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Bored (And Maybe Lonely)

Chapter Text

The job was over.

Or rather, the job was supposed to be over.

Bossanova was dead- along with a few choice others- and there was no Gortys core in sight. Luckily, Moxxi was satisfied enough with the kill to ignore the latter failure. Honestly, the whole thing was a little too easy for Zer0’s tastes, but then again, nothing would ever really measure up to the Vault of the Warrior, now would it?

So, the job should have been over.

And yet…

“Is that… a map?”

And yet.

Zer0 peeked down into the hole in the ground of the arena, out of eyesight from the ones below. Her eyes scanned the surroundings with curiosity, ducking her head back into cover once one of them- the scrawny Hyperion man that… wasn’t so bad, actually- let out a shout.

“What is it?” The voice of one of the women asked- hat girl, if Zer0 remembered correctly. They all waited for a response with baited breaths.

“I…um…uh…” The Hyperion employee replied in a daze, and with the ensuing silence, Zer0 carefully peeked back down to see the other three giving the Hyperion employee strange looks as he stared off somewhere behind them. Fortunately, it wasn’t up at Zer0, so she figured her cover wasn’t blown yet.

Though just to be safe, she ducked back into safety when the man suddenly darted up the stairs and all of their gazes turned skyward to follow him.

“Hey, what’s up with that map?” The other man asked, giving Zer0 the all clear to go back to spying. She examined the map from her location, using her helmet’s tech to enhance her view. From what she was looking at, it looked like a holographic map of Pandora. There were a few Atlas corporation markings on it, but there was one mark that stood out to Zer0 like a sore thumb.

A Vault symbol.

This was a Vault map-

Suddenly the map was gone and there were shouts of pain from below. Zer0 vaguely tuned in just enough to hear something about “imprinting” and got the gist of the matter when she saw that only hat girl could pick up one piece of the core. The assassin glanced over to the Hyperion man alone on the second floor of the underground lab to see that he was still talking to what she could only discern as thin air. Zer0 shrugged briefly to herself at that, having seen far crazier from her time on Pandora,  before she focused back in on the saner trio. While the vault hunter hadn’t been paying attention, the three had set off some kind of quiet alarm and discovered a dead body. Taking a quick look at her own surroundings on ground level and finding- yup, mostly everyone’s still dead- Zer0 relaxed for the moment, determining that nothing had been triggered in her vicinity. The vault hunter looked down just in time to see hat girl take a spork to the dead guy’s eye-?

Maybe they weren’t so sane after all.

A sharp scream tore at her attention while it made the other three below jump. The source, the lone Hyperion man, was still talking to nothing. Just to be safe, Zer0 quickly scanned his form and found no outright injuries or profuse bleeding, so she promptly ignored his imagined peril in favor of the much more interesting conversation below him. Hat girl had successfully removed the dead guy’s eye and was taking it over to the termina-

Ohhhhh. Oh.

Retinal scanner.

So they aren’t completely batshit crazy… or at least they haven’t proven to be, yet.

A quick message from who Zer0 could vaguely recognize as a fellow vault hunter in passing- Athena- and another from the same dead guy in the corner played, but honestly Zer0 tuned that stuff out because one: it didn’t seem very relevant and two: it was starting to bore her. She only tuned back in when crazy Hyperion guy took a tumble over the railing and straight down onto a few computers. Zer0 winced in sympathy before her helmet alerted her to an impending threat.

Warning: Incoming Celestial Strikes’

Zer0 frowned in confusion for a moment. What did that even mea-

Moonshots.

Well, it had been awhile after all, she was getting rusty.

Zer0 quickly darted over to cover but kept her eyes on the opening in the ground where the others were. Almost as soon as she had hidden, a loader bot flew in to where she had been before and spoke to the group below, making the hand Zer0 had instinctively clenched on her rifle relax minutely. As she watched the bot fly down and bring up the two women of the group, Zer0 cloaked herself and followed them to the caravan they ran off to, grabbing onto the back of it and hoisting herself up.

No, the job was over.

But this?

This- whatever it was- was just beginning.

Chapter Text

It was only after the caravan had boosted out of the arena and onto Pandora’s familiar landscape that Zer0 realized while she could stay cloaked for a very long time, forever was an unrealistic option-

Especially when a single red eye was already staring in her direction.

“I am detecting an anomaly.” The loader bot said out loud, though if he was truly informing the group inside the vehicle, Zer0 couldn’t tell. Guns weren’t pulled out yet though, so she wasn’t on red alert. “Is it a good anomaly?”

At that, Zer0 tilted her head in confusion.

This loader bot was… strange.

With a fair bit of hesitation, Zer0 uncloaked herself and waited stiffly for what she expected was going to be a fight on the top of a moving caravan while Hyperion fired moonshots after them, but…

But it never happened.

“Hi.” The loader bot briefly greeted before asking again, “Are you a good anomaly?”

After a tense moment, Zer0 slowly nodded her head, still cautious. The loader bot stared at her some more before looking down at the caravan and then back up at her.

“Are you a friend?” Zer0’s eyebrows furrowed together, still confused as hell, but she nodded anyway. The loader bot took another moment to process that before seemingly accepting it. “Good. Welcome, friend.”

What the hell was going on?

Shouldn’t this bot be trying to kill her by now?

“I am not familiar with that phrase.” The loader bot informed her suddenly, and she realized that her helmet was conveying her confusion by displaying a ‘WTF’ holograph from her faceplate.

Luckily, she didn’t have to try to answer it because the loader bot turned back around and focused on the land in front of them. Blinking a few times to get over the weird feeling of… whatever that situation left her with, Zer0 quietly stuck one of her handy listening devices onto the roof of the caravan so that she could hear the conversation within. Within seconds, voices began filtering into her helmet and Zer0 calmly settled herself down to listen, trying to ignore the moonshots that were catching up to them.

“I can dodge the moonshots!” That was the Hyperion man’s voice, of that she was certain.

“That’s impossible!” A feminine voice- different to what she remembered of hat girl- snapped back almost immediately. This had to be the woman she briefly met in the bandit hideout- the one that was competent with a gun in keeping the skags away from her and the Hyperion employee.

“Not if I know where they’re gonna land!” Hyperion man shot back with confidence.

“Then what?” The other woman questioned, which, fair point, so he could dodge the shots- that wouldn’t stop them from coming.

Zer0 held on a little tighter as a moonshot just behind them rocked the caravan unsteadily, keeping her cool.

“We’ll go to Hollow Point.” Hat girl said suddenly, once everyone had recovered from the bump, “They can’t track us there.”

Hmm. Hollow Point, she hadn’t been there in a while.

Or… ever, now that she really thought about it.

Should be fun.

“You better know what you’re doing.” The other woman warned before Zer0 can only assume she gave up the wheel, because the caravan jerked haphazardly for a moment before settling.

“Okay, here’s what we’re gonna do,” Hat girl commanded, and Zer0 had to hand it to her, she really knew how to take control of a situation. “Just keep us alive until that thing is full, and then we can boost out of here. Got it?”

“Yeah, I got it, I got i-I DON’T GOT IT!” The Hyperion employee screamed before the caravan jerked wildly to avoid the moonshots in front of them. Zer0 gave up trying to listen to the conversation inside in favor of staying alive on the top of this thing-

Especially after they knocked into a brown mound and sent what could only have been a thousand rakks plus one very agitated Rakk Hive after them.

Zer0 unsheathed her sword as she fought off the closest of the horde, and she even managed to knock a few off of the loader bot before it was eventually overwhelmed and fell of the back of the caravan. Zer0 frowned at the weird ping in her chest at the sight of the bot tumbling away in their dust, but quickly shook it off and worried about her own survival at the moment.

It was at the last second that Zer0 finally took heed of her helmet’s warning and jumped towards the front half of the caravan’s roof, holding on for dear life as a lucky moonshot nipped their tail end. The caravan rocked wildly and the back half was ripped away, exposing the group to the danger that was outside even more. Carefully, the assassin stood up once more, keeping the brunt of the rakks away from the vehicle’s windshield.

She figured the driver’s vision being obscured was the last thing they needed at the moment.

Zer0 was barely aware of narrowly taking out the Rakk Hive with some rock formations in her focus, but her helmet forced her to pay attention to the moonshot that was heading rightfortheirfaces-

Barely jumping out of the way in time, Zer0 threw herself sideways and latched onto the side of the caravan, ripping the door open and using it as cover in a way that she could only hope the others didn’t notice. The missile hit true and the vehicle spun out violently, coming to a stop with a movement that made the door Zer0 had clutched onto shut itself. Taking a quick moment to regain her bearings, Zer0 blinked to clear her vision and briefly stuck her listening device to the side of the caravan. Upon hearing the voices of all four members of the group, she removed it and focused on the problem at hand.

Moonshots from Helios, still coming from in front of them.

Rakk Hive chasing them down, behind- wait no, now in front of them too, having ran right over top of them and luckily not crushing them.

The best option seemed to be to go back the way they came, but with no back end of the caravan, maneuvering efficiently seemed unli-

Her grip on the caravan slipped when the vehicle suddenly accelerated forward at an alarming speed. The assassin just managed to claw her fingers back onto a hand hold before she went flying off.

They boosted straight under the Rakk Hive, which in turn took the blast of the moonshot that was heading straight for them. Leaving those problems in the dust, Zer0 curled her fingers and held on a little harder as she started to slip back, the force of the acceleration propelling her backwards. The tire blew out from right under her, making the caravan jerk again and sending her even further back. Zer0 grit her teeth and tightened her slipping grip even more.

From the corner of her eye, the assassin detected movement and her head snapped towards it.

Three of the four group members were hanging out of the gaping hole in the back of the caravan, each holding on to the other desperately in an attempt to prevent them from flying away.

Their most damning problem, however, was that hat girl was holding onto the Hyperion man’s boot.

Like Zer0 thought would happen, the boot came loose and the two men went flying off into the desert. The assassin looked between their disappearing forms and the women in the caravan before realizing she needed to make a decision.

Follow the ones in the caravan, who were capable of handling themselves and would definitely get to where they wanted to go faster,

Or follow the two that looked like they hadn’t ever really spent a day on Pandora, already lost in the dust.

Either way, each party had a piece of the core and would have to meet up again eventually to use it…

With a sigh, Zer0 braced herself for the inevitable,

And let go.

Chapter Text

Okay, so the fall hurt a little,

(Quite a bit more than a little)

But Zer0 decided this was probably the best course of action.

The other two- they looked like native Pandorans, which intrinsically meant that they knew how to survive out here- but these two. Well.

They wouldn’t last an hour on their own.

Zer0 sighed as she looked at their unconscious forms- not that she could blame them, the only reason she herself wasn’t currently in the same state was because her Torgue shield was badass. Luckily, both men were still alive. The vault hunter stared down at them for another moment before glancing at the dead Rakk Hive nearby. Rakks were still circling above, but not threateningly.

At least, not yet.

Watching them swoop in the sky with dull eyes, Zer0 weighed her options.

She could either start dragging these two to- where was it, again? Hollow Point?

Or she could wait for these two to wake up and follow after them so she didn’t have to strain herself in the desert sun.

Or… she could just take off now and save herself the trouble.

The vault hunter’s mind lingered a little too long on that option, but then her eyes drifted down to settle on the crazy Hyperion man.

“You’re… you’re really cool… I just… I wanted you to know that.”

… Leaving now would defeat the purpose of jumping off the caravan, anyway.

And she really didn’t feel like dragging more than two hundred pounds of dead weight across the desert, so… waiting it was.

The assassin scuffed her boot in the sand a little in resignation, crossing her arms with a quiet sigh, but suddenly perked up when an idea came to mind.

It wasn’t an idea that the two men would likely find ideal, but hey, they were unconscious and Zer0 was getting more bored by the second.

Besides, it’s not like anything would happen to them.

 


 

An hour later found Zer0 quite a distance away from the two men, sniping rakks out of the sky when they dived for the obvious bait. Unfortunately, none of them had dropped any interesting loot yet, so Zer0 continued to shoot them from where she was.

Finally, the guy with glasses woke up from their impromptu nap, stopping Zer0’s game for the moment. It wasn’t long before crazy Hyperion man woke up too, and they looked around at the (useless) loot in front of them in confusion. Zer0 stifled a chuckle at the looks on their faces, watching the exchange through the scope of her rifle. They discussed something that she couldn’t hear and the Hyperion guy (though, now that she looks more closely at the other man, maybe they were both Hyperion) contacted someone from his prosthetic hand, which honestly looked a little cool.

She kind of wanted one now.

But would it hinder her combat? Or honestly, how effective would it really be since she doesn’t talk muc-

Woah, glasses came back and apparently he is shredded.

Like, muscles wise.

She wasn’t expecting that, honestly.

Though she was oddly a little… proud? Good for the little guy, keeping in shape even though he had virtually zero combat skills to help him here on Pandora.

She watched as the two discussed something- though it looked like it was starting to become more of an argument- before ripped glasses guy held his hand behind his back for a minute and then promptly looked shocked at something the other guy had said. Before she could wonder just what the hell they were talking about, the two started walking off, making Zer0 pack up her things and follow after them from a distance.

‘Incoming Drop’

The assassin frowned at the message in front of her eyes before turning her gaze skyward. Apparently, the others had noticed as well, but instead of being alarmed about it, they cheered loud enough that Zer0 could hear it from all the way back where she was. The vault hunter remained calm, thinking it was some sort of supply drop that they had ordered, but when the drop started heading straight for them to the point where they had to jump out of the way, Zer0 picked up the pace in concern. She registered a red car speed out of the crate drop. Its tires drifted in the sand as it turned around and headed straight back for the boys. Without breaking stride, Zer0 rolled forward and straight into a laying position, quickly shooting out two of the tires with her sniper. The car oscillated wildly before almost tipping, but thankfully came to a stop before it hit the guys. A few moments later, a business man that looked even more pretentious than the other two stepped out of the car from the driver’s seat.

The assassin watched the exchange warily behind the scope of her rifle, her crosshairs pinned to the new man’s head just in case as he shot a quick confused look at his two ruined tires. After being sure the man wouldn’t pull any sudden moves- at least not at the moment- Zer0 ran her scope over the rest of the car and found it without any other occupants. With that knowledge in mind, she returned her sights to the dubious man.

Her view of their conversation was partially blocked because of the car, and even with her closing the distance so much, she still couldn’t hear anything that was said. Despite this, she trusted her instincts to let her know when to pull the trigger if need be.

Tension started to seep into her muscles as the vault hunter continued to observe the situation, taking in the dismayed expressions of the two men she had been following. The business man eventually walked to the back of the car, towards the trunk, and Zer0 got an eyeful of the shotgun he was holding, which made the hairs on her neck stand up in alarm, but she didn’t jump the gun yet. Though, to be fair, the assassin’s finger did clench a little when she saw the man getting two shovels out of his trunk and then shove the shovels at the others’ feet.

Was he attempting to make the two dig their own graves?

Not on her watch, he wasn’t.

Before she could follow through with that threat, the Hyperion employee (not glasses) threw his shovel, but it missed the business man and hit the car instead, breaking a window.

Zer0 could not stifle the laugh this time.

She really liked this guy.

The laughter was promptly cut off when the business man approached the employee and head-butted him, which… confused the hell out of Zer0, especially since it looked like it hurt the business man more than her new employee friend. Why would he bother to head-butt someone when he was holding a shotgun?   

It doesn’t matter if she would have made sure he was dead before he could even pull the trigger- he didn’t know about that.

The idiot didn’t even aim for the bridge of the nose!

The assassin forcefully pushed her confusion aside when she saw that the moron had lifted his arms slightly in a motion that had to translate into pointing the shotgun at the two men. Zer0 clenched her finger, ready to take the shot, when….

Dude, seriously, this guy was an idiot.

From where she was standing- well… laying, actually- it looked as if the business man had lowered his weapon and turned slightly to… inspect his shotgun? Fiddle with it? Did he really not know how to use a gun? And on Pandora no less? Maybe Zer0 should consider this a mercy killing- no one could really survive out here without knowing how to shoot.

The assassin was just about to follow through with the notion when suddenly the red car roared to life and Zer0’s several years of training were put to the test as she kept herself still and not startling in response.

There was no one in that car… who was driving it?

The vault hunter got her answer when the car spun on its only two wheels and ran straight into the business man- who, by the way, hadn’t even noticed the car start up and was still trying to work his shotgun- knocking him well into the air while the other men got out of the way. With the threat out of commission, she moved her scope over to the men and saw her favorite employee’s left eye was lit up.

Oh yeah, she forgot about that.

Cybernetics were useful, she might have to seriously start looking into them.  

But again, would they hinder her movements? She can’t really afford a change like that- at least not at the moment. Maybe she should just stick to upgrading her helmet- that had always been reliable. And hey, hacking wasn’t everything, she’s gotten this far without it alread-

Zer0 frowned as she blinked at her scope in confusion. The two she had been following were… gone? They just kind of vanished when she wasn’t paying attention, how did they…?

Lifting her head up, Zer0 scanned the land in front of her for any sight of them, but it was only a brief movement from the upper corners of her vision that gave her the answer she was looking for. She sat up and pointed her sniper into the sky, staring down the scope to see the disappearing forms of the two men she had been following flying away on a loader bot- possibly the same unusual loader bot that hadn’t attacked her on the roof of the caravan.

Zer0 sighed in aggravation, pushing herself off of the ground roughly and cracking her neck in an attempt to settle her annoyance at being left behind.

Fuck this, she was fast traveling.

Chapter Text

Hollow Point was… just like every other place on Pandora- if not a little darker than normal.

Zer0 wasn’t really surprised.

The vault hunter figured that even with the boys’ head start, the speed of a loader bot wouldn’t trump that of a fast travel.

All the assassin had to do now was find the girls, hang back, and wait it out.

The only problem was… well. The girls were native to Pandora- probably native to Hollow Point if they trusted the place so much. That means that they would know all of the ins and the outs of the city- and judging by the kind of life they led, they knew how to stay hidden too.

It was still nothing Zer0 couldn’t handle, though. In fact… it made things a little more interesting, if she was being honest.

The first place she needed to go was a bar. Though sometimes a little shifty, they were usually the best sources of information- and if these two were natives, then the townsfolk had to know something.

The vault hunter clung to the shadows of the buildings, unwilling to draw attention to herself at the moment. She was just turning the corner onto what seemed like a main road when something caught her eye.

Or rather, four somethings.

WANTED

Axton

War Crimes

$5,000,000,000

WANTED

Maya

Siren

$720,000,000,000

WANTED

Salvador

Manslaughter, Theft, Arson, Destruction of Property, Trespassing, Cannibalism, Public Indecency, Profanity

$99,000,000,000.99

WANTED

Zer0

Political Assassination

$32,000,000,000

…She really needed to get on Maya’s level, or at the very least Salvador’s. Thankfully, Zer0 was still ahead of Axton in this little game they had started up called ‘Who can rack up the most money for their bounty?’

Currently, Maya was kicking their asses.

Bless her.

The assassin shamelessly took a quick selfie in front of the wanted board and immediately sent it to the other three with a small smile. It had been awhile since the vault hunter had seen the others, but if her memory served correct (and it always did), they were apparently up for poker night soon enough.

You know, if Salvador didn’t get arrested again.

He really needed to stop streaking- it was becoming a problem.

Zer0 smirked down at her messages when she got an immediate >:( from Axton in the group chat, to which she quickly sent back ¯\_()_/¯ because she could. This spurred a >>:( from Axton and a AASJISDGAJDAD from Salvador, which was typical because most of Salvador’s messages were just keyboard smashes. Maya finally joined in with a quick LOL GIT GUD XD and as expected, Axton sent a >:[ in the largest font he could because they all knew he was a drama queen. The assassin’s smirk turned into a genuine smile as her friends continued to banter in the group chat, unaware that she was slowly wandering down the street.

“Well, well, well, look what the skags dragged in!” A familiar voice jolted her out of her fond musings. The vault hunter pocketed her device casually as she looked up at the approaching figure, her faceplate already reading her emotions and displaying a :D in response. She finally noticed that she had meandered away from the postings board and in front of what could only be a garage storefront. “It’s been awhile, buddy! I figured you’d be huntin’ more vaults and all that other stuff you do. But! Don’t take that for bein’ like- like I didn’t wanna see you or nothin’, cause I did, I just didn’ expect to see you in no cave town-”  

“It’s okay, Scooter.” Zer0 cut in to calm the rambling mechanic. “It is good to see you too. / I hope you are well.” Though as she said that, the assassin catalogued the fresh bruises and dried blood on Scooter’s face quietly.

“I am!” Scooter beamed, his usual bouncy self. “Or well, I’m goin’ to be- sorry I’m all over the place bud, got a new proprietor comin’ in today and it’s all kinda… jumbled up right now.” Zer0 narrowed her eyes and tilted her head, staring at Scooter silently. “…What? Do I got somethin’ in my teeth? I knew I should’ve waited to have that pimentaco. Still worth it though, even if it was a week old.” With a small frown, Zer0 chose to ignore that comment and instead tapped her faceplate to where her nose was under it. Scooter’s eyes widened and he swiped at the blood under his nose quickly. “Aw man, am I still bleedin’? I thought I got all of that already. Now that is superrrr embarrassin’- the ladies probably already seen it too.” Zer0 waited patiently for Scooter to answer her silent question, aware that he eventually would. Sure enough, he delivered. “Aw, don’ worry nothin’ about it, buddy. Just some ruffians that wanted to start some trouble in my garage- took care of ‘em lickity split. How are you likin’ the new place, by the way? Need to catch a riiiiidee?”

“Not this time, my friend.” Zer0 replied quietly, glancing around the garage as Scooter led them deeper into the store. Her gaze caught a poster with her latest mark on it and she looked at it indifferently. “This is an unusual/ location for you.” 

“Yeah, well… gotta start branchin’ off somewhere, am I right? Business’ll pick up… eventually. Hopefully.” Scooter winced to himself and Zer0 mirrored him in sympathy. She didn’t really expect a cave town like this to have a need for vehicles. Scanning the area once more, the assassin’s eyes locked onto a familiar vehicle in the back.

“A new job, I see?” Zer0 asked casually, staring at the caravan that seemed like it was already fully repaired and wow she forgot how fast Scooter could work.

“Aw, yeah, that- that’s for the girls.” Scooter smiled bashfully, looking over his shoulder at his most recent project. “I’m sponsorin’ ‘em for the races! They were so cool lookin’ at the last one- hey, which reminds me, I saw you there too, bud! You were badASS in the arena- as usual. Gave that bossanova a real beatin’, huh? What’d he do?” Scooter asked curiously, and Zer0 decided not to correct him on the ‘beating’ part, remembering the poster her eyes had scanned over a few moments ago.

“He made your mother angry.” She replied honestly.

“Aw, yup, that’ll do it, stupid sum’uv’a bitch.” Scooter shook his head ruefully. “Nobody messes with Mama and gets away with it.”

“That is… very true.” Zer0 couldn’t help but agree with, reminiscing on all of the jobs Moxxi had sent her on to take people out. Scooter was about to go on, but suddenly the two of them heard heavy thumping approaching the front of the garage from down the street.

“What in the hell…?” Scooter mumbled, drifting off in that direction to check on the situation. Zer0 stayed where she was and simply listened closer because she had already identified the familiar noise- having been hunted by loader bots endlessly for a long while. She just needed to confirm it was actually-

“They’ve got to be around here somewhere… We just have to look a little harder.”

There was her favorite Hyperion employee!

She activated her cloak as they were coming into sight- no need for them to see her yet and start asking questions. Scooter observed the trio warily, keeping a stern eye on the loader bot.

“What if they already went to Old Haven?” Glasses asked anxiously, giving his shadowy surroundings a paranoid glance as if something was waiting to jump out at them from the darkness. Zer0 perked up at the name- is that where they were all going next?

“My scanners indicate they were here recently.” Loader Bot informed the two helpfully, looking straight into Scooter’s garage, which made the mechanic straighten his back in readiness. The two Hyperion men followed the robot’s gaze into the shop and landed on what Zer0 was currently standing right next to.

“The caravan, thank god!” Crazy Hyperion guy cheered in relief.

“That means they have to be here somewhere! We can just wait in the caravan for them.” Glasses added before they started towards it.

They were promptly stopped by Scooter.

“Uh… hi.” Crazy Hyperion guy started with a nervous smile, clearly unsettled by the look on Scooter’s face.

“Can I help you?” The mechanic asked, tone unkind and stiff. Zer0 silently wandered a little closer to him, frowning at the sudden change in mood but understanding it never-the-less.

“Yeah- um yes. My name’s Rhys, and this is Vaughn-” Her favorite employee started to say, but Zer0 kind of tuned out the rest of it because holy shit she finally had names for these people.

Rhys and Vaughn.

Vaughn and Rhys.

Fitting names.

“I don’t care what you say, you Hyperion scum bags! That ride ain’t yours and I ain’t lettin’ you get anywhere near it!” Zer0 finally tuned back in when she heard Scooter’s tone turn aggressive.

“Look man, we’re not gonna steal it!” Glasses- Vaughn, she mentally corrected herself- said in exasperation.

“That caravan belongs to our friends and we got separated. We just want to wait with it because we know they’ll come back for it. ” Rhys told Scooter, trying to diffuse the situation, but the mechanic wasn’t having any of it.

“Like hell they’d be friends with you- stop tryin’ to lie to me!” Scooter snapped, crossing his arms with a glare. He stole a quick glance at the loader bot, who was watching the proceedings quietly. “Listen, if you don’t get on out of my garage, my friend here will-” The mechanic started to threaten, but stopped short when he looked over his shoulder and didn’t see Zer0. “-Aw hell, where did my friend go?” At his unsure tone, Zer0 slowly reached out and laid a hand on Scooter’s arm in silent reassurance, startling the mechanic who jumped with a curse. It took him a minute to realize what was going on. “Damn it, I hate it when you do that. That scared me like a busted six banger in the middle of a bandit run. Not- not that I was scared or nothin’. I ain’t scared of nothin’.” Scooter assured before turning back to the boys, who were now staring at the mechanic like he was crazy, which was kind of hypocritical in Zer0’s books- especially in Rhys’s case.

“Look… why don’t we send Loader Bot to go find them and we’ll wait here? That way they can tell…” Vaughn trailed off, looking up at the garage’s sign for a name. “…Scooter, is it? That way they can tell Scooter that we’re cool.”

“Good idea. Loader Bot?” Rhys nodded, turning to the robot expectantly.

“Now wait just one minute-” Scooter started tensely, but was ignored by the robot.

“Very well.” Loader Bot answered shortly before he started stomping away from them to take off at a safe distance.

“Thanks bud!” Rhys called after him as they all watched the robot raise into the air and fly away over the city. The Hyperion employee then looked back to Scooter with a smile. “See? Everything is gonna be fine now.”

“Fine? You call sendin’ a freakin’ loader bot after the girls fine?” Scooter growled, and Rhys blinked in alarm, sensing that they had done something wrong.

“Uh, yeah. It sounds perfect, actually.” Vaughn said in response, and Zer0 winced at the way Scooter’s shoulder’s stiffened threateningly.

“Aw, well if it sounds perfect then.” The mechanic scoffed. “Perfect for y’all Hyperion assholes who’ll threaten anyone for a nickel. No doubt you’ll try to intidimate- intindi- threaten the girls when they get here!”

“Hey, listen, we’re not trying to threaten anybody-” Rhys tried to explain.

“Aw yeah, that doesn’t sound fake. You need to back off and git out of my store. Now.” Scooter said before continuing. “I ain’t helpin’ any Hyperion assholes today- no sir.”

“Assholes is a bit much, isn’t it?” Rhys replied, and Zer0 sensed that his patience was starting to crack.

“Yeah, we didn’t even do anything to you, man!” Vaughn argued.

“Didn’t do nothin’ to me?” Scooter asked, outraged. “Your bossman almost blew me the hell up! He almost killed my family! If that counts as nothin’, I’ll eat my freakin’ wrench right now.”

“But that wasn’t us-” Rhys tried to argue.

“Dude, we just want to wait in our van.” Vaughn added almost at the same time.

In that moment, Zer0 heard the familiar thump of a loader bot landing a little ways away from them, and then two thumps of what she assumed were two people getting off the bot.

Oh good, the girls were here.

“I already told you Hyperion sum’bitches once: BACK OFF.” Scooter warned, clearly done with listening to the two and not having heard what she had.  

“Ahh, whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa, I promise that’s our ride!” Rhys said earnestly, holding his hands up nonthreateningly.

“Aw this again, like hell man. I know the women that dropped this van off and you sure as crap ain’t them!” The mechanic argued.

“Well, okay, like we said before, not our ride, but-” Vaughn corrected as Zer0 watched the ladies approach the garage with Loader Bot and take stock of the situation. Still, none of the boys noticed.

“Bein’ Hyperion was your strike one, man. Now you’re lyin’ to ME? IN MY GARAGE? That’s like four or five more strikes right there!” Scooter pointed at Vaughn to cut him off, getting more heated with each passing moment. Thankfully, non-hat girl (and she really needed to learn these two’s names as well at some point) stepped in before things could get worse.

“Are you guys trying to steal our van again?” She asked teasingly, putting her hands on her hips with a smirk that was seconds away from breaking into a smile.

“HA! I knew it!” Scooter crossed his arms victoriously, looking at the two Hyperion employees smugly.

“Oh my god, can you please explain to this guy that we’re friends?!” Rhys asked in exasperation, rolling his eyes in a way that definitely told Zer0 his patience was gone.

“No way these girls’d ‘sociate with no Hyperion d-bags.” Scooter scoffed.

“Oh, okay, come on, we’re not douche bags.” Rhys argued, slightly glaring at the man.

“I know… you’re dick bags.”

“These are our friends, Scooter.” Hat girl assured the mechanic confidently. At that, both Scooter and Rhys looked shocked, though the former more than the later.

“What? Really?” Scooter’s voice cracked in his surprise and Zer0 had to stifle another chuckle.

“Well- thanks.” Rhys said quietly to the girls with a small smile after getting over his shock, leading Vaughn over to the caravan after another moment. Zer0 blinked at the interaction with interest. After everything they’d been through together thus far (or rather, everything Zer0 assumed they’d been through together), he would question their friendship?

“Alright, well if you say they’re with you… I guess I can believe that, man.” Scooter let up, finally calming down and relaxing from what he perceived as a real threat. “But if you ladies get in any trouble, you just call, alright?” The mechanic added as he walked them over to the newly repaired van. “Or, y’know, you don’t have to be in trouble to call, man. If you just wanna chit-chat or find a restaurant you really like, or… Y’know, b-but the trouble thing, that too, that too.” Scooter rambled awkwardly as they all filed inside, and the assassin let herself smile widely at the sound.

Truly, Scooter was too nice for his own good.

Well, at least to the people he thought deserved it.

“Scooter, you are awesome. This is incredible- you do amazing work.” Hat girl praised as she got into the caravan. Zer0 took that as her queue to silently get back on the roof, where Loader Bot was already waiting. His red eye passed over her form once as he scanned the area, and then promptly returned to her once she guessed he detected another anomaly in the area.

“Oh yeah, thank you, thank you… haha.” The mechanic laughed bashfully before hat girl closed the door and someone started up the van. Deeming it safe, Zer0 uncloaked herself to let Scooter see her sitting casually on their roof and waved to him. “Aw, there you are, bud. Goin’ with ‘em, I take it?” Zer0 nodded wordlessly in response and Scooter shook his head with a grin. “Alright man, don’t get in too much trouble, ya hear? You be safe out there.” The vault hunter’s faceplate displayed the appropriate <3 emote before cloaking herself again. The caravan slowly started moving out of the garage and turned onto the street and Scooter ran to catch up, calling after them when they started to drive away. “Be sure to stop off at any of my Catch-a-Rides if you need anythin’! I got ‘em poppin’ up all over Pandora!” Zer0 smiled again at that but stopped suddenly when she realized there was a figure standing on top of Scooter’s garage, staring after them with a familiar shield and hood.

Athena.

That should be interesting.

Chapter Text

Once they were out in the Pandoran wilderness, Zer0 deemed it safe enough to uncloak herself. Loader Bot turned to her quietly at the assassin’s appearance.

“Hi.” He said shortly, something Zer0 was quickly realizing was the usual with him. The vault hunter waved back in greeting, settling down into a more comfortable position as the caravan roared down the dusty road. Absently, the assassin opened a map to see how long it would take to get to their destination. Loader Bot settled down next to her, looking over at the holographic map as well. Vaughn had said something about heading to Old Haven back in Hollow Point, so Zer0 quickly found where it was on the map and then compared it to where they were now. Doing the math in her head, she figured they had about… two hours before they would reach their destination.

…Two hours.

Hmmm.

Closing the holomap, Zer0 turned to Loader Bot, who watched her expectantly- or well, as expectantly as a robot who doesn’t ever change facial expressions can.

“Do me a favor?” Zer0 asked after a moment, to which Loader Bot waited until she continued to reply. “Make sure I don’t fall off, please.” It was a moment before Loader Bot answered, processing what she had asked.

“Of course, friend.”

“Thank you Loader Bot.” She nodded in gratitude before laying down on her back, shifting slightly to get more comfortable. It had been a decent amount of time since she had gotten any sleep, and since the journey to their next location would take them a few more hours, Zer0 figured it was a good time to get some sleep.

Besides, they currently weren’t being chased or shot at- as good a time as any.

With that, she closed her eyes and let herself drift off to the sound of the roaring engine under her and the quiet hum of Loader Bot’s mechanisms beside her.

 


 

She awoke to the city collapsing.

Jumping into an alert stance and vehemently shoving her drowsiness away, Zer0 watched in alarm as she seemed to be sinking, walls climbing up at a fast pace all around her. Her grip on the caravan tightened for another moment before she realized that she wasn’t, in fact, sinking. Instead, the walls- buildings- around her were actually rising up from underground. Rumbling loudly as they moved skyward, the vault hunter finally saw her group (and since when had they become her group in her mind?) up ahead, watching a large ‘GP’ insignia lift up on the building with fascination. Somehow, she took it that they still hadn’t noticed her, even though she had been uncloaked for a while. Rectifying the cloaking issue, Zer0 jumped off of the van and joined the others as the underground buildings finally came to a halt. Loader Bot- as expected- was the only one who noticed her approach, to which she bumped his side in greeting.

“What?! There was a secret entrance there this whole time?!” Vaughn asked, outraged. Zer0 figured they must’ve been searching for a long while judging by his tone.

“And that must be our facility.” Hat girl said as the assassin quietly took in the ‘Gortys Project’ words printed on the main building.

“Underground hidden doors! Ha! Atlas, man…” Vaughn laughed with elation, evidently overcoming his annoyance. “So what’s next?”

“Well, clearly we go in.” Hat girl replied. To that, non-hat girl lifted her rifle in preparation- wisely, in Zer0’s opinion.

“Whoa, whoa, easy! Watch where you point that thing.” Vaughn warned, a little startled at non-hat girl’s actions.

“This is incredible!” Rhys gushed, eyes lit up in excitement. “Pristine, preserved Atlas architecture.”

“Yeah.” Vaughn agreed, turning back to the buildings. “And it’s the real classy corporate stuff, not that military garbage you usually see.”

“I’m with you boys,” Hat girl started, “This looks good. How about we find out if the inside’s even better.” Loader Bot raised his guns in a ready position, much like non-hat girl, which again, Zer0 agreed with.

“No, no, no, no.” Vaughn quickly spun around to face the robot. “We’re going in cool right now, okay? Remember? Remember we talked about cool?” At this, Loader Bot settled back down into a peaceful position and the assassin frowned, disappointed.

“Cool. So cool.” Loader Bot agreed. The group started to head in and Zer0 was about to follow after them, when she realized Loader Bot wasn’t moving and instead looking again in her direction. She waited, an eyebrow raised. “Hi.” He greeted. She blinked, confused, before eventually figuring this was the robot’s way of being friendly. Oddly touched by the notion, Zer0 bumped his side again before Loader Bot held a hand out. The assassin grasped his hand in curiosity before being lifted to sit on top of Loader Bot. Once she was settled, the robot began to stomp off after the group, venturing down the ramp into the Atlas facility.

Zer0 pat the top of his head in appreciation.

She could honestly say she never expected to ride on top of a loader bot.

The inside of the facility was still fully functional, much to Zer0’s surprise. Monitors were lit up, each displaying a different source of information. A large Atlas statue still looked practically untouched by time in the middle of the large foyer, shining in the neon lights of the room. The vault hunter scanned the room from top to bottom, surprised at how tall the ceilings were. When her eyes hit the floor, she stared indifferently.

Bodies were littered around the entire room- dried blood leaving stains on almost every available surface. The assassin was glad her helmet filtered the air she breathed, because she had no doubt the room smelled absolutely horrendous with the amount of corpses piled in here.

“This is a massacre.” Hat girl said, mirror Zer0’s thoughts exactly. Non-hat girl bent down and turned one of the corpse’s heads with the tip of her rifle.

“Crimson Lance.” She identified the uniform. The name sparked Zer0’s memory. She remembered that name from somewhere- hadn’t Roland told her about them once? Something about half of them joining the Crimson Raiders and the other half, well-

Getting massacred, apparently.

“What the hell did this?” Rhys asked, almost awed at the sheer body count.

“Not what… who.” Hat girl corrected, and Zer0 looked over at her, waiting for an explanation. “This is Athena’s handiwork.” …Athena. Hmm. Well, seeing her earlier might have just been a coincidence- “Starting to think we might have just gotten lucky with her back there.”

Okay, definitely not a coincidence. And it sounded like the mercenary was already hunting down the girls.

Again, nothing Zer0 couldn’t handle.

They started heading towards the giant window in the back of the room when the vault hunter heard the unmistakable sound of more footsteps on the ramp behind them. Slinking off of Loader Bot, who turned slightly at the loss of weight, Zer0 climbed up the Atlas statue and waited at the top of the globe for the intruders to show themselves. Her group was none the wiser, looking inside the window with awe. With the scope of her sniper pointed at the facility’s entrance, she watched as bandits- or rather, more like hired guns- filled in, led by someone who looked vaguely familiar and another who looked very familiar.

Zer0 really should have made sure the business guy was dead before heading off to Hollow Point, huh?

Following them in her sights, they approached her group, guns raised, and finally got their attention.

“Rhys and Vaughn’s new little playmates, right?” The business guy said to the girls, who shared wary looks. “It’s very good to meet the two of you. It’s a shame we couldn’t be meeting under different… circumstances. Vaughn. Rhys. You didn’t think I’d have August handling all of my dirty work, did you?” The vault hunter wondered which person out of the many present was August- if this ‘August’ was even here in the first place. Though if she had to guess, her money was on the blond guy.

“Oh, for the love of-” Rhys mumbled in aggravation before turning to his trusted robot companion. “Loader Bot, attack!”

“I’m helping.” Loader Bot stated before lifting his weapons, but the enemy seemed a little too calm for Zer0’s tastes.

“Ah, ah, ah.” Business guy taunted, pulling something out of his pocket and pressing a button on it. Instantly, the punch Loader Bot had thrown at him froze mid-motion, stopping just inches away from his smug face.

“Wha-?” Rhys mumbled, a little shocked and a little more confused.

“Come on guys. You didn’t think I’d come all the way down here before grabbing a universal remote, did you?” Business guy said smugly, looking over at her group condescendingly.

“What.” Loader Bot deadpanned.

Her thoughts exactly.

“The Gortys Projects, the two halves of the core, everything leading to a Vault… we got it all.” Business guy continued, ignoring the look on everyone’s faces. “Checkmate, amigos.”

“I am shame-” Their companion robot began before he was cut off as business guy pressed another button on his remote, forcing Loader Bot to shut down and land on the ground in a heap.

Zer0 almost shot the guy on principle.

“What’d you think, Rhys? That you could pilfer something from my toy box, no strings attached?” Business guy taunted again, furthering Zer0’s urge to just pull the trigger.

“Hugo, listen to me.” Rhys began in a placating tone- and Zer0 realized she finally got another name. “Fiona… Sasha… even Vaughn, this isn’t their fault. This all comes back to you and me. I stole the money. I stole your deal. Everything that’s happened up till this point is about me trying to screw you. So let’s just, you and me, work it out.”

And then Rhys promptly got punched in the face with the butt of Hugo’s gun.

There were… a lot of things to unpack in that bit of information that Zer0 was trying to process.

First off: thank you Rhys, she finally had names for the girls!

Fiona and Sasha.

Now she only had to figure out which one was which.

Second: there was something about stolen money and deals? Is there more than just a race to a Vault at play here?

Third: “Everything that’s happened up till this point is about me trying to screw you,” seriously, favorite Hyperion employee ever.

The assassin watched Rhys stumble back upright as Hugo berated him and the bandits circled around them more closely, ensuring that none would try to make a run for it. Zer0 frowned before putting her rifle away- no use for it now, everyone was too close to her group. If she shot one of them- or two as collateral- she probably wouldn’t be able to ensure everyone’s safety from up here. With that in mind, Zer0 silently climbed back down the statue, keeping as many people as she could in her sights as she came to a stop just outside the circle formed around her group. A hand rested on her blade, waiting.

She would be much more efficient up close in this situation.

“We don’t even know how these cores work!” Rhys said, pulling Zer0’s attention back to the conversation at hand.

“Yeah! We barely even know what this ‘Gortys’ thing is!” Vaughn jumped in quickly to back his friend up.

“Fair.” Hugo allowed. “I vote we all figure it out together.” Blondy looked down at the piece of the Gortys core Fiona-or-Sasha was holding and then up at the paths in front of them.

“Two hallways, two halves.” He said, grabbing Fiona-or-Sasha’s wrist and lifting it to show everyone how the half matched the symbol on the door.

“I’ll take my soon to be dead janitor here, and you take Miss Fancy Hat down the other one.” Hugo commanded, shoving Rhys in the direction of the corresponding hallway.

“Boys… you keep an eye on these two.” Blondy in turn commanded the other gunmen. “Especially this one. Don’t believe a thing she says.” He said, looking pointedly at Fiona-or-Sasha- the other woman.

“Aw, how sweet.” Fiona-or-Sasha-two taunted back, glaring at the man.

“Yeah. You sit tight.” Hugo said to Vaughn, putting what was supposed to be a comforting hand on his shoulder. In response, Vaughn shook it off violently.

“Get your hands off me.”

Again, Zer0 was a little proud.

“Either of those two move, you shoot ‘em where they stand.” Hugo said to the gunmen, who nodded at the order. With that, Hugo and Blondy began leading Rhys and Fiona-or-Sasha-one down their corresponding paths and Zer0 realized she was left with another choice.

Stay here with Vaughn and Fiona-or-Sasha-two,

Or follow Fiona-or-Sasha-one and blondy,

Or follow Rhys and Hugo.

The group began to split apart even more and Zer0 found herself anxiously shifting in place. Her eyes darted between the three choices and eventually she found herself staying right where she was as Rhys and Fiona-or-Sasha-one disappeared down the hallways with their respective captors. Frowning at the pit of unease in her stomach upon the two leaving her sight, Zer0 silently shuffled closer to her remaining two groupmates. The vault hunter figured that since Fiona-or-Sasha-one and Rhys were… imprinted on the core parts, they would need to be kept alive.

Vaughn and Fiona-or-Sasha-two, though?

Their lives weren’t particularly necessary in the enemy’s eyes, only used as a bargaining chip against the others. Zer0 knew that if things went south, these two would be the closest to danger out of all of them.

The bandits walked the two- and by extension Zer0- over to the large window once more so they could watch the proceedings. The assassin planted herself in between the two, trying to be as close to the both of them as she could without being noticed. She kept a hand resting on the handle of her sword and an eye on the bandits around them in case they tried anything.

“How you doing, Sasha?” Vaughn asked quietly as they waited for something to happen, and the vault hunter rejoiced in finally knowing all of her group members by name.

“I’m alright for now.” Sasha murmured, arms crossed as they watched Rhys enter one side of the room, the platform he was standing on taking him to the center and leaving Hugo behind in the hall. “You?”

“I’m okay. I’d be better if we didn’t currently have guns pointed at us, but…” Vaughn trailed off.

“Can’t disagree with you there.” Sasha said as Fiona finally came into their field of vision on the other side of the room. Like with Rhys, the platform she stood on took her away from August and to the middle of the room. “They can’t be too happy about that.” Sasha said, observing how Hugo and August had banged on the force field that had separated them from their prisoners.

Zer0 couldn’t help but agree with her.

The vault hunter shuffled a little closer to the two as Hugo and August came storming back to them, grip on the handle of her sword clenching. Hugo slammed the butt of his gun on the window to get Rhys and Fiona’s attention before pointing it at Vaughn threateningly.

Her blade was unsheathed by about an inch at this point.

The two in the assembly room shared an uneasy look before beginning to push the two halves of the machines that took their cores together. Everyone watched in anticipation as they struggled to press the pieces together, almost sliding back with the force of their efforts. Finally, the two halves clicked into place with an explosion of blue light and pulled back to reveal a floating metal sphere.

A floating… metal…

What the hell?

How the hell was that going to help them open a vault?

Clearly, Fiona and Rhys were thinking the same thing as they circled the sphere, confusion and unease visible on their faces. Blondy got tired of waiting for them and banged on the window to remind them to hurry up. This spurred Rhys to step forward and take the sphere, but as soon as his fingers made contact, the sphere stopped floating and fell to the ground, rolling towards the edge of the platform at an alarming speed. Rhys dove forward to grab it and barely made it in time, hands grasped around the sphere and practically hanging halfway off of the platform. Fiona helped him back up but suddenly, alarms started blaring through the whole facility. Zer0 watched as red droids floated up from the depths of the assembly room to surround the two and her mouth tightened into a thin line. The bandits and their bosses started to get antsy at the sight. It was only a moment later that they realized similar robots were beginning to descend upon them as well, and they raised their weapons towards the droids.

Zer0 unsheathed her sword an inch more, muscles coiled as tight as a spring.

It was almost at the same moment that Blondy and Hugo pointed their guns at Vaughn and Sasha, leaving Zer0 trapped in the middle and frozen with uncertainty.

If she moved towards one now, the other may get shot and killed.

She needed a distraction and she needed it now.

As if some gods Zer0 didn’t believe in were listening, Fiona stepped forward and took the initiative. She held the metal sphere ransom with what looked to be a grenade of some sorts. This action only made Hugo and Blondy louder and more frenzied in their yelling, but Zer0 wasn’t paying any attention to that, only waiting for her chance to strike. Fiona then threw the grenade up in the air and let it fall to the ground.

At first, it did nothing.

“What the hell are they-” Hugo cut himself off as the grenade finally went off- though it was more of a flashbang, if Zer0 was being honest. A bright light enveloped the two in the assembly room, and when the dust cleared, they were gone, having escaped through a trap door in the center of the platforms. “Are you kidding me?! FIND THEM!” Hugo ordered, taking his gun off of Vaughn, who swallowed in relief. Similarly, Blondy turned to keep an eye on the floating robots, who were getting more aggressive by the second. Zer0’s shoulders released a little bit of tension as she cleared everything in her mind to silence.

It was time to go to work.

Brandishing her weapon in one smooth move, she spun and cleaved one of the bandits clean in half from the waist. The others startled at the sudden death, eyes darting around wildly as they raised their guns but saw no enemy. When Zer0 sliced another one of them down not even seconds later, still hidden from their eyes, the bandits became frantic and started shooting at the robots, believing they were the reason that their members started dying off so suddenly.

This, of course, finally spurred the droids to start shooting at all of them.

Perfect.

The first thing Zer0 did in the resulting firefight was make sure Sasha and Vaughn had a clear path to cover, unhindered by anyone else. She killed the two nearest bandits by them and blocked any bullets that were heading in their direction, be it from bandits or robots. Once they took the obvious opening and got to safety, the assassin let herself have a little fun and joined in on the chaos that had descended in the foyer. She was indiscriminate as to who she cut down now that her group members were out of the way, letting the rush of the fight take control of her actions. Acting purely on her honed instincts, Zer0 twirled around and practically danced through the bodies in the room.

It was only the sight of Fiona that pulled Zer0 back into actual awareness of her surroundings.

Her gaze focused on how apparently Loader Bot was trying to stretch Rhys apart, but Fiona jumped up and grabbed some sort of antennae on the top of his head, chucking it at Hugo’s face, which both made Loader Bot stop and put Rhys down gently and made Hugo drop the universal remote. Before she could even move towards it, Vaughn had practically materialized out of nowhere and stomped on the remote, crushing it under his foot.

Frowning in confusion, Zer0 stopped and turned back to where she had left Vaughn and Sasha, finding the spot empty. The assassin scanned the battlefield amidst all of the chaos and let herself relax slightly once she caught a glimpse of Sasha ducking behind the Atlas statue.

At least she didn’t accidentally kill them when she wasn’t paying attention.

Zero snapped back into action upon seeing her group start to make their way towards the exit, following behind them quickly and taking out any stragglers. She was just catching up to Vaughn and Fiona when she noticed a droid start to descend from in front of them, blocking the way. It shot at them and things seemed to go into slow motion for a moment. Fiona reacted quickly enough to move out of the way, but-

Vaughn!

Zer0 didn’t even think, she just moved. The vault hunter threw herself in front of Vaughn and deflected the bullet- or dart, it seemed- just in time with her sword.

Any slower and she might’ve been down for the count herself, which wouldn’t be… ideal.

“What the hell?!” Vaughn asked loudly, voice laced in confusion. Zer0 could understand- to his eyes, he just saw a dart heading straight for him ricochet off of thin air.  

“Vaughn, come on!” Fiona yelled, spurring Vaughn to run after her, though not before looking back at the scene in bewilderment. They took cover behind the Atlas statue where Sasha was, and were soon joined by Rhys and Loader Bot. Zer0 took this as her queue to continue doing what she did best and started annihilating the surrounding enemies- now more robot than human. Just as she was getting back into the swing of things, her instincts flared up and Zer0 shot a glance behind her, concentration broken. At first nothing seemed amiss, but then she noticed the Atlas statue starting to tip forwards ever so slightly. Neatly sidestepping out of the way, the assassin watched indifferently as her group toppled the giant monument, crushing the robots and humans that were in front of it. She was about to go back to work when the vault hunter saw Loader Bot take off into the air with Rhys, Vaughn, and Fiona clinging to his back and Sasha wrapped in one of his arms. Zer0 was slightly startled when Loader Bot started flying straight in her direction and stopped, hovering in the air above her.

“Loader Bot, what are you doing?!” Rhys yelled over all of the commotion, confused as to why Loader Bot had suddenly stopped.

“We need to get out of here!” Fiona added, casting a wary glance at the other robots in the air with them.

“Anomaly required.” Loader Bot simply stated, stretching his free hand out towards her general location.

“What does that even mean?! We have to go!” Vaughn yelled, ducking when a bullet strayed too close for his liking. Loader Bot ignored him and simply waited. Zer0 stared at the scene for a moment more before snorting with amusement, taking the robot’s hand and letting him pull her up to them. She settled comfortably in his grip as he flew them out of the facility.

They promptly came face to face with a rocket launcher pointed directly at them as soon as they cleared the ramp.

“Ah, who the hell is that?!” Rhys asked with rising alarm- not that the vault hunter could blame him, she wasn’t expecting this either.

“Hold on!” Fiona shouted to all of them as the unknown people outside fired their weapon at them, hitting Loader Bot square in the center of his body. They all went sprawling on the ground, Zer0 being the only one out of the group to land on her feet. The assassin scanned the new threat carefully, taking in the person that seemed to be the leader of the gang surrounding them. She was a large woman in a fur-lined coat with short white hair and large sunglasses, a sneer painted on her face as she approached Fiona, who was the one that had landed closest to her. Zer0 watched carefully with her eyes narrowed but didn’t push forward to attack quite yet. The woman didn’t seem overly hostile as she stopped in front of her group member- she even offered Fiona her hand to help her up. After a moment of hesitation, Fiona accepted it and was pulled to her feet.

“Thanks…” Fiona trailed off, both wary and confused at the assist. Movement from the rooftops caught the vault hunter’s eyes and she frowned, tracking the multiple snipers as they got into position.

“Don’t mention it.” The hardened woman said in return, not unkindly but not very far from it either. “You the leader of this outfit?” She asked, gesturing to the other three who were pushing themselves upright. Zer0 cast a quick glance at Loader Bot, who hadn’t moved a centimeter since being blown back.

“That’s right. What of it?” Fiona asked, eyes narrowed suspiciously at the leader of the bandits.

“Cheeky.” The woman smirked before they were approached by two men. Zer0 ignored their conversation as she quietly checked on Loader Bot, squatting down next to the robot and putting a hand on his arm. Just in case, she kept her eyes locked on Fiona and Sasha, who seemed to be handling everything alright so far. When she felt slight movement under her hand, Zer0 let herself release a little bit of tension before patting Loader Bot in comfort and standing once more. She made her way back over to the confrontation between her group and this new threat, noticing the two men being sent away by the leader. “-But I’m out ten million bucks ‘cause someone turned a simple deal into a complete shit show! Someone has to pay for that.” The woman hissed as Zer0 stopped beside Fiona, unnoticed. Her eyes then locked onto something behind them, and the assassin glanced over her shoulder to see Hugo and blondy running up out of the Atlas facility. “Looks like we have a couple new contestants.”

“Okay, okay, I know how it looks.” Blondy started, raising his hands up in an effort to placate the woman’s ire. “Things got a little messed up, but I-”

“Shut up.” The woman snapped harshly, making blondy’s mouth snap closed. “I’ll deal with you later.” She then put an arm around Fiona and led her off to the side.

“I just want to say- I had nothing to do with this!” Hugo exclaimed, but Zer0 wasn’t paying attention to that anymore- having seen something much more interesting up on the rooftops behind the snipers. That something went unnoticed by everyone except her.

Athena was here, and she was watching.

The assassin tracked the gladiator as she moved through the shadows, getting closer to their location. Zer0 wondered if she was hired by the woman in front of her, but then thought it unlikely. People who hired mercenaries and vault hunters liked to show them off as an intimidation tactic, not keep them lurking in the shadows.

A shotgun going off forcibly pulled Zer0’s attention away from their dangerous lurker.

Hugo’s body was on the ground- dead, judging by the gaping hole in his chest. The unknown boss woman was aiming her shotgun at Fiona, gesturing for her to go back to the others. The woman chuckled at the corpse as Fiona returned to them and she tossed the shotgun on the ground. Zer0 pointedly stepped in front of Fiona, keeping tabs on Athena in her peripheral vision.

“I suppose…” The woman trailed, unholstering a pistol from her side and pointing it straight at Zer0’s head, “I don’t need any of you.”

The vault hunter simply blinked at her calmly and wondered:

How hard would they shit their pants if she uncloaked herself right now?

The woman’s finger clenched the trigger but Zer0 was unbothered, knowing her shield would practically eat the bullet’s damage.

Before it could leave the pistol’s chamber, however, a shadow passed overhead. The gladiator finally decided to make her move, landing in front of the assassin and deflecting the bullet that was hurtling straight towards her. Athena slammed her shield into the boss woman, throwing her backwards a good distance. Not even seconds later, Athena used that same shield as a boomerang, knocking down all of the snipers on the rooftops that she had no doubt cataloged during her time in the shadows. She had even managed to hit the gunmen on the rocket launcher before her shield returned to her arm. When the boss woman got up once more, Athena took a few steps forward, chucking her shield at the lady again, which knocked her down and sent the metal sphere- which Zer0 only now noticed had been on the ground- rolling back towards Fiona. Stopping it with her foot, Fiona watched the carnage with shocked eyes that were mirrored by Sasha, Rhys, and Vaughn. The boss woman once again stood up, but now she had retreated closer to her goons. In her rage at being bested, she swiped a knife out from her sleeve, but blondy stopped her before she could do something she’d regret.

“Not here. We gotta go.” Blondy warned, glancing at Athena warily. The boss woman sneered harder, looking between blondy and Athena before relenting, pocketing her dagger once more and backing away towards their van.

“This isn’t over.” She warned, shaking her head as she neared their escape.

“You’re the one leaving.” Athena called back, glaring, “Looks over to me.”

“No, it’ll feel much different than this.” The boss lady warned menacingly, getting into the van at last. “I’ll let you know when it happens.” With that, she and blondy drove away, leaving all of their other knocked out goons behind. They all watched the vehicle until it was out of sight in silence. When it was finally gone, Athena turned back to face her uneasy group, her expression murderous.

She took one threatening step towards them before Zer0 decided enough was enough.

The expression on everyone’s faces as she uncloaked herself?

Priceless.

