crying thinking about his “bad” decisions? He didn't really want to think about it and now wasn’t the time to be upset about yet another thing.
“I'm sorry, I didn't want to make you two worry, I'm just a little bit stressed about my new job.” Rhys glanced again at his glass and slowly searched for a waiter who could refill it. Sadly, it seemed like all the personnel were busy trying to break up a drunken brawl on the other side of the club.
“Didn't you say that Jack was away from the office? How can you be stressed if you only have to take some calls and set some appointments?” Yvette’s tone was bitter and the other two easily sensed her jealousy over Rhys’ “promotion”, mostly because now he had a far superior salary compared to them. Vaughn didn't really mind, rather, he liked the fact that now they had more money to spend on better quality food.
“Come on, you kissed Henderson’s ass for a whole year and nothing happened, now Handsome freakin’ Jack wants you to be a poster boy for the other code monkeys and you get tons of money doing barely anything.” Yvette sighed and sipped her own drink, probably a Bloody Mary by the bright red liquid in her crystal cup.
“That's not fair if you think about it. Us low-level workers can’t climb the ladder unless someone from one of the highest floors manages to notice us.” She slammed her now empty glass on the wooden surface with a little too much force, Vaughn shot her a withering look.
“Yvette, it’s not like Rhys is to blame here. It's no use getting angry like this.” Vaughn was right, but Rhys still felt a little bit guilty; he knew what it was like to struggle for a promotion. Maybe he just had to better appreciate his new position?
“Are you arguing without me, ladies?” Someone’s hand firmly grasped Rhys’ shoulder, causing him to flinch, but he instantly knew who was invading his space.
“Vasquez, are you here for your revenge on our last match?” Yvette all-too-sweetly smiled at him, probably thinking about last time she beat Assquez at Blackjack and made him pay for their drinks.
“Uhm.” Vasquez tried to remain vague and changed subject without hesitation. “I'm just here to congrat our princess.”
Rhys felt two big hands on his shoulder now, stroking him with far more familiarity than Rhys was comfortable with.
“Are you enjoying suckin’ Handsome Jack’s big, fat cock?” Rhys couldn’t stop the mental image of that and found himself blushing, making Vasquez even more persistent with his teasing.
“I heard Handsome Jack get’s bored easily, aren't you scared of what's gonna happen to you when he’s tired of what little you have to offer?” Vasquez edged closer and closer to Rhys’ ear, his warm breath making him feel uneasy and trapped.
“H-he's not like that...” Rhys tried to get those heavy hands off him but Vasquez’s grip only tightened in response. Before Vasquez tried to say something else, Vaughn got up and gave Vasquez an annoyed look, clearly indicating that he didn't want him to be around anymore. Vasquez, however, didn't seem to care.
“How many strippers does he keep in his office? Or are you the only boss-slut?” Vasquez malicious laugh added an ever more irritating sound to the already unnerving insinuation.
As a result of Rhys already frayed nerves, this last comment did get him riled up. Before Vasquez could open his mouth to say more, Rhys threw Vaughn’s drink directly into his face, leaving Vasquez agonizing through the sour, lemon-based cocktail that was now burning his eyes. Thank god his friend had questionable taste in alcohol.
Knowing Assquez’s cowardly tendencies nobody expected him to retaliate by punching Rhys in the face but it happened so fast they stunned into silence as Rhys hit the floor like a sack of potatoes.
“Rhys! Are you alright?” Vaughn was the first to snap off his surprise and help Rhys up from the side of the table he’d collapsed on.
“He's clearly not, Vaughn, he just got sucker punched!” Yvette sarcastic tone was intended to reach Vasquez, but not-so-surprisingly he had slipped away as soon as the situation might have turned poorly for him.
“Is the echo eye damaged?” His best bro was already cautiously looking at him, but thank god Vasquez’s punch landed on the other side of his face or he might have had some serious problems.
“I don't think so, but this hurts like hell, damn.” Rhys whined and sighed, not really knowing why he had received more punches in the last few weeks than in his entire life.
“Let’s get him home, we have to put ice on this.”
Rhys’ day had not started well.
The little argument he’d had with Assquez had rewarded him with a black and swollen eye- Vaughn hopelessly tried to cover his face with the concealer they normally used when they stayed up all night and while it always worked pretty well for the dark bags under his eyes, it didn’t seem to be enough to handle his now puffy and darkened skin.
Thank god it was his human eye and not the echo implant, otherwise he would have had to miss work and spend the entire day in the hospital and then have to explain his absence to his famously unsympathetic boss. Still, it was unnerving to sense the gaze of the people staring at him. Luckily, Jack’s office floor had a private lift.
“Morning pumpkin, roll up your sleeves and come with me.” Handsome Jack nonchalantly made his appearance in the hallway and strut past Rhys, walking with his usual hurried movements.
Or, he did until he stopped suddenly, almost making Rhys collide with his back. When Jack turned around Rhys already knew what the problem was.
“What the hell happened to your eye?” Jack demanded and in a matter of seconds Jack’s hands were on his chin, lifting his face up and thoroughly looking over him with his intense gaze.
Rhys had already thought of an excuse to use instead of telling his boss the truth . “Oh, it’s nothing really, a drunk man mistook me as someone else and punched me- must have really not liked whoever he thought I was.” He tried to push away the embarrassment by laughing a little, Jack hummed softly as he continued inspecting Rhys, clearly not satisfied with the answer he’d gotten.
Jack moved his hand from his chin and up to Rhys’ aching eye, gently caressing the swollen skin with his thumb and making Rhys gasp, surprised by the gentleness of the sudden contact more than the pain. Other than the slight pain coming from Jack’s touch, Rhys felt his cheeks heat from all the blushing. He wasn’t really used to people other than his friends touching him, especially not Handsome Jack.
“Uhm...” he tried to say something, but Jack quickly shushed him.
“Did you put ice on it? That should calm the inflammation a little.” Jack finally stopped his inspection and released him. Though, he still looked like he was more than a little worried. Or angry? His mask always made it hard to read him.
“I-I... I really didn’t have time for it this morning, but it doesn’t hurt much.” Rhys lied and regretted it as soon as Jack pinched the area under his eye.
“Ouch!” The ache made Rhys jump and back off, his hands now protectively shielding his injured face. Jack had a typical ‘I told you so’ look on his face that was clear, even with his mask.
“Go get some ice and ask Felicity to help you apply something to it.” Jack sighed and squeezed Rhys’ shoulder, probably trying to make him relax despite being the cause of his pain. “I’ll go ahead and get your tasks for today ready,” he continued and rolled his eyes, turning and resuming his steps through the long hallway leading to his office.
The morning went on normally enough once his eye had been taken care of and Rhys returned to his standard routine: making some calls, arranging meetings for his boss, and sending some passive aggressive emails noting that for for the hundredth time that Hyperion wasn't interested in any deals regarding the sale of their projects. Handsome Jack was jealously protective of his property.
When he received yet another insistent email ignoring his explanations his nerves got the best of him. “Oh, god damn it.” He let out an angry huff, really annoyed by the fact that he could neither ignore nor block these people because they were Hyperion affiliated.
“Language, cupcake.” Jack, from the other side of the room, looking straight at him. Rhys couldn't imagine that Jack was against swearing since he seemed like the type of man who would do whatever he wanted. Making a mental note for the future, Rhys composed himself and apologised.
“What’s happening anyway, cupcake? Never seen you so stressed.” The earlier harsh tone had been replaced with a more concerned sounding Jack.
Rhys blushed a little from embarrassment, he should have been more careful with his words. “Oh. It’s nothing serious, just the usual question of if we're selling properties or projects.”
“Then it’s good you're the one answering them, I would have lost my patience after one or two of those.”
“Uh.. Yeah.” Their conversation ended like that but Rhys had to stop his work some minutes later when Jack coughed a little to catch his attention.
“I see that you and Angel got along pretty well the other day.”
Oh no, this conversation again , Rhys thought to himself, mentally hoping that Jack didn't want to scold him another time. “I'm not... sure?” He really had no idea what to answer, since it was bad either not getting along with his daughter or getting too close to her.
“I wanted to ask you something.”
Rhys swallowed at that, but kept his face as stoic as he could.
“Angel wanted to go out this afternoon and I’m done hearing her complaints about every guard I pay to accompany her.” Jack let out a sigh, it was probably unnerving to fight with his daughter every time he tried to protect her.
Rhys could understand Angel’s distress; she was still young and she certainly needed some personal space.
“Can I trust you to go with her? You’re about her age, so I think she would prefer it for sure. Plus, you’ve already seen my house and daughter. No need to keep you in the dark anymore.” Rhys rolled his eyes, that wasn’t his fault for sure. He had been practically dragged there by Angel. He didn’t mind accompanying her, he liked doing something different from time to time. Also, the idea of making that girl a little bit happier heartened him.
“Sure, do I need to know anything beforehand?”
“Nothing in particular, I’ll still send someone to keep an eye on you two from afar, just bring her to that electronics store, she needs a new television.”
“Alright, thanks for trusting me with this, Jack.”
Jack nodded and said nothing more but Rhys could spot a slight smile on his face. Or maybe he just looked more relaxed. Either way, if this was going to improve the relationship between father and daughter, Rhys was going to put his whole heart into it.
“What do you think? Lavender or deep blue?”
Rhys took a peek at Angel’s outfit: she was wearing a pair of skinny blue jeans with a goth styled top and a purple leather choker with a silver ring in the middle. Rhys wasn't a fashion expert and didn’t really understand Angel’s style completely but at first glance it seemed like the light purple lipstick would suit her better.
“I would go for lavender.” He eyed Angel from toe to head another time before continuing, “the other one is too dark in my opinion; it would hide the other details of your face.” Angel gave him a confused look so he specified. “Like, your eyes.”
She tensed at his words and began looking to the ground. Only then Rhys realized the conversation had become a little embarrassing.
“B-but shouldn't we head to that electronics store? Your father said your television broke and you wanted that new curved model that just came out.” That was the real reason he had to escort her but in some way they ended up buying cosmetics from the store nearby. Rhys thought that they could have ordered it online but Angel’s patience wasn’t going to last much longer while being stuck at home.
“Rhyyys.” Angel pouted. “Can we not talk about him for, like, 5 minutes?” She sighed and headed to the cashier with her lipstick, leaving him behind with a guilty face.
Am I talking about him too much? Well, he is my boss. And she's his daughter. How can I make them both satisfied if they always tell me opposite things one from the other?
“Rhys! Did you hear me?”
He snapped out of his thinking and gave her an embarrassed smile. “Oh no sorry. Where are we going now?”
“Electronics store. Let's be quick, dad will be angry if we aren't back for dinner.” Her expression hid some strong emotions, she clearly wasn't happy to have all these limitations but her dad was being overprotective only for her safety- he really cared about her.
“Sure. I just have the perfect thing in mind to go with your new television.” In fact, just the other day he had been looking at hi-fi amplifiers and his attention was caught by one in particular, all purple and with matching glow, he couldn’t help but think about Angel when he’d seen it.
The trip to the store had been quick for sure, much faster than the hour spent between cosmetics and clothes. Angel just followed Rhys obediently without wasting any more time exploring other aisles. As expected, Angel fell in love with the amplifier as soon as she saw it, already over-excited thinking about the best place in her room to place it.
By the time they had found the television and were about to pay for it, Angel’s echo began ringing.
“Ugh,” she hissed, clearly annoyed with whoever was calling her. As she answered the call, her playful and high pitched tone turned dark, almost robotic. “Hi, dad.”
Rhys tried to give her some privacy, feeling a strong uneasiness- the same he always felt every time Angel and Jack had a discussion.
After finishing all the necessary transactions and having the electronics packed up and ready to bring home, Rhys was ready to go. However, he found out soon that Angel had disappeared from the corner he had left her earlier to let her talk with her father.
Rhys slowly began sweating, his gaze searching around in every direction in hope to find her. He exited the store and began asking around if someone had seen a dark haired teenager but it seemed like nobody had seen her.
Just as Rhys was about to panic and think about some far away planet to fly to to hide from Jack’s rage, a warm hand wrapped his arm and some strands of hair tickled his skin. “Rhys, are you alright? You’re so pale!” Angel said as she appeared behind him. She seemed truly concerned for him and it would have been cute if she hadn’t been the cause of his anxiety in the first place.
“Oh god, Angel... where were you?” Rhys voice came out almost shaking, he had been so afraid of losing her. Only now he understood why it was so important to keep a close eye on her, someone could kidnap her or worse in just a few moments of neglect.
“I had to go to the bathroom?” Angel sounded confused, probably not understanding why Rhys was being so overprotective. “Whatever, can we head home now?” A light sigh escaped her lips, she was probably thinking that Rhys was overreacting- just like her father.
Rhys nodded and the two began heading home, this time without Angel’s unstoppable talking replaced instead by an awkward silence.
Not much later they were riding the elevator to the upper floors and Angel pinched him in the hip making him gasp in surprise. “Thank you for coming with me today, you're really brightening my life, Rhys.”
Rhys felt a little embarrassed but he was glad that Angel had enjoyed herself today, it was probably one of the rare occasions when she wasn't so obviously followed by Jack’s men. “I'm relieved to hear that but I thought I was a super boring shopping companion?”
“Shh, you’re my favorite fashion blogger.” They both giggled, probably thinking about the too-accurate advice Rhys had been giving during the day. It wasn’t his fault, Yvette has been lecturing him for years every time he dressed up with conflicting combinations of colors or poor quality clothes.
When they were finally on the right floor, Angel ran all the way through the hallway. “Finally back home, huh?” Jack greeted them at the entrance of their well fortified home. Rhys didn’t dare follow Angel inside, he just handed the package to his boss and waved in parting, quickly returning to the elevator.
“Wait, Rhys!” Angel’s shout stopped him in his tracks and he slowly turned around.
Looking directly at her father, with a softer voice and a sort of puppy-dog eyes, she asked him, “Dad, can Rhys stay for dinner?” At the sudden request Jack arched an eyebrow, so Angel continued. “It was kind of him to come with me to the store, I had fun since it was Rhys and not those boring guards.”
Rhys couldn't really understand the reason why Angel wanted him to stay longer. Maybe it was an apology for her harsh attitude after they’d left the store?
A small sigh, barely audible, escaped Jack’s lips as he leaned on the metal door and looked right at Rhys. It seemed like his daughter was the only one living being who could even sort of manipulate him with just a gaze. “Dum-dum, you're having dinner with us tonight.”
It wasn't even a question, but Rhys did not dare say a word about it, especially since Angel was now smiling warmly and it was rare to see her so purely excited.
“Dad, why are you giving Rhys so many nicknames?” The question came right after Jack had asked Rhys if he had any preference on the kind of pasta he was about to cook, referring to him with one of the usual silly names.
Angel’s question almost made Rhys choke on his own saliva.
“Why are you asking? I give nicknames to everyone .” That was true, it was stranger when he didn't do it at all.
“But you’ve given him like, lots, of those? You usually stick with one per person.” Rhys was surprised, now that he thought about it Jack had created unique words that seemed to be only for him. Was it because he wanted to reward Rhys? Or was his boss having an early case of alzheimer's and forgetting them every time then needing to create new ones?
“It's because I see Rhys’ dull face so many times a day I get bored using the same ones.”
Well, that wasn't quite the answer he wanted to hear. Rhys frowned at him and Angel giggled. Thank god Jack seemed to be less homicidal and a lot more domestic at home.
When Jack called them for dinner they both got up quickly from the sofa, their stomachs growling. As Rhys was about to sit next to Angel, she loudly gasped.
“Don’t.” Her dad gave her an angry look, one that said ‘I dare you to say that’.
“You didn’t burn anything! Not even the wooden spoon!” She laughed and Rhys couldn’t help but do the same, Jack’s expression was priceless; mixed between anger and embarrassment.
“You’re no better than me babygirl and you know it.” The thought of the cursed cookies from the other day came to mind and it made Rhys snort a bit.
“What?” she asked Rhys before pouting at her father. “You didn’t tell him about that , did you?.”
“No, sweetie.” Jack was sincere (or so Rhys thought) since they didn’t go into any details about kitchen incidents.
“You liar! I’m gonna tell Rhys what happened to our old blender!”
“That wasn-” Jack tried to say something but was shushed by Angel’s high pitched voice.
“Dad forgot his keys in the blender and it exploded!” Rhys mentally face-palmed.
“Why would you put your keys in the blender?” Rhys thought aloud, genuinely confused.
“I just... None of your business actually.” Jack gave him an angry look and he regretted asking.
“Rhys, you totally had to be here, he was covered in tomato sauce and he was yelling like a madman.”
The mental image wasn’t one of the best. If Jack walked in Helios’ hallways covered in red sauce, workers would probably start running away or die from an heart attack.
“Yeah yeah, story time’s over now. Eat.” Jack was visibly becoming annoyed by the tittle tattle and knowing his very moody personality they changed the subject. Mostly because Rhys didn’t want to be kicked out of the house in the middle of a meal.
Dinner proceeded calmly after that with some small talk between Rhys and Angel, Jack staying mostly out of it and reading something on his echo watch while eating.
When Jack got up to clear Rhys plate, he instinctively blocked him by softly grabbing his wrist.
“I-uh. Sorry!” Rhys apologised, embarrassed by the situation. “I can do the dishes since you already made dinner.”
“I’m not leaving you alone in my kitchen but you can help if your inner desire to be a maid is bothering you.” Angel snorted behind him and Rhys blushed. He really didn’t mind doing the housework and he felt guilty leaving Jack doing everything by himself.
Jack quickly collected the used plates and cutlery from the table and gestured for Rhys to follow him to the kitchen.
It had wooden cabinets and a huge fridge, Rhys’ kitchen was nothing compared to this. It even had the newest technology. He took a moment to imagine how many new recipes he could practice if he had a kitchen like this. He wasn’t that good, but cooking had always relaxed him.
“Like what you see?”
Rhys snapped out of his awe and found himself glaring at Jack, who was standing right in front of him, his body relaxed and leaned on the sink. Only then did he notice how bold and fierce Jack actually looked. Those wide shoulder and big hands, Rhys imagined that under the many layers of clothes he had one of those perfectly sculpted bodies, maybe with some scars scattered between his abs to make him look even more aggressive and seductive.
Wait. Why am I even thinking about this? Rhys shook his head, a little bit confused by those inappropriate fantasies.
“S-sorry...” he apologised and focused his gaze in another direction, not wanting to pass as the usual obsessed-with-Handsome-Jack fan.
“Let's get to work pumpkin, these plates won't wash themselves.”
Rhys followed his lead, they laid the dirty plates on the counter and proceeded to wash them one-by-one before putting them in the dishwasher. Rhys usually had to wash them completely in the sink so it was relatively quick work to only remove the remains of food and then loading them into the machine. The only thing bothering him in this moment was the strange, anxious feeling that the closeness to Jack was causing him. Their elbows touched multiple times, each time with more of Rhys’ growing embarrassment.
When the last plate had been washed, Rhys found himself looking again at Jack. Now that he was closer it was easier to appreciate the details of his face. Despite the difference in skin tone between the mask and his real face, Rhys had to admit that the material of the mask had to be of a really great quality to perfectly adjust itself to his skin. He had the overwhelming desire to touch it but he didn’t dare.
“Pumpkin, is there a problem?” Jack had caught him acting like a total creep, again.
“N-no! I was just curious about your mask.” Being outside the office gave him the actual courage to tell the truth to Jack. He wanted to start a conversation about it and being in Jack’s home, with Angel in the other room, it seemed like a great opportunity.
“What, want to touch it? Can’t resist my charm, pumpkin?.”
Rhys rolled his eyes. He didn't know if Jack was being serious or just teasing him. But he really wanted to put his hands on it, he was too curious. And when he felt like this, it was hard to stop him.
“What? Are you kidding me?” So, considering Jack’s surprised expression, he was only teasing him.
“...You're giving me goosebumps here. Are you obsessed with me or something, pumpkin?”
“I'm not! I just wanted to... you know...” Rhys felt his cheeks reddening, it was hard to come up with an explanation all of a sudden.
Jack sighed and readjusted the sleeves which he’d previously had rolled up to his elbows.
“Go on, lion,” Jack goaded.
It seemed like Jack just wanted to test him. Judging by the playful tone of his voice he only wanted to see if Rhys had the guts to do it. Well, Rhys felt very brave at the moment. He extended his human hand and slowly approached his boss’ not-so-scary-anymore face.
