Chapter 1: Rumors of my demise have been greatly exaggerated
Another lonely skag, wandering around in starvation through the sand dooms, will soon become an inevitable victim of what is now coming over the horizon. At full speed, a dune buggy gunned down the next hill and over the mount of sand.
The skag, drained and exhausted, was unfortunately blessed with being deaf, so it did not hear the sound of the motor edging closer and closer and closer until...
Upon colliding with the skag, the dune buggy soared a few feet into the air and spun a perfect three-sixty before landing on it’s side and snowballed to the bottom of the dune. The car accordingly exploded afterward. The skag, however, was reduced to meaty nuggets that sizzled in the sun.
Pulling his head out of the sand, Vaughn spat out sand remnants and wiped his tongue with his hands, which made him gag and cough more. His tongue hung out of his mouth, “Ah, god-- I shouldn’t have done that--! More sand--! Sand everywhere--! hHAhuck!”
Groaning, Sasha slowly lifted herself onto her feet and wavered for balance. Her goggles were cemented into her left eye and her right cheek. Her vision dazed with spots and colors as she removed them from her face. “Shit…!”
She violently shook her head that ended up knocking her back to the ground. She closed her eyes shut and cried out in frustration.
Vaughn moved onto retching to no avail of getting sand out of his throat. He wailed, his voice cracked from it’s coarse texture, “Sashaaa? Please tell me that’s you and wasn’t the sound of you dying...”
“Oh, good. I am too. Also? What the hell… did you not slow down?”
“I didn’t see the skag.”
“I said it was there!” He said through multiple coughs.
“You did not! You screamed! It was already dead!”
“Well! We can’t find Fiona like this, Sasha...!”
“I KNOW.” Her shout made Vaughn jumping out of his skin.
“Okay okay okay! I’m sorry--! I’ll shut--Uh… I’m calling Yvette to pick us up.”
Rhys and Fiona have been missing for a week since the clash with the Traveler. Not even Gortys can find Rhys’ signal. God, they could be anywhere...
“Again?” Yvette’s voice rang through the speakers.
“You know she doesn’t listen to me...”
“I’ll talk with her.” She gave a downcast sigh, “I’ve got your coordinates. Can you at least make sure Sasha stays there this time?”
“Ermm... no promises. And can you bring water too? Fast? I’m gonna die from sand.”
“I’ll be there soon...”
Sasha opened her eyes, looking up at the cloudless sky. “I hate this.”
“You and me both. I have sand in my underwear.”
“... We’ll find her, okay?”
“Hey, it’s not like I’m not concerned about Rhys--”
“Yeah. Blood relation. You’ve said that. Or do you have another excuse?”
Sasha wiped the sweat off her face. “No. I don’t. I didn’t know him as well as you did.”
“Don’t talk in past tense.”
“... Sorry. We’ll find him. He’s survived well enough on his own with ATLAS, and you two didn’t even know you were alive, right?”
“I mean, yeah, I guess, and I assumed the worst and gave up looking for him after months of just searching…”
Sasha gazed to see his hunched over body in front of her. He has his finger in the sand and was drawing nonsensical scribbles that the sand filled in as he traced. She sat up and scooched over beside him.
“Look, I know none of you got along well-- under the uh, circumstances, almost getting killed, Vallery, the whole Handsome Jack thing, I get it, but Rhys is like, my best friend. I. He--... He has to be out there. But I would much rather have him back and… alive, again. You and Fiona are inseparable. I’m sure you two have that sibling telepathy too.”
“Thaaat’s a myth… and if we did she’d be here… helping us look for Rhys.” She gently nudged him. “Hey, for not being totally smart about… much, Rhys did-- has-- uh… is doing good so far. Maybe right now he’s fixing those robot parts of him again and Gortys can find him.”
“That’s… that’s what I’m hoping for...” Vaughn held silent for a moment before saying, “I’m not trying to be rude but I can’t form saliva if I keep talking.”
“Dude, by all means, salivate away.”
Eventually, the earpiece hanging on Vaughn’s ear ringed and clicked when he tapped his finger against it.
Yvette’s voice scratched through, “I’m nearby, please tell me Sasha is still there.”
Sasha spoke into his ear canal, “She’s right here! Sorry, Vaughn…” He urgently pointed at his throat. “Vaughn wants to know if you have water.”
“Yes. I do.”
He thrust his fist into the air.
“And Sasha? I’m taking away your driving privileges.”
“Three! You have totaled three rovers! In a week!”
“Don’t give me any excuses. Finding Fiona doesn’t mean that you allowed to have a death wish. We only have two rovers left and you are NOT driving them.”
“Good. I’m glad you understand.”
Sasha could hear the sounds of an engine. She turned to see Yvette in the cockpit of a four person dune buggy, riding the brake down the slope.
Vaughn wobbled as he leaped towards the vehicle when it stopped at the crevice. Rolling her eyes, Yvette tossed a canteen from the hood and Vaughn chased after it like a puppy.
The two girls shared scowls before Yvette prompted, “Get. In.”
Deciding not to answer, Sasha walked behind the car and hoisted herself onto the seating platform. She glanced over her shoulder and saw Vaughn now chugged the water canteen. “Vaughn! Come on, we’re losing dayli--”
He licked the water from his lips and exhaled, “whew, finally...! I feel my mouth again.” When he turned, Sasha was jumping off the buggy and sprinting towards a collection of boulders. He dashed over and hauled himself to the seats while yelling, “UuhAaaah! Yvette! Sasha’s gone rogue!”
Yvette shot around before spotting Sasha. “Dammit!”
Making a sharp one-eighty and throwing Vaughn off balance in the process, the dune buggy throttled after Sasha.
She could see legs. This time, it wasn’t severed legs of two seperate psychos. Those knee-high boots belong to Fiona. Even as the motor came up on her rear, she was not stopping.
“Brake! I-I think that’s Fiona!” Vaughn called out, “Braaaaake!”
If Vaughn was not holding on, the force from the stop would have thrown him into those set of rocks and he did not want to think about that. He peered over Sasha’s hunched form to see an unconscious Fiona splayed on a rocky bed.
As Yvette ran over, she took hold of the situation instantly. “She’s breathing-- I don’t see anything obviously broken. No blood either.”
“Unless it’s internal-- Shutting up.” Vaughn sat down.
“How did she even get here? If she fell, then why…?”
Without a word, Sasha curled her arms around her sister and gently lifted her up. Vaughn held his arms out when she stood behind the carriage. Sasha passed Fiona onto his hands so she could lift herself onto the vehicle. She sat beside Vaughn and cradled Fiona’s head on her lap. Tears streamed down her face.
On the bumpy ride to Helios, Vaughn heard Sasha softly repeat. “Everything is okay now, Fiona. I’ve got you. I’ve got you, sis...”
“Rhyyyyssieee.” The memory of Handsome Jack shook Rhys to his core. “C’mon pal, wake up! Rhys. Hey. Hey. Rhys.” He patted his face. “Open your eyes, por favor.”
Rhys swatted away the ghost of Jack’s hand and scramble up with his back against the wall in a panic. With his eyes open, he saw that he was in a makeshift room made out of spaceship parts. His body felt so light, he thought he was floating. He smacked his hand on the floor and a metal ring reverberated off the walls and against his head. Rhys massaged the bridge of his nose to vainly soothe his pounding headache. “Ah god, why can I smell air? When did air have a smell?”
“Uh, it’s because it’s pure oxygen, cupcake. I’m guessing you never been on a moon before, have ya?” Handsome Jack’s voice was right beside him.
Fear sparked in his throat like a match grinding against a rock. He stopped breathing as he pulled his hand away to look over his shoulder. A fleshy Jack stared at him with a lopsided concerned smile, “You okay there, buddy?”
“Hooonoo… no... This has to be a dream.” Rhys choked out. He wobbled onto his feet, which felt like the same consistency as jelly that he began falling.
Handsome Jack grabbed his waning stance and pulled him. “Whoa! Easy--! I can’t have-- AUGH! You punched my nose! Why did you-- do that?!”
“Let go of me!!” He reached and quickly realized that his stun baton was gone.
“I’m trying to help you! You’re clearly delusional! Unless you were always like this, did you punch friends, Rhys?”
“You are NOT my friend, JACK!” Rhys finally threw him off and made a dash for the exit. In front of him was Pandora on a much farther-away scale. He was on the moon. The fucking moon. When he heard Jack’s groan behind him, he pressed on, fighting with his legs. “This is a dream. This is a dream. You can probably breath on the moon. Hell, it’s probably made out of cheese and I can swim back to Pandora...”
“Hey, Dumdum! You don’t have an Oz Kit! Son of a bastard, fine. You leave me no choice.”
Rhys screamed and fell on his ass at the sight of two Handsome Jack holograms digitizing before him. They grinned malice-fueled smiles at him.
“Who needs a hero?” The one of the right sneered, kneeling down to meet his eyes. He booped his nose.
Rhys promptly fainted with his tongue out of his mouth.
Jack stood up and peered over at Rhys’ collapsed body that was sprawled halfway out his door. He look to the two Digi-Jacks. One gave him a thumbs up while the one kneeling made an OK gesture and stuck out his tongue. Rolling his eyes, Jack commented, “Yet I’m the one picking him up, huh? Don’t answer, I hate your voices. I got it.”
“You’re not going to look for Rhys?!” Vaughn’s voice exploded out of the upper room so suddenly that Yvette had to make a fast recovery from stepping on the side of her foot.
Gortys rolled beside her, asking in a genuinely concerned tone. “Are you okay?? Do you need a bandage?”
Yvette gave her a small smile. “I’m fine, thank you Gortys. How’s Fiona?”
“Oh, she went right back to sleep after ejecting something solid from her mouth. But don’t worry, I got it cleaned up! I learned that you are not supposed to give water to an unconscious person. Sasha was kind of mad at me, so I decided to leave.”
“Youuu were only helping and I didn’t know that either, Gortys.” Yvette did, but she wanted the little robot to feel valid. “Everyone makes mistakes. Don’t be too concerned about Sasha-- speaking of, what’s happening with them?”
“She said she and Fiona were going to leave when she feels better. That makes me sad. I wanted us to be a family again.”
She pursed her lips. “Uhh… Hey, Gortys. Can you do me a big favor? It would help us a lot with finding Rhys.”
Gortys gently gasped, “Of course! Anything!”
“Can you use your compass… thing to try to get a signal from Rhys’ cybernetics? I’ve got Loader Bot on it, for now.”
Gortys gazed over at the shiny circuit boards, at Loader Bot, at the popping up screens, then back to Yvette. “Weeell, my compass can only navigate where my parts are located, but I can still try!”
Before Yvette could say thank you, Gortys carried herself toward Loader Bot. With a heaving sigh, she trudged up the stairs where Fiona laid unconscious on the couch while Sasha and Vaughn leaned over the table, boring at each other.
Noticing Yvette standing at the door, Vaughn deflated and wiped his face with his hands. “So… what? We were just pawns to you?”
“I never said that.”
“I didn’t insinuate shit. Fiona and I will just… cover more ground that way.”
“Ok, now, you’re just trying to flatter me back onto your side.”
“Look, I said it wrong.”
“No kidding! What part of ‘Good luck finding Rhys’ did not insinuate you were leaving us behind! Fiona hasn’t even had a say in this yet!”
“She’ll be on my side!” Yvette opened her mouth. Sasha shot back, “This is not your conversation.”
Yvette moved a stray hair from her forehead. “Fine. But just so you know? Gortys is trying her best to keep everyone together.” She waved her hand as she turned around. “Carry on yelling.”
Her steps sliced through their silence, like attempting to saw off a hand with a butter knife. Vaughn flinched and held his head in his hands, breathing fitfully. Sasha reached out but eventually took her hand back and pulled on her goggles.
“Don’t. I need to be alone.”
“... Okay.” She whispered to herself, “I’m sorry.”
Moaning, Rhys stretched his stiff limbs and neck until the according bones popped in place. “Oowwwww...”
He heard something tin fall onto the floor. Immediately, his sense became alert as his eyes darted around in a daze. He held the blanket over his nose and leered around him. He was indeed, in the same room he had woken up in his dream. He noticed a window to his right that revealed the crust of Elpis. Rhys could see large, tall buildings in the distance as well as Pandora in orbit. His heart sank into his stomach. He thrusted himself off his warm bed and held his weight up by pressing against the glass pane. As he stood there, his vision steadily declined until what all Rhys was able to see was a cloud of blurring colors and dark spots as he blinked.
“Ok… ok… you’re on the moon. On… the moon. I’m can’t breathe. Ok… Inhaaaale……mm..….. Exhaaaale. Iiii was… on Pandora. We were in the Vault… We touched the thingie. And I woke up here and breathing is not working. OH my GOD I’m on tHE MOON!” He covered his mouth and eyeballed his surroundings again.
He gulped, hoping, praying that his ‘dream’ was not total reality. Slowly, he ventured outside of the room. “Hhhhhello?”
The lack of response killed him inside. He could not have conveniently teleported in a house with a full kitchen and living room. The TV monitors-- really caught his attention. There was five of them smartly placed in a diamond shape playing what Rhys assumed to be different spots on the moon. A few were shattered but somehow the pictures projected perfectly onto them. Sound was coming out of the far left monitor were two fully suited, off centered, soldiers arguing about how to go about making mac n cheese with moonstones. Out of curiosity, Rhys pressed a button on the bottom monitor. Out of the speakers came distant, but loud electronica dubstep music. Whoever lived here was not a stranger to machines.
He turned around to investigate the kitchen’s fridge but paused when he saw another room. It was dimly lit, however, Rhys could identify a bed and the recognizable silhouette of Handsome Jack resting on the edge of it. He seemed… distraught. He was doubled over burying his head into his knees while his hands tangled his hair. Rhys turned off the speakers to hear what he thought was crying. He forced himself to take another step closer. Handsome Jack was sniffling and muttering to himself. Rhys swallowed. He didn’t know what to think. He didn’t know what to do with himself. He watched Jack eventually unfold his legs and wipe under his eyes. For a moment, he lifted his head up to the ceiling. Rhys leaned to hear him.
“It’s Rhys, we’re talking about. He has to know me... he has toAAAAH!! WUAH--” Jack fell off the bed as Rhys screamed back out of surprised fear from Jack’s astonished shout.
Through his racing mind, Rhys had to put something in between himself and Jack in case he planned to choke him. He tumbled behind the couch and grabbed the lamp, which was put together with spare gun parts, that he admired for a bit. Rhys turned it over. “This is actually nicely made-- Stop that.” He took a fighting stance and brandished the lamp like a baseball bat.
Jack wavered as he hauled onto his feet, rubbing the back of his head. He stepped out of the bedroom with a quizzical gaze. “Um, why do you have my lamp?”
Rhys’ eyes dodged back and forth before blurting out the first thing that came to his mind. “It’s a really cool looking lamp-- aaaa-and I will hit you with it if you get anywhere near me.”
“Ahh- Tha-thank you? I worked two months on that lamp and I would really appreciate you not destroying it.”
“Alright that… meeeaans we’re on the same page.” His mind was unable to catch up where his tongue was going. “Now, I’m going to ask you a couple of questions and if I don’t like your answer. Say bye bye to lamp… lamp.”
“... Okaayyyyy.” Jack nodded, hesitantly. “Can I, uh, sit down first? You can take that recliner I made. Behind you.”
Rhys took a fast glance over his shoulder. Indeed, there was a recliner behind him that had a falded DAHL logo on the cushions. He glared at Jack’s strangely sweet hospitality. “I don’t trust you, but you can sit down. I’m standing.”
“Alright. Um, do you want something to drink, eat? You’ve been sleeping--”
Jack tapped his fingers against his knees that bounced slightly while waiting for Rhys to collect his thoughts.
“I’m just going to start with the most important one which is how are you not DEAD?!”
Jack blinked. “Uhh, well… I’ve been on the moon for… I have no idea, I really lost track and it’s hard to try and read calendars in space.”
“You. Are Handsome Jack. You DIED on Pandora.” Rhys enunciated as his voice shook. Anxiety from the first time he saw Jack flooded his body like an overflowing dam. “You CANNOT be alive!”
“I was… in hiding...” Jack stared at him in awe. “Y-you… sounded like you worked with him, personally.”
“Why are you talking in the third person?”
“I’m not Jack-- I-I don’t remember who I am honestly. I-I-I don’t know how many years have passed if there has been… any. I-I know there was a time that I kept reminding myself what my name was. I wrote it down. One day, I lost it while fighting those Darksider assholes. I was racing back here to write it down again, repeating it, and repeating it, but when I got back it left.” Jack slowly looked up at Rhys’ doubting face. He swallowed hard, “And you don’t believe me at all.”
“It’s… too convenient. I’ve never heard of Handsome Jack having a body double.”
“I think you’re looking at him. I don’t know how I can make you believe me, Rhys.”
“Yeah, how the hell do you know my name? Wait, am I wea--” He looked over his suit. “I’m not even wearing a name tag.”
“We knew each other. I-I know we did. I don’t know where but I can feel it. I-I didn’t feel it at first when I first saw you. I recognized your face. The name came to me like, two days ago.”
“That’s… I know a lot of people… And you look and sound like Handsome Freaking Jack.”
“I know!” Jack flinched at Rhys swinging the lamp upwards, ready to strike. The terror in his eyes made him shrink deeper in the couch cushions. “I’m… sorry. Okay? I really am. I just know I did this for a good reason at the time. I hate this guy more than you do. I had to trash my bathroom mirror because I couldn’t… stand it… anymore.”
Rhys lowered his arms and exhaled. “This is uncomfortable… Listen, tell me how you found me and how I can get back to Pandora.”
“O-oh, ahhhIIi found you on my way to Concordia for business. You literally just appeared in front of me, if you can believe that. I was like ‘What the ****?! Oh god, he can’t breathe! What do I do?!’ So I took you to Nurse Nina--”
“Sto-pause-- hold on. How… did you do that with your mouth?”
“Honestly, I have no idea and I’m scared to question it at this point. Can I continue?”
“Uh, yes, go on.”
“I took you to Nurse Nina and she told me that you were fine physically, nothing broken, no concussion-- because you were… floating--uh, While I do trust her, I just I had to figure out who you were and I took you home. But ah, you suddenly, disappeared a day later. I spent five days looking for you. I was… I was so scared, Rhys. If I knew someone, they had to know who I was-- am. Yesterday, you bumped into my roof and you woke up a couple hours later, punched me in the nose and then you fainted.”
“... Ahhhuh. Good to know.”
“Hey, can I ask you some questions?”
Rhys studied him, mulling over his answers. “Ssssure.”
“What… did I miss? Y-you see, I’m in hiding. I think, I was terrified. I saw what Handsome Jack became and going to Pandora... I can’t… go there even if I wanted to. I-I saw Helios crash. Do you know the story behind that?”
Rhys took another long breath and exhaled slowly, “Yeah, I was… there, actually. I worked there. You see, I got this like, data chip from Nakayama’s stuffed… corpse. I plugged it in because aaaahugh, long story short, I was doing something kind of illegal to get back at someone who cheated me out of a promotion I was supposed to get. And I thought the chip would have a map on it.”
“Did you get it? The promotion.”
“No. I compromised.” He briefly gestured at his ATLAS suit and adjusted his collar. “I’m the face of ATLAS now.”
Jack blinked, sitting up taller. “Ooooh! Congrats.”
“Uhehe, yeah.” Rhys cleared his throat. “Anyway, I didn’t get a map it was actually the AI of Handsome Jack and...”
“H-h-his actions led me to… Helios’ fall.”
Jack’s wide eyes stared on. His gaze flickered around as he digested the information. “AI… AI, why is that so familiar?”
“I-I dont’t know. Did you help with it?”
“Maybe. Nakayama… I remember he was obsessed with Jack. He uh… really liked me. Super uncomfortable to think about.”
Rhys put his hands on his hips. He was wondering if he was falling into another trap. Then again, Handsome Jack was genuine to him while he was in his office. If this was just a body double, where would he have known him from? He frowned, puzzled. “You… gonna… be okay?”
“... Honestly? I really don’t know.”
He grinded his teeth. Rhys lowered his gaze and focused on the lamp he was now turning, feeling the smooth indents and texture of the cold metal. “Are you going to let me leave? I have friends back in ah, back in Pandora. I don’t know if they’re worried about me or… not.”
“Whoa, I’m not going to keep you against your will. That’s not me, okay? I wish I knew how to get off the moon, but the people I knew who could build rockets are dead, on Pandora, insane, or in space. Unless, you want to try making one from scratch?”
“Uhhhh, yeah, no. I can’t do that.”
“Then… maybe your friends will figure out where you are?”
Suddenly, a light bulb turned on inside his head. “Yvette.”
“I’ve got an idea.” Rhys turned his palm out and a hologram of glitchy letters blinked in and out. He rattled his hand, but to no avail. “No no no! C’mon. Call Yvette. Call. Yvette!”
All that came through the system was static. He closed his hand into a fist. “Dammit...”
“Wa-wait wait, don’t give up.” Rhys instinctively backed away, holding the lamp close to his chest when Jack stood up. “What if I got you closer to a satellite? Would that help? Concordia has plenty of them.”
“You’d… do that for me?”
“I’m not Jack, cupcake. I actually want to help you.”
“Okay, cool. You can start with not calling me that.”
“Calling you what?”
“Cup-- You just called me cupcake.”
“Did I? Crap.” He rubbed his neck. “Sorry, I’ll-I’ll keep an eye on that, aahum. Are we good? Can you put the lamp down? Please?”
“Y-yeah, yeah. And uh, don’t… touch me either.”
Jack saluted. “Aye, aye, sir. Let’s get you acquainted with Elpis.”
Rhys gawked at the DAHL ship that Jack’s house was taking a miniscule size in comparison. Unfortunately, the ship itself was spliced in half and already Rhys felt motion sick from looking at the jump pad. He briefly left Jack’s side while he gathered supplies to scout around and as he continued along the edge of the broken spaceship he came onto a sleeping brig. On one side of a rack of bunkbeds, two were missing… and there was a lot of blood. Grimacing, he wandered further into the belly where an elevator greeted him. He gave one glance behind him and stared through the grated fense. Jack was nowhere in sight.
He wondered if he could escape this way. Then again he would be by himself on the moon and he had no idea how this Oz kit on his shoulder functioned. Rhys hated to think that he would be dead without Handsome Jack’s body double.
“Yo, Rhysie! Where you at?”
Rhys squeaked. He flailed his arms when he realized he had jumped 2 feet into the air.
“Yeah, you’re not going to get anywhere going down there. Unless you want a tour of this abandoned hunk of junk?”
As Rhys finally landed, he composed himself by running his hand through his hair. “Wha-what is down there?”
“A lot of crap that doesn’t work, trust me. I’ve tried to send SOS signals, the power here is limited.” Jack continued, noticing Rhys’ uncertainty. “Down there is a bunch on monitors of a used to be AI. Her name was Felicity.”
Rhys blinked. “Used to be? How do you know that?”
“Uh, Handsome Jack had me go through here, she was helping us. She… something bad happened to her. I think I killed her. She was upset--I was upset. And Jack didn’t bat an eye... Psychopath.”
Rhys was beginning to feel guilty about his suspicions but that guilt drove him to ask more questions. Jack had to mess up at some point, at least he hoped so. Giving up his failed escape, he mosied back to the jump pad. Rhys called over the wall. “How come you don’t remember so much?”
“Well, I don’t have a lot of people to talk to. Nina is more attune to physical than mental health, so she waved me aside. You be okay.” Jack said with a flimsy Russian accent. “I think I do remember a lot more than I think I do? Sorry, if I said that weird. Having a sane person to talk to is like, so foreign to me and a really nice change. By the way, you know Janey? She runs Moon Buggies, but I only saw her when we were done with Vault business up here.”
“I’mmm, yes, I know her. She’s on Pandora, I think she’s getting married.”
“Oh. Good. For her.” Jack coughed into his hand. “No… mention of me? At all?”
Rhys gave him a concerned frown. “Uhhhh, not that I know of.”
Obviously, Jack was trying to downplay his disappointment by faking a smile that felt more hollow than the ship they stood in. “Ah. Okay, well. Alright. Nice to know, at least. That reminds me...” He pulled his satchel, which had gun holsters and barrels sticking out at all corners and zippers, and withdrew a pistol. He tossed it to Rhys. “You’re gonna need one.”
Rhys watched gun twirl in the air before grabbing it. “Hhuuuhm. Yeah, I don’t, do this?”
“What-- you never shot a gun before?”
“... I’ve shot… finger guns…?”
“Oh my god, you’re helpless.”
“I! Am not! I h-haaaaam a maniac with a stun baton, thank you?”
Jack gazed at him with unblinking eyes as he retrieved an sniper rifle from his back. He pointed towards a section of the ship that was to the left of where they stood. One giant leap away seemed like their way out of the ship to Rhys. Finally, he found what he was supposed to be looking at: a bandit. A moon bandit, he mused.
“Do you think these guys are dumber because of the lack of oxygen?” He asked with a snarky laugh.
“They’re not, actually. It took me a while to get all of them out of here.” Rhys sunk his head into his shoulders. Fiddling with his fingers, he watched Jack handle the gun. “What you do is look down the sights of who you want to shoot at and there’s a lil button down here that does the pew pew and kills them dead. You got that, pumpkin? Watch.”
Just like that, the moon bandit collapsed-- into the space and floated gently into the wall behind him.
“Ehahha, yup. I got that.”
Jack put a hand to his shoulder but quickly caught himself before making contact. He jerked his arm back to his chest. “I was scared to. Hell, taking up this gig for Jack was my first time handling a gun. It was uh, mostly my...” He trailed off, a distant look in his eye. He exhaled a stressful sigh. “Anyway, how do you feel about heights? I hate them, personally.”
“Yeah, we don’t… mix.”
“Alright, so, that no touch rule you put up? We’ll have to forget about it for a second. You might die if you jump on your own without me.”
“You’ll be fine, trust me.”
Rhys raised an eyebrow as he followed Jack. “Say, why are you living here if you’re afraid of heights?”
“I was looking for Felicity. Then I remembered some stuff, I wanted to know if there was at least a trace of her, a backup file. I haven’t found anything yet.”
“Whoa-oh were, you two a thing?”
“I don’t think so. I think I just want to apologize.” Jack nabbed Rhys’ hand. “I need you to not think about what’s about to happen. You need to jump when I tell you to.”
Wordlessly, Rhys put his free hand over his eyes and whimpered.
“Take one step back. We need to run for this to work. Also if you’re going to panic, please don’t it’ll make me panic.”
“I feel so nauseous.”
“That makes two of us. Okay, on go-- Three, two, go!” The two bolted for the edge of the broken ship. “Jump!”
Slowly progressing through the air, Rhys briefly spread his fingers to peek through. His stomach uncomfortably churned at the dark abyss below them. Squeezing Jack’s hand, he shut his eyes tighter. “Why did I do thatwhy did i dothat...”
“Ok, get ready to land. Uh, unfurl yourself, Rhys.”
“Auwh, god, sorry.”
Once his feet touched solid ground, Rhys let out a breathless yell to alleviate his anxiety. He hugged his gut, riding out the nervous pains. He saw movement out of the corner of his eye. Jack was on his side in the fetal position, taking huge breaths. His eyes were the size of plates and he shivered so violently that Rhys could hear his teeth chatter.
“You, hrrn, you alright?” Rhys managed to get out.
“Cool, me too. Are we… are we cool if we just stick here for a second?”
After five of minutes of salvaging the remaining pieces of their energy, Rhys and Jack headed off towards Outlands Spur. Jack clearly did not enjoy the few seconds of quiet between them.
“So what’s it like on Pandora, Mr. ATLAS?”
“Awful, but you get used to it.”
“Yea, I hear that.” Jack hopped passed the stairs. “So, who are your friends?”
“Um, Yvette, Vaughn, Sasha, Fiona… there’s Athena, she’s kind of scary--”
“Whoa, Athena? She was up here with me! Until we got, ah, separated. Ah god, I know this, there was other people with me. Goddammit, who was it??”
“Wait, Athena… helped Handsome Jack?”
“I mean, we all did.”
Rhys fell into an uncomfortable silence, gritting his teeth.
“N-nisshh--Niche? I remember Claptrap, guy would NOT shut up. Watching Jack finally shoot him was soo-hoooo satisfying-- guh, Aurora? Willy--” Jack scratched his chin. “Is this? Do you know any of them?”
“No. No idea.”
“Vaughn… Vaughn, Vaughn. Damn, if I saw his face I feel like I’d know who he is.”
“Ok, what you just said there made me more suspicious of who you are.”
“Please, throw out any names you can think of. I’d like to get some idea.”
“That is not--” Rhys hummed in frustration. “The only way you could have know Vaughn and me specifically is when we worked at Hyperion… I’m guessing you know Yvette too, don’t you?”
“No, actually. Her name is not ringing any bells.”
“Then, you’ve been stalking me?”
“Ew! No! I had no idea who you were until I saw you!”
“Your story makes absolutely no sense!”
“If I had a story, I would tell it! But I don’t, Rhys! You have NO idea how many times I’ve dissociated, how many times I’ve cut myself, how long I’ve been depressed and anxious about being alive in someone else’s body for-- F*CK, I have no idea, Rhys! I have no f**king clue! Rhys, if you could just be a little patient with me--!”
“I’M SORRY!” Rhys screamed. Tears formed into puddles on his cheeks. As he blinked, tiny spheres of water floated into space. “I’m sorry, okay?! I’m sorry…! Please, don’t yelling at me!!”
He was having a panic attack. Jack pushed himself away with his hands up in defense. He was terrified to touch him after that outburst. His lungs felt like balloons ready to pop. Clutching his pounded head, his mind fluttered and bruised itself from overthinking. “I’m not Jack… I’m not Jack… I’m not Jack...” He tried to raise his voice to be more calming through his anxiety, “Rhys. I am, so sorry. Can--can you breathe?”
He lifted his gaze and watched the CEO rubbing his sleeve against his eyes. His face stained red with possible anger. He glared, hiccuping. “Fine. I’m ffffine. Nothing happened.”
“I get it! You’re not Handsome Jack. Your situation sucks and I do feel bad for you. But fuck, this! This whole thing! Is something from my nightmare of nightmares! I have woken up screaming because of your face. Don’t you try to console me with that on…! I-I don’t... I don’t want to hear it from you…!”
“You understand me?”
Rhys wipes his face again and wrung his hands. His breathes developed out of fitful into deep long inhales and exhales. Although, his voice shook, but the power behind it made Jack flinch. “Yes.”
“I promise I won’t yell at you again. I really do.”
Rhys held one index out. “You’re willing to help me. If you can get me to trust you--”
“Oh my god, anything. Please.”
“... Just get me to Concordia, Jack.”
Jack gave him a single nod. “There’s a moon buggy station just up ahead. It’ll… get us there… Go, let’s go.”
Vaughn side glanced worryingly at Yvette as she watched Gortys’ feed on the screen.
“Try the Frozen Wastes, Gortys.” She commanded, her eyes never leaving the map.
“Okay…!” Gortys said through her cheery, although tired, disposition.
The three of them have been at this all morning. Scanning the entirety of Pandora for Rhys’ signal. Three strong points popped up in the same area called Sanctuary.
The three points’ data linked off the spots on top of Sanctuary, one in a bar, one at a stand, and another in a large building. Yvette shook her head. “More radios. I’m calling Athena. Gortys, tap into the Arid Badlands, I think she’s somewhere there.”
“I’m on it!”
Vaughn coughed, awkwardly, “How’s Fiona? Yvette?”
“She’s recovering well. She can eat almost normally.”
“Good. That’s good.”
A second of silenced lapsed before Yvette commented. “... You’re dying inside, I know you are.”
“Is it that obvious?”
Yvette offered him a reassuring smile. “It’s obvious to me because I know you. I’m scared too.”