“Hello Athena.” Zer0 said coolly, not moving an inch from where she was standing as a physical barrier between the gladiator and her group. The assassin pointedly ignored the sound of her group’s surprised sputtering. The other vault hunter similarly stopped approaching, her expression morphing from rage to caution as she took in her appearance- seemingly calm except for the hand placed on the hilt of her blade.

“Zer0.” Athena replied, shifting her stance subtly to be more ready for battle. Zer0 narrowed her eyes at the motion.

“You’re not taking one more step.” The assassin informed her nonchalantly, to which Athena sent her a suspicious glare.

“Is that a threat?” She asked tensely, the arm holding her shield flexing.

“It is a promise.” Zer0 vowed. Behind her, the assassin heard Loader Bot finally pulling himself up and facing the gladiator. Athena’s gaze flickered over to him before returning to Zer0, the muscles around her mouth tightening.

“Look, I think there’s been a misunderstanding.” Athena said tersely. “I’m here to help you all.”

“Likely story.” Zer0 said shortly, not believe a word she said. Loader Bot stomped up to stand next to her and they stared the gladiator down together. Athena glanced between the two, glare sharpening just a moment more before slightly yielding.

“I’m under contract- I was hired to help.”

Oh.

All at once, Zer0’s muscles relaxed and she released the grip on her sword.

A job.

Yeah, she could believe that.

“What- that’s it- you’re just trusting her word?” Sasha asked incredulously. Zer0 simply turned to face her and nodded, slightly amused at the look of utter disbelief on her face.

“Vault hunters respect when someone’s on a job.” Athena explained, approaching the group and giving Zer0 a once over. “At least the good ones do.”

“Okay, so… hold on.” Fiona said, rubbing her temples and shutting her eyes tight as she attempted to put her thoughts together.

“So many things to process at the moment.” Rhys muttered, in a similar state as his wide eyes kept switching between Zer0 and Athena.

“You were hired to help us?” Fiona decided to ask first, turning to Athena with suspicious eyes.

“To help you two.” Athena clarified, gesturing to Sasha and Fiona. “The job didn’t say anything about the others.”

“To help us with what? And hired by who?” Sasha demanded, but Athena frowned.

“That’s probably something we should talk about in private- I don’t usually give that kind of information out.” She said sternly.

“Fair enough.” Fiona said with a slight grimace before turning to the assassin. “And what’s your deal?”

Zer0 let her faceplate display a ? in response.

“Why are you here?” Fiona clarified.  

Truthfully, the assassin didn’t have an honest response to that.

“The anomaly is our friend.” Loader Bot spoke up suddenly, saving Zer0 the effort of trying to explain a feeling she couldn’t really place. Everyone turned to the robot in confusion.

“The anomaly?” Vaughn asked, eyebrows furrowed together. “That’s what you said inside too- wait, does that mean Zer0 was in there with us?!” At that, the group turned to face Zer0, who neither confirmed nor denied the statement.

“Exactly how long have you been with us?” Sasha asked suspiciously. When the vault hunter didn’t answer, her eyebrows climbed high on her forehead, having come to a conclusion. “Since the arena?”

“I’m not blind or deaf,” Zer0 started neutrally, “I saw you all go down there. / I was curious.”

“Oh… wow. Zer0’s been with us the- the entire time. Okay.” Rhys muttered before lowering his voice even more. “Really hope I didn’t do anything super embarrassing.”

“So you’ve been, what- following us?” Fiona questioned, cocking her hip and raising an eyebrow at the assassin.

“Helping.” Loader Bot said, once again saving her. The group shared confused looks before Fiona finally turned back to her.

“Why? What’s in it for you?” Zer0 pursed her lips at the question before venturing with a response, having used the time to put at least some of her feelings together.

“Vaults are challenging.” The assassin said simply, which made Sasha and Fiona share a look.

“Yeah, so?” Sasha asked, mirroring Fiona’s expression.

“I needed a good challenge.” Zer0 shrugged simply.

“…That sounds about right.” Athena conceded, crossing her arms and smirking ever so slightly. “Word on the street was that you were starting to get bored.”

This time, Zer0 let her faceplate display a :l emote.

“That’s it? You’re not here for the loot?” Fiona asked in confusion, to which the assassin shook her head. “Ohhh… kay.” The Pandoran said awkwardly, looking between the two vault hunters. “Um… welcome to the team, I guess?”

Athena gave Fiona a deadpanned stare while Zer0 displayed a :) in response.

“Look, we need to talk.” Athena started seriously. “Privately.” She added, glancing over at Rhys, Vaughn, and Zer0. Fiona and Sasha nodded before leading Athena off to the side and Rhys and Vaughn approached Zer0.

“So…um…” Rhys started nervously, “I’m really… glad you’re here. Like you’re still super freaking cool.” Zer0 smiled under her helmet at that, displaying another :) to let him know she appreciated his words. “I’m um... I’m Rhys, and this is Vaughn- but, uh, I guess you already might know that since you’ve been with us for a while?” The assassin nodded to confirm his statement.

“That’s kinda creepy.” Vaughn muttered. Rhys turned to him in a hurry.

“Vaughn!” He hissed quietly.

“What? It is.” Vaughn shrugged truthfully at Rhys before turning back to Zer0. “…So you were in there with us, right?” He asked, gesturing back towards the Atlas facility. “That kind of… explains a lot, actually. Especially when people started dying out of nowhere…” He trailed off unsurely. The vault hunter simply waited for him to continue, but from the corner of her eye, she saw Rhys’s eyes widen as he stared at something behind her. “Also, I’m pretty sure you saved my life at one point? I mean- that’s the only explanation I can think of as to why a bullet kind of hit nothing in front of me. So, uh, thanks, for that. A lot, actually.” Zer0 gave him a thumbs up to show she accepted his thanks, but was a little more concentrated on the fact that Rhys seemed to be tracking something behind her, his gaze alarmed. At one point, he winced and grabbed his head. “Rhys, you okay bro?” Vaughn asked, concerned at his friend’s sudden action. While they were distracted, Zer0 sent a subtle glance behind her but found nothing there.

“Yeah, yeah, I’m okay- just a headache.” He replied, sending whatever he was looking at a quick glare. “It’s a little loud.” The assassin tilted her head slightly at that.

Now it was a little loud?

This was the quietest it had been since the bandits showed up.

“I’m gonna go… figure out what this thing is.” Rhys said, finally taking his hands off of his head and picking up the metal sphere they had received from the facility. “Over there.” He added quietly before shuffling away, wincing again as he went. Zer0 frowned and turned to Vaughn, who called after Rhys.

“Hey, is it-”

“Yes.” Rhys cut in strongly, not even turning around.

“Oh.” Vaughn said back before looking at Zer0 and shrugging. “It’s nothing.” The vault hunter narrowed her eyes at that but didn’t question him further.

This didn’t seem like normal Pandora craziness anymore- they were hiding something. 

She let it go for now and turned to Loader Bot.

“Hi.” He greeted and, as was quickly becoming custom to her, she nudged his side in reply. The robot offered her his hand again and she took it with a smile, pulling herself up to sit on him comfortably. Vaughn looked at the two of them, a strange look on his face.

“So… you guys are fast friends, huh?” He asked.

“Yes.” Loader Bot answered shortly and Zer0 nodded in response before getting out her blade and a cloth, beginning to wipe it down.

“Ohhhkay… um… I’m gonna go help Rhys.” Vaughn said awkwardly after seeing neither of them were going to divulge any more information or attempt to start a conversation. Zer0 waved distractedly as she cleaned her weapon, grimacing as she realized there were blood stains in the sheath now because she had carelessly put it away earlier. Though, to be fair, the assassin didn’t want to nick anyone during their short flight out of the facility.

It was a while later when Rhys called them all over, claiming he found something. Zer0 sheathed her sword once more as Loader Bot stomped them both over to the congregating group.

“I-I found that there’s an on button somewhere.” He told everyone.

“You’ve been looking at that thing for like, 20 minutes.” Fiona accused, squatting down next to him to get a closer look at the sphere.

“Well, it’s apparently very small.” Rhys defended himself, and Fiona rolled her eyes with a smirk. She rolled the sphere over and pressed a rather medium sized button on it before the metal ball began coming to life.

“Initiating Gortys start up sequence.” A proper sounding voice announced to the group, the sphere lighting up and beginning to float in the air once more, spinning slightly as it went. “Energy Chassis required for Vault of the Traveler Protocol. Loading coordinated for Energy Chassis.” Finally, the sphere reached its optimal height and stopped twirling around. “Gortys activated.” The voice said and not a second later the sphere fell to the ground with an ungraceful thump. “Happy birthday.”

Happy birthday? What-

Oh, it was a robot.

Zer0 watched with interest from the top of Loader Bot as this… Gortys put itself together and looked up at the crew.

“Wow, hi! Hey! Really great to meet you all!” An almost childlike feminine voice greeted them, doing its best imitation of a smile with its limited expressions.

“I think I was expecting something… different?” Rhys said, eyebrows scrunched together as he surveyed the robot.

“I’m sorry if you’re disappointed.” Gortys told him, sounding apologetic but still happy. Rhys shook his head quickly.

“No, no! Definitely not disappointed, trust me.” He grinned at the little robot.

“Wow, thanks!” She replied enthusiastically.

“You are the cutest freaking robot I’ve ever seen.” Fiona told the small thing, and the assassin couldn’t help but agree, a tiny smile hidden behind her faceplate.

“Thank you! You’re not so bad yourself. Meow.” Gortys complemented back.

“Awesome.” Fiona grinned.

“Awesome!” Gortys echoed happily.

“Awesome...” Fiona said, laughing a little giddily.

“Awesome…” Gortys echoed again.

“Oh, it was a robot this whole time!” Vaughn said, a little obviously in the assassin’s opinion.

“Yes I am.” Gortys nodded enthusiastically.

“That makes sense… Does that make sense?” Vaughn asked the group, suddenly doubting himself.

“Yes it does.” Gortys answered instead, still cheerful. She scanned the group and her eyes landed on Loader Bot, rolling over to him quickly in excitement. “Oh cool, you’ve got another robot! It’s very nice to meet you. How is your day going?”

“It’s a mixed bag.” Loader Bot replied, and Zer0 snorted at the answer. At the sound, Gortys moved her gaze up a little higher to look at her.

“Wow, you’re sitting on him! You must be very good friends.” Gortys gushed. Zer0 smiled to herself and pat Loader Bot appreciatively. “I hope we can be good friends too!” At that, Zer0 nodded and decided something right then and there.

She would protect this little robot at all costs.

It was too precious for this world.

“Gortys, hi.” Fiona spoke up, getting the little robot’s attention again, who rolled over to her quickly.

“Hi.” Gortys replied, and Zer0 found herself melting a little at the response.

Seriously, too precious for this world.

“What are… we supposed to do now?” The Pandoran woman asked a little unsurely.

“Well, that depends.” Gortys started to explain, “I take it if you activated me, you’d like to get a Vault.”

“Yup. That- that’s the- that’s the thing. Please do that.” Rhys stammered in reply.

“Great!” Gortys exclaimed before continuing, “Now, I don’t know every detail, but I was created by Atlas as a last ditch effort to get to the riches of a Vault to get a leg up on those Hyperion guys.”

“Well, we are still number one.” Rhys said a little too proudly, smiling widely.

“Atlas had facilities all over Pandora working on the pieces of me to get it done faster. But then that lady,” The little robot explained, rolling over to Athena, “Made it a little more difficult to assemble by killing every Atlas employee.” Athena glared at the ground to herself briefly before turning that glare onto the group, her gaze demanding that they don’t ask questions about it.

“Well, how many more pieces are there?” Rhys asked, directing everyone’s attention back to Gortys.

“No idea.” Gortys practically shrugged, rolling back over to the Hyperion employee. “But the next piece we need is… uh….” She trailed, a compass holograph projecting from the top of her head suddenly. Its needle spun around wildly as Gortys teetered around. Suddenly, it turned green and locked into place. “Oh! Thattaway!” The group exchanged another set of looks. When Fiona looked up at Zer0 to get her input, the assassin simply shrugged her shoulders in a ‘what’s the worst that can happen?’ sort of manner.

“Okay.” The Pandoran woman said, nodding at the little robot. “Let’s do this.”

“Great! Oh, that’s a great idea.” Gortys chirped before she started rolling in the compass’s direction. “Everybody up and at ‘em! Come on slowpoke, time’s a wastin’!” Zer0 rose an eyebrow and leaned to the side to see who the little robot was talking to, wincing when she found her answer.

Gortys was attempting to drag Hugo’s corpse with them.

“Uh, Gortys?” Rhys ventured cautiously, rubbing the back of his neck.

“Hmm?” The little robot hummed without turning back to them.

“He is, um…” The Hyperion employee trailed off awkwardly, looking to the others for help.

“Oh, shhh.” Fiona jumped in at once, whispering. “He- he’s resting. Probably for a while.”

Oh. Okay.” Gortys immediately lowered her voice until she was whispering as well, letting go of the body at once. “Oh gosh. We’ll just let him sleep then.”

“That’s probably for the best.” Fiona agreed with a nod.

With that, Gortys led them to the van, they all piled in (or on, in Loader Bot’s case),

And the road trip began.

Chapter Text

Admittedly, the first day on the road was a bit awkward.

Zer0 had expected it, but she still found herself shifting uncomfortably in the strange tension when she was inside the caravan. Because of this, the assassin found herself spending much of the first day on the roof with Loader Bot, only coming down when they stopped to find food. Athena had volunteered to go hunting for the day, taking Fiona and Sasha with her so that she could teach them a few pointers along the way. This left Vaughn, Rhys, Zer0, and the robots at the caravan. At first, Rhys and Vaughn tried to draw Zer0 into their conversations, and they went well for as long as they lasted, but soon they ran out of things that they all found in common. Also, Zer0 herself being so quiet and only really responding when she was directly spoken to didn’t quite help things. That left the two Hyperion employees playing pong on Vaughn’s watch while Zer0 lounged with the robots, listening to their conversation idly. Gortys was trying to learn as much as she possibly could about Pandora from Loader Bot, being so new to the world and all. The little robot had seemingly accepted how quiet Zer0 was in full stride, her questions mostly of the ‘yes or no’ variety when directed at the vault hunter. She appreciated the thought and pat Gortys on her head in gratitude. The assassin ended up eating dinner with the Loader Bot instead of the others- both because of the weird tension and because of the fact that she kind of had to take her helmet off to eat- and at the end of the night, Zer0 camped out on the roof with Loader Bot once more.

The next day was slightly less awkward, but that was only because Zer0 had spent a few hours on her own in the wilderness- it being her turn to provide dinner. The hours alone helped her shake off the weird tension that her body absorbed when she was with the group.

Honestly, Zer0 kind of preferred it when no one knew she was around- that way they wouldn’t be forced to try to make awkward conversations with her.

Returning from her hunt with twice as much meat as Athena and the girls had produced yesterday (because she couldn’t resist challenging the other vault hunter in a small way), Zer0 settled back in with the robots, who had moved closer to the other group members- Gortys wanting to question everyone about their experiences on Pandora.

The assassin noticed that sometimes, Rhys would still track something unseen to all of them. She would catch him muttering to himself when he was alone- talking to whatever he was seeing. Vaughn didn’t seem troubled by the behavior at all, and the others didn’t seem to notice it. Zer0 didn’t push it, but during lunch on their third day on the road (the assassin waiting until she could slink away to eat on her own), Rhys had caught her watching him during one of these moments. He paled and looked away quickly, subtly glancing over at her every so often with guilt. She didn’t try to hide that she had been watching, which made him even more antsy. But like with all of the other times, Zer0 didn’t bring it up.

It was only when she was setting up to go to sleep on the roof of the caravan with Loader Bot later that night that Rhys surprisingly joined them, climbing up the ladder and popping his head out.

“Hi Zer0.” He said with a nervous smile. She waved casually in response, confused by his sudden appearance at the late hour. As far as she knew, everyone other than Vaughn- who had volunteered to take tonight’s driving shift- was asleep. He pulled himself up on the roof and closed the access hatch behind him, settling down against one of the rails. “Nice night, isn’t it?” Zer0 blinked at him for a moment before nodding, looking up at the night sky. She decided to wait him out, sensing he had something to say. “Hey, can I… can I ask you something?” At his anxious tone, the vault hunter glanced back at the man, whose gaze was avoiding hers. “This might be a kind of touchy subject but… um… what did you think about Handsome Jack?” Zer0 paused.

Out of all of the things that could’ve left his mouth, that question was not one the assassin had foreseen.

“I-I know it’s kind of out of nowhere, but I think I really need to talk to you about something and knowing this is going to help a lot.”

That statement was also something she had not foreseen.

Zer0 shared a look with Loader Bot, who had been silent during all of this, before turning back to the anxious Hyperion man. She tilted her head slightly and thought about her emotions on the subject, leaning back to get comfortable.

“I have mixed feelings.” The assassin began carefully. “I didn’t appreciate/ his welcoming gift.”

“Oh yeah, didn’t he try to kill you guys?” Rhys asked, as if suddenly remembering. Zer0 smirked and nodded. “Yeah, that was kind of a jerk move, honestly. Inviting you here just to kill you.”

“But… that was after.” Zer0 conceded, looking off into the distance as she tried to gather her thoughts. “Jack started off meaning well/ …he got lost somewhere.”

“Um, wow.” Rhys said after she stayed quiet, eyebrows raised in slight disbelief. “That wasn’t what I was expecting you’d say.”

“I understand that.” Zer0 allowed before pursing her lips. “However, he did awful/ things to these people.” Rhys winced at that, rubbing the back of his neck and averting his gaze in shame.

“Yeah, moonshots aren’t very pleasant now that I’ve been on the other side of them.” He admitted nervously, eyes flashing with guilt. “And with all of the other stuff I’ve been hearing… no wonder everyone here ended up hating him.” At that, his gaze turned up to her, a questioning lilt to his voice towards the end of his statement.

“No, I don’t hate Jack.” Zer0 answered his unvoiced question bluntly. “Not really. But I am still/ very mad at him.”

“Oh.” Rhys blinked, surprised with her answer. “Yeah, that’s understandable.”

“He could’ve been great.” The assassin admitted almost soundlessly, slightly bothered by the ring of truth to her words. “Jack let power corrupt him. / It’s a shame, really.”

The Hyperion employee stared at her with wide eyes, clearly not expecting her to say something of that caliber about the infamous man. After a moment, Rhys nodded to himself, shifting his gaze downwards in thought. He looked up briefly at whatever it was only he could see before again looking away. Zer0 waited him out, but when he didn't seem like he was going to speak up, she did instead.

"You wanted to talk?" It was more of a statement, and it startled Rhys into meeting her gaze once more. His eyes drifted to something just beyond her shoulder and the assassin stopped herself from turning.

"Yeah, I... um. Okay. So you're really cool, and I think you should know this? But please, please hear me out before you do something rash- like try to cut my head off or something-" At this, Rhys's metal hand suddenly came up and covered his mouth, but he shoved it away forcefully with an annoyed look. "No, he should know- I trust him." Rhys said angrily, but Zer0 got the distinct feeling he wasn't talking to her. "I have-" His hand suddenly started slapping himself in the face, quite hard, if Zer0 was being honest. The assassin grabbed his prosthetic arm and forced it still, finding the task to be not as easy as she expected. Rhys looked dazed for a moment, recovering from his self-inflicted blows, before looking both a little shocked and thankful. Zer0 settled down a little closer to him to keep his arm from springing out of her grip- as it was still trying to with all of its might.

"Is your arm malfunctioning?" She asked even though she sensed there was more to this.

"Not really." He grimaced, glaring at his personal specter before meeting her gaze a little frightfully. "Promise to listen to everything before acting?"

"You have my word, Rhys." Zer0 frowned, starting to get a little concerned now.

"Huh, wow, uh, you said my name." Rhys smiled. "I think that's the first time you've done that." The vault hunter simply blinked at him and Rhys looked away bashfully, "Sorry, changing the subject. Okay so... um... I guess the only way to say this is- wow has your sword always been that sharp?" He asked nervously.

Zer0 gave him a deadpanned stare for a moment, as her blade was still sheathed on her back and he couldn't even see its edge.  To assuage his worries that she was apparently going to kill him, the assassin shifted back and used her other arm to take her sword off. She threw its sheath somewhere behind her out of reach, trusting that Loader Bot wouldn't let it fall off the caravan. The vault hunter did the same with the rest of her weapons before settling back down. Thy Hyperion employee watched her actions with wide eyes before his face softened into something grateful.

"This is going to sound weird but," He began softly, and suddenly Zer0 had to work double time to keep his metal arm from ripping itself away from the vault hunter's hold. "I have Handsome Jack inside my head."

The world stopped for a moment, and Zer0 thought she had misheard him, but his hesitant expression made it clear that, yes, that was exactly what he had said.

The assassin breathed and tried telling herself that, no, this was normal Pandoran craziness, but...

But she knew it wasn't.

Every instinct in her body was screaming that Rhys was somehow telling the truth.

Her grip slackened on his arm, but it had seemingly fallen still as well.

"Explain." She demanded quietly.

And he so did.

 


 

Afterwards, they both sat in silence, the assassin trying to process what she had heard.

Well, at least now she knew about the deal and stolen money Rhys was talking about back in the Atlas lab.

But Jack-

Jack...

It always came back to him, didn't it?

"Listen, I know it's a little crazy, but I promise-"

"No, I believe you." The vault hunter cut in quietly, finally shifting an inch from where she had been sitting motionless for the past few minutes. The motion spurred Rhys into a frenzied ramble.

"I-I know that it's Handsome Jack and all, but I promise he's harmless! He can't do anything to us!" Zer0's eyes landed on Rhys's metal arm and another revelation clicked into place.

"Except he controls your arm." She deadpanned. Rhys's eyes darted down to the offending limb.

"Only sometimes!" He defended quickly, raising both of his arms peacefully and proving that he had control again. His eyes went over her shoulder again and this time, she knew exactly what he was looking at-

Who he was listening to.

"What is he saying?" Zer0 asked softly, jolting Rhys back to their conversation and away from... him.

"Um... he's saying I should probably run now while I have the chance because you're probably gonna blow my brains out. Also, that I'm the biggest moron he's ever met." Rhys chuckled nervously. "But he's wrong... right? Please tell me I'm right. Actually, you know what, jumping off the caravan doesn't sound too bad right now-"

"Stop panicking Rhys. / I'm not going to kill you." Zer0 said slowly, trying to calm him. "It just makes things... new."

"You're not?! Whew, that's a relief, let me tell you." Rhys let out a gush of air he was no doubt holding while he was awaiting her response. "Because I rather like my head right where it is and not... exploded."

"Do the others know?" The assassin asked, though she had a sneaking suspicion as to what his answer was going to be.

"Just Vaughn." The former Hyperion employee replied and Zer0 winced. "I figured that it's a touchy subject for Fiona and Sasha... and I don't really trust Athena yet. Though now that I think about it, it's probably an even more touchy subject for you... I don't know why I didn't think of that." Zer0 waved his rambling off casually, letting him know she wasn't bothered.

"I'm glad you told me this, Rhys." Zer0 said quietly before hesitating with her next words. "You should tell them, too."

"But- are you sure? They're going to be so mad- I don't know if they'd trust me after this." Rhys admitted. "I mean, it's not like I meant for this to happen, but still."

"It's better for them/ to know sooner than later. / Best if it's from you." Zer0 assured him. "Take the time to be/ comfortable with them all, / but they should know too."

"You're right." Rhys sighed, face a little downtrodden. "You're right. I'm gonna tell them." The assassin nodded in approval before turning to look at the stars, still kind of at a loss for words. "Thanks." She heard, bringing her gaze back down to Rhys. "For listening. And not, you know, slaughtering me." Under her faceplate, she wore a wry smile, but instead she projected a :D and gave him a thumbs up. They sat in a comfortable silence for a few moments. Zer0 tried to say something, but her mouth kept opening and closing, unsure if she was finding the right words. Eventually, she settled for something kind of neutral.

"Jack, if you're still here," The vault hunter said out loud, feeling an odd twinge in her stomach as she said the words, "Then you were a major dick/ and you deserved it." Rhys snorted, looking over her shoulder. A familiar sly smile spread on her face and she projected >:) on her faceplate, turning her head briefly so that the former Hyperion boss could see it, even if she couldn’t see him. Rhys laughed a little harder a moment later, clueing her into how Jack was reacting. "He's throwing a fit?" Zer0 asked, but it was more like a statement.

"Oh yeah," Rhys snickered, "Definitely."

"Good." Zer0 grinned, feeling a little vindictive. "He deserves that too."

  


 

The next day, the assassin resigned herself to acting like nothing had changed between Rhys and herself to avoid arising suspicion in the group and have them confronting Rhys before he was ready. She was going to stay quiet and to the side, hanging out with the robots more often than not, as she had the previous few days.

Except apparently, Rhys didn't get the memo.

From the very moment she climbed down from the caravan roof in the morning, Rhys constantly called her into conversations. He made an effort to include her, taking Gortys's approach of only yes or no questions to communicate fluidly. At one point, he had even gotten the assassin to talk about her adventures with her squad on Pandora. The others seemed a little surprised at the change, but soon welcomed it with open arms. Zer0 was debating whether to just go along with this change- having seen the calculating glint in Athena's eyes and sensing a brewing storm, but in the end, well.

Rhys was making an effort to be friendly- to be her friend.

She should probably return the favor.

Zer0 spent the better half of the day with the group- really with the group. She even took Sasha out hunting with her after learning of her desire to get better at it, finding that the Pandoran took very well to communication through body language and some signing. Upon returning to their makeshift camp, Zer0 settled into the natural rhythm of her group. She lightly sparred with Fiona as Athena stood back and coached the Pandoran through it. With the robots, the assassin took them both on a walk up a familiar cliff side that was high enough to see the windmill valley, much to Gortys’s delight. When she was alone with Rhys, the vault hunter made vague enough comments that she knew would spur Jack into a tizzy, gauging his reactions by Rhys’s. As the night fell and the sky darkened, Zer0 and Vaughn taught each other what they knew about all of the stars they could see.

All in all, it was a really good day.

She should’ve known that it was all about to go to shit.

 


 

The ensuing shit storm started at lunch the next day, because of course it did.

It began with Rhys saying "Hey guys, I have something to say."

Zer0 paused from where she was adjusting the meat over the fire, a feeling of dread overcoming her but knowing this was ultimately for the best.

"Don't you always?" Fiona asked, smirking from where she was throwing playing cards at Vaughn while he tinkered with his watch.

"Har, har, very funny." Rhys deadpanned before clearing his throat. "But, uh, this is kind of important."

"What is it, Rhys?" Sasha questioned softly, sensing Rhys's rising nervousness. Recognizing her sister's tone, Fiona blinked in realization and straightened, giving the former Hyperion employee her full attention.

"Okay, so this is going to sound crazy, but..." Rhys stopped and gulped, looking off into space for a moment- looking at Jack, Zer0 knew. He listened to the man for a moment before shaking his head quickly, as if trying to shake off what Jack had told him. "I have Handsome Jack in my head."

It was quiet for a moment.

"That's not funny, Rhys." Sasha glared at the man.

"It's not a joke- I promise!" Rhys was quick to say, "I really have Handsome Jack in my head!"

"Yeah, okay." Fiona scoffed, rolling her eyes and leaning back into a casual position once again. Zer0 kept her gaze on Athena, who was watching the proceedings with a glare.

"He's telling the truth." Vaughn spoke up quietly, shifting uncomfortably. "He proved it to me back when we got separated in the desert. I held up a number behind my back and... Jack told him."

"I believe him!" Gortys chirped enthusiastically before turning to Loader Bot and quietly asking, "Who's Jack?"

"Oh, yeah? Okay, prove it to us then." Fiona challenged, picking out a card from her deck and holding it so that only she could see. "What card am I holding?" Rhys turned to the spot Zer0 had associated with Jack for the moment expectantly. After a minute, he crossed his arms in annoyance.

"It'll be worse if they think we're lying." Rhys said suddenly. "They're our friends, we can trust them." Fiona and Sasha exchanged looks and Athena looked unimpressed- but still, Zer0 detected the calculating glint in her eyes and remained wary. "Oh my god, just do it already." Rhys rolled his eyes after evidently listening to Jack's protests. "Please?" He asked desperately.

"He wouldn't do it." Zer0 said out of the blue, attracting everyone's gaze to her, but she had turned her head towards where she thought Jack would be standing. "Jack is too afraid of them."

"Zer0, don't tell me you-" Sasha began to ask in exasperation, but predictably, Rhys spoke up.

"Queen of hearts."

Zer0 smiled to herself smugly and Fiona promptly fell out of her seat.

So predictable.

"What the hell?" Fiona mumbled, looking between Rhys and the card in her hand with wide eyes. Sasha's expression grew alarmed and she grabbed a random face-down card from the table.

"Do it again." She demanded, and sure enough, the answer came moments later.

"Three of clubs."

"Ooo, ooo, I wanna try!" Gortys cheered, speeding over and grabbing a card from the ground around Vaughn. "What's this one?"

"Five of spades."

"Wow! That's so cool!" The little robot exclaimed, turning the card over for everyone to see. "Is that what this card is?"

"How is this possible?!" Sasha asked in total confusion, ignoring the small robot in favor of trying to gather her swirling emotions.

"When I plugged in that ID drive to find the briefcase earlier, it kind of downloaded him too." Rhys explained sheepishly, scratching the back of his neck. "I didn't know until we went into the underground lab back in the arena."

"Wait, so you're telling me," Fiona started, voice growing more outraged by the second, "That you've had Handsome Jack in your head from all the way back then and you didn't tell us?!"

"Well, when you put it like that-" The accused started to answer, his face contorting with guilt.

"I can't believe this!" Sasha shouted. "I thought we were friends!"

"We are friends!" Rhys said hurriedly, eyes wide with alarm. "I just-"

"You betrayed us!" Fiona accused harshly, "How can we even be friends after that?"

"But-"

"Whoa guys, I think 'betrayed' is going a little too far." Vaughn cut in, standing and raising his hands in a placating gesture. "We're all still friends, it's just-"

"And you knew too!" Sasha rounded on him, making him jump back in fright. "You knew and didn't say anything!"

"Well-"

"Why is everyone fighting?" Zer0 faintly heard Gortys ask Loader Bot frightfully. In response, Loader Bot stood in front of her to shield the little robot from the explosive conflict.

"Listen, I wanted to tell you," Rhys tried to say, "I just didn't know how until today."

"It wasn't that hard!" Fiona disagreed exuberantly. "All you said was 'I have Handsome Jack in my head'! Not exactly rocket science!"

"I didn't want to lose your trust-" Rhys shook his head, but Sasha cut him off once more.

"Oh, that's already gone, Rhys!" She yelled. "How can we even trust you when you've got Handsome Jack in your ear?!"

"It's still me!" Rhys argued desperately. "I'm still your friend, I promise!"

"Enough."

The loud boom of the gladiator's voice cut into all of the chaos and everything silenced at once.

The assassin watched Athena stalk over from where she was standing, all of her muscles taught as she stopped in front of Rhys.

"You have Jack inside your head?" She asked curtly, and after a beat of hesitation, Rhys nodded.

Zer0 barely made it in time to deflect the shield that was meant to decapitate Rhys.

The man stumbled back with a shout as Zer0's sword struggled in a battle of wills against Athena's shield.

"WHOA!" Vaughn yelled as well, shocked at the fact that Athena had just tried to kill Rhys.

"Athena! What are you doing?!" Fiona screamed, getting a little closer to the confrontation but still staying out of the way.

"Jack is in his head." Athena ground out before pulling her shield away and taking a step back, flexing her arm out as she glared Zer0 down, who was decidedly not letting her through. "That is reason enough for his death."

"No!" Gortys disagreed vehemently, sounding on the verge of tears as she rolled forward to stop this from happening. Loader Bot held her back, knowing she shouldn't get in-between the two vault hunters, but was similarly ready to jump in should need be.

"But you can't!" Sasha argued, hedging nearer as well.

"We all just agreed we can't trust him. What's the point in keeping him alive?" The gladiator hissed over her shoulder before turning her heated gaze back to Zer0. "Why are you protecting him? You, out of everyone, should know that we need to kill him."

"He is innocent." Zer0 said simply, and Athena bristled at the response.

"Innocent?" She spat. "Jack is far from innocent." Zer0's eyes narrowed calculatingly as Athena shifted slightly- this time ready for a fight.

"But Rhys isn't Jack!" Vaughn argued desperately for his friend. "Not even close!"

"Close enough!" Athena roared as she charged forward, but the assassin was ready for her.

They exchanged blows, but no matter how hard Athena pushed, Zer0 was not backing down an inch. Everything else drifted out of the vault hunter's focus as she fought the gladiator, using her sword but only to deflect at the moment. She didn't want to end up killing Athena, no matter how hard the other was coming at her. By far the most challenging fight she's been in for a while, the assassin ended up using tactics that she hadn't used in months, flipping and dodging over the gladiator's vicious attacks. Her shield was a little more formidable than Zer0 was expecting, holding up incredibly to Zer0's own powerful strikes.

The assassin activated her decepti0n decoy while cloaking herself in the same breath, but Athena didn't fall for it, evidently having done her homework on Zer0. The gladiator backed off and kept her eyes on her surroundings, waiting for the impending attack, which came only when Zer0 managed to throw something in the opposite direction, psyching Athena out and striking when the opportunity arose. The other vault hunter took the blow and rolled with it, spinning on her downed knee and swiping out, catching the assassin in the gut. The resulting punch triggered Zer0’s shield and they both slid back from the force of the explosive output.

"Guys, stop it!" Fiona yelled as they regained their stances after the blast, running forward and standing in front of Athena in an attempt to stop the fight. The gladiator shoved her out of the way and charged again at Zer0, who met her head on.

“Fiona!” Rhys shouted desperately as the Pandoran fell to the ground, his expression wracked with guilt. He turned back to the warring vault hunters and stepped closer. “Please, stop! I-” Fiona sharply spun to him after she recovered from Athena’s shove, holding a hand up to prevent him from approaching.

“Rhys, don’t! You’ll only get hurt- or worse!” She warned, shaking her head.

“Cut it out, guys!” Vaughn yelled as the vault hunters exchanged particularly vicious blows, which again triggered the assassin’s shield and blew them back apart. Zer0’s eyes flashed to her HUD and saw that her shield was completely depleted for the moment.

However, unnoticed to the assassin, Sasha’s expression grew hard and determined.

As the two vault hunters charged at each other once more with weapons raised, Zer0 detected fast movement from the corner of her eye.

“Sasha!” Fiona screamed in alarm, and Zer0 finally recognized the form of the Pandoran woman running in the middle of the two fighters, holding her arms out in an attempt to stop them.

The only problem was that they already had too much momentum.

Particularly, Athena’s shield had too much momentum.

Acting without thinking once again, Zer0 shoved Sasha out of the way, taking Athena’s uppercut full force, her shield making contact with Zer0’s chin.

Crunch

What the hell was that?

It was a loud crushing sound right under her chin, but it definitely wasn’t the sound of bones breaking. In fact, it sounded a bit mechanical. The assassin was so distracted by the sudden sound that she had no time to block Athena’s next strike- again aimed at her head.

There was a faint clatter on the ground not that far away from Zer0, and when she opened her eyes-

It was too bright.

Gone was the usual tint of her faceplate- of her helmet.

Ever so slowly, the assassin glanced down and found her missing head gear laying in the sand behind her, the mechanism attaching it to her head cracked.

There was a ringing silence from the rest of her group as she felt something dripping from her lip. When she wiped her mouth with the back of her wrist, the assassin found that the black leather was smeared with red. Zer0 turned her gaze up to Athena, face eerily blank as she took in the gladiator’s shocked expression and decided on something right then and there.

Athena was a dead woman.

“Zer0, wait, I-” Athena started, dropping her shield and holding her hands up in a calming gesture as she registered a dark expression starting to overtake the assassin’s face. Zer0 didn’t listen, staying deathly still for only a second more before launching herself at the gladiator. She got a few good punches in before there were hands on her arms trying to pull her away from Athena. Zer0 sharply pivoted in the unknown attacker’s direction, ready to strike, but she froze when she realized it was once again Sasha. Upon seeing her hesitation, Sasha and Rhys- who had quickly run up to help her- took the opportunity and successfully separated the two vault hunters. Fiona checked on the dazed Athena, who sat up with blood streaming down from her nose. A vicious smile overtook Zer0’s face at the sight.

Good, blood for blood.

The smile slowly slipped away from her expression as she realized almost everyone was looking at her with shock-

Looking at her face.

Zer0 pressed her lips into a thin line, shaking off Sasha and Rhys’s hands as she turned and picked up her helmet from the ground. She was about to put it on when she paused, because honestly?

She didn’t know what to do with the situation.

The only ones (who were alive) that had seen her face were Maya and one other- not even Axton or Salvador had seen her without her helmet yet.

And now this entire group had.

Two former Hyperion employees, two Pandoran con-women, an infamous vault hunter, and two robots- one that was also Hyperion.

What a shit show.

And yet…

And yet, this was still her group- as mismatched and dangerous as they all were.

So she didn’t put her helmet on just yet, letting her group get their fill and trying not to regret the decision.

Vaughn was the first person to break the ice.

“What the hell, you’re a girl?!” He yelled in complete disbelief. Zer0 simply raised an eyebrow at him, trying to act unbothered by the scrutiny. “How?!” At this, both of the assassin’s eyebrows rose, but Vaughn was too shocked to be sheepish.

“Oh my god, Zer0’s a girl.” Rhys muttered quietly with wide eyes. “A girl. Zer0 is. Huh.”

“A woman.” Fiona corrected with a hiss, turning back to Zer0 with an inscrutable expression and the assassin decided the Pandoran had a passible poker face.

“Okay, so… this is new.” Sasha trailed unsurely, offering Zer0 a slightly shaky smile. “New, but, this doesn’t change anything, right guys?” At this, Sasha turned and gave the group a glare, silently demanding that they agree with her.

“Right.” Fiona, Rhys, and even Athena nodded dutifully. Vaughn, on the other hand-

“But, wait, what about the voice?” Vaughn questioned, eyebrows furrowed together in confusion. “Your voice is definitely manly.” He ignored Sasha’s stern glare sent his way in favor of getting a response from the assassin. Zer0 frowned, turning her eyes down to her helmet and knowing the answer also lied within the head gear.

“Voice modulator.” She said shortly, holding back a wince at hearing her own voice out in the open. At the sound of it, everyone’s eyes grew wide with surprise once more.

“Neato!” Gortys chirped, happy as always as she rolled up to stand in front of the assassin. “Wow! You’re a pretty lady too!” Zer0 smiled awkwardly down at Gortys, who took no offense to it. After clearing her throat with the same awkwardness, Zer0 slipped her helmet back on, feeling self-conscious. She tried to lock it into place, but the clasp was too broken to click together. Withholding a sigh, Zer0 let it be, knowing it would stay on her head for now as long as she didn’t do anything too strenuous. Once her helmet was back in place, the group was broken from their shocked daze.

“Okay, so…” Fiona coughed awkwardly before frowning and turning to Rhys. “Handsome Jack is in your head.”

“Yes.” Rhys nodded, also frowning. “But I promise he’s harmless! He can’t control anything- Jack’s just kind of there.” Zer0 decided not to correct him about the controlling part, figuring it would do nothing to help regain the group’s trust. She watched Rhys wince and look off to the side- somewhere that Zer0 found was suspiciously close to her location.

“What’s he saying now?” Vaughn asked curiously. Rhys grimaced before giving Zer0 an apologetic look.

“He’s still kind of going ballistic after finding out Zer0’s a gir- woman.” The former Hyperion employee corrected himself quickly. Despite everything, Zer0 snorted at the information before displaying a 8===D on her faceplate, turning to where Rhys had looked before. The mood sobered quickly afterwards and Rhys sighed deeply. “Look, I didn’t mean for this to happen- honest. But because it did, I wanted you guys to know sooner rather than later. You’re my friends and I trust you. I’m just sorry I didn’t tell you earlier.” He explained quietly, looking imploringly at Fiona and Sasha. The sisters exchanged looks before Fiona shifted her weight, crossing her arms and looking at the ground.

“I guess it’s better for us to learn this now than later…” She trailed, frowning before looking back to Sasha. “Sash?”

“I can’t trust Jack.” Sasha said firmly, but before Rhys could grow despondent, she continued. “But I can trust Rhys. It’s just… gonna take some time again.” Sasha told them honestly.

“…I feel the same.” Fiona admitted after a beat before turning to the vault hunters. “Athena?”

“I can’t trust anything that has to do with Jack.” Athena told them all bluntly before she glanced over at Zer0, who was standing stock still while staring at her. “But… If Zer0 saw something good in him, I suppose I don’t have to kill him. Yet. But if he goes even one step out of line…” The gladiator warned and both Rhys and Fiona nodded, excepting that.

“Well I trust Rhys!” Gortys exclaimed, rolling up to Rhys and bumping his leg affectionately. “He’s our friend.”

“Affirmative.” Loader Bot said, finally speaking up from his silence during the whole scenario. With that, they all turned to the assassin.

“Zer0?” Fiona asked. “You might have the most beef with Jack out of all of us- what do you think? Can you trust Rhys?” Instead of a verbal response, Zer0 simply nodded confidently, now relaxing once more that she sensed the fight was mostly over. “Okay… okay.” Fiona nodded to herself before turning back to Rhys. “Next time, you tell us immediately when something like this happens- okay? We’re a team, after all. We stick together.”

“Yeah…” Rhys trailed off with a large smile, emotions almost overcoming him from the wetness gathering in his eyes. “Yeah, I will, I promise!”

“…So, does this mean you trust me too, because-” Vaughn began hesitantly, to which Fiona rolled her eyes.

“Yes Vaughn, we trust you too.”

“Okay, good! Just checking!” The man smiled in relief. Zer0 breathed in and took stock of the situation as her group settled back down, slowly going back into their normal rhythm.

She had a split lip, a broken helmet clasp, and the list of living people who had seen her face had just grown by seven, but all in all, it could’ve been worse.

 


 

Though it was a little bit tense, the next day was a lot calmer.

Sasha and Fiona were being a little distant with Rhys, but that was to be expected after yesterday’s revelation, and the former Hyperion employee gave them the space that they needed to process the situation. Athena wanted nothing to do with Rhys at the moment, and Zer0 figured that was at least a step up from the gladiator trying to kill him. To make up for the weird tension with their group, Zer0 hung around the guys a little bit more today, keeping them company along with the robots. She noticed Rhys looked a little tired, but shook off the thought for now- chalking it up to still being emotionally drained from yesterday.

The assassin was warmed to know that despite everything, the two Pandoran women were making an effort to show Rhys that he was still their friend in small ways.

While he was driving, Fiona had tossed his boot at his head and then proceeded to pretend she hadn’t done anything. Rhys rolled his eyes but couldn’t hide his grin. For lunch, Sasha had made him one of her famous egg sandwiches with a small smile.

Zer0 took the time to relax and observe the natural healing process within the group. It helped the Pandoran women that many of them were acting like nothing had changed.  Towards the end of the day, before Zer0 took over for the night shift of driving, the assassin asked Rhys to fix her helmet clasp, having seen him fix other things and deciding he was capable of the task. The former Hyperion employee enthusiastically accepted her request, grabbing his tools and setting up to work. Zer0 only hesitated for a moment before she removed her helmet, and she appreciated how her group did their best not to stare once again. She handed her head gear to Rhys and settled down, resting her head in her arms as she watched him work. In about an hour, the brunette had the helmet fixed, showing it off to her proudly. Zer0 smiled and took it back from him, slipping it on her head and trying not to sigh in relief when she heard the familiar click of the clasp. The assassin quickly displayed a :D emote in gratitude on her faceplate and Rhys grinned back. With that out of the way, Zer0 moved up to take the wheel from Vaughn, who looked close to passing out.

During her entire shift, the assassin noticed that while most everyone else had fallen asleep, Rhys was decidedly not. Zer0 watched in the rearview mirror as every time it seemed he drifted off, he woke back up with a start. The vault hunter frowned but tried not to press it for now, deciding to let Rhys try to get as much sleep as he could.

The next morning, Rhys looked like a dead man walking.

That should’ve been her first clue that shit was about to hit the fan once again.

The day was normal- hell, even better than the day before in terms of tension. They all managed to coax each other into playing a game of Bunkers and Badasses, having fun until Athena grew outraged at a critical fail roll and overturned the table- not that Zer0 could blame her, she would’ve done the same in her situation. The assassin even managed to convince the boys to come hunting with her, making them drag the meat back to camp and receiving minimal complaints.

Her point was, it was a good day.

So, when they stopped for the night, she wasn’t expecting anything crazy to happen.

She should’ve.

Just as Zer0 was standing to grab something from inside the caravan, her vision lit up blue.

Just blue, everywhere.

The assassin blinked rapidly in confusion as she watched her helmet apparently try to recalibrate itself. Soon enough, the blue cleared away from her HUD and she frowned, wondering what that was all about. Zer0 turned to ask Rhys if her helmet had been acting funny yesterday while he was repairing it, when she came face to face with someone she never thought she would ever again.

“Hiya cupcake, didja miss me?”

Chapter Text

Everything came to a shocked standstill as Zer0 snapped a pistol to Jack’s head.

Instead of being alarmed, Jack looked smug, which made Zer0 reevaluate the situation.

Handsome Jack was standing in front of her,

Handsome Jack, who should be dead.

Though now that she looked over him once again, she realized he was different; he was completely blue and slightly transparent.

“Zer0?! What’s going on?” Sasha asked, anxious as she rose and scanned their surroundings, trying to identify what Zer0 was so decidedly locked onto. Vaguely, Zer0 heard all of the others shift into cautious stances but the assassin never took her eyes off of Jack.

“Aw, come on now, we both know that little rinky dinky pistol isn’t gonna do shit to me.” Jack taunted confidently, pacing a little closer to the assassin who tightened her grip on the weapon. “Not when I’m this sexy computer version of myself.”

“Rhys.” Zer0 ground out instead. When there was only silence from the former Hyperion employee, the vault hunter risked a glance in his direction and found him looking in-between herself and Jack with wide eyes. Upon noticing her gaze, he exploded into a litany of apologies.

“I’m sorry Zer0! I didn’t know- I didn’t know this could even happen!” He started frantically. “He wouldn’t let me sleep until I scanned your helmet, but I thought it was harmless enough- I never thought he’d do this! Hell, I don’t even know how he did it!”

“Nah-uh pumpkin, you’re dealing with me now.” Jack cut in, forcibly putting himself in Zer0’s line of sight, to which she quickly trained her weapon on his head again instinctively. “Or should I call you princess?” The assassin bristled at the response, sorely tempted to pull the trigger, but she knew all that would accomplish was give Jack more fodder to taunt her with.

“What do you want, Jack?” She hissed sharply, all of her muscles tense.

“A little cold, don’t you think?” He grinned, eyes lighting up with some kind of twisted excitement. “After all, we’re old buddies.”

“Wait, so Zer0 can see Jack now?!” Vaughn deduced after hearing Rhys’s desperate rambling and the assassin’s response. Rhys nodded miserably, keeping his gaze on the confrontation between the two.

“What the hell, Rhys?!” Fiona shouted at him.

“I didn’t know he could do this!” The former Hyperion employee explained frantically.

“Okay, so let us talk to him too- I’ve got a few things I wanna say to that asshole.” Sasha growled, but Rhys shook his head again.

“I have no idea what he did!”

“I just let her helmet pick up my signal.” Jack shrugged casually, never taking his eyes off of the assassin. “Not gonna tell you how, though. I don’t want to talk to those losers.” He tilted his head at Zer0 with consideration. “You wanna put that gun away, princess? We’ve already established you can’t kill me without killing Rhys- and you think he’s, what’s the word? Oh yeah, innocent.” To spite him, Zer0 just tightened her grip on the pistol once more, never wavering from where it was pointed. Jack rolled his eyes. “Relax, I just want to talk.”

“Talk? You want to talk?” Zer0 echoed in disbelief. “Alright/ then, let’s fucking talk.” His eyes narrowed into a glare and his grin became a little too sharp at her response.

“That’s a lot of anger from someone who ruined my fucking life.” He hissed, taking a threatening step forward. “Who ruined everything!”

“Let’s not forget, Jack. / You’re the one who brought me here. / That was your mistake.” Zer0 retaliated quickly.

“My mistake? Oh, my mistake.” Jack scoffed viciously. “No, my mistake was letting you anywhere near my baby girl.”

A quiet hush spread throughout the assassin’s mind as a cold anger began seeping into every corner of her body. Someone called out to her in concern, noticing the change in her, but Zer0 was well passed listening.

“Fuck you, you don’t get to play that card.” She spat at the hologram, who was looking every bit as murderous as she felt. In her rage, Zer0 didn’t even notice she had abandoned her normal speaking mannerisms. “You locked her up and treated her as your own personal battery.”

“SHE WAS MY DAUGHTER- I WAS TRYING TO PROTECT HER.” Jack roared, all traces of the malicious grin gone from his face. His voice came out slightly distorted. “She couldn’t control her powers! She was safe in there and THEN YOU KILLED HER!”

“She died because of you!” Zer0 shouted back, by far the loudest the assassin had been since the beginning of this journey. At her volume, her group (barring Athena) started in shock, not used to this sort of emotional outpour from the vault hunter.

“NO, YOU’RE THE ONE WHO PULLED THE PLUG- NOT ME.” Jack screamed back at her, and the assassin hated herself for flinching just the tiniest bit at the truth in his words.

“You think I wanted to do that?” She started, voice a little more broken than she would’ve liked her former enemy to hear, “Angel was my friend! Even as she was begging me to do it- a million options were running through my mind but that was the only way-”

“Oh, I’m sorry!” Jack began with a hiss, “I forgot friends regularly kill each other you fucking child murdering psychopath! She would’ve lived!”

“Lived to do what?!” Zer0 challenged, becoming heated once more. “Be trapped in that fucking bunker for the rest of her life?!”

“She was safe there!” Jack repeated and the assassin scoffed with a glare.

“Oh yeah, because that’s definitely the life she wanted,” She began, “Never even seeing the outside world again.”

“AT LEAST SHE WOULD’VE BEEN ALIVE!” Jack roared, his voice contorting again with his rage. At that, Zer0 found herself slightly stepping back, because, well…

“Go fuck yourself Jack.” She said instead, ripping off her helmet and throwing it to the ground. To her immense relief, her… experience of him was only limited to her helmet, just as he said. Zer0 brought her hands up to rub at her face, eyes pressed tightly as they stung in a tell-tale manner. The assassin breathed in deeply before she was finally able to compose herself in the ringing silence that fell over the group. She sighed before her eyes fell onto her helmet, lips pressing into a thin line before decidedly turning around and stalking away from it.

She really wasn’t in the mood for a round two with the Hyperion boss.

“Zer0?” She heard Sasha ask worriedly from behind her when she didn’t stop at the edge of their campsite, continuing on into the growing darkness. The assassin paused briefly before sighing but not turning around.

“Don’t wait for me for dinner.” She said bluntly to her group. “I will be back soon.” With that, she began walking off once again.

“But Zer0-”

“What happened?!”

“Are you okay?”

“Zer0, I’m sorry.”

At the last comment, she stopped once more, frowning at the torment in Rhys’s voice but deciding she couldn’t deal with it right now. The assassin also noted Athena’s silence in the entire event.

“Oh and by the way,” She started again without turning around. “Don’t let Athena kill Rhys. / I still don’t approve.”

“Of course.” Fiona spoke up, again proving her leadership status in the group by keeping relatively calm and taking charge.

With that, Zer0 nodded and stalked off into the night.

 


 

The assassin found herself meditating atop of a cliff several hours later, secure in the lingering darkness around her. Normally, she would be antsy at the amount of time she had gone without her helmet, but she knew no one would be roaming the Pandoran wastelands at this time of night.

Well, no one that wouldn’t be dead if they spotted her, anyway.

Zer0 blinked at the stars and sighed heavily once again, trying to find a peace that eluded her at the moment. She was more rattled by her confrontation with Jack than she liked, but, she guessed it was to be expected.

Everyone close to her knew that killing Angel was her biggest regret.

The young siren had been one of her first friends in a long time, even when Zer0 thought she was only an AI. While the assassin was still getting used to the company of her fellow vault hunters, Zer0 took comfort in the voice that filtered into her helmet. They became fast friends despite Zer0’s limited use of her voice.

When Angel initially betrayed them, the vault hunter knew there was something more at play happening, hearing the conflict in her voice as she obeyed Jack’s orders. It turned out she was right, but fixing that- saving Angel-

The assassin had killed multiple people over the years and had forgotten their names as soon as the next day. She had killed even more people that she didn’t know the names of- here on Pandora especially- and didn’t so much as blink as she did.

But Angel?

Her death had haunted Zer0 months later.

With another sigh, the vault hunter scanned her surroundings in the dark, making sure she was still the only one out there. She spotted a few skags burrowing down for the night, but she knew they wouldn’t come after her unprovoked so she settled once again.

Now she had to deal with Jack on a constant basis.

Zer0 didn’t know how to process the thought that every one of their interactions might end up as it did today- screaming at each other from the top of their lungs and trudging up painful memories. She figured she’d grow desensitized to his taunts and jabs after a while, but still, the whole event was emotionally draining in a way that she didn’t know if she could handle on a day-by-day occurrence. The only way to avoid these confrontations would most likely be taking her helmet off, but that was not a practical option for the assassin. She could attempt to get Rhys to fix it, but then again, Zer0 didn’t want Jack doing any more damage to it unexpectedly.

With that thought in mind, she checked her Echo for a reply to the message that she had sent shortly after arriving on the clifftop.

‘Helmet compromised. No calls until it’s fixed.’

It was a message sent out in warning. The assassin didn’t realize she had received a response to it a while ago and read over the reply quickly.

 ‘Are you okay?’

‘Fine.’ She typed out shortly, shaking her head at the predictable response. ‘Good night.’ On the way back to the caravan some time later, the vault hunter heard her Echo chime with a reply. She glanced down at it, the light slightly blinding her in the dark.

Stay safe.’ Zer0 smiled wryly down at it before pocketing the device.

She arrived back at camp roughly half an hour later, the embers from the fire completely turned to ash. Upon scanning the outside, she found only Loader Bot on the roof. He stared at her quietly as she walked up to the caravan. The assassin waved at him inaudibly, and he shifted to do the same, bringing a genuine smile to her face. With one last glance around their surroundings, she silently opened the caravan door and stepped inside, closing it behind her without so much as a creak. She looked around and found everyone was still with sleep. Sasha and Fiona had curled up together, Vaughn was lazily draped onto the floor, Gortys was coiled down into her ball form, and Athena had taken the couch.

Zer0 didn’t doubt for a minute that the other vault hunter had awoken the moment she opened the door.

The assassin glanced around the room and found her helmet sitting innocently on one of the counters. Frowning at it, Zer0 turned to locate their last group member and instead found eyes glinting in the darkness.

Guilty eyes. 

Withholding a sigh, she shuffled over to Rhys where he was sitting on the floor, back against a chair. Zer0 ruffled his hair as he opened his mouth, cutting him off from what was most likely another explosion of apologies to the assassin. She didn’t feel like speaking anymore today, but at the brunette’s frankly miserable expression, Zer0 found it within herself to pull out some words of comfort she couldn’t offer him before.

“It’s okay, Rhys.” She whispered almost inaudibly. “You didn’t know.”

“But I-” Rhys cut himself off when Zero simply shook her head. The brunette exhaled his protests in one harsh breath. “I’m so sorry.” He said back almost soundlessly.

“I forgive you.” Zer0 replied genuinely, because she truly did. “Now go to sleep.” With that, she pat him on the head and turned to find a spot she could curl up in without waking the others, deciding to stay inside the caravan tonight as she wasn’t willing to put her helmet back on just yet.

“Night Zer0.” Rhys whispered to her as she settled down on the floor near the driver’s seat.

“Good night Rhys.” She responded quietly before she waited, eventually listening to both Rhys and Athena finally drift off to sleep.

With the sounds of her group alive and peaceful around her, and no sign of Jack in her surroundings, Zer0 let herself nod off.  

 


 

The next morning, the assassin found herself waking up on the couch. Zer0 frowned blearily, feeling a slightly scratchy fabric on her body slide off as she sat up. She looked down to find a blanket and frowned even deeper before scanning the caravan.

Athena was at the helm, Sasha was making breakfast, and everyone else was playing cards on the floor quietly (or in Gortys's case, trying to play cards). At her movement, the card group looked up.

"Morning, sleepy head." Fiona grinned, waving before quickly scowling as she caught Vaughn trying to peek at her hand. Vaughn looked away innocently, giving Zer0 a casual nod as the assassin put her feet on the ground.