Rhys felt Jack’s cheek tense at the touch, his breathing becoming slower and heavier as if Jack was desperately trying to remain calm. When Rhys looked up their eyes met and only then Rhys realized that the situation was actually making Jack nervous and if it wasn’t for Angel in the other room, Jack would have probably snapped. He immediately removed the hand, ready to apologize or to come up with some silly jokes to lighten up the atmosphere but a loud trill stopped him mid-way.
“I hope it’s something really important to bother me at this hour.” Jack answered almost immediately to the call and began slowly pacing through the room as the other voice on the line was probably telling him some bad news. Rhys could judge by his dark face and the astonished silence the room had fallen into.
“It’s the second time already this month, who are the brainless idiots who should be taking care of security?” His rough voice echoed through the room and it gave Rhys shivers. Angry Jack was always scary, no matter how many times he had seen him like that.
“Well sweetcheeks, tell them to do me a favor and run away to another planet before I find them.” Uh, harsh. “Nono, I don’t want any excuses, I want it back up in five minutes. Less.” Jack continued.“Honey, time is running out. Restore that damn electricity already!” The call ended violently, Jack throwing his fist on the wooden surface of the kitchen counter. Rhys felt pity for him for the first time, the man had been so stressed, betrayed and used through all his life, no doubts that he had become moody and violent.
“I need you to go down on Pandora for a few days.” What? Had he heard wrong?
“Excuse me?” Nono, that can’t be, he’s not sending me there. Rhys’ hope didn’t last long.
“You heard me idiot! Go get some clothes and meet me in the hangar in 15 minutes.”
Rhys couldn’t believe his ears, he had never ever imagined going down on that uncivilized planet, not even for a promotion. Well, maybe for a promotion. But this wasn’t the case!
“GO!” Jack yelled suddenly at him and Rhys fled the room and through the heavy metal doors of the penthouse. Angel, who was about to approach them, probably concerned about the loud and angry voice of her father, had not had the time to ask anything. Rhys walked fast, a little frightened about the situation but also oddly excited to see something different from the monotonous metallic walls of the space station.
“You’re kidding me, bro! You can’t go there!” Rhys ignored his best friend’s overreaction, he was too busy trying to pack at least the necessary stuff.
“Come on, you’re all legs and bad puns, you’re definitely not gonna last more than ten minutes.”
“Thank you for your encouraging words, Vaughn.”
“Can’t he send someone else? Why is he sending you?” That was really a good question but who dared asking Handsome Jack that?
“I have no idea, bro. I know this is unexpected and you’re worried, and trust me I am too, but I have to go now. You can’t even imagine how angry he was.”
Vaughn opened his mouth as to say something, but quickly shut it and went for a tight embrace instead. He was probably dead worried and Rhys couldn’t blame him.
“I’m coming back alive, I promise! You won’t have to bring my poster and nerd stuff to my funeral.” At least, Vaughn chuckled a little at his affirmation.
“You better be.”
Rhys took the little yellow Hyperion issued backpack in which he had roughly stuffed some clothes and proceeded out of their apartment. The trip to the hangar had been lonely and unsettling since it was half past ten in the evening on a work night he didn’t expect to meet anyone but seeing Helios empty and dark was actually creepy. The lift proceeded slowly to the first floor as to make him even more anxious. As the door opened, a cold breeze invaded his space, making him curse for not having packed any warm clothes. It wasn’t strange that the hangar was cold- there was no reason to have AC there.
“You’re here, dum dum.” Handsome Jack’s voice coming from behind him spooked Rhys a little. Jack was waiting, propped casually against the wall, a furrowed brow and his right hand clenched in a fist.
At least, he seemed just a little bit calmer now.
“What happened on Pandora?” Rhys thought it was finally the right time to ask for information regarding this unexpected turn of events.
“Something strange happened in a base near Opportunity. I want you to keep an eyes on the employees and snoop around like you always do.” Rhys wanted to ask about that affirmation but Jack continued, “I suspect there might be a spy and I can’t trust anyone else.” He sighed and sadly added, “Judging by the situation, I absolutely can’t leave my daughter alone.”
Rhys couldn’t even think of an answer, Jack had left him speechless. Rhys was feeling... proud? Proud of being trustworthy to Jack. He was also glad to see that Jack cared so much about his daughter.
“I understand, I’ll try to see what’s happening down there.” Another gust of wind made him tremble, it was terribly cold. Jack seemed to notice and he rolled his eyes.
“Dum-dum, don’t you have a jacket or something?”
“I didn’t think about it... But it won’t be a problem once I’m on Pandora,” Rhys admitted shyly, it was actually stupid of him not to have thought about the different type of temperature and weather.
“Opportunity and the base are placed in a relatively temperate valley, still, it’s cold in the morning and during the night,” Jack explained and then began undressing to Rhys’ stupor, handling his own jacket to him. “I want it back in one piece, it’s real leather, you know. Came from a badass pseudo-dragon I killed on this weird jungle planet years ago.”
“Wait, you don’t really have to...” Rhys voice lowered as Jack was already helping him put on his new piece of clothing, being extra careful not to damage his robotic arm.
“How is it, feeling handsome already?” Rhys rolled his eyes at that.
“Definitely warm. But stiff near my robotics.” And too many responsibilities on my shoulders.
“You won’t have to move much during the travel, just take it off when you arrive. And um...” It seemed like Jack wanted to add something but he chose to lead the way to the ship some soldiers were preparing.
“Sir, we’re ready to set off.”
Another soldier approached Jack and handed him a series of pages, probably some documents Jack or Felicity would have to fill later.
“Then, I’m going...?” Rhys didn’t know what to say, the atmosphere still felt a little tense also cause to Jack being so serious and not making his usual stupid jokes or putting him on the spot.
“Don’t wander around alone, stay with the soldiers,” Jack said and it seemed as if a dark cloud had been cast over him. Rhys felt his shoulder being stroked, the same thing Jack had done to calm Rhys before.
It was really upsetting, Rhys felt scared about the possibility of not being able to survive. He didn’t want to leave his friend like this. Or Jack, Angel, Felicity. He suddenly needed one of Yvette’s reassuring smiles, Vaughn’s contagious laugh or maybe just someone that could tell him that he would be alright.
He felt the urge to close the distance between him and Jack, to throw himself in his arms and sink into his warm aura. He wasn’t sure what was happening to him, lately he had been having strange thoughts. And during night, when he was tired and not so rational, it was even worse. He took a step towards Jack, slowly and cautious, not wanting to alert him. Jack seemed to notice immediately, having raised his brows quickly, but besides that, he didn’t seem to have any intention to make Rhys stop.
Instead, to Rhys’ surprise, Jack pressed a hand on his back, causing him bump against his right shoulder. Rhys felt as if Jack had read his mind, putting aside all his layers of badassery and trying to encourage him.
“I know pumpkin, the first traveling to a foreign planet is always burdensome. But nothing bad will happen to you, trust me.”
Jack’s voice became softer and Rhys choose not to say anything, too many emotions passing through his mind. Jack’s strong scent, a mix of cologne and leather- it was so invading Rhys swore he wouldn’t ever forget it. Despite the rough fabric of Jack’s waistcoat, feeling his chest contracting with every breath he took was damn exciting. He wasn’t brave enough to touch Jack, he just stood still with his head on the other man’s shoulder, Jack’s hands patting his back like a father would do with his scared child to calm them down. The situation was incredibly awkward, it probably looked like a one-sided hug to an outsider, with Rhys’ body paralyzed and his hands hanging out freely to his sides.
“Keep your eyes open. And send us updates. Like, every two hours at least. I’m seriously not in the mood to find for a replacement for you,” Jack told him after a while of silence and Rhys just nodded, he already had the intention to write to Felicity or Vaughn as often as he could.
Ugh, I can’t be so emotional, he’ll figure out that I’m a creep who thinks about his boss in a strange way. With this thought, Rhys broke their embrace and took some distance from Jack, his face slowly colouring as if he had just made an enormous mistake. He mentally slapped himself, he couldn’t act so casually with Jack. Mostly because he knew Jack was really outgoing with people he trusted. And Jack’s sometimes normal behaviours didn’t necessarily mean he had any interest in the person he was trying to treat decently. I don’t even want his interest. Rhys tried to convince himself and pushed away those strange ideas.
“Sir, we have to leave now.” A soldier broke their embarrassing situation and Rhys was sincerely glad.
“Oh god damn it.” Jack cursed under his breath but didn’t say anything more to Rhys, so he just nodded and followed the soldier.
Rhys got on the ship with his little backpack, still thinking about what just happened, a complete mistake from first to last. Looking out from the main glass, Jack was nowhere to be seen. He was probably returning to his home, worried about leaving his daughter alone.
Some minutes later the engine began roaring and they quickly departed Helios’ perimeter. The travel had been long and relatively quiet, Rhys both concerned about the weird behavior he had shown to Jack and his sudden unscheduled task.
Chapter 5: Welcome to Pandora
“Sir, we’re about to land.” A tired and low voice disturbed Rhys’ sleep. It had been three or four hours, but Rhys’ desire to sleep more kept him sluggish for some time.
“Ugh.” He slowly adjusted himself on his seat after a few minutes, clearing his dry throat. “Can you pass me the base’s report?”
“Yes, sir.” The masked soldier opened a dossier that was inside one of the ship’s lockers and handled the pages to him.
There was lots of data- many reports of strange events from the disappearance of some experimental samples to the explosion of an entire room in the middle of the night. Lucky, only four people wounded. Was the only thing Rhys could think.
The inhabitants of the place weren’t many, with only ten scientists, a bunch of hunters, fifteen soldiers and technicians, and the manager- a woman named Alethea.
As the engine slowly eased them down and the unpleasant turbulence came to an end one soldier announced their arrival and two of the four soldiers exited without waiting for Rhys. He took some minutes to collect his tiny luggage and to walk around a bit, in hope for his migraine to improve. He felt heavier here than on Helios, probably due to the different gravity.
Going outside, the immense landscape surprised him: both a desert and an enormous thriving woodland dominated the area. Their ship was strategically positioned between a large series of bushes and a hill.
While the others were making calls and checking the equipment, Rhys decided to explore a little.
A hidden rock path behind the ship brought him to the top of the small hill and to a breathtaking view that was beautiful and sad in the same moment. How could there be an immense sea so close to the desert? And the fact that there wasn’t any sign of human civilisation made the place even more fascinating.
On Helios he would have never seen a nature so wild and even on his birth planet there wasn’t this much open space, it was even rare to see something other than buildings and roads. This also meant unfortunately that Pandora was highly dangerous- he could still remember that book with the strange creatures he had read when he was in elementary school, it was terribly scary.
“Sir, our vehicle has arrived.” One of the soldier surprised him.
“Oh!” He nearly jumped. “I-I was just about to come back anyway.” Being so reckless and careless wasn’t going to be a good combination with his stay on Pandora. Some random bandits could have easily snuck up on him while his back was turned. Before returning he took off Jack’s jacket with care, now that it was almost midday it was unbelievably warm. He walked rapidly over the same path he had taken before.
Parked near the soldiers there was now a four seater car with what seemed to be a local man at the driver seat.
“Why hello, boy! Are ya ready?” He greeted Rhys with a strange accent- was it the common way of speaking on Pandora?
Looking more closely, Rhys noticed the man had an unusual skin color. A mixture of grey and yellow it seemed. The yellow and blue straw hat he was wearing matched with his hawaiian red shirt. He also had a pair of orange aviator sunglasses and a little umbrella on his hat, one of those you might see on top of fancy sandwiches. Rhys decided not to think too much about it.
“Yes, where are we going?” Rhys got on the vehicle, still a little reluctant about the situation. It had huge tires and it made for a tiringly difficult climb to even get to the seats.
“AD base, boy. Ya afraid of high speeds? We’ll surely enjoy this quality time, don’t worry. And please call me Shade. Let’s be friends!”
Rhys reluctantly smiled, hoping not everyone on Pandora would be so.. unique?
“Uh, no I don’t think I’m afraid.” He wasn’t sure since he hadn't been in a car for ages.
“We’re gonna fly, my friend!”
“O-oh, wait!” Rhys just managed to get his seatbelt on- more likely a piece of cloth poorly attached to the other side of the seat- when the man had hit the accelerator.
The trip luckily hadn’t been so bad, despite the need for the man to arrive early (or maybe just his love for speeding), driving on Pandora’s roads weren’t all that dangerous: streets were mostly empty and straight, a few turns every once in awhile but nothing so serious to make him nauseous. Twenty minutes later Rhys was finally able to see something besides sand, trees and rocks. Unusual and pretty singular, there was a twenty meter tall grey building with a glass façade and a big adjacent greenhouse.
Getting closer, Rhys could spot two women at the entrance; one dressed with glasses, black hair and wearing a lab coat and the other brown headed with an ordinary tailleur. The two approached them as soon as they parked. Shade remained in the car and became strangely quiet, despite having talked non-stop during the drive over. Rhys almost tripped while trying to get out of the vehicle, but managed to regain his balance just in time to shake hands with the two women.
“Good morning Mr. Rhys.” The one with brown hair began speaking and she introduced herself. “I’m Alethea, I’m managing this base.” She was an inch or so taller than the other woman. She was plainly dressed, a common arrangement of clothes for businessmen and women. She stood tall, her arms folded on her chest and her lips parted, giving her the appearance of a bitter and maybe too-strict woman. Her eyes matched the color of her shoulder-length curled hair.
“This here is Mary.” She continued, pointing at the other woman standing next to her who was timidly smiling and looked a bit tense. Her hands were childishly playing with the end of her long white lab coat, a piece of clothing that perfectly hid every curve of her body making it difficult to imagine what kind of features she had besides being quite tall. Her hair looked kind of fluffy, long and black and trapped in a messy ponytail that couldn't seem to keep some of the strands from falling to her shoulders. Her glasses framed her tired blue eyes, something that made her look kind of cute.
“She’s one of the scientists. I heard you came here all the way out here for a check-up, is there something wrong?” Alethea’s arrogant tone made Rhys reply instantly, forgetting his earlier embarrassment. How could she even ask that with everything that had been happening in this base recently?
“We received an alert regarding someone who tried to tamper with your electric system, I have to make sure there aren’t any more problems.”
“Yes, someone probably messed up at the powerhouse last night. We’re not really worried about it.” She spoke bluntly, like it was no big deal.
“I-I... might have stomped on a cable like last time... I’m sorry if that’s the case!” Mary blushed a little and Rhys felt bad for her for trying to take the blame on herself.
“For now let’s just keep our eyes open in case some bandits are actually trying to mess with us. Okay? ” Rhys spoke in a serious tone and both of the women nodded. He felt important for once, and he was. He had been officially sent by Handsome Jack to keep an eye on the people who worked here, so it wasn’t wrong to give some orders... Right? Let’s just try to look calm and confident for now. Don’t let them know you’re a weak noodle, Rhys. He mentally scolded himself.
The first thing Alethea proposed was to show the place to Rhys. Sadly Mary had to leave them alone, having some work she still needed to take care of. Although the base seemed sleek and modern from the outside, the colors and assets of the furniture in each room was dull, boring and monotonous. Despite that, everything was in place, the air was calm and workers talked in a quiet tones, almost whispering to each other.
Rhys had already imagined that a building so big had other rooms and functions besides offices and laboratories, so he wasn’t surprised when Alethea showed the employee apartments and lots of-he wasn’t kidding, there were like ten or more- warehouses to contain materials like eridium, silver, gold, or samples of pieces coming from the bodies of the creatures living on Pandora, like skag’s eyes, bullymongs’ fur and so..
“So.” Alethea started tapping her finger on the wooden desk. ”Is it true you only came here to spy on us for some while or does the great Handsome Jack have some other ambitious plans?”
Seated on her black leather armchair she looked even more powerful and full of herself. Rhys gave no mind to her sarcasm and relaxed in his seat, taking some time to think about a way of explaining the situation to her without having to divulge too many details.
“We just need to make sure you and all your employees are safe and judging by the latest reports? You should be concerned too.”
“I am, Rhys. Managing this place might seem easy, it is in the middle of nowhere and we’re not really doing anything dangerous, but I’m keeping an eye out too, these recurrences are too strange to be casual incidents.” Her eyes were directly on Rhys and after a pause she asked, “Will you leave us and our work alone if we find the culprit?”
“Yes, of course. I intend to return to Helios as soon as possible, you’re not the only one uncomfortable with this arrangement.”
“Good, then you’ll have my full cooperation.”
He decided to spend the rest of the afternoon getting to know more about the workers. They all had little chats with him, telling him no more than what their job was and how they’d gotten it.
Everyone seemed sincere and trustworthy to Rhys, mostly because he had always had the habit of trusting people easily and sometimes it wasn’t such a great quality.
When dinner came they all sat around a single, large table and Rhys decided to stay near Mary and ask her a few more questions, since she seemed the most normal in the context of things.
“Don’t you feel sometimes the need of going somewhere else, leaving all this behind?”
“Do you? Isn’t it basically the same on Helios?” Mary answered gently, with her sweet, barely audible voice.
“Guess you’re right, but aren’t you allowed to visit Helios from time to time?”
“We are, but nobody really feels the need to. Alethea is the only one who has to go at least once a month.” They both turned a little to take a glance of Alethea who was silently eating on the other side of the table. Then, Mary continued “A-anyway, I wanted to ask you... What’s your job on Helios?” Her cheeks coloured, she wasn’t probably used to talking with new people since she had admitted to not having visited Helios nor other facilities on Pandora during the years she had been working for Hyperion.
She was basically a recluse and Rhys kept wondering how was it even possible to remain sane.
“Just bureaucracy stuff, I help Handsome Jack with anything he needs me to.” Saying it like that hid the fact that he wasn’t more than Jack’s obedient dog. Well, at least the salary was good.
“How is Jack? I heard he’s pretty.. moody.”
“What, don’t tell me you’ve never seen him.” Rhys might have sounded a little too surprised, but he always though Jack’s trips to Pandora were aimed at checking in on the employees and their progresses.
“Oh no... I heard he came here last year, but I was still studying on my birth planet.”
“Let’s say it’s better like this, the less you see him the more you can live peacefully.” Rhys’ mind travelled back to the last tantrum Jack threw, when someone spilled their coffee on some important documents during a meeting.
“Isn’t it cool working for him?” She sounded so innocent, she really didn’t know anything about Jack.
“I don’t think cool is the most suitable word.” He ran a hand through his hair, not sure how to come up with an adjective that could describe Jack to his fullest. Maybe... Irritable? Egotistic? Childish? Handsome? Wait, hell no. That’s weird.
“He’s... unique, and not usually in the best way.”
She giggled a little and Rhys’ hand travelled to his hair again, embarrassed but at least grateful he had managed to lighten the mood.
As he was about to change the subject and continue the now less-awkward conversation his echo eye informed him he was receiving a call. From Jack. Ugh, great timing. He accepted the call and projected the image through his robotic arm.
“Hi Jack, you need some-”
“RHYS!” Jack’s face popped up and his loud, booming voice made everyone turn towards Rhys. He quickly adjusted the volume, cursing himself for not having his earphones with him.
“Rhys, I have to tell you something magnificent. You’ll love it for sure.” Jack chuckled and continued. “Or am I interrupting something?” Jack had surely spotted Mary seated next to Rhys and was trying to take a better look at her, but Rhys managed to move a little and cover her. “Well it can’t be, you always have time for me, Rhysie.”
“Y-yeah, kind of. Anyway Jack, what did you want to tell me?”
“Nono, Rhysie. Even if you’re on Pandora you shouldn’t forget your manners. You should call me the greatest sexy lord and saviour Handsome Jack.” Jack seemed serious about that and his astonish silence made it obvious that he was waiting for real for Rhys to say it.
“Y-yes... Greatest s-” he coughed a little to at least hide the embarrassing part, “and saviour Handsome Jack. What were we saying?” Rhys cut it short and giggled nervously, his reputation slowly going down the drain as everyone began commenting on the situation. Clearly, lowering the volume had been ineffective. Rhys got up and went to exit the room but as he was about to open the door Alethea signaled him to stay put, probably suspicious of his sudden behaviour. She really was a strict woman and apparently nobody could wander around during dinner and nighttime. Basically during the time it was easier to fool the security.