“Really? You… do a lot better job of hiding it.”
“I shouldn’t, though.” She shook her head. “I digress-- There she is.” Yvette pulled in microphone closer to her mouth. “Athena? You do hear me? It’s Yvette.”
“Loud and clear. I haven’t found any sign of Rhys or Fiona yet.”
“You can scratch off looking for Fiona, she’s recovering back at Helios.”
“Really? Where did you find her?”
“In the middle of the desert.” Vaughn answered, “Specifically, The Dust. She was kind of lying there on a pile of rocks. She wasn’t injured at all.”
“... Wait. You found Fiona on a pile of rocks, unscathed?”
“Yes, we did.”
“Just in the desert, in that specific spot?”
“You got an idea, Athena?” Yvette offered, leaning forward.
“... Give me coordinates, I want to check the place out.”
Vaughn stumbled out, “You don’t think Rhys is there, do you?”
“We opened Vault of the Traveler, and how it appears is not random. I’m going off a loose theory but it’s all we have right now. Rhys could be in the same proximity, but don’t get your hopes up. I’ll patch in later to let you know if I find anything. Athena out.”
Vaughn tore himself away from the panels. “I’m meeting her there.”
“Vaughn!” Yvette caught him before he stepped out of the room. “Are you sure, you don’t want to talk, first?”
“... I don’t.”
“Then, I’ll be here when you want to.”
He stood up a little straighter and granted her a ghost of a smile. “Thanks, Yvette. Seriously.”
Sasha sat on the floor with her back against the couch Fiona occupied. Her knees were curled into her chest as she hung her head. “I’m so stupid, sis.”
“You… kind of were, yeah.” Fiona croaked.
Sasha scoffed and decidedly stood up, beginning to pace the floor. “Like, what was I thinking? Why did I say that to him?”
“You were caught up in the moment.”
“Yet, he won’t let me apologize to him. I’m not saying sorry because I pity him-- dammit, I mean, I do. He knows Rhys a lot better than either of us. I want to make it up to him.”
Fiona groaned as she slowly moved to a sitting position on the couch. Her head spun like wheels that were ready to be flung off the axle. Sasha rushed to her and tried to lay her back down, however Fiona resisted by putting her hand on her shoulder. “I’ll be okay. You want to make it up to him, right?”
“Then let’s look for Rhys.” She said with a determined gleam in her eye. “I’m not leaving you behind again.”
“Actually, it would be me leaving you behind, but it’s still a nice sentiment.” Sasha looked to the side before whispering. “Are you sure you can take being on the road? Yvette took my driving privileges.”
Fiona snorted and laughed, “And you’re going to listen to her?”
“Hm, you have a good point.”
“I always do. Help me up, will you?”
“Why are you making her get up?” Yvette’s authoritative tone echoed in her ears. The sisters looked up at Yvette’s mom-like demeanor, her hips resting to one side with her arms crossed.
“Shit,” Sasha muttered, before faking a steady tone, “Fiona wanted to get some fresh air so I’m taking her a little joy ride around Helios, or am I not allowed to do anything because I’m grounded?”
“Oh sure, you can do that, but I’m driving.”
“Why?” Fiona inquired, innocently faking incoherence.
“You should have seen your sister nearly kill herself trying to find you… and I had to clean up her mess. That’s why.”
“Why would I drive like that when she’s going to be in the car? I’m a good driver.”
“You may be Rhys and Vaughn’s friends but you're Pandorans, and I frankly don’t trust you. Let’s go.”
Sasha and Fiona exchanged glances and winked as Yvette turned her back to them. Steadily, they followed close behind her. Fiona nudged Sasha gently to cue her.
“Hey, Yvette? Where did Vaughn go?”
“Athena thinks that Rhys could have ended up nearby Fiona’s location. Vaughn is meeting up with her as we speak. By the way, I should ask: what do you remember Fiona? After the Vault opened.”
“I remember going into the Vault with Rhys, I was telling him to stay away from Sasha.”
Sasha caught herself. “Pffff, you did not.”
“I thought he was interested and I’m not usually wrong on that, but that time I guess I was. Anyway.” Sasha grinned at the dune buggy keys in Fiona’s hand. “After that, I woke up here. I had no idea I was even in the desert until you told me.”
“I think this Vault business played you for fools. Ok, sure, we have a lot of loot that I am not upset about, but this is out of hand. If we don’t find Rhys soon, I think Vaughn… nevermind. Fiona, I’m going to hoist you up, are you ready?” Yvette jerked her head around and saw that the sisters had vanished behind her. Then she heard the vehicle start up without her. Whirling around, she stared agape at Sasha who grinning coyly from the backseat as the car drove off. Blinded by rage, she attempted to run after them. “Hey!!”
“Thanks for the keys!” Fiona called out. She waved goodbye from the driver seat.
The night clouded the sand hills in a violet shade. A motorbike leaped over one of the dunes and skidded down the slope until it reached the bottom. Athena removed her helmet and withdrew her Echo. A soft ping emanated frequently from the device, announcing that she was close. Looking up, she saw someone already arrived. Vaughn was resting on top of his dune buggy. She could see him wearing a nervous face as she walked closer.
“Hey!” She called out through her monotone disposition.
That jerked him out of his trance. He spotted her and jumped down. “Hey, Athena. Glad you made it. This is the spot, alright… No.. no sign of Rhys when you drove here?”
“You giving up?”
“Wh-- No! We’re going to find him.”
Vaughn momentarily watched Athena mosey around the stones in the sands. “Soooo, what’s your theory? Do you think it’s Vault related?”
“Undoubtedly, we are about to go to war.”
Vaughn made a pointing gesture at nothing. “Right.”
“But Fiona appearing in this spot is tipping me off. It doesn’t make sense. There wasn’t a Vault here.”
“At least, the moon is pretty from here. Never really got to uh, look at it but maybe… Rhys is looking at it too? I don’t know.”
Athena gave him a troublesome glance before her mind clicked. “The moon. There was a Vault on Elpis.”
“Wait, really? WAIT, you don’t think Rhys is on the moon, do you?!”
“I can’t be certain, but if he is, it’s unlikely he would have survived Elpis’ atmosphere without an Oz kit.”
“Yvette!” Vaughn put a finger to his ear, panic tinted in his tone. “Come in, Yvette.”
“I’m right here. Did you find him?”
“Uhhmm, no, listen this is going to sound crazy but can you look for Rhys’ signal on Elpis?”
“... On the fucking moon?!”
“Just do it!”
“Alright, okay! Don’t scream at me. Gortys, scan Elpis.”
“Okay!” A long minute chipped at Vaughn’s heart, until Gortys’ chipper voice squealed, “… I found him!”
Yvette chimed in, “Speaking of, I think he’s patching through.”
“Hold on, the signal is really weak-- Rhys? Rhys, speak up!”
Vaughn sprung onto his feet upon hearing his words. “He’s alive! Athena! Rhys is alive!”
“I heard.” She narrowed her eyes at the moon, curiously. Her lips pursed.
“Why is the reception so--” static cut him off. “--ette! Vaug--.... oon. I’m on th--... uck!”
“I’ve got it, I’ve got it!” The iconic voice of Handsome Jack entered clearly into everyone’s ears accompanied by the sound of gunfire. “How’s that?”
“I’m on-- moon! Gett-- hot--” Rhys tried again, “Help me--!”
The speakers hung onto the last syllable of ‘me’ for a quarter of a minute before seeping back into static. Vaughn cupped his head in stunned silence.
“Handsome Jack is… alive?” Yvette’s voice was fragile, on the brink of falling apart.
“No, he’s not.” Athena replied with conviction. “That’s his body double.”
Vaughn about knocked himself over when he whirled around to face Athena. “Why is that any better?!”
“Because I know him. Rhys is safe with him. Yvette, have you tracked down where Rhys is?”
“Y-yes, the signal was coming from Concordia.”
“Ookay but how are we going to get on the moon?” Vaughn intervened, his arms wildly gesturing at Elpis.
Suddenly, their earpieces crackled for a moment. “I think I can help with that,” Fiona responded. “Meet us at Sanctuary.”
Athena heaved a sigh. “I know where this is going. Are you coming?”
“Who, me, yes, me. Coming…!” Vaughn rushed over to his dune buggy and throttled the engine until it hummed to life. Covering his eyes with goggles, Vaughn raced after Athena’s bike. His heart caught in his throat as he worried for Rhys being in the company of Handsome Jack’s body double. He must be scared out of his mind.
About thirty minutes earlier, Jack and Rhys finally reached the outskirts of Concordia. Jack pulled into the moon buggy deck and looked over at Rhys who was a leg out of the vehicle when Jack said, “Uhh, hey. I need to warn you about something before we go in.”
“Great.” Rhys settled in his seat. “What now?”
“This town hasn’t had a Merrif in… I don’t know, a while. I try to make my appearance at Concordia brief because, well, they don’t like my face.”
“Can’t imagine why...”
“I’m more surprised that you didn’t ask what the hell a Merrif is.”
“I’m tired of questions at this point.”
“Okay, well, just, ah, be careful. Keep that gun on you. It’s best that you go before me so that people don’t get the wrong idea about you. I’ll go in through the side door. I have my dealer waiting on me. I’ll meet you at Moxxi's Up Over.”
“I assume I’ll know what that is.”
“Oh, yeah, you will.” His laugh had Rhys’ skin crawling as he watched him tote his bag of guns to the left of the entrance. He let his gaze follow after him until he turned out of sight behind a large rock. Deciding to stop moping, Rhys exited the moon buggy and waltzed into Concordia. He let the pistol in his cybernetic hand hang loose in his grip. Surely, a city on the moon would be better than anything on Pandora. There was even flooring, which Rhys considered to be decency. Conversation of passersby filled his ears as the lights granted his soul a feeling of hope. No one was masked or talking crazy, it was suspiciously sane.
He stopped briefly to stare at a flower made of gun parts that was on exhibit. The nameplate looked to be scratched over multiple times, that the artist’s name was gone. Rhys raised an eyebrow at the occupants of this town looking at him oddly. Although most were dressed in rags, Rhys felt like he was the one undressed. His nervous tick of giggling probably didn’t help him appear any less off as he ventured up the stairs where blaring techno music played.
“Hello-oo, [sexy]!” A robotic voice greeted him. “What’s your name?”
Rhys blinked hard at what he was looking at. At the bar was a Loader Bot, who was smaller in stature and saturated of color aside from the mock lipstick and blush around his one eye.
“What’s wrong, [skag] got your [tongue]?”
“Oh, I am so rude to my [guest], I should introduce myself first. I am Innuendobot 5000. I am programmed to help Moxxi run her moon [establishment] while she is away on Pandora… and innuendos if you haven’t [come] to notice [yet]. I am… so lonely in this bar full of people.”
Aside from the two men playing mixtapes, the bar only had two other customers, both in which were in an alcoholic sleep in the corner.
“Rrrright.” He hesitantly got onto the bar stool. “I’m Rhys. I’m waiting for someone.”
“Oh oh [ooooh]! If you get stood up, honey, the drinks are [on] my [rack].”
“Would you like a premat-tur-tur-tur-ture--” Innuendobot’s red eye turned black as his lifeless body fell over.
Rhys leaned over the bar, then proceeded to glance around as if to make sure nothing was pointed at him. The drunk couple did not stir at the noise, and neither did the DJs care to lift their heads up from working at the turntable. Upon searching the bar further, he noticed unattended three drinks sitting on each side of the counter.
Rhys hummed, “I don’t think anyone would care if I tried one.”
After another quick peek over his shoulders, he snatched one of the purple colored one named “Squill Syrup: Part of a complete breakfast.” He hummed as he put it to his mouth. He closed his eyes hard at the sharp taste, but the bitterness gently melted into sweet as he swallowed. The flavor was unrecognizable, however, it wasn’t totally revolting.
… Rhys downed half the glass. His guilty conscious jumped at the sound of a door closing behind the bar. The CEO inconspicuously put the drink back where it belong and wiped the corners of his mouth with a dirty hanky he found on the stool beside him. He dropped it on the dead Claptrap resting below him. Rhys began fiddling his thumbs, innocently.
Jack, who was wearing a Catch-A-Ride hat to shield his eyes, peered out from the storage door and eased his way out into the open. He saw immediately that the bartender was missing and gazed over the side. He clicked his tongue. “Still haven’t gotten all the bugs out.” He grinned at Rhys. “Yo. Thanks for waiting.”
“You really think that hat is going to disguise you?”
“Look, I usually get out of Concordia in less than a minute. I’m doing this for you, and it’s all I could find back there.”
“Whatever. Where are we going now?”
“You ready to jump on rooftops?”
“Well, me neither.” He cocked his head and Rhys followed him out of Moxxi's Up Over towards the left side of the town, passed the Merrif’s headless statue. Jack effortlessly hoisted aboard the dumpster and jumped onto the neighboring roof.
“... This is okay?” Rhys ventured.
“Yeah, I did this for someone way back when. I think this antenna over here is your ticket… You need help?”
“N-no, I’ve also done this before.” He balanced himself as he stood on the dumpster. “Without a shoe. With normal gravity. No big deal…!” He exhaled a quick sigh when he found himself floating above the roof.
Jack smirked. “You hit the gym then?”
“If by gym you mean running away from psychos then yeah, I have been.”
“You’re a dork.”
“I’ve been told that many times.” He gave a smug shrug. “It’s basically a compliment by now.”
Rhys leaped alongside Jack and uselessly waited while watching him turn the antenna disk at Pandora. Seeing Pandora from here made Rhys feel very small all the sudden. Absentmindedly, his fingers felt around his cold cybernetic hand, tracing the bolts and indents. Soon enough his legs grew to ache from standing so Rhys, as carefully as he could, took a seat and let out another sigh. His eyes felt heavy watching him. Maybe, it was the drink making him sleepy, he guessed with a yawn. He perked up slightly when Jack moved away from the disk over to what Rhys assumed to be the control panel.
“How are we doing?” He called out.
“We’re about to find out!” Jack hollered back. His anxious expression set his stomach aflame.
He stared at the antenna, pleading. “C’mon, c’mon, please...”
Screaming enveloped Concordia. Rhys leered over his shoulder to see really big guys in suits riding on what Rhys recognized from being on Helios.
And they were huge.
“Ohhhhh ohh nooo nonono. Hey, Jaaaack--?”
“I’m typing as fast as I can!” He kicked the console box. As a reply, the antenna sparked and tipped downward. “Sh*t! Rhys, get to the antenna, I’m going to plug you in manually.”
Without a second thought, Rhys scrambled on his hands and knees away from the edge before lightning bullets struck where he once was. Yelping, Jack held up the input plug from the antenna. Rhys swiped it from his hand and stuck it into his temple socket.
“Just cover me, I’ve got this.” He commanded Jack, who simply nodded in return. His Echo-eye glowed yellow as he scanned through the machine until finally...
“....really weak-- Rhys?”
“Yvette!” Rhys’ exclamation was shot down immediately at the bullet whizzing past his ear.
“Rhys, speak up!”
“I am being shot at!”
Yvette’s words were scrambled with static.
“Why is the reception so shitty!?” Rhys rattled the antenna as a failed attempt for a better reception. “Yvette! Vaughn! I’m on the moon. I’m on the moon-- OH Fuck!” He ducked at the sound of Jack’s holograms digitizing behind him as the onslaught of bullets became more intense. He could hear the scuffling of Stalkers edging closer.
“I’ve got it, I’ve got it!” Jack unhinged the antenna and directed it with his hands at Pandora. “How’s that?”
“I’m on the moon! Getting shot!” Rhys shouted, “Help me, PLEASE!”
Jack scream in pain as he dropped the antenna, clutching his hand. Panicking, Rhys jerked the plug out of his head and froze at the sight of the chaos around him. Stalkers littered the streets, Scavs terrorized everyone with guns ablaze and invisible mobility. His body quivered, his blood boiled, it clicked in his head what he had to do. He briefly closed his eyes. He stood up tall, arching his back. “I hope this doesn’t kill me...”
“What?!” Jack yelled over the mayhem below them.
“Stay up here where you’re safe! I’m about to do something stupid…!”
“WHAT?!” Jack fell onto his back in surprise when he saw golden yellow wings spread along Rhys’ back. The tattoo on his neck glowed softly as his feet lifted off the ground. In a flash, he dived into Concordia and left Jack breathless.
Chapter 2: Comfortably Dysfunctional
After finally reaching Pandora, Timothy is now the new prisoner of Sanctuary. Meanwhile, Rhys and Vaughn discuss their relationship as Fiona and Sasha crack down on who really is Handsome Jack's body double.
Swerving in and out of the onslaught of bullets, Rhys was seemingly taking out bandits and stalkers without so much as touching them. Lying on his stomach, Jack ogled at the sight. Rhys looked to have so much control and confidence in what he was doing, until he managed to caught a glimpse at his face. Perspiration fell off his forehead as he strained his eyes to stay open. Rhys held out his hands as if he was holding a machine gun. The oncoming Stalkers jumping for his feet collapsed below him.
“HOLY SH****T, YOU’RE DOING THE THING!” Jack yelled in awe. “ANd it’s working?!!”
“Yeah-- who--who knew right?” Rhys awkwardly smiled. He raised his hand towards a Scav, in which the Scav himself was lifted into the air and with a swift motion the bandit was hurled into the lips of Moxxi’s Up Over Bar.
“Oh my god!! You can do the Dark Invader thing!! Choke one of them! Choke one! Telekinesis their asses!”
“Would you shut up?!”
“Would you watch out?! You’re going to be end up becoming Rhysies pieces!”
Frustrated, Rhys extended his arm out once more and the Midget Lunatic, who was in the air ready to grab him, paused in place like a television program. Without giving him a glance, Rhys thrusted him over his shoulder and the Midget spiralled out of Concordia. “You’re distracting me, Jack! This seriously takes up a lot of concentration.”
“Okay! But! What you did was really sexy-- like a close second to me! You’ve got this!” Jack quickly ducked before a flying dead Stalker slapped him in the face. “Message received! Shutting up--”
Fueling off of anger, Rhys bobbed and weaved out of the way of bandits scrambling to not get killed as he soared for the leader of the gang. Rhys shot a ‘grenade’ and the surrounding bandits blasted into bloody limbs that scattered the air.
After wiping the blood off his helmet, the Badass Scav glared up at Rhys, squawking, “That all you got, pretty boy?!”
“You wish.” Rhys jerked the pet Stalker underneath the Scav via telekinesis. The Stalker hissed and squirmed uselessly in the air. “I’m going to say this once.” He formed his hand into a fist. In response, the Stalker’s neck snapped. The creature fell in a crumpled heap on the pavement. His wings spread out, crackling and sparking to emphasis the passion that soaked his voice, “Leave.”
“Ohhhh-hooooh! He did iiiiiitttt.” Jack cheered softly from the sidelines, cupping his cheeks.
The Badass Scav gave a boisterous laugh, “Is that supposed to scare me, ya cheesed-off drongo? Ow… OW-wha! Why… Why does me head hurt so bad?”
“You didn’t listen.” Rhys narrowed his eyes and the bandit screamed louder. Finally, Rhys blinked out of his trance. The Scav fell to his knees and then his face. He wasn’t dead. The intense brain squish Rhys gave him only knocked him out. Recognizing this, Rhys felt a sweep of relief as his wings flickered out of existence. His vision grew dark. Moaning, he collapsed onto the floor.
“Rhys!” Jack vaulted over the side and sprinted over to his body. He rolled his body over and pressed his ear against his chest. It was faint, but there was a heartbeat. “Ohh, thank goodness, you’re alive.”
Scooping him up, Jack carried him under the neon sign that read: Nurse Nina's Jab'N'Go!
Jack’s watch wasn’t really a watch. The only purpose his watch served was that it was linked up to the Echonet and DigiJacks. He couldn’t stand seeing Rhys being hooked up to vitals. It made his skin crawl. He put his head in his hands, wondering if he would have a chance to make it up to Rhys.
“Oh, face it, me, he hates you…” He held out a finger. “Wait, hear me out, why would he hate you if he told us to stay behind while he went off being a badass… He shouldn’t have done that. I should have stopped him. You kidding? Probably would have died if it wasn’t for him… If it wasn’t for him taking that risk, he wouldn’t be in pain right now.”
“Is tiny man okay?” Nina was poking her head out of the doorway and looking at him with sympathy. “Do you need snack? Nina can get for you.”
“Ah, no thanks, Nina. Uh, how long has it been?”
Jack slid a foot down the bench. “Oh. I’m a wreck.”
“Here. You take.” Nina handed him a chocolate covered lollipop and gave him a swift pat on the head. “Your friend will be okay. Nina taking good care of him.”
Jack cracked a tiny smile. “Thanks, Nina.”
After she left him alone, he sniffed the lollipop and stuffed it into his mouth, rolling it with his tongue. Blinking the tears into his eyes, he propped himself up and surveyed the world from underneath his cap. The town was shaken up; everyone was talking about the magic Rhys had displayed. Quite a few people were trickling into the bar. No doubt wanting to wash away the trauma that mayhem caused.
“I felt like I was trippin’, bruh.” Said a passerby as they walked near him.
“Dude, I was trippin’ when that happened, it was awwwwesome!”
Suddenly, the earpiece buzzed against his eardrum. Choking on his candy, Jack spat out the lollipop and hurriedly took the call, “Hhhhhello?”
“Athena!? You--you actually called me.” Her brief silence worried him. He cleared his throat, “Whhat’s what’s going on?”
“I wanted to warn you. Do you remember Lilith?”
“The girl that punched Handsome Jack in the face? Love her, I’ve been wanting to give her a high five.”
“She’s going to be coming to take Rhys back to Pandora soon. I advise you to make yourself scarce.”
“Handsome Jack killed her boyfriend and… well.”
“Iiii look like him. Rrrrright.”
Jack heard a sheepish voice on the other end. “Athena, can you ask him…?”
“Uh, who’s that?”
“How’s Rhys?” She prompted, abruptly.
“Aaaaaahsleep. Resting. We, haha, funny story. Concordia had a raid here about twenty-ish minutes ago. Rhys here was a freaking badass with those wings, man.”
“Oh, you haven’t seen those yet? You HAVE to ask him about them, they are so pretty! He was all like pew pew pew! Boooewwm! Awh, god, it was SO cool. You should’ve been there.”
“... Congrats, you saw a Siren up close.”
“Wah-- a Siren? Sorry, I’ve been out of the loop since forever. Mind, I don’t know, putting me back in the loop?”
“Another time. Expect Lilith soon, Athena out.”
“Wait! Don’t you dare hang up on me!” Jack stood up as if that would make Athena call him back. He pressed the callback option on his Echo device that only resulted in zero feedback. “Asshole…!” He scold and threw his hat down, which gently touched the ground and bounced up. “‘Make yourself scarce’, pfffft, please.”
His words slowly fell off as he began to think, “Yeah, she’d probably kill me if I just stand here like this… Now, that. Is a good idea.”
For the next five minutes, Jack hid in plain sight as a patient on his stomach and a blanket over his body. He growled under his breath. Where was she?
As laid there for another few minutes, he fought with his eyes to stay open.
Finally, he heard someone come in, carrying a familiar voice. “Uh, hey, is there a Rhys here?”
“Lilith! It has been long time! How are those troublesome men?”
“Brick and Mordecai are doing just fine, Nina. And you… You look great.”
“Bol'shoy spasibo! You are kind. Ah, yes. Nina will show you him.”
As they walked by, Jack carefully pulled the blanket off and crawled his way around the hospital screens. Lilith looked exactly like how he remembered her, except she cut her hair in a cute bob. He nodded at that.
“And it’s okay if I take him like this? I was told he’s a Siren. He needs Eridium, not fluid.”
“Oh, please. Take him then. Nina knows when she is not needed. I kid.”
“Thanks, Nina. I’ll visit later.” Lilith lightly lifted him into her arms. Jack saw something purple in her hands. She started to glow. Thrusting himself forward, Jack grabbed her by the ankle. Within a spark of light, Lilith, Rhys, and Jack disappeared.
Nina tsked and shook her head. “Troublemaker. Nina will miss him.”
Fiona watched as Vaughn pace around the square holoboard. She slowly spoke up. “Hey, Vaughn?”
“You wanna um, sit?”
“Sit? No, I’m good. Thanks. Thank you.”
Sasha looked over at Athena. “Were you ever like this?”
“I was trained to keep my emotions below so that my focus would not wane.”
“I have no comment.” Athena sighed, “Vaughn.”
“Mm??” He was still circling the table.
“Rhys is going to be fine. It takes a lot for a Siren to die.”
Fiona agreed, “Yeah, I’ve fought alongside Lilith a few times. She doesn’t let anyone get the chance to jump on her.”
On the balcony, a purple light flickered and sparked and formed Lilith, holding Rhys in her arms. However, she gained a new ankle bracelet. She gave a surprised yell and kicked Jack off her foot. “What the fuck?!”
“Why is it always the NOSE!” Jack hissed, caressing his face. “We’re not bleeding. I don’t think there’s blood. Am I bleeding?”
Athena stepped forward. “Jack!”
“Oh, hey, Athena. Nice seeing you he-hehere. Auh, wow, that’s a lot of you.”
Lilith stumbled into the room and dumped Rhys into Vaughn’s care. A submachine gun materialized into her hands as she pressed forward, “I’ve got this--”
Athen stepped in front of her. “Don’t. He’s just a body double.”
“And Handsome Jack’s lackey. Anyone who looks like that asshole should be d--”
Jack pleaded from his knees, “I’ve been hiding on the moon! Please, you’ve gotta believe me! It’s all I remember!”
“This isn’t his fault, Lilith. He can’t help being what he is. Listen when I tell you that is NOT Handsome Jack. Yes, he looks, sounds, and acts like him, but he hates him as much as you do.”
“Yea, thanks for punching him by the way. Big fan.”
“Jack. Stop talking.”
“Back up,” Lilith stared at Jack, “That’s all you remember?”
“Yyyyes. I’ve been losing my memories lately. And by lately I mean an indeterminable amount of time.”
“... Athena, you’re protecting someone who sounds really sketchy.”
Athena briefly massaged her temple. “I’d like him more if he learned to keep his mouth shut.”
“You knew then?”
“... I contacted him before we spoke with you. I told him to make sure he was gone by the time you showed up. Why he’s here now is beyond me.”
Jack scoffed, “Please, I’m not telling you why.”
Athena stared at him. “NOW, you decide to be coy?!”
“I have my privacy and you have yours, cupcake. Okay? If you would excuse me--”
“Oh hell no.” Lilith snatched him by the hair, forcefully dragging him across the threshold and tugging at him when he fought back. “You’re not going anywhere until I get answers.”
“Owowowow, my haaaaaiiir!! Athena--! Athena!” He repeated angrily, “Do something!!”
“I’m sorry, but I want answers too, Jack.”
“Answers?!!” Seething, Jack writhed in the middle of the room until he was out of Lilith’s grasp. He grabbed Athena and yanked her close to his face. “I’m the one who should be begging for answers! Why am I the bad guy here, huh?! Huh!?!”
Fiona and Sasha jumped up to help Lilith pry Jack off of Athena. Sasha took him by the hands, tugging at his fingers. A blip emitted from his watch and two DigiJacks formed behind them, aiming their arm blasters.
“You’re no better a BANDIT!! You will obey me--!!” Athena knocked the side of Jack’s head with Aspis. He immediately fell limp and the DigiJack shattered in response.
Eventually, everyone conscious in the room heaved a reluctant sigh.
Lilith clicked her tongue. “Sooo. You forgot ego.”
“To be honest, I didn’t know he adopted his ego. He’s been by himself on the moon for… years. His previous life is gone because of the body double program, from what I’ve heard.”
“Yikes,” Sasha hissed through gritted teeth.
“Well, he almost killed us, so I’m putting him behind bars for the night.” Lilith hoisted him over her shoulder with ease. Before she took a step down the stairs, she paused and tossed a piece of Eridium to which Fiona caught. “Here. Put that in his hand and he’ll start recovering. Night!”
“Night,” Fiona called back timidly. She turned to see a frightened Vaughn had taken a place on the couch. Rhys’ head rested on his lap while his lanky legs filled sixty percent of the couch and some more.
Fiona knelt beside them and smiled at his troubled countenance, “You heard her. He’ll be okay.”
“I know, that was just a lot. I’m sorry I just stood there--”
“Hey, we’ve got Rhys back and no one’s hurt. I think we can rest easy now.”
Fiona gently held Rhys’ hand and put the Eridium on his chest, laying his hand on top of it. Soon, the purple mineral evaporated and Rhys stirred, stretching his limbs. He didn’t open his eyes, but he did move a little and nestled into a comfier position where his arms hugged his chest. His expression eased from tense to relaxed. The tension around the four was significantly relieved.
“Sasha?” Vaughn said, slightly louder than a whisper. “I’m really sorry about before.”
“No, dude, I’m sorry for saying really stupid things I didn’t mean. I was confused an--”
“No, I let my emotions really take hold of me. I’ve felt so guilty--”
“I’m the guilty one here--”
“Ok, you two.” Fiona intervened. “It’s good that you both can move on. I’m going to sleep. I think I overworked myself.”
“Yeah, I shouldn’t have let you drive.”
“I did fine.” Fiona yawned, “I didn’t run into anything.”
“Ahem,” the two sisters flinched at Athena’s sudden appearance, even though she was simply waiting for them at the doorway. She continued, “before you retire for the night, I want you to follow me.”
“Uhh, okay. Sure.” Sasha and Fiona acquiesced through trepidation and followed her down the stairs.
“Night, Vaughn!” Sasha called out before they disappeared. He gave a soft ‘niiiight’ in reply.
They shadowed Athena until she stopped at a section of the room that was jailed off. Inside the cell, Jack’s body double laid unconscious on the floor. Lilith was leaning against the bars and waved them in with two fingers.
Fiona looked to the cot chained to the wall then back at Jack. “Why not put him on the bed?”
“He’s not being sentenced here, kid. It’s only for the night. Before he wakes up tomorrow morning, he’s going to tied to a chair and be questioned. Speaking of, and thanks Athena, where are you guys at?”
“You want our opinions?” Sasha countered.
“Yeah, I mean, your friend up there was going on about something before I left. Something about Handsome Jack’s AI in his head?”
“Oh,” Fiona gave a mirthless laugh, “That is a long story.”
“I’ve heard that one before.” Lilith beamed at Athena’s poker face. “C’mon, you can tell me the abridged version over here. You two are okay sleeping here?”
“It’s better than sleeping on sand.” Sasha commented.
Fiona took one last look at Jack before moving over to the bunk beds. The expression on his face was one of fear and loss, like he was dreaming of something he missed. She could hear him whimper. She didn’t expect a body double who had gained Jack’s whole personality would be so pathetic nor did she expect to feel sorry for him. Athena knew him better than anyone else in the room.
Maybe, this Jack just wants to have his original life back.
Vaughn startled at Rhys moving against his lap. He couldn’t fall asleep. Even thinking about the event prior gave him mini heart attacks. Every now and then he would rest his eyes, but his body forced him awake. He wasn’t prepared for Rhys attempting to… well, attempt. His legs swung slightly as if he was walking. He arched his back and groaned, popping his shoulder blades.
His Echo eye whirled and glowed briefly. He smiled when he recognized Vaughn. His exhaughted voice soothed his aching heart. “Hey bro.”
His own voice choked his throat. “Right back at you, bro.”
“Please tell me this isn’t a dream.”
“It’s totally real, bro. I’ve missed you so much.”
“I missed you too, Vaughn. God, look at that beard. Greeeaasyyyy,” he giggled drunkenly, teasing a finger in his locks.
Vaughn snorted, taking his hand. “Shut up. How do you feel?”
“... High. Like that one time I accidentally smoked weed in college.”
“You ate it, Rhys. You thought it was a salad.”
“Oh. That’s right.”