"Hi Zer0!" Gortys chirped and rolled over in delight, the game at hand momentarily forgotten. "Man, I thought you'd never wake up! I'm so glad you did." Zer0 smiled down at the little robot and pat her head at her words before standing and stretching.

"Want us to deal you in?" Rhys asked, gesturing to the cards on the floor. At the reminder, Gortys rolled back over and settled down next to Fiona.

"Let her eat first guys, she just woke up." Sasha scolded before smiling at the assassin and putting a plate of food down at the table. Zer0 blinked a few times before nodding her thanks and sitting down once more, chowing down in the relative quiet of the caravan. As she ate, the assassin spotted her helmet right where it had been last night. She blinked at it blandly as she finished her breakfast, watching in quiet surprise as Sasha instantly came by and swept it away without even a word. The assassin began tuning into the mood that had fallen over the group. It was peaceful, but also somewhat careful. Confused, she turned to the card players on the ground and found that Rhys was already looking at her. He held his cards up in a silent question, eyebrows raised expectantly. Now growing even more suspicious, Zer0 shook her head, rising and making her way over to Athena, who had remained silent since she woke up.

The other vault hunter kept her eyes on the road, but gave the assassin a nod of acknowledgment as Zer0 leaned back on the rails next to her. They waited until the noise behind them picked up once again before relaxing.

"They're treating you with kid gloves, huh?" Athena questioned too low for the others to hear, which made Zer0 snort and nod. "Well, it is your fault after all, storming off into the dark like that." The assassin quietly turned to the gladiator, recognizing a hint of... something in her tone. "They were worried you'd get hurt out there on your own. I knew better. You don't take down a Vault Monster and get killed by a skag, you know?" Zer0 smiled wryly at Athena before turning her eyes back to the road in front of them.

"Thanks." Zer0 said shortly, allotting herself that much for the day in terms of speaking. When Athena turned her gaze over to Zer0 in question, the vault hunter briefly looked at the couch behind them.

"What makes you think it was me?" Athena scoffed, turning back to the desert horizon to avoid Zer0's raised eyebrow.

There was only one person there that could potentially move the assassin and cover her with a blanket without waking her, and it sure wasn't Vaughn.

In response, Zer0 rolled her eyes and gently nudged Athena's side before settling back for the car ride.

About an hour later, something loud exploded from within the caravan's engine, making the whole group start at the sudden swerve that resulted from it. Athena slowed the vehicle down to a stop and soon afterwards, smoke began rising from under the hood. When Sasha couldn't find anything that looked out of place, Rhys performed a quick diagnostic scan and sent it to their trusty mechanic. Scooter called back moments later and told them that they'd need to pick up a part from one of his Catch-a-Ride stations before he could walk them through fixing it.

Unfortunately, the nearest Catch-a-Ride station was about five miles out, and Loader Bot had run out of jet fuel a few days ago.

"I'll take Sasha and Fiona to go get the part." Athena said, already grabbing her shield once the group learned the gist of things. "The rest of you stay here with the van."

"But you're gonna need the map to the station..." Rhys started, dread rising in him the more he spoke. "...And since the transfer signal out here is so crappy, I can't send it to you... which means..."

"Which means you have to come too." Fiona smirked, making Rhys groan loudly.

"Sucks to be you, bro." Vaughn smiled, bumping Rhys's shoulder amicably.

"Okay, so Vaughn, Loader Bot, Gortys, and Zer0-" Sasha said before Gortys cut her off desperately.

"I wanna go too! Oh please, please, please, please, please?" She pleaded to the sisters.

"It's probably better that way." Fiona shrugged when Sasha turned to get her opinion on the matter.

"Vaughn, Loader Bot, and Zer0 stay with the van, while the rest of us-" Athena began to command once again, but stopped herself when the assassin stood up and stretched, already walking over to her helmet. "Zer0, it's okay, you can stay with the van. You don't have to put on the-" But once again, Athena cut herself off as they watched the assassin slip into the helmet without hesitation. The vault hunter's eyes readjusted to the familiar tint and HUD before she noticed the silence in the room. A little annoyed that they'd thought she would have such a problem putting her gear on once again, she stared back at her group, arm crossed over her chest and hip cocked in challenge.

They all pretended not to notice how Zer0 relaxed minutely upon finding no hologram Hyperion boss in sight.

"Fine. Loader Bot and Vaughn will stay here and protect the van. Unless Vaughn suddenly wants to come along too?" Athena glared, turning to the former Hyperion employee.

"Nope, I'm good with old LB here. You guys have fun." He shrugged easily. Rhys stared at him with envious eyes and Fiona snorted at the look on his face.

"Okay, the rest of us are heading out. Grab your gear." Athena declared before they all dispersed to follow her orders.

Once they set out, the assassin determined that at their current pace, it would take them roughly an hour and a half to reach the station. The first half an hour went relatively well, but soon, the heat began to take its toll on the members of the group.

"Oh my god, just kill me." Rhys groaned as he dragged his feet through the sand.

"Shut up Rhys, it isn't that bad." Fiona snapped despite the sweat pouring down her brow.

"But, uh, how much farther away is it?" Sasha asked, voice beginning to waver with exhaustion.

"Suck it up." Athena barked at them, which made all three of them snap to attention. "It could be worse."

"I don’t know what you guys are talking about, I feel great!" Gortys cheered, effortlessly rolling ahead of the group. The others withheld their annoyed glares because, well, it was Gortys.

"Athena's right." Fiona sighed, wiping at her face. "We could be Zer0 right now, dressed head to toe in black leather." The mentioned assassin looked over to them and tilted her head, seeming as if nothing was bothering her. Rhys narrowed his eyes at that before they went wide with realization.

"Your suit's temperature regulated, isn't it?" He accused. At his words, all of the others turned to the vault hunter, whose only response was to display a >:) emote on her faceplate, making everyone groan with jealousy. "Oh come on, how is that fair?" Rhys whined.

"Seriously though, how far away is it from here?" Sasha asked again, her voice also starting to take on a whining quality.

"We're almost there." Athena lied, which made the assassin hold back a snort. Rhys blinked and pulled up the map on his hand.

"No we're not, we're only halfway!" He countered with a glare sent to the gladiator. The Pandoran sisters groaned at the news and Athena resolutely did not look back at them. Zer0 wandered over to Rhys and looked at the holomap, vaguely recognizing the area. She tapped on the brunette's shoulder and outlined a path with her finger that would take them through a somewhat shaded area. "But that would take five more minutes." Rhys whined. Zer0 gave him a deadpanned look before holding a hand flat over their heads in a pantomime of shade and thankfully, Rhys understood. "Oh! Oh, then yes, dear god, let's go that way." The assassin rolled her eyes playfully as they slightly averted their course. About ten minutes later, they were rewarded with cliff cover.

"Oh sweet merciful god, shade!" Fiona exclaimed, fast-walking to get out of the sun. Zer0 had to cover her laugh with a suspicious cough as she watched Sasha fling her sister out of the way to get there first. They took a small break to catch their breaths in their small solace before continuing.

It was about then when it happened.

Zer0 was just walking along, minding her own business, when a blue figure materialized next to her. All of muscles instantly locked up, but the assassin forced them to relax and continued moving as if nothing had changed.

She, of course, fooled no one.

Athena, Sasha, and Fiona sent the assassin confused looks while Rhys glared at the newcomer. Gortys was obvious, too interested in the landscape she was exploring.

Zer0 ignored all of them.

Apparently, the blue hologram was content with remaining silent as well.

"Seriously Jack, now is not the time." Rhys hissed quietly, which made the heads of the other three snap to him. From the corner of her eye, Zer0 watched Jack give Rhys a look before promptly ignoring him.

"Jack's here?" Fiona hissed as well, trying to keep her voice down. For whose benefit, Zer0 didn't know.

"What's that asshole saying now?" Sasha almost growled, but Rhys's eyebrows furrowed together in confusion.

"Nothing, he's just kind of... walking." Rhys trailed, eyes trained on the hologram. The others followed his gaze and almost balked when they realized that Jack was walking right next to Zer0.

"Oh, great." Athena mumbled as they shuffled along.

Again, Zer0 ignored them and just kept moving, maintaining her silence.

They made it all the way to the Catch-a-Ride station in a tense mood. Scooter quickly digistructed their new part (as well as some jet fuel for Loader Bot) and they took a few minutes to rest before starting the journey back from whence they came.

In all of that time, Jack had yet to say a word.

Zer0 was actually quite impressed, she hadn't known the man could go two minutes without hearing the sound of his own voice.

But if Jack thought she was going to crack before him- he had another thing coming.

As she predicted, he only lasted about twenty minutes into their trek back.

"It has come to my attention," He said suddenly, which made Rhys start in surprise, "That you and I share a certain... bond." Rhys frowned in confusion before he realized that Jack was talking to Zer0, which made him even more confused. "A sincerely fucked up bond, but a bond none-the-less." The assassin ignored him for another minute before she sighed deeply, stopping in her tracks.

"Zer0, you okay?" Sasha asked, noticing the assassin's pause.

"Come on slowpoke, we gotta get back to the others!" Gortys said, turning as well. The assassin simply shooed them away when they all waited for her response. 

"Are you sure?" Rhys asked hesitantly, looking between the vault hunter and the hologram. Zer0 nodded once and waited for them to get out of earshot- not that it would matter for most of them. With that, she turned to Jack and crossed her arms over her chest, watching him silently.

"Aw, how sweet, you got us some privacy." He taunted. Zer0 didn't rise to the bait and simply waited, unmoving. His grin fell into a pout at her unresponsiveness. "Alright look, I get it, you're pissed- and don't get me wrong, so am I- but you and me? We're more than that." The assassin narrowed her eyes at him in suspicion, unable to see where he was going with this. "We've got a bond that can only come from hating each other so much we tried to kill each other, but never actually did."

The assassin briefly contemplated correcting him on that front, but before she could, Jack beat her to it.

"And before you open your pretty little mouth and say that you did end up killing me," He said, hands placed on his chest in emphasis, "Remember that Lilith was the one who killed me- you only riddled my body with bullets. Thanks, for that by the way, it still smarts." Zer0 smirked at that and Jack continued. "The point is- we understand each other, as much as we hate to admit it. More than the others, at least." He said, casting a glance to where the rest of her group disappeared. He seemed to sense her raised eyebrow, because Jack turned back to her and explained, "Rhys is just a kid; he's never had to do what I've done. He’s too green- too naïve. And Athena? She doesn't hold a candle to what you and I went through. No princess, it's just you and me."

"What do you want, Jack?" Zer0 asked tiredly, sorely tempted to rub at her temples.

"What I want," He said, enunciating the t harshly, "Is coexistence."

Now she really did rub at her temples, pressing hard in an attempt to feel it through her helmet.

"We get each other." Jack explained as she continued the action. "And we can be civil, can't we? Besides, why do you think I let you in on my signal?” At that, Zer0 looked up at the man because she had been wondering that herself. “Okay, sure, to yell at you a tinsy bit- you did ruin everything, after all- but mostly because I thought we could get along, especially now that we can’t physically kill each other.”

The assassin took a moment to process that information.

She didn’t quite understand what he wanted at this point.

What I want is coexistence.”

But she knew everything was a double edged sword with Jack, and Zer0 didn’t quite believe him on that front, either way.  She doubted his only motive here was making a friend.

Despite that, she found herself making a decision, turning back to the hologram resolutely.

“Okay. We can be civil.” She agreed quietly and Jack grinned.

The assassin would act amicably towards the hologram, but she would always keep an eye on him, because she knew better.

“Great! Awesome! You won’t regret it princess, let me tell you.” Jack rambled happily.

And yet somehow, she already did.

Chapter Text

It started off slowly, whatever it was- this strange relationship between the two of them.

Jack had started showing up more often than not simply to hang around. In the beginning, his favorite past-time had been to sneak up on Zer0 because he was the only one who had the ability, mainly because he could literally materialize out of nowhere and made no sound while doing so.

The first few times, Zer0 found herself freezing up instinctively, hands twitching for her weapons. Once she realized it was just Jack, she relaxed and glared at him, to which he cackled at her for. This also happened when it was her turn to hunt for the day. She had been staring down her scope at a prospective dinner target, and just as she was about to take the shot, Jack’s blue face had popped up in front of her sights, completely overtaking her vision. The assassin hated to admit she actually jumped that time, and Jack howled with laughter, even when Zer0 shot his holographic form in retaliation. She learned two things that day:

One: Jack didn’t have to be close to Rhys to appear to her, as Rhys was back at camp with the others miles away.

And two: Jack was still an annoying piece of shit.

Eventually, they had moved onto actual talking- or rather, Zer0 responding to things that Jack spewed out on a daily basis.

Admittedly, it was rough at first- to actually communicate with one another on a substantial level.

A lot of bad blood had passed between the two- almost too much, in the assassin’s honest opinion. What seemed like a harmless exchange would quickly devolve into something considerably more heated, much to Rhys’ dismay. A snarky comment here, a pointed look there, a vicious hiss in-between- Jack was right, the only thing keeping them from killing each other in those moments was the fact that they physically could not.

The poor former Hyperion lackey was frequently forced to play peacemaker between the two, which usually accomplished nothing but give him a splitting headache from Jack’s unrestrained, loud, slightly-distorted-at-times fury. Zer0 had never quite raised her voice as loud as she had during their first encounter, but she found herself spitting back at Jack a bit more intensely than she herself liked. Once she found herself in that state, Zer0 quickly distanced herself a bit in an attempt to calm herself- dispelling her emotions. She hissed at the hologram not to follow her through clenched teeth in an abrupt dismissal, but of course Jack never listened. He followed after her, ranting and raving viciously without even a hitch in his step. This forced the assassin to do something she hated- putting herself at risk by hindering her perception of her surroundings, but…

She temporarily muted her helmet.

Jack realized what she had done after a calm stillness had overtaken her body, finally at a moment’s rest with the Hyperion CEO, and only grew more angry.

So she just closed her eyes.

Somehow she could tell that made Jack furious, but the Vault Hunter couldn’t care less- breathing deeply in self-meditation. It was always a while before Zer0 collected herself- still hating the fact that the hologram could get under her skin so thoroughly- but every time she opened her eyes, Jack was consistently right there- sitting across from her moodily but blessedly silent.

The first time it happened, she fully expected Jack to start right back up again as soon as she unmuted her helmet, but he just glared at her quietly, saying nothing. It wasn’t until later, after she had rejoined the others, that he would moodily add a snarky comment here or there, but it was only at a fraction of the CEO’s previous intensity and, amazingly, would not escalate too far before he’d back off.

Surprisingly, this would be the immutable outcome of their fights.

Zer0 still wasn’t quite sure what Jack’s ulterior motive for letting her see him was, but she was at least somewhat positive this wasn’t it.

It all came to a head with what seemed like a throwaway comment from the hologram as the assassin ignored him, half-listening in on Fiona’s story around the campfire.

“Oh for the love of- would you quit acting like I’m not even there?!” Jack spit out suddenly, much too heated to be simply annoyed.

The Vault hunter paused carefully at that, tilting her head as she watched Rhys shoot Jack a flat look at his outburst before turning back to Fiona from her periphery. Jack puffed up in what was faux indignation and real outrage before he caught Zer0 looking right at him. At her unwavering stare, he seemed to calm slightly before slipping into his usual bravado.

The assassin found the exchange… interesting.

She experimented with her findings over the next few days and discovered that Jack was the most relaxed when he was being addressed and the most agitated when he was being ignored. Zer0 could chalk that up to the fact that Jack was the biggest attention whore she had ever met, but something felt significant about it.

Using this to her advantage- and on the insistence of the frankly exhausted Hyperion middleman- they came up with some ground rules.

The first, most important, and unspoken rule between them was that they never brought up Angel.

Ever.

They had yet to do so since their first explosive confrontation and it would stay that way for the foreseeable future.

The second was that when Zer0 wanted space, Jack had to give it to her. The hologram had the advantage of just blipping off to wherever he went when he wasn’t with them when he wanted to be alone- the assassin did not.

The third was that Zer0 wasn’t allowed to just mute Jack and close her eyes. She could ignore him all she wanted, but she couldn’t forcibly shut him out like that.

The fourth and final rule was that the two of them would try (try being the operative word) not to outright antagonize each other- both for Rhys’ sake and as a preventative measure not to violate rules two and three with the certain ensuing fight. Sure, they could pick on each other, but they weren’t allowed to press.

Zer0 found this rule at times to be the hardest to follow. There were times when Jack would drop a snide comment that toed the line of “antagonizing” and something inside of her would curl viciously, wanting to return it ten-fold. For Rhys, though, she bit her tongue and held it back. There were other times when the hologram was boasting a little too heavily about his accomplishments and Zer0 wanted to spread her arms out wide around her as to say “And look what you’ve done, exactly,” in the face of the ruined land and abandoned homes on Pandora.

But she didn’t.

For Rhys.

It wasn’t until they had briefly stopped in such an abandoned town that Zer0 felt vindicated. Athena had told them there were eridium mines nearby- many of the townspeople either left or died of sickness. Even without her explanation, Zer0 could tell what had happened here- the ground around them was tainted with a familiar sickly purple, permeating the town like the disease it surely spread. They didn’t stay long as the town itself had nothing to offer them. As they were loading up into the caravan, the assassin noticed the blue hologram hanging back and only realized then that he had been very quiet upon their arrival. She stopped at the door, watching Jack as he stood practically motionless overseeing the land, his back to them. Rhys paused as he was climbing into the vehicle, giving her a curious look before following her gaze and halting as well. They both surveyed their hologram companion for another moment in quiet contemplation. Rhys then turned to Zer0, shrugged, and continued into the caravan.

Zer0 herself couldn’t make herself go in just yet. As she stared at Jack’s back, she felt that vicious something inside her twist in excitement- knowing it had new fodder to fire back at the hologram. She almost opened her mouth and let it out, quite certain that the sharp comment would jar Jack out of this strange stillness he was seemingly trapped in.

The Vault hunter stopped herself just in time, clicking her mouth shut with a snap and resigning herself to just waiting for him to turn around- recognizing that the significance of her stare as he did would be admonishment enough.

He stood there for a few moments more before blipping out of existence.

(Zer0 noticed he spoke less about what he did on Pandora, after that.)

With the rules in place, things got better- easier.

It began with lightly reminiscing their shared experiences during the road to the Warrior.

“Remember when you/ sent me after your grandma? / A little fucked up.”

“Psh, yeah, maybe, but she was an abusive piece of shit, so she got what was coming to her. I’m just happy I never had to pay those bandits.” Jack scoffed as they road on top of the caravan at night. Zer0 tilted her head at the small insight to Jack’s previous life.

“Oh. Then yes, I guess.” She said casually in an attempt to not provoke his infamous temper, especially at something that was probably sensitive. “But the crying was a bit/ much, don’t you think, Jack?”

“Aww, were you worried for me? Don’t worry princess, I’m not so easily hurt.” He taunted, and Zer0 rolled her eyes.

Eventually, they just transitioned to talking about anything. Well truthfully, Jack did most of the talking, but Zer0 was far from minding, especially when she realized Jack was adept at picking up her subtle silent cues as responses.

“God, are we in Hodunk territory? I think we’re in Hodunk territory.” Jack started one day as they were speeding through the Dust, following Gortys’s compass to who knows where. Zer0 slightly turned her head towards him, trying to recall where she had heard that name before and if it was going to be a problem or not. “The rednecks that are only obsessed with guns, cars, sex, and violence? Pretty sweet if you ask me- but they go about it all wrong. Plus, they’re all friggin’ morons.” Jack explained almost immediately upon seeing her head turn. Zer0 blinked at the sudden recognition of the names and lifted her head to show Jack she remembered. “Yeah, them. I always thought they were messed up- they wanted to make Moxxi’s kid a ‘clan wife,’ whatever that means. Can’t blame her for taking the kids and friggin’ booking it.” He said, arms crossed over his chest in thought. “But now that I think about it, I haven’t seen them out in a while. Wonder what happened.” 

At that, the assassin innocently turned her face away, staring back out at the expansive Pandoran landscape.

Apparently, the movement was practically a giveaway to the former Hyperion boss, screaming to him about her involvement.

“Hoho, what’d you do princess?” He asked with a grin, leaning closer. “Did you kill them?” At his conspiratorial tone, she looked back to him and stared blankly. Much to her frustration, he seemed to read that cue correctly as well. “All of them? Or at least a good number, huh? Well, can’t say I’m sad about that- world’s a better place without them.” The assassin’s shoulders slightly slumped at being read so easily- especially by Jack of all people- and Jack’s grin widened with a wink. “Don’t worry princess, you’re not an open book- far friggin’ from it- we just know each other, remember?”

She sighed loudly at that.

Then, of course, they progressed to their daring stage- as in Jack would dare Zer0 to do things and the assassin was too stubborn to say no, much to the former Hyperion boss's delight.

It started off with small things, stealing Fiona's hat and Vaughn's glasses without them noticing, standing on her hands for an hour (which she did, thank you very much), and drawing on Rhys's face while he was sleeping.

The dares progressively got more and more dangerous, like balance walking on the caravan's roof railing while they were moving at top speed, antagonizing King Mong when they ran across the massive beast, hiding Athena's shield-

It was becoming a problem.

Despite that, Zer0 herself had to admit she was having fun. The exhilaration she felt was a welcome change from the caged sensation she was starting to get at being on the road for so long and not really doing much.

It all culminated one day when Athena took the entire group (minus Loader Bot, who stayed behind to protect the caravan) on a hunting trip, deciding to test the skills she had been teaching Fiona and Sasha and hoping that some of them sunk in for the former Hyperon employees. Zer0 was trailing behind them as the gladiator was explaining something to group- the assassin had honestly tuned it out in boredom- when her scan of their surroundings brought up a familiar looking brown mound in the distance. She blinked in interest, noting the way Athena had steered them clear of the area. Predictably, Jack followed her gaze- as he was also bored as hell- and a sly smile spread across his face. She knew it was coming, but still, the vault hunter turned to him and waited.

"I dare you to piss off the Rakk Hive."

Instantly, Rhys's head snapped around and glared at Jack.

"Zer0, no. Jack, cut it out." The brunette hissed quickly, which of course grabbed everyone else's attention.

"What is it this time?" Fiona asked in exasperation. The whole group had caught onto the pair's daring antics a while ago.

"He dared her to- no Zer0 where are you going?!" Rhys's voice raised in panic as he talked, watching the assassin walk away from them and towards the Rakk Hive.

"Stay there, I'll be back." She said simply, reaching behind her and grabbing her sniper rifle off of her back.

"Ohoho, yes! Here we go!" Jack laughed in delight, jogging to catch up to the assassin. "This is what I'm talking about."

"Zer0, no, you don't have to do whatever he said!" Sasha called after her, but she waved her concerned friend off. Athena scowled and moved her eyes over in the direction the assassin was heading before yelling after her.

"You better not lead that thing back to us!" Athena shouted, and again, Zer0 waved her off casually.

"What thing? What is she gonna do?" She heard Vaughn ask in confusion just as she was leaving their earshot. 

Now free from distraction, the vault hunter scoped out her surroundings, beginning to formulate a plan. Once she settled on something that vaguely sounded like it would work in her mind, Zer0 planted herself down and aimed, activating her b0re skill so that she knew where to annoy this thing.

"This is gonna be hilarious." Jack practically beamed behind her, but she didn't let that distract her from pulling the trigger.

Instantly, the Rakk Hive reared up from underground, roaring in outrage at being disturbed. Rakks scattered off of their hive and swirled around it in a cyclone of rage. The assassin waited for the Rakk Hive to acquaint itself with being above ground before shooting again in an attempt to get its attention. The creature recoiled at the shot and turned to where it came from, but unlike what Zer0 was expecting, it spun the other way, having locked onto what it could see of her group that was now far off in the distance. Assuming that they had been the ones who attacked, the Rakk Hive charged towards them, rakk minions flying after it in a hurry. Zer0 cursed and scrambled up, running and whipping out her pistol in the hopes that the burst fire would get its attention. The Rakk Hive seemed to barely even feel it, so she switched targets and began taking out the rakks in the sky, aiming for the ones closest to its face.

That seemed to finally notify the Rakk Hive of her presence, and it almost fell with how hard it skid into a turn. Finally back on track, Zer0 spun around and booked it to where she had started out, trying to return to the vaguely formed plan in mind. The assassin narrowly dodged rakks that dive bombed her as she ran, twisting mid step and shooting down the ones that got too close. The footfalls of the creature shook the ground with each strike so strongly that if Zer0 was anyone else, she would have stumbled long ago. As it was, the thuds behind her were getting louder and louder, echoing in her ears in time with her thundering heartbeat.

The vault hunter realized exactly one thing as she ran through the dust.

She wouldn't make it.

With that thought in mind, Zer0's helmet quickly scanned her surroundings. Turning sharply to the left without losing speed, she had to throw her hands out to prevent herself from falling. They dragged in the sand, leaving behind vague markings. The assassin's legs were burning from the exertion, especially now that she was running uphill. Still, she didn't let that slow her down- as it did nothing to deter the Rakk Hive charging behind her. Zer0 kept running, even when she saw the land abruptly stopped up ahead. Instead, she unsheathed her sword and tried to time what she was about to attempt perfectly.

As the edge approached, she jumped.

Or rather, her decoy jumped, plummeting to the ground far below. Zer0 herself had activated her cloak, spinning at the last second and stabbing her sword into the cliff side. The force of the action made her slide down a little bit, and Zer0 pressed herself tight against the land as the Rakk Hive approached.

Like she had hoped, it had fallen for her decoy and gone right off the edge.

The assassin stayed still as hundreds of rakks followed their hive down, trying not to be seen. When she heard the tell-tale thump of the Rakk Hive hitting the ground, she let herself slink up the cliff side, crawling away from the edge. With a careful glance below, the vault hunter watched as the Rakk Hive rose from the nasty fall, searching for her. When it failed to find her, the Rakk Hive grumbled angrily and stomped a ways away before burrowing back underground, its rakk minions settling into a semi-agitated state. Zer0 let herself fall backwards to lay in the dirt and released her cloak, chest heaving for air and blood pumping through her veins.

Despite that- or maybe because of that- the vault hunter found herself grinning giddily and giggling.

She felt incredible.

The feeling only multiplied when Jack suddenly materialized, standing over her with a matching grin.

"You're crazy." He said, practically all of his teeth visible in his wide smile.

At that, her giggles transformed into full blown laughter. For once, the assassin laughed so hard that she felt wetness gathering in her eyes. She sat up and pulled her helmet off, wiping at her eyes while her laughter subsided into chuckles. The assassin looked up at Jack with a large smile but quickly realized she couldn't see him, so she slipped her helmet back on.

He was a lot closer than he had been a moment ago, staring at her with an unreadable expression.

Zer0's chuckles subsided quietly as she looked back at the hologram, tilting her head slightly in prompt when he remained quiet. He watched her for a moment more before finally speaking up.

"You should do that more." He said simply. Zer0 tilted her head even more before looking between the cliff-edge and the former Hyperion boss, but he shook his head. "No, laugh." He explained.

The assassin snorted before she realized he was being serious.

What.

Jack seemed to realize he was being weird too because he blinked rapidly a moment later and then said,

“Because you sound so friggin’ stupid! HA!” He cackled, but that didn’t convince Zer0 enough to cover his tracks.

They were left in a strange stand off until Zer0 detected footsteps approaching them quickly. She turned to find her group running their asses off, but from what, she couldn't tell. All she knew was that one minute, they were running right towards her, and the next, the assassin had her arms full of Sasha and Fiona.

And then Rhys.

And then Vaughn.

Zer0 stumbled from the force of the impact but managed to keep her footing. She met Athena's steely gaze over Vaughn's shoulder in confusion. The other vault hunter was glaring at her, arms crossed over her chest. Zer0 finally was able to decipher phrases from the panicked rambling that the group was spewing at her loudly.

"-Chased by that thing-"

"-Saw you go over-"

"-Hit the ground-"

"-Thought you were dead-"

Finally, Fiona grabbed Zer0's shoulders and shook her in outrage, quelling the chaos with one final shout, "What were you thinking?!?!"

The assassin's head lulled back and forth from the movement and she was left frowning.

"Wow, do they seriously underestimate you that much?" Jack murmured, watching the proceedings with both of his eyebrows raised in disbelief. At that, Rhys spun around to the hologram, finger pointed in warning.

"No more dares." He said with a glare to the former Hyperion boss. Jack made a noise of protest before sliding over to Zer0, slinging an arm around her shoulders that slightly phased into her body.

"Aw come on Rhysie, you really think my vault hunter couldn't handle a stupid monster? I mean, if it was that easy to kill her, I would've-" He started to explain, but Rhys cut him off in anger once more. The assassin tuned the argument out as the phrase bounced around in her head on repeat.

My vault hunter.

My vault hunter.

Before she could really contemplate what the hell he meant by that, Sasha was taking her by the shoulders, expression earnest and concerned.

"Zer0, promise me you'll never do something that stupid again." The assassin opened her mouth to protest, but Vaughn cut in.

"-At least not for a stupid reason." He added. "We really thought you were done for when you- well, not you- hit the ground."

At that, the assassin closed her mouth and slowly nodded once.

"And Jack, promise no more dares." Rhys said sternly. The group turned towards the hologram- or at least in the vague direction that Rhys was looking.

"You guys are boring." Jack frowned, almost pouting with his arms crossed.

"Jack." Rhys warned.

"What did he say?" Fiona demanded, eyebrows furrowing together at the brunette's tone.

"Fine!" Jack said, throwing his arms up in the air. "I promise to be as boring and stupid as you all are. Happy?"

"Yes." Rhys nodded in satisfaction before turning to the others. "He promised." Jack rolled his eyes and gave Zer0 a pained look, to which she shrugged in response.

"Well good." Sasha said before sighing. "We should probably head back now- we've been away long enough."

"We've still got food from yesterday." Fiona agreed. "Let's go." As they were walking back, Zer0 hung back and trailed next to Athena, who had been quiet the entire time and was still glaring at the assassin. Once they were far enough back from the rest of the group, the gladiator turned sharply and punched Zer0 in the arm.

Hard.

"Don't be stupid next time." Athena hissed as Zer0 rubbed the sore spot, glaring back at the other vault hunter and trying to decide whether a fight right now would be worth it. "And don't let Jack talk you into getting yourself killed."

"Already tried that; she wouldn't jump off the damn cliff." Jack called back from where he was up ahead bothering Rhys. Zer0 smirked at him before looking back at Athena in silence.    

"They're not one of us- not yet at least." Athena explained quietly, glancing at the others. "They worry. Try not to make that happen."

It was a moment before Zer0 realized that the ‘they’ Athena had been talking about might actually have included the gladiator.

The assassin pushed away the vague annoyance and instead was slightly touched by the notion, nudging Athena's side lightly with her whole body.

Athena shoved her away roughly.

Zer0 snorted anyway.

 


 

The assassin noticed that while her and Jack's... acquaintanceship grew, the others were ever so slowly warming up to having the hologram around. Jack still refused to talk to the others, but there were still moments that Zer0 had stored away in interest.

One such instance came up when one day, driving in the caravan, Vaughn asked the group where they should stop for the night, when Jack spoke up.

"No, you don't want to stop here. It's a badass bullymong territory- a big one too. You should probably keep driving." Rhys listened and then dutifully relayed the information to the group. The Pandorans exchanged wary looks, Athena checked the map, and Vaughn just shrugged.

"Good enough for me." He said and continued driving into the night.

"You believe him?" Sasha asked slowly. Vaughn nodded quietly.

"Why would he lie about this?" He asked.

"Maybe because he's a compulsive liar that doesn't gain anything from helping us?" Fiona deadpanned, but Vaughn just shook his head.

"Not this time, I don't think." The sisters shared another look, and Zer0 watched as Jack slowly straightened, staring at Vaughn with a strange expression before saying,

"Well finally, someone's got some brains around here."

Another appeared on a similar night. Athena was driving and Zer0 was lounging on the couch, inside the caravan for once.

"I'm so bored." Jack complained loudly, making Zer0 roll her head towards where he was floating. The assassin scanned the room, glossing over the other four who were deep in a story- something about a deal gone wrong for the conartists- when her eyes landed on a deck of cards on the table. She lazily picked them up and held them in the hologram's eyesight. "Okay, newsflash dum dum, I can't hold anything, remember?" To illustrate his words, he put his arm straight through the table. In response, Zer0 pointedly moved her eyes to Rhys's metal arm and waited for Jack to catch on. He lit up with realization and floated over to Rhys with a grin. "Hey Rhysie, I need your arm!"

"What- no." Rhys said immediately.

"But Rhys-"

"No Jack- why would you even need it anyway?" Rhys asked, making the others share a confused look.

"What does he want?" Vaughn questioned.

"My arm."

"Your... arm?" Fiona asked, eyebrows scrunched together in confusion.

"Yeah."

"Come on, I wanna kick the mighty vault hunter's ass at poker." Jack whined, pawing at the prosthetic and making it twitch every time he made contact with it. At the movement, the sisters's eyes went wide.

"He can control your arm?" Sasha asked, a little shrill.

"Only sometimes." Rhys shrugged before turning to Jack and standing. "Fine, if it'll make you stop whining."

"Sweet." Jack grinned as the brunette sat down across the table from Zer0. The assassin shuffled and dealt cards as Rhys turned back to the others to continue the conversation, but they were distracted with how the brunette's metal hand swiped up the cards and spread them skillfully.

"So, uh... how long has he been able to do that?" Fiona asked, trying to keep her tone casual.

"Not too long." Rhys answered vaguely (on purpose, Zer0 suspected), glancing at Jack's cards before sending Zer0 a wince.

The assassin figured that didn't bode well for her.

Several games later, she found that she was one hundred and ten percent right- having lost all but one round. She threw her cards down in frustration as Jack severed yet another full house, cackling as he did so.

"Guess you can't be good at everything, huh princess?" Jack taunted. Zer0 was seriously contemplating that she should most definitely bring Jack to poker night with the squad when Fiona finally stepped in.

"Okay, I can't bear to watch this anymore." She sighed painfully, scooting in next to Zer0. "Deal me in, hotshot."

"Suit yourself, I'll beat both of you without breaking a sweat." Jack taunted, shuffling the deck with one hand, much to Zer0's fascination.

For the next few games, the group watched with baited breaths as Fiona and Jack went back and forth with victories. Zer0 found herself folding just on principle early in each round, much more entertained with watching Jack's face morph from smug to frustrated to straight determination. Eventually, she just dropped out of the running. The two played for a while, each trading wins with every game. Zer0 had dosed off after a bit, but she was awoken by Fiona's victorious cry.

"Yes! Best three out of five- I win Jack!" She cried out happily, awarding the hologram with a royal flush in her hand. Jack cursed before throwing his cards down.

"Alright, you got me." He admitted grudgingly, "Next time you won't be so lucky."

"Can I please go to sleep now?" Rhys begged, having slumped in his seat a while ago.

"Yup, now that we all know I'm the poker grand champion." Fiona boasted with a sly grin.

"It was a fluke!" Jack countered, but Sasha's head perked up from where she had rested it on her arms.

"Uh, Fi, I think we all know that I'm the poker grand champion." Sasha said with an eyebrow raised at her sister. Fiona raised both of her eyebrows in challenge.

"Oh yeah? Well put your money where your mouth is, sis." She said, dealing both Sasha and Jack into another game.

Rhys groaned and Zer0 went back to sleep.

The last such instance that really stuck out in the assassin's mind when they had stopped for lunch one time in the wastelands. Zer0 hadn't really been paying attention at the time, more in a meditative state than anything, when Jack spoke up from beside her in a deadpanned but oddly serious tone.

"Uh, hey princess, your friend is about to be murdered."

Zer0 snorted at first, but quickly realized that it hadn't been a joke. Her eyes snapped over to where Jack was looking and she saw nothing.

At first.

The slight shift in sand near Sasha was enough for the vault hunter to whip out her rifle and fire right next to the Pandoran. Sasha recoiled with a shocked scream, but the stalker next to her uncloaked itself with an outraged roar and charged at the vault hunter. Zer0 was ready for it and used the butt of her gun to smack it into the air, firing a single killing blow while it was still discombobulated. As the corpse fell to the ground, Fiona ran up to her sister to make sure she was okay while Athena quickly scanned their surroundings for an ambush. As the boys looked around with panicked eyes, Zer0 put her gun away- having found no other creatures nearby. Sasha regained her breath, waving her sister's worries away before she turned to the assassin.

"Thanks Zer0." But the vault hunter shook her head in a daze, much to the Pandoran's confusion. Instead, Zer0 turned to Jack and watched him silently, still trying to process what just happened.

Jack had just- indirectly- probably saved Sasha’s life.

Jack had saved Sasha.

He had no incentive to do so- if anything, he had every reason not to. That could’ve been one less person with a grudge against him in their group- possibly one less person in his way of whatever he was trying to accomplish. If he hadn’t said anything, no one would have blamed him.

And yet…

“What, do I have something on my face?” Jack’s voice shook Zer0 out of her thoughts and she focused back in on his face. “Why are you looking at me like that?”

“Thank you.” The assassin said instead. Jack blinked in confusion before smiling smugly.

“Well, duh, I am a hero, obviously- even if I’m currently a hologram.” He boasted proudly. Instead of rolling her eyes and dismissing his attitude, Zer0 quietly retreated back into her thoughts because she honestly had no idea what to make of this new development.

“Wait, so does that mean… that Jack…?” Sasha suddenly asked from right beside the assassin, having wondered over in confusion. She didn’t exactly jump, but it was close. Instead, the vault hunter nodded to answer the Pandoran.

“Jack saved Sasha?” Fiona echoed in disbelief, putting two and two together even without the hologram’s input.

“I wouldn’t go that far.” Athena said with a bitter tone- not that Zer0 could blame her. Sasha’s eyebrows furrowed together, clearly bothered and confused by this information, but never the less she raised her eyes to the direction Zer0 had spoken in.

“Thanks… Jack.” She said slowly. Jack snorted and crossed his arms.

“What, is it that hard to thank me?” He asked, a twinkle of both amusement and bitterness in his eyes. Zer0 gave him a flat look and Jack rolled his eyes. “Alright, point taken. But you’re welcome, pumpkin.”

“He says you’re welcome.” Rhys filled in when Sasha turned to them for a response.

“See? Jack can be helpful.” Vaughn said, crossing his arms triumphantly.

Athena sent Vaughn a harsh glare at that, but the sisters…

Well, they looked thoughtful.

Zer0 found herself in a strange state of mind while she looked at the hologram, who was starting to look-

Happy.

Hopeful?

Maybe a mix of the two.

Either way, it was a little bit too much for her brain to handle at the moment.

“Seriously, why are you staring at-” Jack said when he caught the assassin looking again, but quickly cut himself off when Zer0 reached for her helmet clasp. “Hey, princess-” His voice vanished from her ears as she slipped her helmet off. The others blinked at her, a little taken aback at how easily she removed her helmet outside in broad daylight.

“Athena, with me.” Zer0 said quietly after passing her helmet off to Vaughn. She didn’t wait for the gladiator to respond before she was striding forwards into the wastelands.

“Hey wait, where are you guys going?” Fiona asked in confusion.

“We’ll be back.” Athena answered a little gruffly instead, following after the assassin. “Stay here and stay safe.”

With that, the two vault hunters walked off into the desert.

They stopped on the top of a cliff, because that apparently seemed to be the most comfortable place for thought in the wastelands. The two were quiet for a long while. Zer0 dangled her feet over the edge, swinging them back and forth idly as she was lost in contemplation.

“We can’t trust him.” Athena finally spoke at last. When the assassin simply hummed in response, the gladiator continued. “We can’t. You weren’t there when he fell into madness.”

“Maybe not,” Zer0 began quietly, eyes on the horizon, “But I was there.” Athena was silent at that because she had understood what there meant.

‘There’ being his cruelty to vault hunters after coming to Pandora.

‘There’ being his devastation after losing his daughter.

‘There’ being his last moments.

“…He was good, once.” Athena allowed, gazing off to the side as she recalled her adventure. “But that was long ago. He’s changed.”

“He’s changing again.” Zer0 said simply, waiting for the blowback of her statement from both the gladiator and her own feelings.

“Zer0, no.” Athena said immediately, turning to give the assassin a sharp look. “You can’t let Jack fool you like that. He can be convincing and charming, but you can’t trust him. Not after what he’s done.”

“He has been through much.” The assassin stated simply again. “Why can that not be enough/ to start the process?”

“Who are you trying to convince- me or yourself?” Athena countered harshly. The assassin didn’t answer to the truth in the statement, choosing to stay quiet with her eyes glued to the horizon. “I can’t trust him, Zer0. You shouldn’t either. He probably only saved Sasha to gain your favor.” The gladiator explained, though her tone grew a little unsure towards the end. Again, Zer0 didn’t respond and instead gave Athena a look, because she knew the gladiator had already worked out that Jack had nothing to gain from the action- at least not from their perspective. Athena sighed heavily and looked back to the horizon. “You’ve already made up your mind.”

“I will be cautious.” Zer0 said, tilting her head in thought before she continued. “But I won’t discourage him.” At the gladiator’s glazed over eyes, the assassin echoed her words from before, “He was good once, right?” Athena was quiet for a minute before she snorted and shook her head with a wry smile.

“Fine. I won’t discourage him.” She said, finally looking back at the assassin. “But I won’t be as forgiving, either.” Zer0 tilted her head in acknowledgment, because Athena’s reasoning was valid.

“Enough of him now.” The assassin dismissed, bringing her legs up to cross them under herself. “Tell me about Janey Springs.” Instantly, Athena sat ramrod straight and her eyes skittered away.

“What a seamless segue, Zer0.” She said harshly, but the other vault hunter simply waited patiently. “Why do you suddenly want to know about Janey? How do you even know about Janey?”

“Is this not ‘girl talk’?” Zer0 asked, head tilted innocently. “And you’re not very subtle.” Athena sputtered at that, turning red in the face, before she noticed the shit eating grin on Zer0’s face.

“Shut up.” She snorted, shoving at the assassin. Zer0 rocked with the movement, but it did nothing to erase her expression. The gladiator rolled her eyes, but she launched herself into a semi-awkward and semi-excited spiel about her girlfriend despite that.

Zer0 listened with a soft smile as Athena lit up as she talked, letting all of the tension ease out of her body as the gladiator took her mind off of her latest predicament. They stayed there for well over an hour, bonding with traded stories about things that the others wouldn’t really understand, until finally, Athena sighed and stretched.

“We should get going. If we stay any longer, who knows what trouble they’ll get into without us.” She said while pushing herself off the ground. Once she was standing, she turned to offer a hand to the assassin, and Zer0 took it without hesitation.

“We can only hope.” The assassin said in jest, which made Athena smirk.

“With our luck, at least one of them has been seriously maimed. Probably Vaughn.” Zer0 snorted in agreement to the gladiator’s words before they began their journey back to the caravan. 

The assassin could see the light of a campfire just over the hill where they knew they left the others when she stopped and turned to the gladiator.

“I enjoyed talking.” She said simply to Athena’s questioning glance. Athena tilted her head at that.

“Then maybe you should talk more?” She said awkwardly, but Zer0 shook her head, as the gladiator had misunderstood. It took another moment before Athena’s eyes lit up with realization and she glanced back towards the campsite, wearing soft smile and looking at Zer0 from the corner of her eye. “Then maybe we should talk more.” She corrected, and the assassin nodded. With that, they entered the campsite and found the group crowded around someone that had a heavily bandaged upper arm.

It was Vaughn.

 


 

Later that night, Zer0 found herself lounging on the roof of the caravan despite the fact that it was snowing. The others called her crazy, but she knew her suit would never let her get cold. Loader Bot and Gortys had shut down for the night, so Zer0 was left to her own devices.

It was only a matter of time before a blue head phased through the roof next to her.

“Heya princess.” Jack started a little cautiously. “Mind if I join you up here?” Zer0 shook her head before laying it back down on her arms and the hologram let himself phase through the roof completely to sit next to her. “So uh…” Jack said after a few moments of silence. “Are we… are we okay?” At that, Zer0 turned her head to the man in question. “It’s just that, you’re being more quiet than your usual creepy self, and uh… you seemed kinda upset before, so.”

“I am not upset.” The assassin stated quietly and Jack gave her a chagrinned look.

“Well, you’re something. And I’d rather get to the bottom of it now than later.” He said, looking away with narrowed eyes. Zer0 tilted her head at that.

“Why do you care how I feel?” She asked, not unkindly. Instantly, Jack snapped his head back to her, disbelief painted across his face.

“Why do I care? Because you’re- well. We’re…” He trailed off awkwardly before starting up again heatedly. “Whatever, I just care, okay you dirty bandit?”

“Still not a bandit.” Zer0 reminded gently, turning her gaze to the stars. Jack rolled his eyes and laid his chin in his palm, not quite glaring at her. In return, Zer0 reached out and pat the spot next to her in invitation. The hologram sighed dramatically before lying down next to her, mirroring her position.

“So… do you just like hanging out by yourself in the cold, or are the stars really that enticing for you?” He spoke up only seconds. Zer0 snorted and shook her head in amusement at his words. Jack grinned at her reaction. They fell into a comfortable silence as they watched the night sky, snow falling around them but bothering neither of them. Finally, Zer0 turned her head to the hologram, hesitating before she spoke.

“Where did it go wrong, / out of curiosity?” She asked softly. Jack looked at her in confusion.

“You’re gonna have to be a little more specific on that one, princess.” He said, an eyebrow raised. “Where did what go wrong?”

“Saving Pandora.”

Instantly, the man tensed up. A hush fell over the two of them, but Zer0 didn’t regret it. They needed to talk about this so that she could be sure.

“I’d say about the time when I hired four vault hunters and they somehow survived the train crash, wouldn’t you?” He asked sarcastically, sitting up. Zer0 stayed quiet but sat up as well and waited, sensing that there was more to come. Jack’s body was vibrating with something- anger, Zer0 was almost certain- before he suddenly let out all of his tension with a deep sigh. “Probably going after the damn Warrior.” He admitted finally. “It changed nothing in the end.”

“Do you regret it?”

“Which part?” He asked sharply, still not looking at the assassin. She pursed her lips before replying.

“Well, any of it, really.” She said. At once, his head snapped over to her, rage in his eyes.

“Of course I fucking regret it.” He hissed angrily, “My daughter is dead.”

Zer0 felt her body freeze over immediately, but it had nothing to do with the temperature. She held onto the sudden fury that washed over her a moment more before following the hologram’s previous example and taking a deep breath, releasing her anger with the resulting exhale.

“And the rest of it?” She heard herself ask, though she wasn’t really conscious of it. Jack grit his teeth and cut his eyes away, realizing that he wasn’t going to get a fight out of his response.

“Well, I’m dead, aren’t I?” He snarked viciously. The assassin waited him out, and sure enough, his wrath slowly seeped out of his body. “I regret it.” He said simply, but his tone was loaded. Zer0 still pushed because she had to.

“What would you have changed,” She started, “If given a second chance?”

“For starters, I would never have hired you four.” He snarked again before settling. “Actually, on second thought, I would have actually hired you lot. You’re hell of a lot more efficient than the Warrior ever was.” He paused in thought before admitting a little bit quieter. “Killing the vault hunters was a bad idea. They could’ve actually helped wipe out the bandits of this planet.”

Zer0 refrained from questioning him on how exactly he would have determined the bandits from the good people of Pandora, as he was shit at the distinction at the moment, and waited for him to continue.

“And I would’ve stayed the hell away from Vaults and eridium. That way, those towns we mined in wouldn’t have gotten so sick. I would have never even let-”

Jack cut himself off and took a sudden, deep, pained breath.

“…Angel. I never would have let Angel touch the stuff.”

That was the second time in this conversation that Jack had broken their unspoken rule, but Zer0 allowed it as she realized something.

This was the first time she had heard Jack say Angel’s name after her death.

It was like the floodgates opened, because as soon as he started, Jack couldn’t stop.

“I would’ve done right by her.” He said, looking down at his hands. “I should’ve tried harder to find a way to help Angel- really help her- but we were both scared of her powers. I didn’t know what to do, so I just… kept her safe. In there.” Jack finally looked up and met Zer0’s gaze, an indescribable expression on his face as he quietly uttered, “I regret that the most.”

The assassin closed her eyes, trying to quell the wave of emotion that suddenly washed over her.

“Me too.” She said almost silently

They stayed quiet for a long moment, just breathing and coexisting together as they were both lost in their thoughts.

“You know something, Jack?” Zer0 finally said, making the hologram look back up at her. “I like you better like this./ You seem more… real.” She admitted. He snorted with a wry smile.

“Funny, I feel the opposite.” He said, looking down at his transparent hand and flexing it. “Physically, at least. But I appreciate the sentiment.” The hologram paused for a moment before furrowing his eyebrows. “Wait a minute, ‘you seem more real’- that wasn’t five syllables!”

“I’m inconsistent.” Zer0 said with a small shrug, a smirk on her face under her helmet.

“Clearly.” Jack scoffed. “God, you’re so weird- who talks in haikus in the first place?!” The assassin rolled her eyes and was about to lay down again when she noticed a strange structure in the distance, just over Loader Bot’s shoulder. She frowned and sat up straighter, studying the glass dome as they steadily approached it. Beside her, Jack had followed her gaze and whistled lowly at the sight. “Well, that seems like somewhere they’d hide an upgrade piece, wouldn’t you agree princess?”

Zer0 couldn’t help but nod.

Finally, after all of this time on the road, they had made it to their destination.

Chapter Text

The first thing the assassin noticed was all of the plant life.

Which was strange because they were literally in one of Pandora’s coldest biospheres, and yet the plants seemed to be thriving.

Weird.

“Whoa,” Rhys spoke up from beside her, “I don’t think I’ve ever seen that many plants in one place before.” The assassin couldn’t disagree- she had never seen this… jungle-like environment anywhere else on Pandora.

“Try not to let all of the nature scare you too much, Hyperion.” Athena said, but they all could detect the jest in her voice.

“Desert, ice, and now… this. I’ve never seen anything like it before.” Sasha admitted as they all approached the entrance of the glass dome.

“And this is where the upgrade thingy is?” Rhys asked Gortys, who was being held up by Loader Bot. Her compass hologram lit up again as Loader Bot put her down on the ground safely.

“We’re so close!” She promised, rolling ahead of the others eagerly.

“This is definitely a little weird.” Sasha said, sending the others a wary look. “What the hell is this place?”

“Probably some kind of bio-dome to preserve the different types of plant life here on Pandora.” Jack answered after popping back into existence. Rhys and Zer0 looked over to him in acknowledgment as he continued, “Though why Atlas of all people would want to do that beats me.”

They cautiously began to enter the bio-dome, looking out for any unknown threats. Zer0 was scanning their surroundings for any other signs of life when she overheard Sasha, Rhys, and Vaughn talking. She stopped and glanced over to find them crowded around a suspiciously colored plant. Narrowing her eyes in suspicion to the group’s antics, Zer0 made her way over silently.

“Ohh, actually Rhys, could you scan that?” She caught Vaughn ask as she tuned into their conversation. “I’m not scared… of it. I just want to know. For science.” He said unconvincingly. Rhys raised an eyebrow but dutifully scanned the plant anyway. When he was done, he turned back to the former accountant. “So? What’d you see?”

“Oh yeah, you should definitely touch it.” Rhys said, though Zer0 could hear the underlying smirk in his voice. He shared a devious look with Sasha, who grinned and watched eagerly.

“Cool.” Vaughn beamed, apparently not having seen nor heard what she had, reaching towards the plant. Zer0 instantly swatted Vaughn’s hand away before he could touch it. “Ow!” He rubbed his hand and pouted at the assassin, who simply shook her head at him before giving Rhys a >:[ emote. The brunette held his hands up in surrender.

Zer0 rolled her eyes before she resumed her scan of their surroundings, still coming up short with finding any threats. She was just about to move forward when a hand appeared in her vision. Blinking at it, Zer0 tilted her head before smiling and reaching for the mechanical hand. Loader Bot pulled her up and the assassin made herself comfortable on top of the robot, swinging her legs back and forth idly.

Jack near about had a fit.

“This image is so messed up.” He said, shaking his head in despair. “He should be trying to kill you- not let you ride on top of him! Where did I go wrong?!” In response, the vault hunter sent the hologram a :P and pat Loader Bot appreciatively. Jack rolled his eyes. “Yeah, har har, dance on my grave why don’t you. Are you really that lazy that you don’t want to walk like twenty feet?” Zer0 grinned under her faceplate and teasingly flipped the hologram off. “You’re killing me princess, you really are.” Jack mumbled as they came to a short stop while Gortys checked her compass again. It lit up green when it locked onto a direction.

“Oh, thattaway!” Gortys chirped before rolling off once again. Loader Bot, and by extension Zer0, loyally stomped after her while the others followed at a more sedate pace, taking the time to examine the plant life. Jack moved over to bother Rhys and left the assassin alone for the moment.

They came to what seemed to be a dead end to their path. The group split up to investigate and the assassin pulled her feet up under her, sitting up a little straighter. The first thing she noticed were the metal walls that surrounded them. Some of them had the Atlas logo printed on them, only further reassuring the vault hunter that they were in the right place. The next thing she noticed was that though it was snowing outside of the bio-dome and it was fairly cold inside, the plants themselves weren’t frozen at all. They didn’t even seem to be wilting.

This place was weird.

Zer0 only half listened to the robots talking under her as she looked around and found Rhys making his way towards them, Jack walking behind him. She waved to the two of them in greeting and the robots dutifully turned to the brunette, awaiting his words.

“Hey guys, how are my two favorite robots and favorite assassin friend?” He asked amicably. “You guys having a good time together, eh? Exchanging… oil recipes or… whatever it is you guys talk about?” Rhys trailed awkwardly, making Jack roll his eyes behind him.

“Oh, yes! I’m learning so much!” Gortys said excitedly. “About how you dropped a fake Vault key, how you lost ten million dollars, and how-” Zer0 had to reign in her amusement at the look on Rhys’s face.

“Gee, thanks.” Rhys ground out, giving Loader Bot an annoyed look.

“I cannot hold back your tide of bad decisions.” Loader Bot said promptly.

Zer0 let out a startled bark of laughter at that. 

“Oh, so you laugh at the robot’s jokes, but not mine?” Jack spoke up in offense, crossing his arms over his chest. “Unfair, princess.”

“Thanks, Zer0.” Rhys turned his glare of annoyance to the assassin, who simply gave him a thumbs up after sending Jack another :P, shit eating grin on her face under her helmet. Rhys turned to Loader Bot, his eyebrows scrunching in concern. “LB, your joints holding up okay in this cold?”

“No problemo.” Loader Bot answered after giving the brunette a thumbs up, displaying his ease in mobility. Rhys nodded at that, concern alleviated for now.

“Okay, you guys let me know if you find anything, I’m gonna keep looking around.” They all nodded and Rhys walked away with Jack trailing behind him, the hologram immaturely sticking his tongue out at the assassin, who snorted with amusement.

Zer0 scanned over their group once more, finding that everyone was pretty content and more importantly not in mortal peril. She relaxed slightly, not having detected anyone else other than them at the moment.

“Hey Zer0?” She heard a little voice ask from below her. The assassin peered over Loader Bot’s edge and found Gortys looking up at her. Zer0 waved in acknowledgment. “Can I ask you something?” The little robot sounded oddly hesitant, which was unlike her personality. Zer0 leaned forward in slight concern and nodded. “Do you know what a… what a family is?” The assassin blinked rapidly in confusion.

Well, that had come out of left field.

“It’s just that- Fiona and Sasha call themselves sisters- whatever that means.” Gortys continued quickly, as if she was going to be stopped by the assassin. “And when I asked them, they just said it meant they were family. It’s okay if you don’t know, Loader Bot doesn’t either. Maybe it’s like a secret code word for something?” The vault hunter frowned down at the little robot for a moment before maneuvering herself so that she was hanging off of Loader Bot. Zer0 easily picked up Gortys before pulling herself back up to her perch. Gortys’s eyes sparkled at the new height and she looked around with interest. “Wow, you can see so much more from up here! That must be why you like sitting here so much!” Zer0 settled back down and plopped Gortys in her lap as the robot spun around with excitement. She waited for Gortys to relax before trying to string words together.

“A family is… good.” Zer0 started off awkwardly, still kind of at a loss for words. “They’re around when no one is. / Well, most of the time.” She added with a wince. “If your family’s good.”

“Around when no one is?” Gortys echoed in confusion. “How does that work?”

“Sorry, when no one else is.” The assassin corrected. “They will stick by you.”

“That sounds nice…” Gortys sighed almost longingly. “Do… do I have a family?” She asked hesitantly once more. Zer0 smiled softly and gestured to their spread out group.