“Great cupcake, now I know they haven’t brainwashed you yet. Anyway I’m sending you one of my sexiest vault hunters, Rhys!”Something in Jack’s laugh wasn’t clear. “You’ll see Rhys, he will arrive in... five minutes. Get ready!” The awkward call ended suddenly and everyone turned their gaze elsewhere, as if pretending they had not been staring at Rhys for the past two minutes.
When another trill echoed in the room, it was Alethea’s turn to get a call. Rhys took the chance to sneak out of the ‘dining room’ without her notice. He was scared of everyone in that room, they had gott a clear impression that he was neither powerful nor strong. He was simply Handsome Jack’s puppet. And they absolutely looked hungry to strike on that weakness.
He walked while scrolling through his messages, Jack was spamming him nonsense about putting sunglasses on because he would probably get blinded from the view of the beautiful man. The next message Jack sent was to clarify that there was only one other man more handsome than this vault hunter and that it was obviously himself.
Rhys sighed, not willing to answer any of those. He was also terribly confused now, why was Jack sending a vault hunter? And since when did he have vault hunters who worked for him? He decided to call Felicity, resting against the wall in front of the entrance and waiting for her to pick up.
“Good evening, Rhys. How’s it going?” Felicity answered a little while later with her usual relaxed tone and Rhys suddenly missed the calm atmosphere of his office.
“Felicity, sorry to call you like this. Can I ask you something?”
“Don’t worry, Rhys. I’m still in the office, no need to be concerned. Go on.”
“Why is Jack sending a vault hunter here?” He got directly to the point, afraid that whatever was about to happen wasn’t going to wait for him.
“What? I wasn’t aware of that.” She seemed genuinely surprised.
“He just told me this super sexy man is on his way here. I don’t understand what’s going on. Am I in danger?”
“Oh. I understand now.” The hell? Was ‘sexy man’ that good of a description?
“Can you please tell me?”
“I’m afraid I cannot,” she said bluntly.
“Classified information. I’m sorry Rhys.”
Oh come on, aren’t we a team? Rhys sighed and tried to remain calm, the situation was becoming weirder and weirder.
“Can I help you with something else?” She seemed concerned at least.
“I don’t know. Is Jack with you?” He paced around the hall, furiously trying to think about something helpful.
“No, he has nothing more scheduled for today. I’m the only one in the office.”
“Great,” he said sarcastically.
“Don’t fret Rhys, this vault hunter will help you. Jack probably sent him because he’s worried about you.”
Rhys wanted to get details about this man but he had no time to do it. Alethea hurried into the room with two men behind her and opened the main door, revealing to Rhys’ surprise that someone had in fact parked another truck in the lot.
As he ended the call, a mysterious man walked towards them, he was wearing a long, dark cape that covered him from head to toe. A bit of yellow fabric showed from under it- that shade of yellow that belonged to Hyperion. Rhys felt a strange sensation when he noticed that the man had the same swagger that was so typical of Jack.
“Where is Rhys?” he simply asked when he waltzed through the main door.
“That’d be me.” Rhys approached him and thought of something more to say, but ended up just staring at him, curious of what was hiding under that immense mantle.
“Can we have a minute alone?”
“Uh-um... Sure.” Rhys felt confused. And also a little bit worried.
Alethea huffed at that, clearly frustrated. “Jack should seriously revise his attitude. First he sends me his loyal spy, then it’s the mystery man’s turn. I seriously can’t understand anything he does.”
“You don’t have to worry ma'am. I just have to talk with Rhys. In private. Then I’ll get going.”
“Whatever, I’ll be in my office if someone needs me. And I seriously hope no one does.” She turned on her heels and paced through the hallway, followed by the two men that were probably her bodyguards. The mysterious man waited for them to completely disappear from his field of vision before opening his mouth.
“Jack told me to stay nearby, just in case you needed help. Apparently he’s pretty suspicious of the people working here.”
“I noticed that. But ah- who exactly are you?”
“Just call me Jack.” The man let out a barely inaudible sigh. “Real name’s a secret.”
“Alright, Jack. Are you one of the other Jack’s personal team?” Rhys asked, while his eyes analyzed this Jack from head to toe, seriously wanting a peek under all that dark cloth but the man seemed to have no intention to show him any more of his form.
“Yes. And you’re our newest member, right?” Rhys nodded at that. “About that, I wanted to ask you something.” He cleared his throat and continued. “I think you’re aware of Jack’s real plans for Pandora. And since you’re still new to this and Jack hasn’t brainwashed you yet, I think there’s still a little possibility for you to fully understand what I’m about to propose to you.”
Oh no, am I getting involved in another highly secretive situation? Rhys enthusiasm faded from his face and he hoped the other man had not noticed it.
“We are working on creating another corporation and help people on Pandora. Not everyone here is a psychopath- we really don’t want to let Jack kill or hurt innocent people.”
“But what If Jack finds out? Isn’t this extremely dangerous?” With the way Jack is with people who betray or backstab him, this would definitely be the best way to antagonise him.
“It is. But I already made plenty of mistakes in my life. Following Jack and his insane plans without trying to stop him won’t be another,” the man concluded and extended his right arm outside the cape to Rhys. He seriously had no idea what to do and he was now distracted by the fact that the man had the exact same tattoo as Jack’s on his wrist. This guy being an obsessive fan made no sense, though.
“Can I at least think about it? It’s not something I should take lightly.” Rhys really did not want to leave Jack. He had not agreed with Jack’s insane plans of cleansing Pandora, but that didn’t mean he would try to do something behind his back. He still needed some time to think about it.
“Yes. In any case, my camp is behind that little hill at the right side of the building. Five hundred meters or so. Just call me if something happened, Jack has already sent you my contact information. I should go now before you get in anymore trouble.” His sarcastic tone brought a smile to Rhys face, he was relieved not to be the only one thinking that Alethea was a little too much.
“Alright, then see you tomorrow I guess?”
“I won’t come here often, but don’t worry, we will have other ways to meet.” Creepy. Just like Jack.
The door shut itself as the other Jack went outside and seemingly on his way to his camp. Rhys watched him walk for a while, then he decided it was time to get some sleep. Or at least try.
Two days passed after Rhys’ arrival on Pandora. It had been raining a lot down here. Rhys didn't really miss the rain from his time on the space station, mostly because he had developed a fear of thunder after that time Vaughn had showed him a horror film with a storm that contained electric monsters.
As another loud boom cracked through the sky, Rhys found himself curled in the bed under his sheets. Not only he was mad and embarrassed by the strange conversation he had with Alethea now he had to be scared shitless too.
“ Fuck this planet,” he muttered under his breath as he tried desperately not to jump or have heart attack at every sudden boom that echoed through the valley.
When his echo eye informed him of an incoming call, he cursed himself for not going offline earlier. Now he had to deal with people too. Just as he answered the call, a familiar face popped up the screen.
“Angel, it’s you,” he greeted her with a smile, he was relieved that it was her and not Jack. He kind of missed her presence, spending time with Angel had become pretty enjoyable.
“Oh hi, Rhys! Me and daddy just wanted to make sure you're safe.” Angel smiled warmly at him but then gave him a puzzled look.
“But... where are you Rhys? Looks like some sort of a cave?” Jack, who was sitting on a chair behind her, reading what seemed to be a book seemed concerned by that and immediately scanned the image through his daughter’s echo.
“Oh no Angel, I'm just... under my sheets. It's really cold in here and you know... Just trying not to die freezing.” He laughed shyly, a hand going through his hair as he hoped they would not question him any further.
“Right... So, when are you coming back? Is everything alright down there?” Angel giggled and asked him the same question she had been texting him for the past few days. Could it be that they were looking forward for him to return to Helios because they felt lost without Rhys’ great organising skills? Jack was probably torturing Felicity with work. And Angel probably wanted to go out with him again.
“Yeah, things are going pretty smoothly. We added a few more security protocols, just in case someone tries to break into the base again. I should stay here for a few days more, just to be sure nothing strange happens.”
As he clarified the situation, Jack readjusted himself on his chair and resumed his reading. Now that Rhys took a better look, Jack wasn’t reading a book, he was actually signing some documents. Guess when he wasn't there Jack just had to read all the boring stuff for himself? But he seemed so distant and cold compared to when they had last talked. Was he angry with Rhys?
It was probably one of his mood swings but he decided to investigate a bit and proceeded to ask the fatidic question. “Are you two getting along?”
“Absolutely not, Dad burned my breakfast this morning and I had to eat some bland cookies. Yuck. Hate him.” She giggled, her playful tone made it clear that she didn’t mean it.
Jack growled behind her and gave her an annoyed look. “Just learn how to do it yourself if you're gonna complain about it.”
“Ugh dad, can I just marry Rhys instead? He’s the best shopping companion and I bet he’s an awesome chef.” Even if she was clearly messing around, something about her soft tone and the light blush of her cheeks seemed to tell another story. But Rhys felt proud, at least he looked like a capable man... even though he wasn’t that great of a chef by any means.
“You can't just marry a man for that. He also has to be strong, handsome, loyal... But not as handsome as me. That, is clearly impossible and I would feel offended.” Rhys rolled his eyes at both Angel’s question and Jack responds to it. When he found himself yawning loudly he knew he was about to drift off.
The other two seemed to notice and they stopped their argument on the finer points of marriage.
“Good night Rhys, don't die in your sleep or daddy will have to kill you again. And bridal carry you back to Helios.”
Rhys blushed a little at that, thinking about Handsome Jack being at all upset about him dying. Was he lacking in attention from his boss down here? Yeah, probably.
“Good night you two, try not to die of starvation.” He waved that thought off and closed his echo, ready to fall in an heavy sleep.
By the time he got comfortable in his bed, the storm had stopped and the only audible noise the howling of Skags outside the perimeter of the base.
It wasn't the worst mattress he had slept on so thanks to his tiredness he fell asleep without much trouble.
Chapter 6: Together with the moon
Rhys’ hands were covered in blood but not his own. He was trying to prevent Jack from fainting but the hole the bullet had ripped into him was furiously bleeding. Rhys wasn’t particularly knowledgeable in first aid, he just knew that a wound needed pressure applied to slow the bleeding. Jack’s leg was spurting blood like a fountain and Rhys pressing hard on it wasn’t doing much except making him nauseous. His heart was beating fast from the tension and Jack’s face looked so dull and weak, the situation was definitely bad.
“You can’t die like this, please...” Rhys’ words came out almost as a sob, Jack needed medical treatment and he felt useless. Good for nothing. Nobody was with them, darkness surrounded Rhys as he tried to look for help.
“Someone, please! Help me...” His desperate plea echoed through the area, but nobody responded nor came to their aid.
Jack’s skin was becoming ghostly, he had probably anemia if the blood loss was any indicator.
“You betrayed me, Rhys.” Jack’s voice was strangely clear and seemed too close. In fact, the voice seemed to come from elsewhere, as the Jack in his arms wasn’t even moving his mouth.
“What? I-I haven’t...”
“YOU’RE A SELFISH LITTLE LIAR. YOU’RE NO BETTER THAN THEM.”
A sudden migraine hit him and tears began forming on the corner of his eyes.“It’s not like that- you have to believe me, Jack...” He didn’t know what Jack was referring to but he definitely hadn’t done anything to betray him.
“You were useless from the start.” The voice faded, soon replaced by a terrifying noise thatscary sound that sounded eerily like screaming.
A multitude of brutal images flashed behind his eyes, so many that he couldn’t take it anymore.
He woke up in panic, his forehead sweaty and his hands shaking. The dream had felt so real , his breathing took some time before returning to a normal speed.
What the hell was that?
Of all the horrible nightmares he had had, he never thought he would be terrified with one about Handsome Jack dying on him. Thinking about it again was making him nervous. His irrational side wanted him to call Jack to make sure he was safe. Luckily, he still had some sense in him.
But he couldn’t sleep anymore, that was for sure. That awful dream had definitely disturbed him. He got up from the bed and put on shoes and a pair of jeans and shoes on. A walk outside would probably helpmake him feel calmer.
He wandered slowly outside his room and through the empty hallways using only the light coming out of his robotic hand. Nobody else seemed to be up and presumably he was the only one that was walking around at three in the morning. It wasn’t his fault- the air of Pandora and all the anxiety he had been feeling lately had probably caused those awful thoughts. When he finally reached the entrance, he slowly unlocked it with the special pair of keys Alethea had given him. Thank god they decided to trust each other more, otherwise Rhys would have been caged in the base like a prisoner.
Opening the door, a cold rush of air made him instantly regret not bringing Jack’s jacket with him. Thinking about Jack again made his heart skip a beat. He sighed, hoping to forget soon what he had seen and closed the door behind him, leaning against the outside wall.
It had been a long time since he had seen a starry night planetside. He’d forgotten how beautiful they were, especially if the sky was clear like this one.
He liked the atmosphere here- it made him think about his birth planet, his family, and especially his mother. She hated him for becoming an Hyperion employee and he couldn’t blame her. He had to admit he had been stubborn and insensible when he was younger and only now he was finally able to fully understand his mother’s feelings.
One day he would probably have to see her again. If he was lucky enough to return to Helios soon he promised himself he would pay her a visit. He could still perfectly picture the old times, his mother getting ready to go to work- she was the first one to wake up every morning and she used to spend thirty minutes closed up in the bathroom doing god knows what. When Rhys was little he believed his mother used black magic because every morning when she exited the bathroom she always looked flawless . Her hair and makeup was always on-point and she always wore that hint of greyish eyeshadow with a bit of mascara. Her short, brown hair long enough to cover the little scar she had on the left side of her forehead, the one she’d gotten when she’d fallen against the corner of Rhys’ metal bed, a result of him leaving his toys scattered on the ground.
All those childhood memories were making him melancholy. He missed his parents, behind all the layers of cold carelessness he really wanted to see them again.
He returned to the building, he was cold and wanted to eat something- staying up so late at night always made him hungry. Thank god the place had some surprisingly big and well furnished vending machines.
When his chocolate bar fell down, he heard another metallic noise coming from not so far away. He stuffed his snack in his pocket and slowly crept through the hallways.
He wasn’t exactly known for his bravery but his curiosity got the better of him. Jack told him to looking into the strange occurrences and told him not to trust anyone in the base so asking for help was as dangerous as going alone. Well, I could ask the fake Jack but... Rhys mind traveled back to that man and his strange offer. He really had not thought about it yet and he wasn’t ready to.
Another thud surprised him, this time closer. It came from one of the nearby laboratories. Rhys turned his light off and made his way to the door, trying to be as quiet as possible although stealth wasn’t his forte either. It was silent again, leaving only the pounding of his footsteps and the sound of his panicked breathing.
When he peeked through the door, a familiar figure sat in front of a metallic table in the middle of the room, surrounded by machinery and a glowing purple stone set before them in the middle of the table. In front of it, a tiny camera that was probably recording judging by the persistent little pulsing red light.
It was that scientist Mary, her face so serious and dark, Rhys had never imagined to see her like that. Her timid yet cute smile had been replaced by a serious,almost manic grin. He had no idea what she was up to, so he decided to remain silent and spy on her a little bit. The woman proceeded to precisely measure the oddly shaped mineral that- judging by the pretty unique color, was eridium. She placed a chunk of it inside a strange box between some wires and switches. It was suspicious especially since she was doing it alone, in the middle of the night.
Rhys decided to reveal himself, with the intention of stopping whatever was happening and fulfill the order Jack had given him.
He opened the door and coughed, trying to get her attention without scaring her. It was less than successful as she jumped out of her chair and tried to hide everything she’d laid on the table before her.
“W-Who’s there?” She tried to look calm, but her shaky voice betrayed her.
“It’s Rhys. What are you doing up at this hour?”
“I.. uh-um...” her eyes seemed to search every corner of the room, looking for an excuse.
“I’m sorry but... I have no choice.” She sighed and her lips curved strangely forming a decidedly creepy smile.
“What?” He almost had no time to ask when Mary was already pushing him against the wall, pinning his arms behind him in an attempt to trap him against the hard surface. The next thing he felt was what seemed to be very large knife pressed to his neck, ready to cut into him.
“W-wait, can we talk about this?” Rhys panicked a little, this small woman was terribly strong and having the blade pressed so close wasn’t helping much. Mary didn’t answer, she just proceeded to turn him around and tie his hands with a zip tie she’d had the fortune to find on a nearby counter.
“I can offer you a place on Helios if that’s what you wa-“
“Shut up! I have no intention of going anywhere near that damn space station.” Her voice terrified Rhys, it wasn’t the soft barely-audible murmur anymore, it was now a hoarse whisper as she pushed Rhys outside the lab and walked them slowly to the main hall, the sharp blade still pressed to his skin, Rhys still overwhelmed by that absurde change of attitude.
“T-then- I can get you money? Please!” He begged.
“You're just making a fool of yourself,.” She replied coolly as she slowly opened the main door and continued to guide him forward, to one of the parked trucks.
“What if I told you my echo eye doubles as a remote feed and you’re being monitored?”
Mary remained silent, having no intention of answering that embarrassing threat. Instead the pressure of the knife disappeared and she began texting furiously.
She mumbled something audible only to her, Rhys could make out only few words, something about someone coming in a few minutes. In any case, Rhys couldn’t do much with his arms tied like that. Running wasn’t definitely a good idea, she still had a knife and he’d need his hands to get any of the (unfortunately manual) exterior doors open. Screaming wasn’t an option either- he knew skags were close and would close in and get them in no time. He swallowed hard, analyzing every available option in his mind.
“You really have no idea who you’re working for,.” Mary said gently after a while, her tone now relaxed and pitiful. Rhys let her continue. “That Jack is a psychopath. My family was sold to Hyperion to test some freak experiment about eridium mutation.” A sigh escaped her lips, her voice shaky and bitter. “They killed my parents and my little sister. Or so they told me, I ended up in the ‘care’ of another man, Hyperion apparently didn’t need me.”
Rhys felt sorry for her, it was really a tragic story. He couldn’t even imagine how hurt she had felt. “I didn’t know Hyperion used normal people to experiment on those kinds of things... I’m sorry, Mary.”
“Obviously, no one knows!” She slapped her hand on truck’s exterior, her voice raising. “And what do you mean by normal people? Are you implying that bandits or the poor down here aren’t living creatures- that they’re less deserving of life?” sShe raged, her voice now worryingly loud. Rhys stepped back from her, bumping against the car. He felt something sharp press into his back and an idea came to mind.
Please god, let this work.
“W-what were your parents’ names?” he changed the subject strategically and Mary seemed to latch onto that. “I can try and look them up, maybe they’re alive, living on another planet...?”
“It’s useless. Those experiments almost always lead to death.”
“B-but there’s a little possibility, I can access the majority of the archives right now with my echo eye.” He tried again, hoping Mary would distract herself more. In the meanwhile, his ziptie cracked, with the twisting motion of his hands against the sharp edge he’d found.
“Whatever. Do it fast. Just… look for my sister- Tina. She should be thirteen now. The base they took them to was near Lynchwood.”
Rhys began using his echo eye and Mary seemed to drift off into her own thoughts, she was probably hoping that he would find something and he felt so guilty for lying to her but it wasn’t like he had a choice. Betray her or be kidnapped and probably killed by her- he seriously had no other options.
When the restraint finally broke, Rhys make sure to give her no time to take notice, he charged into her and they both fell to the ground, her weapon now far from her and her hands struggling against the tight grip Rhys had on them with his own robotic arm.
It wasn’t enough though- one of her tiny hands managed to slip out of Rhys’ grasp and she punched Rhys right in thedirectly into his nose, a pain so fierce he almost screamed on impact. He really had no intention of punching a woman so he just responded by pushing her and getting some distance to reassess before he made another move. Rhys pinned her arms to the ground with his own weight and let out the enormous breath he hadn’t realized he’d been holding. Mary, under him, had her eyes wide and furious, her glasses half broke to the right side and her hair dirty from the sandy ground from their initial tussle. Her coat was no longer the clean, brilliant white- it was a mixture of Rhys’ own nosebleed and the dirt that surrounded them. Like this, she looked no better than a bandit- a normal inhabitant of Pandora.
“Plan on staying like this all night? I don’t really have any other plans.” she said sarcastically.
To Rhys’ surprise, Mary strength allowed her once again to win over him, this time headbutting him while he was being distracted. It hurt a thousand time worse than the previous punch, Rhys felt dizzy and confused, so much that he fell to his side, leaving Mary the possibility to escape.