“Lilith said it was a sort of side effect with Eridium. It’s got that naturally feel good stuff.”
“The good shit.” Rhys corrected.
“Yes, the good kush.” Vaughn wiped his eyes.
“You crying, bro?”
“I thought you were gone, Rhys. We spent such a short time together and to have you gone again… I’m so... so happy you’re here.”
“Aw, Vaughn...” He squeezed his hand. “I won’t let it happen again, bro. I’ll always come back.”
Vaughn return the gesture, grinning ear to ear. “Thanks.”
“Ah…! Your tear got my eye.” Rhys said through a laugh. “Now, I’m crying…!”
“Haha… ha, if you ever wanted to go on the moon, buddy, don’t do it. Shit sucks.”
“Yeah, I don’t think I’m taking a vacation up there any time soon.”
“Good. It was scarier than anything on Pandora...”
Hesitantly, and hoping that Rhys would not remember this in the morning, Vaughn laced his fingers into his hair. “I heard you kind of, Sirened up, up there.”
“Not my brightest idea… I was so pissed off. I don’t want to see his stupid face again… I mean, maybe once to like, thank him for taking me there but that’s it.”
Vaughn discreetly shooed the fact that Jack was only a floor below them. “I’m sorry. I know you hate it.”
“Yeah, secret’s out then, huh?”
“Just in Sanctuary. This place isn’t too big. I told Lilith to keep it under wraps.”
“Lilith, she’s a Siren, like you.”
“... And she didn’t say anything?”
“Nope. She respected your pronouns and everything. And I don’t care what they say about her, I would have dunked her for you if she tried to disrespect you. Fiona and Sasha were good about it too. You’re safe here, Rhys.”
“... Ohhh, that’s good… that’s really good. Man,” Rhys hiccuped, sniffling. He sloppily rubbed the tears from his eyes. “I love you, Vaughn. I really do. You’re so good to me. I don’t deserve you.”
“Ah.” This was not how Vaughn expected this to go. The fact that this was probably the Eridium talking made him feel worse. “You’re my best friend, Rhys, of course I’m going to be good to you.”
“No, no I don’t deserve you at all. I’m an asshole.”
“We are all assholes, Rhys.”
“Noooo, stop validating meee. I don’t deserve iiiiitt.”
“I’m validating you because I love you too, Rhys. Hell, you deserve the whole world. You’re the CEO of ATLAS, bro. You’re halfway there already.”
“You’re great, Vaughn.” Rhys gazed at him with such love in his eye that it melted away his timidness.
“You’re great too, Rhys.” Vaughn cradled his head in his hands and brought him up to give him a peck on the cheek.
Rhys giggled, swatting the air. “Tiickles…! I love this man beard.”
“Manly bread…! I want one.”
Vaughn reduced the volume of his laugh real fast by covering his mouth. “I-I don’t think that’d look too great on you, bro.”
“What about just a stache? I can rock a ‘stache.”
“You tried to grow a mustache in college-- wait no, our roommate Timothy and you had a bet on who could grow the most facial hair and you did not get far before complaining about it.”
“I’m wiser, Vaughn-- stop laughing. I’m wiser, I’m more than five dollars richer, Vaughn. I can handle facial hair now.”
“Mm… Speaking of, I wonder where ol’ Timmy is now? I remember him saying he wanted to be an actor.”
“Hmm? Oh, he’s below us.”
Vaughn blinked, eyebrows raised. “Say that again?”
“Fuckin’ Jack-- wait the moon is above us. I meant above us. That’s Timmy.”
“... Rhys. I don’t think you have the energy to realize what crazy thing you just said. And you have said some batshit things while drunk.”
“He said he knew your name. Where else could he knows us besides college.”
“... You should go back to sleep, Rhys.”
“Without a goodnight kiss?”
“No Rhysie kissies?”
“Oh my god, I am going to piss myself if you keep making me laugh and neither of us are going to be happy.” Vaughn took a deep breath to compose himself and kissed his head. “There.”
“Thank youuu, Vauuughnn. Lovyouuu.”
“I love you too, Rhys.” He smiled sadly. “A whole lot.”
Vaughn rested his head on the baseboard of the couch. Rhys won’t remember any of this. That should be a good thing, Vaughn admitted, it meant he could start over his confession but... Why did he feel so hollow inside?
Fiona and Sasha sat at the desk nearby the front door. They surveyed from a distance until Lilith signalled them in. Jack’s unconscious body double was tied up on a chair. The three Vault Hunters: Lilith, Brick and Mordecai were in his line of sight while Athena remained behind him, in the shadows of the single light that illuminated the cell.
“Can I wake him up?” Brick asked excitedly while holding a bucket of water..
“Go ahead.” Lilith shrugged.
Jack sputtered and coughed awake, shivering in his spot. “Auwgh, god why am I wet??” He shook his hair as if he were mimicking a scag. He flickered the wet strands out from his face as he blinked water from his eyes. “You know how hard it is to get that hair perfect? It’s the only style I know how to do…! Oh, that’s… that’s a gun to my neck. Good Morning… ow.”
“Mornin’ Jack.” Brick returned, his big arms crossed over each other.
Eventually gaining his vision, Jack stared down a sniper rifle that lead to Mordecai. His gaze travelled up to meet Brick then Lilith. He gulped. His adam’s apple moved under the barrel that Mordecai pressed the muzzle further into his throat. His gravelly voice spoke low and rough, “I’d mind what you say here. One wrong step…” He lightly tapped under his chin. “You know the rest.”
Jack hummed weakly in affirmation. His body laxed when Mordecai withdrew his rifle.
Lilith stepped forward, hands on her hips, creating a powerful stance in the interrogation. “Let’s start with the simple questions first, since you have a ‘lapse memory’, which… we will see if that is really true. After discovering a Vault on the moon, I have sources that tell me that you just vanished, so where did you go?”
“Uh, the moon? H-hey--!” Jack pointed at Brick through the ropes, “You’re here for the intimidation factor. Trust me, I’m intimidated. Your muscles could break my spine in two. I respect that, but give me a second to think here. Please?”
Sasha leaned over to Fiona, “He sure runs his mouth like Handsome Jack.”
“If he’s anything like Athena theorized, it might’ve been a defense mechanism.”
“It is really hard to have an unbiased opinion here.”
Fiona nodded solemnly. “They need some middle ground. We are basically the judges, Sash. We have to be mindfully about everything he says.”
“Including his rambling?”
“Yes, including that.”
“Okay, I think I remember. As Handsome Jack’s body double, I…… did his chores while he was on Pandora… Until he called me back up to get him the H-source in Claptrap, which is extremely long winded and I would have loved to have forgotten that instead of my other precious memories that are gone, might I add. Oh, god that song is going to get in my head again.”
“Athena already told us that story, we don’t need to hear it from you.” Lilith waved off. “What kind of chores?”
“Geeze, I don’t know, managing Concordia since he shot the Merrif, killing lunatics, keeping the, ah, hero gig up until I heard that a couple of Vault Hunters killed him. Was it any one of you guys? Cause if so, thank you. I hated that guy.”
Lilith eyed her crew before facing Jack again. “And?”
“And?” He replied, mimicking her tone.
“You said before you were in hiding. You’re Handsome Jack’s little play thing. Shouldn’t you be claiming the world in the name of the guy you look like.”
“... Have I mentioned that I hate him?”
“You had a job.”
“I ignored it, why? I’m not Jack. I did everything I had to do to stay alive… Why I wanted that is… beyond my understanding.”
“Whoa.” Brick echoed.
Mordecai scratched at his neck, awkwardly.
“Um.” Lilith coughed, “Then, why keep up the persona?”
Athena turned her open palm down. Press him gently. Lilith complied. “You’re not Jack. Am I getting that right?”
“And you hate him.”
“To hell and back, baby.”
“Why keep up the charade of acting like Handsome Jack, even though you are not him?”
Jack stared at her through helpless eyes. “I… I… I am… It’s all I know. I don’t remember who I was… am? I don’t know. I know I was somebody before becoming this. I know that’s still there but, the whole… Jack thing, I’m used to it.” Jack laughed sadly, tears forming in his eyes. “I guess I’m not acting anymore. I don’t think I ever wanted to come to terms with that. I hate him… I hate me… I’m a wreck. That’s why no one trusts me, that’s why I went into hiding. That’s the only reason I can think of why I would do that.”
With her hand over his lips, Lilith breathed in the short silence. “Jack… I don’t know what to say.”
“I do.” Mordecai put his foot forward. “What you’re going through is probably the normallest thing Pandora or Elpis can do to you.”
“You went through this, Mordecai?” Brick asked, a brow raised.
“Yeah, with Bloodwing. I had a lot of introspective. A lot of time to talk to myself. Mine isn’t as extreme as his but, I think I understand him a lot better now.”
Lilith’s expression turned dark. “You almost had me. Him having the persona of a psychopath?! I can’t in clear conscious let him roam with that face!”
Brick scoffed, “C’mon, Lil! Look at him!”
“He’s telling the truth.”
“Then he’ll answer this, Jack: did you enjoy it? The slaughter, murdering innocent people? Did you laugh while you did it? How much of a bloodlust are you?”
“I’d rather die!” Jack shouted, his voice quivering. “I wanted to help her, okay?! I wanted to help Felicity and I couldn’t! I didn’t want to kill her!! I thought it would be a one time thing, you know? I’m an idiot. I did this for a probably stupid reason that I can’t remember. I needed money, I had to have this job. I didn’t want to think about all the people I’ve helped Jack murder, okay? You want to know what I think?! You want my opinion?!! I hate it!!! I hate killing! I hate fighting! I hate it when people yell at me when I thought I was doing something RIGHT for a change! Does that answer your friggin questions?! Does it?!!”
“Then why were you screaming about us obeying you last night?! You were choking Athena!”
“I haven’t had the chance to so much get a word in on anything! I’m tied up. I’m being treated like the bad guy when I saved Rhys’ life. I just wanted to get off the freakin’ moon!! You pointing a gun at my face. I’m tired of the distrust! I thought you were going to kill me!! I freaked out!! Are you seriously blaming me for your behavior?! I don’t know you!! If you could have shown me a sliver! An ounce of trust! I would’ve been happen to open up! Is this Pandora’s way of simply talking to people?? Or am I not allowed to make one f*cking mistake?! Plee-heee-hheeeeaase! Let me apologize!!” He wheezed with each breath as he pleaded.
Athena put her foot down. “He’s having a panic attack. I’m undoing the ropes.”
“Does your chest feel tight? Mine feels tight.” Sasha whispered, pulling at her goggles.
Fiona only bobbed her head.
“I really think this isn’t him playing this up now.”
The two looked when they heard someone come down the steps. Vaughn peered in with knitted brows. “Uh… How’s it… going?”
Fiona answered, “We are definitely getting somewhere without the where part.”
“He’s having a breakdown.”
“Howww’s Rhys?” Sasha prompted through her discomfort. “He’s totally awake, isn’t he?”
“No. He’s a deeep deep sleeper. He’s that guy that sleeps through every single one of his alarms.”
Fiona stretched out her legs, “At least someone is getting sleep.”
“I’m a Vault Hunter, I’ll live.” She turned her attention to Vaughn, “How are you holding up, Vaughn?”
Vaughn stood a bit straighter, “Oh, yeah I’m… better. Do we have any water?”
Fiona side glanced at the puddle of water around Jack. “Uhh.”
Sasha pointed at the lockers. “I’m keeping a bottle in there.”
“Thanks, but this is for Rhys when he wakes up.”
“Ah, take it dude, it’s fine.”
“Go ahead. This job doesn’t allow breaks.”
Vaughn swiftly flocked over to the locker she had pointed out and with the water bottle trotted up the stairs. Sasha sighed, “I should’ve asked for some.”
Fiona saw Mordecai and Brick leave the interrogation room, wearing uncomfortable faces. She stood up from her seat. “Are we done?”
“Don’t know. I just can’t watch a man that looks like Handsome Jack cry. It’s weird.”
“I was going to give him some booze.” Mordecai admitted. “Don’t tell Lilith.”
“I have ears.” Lilith replied, “And don’t give him that gross rakkale.”
Fiona hesitantly asked, “Do you… still need us after that?”
Lilith ran her fingers through her hair and glanced back at Jack, who was curled up into a ball and sobbing into his knees. She frowned. “Athena?”
“He can stay, as long as he’s under your watch.”
“You want me to be a baby sitter? I’m still planning a wedding.”
“Fine, everyone in this room, keep an eye on him.” She knelt to try to meet Jack’s gaze. “Can you hear me?”
“I’m going to need you to try to understand where we are coming from. I’m giving you the opportunity to prove us wrong. Whenever you want to leave Sanctuary, you’re going to need someone with you. I’ll make sure you feel safe here, otherwise. Do we have a deal?”
“... Okay.” He limbly held out his hand and Lilith lightly shook it in agreement.
“Welcome aboard. I’m sorry about making you... cry.”
“Can I… have a minute?”
“Sure.” Lilith exited the cell and gestured for Fiona and Sasha to tag along with her outside. Once they passed the threshold, Lilith continued. “What do you two think?”
“You already made your deci--” Sasha started.
“No. I didn’t. I made a deal with him. I can still change it if we see any ‘improvement’.”
Fiona remarked. “I really think he just wants to live a life again. If we could search for any clues, we could find his real identity.”
“That’s millions of people, Fiona.”
“How many actors?”
“He said that he was not acting anymore. What if that’s true, what if he was an actor.”
“I think you’re onto something, kid.”
“I’d look for actors that are dead. We just need a list of names that we can give to him.” Sasha stepped in.
Lilith nodded, though she seemed skeptical. “These are good ideas, but what if he doesn’t recognize his own name?”
“We won’t know until we try.”
Rhys woke up feeling somewhat rested. His tired eyes refused to open to the bright light coming into the room. He felt something under his head. It had a muscular hardness to it as well as it was warm. Then he felt hot air tickle his nose. He touched his way around until he found an ear connected to a head of really soft, greasy hair.
Surprised, the legs underneath his head winced as Vaughn squeaked. “Rhys! You’re awake!”
“Were you sleeping?”
“Eh, not really… I see you still hate waking up.”
Rhys stuck out his tongue. “It’s ungodly.”
“How do you feel? Do you need more Eridium?”
“I think I’m good. Just gonna… lay here a bit more.”
“You’re, um, comfy? On my lap? You sure you don’t want a pillow?”
“I’m fine, Vaughn.”
“How’s it going with you, buddy?”
“Oh, uh, good. I’m good.”
“You wanna uh… talk… about last night?”
“Eridium kind of gives people like me an alert… thing. I’m too tired to remember what it’s called. But I remember. Can we… I don’t know, try again on the I love you thing? I want to word it better than kind of just… blurting it out, you know?”
Vaughn felt lightheaded at his words. “Y-you wha… huh???”
“Or were you humoring me…? Oh great, now I made it awkward.”
“Nonono! You didn’t! I-I was thinking the same thing… throughout the night. I didn’t sleep. Um… you know what? I’m… it’s good. I mean. You meant it right? You love me? You don’t think it’ll ruin what we have already, right?”
“No, bro, I don’t think that. We’re always gonna be bros.”
Vaughn paused, “... Would it be appropriate or inappropriate to kiss you right now? I mean, are we cool? Cause that was--”
“Yeah, that was like, really touching to my heart. I think that’s right.”
“... Can I--?”
“Yyyes?” Rhys waited for the eventually contact, but when nothing came he forced his eyes open and saw Vaughn’s uncertainty. “Too much?”
“Yes. No. Yes. I’m want to kiss you. I really realllllyy do. But like, everything else is telling me no.”
“Yeah, I don’t think I’m ready for that either.”
“For real? We can take this slow then?”
“Oh, definitely, bro.”
“Pick me up so I can hug you, bro.”
Grinning, Vaughn hauled Rhys’ lanky body more towards his side of the couch and embraced him. Rhys squealed at the feeling of Vaughn’s scraggly beard against his sensitive neck he nestled his head into him.
Laughing, Rhys kissed his cheek and nuzzled his hair. “You do not smell great, bro.”
“Bro! Neither do you.” He poked Rhys’ side.
“Hey! I’m too sore for that, dude.”
“Sorry… this is, you know, nice, though?”
“Yeah, this is nice… God, I missed you.”
Vaughn quickly swallowed his tears, bringing him closer. “I missed you...”
“Why aren’t we calling Yvette about this, Fi?” Sasha inquired, dodging out of the way of a tipsy Crimson Raider.
“She doesn’t trust us ‘Pandorian scum’, especially after we stole the last car.”
“... But that was funny.”
“... Okay, maybe a little bit.” She scanned through her Echo. “Athena was right. Old Hyperion tech is difficult to bypass.”
“Sounds like we need a hacker.” Sasha commented with a exaggerated shrug. “Why don’t we go to Rhys about this?”
“I don’t want to go bother him when he’s trying to rest. There has to be something...”
“Fi, I hate to say it but probably a lot of information went down when Helios did. Like, what all have you found?”
“A lot of corrupted data, I just found some audio files that are from Nay-Naka--mana? It’s glitching out too much I can’t tell… They won’t play either.”
“There’s no transcripts?”
“Uh… yes.” She skimmed aloud, “Clone Handsome Jack… AI… Handsome Jack… more Jack… Jeez, this guy is obsessed. Hold on, I found more files.”
“You don’t think that guy back there is a clone, do you?”
“I doubt it. These date sometime after his death. What do you know, I found Rhys’ diary in here.”
“Rhys’ diary in the entire Helios cloud?”
“There was no such thing as privacy up there, remember.”
“Oh, I remember… Anything good, though?” Sasha leaned in and frowned, “Aww, the words are corrupted.”
“It’s not totally unreadable.” Fiona squinted and held the Echo closer to her face. “He’s talking about… do you know a Stacy?”
“Oh… his ex. Looks like he didn’t take it well. Awh, ‘Vaughn is probably the greatest friend I’ve ever had’. That’s precious…!”
“Cute, but not blackmail material.”
“Here’s one, apparently he found old Handsome Jack nudes that an old photographer did that he issued in to be inspirational posters at the Hyperion gift shop.”
“Rhys did that?”
“Holy shit. What about Vaughn? Or Yvette, we should so get some dirt on her.”
“If we were doing this on our own time, you can have at that. I’m almost done with the alphabet and there’s nothing.”
“Maybe he’s the last page?”
“He isn’t, I checked.”
“At least I’m going through it fairly fast since most of it is corrupted.”
“Rhys could probably help with that, just saying.”
“I’ll ask him if we are out of luck, Sash. Oh hey, this audio file works.” Harsh high-pitched static invaded their ears.
“Turn it off!”
“‘You applied for this position because you needed money! Beggars can’t be choosers.’” A voice burst from the speakers as Fiona attempted to shift the volume. “‘Very good, Timothy.’”
“Ugh. Where’s the transcript-- there… Sash, it says authorized personnel only?”
“You got something juicy then.”
“I’m not sure if this is what we’re looking for.”
“C’mon, Fi, if it’s not we can totally sell this information.”
“Hmm. True… I’m lowering the volume first.” The next audio sample was silent with a slight struggling ‘rrrr’ behind it.
After a solid minute, a woman’s robotic voice cheerfully exclaimed. “Damaged Tape. Delete?”
“No.” Fiona tapped at the screen. “Great, this one won’t play.”
Sasha reached her hand in front of her and shifted the dial until the static was accompanied by a the same voice as before.
“--esia we’re using is still causing substantial memory loss. Nurse, collect all my notes on experimental post-traumatic stress therapy. I’ve got so--” The corrupted file churned again before emitted a slowed down message. The voice was not the same, and even with the footage slowed down, it sounded like a normal male-ish tone. “Surgery? What surgeryyyyyy.” End of Tape, announced the robot woman again.
Fiona hummed. “That sounds familiar.”
“He said Timothy right? What if this is a different guy he’s talking about?”
“I’m looking…” She glared at the audio file labelled ‘dangerous’ in red text. When she pressed it, it asked for permission from an Admin. Fiona moved on, grumbling. “Don’t say anything.”
“I wonder how busy the CEO of Atlas is at this moment.”
“Can’t give up your pride, can you?”
Fiona tabbed another audio file. It played a near hair perfectly, aside from the sound that reminded Fiona of a fan blowing into a microphone.
This time it was a woman’s voice. “Hey there, sexy.”
“What? You talkin’ to me?”
“Haha, of course! Who else would I be talking to? You see any OTHER gorgeous strangers in this place?”
“Uh… no. Guess not.”
“What’s your name? Or should I keep calling you 'sexy'?”
“Oh, the name’s Ti… uh, Jack. But YOU can call me whatever you like.”
“Ew.” Sasha cut in.
“How about 'the man who bought me a drink'?”
“Timothy...” Fiona mulled, aloud.
“You think that’s him?”
“I don’t know. I mean, yes, but this is so little information… And I’m worried that he won’t remember.”
Sasha opened her mouth.
“Fine! Let’s get Rhys on this. But if he tries to be smug, he is in for it.”
“I knew you could do it, sis.”
They entered the building sandwiched into a corner of Sanctuary. As they stepped in, they noticed Jack still inside his cell, even though the door was open. He was still sitting the chair, in the dark, with his head in his hands. Her heart panged at the weight she could feel off of him. Bypassing the stairs, she stood at the entrance of the cell and knocked on the bar. “Hey, um, you can come out, you know. Use the beds out here. Unless, you want to-- stay in there?”
“Hey, uh, can we start over?” Jack carefully balanced onto his feet before extending his hand. “I’m ah, Jack.”
Fiona did her best to offer him a warm smile as she took his hand. “Fiona. And that’s my sister, Sasha.”
Life seeped into his eyes once more when Sasha gave him a friendly wave. “Wow. Um, nice to meet you two. Fiona, Sasha. Wha-what are you guys up to?”
“We were going to relax a bit in here. It’s pretty hot out today. ” Fiona responded. Against her back, she signaled to Sasha with a loop of her finger.
“Definitely, I’m going to get some water from upstairs. I’ll be back.”
Clearly, she did not want to be part of this plan since she obviously stole Fiona’s Echo out of her pocket.
“Thanks for… being nice to me, even if there’s nothing behind it. I really appreciate you trying to make me feel welcomed here.”
“Oh…! Don’t think of it like that.” Fiona glanced to the stairs and lowered her voice slightly. “Out of everyone here, I’ve never faced Handsome Jack. So, what you’re getting from me is genuine. My job is to read people, you know? And I can tell that you’re a good person.”
“Holy sh*t, really? You think so?”
“I do, Jack.”
“I-- thank you. I don’t know what else to sa--”
A loud yipe followed by a thud came from the room above them. Fiona rushed over to the stairs with Jack following behind.
“He’s fine! He slipped off the couch, he’s good!”
“My ass hurts…!”
“Rhys?” Fiona put a hand on Jack’s elbow before he slid by her.
“Hold on there-- Jack, Rhys is probably not going to be as welcoming as I was. He probably thinks you’re still on the moon. H-hey, don’t be… upset.”
“No, I get it. I already know Rhys doesn’t like me. I-I don’t want to argue with him again. That and I get weird butterflies in my stomach when I see him, so I’m gonna hide down here--”
“... You want to know what’s going on up there?”
He blinked, cocking his head, “Wha-what, is it about me?”
“Your previous identity, yes. We think we might have a lead.”
His eyes grew huge. Slowly, a wide, happy grin enveloped his lips. His hands and fingers fidgeted as if he had no idea how to psychically react to the news. Eventually, he grabbed Fiona by the wrist. His touch was strong yet gentle. She could feel him trembling. “Tha-ta-that’s amazing…! How?”
“Sasha’s really observant. Some of us have been taking refuge in the fallen Helios. We got a lot of data from the computers and put them into our Echos.” Thanks to Yvette and her lack of awareness, Fiona added to herself.
“C-c-c-can I… see? I’ll be silent! I promise.”
Figuring Rhys knew by now that Jack was in close quarters and since all she could hear was typing, Rhys was complying if not against his will. Fiona waved him along and crossed into the upper floor. Rhys, accompanied by Vaughn on the couch, was plugged into the Echo device. His cybernetic hand faced palm up, clearing up corruption as if he was playing Breakout while his left hand prioritized the touch screen on the device.
Vaughn noticed Jack immediately and the look on his face shared sheer panic, mouthing ‘what are you doing?’ at Fiona. She simple returned with a half tight lipped smile and a thumbs up.
Although, Rhys held a concentrated gaze, his tone dripped with venom. “Jack.”
He let out a sigh through his nose. “Hey…. Thanks. For helping me. On the moon… It means a lot.”
“Oh! Oh, y-you’re welcome. Thanks for uh, saving my ass in Concordia and I’m also really sorry. I wasn’t purposely trying to enable you. I-I just want to let you know that I’m going to be quiet. This means a lot to me and I want to thank you for agreeing to do this for me.”
Rhys sat there, his chest expanding and deflating deeply. “No problem.”
Fiona patted Jack on his shoulder before she sat on the arm of the couch, peering at the holo-text. “How’s it looking?”
“Good, I’m at the Js.”
“You’re not starting at--”
Sasha intervened. “I wanted to double check before hopping into that.”
“What all have you found so far?”
“A lot of journal entries of employees, robots analysis, old projects, a lot of things I did not need to see... I really hope my stuff isn’t on here.”
“Oh god.” Vaughn muttered, sinking into his side of the sofa.
“That doesn’t sound good,” Fiona jested with a short laugh.
“I-I didn’t put down anything embarrassing! Mostly, lists. I actually know how this works. It’s bullshit that they monitored us like this. I tried to keep some of my stuff safe, but I’m doubting that.”
“Can’t be any worse than what Rhys has done.” Sasha mentioned offhandedly. She stood there, stunned at what she had said.
“Ah-huh, what, have I done exactly, Sasha?”
“I-it, I was assuming. You seem like the kind of guy to make impulse buys.”
“You looked through my stuff!”
“How would we not! It was right there!!”
The blocks of texts and audio files scrolled at a ludicrous speed until Rhys reached the Rs. As the corruptions were chipped away, Rhys squinted more at the documents. He stomped his foot. “What?! How did they even get half of these!? Why was I recorded??”
“That’s how you got those Handsome Jack posters??” Vaughn admitted, astonished.
The tapping on the Echo device became louder. The files began to vanish.
“You’re deleting memories?” Fiona scoffed, playfully.
“Yes. I don’t need a reminder… or blackmail. Fiona.”
She rolled her eyes. “I don’t think a CEO should be this paranoid.”
“Unbelievable...” Rhys scowled, shaking his head.
Itching to change the subject, Vaughn looked to Jack, who had taken a place next to Sasha at the other end of the room. “So, uh, Jack.”
He glanced around. “Buh-yes?”
“You… you ever been in college?”
“Vaughn, that isn’t nice to call him stupid to his face.” Rhys said with a ghost of a smug smile.
Vaughn ignored him. “Anyway. Just humor me.”
“I, uhhh, think so? I don’t remember a lot beyond the whole moon experience.”
“Ok. Did, did you by chance, if it feels right, did you major in acting, or wanted to be an actor?”
Jack gazed off in wonder. Rhys nudged Vaughn with his knee. He whispered. “You really don’t think that’s Timothy Lawrence, do you? He’s not affiliated with Hyperion like we were.”
Part of him wanted to strangle Rhys for forgetting the part of the night where he had the gall to claim that Handsome Jack’s body double is Timothy. After sneaking a glance at Jack’s fixated expression, Vaughn hissed back, “Not at the time. Look him up for me.”
Vaughn gently rested his head on his shoulder while watching the feed fly into the T section. Red flickering warning message popped up in a white font: ‘Authorized Personnel Only’.
“Oh, yeah? We’ll see about that.”
Vaughn chuckled at his determination. He would never say it out loud in front of anyone that he loved that about Rhys and that lopsided smile he gets.
“Would you like to access Handsome Jack’s Extremely Personal Do Not Touch Files?”
“Please enter voice password.”
Rhys blinked, “Wah…?”
“Please enter voice password.”
“Uh, Jack, we kind of need you.”
Sasha prodded him out of his zone. Confused, he sauntered to the couch, leaning over to read the text. “What do you want me to say?”
“Incorrect Password. 3 more chances.”
“Uhhh, try his name.” Vaughn suggested.
“Incorrect Password. 2 more chances.”
“Vault?” Sasha added.
“Vault of the Warrior. Va-Vault key?”
“Incorrect Password. 1 more chances.”
“Angel.” Rhys suddenly snapped. “Try ‘Angel’.”
“Access Granted. Welcome, Handsome Jack.”
Vaughn furrowed his brows, quizzically. “Wwwho’s Angel?”
“Jack’s kid/My daughter,” Rhys and Jack replied at the same time.
“Whoa, where did that come from?” Jack cleared his throat, “I never had kids...?”
“Yyeah, we’re going to move on from this topic. I’m going to play this audio now.” Rhys opened the Top Secret file.
“My name will be Jack. I work as an engineer for Hyperion... Doctor, I still sound like myself.”
“That will be fixed with the voice modulator implants. Now that you’ve signed these forms, for the next twenty years, you’ll be Jack.”
“Jeez… uh, when do I get paid?”
“Soon. Report to medical chamber seven.” The subject’s footsteps echoed as if they were in a metal chamber. “Experiment commentary, day four. Visual transformation complete and all records deleted. Timothy Lawrence, at least on paper, no longer exists. And neither do his secrets. Jack will be very, very pleased.”
“Is that… me?” Jack asked through hesitance. He held his body tightly together like he was going to fall apart at any moment.
Rhys slowly stared up at him. “We were roommates in college.”
“I-I was? Is is is is there more? I need to hear more.”
Rhys played another tape called ‘Dr. Autohn's Log’: “The voice modulator may cause some pain over the next two or three, uh, decades.”
“My --- eughhh, guhh… contract’ll be up by then! I gotta talk like Jack for the next thirty years?!”
Jack proceeded to lose his balance and fall on his ass out of surprise. “THAT’S ME!!”
“Say something charming. I need to test the modulator’s range.”
“Hi. I’m Jack. You’re… um… pretty.”
“Atrocious! Work on your delivery during the shuttle ride.”
“Uh, what now?”
“Your presence has been requested on the moon.”
With his hands clasped, Timothy hyperventilated hastily. Like a faucet, his tears ran over his fingers and down his chin. “Oh my god… oh my god… Oh my god, we were roommates! I can’t breathe, oh god I can’t breathe--”
“Hold your breath!” Rhys commanded, shutting down his cyberkinetics to follow Vaughn onto the floor.
“I feel so sick...”
“I know. This is a lot.”
“It’s okay, you’re going to be okay, Timothy.” Vaughn cooed softly as he rubbed his arm.
“I’m getting a bucket.” Sasha took off.
“Yeah, that’s probably a good idea.” Rhys noticed Fiona was kneeling beside him. “Hey, Fiona.”
“Hey. J--Timothy. Tim?” He met her gaze. She smiled sweetly, “Hi. You’re doing great.”
“Yes. Just keep on breathing.”
Timothy drifted around the room in a blurry haze until his eyes landed back on Rhys and he could feel his heart accelerate again. He cracked a trembling smile. “Hey, Rhys. Hey Vaughn. I’m… I-I’m… I’m Timothy…thy Lawrence. Timothy Lawrence. I’m! Timothy Lawrence!”
“Hell yeah, you are!” Vaughn rustled his hair with his fist.
He threw his arms up. “I’m Timothy!!”
Chapter 3: Reckless
Rhys attempts to take a better approach at his Siren powers with Lilith while Fiona and Sasha take the time to understand Timothy and Jack better without knowing that something unexpected is taking a step forward.
By now, Rhys and Vaughn had the four small bedroom living space to themselves for a year. At the time, Rhys was impressionable and eager, always attempting to improve upon himself. With that, he made one of the extra rooms his ‘office’ and relied on Vaughn to not disturb him while he was working, to which Vaughn ignored immediately, but Rhys grew to be fine with that throughout freshman year. Now they simply talked while Rhys worked on coding in his ‘office’.