“Look around, Gortys.” She said quietly. “It’s up for you to decide.” The small robot’s eyes lit up as she scanned their group and turned back to the assassin excitedly.

“You mean family can be your friends?” Zer0 simply nodded and Gortys vibrated with delight. “Oh! That means you guys can be my family! …Can’t you?”

“It’s your decision.” Zer0 reminded gently. Gortys looked down in contemplation before she beamed up at the assassin.

“Well, I decide that you guys are my family.” Gortys declared confidently. “You and Loader Bot and Fiona and Rhys and Sasha and Vaughn and Athena and even Jack!” Zer0 paused in surprise as Gortys rambled on. “Even though I still haven’t met him yet- but that’s okay! It’s my family and I decide who’s in it. Er… right?” She ended unsurely.

“That’s correct Gortys.” The assassin said absently, her eyes drifting over to the mentioned hologram in thought.

“Wow! I have a pretty cool family, if I do say so myself.” Gortys boasted happily.

“Agreed.” Loader Bot spoke up from under them. Gortys leaned over his to edge to look at his red eye.

“Oh, Loader Bot! Is your family the same as mine too?” She asked curiously.

“It is.” He answered shortly, but the reply made Gortys twirl around in happiness.

“That’s so cool!” She chirped before looking back up at the assassin. “What about you Zer0?”

“Mine includes others.” The assassin said, thinking back on her three other squad mates and her extra friend.

“Really? That’s awesome!” Gortys practically grinned before she grew hesitant once more. “But uh… are we all still in your family?”

We all.

As in Gortys and Loader Bot and Fiona and Rhys and Sasha and Vaughn and Athena.

And Jack.

The assassin glanced over at the group- her group, as she had dubbed them long ago- in thought. Athena and Fiona were talking idly, Sasha was examining another suspicious looking plant, Vaughn was shivering in the cold miserably, Rhys and Jack seemed to be joking about something by what looked like a lever, and the robots were participating in this strangely deep conversation.

She had known them all for quite a while now (and one of them for even longer), but was it enough to call them family?

They had been through much together, but was she ready to let them in like the others? Was she even willing to?

And Jack- hell, she didn’t even know what they were, much less family.

It was unthinkable.

Wasn’t it?

And yet…

Her group.

“Zer0?” The little robot’s uncertain voice shook her out of her thoughts. The assassin smiled softly at Gortys and pat her head, nodding once in answer. “Awesome! I love our family!” Gortys exclaimed excitedly. Suddenly, she paused and looked back over at Rhys. “Hey, as family, can we criticize each other’s fashion sense? Especially if it’s a bad choice?” Intrigued, Zer0 tilted her head and nodded. “Good, because Rhys’s tie thing? It’s very tragic.”

The assassin snorted.

“Loader Bot and I were taking about it earlier and we agreed. I mean, at first I thought it was too long to be a tie, and then I saw it tucked into his pants, and then I had no idea what was going on…”Gortys trailed in confusion as Zer0 struggled to keep herself from laughing.

“I have concluded that most humans lack standard fashion circuitry.” Loader Bot added, which made Zer0’s struggle ten times harder.

“That’s awful.” Gortys said sadly, as if she was taking the situation to heart. On second thought, knowing Gortys, she was. “Maybe someone should tell him?”

“Are you guys talking about me?” Rhys suddenly said from behind them, making Loader Bot (and by extension Zer0 and Gortys) turn around to face him.

“Yes.” Gortys answered truthfully without any remorse.

“Oh.”

“Your tie, actually.” Gortys corrected before she practically rolled right off of Loader Bot. The assassin caught her just in time and Gortys made grabby hands towards Rhys’s neck. “Can I just-”

“No, okay, that’s- I like my stuff thank you.” Rhys said, stepping out of Gortys’s reach.

“Poor humans.” Gortys shrugged, settling back down into Zer0’s lap once the assassin pulled her back up. Rhys shook his head before diverting his eyes lower to the robot they were sitting on.

“Yo, Loader Bot. Could use a hand here, old amigo.” He said, gesturing to the pile of rubble in front of what looked like a door. Loader Bot began stomping over to the debris and began shoveling it away.

Zer0 entertained herself by managing to balance herself and Gortys on top of him as he did so. Behind her, she heard Vaughn speak up, and he and Rhys began talking about something, but she tuned most of it out as she listened to Gortys cheering on Loader Bot. It sounded pretty private anyway, and Zer0 didn’t want to eavesdrop.

Though to be fair, she did hear something about Vaughn having insecurities about being left behind, and the assassin tried not to coo when he and Rhys hugged it out.

Soon enough, Loader Bot had cleared all of the rubble and Rhys smiled at him appreciatively.

“Thanks LB.” He smiled at the robot. “Any other suggestions?”

“Destroy all humans.”

“What?” Rhys asked with wide eyes, startled.

“What?” Loader Bot echoed nearly milliseconds later, almost as a cover up.

What.

“Did- did you just say-” Rhys stuttered, pointing at the robot suspiciously, but Loader Bot cut him off.

“Joke.exe complete.” He declared. “Ha ha ha ha.” Loader Bot laughed mechanically, shifting back and forth with each syllable.

Zer0 couldn’t stop herself from letting out another bark of laughter at the look on Rhys’s face.

“Okay, seriously?” Jack nearly pouted, floating over after he had heard her once again. “I’m starting to think you have a crap sense of humor. You practically never laugh at my jokes, and I’m friggin’ hilarious! What gives, princess? Is this some weird type of grudge thing? Because if so, you’re depriving yourself of some great laughs.”

Zer0 stuck her tongue out at the hologram once again, but from her peripheral vision, she noticed Rhys get some weird kind of twinkle in his eyes as he looked between the two of them. He opened his mouth to say something but was interrupted when Fiona called over to them, asking if they found anything yet. Rhys called back an affirmative before he wandered back over to the lever Zer0 had seen him at before. He scanned it one more time before pulling it, and at once the entrance Loader Bot had cleared opened. The group moved over and nodded at Rhys in appreciation as they passed him. Loader Bot reached out and even pat the brunette’s head.

“Nice work.” He said simply before twisting around and stomping after the rest of the group. Zer0 smiled under her helmet at the gesture before Gortys started jumping excitedly in her arms.

“Oo, oo, I wanna go down now!” She said. Zer0 nodded before passing her off to Loader Bot’s awaiting hand, who then put her on the ground gently. The little robot rolled ahead of the group, stopping at every other plant to examine it.

They barely walked passed the metal walls before they came upon the sight of an old building. The group ascended the stairs to the place and Zer0 kept an eye out for any signs of life. She scanned the new area but came up short once again. Pursing her lips, she faced forward once again and peered into the entrance that Fiona had just opened.

It was a fairly dark room, only really lit up by a few secondary lights and the light of the stars. Despite the fact that this seemed to be an abandoned facility, the room itself was very well maintained.

“Uh, anyone else’s creep-o-meter going bananas right now?” Fiona asked as they all paused at the door, taking the room in from a safe distance.

“Uh yeah, completely.” Vaughn agreed, peeking over Sasha’s shoulder at the ominous space.

“So, my upgrade’s nearby.” Gortys said, rolling into the room unafraid and showing the others that it was safe. “Sorry if it’s kind of spooky in here.”

“You know, just once I’d like to search an abandoned health spa or something. With fluffy towels.” Sasha grumbled as they walked inside, looking around at all of the dust.

“And celebrity magazines.” Rhys agreed. “With pictures of them shopping and getting coffee and stuff.”

“Everyone stay alert.” Athena reminded, scanning the room with suspicious eyes. “We don’t know what’s in store for us here.” Zer0 had to agree with the gladiator, and she herself began examining the room, when her eyes stopped on a very familiar device.

The assassin made a noise of interest as she hopped off of Loader Bot, striding over to the quick change station. She typed in her log in details before the machine practically burst to life, displaying all of the different suit types she had accumulated. Zer0 hummed as she browsed through her collection, having a certain suit in mind to better blend in with their dark surroundings here. She was about halfway to it when Vaughn suddenly spoke up.

“Whoa Zer0, didn’t know we were having an impromptu fashion show.” She blinked for a moment before looking down at herself, realizing that her suit color was changing as she had been scrolling through the machine. She turned and gave Vaughn a flat look, but he just grinned teasingly. “Well don’t stop now- show us what you got!” Rolling her eyes, Zer0 turned back to the machine and continued scrolling, a little quicker this time as she became aware of her group’s attention shifting to her. She felt her face heat up as she hunched down self-consciously.  

“No, wait, go back!” Sasha suddenly called out, practically making Zer0 jump out of her skin. “I like the blue one.” Zer0 tilted her head at Sasha before she hesitantly scrolled back a few options to her Tsunami of Bullets suit. “Yeah, that one looks wicked!”

“For casual wear, maybe, but it’s a little too bright.” Vaughn argued. “Keep going.”

“Try something green- or at least grey.” Fiona added, having leaned on one of the chairs casually.

“You guys, we’re supposed to be-” Athena tried to remind them again, but Rhys cut her off.

“No, not grey! That’s boring.”

“You’re boring!” Fiona shot back immediately. Zer0 ignored their bickering and kept scrolling, almost flinching once again when a loud chorus of ‘Wait!’ met her ears as she passed her Green Eyed Monster suit. She sighed in resignation and scrolled back.

“That one’s so nice.” Gortys sighed, a smile in her robot voice.

“Agreed.” Vaughn added, nodding his head.

“Eh, I don’t like the green. It reminds me too much of Dahl.” Jack dismissed.

“It is too vibrant for our environment.” Loader Bot spoke up logically.

“Loader Bot’s right.” Sasha said. “If the blue one was too bright, then so is this one. Next.”

No matter how quickly the assassin scrolled, her group always made her stop and go back when they found an option they liked. Upon seeing her grey options, Fiona had to agree with Rhys on his previous statement and made the assassin keep going. At one point, even Athena spoke up, citing her preference on her red suits. Amazingly, Jack somehow agreed with the gladiator for once. Eventually, Zer0 finally made it to her suit in mind, Dark Night. She sighed in relief as her suit changed to an all-black color palette, ignoring all of the ‘Oooo’s she received in response. Jack even wolf whistled, much to her embarrassment.

“Oh my god, you’re so right.” Fiona gushed.

“You can never go wrong with a sleek black.” Rhys nodded excitedly.

“And that’s like the sleekest black I’ve ever seen, holy crap.” Vaughn said.

“I love it.” Sasha practically gasped as she ventured near the assassin, getting a closer look at the suit.

“Well, it’s not as colorful as the others, but it is pretty.” Gortys admitted.

“Affirmative.” Loader Bot added.

“And it’s perfect for our environment.” Athena acknowledged. “Good choice.”

“Gotta admit, that’s a sexy color on you, babe.” Jack said with a shit eating grin. “But I’d bet you’d look a million times better in Hyperion yellow.” Zer0 rolled her eyes and flicked the hologram off at the jest.

“Oh my god.” Rhys spoke up suddenly, looking between Zer0 and Jack once again with wide eyes. “Were you just flir-” His metal hand slapped him in the face, cutting the brunette off.

“Whoops.” Jack said, shrugging at Rhys while the brunette glared at him. “Sorry, hand slipped.” Zer0 scrunched her eyebrows together in confusion before her mind replayed Rhys’s last words and filled in the blanks.

… Oh my god, were they just flirt-

“What do you notice about this room?” Athena spoke up suddenly before Zer0’s mind could explode. The assassin glanced over to see the gladiator was asking the rest of the group this- testing their skills once again. Fiona scanned the room briefly before she frowned.

“There are clothes lying around.” She said, moving over to the mentioned objects. “They look used.”

“And there’s fresh fruit over here.” Sasha said from the other side of the room. “Drakefruit, looks like. There’s even a bite out of one of them.” She added with a slight grimace.

“Good. Boys?” Athena nodded before turning to the former Hyperion employees.

“I think I found a map.” Vaughn said from where he was by what seemed to be an observation platform. He picked up a piece of paper and squinted in the dim light as he tried to decipher the markings on the page. “It’s hand drawn, but it might be of this place?”

“And the computer’s still working.” Rhys added, already typing away at the keyboard. “This place has power- which is weird if it’s supposed to be abandoned.”

“Exactly.” Athena confirmed. “Which means…”

“Either this place was perfectly frozen in time,” Fiona started sarcastically, “Or someone’s been living here.”

“Right.” The gladiator nodded. “Which is something you all should have noticed as soon as we walked in.” She scolded the group with a glare. The others winced and looked away guiltily, but when Athena sent that glare at Zer0, the assassin pouted and pointed at her new suit. The other vault hunter rolled her eyes before looking back at the others. “Stay alert. They don’t seem to be here at the moment.”

“Then let’s try to figure out who they are before they find us.” Fiona suggested before turning back to Rhys, who was busily searching the computer archive for any information. “Did you find anything?”

“Well… kinda.” He frowned, eyes scanning the screens. “Not about who lives here, but this place is definitely Atlas. It was some kind of terraforming facility.”

“What, they were growing plants?” Sasha asked aloud in confusion. “I thought all of you corporations were just about mass market destruction?”

“Well, that is the gist of it, yes.” Jack nodded from where he was looking out of the window at the rest of the facility. Rhys sent him an annoyed glare before turning back to the Pandoran.

I am not a corporation- and see? You learned something today!” He said with false cheer, which made Sasha roll her eyes playfully at him.

“Okay, what about Gortys’s upgrade? Is it here?” Fiona spoke up, redirecting Rhys to the information back on the screens.

“Well, nothing in the files yet, but a lot of it’s been deleted. So that probably says something.” The brunette shrugged, sharing a conspiratorial look with the elder sister. Zer0 glanced over the room once again, about to say something about how the upgrade was probably deeper in the facility, when she stopped, standing completely still.

 There had been a faint breath taken from a direction in the room that none of the others were occupying.

The assassin instantly cloaked herself and activated her decepti0n decoy, moving over to the spot soundlessly. Her decoy was casually leaning back against the table- what she had been doing only moments ago. Athena seemed to be the only one to pick up the sudden action, because her eyes snapped over to the decoy and she tensed immediately. The others were obvious, but it wouldn’t matter in a few seconds.

Zer0 stopped in front of the place she had heard the breath, reached in slowly, and roughly yanked someone out from a secret hiding hole in the room.

The person gave a startled shout as they were wrenched out of their cover, stumbling with the movement. Zer0’s decoy melted away as she uncloaked herself to stand behind the suspicious person- which finally caught the attention of the rest of her group. They jumped into alert stances, Fiona even having pulled her gun from her sleeve.

“Please, don’t kill me!” The suspicious person- an older looking man, now that Zer0 got a good look- pleaded to the group. He cowered down to seem more helpless and innocent, but Zer0 knew better than to judge a book by its cover. “Please, please don’t kill me. I- I have just been watching you. Just watching! That’s all, I- I swear, I am completely harmless.” The vault hunters exchanged a cautious look.

“Back off!” Fiona snapped as the man edged forward slightly during his pleading. “Let’s keep this simple- you don’t want to die, you do what I tell you to do.”

“Simplicity.” The man nodded, hands raised in surrender. “I understand simplicity.” Gortys rolled up to the man with a friendly wave and greeting.

“Hey there!” She said, though her tone was subdued as she most likely still felt the tension in the room.

“That little robot is why we’re here.” Fiona explained. “There’s an upgrade somewhere nearby. We’re looking for it.”

“Well I-I-I can’t help you with that.” The man stuttered, shaking his head quickly. “I know nothing about it- I’ve only just arrived here myself. So you should probably just leav-” Zer0 clicked her tongue in annoyance behind him, making the man jump and whip his head back to her. She tilted her head at the man impatiently and placed a hand on her sword hilt in warning.

“That means we know you’re lying, if you didn’t figure that out already.” Vaughn helpfully translated for the terrified man.

“So stop.” Fiona growled, shaking her gun in reminder at their threat at hand.

“I… very well, young lady.” The man sighed mournfully before shuffling towards the center of the room. “I’m… on the run, you see. I have lost everything- my wife, my son, my cat. But not in that order- first it was my wife, then my cat, and then my son.”

“Have you ever thought of becoming a professional story teller?” Rhys started off sarcastically. “Because you’re sense of crucial information is just-”

“Rhys.” Sasha scolded sharply.

“Forgive me, it’s been a long time since I’ve enjoyed human contact.” The man sighed mournfully. “Perhaps I’ve forgotten how to talk to people. You must understand, I’ve gone through months of isolation and-”

And Zer0 tuned him out, thoroughly uninterested with his story- as she suspected it was fabricated again to appease them.

She watched him go through what seemed like rehearsed theatrics with a bland stare. The assassin glanced around the room in boredom, trying to find something to entertain herself as Sasha and Vaughn grilled the suspicious man- stating they didn’t trust him. Finally, the man gave up and told the truth- that he had been living there for months now. He explained that he had explored the facility, but not very thoroughly, as there were still multiple security measures in place that were still functional. He told them that what they were looking for might be in the bunker in the middle of the facility, but to get in safely, they would have to disable to the security system from one of the towers nearby.

“I can get in and disable the security systems- easy.” Rhys said, crossing his arms over his chest confidently.

“Not easy,” The man disagreed, sounding like he knew from experience, “Not at all easy. But your best option, nonetheless.” Zer0 and Jack shared a look at that before the hologram pursed his lips.

“Eh, I’ll be there as back up- and it definitely can’t get passed me. We’ll take it down no problem.” He shrugged, not quite boasting but toeing the line. The assassin nodded subtly to him in acknowledgment.

“So we’re done talking then? We can actually go secure this upgrade now?”” Athena finally spoke up, approaching them from the back of the room where she had been lurking. She started commanding them, as she was prone to doing. “Fiona, while Mr. Robot Eye hits the security tower and hacks the defenses, you and I will infiltrate the bunker and grab the upgrade.”

“You and me? Awesome!” Fiona beamed in excitement.

“I’ll go with Rhys and make sure he doesn’t get into any trouble.” Sasha volunteered.

Hey.” He whined with a pout at the blow to his survival skills. “I can handle myself.”

“If it wasn’t for us, you’d be skag food how many times now?” Sasha asked in response, and Rhys’s pout only grew larger. “Yeah, that’s what I thought.”

“I’m getting better!” Rhys said in protest.

“Sure you are, Rhys.” Fiona said with false sympathy, patting him on the back. “You only tripped over your own feet three times today instead of four- that’s improvement!” The brunette glared at the Pandoran in annoyance and she snorted.

“So what should I do?” Vaughn asked the group almost hesitantly. “I mean, I don’t have a robot eye, and I’m not a badass vault hunter. Also, I’m not particularly charming, but I can still do stuff!” The group exchanged concerned glances at his words and tone, frowning. Zer0 herself shuffled a little closer and nudged his side.

“You are with me, Vaughn.” She said and he practically lit up.

“Sweet! So uh… what are we doing… exactly?” He asked, that hesitant tone creeping into his voice again.

“You guys try to find out what you can about Atlas, Gortys, or the Vaults from the computers.” Fiona suggested before she lowered her voice. “And keep an eye on that guy.”

“We can definitely do that.” Vaughn smiled as he accepted their quest. “You can count on us." Fiona nodded before she, Athena, Sasha, Rhys, and Jack made their way over to the door.

“Alright, everyone knows what they’re doing?” Fiona asked the group, receiving a chorus of ‘yes’s in reply. “And with a plan like this, what could possibly go wrong?”

“Rule number one of Vault hunts,” Zer0 spoke up warningly, making them all stop and turn back to her. “Never say that phrase.”

“She’s got a point.” Athena mumbled with a wince. “Stay alert out there.” Then she met the assassin’s gaze with an added silent message.

And in here.

Zer0 nodded in acknowledgment, subtly glancing over to the suspicious man that was lurking in a corner by himself, watching them all warily.

He would not get the jump on them if she had anything to say about it.

 


 

Roughly twenty minutes after the others had left, the assassin was sitting on the desk next to Vaughn with her legs pulled up under her, sharpening her sword casually.

She caught the suspicious old man casting her frightened looks as she did so and Zer0 almost smirked under her faceplate. Vaughn glanced over at the display and snorted quietly at the obvious intimidation tactic before returning to his perusal of information. Gortys was excitedly chatting with the old man under Loader Bot’s watchful eye. Zer0 looked over at the brunette at her side, noting his determined expression and slight frown, and she was suddenly reminded of his words from earlier.

“Vaughn.” She spoke up from beside him, only to receive a distracted hum in reply. “You are useful.” He paused almost immediately, fingers frozen over the keyboard. When he didn’t respond passed that, she continued. “You have skills no one else does. / Do not feel useless.”

At that, he snorted in a self-deprecating manner.

“Oh yeah, sorting through information- that’s been real helpful out here so far. Definitely more useful than knowing how to fight or hacking stuff.” He said sarcastically. The assassin’s face twisted in displeasure but before she could argue, Vaughn kept going. “Listen, I know what you’re trying to do- but I get it. I know where I stand in this group; I’m just the nerd. Always have been and apparently always will be.”

“Hills once yellow-dry/ let rain soak their brittle skins.” Zer0 said after a long moment, tone contemplative. “Velvet patch of green.” Vaughn gave her a strange look at that, face twisted up in confusion.

“Okay, I know haikus are your thing and all, and usually you make sense- but what the hell did that mean?”

“Growth.” Zer0 answered simply. “It speaks of growth.” At Vaughn’s disbelieving expression, the assassin tried a more direct approach. “Do you think yourself back then/ could survive you, now?”

“I guess not… I think?” Vaughn answered a little unsurely, still a little baffled by her wording. “Like if I had to fight a version of myself that still worked for Hyperion? Then no, I’d probably find a way to outsmart that me.” He admitted. “I was… kind of really narrow minded back then- it was all about moving up and getting more power. Nothing mattered to me outside of the company… corporate shackles and what-not.” Vaughn explained and Zer0 hummed in understanding. “Now… even though I’ve almost died like twenty bajillion times already, I’m kind of having fun and living life? Is that a weird thing to say?” The assassin smiled under her faceplate and shook her head, ruffling the brunette’s hair proudly. He batted her away with a flat look. “But everyone else has been growing too; I’m currently the weakest link.” Vaughn looked away with a downtrodden expression before hesitantly admitting, “I feel like once you all realize that, I’m gonna be left behind.”

Zer0 instantly frowned and withheld a heavy sigh- they were getting so far too.

“We stick together,” She said instead, voice strong with confidence. “Locked in solidarity. Indomitable.”

“I like the sound of that.” Vaughn admitted quietly with a soft smile. “Thanks Zer0.” The assassin smiled once again, but she knew the brunette’s worries still weren’t completely quelled.

No, that assurance would only come with time.

“Tell me what you’ve found.” Zer0 said, looking over her shoulder at the multiple computer screens.

“Okay, well, apparently the Vault we’re going after is called the Vault of the Traveler.” Vaughn explained, going back to his data. “It’s kind of vague, but I think the Vault itself teleports endlessly across the universe.”

The assassin felt her expression go flat and Vaughn gave her a sympathetic look at her silence.

“Yeah, annoying, I know.” He said before typing away. “But apparently Gortys can stop that somehow. I just haven’t figured out how yet- Rhys wasn’t kidding when he said they deleted a bunch of their files.” Zer0 sighed and pat Vaughn’s shoulder in a manner to encourage him before she turned back to keep an eye on the old man.

They were quiet for a long while, the only sounds in the room being Vaughn’s typing, the slight scraping of Zer0’s sword, and Gortys’s happy chatter with the sometimes wary responses from the old man. Zer0 was enjoying the relative quiet-

Which of course was exactly the moment Jack came to ruin it.

“What up, princess? You guys find anything yet?” He asked loudly as he popped into existence. Zer0 almost cut herself on her sword’s edge.

Even after all of this time, she still hadn’t quite gotten used to that ability of his.

“You aren’t with Rhys.” The assassin said after she resumed sharpening her sword. “Did he get tired of you? / That’s not surprising.”

“Har har, very funny.” The hologram deadpanned, crossing his arms over his chest in annoyance. “But they were being all gross and lovey dovey, so I friggin’ dipped.” The vault hunter caught Vaughn staring at her from her peripheral vision, and when she pointedly turned away from Jack and towards him, his eyes lit up in realization.

“Oh hey Jack.” He greeted quietly so their suspicious guest wouldn’t hear, turning back to the screens. “I thought you were gonna be with Rhys?” Zer0 watched as Jack’s expression softened with surprise at being acknowledged directly by someone other than Rhys or herself.

“I knew there was a reason I liked this nerd.” He said softly, a genuine smile on his face before it turned mischievous. “Besides the abs, of course. Quick, tell him that Rhys and Sasha are being gross- I wanna see his face when his mind inevitably dives straight into the gutter.”

“He’s here to annoy.” Zer0 said instead, smirking at Jack’s noise of protest. “As he is prone to doing.”

“Right back at-cha, princess.” He glared at the assassin. “You know how many times you and your bandit friends ruined my plans and annoyed the ever-loving hell out of me?”

“Still not bandits, Jack.” Zer0 reminded casually, focusing back on her sword.

“Hey, since you’re here, you think you can help me hack into these files so we can see what Atlas was trying to hide?” Vaughn said aloud. “I’ve tried all of the simple stuff, but like I said, hacking isn’t my strong suit.”

“Sure, I could give it a go.” Jack answered, cracking his holographic knuckles as he stepped up to the screens. He paused before glancing over at the assassin. “But you’re gonna have to translate for us, princess.”

Zer0 sighed and resigned herself to the task, speaking quietly and keeping an eye on the old man in the back of the room.

The two former Hyperion employees worked together to try and retrieve the deleted information from the system. The assassin could see how Jack was getting frustrated at not just being able to do what he was saying, but amazingly he bit back his annoyance and thought of other ways to get around it that Vaughn would be able to understand.

“Okay, you’re gonna have to try restoring previous versions of the whole system since you can’t get into the nitty gritty good shit.” Jack sighed after they had reached another dead end. “I bet they updated the system after deleting their files to try and cover their tracks, but there’s usually always a back-up left behind that’s stored away in the program files themselves. Open the system directory and look for anything that’s named either back up, copy, or shadow copy especially. Hopefully, they would have forgotten to get rid of those.”

Zer0 stared at the hologram, kind of dazed for a moment. When his words weren’t being repeated, Jack turned to the assassin with an inquisitive eyebrow.

“You’re actually/ quite brilliant, aren’t you?” She asked, voice soft with realization. The hologram blinked at her, taken aback, before he began stammering confidently.

“Well yeah, of friggin’ course I am. What, you only realized this now? How do you think I got to being the CEO of Hyperion?” Zer0 continued to stare at him in quiet thought, long enough where Jack actually quieted down and frowned at her, bravado gone. “What? Stop staring at me like that- it’s creepy.”

“…Maybe not so smart.” The assassin corrected, ignoring the hologram’s outraged sputtering and relayed the information to Vaughn.

In the back of her mind, she had always known that Jack had to be smart to do everything he had done, but to be confronted with his intelligence outright was… kind of startling, if she had to admit it.

She supposed it wasn’t a side of Jack that she had seen often, but then again, maybe she had- in much more subtle ways. How else had he managed to trick all of them so easily with the core replacement-

“Hey, it worked!” Vaughn exclaimed suddenly, shaking Zer0 from her thoughts. “Not for all of the files- but for a good chunk at least.”

“See, I told you I could do it.” Jack boasted with a grin. “There’s no program that can out think m-” He stopped abruptly, head snapping to the side and eyes shining with a far-away gleam. “I’ll be right back.” He said before disappearing, much to Zer0’s concern. She exhaled her sudden anxiety swiftly, reasoning with herself that if Rhys and Sasha were really in that much danger- as that kind of reaction was only warranted from feeling something was wrong with his host- Jack would come back and get her.

“Okay, so apparently, Gortys’s next upgrade- the one that’s here- is gonna let her digistruct things at will.” Vaughn explained as he read over the new files. “That’s helpful. Also apparently the next upgrade- after this one- is called the beacon? It doesn’t say where that one is, but judging from the name, I’m guessing it has something to do with summoning the Vault.”

Zer0 nodded in agreement before she noticed Vaughn freeze, and her dread grew.

“Hey Zer0, you might want to see this.” He muttered as quietly as possible, directing her to where he had dragged a file over to one of the smaller screens. The assassin leaned over and saw a picture of a familiar man.

The same one that was currently in the room with them, at their backs.

Cassius Leclemaine.

Zer0 kept her body relaxed as she and Vaughn read on about how the man was an Atlas scientist, trying not to let on that they now knew his secret. They learned that Cassius was the head researcher at the Atlas bio-dome until Atlas abandoned Pandora in their struggle to stay afloat. They also found out that the bio-dome’s primary function was for plant and animal biogenetic experimentation to further military expansion.

“Athena’s not gonna like this.” Vaughn whispered and Zer0 nodded in agreement. “What do we do?”

“Play it safe for now.” Zer0 answered lowly, sensing Cassius was starting to get antsy because they were being so quiet. “Don’t let him know we found this.”

“Right.” Vaughn said before quickly closing out of the file and leaning back to stretch his arms. “Well, there wasn’t much else, but at least we know a little bit more about Gortys now.” He said at a normal volume.

“You do?” Gortys asked in excitement, having overheard. She rolled over eagerly. “What’d you find?”

“You’re next upgrade is gonna be so cool.” Vaughn grinned at the little robot. She beamed happily.

“Awesome! I wanna try it right away! Oh, I hope everyone gets back soon.”

“Me too Gortys, me too.” Vaughn nodded, patting the top of Gortys’s dome. Loader Bot and Zer0 shared a cautious look as she subtly gestured to Cassius and the robot’s red eye gleamed in understanding. Thankfully, the Atlas scientist had relaxed once more upon thinking that they had only been discussing Gortys’s upgrades earlier.

It was only ten minutes later when Fiona and Athena returned, Gortys upgrade in hand.

Zer0 swallowed the alarm crawling up her throat. The security tower was closer to them than the bunker, and yet Athena and Fiona had returned first. She forcefully pushed her anxiety away- if anything went wrong, Jack would have told her.

She was sure of it.

“Oh, you made it!” Vaughn beamed at the returning members of their group, wandering over to meet them halfway. “Ha, awesome!” He began filling Fiona and Athena in on what they had found- not the Cassius part thankfully. Zer0 looked out of the window beside her and searched the ground for any signs of the other two, finding nothing.

Where were they?

“You’ve returned! And with the Gortys upgrade, no less.” Cassius spoke up, bringing Zer0’s attention back inside the room. “Huzzah! I take it you’ll be on your way then?”

“We’re still missing two people and we’re not leaving without them.” Fiona narrowed her eyes at the man suspiciously. “Why do you want to get rid of us so quickly?”

“No, no, no, i-it’s not that!” Cassius assured, backing up a step. “I-i-it’s just that we… don’t have to be around one another… anymore, so…” The assassin finally understood his strange behavior when he kept sending quick, wary glances at the gladiator, who was now glaring at the man. “Well, perhaps I should be the one to leave then.” Before he could start awkwardly shuffling away, a loud voice drew all of their attention outside.

“WHOOO!”

Zer0 identified Rhys’s voice instantly and her muscles finally relaxed. He wouldn’t have sounded so elated if anything was wrong.

The door opened once more to reveal Rhys and Sasha, the former with his arms pumped up in the air.

“God! I forgot how great this feels!” Rhys continued, striding into the room with a certain… swagger that he hadn’t possessed before. Fiona sent Sasha an inquisitive look, but her sister just shrugged and shook her head, having no idea what had come over the brunette. Rhys wandered over to Vaughn and grinned. “Ohoho, and it’s good to see you kiddo.”

Zer0’s head snapped up to stare at Rhys.

Kiddo.

“Ol’ iron abs over here. And here I thought you were just a dweeb.”

There was only one man she knew that used that word.

“But no, you’re a buff dweeb!”

And he was currently nowhere to be found.

“Rhys, you’re being kinda weird.” Fiona pointed out, arms crossed over her chest.

“Hah, look, cupcake-”

Zer0’s feet hit the ground with a resounding boom.

Instantly, the whole room grew silent. ‘Rhys’s’ eyes snapped over to her and then widened in alarm as he took in how still she was being.

He immediately started backing up when she slowly stalked towards him in a predatory manner.

“Okay princess, I know what you’re thinking-” The brunette said, hands held up in surrender as he retreated.

“Do you now.” Zer0 replied flatly as she continued to approach him, unsure of how she was feeling at the moment.

All she knew was that whatever it was, it wasn’t good.

“-But I had to! Rhys knocked himself unconscious and I couldn’t let Sasha just drag his dead weight around while they were being chased by those things! They’d never make it!” The man who was not exactly Rhys explained hurriedly, still backing away from the nearing assassin.

“Wait, so does that mean that Jack-” Fiona started, clearly startled after putting two and two together.

“What- he’s possessing Rhys?” Vaughn added loudly.

“Okay, okay, I know what it looks like.” Jack said desperately, using Rhys’s voice to do so. “But I’m telling the truth guys- just ask Sasha! She was there.” Everyone except for Jack and Zer0’s eyes slid over to the startled Pandoran, who frowned as she hurriedly recalled their experience. The assassin stopped stalking towards the brunette, but kept her eyes glued on him, as he was similarly doing to her.

“Rhys did fall off of the elevator and hit his head when we were attacked. He was down for a few seconds.” She admitted, clearly disturbed by her findings as she no doubt realized that was the moment Jack had taken over.

“See? I swear, as soon as Rhys wakes up, I’ll give him his body back.” Jack promised as everyone gave each other wary looks.

Zer0 narrowed her eyes and took another step towards him, but instead of retreating once more, Jack stepped forward and met her in the middle. He snatched her wrist up and pressed her palm over his- Rhys’s- beating heart.

“Princess, I promise you I’m telling the truth. I just didn’t want anyone to get hurt.” He said earnestly, gaze never wavering from hers. “Please believe me.”

It was strange for her to see Rhys’s eyes and yet Jack’s intensity shining through them.

The assassin remained silent for a long moment, thoughts running through her head at a million miles a second, before she finally let herself relax a centimeter.

“As soon as he wakes up-” She started with a warning hiss, but Jack beat her to the punch, finishing her sentence.

“I’ll give him back control.” He promised. “In a heartbeat.” Jack added for emphasis. Zer0 paused again before sighing heavily, shoulders dropping down from their alert position.

“Okay.” She said, still not a hundred percent sure she was doing the right thing here.

“Okay.” Jack echoed with a nod, eyes not leaving hers. They stared at each other for another moment before looking down at their entwined hands almost in tandem. Zer0 snatched her hand away and Jack grinned at her, raising a suggestive eyebrow in jest.

It looked weird on Rhys’s face.

“What, so we’re just okay with Jack taking over Rhys’s body now?” Sasha asked, eyebrows scrunched together in outrage.

“Well, he did kind of help you guys out from what it sounds like.” Vaughn shrugged. “And he’s been being helpful.”

“Aw, see? I’m loving this nerd with the abs of Adonis!” Jack beamed at Vaughn, grabbing him and giving him a noogie, much to Vaughn’s protest.

“How long have you been able to do this?” Fiona asked suspiciously, glaring at the man as he released Vaughn.

“Trust me, this is a new development.” Jack answered, looking down at his hands and flexing them with a strange look on his face. “It’s weird for all of us.”

“Wait, so… Jack is Rhys?” Gortys asked, tone confused. “Or is Rhys Jack?”

“Jack is using Rhys’s body at the moment.” Vaughn explained to her, smoothing his hair down from where it was unsettled.

Oh.” Gortys said with realization. “Okay! Well, hi Jack! It’s very nice to finally meet you- even if you look exactly like Rhys right now.” She chirped, rolling up to the brunette. Jack tilted his head at the little robot suspiciously.

“Are you being sarcastic?” He said with narrowed eyes.

“Gortys doesn’t have a sarcastic bone in her body.” Fiona defended the small robot almost instantly.

“Actually, I don’t have any bones in my body.” Gortys corrected innocently. The assassin watched as Jack’s face- Rhys’s face- softened into something more genuine than the false bravado he was putting on, crouching down to the robot’s level.

“Well in that case, it’s nice to meet you too, pumpkin.” He said, lightly tapping the top of Gortys’s head in greeting. “I gotta say, you’re the best robot I’ve met so far- leagues better than Claptrap.”

“Wow, thank you!” She chirped before slightly tilting herself. “But, who is Claptrap?”

“You don’t want to know.” Zer0 said instead, and Jack backed up her statement with a full body shudder.

“Oh, okay.” Gortys answered, but her tone indicated that she was still a little confused. Jack stood up straight once more and turned to face the gladiator, who was being extremely quiet.

“Hey, Athena, long time no-ACK!” Jack yelped, his head snapping to the side as Athena punched him solidly in the face.

Honestly, Zer0 was wondering what had taken her so long- she was expecting this reaction long ago.

“OW.” Jack protested, holding his reddening cheek. “What the hell, Athena?! You know, I feel pain when I’m like this!”

“Good.” She said shortly, glaring at the brunette. “That was for you- not Rhys.”

“Fair.” Jack frowned, rubbing his face. “Okay, you got your one shot out, now can we kiss and make up?”

“No.” Athena scowled immediately, crossing her arms over her chest menacingly.

“I don’t mean literally,” Jack said, rolling his eyes, “I know you’ve got a girlfriend. But we can just let the past be in the pa-”

“No.”

“What if I made it up to you?” Jack suggested, and the gladiator narrowed her eyes suspiciously at him.

“I highly doubt you can.”

“Au contraire, my good old pal.” The brunette said, a familiar calculating smile spreading across his lips that looked plain wrong on Rhys’s face. “See, I’ve found something that will make you quite happy, actually.” At her doubtful look, Jack’s smile only grew wider, which made the assassin start feeling dread in the pit of her stomach. “You see that old, scared looking guy right there?” He started and Zer0’s feeling of dread grew exponentially. Cassius, who had been trying to slink out of the room unnoticed, stopped completely and whipped back around to them in alarm. “Go on, wave your hand, there he is, all right. That is the very last-”

“Jack.” Zer0 barked in warning, and he turned to the assassin, grin still in place.

“What, princess? She’s got a right to know- and boy would she want to know.”

“Know what?” Athena hissed as she stepped forward, but her eyes were glued to Cassius now, no doubt already making assumptions about the man.

“That’s the last Atlas employee left on Pandora.”  

The assassin could hear ringing in her ears as the gladiator froze, muscles tensing dangerously.

“It’s… it’s true.” Sasha almost whispered in the rapidly increasing tension.

“We found that too.” Vaughn admitted hesitantly, casting a glance back at the computer.

Suddenly, it was like all of the air left the room for a moment. Zer0 stared the gladiator down from where she was standing, motionless and yet wound tightly like a coil. She could see Athena’s eyes rapidly moving back and forth before they snapped back up to Cassius and her glare intensified ten-fold.

“You lying Atlas-scum!” Athena bellowed, her voice crackling with her rage as she stalked towards the scientist quickly. Cassius turned to escape, but Loader Bot was blocking his exit. This gave the gladiator enough time to grab him by his shit and lift him into the air, a red blade to his neck.

“Whoa, whoa, what are you doing?!” Vaughn shouted in shock as they process what had just happened.

“Fulfilling an obligation.” Athena answered shortly, and Zer0 tilted her head at that.

“Why is everyone so excited? What’s happening?” Gortys asked naively, rolling up to the middle of the confrontation.

“I knew this day would eventually come.” Cassius said almost mournfully, tone already defeated.

“Why did you lie to us?” Fiona asked, trying to stall for time to find a way to diffuse the situation.

“Isn’t it obvious?” Cassius said. “The woman that killed every single person I worked with showed up at my door. It seemed prudent to hide any reason for her to realize that she missed one. As far as I’m aware, I am the last remaining Atlas employee on Pandora.”

“Then you’re the last to die.” Athena declared, edging her blade closer.

“Wait!” Gortys protested. “Why are you doing this?!”

“Because!” Athena shouted before deflating slightly. “Because… god… because Atlas tricked me into killing my own sister, okay?” She finally admitted. “What would you do if that happened to you?!”

At those words, Zer0 forced herself to take a step back from the situation.

She would not interfere.

This was personal.

“I’d burn everything to the ground.” Sasha said truthfully, looking over at her sister. Similarly, Fiona looked at Sasha with a pained look.

“The only thing that kept me from doing that was focusing my anger. To rid the world of Atlas… to avenge my sister.” Athena explained before turning back to Cassius with gritted teeth. “And that is why I have to kill you.”

“But he didn’t have anything to do with that!” Vaughn argued. “He’s just a biogenetic scientist!”

“It’s okay.” Cassius said, shaking his head.

“No. It’s not.” Gortys spoke up, her tone oddly somber for once as she rolled over to squeeze herself in-between Athena and Cassius. “I’m Atlas too. Am I next?” A cold feeling swept over the assassin at those words, but Athena shook her head quickly.

“It’s different.” She grit out before moving to end the scientist’s life.

“Athena, stop!” Fiona shouted, jumping forwards and grabbing the gladiator’s arm before she could deal the killing blow.

“I can’t!” Athena shouted back. “You don’t understand. I made a vow!”

“You didn’t make that to her!” Fiona argued back, shaking her head. “You made it to yourself and you’re acting like there’s no choice…” At that, the gladiator looked away, arm lowering slightly. “You don’t have to do this.”

“I… am sorry.” Cassius spoke up sympathetically, making Athena turn her conflicted gaze back to him. “For what happened to your sister.” The gladiator looked away after he was finished.

“Thank you.” She said quietly, not looking at the man.

It was calm for a single moment.

That moment was just enough for Zer0 to hear something that she should’ve noticed earlier.

It seemed Athena had heard it too, because she raised her arm in a ‘silence’ gesture, but with the current situation, the others had mistook it for her deciding to kill the scientist.

“No!” Fiona shouted, but Athena shot her a look that silenced her.

“Quiet.” She hissed, trying to listen as Zer0 made her way over to the window.

Because the noise that they had heard was one of a vehicle’s engine.

Before she could even make it to her destination, something big jumped up and broke through the window from outside, barreling into the room and straight towards the gladiator with a war cry. Athena only had time to push Cassius out of harm’s way before she was tackled out of another window, lost to the jungle that was below them.

“Holy crap! What was that?!” Vaughn screeched in alarm.

“Athena!” Fiona called, running over to where the gladiator and her attacker had fallen. Zer0 snapped her head over to the Pandoran just in time to catch the glint of a weapon in the far off distance.

“Fiona!” She yelled in warning, but it was too late. A rope with weights attached to its ends shot forward and wrapped around Fiona’s feet just as she toed the edge of the large window.

“Oh, no.” Fiona said before she tipped over and fell into the canopy of trees.

“Fiona!” Sasha called in alarm, running over to where her sister had disappeared into the night.

“Sasha, get down!” Zer0 commanded instantly, not wanting the other Pandoran to suffer the same fate.

“Of course.” She suddenly heard Vaughn say, and when she snapped around, the assassin spotted him and Jack by the broken window where the first attacker had entered.

“Vaughn, Jack, away from the window!” She barked, moving towards them. They were still in the same spot by the time she reached them, so she was about to shove them away when the vault hunter caught a glimpse of their attackers.

Specifically, the crazy bandit leader lady with a rocket launcher aimed directly at them.

“Oh shit, INCOMING!” Jack shouted as the bandit leader pulled the trigger. The assassin barely had any time to shove the former Hyperion employees away before the rockets were upon them. She threw herself in the way, letting her shield eat up as much of the damage as it could before it overcharged itself and let out a destructive blast of its own- although it was admittedly much more tame than a rocket to the face.

That being said, the resulting two blasts colliding sent all of them flying out of the remains of the building, each practically in different directions.

The last thing the assassin saw was the fire that had engulfed the building they were just standing in before she blacked out.

Chapter Text

Someone was yelling at her.

She couldn’t exactly make out what they were saying, but she heard a voice none-the-less.

A loud voice.

Her entire body throbbed and her head was spinning and the voice would not stop yelling.

The assassin tried to pry open her eyelids, but they just weren’t cooperating at the moment.

Finally, she began to make out what was being shouted at her.

“-e? Come on princess, I really need you to wake up now!”

She knew that voice.

“Mmm, Jack?” She moaned, shifting painfully as she attempted to get herself up. Everything hurt, but her high pain tolerance would not let that stop her.

“You know, moaning my name would’ve been really sexy in any other circumstance,” Jack started, and Zer0 thought she could hear the subtle tones of relief in his voice, “But we’re kind of in the middle of a situation at the moment, so… Actually, no. It was still pretty hot. But still!” The assassin finally managed to peel her eyes open and noticed that her visor was cracked on the right side. She frowned at that before her gaze traveled over to the frazzled hologram.  

“Jack, wha-” Zer0 cut herself off and winced as she pushed herself up to sit on the thick tree branch she had apparently landed on. The hologram gave her a sympathetic look.

“Aw, how ya doing, slugger? Feeling a little beat up? Well of course you are- that’s what you get when you throw yourself in front of a goddamn rocket.” The assassin blinked in surprise at his sudden anger. She knew Jack had a short temper, but she didn’t think her actions warranted that kind of reaction from him.

If anything, she thought he would’ve found her getting blown up entertaining.  

“Okay, so, quick update on the situation,” The hologram barreled on after taking a quick breath, reminded of the predicament they were in. “Everything currently sucks. The bandit lady from before showed up again with her posse and she’s trying to steal Gortys back. Rhys, Sasha, and Vaughn are dealing with that while Fiona and Athena are fighting off your good old bandit buddies- remember them?” The assassin frowned and started to shake her head to tell him that she didn’t know what he was talking about but instantly regretted the movement when her head began spinning once more. She teetered dangerously on the edge of the branch before catching herself. “Oh shit, you’re not okay, are you? Quick, how many fingers am I holding up?”

“I’m fine.” Zer0 ground out, waving her hand dismissively when the hologram shoved his fingers in her face. “Just tell me where I need to go.” Jack gave her an assessing look before pursing his lips.

“Gimme a second.” And with that, he blipped out of existence.

Zer0 took the time to gingerly force herself to stand, balancing on the tree branch underneath her. The vault hunter squinted as she scanned her surroundings, detecting the sounds of two separate conflicts deeper in the jungle. She stretched her aching muscles out briefly before Jack appeared beside her once more.

“I’m friggin’ amazed I’m saying this, but somehow it looks like Rhys and Sasha are managing the Gortys situation with Loader Bot for now. Athena and Fiona probably need you more at the moment- maybe you can get those two idiots to stop attacking us.” He explained immediately and Zer0 stilled as she realized he had not mentioned someone.

“What about Vaughn?” The hologram looked away, not exactly guilty but definitely troubled.

“I can’t find him.” He admitted through gritted teeth. “But I’m like eighty-five percent sure he’s still alive. Maybe ninety.” He turned back to her and pursed his lips. “Ninety-two.” Zer0 took a deep breath before nodding.

“Okay,” She said, “Okay. Point me in the right direction and keep looking for him.”

“Aye aye, captain.” Jack said before spinning around and pointing to their left. “Your vault hunter showdown is thattaway. Listen for the sounds of moronic bandit yelling- it’s a sure giveaway. I’ll let you know when I find ol’ iron abs.” He looked like he was about to disappear again, but the assassin managed to squeeze in a few parting words before he could.

“Good luck, Jack.” He paused before looking at the assassin with a strange expression.

“You too, princess.” Jack said, oddly serious for once before a grin spread across his face. “And remember, don’t die or else I’m gonna be really bitter.”

Then he was gone.

Zer0 took another deep breath before she forced herself forward, darting from tree to tree as she precariously balanced on their branches. As she got closer to her destination, the assassin listened to gunfire and the sound of glass breaking before she could definitely identify one familiar voice, clear as a bell.

“HERE COMES THE PAIN TRAIN! WOOO WOOOOOOOO!”

Brick.

And if she had to bet money on it, she’d guess his partner was Mordecai.

Great.

The assassin pushed herself to go a little faster. She neared the edge of the tree-line and found that the fight had traveled outside of the bio-dome, broken glass scattered in their wake. Just as she hit the final branch before she was out of cover, the vault hunter felt her blood run cold.

She had made it just in time to see the crazy bandit leader pull the trigger on her massive rocket launcher-

And it was pointed right at Fiona.

Zer0 watched, stomach dropping, as the rockets hurled themselves at the Pandoran, but in the last moment, Fiona had caught the shield Athena had thrown her way. The assassin only had a split second to feel relieved before the bandit leader turned her launcher at the gladiator and shot.

And Athena was now without her infamous shield.

The assassin threw herself forward, but she would never make it in time- just as the shield Fiona had thrown back would never reach Athena before the rockets did.

Athena flew back violently as they reached their mark, crashing into the rocky landscape harshly.  

Zer0 felt a familiar cold feeling start to overcome her as Fiona’s scream echoed in her ears. Her vision narrowed to the gladiator’s still body as she blankly watched Brick run to Athena’s side, putting a hand on her neck. Zer0 waited, not even breathing, until finally the muscular vault hunter nodded at Mordecai.

The gladiator was still alive.

Zer0 was so focused on finding out that piece of information that she had failed to notice that Fiona had thrown herself at the bandit leader, only to end up pinned under her massive rocket launcher, struggling with the weight of it. The assassin was just about to go help the Pandoran when she heard movement behind her. She instinctively melted into the shadows and remained stock still, watching with dread as Rhys and Sasha were led outside by the others, hands tied behind their backs. Loader Bot (who Zer0 noted with a cold anger was missing his legs) and Gortys (who had somehow gained legs) followed after them. Rhys took in the sight of the defeated two members of his group before he started looking around frantically.

“Wait, wh-wh-where’s Vaughn? And where’s-” He asked, still searching for their missing members.

“I- I don’t know.” Sasha said, voice trembling as she saw her downed sister and vault hunter friend.

“Vaughn?!” Rhys called and Zer0 grimaced at the anguish in his voice but held hope that Jack would find the man.  When he received no answer, he began shouting. “VAUGHN! Z-”

“Rhys.” Sasha cut in sharply. The brunette turned to her with wide, panicked eyes and Sasha shook her head. Rhys swallowed, nodding subtly when he understood her message: that there was a good chance the bandits didn’t know Zer0 was with them and they probably shouldn’t inform them of the fact.

The vault hunter herself watched the bandit leader talk to Brick and Mordecai, the latter having tied Athena’s legs together and confiscated her shield and weapons. The crazy lady was hissing something down at the fallen gladiator when a familiar blue figure popped up beside the assassin. Zer0 instantly snapped her head over to him, waiting to hear where Vaughn was.

Her blood ran cold once more when she took in the fury on Jack’s face.

“I couldn’t- I don’t know where the hell he is!” Jack hissed, full of misplaced rage before he met the assassin’s gaze intensely. “But he’s not dead- I would’ve seen the body.” At the vault hunter’s stillness, Jack glanced over at the others and froze as well. “Oh shit.”

“So, where’s the last piece little one?” Zer0 heard the crazy bandit lady ask with a faux sweetness. She slowly turned back and saw her talking to Gortys, who was cowering behind what remained of Loader Bot. “We have a Vault to summon.”

“Leave her alone.” Loader Bot commanded, but the bandit leader stared at him with a scowl.

“Tell me where it is before more of your friends get hurt. Starting with this hunk of scrap right here.” She threatened, pulling out a dagger from her sleeve and pointing it at Loader Bot. Zer0 jerked forward but stopped when a blue arm shot out in front of her. She glanced over and saw Jack watching the proceedings with a hard expression, lips pressed into a thin line.

“Okay… okay…” Gortys said, uncurling herself from behind Loader Bot with her arms raised in surrender before she stepped around him and in front of the bandit leader. “It… it’s there.” She said, pointing up at the moon.

Or rather, pointing up at what was in front of the moon.

“On Helios.”

Zer0 suddenly couldn’t tell if her ears were still ringing from the explosion or the silence that followed the statement.

Everyone stilled, sharing wary looks. The bandit queen herself pursed her lips, staring straight at the space station in thought. The assassin slowly glanced over at the hologram by her side, but he was resolutely not looking at her, focused on the hostage situation at hand. She stared at the side of his face, a range of emotions surging through her battered body.

Did he know, all of this time, that he had a piece to their puzzle- a necessary piece?

Did he know and not tell any of them?

Not tell her?

Her silent accusations seemed to get through to the man, because Jack finally turned to face the assassin, expression stone faced and shoulders strung tight. Though he was mostly expressionless, Zer0 thought she could pick up one clear message in his eyes.

I’m should’ve said but I’m not sorry.

She was about to open her mouth and press him on what exactly that meant, but Rhys’s panicked voice pulled her back into the moment. Zer0 looked over just in time to see one of the goons roughly shove Sasha to the ground, and when Rhys pushed him in retaliation, the brunette was punched in the face.

Zer0 saw red, and then she saw blue.

Princess.” Jack hissed warningly at her from where he had abruptly moved to block her vision. Zer0 stared at him in silence for a very long moment before her muscles marginally uncoiled. Jack watched her for another few seconds, ensuring she wasn’t about to act, before he nodded to himself and slightly shifted so the assassin could have eyes on the situation again. The bandit queen scolded her goons upon hearing Gortys’s pleas for them to stop hurting her friends before she crouched in front the small robot.

“There, there little one. No need to be upset.” She attempted to soothe the robot.

“I’ll answer your questions.” Gortys said. “Please just… promise that you won’t hurt anyone!”

“Of course dear.” The bandit queen assured in that faux sweet tone once again. “I don’t want to hurt anyone that’s being cooperative.” She said with the underlying threat to her other group members. “Now… tell me about the Vault of the Traveler.”

“The… the Vault of the Traveler teleports all over the universe… only staying in one spot for a few minutes before blinking away.” Gortys said in explanation. “But once I have my last piece, the beacon that’s up on Helios, I can summon the Vault and hold it here… then you… collect treasure or something.”

“What does the beacon look like?” The bandit leader questioned.

“I… I don’t know.” Gortys answered hesitantly, fearing a negative consequence for her friends with her reply, “But I’ll know it when I see it- that’s what happened with the last piece!”

“Well… that’s some exciting news. Thank you Gortys.”

“You’re… you’re welcome.” The little robot stammered. “Can I get away from you now?”

“Of course.” The bandit queen replied amicably, and Gortys immediately ran back over to Loader Bot once more. Zer0 shifted to move slightly closer to the others when she heard a recognizable sound approaching them-

The sound of an engine’s rumble.

A familiar engine’s rumble.

She tried not to let relief stream through her body as the caravan drove up to the conflict and stopped in front of them, as it could have been anyone in there.

Despite that, her body sagged with reprieve when Vaughn walked out of the door- only slightly dampened by the gun that Cassius was holding to his head. Similarly, Jack slumped as well, letting out a relieved breath upon seeing their missing member.

“There’s no need for guns.” Cassius said loudly for everyone to hear. “I’ve come to strike an accord.”

“A what?” One of the bandit queen’s goons said in confusion.

“What’re the terms?” The bandit leader herself demanded, giving the scientist a hard stare.

“It’s rather simple, really.” Cassius started. “I turn over this Hyperion number cruncher, and you allow me to return to my work unharmed.”

“I knew we couldn’t trust you.” Sasha hissed angrily at the scientist.

“That’s all you want?”

“Yes, I just... wish to be left alone.” Cassius declared. The bandit queen glared at him for another moment before crossing her arms with a nod.

“You’ve got a deal.” Cassius handed over Vaughn, and one of the goons roughly grabbed him up.

“Ugh- alright, alright!” Vaughn protested at the treatment.  

“Then I shall make my leave.” Cassius declared, giving everyone there a stern but wary look before turning to vanish into the night.

“We’ll remember this.” Fiona promised as he passed her on the ground. The Atlas scientist only paused for a moment.

“I suspected you would.”

And with that, he walked away, disappearing into the frozen Pandoran landscape.

“Vaughn! You all right?!” Rhys asked his friend, panic still kind of drenched in his voice.

“Eh… I’ve been better.” Vaugh answered with a sedate tone, holding his shoulder. Zer0 frowned at that small detail before the bandit queen stole her attention again.

“Now listen up. Under normal circumstances, your rotting corpses would already by getting torn apart by skags right now-” Not if she had anything to say about it-But these are not normal circumstances. And with that last piece being on Helios, I can’t think of a better crew than a pair of Pandoran con-artists and a Hyperion stooge to figure out a way to get it for me. What do you say?” She asked down at the still struggling Fiona.

“What’s in it for us?” Fiona fired back.

“What’s it in for you?” The bandit leader echoed, almost in threat. “Well, for starters-” Suddenly, she grabbed Vaughn and stabbed her hidden dagger into his side, making the man scream in pain.

Zer0 was already moving, vision filled with a red haze, and there was nothing Jack could do to stop her.