In fact, it was just a matter of seconds that she ran for her knife, her body shaking and her breathing accelerated. But something made her stop right in her position, midway to grabbing her weapon, her eyes widened at their fullest and her mouth remained half-open, uncertain of what to say. Rhys could sense she had seen something horrible, he could still see her clearly even if his head was hurting like hell and he had sand and dirt in his eyes. He chose to remain still, afraid that some monster was behind him. And it had to be one of the big ones, to leave Mary speechless and harmless like that.
Rhys doubts were answered as soon as Mary began walking away, at first slowly and then, when she began panicking, a chaotic rush for her own life. She had accomplished to run away for five meters or so when a bullet had hit her in her right leg. Rhys had only heard the bullet when it had landed on Mary, he guessed whoever shot it had a suppressor on his sniper. He remained motionless on the ground, trying to look like a dead body. If he got up, he would probably end up like Mary.
He looked at her body, curled in a ball with her hands pressed on the hole the bullet had caused her. She was shaking heavily, he felt pitiful for her even if she had hurt him.
When footsteps approached him, he gulped.
“Stop pretending you’re dead.” The suddenly of that deep voice spooked him. To his surprise, next thing he felt wasn’t a bullet on his own flesh, but a pair of warm hands that were helping him getting up. “Are you okay?” The man asked and Rhys found out it was Jack. The other Jack. He took a while to readjust himself and to wipe out some of the blood that was falling down from his nose to his chin and neck. It was horrible, he wasn’t afraid of blood but the smell and taste had always disgusted him. It made him remember of that time he fell from the stairs and he had badly cut his gum with his own teeth. Silly childhood memories.
“I am...” hHe answered, but his still shaking legs and pulsing forehead made the other Jack worry. He supported Rhys with his own arm and began guiding him to the building. Rhys noticed with the glimpse of his eye that two other hooded man had handcuffed Mary and were remaining still, monitoring at the same time her and their surroundings.
“I already told my men to let Jack know about this. He will probably send a ship soon.” He reassured Rhys, who felt heavier and heavier as they approached the base.
Alethea stormed out just as they were ten meters away from the door. “Oh god, what happened?” she asked, more irritated than worried about the situation.
“Your employee, Mary. They’ll interrogate her up on Helios, but it seems like we caught the bad apple.”
“Bad apple? Oh god, I did not authorize you to shoot at my employee! And were you monitoring the base the whole time just waiting for this to happen?” Alethea raged; she sounded hurt, the kind of hurt that someone feels when he discovers he was being controlled the whole time.
“Uh, guys?” Rhys tried to draw attention to himself, since he was in need of medications and maybe a good place to sit and relax.
Jack tried to proceed to the door with Rhys but Alethea blocked their way, with no intention of moving away. “Alethea, please.”
“Why should I trust you? You two made fool of me for the entire time. I’m sure you poked through my documents too!”
Rhys head began spinning again, he was probably having a lack of sugar and had to lean on Jack’s body even more.
“If Handsome Jack discovers that you didn’t help Rhys, he’ll punish you for sure. Are you aware of how important this brat is to him?” He whispered his last words, confident that Rhys’ pain was so strong he couldn't hear that. Unfortunately for him, he could.
“Ugh.” Alethea sighed and opened the door for them, admitting her loss. It was probably wise to remain by Jack good side since the base’s reputation would fall down eventually after this episode.
Rhys was guided to a chair nearby and it wasn’t after much that someone else brought him cotton and a disinfectant. Another person offered him a piece of white chocolate and he couldn’t refuse it since he still felt weak and tired.
“Rhys, you’re leaving in ten minutes. Think you’ll be able to resist one hour or so during the space trip?” the fake Jack asked him and he nodded, now feeling better than before. Even if he had two balls of cotton stuffed in his nose to prevent him from bleeding furiously again. “Should we call someone? Apart from your own roommate, he had already been informed.”
“My mother.” He wasn’t sure if his mother was going to come to Helios for sure, but he wanted at least to try.
“Alright. I’ll inform the soldiers.” The other Jack nodded and there were some minutes of silence before he dared asking. “Have you thought about my offer?”
Rhys knew he had to answer him sooner or later. He decided to be sincere. “Yes. I’m not going to join your group, but I’m not against the things you’re doing. I’m just of the idea that it’s better if Jack himself changes his mind. Instead of working behind his back.”
“Alright.” the man got up without complaining or asking him more, Rhys appreciated it. They both exchanged their goodbyes and Rhys was brought by other soldiers to the area where the ship was about to land.
They arrived on Helios at 6 am, Rhys was tired from everything that happened during the night, but luckily Jack - the real Jack - promised to leave him some days off. They had been texting during the whole trip and to Rhys surprise Jack gave up his sleep to talk to him. He wasn’t shocked to see him waiting in the hangar with Vaughn, who looked absolutely terrified of the closeness with the CEO.
“Rhys! You’re finally back!” Vaughn imprisoned him in a warm hug and Rhys felt relieved to have finally returned to his normality. He had missed his friends. And even Jack.“Bro, I’m so glad you came back in one piece.” Vaughn was just over excited to have him back and Rhys could only agree with him. “Also, they told me your mother had changed her number and address, but Felicity had already found her, she’ll give you the contact information if you want to reach her.”
“It’s fine, I’ll take care of things eventually.”
“I’m so sorry Rhys..” Vaughn put his hand on Rhys arm to try to comfort him.
“Well, let me know when the sausage fest has ended.” Rhys couldn’t help but giggle at that, even if it was rude. Instead, Vaughn arched his brow, but didn’t dare comment on it. He wasn’t really sad for his mother, he just wanted to think about something else for now. They began walking to the lift, all that while making little chats.
“Thank you for sending over your friend , Jack.” and by friend, Rhys meant the vault hunter. But he wasn’t sure if this was a sensitive information or not. So he just kept it vague in case Vaughn wasn’t allowed to hear anything
“Well, I always make sure my men are not just brainless idiots. I knew he was going to protect you no matter what happened.” His tone was bitter and Rhys could still sense it behind his relaxed facade.
As the elevator stopped, Rhys and Vaughn knew this was their floor. They both politely thanked Jack and were just about to walk to their apartment when Rhys felt something on his back; more specifically, Jack’s hand was keeping a grip on his shirt, forbidding him from moving.
“Still need to tell you something.” Jack whispered into his ear. Rhys wanted to warn Vaughn that he would talk to Jack for a while but he had no time to do so. He felt his body being dragged back to the elevator, where he was violently pushed to the wall. The door closed before them and Jack was keeping him prisoner between his strong arms that he had slammed against the wall. Rhys could easily escape just by passing under them, but he decided to stay and listen to what that angry Jack wanted to tell him. “Don’t ever do it again.” Jack said, his voice deep and sharp, Rhys felt as if Jack was trying to remain calm and not throwing a tantrum.
“W-what? I didn’t do anything..” Tthis made him think about the strange dream he had. Did Jack discover what he had told to the other Jack?
“What, now you’re making it look like it’s no big deal?” Jack roared. “First you act like the brave hero of the story, you risk your own life and then... you didn’t do anything?”
Rhys was startled by that behaviour. Jack had been.. worried? And he was expressing it by getting mad at him.
“I’m sorry Jack, I just thought I had everything under control,” Rhys apologised sincerely, but it didn’t seem to have any sort of power on Jack, who was still furiously pressing the button to close the elevator every time the doors opened again.
Rhys had once read on a book which said that instead of calming people with silly useless phrases, it’s often better to just make them feel comfortable with some simple gestures. He touched Jack’s arm, his thumb gently caressing Jack’s skin with circling movements. Jack, at first, flinched at the touch, but then surrendered to it and relaxed. He released Rhys from the prison that had been his arms and he crossed them against his chest. Rhys hand stopped their contact with Jack as soon as the other moved away.
“Idiot,” he simply said, and Rhys smiled slightly.
The two of them remained silent for a bit, then when the elevator opened for the sixth time, Jack stormed out, not even looking at the number of the floor. Rhys had the desire to catch up with him, but insisting was probably a bad idea right now.
He decided to return to his apartment.
Chapter 7: Breathless
“Darling, why aren’t you eating?”
Rhys looked around him but he couldn’t find the source of the soft voice that had asked him that. He found himself sitting on a blue chair in front of a wooden table, decorated with all kinds of candies and desserts- including wine, colorful cupcakes, and oddly shaped cakes. All around him he could hear a smooth, relaxing music but the piece that played had no melody to him.
The only disturbing presence in that sweet scenario were cards scattered everywhere , under the pastries and even inside the red wine bottles. They all had the ace of heart on their faces and Rhys felt as if those cards were looking directly at him.
Turning around, there was another chair with a teddy bear on it. Brown and fluffy with extremely big eyes. The immediate area around him emanated a calm aura and it seemed like it was the only place where the cards did not dare go. It seemed like the teddy bear had some sort of repulsive power against them, or a magic field surrounding him- either way he wasn’t scared by the presence of the oddly creepy cards.
Rhys dared moving, but stopped as soon as the cards seem to follow his movements. He felt anxious, as if two different people were dragging him to two opposites sides of the room while another presence- the teddy bear, was instead calmly waiting for him. Rhys’ breathing accelerated, dominated by a strong distress. The cards seemed to notice his mood change and took the opportunity to surround him, slowly closing in to imprison him. Rhys tried to react and fight, but his body felt so weak, it was almost like his arms and legs weren’t responding to his impulses. Meanwhile, dozens of the cards seemed to drown him in a violent embrace.
“Bro! Wake up!”
“What the-“ Rhys woke abruptly on his apartment sofa, his friend next to him with a terrified look on his face. He must have screamed during his nightmare.
“Bro, are you alright? You scared the hell out of me.”
“Sorry Vaughn, I’ve been having lots of these dreams lately and I feel like it’s just getting worse every time.” Rhys sighed, clearly feeling guilty for waking up his roommate.
“I’m not implying anything but...”
Ugh, he’s gonna blame Jack for sure. Rhys rolled his eyes and proceeded to deny it. “No, it’s not him,” he said firmly.
“What, are you talking about your boss? I was just thinking that you should, like, go to the doctor?” Vaughn’s eyes drifted to the ground, it was a delicate subject and something was telling Rhys that his friend did really want to help him. “I’m not saying you’re crazy or anything, but if these dreams bother you, it’s probably for the best to be extra sure about them.”
Rhys scratched his head, his eyes heavy and his mind too tired to even think rationally. “It might be some stress left from Pandora, I don’t think it’s that serious.”
“I really hope that’s the case, bro.” Vaughn yawned and lifted his fist up, waiting for Rhys to react. They both exchanged a fist bump before saying their good nights. Vaughn returned slowly to his room, his movements resembling a lazy sloth and his baggy striped pyjamas making him even more comical to look at. Rhys smiled at that, but tilted his head in surprise when his friend paused at the doorway and took some seconds to think.
“Why did you think I was referring to Jack? Did he do something to you?” Vaughn’s tone was careful and soft but to Rhys those words felt like heavy rocks on his chest. Did Jack do something to him? Well, no- not directly?
“Uh-um. No bro, I’m fine. Get some sleep now, you slug.”
“Slug? Who’s the one who beat your noodle legs at the fun run?” Oh no, he did not just insult him with that marathon they ran when they were in high school. But he wanted to play it cool.
“You beat me that time cause you exercised for months. I’ve been working out lately, you should see my body now, I’m so buff.” Rhys thought about Vaughn’s body. The first time Rhys had seen Vaughn’s abs, his expression had been priceless. And Yvette, too had one of those faces you see only once during your lifetime.
“Wait, what? You seem like the usual long noodle to me.”
“My abs are just so timid they don’t want to show themselves, you know.”
Vaughn snorted at that but got the point, Rhys was trolling him. He returned to his room without saying anything more.
“Bro, I heard you laughing. You’re not fooling me with the sassy attitude.” An answer never came and Rhys assumed he either was fast asleep or he was trying to ignore him. He got comfortable again on the leather sofa, not really having any will to move to his own bed.
“Cupcake, remember there’s the exposition this weekend. Hope you haven’t forget to book the castle for the event.”
Rhys heart skipped a beat. Yes, that was the first time he had ever forget to do something Jack asked. Unfortunately, it was the worst thing he could have forgotten. “I..” He froze, his face going pale but suddenly burning hot, almost sweating.
“Don’t tell me you didn’t do it.”
“Uh- yeah, I did. It seriously slipped my mind...”
“Damn it, now I have to personally call them.” Jack groaned, probably irritated by the fact that he had now to use his authority to obtain the castle for a day.
“I’m sorry, Jack. I can try at least and see if there’s still the possibility of an opening?” Jack didn’t answer, he was already waiting for them to pick up. He paced through the room,Rhys following him with his eyes, his heart still beating fast from the earlier distress.
“Handsome Jack, here. We need your castle for Saturday evening. Hope it won’t be a problem for you.” Jack’s voice was calm and emotionless and that was probably what was going to do the trick. Nobody would ever say no to him, especially if he was even asking ‘gently’ without threatening anybody. It seemed like whoever he was talking to was making him wait, since the room fell silent again and Jack resumed his pacing calmy behind the sofa Rhys’ was seated on. Rhys thought it would be awkward to turn around and continue looking at him, so he just returned to his work in answering some emails.
“Yes, we need the whole place.” Jack’s voice filled the room again and Rhys imagined he had now to answer all those boring routine questions. He felt guilty, that was his own work and he’d completely forgotten about it.
“About one thousand and two hundred people, but we also need space for some display cases.” Jack slightly leaned on the back of the sofa while he talked, barely centimeters from Rhys’ back.
“Food, drinks, a giant cake with a gun on top of it wouldn’t be a bad idea.” Jack grinned a little. “Yeah, sweet cheeks- go ask them.” As soon as Jack said that, Rhys felt the air shift behind him and Jack’s hand traced his neck, Rhys felt a shiver running down his spine, but did not dare move. Next thing he knew there were fingers wrapped around his throat, a disturbing touch that made him swallow harshly.
“J-Jack...” he tried to say, his voice weak and low. That was probably what he deserved for making a mistake, an annoying sensation that was both a caress and the threat of a crushed windpipe.
“Good, I want it to be perfect. I’m sure you won’t forget anything.” Jack ended his call and released his grip on Rhys nonchalantly. He coughed hard, scared of fainting. Jack simply returned to his desk without saying a thing.
Rhys was still shocked by what just happened, his eyes darted everywhere in panic, his hands shaking and the urge to yell at Jack. He leaned against the sofa, trying not to drive himself mad. They both remained silent for a while, Rhys relaxed as minutes passed, not really able to concentrate on his work anymore. Thank god it was almost noon, he wanted to vent to his friends, even if was better not to tell them that Jack had just made a move to strangle him.
“Can you come here for a second, cupcake?” Jack was the one who broke the silence first, calling him without taking his eyes off from his computer.
Rhys got up uncertainly and walked over to him. He stopped in front of his desk, waiting patiently for him to say something. Rhys’ eyes wandered from Jack’s wrist tattoo to his face and then eyes. Jack was really unique- in everything. Rhys tried to imagine his real face under his mask. There were lots of theories and rumors about it, but to Rhys they all seemed so unrealistic. There was no way Jack was wearing a mask that was in reality a shield. Or a mask that prevented him from aging. Rhys was sure there was a much more complicated reason behind it.
Oh for fuck’s sake, he just tried to kill me.
Rhys expression changed abruptly to a pout, he really had to stop thinking of him as a good boss. He had all the requirements to apply for the worst leader of all the time.
“Would you ever think of betraying me?” Jack asked bluntly with no preamble or added context.
“No. But I would run away for sure if you tried to kill me.” He didn’t really want to rub it in, but Jack’s violent behaviour really scared the hell out of him. And god, it was only for a freaking exhibition.
That made Jack smile a little. He got up and walked to Rhys which made him tilt his head in confusion. They remained there for a while, looking at each other intensely, Rhys wanting to say something, to ask him what this was about.
“I can’t seem to get really mad at you, so it’s highly unlikely that you’ll have to run away from me,” Jack stated. “You're a nice presence here and my daughter is really very fond of you. If you ever betray me or her, I will personally chase you down and send you straight to hell, so it’s better if you don’t.”
Rhys nodded, he had never seriously thought of leaving him, just the idea of Jack chasing him for the rest of his life was enough to convince him to stay here. He really couldn’t accept his insane planet-cleansing projects, but instead of being stalked, kidnapped, and then tortured? He just preferred to try to convince him to change his mind.
Jack proceeded to stroke his shoulder in a friendly way. Rhys let out a brief sigh and Jack probably noticed his disappointed face.
“Are you alright dum dum?” Jack asked, probably concerned about those countless emotions that Rhys was showing.
“Yes,” Rhys simply stated. “Your next meeting is in ten minutes, you should go.” His voice sounded a bit sad, as he was expecting something else from Jack. He didn’t really know himself what was bothering him.
“Already?” Jack huffed and grabbed his jacket. “You should go eat, dum dum. Want to take the elevator together?”
“Oh, no. I still have to revise some things. Besides, your appointment is on the other side of Helios.” Rhys just wanted to avoid any more tense chats for now.
His confusion was already a big problem for him. He had no idea what was going on with his body every time Jack got so close to him. Besides, being angry with him, he felt kind of attracted by him but he knew that getting involved in these affairs was definitely not a good idea. He probably had one of those things where the employee wants to always be perfect to their supervisors. Even now, when Jack exited the room with his usual, fierce walk, Rhys couldn’t help but stare after him, his heart beating faster and faster as he scanned every part of his body.
I really need a distraction.
Eventually, the distraction came.
“CEO’s office, Rhys speaking, how can I help you?” His echo had informed him of an incoming call just as he was about to begin his lunch break.
“Howdy Rhys, can you put me on the line with Jack?” An unknown voice spoke to the other side.
“I need you to identificate yourself first.” Rhys sighed, was it so difficult to understand that Jack had a restricted number of people who could have a direct call to him? And that was the real reason why they had to reveal themselves before insisting on talking with him.
“I need to talk to Jack, it’s important.”
Oh no, another creepy obsessed fan? And stubborn, too. “I can’t put you through if I don’t know who you are. How did you get this number?”
“Kiddo, I don’t think you understand the situation fully. I need to talk to him as soon as possible. Like, five minutes ago.”
Rhys wondered why was the female voice seemed to be copying some of Jack’s catchphrases. How did she even know them?
“I can put you on hold but it may take some time” Rhys muted the call and exited the office, searching for Felicity. He was glad she was still there even if the lunch break had already begun.
“Felicity, there’s this creepy woman on the line that absolutely wants to talk with Jack. But she won’t tell me her name. Should we locate her and do a background check?”
She knit her brows, probably unsure of what to do.
“Let’s try to ask her again. Put her on speaker.” Rhys transferred the call from his headphones directly to the loudspeakers on his robotic arm. His arm projected the screen of the call, signaling him the other person was still waiting and had not hung up on them yet.
“Hello, I’m Felicity. Can you please tell us your name, miss?”
“What makes you think that I will give it to you if I haven’t even told the other guy?”
“I advise you tell us without complicating the situation even more. If you’re not going to, please hang up or we will have to block your ID.”
“Are you serious, kiddos? What is with Jack having all this silly security stuff nowadays?”
Rhys and Felicity exchanged a knowing look, both wanting to block her and end this conversation.
As Rhys was about to scroll down the options on his echo, Jack trotted in the room and walked past them, only to return back as soon as he heard the voice on the other line.
“What are you two doing? Who’s that?”
The woman probably heard Jack, because she began screaming his name in hope to be noticed. Rhys was ready to explain the situation but Jack gave him no time. “Transfer her to my echo. And go get a coffee, it’s a personal call.”
Rhys frowned and arched a brow, he really couldn’t believe it. This woman was someone important and not an obsessed fangirl. He obeyed Jack and stared at him as he greeted the woman and went inside his office, shutting the door behind him.
“Well, that was weird..” Felicity stated.
“Absolutely. Who do you think she is?”
“I have no idea, I’ve never heard her voice before, but if Jack wants to talk to her without us she must be someone important.”
Rhys nodded, slightly concerned about the situation. He felt a little annoyed by Jack’s behaviour and he couldn’t help but be a little bit jealous of her. He always felt uneasy when Jack treated him like this, excluding him so rudely.
“Anyway, have you got any plans for lunch?” Felicity broke their silence and Rhys’ mind returned to reality.
“Actually, yes. I’m meeting my friends downstairs. I would ask you to join us but I’m sure you would rather have a quiet and relaxing meal.”