“How’s the code, bro?”
“Coding’s good, bro.”
“So good that you didn’t sleep last night, bro?”
“I slept, bro, for like an hour. I’m the kind of coding, bro. Sleep is for the weak and I am strong, bro.”
“Bro. ”Fiona intervened as she put her hand on Sasha.
“Brooooo.” She returned.
“Brah bro bro.”
“Hey.” Timothy interjected, putting his fist out. “Bro.”
They each pounded their fists to finish the ritual of their ‘bro-ship’ before breaking into laughter.
Rhys scowled at the lot. “You guys are so rude. I don’t interrupt you when you’re sharing stories.”
“You wanna bet?” Fiona wagered with a smirk.
“Right. Because I’d win.”
“No, you wouldn’t! I just didn’t want you to feel ashamed when I’d clearly win.”
“Aww, you’re so considerate… and pathetic.”
“I’m gonna continue,” Vaughn settled. “And just for the record, Rhys never said that.”
“Vaauuuughn!! Give me a break…!”
He nudged him with his knee, affectionately. “Anyway;”
“Do you know when we’re supposed to get the new guy in? Shouldn’t we… clean out the other bedroom.”
“You mean the storage room?”
“You mean your shit? Yes.”
“Correction: Our shit. Your comic books are in there.”
“Okay, our shit. Can you help?”
“I don’t want a new roommate either, Rhys, but we have to deal. We’re adults here.”
“Why must you be the voice of reason? Don’t you want a break from that?” Rhys called after him as he exited the office. “Vaaaaauuughn… ugghhhhhhgggggmmmmmhhffffffiiiiine.”
An hour passed and the two didn’t get far into cleaning out the musty room before a knock came at their door.
“I’ll get it!” Rhys practically flew onto his feet and out the door. He looked through the peephole to see a peer, covered in freckles, long blonde hair that came to his shoulders, and thin bordered reading glasses that hung from the front of his yellow jacket. He was carrying a single box and a backpack. Rhys stared perplexed. Surely, this wasn’t all he had?
Rhys threw the door open and greeted him with a beaming grin. “Heeyyyy.” He pointed as the two stood in silence. “No one gave us your name, but I’m assuming you’re our new roommate, right?”
“Y-yes,” He squeaked. He attempted to adjust the glasses that were not on his face. “I’m-i’m Timothy Lawrence.”
“Timoth--Tim. I’m Rhys. And Vaughn is cleaning your space at the moment.”
“Hi, new guy!” Vaughn shouted.
“Is, um, that all you got?”
“Yes, I’m… poor.”
“Oh…!” Rhys wanted to punch himself. “T-tha that’s okay. Come in, come in.”
Timothy carefully stepped inside the apartment and surveyed the lay of the land. The walls were lined with geeky posters and shelves for figurines. Any kind of text books where tossed onto the side table. The floor was the only thing tidy in the living space.
“This is quite the room.”
“Yeah, you coming here was kind of short notice.”
“He-hey, not your fault… I think? We have no idea what happened, actually.”
“Oh, my roommate got caught using illegal substances while throwing a really wild party while I was, uh, gone. I came back to a some employees deep cleaning the carpet.”
“Was… was that in the building on the east side?”
“Oh, no no no reason.”
“Rhys, you didn’t.” Sasha tsked.
“You crossed an entire campus for a party?” Fiona dared to asked, disgust lined on her face. “You really put yourself at risk”
Rhys moaned, “I was in coooolleeegge, in my second year! I had hormones pouring out of me constantly. I had a few shots. I think the other kids were snorting something. I was busy trying to sneak back in before Vaughn noticed.”
“I noticed. No one takes showers at 4 in the morning, Rhys. Unless they’re trying to get something off.”
“I thought you were asleep.”
“I was until I heard you slam the door.”
“... It slipped out of my hand. Why are you telling me this now?”
“We’re not in college anymore. You can live with the embarrassment.”
“Yowch.” Timothy chuckled, swinging his feet.
Vaughn walked into the living room with a slightly panicked expression. “Hello, Timothy. Ah, welcome… The room is uh, almost ready.” He edged into the bathroom. “Say, uh, Rhys? Where do we… keep the bug spray?”
“Vaughn. What did you find.”
“A big ass pregnant spider. On the bed.”
“Fuck the bug spray! Wait no, don’t fuck it, where’s a lighter?”
Timothy placed his box down and headed into his bedroom, but Vaughn nabbed him by the arms. “I really wouldn’t!”
“Why? Is it venomous?”
Vaughn looked at Rhys, who immediately yelled, pointing at his temple that had not been replaced with cybernetics yet. “I’m not an encyclopedia, Vaughn!”
As they argued, Timothy ventured into the space and towards the hand sized spider standing still on his bedspread. Gingerly, he removed a comic from one of the huge piles and slid the book underneath the spider. The spider did not seem eager to move or care; it looked to be resting.
Cautiously, Timothy lifted the comic book up and himself onto the bed to edge closer to the window. Opening the window, he put the book upright enough so that the mama spider could easily walk off and down the brick wall.
“Bye, bye!” Timothy waved her off and slammed the window shut.
“Are you a god?” Rhys inquired hastily, his hands pulling at his hair.
“Wha-- no? Spiders are just spiders.”
Vaughn, who was clutching the bug spray, eased his tense body. “You probably wouldn’t say that if she birthed right there.”
“If they got into my mouth, sure.”
Rhys retched. “Never, never say that--I don’t want to think about spiders in my mouth, huhghn.”
“So, uh, welcome aboard, Timothy. I’m Vaughn.” The two exchanged a handshake. “Will you please be the pied piper of bugs?”
Slow clapping, Fiona shook her head dismissively. “Bravo.”
Vaughn looked at her. “You two would freak out if you saw that thing on your bed.”
“It’s just one spider--”
“Fiona, if that thing gave birth, there would have been hundreds if not thousands of tiny six legged bugs in our apartment. Our whole building would have been evacuated to attempt to get rid of them.”
“An explosion of spider babies.” Rhys added and twiddled his fingers, appearing smug at their grossed out faces.
“They’re harmless.” Timothy sympathized. “Nothing like what’s out here.”
“Says you. It could have been venomous one.”
Timothy simply smiled at him through half lids and giggled to himself. “You haven’t changed at all, Rhys… What else was there?”
“Well,” Vaughn stretched, “I don’t remember a lot about that first year with you. Other than that one time you baked cookies at 2 in the morning.”
“...I did? Why?”
“Stress. Finales were the next day.”
“You ate all of them too.” Rhys pouted.
Timothy threw his arms up. “I was a growing boy and I wanted the damn cookies!”
“I still have no idea how you kept all that down.”
“... Now, I’m impressed with myself.”
“Me too.” Sasha admitted.
“Oh!” Rhys jumped. “I know! I think this was during junior year. We were all at the library for some reason.”
“We were… almost always at the library, Rhys. Two of us were in majors that required math.” Vaughn squinted.
“Ok, but there was a printer involved.”
“... Oh my god. Rhys, you just undid years of therapy!”
Vaughn and Rhys-- “Oh, oh I see how it is, putting my name first, I already know this was my fault!”
Rhys patted his thigh. “Bro, bro, shhhshhsh, this is for our friend, Timothy’s sake--”
The affectionate touch did nothing to help Vaughn’s already red face. “Then let me tell it…!”
“Okay, ok, go ahead.”
The printer made a whining noise when Vaughn slipped the paper into the elevated ledge.
“The ink isn’t low…?” Rhys scoured, tapping the touch screen.
“... I have a stupid idea.”
“Tell me, immediately.”
Vaughn curled his fingers around the crevice underneath the touch screen and yanked out the board that covered the circuits. The two stared at the piece of plastic in Vaughn’s hands that used to be attached to the rest of the printer.
“Vaughn, the fuck.”
“Let’s… worry about this later.” He put it down. “This is a minor thing. I’m pretty sure the college would thank us if we fixed their stupid tech… get some pay even.”
“I’m likin’ how you’re thinkin’, bro.”
Then Timothy stopped at the entrance. “Hey, guys, I found the book you were loo--Holy shii--!” Rhys hauled Timothy into the printing room and clasped his hand over his mouth.
“Vaughn’s got this under control, Tim. Let him work.”
“But the thing--!”
“We’ll glue it.”
“W-why are we not notifying the staff that the printer isn’t working?”
“Possible scholarships.” Vaughn added as he ripped out a wire.
“Ok, but the odds of someone else coming in here are pretty high.”
“Great idea, Timmy! Stand guard.”
“What would I even say?!”
“I don’t know!! Act! Practice your major.”
Timothy held up his hand. “So I was in college to learn how to act? I mean, that does make sense. Did I do plays? Who did I play? Did you go to them?”
Rhys gained a blank expression while Vaughn bit his lip.
“Woooow,” Fiona echoed. “You two were shitty friends to Timothy.”
“We we we--we-we, wee.. Ahem, we made up for it during senior year.” Rhys looked to Vaughn who nodded. “Yeah, the three of us went to a lot of parties together, conventions, you were coming out of your shell a lot more than the first two years, but those stories are not for some people’s ears.”
Vaughn clicked his tongue. “Wasn’t that the year where you tried to incorporate Stacy in the group?”
“Yes, it was the worst mistake of my life… Ok, one of the worst beside the whole Handsome Jack thing. Like, maybe the third or forth one up there.”
“Wha--what happened?” Timothy asked slowly.
“You’re better off not remembering, dude. It wasn’t good.”
“As much as I would love to know that story, what happened with the printer?” Sasha pressed, hugging her legs.
“Oh uh, it exploded and caused a massive power outage. We didn’t… get a scholarship.”
“I’m not surprised.” Fiona remarked. “Prone to bad decisions seem to be your thing.”
“Speak for yourself.” Rhys negged back, crossing his arms.
“I’m sorry, but is there… nothing else you can tell me? I mean, it’s not that I’m upset, I-I guess if you remember more you can tell me later. This is just, you know, h--”
“Wait, I just remembered something really depressing.” Vaughn admitted with hesitation.
“You do? I don’t.” Rhys admitted.
“You weren’t there.”
Timothy edged forward. “Tell me, I want to know everything.”
Rhys and Vaughn parted ways at the bus stop. Vaughn melted into the uncomfortable metal bench and sighed. Finally, finals were over and he was going home to his cat. Then his eyes popped open and gazed ahead of him. Timothy was lying under a tree across the street. That wasn’t the thing that was off about him. It was that he had no personal belongings on him. No luggage, his hair looked like a tangled mess and full of twigs and leaves. The fact that they didn’t see him last night or this morning made Vaughn’s stomach cave in. Dragging his stuff along, Vaughn ran through traffic and slowly crept closer to his body.
His hair was covered in sweat and the stench was not sitting well inside his nose.
“Oh god, please don’t be dead.” Vaughn knelt down and his touch shocked him enough to wake up.
Confused, he stared at Vaughn with wide eyes. “Hi.”
“... Hey. Uh, were you sleeping here the entire night?”
“I… don’t know.”
“How do y--nevermind.” Vaughn waved that aside as he glanced over his shoulder. Bus stop still empty. “All your stuff is not in the apartment. Did some jackass steal it from you?”
“I-I don’t… Listen, Vaughn, I can’t remember anything and I need to to accept that. The thing is is is that I can’t go home.”
“I forget a lot of things. I sometimes forget that my mom doesn’t take care of me that much. I just… I don’t even live in the basement. I have a room. I like to think she loves me but I also think that she’d laugh when I eventually die. I’m just not ready to go home yet, Vaughn.”
“Whoa.” Vaughn had the adrenaline to merely run home at this rate and out of this comfortable conversation. “I’m ssssorry.”
“It’s okay. I’ll be back next year. Get it?”
“Y-yeah, I-I get it.”
“Thanks for humoring me then. You can go, you know. I’m-I’m safe. I always have myself to keep me company.”
Vaughn stopped his story as a part of his brain clicked. “You always had multiple personalities, didn’t you? Like, that’s what you meant right? For years, I thought you were just talking about, you know, yourself.”
Timothy said nothing. His face read completely blank.
“Jack?” Fiona tried.
“It-it’s Timothy. Sorry, I’m embarrassed and… tired.”
“If it helps, I did let you spend a couple of days with me and rode the bus with you to your house.” Vaughn purposely ignored Rhys’ quizzical side eye.
His eyes lit up slightly. “That’s very kind of you. Thanks, Vaughn.”
“It’s in the past, man.”
Rhys regretted immensely at accepting Lilith’s duel, but his pride was on the line and his desire to impress Vaughn became astronomical at the thought of beating her that it erased his insecurities away for second before returning in full force. Instead of sparing in Sanctuary where one misfire could kill people, they took it down to the Frozen Wastes, where Sanctuary once stood.
“Why did you put Sanctuary in a super cold place? Seriously, this is worse than the moon.” Timothy moaned, rubbing his arms and blowing into his hands.
“It was safer than New Haven… And it’s not that bad when you get used to it.”
“Um, aren’t you like… made of fire?”
“That would be cool, but no. You ready, Rhys?”
“Oh yeah, I’m ready. I just have frostbite on my feet but I’ll be fine!”
Vaughn tugged lightly on his suit. “Are you sure about this, Rhys? This is unlike you.”
“I’ve got this, bro. I need to get out of my element at some point.”
“I mean, yeah, sure but--”
“Hey, little man, you’re in the battle range.” Lilith coaxed as she stretched her arms over her hand.
“Nothing to worry about, Vaughn.” Rhys smiled and gave him a small pat on the shoulder.
Giving up, Vaughn trailed over to the sidelines where Fiona, Sasha, and Timothy waited.
“First one to collapse loses.” An smg materialized within her hands and looked at Rhys with a raised brow. “You gonna fight with your hands, dude?”
“Oh, oh I have weapons, you just can’t see them.”
“... Your ego, then?”
Rhys scowled, pouting. “Why does everyone do this to me.”
“You make it too easy!” Fiona answered, cupping her hands beside her mouth.
He cracked his neck and took a deep breath. As he exhaled, his yellow wings sparked into existence from his back. He grinned smugly at Fiona and her astonished features. “You won’t be laughing after this.”
“I’m doubting that.” She said as an aside to Vaughn. “But I’ll let him have this for once.”
“He did seem eager to do this...”
Lilith smirked and readied herself as if she was ready to sprint. “Ready?”
His wings pulled back and flapped once, creating a strong brisk breeze that nearly shoved the onlookers over. “Oh yeah.”
Suddenly, Lilith’s body turned ethereal, a sort of purplish hue and dash towards him. Panicking, he shot into the air and shot a ‘grenade’ onto the ground. The explosion hit on contact with the snow and Lilith emerged unscathed. She jumped after him and as she appeared into the physical plane a shock surged through him. His wings twitched and violently spazzed for the remainder of the shock before returning to their original form.
His Echo eye felt like it was overheating. Rhys shook his head, his left eye squinting as he created an onslaught of bullets from his fingers. “That. Wasn’t. Fair!”
“Beat his ass, Lilith!” Sasha cheered while Timothy yelled, ”Get her, Rhys!”
“He’s going hard, I’m impressed.” Fiona gazed down at Vaughn who fingers were placed in his lips. “Whoa--what’s up? I thought you’d be the one eating this up the most.”
“Rhys is going to be oka--”
“Yeah, I know this isn’t real, but I’m just worried about him.” He glanced at her then back at the brawl. “It’s not my place to say what Rhys should say… you know?”
“... He doesn’t like using his powers?”
Vaughn gave her wide knowing eyes while keeping his lips tight. “That’s a guess.”
“Ohhh, I get it.”
“Mmmhm. If I was in his shoes, I would probably find it hard to accept too.”
“I mean, if you wanted to ease him on it, then I’d say go for it. You two did share a quality once.”
“I have no idea how else to put it.” Vaughn flinched at the sight of Rhys colliding with an ice wall.
“C’mon, Rhys, do the thing! Squeeze her until her eye pop out!”
Sasha eyed him, cautiously, “Uh, what did you say, Timothy?”
“First of all: incorrecto, try again.”
“Jack?” Fiona guessed, leveling her tone. “I think he got triggered in watching them fight.”
He pointed finger guns in her directions, “‘Ey, you’re smart cookies. I like you. Anyway: Ooohoho god, you should have seen it on the moon, cupcake. That Scav was on the edge of his life. He threw damn Stalkers like they were chew toys! It was a-ahaha-awesome!” His anger circled around when Rhys attempted to dive bomb Lilith as she phasewalked out of the way. “Son of a taint, will you stop holding back?!”
Fiona attempted to get into his head, “Jack, I think he has his reasons why he won’t uh, choke her. This isn’t a fight to the death.”
“There’s a war that’s gonna happen, sweetie. Rhysie is not gonna live long if he holds back.”
“He looks exhausted.” Sasha pitied, holding her arms.
“Of course he is, he got slammed into a wall like a pancake… Where’d flame girl go, thou--? There she is!”
Before the shock wave pulsed through the air, Rhys telekinetically grabbed Lilith from the air and threw her into the icy floor, lifted her up and flung her a couple of yards away.
“That’s it, baby! Abuse that sh*t!”
Red firey wings zoomed towards Rhys as he hovered in wait. Baring her teeth and with her fist winded back, Lilith floored it until all her momentum halted at once. Her body ached as if she was being squeezed from the inside out. She gasped and coughed but she could not get a word out of her throat. She saw Rhys’ eyes, glossed over and distant. At that moment, she was afraid. Then she felt herself being carried as Rhys floated downwards until they were on their feet. The pain ceased immediately. Rhys staggered for balance and held out his hand.
Lilith took the offer, gave it a fierce pull, and let his face met her fist. Rhys fell limp at her feet. Before Vaughn rushed over to his side, Lilith unsheathed a needle of red liquid and punctured it into Rhys’ neck. His eyes opened immediately and he moaned loudly. “Aaaaahahhahaaa everything huuuu-uruurrrrts. Oooowww.”
Lilith slapped his shoulder with a big smile on her tired face. “You were awesome, man. I can tell you were out of practice but that was great. You wanna try that again? You would have had it if you just knocked me over.”
“The pain… the paaaaaiin.” He cried out in a hoarse tone.
“It’ll wear off in a minute. Here, I’ve got some Eridium.”
“I can’t watch this.” Vaughn mumbled. “I’m, uh, going back to Sanctuary.”
“Yeah, I’m coming with you.” Sasha gave Fiona a stare to which she responded with a shake of her head. Shrugging, Sasha sought after him.
Looking to Jack once more, Fiona closed the gap between them and examined his bored expression. “You really like fights, huh?”
He faced her with a sly sneer. “I live for it, cupcake. It’s definitely a turn on with all that… adrenaline, you know?”
“I’m surprised you haven’t asked Rhys to spar with you.”
The smirk vanished. “I’d… never do that. Look, I may be great and all, but this Jack doesn’t do the whole murderous business, if you could remember two days ago.”
“Right. The interrogation. I don’t see anything wrong with enjoying some good natured fighting.”
“Good nature, watching psychos kill each other over meat bicycles, or just about any reason, it’s better than nothing.”
Silence sat between them momentarily as an idea flourished in Fiona’s head. “... I know you weren’t there, but I think you’d like the story of how Rhys, Vaughn and me and Sasha got to know each other. There was this dome of slaughter kind of place where we were in a race and Rhys fought a giant skag with a sword.”
Jack’s bore a giddy smile. “You… really want to bond with me? I-I-I mean, I can see why but nothing about this is tipping you off?”
“I don’t see why I can’t be friends with both you and Timothy.”
Just as he leaned in to touch her, he pulled away and soothed his hair. “Ah-haha. That… I-- that… mmm. Can I hug you?”
“I actually don’t do hugs. My upbringing.”
“Oh. Ok, gotcha. High five?” He held out his hand and Fiona slapped it with her own. “Awesome! That was satisfying too. I’m liking this friendship already, Fiona.”
Carefully, Rhys rose his feet, his knees cracking at the weight of his body. “Ow...”
“Damn, you are really out of practice.”
“I, uh, had no reason to practice?”
“That’s why we’re doing this.” Lilith squinted at Jack, “Actually, I think we’re going to need more room.”
Fiona took the hint while Jack returned the glare. “Oh, is that all?”
“Lilith went sailing over our heads, Jack. I think it’s best if we leave them for a bit.”
“Yeah, but it was awesome.”
“You two can watch it from Sanctuary, I’m sure there’s a telescope somewhere.” Lilith waved them off as she sighed.
“Hey… give him a break, he’s not hurting anyone.” Rhys whispered to her. He followed her gaze to Fiona who was leading Jack back to the Fast Travel System and noticed Vaughn had presumably headed to Sanctuary before them. His heart skipped a beat at the thought and he worryingly grinded his teeth.
“That’s what’s scaring me.” Lilith muttered.
“What? I trust him-- Wha what’s the look for?”
“Fiona told me you trusted Handsome Jack over her.”
“Timothy is not Handsome Jack, Lilith. Look, you’re not the only person who lost someone to that asshole, okay?!”
“Okay?” She snarled back, her eyes bored into him. “What did you lose, Rhys?”
“... Fine, okay. You want to know what I lost to Handsome Jack?” He inhaled, “I died! I… took myself apart just to get him out of my head. I died that day, Lilith. It took me so long to figure out what I was going to do without such a huge part of myself. I… I wanted to be like him. So, I took ATLAS to fill that hole and guess what?! I’m still empty. Even though my friends are alive and we’re all here together. I will never fill that hole! See, we both have…” He awkwardly gestured to his torso with open palms. “... holes. So stop putting me down for giving someone who just has the appearance of Handsome Jack a chance. I trust Timothy. He wouldn’t hurt a little spider. And we’re like, Sirens, right? Can’t you just take my word for it? I can show you how good he is, both of him. He just wants to help. Like, think about it?”
Lilith took the moment in stride. “I’ll tell you what. If you can give me everything you got, I’ll really think on it. And you tossing me into the air like that was hella sweet, it hurt like shit but that was seriously cool.”
“I-- I think I can do that, yeah.” Rhys agreed unwillingly, masked behind a smile. Thankfully, Lilith’s over eager excitement made her overlook his discomfort.
“Hey, ah, Fiona before we get too far…” Jack brought her aside before they stepped out of the building.
“Thanks for… not seeing me as the bad guy, despite, you know, the whole identity thing. Cause, like, honestly, this is more complicated than anything I’ve had in my life, even I don’t fully understand it, but being told that it’s normal? It makes me… it makes Timothy and me feel better about it. The kid’s been through a lot of trauma in his life and I’ve been there for him whether he knows it or not. It’s really nice… having someone listen.” His voice crackled and he wrinkled his nose in disgust when he felt his eyes moisening. “Ew, I’m crying don’t look at me.”
“There’s… literally nothing wrong with crying.”
“Yeah... yeah, I’m just embarrassed doing it in front of someone. It’s annoying.”
Fiona put her arms across her chest. “Nnnno, whoever told you that was wrong.”
“Kiddo, I appreciate the sentiment but you have no idea what I’ve been through and I am not comfortable sharing all that drama.”
Although, she knew she might get in trouble for the idea that popped into her head, she didn’t care. “You want to grab a drink?”
“So I can spill my guts out…. Physically and uh word… wise?”
“To relax, Jack. Some people drink to relax.”
“Relax. Relaxing... That sounds fantastic. Lead the way.”
Fiona led him along under the burnt out sign that read Moxxi’s with a leg that would occasionally bob up and down.
“Hey Mox,” Fiona greeted, happily, but was fast to realize that Moxxi-- Her entire train of thought was dashed aside the moment Moxxi shared her infamous smile as she leaned over the counter, displaying her obvious physic.
“Hello, sugars. My, don’t you look familiar.”
“Ma maa, ma mo mo, ma, ma.” Timothy pounded his fist against his chest and he finally coughed out. “Moxxi! Oh my god, hi. Uh, it’s been. It has definitely been. Um, how are you?” He not so casually leaned his elbow on the bar, smiling awkward. He wiped the drool off of his chin.
“I’m doin’ just fine. I’m sorry about the whole moon business, by the way. I hope that’s water under the bridge now that you’re starting anew.”
“Oh yea, of course. You you, ah, AHEM. Look. Great. Do you not age?”
She gave a small laugh. “Sorry, sweetie, but I’m still not interested despite how adorable you’re being.”
“Ah. I’m gonna sit. And possibly cry. I’m sitting.” He gestured with both fingers at a table before excusing himself from the bar. Fiona watched him take the chair that faced away from Moxxi and slapped his hands against his face.
Fiona laughed a little, feeling pity. “Man, he got flustered. I didn’t know you two had history?”
“I did date Handsome Jack but that was way before any of this. Drinks, Fi?”
“Yes. I’m trying to get him to relax today.”
Moxxi’s head cocked as a sly smirk curled upon her lips. “Is that so? I mean, you can try, sweetheart but I don’t think those skinny jeans are going to be hard to squeeze into… Get it? Because he’s, he’s wearing skinny jeans?”
“Ohh, nooo it’s not like that at all. I think he has his eye on someone else and I’m really not looking.”
“Awh, shame, but I respect it. I’ll make these on the house then to make up for way back when.”
Usually, Fiona was excellent about keeping sober while under the effect of alcohol but today she let herself loose with two drinks of hard ale. Timothy kept himself tipsy by sipping away at cream flavored vodka soda that had the curlist straw he had ever seen. He sat raptured, his head resting on his hands, sipping and at times losing the straw that he had to refind it with his tongue, as Fiona wildly gestured while saying, “And the case of millions of dollars exploded! Bewwwwsshhhh! It was raining down on us like volcanic ash. Rhys was covered in skag blood and sobbing and trying to like, hic, get the burnt money out of the sky and stick it back together. And then and then and then and then what his face’s lift came down on him and Zer0 was somehow still alive. I’m still like, sooo trippy out about that. Then he left like a little ninja bitch which was good cause uhhhhhhhh we probably wouldn’t gotten to that old ATLAS tech if he didn’t. Sasha and me were screaming enhance and then Rhys did that later I’m so pissed off that worked when he did it.”
“Waaaait, go, go back. To to when Rhys sliced the thingie in half. How how hot was he?”
“Dunno, it was his side of the story I wasss busy going in circles with Vaughn.” She said in one breath and took another shot. She hissed at the sting in her throat after she swallowed. “But probably.”
“Cooooool. Ehes’ always hot but y’know. Blood makes it sexier.”
“I’ll drink to that…. Ah, shit I already did. Anyway, this was like, recently, right? We got Gortys and we spoleded the Trav’ler and he ate SHIT! Also would you like your watch back?” She tossed his DigiJack device over the table and it spiralled onto his face and hit his lap.
He lightly gasped and exclaimed in a soft tone. “My boner…!”
Fiona burst out laughing so hard she fell off the chair. Moxxi had to muffle herself from snorting to not ruin her character. By turning away she saw Sasha loitering at the entrance and staring in bewilderment at her sister on the floor.
She noticed Moxxi’s gaze and adjusted her goggles. “Those two are really hitting it off. How long have they been here?”
“Twenty minutes, give or take. They’ve been an absolute riot. It’s refreshing to not break apart of fight.”
Slightly uncomfortable, Sasha edged over and lifted Fiona underneath her arms. “Usually people sit in chairs, Fi.”
“Heyyyy Sasshhaaa. Thaaanks.”
Timothy breaked from attempting to put his watch on to wave.
“Hi. Uh, how much did you have, Fi?”
“Uhhhh, two and a couple of shots. Don’t drink those, my throat still hurts.”
“Right-- you should probably give it a rest now.”
“Wait wait, I got an idea. Timmy!”
“Mmmmm?” Timothy gave up on the watch which was stuffed into his pocket as he sucked up the rest of his drink.
“Look.” Fiona held up Sasha’s goggles.
His eyes opened a bit more. “Ooooooh!!”
Sasha blinked. “I’m impressed. You can still pickpocket while drunk?”
“Test me, Sash. I can ace it.”
“Alright… There’s a Crimson Raider at the bar stool, there. See him?” Fiona leaned her whole body over to see who Sasha was pointing at even though he was perfectly visible from where she sat. “Sic him.”
Fiona snagged her empty bottle and sauntered over. She collapsed into the side of the masked soldier and tossed her arm over his shoulder. “Heeyy, how can you drink with the mask on??”
He jumped slightly at the touch. Glanced over at Fiona and scoffed, he shook his head. “It’s called a straw, genius.”
“There’s no way you can get a straw in that hole.” Moxxi sputtered and put a hand to her chest. “We’re in safety. Why the mask?”
“... For… safety.”
“Come oooon. We’re in the damn sky protected by a force field. I think we good.”
“I… you’re probably right.” He turned his helmet to the right until it made a ch-chuk sound and he lifted it off his head to reveal a balding man with a scar made by skag teeth in the middle of his face. He breathed. “Holy shit, I can breath real air instead of through that dusty filter I haven’t clean in months.” He grabbed and downed his bottle of beer in one chug. He belched and sighed in relief. “That was MUCH better than drinking through that tiny straw. Thanks, Vault Hunter. I don’t know why we should be keeping our helmets on here. I’m gonna tell the rest of the crew after I have another drink.”
“No problem. By the way, here’s your wallet. It was on the floor.”
“Weird, since I keep it on a chain… I guess it must of rusted off. Thank you.”
Fiona gave him a wobbling thumbs up and waltzed to her table and bowed… then began to leaning over until Sasha caught her. “That was… yeah, I actually wanted you to steal his wallet but somehow you’re still coherent to give it back.”
She withdrew leather cloth from her back pocket and flipped it up. There was an ID for Crimson Raider: Giorgio Fitzgerald and at three dollars hanging out the tab. “What’s this then?”
“Oh my god.”
“Oh my god.” Timothy repeated. “You’re a thief goddess.”
“And three dollars? That’s sad.”
Fiona looked it over and frown. “You’re right. HEY, FITZ!”
The wallet was already in the air and SLAPPED Giorgio across his bald head.
“Aaand we need to go!” Sasha hauled her sister out of the bar before the Crimson Raider had the chance to turn around.
As Timothy fumbled his way out of his chair and trying not to knock the table or his drink onto the floor, the only thing that vocally came out of his mouth was a small extending, “aaaaaaaaaa…!” His small scream grew louder when he saw how angry Giorgio looked as Timothy bolted out of the building.
Soon enough Timothy crashed into Sasha as they were entering Crimson Raiders HQ and on impact only he collided with the floor while Sasha was shoved ahead.
Fiona kicked him. “You okay?”
Laying completely on his belly, Timothy propped his head up byhis chin and spat a rock out of his mouth. “No. This is my bed now.”
Rolling her eyes, Sasha peeled him off the cement and shoved him through the door. “Neither of you do anything stupid while I get something to sober you up.”
“I think that fall sobered me up.” Timothy rubbed his nose, he appeared cross-eyed as he tried to look at it. “Am I bleeding?”
“You’re not. Just make sure Fiona doesn’t do anything.”
“Are you mad at me? Because… this was all her idea. She just… wants to help me.”
Sasha was one step from going upstairs. Her shoulder drooped. “It’s not tha-- I… It takes a while, for me to warm up to someone.”
“What if I gave you, uh, something?”
With her eyebrow arched, she fully faced him, her back pressed against the wall. “What is the ‘something’?”
“Well, Lilith confiscated it, but it’s still mine. It’s behind that desk in the locker over there. Fiona told me that you really liked guns, I think you’d like that one in there. It’s uh, DAHL issued. Sniper Rifle, Pacifying Pitchfork, it’s got corrosive bullets”
“You’ve already had me at gun, but you don’t need to give me your stuff--”
“I don’t want it. Really. I’m tired of killing.”
Sasha gazed longingly at the locker before motioning her hand at his watch. “What about that?” Timothy protectively put his hand over his pocket. “Whoa, I’m not asking you for it. Why did that scare you?”