At least,

At least that’s what she had thought.

Because just as she was unsheathing her sword, mid-swing into the closest goon, he had shouted something.

“Zer0!”

He had shouted her name.

The assassin froze, eyes wide and hand still on the hilt of her blade.

Jack had never done that before.

Ever.

Her grip on her sword slackened very minutely. Rhys’s head had jerked towards them, having heard the hologram, but he snapped back around when he couldn’t see them, frightfully watching as the bandit queen retracted her dagger from his friend’s side upon hearing Fiona’s pleas and agreement to her terms. After seeing they were no longer needed, Brick and Mordecai began dragging Athena away into the night, making Zer0’s fists clench tightly. Behind her, Jack took a steadying breath, noting how stationary the assassin still was and preparing himself for a fight that was not yet over.

“Be smart about this.” He said in warning, taking a step towards her. “She’s got everyone hostage and they outnumber you. You’re not even at a hundred percent right now- And I know!” He almost yelled after she jerked to snap at him, cutting off her protest before it began, “Believe me, I know you could still go in there and kill every single last one of ‘em. But who would get hurt in the crossfire, huh? Who would die in the process?! We’re all practically held at gunpoint and if one spooked bandit pulls the trigger, it’s over.”

Her grip slackened even more.

“Listen to me, princess.” Jack said, stepping closer once more after sensing he was getting through to her. “The best thing you can do right now is regroup and make a few calls. They still don’t even know you’re here. It’s better for us to keep it that way- especially now that they’re not threatening anyone at the moment. Now’s not the time for vengeance but trust me, that will come.” The assassin heard the restrained fury in his voice- a promised end to those that had hurt their friends. She turned and met Jack’s determined gaze, seeing a familiar dangerous fire burning behind those eyes of his. It was akin to the start of a wildfire- small enough to be unheeded but threatening to rage out of control at any moment’s notice.

Zer0 found comfort in its heat and thought, just this once, she would stoke its flames.

The vault hunter ever so slowly relaxed her muscles, letting her sword slide back into its sheath soundlessly. Gradually releasing the breath she had been holding, Zer0 took a few steps back and melted into the shadows once again. Luckily, the goon she had gone after hadn’t even noticed her approach, which spoke volumes about their ability. The assassin watched as her friends were either rounded up or dragged away with a quiet wrath that warmed her bones. The blue hologram at her side similarly watched the proceedings with his body held tight and arms firmly crossed over his chest, eyes calculating as he took in every aspect of their current situation.

Zer0 hoped the bandit queen couldn’t smell the smoke in the air, because when their fire finally reached her?

It would be a raging inferno.

Chapter Text

She started by going after Brick and Mordecai.

Jack assured her that if the bandits moved while she was gone, he would lead her back- making sure Rhys stayed awake so that he wouldn’t blip out of existence. With that thought in mind, the assassin steadily tracked the two vault hunters through the wastelands. Zer0 knew they couldn’t have gotten too far, as the nearest fast travel station was still quite a ways away and it was already very late. The assassin kept moving despite her aching bones. She ignored the skags that shuffled uneasily from the entrance of their burrow at she passed them in her journey, skirting just on the edge of their territory and packing away their location in her mind for later.

Finally, her perseverance was rewarded with a warm light in the distance.

Zer0 instantly activated her cloak. She didn’t want to spook the two vault hunters, but she didn’t exactly want to run up on them out in the middle of nowhere, either. She lightened her steps and forced herself to move slower, keeping as quiet as possible. As she neared the makeshift campsite, she noticed Brick had already fallen asleep, loudly snoring away. Mordecai was keeping watch, his eyes directed away from her at the moment. This undoubtedly helped her approach, as she knew how eagle-eyed her fellow sniper could be; it was a necessary skill in their line of work. Athena herself was still knocked out cold, but Zer0 noted the blanket they had thrown over her body and felt something uncoil in her stomach at the sight.

Maybe this wouldn’t be as hard as she thought, after all.

“One more step and you’re dead.”

Or maybe not.

She stopped and blinked at Mordecai, who was now looking in her direction, vaguely pointing his pistol at the assassin. At his words, Brick woke with a start, scanning their surroundings and quickly noting the gun Mordecai was aiming.

“Huh-wha?” He stammered, forcefully shaking away his sleepiness. “Who’s there?!”

“Seems we have a visitor.” Mordecai told him casually, pistol never wavering from where it was pointed.

Unfortunately for him, it was aimed a little left of where Zer0 was actually standing, but she’d give him props for noticing her approach.

She uncloaked herself and waved at the two vault hunters nonchalantly, finding a little bit of amusement in the way Brick jumped and Mordecai’s pistol jerked to her position.

“Aw, Zer0, man, don’t do that!” Brick complained, rolling his eyes once he recognized her. “You know I hate it when you sneak up on me with your cloaking shit.”

“Hey amigo. What brings you to the middle of nowhere?” Mordecai asked, voice calm but eyebrow raised in suspicion. “Looking for us?”

“Oh shit, did we forget to do something for Moxxi?” Brick suddenly said, filled with dread as he snapped his head over to Mordecai and then back to Zer0. “Did she send you after us? Because if she did- tell her we’ll do the thing right away! …If I even remember what the thing was in the first place.” Zer0 smirked before shaking her head, alleviating Brick’s fear. “Oh thank jesus. So what are you out here for, slag?”

“I’m looking for her.” Zer0 said simply, turning to Athena. The other two followed her gaze.

“She do something to you, too?” Mordecai asked, but Zer0 tilted her head at him in question. “Apparently she and Lilith have some… unfinished business.” He explained easily.

“We just picked her up from this weird ass bio-facility.” Brick said. “We got hired by this crazy scary old lady-”

“Vallory.” Mordecai filled in, and Zer0 was thankful for finally putting a name to the face, because she would remember this kill with everything that she-

“-To come pick Athena up because she was hanging out with some people the lady wanted to talk to.” Brick’s loud voice pulled the assassin her back out of her revenge spiral. “They put up a pretty kickass fight. Shot my toe, though.” He frowned at his foot, lifting it with a wince.

“I am aware.” Zer0 said calmly, though the assassin felt the familiar heat of irritation flare up within her.  Brick scrunched his face up in confusion at her statement. “I was there.”

“You were there?” Brick echoed, baffled. “Why?” At her initial reply, Mordecai started to stiffen, having begun to put two and two together by her battered appearance and her inexplicable run in with them.

“Because I’m with them.” 

Finally, Brick’s eyes began to widen with horror, body frozen with dread. Mordecai was in a similar state, though he tried to be a lot more subtle about his dismay.

I’m with them.

As in: They’re my squad.

As in: Brick and Mordecai just attacked her squad.

“Slag, we had no idea- we swear!” Brick started in a hurry, throwing his hands up in a placating gesture as he saw how carefully immobile the assassin was. “Hell, if we knew they were yours, we would’ve turned on the crazy lady- no matter how scary she was!” She stared at the muscular vault hunter in silence, watching as he began to sweat nervously.

“So you want Athena back.” Mordecai spoke up getting to the point of her visit- something Zer0 always appreciated about the man. When she simply nodded, Mordecai sighed and scratched his head. “Amigo, I’d love to just hand her over, but like I said before, Lilith has some unfinished business with her.”

The assassin watched her fellow sniper for a long time, eyes narrowed and somehow even more motionless than before.

“But only just to talk!” Brick practically shouted as the tension rose to dangerous levels in the camp. “No punching allowed- I promise slag! You trust your Slag King, don’t you?!”

“Lilith told us a story about how Athena helped Handsome Jack.” Mordecai spat the name hatefully, and the assassin couldn’t exactly blame him for it, even if it left a weird pang in her stomach. “But if she’s with you, then she had to have a reason for it. We just have some questions for her.” Zer0 pursed her lips in thought, trying to see a way to resolve this in her favor. Finally, she let out a tiny breath.

“And you won’t hurt her?” She asked carefully, which made the two vault hunters share a somewhat relieved glance.

“On my name as your Slag King, I swear it.” Brick promised earnestly. “No, I double swear it! Tripl-”

“If she even has scratches-” Zer0 warned threateningly as she cut Brick off before he could go on a tirade, leaning forward just so to further intimidate the two.

“She won’t.” Mordecai said, mouth pressed into a thin line. “On our word, amigo.” Zer0 stared at him for another long moment before finally nodding and backing off.

“Oh, so you trust him but not your own Slag King?!” Brick asked loudly, tone offended. “I’m hurt slag, real hurt.” Zer0 gave him a deadpanned look as Mordecai smirked.

“It’s a sniper thing, you wouldn’t understand.” He almost teased his friend, and the muscular vault hunter let out an outraged sound.

“Oh yeah? Well I’m his gang leader- his King.” Brick said, crossing his arms over his chest. “We don’t need secret code to understand each other- right slag?” Instead of replying, Zer0 rolled her eyes so hard that her head almost followed the movement. She wordlessly moved over to Athena and crouched next to the gladiator, checking up on her friend. Mordecai snickered at that, which made Brick whine loudly, but Zer0 ignored both of them as her eyes scanned Athena’s form. As far as she could tell, Athena only had some heavy bruising- nothing too serious, though the other two vault hunters might have given the gladiator a health kit to stave off the worst of her injuries. After making sure Athena was okay, the assassin tucked the blanket over her more thoroughly before rising.

“She’s okay, isn’t she?” Mordecai asked, though the assassin knew he wasn’t talking about the gladiator’s physical state.

“Athena is good.” Zer0 said in reply, tone earnest as she faced the hunter. He pursed his lips once more before nodding.

“Hey slag, you need any help with those bandits back there?” Brick asked suddenly, making the assassin look at him. “I mean, I know we just kinda worked for them, but if they’ve got your friends- then hell, they’ve got our friends.” The vault hunter said sincerely before his eyes lit up with excitement. “THEY COULD BE FUTURE SLAGS! How good do they fight?! ‘Cause I know the hat girl- the one that shot me in my toe- she was pretty good. Could use some work, though. But the metal arm guy’s punch is weak, slag. Oh, and the-” Zer0 let Brick ramble on as she turned to Mordecai, who shook his head at his friend’s antics.

“I think he has it handled, Brick.” Mordecai cut in loud enough to get the vault hunter’s attention.

“You sure slag? ‘Cause it wouldn’t cost us anything to help- we already got paid.” Brick said matter-of-factly. Zer0 shook her head and he shrugged. “Alright, you do you man.”

“Let us know if that ever changes.” Mordecai said as Zer0 turned to head back the way she came. She gave him a thumbs up before waving goodbye to the two of them, walking back into the darkness.

“TRY NOT TO HAVE TOO MUCH FUN WITHOUT US!” Brick shouted after her, and she raised a hand in acknowledgment before she rested it on the hilt of her blade, eyes readjusting to the dark after the light of the campfire. The assassin could faintly pick up Mordecai and Brick muttering something to each other as she walked away, but she couldn’t pick out what they were saying.

Instead, Zer0 focused on her plan as she steadily returned to where her friends were. Once she was far enough away from the other two, the assassin unholstered her pistol and slipped a silencer on it. She scanned the horizon, eyes searching for any movement. When the vault hunter found what she was looking for, she aimed her pistol and shot once, downing lone the creature in the sky. Zer0 approached the corpse, noting that the creature had been a trash feeder. She clicked her tongue, feeling a mild sense of guilt since they looked so much like Bloodwing and she had literally just been talking to Mordecai, but she kept her eyes peeled as she knew more would be on their way. Zero quickly picked up the body and threw it over her shoulder, carrying it with her as she continued on. As she passed more wildlife- trash feeders and scythids alike- the assassin quickly disposed of them and added them to her growing pile of baggage. Finally, Zer0 let out a small breath of relief as she neared the next phase in her plan.

On the very edge of the skag territory she had passed earlier, the assassin pointedly dropped one of her kills and continued walking.

Zer0 continuously kept dropping the bodies of the dead animals every so often, shooting down more as she began to run out. When none further appeared on her path- most likely having sensed her killing spree- the vault hunter cut the remaining corpses into pieces, thankful when she finally spotted another campfire in the distance, specifically the one she had been returning to. Activating her cloak, the assassin scattered the rest of the pieces nearby, only hiding away one for later use. She silently approached the camp and lurked on the outskirts, searching for one specific target. The camp was quiet with only a few goons hanging around to act as guards through the night. She assumed her friends were being closely watched in the caravan- as she couldn’t spot any of them outside, not even Loader Bot- and the assassin doubted they’d be left to their own devices in their own vehicle. When Zer0 finally found her target, she felt her lips curl into a malicious smile.

This was the bandit that had thrown hands with Sasha and Rhys earlier- and if she couldn’t quite yet get her revenge on Vallory for stabbing Vaughn and hurting her friends, then he would have to suffice.

It was time for phase three.

She watched the particular bandit goon closely, waiting for her chance to get close. The assassin stayed almost completely still as she kept her eyes locked on the bandit, focusing on hearing sounds beyond the crackling fire- such as the arrival of the fourth phase of her plan. Finally- finally- after what had to be almost half an hour, the goon set his assault rifle down and walked off to the side, unzipping his pants and turning his back. Zer0 soundlessly stalked closer and picked up his rifle, deftly emptying his magazine of its ammunition before placing it back into its slot. The assassin set the weapon back down and quickly collected the bullets before the bandit had even finished his piss. With that task complete, Zer0 shuffled away quietly, discarding the bullets into a nearby bush. Once the bandit returned to his post, the assassin moved to retrieve the piece of animal carcass she had hidden away and then settled into another waiting game.

Fortunately, this waiting game was much shorter than the last.

Only minutes after she had seamlessly pulled off the switch, the assassin heard the careful tread of a familiar creature bounding up behind her. Zer0 looked over her shoulder and felt her eyebrows raise in surprise at what she found.

It wasn’t an alpha skag like she had been expecting- no.

No, this was much better.

A corrosive badass skag approached the outskirts of the camp almost as silently as she had been moving, snuffling quietly as it picked up the scent of the food she had left behind. Zer0 carefully picked up the last piece of her bounty and led the badass skag at a distance around the edge of the camp, solely in the darkness to keep both parties from spooking. She kept low to the ground to ensure none of the guards saw ‘floating meat’ as she moved.

Finally, the assassin and skag were in perfect position for phase four.

Away from the sight of the other goons, Zer0 uncloaked herself right in front of her target. The bandit let out a started shout, whipping his rifle around, but his movement was cut off when the assassin tossed the last morsel of meat at him. The bandit caught it reflexively, holding the meat in confusion as Zer0 simply saluted to him before cloaking herself once again and stepping out of the way.

Instantly, the badass skag pounced onto the bandit. The goon immediately pointed his rifle at the beast, dropping the meat, only for his eyes to fly wide open when his gun clicked pathetically- empty. The skag’s claws tore into his body mercilessly, making the bandit’s shout turned into agonized screams. Zer0 watched from a distance as the other bandits jumped to attention, rushing over to see what was happening and then opening fire on the beast. The entire camp awoke from the yells and gunfire and quickly burst into frenzied action. The assassin took another spare moment to watch her target’s death and the skag begin to retaliate before she casually made her way over to the caravan, slipping inside when blondie and the guy with the weird moustache burst outside to see what was going on. Once inside, the assassin frowned when she noticed they had left one of the bandit goons still in the caravan to watch over the others, who were wide awake and sharing alarmed looks at the terrifying cacophony of noises from outside. Zer0 plopped down soundlessly, almost pouting when she realized that she wouldn’t be able to either uncloak or talk to her friends for a while, but taking solace in the fact that they all seemed to be okay. Despite the minor bruising and patched up stab wound, they seemed to be doing well enough.

“What the hell is going on out there?” Fiona hissed, jumping to her feet and moving over to the windows. She was stopped by a threatening look from the remaining grunt and she scowled at the man.

“They sound excited- are they having a party?” Gortys asked innocently, and Zer0 refrained from smiling at the comment.

“Not a fun one, Gortys.” Vaughn grimaced as they listened to more shouting and the roars of the enraged badass skag.

“Loader Bot, can you scan the place to see what’s happening?” Sasha whispered to the battered robot, keeping her voice down so their bandit guard wouldn’t hear.

“Again, that’s not how it works.” Gortys chimed apologetically. “He can’t do that.”

“No,” Rhys began, a bright light in his eyes, “But I know who could.”

“Jack.” Fiona whispered back in sudden realization, eyes wide. At the sound of his name, the blue hologram materialized beside the group.

“You called?” He said, hands folded behind his head casually. He then seemed to hear all of the commotion outside and raised his eyebrows, turning towards the door. “Whoa, where’s the fire?”

“See if you can find out what’s going on outside.” Rhys told the hologram quietly.

“Already on it, pumpkin.” Jack replied, moving forward and phasing through the door. He was only gone for a few moments before he popped back into the caravan, grinning widely. “Okay, so there’s a badass skag out there that is absolutely tearing shit up. It’s friggin’ hilarious- I think some of the bandits pissed their pants!”

“A skag attack?” Rhys echoed in confusion, letting the rest of the group in on the information.

“Out here?” Sasha asked, tone mirroring Rhys’s, “I didn’t see any burrows nearby before we came inside.”

“Me neither.” Fiona said, eyebrows scrunched together. The gunfire and shouting was finally coming to a close outside, and now the assassin really did pout at the short lived chaos. Zer0 turned when she noticed someone staring in her direction from the corner of her eye and met Loader Bot’s red gaze. She blinked and waved, still cloaked, hoping the movement would trigger his sensors enough to tell him what she thought he already knew.

“Anomaly.” Zer0 grinned under her faceplate while the rest of the group faced the robot in confusion.

“Anomaly?” Vaughn said in a whisper before his eyes went wide. “Wait- wasn’t that what you called-”

The man instantly cut himself off as the door was ripped open. Vallory, blondie, and some other of her goons stalked inside, looking quite frazzled in the assassin’s opinion. She watched smugly as Vallory struggled to contain her ire at the situation before she spoke to the group.

“What happened?” Gortys spoke up first, making the bandit queen’s face go soft when addressing the little robot.

“Nothing too terrible, not to worry little one.” She responded. “We just have to relocate for the night. It seems like we settled down in skag territory and one of them got a little upset, that’s all.” The assassin’s smirk only grew as she took in all of the blood on her goons’ clothes.

“Oh. Okay!” Gortys chirped before settling next to Loader Bot once more. With the little robot calmed, Vallory turned to the others, her expression hardening.

“And with this relocation, I hope there won’t be any attempts at any funny business, are we clear?” She almost hissed to the group. “Unless we need another reminder at what happens when you don’t cooperate…” She trailed off, slipping her dagger in to her hands and playing with the edge idly.

“No! No, we got it.” Fiona hurriedly stammered, remembering what happened last time they disobeyed the bandit queen.

“Good. August, Kroger, and Finch- stay with them. The rest of you, pack up and head out.” She commanded to her goons before storming out. The mentioned three- blondie, moustache, and the goon that had been in the vehicle with them before- settled into the chairs at the front of the caravan with blondie at the wheel.

“Come on princess, where the hell are you?” Jack hissed quietly to himself as the caravan’s engine started up. Zer0 looked up at the hologram, noting his frustrated features and what seemed to be nervous foot-tapping. Jack pressed his lips together momentarily before he stopped, straightening up. “I’ll be right back.” He said to Rhys before closing his eyes and briefly concentrating, only for them to fly open in surprise moments later. “Wait, are you- are you already here? Because that’s what it feels like.” He said out loud, making Rhys give him a funny look.

In response, Zer0 flicked a stray bullet casing on the ground.

Jack watched it roll across the floor for a second before he began laughing loudly.

“Oh my god, so that was you?!” He cackled. “Why am I asking- of course that was you. Oh, that makes so much sense now. Ah princess, you make me proud. Especially with how bloody that was- like there were pieces of that guy everywhere.” At her allotted pet name, Rhys’s head snapped up, wide eyed.

“Princess? Wait, is Z-”

“Quit it with the yammering back there.” Moustache snapped, glaring back at Rhys, who had spoken a little too loudly. He shrunk back at the reprimand, but his gaze turned to the hologram in question. Jack seemed to take pity on the brunette because he nodded in response, eyes still filled with mirth. Rhys’s body sagged in relief before he turned his gaze to where Loader Bot was still looking and smiled. Zer0 pat his knee amicably and Rhys only jumped a little at the contact.

They drove for roughly an hour before the caravan finally stopped. Barely anyone from their group had awoken- most having fallen asleep or powered down at some point during the drive. The only one who had woken up when the vehicle stopped was Sasha, who pretended she was still asleep. Zer0 crooked a smile at that before she silently stood up and ventured closer to the window, curious as to where they decided to settle down for the rest of the night. The assassin noted the run down shacks close by and figured it was some kind of settlement the bandits were well acquainted with. She moved out of the way subtly when the goon with the weird haircut walked to her location, also peering out of the window.

“Seems pretty quiet out there.” He said to the others.

“Yeah, well it is ass-o’clock at night.” Blondie retorted sarcastically, and the weird haircut goon shrugged.

“Get some sleep, August. We’ll take first watch.” Moustache said to blondie- August- as he gestured to weird haircut and himself. August nodded and reclined in the driver’s seat, crossing his arms as he attempted to get some shut eye. The other two goons faced the assassin’s asleep group and watched them warily with their hands on their guns.

It was at this point Zer0 had realized she might have made a mistake somewhere.

After all, she couldn’t exactly keep herself cloaked forever, and there was nowhere to hunker down away from the bandits’ sight in the crowded caravan.

And they would definitely notice if the door suddenly opened on its own.

No, no need to create any more chaos tonight- it would only make the bandits suspicious and antsy.

With that thought in mind, Zer0 sat down on the floor and resigned herself to enduring this fate for as long as possible.

 


 

She hadn’t slept the whole night.

She hadn’t even moved the whole night.

Zer0 had trapped herself in a meditative state to conserve energy, even if it was absolute hell- especially since she hadn’t gotten any rest to heal her aching body. Her head had begun to viciously throb long ago, but the assassin grit her teeth and endured it because she had to. When the others woke up later on in the morning, Zer0 still remained absolutely still, not even opening her eyes. They chatted to each other for a while before everyone finally exited the caravan. The assassin listened for several long moments.

When she heard no one else in the caravan with her, Zer0 released her cloak, breathing hard and sagging forward as a sudden wave of wooziness came over her. The vault hunter relished in the short reprieve that she was given as she tried to regain her breath. She stood only after she was sure the world stopped spinning, quickly moving over to the table and grabbing the canteen of water someone had left behind. Ripping her helmet off of her head in one swift movement, Zer0 downed the liquid as fast as her body would physically allow her to, hoping it would help soothe her headache. When it was empty, the assassin carefully placed it back where she had found it, wiping the heavy sweat from her brow. Even with her suit’s regulated temperature, the cool air felt nice on her face now that she was no longer stuck in her cloaked state. She sunk back into the couch, her eyes drooping dangerously, but the assassin forcibly shoved her drowsiness away even if her battered body was begging for it.

Zer0 was just debating how she would escape so that she wouldn’t have to go through that once again when she heard footsteps approaching the caravan door.

With a repressed groan, the assassin slipped her helmet back on and activated her cloak, much to her body’s protests. She watched as Sasha, Vaughn, and Fiona walked in and was just about to rejoice when August followed after them moments later, making the vault hunter silently grit her teeth. They started talking about ways to get to Helios- all unsubstantial in the assassin’s opinion- before Zer0 eventually tuned them out. She made her muscles relax and fall into a forced meditative state once more so she could keep her cloak up.

All she had to do was focus on breathing and she would be okay.

She had to be.

Breathe in,

Breathe out.

In,

Out.

In-

“Hey princess, you still here or did you vamoose at some point?”

-Jack. No! Out.

Ignore him.

In,

Out.

She could do this.

In,

Out-

“Okay, well, I can tell you’re still here, which means you’re ignoring me so, rude on your part.”

-Shut up, Jack!

Instantly, her cloak went down and Zer0’s eyes flew wide open in alarm. Her friends startled at her sudden appearance but she ignored that and snapped her gaze over to where she had remembered hearing August’s voice come from. Thankfully, he was looking at something outside the windshield for the moment and Zer0 let herself sigh in relief quietly. Her body sagged for a split second before she straightened and took a deep breath, delving back into her cloak. Her friends exchanged shocked looks before they coughed and played it off as if nothing had just occurred. August turned back around and gave Vaughn and Rhys suspicious looks, as they weren’t the best actors, but Sasha and Fiona managed to turn his suspicions away.

As time went on, Zer0 was vaguely aware of how Rhys and Jack were talking about something quietly while Vaughn, Sasha, and Fiona bickered on how they would die trying to get the beacon from Helios before Rhys chimed in with the others. The whole thing made the assassin’s head hurt even more, but she just clenched her jaw a little harder, hoping it would all be over soon. Luckily, Jack had been a lot quieter after her brief loss of control, but whether that was because he sensed she needed to concentrate or he was just tired of being loud was up in the air. Either way, it helped the assassin immensely, especially when all of the other voices in the caravan were being loud enough for him. Finally, after Rhys was done detailing what Zer0 assumed was some sort of plan (and a good one, if everyone seemed to agree with it), August said something, sounding farther away as he moved. The vault hunter heard the sound of the caravan door opening and closing.

She didn’t even check to see if he was really gone before she dropped her cloak, letting herself droop onto the table in front of her to use it as support.

“Jesus Zer0, are you okay?” Sasha asked at once, noticing the assassin’s dreadful state. Zer0 tiredly waved away the Pandoran in silent assurance that she would be fine, taking another moment to try and compose her harsh breathing. The vault hunter’s forehead was pressed on the table as she shut her eyes tightly, trying to dispel a new wave of vertigo. She was only vaguely aware of her friends’ voices asking her things, getting a little louder and more panicked as she didn’t respond and stayed still, when suddenly she heard Jack say something sharply and Rhys repeat it, quieting the room instantly. The assassin was ever thankful as the moment of peace allowed her to gain a little more control of herself- at least to the point where she could raise her head and look at the others.

Zer0 frowned when she saw they all looked deeply concerned, but she supposed she deserved it.

“Do you need anything?” Fiona asked softly, and the assassin appreciated the volume. Zer0 shook her head very minutely, as she didn’t really feel like talking at the moment but any movement made her head start spinning again. “Zer0… how long have you been here?”

“Since last night, right?” Vaughn spoke up, and everyone turned to him. “That’s what Loader Bot said before- he always calls you anomaly.”

“He’s right.” Rhys said. “Jack said she got back during the skag attack.” At that, Zer0 looked over at the hologram, who was frowning at her with an unreadable expression with his arms crossed over his chest. She slightly tilted her head at him, silently asking what was wrong, when she was distracted by Fiona.

“Got back?” Fiona echoed, eyes narrowed a little. “Does that mean you were there when we all got captured?” Zer0 simply nodded, wincing when black spots briefly showed up in her vision. “And you didn’t do anything?”

“Fi…” Sasha warned after hearing her sister’s tone turn dangerous, but Fiona barreled on.

“So you watched Athena get dragged away by those other vault hunters and you did nothing?!” Now she sounded outraged, but Zer0 was too tired to try and explain herself. She’d rather let the Pandoran run out of steam before she tried to speak up. “She could be really hurt for all we know- she is really hurt! Hell, she could even be de-” The Pandoran cut herself off abruptly before taking a shaky breath and continuing. “And you didn’t even try to help her? What’s wrong with you?! I thought you were our friend, Zer0- I thought you were her friend.”

“Are you finished now?” Zer0 said, deadpanned tone making Fiona bristle even more, but Sasha laid a brief calming hand on her arm. Zer0 sighed deeply before saying, “I went after Athena.”

“You did? Is she okay?” Sasha asked in concern, and Fiona stiffened in what was probably both guilt and dread. Zer0 nodded and everyone seemed to let out a breath of relief.

“Where is she now?” Rhys asked the assassin curiously.

“Don’t tell me you taught her how to do that invisible thing.” Vaughn said, looking around the room suspiciously.

“In Sanctuary.” At her friends’ confused looks, the assassin briefly elaborated. “They needed to talk.”

“So… she’s really okay?” Fiona asked hesitantly. At Zer0’s nod, the Pandoran looked away with guilt before turning back to the assassin. “Zer0, I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have assumed- well. Just.” She looked away again, arms hugging herself, “Sorry. For what I said.”

“It is alright, Fiona.” Zer0 said quietly after observing her friend’s remorse. “You were just worried.” Fiona gave the assassin a brief smile that the assassin didn’t believe at all, so she reached forward and put a hand on Fiona’s arm. The Pandoran reached up and covered the assassin’s hand with her own, giving Zer0 a much more genuine- albeit a little hesitant- smile.

“So… what happens now?” Vaughn asked the group at large. Rhys opened his mouth to answer when Zer0 heard footsteps approaching the caravan once more.

This time, she audibly groaned as she cloaked herself once again, withdrawing her hand from Fiona’s arm to make them seem less suspicious. Within seconds, August walked in, followed by moustache.

“All right, Vallory signed off on the plan. Rhys and Vaughn are going with Finch and Kroger. The rest of us are off to Hollow Point to get this thing spacey.” He explained. The two former Hyperion employees and blue hologram walked out of the caravan when Moustache gestured to them. Zer0 looked in-between the two groups, torn with where she should go, when Sasha called out after them.

“Good luck out there, guys! I hear there’s been a ton of stalkers in the area since we’ve been there.”

Stalkers?

Oh, her!

Bless Sasha, she was so smart.

Pulling herself up off the couch and ignoring her muscles’ protests, Zer0 carefully bounded after the two men and hologram, happy to get out of the caravan. She briefly nudged Sasha and Fiona on her way out as a silent goodbye, and the two of them smiled subtly when they felt it. Zer0 slipped passed Moustache before he could close the door and reveled in the sunshine even though the brightness hurt her eyes. Moustache and weird hair cut tied Rhys and Vaughn’s hands behind their backs before making them sit on the back of their truck. While Zer0 frowned at the treatment of her friends, she didn’t really mind it, as that meant she got to sit next to them out of sight of the goons who would be in the vehicle. The truck started up and the assassin’s arms shot out to stop both Vaughn and Rhys from possibly falling off the ledge. Vaughn snorted.

“Oh my god, did you just mom arm us?” He asked quietly as they drove through the bandit settlement. Zer0 flicked his arm in response.

“I think she just did, my good old pal.” Rhys said to back up his friend, a large grin spread across his face. “How embarrassing.”

The assassin hit his arm a little more sharply.

“Stop teasing the vault hunter, she’s been through enough.” Jack said as Rhys winced after the hit. Zer0 leaned forward slightly to look at the hologram sitting on the other side of Rhys, but he was facing forward with that same unreadable expression on his face. Zer0 frowned at the behavior- normally Jack would be all for teasing the vault hunter, if not the very first to do so.

After about twenty minutes on the road and away from any other human contact, Zer0 deemed it safe enough to drop her cloak. When she did, she drifted forwards a bit, to the point where Rhys and Vaughn quickly stuck their shoulders out to pull her back into place. The assassin gave them a thumbs up in thanks, head leaned back on the truck as she took several deep breaths.

“Jeez, Zer0, you look…” Rhys trailed off, not knowing how to end that sentence.

“Really, really rough.” Vaughn ended with no remorse, despite the look Rhys had sent his way. “Like you’ve been run over seven times. Maybe eight.”

“That is what I said, isn’t it.” Jack muttered lowly to himself. The assassin tried to look over at him without moving too much but Jack still wasn’t looking at any of them.

“Are you sure you’re okay?” Rhys asked, and Zer0 waved him off again in assurance.

“Yeah, you keep doing that, but it doesn’t convince us any more than the last time.” Vaughn said quietly. Zer0 rolled her head over to face him and gave him a flat look. “What? It’s true.”

“Just… try to take it easy for a little bit, okay?” Rhys said. “We’re just a little concerned.”

“And if you go down then there’s literally no hope for the rest of us.” Vaughn said flatly and Zer0 snorted while Rhys shot him another look. Vaughn turned to her and the assassin was suddenly struck with how solemn his expression was before he said, “So don’t go down.”

The assassin was a little touched by the notion, having read in-between the lines, and she gave them both a single nod in understanding.

They settled back into relative quiet, and Zer0 was practically luxuriating in the extended break she was getting. Though her headache had finally lessened, her dizziness persisted in the back of her mind. She just wanted to close her eyes and sleep, but she knew she couldn’t. Who knows when they’d drive through another settlement- what if someone spotted her? No, it was too dangerous to rest completely just yet. But for now, she would take what she could get- staying as still as possible to conserve energy. Next to her, Vaughn shifted and winced as the move pulled at his wound.

“I can’t believe Fiona let you get stabbed.” Rhys said, noticing his friend’s discomfort.

“Don’t blame her, she couldn’t have known. Vallory was the one holding the knife.” Vaughn defended the Pandoran earnestly. “Just glad she agreed to help when she did… augh, she put a hole in me.” He hissed through his teeth as he tried to readjust so his injury would stop stinging. “I’m not sure about how I feel about you going to Helios without me. I think I’m kinda glad- don’t want to get tempted to stay. Then again, it’d be nice to see some people. Yvette especially.” Zer0 blinked at the information. They were going to leave Vaughn behind? Whose decision was that- Vallory’s?

“Well, you’ll definitely be missed.” Rhys said to his friend quietly. “The old stomping grounds won’t be the same without you.”

“Well, you were the best up there. If anyone can pull this off, you can buddy. Plus, you’ve got a secret vault hunter and a Hyperion CEO on your side if anything goes wrong. Not that it will, of course.” Vaughn said.

“Thanks.” Rhys chuckled softly, “I’m just sorry we’re not doing this together. I mean, did you get a little stabbed? Sure. But… look man, you’re handling yourself in ways that I would’ve never expected. I mean, jumping on Vallory’s back like that?”

“That was pretty epic, wasn’t it?” Vaughn agreed, eyes sparkling with the memory.

“Totally!”

“I mean, she beat the living shit out of me right after you left. And I took it!” Vaughn said, still pretty enthused despite the nature of his words. Zer0 frowned at the information while Rhys winced before recovering quickly.

“Ah- well, of course she did. But- but you saved my ass.” The brunette added.

“I did, didn’t I?”

“Yeah, you did.” They were both quiet for a moment, lost in thought, before Vaughn spoke up again.

“You think I should try and escape? While you guys are gone?” He asked hesitantly. “I mean, if I’m the only collateral she has… maybe it’ll help if I’m off the table. Take away her leverage…” He trailed off before continuing, “I mean, running seems dangerous, but sticking around doesn’t seem so great either.” The assassin frowned to herself, not knowing how to answer him. On one hand, she had trust in Vaughn’s capabilities to survive, but on the other… well.

These bandits were a whole new ball game for him, and there were a lot more of them.

“Look, make a break for it as soon as you can.” Rhys finally said, and the assassin wanted to protest until he continued. “Just make sure you’re a hundred percent sure you can get out. It’s got nothing to do with collateral. It’s- it’s about keeping you safe. So… be careful.”

…Yeah, she could agree with that.

“Okay.” Vaughn nodded in acceptance.

“We’ll find you after we get the piece.” Rhys said.

“I know you will.” Vaughn said confidently, giving the brunette a small smile.

They were all quiet for a long time after that. Zer0 was fine with it for the first half, taking the time to heal, but she grew antsier as time went on because of one tiny little thing:

Jack had still said nothing since they left the settlement.

It’s not like he wasn’t present- he was still there, sitting next to Rhys on the back ledge of the truck.

And Zer0 knew, possibly more than anyone,

A quiet Jack was a potentially dangerous Jack.

She was starting to get flashbacks to his odd silence after Angel had- well, after Angel- when she finally decided to press him on the matter.

“Alright, out with it.”

Rhys and Vaughn startled at her words, both of their heads snapping to her in surprise.

“Hell Zer0, I thought you were asleep.” Vaughn said. Zer0 shook her head minutely in response.

“Out with what?” Rhys asked, confused by her words.

“Our ghost is being quiet.” She said in explanation. Vaughn raised an eyebrow and Rhys glanced over to the hologram at his side, a frown on his face.

“She’s right, you know.” He said quietly. “You’re being weirdly silent. Is everything okay?”

“Fine.” Jack said shortly, not looking at any of them.

“Yeah, because that was super convincing.” Rhys said sarcastically. Jack pursed his lips stubbornly, so Rhys continued softly, “Seriously, what’s going on?”

“Nothing.” The hologram said a little too sharply. “I’m just thinking over the plan- quit distracting me.”

“Jack.” Zer0 said. Finally, the hologram turned to look at her, and what she found was…

Well, she couldn’t quite tell. It was something, never-the-less.

They stared at one another for a long moment before Jack pressed his lips together in a tight line and flickered out of existence.

Rhys turned to her with an incredulous expression while Zer0 was still trying to process what had happened.

“What was that about?” He asked, voice full of confusion. The assassin shook her head as Vaughn leaned over.

“What? What happened?” Zer0 was lost in thought as Rhys relayed Jack’s behavior to Vaughn, and the former Hyperion employee was silent for a moment before he spoke up. “It kinda sounds like he’s nervous.”

Nervous?

No, a nervous Jack wouldn’t shut up- he used his words as a shield to hide behind.

“Nervous? What would he have to be nervous about?” Rhys echoed her thoughts in confusion.

“I don’t know,” Vaughn shrugged. “But this plan is the most dangerous thing we’ve attempted- maybe he’s worried or something.”

Worried.

Worried?

The word bounced around in Zer0’s brain endlessly until it finally clicked into place.

Worried.

Holy shit, Jack was worried.

Him! Worried! About them!

It was almost unbelievable, but the assassin knew that it was the right answer- she felt it in her bones.

Jack was worried about them.

“Yeah right.” Rhys scoffed, but even he seemed a little unsure. Vaughn shrugged again and dropped the matter, but the vault hunter hummed, lost in thought at what this could possibly mean.

She remained silent for the duration of the drive, even while Rhys and Vaughn chatted to each other as they tried to distract one another from what was coming. When the familiar landscape of Old Haven started passing by them, Zer0 sighed heavily and activated her cloak again. She hopped off of the truck when it screeched to a halt, moving out of the way when the goons came around to untie Rhys. Rhys and Vaughn shared a ‘bro-knee’ as they called it before Rhys was yanked off of the truck.

“Alright, here’s how it’s gonna go.” Moustache began to explain. “The man with the plan right here is gonna track down the corpse.”

“And you,” Weird haircut said to Vaughn, “Are stayin’ here.”

“And uh… if you ain’t back with the goods, you can use your buddy’s corpse to get inside Helios.” Moustache threatened, pointing his gun at Vaughn. Rhys glared at the man before walking over towards the entrance of the old town, only for moustache to shove him forwards and weird haircut to shoot his pistol at the ground behind Rhys’s feet.

Zer0 stilled very quickly as a thought came to mind.

She could just kill these two, right now.

It would be so easy.

And two of her friends would be freed- they’d go back for Sasha, Fiona, and the robots immediately.

“Don’t try it, princess.” Jack suddenly said from right beside her. She silently looked at the man who was glaring at the goons. “I know what you’re thinking, but it’s better- safer- to just go with the plan.” The vault hunter stared at Jack for a long moment before relaxing her muscles.

He was right, of course.

She still didn’t have to like it.

Zer0 followed after Rhys silently, sparing one last glance over her shoulder at Vaughn. Once they were out of eyesight, she quickly dropped the cloak. The assassin stumbled ungracefully but managed to keep herself upright. Rhys’s arms had shot out to catch her, but upon seeing that she had it handled, the brunette slowly retracted his hands, a concerned look on his face.

“You okay?” Zer0 barely withheld the urge to roll her eyes and gave him a slow thumbs up. Rhys looked unconvinced while Jack was looking at her with that strange tight expression once again.

Worried.

Huh.

She would have to get used to that.

“What’s the plan, again?” She asked, trying to get both of them over the topic of her well-being.

“We get Vasquez’s body, come back here, and get back to Hollow Point to meet up with the others.” Rhys explained, eyes scanning their surroundings for any threats. Zer0 blinked rapidly as she tried to put two and two together.

Why would they need Vasquez’s body?

And who was this Vasquez again, by the way?

Zer0 let her confusion be translated into a ? emote as she faced the two men.

“Vasquez? You know, my old boss?” Rhys questioned her.

The question mark did not go away.

“You know, wallethead.” Jack added, like it made any difference to the vault hunter.

“The guy that held us at gunpoint and then got shot by Vallory here?” Rhys asked expectantly.

It took the assassin a second before it finally clicked in her mind, her question mark quickly changing to an exclamation mark.

Hugo.” She said, her tone the epitome of realization, “And we need him, why?”

“Were you not paying attention when we went over the plan before?” Rhys asked her, eyebrow raised and arms crossed over his chest.

“Of course she wasn’t, dum dum.” Jack spoke up for her, much to the assassin’s surprise. “She was too busy concentrating on not blowing her friggin’ cover after hours of being under the damn cloak.” Rhys looked appropriately chastised at the reminder and Zer0 just stared at the hologram, unsure how to react. Jack stared back at her for a long moment before looking away without another word.

“Right, sorry.” Rhys said, voice dripping with remorse. “Okay, so we’re here to basically steal Vasquez’s identity so that we can sneak into Hyperion easier. We need his body so that a quick change station can scan his body and then digistruct a disguise for me. Sasha and Fiona are talking to Scooter right now about getting us a rocket to Helios, and once there they’ll pretend to be tour guides. I’ll disable the security system and then we all go to Jack’s office- where the beacon is- on the VIP tour, get in, grab the beacon, and get the heck out before anyone notices.” The assassin went over the idea in her head a few more times before she nodded.

Over all, it wasn’t too bad of a plan.

“Great, now that we’re on the same page, let’s find the body and get out of here.” Rhys said to the others before truly beginning to search the settlement.

The three of them ventured further into Old Haven, watchful of any threats from the shadows. Zer0 kept an eye on the two adult skags that were chowing down on something in the corner, but they didn’t seem overly interested in them so she let them be. When they finally approached a body in a familiar black suit, the vault hunter kept watch as Jack and Rhys sparingly joked about Hugo’s nickname- Wallethead, or something to that effect- with Rhys hauling the body around to face them.

Zer0 practically jumped out of her skin when Rhys started screeching.

“Face! Face! His face has no face!” He screamed as the assassin whipped around, sword already out of its sheath to take down the threat that she had apparently missed. Her darting eyes found nothing except for the fact that Hugo was lacking a face. Zer0 let out her aggravation at the false alarm in a harsh huff, sheathing her sword once again.

“Ah, you better hope a psycho didn’t use it for a Skin Pizza.” Jack said, looking around for any sign of the culprits.

“A skin piz- ohhh god. Horrhhhh what were the peppero- hrrrr. A skin pizza-uhh. I can’t- mmm.” Rhys stammered, sounding like he was about to throw up. Zer0 took a cautious step away from the man just in case.

“Oh, you clearly haven’t been on Pandora long enough, compadre.” Jack told the brunette, sharing a conspiratorial look with Zer0. The assassin grinned under her faceplate before her gaze followed the blood trail Hugo’s body left behind. She began following it, Jack and Rhys right behind her. The hologram continued teasing Rhys about the skin pizza, much to the brunette’s horror and disgust. As they turned the corner into a darkened alleyway, Zer0 came to a sudden stop, possibly too sudden as Rhys started to walk right passed her without noticing. “Tripwire.” Jack warned at the same time as Zer0 shot her arm out to prevent Rhys from triggering it. The man in question stumbled backwards, arms waving wildly as he tried to keep his balance. With a sheepish look given to the two Pandoran veterans, Rhys slowly approached the wire again and carefully stepped over it. Zer0 held a finger up to her faceplate in warning before she pointed to the rest of the alleyway, as it was littered with unconscious bandits- all with faces on their masks that were not their own. “Well, looks like these psychos had themselves a little skin pizza party.”

“Ugh.” Rhys groaned in disgust. “How are we gonna find Vasquez’s face-” Here the brunette had to pause, gagging a little bit. “… In all of this mess?”

“That’s what an ECHO-eye is for, genius!” Jack said in reprimand, “Scan the faces from a nice, stab-free distance. Unless you wanna get up close and physical with some new psycho pals.” Rhys rolled his eyes at the hologram’s words before his cybernetic eye lit up a very bright blue. “You, me, and the princess, pumpkin. Let’s rock this walk.” Jack said before he started down the alleyway. Rhys followed after him, pausing every so often to scan the psychos, and Zer0 brought up their tail end, her hand on the hilt of her sword. They were doing just fine until Rhys accidentally nudged the stray leg of one of the psychos on the floor.

“Disturbed sleep… pattern?” The psycho hissed, quickly pushing himself up to confront the brunette. Zer0 narrowed her eyes at the psycho, edging in a little closer, especially when he pulled a knife on Rhys.

“Flawless.” Jack said sarcastically, shaking his head at Rhys’s clumsiness.

“Not. Now.” Rhys hissed, eying the psycho carefully before swinging his arm back and punching the psycho in the face.

His left arm.

Predictably, the psycho didn’t really react all that much, hiccupping drunkenly as he regained his composure. Zer0 quickly stepped forward and swiped the knife from his hand before she pulled away.

“Uh, Zer0?” Rhys asked, sounding a little concerned as he faced the psycho. “I think you forgot to knock him out?” In response, the assassin shook her head.

“A teaching moment.” She said simply, and Rhys almost groaned.

“She’s right, you know.” Jack taunted smugly. “Give him the ol’ smack dab! Atta boy!”

“Need rest, big day tomorrow.” The psycho muttered as Rhys and Jack pulled back their right arms and swung forward in sync, successfully knocking the man out.

“I should punch with this arm more often.” Rhys said, flexing his metal arm appreciatively. Zer0 tapped Rhys on the nose briefly, letting him know that that was what she had wanted him to find out on his own. The brunette batted her hand away playfully, his nose scrunching at the contact.

“Or all the time.” Jack added. “Because it’s metal.”

“Good point.” Rhys conceded before they continued down the alleyway of sleeping psychopaths. Rhys scanned every single one of them until he finally found their culprit. “Well, looks like we found our psycho.” He said as they approached the sleeping bandit.

“You only see this kinda thing on Pandora…” Jack frowned as Rhys leaned closer. Zer0 frowned as she noticed the explosives the psycho had tied to his body.

“Oof, that is one ugly mug. Um… where, where am I gonna put it?” Rhys asked the two.

“Cram it in your pocket, I dunno.” Jack replied, putting his hands on his hips as they crowded around the sleeping psycho.

“I-I can’t mess up his face or the digistruct won’t work.” Rhys said back before turning to the assassin. Zer0 shrugged in reply, as she definitely wasn’t going to offer holding the thing.

“Just rip it off like a bandage.” Jack shrugged, “Quick and painful.” Rhys leaned forward to do just that, trying not to vomit as the hologram watched with glee. Zer0 herself kept an eye on the actual psycho himself, but she had to admit she was getting a little amusement from Rhys’s obvious gagging.

“Oh, oh no. It’s stuck. Oh god.” Rhys muttered in horror, pulling gently at the face he was peeling off of the bandit’s mask.

“Oh ho- that’s so g-that- that is just the, the grossest thing I have ever seen. Ohhh man.” Jack cackled loudly beside the panicking brunette.

“Oh god I can’t stop now.” Rhys almost moaned, covering his eyes briefly, “Oh nonononono.” He began tugging a little more thoroughly, but the edge of Hugo’s face wouldn’t budge. “Oh, are you kidding me right now? Seriously?! Oh, please don’t- please don’t do this to me, please.” Finally, with one harsh yank, the face came free of the psycho’s face.

The psycho in question immediately shot up, having awoken from the feeling.

Zer0 instinctively punched him in the throat.

He wheezed on the ground in front of them while Zer0 watched passively.

“Oh my god, princess, that was hilarious.” Jack cackled even louder. “Oh god, I wish I could’ve taped that. Look at his face!”

“We should probably get out of here while we still can.” Rhys said, already backing away from the psycho struggling to breathe. The assassin shrugged in agreement before following after the brunette sedately.

Luckily, none of the other psychos had woken up from the noises their friend was making, so the trio easily made it back to Hugo’s body. Rhys placed the face on the corpse’s torso before grabbing it by the legs and dragging it back the way they came, grumbling in annoyance the entire time. Zer0 made a displeased sound as they neared the entrance to Old Haven once more, but dutifully activated her cloak, knowing it wouldn’t be for long this time.

They got closer to the truck when Zer0 noticed something was wrong. Weird haircut still had his gun out, actively scanning the horizon around them. Moustache was holding his ear, but the assassin noted the blood on his hands- on his palm, specifically, which made her think that his ear was bleeding. But most importantly-

“W-where’s Vaughn?” Rhys asked, eyes wide as he looked around for their missing friend.

“Little bastard bit me and ran off.” Moustache hissed, still clutching the side of his head.

“They didn’t shoot him, at least.” Jack noted, sounding mildly impressed as he mirrored the goon with the weird haircut. “We would’ve heard the shot go off.”

“If you hurt him-” Rhys threatened, leaning forward with a glare, but moustache scoffed.

“We didn’t do nothin’ to him. Be thankful ‘cause Vallory ain’t gonna be too happy with his disappearance. Luckily, we got the body to show for it, right?” He asked, gesturing down at the corpse Rhys had dragged in. The brunette hesitated before he nodded, and with one more gesture from the goons, began pulling it towards the truck. Zer0 surveyed their surroundings, conflicted.

On one hand, she was proud of Vaughn for getting away safely and so quickly.

But on the other… He was gonna be out here on his own with those psychos nearby. Should she stay here and find him before heading to Hollow Point? But if she did so, would she miss everyone leaving to go to Helios?

“Hey you two, have faith in the buff dweeb, huh?” Jack said as he hopped back onto the back of the truck as Rhys was being retied to it, having seen the brunette’s expression and guessing at the assassin’s. “He’s made it this far, he can make it on his own until we get back. Right now we have to focus on getting to Helios and back.” Even as he said that though, Jack took one last look at the tree line before turning away. “He’ll be fine- his abs will protect him.”

“Oh my god, Jack.” Rhys almost chuckled, shaking his head and sounding like he felt a little better. “You are obsessed with Vaughn’s abs.”

“What, can you blame me?” Jack said loudly as Zer0 tentatively sat down on Rhys’s other side. “It’s like they were carved from friggin’ marble!”

“Ob. Sessed.” The brunette enunciated pointedly, and the hologram scoffed and rolled his eyes as the truck started up.

“Oh, whatever. You like them too, don’t lie.” He said when they began driving away. The assassin let her cloak slip once again, having faith in the cover of night to help hide her form now that the sun had set. “Everyone likes ‘em.”

“Can’t disagree with you there.” Rhys admitted, making the vault hunter snort loudly.

“Aw, come on princess, don’t lie. You love them.” Jack grinned at her and Zer0 was suddenly struck with what he was doing when she saw the pleased look in his eye after she had laughed. “Oh what, you’ve seen better?”

“Krieg’s abs are god-like.” She said, voice reverential with remembrance.

“Krieg? Who’s that?” Rhys asked, face scrunching up in confusion.

“A psycho but a friend, too.” Zer0 explained. When Jack’s face twisted into a grimace, she added, “He’s slightly more sane.”

“I knew you had bandit friends.” Jack said, but there was an undertone of a grumble in his voice. Zer0 turned to him and was just about to protest when he rolled his eyes. “I know, I know- not bandits. And whatever, they can’t be that good.” He said, crossing his arms over his chest. In response, Zer0 pulled out her Echo, briefly wincing at the bright light it produced in the darkness.  She ignored the sudden ache in her eyes and typed into the group chat, much to the other two’s curiosity.

Someone send me a pic of Krieg’s abs, she typed and instantly got a ??? from Axton. I need to prove a point, the assassin replied and got sent a picture not too long afterwards. She pulled it up and frowned at it before returning to the group chat.

Axton these are your abs.

So? Mine are better. He typed in reply.

No they aren’t.

>:[ YES THEY ARE ZER0 SHUT UP.

She was about to respond to him when another picture was sent in the chat. Once identifying what she was looking at, the assassin raised her eyes skyward and shook her head.

Salvador. No. Put your shirt back on, you’ll get arrested for streaking again. Axton had sent while she had tried to reign in her composure. Curiosity winning him over, Rhys leaned over after a glance up at the assassin to see if she minded.

She didn’t, of course. Let the world know what idiots these two were.

The squad.” Rhys whispered in awe as he read the names in the chat. Zer0 snorted, because the brunette would soon learn how ‘the squad’ really acted. Behind him, Jack frowned before blipping out and then back in on Zer0’s other side, reading her Echo. At first, he stiffened in what the assassin knew was anger. Zer0 watched him from the corner of her eye as he was frozen with rage, a war of emotions on his face. Finally, Jack took a deep breath, and the vault hunter was ready for a fight, when he just…

Let it go.

His body sagged as he released his breath and he just read the Echo with a small glare, saying nothing.

Zer0 was speechless.

She literally didn’t know how to react to that. She watched Jack from the corner of her eye and felt…

Well, she didn’t know how she felt, to be honest.

But whatever it was?

It was good.

“Do they always act like this?” Rhys’s voice brought her back to the present. Zer0 snapped out of her small existential crisis and focused back on the conversation at hand, which mostly consisted of Salvador sending even more pictures in the chat with increasingly more indecency, much to Axton’s loud protests.

“Yes.” Zer0 said simply. “These two, at least.” She was about to text them back when suddenly a different picture popped into the chat.

Namely, one of a certain siren with her arm around Salvador’s shoulders, grinning into the camera as she lifted her shirt just enough to show off her abs as well.

Also, Salvador was down to his underwear.

MAYA NO! Axton sent almost immediately. DON’T ENCOURAGE HIM.

>:) She replied. Next to her, Rhys snorted in amusement.

:,( Zer0 sent back, shaking her head. I just wanted my picture.

Aww, poor baby :( Maya responded and Zer0 huffed, shaking her head at her squad’s usual antics.

You guys are the worst.

But you love us~ Maya taunted and unfortunately, the siren was right.

And Zer0 loves me best <3 Axton argued.

FUCK OFF AXTON ZER0’S MINE. WE ALREADY CLAIMED OUR UNDYING LOVE FOR EACH OTHER A LONG TIME AGO. The siren sent back in seconds.

THE NOODLE IS MINE PUTAS, Salvador shot back. Zer0 shook her head once again as the chat became a jumbled mess, the texts moving so fast that eventually the assassin gave up trying to read them.

“Remind me why you hang out with these nerds, again?” Jack asked, his eyes following the chat and somehow keeping pace with the other vault hunters. Zer0 turned to him and looked at the hologram for a minute before deciding on her answer.

“Probably the same reason I hang out with you.” She answered honestly.

“Because you have to?” He asked sarcastically. Zer0 tilted her head at him.

“I don’t have to do anything.” She said earnestly. At that, Jack finally looked up at her, expression unreadable.

The two stared at each other for a long moment before Jack looked away, eyes darting back down to the device in her hands.

The assassin still caught the small smile on his face.

With that matter taken care of, Zer0 focused back on the group chat and decided to settle the argument in her favor.

First one to send me a pic of Krieg’s abs wins my love.

“Smart.” Rhys snickered as all three of them scrambled to send her the image. Finally, finally, she got what she wanted, sending a quick <3 in the chat before pulling up the picture for the former Hyperion employees to see. “Oh my god!”

“WHAT?!” Jack barked in shock, eyes roving over the picture. “Holy hell- how does he have that many?!?”

“I didn’t even know those many abs existed!” Rhys hissed in awe, scooting closer so he could get a better view of the psycho. “Oh my god, I have so many mixed feelings right now.”

“You and me both, pumpkin.” Jack shook his head. “You and me both.” Zer0 patted Rhys on the back, smirking at the Hyperion CEO a little too triumphantly.

After that, they had settled into normal chatter, quieting down about an hour into their drive. Rhys had fallen asleep, which meant Jack was no longer present, but Zer0 couldn’t take that luxury, even if she so desperately wanted to.

How long had she been awake, again?

No, it didn’t matter. What mattered was that Zer0 stayed undetected so she could remain by everyone’s side and protect them from what would come. The next hour was pretty hard for her because it was so quiet. Zer0 found herself dozing off but forcibly shook herself awake every time her eyes drifted shut. The assassin kept herself awake by making herself count each and every bullet she had on her, repeating the process a few times. Eventually, the road turned familiar just enough for the assassin to decide that her cloak needed to be activated. Twenty minutes after that point, the truck rolled into the dark recesses of Hollow Point, stopping just outside of Scooter’s garage. Rhys jerked awake at the sudden jolt of the truck parking, blinking wearily at his surroundings. Moustache and weird haircut came around and cut him loose, and Rhys rubbed his wrists before walking into the storefront as the goons unloaded their precious cargo. Zer0 followed after him, glad to see Fiona and Sasha were still alright.