Felicity would definitely not enjoy herself with them, they were a quite loud group and she would probably feel estranged by them.
“How do you know me so well? Anyway, I still have some work left so it’s better for me to just to stay here.” She was already returning to her desk and Rhys felt a little bit sorry for her. She always seemed so busy.
“Alright, don’t strain yourself too much.” He smiled warmly at her and proceeded to take the lift, already thinking about how to describe this crazy day to his friends.
Not much time had passed when Rhys received a message. It was from Felicity, he wondered what had happened, since Felicity used to send him messages only when there were emergencies. Besides, if it was something so important she could have told him earlier, before he took the elevator.
He opened the message and his eyes darkened as he read the first line.
Rhys, I knew it! That woman... she’s Jack ex-girlfriend! And he just told me to send her an invitation to the exhibition. Jack usually doesn’t want these kind of guests to his events, so there must be a special reason. There’s something fishy going on here- we’ll have to keep our eyes on her. And him too, it’s not the first time I have to advise him not to do something stupid.
Rhys sighed but didn’t answer, he felt flustered by the situation and just wanted to see his friends to distract himself.
“So you're telling me Handsome Jack is taking you to that private weapons exhibition?” Vaughn almost coughed up his tuna sandwich after hearing the news from Rhys.
“Yes? I'm his PA, bro, I think it's not as surprising?”
“But aren't you excited bro? You've been always dreaming of participating in that!”
“I'm not, really.. Besides, I wanted to go only because there were a lot of powerful higher-ups and I thought it would be easy to get their attention. I don’t really care about guns and stuff.”
“Is there something bothering you?” Yvette finally joined the conversation, quickly understanding that Rhys was hiding something.
“Oh-um... No?” They both looked at him in clear disbelief, so Rhys lowered his gaze and sighed heavily, letting out all the disappointment he had tried to hide from his friends.
“We had a strange call earlier. A woman was asking to talk directly to Jack and as insisting as she was, we initially thought it was one of those strange people obsessed with him.” Rhys cleared his voice and continued. “Luckily, or not- I don’t really know at the moment, Handsome Jack came back to his office just as we were about to hang up on her.”
Rhys replayed the scene in his mind for the thousandth time, cursing himself for not having interrupted the conversation with her sooner.
“As soon as he recognized her voice, he ordered us to transfer the call to his private line and told us to leave him alone. And... uhm, that’s the story of how Jack’s ex-girlfriend was invited to the private exhibition too.” Another sigh escaped his lips as his plans of having some conversation alone with Jack scattered to the floor. Was it this easy to obtain an invitation? He had literally tried for years .
“That’s... all? I don’t think you should worry about such a silly event.. right, Vaughn?”
“Absolutely! She won’t steal your job, bro. Well, unless she’s a qualified PA, and in that case..”
“Rhys! Are you going to wear that adorable black and blue suit?” Yvette’s elbow collided with Vaughn to quickly shush him. That made Rhys smile a little, at least he still had his clumsy friends with him.
“Should I? It’s quite showy and I don’t think I’m ready for more embarrassing comments from Jack.”
“What? Is he harassing you?” Deja-vu. Why were they so stuck on the idea of Jack harassing him?
“No.. He likes to say silly things just to make people embarrassed.” He blushed a little at that, unsure why- his mind imagining Jack complimenting his attire with one of his flirty lines.
“Alright..” Vaughn exchanged a worried glance with Yvette but didn’t say anything more. “Will you have to follow Jack like always or are you getting a chance to enjoy a free day?”
“Guess I am free to do whatever I want but I will still have to keep an eye on him.”
“You don’t seem to dislike keeping both eyes on him.” Yvette leaned on the table with her hands folded under her chin.
“W-what? I don’t think I understand what you’re implying.” Rhys tried to play it cool but failed miserably as his eyes darted everywhere in agitation.
“Rhys, just don’t do anything dangerous, okay?” Vaughn told him with a broken voice, probably offended by the fact that Rhys seemed to be hiding something big from them.
“God, guys, you’re seriously misunderstanding the situation.” His lack of confidence while saying that probably made everything worse.
“You’ve been acting strange lately and it seems you’re always trying to hide something from us. We’re not trying to push you but we’re honestly worried.” Yvette spoke softly, while Vaughn seemed to be less apprehensive than her, Rhys felt guilty about it. It’s not that he didn’t want to talk with them, he simply couldn’t. Acknowledging the fact that he was a big mouth, he didn’t want to accidentally revealing something super secret.
“I’m sorry guys, it’s just that... It’s complicated for now. Can we talk about it when I’ll have a clear idea of what is really going on in my head?”
“Sure Rhys, but if you need something, you know we’re always here for you.”
“Yeah.” Vaughn’s response was much less enthusiastic than Yvette’s. Rhys imagined he would probably have to give him some time.
“I should go now, Rhys, Vaughn, don’t kill each other without me. That’s a show I don’t want to miss.”
“Don’t worry, I’m going too. Work is driving me crazy me lately.” Vaughn got up as well.
“Oh.” Rhys was surprised that both his friend had to leave this early. Vaughn probably still had some time, but stressed as he looked, he probably wanted to vent somewhere else. “See you laters then, guys.”
They all headed to their respective departments and Rhys returned reluctantly to Jack’s office.
Chapter 8: Auribus teneo lupum
"Holding a wolf by the ears."
An hard situation, you don't know what to do because every decision will lead to an hard path.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
The next two days continued calmly and in a monotonous way, with Jack alternating himself between the office and some affairs on Eden 5. Rhys got the chance to see Angel and get some added advice on his formal attire for the exhibition. When the day came, he was both anxious and excited. The event’s location was in an immense ancient castle on Eden 6, another habitable planet that wasn’t far from Helios.
Rhys got off the spaceship and walked directly to the entrance of the majestic structure in front of him. The facade seemed to be in pink marble, decorated with corinthian capital and two couples of white marble statues on top of the columns that depicted a war scene: one warrior was protecting his ally that had fallen to the ground, while the other two were covering their backs with their wooden bows, ready to shoot on sight. Rhys had no idea where this scene was from, he wasn’t really an passionate of art and history, but he liked the harmony between the bodies of the figures and the sharp architecture of the castle. Being immersed in that beautiful sight, he did not notice someone approaching him.
“Mister Rhys?” Aa soft voice made him return back to reality.
“Oh, that’s me, sorry.” He glanced at the woman standing in front of him, she seemed to be in her late thirties with short blond hair kept tucked behind her ears which were adorned with a pair of white pearl earrings.
“Handsome Jack instructed us to show you around before the arrival of the guests.” She wet her finger and proceeded to turn the pages of the agenda she had in her hand.
“We’ve got forty minutes according to my planner, I’m going to show you the hall and main room first.” She crossed something with a pen and began guiding Rhys through the immense space at a pretty fast pace.
The door to the castle had a high security system that scanned Rhys entirely before it let him enter. As they crossed the hall, Rhys eyes began sparkling at the sight of all that luxury: there was a big chandelier in the middle of the ceiling with a series of crystals stones hanging from it. Each side of the room was occupied by a bunch of white sofas and wooden tables, illuminated by some white crystal abat-jours. At the end of hall, two matching white staircases lead to the upper floor elegantly where he encountered a particularly stunning room .
“As you can imagine this room will be pleasantly illuminated by the light of the moon, it is surrounded by a combination of columns and windows that will create a unique light show.”
“Will the presentation be in this room?” Rhys asked, awed by the thoughts of seeing such a breathtaking beauty.
“Oh no, the other room has far superior acoustics and it is much bigger.”
Well, this room already seemed enormous to Rhys, the other one had to be something else.
Having no other questions, they proceeded up the stairs. Rhys glanced at every corner of the interior, it was stunning how details were played to perfection.
They entered the other room and it was almost four times bigger than the one before. It was impressive the floor was so smooth and bright it reflected everything. At the end of the room there was a big dark wooden stage, the display cases were strategically placed at the two sides of the long room until three tables occupied the area just before the stage. All over the room, to Rhys joy, there were lots of armchairs in group of two or six.
“Our waiters are currently getting ready, they will go around the guests to serve champagne and wine.” She opened her agenda again and handed a document that was kept in one of her plastic folders to Rhys. “This is our winery list, we added a few to the one Handsome Jack had already requested. We are sure they will delight him. It is also possible to change the serving order.”
Rhys was no expert of high quality alcohol so the endless list wasn’t going to tell him much. “Let’s leave them like this, Jack has not told us a precise order, the important thing is that Handsome Jack gets everything he asked for.” He double-checked the list he’d been handed with the email on his echo from by Jack. Rhys had no doubt they were serious enough not to forget anything, but he was glad anyway to ensure that everything was in place.
“Alright.” He gave back the list to the woman. “What’s next?” he asked.
She re-read the program and resumed walking. “Bathrooms and mirror room.”
Mirror room? Is that one of the scary rooms where you have to find the exit? Rhys hoped to be wrong.
They crossed the lounge and opened a door on the right side of the room. In front of them, a great hall had various chambers, most of them were closed except for three. They entered the bathroom first. It was flawless, as expected. Clean and spacious, with exotic flavored soaps and perfumes.
The mirror room didn’t look nearly as creepy as he’d expected. It was simply a tea room with some sofas, armchairs, and coffee tables, but every wall was covered in long, ornate gold mirrors.
“It’s a quiet room where guests can relax a little,” she explained.
“But why the mirrors?”
“We left the original room design, with marble and copper. Our guests often says that this particular room gives them beautiful sensations,” she answered. “Now, these were the main rooms, there’s no need to see the others since they are much smaller and less important. Would you like to wait in the hall? Guests should arrive in 10 minutes.”
“Alright, Jack will arrive a bit earlier, guess I will stick with him then.”
It wasn’t in fact much later when his boss showed up. He was wearing a black and white suit with a yellow bowtie. It was probably a custom tailored outfit considering that the clothes highlighted his muscles and hugged his body perfectly, leaving no gaps in the fit. Rhys’ breathing accelerated as Jack approached him.
“There you are, pumpkin, my favourite man.” Jack entered the hall and greeted him, his presence already warming up the place. “Is everything alright?”
“Yes! We’ve checked everything and I’m relieved to see that this place is very well managed.” Rhys was sincere, he had never seen a place so big yet so clean and properly organized.
“I was talking about you, dum-dum.” Jack seemed to find that amusing.
“Oh. I’m fine?” That was really a weird question coming from Handsome Jack all of a sudden. He was unsure if he should have asked him the same.
“Great, tonight we’re going places, Rhysie. Trust me. This exhibit will surely attract new, wealthy investors.” Rhys just nodded, Jack was really excited about this, he wondered if he had already touched any form of alcohol.
“I will. Should I show you the stage so you can practice your speech?”
“What?” he answered, looking at Rhys as if he had just said something really dumb. “My speech are always improvised pumpkin. That’s why they look so natural. And magical .” He explained.
Rhys laughed a little at that, he had always suspected that Jack didn’t have a real script and was just saying whatever he had in mind.
“I wish it was that easy for me. But talking in front of a crowd without having a planned speech would make me panic.” Rhys admitted, a bit jealous of how clever and confident Jack was.
“Well, I don’t think you should worry, butter cup. I’m the one who has to carry this burden- you should just enjoy it from your seat. It’s unlikely that you will ever have the chance to speak in front of this vast of an audience.”
‘ Butter cup’? Another one?
“Oh, It’s already time?” Rhys saw the first guests arriving. They all stopped by Jack to greet him and compliment his suit. Rhys’ chest felt heavy, he wondered if he was being jealous. He was disappointed mostly by the fact that he was probably the only one who hadn’t had the courage to say anything to Jack about his suit.
Within a short time, a crowd had already surrounded Jack and to Rhys discomfort he found it difficult to regain his boss’ attention. With a little effort he managed to squeeze between a young couple that wanted an autograph from Jack. They stared at him for a while, convinced that Rhys was a fan who had snuck in, but looked at him apologetically as they realised he was in reality one of Jack’s helpers.
“Jack, you should probably get to the stage now, plenty of guests are already here,” Rhys suggested, hoping that Jack would be reasonable.
“Alright cupcake.” He nodded while handing the signed book to a middle-aged woman. Then suddenly Jack got closer to him and whispered in his ear, probably hoping that nobody would hear or question that. “Have I told you already you’re really sexy in this suit?”
Jack’s warm breath against his cold skin sent him a shiver, fed also by the embarrassing compliment he had just received.
Rhys took the chance to compliment too about his clothes. “T-Thanks, you’re not so bad yourself.”
Jack probably wasn’t expecting that, because his eyes lit up and what seemed like a pleased smirk appeared on his mask. “Already knew that, but I appreciate the gesture, butter cup.”
Aaand, he ruined it with his ego. Rhys rolled his eyes.
They parted and Rhys instantly began messaging Felicity, telling her to meet him by the main hall.
The event had begun pretty well- the atmosphere was calm and joyful, nobody was drunk yet, and Jack’s speech was well appreciated.
“You guys know the plan. I’m going to cleanse Pandora and create a better place, a place where there’ll be no bandits, no environmental damage and no more psychopaths.” The audience cheered and they all seemed to be excited but knowing the evil minds behind them, they were probably thinking about the eridium and other treasures hidden in the depths of Pandora.
Despite trying to look like a decent father and a tolerably sane CEO, Rhys had been listening to all of Jack’s raving about his mad projects. Rhys couldn't help but feel at least a little bit guilty. It was true, Rhys had done lots of immoral things during his life but thinking about killing off an entire planet wasn't really making him enthusiastic. He had already tried sometimes to have a serious talk with Jack about it, not really exposing his disapproval to stay on the safe side but it wasn’t easy. Jack looked like the type who would easily die for his projects instead of changing them.
“I want you to double the profits from this year, so no more slacking at work. Or I will have to personally punish you.” Some women squealed and Jack expression changed to a more pitiful one.
“I’m gonna punish you in the bad way.” He smirked on clarifying and Rhys’ heart skipped a beat.
“Anyway, who wants to say hello to our new gun prototype?!” Jack snapped his finger and a loud shout came from the other room, apparently there was some sort of a shooting range. Rhys face palmed. He didn’t know there would be live weapon displays here. Some guests, were already heading to the other room, thrilled to see the newest model from Hyperion.
With the end of his speech, Jack made his way to the front of the stage and struck his trademark pose while waving to the audience; he always looked so powerful, just looking at him was already pretty encouraging, that was probably the reason why there were so many motivational poster with his photos or his catchphrases.
After meeting up, Rhys and Felicity had only one chance to approach Jack. He was with a woman with dark hair and an elegant cape that matched the black sheriff star she had on her white blouse. Jack introduced her to them and they discovered it was in fact the woman they had talked to on the echo- the ex-girlfriend, Nisha. They had not had the time to converse much as some business people approached Jack and left Rhys and Felicity out of the conversation. They decided to watch from afar, comfortably seated on two armchairs.
It wasn’t long after that that Rhys’ mood changed abruptly. Felicity seemed confused by this- not her fault since she didn't know the situation, but still that didn't stop her from trying to get Rhys to spill.
“I saw your face change with a thousand different of emotions right there.” Her hands tapped slowly on the wooden table. “What happened?”
Rhys couldn't help but replay what had just happened in his mind. Nisha, who had excused herself to go get a drink from one of the waiters, returned while making eye contact with Rhys, sticking her tongue out at him and then walking over to Jack only to kiss him with a bit too much passion to be considered within the ‘just friends’ category.
Jack, didn’t seem to have any objections to the situation he found himself in. At first Rhys had been really confused by her childish behaviour- when Nisha got near Jack he felt flustered, his nerves ready to make him get up and go over there to complain. Luckily he found the will to keep himself still. Nisha, it seemed, was now participating actively in the conversation Jack had been having with some wealthy investors, the CEO not even complaining about it while on the other side side of the room, Rhys (who clearly felt more prepared to talk on whatever subject was the basis of their conversation) tried to approach him.
Jack ignored him entirely. This isn't right. Of all the people, I should be the one to stay by his side, I'm the one who has to deal with Handsome-annoying-Jack everyday.
He was furious and Felicity’ concern only made him want to tell her everything- to let it all out. In fact, that's what he did.
“She hasn't any more right than me to stay over there with them.” He was so fed up, he leaned back in the chair and crossed his arms.
“You're talking about Nisha, right?”
“I can't stand this. Jack is all about rules and respect but a pair of boobs appears in his field of view and poof!” Rhys gestured an explosion “All his brain cells are gone.”
Felicity couldn't help but giggle at him, she seemed interested in that new side of Rhys.
“You know, rumors says that back in the days when Jack was dating a certain Pandoran girl, he behaved just like a baby boy, drooling just from the sight of her.” Rhys didn't really know about this and wasn't sure if he could believe that. But Felicity wasn't the type to gossip about nonsense.
“Does Nisha come from Pandora too?” Rhys took another glance at her, she was laughing with Jack- the glass of champagne now empty and all the CEO’s attention for herself. It was really frustrating.
“I don't really know Rhys, her files are all above my clearance and even If I did a background check on all the guest’s list, some information would still be inaccessible. She worked for Jack, I’m not surprised we can’t take a peek,” Felicity explained and Rhys nodded, it had sense that Jack kept hidden the files of the people that were closely involved with him.
“I don't think he will be angry if you join him too. You just have to find a decent excuse.” Felicity smiled warmly, sometimes she felt like some sort of a mother she really could read him so well.
“I'm fine, no need to worry. Besides, I would feel guilty leaving you alone between all these shotguns and assault rifles.” It was the truth, he didn't want to be selfish and leave her all by herself.
“Rhys come on, I'm an adult woman, I can take care of myself. And you staying here is ruining all my chances with men.” Despite trying to sound dead serious while saying that, Felicity wasn't really good at hiding her intent. Rhys knew that she was trying to kick him out on purpose, only to let him go without any remorses.
“Fine, fine, heartbreaker. I'm going.” As he got up from his place, Nisha turned around and began staring at him. Rhys paused for a second, feeling uneasy with that woman who was eyeing every move he made.
The moment he began walking towards them, Nisha quickly whispered something in Jack’s ears and pulled him with her, excusing herself with the others and saying that she needed a moment alone with the CEO.
Rhys felt his body paralyze as they exited the room and headed towards the hallway with the mirror rooms, Jack obviously not complaining.
“Rhys! Follow him, quick!” Felicity was next to him in a second, trying to make him return to reality.
“I... Let's go get another drink, okay?” Rhys couldn't really understand why he sounded so hurt, but the heavy sensation on his chest was making him want to forget about it and enjoy the night. And of course, alcohol was the first solution that popped up in his mind.
Felicity shook him and tried to get his attention. “Rhys.” Her voice was low and serious. “Go get him. You can't leave your CEO with a stranger. Did you forget our job?”
“Uh-um, you’re right, I think.” He nodded and without confidence followed them from afar, not knowing for sure what he had to do. When they vanished inside a room, Rhys was torn. One side of him was struggling to get him to burst in there and ruin everything. The other side just wanted to mind his own business and go find a quiet spot to relax.
Unfortunately, he chose the option that was probably going to hurt him more.
On opening the door, he wasn’t terribly to of find Jack and Nisha kissing enthusiastically and halfway to being naked. Their mouths parted as soon as the light coming from the other room caught their attention but to Rhys’ great uneasiness neither of them tried to cover themselves nor looked to feel embarrassed.
“The hell are you doing pumpkin?” Jack seemed to be more surprised than angry.
“I, uhm... Felicity wanted me to check on you, but I didn’t know where you went, sorry to intrude.” That was a big lie, he had clearly seen them enter that room.
“Got a problem with me, kiddo?” It was Nisha’s turn to show her disappointment, she was also the first to move and began buttoning up her jeans. Rhys gulped, her sharp tone was even more penetrating than her death glare on him.
“No, ma’am. I’m just doing my job?”
“Why don’t you stop doing your job,” she emphasized those words with a click of her tongue, “and join us?”
“Hell no.” Jack luckily gave voice to his thoughts but that rejection made him avert his eyes to the ground, not only embarrassed but also upset now.
“Jack, don’t be rude. Look- you’re making the kid sad,” Nisha said meanly and that got him riled up more than anything. He decided to get out of the situation before he could do anything rash.