“I-I don’t know. I guess it’s just a defensive thing for me. This stupid thing saved me from dying a lot on that freakin’ moon. Maybe, I’m attached to it.”
“Even though, they’re Handsome Jack?”
“It’s… the only good thing that came out of all of it, to me anyway. Athena got it back for me. I guess she saw that stupid look on my face when Lilith took it from me.”
“It was… more heartbroken. I-- your face wasn’t stupid, I mean.” Sasha glanced at Fiona who was taken a shine to falling asleep on one of the bunk beds. “I’m going upstairs now.”
“And thanks for the guns.”
“I think you’ll really like the Sniper Rifle, it’s got those little things on playing cards? The diamonds, clubs, and all that. It looks nice. I also got a Hyperion shotgun in there but y-y-you’ll see what’s all in there. I don’t know what style you’re into but they seem nice… a-aesthetically.”
“Yeah, let’s… check it out together.” She offered out of pity, then she added as a genuine comment, “I’d love to see guns that came from the moon.”
“Yea, totally. Totes. Okay.” He smiled a smile that was beginning to hope again.
As Sasha walked into the room, she could overhear Vaughn who had a finger to his ear while his freehand waved occasionally. He was facing towards the balcony so he did not notice he was not alone anymore. His voice was level but his tone carried the slightest agitation when he said,
“I’m sorry I didn’t say anything soon, Yvette, everything’s been crazy here….... Uh-huh… I don’t know if it’s really safe for Gortys to come up here-- No no, it’s not that. I don’t know. Rhys and his Siren powers are kind of out of hand. He can’t control them. I just don’t want her to get hurt…… Thank you. Yeah, war. It’s ah…. Going to be something. I don’t know. I think it is safer with all of you there. You’re the best second in command I got, heheh. Thank you, Yvette. You’re the best. I owe you. Yes, the biggest I can get. Alright. Heh, bye Gortys! I’ll miss you too. Byebye.”
Withdrawing his hand from his head, he exhaled loudly and let his head lean on the threshold. He eased himself off the wall and walked out onto the balcony. He propped himself on the railing, gazing outward. From this angle, Sasha could not see his face, but she was certain he was not happy. She did not get to hear what Vaughn was saying to Fiona earlier today, nor did she ask why he was so upset, she wondered why Rhys’ seemingly normal actions threw him in a mental tussle… or she could be misreading things. Hell, maybe it was something Timothy or Jack said when she wasn’t there. She swayed, uselessly, until she concluded that this was not her business and she tossed open the cooler that sat underneath all the special keyboards.
When she grabbed the thermos and attempted to leave, she and Vaughn locked eye contact. Now it was too late to pretend nothing happened but damn both of them were going to attempt to do that anyway.
Vaughn started, his shoulders up. “Sasha, you’re back. I was what ah, happened down there. Everything okay?”
“Oh, yeahhhh, all good. They’re kind of taking a nap now, I was getting them something to help with the headaches.”
“Oh, right, yeah, Those headaches. They can be rough.”
“... Has, um, Rhys come back or have you heard anything from him, yet?”
“No. I haven’t. He’s still down there with Lilith.”
“Right, right, just thought I’d ask. I know it’s still day but I don’t want them to go overboard or anger something.”
“Oh, totally. I get that. I can go with you to check on them?”
“No, no, it’s okay. But, um, Sasha? If you see Rhys, can you tell him I need to talk to him?”
“Of course.” Sasha smiled with her teeth as she nonchalantly exited the premises. She heaved a sigh through pursed lips once she was a floor below and sauntered to Fiona and placed the thermus near her head. At first, she didn’t see Timothy until she heard metal clattering.
He was on the other side of the room, now picking up a pistol off the floor, spewing profanities under his breath. When he saw her, he strained a laugh and fumbled with the blue gun. “I was just uh--”
“Prepping for me?”
“Yeah, ye… ahem, please don’t tell Lilith.”
“Already done.” She crossed over and immediately nabbed the sniper rifle. “Holy crap… This is an especially old DAHL weapon, how did you get this?”
“Moon scouring. It’s the only thing I could make a living off of. Selling guns… kept the ones I thought were um, pretty or ones that couldn’t be priced… most of those are ones that I got from ClapTrap’s head.”
“Athena didn’t tell you about that? Handsome Jack had us go into his head to find the H-source, don’t ask. I don’t remember what it does.”
“Is that one?” Sasha pointed out the assault rifle that was seemingly glitching to and from existence as code streaming along it’s casing.
“Oh, yeah, you wanna hold it?”
“Yes!” She said instantly with her hands out.
“Eheh, okay, don’t hurt yourself.” He dropped it into her care. He watched her step out of the corner and brandish it awkwardly as it glitched to and from her hands. “If you want to test it out we can take this outside. It’s kind of a weird one and you could hurt yourse-- not saying that you never like, held a gun before--I mean like, that thing’s fire power. You can’t control it. It can like, shoot really slow lasers, a lot, fast. The recoil is insane--”
“Dude, that’s okay. I just wanted to feel the weight of it.” Sasha paused. “Did you say it shoots lasers?”
“That is what I said.”
“Only on the moon??”
“I’m guessing by your surprise that you have nothing like that here?”
She shook her head.
“Well, now you’ll be the coolest kid on the block with a laser gun. I have a couple more but there’s only four in here.”
“You… really going to give me stuff? Instead of trying to sell it here?”
“I’m not really a gun fanatic like you are. I just think they are nice, I don’t really think about the whole technical or history behind it. And selling? I don’t know, I’m still figuring out what all I’m going to do here, especially since I’m in house arrest for attempted assault.”
“You’re not in hous-- okay, maybe you are, because of me. Your watch does that right?”
“I’m sorry I got you in this mess.”
“You didn’t really start it. It kind of snowballed and ended with that. Just trying to protect me that’s all, didn’t do a good job.”
Sasha examined the finicky weapon. She walked to his side and nudged him. “Hey, uh, Timothy? Can I ask you something?”
“Uh, sure? Go for it.”
“What’s… on the moon?”
“Hah, what isn’t on the moon. Why do you ask?”
“The closest we’ve ever gotten to getting away from Pandora was Helios and you know how that turned out.”
“I mean, I know you spent a long time there and it’s probably not a good topic for you but--”
“No, I can, so talk about it. As long as it isn’t what I’ve done, I can tell you what’s up there. I learned a lot about Elpis’ history cause… I got really bored.”
“... Oh, now?”
“I mean, psh, yea, I got nowhere to be. I’ll, ah, start with Concordia, it’s maybe less than twice as big as Sanctuary and kind of imagine it with lower gravity. You can like jump on buildings and stuff. An-anyway, you come in and turn a left and there’s this annoying police bot, and pass that is his station.”
“Anyone locked up?”
“Pffft, no, never, especially not w-- okay most of the ClapTraps up there keeled over because Handsome Jack destroyed their line.”
“So, it’s just littered with… dead robots?”
“I wouldn’t say littered. I’ve taken a few of them apart to repair some stuff like signs and loose wiring in Concordia. If it makes you feel better, their deaths weren’t all in vain. Uh, there’s a downstairs where--” His eyes travelled to the door where Lilith and Rhys watched at probably the most inopportune moment.
Timothy and Sasha were briefly frozen in place before she yelled out, “I asked him about the guns! I got them out!”
“I-I was just going on about the moon, please don’t lock me up.”
Lilith’s skeptical expression eased into vague annoyance. “Whatever. I just wanted to let you know…” Timothy pointed at himself. “Yes, you. That Rhys has convinced me to give you my trust and you’re not under surveillance.”
“Yup. So don’t squander it.”
“I-- Tha-ank you. Rhys!” He rushed in, Lilith dodged out of the way so that he didn’t crash into her, and he pulled Rhys into a bear hug. “Thankyouuuu!”
“Owowowow, sore, very sore.” Rhys seethed through his teeth when Timothy pulled away. “Aaaahhahaaoow.”
“How did it go?” Sasha asked before Lilith took her leave. “What did he do to change your mind?”
“He told me his deepest darkest secret.”
“I did not!” Rhys groaned, rubbing his side.
“Did you win, Rhys?” Timothy wondered, sweetly. “Do you need ice?”
“No, she beat me up. I-I think I’ll be alright, uh, Tim--Timothy. I’m gonna lay down for a bit-- if I can.”
“Actually, Rhys?” Sasha piped up as Rhys began sitting down. “Vaughn wants to talk to you.”
“Oh, he does? Ok--” He did a double take when he saw Fiona spread out of the bed. “Is… she gonna be okay? Why does she smell like alcohol?”
“Take a guess.”
“That… doesn’t totally answer my question but fine.”
“Timmy, come with me.” Lilith motioned at Sasha as she got up. “Just him.”
“Am… Am I in trouble?”
“I appreciate that you’re scared of me but we just need to talk.”
Carefully, through the pain, Rhys trudged towards the upper floor and already he could feel the intensity in the air before seeing Vaughn. The door to the balcony was closed. Vaughn was present on the couch, his elbows resting on his knees. He only looked at him when Rhys fully stepped into the room.
“Could you close the door? I don’t want us to be eavesdropped.”
“Ahhyeah, okay.” Shitshitshitshitshitshit. Was the only thing running through his head as he hauled the door shut.
“Sit down with me, Rhys.”
Gulping, he obeyed and took a seat beside him. “Wwwhat’s going on, bro?”
He gave a short but profound sigh that made Rhys flinch. “You put yourself in danger, Rhys. Using your abilities? I-I don’t know how to be supportive of something that could kill you if you’re not careful. You were so vulnerable in my lap, Rhys. It was hard for me to take it.”
“I-I-I’m sorry. I didn’t know.”
“And you told me before that knowing you were a Siren, having all that power was too much for you. You woke up sobbing so often… I know it wasn’t meant to be a way for you to come out to me, but I’m still happy that you did. Wasn’t this extreme killing you inside?”
“... It was.”
“Why did you put yourself through that? You could’ve said no! I-I get the oncoming war, but there had to have been a better way for you to adapt instead of headlong flinging yourself at Lilith. Rhys, today, today you were scary. You weren’t yourself. You were angry and tormented and I couldn’t see my best friend like that.”
“I scared you…?”
“Yes, a lot!”
“I was trying to impress you.”
Vaughn’s face shifted from upset to full on rage. Rhys’ heart plummeted to his feet as his skin was set aflame out of horror. “Impress me?! How was you nearly killing yourself supposed to impress me?”
“I-I wanted to show you what I could do! M-m-my-my everything. I thought it would be cool…!”
“It wasn’t! I was worried about your safety! These-- near death experiences you keep having are giving me panic attacks! I-- why?! You never need to impress me! Why would you want to impress me!?”
“Because I love you!!!” Rhys stopped moving at the realizing of the volume of his voice as probably done more than bounce around the room. Vaughn's eyes shimmered with astonishment and tears that begged to escape. Rhys ran his shaking hand through his hair as he scrambled for words. He was touching every fabric of his body to try to remain grounded as his mind was forcing a shut down. “I… I wanted to show you that I can… grow. Improve. I want this to be more than just something to fuel my dysphoria. If it can make you proud of me, I want to do it. I, I, I, I jumped in like that because I thought it would shake me out of it. A-a-and you’re right, it didn’t I’m… I’m trying, so hard not to break down right now. I’m sorry---” He stuffed his face into his hands.
Vaughn pulled his hands away and clasped them. “No, no, no, I should be apologizing! Crap. Rhys, I am so sorry. I should have just let you explain, I’m so sorry. Please, can I--?”
Rhys threw himself into his arms, holding him tight as Vaughn returned the embrace. He honed in on Vaughn's bare skin that felt so comfortingly warm through his fabric. He could hear his heart beat. “I’m sorry I didn’t consider how you’d feel. I don’t want to give you panic attacks, Vaughn. Vaughn, I’m really sorry.”
“It’s okay… it’s okay now. You’re safe. I’m really glad you’re safe. I’m glad you’re here, Rhys. Do you forgive me?”
He vigorously nodded his head. “Thank you, Vaughn… for being so supportive of me. And looking out for me. And…” He sniffed and ran his sleeve across his nose. “Thank youuu.”
Vaughn pecked his cheek, swaying a little to calm Rhys. “... Now that I know what you’re doing, I couldn’t be prouder of you.”
“Of course, bro, facing your fears like that is so brave of you, but please think on my suggestion of training more slow?”
“You know I’m going to do that already, bro. It was awful and I’m really sore but I don’t care because I want to hug you.”
Vaughn eased the pressure he was putting on. “Sorry, I’ll be more gentle.”
He rubbed his back, gingerly. “Just cry it out, bro.”
“... I’ve cried a lot today. I think I’m out of tears.”
“Can we stay like this for a bit?”
“We sure can.”
He yayed softly, which made Vaughn giggle, and he snuggled into his neck. They clung onto each like that for another minute, until Rhys was the one to pull away slightly. He held Vaughn by the arms, merely desiring to touch him. Feel his heat. He leaned in again to place his head on top of his. He thanked him again by kissing his forehead as his hands begged for touch by caressing Vaughn's underarms. Thankfully, Vaughn complied by placing his hands around his waist and kissed his neck. Rhys shivered in contentment. Rhys couldn't tell if he was touch starved, or still coming down from his episode, or both. Either way, holding Vaughn, Vaughn holding him like this felt so right.
“How are you feeling?” Vaughn prodded after another minute of silence.
“A little--.” Rhys sniffed again, clearing the back of his throat. “I’m a little better.”
“That’s good.” A glimpse of worry shown across his face for a moment as he asked. “Bro, can I, um, try something? I... I think it could help.”
“O… okay, bro.”
Taking in a breath and holding it, Vaughn tenderly cupped Rhys’ face and brought him into his lips. Neither of them moved in that moment until Vaughn broke the contact, staring at Rhys. His face beamed a pinkish hue and his wide eyes blinked sporadically back at Vaughn with his mouth slightly parted. Overtaken by his own actions, Vaughn was speechless and unable to remove himself from his side. Then Rhys moved, slowly, that his nose was brushing alongside his own. His lips were a breath apart. His facial hair wasn’t as off putting as he originally thought. Although it did itch, Rhys wasn’t bothered by it as he closed his lips around him so gently. The kiss was over the second he met him. His lips trembled as a nervous laugh sparked from his stomach, telling him to stop.
He couldn't meet Vaughn's gaze. “This is… kind of weird, right?”
“Y-yeah, totally weird...”
They gazed at one another with underlying anticipation. Vaughn moved his hands from Rhys’ cheeks down to his neck and pushed him into another kiss. At the touch and his thumb stroking underneath his jawbone, Rhys became putty as he exhaled a long breathless pleasurable sigh against his mouth.
Immediately, Rhys broke off, covering his mouth while Vaughn covered his own to not laugh at Rhys’ embarrassed expense. Rhys and his entire body felt uncomfortably hot that he began squirming. “Did I just… did that… come out of me…? Oh my god, that has never happened to me.”
“Y-yea you… Hahah, it was cute…!” And really hot. Considering how Rhys preferred to carry himself as a confident, proud man, Vaughn found himself becoming desperate for that reaction. He nestled his nose along his that it caught him off guard.
Rhys slacked and pushed back, affectionately, before blinking out of his daze. “So, you like, know what to do with your hands. I never had any idea what to do with my hands. Like, Stacy showed me but it was so weird and clunky. Like, how how do you do that? Do you have magic hands? Because--”
“Okay okay, stop, stop talking. This? This is all I’m doing.” Vaughn gently stroked the side of Rhys’ neck. To his surprise, Rhys’ eyes fluttered and rolled to the back of his head. He felt goosebumps tickle his fingers.
“Mmmmyup…! I don’t why but it feel really really nice for some reason.”
“I’ve had more uh… practice than you did. Honestly,” Vaughn shook his head. “I never said this during our college days or even after that because of how you felt. You’re pretty much moved on now, so I’m gonna say it finally. I knew you and Stacy weren’t gonna last since neither of you could figure out what you liked.”
“You could not be more right, bro. She, she did yell at me a lot about that. Lot of arguing… and failed sex attempts." His lips, that Vaughn wanted to bite and suck on, curled up "That, yeah, mm, not fun. Funny to look at now though, because wow, were we stupid. I was okay with not having a sex drive, despite all the means things she said, but wow am I feeling things that are very foreign. Is this what it’s like to get a boner, cause I feel tiiight.”
“Y-you feel tight?”
“Yeah, like my pants are shrinking. Is this like the start of wanting sex or something, because this is kind of freaking me out.”
“You,” Vaughn turned to cough to conceal his oncoming laughter. “You know that’s not the same thing right?”
“I don’t experience this myself, but I experimented with someone who didn’t want to have sex but was okay with you know, masturbation and all that.”
“Oh my god, why do schools not teaching people these things?!! I’ve felt so stupid for years…!”
Vaughn snuffled his laugh at his epiphany. “You know now, right?”
“Yeah, but, shit! Bro-- aaaaaaahh!” He shook Vaughn by this shoulders as he yelled, “Ahhh!!!! Vaaauughn! I thought the massage lady at Helios was just really good at her job!! OH my GoD! Vaughn!! Vaaa-hahahaaauughn! Stop laaaughiinnng!” Rhys tugged at his own hair. “I don’t know if I should be violated or happy that about this!”
“Holy crap, Rhys. I love you so much right now.”
“I love you too but I am having a a a a thing with a capital T.”
“And that rhymes with P?”
“And that stands for pinch me, I think I’m hallucinating. Are we boyfriends was that a real thing that happened recently, right?”
“And we kissed a couple of times, right?”
“That did just happen, yes.”
“And um… um… uhhh...” Rhys not so subtly glanced at his lips a few times. “Can you… Can? Awh, god.” He touched Vaughn’s hand and placed it on his neck. “Can you kiss me, again? ... Please?”
It dawned on him right there that Vaughn had the power to make his best friend melt in the palm of his hands. It was hypnotizing, to have Rhys be this close, to have him follow after his lips so longing and emitting a soft whine. He could see his Echo eye, although half-lidded, radiate a soft yellow along his cheek.
He melted into his hands and his arms fell limp when he touched his lips. So nice and soft to push against. Vaughn brought his hand down to Rhys’ thighs to bring him closer. Taking this as a move, Rhys parted from the kiss and scooped Vaughn onto his lap, which made him squeak in astonishment that was transformed into a sharp gasp as Rhys trailed his lips along his collarbone, to his neck, then his mouth. His tongue lingering on the edge before finding his way around his. His hands explored his chest. He quivered at the cold touch of his cybernetic hand that made him arch his back. Opening his mouth wider, Rhys tangled his tongue.
“You liar.” Vaughn wormed out along with a moan. “You said you didn’t know what to do with your hands.”
“Mm?” Rhys blinked as if waking up from sleep.
“Your hands are on my ass, Rhys.”
“... I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
“Rhys!” His laugh was muffled by his lips again. He clasped his hands around his neck as he leaned forcefully into him. "Rhyyyys." Cooing his name, Rhys stopped.
“Mmmmmnwhaaaat? I’m trying to make out with you.”
“Okay, but what are your hands doing?”
“Minding their own damn business.”
Vaughn took this as a challenge. His fingers traveled down from Rhys’ neck to his waist that drew out a shiver along his back and immediately lost his composure as he enraptured him with another kiss. Vaughn lapped up his bottom lip, biting it, until Rhys groaned. He pulled Vaughn further into him, although there was no more space to close between them. Vaughn attempted to speak but Rhys' pleading expression led him to stroke his hands along his sides and deeply kissed the crook of his throat as Rhys let out a soft "awh, fuuuck".
Vaughn nuzzled his cheek. “You were up to something. You had that look on your face.”
“Wha- what look?” Rhys asked, panting.
“That smug look that you give me because you know me too well and I hate it.”
Rhys couldn’t help smiling. “You hate my face??”
“No!! You asshole!” They laughed together for a moment at the ridiculous realization.
“We… we really do know each other too well, don’t we?”
“Eheh, yeah, like ‘how were we not dating beforehand’ too well.”
“I--.. I have no idea, I think we were both in denial.”
“... Did you, um, want to keep going with this?”
Vaughn thought for a moment. “I’m having a lot of romantic urges come at full force from me bottling it up foooor almost a decade now? Yeah, I want to keep going.”
“I think I’m in a mutual agreeance with you.”
“Can we stop talking like this? I want to take off your shirt.”
With a sly smirk, Rhys took matters into his own hands and unbuttoned his shirt, one button at a time… agonizingly slow.
“... I hate you.”
“I think that bulge says otherwise. I have to make you work for it somehow. Be patient. See? I’ve got two already.” Vaughn shoved him down on the seats of the couch. His heart fluttered at the sight of Vaughn and his new determined glow around him as he towered over him. He pulled on the front of his shirt and crashed into his lips once more. Rhys did even care that Vaughn tore his shirt. Rhys always trusted him. That trust extended to how he was touching and how lovingly he moved his hands over the old surgery stitches under his chest and traced his siren tattoos. Happy tears rolled down his cheeks as he grinded against his pelvis that earn him a low groan into his mouth. He propped Rhys' neck and drank his scent as he honed into his lips ever more desperate and aggressive.
"I love you, bro." Rhys managed to mumble out between breathes.
"I love you too, bro." Vaughn teased his hair in between his fingers as he stared into his eyes. He wiped a tear off his cheek. "God, I love you so much..."
"I love you more."
"Don't get competitive." Vaughn said with a chuckle that made Rhys' lower portion of him tingle with anticipation.
Rhys gave him an impish grin. "Or what? Afraid that I'll win?" To emphasis his point, he grinded hard along Vaughn's erect cock that Vaughn lurched with a surprised, sensual grunt.
"Rhys." Vaughn's eyes were dilated, unable to compose himself from trembling. "You really wanna start this?"
"You want me to blue balls you? I'm perfectly capable of, you know, slowly stroking you but never giving you that release."
"I know you perfectly well that that's a bluff."
"Goddammit, would you just let me have this?!"
"Seeing who is on top of who right now, I'm calling the shot..." He paused in his sentence and glowered at the cheeky grin on Rhys' face. "Rhys--!"
His complaint came too late as Rhys fairly easily flipped him onto his back. "Call me power hungry, because I call the shots now."
"God, I was teasing...!"
"Mmmmm, I don't hear you complaining, though."
"I mean... you... you are looking really hot from here."
"I know what you are but what am I?"
"Just take me, dammit. This is excruciating."
"I will, don't you worry your brilliant little head." Rhys whispered into his neck as he slowly unbuckled Vaughn's belt and tossed it aside. "I'm just going to make sure you're ready for me first."
The early morning hours were always peaceful. The sun was not fully over the horizon line when they got a call from Helios.
“HELLO!!?!” Yvette screamed into Rhys’ earpiece that shocked him awake enough that he fell off the couch and Vaughn, who was on top of him, slammed into the floor beside Rhys and groaned loudly.
“What the hell?!” Seething through his teeth, he yelled back. “Hello, Yvette!! Yes!! Why!?”
“Gortys is gone!”
“Gortys is gone?!”
Vaughn sat up and the two shared horrified stares.
“I-I don’t know where she is!” Yvette continued, “I didn’t think about it last night. I saw Loader Bot outside when I was going to bed. Now, I can’t get a signal from either of them!”
“Wha-what do you mean you can’t find their signals!? They’re robots!”
“I know what they are!”
Downstairs, Fiona and Sasha were woken up by Rhys’ shouts and now looked at each other in fear.
Fiona bit her lip as she adjusted her hat. “But… why? We already opened the Vault...! Pandora is… huge… Sasha! Where are we going to start?”
“... I think I have an idea.” She determined with a grim expression. “And I don’t like it.”
“Wha… what’s the idea?”
“We go to Hollow Point.”
Fiona squinted until her hungover brain caught up with what she said. “You want to bring August on this?”
“Hey, he helped us out on Helios, remember?”
“But what makes you think he’ll want to help us now? Do you have a plan?”
“... I don’t for once. I guess we’re going to have to wing it. Like old times.”
“There’s nothing wrong with going back to our roots.” Fiona smiled at her. “I know it’s easier to say than do, but try not to be nervous. I’ve got you.”
“I know you do, Fi. Thanks.”
Briefly Sasha looked upwards. Rhys’ yelling became more muffled but it was obvious that Yvette was giving him what for. Her gaze shifted to Timothy who was in a deep sleep on the neighboring top bunk, above Fiona.
“He’s closer to the ceiling, yet he’s still asleep.”
“That’s funny.” Fiona hoisted herself out of bed and stretched out her back. “I’ll get him up. How about you go tell Rhys your plan?”
“You want to bring him along?” Sasha said in a rather unhappy tone.
“Rhys or Timothy?”
She cocked her head. “That’s… up to him, Sash.”
“Oh… uh… Okay, it’s not that I don’t want him along. It’s...”
“You don’t trust him?”
“He did worm his way in my heart by giving me his guns but I just… don’t want him to drag us down.”
“Why would he?”
“He doesn’t know Gortys like we do. He doesn’t have a motivation like us.”
“What? I’m… just saying. Why do you want him to be part of this?”
“... He’s been alone for years, Sasha. And I know Lilith doesn’t fully trust him, no one here does. I just want to show him that people who don’t know him well can like him too. I want to give him-- both of him, that second chance. He needs more than just Rhys and Vaughn to believe in him.”
“You… really do make a compelling argument. Okay. I’ll give him a chance too.”
“Thanks, Sash. I knew I could count on you.”
“Yeah, who wouldn’t?” She flourished her hair back with a smile and scampered up the staircase. She noticed the yelling had stopped for a while as she opened the door. She found Vaughn and Rhys, who was buttoning up his shirt, sitting on the floor. The room was tense with hormones and brooding, which ceased the moment they saw her. Rhys’ face turned red as he hurried to finish his shirt. She wondered if she had ever seen Rhys without ten tons of gel in his hair. It was loose and wavy and fell around his face and the back of his neck. It was actually a nice look on him.
“What, uh, what happened in here last night?”
Vaughn coughed, “weeeee were uh, wrestling!”
“With our mouths.” Rhys corrected, pointing his index finger.
Vaughn slapped his shoulder. “Rhys!!”
“Ow! What? Tell me I’m wrong.”
“You aren’t but you shouldn’t say it!”
“Bro, we might as well say it now. It’s not like we’re subtle.”
“... I don’t like it when you’re right sometimes.”
“Hey.” Sasha snapped. “As cute as it is, watching you two argue like old people. I have a plan to get Gortys back.”
“You do?” Vaughn ventured. “How?”
“You remember August?”
“That asshole you dated?” Rhys wondered.
“Yeah, he’s no different from you, actually.”
Vaughn snorted which quickly turned into a cough when Rhys shot a glare at him.
Rhys sighed. “Fine. We’ll go to August, but why him?”
“He’s the best person that has information about everyone. He’s got to know.”
“And if he doesn’t?”
“I’m trying not to think about that.”
“Cool. It’s something, at least.”
Chapter 4: Raise Hell, Black Sheep
As the search for Gortys continues, our ragtag group of misfits find themselves in gruesome situations. Meanwhile, Timothy progresses through his mental journey of bettering himself and trying to find an identity for himself in the team.
Hollow Point did not change from the last time they visited. The air about the place still smelled like disease and mothballs. Bandits and raiders lurked like skags that were looking for their next meal. In the lead of the group, Fiona and Sasha took it in in stride and they kept their heads up in confidence. So far no one was bugging them. Any stranger who looked their way stared briefly before returning to their business. Rhys and Vaughn held the end, surveying the way of the land. Meanwhile, Timothy was clinging to the back of Rhys’ shirt with his head down. Earlier, Sasha gave him a cloak to mask his face so that no one could misidentify him as “Handsome Jack”.
“Tim, you’re breathing down my neck.”
“We’re nearly there.” Fiona announced, glancing back.
Vaughn peered over to see a purple lit building. “The Purple Skag? I never realized this but Pandora really has a thing for bars, don’t they?”
“Yeah, I guess they do.”
“Have you thought about what to say yet, Sasha?” Rhys prompted.
“Uh, yeah, totally. What can go wrong?”
“I can think of many things...” Timothy muttered.
“Isn’t it great to move around, see new places?” Rhys attempted to encourage him with a smile. “The joy of Pandora.”
“I’d prefer a place where I won’t have to be worried about getting shanked.”
“C’mon, you’ve got us. You’re part of the team now.”
“He’s right, Tim.” Fiona joined in. “We have you covered.”
“Eheh, thanks… somehow, I feel worse...” He shrunk behind the group when the bouncer, Tector, stopped them at the door.
“Ey! I know you!” He pointed a finger into Fiona’s face, which made her back up. “August said you ain’t allowed in here. And I can’t take no bribes from you.”
Sasha stepped forward. “What about me? I used to be his girlfriend, you know.”
“Right, uh… I guess I can let you in. Wait, what about them? Is that guy in that suspicious cloak with you? You dun look like the raidin’ type. And him! You look like a those guys who are too big for their breeches.”
Rhys brushed the invisible dust off his shoulder. “Thank you.”
“That ain’t a compliment.”
“Look, I don’t usually pull this card out but... I’m Rhys Strongfork, the CEO of Atlas. Is that enough to get me inside?”
“Uh, yea, no. Why is the CEO of a big company want to come down to one of the most dangerous places in Pandora?”
“None of your business.”
Tector waved his arms, uselessly. “... That works. What about cloak guy?”
“Mmm!” Timothy squeaked, clutching the fabric closer to his body.
“Yeah, Vaughn, who’s your friend?” Rhys looked with him with giant eyes.
Vaughn clapped Timothy’s back. “This is Muffles. He’s like a lapdog, he goes everywhere with me. I promise he’ll behave, you won’t, Muffles.”
Tector stared at him for a moment before shrugging, “Alrighty, y’all are good, but you don’t go sneaking around! You stayin’ right here until they come out.”
Fiona held up her hands in defense. “Okay! Ok.”
Sasha frowned before walking through the door. “Sorry, Fi.”
“I’ll be fine. Just focus on what we’re doing here.”
“I won’t let you down.”
“That’s debatable.” Rhys coughed. “Ow!”
Vaughn pushed him past the threshold. Timothy held back and turned to Fiona, whispering. “Do you want me to stay here with you? For, you know, company?”
Fiona momentarily glanced towards Sasha. “I think they are going to need you in there, Timothy.”
Fiona winked at him as she shooed him along with her hands. One glance at Tector’s sneer made her gaze back to the dirty roads. Looks like no one has cleaned up that old motorcycle wreck yet.
The moment Timothy stepped into The Purple Skag was the moment his heart fell into his shoes. His throat closed off at the sight of the cluster of bandits and mercs throughout the bar. Vaughn took it upon himself to pat his back and exchange a friendly smile to give him the inclination that he won’t get hurt here. The attempt did not alleviate much of his anxiety.
Sasha surveyed the space. August was nowhere in sight until she noticed a mass bending over behind the bar. The bar itself was covered in broken glass, stains she hoped was alcohol and a bloody knife that was stuck inside the wood. Moving away from the knife, she put her arms in a crossed position on the wood and cooed with a fake smile. “Excuse me?”
BAM, the barista’s head hit the edge of the bar. “Shit--fuck--what? What?” Holding his head, August blinked hard as he stood upright. He squinted at Sasha until realization hit him and his once aggravated expression transformed into surprise. In that instance, he looked like a lost puppy who just found his home… but that expression forged back into anger when he noticed the posse behind her.
He grumbled as he struck a bottle of wine down on the counter. “How did you get in here?”
“We walked in. Through that door-- you know that wooden thing with the knob?” Rhys rebutted with a grin.
“I wasn’t talking to you, jackass.”
Sasha cut Rhys off before he had the chance to speak again. “Ignore him, we need information from you.”
“And what makes you think I’ll say anything?”
“Why do you think I brought these two in with me?”
Rhys and Vaughn stood on either side of Sasha, their chest puffed out.