“Everything go okay?” Sasha asked as Rhys neared them.

“Fine.” He replied, hiding a yawn behind his hand. Fiona frowned before looking behind him.

“Where’s Vaughn?” She asked. Rhys looked away briefly before leaning closer to the both of the sisters, lowering his voice. As he explained the situation, Jack blipped back into existence. Instead of hanging around, however, the hologram looked over their group before wandering off further into the garage. The assassin watched him go, curiosity peaked but too tired satisfy it at the moment. She looked back over at the sisters, who wore matching concerned expressions. Sasha was the first one to swallow her worry.

“He’ll make it.” She said, laying a determined hand on her sister’s shoulder as she looked at both her and Rhys. “And we will find him.”

“Right.” Fiona agreed, seemingly a little comforted by her sister’s resolve. “Of course we will. Vaughn can be tough- he’ll be okay until we get back.” Just then, weird haircut and moustache walked in the garage, one carrying Hugo’s corpse while the other held his face at a disgusted distance. “You took his face off?!” The Pandoran almost squealed with how high her voice rose.

I didn’t do anything.” Rhys said in offense. “Those psychos did the damage. One of them even almost blew us- me up, too.” The brunette quickly corrected, momentarily forgetting their company.

“At least the body didn’t get blown up.” Sasha shrugged, and the others had to agree.

The three of them began going over the logistics of the plan again now that they were moving on to the next step, and the assassin looked around for a place to sit down. She ended up soundlessly plopping down onto some of Scooter’s supply crates that he had lying around. The vault hunter had to snap herself awake as she tried to focus on the conversation, but her head was going all wonky- no doubt due to her sleep deprivation. Never the less, she shook it off and tried to pay as much attention as she could, unwilling to miss another debriefing. Scooter had wandered over and updated the group on how the new upgrades were going and how long it should take him and his partner to finish the project. The assassin tilted her head at that, wondering who his partner was, but was quickly answered when a blonde head peeked over the railings from upstairs and shouted something down to Scooter. Zer0 didn’t really recognize the woman, but jolted when Scooter called her ‘Janey.’

Janey?

Wasn’t Athena’s girlfriend named Janey?

And now that she thought about it, Athena’s description of the woman matched up fairly well with the woman above her.

Huh, small world.

She wondered how Athena was fairing in Sanctuary at the moment, as the trio had undoubtedly arrived in the floating city by now. Zer0 knew Athena would be safe, but the people of Sanctuary weren’t very… hospitable to outsiders, to say the least. She hoped the gladiator was alrig-

Why was the world suddenly moving sideways?

The assassin caught herself just in time as she was about to fall straight into the supply crates. Luckily too, as the fall would have undoubtedly made a noise loud enough to attract attention- something they all definitely didn’t need. Zer0 shook her head violently, trying to keep her drowsiness away, but all that managed to do was send her head spinning. She took a deep breath and clutched the crates under her tightly, trying to ground herself as dark spots entered her vision. Zer0 tried to keep her breathing steady as she watched everyone interact and noticed that Jack was finally returning from wherever he had disappeared off to.

The hologram looked at the group, likely tuning into the conversation, before he scanned their surroundings. When he frowned and began looking harder after his first sweep, the assassin figured he was looking for her, so she waited until he was facing her direction before very subtly moving a nearby can on the ground by her feet. At first, he continued sweeping the area, but quickly did a double take upon seeing the can moving.

“There you are.” He said, tilting his head in her general direction. “Come ‘ere princess, I want to show you something.” Jack paused for a moment before he began walking the way he came from, making the assassin hold back a heavy sigh. With much effort, she pushed herself up to her feet, swaying slightly with vertigo. Once she was upright, the vault hunter began shuffling after the hologram, who seemed like he knew where he was going. She was beginning to think he was leading her on a wild goose chase for shits and giggles as they wound around spare parts and abandoned vehicles- especially when they came to a dead end of junk- when he turned back to where he assumed she was. “You know what this is?” She glared at him in silence, feeling the sparks of annoyance start to overcome her. It didn’t seem like he was waiting for a response, because he barreled on after a second. “This is junk. But more importantly, this is oddly spaced junk. Beautifully strangely placed junk. Junk that is weirdly-”

“Jack.” Zer0 hissed in a deadly tone almost soundlessly, at her tether’s end. Luckily, they were far away enough from any of Vallory’s goons to not be heard.

“Junk that is weirdly placed for a reason.” He repeated after a slight pause, getting that weird tight expression again after hearing something in her voice. “Go ahead, check under the frame of that Runner. Get real close to it.” She stared at him for a long moment, debating with herself whether or not this would be worth it. Finally, the assassin gave in and crouched down, scooting closer to the scrapped vehicle. At first she saw nothing, but then she noticed what seemed like a curtain on the other side. Intrigued, Zer0 got low to the ground and crawled under the car frame, pushing the curtain aside gently when she got to it.

What she found was a small but comfortable crawlspace, masterfully hidden away in the middle of a pile of junk.

And it was complete with a mattress and a blanket.

“This, my dear, is someone’s hidey hole to laze away in. Pretty smart if you ask me, disguising it with all this trash.” Jack said, materializing in the space and making himself comfortable on the floor next to the mattress with a satisfied smile on his face. “But for the next few hours? Well, welcome to your new castle, princess.”

Zer0 blinked at the scene, letting the curtain close behind her. After a stunned minute, she let her cloak deactivate, letting out a deep sigh at the feeling of release. Jack locked onto her the second she did, his smile turning small and genuine as he watched her body relax. The assassin carefully crawled around the space, checking for any holes in the structure that would give her away but finding none. Jack watched her silently as she moved around the whole crawlspace, neatly crawling over him so that she wouldn’t phase right through him- as she knew how much he disliked that. Finally, finally, Zer0 settled onto the mattress, still at a loss for words.

“I’ll keep watch just in case anyone gets too close or we get close to launch time.” Jack said before he turned to her, “But for now, you need to sleep.”

Zer0 blinked at his earnest expression before she let herself lay down. Ever so slowly, her body relaxed into the mattress, muscles unwinding to sag into the bedding. Though it wasn’t the most comfortable place in the world, her body still felt like it was in heaven, finally being given rest for the first time in a long time. She sluggishly shoved the blanket under her head to use as a pillow, her eyes already drooping tiredly.

“Thank you, Jack.” Zer0 whispered in bliss, letting out a sigh of content as she curled into a comfortable position.

“Anytime, princess.” He said quietly before turning to keep watch as he promised. “Just get some rest.”

As the assassin drifted off into unconsciousness so quickly- so easily- she wondered when she had begun trusting Jack so much.

Chapter Text

The launch went off without a hitch.

Well, if one considered being shot off into space in a caravan-slash-rocket without a seatbelt ‘without a hitch’.

Zer0 had snuck on board with the others, feeling refreshed and fully cloaked once more. She was only slightly thrown by the fact that Rhys suddenly looked like Hugo and Hugo’s body looked like Rhys- as well as Scooter coming with them to Helios- but she supposed that was part of the plan. The caravan was outfitted with enough seats for only Sasha, Rhys, Fiona, Scooter, and Vallory’s three goons, leaving Zer0 to try to anchor herself down safely in the back of the ship without attracting attention.

It went well enough, despite the alarming amount of shaking the caravan was going through as it left Pandora’s atmosphere. Fiona looked back to Scooter in alarm, but the mechanic gave the Pandoran an encouraging look and two thumbs up, so Zer0 figured they weren’t in too much trouble. She struggled to keep herself in place, but luckily the rocket’s quaking was so loud that no one noticed her bumping around in the back.

If things kept up like this, Zer0 would be just fine.

Just as long as no one-

Oh god Rhys just puked.

Gross.

Fortunately for her, with the way gravity and their momentum were working together at the moment, the vomit hurled across the aisle straight towards August, much to his panic.

Still, it was gross to watch the globs of barf travel across the caravan like that.

The caravan shuddered as more bits of the rocket peeled off with force. From what Zer0 could see from the back of the ship (which wasn’t much), they were hurtling towards a debris field. Weird haircut held his hand out to the side, wiggling his fingers and shutting his eyes tightly. After a roll of his eyes, moustache grabbed his hand and held on as they narrowly missed some of the larger debris floating around in space. The vault hunter just hoped Loader Bot and Gortys were doing alright on the top of the ship.

Finally, the massive H-shaped space station was within range. Rhys quickly put on his Hugo disguise- which looked… really weird, honestly. While they were free floating up to the station, Sasha took the opportunity to unbuckle herself from her seat and fly through the zero gravity to the window at the back of the caravan-turned-ship. Upon her approach, Zer0 scooted to the side as much as she could and let her through. The vault hunter nudged Sasha’s side to let her know she was there and Sasha sent a subtle smile down in her vague direction in response before looking out at Pandora.

“Fi…” She trailed, her tone both awed and sad, “You gotta see this.” Fiona didn’t even hesitate before she unclasped her restraints and pushed herself off from the helm of the ship to join her sister. Zer0 pouted as she was forced to make more room and ended up getting stuck between the two sisters. Fiona slightly jumped upon feeling her invisible mass at her side, but quickly composed herself and nodded subtly at the assassin before she also looked out of the window. The two were quiet for a long moment before Sasha spoke again. “I know it’s where we’re from, but… it’s never felt like home to me. I… I didn’t think I’d ever see this.” She spoke softly, glancing to her sister and back. “It looks so… I don’t… peaceful.”

“I think I prefer this view.” Fiona quietly agreed, sending Sasha a conspiratal smile.

“Yeah, me too.” Sasha smiled back for a brief moment before her expression grew downtrodden once again. “It’s just a shame we have to go back.”

Zer0 suddenly felt like she was intruding on a conversation she shouldn’t be, but the assassin was stuck where she was. She reasoned with herself that both sisters knew she was there, so if they didn’t want her to hear this conversation too, they wouldn’t be having it.

“I wish we could just turn this thing towards the nearest planet,” Sasha continued, “We’d probably run out of fuel, so it’s not a good idea, but…”

“One day we won’t have to go back.” Fiona assured her sister quietly. “We’ll be able to pick whichever planet we want.”

“I can’t wait.” Sasha smiled in relief before she looked over her shoulder at the others. “I keep forgetting they’re here.” She said, her tone bordering on annoyance and distaste. Zer0 frowned and nudged Sasha’s leg with her elbow in retribution, but Sasha looked down, unimpressed. “You know who I’m talking about.” She said quietly, and the vault hunter conceded her point.

“Once we get the beacon, we’ll figure out a way to turn things back in our favor.” Fiona told them both confidently.

“Any ideas on how exactly we do that?” Sasha asked expectantly. In reply, Fiona simply rose an eyebrow and pointedly looked down in-between them at their secret invisible vault hunter. “Fair point.” Sasha admitted, “Especially since Vaughn already got away.”

“Hey, watch it.” They all heard August growl from further inside the ship. Zer0 turned her head to see whatever Scooter had been working on had gotten away from him and most likely hit August from the thump she heard just before he spoke out.

“Aw, sorry man. Just got away from me is all. It ain’t bleedin’ or nothin’.” Scooter apologized, grabbing the tech out of the air and pulling it back into his lap.

“What the hell is that damn thing?” August demanded, glaring at the contraption.

“It’s, uh… well, it’s a satellite. Gonna launch it to- to advertise my franchise!” Scooter explained, getting more cheerful with every word spoken. “You know what they say, ‘ain’t no adspace like outerspace’!” Rhys-wearing-Hugo’s-face looked down at the satellite for one second and then winced, having read the big white ‘DAHL’ letters painted on the side.

“Out of all of the brands, you pick the one Hyperion hates.” Rhys said quietly, but loud enough for everyone else to hear him.

“We’re not drawing more attention to ourselves for some publicity stunt.” August said angrily, sharing a look with his other two goons.

Weird haircut suddenly nodded and pulled a gun on Scooter, and suddenly the caravan erupted into chaos.

“Hey, there’s no need for that!” Rhys argued, putting his hands up in front of Scooter in some vague attempt at protection.

“Stop it!” Sasha yelled, pushing herself closer to the conflict.

“Come on, man! I gotta get somethin’ out of this trip!” Scooter argued, hugging the satellite to himself protectively. Zer0 herself was already moving, firmly planting herself in-between the gun and the mechanic, already knowing her shield would handle the impact of the bullet.

“Scooter’s earned the right to cash in on this trip.” Fiona spoke up confidently, quelling the chaos with her words. “If it wasn’t for him, we’d all still be stuck down on Pandora. And August, what exactly have you done for this mission?” August himself looked away with a glare. “That’s what I thought.”

“Ah, whatever.” August said in allowance, and weird haircut put his gun away once again.

“Awesome!” Scooter said gleefully, practically kicking his legs back and forth like an excited child.

“That seems like a bad idea.” Weird hair cut frowned.

“Well no one asked you.” August shot back, and Zer0 felt a twinge of satisfaction at that. Everything settled down for about a second before an alarm rang throughout the caravan and Loader Bot spoke through the speakers.

“Warning. Debris collision imminent.” Fiona quickly soared through the zero-gravity back to the helm of the ship and sat back down, Sasha close behind her. Zer0 was left to shuffle back to the rear window once more.

“Is that a… person?” The assassin heard Sasha mutter from the front, and everyone’s eyes were drawn to the window.

“Shhh!” Gortys’s voice echoed through the caravan from the speakers. “Looks like he’s sleeping too!”

“Henderson.” Rhys muttered lowly as the body got closer to the window. Zer0 glanced at him and realized he probably knew the guy outside, but judging from the look on his face, didn’t like him at all. ‘Henderson’ bumped off of their window and floated off to the side before the ship began shaking violently. Scooter immediately undid his restraints and pushed himself up next to Fiona to check on their status.

“Impact detected on center rocket booster.” Loader Bot announced as alarms started blaring once more.

“No shit!” August barked. “Tell us something we don’t know!”

“Did you know the damage is critical?” Loader Bot replied, and Zer0 didn’t know whether to laugh or wince.

“Is it something you can fix?” Fiona asked while Rhys muttered something to himself about dying.

“Regrettably, not in my current state. The damage is too severe.” Loader Bot informed them, and this time Zer0 did wince. “The ship requires additional thrust. Without additional thrust, the ship will be pulled back towards Pandora.”

Oh. Wonderful.

“Look y’all, we needa do some compensatin’ right here, and y’all are in luck cause that’s my specialty!” Scooter said, eyes roving over the multiple controls. “Now turn them other rockets up to eleven!” Zer0 couldn’t exactly see what Fiona was doing up front, but she suddenly felt the ship accelerate rapidly, her back pressing into the glass.

“Thrust level achieved.” Loader Bot informed them over the roar of the engines and Scooter let out a yell of excitement.

“Aw man, I got like fifty lines I wanna say about full thrust.” Scooter joked while everyone else struggled to adjust to the new speed.

“There are things coming off the thing!” Fiona warned in a panic, her wide eyes turning to the mechanic who seemed not at all harried.

“Oh, yeah, that’s normal.” He dismissed casually, but it did nothing to appease the con-artist.

This is normal?!”

“Yeah, we’re runnin’ like, real hot right now. Like, crazy hot. But we gotta do it- it’s our only shot.” Scooter said in explanation before he turned his eyes back to the controls. “Okay. We’re about to hit escape velocity, and when we do you gotta shut these puppies down, ya hear?”

“Yeah, yeah I hear!” Fiona nodded rapidly, turning to face forwards again.

“Do you?!” August shouted from his seat. “How can you hear anything?!” Zer0 admitted he had a fair point. If it wasn’t for her training, she wouldn’t have been able to pick out the conversation in the front from the rumble of the engines.

“Achieving escape velocity in three… two… one-”

“Go!” Scooter yelled and Fiona slammed her hand down on something up front. Instantly, the ship stopped accelerating and Zer0 had to grab onto something to prevent herself from floating forwards. Despite escaping Pandora’s gravitational pull, the alarms didn’t settle down.

“So, why are the alarms still going?!” Rhys shouted over the blaring, mirroring her current thoughts.

“Naw, that was just step one. We can’t do step two without step one.” Scooter told him.

“Booster rocket failure imminent.” Loader Bot informed them all once more.

“What does that mean?!” August shot back in annoyance.

“They’re going to explode.” Loader Bot told them all calmly, which was the opposite of how everyone was feeling at the moment.

“Step two, let’s do this!” Scooter said, tapping Fiona’s shoulder before pushing himself to the back of the ship. Zer0 scrambled out of the way as the both of them came hurtling towards her. The assassin ended up crouching next to Rhys’s chair, a firm grasp on the metal to keep herself from floating off.

“Everyone stay calm!” Fiona told them all before looking back at Scooter. “We’ve got this.” Scooter himself smiled and nodded before tossing her an Oz kit. They both strapped the kits onto their backs and activated a seal in the back of the caravan to let them go outside without exposing the others to the vacuum of space.

With that, they were up the ladder, through the access hatch, and gone from sight.

The rest of the crew remained pretty silent and still. Sasha finally pulled herself up to the controls and took over just in case.

“Be careful, Fi.” She said into the intercom before they were plunged into silence again. Zer0 kept herself as still as possibly, trying not to let the other goons know she was here- though she doubted they would notice in all of this rocket commotion. Either way, she wanted to be extra careful and quiet.

So of course Jack chose then to appear, as he was prone to doing.

“Hey everyone, how’s it hanging?” He said in greeting before actually taking stock of the situation. “Whoa, whoa, where’s the fire?” Rhys glared at him and Jack moved to the front of the ship with Sasha. He took one look at all of the readings and then grimaced. “Ya know cupcake, none of this is good.”

“Yeah, we got that.” Rhys muttered, but that only made August and his goons give him strange looks. Instead, the former Hyperion employee cleared his throat and spoke up. “How are they doing out there, Sasha?”

“I don’t know- the connection is only one way.” She frowned, eyes glued to the status of the rockets. “No news is good news, right?”

“Right.” Rhys said, though they both sounded unsure.

“Wait, someone went out?” Jack asked before spinning around and taking a quick body count. “Oh shit, Fiona and Moxxi’s kid?”

“The left rocket just stabilized!” Sasha called out in excitement, making Jack spin around again. Sasha pressed the comm button and repeated it to her sister.

“You know, I’m just gonna… yeah.” Jack trailed before he phased right through the ceiling of the caravan. Zer0 nodded after him, figuring it was a good idea to have an extra set of eyes on the situation.

“What’s taking them so long?” Moustache groused, leg jumping nervously.

“Hey, cool it.” August snapped back at him, though his fists were clenching as well.

“Hey, he’s just saying-” Weird-hair cut defended his friend, but August turned his glare to him.

“And I’m just saying to end it. Now.” Though they both grumbled, the goons settled down. Zer0 had to hand it to the guy- when August wanted to be, he wasn’t so bad. 

“The right rocket’s still unstable…” Sasha muttered, tapping her fingers on the console. Rhys started tapping his leg as well but Zer0 quickly settled it with a hand on his calf. Rhys flinched, but sent an apologetic look to where he felt her hand and she tapped his leg in response. Sasha chewed on her nails for a second- a nervous tick, for sure- before she leaned forward and pressed on the comm button. “Guys. That rocket’s at critical- you gotta hurry.” When nothing changed, Sasha pressed forward again in alarm, “Uhh, what’s going on out there?!”

It was at that moment that a blue head phased back into the caravan from the roof, expression panicked.

Princess!”

And like a shot, she was off.

She paid no attention to the total chaos that erupted behind her as she uncloaked herself, flying through the air to the back access hatch. Quickly slapping an Oz kit to her upper-back, Zer0 practically launched herself up the ladder, grabbing on to something at the last second to stop herself from free-floating into space.

“Right rocket, Moxxi’s kid- Go!” Jack was already moving, effortlessly flying over to where Zer0 could see Fiona and Scooter huddled together. The assassin continued launching herself recklessly towards them, the anxiety in Jack’s voice propelling her to go faster.

“No, I am not leaving you- that is not an option!” The vault hunter heard Fiona vehemently deny as she approached. Scooter went to say something when his eyes found the assassin over her shoulder. Fiona turned at his expression and the vault hunter could see tears gathering in her eyes. “Zer0!” She called hurriedly and with one last push, the assassin was at their side.

“Hey buddy, fancy meetin’ you here.” Scooter tried to joke, wincing in pain. Zer0 followed his outstretched arm to a metal door, where his arm was wedged in-between.

“His arm’s stuck.” Jack explained, pacing around them anxiously with his arms crossed over his chest. Zer0 instantly ripped her sword out of its sheath and stuck it in beside Scooter’s mangled wrist, trying to pry the metal apart. “That’s not gonna work, Princess. You’re gonna need a more permanent approach- and fast.” Jack warned, making the vault hunter look up at him- realizing where his words led.

“Nice try bud, but it’s okay. We don’t have time to try much else. I’m gonna be-”

“Fiona, grab him.” Zer0 said simply, standing up straight and pulling her sword back to her. Fiona immediately did as she was told, looking at the assassin with wide eyes.

“Zer0, it’s okay. Just let me-” Scooter tried to say, but they all resolutely ignored him.

“Get ready to take him back.” The assassin told the con-artist. Though clearly confused, Fiona nodded in agreement.

“Listen to me!” Scooter shouted. “This baby’s gonna blow and y’all can’t be here when it does! Please, you have to go.” He pleaded. “Please.” The assassin stared at him for a moment with pursed lips.

“Scooter.” Zer0 spoke calmly and yet gravely. The tone made all three of the others look up at her. “I’m sorry.”

And with that, the vault hunter neatly cleaved his hand off at the wrist with her sword.

Scooter reared back with a scream, but Fiona held him steady, even though she let out a shocked yell as well. Zer0 simply grabbed hold of both of them and shoved them in the direction of the access hatch, wordlessly telling Fiona to hurry as Scooter grabbed at his wrist.

“The rocket-!” Fiona yelled back, but Zer0 waved her off, pointing to the access hatch. “But-!

“I’m fine- I’ve got Jack.” Zer0 told her loudly enough, turning her head over her shoulder at them. “Fiona, his arm- hurry!” Finally, the con-artist nodded and dragged Scooter back towards the caravan.

“Alright Princess, just you and me.” Jack babbled, though his gaze lingered a bit too long on Fiona’s retreating form. When Zer0 crouched down by the rocket, his eyes snapped back to the matter at hand. “Okay, luckily this is the easy part. See this handle right here?” He crouched next to her and pull his hand on the aforementioned mechanism. “You’re gonna twist it clockwise and pull it out towards you. Easy peesy, right?” With that, he grinned at Zer0, but she could clearly see it was a forced bravado. The hologram moved his hand away and the assassin replaced it, but as soon as her hand made contact with the metal, Jack’s eyes grew distant. “Now, do it now- NOW!” Startled into motion by his sudden shouting, Zer0 quickly pulled the handle towards her and scrambled back. There was a releasing noise before the rocket slowly started drifting away.

Too slowly.

“We’re not gonna make it out of the blast radius in time-” Jack said in a hurry, and that was all she needed to know before the assassin vaulted towards the drifting explosive. “We have to- Zer0!”  

Though it worked last time, Jack screaming her name wouldn’t stop her now- already grabbing a hold on the very edge of the caravan’s new wings and using all of her strength to rear forwards and kick the rocket away from them. She sent it hurtling sideways, spinning with the push. The force of her movement sent the vault hunter herself sliding forward, and her fingers scrambled to find purchase against the sleek metal of the wings. Luckily, some of the wing’s metal had frayed with their heated exit out of Pandora’s gravitational pull, and Zer0 held on with everything that she was.

At her back, the sudden force of the rocket’s explosion sent her sprawling towards the caravan, and her shield reacted accordingly- again propelling her towards the ship with its detonation effect.

The assassin slammed into the ship’s side, thankful that her hands grabbed onto anything that they could because she was certainly dazed enough to forget to. The ship itself rocked with the blast, but remained intact. Zer0’s eyes flashed over to the corner of her HUD, blinking blearily as she read her shield had depleted itself from protecting her. With a sigh, the vault hunter peeled herself off of the caravan and turned to the blue figure that was instantly at her side.

She wasn’t honestly expecting him to look quite as furious as he did, but thought at this point, maybe she should start to.

“What. Were you. Thinking?!” Jack practically roared at her. Zer0 blinked rapidly at him before pointedly looking towards the remains of the rocket. “Yes, I know- but- just-!” Jack sputtered in outrage. Zer0 leveled him a flat look and the fire lit up in his eyes once again. “Never do that again. Ever.” The vault hunter stared at him for a long moment.

Never do that again.

It’s almost like he wanted her to stay alive.

…But that wasn’t fair anymore, was it?

Because after all of this time, he somehow clearly cared whether she lived or died. Not only her, either. His clear anxiety over the rocket situation spoke volumes of how he felt about the rest of their group- even Scooter. Sure, he could’ve been worried that Rhys- his host- would die and take Jack along with him, but if that was the case, he wouldn’t have told Zer0 about Scooter. The old Jack would have just let Fiona send Scooter off to his death- one less person to worry about turning against him.

And yet Scooter lived,

And Jack was worried.

Zer0 could only nod at the blue hologram, lost in her thoughts of what this meant to her. Jack continued to stare back at her, making sure she understood how serious he was being, before he relented and backed off.

“Jeez, if I knew you were this suicidal, I would’ve changed my entire game-plan with you vault hunters.” He groused, phasing through the caravan’s side into the ship. Zer0 silently shook her head, ridding herself of her previous thoughts, before she pushed herself up to the access hatch. Before she could open it again, Jack popped his head out in front of her. “You might want to brace yourself Princess. It’s not exactly pretty in there.” He said before disappearing once more. Heeding his warning, Zer0 took a deep breath and dropped back down into the caravan.

‘Not exactly pretty’ wasn’t even the half of it.

Scooter was still screaming in pain, holding his arm while it bled everywhere. Sasha was trying to tie a make-shift tourniquet around his arm to stop the bleeding, eyes wide and trying to comfort the mechanic. This left the others all standing, shouting at each other. Guns were even drawn and pointed at one another- or rather, August and his goons had their guns pointed at the others while Rhys hid behind Fiona, who was the only one on their side that had a gun- which was pointed right at August’s head.

Zer0 had about a second to process all of this information before everything got ten times worse, as her sudden appearance had startled everyone. Instantly all of the guns in the caravan were turned to her, but the assassin kept calm. Fiona was the first one to lower her weapon, expression filled with relief.

“Zer0, thank god.” She breathed.

“You’re okay!” Rhys also said in elation, briefly peeking out from behind his human shield to grin at her in reprieve.

“Wait a minute- you knew he was here?!” August demanded in outrage, and the other two grew defensive again.

“Guys, he’s still bleeding over here!” Sasha cut in loudly, bringing everyone’s attention back to the suffering mechanic. Zer0 ignored the guns pointed at her and walked right up to Scooter, kneeling by his side and clutching his arm to hold it still so Sasha could finish her work.

When the vault hunter felt a barrel of a gun pressed against the back of her head, she grew very still.

“Shoot me, I dare you.” She said, deathly calm as she turned her head slightly in the direction of her assailant.

Even with Scooter’s screaming and squirming, it was suddenly intensely quiet inside the caravan.

“Kroger, what the hell are you doing, man?” August’s voice rang out. “That’s fucking Zer0- put that thing away.”

“But we can-” Moustache’s- Kroger’s voice said in a sputter right behind her.

“Put it. Away.” August demanded angrily. “You’ll get us all killed.” With another grumble, the assassin felt the pistol leave her skull and she eased up slightly, returning her attention to Scooter.

“We need to cauterize it.” Sasha told them. “As soon as possible- he’s losing too much blood.”

“Which means we need fire- heat.” August nodded, getting right down to business.

“He’s gotta have a blow torch somewhere in here, right?” Fiona asked aloud, already rifling through the multiple compartments in the caravan. “Rhys, help me look!”

“On it!” Rhys called, taking care of the other half of the caravan’s drawers. He opened a few chests and called out victoriously. “Found one!” Though when he tried to light it, the torch wouldn’t start. “Oh, come on you piece of-” Fiona crossed the caravan and took it from him, trying it herself before she cursed it threw it to the side.

“It’s empty.” She told everyone. “Keep looking!”

“You two, start looking!” August said to his goons, who shared looks with each other before turning back to him.

“Why?” Kroger asked nonchalantly.

“Do you really want to lose our only mechanic? Now?!” August answered in exasperation. The goons shared another look before weird-hair cut shrugged.

“He’s got a point.”

“Move, idiots!”

“Hey princess,” Jack spoke up suddenly from beside the assassin. She looked up briefly to see him watching something else and followed his gaze to a pile of papers strewn across the floor. “Pretty flammable, don’t you think?” She looked back at Jack in confusion, and when he met her gaze before pointedly looking at Fiona, she realized what he was trying to say.

“Fiona, come here.” Zer0 said, scrambling towards the papers and hoping they weren’t too important. Fiona stopped what she was doing and followed the assassin under the careful eye of August’s wary goons. Zer0 took hold of Fiona’s arm and swiped her pistol out- setting it on the fire elemental setting. With that done, she kicked all of the paper into one corner and glanced over at her HUD.

Her shield was only recharged less than halfway- but it would be enough.

“Rhysie, get ready to smother a fire!” Jack warned loudly, jolting Rhys out of his searching frenzy.

“Wait, you want me to what?” Rhys called out in confusion, but one look from the hologram sent him scrambling to find something to accomplish the task he was asked of.

“You want me to shoot that?” Fiona asked and Zer0 nodded, pulling her pistol arm over so that it was aimed over the assassin’s shoulder as she stood in front of it. “But the bullet ricochet- it could-” Zer0 simply shook her head, tapping the shield strapped onto her belt. Fiona glanced down and nodded in understanding before she huddled closer behind Zer0, flexing her trigger finger. “Alright, on the count of three. One… two… three!”

As soon as the bullet went off, the papers caught fire in the corner. True to Fiona’s word, the bullet itself ricocheted off of Zer0’s shield and the wall a few times before finally settling, having been trapped with nowhere else to go. The assassin flashed her eyes to her HUD and saw her shield was down on its last legs.

Honestly, she was just thankful that whole debacle didn’t trigger the explosive output again.

Fiona stepped back and Zer0 quickly pulled her sword from its sheath, letting it warm in the fire. Rhys stumbled closer with what looked like a blanket, and Zer0 hoped for their sakes it wasn’t flammable. Once her sword grew red-hot, the vault hunter turned her head towards Fiona.

“Alright, get him ready- we have to do this fast!” She said to the others.

“And soon, this fire’s eating up our oxygen supply!” Rhys echoed to get everyone to move faster.

“We’ll hold him down.” August said, gesturing to his goons to follow his lead. Between them and Sasha, Scooter was well immobilized, though he was gritting his teeth now. Sasha saw the problem before Zer0 could even say anything.

“Scooter? Hey, Scooter?” Sasha asked him, looking around frantically before her eyes landed on her belt. She scrambled to slip it off, but August stopped her.

“No, it’s part of the disguise- take mine.” He said, taking his hands away to quickly slip his own belt off and toss it to Sasha. Sasha nodded and brought it to Scooter’s face.

“Scooter, I need you to bite down on this, okay? Bite down as hard as you can.” Sasha coached him. Scooter looked at her through weary eyes before he opened his mouth and let Sasha slip the leather in, biting down around it. “We’re ready!” She told the others as soon as she and August had regained their hold on the mechanic.

“Okay, here we go. Make sure Zer0 has a clear path.” Fiona said, making the goons scoot over slightly so Scooter’s arm was more exposed. “On three-”

“No time, do it now!” Rhys yelped and Zer0 darted over with one swift movement, momentarily scaring the others by how fast she moved. She pressed her metal to Scooter’s wrist and he instantly began screaming again, biting down hard on the belt. Zer0 pressed her lips together but continued, using her helmet’s enhanced view to make sure she cauterized every single part on the end of his severed wrist. Behind her, she could hear Rhys wrestling with the fire, letting out a relieved sigh when it finally went out. Finally, finally, the cauterizing was done and Scooter stopped screaming. When Zer0 looked up to his face, the vault hunter found that he had passed out.

“Hey, oxygen’s low in the ship right now- get an Oz kit on him just in case.” Jack called from the front of the caravan, checking on their ship’s status. Zer0 nodded and stood, ignoring how August and his goons flinched. She quickly made her way over to the back of the ship, grabbing a new Oz kit and passing it over to Rhys, who had also heard Jack. With Rhys taking care of Scooter’s oxygen supply, Zer0 climbed up and finally closed the access hatch, pressurizing the back of the ship once more.

It was quiet as she returned to everyone as they huddled around Scooter, making sure he was breathing fine with his new kit before relaxing.

“So.” August started flatly, turning a glare onto her group. “When exactly did we pick up a vault hunter?”

“Oh, you know,” Fiona started with a faux casual tone, “Along the way.”

“No more lies.” August demanded, his glare turning harsher and taking a threatening step forward.

In response, Zer0 herself stepped forward and August immediately backed down, knowing when he was outmatched.

“What, you hired him or something?” Weird-hair cut asked with a skeptical tone. “With what money?!”

“I am not on a job now.” Zer0 said evenly, giving August a significant look. His eyes widened in understanding, but his goons shared a confused look.

“Well if you’re not on a job, why are you here?” Kroger questioned, beady eyes narrowing in suspicion.

“Because he’s with them, you idiot.” August snapped at Kroger before leveling Zer0 with an unreadable expression. “Maybe this could work in our favor.”

“How?!” Weird hair-cut demanded.

“Easy. We have a vault hunter that can turn invisible help us get the beacon,” August said with a negotiating tone, “He makes sure his friends say alive. Sound like a deal?”

“We can’t make a deal with him, August!” Kroger argued, but August shut him down once again.

“Let me put it this way, numb-nuts. Would you rather work with Zer0, or against Zer0?” 

There was a deafening silence that followed his statement. To back it up, Zer0 straightened up a bit more to look even more intimidating than she probably already was. She sensed Fiona, Sasha, and Rhys do the same.

“…He’s got another point, man.” Weird-hair cut muttered to Kroger, who turned and slapped his arm.

“Hey, shut up, man!”

“Okay, so, do we have a deal?” August said, extending his hand towards the assassin. Zer0 stared down at it for a moment longer than normal, letting the goons sweat it out a little, before she put her own hand in August’s and shook it once.

And if she squeezed a little harder than necessary, well, who would call her out on it?

“So now what?” Kroger asked, folding his arms over his chest crossly.

Now, I call Yvette so she can let us in.” Rhys said, bringing up his mechanical arm so he could communicate with his friend. It rang for a few long moments before stopping. Rhys looked a little sheepish- which looked strange wearing Hugo’s face- and he rubbed the back of his neck with his other hand. “Okay. Maybe there’s just bad signal out here. Let me try again.”

It rang again.

Nothing.

Wordlessly, Rhys called her a third time, starting to tap his foot nervously.

Again, nothing.

“So, um…. Yvette’s not, um answering.” The former Hyperion employee trailed off.

“Perfect.” August sighed in exasperation.

“You have entered Hyperion airspace. Identify yourselves immediately.” A foreign voice rang out suddenly in their cabin. Everyone shared wary looks, but Rhys grew determined.

“Okay, gang,” He said, raising his arm and pressing something on his collar. “Here we go.” Zer0 frowned as she heard Hugo’s voice, but conceded that it was necessary. Hugo-Rhys leaned forward and pressed the comm button to talk back to Helios air control. “Howdy gents. Miss me?” There was a silence on the other end of the comm before someone spoke again.

“You must have balls of steel showing your face back here.” The voice said, making the assassin straighten in caution.

What’s the deal- she thought this Hugo guy was one of the big guns up in Hyperion?

“Ha. You’re a gem. Well, I missed you guys too.” Hugo-Rhys babbled nervously, trying to keep his cover with the unexpected reaction. “Big time. Because I am Hugo Vasquez, and I miss… guys that I miss.”

“Yeah, we definitely have some catching up to do.” The other voice said, though it held a threatening tone. Never-the-less, they were allowed into Hyperion airspace and straight into the hanger bay of Helios. Fiona landed the caravan carefully, as there was already a few armored men waiting for them.

“After I get inside and disable security, I’ll call you when it’s safe to come out.” Rhys said, stepping over to the caravan’s door as Kroger and weird hair-cut stuffed ‘Rhys’ into a rollable kart. Zer0 grimaced at the realistic look of a dead Rhys, but she focused back on the situation when Sasha shook her head.

“I don’t like that tone they used…” She trailed unsurely.

“She’s right, something’s off.” August agreed, keeping a stern eye on the approaching guards. The assassin couldn’t help but agree and walked over next to Rhys, activating her cloak once beside him. Fiona nodded in agreement.

“Perfect. Keep us posted, you two.” With that, the two (three if they counted their invisible hologram friend) stepped out of the caravan and up to the two guards, rolling ‘Rhys’ behind them.

“You’ve got some things to answer for, Vasquez.” The head guard warned as they approached.

“Sup ladies?” Hugo-Rhys asked confidently, pulling up to a stop. “Whatcha been doin’? Talkin’ about boys?”

“You’re comin’ on a little too strong there, Rhysie.” Jack cautioned as the head guard leaned forward threateningly.

“No. Just discussing casual misogynism and how it manifests in corporate executives.” The guard answered very nonchalantly.

“Oh. Uh, yeah, well…” Rhys trailed off unsurely, thrown off his game. “Uh, just kidding around.”

And boys.” The other guard spoke up. “Captain’s brother is finally marrying his boyfriend.”

“This is the happiest I’ve ever been.” The guard captain said very flatly. Rhys and Jack shared a subtle look while Zer0 merely tilted her head at the guard. “Orders are to verify what the hell you were doing down on Pandora.”

“Ah, take it easy guys, I just landed.” Hugo-Rhys dismissed easily, but the guards weren’t having it.

“In a hunk of Pandoran trash, no less, with half a loader bot stuck to the top.” The smaller guard pointed out, aiming his rifle warily at them. At the mention, Gortys and Loader Bot turned towards the group and waved cheerfully.

“So. What were you doing down there?” The guard captain asked, beginning to pace around the three of them. Zer0 kept a keen eye on him, watching for any sudden movements.

“You know, tracking down ten million dollars that was stolen from Hyperion.” Rhys answered, giving both of the guards a stern look.

“So where’s the money?” The guard captain asked, making Rhys stumble in his bravado again.

“It, uh, exploded.”

“Uh huh.”

“Yeah, but uh, I’ve got, you know, very important places to be- so uh, I’ll just be going now…” Rhys trailed, grabbing ahold of the handle that held ‘Rhys’s body on it. When he turned around, the guard captain was right in his face, preventing him from passing.

“Nah.”

“Nah? What do you mean ‘nah’?” Rhys demanded, narrowing his eyes at the guard in anger.

“You come up here full of piss and bullets, bragging about how you managed to lose ten million dollars.” The guard captain listed off before pulling a pistol out and aiming it at Rhys. “So no, you’re not going anywhere.” Rhys put his hands up peacefully, but Zer0 decided enough was enough and stepped forward, hand already reaching to twist the gun out of the captain’s hands.

“I’ll take it from here.” A feminine voice suddenly called out just centimeters before Zer0 made contact with the metal. She stopped cold while everyone else turned to the voice expectantly. At her back, Rhys relaxed and put his hands down, approaching the new woman cheerfully.

“Yvette, so good to see you!” Rhys said happily, and Zer0 relaxed, as Yvette was the name of their contact in Hyperion and Vaughn and Rhys’s good friend. “We need to catch up-” Instead of answering him, Yvette walked right passed him and to the fake body on the cart, looking at it with a harsh stare before turning it back up to Rhys.

“Bring it in for testing.” She told the guards, gesturing to the dead body. They gave Rhys one last harsh look before leaving, taking the body with them. “What the hell happened to Rhys?” Yvette demanded of Rhys, looking furious.

“Can we talk somewhere… less exposed?” Rhys asked, giving their surroundings a wary look.

“We’re fine right here.” Yvette denied, crossing her arms.

“I’d like to shed more light on the situation-” Rhys tried again, but Yvette beat him to it.

“The situation is that you brought back Rhys dead!” Yvette declared. “Our deal was clear! You were supposed to bring Rhys back alive so that management could download whatever the hell was so damn valuable from inside his head. Now we’ll never collect the reward!” She groused, walking back behind Rhys and tapping her foot in agitation.

Unseen to her, Hugo-Rhys’s face lit up with realization and then turned to shocked devastation.

“You’re not even a little sad?” Rhys asked after a long moment, trying to wipe his heart-break from his face as he turned back to Yvette. “I thought you were close.”

“That’s none of your business.” Yvette denied sharply. “You and I had a deal.”

“But… he was your friend.” Rhys trailed, not exactly keeping the hurt from his voice. Zer0 winced and laid a hand on his shoulder in support, squeezing hard to ground him in the moment. On his other side, Jack set his jaw and looked away, crossing his arms and hunching his shoulders a little.

Betrayal always stung the worst.

“If you think you can distract me, think again.” Yvette glared at Hugo-Rhys. Rhys himself slightly turned his head towards Zer0’s grasp and nodded subtly before taking a steadying breath. “You had one job, and well, you blew it.” Yvette walked back around to face Rhys, just slow enough for Rhys to half-way compose himself once more. She grabbed his arm suddenly. “I’m taking you straight to management. Let’s see how you like answering to them!”

“Sure, let’s talk to ‘em.” Rhys started, a glint of anger in his eyes as he met Yvette’s gaze. “But if I go down, you’re coming with me.”

“That’s a risk I’m willing to take.” Yvette challenged with a smirk, which only further fueled Rhys’s anger.

“Test me. Find out what I know about you.” He said with a confident hiss. When Yvette started to look doubtful, he continued. “If you think I’d make a deal and not have my ass covered, then you don’t know Hugo Vasquez.” At that, Yvette dropped his arm like it had burned her, backing up slightly with a worried expression. “It’s been real.” Rhys saluted mockingly before walking away. Zer0 sent one last glance at the caravan before she and Jack followed closely behind him.

“That’s rough, buddy.” Jack said as the door to the hanger closed behind them. Zer0 pat Rhys’s back in sympathy to Jack’s true statement.

“Yeah, well. It happened.” Rhys snapped quietly before wincing and sending the two an apologetic look. “Sorry.”

“Don’t worry about it pal, we get it.” Jack shrugged. “More than most people, I think.” Rhys sighed heavily as they entered the elevator to take them further into Helios’s facilities.

“Let’s just focus on the mission for now. Everything seems to be going… okay so far.” He said as the elevator let them off into a nondescript hallway. Zer0 swept the area with her eyes, cataloguing all of the security cameras that were on them. She was also taking in just how different Helios was, filled to the brim with shiny metal and spotless floors.

In short, it looked perfect.

The fact made her feel a little uneasy- nothing was perfect.

“We’re standing by in the caravan. Tell us when it’s safe to move.” Fiona’s voice suddenly filtered into her helmet, distracting the assassin from her thoughts.

“Yvette’s scanning the body, so we gotta hurry. I’m taking over the cameras now.” Rhys answered as he led them all into an office- Hugo’s from the looks of it. He sat down at the desk in the middle of the room and pulled up the computer. “Child’s play.” He smirked, getting a look at what they were dealing with.

“Oh, child’s play, huh?” Jack said with an eyebrow raised, tone full of skepticism. Zer0 ignored both of them and did a clean sweep of the room before she settled down at the window, staring down at Pandora.

…Sasha was right, it looked a lot different from up here.

Honestly, when Zer0 first came to this planet, she never in a million years thought it would change her life in such a drastic way.

When she first arrived on Pandora, she was still a feared stone-cold killer, never associating with anyone else and moving from job to job in a desperate attempt to keep herself entertained.

But now?

Well, sure, she was still a stone-cold killer, that would probably never change. But now, the only people who flinched when she walked by were those who knew they had done wrong and were waiting for retribution. Hell, there were even people she had never met that actually waved at her as she passed- she never thought she’d see that happen.

Furthermore, Zer0 never thought she’s have friends that could keep up with her,

Or even a family to simply coexist with.

…Coexist.

Zer0 looked over her shoulder at Jack as he teased Rhys for having trouble hacking into Hyperion’s systems.

No, they were doing more than coexisting, weren’t they?

“Well the security’s a little tougher than I expected.” She heard Rhys argue with the hologram.

“I know, I wrote the program.” Jack dismissed, appearing at Rhys’s side and tinkering with his tech arm. “So let’s send an icebreaker into that frozen sea of code, shall we?” Zer0 meandered closer to the two as they worked in tandem to take down the firewall. When the task was accomplished, Rhys sat back in triumph.

“Aha! Security cameras have been breached.” He told the two of them.

“Now, go forth and lay waste, my son!” Jack replied theatrically, and Rhys responded with a matching grin.

Zer0 rolled her eyes and audibly sighed at how corny they were.

“Aw, come on Princess, that was awesome!” Jack argued, turning in the direction he had heard the sigh from.

“Fiona, I’m in.” Rhys barreled on, having found the others- Sasha, Fiona, and Gortys- on one of the cameras.

“Nice work.” Fiona said back to them. “Tell us where to go, Rhys.” The mentioned man fiddled with the cameras for a quick moment before answering.

“Uh, the door’s up ahead.” Rhys said. Fiona saluted into the closest security camera and continued down the hall.

“Okay, we’re at the… uh, Hub of Heroism?” The con-artist told them, trailing off in a confused tone. At the name of the hall, Zer0 gave Jack a flat look, which he somehow sensed because he scoffed.

“What? It’s a great name.” He defended.

“Great. The elevator to Jack’s office is across the atrium. That’s where the tours meet.” Rhys explained, ignoring both of them.

“Got it.” Sasha said, hand up to her ear. “Looks like it’s time to put on our tour guide hats.” She and her sister ambled further into the central hub of Helios with Gortys while Rhys, Jack, and Zer0 watched from the security cameras. The Vault Hunter kept a close eye on their progress, narrowing her eyes in irritation at the sight of Kroger slinking around in the hub as well- most likely as an intimidation tactic to the girls. Luckily, he was wise enough to not interact with them and bring attention to the girls.

“I thought he was supposed to stay in the ship.” Rhys grumbled, eyes locking onto the figure as he enhanced the footage for them.

“Amateurs.” Jack scoffed, arms crossed over his chest as he glared at the man on the screen. “As if pulling attention to yourself on a stealth mission is going to help anybody.” He added, which were her thoughts exactly.

“At least if people are paying attention to him, they won’t be paying attention to the girls… Hopefully. Maybe.” Rhys winced, having felt both flat stares from Jack and the invisible assassin. “I’m trying to be optimistic here, guys.” A quiet fell over them as they tracked the girls through the crowded center, trying to look out for anything that seemed out of place to tell them the jig was up. It was when they watched Gortys retrieve a tray of cups of water that Rhys spoke up. “So, did you know the beacon was here the entire time or…?” He asked, cutting his eyes over to the hologram.

Immediately, Zer0 snapped her gaze over to him as well, still not over the fact that he had known this fact and didn’t tell her.

Her stare boring into the side of his holographic skull seemed to prompt him into answering, albeit a little hesitantly.

“Not completely, no.” Jack said, but when Zer0’s glare sharpened, detecting deception, he relented. “Okay, so I had a suspicion at first- back when we first got Gortys. I only knew for sure after about a week on the road after listening to Gortys bring it up. And by ‘for sure,’ I mean like… 65%.” The assassin felt her expression march into ‘incredulous’ territory and Jack corrected himself. “85%.”

“And you didn’t think it’d be a good thing to bring up?” Rhys asked, tone deceptively offhanded.

“Not at the time, no.” Jack shuffled, keeping his gaze firmly locked onto security cameras in front of him, even as both men felt the silently seething assassin’s aura expanding. “It wasn’t important then- now it is.”

“Yeah, no kidding.” Rhys scoffed, letting annoyance seep into his tone. Zer0 couldn’t help but agree, flexing her hands into fists at her sides silently in an effort to release some of the anger she felt was building up inside her.

“Listen, we had bigger things to worry about before.” Jack finally snapped defensively, turning to both of them with eyes blazing. “I had bigger things to worry about before- mainly not dying. So excuse me if it slipped my mind.”

“Slipped your mind?” Rhys echoed in quiet outrage. Zer0 felt her own mood ignite further before she caught a slight tightening of the hologram’s jaw as he looked away.

“Jack.” She said simply, her tone holding all of the warning in the world. He glanced over to where her voice had come from before looking off to the side again.

“If I told you one of Gortys’s upgrades were on Helios, would you not have freaked out?” He challenged, raising an eyebrow at Rhys. Zer0 opened her mouth to protest before he pointedly turned to her and asked, “Would you have even believed me?”

At that, she paused.

A newly resurrected Jack- in hologram form- wanting to go to Helios for any reason whatsoever?

Begrudgingly, she had to admit he had a point.

“Sorry I didn’t feel like making you guys to trust me any less.” He almost spit out, focusing on the monitors again. Rhys sent a wide-eyed look in her direction, expression slightly chastised. Though he couldn’t see her, the assassin mirrored him, feeling all of her anger abruptly drain out of her. Rhys turned back to Jack and opened his mouth, but was interrupted by Fiona’s triumphant voice.

“Hello Rhys and friends. You have the privilege of talking to Helios’s newest tour guide.” Rhys coughed slightly to clear his throat before pressing the button to answer her.

“Well done.” He grinned, tone only slightly off from the still weird atmosphere in the room. “Your criminal instinct shines again.”

“I’m heading up to Jack’s office with Gortys-”

“Hi Rhys!” They all heard Gortys shout in elation. Rhys smiled fondly at the little robot’s voice before a notification popped up on the corner of the screen. It seemed like computer gibberish to Zer0, but upon reading it, both Rhys and Jack cursed.

“Oh, damn it!” Rhys groused further.

“What? What’s happening?!” Fiona’s concerned voice came through to them.

“They know they’ve been hacked.” Rhys explained to all of them as he began frantically typing away at the keyboard. “I can handle this, but you need to hurry- and keep a low profile!” With that, he cut communication to Fiona and continued mashing the keys in an effort to help them. Zer0 straightened and kept an eye on the door, extending her senses to try and tell if someone was coming for them from down the hall. She had her hand on her sword hilt when an announcement rang over the space station’s intercom.

“Attention: Helios is on heightened alert. Please report any suspicious activity immediately.”

“Oh great, just what we needed.” Jack rolled his eyes.

“Relax, I’ve got this.” Rhys waved a dismissive hand at him before it returned to its twin on the keyboard. Zer0 remained sentinel, pursing her lips when Rhys cursed again but not taking her eyes off of their entryway. “Okay, you know what? Let’s send this at them-” Here, he typed something out and hit the enter key a little too forcefully. “And then- oh shit.” An ‘incoming call’ flashed on screen, making all three of them wince as Rhys turned on his voice modulator. “Okay, still got this.” He assured the other two as he accepted the call. “Vasquez here, whachu need?” Jack groaned at the horrible impersonation while Zer0 tightened her grip on her sword a bit more.

“Sir! There’s been a breach in the security- we’re just making sure you’re aware.” A voice came through the speakers earnestly.

“Well of course I’m aware- you can’t exactly miss something that was announced through the entirety of Helios, can you?” Rhys snapped back, annoyed as he continued trying to cover their tracks in the programming.

“Of course, sir! Sorry, sir. Would you like added security to your office?” The employee- who sounded like an ass-kisser, to be honest- asked, and Rhys paused slightly.

“Just make sure no one barges in here and interrupts me, I’m a very important and busy person!” He said, and again Jack winced at the choice of words.

“Of course, sir!” And with that, the call ended and Rhys sighed in relief.

“Okay, not so bad- now if only I can figure this out.” He ground out, typing a little more harshly in frustration.

“Alright, let me take the wheel, you’re killing me here.” Jack huffed, taking control of Rhys’s arm and trying to save them himself.

“What the- Jack!” Rhys protested heavily.

“Relax cupcake. I wrote this program, remember?” Jack said distractedly, eyes scanning the lines in the code rapidly as the metal hand moved almost impossibly fast on its own. “Just try to keep up.”

It was quiet for a few minutes, and while Zer0 didn’t exactly relax- as guards could come through that door any second- she did notice both Rhys and Jack stopped cursing as frequently. Their work had taken up all of the screen, which meant Zer0 didn’t have any eyes on the girls anymore. The Vault Hunter tried not to let that fact bother her, telling herself that ‘no news was good news’ as the minutes ticked by. Despite keeping her gaze on the door, she couldn’t help but get distracted by the sight of Jack fully in his element- another outright display of his surprising intellect. Zer0 kept sneaking quick peaks at the hologram and how, even though they were under a fair amount of stress, Jack seemed to take it all in stride and kept his cool with a quiet confidence as he typed away silently.

It was much different than his usual bravado. This was real confidence, one that could only come from the firm understanding of your surroundings and complete belief in your abilities.

Zer0 didn’t want to admit it, but she found that a little hot- which she was never going to think again and banish the thought to the back of her mind forever.

Because what.

 Finally, blessedly, another call came in to distract her, but this one not through the Helios system.

“Yeah?” Rhys answered distractedly, still using Vasquez’s voice before he remembered himself. “Sorry, hold on- Yeah?” He said as he flipped off the voice modulator. Any relief Zer0 felt at the sound of Fiona’s voice was greatly dampened by her words.

“I can’t get into Jack’s office.”

“What? You’ve gotta be kidding me!” Rhys said, stopping in his work as his Jack-controlled arm continued on. “You had one job!”

“Just open the door!” Zer0 could hear the scowl in Fiona’s voice. “Just do your wacky hacky thing so I can get in.”

“Okay, ‘Wacky Hacky’ is the worst thing you’ve ever said to me, a-a-and that is saying a lot.” Rhys argued back before he actually focused on what Fiona had asked. He opened up a new tab, partially obstructing Jack’s, and tried to open the door. A minute went by before Rhys growled in frustration. “Jack, a little help?” Jack took one look over at the other window, finally noticing what Rhys was trying to do, before he returned to his own.

“Can’t.” He said simply, fully engrossed in his coding. Rhys opened his mouth to ask why before Jack cut him off. “Different grid.”

“Great.” Rhys scowled before returning his attention to Fiona. “We can’t do it from here- we need another way in.” He sighed, leaning back in his chair tiredly while Jack firmly kept his other arm working away, not bothered in the slightest with the movement. Rhys ran his free hand down his face as he mumbled. Zer0 watched him for a moment before she heard the unmistakable sound of heels on tile heading in their direction. She straightened once again, but she was unclear on if it was something that was going to be a problem. “Okay, okay. We just need to- need to think about this for a second.” He told everyone, starting to become overwhelmed with the setbacks they were facing in such dangerous territory. The assassin picked up on voices down the hall and stiffened, recognizing one of them. “Um… maybe if we-”

“Yvette.” She said shortly in warning as the woman neared the office. Rhys jumped at the sound of her voice before he processed what she had said.

“Uh- hold on Fiona, I gotta call you back- Yvette’s here.” He stammered before closing the connection as her voice became louder.

“Rhys, your voice.” Jack reminded, finally glancing over at the door when Yvette started commanding people out of her way. The brunette only had a second to flip the switch before Yvette stormed into the office, the door closing automatically after her. Zer0 felt herself crouch down in preparation as she made a b-line for them.

“Newsflash, asshole.” Yvette started off, enraged. “This is my office now. First you give me a body that isn’t Rhys, then you go hacking my computer? You’re trying to pull something.” She accused, coming to a stop in front of the desk.

“You, uh, really want to talk to me like that?” Vasquez-Rhys asked her lowly with a glare, still not over the fact that she had betrayed them.

“You can’t just come back after what you did and expect things to be the same.” She scoffed, glaring right back at him.

“Sure I can.” Rhys dismissed coolly.

“We had a deal, asshole. I tracked Rhys and Vaughn all across Pandora for you. I refused them supplies when they needed them. And all you had to do was bring me whatever the hell was living inside of Rhys’s head.” Yvette spat. Zer0 watched the proceedings cautiously, her hand flexing on her hilt as she glanced at the silent hologram.

So she hadn’t misheard before- Hyperion knows of Jack’s existence, or at least suspects something close to it.

Briefly, her mind couldn’t help but wonder if this really was Jack’s plan all along- bring them to Helios so he could be extracted and brought back.

She dashed the thought immediately however- if that was the case, he would’ve told them about the beacon being on Helios long ago. As it was, he never once even mentioned wanting to return to Helios.

And remembering his expression from their earlier altercation, Zer0 knew he deserved better than her suspicion at this stage.

She was only roused from her thoughts by movement from Yvette.

“-But whatever it is? I don’t like it. I’m calling security.” She threatened Vasquez-Rhys, putting her hand up to the device in her ear. Rhys stood up in alarm, clearly panicking and not knowing what to do.