“I’m not. Now if you’ll excuse me.” He didn’t wait for a response before he quickly escaped the room as fast as he could, faster than that run long ago with Vaughn. When he reached the backyard, he let out a tired breath and sat on one of the wooden bench in front of the flower section. He replayed the scene in his mind, Jack looking at him and turning him away him with that disgusted tone.
Seriously, what the hell is wrong with me?
He had avoided this for too long now. He had to consider his feelings. No more running away from the obvious. His heart racing when Jack was close to him, his palm sweaty, and his cheeks reddening- the lack of intelligent responses, his mind going blank. He had a crush on his boss. A huge one. And Felicity had told him the first day he got in- she had tried to protect him. It was the worst and he was scared of what would Jack think if he found out. The best choice was probably quitting, but Jack had already threatened him about that. Besides, quitting on Helios wasn’t going to do much, there were no other places for him to go. He ran his hands in his hair, sighing heavily. Either way, Jack was going to kill him. Maybe it was better dying with at least a little bit of dignity.
“There you are, dum-dum.” Someone touched his shoulder.
“What the-” He jumped, scared to death by that sudden touch. When he noticed it was Jack, he silently panicked even more.
“Calm down, it’s just me.” Jack jumped over the bench and sat on it, right next to Rhys. He was oddly silent, so Rhys decided to speak first.
“Why aren’t you with Nisha? Rhys the policeman itsn’t controlling you anymore.” He tried to defuse the previously situation with humor.
“I was angry, but not with you. I needed to calm down.”
“Can I ask you why you’re angry?”
“You can, but who says my answer will be honest?”
Rhys frowned, but asked anyway. “What’s angering you, then?”
“Nothing’s angering me. I’m just fed up with traitors or profiteers and when I think I have the situation under control I always screw up.”
“Did Nisha say something that bothered you?”
“No, pumpkin. She’s a good woman. Despite her being surly with you, she just wants to make sure you’re not going to sell me out like everyone else before you.” That soothed most of his doubts, but Rhys still had no idea who made Jack feel like that.
“I understand. So if it’s not Nisha, and apparently not me, who are we talking about?”
“No one in particular.” Rhys felt a little offended, those vague answers were making him going crazy with curiosity. He decided to change the subject, mostly for his own sake.
“Did you and Nisha get back together?”
“What? No. We already had our chance, we're not going to ruin our friendship.”
“Oh.” Rhys felt a great weight lift from his chest. It was probably not a good idea to show his giddiness, so he just slightly smiled, not able to hold back all of his excitement.
“Were you worried about it, cupcake?” Rhys tried to take a glance at Jack, but as soon as their eyes met he moved his gaze to the ground.
“No! Of course not. I was just wondering... You know, if you get a girlfriend, it will be harder for me to manage your commitments.” he ran his robotic hand through his hair, embarrassed. Jack seemed to be immersed in his thoughts so Rhys silently leaned back on the bench and stared up at the cloudy night sky, peeking at his side from time to time just to see if Jack was still there with him.
“We should go back inside, dum-dum. If you catch a cold you’ll double my work.” Rhys smiled at that, he was glad that he could at least be of a great help. They both got up and walked side to side in the green garden, the melodic call of some strange birds surrounding them. Right before the glass door, they both stopped and began saying something.
“Oh. Go on, you first,” said Jack.
“Uh-um. I just wanted to thank you for this conversation. It was nice,.. and all that.” Rhys cut it short, not wanting to sound too emotional.
In a matter of seconds Jack’s right hand was softly placed on Rhys’ right cheek, his thumb slowly rubbing circles into his now reddened skin. Rhys gulped, surprised by that sudden softness of the touch.
“J-Jack, what...?” He tried to ask him what he was doing, but Jack’s face approaching his own made him bite his own tongue.
They stared at each other for some seconds- an eternity in Rhys’ opinion, before Jack closed the distance and pressed their lips together.
Rhys tried to say something but it came all out as a stifled moan. Jack seemed to react well to that, as he moved to deepen the kiss. Rhys felt close to fainting, he grabbed onto the other man’s jacket and returned the kiss, their lips crushed together in a sloppy synchronization of sorts, still fiery and wild but without real conflict. A guiding hand on his back brought him closer, their bodies now pressed together as the kiss deepened further still, Jack’s tongue wanting to make its way into Rhys mouth, a strong scent and taste of wine pervading him.
When they broke apart for air, Rhys face was red and his breath unsteady. Rhys felt the excitement in his body rise, the kiss had been unexpected but steamy, he couldn't help but feel turned on.
“More..” He muttered, and Jack couldn’t hide his initial surprise but he didn’t waste any time before he leaned down, gently kissing Rhys’ neck. He pushed Rhys against the wall, biting along his tender throat.
Rhys’ body was tense and shaky, Jack was driving him crazy. His heart was beating faster and faster with each kiss Jack placed on him. When he felt a hand grope for his erection a warm sensation filled his whole body, every inch of him eager to be touched by Jack- owned by him. But a sudden realization came crashing down upon him. His rational side was still telling him they couldn’t do this here, it wasn’t safe, it wasn’t right.. He wasn’t looking for sex in the first place and the idea of them fucking each other spur-of-the-moment wasn’t particularly appealing.
He tried to gently push Jack away, but he was trapped against his strong body, he felt like defenseless prey. When Jack was already unzipping his pants, he found the courage to say something.
“W-wait Jack..” His voice was shaky and low.
“We can’t... not here.”
Jack sighed heavily and released his grip on Rhys who suddenly felt cold, a shiver running up his spine.
“I...” Rhys tried to get closer to Jack again but the other man coldly rejected him.
“No.” He simply said. “Let’s go back inside, I still have to introduce that new shotgun.” Rhys could feel Jack’s irritation even in the flat delivery of his offered excuse. He was probably angry at him for interrupting their pleasant moment and Rhys couldn’t feel more guilty about it. He readjusted his clothes and returned inside, wanting to follow Jack but he’d lingered too long in regret and Jack had already disappeared into the enormous flow of guests.
He sighed and bit his lips, he wanted to go back home as soon as possible.
Luckily, Jack sent him a text a while later, telling him he was free to go back home if he wanted.
He accepted the offer of course, ready to sleep tight and forget everything, relax in his own room without anyone disturbing him.
But, luck wasn’t by his side tonight.
“Rhys, can you come over?”
Aaaaand that was the reason Rhys was now clumsily shuffling to the lift, desperately trying not to fall asleep. Whatever it was between him and Jack had already brought him strange dreams and a lack of sleep but he couldn’t just ignore Angel’s messages- especially with Jack still at the exhibition with Felicity. Thank god he had allowed Rhys to leave, he couldn’t imagine having to stay another four hours or more in that place.
Returning to the situation at hand, he was really concerned. Maybe she’s sick or she needs help with something.
Rhys yawned and sent her a message, telling her he was at the door. Not much later the metal door creaked a little and just as it opened, Rhys (who wasn’t paying enough attention like always) was brutally dragged inside by a tight grip on his left arm.
“What the-“ The living room was dark and Rhys nearly tripped against the other person.
“Shh, it’s me,.” aA quiet voice responded.
“What’s happening, Angel? What was that?” Rhys nearly yelled at her, but fell silent as he smelled something strange and strong like alcohol.
“Uhh.. nothing?” Angel chuckled a little and Rhys could smell the same unusual scent again.
Oh god don’t tell me, h e prayed.
“You’re finally here Rhys.” Angel’s fingers began playing with the fabric of his shirt.
Well, she’s definitely drunk.
Rhys smiled a little at that, she was really adorable. But apart from that, he really had to do something. “I’m happy to see you too, but you should really sit and drink some water now.” He recommended, but she closed the distance.
“I don’t want to.” Their chests were pressed one against the other and Rhys was now furiously blushing, both embarrassed and excited by the situation. Something inside him was telling him not to do anything with Angel. And besides, he really felt bad for Jack. He didn’t want to be disrespectful to him. And that kiss from earlier worried him even more. Why is everyone trying to get in my pants today? h e thought and laughed by his own stupid joke.
“Angel, you’re not able to take the right decisions at the moment... you should relax a little.” That seemed like the most polite and politically correct thing to say.
“You’re not my father, Rhys.”
Well, obviously. “But I’m like a second father to you, I have to be sure you’re safe and happy. And not drinking alcohol.” She ignored those words and Rhys sighed.
Angel’s hands travelled under his shirt and his skin felt almost irritated under her icy touch. A shiver traveled through his body and he gently tried to guide her hands away, but she cried out, “No! Rhys, please. Stay with me.”
He managed to push her towards the sofa, but being in the dark and not able to see anything they both came crashing down on it. Obviously, Angel didn’t waste any timeseconds to jumping onto him. He was laying under her, his legs trapped between her hips and her hands slowly inspecting him, as if she had no idea what to do next.
“Angel, please, get off..”
“You’re the first person ever that made me forget my depressing life as a prisoner. I want you to stay with me.” The amount of alcohol she had consumed was probably making her say that and Rhys actually felt sad to know that she considered herself no more than a prisoner. Rhys knew Jack was doing everything to protect her, he couldn’t blame him. Everyone would try to get to his daughter if they knew about her existence.
“Angel, I will always be by your side, but if your father sees us likes this he will not only forbid you from seeing me, he will also throw me out an airlock.” He gulped at his own words, he definitely had to return home. But he couldn’t leave Angel in this mental state by herself. God just tell me what to do.
When Angel didn’t answer him but continued touching his body insistently, he abruptly tried to get up, only to find himself tangled even more with Angel, her legs imprisoning his hips. Their faces were so close he could feel the terrible scent of that peach and lemon flavored vodka she had clearly had too much of.
She tried to lean in for a kiss but instead got his nose, then his right eye, and then his cheek.
Rhys rolled his eyes and sighed. He couldn’t bear much more of her touching and rubbing against him, mostly because his body was over sensitive from his earlier interactions with Jack.
“I’m sorry for this, but you will thank me later.” He pushed her back with all his strength, making her fall to the other side of the sofa. In a matter of seconds he was free to move and to get up. He quickly searched for the light, and when he managed to turn it on, he almost gasped.
Behind the sofa there was a broken glass bottle, alcohol spilled on the ground and a series of sticky memos scattered in the mess. Angel, who had her hand pressed to her forehead in pain from the sudden light was barely dressed with a crop top and a pair of shorts.
He definitely had to clean up that disaster. Jack would be so angry if he found out.
He walked to the kitchen and got a trash bag and some paper towels. Returning to the living room, he was glad to see that Angel was calmly laying on the sofa- not trying to assault him anymore. He pulled up his sleeves and began cleaning that mess.
“You act like I’m just a little girl, Rhys. Am I not attractive enough?”
“You're very attractive, Angel. But I would feel so guilty for your father and you to take advantage of the situation.”
“Screw him. I’m the one who wants it to happen, so there’s really nothing you should worry about.”
Oh Angel, if only it was so easy. “I won’t do anything with someone who is affected by alcohol. You’re not the main problem here, sweetie,” he assured her.
“Then should I ask you when I’ve sobered up?”
“Oh.” Rhys was surprised by that affirmation. He really hoped Angel would forget it the morning after. “Of course.”
He really couldn’t handle refusing her another time. She really was a wonderful girl; sexy, bossy, but still friendly and sweet. In any other situation he would have probably been the one attracted to her, but at the moment.. he simply had another person in mind. Even if he had messed up the situation with him .
After Rhys finishing cleaning up Angel seemed to have fallen asleep. He didn’t want to wake her up just to tell her to change clothes before her father would come back, so he just covered her in some blankets, careful not to move her too much but also to wrap her steadily, hoping that the blankets would stay in place.
Chapter 9: Dreams
Rhys felt devastated.
He had managed to sleep only two or three hours and he was anxious about what had happened both with Angel and her father. Rhys was worried about her, he wondered if talking to her through text messages would make her feel better.
He decided to wait a little bit just in case she was still angry with him.
Jack entered the room with a yellow mug in his right hand and a pamphlet under his other arm. He sat carelessly on the sofa, right next to Rhys, probably not even knowing the definition of grace since he almost made Rhys jump in his own seat. He wondered why Jack wasn’t going to sit on his own desk, maybe he wanted to make up for the night before?
“Cupcake can you move your things off my side of the coffee table before I throw this super hot cappuccino directly in your face?” Well, no. Apparently Jack had no intention to talk about it. Rhys was unsure of how he could sound this calm knowing what had happened between them just the day before. He was hurt by Jack’s choice of totally ignoring that. He collected enough courage to answer without showing his disappointment.
“Please don’t, my face is already done with all the punches I’ve taken lately.” He tried to sound as bored as possible.
“You’ve shown them you’ve got the guts to defend yourself, everything after that is just a prize of honor.”
Rhys was not sure he could consider black eyes and bruises something to be proud of. He wanted to change the subject, so his mind travelled back to the woman who had assaulted him down on Pandora. He hadn’t received any news lately and his kind heart wanted to at least be sure she wasn’t being tortured. She tried to kill him, but he couldn’t hate her.
“Is Mary going to stay in prison for the rest of her life?” he asked, his voice low and his eyes looking everywhere but at Jack.
“Who, that Pandoran freak?” Jack’s voice raised instantly. Talking about bandits or general people on Pandora had the great power of making him immediately nervous. “Our scientists will probably use her for something fruitful, we don’t really want to babysit psychopaths, do we?”
Rhys had guessed they would have done something like this. His trip on Pandora had definitely increased his sensibility on the subject. He almost felt like someone else- someone who wasn’t affiliated with Hyperion anymore. He had always ignored what was hiding in the dark side of Hyperion, not feeling responsible for it if only because he wasn’t personally involved. Too bad for him that working for Handsome Jack was making him as sinful as anyone else in this company. Now that he had seen the real side of what Hyperion was doing, he felt dumb and cruel- he had a growing inner desire to stop Jack, stop his insane projects from hurting more innocent people on Pandora.
“Jack, can I ask you something?”
“Go on.” Jack was full immersed in a brochure, he answered without even raising his head.
“Don’t you think sometimes that... Uh, um.” Rhys bit his tongue, he really had no idea how to deal with this delicate subject with him.
“Am I too distracting?”
“Oh- No, I just wanted your opinion on-”
“Jack, Rhys, can you come over for a second?” The serious tone of voice from Felicity via intercom interrupted him. Jack sighed and left everything scattered on the table as he lazily got up. Rhys did the same while mentally cursing the bad timing. They both exited the metallic door and reunited with Felicity, who was impatiently waiting with a tablet in her hands and her fingers tapping on the screen.
“What is it?” Jack arched a brow, he was probably just as confused by Felicity’s sudden call.
“There’s a problem.” She quickly opened one of her many emails on the echo and handled it to them. Jack took it from her roughly. They both looked at the image on the screen- it appeared to be a red cave with some dark minerals in it. The ground consisted in red sand and a series of sharp stones.
“The hell is this?” Jack gave voice to Rhys’ thoughts too.
“There’s a rumor spreading regarding the appearance of a new vault.” Jack immediately widened his eyes and stared at her, waiting for more information. Rhys could feel the tension rising. “Two vault hunters claim that the monster inside of it has a strange power of regeneration in a to what seems like the ability to manipulate fire. Our informants sent us this photo of the apparent location.”
“I need someone to investigate the place. I want more information, if this is legit or just one of the usual vault hunter’s silly traps.” Rhys could feel the pull Jack felt to just go down on Pandora and search for information with his own eyes, but he was right- they had to be sure nobody was baiting them into a trap.
“That regenerating power. If I had an army of immortal soldiers like those Dahl scum had years ago we would take over Pandora in a heartbeat.” Jack grinned and Rhys wondered if there was a way to ever change Jack’s mind. He highly doubted it.
“Yes, Jack, I’ve already informed your team- best case scenario, nobody will die in a vault hunter trap and you will get all the info you need by three days at most.” His team... That means the other Jack. Rhys instantly regretted not telling Jack about the plans they set in motion behind his back but he hadn’t had the courage. Those projects were helpful for people on Pandora and Rhys had to deal with enough guilt already.
“Alright, tell them to keep their eyes open, I can’t afford to go down myself and leave Angel alone for so much time.” He said, but Rhys could sense the grief in his words, he probably wanted to go and investigate right this instant. Thank god he still had some sense in him.
“We understand, Jack. Staying here and protecting her is the best you can do. Do you want me to call Nisha too?”
“No, it’s safer like this. She’s not affiliated with us anymore and I want to be sure about the people I give my trust to.” Rhys felt as if someone had punched him in the gut as he heard that. This wasn’t going to end well, he was sure.
“Alright. On that note Angel left you a message since you didn’t answer her texts- she’s asking you if it would be okay for you two to go bowling tonight. And she wants you to invite Rhys.” Jack glanced at Rhys and he felt his cheeks coloring, he hoped Angel hadn’t told him anything about her drunken night.
“Do we have any more work for tonight?” Jack asked and Rhys felt relieved nobody asked him about his now completely red face. He tried to calm down.
“Knowing your daughter's request beforehand, I already took care of some of it and rescheduled a visit to the R&D.”
“You’re basically telling me I now have no excuses to refuse with?”
“Exactly,.” she answered, self-satisfied.
Jack sighed heavily, bowling probably seemed boring to him now that he had received the exciting news of a vault . Rhys wasn’t enthusiastic either, mostly because he had always sucked at bowling- Yvette and Vaughn had beat him countless times.
“Pumpkin, guess you’re stuck with us for tonight.” Rhys saw him rolling his eyes.
“Jack, Angel’s request was to invite Rhys, not to force him to come with you.”
Rhys snorted to Felicity’s comment while Jack was probably still trying to figure out what he had done wrong.
“It’s okay, Felicity, I had no plans for tonight anyway.” He tried to sound less hurt than he felt. He really wasn’t in the mood for more drama but he convinced himself he probably had to confront Angel and Jack sooner or later.
“Then it’s set.” Jack slapped his back in an almost-friendly manner, maybe putting too much spirit in it. “Come to my floor by nine. And wear something casual, it would be awkward if people began thinking that we are on a date.” Ouch . That comment stung a bit, Rhys felt ashamed that Jack was now treating him like that.
All he managed was a slight nod of his head. Felicity probably noticed his sudden change in demeanor and managed to distract Jack with other useless info about the vault to let Rhys return alone to the office.
As Rhys won another match with quite a perfect score, Angel began tickling him while complaining. “God, this is your penalty for being too good.”
“Well thanks!” Between a laugh and another he managed to answer. He wasn’t even that good, it was just that Angel was really... bad.
“Ugh, why did I even invite you?” she said, but Rhys was sure she was completely joking just by the wide smile she had had on her face the whole time. Meanwhile, her tickling war came to a stop and she turned to Jack, who was boringly reading something on his echo, completely ignoring the two. Rhys guessed he was spamming Felicity or his informant, demanding info on the vault monster.
“Dad, are you sure you don’t want to play?” Angel asked, using her cute puppy eyes to try and corrupt him.
Jack nodded casually, not even taking his eyes off whatever he was doing.
Angel didn’t seem to give up this easily, so she changed tactic. “I have a brilliant idea.” She grabbed Jack’s arm and began dragging him not even giving him the time to get up from the bench.
“What the... what are you doing?” He asked, his voice deep and annoyed by that sudden behaviour.
Angel left his grip on him and giggled a bit, Rhys wondering what was passing through her diabolical mind.“We’re going to play cards!” Rhys thought it was going to be worse. But... cards? At first he had no idea where she wanted to do that, but then he remembered he had seen an area near the entrance that was used as a cardroom.
“Pfft,” Jack teased her. “Babygirl are you sure? It’s ridiculous that you want to play with me even if I lost count of all the time you-“
“Yeah yeah, Dad. Just...” Rhys imagined she was going to tell him to shut up but she just sighed and began guiding them to the cardroom. They followed obediently, Rhys could see by the corner of his eyes that Jack was still grinning. Damn, what a douche.
They sat at a wooden table and a weird looking guy with sunglasses and a fedora approached them with a bunch of different card’s boxes in his hands. “Sir, did you decide already what kind of cards you’re going to use?” he was elegantly dressed, it looked like one of those butler suit.
“We’re using mine! I brought them from home.” Angel said, giggling a bit.
“Alright. Then, have a good game,.” the man said and went to greet another group who had entered the place.
“Sweetie, I hope those cards you’re keeping with you are not those boring, useless, fake, idiotic-“
“Uno cards!” She took them out of her bag and Jack’s disgusted expression confirmed those were the cursed cards he was talking about. Rhys didn’t mind Uno, it was a fun game and being a patient person, he didn’t really mind losing at a silly game.