August blinked. “Yeah. Shortie over here I can understand with those… weird abs, but you? You look like a twink.”
Vaughn nearly choked on his saliva. “Y--do you know what that means?”
“Yeah, he’s scrawny. Will both of you stop trying to make me look stupid?”
“Go on, tw--" Sasha quickly corrected herself, "Rhys. Show him what you can do.”
“Oh. Gladly.” Rhys dramatically raised his hand and the knife plucked itself from the bar and hovered at eye level. With a swing of his wrist, the knife was sent flying into a painted portrait of Marcus II. Flipping his hair back, he smirked at the now astonished August. “How do you like that?”
“... Not very much.” He sighed, stroking a hand through his hair. “What do you want?”
“I got that part.”
“Good, I wanted to be clear. This is urgent. You remember the Gortys Project?”
“She’s missing along with our Loader Bot. Someone took her and we need to know where they went.”
“And what makes you certain I have this information?”
“You know everyone August. I know you do.”
“... Of course, you would.” He met her glare, “Refresh my memory. What does she look like?”
“Ball-like, uh, robot face? She’s red and silver.”
“Little arms.” Vaughn added.
Rhys continued. “And a hat that matches her body.”
“A hat?” August raised a brow.
“It… it looks like a hat.”
“... Yeah, I’ve seen her.”
Her happiness waned immediately as Sasha shook her head. “But you want something, don’t you?”
“You’re right. All of you owe me.”
Rhys scoffed, “For what?”
“I don’t know Mr. Ten Million Dollars, what do you think?”
“You’re still on that?” Vaughn interjected, crossing his arms. “It’s been a year!”
“Oh, no I moved on, I just said that to not further my point, you moron.” He pointed at each of them. “I will remind you that all of you are on my terf, get it? Last time I checked your sister still has a bounty on her head. And I know she’s outside. If you say no, the bar will become a slaughterhouse for her head.”
“You asshole!” Sasha grunted, gritting her teeth. “I should have known...!”
“You should have but you didn’t. Now listen.”
Timothy tapped Rhys and whispered into his ear, “How the hell did he just turn this on to us?”
“I have no idea. I thought he was stupider than that. I even threw a knife!”
Sasha hissed, “Shut up, Rhys.”
August continued with a roll of his head. “There’s someone who hasn’t come to me lately to pay me back for something. None of it is your concern. All you need to do is either bring him back to me or you can kill him yourselves if you want to save me the effort. None of you seem to be above that now, are you?”
“I-I guess...?” Vaughn estimated, folding his hands uselessly.
Sasha cut him off, “We’ll do it.”
“Right. His name’s Tanner, I’ll give you his coordina--”
“We’re not doing that.”
Panicked, Rhys watched the cloak be ripped off as Jack pushed his way to the front. He attempted to stop him but he had already vaulted over the bar. “Nononononono!”
As August pulled out his gun, Jack grabbed it and yanked it from his hands and tossed it across the room. Before he could make another move, Jack gripped him by his collar and held him against the wall.
Glowering, August squirmed for release until Jack pressed further until he yelled in pain.
“Timothy, stop!” Sasha hopped over the counter and began to vainly remove his fingers from August’s throat.
Jack easily slapped her hand off of him, smiling coolly. “Calm down, sweetie. We all want answers, don’t we? Now, listen here, blondie, I’m afraid I’m the minority who are above murdering people, comprende? I don’t think we made it quite clear. It’s. Urgent.” He shoved him into the brick to emphasis his point. “That we find Gortys.”
Gawking in confusion, August stuttered for breath, “You’re Handsome Jack…!” With that sentence uttered alone, every person in the bar paused what they were doing and turned their attention on the group and August.
Sasha put a hand to her head. “Dammit, Fiona…!”
“You’re supposed to be dead! What kind of sick joke is this?! Te--!”
Jack shut his mouth by putting his fist pressed underneath his chin. “Oh, shshshhshhhh, princess, relax. This’ll be over soon. Hahahah, I promise. Really. Tell us who took Gortys and I’ll think about not twisting your arm until the feeling is gone… or rip it out of your socket, whichever I’m feeling the most for.”
“I’m not scared of you.” He yelled with bared teeth. “Tector!!”
Busting through the door, Tector barrelled in and locked eyes with Jack as he brandished his pistol. “EY! You let ‘im go!”
Chuckling, Jack slammed August onto the floor. “Ohohoh kid, don’t worry. You’ll be scared of me soon.” He clicked his watch and two Badass DigiJacks formed beside Sasha. “Set phasers to stun, kiddos! Papa is going to do some work in the upstairs. Let’s go, princess.”
“Jack!!” Rhys had the wind knocked out of him as Vaughn dived into his stomach to move him out of the way of Tector’s shot. Immediately, the bandits and mercs, who were once peacefully taking in the only slightly murderous atmosphere, pulled out their weapons and hauled at the holograms. Gunshots and shouting consumed the bar as Sasha, Rhys, Vaughn crawled to stairs towards the back area of the building.
There was a small hallway that ended with a door with a singular shadow that seeped underneath. Sasha tried the knob. She pushed and shoved at the door but to no avail. She finally yelled, “Hey! Open the door!”
“Soon would be good!” Vaughn exclaimed, gazing down at the chaos.
“Oh, my friends are here! Fantastic, we’ll have a spectacular group of judges.” Upon opening the door, Jack already had August tied to a chair with rope… from the ceiling.
“How did you--?” Rhys squinted up at the rope.
“I’m good with my hands in more ways than one-- anyway. Hey, one of you close and lock that door for me? Don’t want any unnecessary party members trying to find a bathroom up here, muchas gracias. Hohokay, let’s get to talking, c’mon, this should have been easy.”
“Yeah, it should’ve been!” August grimaced, staring down at the floor.
“Are you mocking me, is that what this is? Blood is rushing to your head right now. Are you that dumb?”
Sasha invaded Jack’s space. “Let. Him. Down.”
“Whoa, easy, you are frightening when you’re angry. His head is only a foot from the ground! I made it in a way that he wouldn’t hurt himself if he manages to cut himself loose… which he won’t I already got his knife.” He moved his hand towards the sky when Sasha attempted to steal it. “Oooh, A for effort. Fiona’s still got some tricks to teach you.”
“Sasha, he’s trying to help us.” Vaughn intervened. His whole body was pressed up against the door. “August just threatened your sister!”
“I know that! Let… let me be in charge of this.”
Jack scoffed and handed her the knife, “Fine but, if you untie him, I am not going to be happy.”
“Whatever.” Sasha knelt down to meet August’s eyes. She held the knife to his throat. “Where. Is. Gortys?”
August swallowed, “Christ…! Okay, fine! The guy who had her said he was going to Oasis.”
“And who was this ‘guy’?”
“I don’t know! The back of his head was dented and his lungs were showing!”
“That is… needlessly graphic.” Jack bit his tongue.
“That’s all I know! It’s all I saw, okay?! I hate this, let me go!”
“You know what,” Sasha twisted the knife in her hand, humming to herself. “No. You made the mistake of putting Fiona on a pedestal, just so you can have the upper hand. I’m disappointed in you, August. You’re better than this.”
“Sash, you’re blaming me?? All of you left me in the dust! Like, literally in that dust storm. I helped you!”
“Yet you didn’t answer when we asked you to help us with the Traveler. You’ve only cared about me, August. In the end, that will always be your downfall. So get over me…” Sasha shoved the knife into the hardwood floor and left the interrogation room.
Rhys, Vaughn, and Jack stared after her with mouths agape.
“I can see why you’re attracted to her, August. Damn.” Jack coughed out a laugh. He gave his chair a push for it to slowly spin and swing counterclockwise. “You enjoy those thoughts, kiddo. Thank you for your cooperation.”
“Bye, August.” Vaughn said with a wave as he headed out behind Jack.
Before taking his leave, Rhys kicked August in the head. The force spun the rope faster. August spat the dirt out of his mouth and snarled at him, “I already see my own blood, Reeze! Leave me alone!”
Rhys glowered, “That was for Fiona… and Sasha, because I know she would have loved to punch you but you’re at foot level, so, you know how it is. And it’s Rhys.”
With that, he tromped down the stairs and instantly noticed that the bar had cleared out, blood-eque wine stains were on the ceiling and walls. There were bullet holes in the floor but no sight of casualties, except for Tector’s unconscious body splayed on the table of the cushioned seats. His foot flinched every now and then.
Fiona was relaxing at the barstools and smiled when she saw them, “Hey. Sooo, what the hell happened here?”
“I was just about to ask that.” Sasha countered, still surveying the bar.
“When I saw Tector busting through here and as the splendid con-artist I am I got them to hightail it out of here by stealing their hearts.”
“Very funny, Fi. What did you do?”
“I have to have some secrets, Sash. But why were there holograms of Handsome Jack running around?”
Jack threw his arm around Sasha, gently shaking her as he beamed at Fiona. “This gal here was pretty baller in here, I was helping her out by providing some intimidation. Not that you two weren’t intimidating. The knife trick was very sexy. You should have seen her upstairs! You’ve got an awesome sister.”
Sasha blinked wildly at the sudden praise before grinning back at him, “Yeah. I guess I have to thank you for this.” She punched his shoulder. “Thanks, Jack. I couldn’t done it without you.”
“Tomar el pelo--You’re making me blush.”
“You know where Gortys is?” Fiona got up from her stool.
“She’s at Oasis!”
“Great! Where… is that?”
Rhys raised his hand a bit, “I already checked that in with Yvette. It’s… a long drive from here.”
“You don’t think Janey is still here, do you?” Vaughn proposed with a shrug.
Timothy blinked, fumbling with his hands. “Janey? She’s here? Right-- you told me that already.”
“I don’t think it’ll hurt to check.”
“I haven’t heard anything more about her and Athena moving around lately, so it’s possible...” Fiona grew oddly quiet. “It’ll be kind of weird, without… you know.” Rhys looked down slightly.
“Scooter?” Sasha sighed. “Yeah. I know what you mean. Let’s try not to think about that too much.”
She drew in a sharp breath. “Right. You’re right. Let’s go.”
On their way out of The Purple Skag, Timothy retrieved his cloak, which now had footprints and bullet holes through it, and wrapped it around his neck as he stumbled after Vaughn, saying in a hushed voice. “I feel bad. Should I know who Scooter is?”
“He was the mechanic who died while getting them into Helios.”
“Oh, damn… That’s heavy.”
When they reached the maw of the cave, it didn’t help the three grieving when they saw that the sign was the same but with “& Janey” underneath Scooter’s name.
“That’s… really sweet, actually.” Fiona commented with a small smile. “I don’t know how I didn’t see that at first.”
“I think we were all collectively not looking at it… cause… you know.” Rhys scratched his collarbone.
“Yeah...” Fiona forced herself to step inside the garage that blaring pop style music. To her right, a prototype vehicle carriage was raised high above the floor. Underneath the car was Janey, whose lower torso was covered in oil. She wiped the sweat from her brow with a handkerchief that left dirt on her face.
When she finally saw the ragtag group spilling into the garage, Janey ducked out from the car and share a sunny grin that lit up the room like a beacon. “Hey, don’t this look familiar. And you’re safe, Rhys! It’s nice to see you.”
“Oh, yeah, I was on the moon for a bit, and guess who I found!” Rhys flipped the hood off of Timothy who blinked and shielded his eyes at the sudden light change.
“Hey! Uh, Janey,” He greeted with an awkward smile.
Her shoulders raised up as she gazed at him in shock. “Oh my god, it’s you! Jack’s double.”
“Yeahh iiiiit’s, it’s Timothy.”
“I thought you died-- Well, I’m glad you’re not. It’s good that you made it to Pandora in one piece! My offer still stands on the whole face removing thing.”
“Yeahhhh, uhh, I already tried that with Dr… scary man and he found a bomb so, ah, yeah. I’m gonna look like this for… ever, I guess. Aw, god...”
Fiona butted in, “Ah, Janey? If you don’t mind, we are in a little bit of a hurry. We need vehicles to get us to Oasis.”
“Oasis? Sure, I got some new motorbikes with jet power you can try out. If you want sidecars, though, it’ll cost more.”
Fiona looked over her shoulder at the rest of the group. Sasha felt her pockets and brought out what looked to be a hundred dollars. Rhys and Vaughn came out with nothing. Timothy pulled out two hundred. “I think I left most of my cash on the moon… Sorry.”
Janey waved that aside. “Alright, fine, in return for the bikes, you’re going to do me a favor. It’ll be quick, I promise.”
Timothy chuckled a little, “Is Deadlift bothering you again?”
“Dea--Haha, no. You’ve got a better memory than me.”
“That’s the understatement of the century but you haven’t been around, so what’s the catch?”
“Um, well.” She plucked out a folder from one of the tables and handed it to him. “Inside are wedding invitations, can you send these out for me?”
“Wow, these are pretty, Janey.” Vaughn complimented.
“Yeah, was this all you?” Rhys asked.
“No, Athena picked out the font, I added the flowers and lace and all that guff.”
Sasha cooed. “Ohh, I’m so excited!”
“You guys have a date now?” Fiona inquired.
“Yes! It’s in 2 months! Your invitations are in there too if you want to grab them now.”
Timothy had a very sweet smile on his face that Fiona had to do a double take when she saw it. For once, he looked genuinely happy. “... You know these would look nicer if they had a cat on it.”
Janey laughed. “If I knew you were around, I would have given one with a cat for you.”
“You’re just saying that.”
“No, I really would have. You helped my girl--ah fiance a lot back then. I think it’s appropriate.”
“... Thanks, Janey… These are nice though.”
“Thank you! I spent two hours on them. I had to make them perfect.”
“They are. Who’s wearing the tux?”
“Actually, we’re both wearing dresses.”
His eyebrows knitted. “Athena… in a dress? I’m having a hard time imagining that.”
“It’s beautiful, trust me. I can show you mine later -- get to work! I don’t want them to be late!” She wagged her finger as she returned to her original business.
“Okay, got it.” Timothy stared at the invitations as his eyes watered. Sniffling and blinking, he stopped breathing momentarily with a twinge of fear on his face. He inhaled and exhaled, forcing tears back. His hands shook slightly as he handed off the remaining invitations to the crew, “We should split up for this. We’ll cover more ground that way.”
“It looks like all of the invites are for the people in Sanctuary.” Sasha commented, with a raised brow.
“Oh, then, that’s… convenient. Uh, nevermind.”
Fiona put a hand on Timothy’s arm. “Tim? Why don’t you wait here. You’re looking kind of tired and it’s going to be a drive to Oasis. Get some rest while you can, okay?”
“I--really? Is that okay?”
“We’ll be right back.”
Rhys pouted. “Can I rest too?”
“No. Come on, Mr. Strongfork.”
“Hey! I don’t like how you said that. Is my last name funny to you??”
Finally, Timothy let himself breathe when they left. Tears fell down his face as he strained his voice to sound normal. “Janey? Is there a bathroom?”
Without looking, Springs waved her hand in the general direction behind her. “Yeh, it’s that door there.”
“Thanks.” The door slipped out of his hands as he rushed himself inside. Locking the door, he leaned his back on the wood. He closed his eyes and forced himself to breath deep. Think about kittens, he reassured him, nice soft warm baby kitties, ready to be cuddled. He opened his eyes slowly and reached out towards the sink. He let the water run for a moment then plunged his palms and rubbing the water on his face. He shook off the reminisce and looked at himself in the mirror. He absently touched his hair as he vaguely remembered how blonde it used to look before they implanted whatever science crap they did to force new hair to turn brown. He missed his freckles. It was the only feature he actually liked about himself and they were gone. Now he was… he looked… Suddenly pulling back at the sight of a mirror, Handsome Jack stared at him.
The reflection grinned menacingly and with a low laugh he said, “You’re making me look bad out there, Tim-tim. Come here!” His hand lunged forward to grab Timothy’s throat.
The music was loud enough that Janey did not hear Timothy crash into the door in an attempt escape of his intrusive thoughts. Rubbing his head, he dared to look again at the mirror and this time, he saw himself. A pathetic, anxiety driven college graduate with no dime to his name. He was supposed to be famous in the acting world, travel around the universe and be a literal star... not looking for a reason to live on Pandora. He grabbed the sink and hoisted himself up. He glowered at his reflection through tear stained eyes. “I’m not you, Jack. I will never be like you. I… I know who I am-- kind of. I’m getting there. Me and… me! I’m so tired of being scared.”
The mirror warped inside his head. His clipped on face mask and curling smile made his skin crawl. “Buddy--”
“NO! You shut up! I’m talking. You’re nothing but a thought.”
“What about that piece of me that’s always with you then? Mmm?”
“He’s not you, either. Hell, if I’m forced to carry your face forever, I’ll soil the name Handsome Jack by being who I want to be. No killing, no maming, nothing. I’m better than you… And I’ll eat as much pretzels as I want, bitch.”
“Wow, and here I thought I was the asshole. You missed something, Timmy. I am a thought, and I’ll always be with you. Forever.”
“Then I’ll just have to cope with that. Forever.”
“You’ll get tired. You’ll want to give up, like you always have.”
“I know. Unlike last time, I have people who actually like me for who I really am! I am Timothy Lawrence and Jack! So stop bringing me down!” Impulsively, Timothy punched the mirror with his right hand. The shattering glass cut apart his fist and he screamed, clutching his hand to his chest. “That! That wasn’t smart…! Awh shiiiiohhoooww ow...!”
The knob jiggled. Springs yelled from beyond the door, “Tim?? What happened in there?”
“Uuhhhahhhahahumm-- there was a big ass bug, like, the size of a Tork on the mirror and I’m stupid!”
“You broke my mirror!?”
“Yes! Don’t come in here there’s glass.”
“I can’t. The door’s locked.”
“....OH! Right. Sorry, I’m losing a lot of blood. Hold on.” Struggling to flick the switch on the handle, he eventually unlocked the door and stumbled out of the bathroom. Janey hauled him onto his feet and away from the carnage.
She sat him down on a chair stool and offered a palm that he placed his injured hand upon. Looking it over, she sucked air through his teeth. “Yowzah, you really punched it. I don’t see any bone sticking out though.”
“That’s always a plus.” Timothy was gazing up at the ceiling in order not to get sick at the sight of his wound.
“I’m no doctor but I have some gauze here I can wrap your hand in. Try to stay still.”
“MMmmmm, no promises.”
Janey followed his gaze and chuckled to herself, “You haven’t changed a bit.”
“Yeah, being on the moon… I guess it does that to you. You’re still somehow a ray of sunshine in this cave… Why come down here?”
“Athena. And there was more opportunities for me down here with my buggies and what of. I heard that you were a stowaway.”
“Stowaway is a nice way to put it. I’m basically a prisoner, despite whatever Lilith says. Those four are actually trying to get her to see me as, you know, me. I’ve never had that in my life.”
“Yea, I’ve heard stories about her from Athena. I still don’t forgive her for trying to kill my fiance. I didn’t want to invite her but since the wedding is going to be done in Sanctuary, it would be awkward if I didn’t.”
“You’re not inviting Pickle?”
“I already went and sent an ECHO invitation to him but he said he was too busy. Did you ever seen him while you were up there?”
“Not really, first and last time I went to see him is to see if he could help me figure out who I was, but he and most of his stuff was gone. No message or anything.”
“He did say something about new management but I didn’t get many details--” There was a small squeeze of pain that lasted briefly as she secured the knot in the fabric. “There! You should be good to go. I do recommend you find one of those vending machines to help with the healing process.”
Timothy finally lowered his head and studied his hand. He could see blood but it did not gross him out as much now that his hand was swaddled. He twiddled his fingers that poked out of the gauze. “I don’t like needles.”
Janey rolled her eyes. “Fine. Just mind the wrist movements, okay?”
“Okay… Thank you. Sorry for breaking your mirror.”
“You’re forgiven.” She patted his uninjured hand and turned her attention the blood stained bathroom. “I’d ask you to go and clean up but you’re one handed at the moment and I’ve seen you handle a gun.”
“You calling me clumsy? That’s fair.”
“Just know that you owe me, Timmy.” She held out her fist.
He smiled sweetly and fist bumped her with his gauzed up hand. “I’m okay with that.”
“Good. Are you going to be alright if I keep doing my thing?”
“I’ll be sitting right here, Janey.” He added, jokingly, “Unless, you want me to hand you stuff: wrenches, tweezers--”
“I’m good! Fantastic. You rest.”
The two continued conversing and getting caught up on each other’s lives as Timothy waited for his friends to return. Timothy was remembering more as he spoke. Rhys and Vaughn seemed to have tolerated him in college, bringing him into company because of his lack of social skills. Rhys was a party animal, but Vaughn and Timothy already had much in common, by being left out to dry. Of course, times changed and at the end of their college career they did begin to treat him like part of the group, until graduation. When his college debts were higher than Pandora’s atmosphere, when neither of his ‘friends’ called him back as he asked for help, his heart plummeted. It made Timothy wonder how he came to fall in love with Rhys and then relapse again years later. Was it stockholm syndrome? It has be because he was nice to him.
He considered their relationship to be a lot better presently. Rhys actually cared about him enough to try to prove Lilith wrong. It filled his soul with the unfamiliar feeling of hopefulness that dripped with underlying dread at the thought that Rhys might not love him back. Vaughn and Rhys are close, eerily close. Some people click better with others, like how Fiona and I click, Timothy muddled through his feelings. She’s clearly interested in girls with how she drunkenly gazed at Moxxi, which he was fine with. Obviously, he had nothing against that.
He guessed he did not want to die alone. Someone to understand him and desire to be with him is something he yearned ever since he saw Rhys and his long locks that were gelled back into a thick coat of hair… and handsome attire… and the way his lips puckered when he pouts. Okay, he was in deep, so what? Timothy wasn’t obsessed with him. He couldn’t be… it had to be okay to touch, uh--hug him, at least? They were friends. Rhys was not under the impression that he was acting anymore. Right? He has got to have nice hugs, right? Like, really really nice warm firm hugs.
“Timothy?” Janey reached out, leaning out from the car with a concerned glance.
He stopped toiling with the ends of the gauze wraps. “Y-eah?”
“You got real quiet when you were talking about Rhys.”
“I was talking about Rhys?”
“Yeah? In college?”
“Oh uh, ahem, remind me where I was, I got uh-- got ah… got… You know, anyway, where was I?”
She coughed into the back of her hand. “Lovesick?”
“Pffff-- lovesick? Whaaaaaat, I don’t get lovesick.”
“You’re talking to someone who falls in love too easily, trust me I know what lovesickness looks like.”
“Uhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh, dammit, fine. Yes! So what?”
“So what, what?”
“Aren’t you going to tell me how out of my league he is? Or that I should give up and find someone else?”
“Why would I say that?”
“Because I already know I have no chances with him. Absolutely none. Look at me, I’m his worst nightmare in the flesh. Why would he fall for someone like me?”
“You know what took me a really long time to figure out, Tim?” Her voice became soft spoken. Timothy swung his chair closer to hear her. “You can’t force anyone to fall in love with you. Like, genuinely. Changing your appearance, your life, anything, or just being yourself, nothing you could do can make what you want happen. I’ve had so many girls leave because I’m too clingy. With Athena, I am still clingy but she finds that endearing and she knows what I need. She lied to me in the past but it was so she could protect me. Everyone has different ways of showing love. Say that maybe he does love you, you might not be looking in the right places. And if he doesn’t… it’s up to you on whether or not to do this, it’s a big decision and you really need to know the person before saying it. Confess. It could be years or weeks before you decide.”
“What if it’s too late? What if he gets married in the next year?”
“That doesn’t change anything. It’s still up to you and your knowledge of him to decide whether it’s right to confess to him or not. I know what it’s like to be unable to move on without saying anything because of this huge “What if” in your head-- but I think you should know that there are times that your crush just doesn’t need to know. It can be inappropriate, especially if you love someone based on them being nice to you. No one is going to be nice all the time.”
“I… understand that last part, completely.”
“Yeah, so, if you do love him, I’d focus on why exactly you do. Soul search a bit. Look for more than one reason. As you’re looking, try to see from Rhys’ point of view and what he thinks of you, yeah? Wait for him to tell you something about yourself or himself and analyze it. If he never does, I wouldn’t count on him loving you the way you love him.”
“So, I am obsessed… Wonderful.”
“Obsession has a way of becoming, you know, real love for an actual person than the idea of one. You’ve just got to work on it constantly.”
“And how do I go about doing that?”
“Treat him like a human being, which believe me, is actually hard; because you really think you are until you realize all the mistakes you’ve made. One day you look at them and see that they are not even close to who you thought they were. They were just a thought, like a blurry image of the person… You know, I don’t usually ramble on like this, but I see a bit of myself in you, Tim.”
“I have an accent?” He asked in a failed attempted to lighten his mood.
“No, Timmy. I don’t want you to get hurt or accidentally hurt your friendship. Better to have never loved at all than to have loved and lost…. Wait, I said it backwards: Tis better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all. That’s it.”
“The first one seems to be more… fitting.” Timothy muttered to himself with a sigh.
She nudged his chair with her leg. “Oi, I was trying to be uplifting! I didn’t know Athena would think to love me and I’m about to marry her. Life changes or something like that.”
“... Have you written any more of those children stories?”
“You know what? I have! I think I misplaced them when I came down here-- I knew I put them in this box...” As Janey prattled, Timothy slipped into a daze. Wandering through the turns of his life and how they could possibly figure the numbers of if he even deserves Rhys’ love. Statistics made him anxious and rightfully so, for the fake numbers in his head told him that they weren’t looking good.
When his friends returned, Timothy inconspicuously hid his injured hand by stuffing it in his pocket, which was a terrible idea considering how tiny they were and made a weird bulge in his pants. None of them were really looking as they bought two motorcycles off of Janey. Fiona and Sasha took the one with the sidecar that Timothy now occupied.
As the five raced through sand dunes, the sisters followed Vaughn’s bike. Rhys, who was clinging onto him, was holding out his cybernetic hand. The holograms were hard to see while driving at high speeds against sand. Unfortunately, they turned the wrong way twice and had to make a sharp U-turn that almost resulted in Rhys crashing if he wasn’t keeping a death grip on his boyfriend.
Sasha rolled her eyes as Fiona one-eighty’d more carefully than Vaughn. “Idiot.”
“You know he did that on purpose.”
“Oh, I know, I was talking about Rhys.”
Timothy merely side eyed the two and withdrew his attention towards his throbbing hand. The sand particles were getting under his bandaging and irritating the hell out of his wound. It was difficult not to itch it. The bottom portion of his fingers were looking a little green as well. He decided against undoing the bandages. He cursed at himself for not taking Janey’s advice sooner. Suddenly, Sasha grabbed his wrist and yanked it to where she could see it.
“Hey!” Timothy snatched his hand away.
“Fi, his hand is infected.”
“Hang tight, I’m going to catch up.”
She throttled the gas and the motorcycle lurched forward, thrusting Timothy’s head against the headrest of the sidecar. When she was finally riding beside Vaughn, she motioned with her thumb to slow down as she backed off. Vaughn breaked, skidding to a halt while the motorbike turned sideways. When all motion stopped, Rhys dizzily fell off the side. After kicking up the park stand until Vaughn gave up on trying to keep the bike up and let it collapse on the ground, he dragged Rhys onto his feet and led him over to where Fiona parked. She was undoing the bandages. As more gauze was unwrapped the greener and purpler his hand was.
“Dude, why didn’t you tell us you were hurt!” Vaughn’s eyes grew huge.
“Because you’d ask why and I’m not prepared to share that answer.”
Fiona looked at him with an indescribable face. “The shattered glass covered in blood in the bathroom was a little obvious while you were closing the door.”
“I… thought you weren’t looking.”
Rhys took a moment to spit sand out of his mouth. “Ukk, gross. Tim, peh, you punched a mirror?”
“It had a big ol’ Spiderant on it, so I punched it.”
“That lie may convince Janey but considering we know you wouldn’t even kill a person let alone Spiderant, I doubt that.” Sasha pointed out, smugly. “Try again.”
“... I saw Handsome Jack in the mirror and I freaked out. Happy?” He snatched the gauze from Fiona. “I’ll just get some medicine when we get to Oasis, okay? We need to find Gortys. I’m not important.” He stepped into the sidecar, crossing his arms in wait as he wrapped his hand. He could stop the tears from coming out of his eyes. They were leaving so fast that continuously wiping his face was useless. He noticed that nothing had move since his outburst and all four of them stared at him in shocked awe.
The claws of anxiety scratched at his throat. “We don’t have time for this.” His tone grinded into aggression, “Stop staring at me!”
He saw Fiona and Rhys advancing towards his side of the bike and in a fit of panic he tripped out of the cart and crawled backwards with one elbow in the dust. He shielded his face with his injured hand. He squeezed his eyes shut. “Get away from me!”
He felt a strong metal hand take hold of his arm and pull him into a firm embrace from both sides of his person. Timothy stopped breathing and peeled his eyes slightly to drink in that he was being coddled. His face bloomed hotly that his tears were cold to the touch.
“Don’t ever say that you’re not important.” Rhys’ voice came through his ear, sending his heart galloping a mile a second.
Fiona rubbed his arm. “We are going to make sure when we get to Oasis that you get this treated. Part of the team, remember?”
Timothy attempted to speak but all that came out was a whimper. After another moment, the two released him and Fiona helped his shaking legs into the car. Sasha was already on the bike and the second he was settled inside, she ruffled his hair until it was an untidy mess.
Timothy whined, “My haaaaiiiirrr…!”
“You’re not Handsome Jack, right?”
He blinked, gazing up at her through loose locks as the gears clicked in his head. He… never thought about changing his hairstyle before. He wanted to say so much at once. “Oh.”
He feebily returned Sasha’s smile as he ran his finger through his hair. As the motorcycles spurred to life, he took a strap of gauze and hooked his hair up into a low ponytail. Fiona laughed when she gaze at him from her seat. “Lookin’ good, man!”
He smiled a big toothy grin as he giggled himself out of his nervous chills.
The boardwalk was lined with colorful buildings that complimented the setting sun. The city of Oasis, ironically, lacked an oasis as well as civilization if you discount the decaying bodies with megaphone strapped to their flesh. The group did their best not to look too closely at them.
“What kind of psycho did this?” Rhys commented as he peeled his eyes for danger.
“I don’t know, but at least we can scratch off talking to people about where Gortys was taken.” Fiona rubbed Timothy’s arm after removing the needle. “How you doing?”
“Nauseous.” Timothy hiccuped, “I really hope that thing does not give me a disease.”
“I don’t think Dr. Zed’s shots are… that bad.”
“You did not need to hesitate when you said that.” Timothy shaked his arm to lessen the sting and stood up. “There’s gotta be someone here that can talk, right?”
Vaughn held his arms in an attempt to shake off his discomfort. “Oh yeah, sure. That lady on the bed seems nice.”
A deep sounding voice mimicking a woman’s tone came from the megaphone, “Well, aren’t you a kind man!”
His legs gave out from under him as he hurried to Rhys. He squeaked and he huddled behind his legs. “It spoke…!”
“Can we… leave? Now?” Rhys quivered/
“There’s uh, there’s sand skifs over there?” Sasha acknowledged with a wave of her hand. “Let’s um. Get one. I don’t think Gortys is in this place and I’m not saying that to get out of here, even though this is horrifying.”
“Yeah, no, sand skifs. Let’s go get one or two-- probably two. Two’s good.” Fiona side stepped away from the center of town while the rest of the crew followed her anxiously towards the docks.
Out of fear, Timothy plunged ahead. While not entirely making a break for it, he passed Fiona and hurriedly jogged to the station, until he heard a gravelly voice snap at him. “Hey! What are you doing?”
Timothy shrieked and impulsively smacked his watch. As his DigiJacks formed in front and behind him, he whipped around before laying eyes on Mordecai, who was perched on the rooftops on one of the beach houses.