Zer0 took it upon herself to simply walk up to Yvette and yank the Echo out of her ear, letting it fall to the ground and crushing it under her foot.

“What the-” Yvette started, voice startled as she jerked away from the unseen assassin, eyes wide on the destroyed device.

“Way to be subtle, Princess.” Jack said, finally leaving his spot from the computer and floating over. In response to his jab, Zer0 uncloaked herself and stared the terrified woman down where she was frozen, figuring the time for subtlety was over.

“The Vault Hunter…” Yvette breathed, clearly recognizing the assassin.

“The one and only.” Rhys smirked triumphantly, stepping out from behind the desk. Her eyes flashed from Rhys to Zer0 and back quickly.

“You brought the Vault Hunter to Helios… for what? Protection?” Yvette questioned, her brain rapidly trying to come up with a reasoning for ‘Vasquez’s’ actions. “Out of all of the Vault Hunters in the galaxy, you chose this one?! After knowing what he did to Hyperion?”

“Pretty much, yeah.” Rhys shrugged, stopping beside Zer0. Something shifted behind Yvette’s eyes as she took the two of them in.

“So what, that’s it then? You’re threatening me?” She spat, glaring hatefully at Rhys. At her words, Zer0 activated her decepti0n skill again, making a copy of herself stay exactly where she was before while she herself quickly made her way to the door to prevent Yvette from escaping and calling for help

“Threaten? No, this is happening. Free lunch time is over.” Rhys taunted, crossing his arms over his chest. Yvette stared Rhys and her decoy down tensely before she turned and scrambled for the door. Before she got too close, Zer0 dropped her cloak again and waved sarcastically, making the woman skid to a stop and back away with wide eyes. Luckily, Zer0 didn’t have to do anything, as Rhys had taken out his stun baton and stuck Yvette in the back with it, making her jolt forward and fall to the ground, unconscious. They looked down at her while Jack began slow clapping behind them.

“Well, not exactly how I’d do it, but still effective by all means.” He commented when they turned their heads to him. Zer0 blinked before shrugging minutely and activating her cloak again, unwilling to go too long out in the open on Helios. Rhys cleared his throat and led them all out of the office, only flinching slightly at the sight of a passing guard before continuing on his way. Zer0 stayed close by, keeping her attention on everyone in their surroundings just in case their cover was blown. Jack confidently strolled through the halls with his false bravado back in place, unseen to everyone but them.

“Fiona, you there?” Rhys asked in a whisper, opening communications back up with the sisters.

“Rhys! What took you so long?” She asked, her voice tinted with worry.

“Yvette sold us out to Vasquez… I thought she was our friend.” He allowed after a small pause, and Zer0 glanced at him briefly due to his still heartbroken tone.

“Well, friends are rare when money’s on the table.” Fiona joked before she softened, sensing Rhys’s mood. “I’m sorry, Rhys.” There was a moment of pause as Rhys took in Fiona’s words before he forced himself to store away the pain for later. “So yeah, Jack’s office is on lockdown and I can’t get the beacon. A little help?”

“I’m working-” Rhys’s voice came out distorted and stilted, making Zer0 jerk back to him to see blue holographic squares glitch around his form before disappearing. Luckily, they were alone in the hallway for that small lapse. She watched his alarmed reaction before looking over at Jack, who frowned deeply.

“Yeah, that’s not good.” The hologram murmured as he studied Rhys’s disguise.

“You okay?” Fiona asked upon hearing that Rhys cut himself off.

“I’m working on it.” He said instead, tapping his voice modulator a few times in an attempt to get it to function again.

“Well work faster!” Fiona hissed.

“No beacon means no vault means everybody’s gonna die!” Gortys piped up again. “At least we’re all doomed together! Yay!”

“Come on Rhys, it’ll come to you.” Rhys murmured to himself, pinching the bridge of his nose and pausing in the middle of the hallway next to a large window. Jack took it upon himself to lean back on the glass and watch the brunette carefully, but the manner in which he carried himself made Zer0 think he had an idea.

“Out with it, Jack.” Zer0 said with a low voice, because even though they were alone in the hallway, one could never be too sure. “Please.” She added in an attempt to get him to just tell them and skip his usual theatrics. It seemed to work because when Rhys turned to him in question, Jack began explaining.

“I’ve got a trapdoor in my office.” He said simply.

“A what?” Rhys asked, slightly stunned.

“I’ve got. A trapdoor. In my office.” Jack enunciated a little more pointedly, raising an eyebrow at the brunette like he was slow.

“Just to be clear: this trapdoor, is it a way-out door or an instant death door?” Rhys asked, which, fair point. This was Jack they were talking about.

“You know, I like to think of it as the best of both worlds.” The hologram grinned, making Rhys frown harder.

“Yeah, yeah, but am I going to die when I go through it?!”

“You know, I’d be insulted if I didn’t know you better.”

Boys.” Zer0 hissed, her eyes flicking from one end of the hallway to the other.

“You’re gonna need to go in the out-hole while someone yanks the lever.” Jack explained, finally relenting at the assassin’s tone. “It’s not as sexy as it sounds. A lot of people died down there.”

“Oh god.” Rhys sighed, hanging his head in defeat.

“Listen, with my office on lockdown, climbing up the trapdoor is our only way in. And you get to do it all from the safety of a prison cell!” Jack said, tone just cheerful enough towards the end that Zer0 half suspected he was joking.

“You’re just pulling my leg, right?” Rhys asked, turning back to the blue figure, evidently on the same line of thought she was.

“Ordinarily, sure.” Jack allowed before he sobered up. “But this is no time for jokes. Not with the Yvette mess and not with your disguise breaking down.” Rhys sighed heavily.

“Okay then, sounds like a plan.” He said aloud.

“You guys done with your little secret pow-wow?” Fiona’s voice came over their Echo’s again. “I swear, Jack better find a way to let us all hear him soon because at this point, it’s just insulting.”

“Maybe after we’re done here.” Jack said dismissively, though Zer0 picked up on the hint of surprise in his tone.

“We’ve got a plan.” Rhys said to her.

“Great! What is it?”

“Hey, Fi? You have got to see the head tour guide’s office.” Sasha’s voice suddenly piped in, and Zer0 felt another morsel of relief fill her at the sound. “The view is unbelievable!”

“Not now, we gotta change the plan.” Fiona told her.

“What’s up?” Sasha asked, tone suddenly serious once again.

“Okay, there’s a trapdoor in Jack’s office we can climb up. How do we get to the bottom, Jack?” Rhys said before turning back to the hologram.

“Prison level. It is literally inside a prison cell- I wasn’t kidding about that part.” Jack said. Rhys relayed the information to others while Zer0 checked their surroundings again.

“Got it, on my way.” Sasha said simply before blipping out.

“Alright, see you guys there.” Rhys said, and just before he was about to cut the communication, Fiona spoke up.

“Wait- how? I don’t have clearance for that!”

“Uh, I don’t know… get arrested, that should work.” Rhys shrugged.

“Arrested?! That’s the exact opposite of what we’re trying to do!” She argued back.

“Just do it, and do it quick! I gotta go!” With that, Rhys hung up and turned around so he could lead them down to the prison level. They were nearing the Hub of Heroism when a different voice sounded in their ears.

“Rhys? Rhys, you there?” Despite it not being the girls, it was still familiar to all of them.

“Vaughn? V-Vaughn, that you?” Rhys whispered into his Echo, and Zer0 felt a weight lift off of her shoulders she hadn’t exactly known was there.

“Don’t know if you can hear me but-” Vaughn’s voice came in and out of distortion, the signal catching interference from something unknown. “Really want to- with the-thing.”

“Vaughn? Vaughn?!” Rhys’s whisper got louder as they lost connection with their friend. That seemed to attract some attention to them and Zer0 tensed as all eyes seemed to hone in on them. She subtly nudged Rhys while her muscles started coiling up in anticipation.

“Vasquez!” One of them boomed, crossing his arms threateningly over his chest. Zer0 narrowed her eyes at her new target as Rhys flipped his voice modulator back on and approached them with a false swagger.

“Talk or walk ladies, I don’t have time for both.” Rhys said in what was actually his first good impression of Hugo Vasquez ever.

“You made me and my accounting boys look like idiots with that ten million dollars you stole.” The guy spat at them. “It’s gonna take years to do the paperwork!”

“Better-” Suddenly the voice modulator spazzed out once again. “-Hop to it. Ahem.” Rhys cleared his throat awkwardly before continuing. “Sorry, just ate a burrito.” He said, his voice cracking all over the place.

“Never mess with accounting, Vasquez.” The man threatened. “Always count on us outnumbering you.” At this, he turned to his female associate at his side. “Smoke ‘em.”

Zer0’s eyes narrowed at the exchange and she immediately dropped into a crouch when the woman stepped forward, hand reaching for something by her belt. Zer0’s own hand was already unsheathing her sword, her thigh muscles bunching up to spring her forward before the woman could grab her weapon, but Jack neatly stepped between them.

“No, just wait.” He said directed not at Rhys, which could only mean he was speaking to her. The assassin flexed her hand on her sword but paused dutifully, still in position in case Jack had misread the situation. “You’re gonna love this, Princess.” He said with a smirk as the woman’s hand came out towards them, making Zer0 hold back a flinch as she realized how much faith she was putting in Jack while this person pointed a weapon at them.

But the woman’s hands were empty.

Zer0 leaned back a little on her haunches in confusion as the lady pointed her fingers at them and made a little ‘chk’ sound.

Her mind was still racing when suddenly Rhys did the same and made a ‘shooting’ sound effect, supposedly hitting the woman as she fell to the floor in a very dramatic, theatric death.

What.

The assassin watched in muted shock, slowly rising from her crouch as the man next to his ‘dead’ associate pulled out a ‘shotgun’ and pointed it at Rhys, only to get ‘shot’ by the brunette and go down quite harshly. This spurred two employees hiding behind the ferns to jump out and point ‘weapons’ at Rhys, to which he quickly ‘took them out’ again.

W h a t.

Multiple footsteps sounded from the second floor, all heading in their direction and Zer0 tensed, snapping her head up as multiple employees came into view. Her muscles stiffened upon seeing they were all reaching for something, but she fought her instincts and held back. The assassin knew she had made the right choice as soon as Rhys grabbed the man that was threatening him earlier and held him ‘hostage.’ The man begged for his life, but his colleagues didn’t listen as they ‘unloaded’ on Rhys- who used his hostage as a meat shield.

You know, for imaginary bullets.

Because, she realized with startling clarity, this was literally the only way these people knew ‘danger’ or felt adrenaline pumping through their veins.  

With finger guns.

She would be insulted if it wasn’t so damn pathetic.

Zer0 literally ignored the masses of people that came to ‘attack’ them and nonchalantly wandered through the hub, keeping an eye on Rhys as he went so far as to overturn a table for cover and use a table leg to hit a ‘rocket’ back at a group of what she thought were still accountants. She neared the stairs when she saw more people than she physically thought capable come out of the woodworks in an attempt to corner Rhys, all pointing their fingers at him and making ridiculous sound effects.

“Oh my god.” Zer0 said out loud in quiet exasperation, uncaring if any of them heard her at this point.

Whatever, let them hear her. What were they going to do, kill her with their fingers?!

“I know, right?” Jack spoke up suddenly from beside her, evidently waiting for her reaction. “It’s so friggin’ stupid- something they picked up from one of my stories and just made a thing.” He explained as she carefully stepped between them on her way to one of the maps of Helios. “How hard do you think they’d shit their pants in a real situation?” The assassin snorted despite herself as she studied the map, which Jack took as a response. “Yeah, exactly.” He nodded before a grin slowly started to spread across his face. “Oh my god, do you think they’d try to use their finger guns?! Holy shit, I need to see this now- quick! Uncloak yourself, it’s for the greater good!”  Zer0 simply bestowed a flat look upon him before she turned back to the holomap, finally finding where they needed to go.

Without even looking back at the chaos that was unfolding around her, the assassin neatly picked her way through the ever expanding crowd and finally made it to the elevator unscathed. She turned to watch the proceedings blandly, almost impatient as Rhys spun in the middle of the hub with his arms and ‘guns’ outstretched. Bodies went down all around him and he didn’t stop until no one was left still standing- except for a janitor Zer0 could see was sweeping in the corner with a resigned look on his face. Finally- finally- Rhys joined her in the elevator with a triumphantly smug look on his face, Jack floating along behind him. She waited until the elevator doors closed and they were moving down before speaking.

“Rhys.”

“Yes Zer0?” He asked, his voice still cracking with the malfunctioning voice modulator. He and Jack winced at the sound.

“Never do that again.” At her words, his expression went sheepish and the brunette rubbed the back of his neck in embarrassment.

“Yes Zer0.”

The doors slid open and Rhys led them all out to the cell holding station. Once the doors opened to that room- the three were rewarded with the familiar sight of one Pandoran con-woman and one too-precious-for-this-world robot. The only problem was there was also a Hyperion guard with them, standing sentinel.

“Hey-” Rhys started before stopped, his voice not only cracking but also going impossibly low and distorted. “Okay, you know, screw this thing.” He said before swiping the little device off of his neck and pocketing it. Zer0 frowned at the motion but decided it was ultimately for the best- a voice that was slightly off of Hugo’s normal tone was a lot better than one that was clearly audibly distorting. They approached the guard, who was berating Fiona about some kind of treasure map, when the guard noticed Rhys. “What’s going on here with… you all. How’s it going?”

“Oh, hi Rhys!” Gortys chirped cheerfully as everyone else in the room froze. “Things are going great!”

“Did you just say Rhys?” The guard turned to Gortys, his voice lowered with suspicion. Gortys stared at him for a long moment before she looked down.

“Nothing!” She said, though her tone was seeping with guilt. The nonsensical answer only further proved her deception.

“I coulda swore you said Rhys.” He pressed, crossing his arms. “Isn’t that the name of the dead guy they picked up on Pandora?”

Zer0 glanced at the looks on Rhys and Fiona’s faces and instantly knew they were going to draw this out and lie about it horribly.

Honesty? She really didn’t have the patience for it at the moment.

Immediately, Zer0 dropped her cloak and punched the guard in his jaw with a mean right hook. He went down like a sack of potatoes as Fiona jumped to her feet in shock.

“Zer0, what the hell?!” She asked as she and Rhys stared down at the body with wide eyes, exchanging incredulous looks before turning them to the assassin.

“An idle mind is/ a very dangerous thing.” Zer0 said simply, withholding a shrug as she studied the passed out guard. “I think of violence.”

“…Fair enough.” Rhys allowed finally, sensing the assassin was nearing her limit and not wanting to make it worse. “Besides, now we can get right to the point. Okay Jack, where is it?”

“The cell with all of the blood and guts at the bottom.” The hologram said, head already turned in that direction. “You know, you’d think they’d clean that out by now.” Rhys followed his gaze and winced at all of the gore.

“Gross.”

“So, the plan is… what, exactly?” Fiona asked, making a small face as they neared the mess in the cell. “You said there was a trap door in Jack’s office.”

“Yeah, we just gotta figure out a way up to it.” Rhys said as all five of them piled into the somewhat spacious prison cell. The first thing Zer0 noticed was the large hole in the ceiling with loud noises coming out of it. She leaned forward to peek in and saw there was a ladder leading up quite a ways off the ground, but it was protected by multiple buzz saws, grinders, and other sharp machinery- where the noise was coming from and very clearly the cause of all of the gore around them.

“Not much to figure out, cupcake- I already told you what to do.” Jack rolled his eyes as they all stared up at it- some in horror and some in quiet captivation, blipping out of existence and then back in next to the lever he had mentioned earlier. Rhys followed his lead after a small gulp up at the death trap and stepped up to pull the level. Immediately, all noise above them stopped, but as soon as Rhys let go of the lever, it began to slowly make its way back down to the ‘on’ position, and soon enough the death trap was activated once more. With that information in mind, he turned back to the others.

“Okay so, here’s the plan. Fiona, I need you to hold this while Gortys boosts me up so Jack and I can climb up to his office. From there, I’ll echo down to you guys with a scan so Gortys can identify the beacon. Zer0, you’ll watch the door so we don’t get ambushed and if anyone comes in or our friend over there wakes up, you can take care of them.” Rhys relayed to them. Fiona nodded and moved over to the lever in preparation and Gortys placed herself in the middle of the room so Rhys could get the height he needed to reach the ladder. Zer0 only hesitated for a brief second before nodding herself and turning back the way they came, forcibly swatting away the tiny nagging feeling she had that something was going to go wrong.

“Don’t worry about hurting me, just climb on up!” Zer0 heard Gortys’s chipper voice tell Rhys from behind her.

The assassin instead focused on the prison hall in front of her, seamlessly slipping into her cloak and wandering closer to the front doors. She quickly dragged the guard she had knocked out earlier out of sight as she listened to Fiona, Rhys, and Gortys banter on light-heartedly. Keeping a hand on her sword’s hilt, Zer0 stood sentinel at the doors, stretching her senses as far as she could manage. There were footsteps she heard outside- down the hall- but they were heading in the opposite direction of their location. The Vault Hunter relaxed but remained vigilant, only jerking around in alarm when she heard Rhys yelp loudly behind her. Once she realized it was just his reaction to getting boosted up to the ladder- and really, he could be such a baby sometimes- she turned back and focused.

It was quiet up here on Helios, even with the bustle of a whole population of people and the hum of the space station’s machinery. Zer0 could kind of see where Jack was coming from- trying to spread this quiet, this peace to the insane, war torn, and ever loud Pandora- but she knew better.

Because this quiet was cold.

And despite all of the life on Helios, somehow it was dead.

She wondered if anyone here could tell.

(She wondered if now Jack could tell.)

Zer0 flexed her fingers out as she waited for something to happen- either for guards to storm through the door or for Rhys and Jack to return with the beacon- but everything was so still- so quiet.

That nagging feeling she pushed away earlier was starting to worm its way back into the forefront of her mind. The Vault Hunter frowned and shook her head to clear it away, but it didn’t really subside. Instead it felt like it was just lurking in the shadows like a threat on the horizon, waiting for its moment to overwhelm her, to suffocate her with the feeling of wrongness.   

Squeezing both of her hands into fists now, Zer0 swallowed the lump in her throat, trying to tell herself it was just Helios getting to her. It was silly of her to worry- if something had happened, Jack would come tell her, and though Sasha was a bit behind, it was still alright. She wasn’t with either party when the call was made, and fact that she still wasn’t there meant she was most likely the farthest from the prison level.

Sasha was a big girl, she could definitely handle herself.

(Right?)

Fiona murmured something to Rhys over the Echo, which only then snapped Zer0 back into the moment, scolding herself for getting so distracted when she was supposed to be on the lookout for danger.

She was a skilled assassin and had been for years, she knew better than to let something as trivial as emotions overcome her in an assignment. Zer0 had trained fear out of her system long ago, and yet somehow now it was seeping its way back into her body.

But it was at that moment she realized it wasn’t fear for herself.

It was fear for others.

Zer0 blinked in astonishment, trying to figure out when exactly that had started- but deep down she knew, it’s been in the works for a while.

First it had budded with her squad, somewhere long after their journey on Pandora had begun and they still found themselves together despite everything.

Then it bloomed for Angel, hearing her desperate pleas over the speakers in her helmet.

And now it had blossomed for this group.

Her group.

She… didn’t exactly know what to do with that information.

She didn’t think she wanted to know.

Footsteps in the hall forcibly pulled her attention back to the present once more- footsteps much closer than she liked. Zer0 stiffened and waited with a baited breath to see if they moved on- and it was definitely a they- at least more than two. When the people neared the door and showed no signs of stopping, Zer0 slunk into the shadows.

“Heads up, company.” She bit out briefly, only loud enough for Fiona to hear her. She heard the Pandoran curse before shushing the suddenly elated robot- most likely mistaking her use of ‘company’ for something pleasant.

The first thing the Vault Hunter thought when the door swooshed open was that she really needed to remember to double-tap, this was the second time someone who was knocked out came back and caused trouble for them.

Yvette stormed in with two Hyperion guards behind her, looking smug as she unknowingly walked right passed the assassin. The tiny light in the situation was that that had also brought Sasha with them, who was looking worried and withdrawn.

“Oh, you must be the company!” Zer0 suddenly heard Gortys chirp before she happily stomped her way over to the newcomers. The assassin both cursed her naivety and was thankful for it because she was able to sidle up behind the guards without either of them noticing. “Hi! Oh, it’s Sasha! Hi Sasha!”

“Sasha?” Fiona called from in the cell, sounding relieved. “What took you so long?”

“Fi, it’s a-” Sasha called out quickly before one of the guards behind her shoved her to the ground harshly in retribution.

“Sasha?!” Fiona’s worried voice called out now, sounding a bit closer.

“Go grab her.” Yvette ordered one of the guards while the other watched over Sasha.

Before either could move any further, Zer0 slammed their heads together, cloak disappearing. The resulting crash made both guards drop their guns, so the assassin quickly vaulted over their fallen forms and kicked their guns further from their hands. With the two thoroughly disarmed, Zer0 grabbed one of them by the chest plate and hauled them up, quickly whirling and throwing them in a nearby cell before slamming the door closed on them. The other, she was pleased to note, was being taken care of by Gortys, who had kicked them into another cell and copied the assassin’s movements. Zer0 turned to check on Sasha when she heard a gun cock and stopped, head jerking up to see Yvette pointing one of the guard’s fallen rifles at her.

“Zer0.” Yvette greeted coolly as Sasha stood up next to the assassin and Gortys shuffled anxiously in place, having lost her moxy at the sight of her friends being threatened. The assassin pointedly looked down at the rifle and then back up at Yvette. The woman smirked instead of being cowed. “I know you can probably take me out before I even pull the trigger, but I wouldn’t worry about me at the moment. I’d worry about the fact that, by now, all of Helios knows you’re here.”

Beside her, Sasha gulped audibly and paled while Gortys uttered a concerned “uh-oh.”

Zer0 simply drummed her fingers on the hilt of her swords, the only visible tell that she wasn’t as calm about that fact as she appeared. 

“Is that supposed to scare me?” She asked quietly.

“Maybe not.” Yvette allowed with a shrug that was more triumphant than it first seemed. “You might make it out, but I doubt all of your friends will. We picked up your comms and listened to the whole plan.” Zer0 stilled at that more than she liked, and Yvette’s smirk widened, having caught her reaction. Before she could gloat about it, however, Fiona appeared behind her and tapped her on the shoulder. Yvette spun around in shock, but the Pandoran already punched her in the face, knocking her to the ground unconscious.

“Well, that’s one way to do it.” Sasha huffed, slightly amused at the situation despite the fact that their cover was thoroughly and truly blown.   

“Okay, we really need to be leaving now.” Fiona mumbled, shaking her hand out from the punch. She turned back to the ladder and frowned up into the hole. The assassin noticed she had used a broom left behind to keep the lever up so the Pandoran could walk away from it. “Rhys? Jack? You guys okay up there?”

Zer0 frowned uneasily at the silence and stalked closer to the cell, neatly stepping over Yvette’s fallen form and slinking her way over, straining her hearing for any noises from above.

And heard something she did.

“Seriously.” Fiona sighed in aggravation, “Could they be any more-”

She was shocked into a yelp as Zer0 suddenly threw herself forward, vaulting up the ladder as fast as humanly possible.

Because the noise she had heard?

It was the sound of Rhys screaming.

Chapter Text

She was so stupid.

How could she have been so stupid?

Zer0 numbly took in the sight of Rhys- Rhys- trapped in some sort of chair deathtrap with a blue screen watching over him.

And on that screen?

The assassin forced her body to move, even as it was frozen because she had been so sideswiped with the scene before her. She moved like a silent death, stalking forward with a narrow focus and grabbing a hold on the office chair Rhys had been strapped down to while sharp metal contraptions inched towards him. The relief on the brunette’s face was palpable as she effortlessly dragged him away to safety.

“Zer0!” He cried out, a wetness gathering in the corner of his eyes that the Vault hunter ignored, focused on prying the metal cuffs around Rhys’ wrists off to free the man. She managed to get one off, but the force of the sudden release propelled her backwards. As she regained her balance, her back foot came down on something that cracked loudly. Distracted and more than a little dazed, Zer0 slowly looked down to see a picture frame. In something of a trance, she took her foot off of the broken glass and bent down to retrieve the picture, handling it gently as she brought it up to inspect closer. Her echo crackled in her ear briefly.

“Hey, what’s going on up there?!”

“You guys okay?”

“Princess, it’s not what it looks like!”

“Zer0!”

All of the voices ringing out around her were silenced in her mind as she stared at the picture in her hands, feeling empty. A young face grinned back up at her cheerfully, holding her fingers up in a peace sign, of all things. Her blue eyes sparkled with happiness and her black hair hung in a loose ponytail behind her shoulder. Though the child in the image was many years younger, Zer0 had no doubt in her mind whose face she was staring down at.

Angel.

Hands suddenly grabbed at one of her arms, tugging frantically and trying to drag her away, but the Vault hunter was rooted to her spot, not even bothering to look up at the other person. Distantly, she was aware it was Rhys- having pried himself out of his other restraint more easily since the assassin had freed his metal arm.

“Zer0 come on, we have to go!” Rhys’ begging fell on deaf ears as Zer0 stayed motionless, frozen looking at the siren’s childish face. She couldn’t help but compare it to the anguished look Angel had worn in the bunker. “Zer0, please!”

“You’re not going anywhere until-”

You shut up!”

The assassin ignored the shouting and felt her fingers tighten around the edges of the frame.

She should have known better.

After all, wasn’t the reason why staring back at her right in front of her face?

The glass cracked a bit more under the pressure of her tightened hold and she slackened her grip immediately.

“Go Rhys.” The Vault hunter found herself saying vacantly, not moving her gaze from where it was pointed. “I’ll take care of this.”

“But-” He must have seen something in her stillness, how she ever so slowly ripped her eyes away from the picture in her hands to look up at him at his hesitation. She watched him wordlessly, taking in the emotions flashing across his face- how his eyes darted from her to the picture to behind her- before he finally settled into resignation. “Okay. Okay, but be careful, Zer0!” He said, taking a few uncertain steps backing away towards the escape hatch, still watching her carefully. When she didn’t respond in any way, he gulped and retreated even more. “Meet us back at the ship- we have to get out of here.”

She still didn’t answer him, but she did watch as he quickly disappeared down the ladder. Once Rhys was out of sight, Zer0 numbly looked back down at the picture in her hands. It was quiet for a moment.

“Princess, I-”

She ignored the voice behind her and carefully extracted the actual image out of the ruined frame. Very quietly, the assassin folded the picture in half and slid it into her chest pocket where she knew it would be safest. Without another word, she discarded the broken frame and turned around to walk towards the office’s exit. The sound of glass shattering was loud in her ears- even louder than the alarms she finally noticed were blaring through the space station.

“-Zer0, please!”

The assassin finally came to a stop in front of the door but didn’t bother to turn around. She waited as the hologram- as the whatever he was now- tried to find his words, probably not having expected that to work.

“I didn’t mean to-”

“Why.” Zer0 said blankly, her whole body strung taught with tension. Even though it wasn’t phrased as such, it was both a question for him and herself.

“I…” He trailed off, suddenly at a loss for words. The assassin waited for another moment as she stared at the door in front of her, practically able to hear his mind whirring as he tried to come up with an explanation that didn’t sound completely bat-shit crazy.

“Don’t bother.” She said simply, shaking her head. “I know why.”

With that, she unhooked a grenade from her belt, pulled the pin, and threw it over her shoulder.

As she left the office, barely registering the explosion that rocked the whole space station behind her, she knew one thing with a shocking, single-minded clarity.

She would burn Helios to the ground.

 


 

Zer0 was indiscriminate in who she cut down on her rampage.

Whether it be fleeing Hyperion employees, or guards sent to stop her, or whatever, she simply didn’t care. The Vault hunter took a savage pleasure in destroying whatever she could get her hands on- tearing apart every space she could access and then some. She paid no attention to what the blue screens tried to tell her- nothing he could say would stop her now. The assassin worked with a terrifying efficiency, making her way down the space station at a steady pace and wiping away any opposition that dared to face her in her wrath. Zer0 had no real goal other than compete and total destruction until she saw a sign directing her to Research and Development.

“You were supposed to bring Rhys back alive so that management could download whatever the hell was so damn valuable from inside his head.”

“And all you had to do was bring me whatever the hell was living inside of Rhys’s head.”

With Yvette’s voice ringing in Zer0’s head, the assassin thought it was high time she go see what exactly Hyperion knew about their former CEO’s current state of being and how it got that way.

Zer0 approached a lift to take her down towards the Hub of Heroism quite casually, but when the lift didn’t open immediately- as it was already in use- she violently struck her sword in the seam and pried the doors apart. Peering down the elevator shaft, she spotted the lift a few floors below her, beginning its decent down the space station. Without another moment’s hesitation, Zer0 stepped off of the ledge and smoothly landed on the roof of the lift, rocking it slightly with her arrival. Very briefly, she heard a few yelps of surprise below her, so she activated her cloak and opened the access hatch.

Instantly guns were pointed at the opening, as the elevator was full of Hyperion guards dressed in their usual yellow armor. From their point of view, the hatch flung itself open, so they didn’t fire just yet as they saw nothing there. This gave Zer0 the perfect opportunity to just drop in, her sword already in the course of its first arc. She made quick work of the guards, even when they started reigning bullets all over the enclosed space in their panic. Rising from her crouch once all of the guards were finally still with death, Zer0 snapped her wrist out to shake off any excess blood from her sword and watched the floor numbers decrease until they finally came to a stop.

Oh good, 07B- they were already heading to her floor.

When the doors finally slid open, she wasn’t really expecting to get a face full of blue screens.

Then again, maybe she was.

“No wait, don’t shoo- oh.” Jack said, voice starting panicked and then ending somewhat surprised. Zer0 had half a mind to shoot the screens out anyway, already twitching to do so, when she caught sight of three pairs of legs hidden behind the screens themselves. She stopped and suddenly the monitors moved out of the way to reveal Fiona, Sasha, and Gortys.

“Well, there you are silly!” Gortys cheered. “I thought you got lost.”

“Zer0!” The sisters cried out in relief, coming towards the unmoving assassin.

“What’s going on? Jack told us-” Sasha began, but the assassin cut her off viciously.

“Don’t listen to a thing he says.” She hissed, already pushing passed the sisters and continuing on her war path. “Get to the caravan.”

“Well that’s a little unfair, isn’t it?” The screens frowned, but Zer0 ignored them.

“What happened, Zer0?! Why won’t you tell us?”

“Zer0!”

Zer0 ignored them as well, even as their questions got a bit more desperate as she continued to walk away without pause. Fiona must have realized she wasn’t going to answer them because she called out a bit urgently.

“Okay- okay, we’ll meet you back at the ship. We won’t leave without you- or Rhys!” She shouted at the assassin’s retreating form.

Zer0 finally turned the corner, leaving the trio’s line of sight. She walked calmly but carefully through the surprisingly empty halls of Helios, very aware of the fact that every few feet there was a new monitor on the wall and on it was the same blue screen with the same blue face. She trudged on, even as she grew more and more unsettled that he was just quiet, watching her.

No, unsettled was the wrong word.

Angry was more like it.

The Vault hunter’s muscles were practically coiled like a spring, waiting for something to happen. When she turned another corner in the seemingly endless hallways of Helios, she saw two turrets at the end of the hall perk up- sensing her approaching form. She went to grab her rifle when they both suddenly deactivated, drooping without power. From her periphery, Zer0 saw the man on the screen turn back to her after having looked over to the two machines.

She grit her teeth and destroyed them anyway.

“Okay, that-” At the sound of his voice, she shot the nearest monitor and continued on. “Come on, Princess-”

She shot that one too.

Finally she made it to her destination- the large words ‘Research and Development’ painted on the wall in front of her. Without breaking her stride, Zer0 stormed in through a set of metal doors, taking the already frazzled scientists of the floor by surprise. One of the few guards in the area jumped to attention but was shot down before he could even raise his gun. The others were quickly taken care of in a similar fashion. The Hyperion scientists scrambled to get out of the room, but the assassin simply took aim at the other door mechanisms of the room- effectively cutting their escape off. Zer0 waited as they quickly realized they weren’t getting away- as the only way out was currently behind Zer0 herself- and huddled together as far away from the Vault hunter as they could. Once things had settled down, Zer0 pointed at one of the blue screens in the room with the end of her rifle.

“Who here can tell me about that?” She asked shortly. The Hyperion scientists shared uneasy glances but kept quiet. Zer0 clicked her tongue impatiently before she moved her rifle and shot three times into the air in threat, eliciting screams from the frightened Hyperion employees.

“Is this really nece-” Jack’s voice sounded once again and she could tell from his tone that he was rolling his eyes. Zer0 clenched her jaw at that and very quickly unloaded on all of the screens she could see, successfully eliminating Jack’s presence from the room. Once she was done with that, she bestowed the scientists a flat look.

“Well?” She prompted, making some of them flinch with her sharp hiss. They all shared another uneasy look again before a middle-aged man stood, gulping as he did so. The unnamed scientist shuffled forward to the front of the crowd, his nervousness making his movements shaky.

“I-I can.” He stuttered, gulping again to clear his throat after he had received the assassin’s undivided attention. “I’ll tell you e-everything you want to know- just please don’t hurt anyone!” He boldly pleaded.

Zer0 watched him with unsympathetic eyes and said nothing.

“I-I worked with Dr. Nakayama to develop an AI of Handsome Jack. It was a contingency plan to keep him around- so that he could lead the company even after death.” The man almost stumbled through his words after apparently having believed Zer0 would follow his rules. The Vault hunter frowned to herself, processing his words, before setting her jaw and pointing up at one of wrecked screens.

That is no AI.” She ground out, certain of her declaration. The man shook his head quickly, raising his hands up peacefully in an effort to placate the Vault hunter.

“That’s just how the project started- Handsome Jack wasn’t satisfied with the idea of leaving an AI in charge of his company, even if it was one of himself that would be in an unbreakable body.” The man explained carefully. “He wanted us to find a way to upload himself into the body, so we started taking measures to ensure that. Before he died, he made us surgically implanted bio-tech into his brain that would record his thoughts, memories, feelings- his essence- so that he could continue on after death. We took that and the already existing AI we created- which was pretty already pretty damn close to the original, if you ask me- and meshed them together after you Vault hunters murdered him.” The scientist’s voice grew sharp with sudden fury at the end, but he collected himself, remembering who exactly he was speaking to.

“And then you just lost him?” Zer0 asked, eyebrow raising in disbelief.

“No, Nakayama stole him.” The man almost spit, sounding enraged once more but not with the Vault hunter. “He went crazy after Handsome Jack died, downloaded everything we had- including the project- and swore vengeance on you. Then he left and we couldn’t track him down. He took the only version of the project we had before we could bring Handsome Jack back.”

Zer0 blinked, briefly remembering a mission she had gone on for Hammerlock that ended with some obsessed Hyperion guy killing himself by accidentally falling down the stairs- but he had sword vengeance for Jack too.

“Unbreakable body?” Zer0 asked, diverting the subject.

“We… made an endoskeleton with the most indestructible metal we’ve created. It was meant to be implanted into a body.” The man said, somewhat hesitant.

The assassin was immediately taken back to the scene in Jack’s office in her mind’s eye, having seen something metallic glittering in her periphery as she pried Rhys from his restraints.

“Implanted into a living body?” She asked absently, her thoughts still back in the office.

“That was the idea… but we haven’t perfected doing so and keeping the subject still living.” The man answered.

Zer0 hummed shortly, mouth pressed into a thin line at the information. After another short pause, she turned on her heel and walked out of the only still working door, ignoring the scientists’ noises of surprise she left in her wake. She silently walked down the halls of the space station unhindered, thoughts brewing wildly in her head now that she had gotten a glimpse of what Jack had tried to do- what he had probably wanted all along.

Still lost in her thoughts, the assassin didn’t notice that the entire space station was tilting until she herself stumbled into a wall.

Startled, Zer0’s head shot up, finally noticing the alarms had taken a more panicked tone- now blaring at twice the volume. She turned her head to look out of one of Helios’ large windows and saw they were moving faster through space than they had been before. Zer0 was alarmed to come to the realization that they had clearly been knocked out of orbit.

RHYS!” Jack’s enraged voice rang out in the halls suddenly.

“THAT’S WHAT YOU GET FOR TRYING TO KILL ME!” Rhys screamed back at him, the assassin only hearing it through the comms in her helmet. Zer0 looked out of the window again and saw they were hurtling closer and closer to Pandora.

Clearly, it was time to go.

Zer0 pivoted sharply and practically threw herself down the hall in the direction she remembered the elevator to be. She darted into the elevator and slammed the button for hanger bay level.

Of course with her luck, the elevator jammed halfway there.

The Vault hunter cursed and pulled her sword out to pry open the doors, hand already reaching up to turn her comms on.

“Rhys? Fiona? Sasha?” She asked. She only heard static for a nerve-wracking few seconds before someone’s voice crackled through.

“Zer0!” Fiona called, both relief and dread in her voice. “They took Gortys and the caravan! Sasha managed to run on, but they already left!” The assassin grit her teeth at that, her rage somewhat pacified by the fact that Sasha, Gortys, Loader Bot, and most likely Scooter got off Helios safe.

“Where are you?” Zer0 said, focusing on the immediate moment.

“Level 21C. I’m in an escape pod bay. I’ll wait for you and Rhys to-”

“No. Get out, now.” Zer0 commanded, cutting off the Pandoran as she slid her sword between the metal doors and began pushing.

“What?! No way! I’m not leaving you!” Fiona’s outraged voice dismissed, but Zer0 shook her head, briefly forgetting the Pandoran couldn’t see her.

“Fiona, those pods only hold one person. I’ll find Rhys and get out. Go while you can.”

“But-”

“Go, Fiona!” There was a silence filled with static and Zer0 jerked as the doors finally gave way, letting her out.

“Be safe Zer0. Please.” Fiona begged before the comms abruptly cut out.

The Vault hunter sighed in relief before she sheathed her sword and began trying to hail their missing friend. She cursed again when her call went unanswered and picked up the pace. Luckily, any screens she came across in her travels were either already destroyed or turned off, so she didn’t have to deal with that at the moment. Zer0 ran aimlessly, trying to come up with a way to find their beloved former Hyperion employee when he wasn’t responding to her calls. She found herself in another escape pod bay, passing by all of the empty hatches with a wince. The assassin only slowed slightly when she realized that there was a voice up ahead.

“Where the hell do you think you’re going, Rhysie?” She finally made out, almost jolting to a stop. There must’ve been some sort of response, because Jack continued. “Spoiler alert- they’re all gone!” Another pause, this one slightly shorter than the last. “What?! No, no, no, that’s not happening. Nope, sorry!” Jack denied and suddenly there were sounds of gunfire ahead, spurring Zer0 forward once more, hope burning through her veins. “Oh it is not going to be that easy. No way- we’re in this together Rhys. If you think I’m gonna let you leave me? Guess again.” She passed an active monitor with Jack’s face on it, but he must’ve been too preoccupied with Rhys to notice her because he didn’t comment on it, even as she began encountering more in-tact screens again.

“Aye, aye stop!” She heard another familiar voice call out from up ahead. Zer0 narrowed her eyes as she recognized the voice of one of Vallory’s goonies that had come with them- the moustached one. That must’ve meant that August and the weird haircut goon tried to kidnap Gortys and took the caravan, leaving their colleague behind in the undoubtable fight that ensued. “Aw man, come on dude!” She heard again from the same source, the man sounding desperate.

“Great! Another idiot’s joined the party!” Jack taunted, though Zer0 distinctly got the impression he wasn’t talking about her.

“Aye, you gonna die, dude!” The goon declared angrily before there was more sounds of gunfire.

“You’re all gonna die, you idiot.” Jack retorted before, again, gunfire echoed back at her from down the hall. Zer0 pushed herself to go even faster around the bend. She didn’t even pause when she saw a turret pointed at her from the ceiling, simply unhooking her pistol from her side mid-stride and shooting it out.

“Zer0!” Zer0 jerked again when she recognized Rhys’ voice calling to her, thanking her lucky stars that somewhere somehow, they had ended up in the same vicinity in the most dire of times. She came to a sliding halt in the little nook Rhys- and Loader Bot, she was surprised to note- were hiding in.

“Oh great, the walking apocalypse is here.” Jack said quite bitterly, and Zer0 didn’t even bother wasting any more ammo.

“You guys okay?” She asked, looking them both over for further injuries. Rhys nodded quickly while Loader Bot silently gazed at the both of them in contemplation.

“Fine. Fiona and Sasha, they-”

“I know Rhys.” Zer0 cut him off, already reading his heartbroken expression. “They didn’t have a choice.” The former Hyperion employee looked conflicted at that, but before Zer0 could say anything more, a bullet hit her shield and she snapped her head to spot Vallory’s goon peeking out from behind a wall. She glared and shot back once, making the man duck back into cover. With that momentarily taken care of, the assassin looked back at Loader Bot. “Options?”

“We have to go.” Loader Bot said simply, but there was something in his robotic tone that Zer0 didn’t like, her throat going dry. Suddenly, the robot reach out and pushed Rhys out of the nook and back into the hall, doing the same to the assassin immediately after before covering their flank. Rhys, Zer0, and Loader Bot booked it down the hall, much to the outrage of both Jack and Vallory’s goon. Once gunfire rained down on them from behind, Zer0 twisted mid-step and fired backwards, nicking the goon in the shoulder and completely destroying another turret that had emerged to stop them. Loader Bot effortlessly grabbed her around her middle and almost threw her onto his shoulder while still in motion.

“Hey! Get back here!” The goon shouted, grabbing hold of his own bleeding shoulder. Zer0 paid him no mind, knowing the real threat to them was the one that had full control of Helios.

“Oh no, where do you think you’re going?” Jack taunted again, unleashing another turret in front of them. Rhys screamed and ducked before Zer0 turned and took care of that one as well with a few well-placed shots. “No, you’re not leaving me!” Jack screamed, voice coming out slightly distorted. Zer0 set her jaw and powered on. They finally stumbled to a stop in front of an escape pod.

Zer0 took one look at it, with its glitched out mainframe and shuttering frame, and realized one thing.

Only one of them would make it out of there.

“We can’t all fit in that!” Rhys shouted in a panic, somewhat echoing her thoughts but not yet coming to the same conclusion she had.

“I know.” Loader Bot said simply before he grabbed Rhys around his middle and forced him into the pod, much to his loud protests. The robot went to grab the assassin next, but she had already darted forward,

And slammed her hand on the ‘close doors’ button.

“Wha-what are you doing?” Rhys stammered, wide eyed as the doors shut him in. Loader Bot gave Zer0 a long look, which she returned meaningfully, hoping to convey what she had been thinking.

The escape pod was already almost a deathtrap as it was. There was no way in hell that she would add extra weight it might not be able to support and put Rhys in danger.

She wouldn’t do that to her family.

Loader Bot finally nodded slightly before he moved forward and began manually slamming the outer doors of the escape hatch together, which would allow the pod to finally take off.

“W-wait, wait, Loader Bot, Zer0, no. Come on. No! Stop!” Rhys pleaded, tears beading in his eyes as he realized what was happening. “Guys, please!” His words did nothing to stop the robot from finally forcing the hatch doors closed. Rhys’ words became muffled through the two barriers. “No! Please, don’t!” He cried.

Zer0 smiled and pressed her hand against the glass in a silent farewell, mentally wishing the man safe travels. Her shield protected the both of them from gunfire as Loader Bot raised up on one arm to wish Rhys a similar goodbye, pressing a closed fist against the hatch doors.

“No! NO!” Rhys screamed as the escape pod finally detached itself from the crashing space station, tears finally streaming down his face. He banged on the glass of his pod as it propelled away from them.

The two of them watched him grow smaller and smaller in their vision before looking at each other. The assassin smiled grimly and pat the Loader Bot’s arm. Loader Bot’s red eye just stared at her in what seemed like incomprehension. They stared at each other for another moment before the moment seeped back into the assassin’s senses and she realized they were still being shot at. She glanced down at her shield- nearly halfway depleted- before standing, letting her gaze fall on one of their attackers staggering towards them.

“You’re pissing me off.” She ground out before she pounced, neatly vaulting over Loader Bot. The goon shouted in surprise at her nearing form, crumbling to the ground as she swiftly shot out his knee caps. The assassin stalked forward and grabbed a handful of his hair, ripping his upper half off of the floor painfully. The man hissed at the sensation and Zer0 searched his face, trying to find the most satisfying way to kill the man before she decided on something. “No, I want you lucid enough for the crash.” She spat before releasing him, letting him drop back down to the ground with a groan. The Vault hunter kicked away his weapon before she turned back to Loader Bot.

“You…” Jack hissed from a nearby monitor, and Zer0 stilled as she recognized something in his voice.

She was familiar with that anger- that hate- being directed at her.

“You always have to ruin everything, don’t you?” Jack ground out, glaring at her from all of the screens she could see. Zer0 blinked and continued walking towards her robot companion, who was watching her carefully. “You couldn’t-” The Vault hunter shot out the nearest screen in retaliation, but this time gunfire fired back at her in response. She ducked into a nearby nook before shooting out yet another Jack-controlled turret. Zer0 turned at the sound of approaching thuds to see Loader Bot coming up to her. She waited patiently for what he wanted to say.

“There is another option.” He said simply and Zer0 raised an eyebrow.

“A way off?” She asked.

“No.” He said. He didn’t wait for Zer0 to respond before he was picking her up again, placing her on top of him. The assassin pressed her lips together at the familiar motion and simply held on as Loader Bot suddenly took off in the halls. Zer0 took care of the forces that tried to stop them- turrets, guards, etc.- while Loader Bot led them to their destination- even climbing into an elevator shaft at one point and tearing upwards until they were on the desired floor. The Vault hunter looked around as they progressed, recognizing some sights until she realized she recognized all sights.

Zer0 grimaced, guessing where they were heading and not at all surprised when Loader Bot scrambled into Jack’s office.

He headed directly to one of the side walls and Zer0 hopped off once he started prying at something unseen.

“There is a safe room here that was designed to withstand forces comparable to a crash.” Loader Bot explained, fingers still trying to find purchase.

“Good luck trying to get into there, cupcake.” Jack spat at them. Zer0 whipped around, pistol already aiming at the biggest screen in the office with his face on it, when she paused. “Yeah, go ahead and shoot out the friggin’ window, moron.” Jack laughed mockingly as Zer0 realized the massive screen behind his desk- the one she had first seen him on- doubled as a window into space. She snarled and holstered her pistol, turning her back on him and facing Loader Bot. “Why didn’t you get in with little Rhysie, anyway? You both would’ve fit.” He taunted, and she was sorely tempted to ignore him.

“I wasn’t going to risk his safety.” She bit out, crossing her arms tightly over her chest.

“Oh, of course.” Jack spat, and Zer0 scowled to herself at his tone. “You know, we all could’ve just gotten what we wanted if you would’ve friggin’ left well enough alone.”

“If I-”Zer0 started furiously, spinning around in outrage only to lose her footing when the space station suddenly rocked violently. She caught herself on the wall behind her, her arms splayed out. She took a breath before pushing herself upright, returning her livid gaze to the Hyperion CEO. “If I left well enough alone.” She scoffed, glaring at him. “And what exactly did you want Jack? What do you think-”

“I WANTED TO FIX THINGS!” Jack screamed, voice distorted with his wrath. Zer0 stared at him as he composed himself briefly. “I wanted to fix things.” He repeated. “Don’t you get it? This was my second chance- a way to make up for everything I screwed up. You don’t understand how it feels to realize everything good you tried to do was for nothing- it helped no one!” Zer0 was quiet for a long moment, trying to battle with her warring emotions.

“And you think killing Rhys would’ve been a way to fix things?” Zer0 countered.

“Rhys would’ve been fine-”

“You know that’s not true!” Zer0 shouted back forcefully, cutting off the Hyperion CEO before he could deflect further. “You would’ve killed Rhys- RHYS!” She yelled, watching Jack flinch minutely. “Our Rhys, Jack!” She pressed, swallowing down the emotion that threatened to spill out of her eyes. “But you don’t care, do you? Not if it was going to get you what you wanted.”

“I don’t care?” Jack challenged dangerously. “No Zer0, quite the opposite, actually. I care too friggin’ much! If I was the old me- if I didn’t care- I wouldn’t be in this mess! I wouldn’t have hesitated to shove that damn endo-skeleton into Rhys. I wouldn’t be uploaded into Helios while it was crashing. I would’ve just killed you all, and I wouldn’t be stuck here!” Zer0 took a step back, swallowing a lump in her throat. She glanced over her shoulder to see Loader Bot hadn’t progressed at all in his search, and the heavy feeling of resignation pooled in her gut. The outside of the space station was beginning to turn red hot with the entrance into Pandora’s atmosphere, being pulled down by its gravity.  

“You’re stuck here because of the choices you made.” Zer0 said, ignoring how the air started to get thinner ever so slightly. “If you had even explained what you were trying to do, if you asked for help-”

“What?! You would’ve helped me?” Jack scoffed in disbelief, a sneer on his face.

“Yes!” Zer0 shouted suddenly, feeling as if the word was ripped out of her. Her eyes were shut tight as her answer echoed in the space of the open office, ringing with the truth of it.

Because it was.

“Yes.” Zer0 repeated in the abrupt silence, sinking to the floor with her back pressed against the supposed opening of the safe room. “Because dammit Jack, I trusted you.” She said, putting her head in her hands. “You were-more than-” The assassin stumbled over her words, trying to make sense of her emotions. “More than- you were family!” She spit out finally, body shuddering as she confessed. “You were my family. And I trusted you.”

There was a long silence after her declaration, with neither party knowing what to say in its wake. Zer0 slowly glanced over at Loader Bot, who was still struggling to pry the wall apart. Realizing it was futile, she put a hand on one of his arms. He instantly stopped and looked at her. The assassin simply shook her head and he drooped down, putting his hands back on the floor carefully.

Zer0 herself took a deep breath, relishing in the oxygen, before she removed her helmet.

“Put that back on- the oxygen’s low in here.” Jack snapped at her as her eyes adjusted to the light without her normal visor.

“No.” She said simply, placing her helmet on the ground beside her.

Zer0.” Jack growled, but the Vault hunter shrugged.

“What does it matter?” She asked lightly, having accepted her fate. “Having oxygen or not won’t change what will happen.” Jack was silent at that so she looked up at him, seeing a complicated and yet indescribable expression painted on his face. “It’s okay. We’ll be stuck here together.” She said to him and then turned to Loader Bot beside her, giving him a small smile. Loader Bot stared at her with his gleaming red eye for a long moment.

“Together.” He said finally, settled down against the wall as well. Zer0’s smile widened and turned sad simultaneously.   

“Why?” Jack asked, and Zer0 tilted her head back to him. “Dammit Zer0, why?!” He cried out, suddenly sounding gutted.

The Vault hunter paused at that, sensing that his question encompassed more than her just disobeying him. She pressed her lips together and looked down in thought before finally deciding on an answer, figuring there was no point in keeping anything to herself if she was going to die anyway.

“If you are a sin, / I must make a confession.” Zer0 said, raising her eyes to meet Jack’s even as her vision grew spotty. “I do not repent.” She smiled truthfully at him.

Zer0 watched as Jack’s blurry face morphed from desperate to something akin to devastation, understanding, and something she couldn’t pinpoint, before her eyes finally closed,

And she fell backwards.

 


 

Coming to this time was a lot like coming to after Vallory had attacked them in the Atlas Bio-sphere.

Except it was about five times more painful.

Zer0 groaned as she opened her eyes, her vision slightly adjusting to the relative darkness that surrounded her. She pushed herself up tenderly, feeling her body ache as she tried to recall what had happened. Her fingers ran across the metal ground, looking for her helmet. They finally bumped into something cold and she jerked her hand back, as whatever she had just touched clearly wasn’t her helmet- it being far larger than her missing equipment. When nothing else moved, she continued her search carefully. After another minute, she was rewarded for her patience by the sensation of feeling a smaller metal object. She ran her hand over the mysterious item and was relieved to find that she found it familiar. The assassin pulled the helmet closer to her body, but when her head swam at the movement, she put a hand up to hold it in an attempt to steady herself.

Her hand came away wet.

Well, blood loss explained a lot of what she was feeling, honestly.

Sucking in air between her clenched teeth, Zer0 slowly pulled her helmet back on, blinking rapidly when the HUD started up and momentarily blinded her with its light. When her vision finally settled, the assassin took in her surroundings and realized with a heavy heart that what she had previously discovered was Loader Bot.

A broken down, deactivated Loader Bot.

The Vault hunter made a small noise despite herself and moved forward unconsciously, even as her body screamed with the motion. She ran her hands over the metal body, trying to find a way to turn him back on. Eventually, she settled on just trying to shake him awake, as if that would be any better, but Loader Bot did not stir. The assassin sighed heavily to herself before wordlessly promising the robot she would return for him. Zer0 laboriously pushed herself to stand and climbed out of the apparent wreckage they were in. After she was freed, she turned and saw that whatever they were trapped in had the abstract shape of a box.

Pressing her lips together, she tried not to think about it and continued on.

The assassin found wreckage all around them, which was unsurprising given her last memories. She picked her way through the metal carefully, hissing when any too quick movements would jar her body.

“-I’ll have to live with that.” She heard suddenly from somewhere below her. Zer0’s head was still scrambled enough that she couldn’t place it, but she definitely recognized the next one.

“I’ll spare you the amount of times I’ve told myself exactly the same thing.” Jack said earnestly to whoever he was talking to, and Zer0 jolted.

Jack was alive.

Jack was alive?

“Everyone thinks they’re the hero of their own story.” He continued, and Zer0 stumbled to follow the voice. “And look where that got me.” A loud, corrupted sigh echoed in her ears as she neared the source. “I should’ve known. Ever since I came to this nacho-flavored shithole of a planet, I’ve been betrayed by everybody I ever gave a rat’s ass about. My boss… my girlfriend… hell, my goddamn daughter.” At that, Zer0 stilled, blinking rapidly. “Maybe I deserved it. The road to hell is paved with good intentions, right?”

“Your daughter betrayed you?” The other voice sounded again, and this time the assassin recognized it instantly.

“Rhys.” She croaked, dragging herself forward and trying to listen carefully. How did he even get here? How much time had passed since the crash?

“She didn’t have a choice.” Jack answered, his voice ringing out honestly. “After she killed her mom… she couldn’t control her powers. Kept her hidden for years.” He sighed as Zer0 finally crested the edge of the metal, spotting their conversation down below. Rhys- and he looked like he was okay, but honestly her vision was a bit too blurry to tell for sure- was speaking to the large cracked screen that currently housed Jack. Zer0 waited, wanting to see where this particular conversation led. She tried to settle her spinning head as Jack continued. “Then one day, a buncha Vault hunters helped her betray me- our good pal Zer0 being one of them… and she killed herself.” Jack paused, taking what sounded like a pain filled breath, “I regret making her do that the most. She should’ve had another option.” Rhys turned to the Hyperion CEO, face sympathetic as he edged closer.

“I’m sorry, Jack. You-”

But behind him suddenly Zer0 could see something thin and metallic glinting, snaking its way closer to its unsuspecting victim.

“Rhys!” She tried calling out, but her voice was still rough with disuse. She was powerless to warn him as it suddenly plunged into his temple, and for a second she thought the worst until Rhys pulled the thing out of his head.

“No!” He shouted, scowling at the Hyperion CEO who was just laughing smugly at him. Immediately, the man disappeared from the cracked screen and reappeared in his familiar holographic form.

“Gotcha!” Jack grinned victoriously. “Now I can try again.”

“Try what again?! Try to kill me?” Rhys snapped, obviously panicked that the man was back in his head.

“No, you idiot.” Jack rolled his eyes. “I’m gonna bring myself back.”

“No way, Jack!” Rhys shouted as Zer0 finally tried to climb down from her perch. She mostly fell all the way down, stumbling into an almost roll to distribute the shock of the impact. It worked for the most part, but her body was still severely battered and aching, her head pounding. Neither man seemed to notice her graceless approach amongst their argument. “Not after what you just pulled!”

“What I just pulled?!” Jack echoed in disbelief. “You’re the one that brought Helios down!”

“That was after you tried to kill me!”

“Listen, Rhysie, that wasn’t personal-”

“It should’ve been!” Rhys suddenly yelled, silencing the hologram at once. “After everything we went through together, it damn well should’ve been personal, Jack.” At the continued quiet, Rhys added, “It was personal to me.”

“Rhys…” Jack trailed off, sounding apologetic, but Rhys shook his head and grabbed at his hair.