Angel began shuffling the cards quietly and that only made it obvious that she was planning something evil. To confirm that, after giving them their cards, she blocked them. “Wait. Before starting... I’m adding a new rule.”
“What. This game is already awful, I’m not letting you ruin it even more,” Jack complained and Rhys tried to hide his smile, those family bickering were always too fun to watch.
“Shh.” Angel hushed him up. “I’m not changing anything in the game. It’s just that...” A moment passed before she continued and Rhys just guessed she was doing that to tease Jack even more. “The losers will have to do something the winner decides.”
Oh. Rhys felt caged like a little innocent animal as Jack and Angel both had a different but malicious expression on their faces.
“Oh babygirl, you asked for it. You’re gonna regret it so much.”
Famous last words.
Rhys’ cheeks coloured, the situation was definitely getting out of his hands.
Spending time with Jack out of the office was already embarrassing enough, but playing cards with Jack and Angel was on another level. There was even a penalty system where the loser with more cards in hand would have to do one round of truth or dare chosen by the winner.
They played the hundredth match of Uno and as Jack lost yet another time, his patience was about to abandon him.
“Oh hell no, you two are definitely cheating. Or this game has some secret techniques I’m not aware of. Either way, I’m gonna get angry if I find out.” Jack furiously threw his remainings cards on the table and leaned on his chair, his arms folded to his chest waiting for his next penalty.
“Dad, this one is sooo good.” Angel couldn’t do anything but keep giggling, Rhys was curious of what absurdity she was about to make Jack do. “You have to tell something nice about Rhys. And it has to be true and sincere.”
Jack’s face was a mixture of incredulity and embarrassment, priceless.
“Why does it always have to involve me?” Rhys said while sighing, all this closeness to Jack was hurting him a bit, since after that damn kiss Rhys felt even more attracted to Jack.
Jack ignored his whine and started humming, thinking about his penalty.
“Well he’s good with his work. And he is quiet. And really good looking.” Rhys tried to ignore that last compliment, but his heart was already racing.
“Dad!” Angel cried, a disgusting expression on her face.
“What?” he just asked, not imagining that in reality Angel was super jealous.
“Don’t flirt in front of me, ugh. And not with Rhys!” she complained.
“Baby girl I wasn’t flirting, I was just stating the truth as you wanted.” He grinned at her and Angel rolled her eyes.
“Whatever, can you get me a smoothie? I saw the bar is near that casinoó and I’m a little anxious to go there myself..”
Rhys spotted instantly the lie. Angel would never have some problems to wander alone, since she hated to be treated like a little girl by Jack.
Jack didn’t mind it or just made no attention to her change of attitude, he quickly got up, probably glad that his daughter didn’t want to play anymore.
Rhys eyes prayed him not to go, he sensed Angel was about to tell him something embarrassing and pretty important and he absolutely didn’t want to make her sad. Unluckily, Jack was already walking away.
“Chocolate please!” Angel shouted at her father just as he was about to turn the corner to the bar. Jack didn’t answer, but they were sure he had heard it.
When Angel was sure her father was far from hearing -or Rhys assumed she was doing so, since she kept glaring at him while he was walking- she cleared her voice.
“Are you having fun? I am. A lot.” She emphasised those words.
“Yeah, I needed some time off, it’s nice being here.” Lie. He already had plans with Vaughn but had to cancel. Still, being with the domestic side of Jack was pretty amusing. And Angel was a pretty fun game companion.
“So... I wanted to ask you something.” Angel cheeks coloured slightly and Rhys knew already where the conversation was about to go.
“G-go on.” he said, while already thinking of something to tell her to avoid breaking her heart.
“I...” she coughed, her finger furiously tapping on the table without her noticing. “I like being with you.” Her eyes moved to the ground, not able to look at Rhys anymore. “You’re always by my side and you’re even helping me with my situation with my dad. I really really like you Rhys.”
Rhys heart skipped a beat. Of all the moments... here, with Jack. He mentally cursed, this was the worst time of all. He had to be delicate and tell her that he wasn’t interested. Without making her cry, run with embarrassment or get angry with him.
“Uh..” Rhys prayed this would work. “That’s good to hear. You know, I always thought I wasn’t much to you?”
“Oh. But, I always thought I was making it obvious?”
“Guess I’m not really the smart type?” Rhys let out an embarrassed laugh and passed a hand through his hair.
“Yeah well, in any case..” she wanted to continue the conversation but her dad was already back with her drink. This made her roll her eyes, thank god Jack didn’t notice.
There was an awkward silence between them for the next five minutes or so, Angel ignored them while drinking her smoothie and Jack just returned looking at his echo. After a while, he was the one to break the silence.
“Angel, I wanted to tell you something and since Rhys is here I think there won’t be a better time.”
Jack introduced a new subject like this and Rhys coughed on his own drink. Hell no. He’s not telling her what happened. Rhys palm faced, was the air in this bowling contaminated with something? Since everyone just wanted to spit out confessions.
“Oh. What is it?” Angel arched her brow, her curiosity winning over her.
“Shouldn’t we... talk about it in another place?” Rhys asked, the tension making him go pale as a ghost.
“Why? Is something wrong with here and now?” Jack asked and turned to look around the room, which was completely desert at the moment. Guess everyone just preferred bowling instead of cards.
“Are you alright Rhys?” Angel asked with her usual cute tone, Rhys was surprised how she had managed to remain calm after her failed crush confession.
“I’m fine don’t worry..”
“Well as I was about to say-”
“Are you sure it is okay for her to know this? It’s not really a big deal..”
“What are you talking about? Cupcake, I swear to god if you interrupt me one more time I’m going to-”
“Can you just say it? I’m not following neither of the two, you're just saying nonsense to me.” Even Angel had interrupted him and despite the earlier anxiety, the situation was making Rhys trying to hold back a giggle, seeing how fed up Jack looked.
“Yes sweetie. As I was trying to say..” They all returned serious and Rhys felt his heart explode in his chest. He wasn’t ready to cope with this. Nono, this was the worst. Funny prank ends bad or something like that.
“We discovered another vault on Pandora. It’s likely that we will have to leave for a day or two.”
“Oh.” Rhys let out an anxious breath he was holding and Angel and Jack exchanged a confused look.
“That’s good... I think. Is Rhys coming with you?”
“He’s coming down on Pandora with me, but if we’ll enter the vault, he’s going to stay outside.”
“What, why?” Rhys had no particularly desire to go in, but he wanted to know exactly why he was allowed to go down on Pandora but not to go in the vault. He wasn’t really prepared in the vault subject, but he thought that vault monster could be defeated easily with a good team.
“I’m not taking you in there. It’s too dangerous. I only need you down on Pandora to show you something.” Rhys nodded at that, not wanting to persist on the subject. He wanted to ask Jack when they’ll be going, but his boss anticipated him.
“I’ve been exchanging messages with the team which is investigating the vault right now. We already have enough info to go there tomorrow.”
It surprised him that they gathered so many information in so little time, they just discovered this morning the existence of that monster.
“Isn’t it... too early?” Rhys asked and Angel agreed with him.
“Vault hunters and other corporations are just waiting for the right moment to steal the vault from our hands. It’s never too early for this kind of things.”
Rhys guessed he was right. If Hyperion knew about the vault, it was probably wise to think that other people knew too.
“Alright. Should I cancel all your meetings and appointments then? And what do I tell to Felicity?”
“Felicity’s already informed. And no, there’ll be someone who will replace me. Nobody has to know I’m not really here while we are on Pandora.”
“Jack.” Rhys spoke quietly. “I’m sorry for panicking earlier..” He apologised, breaking the embarrassing silence that had followed them during their trip back from the bowling. They were outside Jack’s house, Rhys wanted to talk to him privately before going down on Pandora the next day.
Jack shrugged his shoulders and acted like he didn’t care at all, Rhys bet he had other much more important things in mind. But he chose to insist a bit with the subject. “I thought you were going to joke on what happened to the exposition.” White lie, he was in reality terrified of Angel’s reaction, but he didn’t want to reveal that he was in fact the one who had made his daughter suffer.
“Why should I joke on that?” Jack simply answered, his relaxed figure slightly leaned on the door.
Rhys’ cheeks coloured, he really felt hopeless. That promise he had made to himself, to never fall in love with his colleagues or his superiors, was pressing heavy on his shoulders. He felt guilty, but at the same time that attraction was blinding him, sometimes he felt like he had no control on his whole body and mouth.
“I thought you only wanted to play with me?” Really, his low confidence mixed with the sad and scary sensation of being rejected contributed to that highly ironic response.
“I know my extremely good looks may have tricked your mind, but I don’t usually kiss people for fun.” That made Rhys’ heart jump a bit. It wasn’t a love confession, but Jack had subtly told him that the kiss had an actual meaning and wasn’t just random. He also noticed that Jack had a calm tone, more than usual, he looked so natural and full of himself. “It’s hilarious cupcake, really,.” Jack added, a slight sign of amusement in his voice. Rhys eyes rolled, hoping Jack wasn’t going to mock him now.
“What?” he asked.
“You’re naive, a weak legboy and you’re also terribly clumsy. You don’t ever have a pair of big breasts to compensate.” Jack snorted, amused by his own statement. Rhys eyes darted to the ground, not knowing what was the point of this offensive list Jack was doing. The answer came soon, when Rhys felt his chin being lifted by a strong and rough hand. At first he thought Jack was going to lecture him for acting sassy and ignoring him, but when their eyes met, Rhys saw a genuine expression coming from him. After a while, Jack released his grip and sighed heavily. “You know, pumpkin, that’s exactly the reason why that happened,.” Jack explained, his face stoic but his voice lower and more serious. “And the reason why I can’t control my hands whenever you’re around.” Rhys tilted his head, a questioning look on his face. He really had no idea what Jack was trying to say now.
“God, your face. Those stupid innocent eyes of yours. They drive me crazy everytime I look at your stupid expression.”
Rhys blushed a lot at that, he wasn’t aware of the fact that Jack was attracted to him as well. Or... his eyes? Well, anyway, they’re part of the whole package. He had butterflies in his stomach and was already overthinking, unable to keep his hands from shaking from the tension. “I-I didn’t know...” that was all he was able to say, babbling uncontrollably.
Jack noticed his discomfort and reached Rhys’ right hand, holding it tightly in his own.
“You don’t really have to do this.” Rhys said at last, when he felt that the whole situation was getting extremely awkward. “Angel is probably waiting for you.”
“Princess, you might already be aware of my low level of patience, so I’m not going to keep chasing you in this silly game.” That was probably his rude way of asking Rhys if he wanted to develop something between them or to simply forget about it. His rational side of him was questioning him if this was the right thing to do, while the other side of him was literally yelling at him, telling him to jump in Jack’s arms and never let him go. He found his voice stuck in his throat, but his eyes were already shining with the idea of getting closer to Jack.
Jack, impatient as always, did not wait for a proper response. Probably, the fact fact that Rhys wasn’t refusing and running away (instead, he was blushing and freaking a bit, his hands going through his hair a lot, unable to remain still), was already an adequate evidence that Rhys wanted to stay with him.
Jack got closer to him, Rhys scanned his face yet another time, those unique traits which made him so attractive and charming, in particular the heterochromia of his eyes. That damn mask was only contributing to Jack’s handsome appearance. Or so Rhys thought. He did not know if he was the only person obsessed with the mask thing, he really had never talked about this with anyone.
"Is this your final answer?” Jack asked when their lips were practically few centimeters apart, Rhys could sense his warm breath against his own skin. He nodded cautiously, still feeling a little bit tense about the whole situation. Their lips touched lightly, a shy kiss at first. Jack’s adjusted his hands on Rhys’ lower back, deepening their kiss and closing the gap between their body. Rhys was in awe just like their first kiss in that garden, he felt just like one of those timid teenagers who get to kiss their crush for the first time. However, this time, he wanted to lead the whole scenario. He wasn’t really that confident, but when Jack didn’t react to him playing with the collar of his white shirt and caressing his skin, he had the sensation he could act freely as well.
Rhys moaned when Jack bit on his upper lip all of a sudden. It didn’t hurt, he wasn’t just expecting it at all, mostly because now he felt like his whole body was burning, growing more and more hot and excited at every touch and kiss they exchanged. His right hand travelled again on Jack’s body, this time tracing an imaginary line all the way down his chest. But when he found found his way under Jack’s yellow sweater, he felt the skin tense under his touch. It wasn’t in fact much later when Jack broke their kiss, leaving him breathless but disappointed by that harsh action.
“Woah, calm down lover boy, not in front of my house at least.” Jack reached his wrist, who was still under his many layers of clothes, but Rhys was already moving away from him, embarrassed by being blocked like that. He was right, it wasn’t a wise thing to do that right now. Besides, Angel was probably getting seriously worried now. He adjusted his own clothes and hair, who were a little messy cause to that unexpected exchange. He still managed to giggle a bit, thinking about what had happened with their first kiss at the palace. It seemed like their roles were reversed now.
“Weren’t you the one who wanted to do that in a public place? More specifically, in a garden, during an exposition with thousands of guests?” Rhys still had enough adrenaline in him to be all sarcastic and playful.
“Maybe, but-.” Jack cleared his voice. “This is all you’re getting for now, I’m dead tired and I still have to set some things up for Pandora.” Jack’s words seemed ineffective even for he himself, since the serious tone didn’t last long and when he saw that fuzzy look on Rhys’ face, he couldn’t help but plant another kiss on his lips, this time quick, but still warm and exciting to Rhys, who obviously whined when they parted yet again.
“You don’t really seem satisfied with the ‘All I’m getting for now’.” For once, Rhys was the one who was teasing. Rhys swore he had seen a slight smile on Jack’s mask, but it wasn’t easy to figure out his true emotions.
“Go get some sleep tiger, you’re getting too full of yourself now.” It wasn’t a real threat, so Rhys just smiled at that. But it was really time to go, he still had to talk with Vaughn about his new duty on Pandora. He rolled his eyes at the thoughts of spending another hour reassuring his friend and promising him he would be careful.
“Yes, I’m get going now.” Rhys nodded. “So... we’ll meet in the hangar tomorrow morning?”
“Exactly. Don’t be late. Even if you’re never late. But don’t be late particularly tomorrow.”
Well, Rhys was proud of being efficient at his work at least. He was always scared of being late, so he usually preferred to arrive early at the office.
“Got it. Good night, Jack.” He said, founding it highly awkward right after. Was it so difficult to tell his boss good night? Was he still his boss or...?
“‘Night, marshmallow.” That new nickname caught him off guard, so much that he remained still for at least five seconds, slowly processing the information. When he realised time was passing, he turned around and proceeded to the elevator. He swore he had seen a grin on Jack’s face, but maybe it was his own imagination.
Chapter 10: Cursed place
Rhys was furiously running. Something big was coming after him, he could feel it. He wasn’t brave enough to turn around and look behind him, he was just proceeding through the dark without thinking much about what to do next. By the time he ran into that identical fallen tree for the sixth time, he had the sensation he was just running in circles. Those falling leaves on the ground were annoying him, it was so hard to run without slipping on them. Besides, he wasn’t feeling good. His headache was torturing him and he felt like he could not keep his eyelids open. He felt strange, a mixture of anxiety and discomfort was surrounding him. When he suddenly stopped, in front of him there was that damn tree again. Something scary was approaching him, he could hear footsteps. When he finally decided to turn, he found nothing. Not only no one was apparently chasing him, but now there wasn’t anything anymore, it was all dark and empty?
He felt like falling, slowly descending in an unknown hole.
This time the area was completely different, it was just an immense forest, dark and humid, the atmosphere was oppressive and the fact that there wasn’t a single glimpse of light gave Rhys an anxious feeling, he felt weak in the presence of those tall and spooky trees that grew everywhere, intricated one with the other.
Jack had shown him before that the vault was just outside the forest, to the exact other side of where they were right now, approximately eight or nine kilometers north west. But his plan was to meet his soldiers and scientists far from the vault, just in case someone was hiding in the forest, waiting to jump on them as soon as they got distracted. Jack spent about thirty minutes dividing his soldiers in five different teams. Two team had to go first and keep about a two kilometers distance from Jack and the other two teams. The last one had to go slow and make sure nobody was following them. Furthermore, Jack had already ordered other soldiers and loader bot to inspect the forest and the areas nearby. Basically, he wanted to have control of the whole region, just in case some vault hunters wanted to intrude in the scene.
They had not walked much when they had encountered their first obstacle. The lead team had already informed him, but Jack ordered them to proceed without doing anything. He wanted to solve the ‘problem’ himself.
“You see them pumpkin? Those are the animals who are corrupting this planet.” Rhys tried to look in the same direction where Jack’s eyes were aiming. Crouched between a series of tall bushes made it harder to analyze the zone, thank god his echo eye was so efficient even with huge distances. Still, it was almost like they had a whole different scenario in front of them: as Jack was looking at a bunch of dirty cockroach (his own words), what Rhys could only see was a group of people busy with gathering materials. It was a modest camp, there was even a little house made from woods. Two men were currently taking down a tree while an old woman and two other adult women were taking care of a bunch of children. They were wearing dirty clothes, feathers and shiny stones as accessories.
“Look at them. Don’t you feel angry? To waste this planet full of resources to let these primitive bandits live.” Rhys took another glance at the familiar scene. They didn’t look neither like psychos nor like bandits. But they all had knives or guns with them, Rhys guessed that from their waist holders. Even children were keeping a weapon, one of them, who looked no more than nine or ten years old, was currently cleaning his little gun, not an Hyperion for sure, judging by the red glowing colour and other bizarre details.
Maybe they were keeping them to protect themselves? Rhys tried to convince himself they weren’t bad people. As if Jack had read his mind, he continued. “See that child holding a gun? He’s not the only one. They are all armed as heck. This is probably their secret camp, where they bring their victims to kill and rob them. This would explain why they are living in such a desolate place.”
Rhys lowered his head, this felt so wrong and without much sense, Jack was just making things up, he was sure about it. Maybe they just wanted to live far from villages. And they had weapons to kill monsters. Even if in almost two hours of walking they had not encountered a single one of them. He wasn’t like Jack, he did not have an obsession, he had his own ideas and was not convinced that everyone on pandora had to be a psycho or a bandit. He decided, for the first time, to disagree with him. “What if they are only trying to protect themselves?” His fist clutched tight. “We can’t really affirm things like this just by looking at them.”
He could feel Jack’s nerves already warming up next to him. “Are you kidding me? You don’t think those people deserve our pity.” His tone felt surprised more than angry, Rhys thought this was probably genuine, since he always acted like he agreed with Jack’s mad convictions.
“I think.. we shouldn’t judge and condemn them just by thinking that everyone is insane and guilty on Pandora.” Rhys, despite feeling already adrenalized by the discussion, tried to keep a low voice, he didn’t want to be the cause of the failure of the plan.
Jack, instead, was already raising his tone, his face burning from the desire to prove Rhys wrong. “Just look at their equipment, idiot, they’re not using those weapons as accessories. Just think how many people they’ve already killed just to steal from them.” Jack shaked his head with a dramatic expression, just to make fool of Rhys. “When I’ll rule this place I will create a new perfect world. There will be no more waste, everything is going to be clean and organized. Just like in Opportunity, that place really is the only green paradisiac area in this dark rotten junkyard.”
Rhys felt discouraged by Jack’s point of view, he really had this wall in front of him, a wall that was keeping him from seeing things right. They were humans too, just like everyone on Helios. Rhys felt powerless against him. He couldn’t even use the sentimental card, since Jack didn’t seem to be the type to give up his plans for a relationship. They weren’t even in a relationship for now. Or so Rhys thought. “I can’t agree with you, Jack. Those people...” he hesitated, but decided to let it all out anyway, at this point it had no sense to hide his discomfort and disagreement. “Those people, they do not seem like animals to me, they’re just trying to live with what they have, isn’t trying to live a worthy value to you?” he asked, but it was more rhetorical than anything, since he knew Jack was going to deny anyway.
One soldier tried to ask Jack something but he was swept away by a furious gaze. “Live? Is trying to live as a parasite worthy? Hell no Rhys, they should all thank me for being generous and trying to cleanse this planet.” His eyes now were just darting crazily in all directions, frustrated by the situation and by the fact that Rhys was probably one of the few who dared swim against the tide. Rhys felt almost guilty to be down on Pandora with him. He... liked Jack. And it wasn’t just a little infatuation. But at the same time, he hated his tyrannical behaviour and his damn ideas, those utopian plans of an unrealistic world with him as a leader. To Rhys, those all seemed like corrupted characteristics of a dystopian reality.