“Easy, kid, it’s just me. I thought Lilith told you to put those away.”
Timothy looked on either side of him, both digital Handsome Jacks grimaced at the Vault Hunter with bored expressions then looked at their boss with judgemental side eyes.
Hissing, he pressed the buttons on his watch and deactivated the clones. “Don’t say a damn word.”
“He’s with us, Mordy.” Fiona put her arm on Timothy’s shoulder. Her friendly nature gave him relief.
Due to thick goggles on his eyes, it was difficult to read his expression when he noticed the rest of the party. “Oh, nevermind.”
“What are you doing out here?” Sasha wondered, “And where’s the big guy? You two are always together.”
“Talon’s on his first mission today. Brick’s somewhere out there, hiding.”
“Yeah, speaking of someone being out there? You haven’t by chance seen anyone with the description of uh… someone with a dent in his head? Or lungs out of his chest?”
A determined frown creased his wrinkles. “That the best info you got?”
“They are… defining features at least?” Fiona suggested to his dismay. “No? Okay.”
“What about a Loader Bot?” Vaughn piped up. “Like, the exoskeleton of one? Red eye?”
“Uh, I saw… something like that, I think? It had that red eye. It was weird lookin’ without those guns. The thing was going towards Rustyards.”
Rhys pushed in front of the group. “And you didn’t stop him?!”
Mordecai did not give earn him a glance as he spoke to Fiona. “If you’re going to look for that Loader Bot, you probably won’t find anything. Those worms have probably ate it already.”
Fiona exhaled in exaggeration, “Can you give us an estimate of when you saw the Loader Bot?”
“An hour ago?”
They all look at each other. Vaughn spoke with urgency, “We need to get out there, now.”
“Ey, I don’t suggest walking. Use the skifs. Guy sells them over there.” Mordecai waved his hand over at the shack they had passed that had a neon sign of a cat and her kitten above the letters “Kitty Kream”.
“Thanks, Mordecai.” Vaughn muttered to himself. “Perfect place to get stabbed.”
“Tell Talon I love him!” Sasha added before trailing behind the rest.
Rhys complained as they headed to the right side of the peer, “Why didn’t he answer my question?”
“Because why would he stop a Loader Bot, Rhys?” Fiona complied, annoyed.
“I don’t know, to ask why he’s naked?”
Timothy stared through narrowed eyes and grumbled, “When will I ever not feel like the third--” He did a quick head count, “fifth wheel in all this.”
“Hey. You.” Mordecai growled.
He jumped, pointing at himself. “Me?”
Timothy blinked. His mind whirled and tumbled through his memories as he mulled over the offhanded question, until he remember how Mordecai stood up for him in his interrogation. Thinking back on it now, Mordecai was not as scary as he first thought… Come to think of it, he never thanked him. “Oh. Yeah. I’m… getting there. Slowly. Thank you, by the way. I really do appreciate it.”
He gave him a single nod then took a swig out of his canteen. The conversation was over, apparently.
Timothy hummed and eventually caught up the group. He was trekking along side Rhys and Vaughn when he said. “... I like him. He’s cool.”
Vaughn snickered, “Rhys would disagree with that. Wouldn’t you, Zer0’s number 1 fan?”
“You tease but it’s true. I swear when I make it big, I’m paying them to be my bodyguard.”
“You mean samurai?” Timothy nudged him with his elbow.
“I guess you could consider them a samurai...”
“You… you didn’t get the joke. Are memes different on Pandora than on the moon?”
“I don’t know how to answer that.”
Fiona peered into the shack, eyeing the banjo and the copious amount of alcohol that littered the back table and counter top. “There’s no one here?”
Out of curiosity, Vaughn rounded the shack and returned with a shrug. “No one back there either.”
Timothy decided to take the initiative and hurdled over the counter, ducking under it.
Sasha leaned over the front and watched him sort through the shelves. “What are you doing?”
“Hey, we’re pretty much all con artists here! Let’s just steal the keys.”
Vaughn folded his arms. “I’m a bandit.”
“And I am a CEO! Not a con artist.”
Fiona gave him a curt look, placing a hand on her hip. “With the way you handled the ten million dollars, I’d say.”
“It’s been years since then and you still haven’t dropped that? Unbelievable!”
“I don’t know, what do you think Sasha?”
“Ten million dollars.” Sasha said wistfully, her gaze towards the sky, “Down the drain.”
At first, Vaughn thought this was teasing again but looking at Fiona’s grim countenance then to Rhys who looked ready to explode, Vaughn put himself in the middle of the group. “As if you guys were any help with the fake Vault Key!”
“Yeah!” Rhys added.
“We had it under control.” Rhys’ scoff made the fire behind Fiona’s eyes burn brighter. “You guys were the ones who decided to inadvertently help Vasquez by falling for the con! We aren’t the ones who screw up here!”
“Wow, saying all of that was our fault is a low blow, Fiona.” Rhys growled back. Meanwhile, Vaughn took her words to heart and fell silent. Soon it clicked in his head as well how true her statement was. “Ok, you may be right but we’re all better off because of it, so. Ha.”
“Please, do not try to amp this up for your sorry self.”
“AHEM,” Timothy was holding out the card for the skifs between his middle and index finger. He put a hand on his chest to effectively mock their speech. “I hate to interrupt this totally friendly bickering by being the voice of reason, which is absolutely horrible idea. Don’t ever let me do that again: here’s the key.”
Rhys took advantage of his long limbs and snatched the card key before Fiona grabbed it. “Too slow, con-woman.”
“Too clueless, Mr. CEO.” She waved the card in front of his face and sauntered along the docks.
“... Touché.” Rhys leaned over and hissed, “Timothy give me another key card.”
“There’s only one.”
Timothy rolled his eyes and was in the process of climbing over the counter before a shady man that peeked at him from the roof greeted him loudly, “Hi there!”
“AAAA!!” He socked the unidentifyable man with the palm of his hand. Timothy tripped out of the of the booth as the summer dressed civilian fell onto the ground beside him.
Fiona whirled around as Rhys stood petrified. They mourned in unison. “Oh, god it’s him.”
Shade popped his head out of the dirt and hopped up to his feet like nothing happened. He waved frantically at them. “It’s my best friends! I haven’t seen any of you in forever! Well, forever since my old grandpappy’s antic shop was destroyed. You’re new. Hello, friend! I’m Shade! Let me help you.” As Shade reached out for him, Timothy scampered behind Rhys and stood up.
“Get him away from me…!” He announced, a finger above his watch.
“Timothy, it’s okay. He’s harmless… enough.” Fiona added to herself, “Hello, Shade. It… Good to see you. We’d love to stay and catch up but we’re a little--”
“Is that my skiff key?”
Fiona held up the key card and quickly sputtered out, “Yes, you gave it to me as a gift when we first met, remember?”
Shade gasped, “Did I? My memory has been lapsing recently. Could you tell me in excruciating detail of when I gave that to you?”
“I’d… love to… but we need those rental skiffs to find our friends who are lost out there. We can’t waste too much time.”
“Oh my! That’s awful. Is your friend a spaceman that has wooshy black hair with a dent in his head and an open chest with metallic organs along with a metal ball under his arm?”
All five of them stared at Shade in sheer amazement of his memory. Rhys slowly nodded. “Yes, that is exactly who we are looking for. Mind telling us where he went?”
“Well then, he has been living here for a year or two now? I’ve been trying to befriend him but he seems to not be the talking type, especially when I tried to hug him one time. He did not like having to stuff his intestines back into his torso.”
Timothy dry heaved.
“Can you tell us where he lives exactly? If you know… obviously.”
“Absolutely! He lives just off of Rustyards. His house is embedded with rocks but there’s a switch that I found on the wall that opens it up and you can get in through there! Just look for all the robot parts and you’ll find his house!”
“No problem, I’ll be here! Waiting. For you to come back! I can make some tea! Oh, I believe I have a few board games for us to play. I’ll have to find the other half of one of them. I think Jennife--”
Eventually, they were out of earshot of Shade’s insane ramblings. Collectively, they heaved a sigh of relief.
“Hey, Rhys?” Fiona said offhandedly as she ordered the skifs through the station, “Mind pulling up a map of Oasis?”
“Can do.” He turned his palm up and a hologram of Oasis melted into static. “Wha-- something’s wrong...? I’m going to try to call Yvette.” Briefly, his ECHO eye illuminated and after a moment of waiting, he frowned. “That’s not working either.”
Timothy raised his hand slightly until he received everyone’s attention. “This guy stole your robot, uh, friend, right? He’s probably an engineer of some kind. If I wanted to mask my location, I’d jam any nearby signals.”
“It’s got to be close then, right?” Vaughn wishfully thought.
Fiona boarded the left of the two sand skiffs as she took a look at how dim the sky was becoming. “We’ve got to look. We have to find her.”
Since none of them knew how to drive a sand skiff, they, despite their patience, took it slow to not get themselves killed. Night officially settled in. Sasha tucked her head into his elbows as she attempted to fall asleep in the middle of the skiff as Fiona drove.
Vaughn drove alongside her while on autopilot. He wasn’t looking for Gortys. He was eyeing Timothy and Rhys’ and eavesdropping on their conversation. Timothy was touching his not cybernetic arm in a way that he didn’t like. Even though he was merely helping Rhys to fight the jamming signal by attaching his watch to the port on his temple, he didn’t need to have his hand on his arm like that. He was not jealous, Vaughn swore to himself. He knew something was going on in Timothy’s head by the way he twitched and fumbled over his words more than usual. He glowered at him with anticipation, in wait for a move of some kind. He wanted to be proven wrong, yet there was a part of him that curled and vibrated. Whatever Timothy might do, Vaughn was going to stop him.
“How are we looking?” Timothy asked as he selected a couple of buttons on his watch. He glanced over at the holographics to only frown in disappointment at the lack progress. “I thought that’d work.”
“It’s a good thought, though.” Rhys flinched as he plucked the cord out of his head. “At least, we tried.”
“Speaking of, uh, trying...”
The skin around Vaughn’s knuckles were white from gripping the wheel so fervently. Talking Vaughn could understand. If this was going where he predicted it to go, Rhys will let him down gently and that would be that. That would be that.
“What? You got something else?”
“No! No, this is um, different. Different topic. I was thinking a lot lately about… you know, future. After this. As much as I like spending time with youuuuyou guys. All this… running around, almost killing people, high stakes-- this is just not my thing. I can’t think about doing this all my life. And you’re the CEO of Atlas. Someday, you’re not going to make time for me.”
Rhys let out a chuckle that soothed Vaughn’s rage filled soul. “Dude, that’s a loooong way from now. I still have no idea what I’m going to do about it. For now, I do want to just… mull it over, see more of Pandora-- hell, maybe outside of Pandora if I’m lucky.”
“You’ll get there. You’ll make ATLAS something to behold again.”
“I mean it, Rhys. You’re… you’re freakin’ awesome.”
Vaughn couldn’t read the look on his boyfriend’s face but his voice became quieter. “I’d… like to think so. I just don’t want this chance to be another giant screw up.”
“It won’t.” Timothy sighed. “Rhys? I want to, ah, give you something, but it’s a… a, like, a, surprise. I don’t know if… you’ll-- you will--.”
“Hey, you don’t have to give me something… But now I’m really interested.”
“Heheh, y-yeah, I knew… knew you would. Close your eyes, okay?”
That was a red flag that set off alarms in Vaughn’s head. He fought with his hands as he stared down at them. At first, Timothy did reach for his pocket. He glanced back Rhys to make sure his eyes were closed and detoured his hands. His arm hovered over his cheek as he leaned in. Vaughn jerked the whirl so that the skiff tipped towards Timothy’s side. With a shriek, Timothy was tossed towards the edge while the sharp angle only knocked Rhys off his rear.
“Vaughn, what happened?!” Fiona cried out, drawing her skiff closer.
“Uhh-- sand! Worm! There was a worm! It jumped in front of me. I freaked out!”
Fiona scanned the ground below them. Vaughn thought fast, “Rhys? Why don’t you take over?”
“Yeah, that’s not a good idea.” Fiona intervened. Vaughn breathed a silent sigh of relief that he successfuly distracted her.
Rhys stood up after fumbling for his footing. “What? You don’t think I can drive?”
“If I had to choose over you or Vaughn, I’d go with Vaughn. He actually knows what he’s doing.”
Timothy crawled over to the other side of the skif. “Fionaaaa, can you come closer? I’m boarding.”
An odd sense of pride overcame Vaughn as he bit away a smile. Timothy knew. “Don’t like my driving?”
“I just feel-- need breathe.” Once the other skiff was close enough, he joined the sisters and fell onto his side. Rhys looked at him in confusion. No doubt wondering why he didn’t receive his gift… then Vaughn found Rhys eyeing him, through narrowed slits. He couldn’t conceal his reaction fast enough.
He turned over his shoulder to cough and hurriedly addressed Fiona. “Have you seen anything? Any signs?”
“Nope. But I think I found a pathway. It’s narrow so follow behind me.”
“Aye, aye!” Vaughn gulped as Rhys took the place beside the driver seat.
“Vaughn,” he began. “There wasn’t a worm.”
“Shhh!” Vaughn briefly checked the sides of the skiff to make sure he wasn’t too close to the rocks. He whispered back, “I know.”
“Then why did you try to throw Timothy overboard?”
“He was trying to kiss you, Rhys.”
“I--” Rhys blinked. “Really?”
“Yes.” He returned, hastily. His blood was boiling at the thought of it. “Right in front of me.”
“I mean, I know I’m attractive and everything. I’m flattered You’ve seen--”
“Don’t finish that thought, Rhys.”
Rhys held his arms to make himself smaller. “You’re not…?”
“I’m not jealous, Rhys. He knew exactly what he was doing. He’s always had a crush on you Rhys, he told me that while we were in college. That’s why I never told you I took him in.”
“... So you were jealous.”
“I wasn’t jealous of shit.”
Yup, he was jealous. He had seen that face before when he looked at those old posters of Handsome Jack that Rhys littered around his office. Thinking about, Rhys did not seem to mind Vaughn being a little possessive of him. It was endearing… and kind of hot.
“You know that I--”
“I love you too.”
“Vaughn. Look at me.”
“Just for a second.”
Vaughn glanced over at Rhys and noticed his heartwarming smile. “Hey.”
Blush crept onto his face as he realized how possessive he was getting over Rhys. “Hhhi. I’m an idiot.”
“No, no, my boyfriend is not allowed to talk like that. I’d be pissed off as hell too if I saw anyone tried to take your lips from me.”
That made Vaughn giggle, even though he was still trembling with residue guilt.
“But he didn’t kiss me. And how you chased him off, I don’t think he’s going to try again. I’m not really surprised that he likes me.”
“Jack keeps throwing the word ‘sexy’ at me. I’m not that dense. If one side of him likes me, I think both of them would.”
“You going to tell him anything? You’re taking this kind of uh, weirdly okay.”
“I don’t like comparing him to, you know, the other Jack and his… nicknames for me. I guess I’ve desensitized myself.”
“Don’t take this the wrong way, but I really thought you were dense.”
Rhys dramatically leaned his entire weight onto Vaughn. “Ow, Vaughn. Owie. That hurts, right here in my heart strings. Ouch. A heart attack. Aahh.”
“Oh shut up, dork. Get off me!”
Hearing their hearty laughter, Timothy heaved a rueful sigh and rubbed his face. Why didn’t you take Janey’s advice? His mind rebuked. He could feel something slap across his face. Whether it was the wind or his vivid imagination, he was not able to tell. All he knew was that his heart desired death and jumping off the skiff was starting to sound like a good idea.
He lifted his head and saw Sasha, who appeared half awake and making her way towards him with her hand out. She withdrew her arm when they locked eyes.
“Hey. You’ve been looking awful lately.”
“I’ve got a lot on my mind is all. I’m okay.” He faked a most genuine smile. “It’s been a long day full of… uh, full.”
“Tell me about it, I didn’t expect… no one expected this. I just hope Gortys is alright.” Sasha pulled at her goggles. “This is weird for you, isn’t it? You don’t even know who she is.”
“I have an idea, but no, you’re right. I don’t know why I’m-- I get why I’m here. It’s better than Lilith watching my every move on Sanctuary. Thanks, Fiona.”
“You’re welcome.” Fiona called back. “What are you thanking me for?”
Sasha snorted and tugged Timothy up with her and lead him to the backside of the skiff. “He was thanking you for bringing him along, Fi.”
“Oh, yeah, no problem. How are you feeling?”
“Great.” He lied. “Nothing better than getting sand in my eyes. Can I ask something? It’s for both of you.”
“Sure, what’s up?”
“Discarding the ifs and all that, what, what do you two plan to do for the um, future?”
Fiona hummed thoughtfully.
“I’m up for whatever.” Sasha started, “Despite all the shit we give those two, the death experiences, the Handsome… Jack issues, the Vault, it was almost fun. This kind of reminds me of it.”
“I’m a Vault Hunter.” Fiona answered, “I completely agree with you Sasha. Going on trips like these… I can do without the fear of the unknown, but this-- but with a Vault. I can’t wait… I’ll probably have to make it up to Yvette first.”
“Whoa, when was that string of consciousness? She called us scum.”
Fiona grinded her teeth, “I--yeah, so did those two when we first met them and none of us have killed each other yet over that.”
“You guys were pretty close when we were on those docks.” Jack snickered, “I kind of wanted to see what would have happened if I didn’t say anything.”
“Going up against a Siren who can barely control his powers?” Sasha countered, “Yeah, that’s a terrible idea in practice.”
“Ok, let’s flip it then. Say he masters his abilities, you two would totally work together to pin him down, right?”
Fiona smiled, “I would love to crush his smug little face.”
“With Vaughn in the mix? All three of us against Rhys? I’d honestly wouldn’t mind that.” Sasha nudged Fiona’s side with her elbow, “Should totally do that.”
“As long as I get to watch, I’m cool.”
“So, what’s really wrong, Timothy?” Fiona ventured with strong confidence.
“Sorry. I mean, Jack.”
“Nothing’s wrong?” He said flatly, looking at them with a blank stare. “No hay bronca. Should something be wrong?”
Sasha and Fiona momentarily shared worried glances before both of them returned to their task at hand of looking for Rustyards. Fiona spoke, nonchalantly. “Okay. Just checking on you.”
“How’s your hand?” Sasha transitioned, holding her palm out.
He acquiesced, laying his injured hand flat so she could unravel the gauze. The old dried blood still grossed him out. He shut his eyes tight.
“Oh yeah, you’re healing up pretty well! Your entire hand isn’t purple anymore… Uh, Jack?”
He peeked and viewed his wound. Sasha was right. The scars on his skin were closing properly. “Nice… Augh, I can smell my own blood, ew, ew--!”
“It’s just blood, you’ll live.”
“It’s just blood, you’ll live.” He squacked back, mimicking her tone. Fiona snorted.
“Don’t encourage him.”
“Don’t encourage him. I’m Sasha. Weh--”
“I’m going to very gently remind you that I have your hand.”
“Ok, I’ll continue very gently when you’re not holding my hand.”
“You are such an asshole.”
“Well, welcome to my asshole-- Sh*t, I meant welcome to my life oh, god--!” Sasha already burst out laughing while Fiona struggled to retain her composure with her bent over form. Jack heard a second skiff drift closer until it was beside them.
Rhys’ voice travelled into and shattered his already broken mind. “Uh, what’s going on over there? You stopped moving.”
Whirling around, Jack struck a pose by putting on hand on his hip and the other on his chin as he announced, “Comedic genius is what’s happening over here, fellas!”
“WelCome to My AssHole” Sasha barked with laughter, snorting in between breaths. Fiona finally broke into a giggle fit alongside her sister.
“Your ‘comedic genius’ just alerted the local psychos.” Vaughn pointed to the little village before them where activity suddenly sprung up.
Jack returned his glare, slamming his hands onto the railing of the skiff. “Then let’s give them a goddamn show, killjoy.”
Their laughter abruptly stopped, Fiona immediately took charge as she squinted. “They’ve got skiffs. Sash?”
She already had her SMG into her hands. “You planning a driveby?”
“I’m planning to leave unscathed. Jack? If you could get your clones out, that would help--”
“Wait, wait!” Rhys held his arms out. He was glowering at the village. Suddenly, like a flickering light bulb, his wings popped into existence.
Vaughn flung himself onto him when he hovered a foot off the ground. He tugged him down. “Rhys! Don’t!”
“It’s up there! I know it is! I just can’t read it from here.” Rhys nabbed Vaughn’s arms and pulled them off his person. He gripped his hands tightly. “I’ll be fast, I promise. I just need you guys to distract them, okay? I can do this, Vaughn. I know I can.”
Vaughn did not let out a sound. His heart pounded in his ears as every terrifying scenario appeared in his head. He yanked Rhys by the collar of his shirt and claimed his lips. Rhys pushed against his mouth until he broke off. Vaughn squeezed his hands. “You be safe.”
Rhys gave a single nod. He took two steps away from Vaughn and shot up into the sky. He was like a shooting star that glided towards the town where the psychos in the skiffs clearly noticed him. Already, they could hear gunfire. Scrambling, Vaughn ran to the wheel of the skiff and was about to step on the throttle, but he saw Jack occupying his skiff and Fiona’s already ahead of him, distracting two of the enemy skiffs.
Jack dramatically rolled his eyes along with his head. “What? Are we both going to glare at each other until somebody drops dead or are you going to cover for your boyfriend?! Punch it!”
Growling under his breath, Vaughn punched it. The skiff practically flew above the sand. Jack stood with his legs out wide to hold his balance. He stared down the stiff Vaughn was aiming for. Psychos hurried to board it, firing guns in their direction, while beginning to turn the vehicle onto them, however, they were faster.
Jack braced for impact and screamed as his DigiJacks formed beside him. “JAAACK IIIN!”
As the enemy skiff shattered into two chunks, Vaughn dived out of driver’s seat and rolled across the dune and bounced onto his feet. The force of the explosion sent him onto his ass. He shook his aching head and spat sand out of his mouth. He needed to find Rhys. Frantically, he looked up and around but there was no sign of him.
“Please, tell me you landed or something.” Vaughn pleaded to himself. He darted towards the front of the village and stopped in his tracks as he heard a horrifying sound.
“FEAR! THIS! FACE!” Followed by a feral yell. Vaughn finally saw him. Jack had a pirate in a choke hold, squeezing the air out of him as his digital clones stunned the now panicked psychos and marauders, fleeing to get away from him.
Vaughn could see Fiona and Sasha destroy one of the enemy skiffs as he watched it barrel into a sand worm that was beeching for a snack.
Suddenly, he could vividly see Rhys’ face as if he was projected straight into his eyeballs. Wind blew through his well kept hair and his eyes glistened in stride. He looked so… surreal. His words echoed into his mind as his lips remained shut. Vaughn. I’m behind an electric gate in the back of the camp. Rustyard is this way. Get everyone to safety. I’m a little tied up right now. I’ll be okay, I promise.
The vision of him vanished. “R-Rhys?! Oh god, ok, oh god, ok-- Timothy! Jack!” He yelled across the field. “Heeey!”
Pure unadulterated rage gave his eyes a reddish hue while the fire from the wreckage illuminated his monstrous expression. He threw an unconscious mercenary aside and faced Vaughn. “What?!”
“Get Fiona and Sasha’s attention! Rhys found Rustyards!”
“Fine!!!” He tore a wooden plank from the accidental pyre and waved it like a beacon.
Running over a sandworm, the bump made Fiona bit down on her tongue. She spun the skiff to the right. Sasha bombarded the enemy skiff on their tail with flaming bullets.
“Try to get me in closer, Fi. I almost got it!”
Fiona replied with a grunt and proceeded to create a sharp U-turn. As she stepped on the gas, she saw something moving in her peripheral.
Instinctively, Fiona flung the wheel to the left, scraping the side of the vehicle onto the enemy skiff. She stomped on the brake and squinted. On the edge of the town, she could see Jack waving a beacon.
“They found it! Hang on, Sasha!” Harshly, she whirled their skiff into his direction and gassed it. “Get ready!”
Sasha gathered herself to the side of the vehicle and readied herself to jump. The skiff began slowing when Fiona relieved herself from controls and joined her. Counting down from three in her head, she hit zero, snatched Sasha’s hand and leaped off the skiff as it crashed into one of the buildings.
Tossing the flaming torch aside, Jack hurried them up the hill. Vaughn sprinted with everyone shadowing close behind him to the end of the village. Over the closed electric gate, sparks flickered and danced into the air that warned them not to touch the bars. On the other side, Rhys was fighting head to head with an Anchorman. For some reason, he wasn’t flying. He rolled out of the way of the Anchorman’s hook and made a break for the lever. Rhys fell over his own weight and the gate opened.
Without a thought to second guess his impulse, Vaughn ran full speed at the Anchorman. He pulled out his pocket knife and leaped onto the shoulders of the huge man. In one swing, Vaughn slit his throat. Blood spewed violently across the sandstone as the Anchorman vainly swatted at Vaughn who was still hooked onto his neck. The Anchorman gurgled furiously and screamed. Vaughn raised his knife and plunged it into his forehead before jumping off from his shoulders. From that, the large man stopped moving and fell like a tree onto his stomach. The pressure spewed more blood from his head and neck, resembling a fountain.
Rejuvenated, Vaughn stumbled for balance as he worked his way to Rhys, who was being picked off the ground by Sasha, holding him in a sitting position.
“He’s breathing,” she relayed, relief attached to her tone. Rhys mumbled an extended response that was lost in translation.
“C’mon, bro.” Vaughn briefly forgot about his blood drenched hands as he cupped his boyfriend head. “I need you.”
“Carry him or something!” Jack barked and pointed at the tunnel. “We’ve got more of these asshats coming at us.”
“Have you tried kissing him?” Fiona suggested, which met her with an exasperated Vaughn. The sudden fear of Vaughn slicing her neck up bloomed into her mind. She put her hands up in defense. “I am not joking this time.”
“Urhmmcant… wha…?” Rhys blinked hard. “Erdm...idum...pocker...pock.”
Sasha rummaged into his jacket pockets until she pulled out a hunk of Eridium and placed it into his hand. “Here you go, buddy.”
“Tha...” He curled his fingers around the mineral. In an instant his entire body and clothes illuminated a purple hue while his tattoos glowed an iridescent blue. His eyes opened, emitting a bright yellow until the light finally faded from his being. “Whoa. That felt good. Thanks, Sash.”
Springing from her sleeve, Fiona’s pistol plunged into her hands as she popped an oncoming pirate in the head. Like a balloon, his head popped and his neck gushed with blood as he tumbled downhill. “Please tell me, you scouted ahead, Rhys?”
“Oh yeah, yeah, it’s through there. We have to ride an lift to get to the thing. I’ll lead.” He tilted his head. “Is Jack okay?”
His digital Jacks were nowhere to be seen. Jack was actually fighting off and knocking out the smaller psychos with easy, but the way he was trudging and angrily twitching left the impression of concern into the group’s mind.
“I think...” Vaughn began, “he’s situationing himself.” He flinched at the sound of bones breaking when Jack twisted the arm of a marauder and flung him into a Deckhand. “We need to move.”
“Right, right, right.” Rhys tripped over his feet as he dashed through the squad of pirates. Seeing him run past, Jack shoved another Rapscallion aside and pursuited after him along with the rest of the party.
The tunnel birthed into an opened area full of armed raiders and pirates. The lift they needed to cross the chasm was on the other side of the wire. Biting his lip, Rhys unveiled his wings. “I’ll take this.”
He whisked into the sky once more before anyone had a chance to change his mind. Distracted by his wings that glistened like giant target, the raiders followed him as he zoomed above their base. Abruptly, an explosion from a grenade took down a house. Limbs of freshly cooked pirates sprinkled like rain around the perimeter. Fiona took this opportunity to dash over and crank the lever until it made an irritated beep. She glared over the ravine to see that the lift was moving very slowly towards their side of the landscape. She pulled on the lever again in a vain attempt to force the carriage to roll faster.
“It won’t get here fast enough for Rhys to hold them off!”
Snatching Sasha’s gun from her grasp, Jack shoved Fiona aside and shot a bullet into the gears. Sparking with electricity, the lift gained speed as it declined towards them until the bottom of the carriage hit the side of the cliff. It bounced up and own on impact, however it looked like it was still able to be used. Without a word, he grabbed the two sisters and tossed them onto the lift along with himself and punched the button. When Vaughn turned around it was too late for him to board. He stared after them with a widened gaze, stunned in place.
Sasha slapped Jack on the back of his head. “What are you doing, you moron?! You left Vaughn.”
Cupping his hands over his mouth, Jack shouted to Vaughn, “Go be the hero Rhys needs, shortstack!”
His ears rung with his words. Vaughn needed to get Rhys’ attention and yelling at him would only cause trouble. He eyed at the buildings and found that the tallest one was a water tower. His cape billowed behind him as he broke for the old roof scales made to be fences and scaled up until he was standing on the narrow edge. Trusting his weight to balance him as he walked to the building beside the water tower, his eyes scoured the sky for a sign of Rhys. He saw a burst of yellow gliding over him then another building on the far side of the village exploded. So far, none of the Rapscallions noticed him as they continued to aim for Rhys. He climbed to the rooftop and took a plunge as he shimmed his way up on one of the legs of the tower. He slipped once and properly regained his composure by squeezing his thighs. The bowl of the tower had no way of getting on top. Taking in a sharp inhale, he took another knife from his back. It was bigger and more broad than the previous one that was now stuck inside a skull. He jumped. The knife merely scratched the metal. His life flashed before his eyes.
Vaughn tumbled through the air with his eyes held tightly shut. Then he hit something. His pain receptors must be dulled from the adrenaline he felt while falling. He did feel something warm. A heartbeat. He blinked and stared into the face of Rhys. Oh god, Vaughn was flying. He did his best not to panic under his cybernetic arm as he grabbed hold of the back of Rhys’ shirt with the hand not holding a dagger.
He wheezed as he spoke. “Rhys--! The thing!”
There was a glimpse of confusion before Rhys realized the intent. He nodded, solemnly. “Don’t look down, bro. Focus on me.”
The terrible gust of wind washed through him as Rhys broke through. He clung onto his boyfriend, keeping his eyes closed until he knew they had landed. He could feel his wings beating and coming to a stop. Rhys put his other hand on his butt to secure him while he brought his legs out. Fortunately, he stuck his landing without a stumble.
“I’m going to put you down, now, okay? You ready?”
“Y-yeah, yeah I’m ready.”
Vaughn’s legs shook under his weight but he remained standing. He gazed up at Rhys as Rhys stared down at him, sharing the same raw expression of adrenaline furiously pumping through their veins. There was no distinguishable number to describe how badly Vaughn wanted to fuck him. Touch him, kiss him, something to make Rhys know for certain how much he appreciated him. Rhys was on the verge of tackling him and bruising every inch of skin with his mouth. God, all of that was his, Vaughn was all his.
The cycle of thought grinded to a halt when the earth quaked under them. Vaughn pulled Rhys from the edge of the cliff before he had a chance to fall in. Then something bright came into their vision. Looking up the hill, underneath the cliffside where an old house sat; the rocks in the wall opened it’s maw that was full of white light. The light unveiled two familiar figures: Fiona and Sasha. The two run their way towards them and noticed Jack on the ground. His chest was rising up and down deeply.
“You okay?” Vaughn urged, lightly nudging his leg.
He moaned. “Yup… I’m just… riding through all my emotion states right now… I’m also incredibly rock hard, so I learned something new about myself today.”
Fiona noticed the two standing there and beckoned them with a flick of her wrist.