“And I can’t trust you after that! I can’t trust you to be in my head!” Zer0 neared the two of them, still neither noticing her presence.

“What are you saying?” Jack asked, sounding a little lost. “Rhys?”

“I’m sorry Jack.” Rhys said, bending down to pick up a large shard of glass. “I can’t.”

With that, he began pressing the glass shard into his temple.

Zer0 jerked forward in alarm, only to stop when Rhys pulled the shard away- a bit of blood spurting out with it. He then grabbed hold of the cybernetic drive in his temple, helped by the wound he had just created, and pulled.

“Wait, wait, hold on Rhys.” Jack said, sounding panicked himself now. “You can’t-” Suddenly the drive gave way with another small squirt of blood and Jack’s holographic form glitched before settling. “Rhys! Please don’t do this!”

“You did this to yourself.” Rhys said coldly, hissing in pain from his wound and throwing the cybernetic drive off to the side. Zer0 could only stand and watch as he turned the glass shard towards his echo-eye.

“No, Rhys, you don’t know what it’s like!” Jack pleaded as the shard came closer and closer to the cybernetic. Rhys ignored him and pressed the edge behind the contact lens of the echo-eye, managing to pry it slightly from its position before his other arm suddenly but carefully yanked his whole hand away. The assassin glanced over and saw Jack’s arm outstretched, a look of panic on his face as he continued, his form glitching once more. “Please Rhys, I’m sorry, okay? I’ll be better, I promise!”

“You had your chance, Jack.” Rhys said with a glare, giving the wreckage around them a quick once over. “I can’t trust you anymore. Now give me my arm back.”

“No! You have to listen to me, I-”

“Give me. My arm back!” Rhys almost shouted, his other hand trying to shake the immovable robotic arm back into his control.

“But Rhys-”

“Jack.” Zer0 spoke up finally, unable to watch the scene for any longer. Both the hologram and the former Hyperion employee whipped their heads over at the sound of her voice, surprised at her presence.

“Zer0! Thank god you’re alive!” Rhys cried out in relief, a wetness again gathering in his eyes. Opposite of him, Jack’s face did something complicated before it settled back on pleading.

“Zer0, princess, please, tell him something!” Jack begged, but his whole face dropped when she slowly shook her head at him. “You…” He trailed in shock and confusion, physically recoiling a step.

“It’s not your decision.” Zer0 croaked quietly, even as his expression made her chest hurt, “It’s his.”

“So you’ll let him just-?!” Jack cut himself off, wide eyed. Zer0 opened her mouth before she closed it, pressing her lips into a thin line before shutting her eyes tight.

“It’s his decision.” She repeated hollowly. Jack made a wounded sound, but it was interrupted by the sound of metal screeching against metal. Zer0’s gaze shot up to see Rhys had pierced his metal arm on some protruding wreckage, groaning as he slowly ripped it away from its mechanical socket. The assassin saw a bit of blood pour out of the area as Rhys struggled, ripping away at wires to disconnect the arm from himself, and she worried he’d really do some damage to himself. She quickly strode over to the brunette and stilled him with a hand.

“Zer0, please, I have to.” Rhys begged as well, expression wrecked. The Vault hunter gulped slightly before she nodded once and pulled her sword from its sheath. She wobbled slightly with the movement, still in bad shape from the crash. With a steadying breath, she brought up her sword and swung down in the swiftest motion she could manage in her state, aiming close to his shoulder socket. Instantly, Rhys was free of the metal contraption and he stumbled backwards, still hissing in pain. “Thanks.” He told her after steadying himself. He then bent down again, grabbing another glass shard as they were pretty much endless in Helios’ wreckage.

“Guys, please.” Jack said, sinking to his knees in front of Rhys. “Please.” Zer0 swallowed heavily and looked away from the sight while Rhys successfully removed the iris of the echo-eye. He grabbed hold of it with his only hand left and began pulling. The Vault hunter winced as he moaned in pain, grunting with the agony of literally pulling the cybernetics out of his head through a thin cord. “Please don’t send me back there! It’s nothing like they say!”

Rhys continued pulling the wire, pausing slightly to catch his breath.

“There’s nothing… there’s absolutely nothing there… Don’t do this.” Jack begged brokenly, still on the ground.

“I’m sorry Jack.” Rhys said in-between breaths, adjusting his grip on the wire. “It’s over.” Jack looked from him to the assassin and despite everything, Zer0 couldn’t stop her heart from aching.

“Zer0,” Jack started, reaching an arm out to her, “I-”

And then Rhys finally yanked the echo-eye’s core mechanics out of his head, making Jack disappear.

Zer0 blinked before she realized her arm was reaching out to him, too.

The sight startled her, as she wasn’t even conscious of the motion. She let it fall down limply as she blinked rapidly, looking away from the space the hologram previously took up. Rhys was looking at her, but she had no intention of facing him yet, trying to compose herself and somehow failing.

“Zer0, I’m sorry.” Rhys murmured quietly, and she held up a hand, shaking her head in a motion that she hoped conveyed that she understood. Thankfully, it seemed he did, because he nodded and grew quiet. It took a longer moment than she liked to finally get her mind back in the right headspace. Zer0 took a deep breath, shook her head to clear her mind, and repressed all of her emotions for a later date.

They had more important things to worry about right now.

Like finding the rest of their family.

With that thought in mind, the assassin turned to the brunette and saw that he was staring down at his echo-eye mechanism in deep contemplation. She didn’t want to interrupt so she let him be, simply observing him for now until she felt that it was urgent to continue on. The Vault hunter watched how his fingers flexed around the device before Rhys ultimately sighed and shook his head, raising his gaze to hers. Without another word, he held out the mechanism to her. She took it gingerly, studying it in her palm for a moment. After another shared glance with the brunette, the assassin slipped the device in the same pocket with Angel’s picture.

Zer0 cleared her throat and studied their surroundings again. It was only from her new position that she could see outside the crashed space station. A giant beam of light shooting straight up into the sky immediately grabbed her attention and it took her brain a minute to catch up.  

The Vault.

The assassin turned to the brunette, opening her mouth to tell him they had to go now, when Rhys suddenly keeled over. Zer0’s arms shot out and grabbed him before he hit the ground. She stumbled with the added weight, gritting her teeth against her body’s sharp protests.

“No, no, no, Rhys.” She mumbled, sinking to the ground with his unresponsive body. He didn’t answer, laying limply in her grasp. She crawled out from under him and moved to kneel at his side, patting his cheek franticly in an attempt to wake him. “Rhys, come on.”

Rhys didn’t stir whatsoever. Zer0 checked over his injuries and though he had lost a lot of blood, it wasn’t enough for her to worry he was going to die. Her best guess was that he had fainted due to the pain and exertion of pulling out his own cybernetics. The assassin glanced from his unconscious from to the beam of light in the sky and back, setting her jaw.

“Okay Rhys, I’ll be back, okay?” Zer0 said, pushing herself up to stand. “They need me right now- with the monster- and…” She trailed off, looking between her two choices once more. “I’ll be back, I promise.”

Rhys didn’t answer.

“I promise.” Zer0 repeated, shuffling backwards away from his body, her eyes unwillingly glued to his still form.

Once her back hit an obstruction, Zer0 had to rip her gaze away and turn towards her destination, forcing the dread pooling in her gut back. She picked her way through Helios’ remains with a blurry vision, stumbling into wreckage when her head spun too fast. At one point, the Vault hunter lost her footing and tripped over some debris. She crashed into a frayed metal wall that slashed her arm, sharp enough to tear through her suit and draw blood. Zer0 hissed through her teeth as she caught herself. Taking a deep breath, the assassin pushed off the wall and kept dragging herself out until she found sunlight.

Zer0 tried reaching out through their echos but she only received static in reply. She squinted up at the beacon as she trudged forward. Upon further inspection, there was some sort of sandstorm around the beam of light. Dazed and distracted by the sight, Zer0 didn’t notice when suddenly the rocky land dipped in elevation and she fell forward. Her ankle rolled painfully with the fall and the Vault hunter hit the ground with a loud thud. Head bouncing off of the floor roughly, Zer0 saw stars behind her eyelids. She groaned at the sensation, just lying there for a moment in hopes that her body would stop screaming in pain. When that didn’t work, Zer0 slowly but surely picked herself up, continuing onward.

She had to go help her family.

She had to make it.

And yet, as she hauled her own battered body closer towards the beam of light- where she thought she heard someone shouting- her vision started fading in and out.

“No.” Zer0 whispered brokenly, trying to shake away the feeling and continuing forward.

Her family was in danger.

She had to go save them!

She had to!

She-

Collapsed after two more steps.

Chapter Text

Zer0 woke up in a quiet place feeling comfortable and well rested.

It was almost unsettlingly silent as she blinked her eyes open, seeing the world through her now familiar cracked helmet. Though her body was still sore as all hell, she didn’t feel like she was dying anymore, so that had to mean something. The assassin moved her head around slowly, taking in the sight of a simple looking bedroom. Sunlight poured into the room from a window nearby. She watched the shadows in the room and strained her ears for any sounds for a moment before trying to sit up. Thankfully, her body only tinged with muscle-fatigue as she rose. Zer0 took a deep breath once she was finally upright, staring around at the room again, somewhat confused.

How the hell did she get here?

Last time she checked, she was dragging herself through the Pandoran landscape to the beam of light in the sky.

The sky…?

Zer0 glanced over to the window and simply saw a cloudy blue day with no signs of the opened Vault of the Traveler. There were, however, neighboring buildings to hers that looked somewhat familiar even at this distance. The Vault hunter stood and shuffled closer, trying her echo out as she went. Like before, she only received static, but that was swiftly forgotten when she arrived at the windowsill and recognized her surroundings instantly.

Why the hell was she in Sanctuary?!

Ever-more confused but now knowing she was safe, the assassin slinked away from the window and back into the confines of the room. If her mental recollection of the city was correct, this room was above Moxxi’s bar. Trusting no one to barge in just yet, Zer0 sat back down on the bed and checked on her own status. Her muscles only felt slightly tired. The wound she had procured from leaving the wreckage of Helios had been closed up, though the tear was still visible in her suit. Remembering her head injury, Zer0 listened carefully once again to make sure no one was coming before she slipped her helmet off. She ran her fingers over her temples, trying to find the place she remembered feeling blood when she first awoke post-crash. What she found instead was suture thread woven into her skin. She prodded at it carefully, trying to determine how bad the injury was. After her self-examination, she came up with two possibilities:

Either someone had patched her up and given her a med-kit or two to speed up her body’s healing,

Or a lot of time had passed since her last memories.

Touching her stitches again, she was leaning towards the former option, as she could still feel the two edges of torn-open skin, meaning they hadn’t had time to heal back together. With a small sigh, Zer0 slipped her helmet back on. Remembering falling to the ground previously, she dug into her chest pocket with a growing sense of alarm. The Vault hunter pulled out the contents gingerly and hoped to a god she didn’t believe in that they were still undamaged.

Angel’s smiling face stared back up at her from the photograph and Rhys’ echo-eye mechanism remained uncrushed.

Zer0 sighed in relief and placed the items back in her safest pocket. She moved almost silently towards the door, finding it locked from the inside. Appreciating the sense of privacy, the assassin turned the lock on the doorknob and stepped out into the somewhat dim hallway. She looked down both ways before lightly stepping to the left, unwilling to make a sound and alert others that she was awake just yet.

That didn’t seem to matter, as when she descended the stairs she had discovered, Zer0 found they led right into the bar itself.

“Oh hey sugar, you’re awake.” She heard Moxxi call. The Vault hunter turned her head towards the sound and found the woman wiping a glass behind the bar. She also noticed a few quiet patrons scattered through the establishment, but they didn’t look up at her entrance. Moxxi gestured her head towards the open bar stool in front of her and Zer0 followed her order silently, hoping to get some answers. She slumped down in her seat, looking up at the Pandoran woman expectantly.

Moxxi stared back at her quietly, hands pausing on their current job.

“You had us awfully worried, sugar.” Moxxi said finally, tearing her eyes away from Zer0’s practically shattered visor and down to the cup in her hands, resuming her wiping. The assassin herself simply waited for her to continue. “You never came back for your reward after taking care of Bossanova for me.” Zer0 pursed her lips, thinking back to the small mission she did for the woman that felt like centuries ago.

“How did I get here?” Zero said quietly. Moxxi’s eyes flashed up to her before returning down to her task.

“Your siren friend felt something was wrong.” Moxxi said with a short, unassuming shrug. “It didn’t exactly help matters when Helios crashed down into Pandora.” Zer0 closed her eyes briefly.

Siren powers.

Yeah, that explained it.

“After she raised enough of a stink about it, a couple people went to go look and sure enough, there you were.” The Pandoran continued before pursing her lips. “I’m not gonna lie sugar, you were in pretty bad shape. Almost like you were in that crash.” The end of her statement was said in an upturned lilt, almost questioning but not quite. Zer0 pressed her lips together and didn’t answer. Moxxi, of course, took notice, but didn’t push matters. “Dr. Zed patched you up for the most part. Maya didn’t let him peak under that helmet of yours, so no worries. She handled that part herself.” A tension the assassin didn’t know was there since she found her stitched up head wound slowly seeped out of her muscles at the news.

No one she didn’t want had seen her face.

“Did they find anyone else?” Zer0 asked, “Anyone near me?” Moxxi studied her still form for a long moment, searching her cracked visor for something, before shaking her head.

“No.” Moxxi said, “But I can’t imagine they were looking very hard after they found you like that, either.” Zer0 sighed softly at that. She stared at her hands on the counter, a bit lost. What had happened with the Vault? With the rest of her family? She still had no idea if Fiona made it out alright- not to mention where the hell Vaughn was. She needed to return to Helios’ crash site, but would she find Rhys’ body there- if there was even anything left? How long had she been out?

Before she could open her mouth to voice any of her questions to Moxxi, the woman suddenly covered one of the assassin’s hands with her own. Zer0 glanced up at Moxxi and found her to be wearing a solemn expression on her painted face.

“I’m told you saved my son’s life.” Moxxi said and Zer0 almost jerked with the implications, but her thoughts were interrupted as Moxxi continued. “I owe you a debt for that. A big one.” The assassin shook her head quickly and held her other hand up, mind racing.

If Moxxi knew about Scooter, then that means Scooter survived coming back to Pandora and had found his way home to tell the story.

Since he was on the caravan, that meant he had to know at least some of what happened, right?!

Zer0 was already standing before she was aware of the action, but Moxxi stopped her with a quick grip on her arm, gently but sternly gesturing her to sit down again.

“Don’t you go out on a tear now- Scooter will be back any minute. He just went to check on his garage.” Moxxi dismissed, giving her an almost scolding look that had Zer0 sinking back down in her seat. “Sugar, you should rest after what you’ve been through. You’ve been gone an awfully long time.” She added softly as the Vault hunter tried to compose herself again- silencing her racing thoughts. Moxxi watched her quietly, making sure she had the assassin’s attention again before gravely saying, “Thank you, Zer0. For saving my son.”

Zer0 could only nod at her severity, caught a bit speechless.

“So, you haven’t missed much while you were gone.” Moxxi started suddenly, moving to start wiping down the counters a bit too casually. “Nothing fun by our standards, anyway.” She added with a conspiratorial wink. “And I’m guessing you had something to do with Helios, so you already know that news. I still want to hear about that, by the way, but that can wait... Marcus came by, wanting to ‘try things again,’ whatever that means, but I’m just not interested. Maybe I’ll have you go talk to him if he keeps pestering me.” Moxxi said innocently, but Zer0 got the message and quirked her lips slightly.

She always found the other woman entertaining, whether it be from her stories of multiple escapades to her brief but straightforward jobs with ex-lovers and disrespectful men.

Zer0 settled in to wait, resting her head on her arms on the counter, mostly listening as Moxxi filled her in on the gossip in Sanctuary and beyond. She appreciated the woman’s way of casually skirting around the elephant in the room, even though the Vault hunter knew she would have to tell the Pandoran eventually. The assassin was distracted enough by Moxxi’s stories- which she was suddenly sure the woman’s aim- that she didn’t notice the voices until they had entered the bar.

“-And that ain’t even all of it! You should see Ellie’s place!” A familiar country twang said, pushing through the doors. Zer0 looked over immediately at the sound, caught off guard.

She flashed to her feet when she realized Scooter wasn’t alone.

There was an odd silence in the bar as she and the others stared at each other. Even the bar patrons were hushed, watching warily. The assassin could feel Moxxi looking between the two parties curiously, but Zer0 was beyond caring at that point. Scooter stopped, a bit slack faced with the surprise of her presence, before he grinned toothily. He opened his mouth to greet her, but one of his two companions stepped forward, wide eyed.

“Oh my god.” The woman breathed in shock, while the woman on Scooter’s other side was in a similar state, speechless. “Oh my god!”  She cried, her eyes watering.

Suddenly, Zer0 was running before she even realized she was doing so, and the two women rushed to meet her in the middle.

“Zer0!” Sasha cried out as she reached the assassin, wrapping her arms tightly around her without even slowing her stride. The Vault hunter felt a second thud of another body hitting hers before a second set of arms wrapped around her as well. She grabbed them back just as strongly.

“You’re alive!” Fiona added, just as teary eyed as her sister. “You’re alive!” They sunk to the ground, still embracing and holding onto one another. Zer0 buried her head in their shoulders’ and tried to hold on tighter. She didn’t realize until Sasha nuzzled closer that she herself had been shaking.

But she didn’t care.

Sasha and Fiona were here, in her arms.

And they were safe.

And they were alive.

 


 

They caught each other up to speed at a table near the back of the bar. Moxxi made sure to give them privacy, giving any patrons that wandered too close a stink-eye that had them scampering away, fearing her wrath. Zer0 could tell the woman herself clearly wanted to know what was going on, but she gave them a wide berth anyway.

Fiona, Sasha, and Scooter filled her in on what she missed from their end, how Finch and Kroger had turned on them- intending to leave Fiona and Sasha on Helios while they left with Gortys and the unconscious Scooter. Thankfully, August in turn betrayed them and even took a bullet for Sasha, which officially elevated him up to ‘do not kill’ status in Zer0’s eyes. In the ensuing firefight, somehow Sasha, August, and Kroger got on the caravan ship with Gortys while Fiona and Finch were left behind- which explains why the assassin ran into the man later on in the pod bay. Fiona then had to take an escape pod down to the surface since Helios was toast, and that info Zer0 knew already, but it was nice to have it reaffirmed. Once planet-side, Vallory made Gortys summon the Vault with her new beacon part, keeping Sasha and Scooter as hostages for incentive.

No one, of course, was prepared for the Vault guardian and how strong it would be.

And how could they? Although they were all officially hunting a Vault, none of them had ever opened one.

According to Sasha, the Vault guardian effortlessly wiped out Vallory’s forces and went toe-to-toe with Gortys, who apparently- with her new upgrade- was big enough at the time to stop it- having automatically digistructed herself a new, stronger form. That was around the time Fiona finally landed on the surface of Pandora, thankfully nearby. She arrived only to see Vallory trying to destroy Gortys with a rocket launcher. After stopping her briefly and getting an explanation- that by destroying Gortys they would close the Vault and the guardian would disappear- the monster had swiftly killed Vallory.

Zer0 pressed her lips together bitterly at that.

The Vault guardian had stolen her kill.

Once that was dealt with, Gortys begged them to destroy her as well, explaining that the monster knew Gortys was what was keeping it here and therefore trying to keep Gortys there so it could wreak havoc. Left with no other options, Fiona and Sasha regretfully did what Gortys asked.

Once everything had settled, Scooter finally awoke, handless. The girls explained what had happened, and left with nothing else to do, Scooter directed them to Sanctuary so that they could get him and August real medical attention and that the girls had somewhere to rest for now. August himself was still with Dr. Zed, and Scooter had been showing the girls around the infamous floating city after having some time to recover.

They had only been in the city proper for a few hours now.

Hours.

When Zer0 heard this, she immediately stood, eyes wide in panic.

“We need to go.” She said quickly, already racing for the door. Fiona, Sasha, and Scooter followed after her at once, voicing their confusion and alarm, but Zer0 kept moving, only briefly turning to ask where the caravan was.

“I-in my garage.” Scooter stammered, “But buddy-” She ignored him and pivoted on her heel, almost jogging to the garage.

“Zer0, what’s going on? What’s wrong?” Sasha asked as they jogged along with her.

“We need to get to Helios’ crash site.” Zer0 said quickly in explanation, finally skidding around the corner to see the entrance to Scooter’s garage and their wonderful- albeit roughed up- caravan waiting inside.

“What?! Why?” Fiona asked, her face scrunching up in puzzlement.

Rhys!” Zer0 answered simply before throwing herself into the vehicle.

The other three stopped asking questions after that.

 


 

It had only taken them thirty minutes at the most to get there with a fast travel and Sasha driving like a woman on a mission. Zer0 practically exploded out of the caravan as soon as they stopped and raced into the wreckage of Helios, the other three hot on her heels. She picked her way through the warped metal, retracing her steps from her memories.

It had only been a few hours.

Rhys still had to be alive,

Hadn’t he?

The assassin finally burst into the remains of Jack’s office, purposely blocking out her memories of what transpired there now that she had arrived. She scanned the area quickly, searching.

When she came up with nothing, she looked harder.

“Zer0? What are we supposed to be looking for?” Fiona asked from beside her, seeing nothing.

“Rhys.” Zer0 said, frowning deeply now.

“Rhys was here?” Sasha asked, concerned with his condition by looking at the state of the room itself.

“After the crash.” Zer0 assured briefly. The Vault hunter grit her teeth once her search came up empty again. She growled to herself and ventured closer, sliding down the small incline they were on to reach the center of the ruined office.

Growing more and more frustrated, Zer0 opened her mouth to ask Jack to find Rhys when she stopped cold, remembering.

“Hey buddy, there ain’t nothin’ here but scrap metal.” Scooter called from where he and the girls stayed up above, jolting Zer0 out of her wrong-footedness. “Well that and useless crap.” He added, sending a fallen Jack statue a scowl. The assassin blew out a slow breath in an attempt to calm herself, finding that she couldn’t disagree with him.

Rhys was not here.

And judging from the lack of blood- or rather, lack of blood she hadn’t already seen- he wasn’t killed either.

“Zer0, please tell us what’s going on.” Fiona almost begged. The Vault hunter’s shoulders dropped in disappointment with their empty search.

“Rhys and I were here.” She said, giving the place one last once-over. “He fainted right there and I collapsed a bit further out. I was hoping he’d still be here.” Zer0’s eyes caught sight of the piece of metal Rhys had stabbed through his metal arm and found the arm itself to be missing, too.

“But the fact that he’s not means he’s alive, right?” Sasha asked hopefully.

“Or that he was taken by some sonuvabitches.” Scooter shrugged helpfully.

“Either way, for them to take him means he was probably still alive.” Fiona said. Zer0 nodded, finally looking back at the trio. They looked back at her sympathetically. “Why don’t you tell us what happened?” Fiona suggested gently. The assassin nodded once more and went to step forward when she stopped, struck with another memory of the crash.

“We need to grab someone first.” She said before sharply turning and following her mental recollection a second time. The other three scrambled to follow after her.

“Someone? Some-who?” Sasha emphasized, trying to keep pace with the assassin when Zer0 suddenly leapt up and began climbing the wreckage. “Zer0!”

“He should be up here!” Zer0 called back, effortlessly pulling herself up to where she remembered falling from before. She only had to pick through a bit more of the warped metal before she found the room she was looking for.

But it was also empty.

Zer0 squinted and looked around, confirming that this was definitely the place she woke up after the crash. Sasha reached her first while Fiona was helping Scooter up, since he had a bit of trouble climbing with one hand.

“I don’t get it, was someone else here?” She asked gently, looking at the empty room.

“I… Yes.” Zer0 said, frowning with her face scrunched up in confusion.

“Who?” Fiona asked as she and Scooter caught up, having overheard Sasha’s question.

“Loader Bot.” Zer0 answered, baffled that the huge robot was nowhere to be found.

“Loader Bot?” Sasha and Fiona asked in tandem. The Vault hunter nodded wordlessly, still taken aback by his absence. Scooter studied the room carefully and whistled.

“Are you sure he didn’t… you know… get destroyed in the crash?” Fiona asked carefully. Before Zer0 could even reply, Scooter was answering for her.

“Not if he was in here, he didn’t.” He said, knocking the knuckles of his remaining hand against the sturdy metal. “This right here is made outta the damn strongest stuff you can find. I reckon I’d recognize a safe room like this a mile away. Even if it crashed from outer space- which it did- it oughta keep whatever’s inside protected.”

Zer0’s brain short-circuited for a moment at the information.

“There is a safe room here that was designed to withstand forces comparable to a crash.”

“Good luck trying to get into there, cupcake.”

She registered the sound of the others talking, but she couldn’t make out what they were saying until someone touched her arm.

“You okay?” Sasha asked, a concerned look on her face at Zer0’s stillness. The assassin nodded in a stilted motion, trying to tamp down the heartache that resurfaced with her realization. She took a deep breath, recounting the facts.

Sasha, Fiona, and Scooter were still alive.

Gortys was currently destroyed (and didn’t that sting), but could theoretically be reconstructed, as evidenced by the pieces Fiona had in her possession- the two triangular panels from the underground Atlas lab that had started this whole journey.

Athena was unaccounted for. For Fiona and Sasha to have been in Sanctuary for hours and not appear to Zer0 with the gladiator in tow meant that the gladiator herself was no longer in the floating city.

Rhys was missing.

Loader Bot was deactivated and missing.

Vaughn was missing.

Jack was-

“Alright, I think it’s time for an explanation Zer0? Please?” Fiona pressed, her hands on her hips. Zer0 glanced at her before agreeing, gesturing her head towards the caravan. The other three got the message and followed her back to their vehicle, carefully picking their way through the remains of Helios once more. The Vault hunter kept a keen eye out for any sign of Rhys or Loader Bot but still found nothing. 

Once they were safely back in the caravan, Zer0 dropped heavily onto the couch, a bit lost once again. Scooter, Sasha, and Fiona filled out the rest of the couch and waited patiently. The assassin sighed deeply, wondering where to start, before she realized it should probably be with their big secret.

“Scooter, you should know, we had Handsome Jack with us the whole time.”

 


  

After that entire debacle, explaining to Scooter yes, that Handsome Jack, no, he wasn’t technically alive again, no, he wasn’t a zombie, and yes, he had been helping them, Zer0 told them brief things.

She told them what she found when she went up the ladder.

She told them that she was planning on destroying Helios.

She told them what the Hyperion scientist had told her.

She told them that she and Loader Bot forced Rhys into the last escape pod and ejected it.

Lastly, she told them what had happened after the crash, right before she collapsed.

“…Wow.” Fiona finally said at last, looking as lost as Zer0 herself had been. “That’s… a lot.”

“No kidding.” Sasha frowned, looking away. “And to think Jack-” She cut herself off, hunching her shoulders in on herself and folding her arms over her chest.

“Well didja expect any different?” Scooter asked sardonically, “It’s Handsome Jack.”

“I know!” Sasha bit back a bit too roughly before she gave Scooter an apologetic look. “I know… but.”

“Yeah.” Fiona agreed with her sister, staring down at the table. “But.”

“There’s one more thing.” Zer0 said lightly, waiting for their full attentions again. With a beat of hesitation, she pulled Rhys’ echo-eye mechanism out of her pocket and set in on the table in front of them all.

“Is that-? Rhys’ eye?!” Fiona asked, sounding a bit grossed out.

“Yes.” Zer0 nodded. “It was.”

“But that means…” Sasha trailed off, wide eyed with the implication after the tale they had just heard.

“You mean to tell me that Handsome Jack is in there?!” Scooter asked, a little shrill.  Zer0 simply nodded again.

They were left in a silent stand-still, all staring down at the iris tech.

Finally, Sasha brought her fist up in a swift movement, swinging it down towards the device. Zer0 flinched but didn’t stop her.

She didn’t have to.

Sasha’s fist stopped inches above the tech on its own accord.

“I should do it…” She said, obviously conflicted while her fist shook with an imagined strain. “I should want to do it, for everything he did to Pandora, for being a murderous asshole, for betraying us- or at least Rhys!” Sasha continued, shutting her eyes tight before she slammed her fist down on the table beside the device, leaving it untouched. “But dammit, I thought he changed! I though he was one of us!” The Pandoran cried out before all of the fight drained out of her. “Why would he help us… why would he save my life… if he was just going to…?”

“Yeah.” Fiona swallowed heavily, her eyes averted from them all. “I thought so too, Sash.”

“Am I on some kinda drugs I ain’t aware of here?” Scooter exclaimed, equal parts outraged and confused. “This is Handsome. Goddamn. Jack! The fucker that tried to kill us all, ‘member? And you sayin’ he not only helped you but saved you? No fuckin’ way, you musta hit yer head or sum’in.”

“But it’s true.” Fiona defended. She looked over at Zer0 before sharing a look with Sasha. “When shit started hitting the fan on Helios, Jack led us to safety. He made sure to order away any guards and turn off any robots we came across before we got to the caravan.” She shook her head. “I know it doesn’t make up for any of the shit he did before, but this wasn’t Handsome Jack anymore Scooter. He was… was…” The Pandoran trailed off, one hand covering her face as she tried to think.

“He was our Jack.” Sasha finished for her. “The one we played poker with and would drive Rhys crazy and dare Zer0 to hell and back just because they were both bored! The Jack that would watch our back.”

“Ain’t no way in hell-” Scooter tried to deny, but Zer0 cut in hollowly.

“He saved your life, Scooter.” At her words, the mechanic whipped over to her in anger.

“No, you saved my life, Zer0. You and Fiona.” He fought back. Zer0 simply shook her head and waited for him to settle before she explained.

“I would had never made it in time if Jack hadn’t come and got me.” She admitted. “I would never have even known you were in danger.”

“So yer sayin’ he saved me. Outta the goodness of his psycho murderin’ heart.” Scooter deadpanned. Zer0 shrugged and looked down at the device.

“He didn’t have to do anything. Yet he did.” She said flatly. Scooter was quiet for a long moment, staring down hard at the echo-eye innards along with everyone else.

“Let’s say for one second that I thought he actually did somethin’ good like help save me.” Scooter started, “Am I ‘pposed to believe he was buddy buddy with y’all? That he cared ‘bout y’all?”

“I don’t care? No Zer0, quite the opposite, actually. I care too friggin’ much!”

Zer0 stood abruptly as the memory echoed in her skull and turned her back on them, hugging her arms around herself.

“Zer0…” Fiona trailed in question. “What aren’t you saying?” The assassin hunched in on herself even more, grabbing herself tighter.

She finally opened her mouth and told them why Jack had done what he had done.

Then she told them what she had realized upon her return to Helios’ wreckage.

“I woke up in that safe room.” She said, still not looking at any of them. “I’m only alive because he let me inside. Because he protected me.”

There was a loud silence from the trio behind her as her words rung out in the caravan.

“I don’t…” Scooter finally trailed off, sounding awfully off kilter. “I don’t get it. He spent all his time ‘n effort tryin’ to kill you just to… Just to save you? …Why?”

“Because he was still our Jack.” Sasha declared, her tone half desperate and half heartbroken. “And he cared.” Scooter looked a bit shell shocked for a moment more before he shook his head slowly.

“Well I’ll be…” He mumbled to himself, lost in thought. They were brought to a contemplative silence once more before Fiona spoke up.

“So what happens next?” She asked, looking between the other three. “What do we do now?”

“Now,” Zer0 said, finally certain of a game-plan, “We find the others.”

 


  

They find Athena first, unintentionally.

After seeing that there wasn’t a soul in sight around the crash site, Fiona suggested that Rhys might have headed to a familiar spot to all of them in hopes of finding someone- and with any luck, Vaughn had done the same. They all agreed Hollow Point was the most logical choice and headed there immediately. The caravan roaring into town earned them some dirty looks from the locals, but no one in their party really paid any mind- well, except Scooter, who just smiled and waved with a toothy grin before telling them about his new garage.

They arrived at said garage and the three women practically burst out of the vehicle, running in through the store front with frantic gazes.

“Rhys?!” Sasha called as they spread out in the garage, searching for any signs of their missing boys. “Rhys, are you here?”

“Vaughn!” Fiona shouted in question. “Anyone?!”

“Anyone indeed.” A voice greeted them, stepping out from one of the side rooms. The voice was only slightly familiar to the Vault hunter and she turned on a dime, her sword already unsheathed and held in position. She had instinctively put the two Pandoran women behind her, staring down at the newcomer coming out from the other room. A blonde woman stared at the assassin warily, a band-aid across the bridge of her nose and another plastered over a scar on her cheek.

“Oh, Janey!” Fiona said, both in equal parts relief and disappointment. Zer0 blinked before she remembered seeing this woman in the shop before- brief as it was since she was in such a bad state at the time.

Also, if she remembered correctly, this was Athena’s Janey.

“Fiona, Sasha, nice to see you again.” Janey nodded at the two of them, eyeing Zer0’s weapon but not seeming overly concerned with it. Zer0 herself took a breath before she slipped her sword back into its sheath. Fiona looked between the two of them before awkwardly starting.

“Janey, uh, this is our friend Zer0. Zer0… Janey.” Fiona introduced and Janey leaned on the doorway she was standing in with a small smirk.

“I know who they are.” She said aloud. Zer0 tilted her head at the woman while Fiona’s face took on an embarrassed note.

“Oh, you’ve met?” She asked, looking to Zer0. When the assassin shook her head, Fiona turned back to Janey. “Uh… how then?”

“Because I told her.” A voice rang out from behind Janey, one that made Fiona, Sasha, and even Zer0 stand ramrod straight. The figure stepped out into the light and without even a moment’s hesitation, Fiona ran straight for them.

“Athena!” She cried, wrapping her arms around one of their missing group members. Zer0 could hear the small sniffles coming from the woman as Athena looked down somewhat fondly at the head buried in her shoulder, patting Fiona on the back.

“Fiona.” Athena said back warmly, turning her gaze to the others. “Sasha.” At the sound of her name, Sasha was snapped from her shocked trance and joined her sister immediately, effectively tackling the gladiator. 

“You’re okay!” Sasha grinned, her body almost vibrating with her giddiness and making the other two in her grasp rock along with her. Athena smiled, but her slightly wide eyes betrayed her feeling of being overwhelmed by the vast displays of affection. She turned her gaze to the silent assassin and smirked.

“Surprised?” She teased. Zer0, in turn, began walking towards her. The sisters sensed her approach and peeled off of the other Vault hunter, standing to the side with large smiles. Zer0 came to a stop just in front of Athena. At her continued silence and stillness, Athena raised a quizzical eyebrow.

Zer0 punched her in the shoulder.

Hard.

“Zer0!” Fiona said with a scandalized tone, taken aback by the unexpected violent action. Before she could say anything else Athena snorted and wrapped her arm around the assassin’s neck and pulled her into a hug.

“Aye, what’d I miss?” Scooter asked as he finally entered in behind them, being sidetracked by fixing something that had popped off of the battered caravan on the way here. Zer0 stepped back from Athena’s embrace after returning it briefly but tightly, glad to see Mordecai and Brick had kept their promise. Scooter took one look at them, read the mood of the room, and grinned brightly. “I see y’all have some catching up to do.”

“No kidding- I heard Helios crashed? You didn’t have anything to do with that, did you?” Athena asked the group, turning her scolding gaze on them. Sasha and Fiona smiled sheepishly, but Zer0 could detect the concern in the gladiator’s eyes, so she figured Athena wouldn’t exactly kill them.

“Of course they did, Athena, look at ‘em.” Janey grinned, seeming to be delighted with the fact. “That’s a right fine job you did there, friends.” She continued. Zer0 smiled at the woman even though the blonde couldn’t see the assassin’s expression.

She liked this woman.

Well, to be fair, she already liked this woman- what with how even speaking about her made Athena light up. Though now that they’ve officially met in person, it was nice to know her opinion of Janey was validated.

“But before-” Athena interrupted, barreling right on through as she sensed something was off with the group. “You were calling for Rhys and Vaughn. Where are they?”

At the question, the mood soured slightly. 

“They’re… missing.” Fiona answered at last, wincing with the word and doing an unconscious sweep of the garage once more in case they missed anything.

“You wouldn’t have happened to run into either of them, would you?” Sasha asked hopefully. Athena shook her head but raised another quizzical eyebrow.

“Why don’t you just ask Jack? Shouldn’t he be able to tell you where Rhys is since Zer0’s here?” Athena asked, unworried about keeping their hologram addition a secret in the present company.

The echo-eye mechanism suddenly felt like it was burning a hole in Zer0’s pocket.

At the abrupt silence and avoided gazes, Athena’s eyes hardened exponentially.

“Tell me what happened.”

 


 

They spent a good while catching up, relaying what happened after their forced separation back at the Atlas Bio-dome.

Athena had told them about her “trial,” and her supposed punishment before Janey came bursting into the scene, weapons blazing and demanding they release her girlfriend. Brick and Mordecai, knowing that she was Scooter’s new partner in business and remembering their promise to Zer0, had let her go on the spot despite Lilith’s protests. It took a few more words of negotiation to calm the siren but they all currently seemed to be on relatively okay terms, despite everything.

They, in turn, told Athena and Janey what had went down on Helios and immediately thereafter.

As like before, towards the end of their tale, Zer0 took out the device that currently housed Jack and set it on the table in Athena’s reach. After they were done explaining the circumstances, Athena stared down at the remains of Rhys’ echo-eye with a set jaw and a steely glare.

It was silent for a good, tense moment.

“Dumbass.” Athena almost growled, turning her gaze away from the table and crossing her arms over her chest with a scowl. Her fists flexed a few times as she worked through her emotions but they stayed where they were.  

Zer0’s shoulders dropped in relief and she returned the mechanism to her pocket.

Because that had been it, hadn’t it?

All of their family- excluding Loader Bot, Vaughn, and Gortys- had been given the chance to destroy Jack, end him once and for all. They had determined if his actions were too egregious to forgive and work passed or not.

And yet the echo-eye innards were still intact.

Zer0 was almost one hundred percent sure Vaughn wouldn’t want to harm Jack- much less kill him- even after what he had tried to do to Rhys for the simple fact that Rhys himself hadn’t gone through with destroying the man when he had the chance. The assassin was also pretty certain that Loader Bot literally had something written in his code to protect Jack and never to hurt him.

Which left Gortys.

And Gortys would never hurt anyone.

“So now we find your other friends, right?” Janey asked lightly, trying to get Athena’s mind off of what they had just heard by diverting the topic slightly. Never-the-less, Zer0 could spot the hand Janey had subtly laid on Athena’s arm in comfort and how the gladiator seemed to deflate at the touch. “Do you have any idea where they’d be?”

“We thought they might come back here.” Sasha sighed, looking around the garage once more. “But if they’re not here, then maybe they’re at one of the Atlas places we visited?”

“That’s probably a good bet.” Fiona said in agreement, her eyebrows furrowed in thought. “My best guess is the place we found in New Haven- it was the most abandoned and not out in the middle of the frozen tundra.”

“Then we’ll start there.” Athena declared, standing. “We’ll take the caravan. Scooter, Janey, are you coming with us?” The two mechanics- one of cars and the other of rockets- shared a thoughtful look.

“You guys go on ahead,” Janey said finally with a small smile. “You need to catch up. Scooter and I have to settle some stuff around here anyway, starting with a new hand.”

“Aw, you’ll help me with that? Thanks, Janey.” Scooter grinned happily. “I owe you one. Er, well, ‘nother one after that sweet-ass rocket.”

“Just make sure to be careful,” Janey continued after shooting Scooter a grin. She stood up and pecked her girlfriend on the lips, making sure Athena was looking at her before saying, “And come home this time, alright?”

“I promise.” Athena vowed gravely, giving Janey a small smile in answer to Janey beaming warmly at her. Her expression became serious once again as she faced the rest of their family. “Let’s get going.”

Which was all good, in theory.

Except after they took two steps out of the garage towards the caravan still parked in the street, Zer0 abruptly couldn’t move.

Her limbs froze up and refused to listen to her orders. Once the others realized she wasn’t following, they too stopped, turning in confusion.

“Hey, what’s up?” Sasha asked, quirking an eyebrow at the assassin. Zer0 grit her teeth and tried fighting out of the invisible hold to no avail. “Zer0?”

“Sasha.” The assassin rasped, and at her tone the other three were instantly on guard.

“What’s wrong?” Fiona asked, stepping closer to the Vault hunter in concern. Athena’s face was severe as she scanned their surroundings. Zer0 caught how she instantly spotted something behind the assassin back and her body tensed in preparation of a fight.

“We’ve got company.” Athena said shortly, glaring at whatever she was staring at behind Zer0. The girls looked over immediately, following the gladiator’s gaze, and they both paled abruptly.

“Isn’t that-?” Sasha whispered to her sister, eyes locked on their new target.

“Oh yeah.” Fiona nodded, whispering herself with wide eyes. “We’re so screwed.”

Before Zer0 could press them on what the hell they were talking about, she felt herself being lifted in the air and thrown backwards- towards the apparent newcomer. While airborne, she was forcibly spun to face their attacker.

A familiar blue haired siren was holding her arm up in Zer0’s direction as the assassin was pulled to a sudden stop in front of her, her tattoos lighting up a bright blue with the use of her power.

The expression on her face was one of complete and utter fury.

Fiona was right, they were so screwed.

“Zer0.” Maya hissed, forcing the assassin closer so that she could really take in how furious her siren friend was. The assassin smiled sheepishly under her faceplate. This only served to further enrage the siren because her helmet read her expression and emoted :D.

She was dropped from the siren’s hold quite abruptly, landing on the ground none-too-gently.

“What the hell, Zer0?!” Maya shouted. The other three behind them edged closer once seeing the assassin didn’t seem to be gearing up for a fight with their attacker. “You’ve been practically radio silent for forever now and when we finally find you in the middle of Helios’ crash site, looking the absolutely most beat up I’ve ever seen you, you just leave town without even saying anything?!”

“I’m sorry Maya.” Zer0 sighed, sitting up and feeling just a tiny bit guilty at the concern she could sense pouring from the blue-haired woman. “But we were in a time crunch. / There just wasn’t time.”

“A time crunch.” Maya scoffed, squinting at the assassin in an accusing manner. She flashed her gaze up to the three behind Zer0 and something in her expression twitched. “We.”

“Uh… hi!” Fiona started with an awkward smile at the siren’s look. “I’m, um, Fiona, and this is my sister Sasha and that’s Athena. Um… and you’re Maya?” She asked, trying to ease the tension. Maya just hummed, staring at the three of them almost unblinkingly. Zer0 sighed again and stood.

“Maya.” She said, her tone just on the edge of pleading. The siren looked back to the assassin and studied her faceplate for a long moment. The blue-haired woman tilted her head in question, glancing between Zer0 and the women behind her, taking in their body language before she suddenly straightened in realization.

“Really?” She asked, her voice colored with pleasant surprise. What exactly she was asking about, Zer0 wasn’t sure, but she had an idea. The assassin just nodded slowly but surely. Maya brightened at once, smiling at the trio. “I’m Maya.” She grinned at them before hooking an arm around Zer0’s neck. “And just remember, no matter what, Zer0 loves me best, right noodle?” She teased, turning her grin on the assassin. Zer0’s body relaxed in her hold, knowing that Maya already approved of her new additions to the family.

“Of course, Maya.” She replied dutifully. Sasha and Fiona shared an amused look and Athena finally relaxed, dropping out of her fighting stance. After another minute, Maya released Zer0 and sighed.

“Well, I’d love to stick around and catch up with you guys- find out what exactly happened fully,” Maya said, her tone turning threatening towards the end. “But I can tell you guys are still on that time crunch, so it’ll have to wait. Plus, I have to go stop Axton and Salvador- they’re currently tearing up Pandora looking for you. I mean, the only reason I found you was because I heard Moxxi say Scooter went with you and I figured to check here.” She said to the assassin, who drooped guiltily. Maya shoved her shoulder with another grin. “Don’t worry, I’ll calm ‘em down. But after, you will tell us what happened, right?” She asked, her expression turning serious. Zer0 nodded gravely, having no intentions of keeping what had transpired a secret from the rest of her family. Maya grinned again. “Then we’re all good. I’ll catch up with you guys later.” She said before she turned around and began walking away. Maya turned her head over her shoulder and threw one last thing back at them before she was gone from their sight.

“And welcome to the family!”

 


 

New Haven was just as Zer0 remembered it to be the last time she was here, except this time there were no bandits hanging out in the alleyways, drunk out of their minds. Zer0 didn’t pay much mind to that fact except to realize if Rhys or Vaughn were here, they’d have come through unhindered.

Sasha parked the caravan right in front of the Atlas facility and they piled out of the vehicle. Athena and Zer0 spared a moment to check their surroundings- but as Zer0 had seen before, there was no one else there. Sasha and Fiona led the way to the familiar ramp that took them to the underground facilities, only pausing slightly with the memory of what had transpired the last time they were here. Zer0 pat them on the back lightly, shaking them from their apprehension and they moved on.

The grounds inside were still littered with the bodies of the crimson lance, but unlike last time, the bodies of Vallory’s goons and security robots joined them. The assassin remembered the carnage fondly before Sasha’s voice brought her back to their current problem.

“Rhys!” She shouted, her voice echoing around the main chamber. Sasha neatly stepped her way through the corpses as her eyes scanned the area hopefully. “Vaughn?!”

“Guys, you here?” Fiona joined her, slightly louder. “Anyone?” No one answered them. They moved a bit further into the facility before stopping, just listening for any sort of movement. “Was it too much to ask for to find them here?” Fiona mumbled to the others when they heard nothing.

“This is a big facility.” Athena said, looking around and clearly remembering the place by the contempt in her eyes. “They could be lower down and not hear us. We need to check the whole place first before we call it a bust.”

“Maybe we should split up.” Sasha suggested, wandering over to something that looked like a map of the place. “If they’re not here, we need to know quick so we can move on- from Zer0’s story, Rhys sounds like he could be really hurt.”

“Good idea. I’ll take Fiona and search the west wings, Sasha and Zer0 take the east. We’ll keep in contact through echo. Sound good?” The others nodded and the assassin didn’t bother to mention how her echo was probably broken, judging from the static she keeps hearing when she tried to call someone. It didn’t matter, she had Sasha, and Sasha’s worked. “Okay. Let’s move out.”

‘Moving out’ was relatively uneventful. She and Sasha traversed the east wing, traveling further and further underground, only to find more rotting bodies, trashed rooms, and a whole lot of nothing. The entire wing was quiet except for the sound of their footsteps- the soft hum of electricity thrumming through the facility just low enough to be unobtrusive. The more they uncovered, the more anxious Zer0 felt. She could feel the anxiety creeping into her veins, slowly crawling up to her beating heart as time went on and still no Rhys.

Beside her, she could tell Sasha felt the same- evidenced by the way her eyes quickly darted around and how her head would snap in the direction of any sudden creaks, holding her breath until she released it in a slow, disappointed sigh when nothing else occurred.

There was a stifling silence when they finally reached the east wing’s dead end, both of them just staring at the wall in front of them blankly.

“…We’ll find them.” Sasha spoke up, and though her tone seemed hopeful, it cracked a bit at the end. She cleared her throat and shook her head, as if trying to physically shake off her doubt. “We will. We have to.” Sasha said, a bit more confidently. Zer0 pursed her lips and nodded but didn’t add anything. They abruptly pivoted on their heels and trudged back the way they came- neither of them speaking of how their shoulders’ hunched up just the slightest bit. Sasha informed the others of their progress through her echo, but Zer0 was no longer paying attention.

If Rhys and Vaughn weren’t here…

Where the hell were they?

They could possibly be at the arena the lot of them had all originally met in- but no, that was usually crawling with bandits and psychos, way too dangerous for the former Hyperion employees. There’s no way they didn’t turn tail and run after catching a glimpse of the regular crowd hanging about.

And that’s still assuming they were together- that they had at least found each other. But the more Zer0 thought about it, the more she realized that the outcome was unlikely. It had only been hours after the crash, it was extremely improbable Rhys and Vaughn had made contact and met up somewhere on Pandora in the time that had passed. And if they had, why hadn’t they made contact with the others yet?

“-ou okay?” Zer0 suddenly realized Sasha was speaking and blinked back out of her thoughts, coming back to the present. “Zer0?” Sasha sounded concerned, so the assassin simply tipped her head in acknowledgement. She saw Sasha’s shoulders drop a bit in relief, but there was a worried tint in her eyes as she observed the Vault hunter. The Pandoran looked away, returning her gaze to the path in front of them. “How are you holding up?” She asked after a moment. Zer0 took a moment to consider the question.

“Better once we find the boys.” Zer0 said, being truthful but not exactly answering the question either. Of course, Sasha noticed.

“I know what you mean,” She said with a nod before pausing, almost hesitating. “I’m just… worried. About you.”

“I’ll be fine, Sasha.” Zer0 assured, though it sounded hollow even to her own ears.

“You always say that.” Sasha said, sounding sad suddenly. “I wonder if it’s ever true.” They were both quiet for a moment, as Zer0 didn’t even try to deny the statement. Instead, she pursed her lips in thought and really examined how she was currently doing.

“I am… badly hurt.” The Vault hunter finally admitted quietly, somewhat startling Sasha with her sudden truth. “But I can ignore that hurt.”

“How?” Sasha asked, just as hushed- her tone teetering between awed and confused. “Zer0, how-”

“Because you’re alive.” Zer0 said bluntly, sending Sasha into a wide eyed silence. “You’re all still alive.”

“But Rhys and Vaughn-” Sasha started, shaking her head, but the assassin gently interrupted her before the Pandoran could spiral.

“Are alive. They’re just missing.” Zer0 assured, feeling the truth of the matter in her bones. It was a moment before she frowned, tacking on their other missing friend. “So is Loader Bot.”

“Well, that’s gotta mean something, right?” Sasha asked, quietly hopeful again. The Vault hunter nodded in agreement. There was a beat of hesitation on the Pandoran’s part, sending the assassin a quick look from the corner of her eye. “…And what about Jack?” Sasha finally uttered, and though Zer0 was expecting it to come up eventually, she still wasn’t prepared to answer that question.

So instead, she just shrugged, barely keeping herself from shoving her hands in her pockets unsurely.

Thankfully, Sasha understood that, too.

The two of them made it all the way back up to that fateful lobby, but upon seeing Athena and Fiona hadn’t returned yet, decided to travel down the west wing and meet them halfway. It wasn’t that terribly long before Zer0 picked up the familiar tones of Fiona and Athena’s voices from down the hall in front of them.

Upon hearing a third voice, Zer0 scrambled towards the source, leaving Sasha in a startled mess behind her.

“-leave me? After everything?!”

“That’s not what happened! You know we would never-”

“I don’t know anything anymore!”

Zer0 tore around the corner, chasing after the voices in a desperate rush, her heart pumping wildly. At last, she found the room that the voices were coming from and didn’t even hesitate to enter, but once she finally laid eyes on the three inside, Zer0 stopped, frozen in her tracks.

Because while yes, that was Rhys she had heard- desperate and heartbroken,

He was also pointing a gun right at her.

Zer0 blinked at it a little blankly, taking in how haggard Rhys looked- still without his eye and arm. He was paler than usual- almost grey in this light- and his brown hair was all over the place, as if he had been tugging at his own strands endlessly. The grip he had on the pistol in his hands was shaky at best, and his wide eye was filled with alarm and unshed tears- unfocused as it was- that spoke of despair.

Once it definitively focused on her form, the weapon was lowered slightly.

“Z-Zer0?” Rhys stuttered, and his tone was just as heartbroken as it was before, only now it held a hint of awe and relief. At the sound, the assassin was finally jolted from her state and started towards the man, not stopping until she had him in her arms, pulled close. She heard him inhale sharply, body held stiff, before he suddenly collapsed in her embrace. The Vault hunter was a bit alarmed at the motion, reminded too much of the moments after the crash, but Rhys held strong, burying his head into her shoulder while he shook silently, his only arm coming around her.

The clatter of the pistol falling to the ground echoed loudly throughout the room.

“I thought- I thought you were dead!” Rhys almost sobbed, “I couldn’t find you anywhere and then-” Zer0 cut him off, hushing him quietly while she met Athena’s sympathetic gaze over his shoulder. “W-why… why did you do that? Why didn’t you come with me?” Rhys asked brokenly.   

“To make sure you lived.” Zer0 said softly, honest in the quiet. Rhys sniffled and shook his head where it was still buried before pulling away and almost scowling at the assassin, evidently not liking the answer.

“Then why did you leave me?! After everything? Why did you leave me alone?!” Rhys cried out, and the assassin watched heartbreak, betrayal, and anger go to war in his gaze. Zer0 frowned, shaking her own head before she was even aware of the motion.

“I collapsed after you did,” Zer0 said truthfully, mind flashing back to the moments right before she lost consciousness, “And woke up elsewhere.” The anger slowly drained out of his gaze to be replaced with confusion.

“Someone found her and took her back to Sanctuary. She didn’t want to leave.” Fiona spoke up from behind Rhys, gaining her nerve again and stepping towards them. Rhys turned to look at her, listening closely even as his confusion played out. “No one wanted to leave, Rhys. Don’t you see that?” The Pandoran asked, her voice breaking slightly in desperation. The former Hyperion man looked troubled for a moment before lifting his gaze to her again.

“Why?” He asked, but the one word held so much more beyond its meaning. Fiona snorted even as her eyes filled with tears of her own.

“Because you’re our family, dummy.” At the confession, Rhys’ remaining eye rapidly filled with tears that finally fell, a slow and small smile spread across his face. Fiona’s expression matched his own before Rhys reached out, holding his hand out towards her as an invitation.

The Pandoran didn’t need to be told twice, crossing the distance in a heartbeat and throwing herself at the man and assassin.

Zer0 could hear Athena’s small huff of amusement from behind them as they held each other close, two of the three shaking and sniffling. The Vault hunter was about to pick up her head and give her a flat look when she heard someone skid around the corner outside of the room, calling out as they went.

“-ere did you go, Zer0?! And why so-” Sasha’s familiar voice cut off as she stumbled to a stop, wide eyed as she took in the scene taking place. Rhys’ head snapped towards her voice, his own eye wide with surprise. There was a startled moment of silence as the two stared at each other, but it didn’t last any longer than just a moment.

Zer0’s body rocked along with the force of Sasha hurriedly throwing herself into the fray, a tearful “Rhys!” ringing out around them, and she smiled.

 


  

“I still can’t believe you held us at gunpoint.” Fiona scoffed as they helped Rhys into the caravan, his arm thrown around her shoulders in support.

“I thought you were bandits!” Rhys said in his own defense, whining just a tad. Fiona snorted and Athena joined her.

“Either way, it’s not like you would’ve hit us- your aim is terrible.” The gladiator added, making the former Hyperion man whine again. Sasha gave both her and her sister a flat, scolding look.

“How about we save the teasing for after we get him to a doctor?” Sasha asked pointedly, still concerned over Rhys’ current state of being.

“Yes, thank you Sasha!” Rhys said, his tone a little indignant as he looked over at the other two women, who gave him teasing looks anyway. It was a moment after that he sobered, looking over the landscape through one of the caravan windows as Fiona helped him settle down. “You guys… really haven’t heard from Vaughn?” Rhys asked, his voice a little sad and worried. Sasha and Fiona shared a troubled look before turning back to the man.

“Not yet.” Sasha answered a little hesitantly before her tone solidified with confidence. “But we will find him, Rhys.” Rhys stared outside a second longer before he sighed, his body drooping slightly as he nodded.

“Yeah.” He said, but he didn’t sound as confident as the Pandoran. “Just thought maybe… he’d be here.”

“So did we.” Athena said, “But at least we found you. And now we can get you to a doctor before you really are just skin and bones.” She continued, settling down into the driver’s seat.

“Hey.” Rhys whined again, turning away from the window, but it was half-hearted at best. Zer0 shook her head at her family’s antics before her own gaze was drawn back out the window. She was hoping they’d find Vaughn here too- as it had been the last place any of them had seen him.

The absence of him unsettled her, but she knew she would track Vaughn down, one way or another.

As the caravan’s engine rumbled to life, Zer0 paused, remembering something.

“Rhys,” She started, turning to the brunette, “Did you take Loader Bot?”

“Loader Bot?” Rhys echoed, his eyebrows raised in surprise before his tone grew slightly hopeful. “He survived the crash?” The assassin nodded, her gaze drifting far away with his response.

Because that meant Rhys clearly hadn’t taken the robot, either.

And yet he was missing- even in his deactivated form.

Was this Vaughn’s doing?  

Zer0 could only hope so, returning her eyes to the Pandoran landscape around them as the caravan finally started in the direction of civilization.