While they were busy arguing, some of the soldiers had crawled down the hill and were currently monitoring the situation from a nearer spot. Rhys did not understand what was going on at first. What he did not expect was to be pushed by Jack, so rough and sudden he fell backwards on a pile of brown leaves.
It had been just a matter of seconds, Rhys had no time to stop him. An animal, a beast, a monster thirsty from power, blood. Poor people didn’t even see him sneak out of the forest and run for them, down the hill. When the old woman finally acknowledge his presence, his heavy steps stomping on the ground and making the fallen leaves crack under him, it was too late. Some soldiers were already behind him, ready to fire and shield him. But they weren’t necessary. That woman, paralyzed from that unexpected view, was the first one to fall. One perfect hit, on the left side of her chest. Rhys got up. Another shot and the other middle aged woman was down, her body unconscious as soon as she hit the ground. Rhys jumped over a rock and bumped against one of the soldiers who were standing back from the scene. This time it was an Hyperion soldier who received a shot, but thank to his shield, he only fell unconscious to the ground from the scare of the bullet. It was one of the kids who had pulled the trigger, but Jack was fast enough to knock him down before he caused any other damages. Rhys was just two or three meters away from Jack, he was crossing the open field without any shield, but he wasn’t thinking much about it. He just wanted to make him stop, to save that poor family. A loader bot took care of one of the adult man, Rhys closed his eyes as that poor soul was furiously yelling, contracting from the pain of the inaccurate shots from the loader bot.
“Jack, please, stop!” Rhys tried calling him, but Jack ignored him, he was too concentrated. Now that Rhys thought about it, one man was missing.
When Jack raised his gun, Rhys knew he was aiming for the last man, who was trying to hide behind a bush. Instinctively, he grabbed Jack’s arm in an attempt to block him from shooting, but having already pressed down the grillet, Rhys sudden movement only caused him to almost hit one of his own soldiers.
“What the hell do you think you’re doing?!” Jack raged, mostly because now the prey was running away as fast as he could.
“Get him, GO!” Jack then addressed to his soldiers, who obeyed and started running towards the man who, unluckily, seemed to be a lot slower than expected.
When Jack was sure his soldiers had captured the man, his furious look was referred to Rhys again. “Explain this.”
“I can’t just stay and look at you kill random people just because they’re from Pandora!” Rhys reacted badly, his own voice now shaky and raspy from the shock of the moment. “Jack, people here have stories, families, just like us. This is so wrong..”
“You’re telling me I should not get rid of them? Even if they killed lots of people? Are you completely nuts?”
“But we don’t even know if they actually did those things!”
“I think it’s only you who doesn’t know. You can’t come down on here and expect everyone to be all chill and cool.” --- ‘“Oh excuse me sir, may I cross your land and go to that vault that is just outside the forest?’ ‘Of course kiddo, go on, we definitely won’t follow you and murder you while you sleep!’” Jack began acting with one of his silly voices, trying to mimic Rhys’ shy and clumsy behaviour. Despite that stupid imitation, Jack was still visibly angry. When Rhys wanted to reply and tell him they could have just go around them and avoid the shooting, his voice was suppressed by a soldier who had just approached them.
“Sir, we should stay here while the other check the perimeter. It’s safer to camp here and watch out if any enemies plan to ambush us instead of continuing walking in the deep forest,” the leader of the team explained, brave enough to address Jack while he was still arguing with Rhys. Jack just nodded, probably already thinking about a new strategy, and then asked something else. “Did you check that house already? Someone might be still in there.”
“Already done. The house is clear.”
“Splendid, I’m gonna go make some calls, keep your eyes open. We’ll get going as soon as the other team has cleared the path.”
Rhys watched as Jack, totally ignoring their argument, walked to the wooden house. He, of course, followed him, even if Jack nearly slammed the door in his face, not conscious, or maybe just not caring about Rhys being just behind him.
“Ouch,” he complained, as his elbow had badly stopped that heavy door from hitting him.
“See? Everything on Pandora will try to kill you.” Rhys hoped Jack was being sarcastic. But he wanted to calm him, since he didn’t want Jack to rage against other Pandorans or his soldiers.
“Jack... Can we talk calmly about what happened?”
“Why? Do you want to apologise?”
“Uh...” Rhys hesitated. He did not really want to let Jack win like this. “Not really, it’s just that we shouldn’t argue right now, since the vault is so close.”
“We’re not arguing now,” he answered, cold.
“But... we were?” It did not took long for him to understand that Jack was just doing it on purpose. “Ugh, will you stop being like this if I apologise?” he snapped, irritated by that childish behaviour. It was rare to see him angry, but Jack seemed to have a special ability to bother his patience.
Jack did not answer him, he ignored it all and headed towards a wooden ladders that lead to another floor. “I’m calling Felicity, we’ll get going in two hours. You should rest a bit.”
“Wait- no!” Rhys followed him up the stairs and then in a bedroom where Jack was already typing Felicity’s number.
Jack stared at him, waiting for Rhys to get out and leave him alone, but being quite stubborn was also one of his negative traits.“What now? Make it fast and get out.”
“I’m... sorry. Even if our ideas are different, I shouldn’t interfere with your work.” He surrendered, giving up his earlier pride.
Jack’s expression wasn’t getting better even after Rhys’ apology. Instead, he appeared even more angry and detached than before. Rhys’ doubts were confirmed as soon as Jack approached him and with a quick and harsh grasp, he tossed him on the bed. He groaned, as his back hurt from the sudden impact on the hard mattress. “Ohw, that hurt..”
Jack was fast and strong enough to trap Rhys under him. Rhys, at first, didn’t even try to escape, he just lay there, both confused and intrigued by that new situation. He soon realised that Jack’s intentions weren’t as good as his fantasies.
He felt his neck being pressed down by one of Jack’s rough hands, he couldn’t escape that grip since Jack’s weight was pressing him down, his own hands didn’t even have enough strength to try and stop him. “J-Jack...”
Just as he thought he was losing consciousness, his breathing slow and his eyelids closing, Jack freed him. Rhys greedily searched for air, he coughed and breathed fast, scared of being suffocated another time. But Jack had other things in mind. He bit hard on Rhys skin, on his neck again. Rhys reacted badly, this time he was able to push Jack away, but not agile enough to escape while he had the time. “What the fuck Jack?” Jack quickly regained his balance and returned on top of Rhys, his eyes scary and eager to possess the little prey that laid under him. Or maybe just to punish him. Especially since he had just said a swear word. Rhys wasn’t really sure this was going to end well. He wanted to get up and let Jack calm down for a while, but it seemed impossible to escape that damn situation. Just when Jack hands were on Rhys neck for the second time, he begged and tears nearly formed on his eyes. “Jack please.. N-no more.”
Rhys had the impression that the good side of Jack regained control of his body, realizing that the bad Jack was seriously hurting Rhys. When Jack saw Rhys’ hurt and fearful expression, the atmosphere changed abruptly. Jack got up from him and helped him sit. Rhys still coughed a bit, his throat felt a little bit sore.
“Rhys?” he called for him.
Rhys stared at him for a while, unable to tell if Jack wanted him to get out of the room or just wanted to check if he wasn’t hurt.
“Cupcake, can you hear me?” he asked after a while, seeing that Rhys wasn’t reacting much.
“Yes, I’m fine, don’t worry.” He turned his head away from Jack’s hand, who probably wanted to caress him. He felt flustered by that behavior. Jack couldn’t really do that everytime they argued. This wasn’t neither healthy nor pleasant.
“What’s wrong?” Jack asked, seeing that Rhys had no intention to let Jack touch him. And it was unexpected that Jack dared asking what was wrong.
“Nothing. Everything’s fine.”
“I hate liars.”
“I hate having a pair of hands on my neck.” he answered with a passive aggressive tone.
“I was... angry.”
“I know, but. You scared me.” Rhys sighed, not really having enough energy to be angry with Jack.
While they talked, the weather outside had changed, Rhys spotted rain from a nearby windows. It seemed like Jack noticed too, since he began typing on his echo watch while mumbling something about the bad timing of the rain.
“We can’t proceed for now. This place is literally hell when it rains. We’ll have to wait until it stops.”
Rhys nodded, not really excited at the idea of remaining there, alone with the moody Jack. But he craved a good nap, the sofa downstairs looked clean enough to be slept on.
“I’m gonna go rest a bit, do you need something?”
“No, you’re staying here,.” Jack ordered. “I can’t keep an eye on you if you’re downstair.” Rhys thought it made no sense, since there were dozens of soldiers outside who could protect him in case of danger. But he didn’t insist. As Jack noticed he wasn’t going to complain, he sat on the bed too, next to Rhys. They remained there for a bit, while Jack was reporting to Felicity what had happened until now.
“You said you wanted to rest, you can sleep on the bed while I call Angel.”
“Uh, alright. Should I search for some food before that? Are you hungry?”
“Absolutely not. You’re not touching anything in this house. It might be poisonous.”
“Can I breathe at least?” Rhys asked, sarcastically.
Jack ignored him and proceeded to call his daughter. Rhys couldn’t help but listen to their conversation, since he was blocked in that room. Jack seemed dead worried about her, he asked multiple times if she was alright and if Felicity and her bodyguards were there.
Rhys was about to drift off when he felt the mattress move and shake. When he turned around, Jack was just next to him, their face few centimeters apart. He thanked the dark for hiding his now terribly red cheeks.
“Well, good morning princess.”
“Morning, Jack. Is it time to go already?” Rhys got up and sat cross legged in the middle of the bed, unable to remain lying down with Jack.
“No, it’s still raining. I don’t think it will stop soon.” Jack got up as well, but he preferred to lean against the wall behind the bed.
He looked tired, but he was still keeping his tough attitude. Or maybe it was the mask who made it look like he was always thinking of something evil.
“What’s wrong?” Jack asked, making Rhys turn to the other side immediately.
“You’re creeping me out.”
“Wait,.. what? I wasn’t doing anything creepy.” Rhys adjusted himself on the bed, now leaning against the wall next to Jack.
“You’re so curious of seeing what's under this mask? Since you always stare at it.”
“... maybe.” Rhys confessed, not really wanting to lie about this (mostly because Jack already knew he was a little obsessed).
“It’s awful, really. You’re probably imagining a cool scar or something like that, but I wouldn’t hide it if it wasn’t terrible.”
“Can I see it?”
“No.” he answered, fast and motionless, as if he wanted to change subject right away.
“Please? It’s just that.. sometimes it’s hard to know what you’re really thinking with this mask covering your entire face.”
Jack rolled his eyes, probably not believing Rhys’ motivation. “Will you stop bringing up this topic if I show you?”
Jack seemed to think about it for a while, but then sighed and proceeded to unleash the clips on his mask. He was slow in his movements, Rhys had the feeling whatever was under it, it had to be one of Jack’s weak spot. Now he felt wrong for pressing him. He promised to himself not to talk about it anymore in the future.
When Jack removed his mask completely, Rhys could not help but remain silent, speechless from that horrible view. Not horrible in the sense that it was ugly, but because that scar, that giant v shaped scar, it was so big and deep Rhys felt scared just by looking at it.
“How did this happen?” he asked, his eyes now locked into Jack’s own, not wanting to make him uncomfortable by staring at the scar for too long.
“Got punched in the face by a damn siren. It happened in a vault,.” he explained quickly, before replacing the mask on his skin.
“I’m sorry, Jack,..” Rhys apologised, mostly because he had the impression Jack was not used to show this side of him. He searched for Jack’s hand, wanting to be close to him as possible without making him nervous. When their fingers intertwined in the dark, he felt Jack’s breathing decelerate, returning to a normal pace.
“Just forget about it. Think of me as the usual beautiful and majestic creature.”
Rhys giggled, blushing a bit just thinking about what he was going to say next. “But... I think you’re beautiful even without your mask.”
“Liar.” Jack just said, but Rhys knew that comment had cheered him up, he could hear it from his now calm voice. They chatted for a while, hand in hand, an awkward but sweet situation.
Their conversation stopped when Jack’s echo watch notified him of a message. Rhys saw his expression change abruptly when he opened it. He tried to peek but Jack closed it as soon as he had finished reading.
“Cupcake, I have to talk with a soldier outside. We won’t proceed until next morning, you can sleep while I’m outside.” Rhys felt as if there was something strange, but blamed his tiredness. “It will take a while, but I’ll be back to join you.”
“Alright, I’ll wait here.” He nodded, not really wanting to sleep while Jack was out there. He would have waited for him.
“Rhys.” Jack called him.
“Yeah?” he asked, while getting up. His eyes had finally got used to the dark, so he easily walked to Jack, who was
standing near the door.
“Don’t do anything dangerous, alright?”
“Don’t worry, I won’t jump outside the window.” Rhys had no idea what he meant by ‘dangerous’. It wasn’t like he could do much in that house. “Just hurry, I want to talk with about... something.” Rhys catched a glimpse of sadness in Jack’s expression when he said that, but he did not have time to ask, because the other was already pressing down his lips down on his.
When they parted, Jack gave him one last look and then exited the room. That was a whole new behaviour from Jack. It was... mysterious? Rhys could not even describe it. He had seen thousands of emotions in that last two hours, more than he had ever seen. Really, from psychopath Jack to worried mom Jack. He sat on the edge of the bed, stretching a bit, he wasn’t really used to walk long distances, he had always preferred being seated in front of a computer instead of doing physical works. They had not even walked much, just a few kilometers. But it was already too much for someone who worked all day on a sofa and used the lift to go everywhere.
He decided to relax a bit on the bed, scrolling through the net with his echo eye.
“Uuh.. Jack?” It was pretty dark, the last lightning made the lights go off. Jack had yet not returned from his trip downstairs.
He wasn't really afraid of dark, but the scary scenario with lightings, thunder and thick rain hitting the metal balcony and producing noisy sounds was making him a little bit anxious.
As another loud thunder struck, he jumped on the bed and quickly hid through the blanket. “J-Jack!” he tried calling again, this time louder but with an even more trembling voice. No response again. Jack wasn't that far away, but apparently his voice wasn't able to reach him. Was it because of the loud clatter of the rain? He wrapped the blanket around himself and slowly got up from the bed. Using his robotic arm he lit a bit of his palm, just enough to see where he was going. Opening the door, a poorly illuminated hallway was revealed. The light wasn’t coming from the lamps, the lightnings in fact were dominating through the windows. Jack wasn't in his field of view. He glanced through the bathroom door but no one seemed to be there. The other rooms were locked since the beginning so he didn't even mind them. Instead he looked down the stairs, his shoulder shaking and an increasingly desire to run towards the bedroom and hide somewhere dominating him.. A crippling noise from downstairs made him flinch in his place.
What if a skag or a bandit had entered the house and wanted to kill them both? Nono, it was impossible. This house was well protected and there should have been a loader bot outside and some soldiers. But maybe they got rid of them?
“Ugh, bloody hell.” Thinking that much wasn't going to make things better. He made the decision to go downstairs, regretting it more and more with every steps he took. At the end of the stairs he stomped on something wet and almost fainted at the thought of blood under his feet. But by the consistency it actually felt more like water. As he walked shakingly towards the living room, he noticed that Jack’s coat was missing from the hanger. Was he outside? What was he thinking, going out and risking to be hit by a thunder?
A sudden thought crossed his mind. What if this was all Jack plan? To wait for him to fall asleep and then enter the vault alone. Maybe he didn’t trust Rhys anymore, after that discussion in the afternoon. He sat on the sofa, his stomach starting to hurt from the great anxiety that he was feeling.
He needed to find Jack and he had to do it quickly. Or else he would die from a heart attack.
He left the blanket on the sofa and got up, putting on his own jacket, only to find it uncomfortably cold. That wasn't going to help all his trembling
The thought of putting on shoes while his socks were wet highly irritated him, but he hurried up anyway. He took a final glance at the kitchen, just to be extra sure Jack wasn’t in the house, then proceeded to the doorknob. And... It was locked. Rhys froze. Jack had locked him in. He couldn’t believe it.
He tried calling for help, but whoever was outside either ignored him or couldn’t hear him.
This was a nightmare.
Where was Jack? Was he alive? What if his own team had betrayed him? Maybe he escaped to another dimension with the vault monster, maybe he was just planning his comeback in some secret place in pandora. Or bandits had caught him? What if that vault monster was distorting reality, maybe Rhys was just living in a dream now. That would explain why his mad dreams had not tormented him anymore after Jack’s disappearance. That absolutely made no sense. His last dream was about him wearing a gas mask and walking on a bridge with a bunch of black snakes under it. He had a vivid memory about this one, mostly because it took place in ruins. He could still remember all that destruction that almost made him more uncomfortable than the evil snakes under him.
“Rhys? Rhys!” someone was calling him. He returned back to reality.
“Do I have other appointments this morning?” that sweet familiar voice asked him.
Rhys quickly checked on the schedule in front of him. It was a rather relaxing day, with only one reunion and two appointments with departments. “No, you should be free for the next two hours. Should I accompany you somewhere?”
“No, I want to stay here. Did... did you receive anything from the research team?” she asked, and Rhys could feel behind the cold façade she was trying to keep, she was devastated. Jack’s disappearance had hurt her the most. Rhys and Felicity promised that they would stay with her and help her with everything, but they couldn’t replace what she had lost. Rhys felt it too, although he didn’t dare compare his pain to hers. That tragic event had only made him understand that his feelings for Jack were stronger than he had imagined. He missed him. He was still angry with him for everything he had done and said, but he couldn’t help it.
“I wanted to call them later, but if they haven’t contacted me first, I highly doubt they found anything. I’m sorry, Angel...” he explained, his low and broken voice fully expressed his disappointment. Angel sighed and returned to that yellow chair that once belonged to her father. Her skinny and delicate figure wasn’t as intimidating as Jack’s, but Rhys still paid full respect to her. After all, she was the CEO now. And he was her PA and mentor.
“Rhys, just promise me one thing.” She had a shaky voice, almost as if she was about to cry. Her eyes were already shining. Rhys tried to be as delicate as ever and just nodded, encouraging her to continue.
“Just promise me... that you and Felicity will never stop searching for him.” The first tear wet her cheek, slowly proceeding down her neck. “He can’t die Rhys. He always told me he wasn’t going to.”
Rhys’ mind travelled back to all those times when Jack swore he wasn’t going to die, when he repeatedly said he was the hero, and heroes can’t die. He suddenly felt the urge to let it all out, all that sadness and anxiety, but he refrained from doing it. He had to be strong in front of Angel, he had to radiate positivity. It was already highly dangerous to have someone as vulnerable as her as CEO, it was best for her not to know that Rhys was just as emotionally unstable as her right now. Rhys finally found the force to nod and then took a big breath, hoping to remain as calm as possible. “I promise, Angel. We’ll find him sooner or later, just don’t lose your faith, okay?” He tried to reassure her, but those words weren’t as effective as he thought. Angel remained quiet and returned looking at a bunch of papers she had been reading from the morning.
Rhys did not hope to receive an answer. And in fact, Angel remained quiet for the rest of the day, leaving that room in a strange silence that once before had already made Rhys uncomfortable. He found himself thinking about Jack for the majority of the day. Sometimes he was just imagining how things would have gone if that argue with Jack never took place. Maybe Jack would have brought Rhys with him and they would have disappeared together, or maybe they would have been both back and safe to Helios. He remembered that expression he had once encountered in a book: ‘Memento Mori’, or ‘remember you have to die’. A phrase that was often used to alert superb people. Maybe that great confidence that had lead Jack to the power and had guided him in everything, maybe it was ironically the cause of his failure.
As they were about to end the day, Rhys received a call. Angel was already out of the room, so he stayed behind to answer.
“Sir, I’m Michael from the research team, we have some news.”
Rhys heart began beating faster than expected. Did they find him? Was he alive?
“Tell me,” he managed to say, between the many questions that were storming in his mind.
“He’s not on Pandora. Not anymore.”
Thank you for reading until the end!
.. But, this isn't a real ending.
Right now I'm too busy with school and exams and I already had to make lots of cuts, but there'll be a sequel in the next months. In the meantime, you can still imagine the 'true ending'; everything in Rhys' dreams has a meaning, just remember that.