The odor that slapped everyone was a mixture of roasted vomit and oil; it was enough the knockout a Badass Spiderant that Jack immediately escaped the premises to evacuate his stomach outside. The cave was lined with robot parts, from Loader Bots to Seraph guardians. Even human bodies were strewn around the place with detached limbs. In the middle of the room was a robotic suit, equipped to fit a single person. Seeing self conscious, Rhys clung to his cybernetic arm and held it close to his chest. Seeing all the violently ripped apart Loader Bots made his gut turn more than the smell.
There was a door off to the right side of the suit that was sealed tight with twelve locks. There was no sign of life anywhere. Until, Fiona saw a steel ball occupying a space on the workshop table to the left of the robot suit.
The ball reacted hastily, lifting her head out from her body. Her sad eyes sparked with joy when she saw her family. “Fiona! Sasha! Rhys! Vaughn! It’s you! I’m so happy to see all of you! I’ve been so scared. I’ve been missing all of you so much...”
Rhys put his hands to his face. “Aaaww, I missed you more--! AHh!!” He was lifted into the air by to oddly familiar robotic yellow hands in an uncomfortably firm embrace.
“I have missed you too, father.”
Vaughn squealed, “Loader Bot!”
“You’re alive!” Rhys gasped.
Gortys spun to their side as Loader Bot gingerly placed Rhys onto his feet, who turned around properly and embraced him with Vaughn.
“You were guys waiting for us?” Sasha asked, picking Gortys up and hugging the little bot.
“I was! Then the scary science man dragged Loader Bot here. I thought we could try to escape together! But he locked the door from that room. Now that you’re all here! I think we can leave!” Just like that an iron door slammed shut behind them with the accompaniment of Jack yelling, “Hey hey hey!! Let me iiiin!!”
“I will not be caged.” Loader Bot said and pounded on the iron. Unfortunately, it did not budge at his strength. “... Oh no.”
“Does anyone have a grenade?” Fiona offered.
“If you’re looking to killing yourselves, then sure.” A new loosely accented voice answered. Gortys accordingly cowered into her original ball form. Everyone looked. Standing in front of the robot suit was the exact man they were looking for and he was disgusting looking as he was described, except there was a pack he was tagging along that had tubes going into his temples and spine. The tubes through his spine were connected to his robot lungs that forced him to inhale and exhale. The way he stood was not proud or ominense. He was just there, wringing his hands. Adjusting his glasses, he briefly bowed his head. His voice came again as a weak wheeze. “Allow me to introduce myself, I’m Gladstone Katoa. A pleasure. I’d ask for your names but you’re in the middle of stealing my robot and I find that unpleasant.”
“Stealing your--?” Sasha huffed. “You stole her from us!”
He sputtered and coughed, that jiggled his open stomach in a grotesque fashion. “Her? Oh, the ball. I found her while I was scavenging.”
Rhys interjected, “I’m sorry but why are you not wearing, I don’t know, a shirt to cover that up? I don’t know what I’m supposed to look at.”
Gladstone blinked and looked down at his internal organs. “Ah, you see, my fluids are apt to destroy most fabrics, you see. At least sand is only ticklish.”
Unable to understand what he was saying, Fiona decided to ask. “And the smell! It’s awful.”
He sniffed the air and shrugged, “The concept of smells are so foreign to me nowadays. It’s been.” He counted on his fingers “6 years, 7 months, 232 days, 5568 hours, 334080 minutes, and 20044800 seconds and counting.”
“I’ve studied numbers and I know that’s not right.” Vaughn muttered. He cleared his throat. “Where have you come from?”
“My accent and regular tone of speech may be slipping from amount of insanity I have possibly obtained but I am from Elpis-- formally Hyperion! It was like just yesterday when Handsome Jack sucked me and my colleagues out into space to die a horrific death!” He exclaimed with a grin. “But I beat those odds and landed on Pandora and returning to my previous life of building splendid robot! As a plus, I fear nothing.”
“From lacking a frontal lobe.” Fiona hissed under her breath.
“Not even Handsome Jack himself can waltz in here and I would absolutely not soil myself out of terror for the crude man.”
“Did you say… Handsome Jack?” Sasha countered, her eyes glancing back at the door.
“Handsome. Jack.” He emphasised with a wave of his hands. He pointed a thumb at the robot suit. “If I see that man again, I’ll have my bad girl up and running to murder and maime his pompous ass.”
Maybe, it was a lucky break that Timothy got locked outside of the lab. Rhys swallowed, “That’s… impressive. Can we leave?”
“Oh sure, just return that little bot to me, please.”
“Yeah. No.” Sasha clutched Gortys tighter. “We had her first.”
Fiona stepped to the plate. “How about we negotiate?”
“Negotiate?” He drooled at the sight of Rhys’ arm. “Like you giving me him, instead? I’ve heard all about those arms. They are such wonderful tools. And your ECHO eye. I’d love to have that for myself.” Rhys whimpered, hugging himself.
Vaughn shielded his boyfriend with his body in a protective stance and stated, “He’s not for sale.”
“Sad. No deal. Give the Gortys Project to me or I will kill you.”
Fiona stepped in front of her sister and aimed her pistol. “Move closer and I’ll shoot.”
“That won’t work on me.” Gladstone said gleefully as if she was playing with him. He turned to face his robot suit and pressed a button on his wrist. Whirling into action, the robot sprung to life and straightened it’s back. Inside the cockpit, a hologram of a woman who was clad in a skipper’s uniform clicked into existence and took hold of the digital controls. “Meet Felicity 2.0, everyone who I forgot to ask you names. She’s going to kill you!”
Felicity 2.0 gazed down at Gladstone menacingly. The robot suit reacted to her hand. She grabbed the scientist and tossed him into the wall. On impact, his vital organs were smacked onto the floor, creating a worse smell. She gave a disheartened sigh, “I’m good at doing other things than killing, Mr. Katoa. I think you forgot that when you built me-- oh, you’re dead. I’m talking to a corpse.” She looked down at her transparent hands. “I’m… physical, somewhat.”
Felicity 2.0 looked on at the group of a dysfunctional family, curiously. “Who are you? Do you know where am I?”
“You’re--” Rhys’ voice squeaked, “You’re on Pandora.”
“Pandora? My last memory was being killed by Handsome Jack’s Vault Hunters inside a military robot facility on the moon. How did I get here?”
“No idea.” Sasha piped up. “Um, you’re not going to kill us, are you?”
“Of course not. I don’t even know how it’s possible that I am alive.” She glanced back at the dead Gladstone. “I may have made a mistake on my part.”
“He never tested you out before hand?” Vaughn ventured, keeping Rhys behind him as well as his dagger as a precaution.
“I’m scanning my files now-- It looks like I’ve been resetted at least hundreds of times over the course of four years to perfect his defense mechanisms. I… I’m made of scratch with the memories of the original Felicity… That certainly does not fill me with existential crisis and dread.”
A moment of realization sparked into Rhys’ head when he finally remember his first encounter with Timothy on the moon. This was the Felicity he was talking about! Clearing his throat, he offer his hand over to the door. “I think you’d get along well with our other friend who is locked outside right now. His name is Timothy Lawrence.”
“Rhys, what are you doing?” Fiona whispered, narrowing her eyes.
“Tim knows her, Fiona. Chill.” Before Fiona could protest, he raised his voice. “Felicity 2.0, it’s nice to meet you. My name is Rhys, by the way. This is Vaughn. That’s Loader Bot. Sasha, Fiona. And Gortys.”
Gortys popped out of her shell and looked in awe of Felicity 2.0. “Oh my goodness! You are so pretty!”
She blinked at the compliment. “Thank you? I think. You may shorten that to Felicity, Rhys. The 2.0 makes me sound so… robotic. I’m an AI.”
“Ok, Felicity. You mind doin’ us a favor and uh, help with getting out of here?” He gestured towards the iron door.
“I would be more than happy. This cave makes my… metaphorical skin crawl. It would be wise to hide behind me. I’m afraid I’m not too sure how to use this suit yet.”
Everyone sought to the end of the room and watched Felicity tromp towards the middle. She moved and twisted her hands until her left hand transformed into a laser canon. “Ah, that works. Here goes nothing…!”
She fired and the laser beam ate through the metal and zoomed across the chasm until it collided with opposing rockside. Shaking her wrist, after a glitch in the system, the canon transferred into a four fingered hand once again.
“This suit is not… a hundred percent.”
Timothy poked his head into the gaping hole. “Uh, how’s it going in here? Whoa--” He rubbed his eyes and looked again. “Felicity?!”
Her body stiffened as she moved her head to face him. Her eyes glowed red. From the backside of the robot suit, the guns reacted to her emotions and brought out rocket turrets that were set to fire. “Handsome Jack.”
Fiona jumped in the way of the targeting systems. “Felicity, wait! Wait! He’s not Handsome Jack!”
Rhys took the place beside her. “He just looks like him! C’mere, Tim.”
Careful not to trip over the still smoking metal hole, Timothy hopped into the lab. He gulped, staring up at the rockets with bugged out eyes.
“You know her, say something.” Rhys smacked the small of his back.
“I-i-it-it it… nice to… see. Meet you… meet you. Again. Felicity.”
She squinted at him. Eventually, the rocket guns retracted and she leaned the suit down to be the same height as them. A small camera that was hooked to the hood of the suit whirled and a holographic beam scanned him.
She robotically relayed the information entering her mind. “Title: Handsome Jack’s body double. Real identity: unknown. Status: Dead. Description: "Jack" became part of the group of Vault Hunters that assists Handsome Jack on Helios. Suffers from acrophobia. Likes kittens. Unlike Handsome Jack, this “Jack” seemed to have cared more for your well being than the original Vault Hunters.” She blinked and looked at him, her expression soft. “You are… Handsome Jack’s body double.”
Timothy laughed uncomfortably, “Yup. That’s me. It’s, uh, Timothy... Lawrence. What? Why are sad?”
“You shed tears… for me?”
“Could… do with you not remembering that but yeah, I-I did.”
“I remember… rather, I have it written in my code. You fought with that monster about killing me. You took my side when no one else did. He didn’t like that.” She wiped the nonexistent tears from her eyes. “I was not expecting that from you.”
“That is what happened, wasn’t it? I think I blocked some of that out. It… It’s… Felicity?”
“I… It’s really, really great to see you again. Seriously. I’ve been looking for you-- for like… years? Y-you have no idea. I’ve only been getting my memories back recently. I took base in your old ship, trying to find a trace of you. I had so few memories to go on but I knew, I just felt like you had to be somewhere, you know? I-I, god, I’ve been wanting to apologize to you. I never wanted to kill you. I’m so so sorry I did. I--”
His heart leapt into his throat. “Yeah?”
“I forgive you. Truly.” She gave him a gentle smile. “It’s great to see a familiar face again.”
His lips trembled. “Y-yeah, d-ditto. H-hey! You can see the world now with this body. That’s tight! C’mon, you gotta see Elpis from here!” He pulled on the robot limbs of the suit and guided her outside. He pointed at the sky. “Look! See! That’s the bandit camp we had to dodge out of to get here! And that’s--”
Fiona was smiling at his burst of enthusiasm. She turned towards Rhys. “That turned out a lot better than I expected.”
“Oh yeah, until she turns evil.” Rhys muse, his arms cross.
Fiona flicked his ear. “Don’t project yourself onto them.”
“Hey, I’m allowed to have trauma about my experience with holograms in my head, okay?”
“Keep that to yourself. Look at him. Look at how happy he is.”
“I see that I’m… Yeah, I’m really, I am happy for him. I’m just cautious.” He faced Sasha who still had Gortys in her arms then to Loader Bot. “You ready to go home, guys?”
“Boy, am I!”
“Take us away from this depressing graveyard. I do not want to think about mortality.”
“Who doesn’t?” Vaughn coaxed, shaking his head.
As all of them exited the lab, Gortys emulated a sigh of relief. “I know I’ve only been in there for a day but I did miss looking at the moon. It’s so pretty. I want to stargaze with you guys again.”
“Consider that a promise.” Sasha winked then yawned. “I’m so ready for bed.”
“Me too.” Fiona nudged Rhys. “To Helios?”
“Yeah. Helios-- Oh, yeah. Tim!” He ran down the cliffside towards Timothy and Felicity. “Timmy, we’re going to head to Helios instead of Sanctuary. I think you’re going to like it a lot better. It’s… really sandy like this place but I can introduce you to Yvette and--”
“Actually, Rhys? I um… I want to go back to Sanctuary.”
Rhys was taken aback by his reply. “Y-you do?”
“Y-yeah. No offense. I’ll definitely swing by something but I know Felicity and she would do much better not in an armed suit. She’s… kind of like me, you know? I want to give her a better home, so I thought: why not Sanctuary? I think you could really be a big help there.”
“Really?” Felicity echoed.
“I’m positive. No violence. No guns. Completely safe.”
Immediately taking his words the wrong way, Rhys chuckled, “Ohhhoh, I gotcha. I see. You two want some alone time. Catch up with each other. I got it.” He nudged Timothy’s arm with his elbow, who stared at him curiously.
“Ar--are you implying something?”
“What? No. Not at all. I mean, I know what I’m doing tonight but not what you’re… doing-- I’ll see you later.” He immediately thought against pointing finger guns at him in fear of accidentally shooting him and sauntered awkwardly back to the group.
“Your friend, Rhys, is… a bit stupid.”
“Yeah… he is.”
After dropping Timothy off at Sanctuary and reaching Helios safely, Fiona and Sasha hesitantly got off their bike. Fiona hurriedly took Rhys’s sleeve that pulled him back as he was walking.
“Yaah-?! What? What is it?”
“Rhys, we may have uh, stolen the last dune buggy from Yvette the last time we were here.”
“Yeah, I think she’d kill us if we walked in with you two.” Sasha agreed, nodding her head.
“Psshh, Yvette wouldn’t kill you.” Vaughn took a moment to think. “She’d… probably torture you. Mmm...”
Rhys chuckled awkwardly, “Yeah, you two… messed with the wrong kind of person.”
“Perfect.” Sasha muttered, putting a hand to her head.
Fiona adjusted her hat. “Ok, well, I can uh, probably figure something out.”
“You want us to stay with you just in case?” Vaughn offered, “We both had to hold her back a number of times. Right, Rhys?”
“Oof, yeah. Good times. We’ll try not to get too much in the way. Just you know, in the back. Where Yvette can’t see us.”
“I got an idea. Walk behind us, then she’ll have to go through us to get to you.”
“That’s a good plan. Come on, let’s go.”
The two sisters exchanged eye rolls since neither of them were able to get a word in before the two idiots decided a plan for them.
“Let’s just see how this goes. I’ve got a plan of my own… if it works.” Fiona whispered to her, a twinge of fear flavored the last three words.
“It if works? Fi, we could just run for it. Our bikes are out here.”
Gortys rolled up to them. “What are you guys talking about? Are you worried?”
Fiona smiled sweetly at the little robot. “We’re going to be just fine, Gortys.”
“Yvette is not as bad as you think she is! She can be really nice.”
Internally, they agreed that Yvette was only nice to Gortys because, well, look at her. She’s adorable and didn’t steal a car from behind her back.
Helios did not change a bit since their adventure. Everything looked the same. At the sight of the group, the gaggle of ex-Hyperions squawked excitedly at their return of their King, Vaughn, and ‘God’, Rhys. The abundance of noise aroused Yvette away from the monitors. She grinned from ear to ear as she trotted down the steps in heels. “Vaughn! Rhys!” When she got closer, she stepped back in disgust. “You two are covered in blood!”
The two smirked and grabbed her after she attempted to escape, pulling her into a firm embrace.
“A little dry blood won’t kill anyone, Yvette.” Vaughn cooed, squeezing her.
“Both of you are sooo lucky that I actually like you.” She huffed but returned the hug. She nuzzled Rhys’ cheek. “It’s great to see you safe, Rhys.”
Rhys squealed, “Awww! You do care!”
Yvette flicked his ear as they dropped the embrace. Gortys rolled over to her and wrapped her little arms around her leg. “It’s so good to see you!”
She patted Gortys’ head. “And I’m glad you’re safe, Gortys. You too, Loader Bot.”
Loader Bot greeted her with a robotic pat on the head that made her giggle.
Then her attention turned onto Fiona and Sasha. Her smile immediately transformed into a grimace.
Vaughn snatched her arm before she faced them. “They are here to apologize, Yvette.”
“Yeah, go easy on them. They saved my life a couple of times today, in-including Vaughn and Timothy.”
“Timothy? You know what, I don’t care right now. Let me go.” Vaughn released her and she strutted to the sisters until she was about one foot distance away from them. Her arms crossed and narrowed gaze, she clicked her tongue, “Well?”
Sasha glared back. “‘Well’, what?”
“You know what.”
Fiona cleared her throat, “We--” Sasha frowned at her. “We are sorry for stealing your buggy, but it was for a good cause.”
“Right, and where is it now?”
“In a ditch.” Sasha replied, flatly.
“But!” Fiona resumed, “Outside right now are two new motorcycles that we can give to you and I can tell you where we got them.”
Sasha joined, “Yeah, one’s got a sidecar so you can carry as much loot as you want.”
“That does sound… inviting. But--”
“What if!” Fiona interrupted, her hands were becoming sweaty at the thought of what she was going to say next. “I take you out-- to eat… food. Just the two of us.”
Yvette gawked at her for a moment that felt like forever. Meanwhile, Sasha, Rhys and Vaughn, ogled at her in stunned silence. “You want to take me out… on a date?”
“Uhhhhh, yyyyyes. Tomorrow. We’re more than just Pandorian scum. I know a nice place, w-where there’s pizza and uh, drinks. It won’t be the ah, Hyperion style that you’re used to but… it’s got charm.”
“Yes, in it’s own… Pandorian way.”
Yvette hummed. Her face twisted in a way that she could not identify, but her smile caught her off guard. “You got a deal, but you got the bill.”
“I can afford it.”
“We’ll see by tomorrow, Fiona. Sasha.” She scratched a sleepy out of her eye. “I’m going to bed. Goodnight.”
“Night, Yvette.” Rhys called as she walked out of the space towards a door on the left side. When she finally left, he beamed at Fiona. “Well, well, well.”
“Shut up.” Blush crept up her neck.
“Fi.” Sasha nudged.
“What?? I remember Rhys saying that she liked food so that’s… what I did… And she’s pretty.”
“Aaawww! That’s so sweet!” Gortys cried, clasping her hands.
Fiona groaned, covered her face with her hands. “Leave me alone, all of you. I’m going to bed.” She pointed at the three. “And don’t any of you try to follow us.”
“No promises.” Sasha called out as Fiona left in a huff. “At least she’s finally comfortable... Goodnight, guys.”
Finally, Vaughn and Rhys were alone. In Vaughn’s room on Helios. Yup, Rhys did not have a metaphorical boner while he waited for Vaughn to come out of the bathroom. He exhaled loudly and threw himself down on the bed. He has had sex before, of course he has. It never felt right. He didn’t understand the appeal. It was hot and uncomfortable and overstimulating. At the time he was still binding his chest. He was too scared to take it off, which led him to having a panic attack on one of the nights he and Stacy were sharing. Thankfully, she was courteous enough to help him through it. Vaughn was somewhat correct by saying that neither one knew what they wanted out of that relationship. It was his real first love. He didn’t regret the relationship entirely; he even loved her still, but platonically. The relationship was a dumb but fortunate choice for both of them, because they learned a lot about themselves in that year and a half period and that progressed in a way that neither one was happy with the other. In the end, they ended on somewhat bad terms. There was some cursing. Rhys remembered a hot curling iron being thrown at him that burned his hand for two weeks. It left him scared to fall in love again, even though he already was in love with Vaughn.
It wasn’t love at first sight like with Stacy. It grew and it molded until it bloomed sporadically while he was hiding along with ATLAS tech as he tried to rebuild himself. He broke down sobbing at the realization until he swallowed it for a whole year. It had withered and now it was rejuvenating, building inside his chest. It was ready to burst.
He examined his chest. The tattoos. The surgery scars. Things were different now. A lot different. He actually felt comfortable about his body than he did in his college years...
They had to fuck, right? It’s like an unwritten contract of having a relationship, right? Rhys bit his finger nails. Would Vaughn love him any less if he couldn’t do it? Sure, he can blow him. He’s done that before, but that wasn’t the same.
When he heard the bathroom door creak open, he ran his fingers through his damp hair and heaved a shaking breath. He sat up and opened his mouth to greet Vaughn but his tongue refused to work. Vaughn already saunters around parading his chiseled abs like he should, but tonight, with this kind of tension in the air, Rhys felt more intoxicated than before when he first saw his muscles.
“Rhys? My eyes are up here.”
“Aaahh?” Rhys coughed, “Yyyup, they are up there.”
“Heheh, you look good, you know.”
“You sure…? I feel like a toothpick compared to you.”
“Pfff, you’re not a toothpick!” Vaughn snickered as he plopped down beside him. He pecked his cheek as he slipped his arm around his waist. “You’ve got muscle, bro.”
“I have to carry this team, somehow.”
Vaughn snorted, breaking into laughter. “You know? I saw that coming, yet I was not prepared for it.”
Rhys caressed his thighs and closed the gap between them. “Are you prepared for this?”
Vaughn pulled him down on top of him, stroking his fingers down his torso. “I’m more than ready.”
As Rhys leaned into him, he paused. Anxiety consumed his mind more than he originally thought.
Vaughn opened his eyes and gazed at him, worryingly. “Rhys? What’s wrong?”
“I… Vaughn, am I reading this wrong?”
He blinked. “Uh, I mean, you are on top of me?”
“No, I me-- ahh… Are we… are we going to sex each other?”
“If you want to?”
“Right, okay, um, what if… I don’t? Want to? Like, I love you, I love you so much, bro. We both know I’ve done this before, but it never felt right? I know this is different like, wayyyyy different. Like, condom worthy stuff. I never experienced that. I love you. I love this. Especially this, it’s like a bonus, like holy shit? You look damn good and I want to kiss you all over, but I don’t know, the thought of having a part of you inside me like THAT is freaking me out. I know I should get over myself and just do it, but, god, I am anxious and overstimulating just thinking about it and--”
“Whoa, whoa. Whoa. Rhys.”
“And like this is what people like us DO, right?? We-- we have sex and have fun. But that really doesn’t sound like fun to me. It feels so gross. It’s not because I don’t trust you!! I don’t love you any less! It-it’s just how I am. I even have dreams of you going down on me and it felt good?? Cause, like that’s not sex, right? It’s like a blowjob or somethin-- Am I getting off track? I feel lightheaded. Is it just me or is the room--”
Vaughn cupped his hands around his face and forced him to look him in the eye. “Rhys! Stop talking.”
“But, but, but but--” His mouth was held shut by Vaughn’s lips. For a moment, there was a wave of relief that flooded his mind as he kissed back.
“As much as I would love to bend you over, I’m flexible. If you’re not comfortable with that, I’m happy to do something else with you. I’m serious, Rhys. I love you a whole lot. I don’t want you to be in distress just so I can have fun. If you just want to cuddle, we can do that. It’s okay. I love you.”
“I love you too...” He pressed his forehead against him. “You just so… so great… I hate to like, totally kill the mood, but I really want to just kiss you until you are fucking bruised all over and can’t walk straight.”
The sultry grin on his face made his heart catch fire as goosebumps formed on his skin when Vaughn slowly kissed his neck, nibbling it gently. The fact that his fingertips travelled down his spine was helping him not not be turned on.
“Goddammit, Vaughn, are you tr--that’s your tongue- aaahaha ok-- that--mmmmm that’s really--mmnn… Hand down pants. That is your HANd down my paahahahaaANTS--Mmphh!”
“Shut up,” Vaughn spoke into his mouth as he pinned him onto the bed. Rhys moaned louder as if to prove a point that was quickly lost along the way out as Vaughn felt between his thighs. Immediately losing his composure and sense of control, Rhys roughly pulled Vaughn into him to cement the kiss. He whined when Vaughn pulled away and groaned ‘I love you’ into his ear as pressed his mouth onto his jaw, which caused shivers up his spine. That’s it. Vaughn tugged Rhys’ pants off until they were down by his knees. He was going down on him.
Meanwhile, in Sanctuary, Felicity’s robot suit was parked outside the Crimson Raiders’ HQ, deactivated. Two soldiers stopped Timothy from entering the building. Inconspicuously, he shoved Felicity’s personality ship into his pocket.
“Um, yeah, what is that?”
“A new weapon for the Crimson Raiders. Rhys and Fiona found it while we were looking for a friend of theirs. So I brought it here.”
The raider glanced at the other to his left then back at Timothy. “What’s it got?”
“Laser canon, rocket launchers, I’m sure this baby’s got plenty of crap up its… sleeve. Metaphorically speaking. I’ll demonstrate it in the morning to Lilith. You guys will love it. Can I go inside now?”
“It’s got the Hyperion logo written all over it. Are you really sure we can trust it.”
“Uh, yeah. It’s got Hyperion all over it because it was made of Loader Bots and… whatever else Hyperion’s made. What? Do you think it has a bomb on it or something? Go ahead and check it. I just want to sleep.” Timothy pushed the armed raiders aside and inside the headquarters. The two raiders stared at each other then the robot suit.
The one on the right side nudged him. “You heard him. Check it.”
“Hell, no! I’m not going near that thing. What if it comes back to life when I touch it?”
“You touch it, Fred!”
Already upstairs, Timothy rolled his eyes at their arguing and slipped the chip in the slot on the holoboard in the middle of the room. For a minute straight, the monitors flipped out and glitched aggressively. One of them short circuited, making a popping noise and coughing heavily. Timothy held his breath, folding his hands in a prayer that his idea would work. Suddenly, each monitor turned off then back on showing Felicity’s face. Then the holoboard activated, projecting from her lower torso to her head. Felicity blinked and looked down at Timothy, who gawked at her with his mouth wide open.
He coughed out a laugh. “It-- it worked...!”
Felicity searched the room. She flinched at the screens that showcased her face. “That is… disturbing.”
“Y-you want me to turn them off?”
“Let me try first.” Felicity waved her hand over the screens and one by one each monitor hanging from the wall turned off. “This is… exciting.”
“You like it?”
“It’s much better than being inside that gun suit. There’s so much data in here. How exactly am I going to help these people, Timothy?”
“Uh, I don’t know just yet. Don’t take this personally, but I was kinda hoping that if I brought you here that… they’d take me more seriously… as me? You know? Not a Handsome Jack look alike.”
“I can understand that. He did have… quite the impact on people.”
“Is that what the computers are telling you?”
Felicity was still momentarily. Timothy could see that there were 1s and 0s in her eyes. “Yes. He murdered so many. I supposed I was the beginning of that.”
“Technically, it was the Merrif but… yeah.” He shrugged as he stood up. “I don’t know if that was his plan all along or he really was like us and something just sparked at one point. All I want is to be me. You know?”
“That is something we both have in common.”
“What? Being accepted. That… yeah-- yeah. I’m really sorry.”
Felicity waved his apology aside. “No need for any more of that. I have already forgiven you.”
“Right, okay. Weird question? Do you have legs?”
“Yes? I don’t really see the point of having them, seeing as I am made of light.”
“A voice without a body is kind of jarring, I guess. S-say do you think there’s a way to project yourself out here? Like stand next to me?”
“Why the sudden interest?”
“Aren’t you curious about what you can do? You can actually walk around. Maybe, like, like, after they agree with me, we can make sure you can walk all over Sanctuary and--- do! Stuff! Help people! Instead of being cooped up here.”
She moved a loose strand of hair back over her ear. “You do make all this sound exciting… Alright. I’ll try.”
She brought her legs up and over the table, levelling herself down onto the floor. She stood there for a moment to make sure she was not going to fall through.
“One step at a time now...”
She moved her left leg forward, then her right. So far so good. She gazed up to Timothy, who was beaming at her. He urged her with his hands to keep going. Another step, another, and another, she walked until she reached the door to the balcony. She held her hand to the outer world. She gasped. The light constructing her arm flickered and glitched. It felt numb She stumbled backwards, hugging herself.
Timothy reached out to console her but as his hand grazed through her shoulder it was shoved right through her.
“You’re surprised, Timothy?”
"I… I guess so. I don’t know why I expected that I could touch you.” He shook his head. “Nevermind that! You were walking! That’s awesome.”
“Yes, the little victories.” Felicity attempted a spin and laughed at herself out of spite of her dread. “Haha, I can make myself dizzy! That’s new.”
Timothy gleely stomped in place before whisking over to her, hovering his hands on her shoulders. “Hemos estado sentados lo suficiente. Levántate! Bailemos!”
Felicity blinked. “You-- want me to dance with you?”
“Sí, sí! Vamos,” He prattled on, telling her where to put her hands and to follow his lead. She had never seen such a joyful expression upon his countenance. He hummed a song from his heart as he showed how to step in time to the beat. Amazed at his assertiveness, Felicity followed along, lagging only a second behind. She couldn’t help giggling at the ridiculousness of it all. She wasn’t programmed for dancing like this, but it did give her a sense of happiness while doing it.
It was until Timothy was breathless from singing did they stop flouncing around. Timothy grabbed the side of his stomach as he sat down. “I-I think I’m still sore from today.” He lifted his shirt up to unveil a large bruise forming. “Oh. That’s why.”
“When the hell did you get that?”
“Uh, I may did a dumb thing and like… jump off a sand skiff going, I don’t know, 80? Into a, um, a pirate with like a uh, shotgun? Not the most… graceful thing I’ve done, but at least I didn’t crash like Vaughn did.”
“You’re still reckless even after six years?”
“F...six years? That’s how long it’s been?”
“Yes.” She gazed at him, concerned. “Why do you look so distraught.”
“Felicity. I was on the moon for six years straight. I lost my name for… I don’t know. I was living under the guise of Handsome Jack for so long. Hiding, surviving on scrap… Six. Years? I was doing that… for six years?”
“... Would you like me to leave you alone?”
“No! Please, don’t. I couldn’t stand if-- if I was alone.” He met her gaze. “I-I want to move on from this… I don’t want to talk about it. The past. It’s horrible.”
She nodded slowly. “As you wish. If possible, I would like to test out more of my abilities.”
“Augh, yeah. Absolutely. What do you got?”
Felicity fabricated back into the holoboard and tapped a finger to her chin. “Let’s start off with the lights.”
By saying the word, the overhead lights turned on and off, on, off, on, off.
“... You can make this place into a haunted house. Cool.”
“I was not trying to do that on purpose. I don’t think this machine is fully connected to other electronics in this room.”
“Yeah. I’m not an engineer. I’d probably electrocute myself if I tried.”
“... The probability is approximately 98.9 percent chance of you dying to that shock.”
“Nice.” He coughed. “So, what all did Gladstone program in you?”
“That is a good question.” Her eyes lit up a bright shade of green. “Oh! There’s a lot in here. It’s… overwhelming.”
“Start with the ones most comfortable for you then.” He noticed Felicity’s pursed lips and suggested. “Uh, how about math? I can ask you to solve something.”
“That sounds duoable.”
“Okay, uhhhh… what is…. 78 divided by 9?”
“8.6 rounded to 7.”
“... I’ll assume that’s correct.”
“It is correct.”
“Okay, Miss Know-it-all. Saaaaaay… What are you doing in my basement in Jarmanic.”
“Was machst du da im Keller?”
“What’s the total mass of Pandora?”
“6.4169 x 1023 kilograms.”
“How tall am I?”
“Ha-ah! Trick question! It’s 6”2.”
“... You’re 6”1, Timothy.”
“... and a half?”
Felicity scoffed, putting a hand to her mouth to subdue a laugh. “You are quite the character, Timothy.”
“Is that a compliment?”
“I mean that how you think is interesting to me. In a good way. I would not think to ask those kinds of questions.”
“I ah, have more?”
She shrugged. “Why not? I’ll answer anything I can.”
For another two hours, Timothy had her answering even the most absurd questions to discussing life and how it affects the world around them. From slag waste to frostbite, Timothy never felt more at ease to have a conversation. Topics he originally found boring and useless rekindled to something enjoyable because of Felicity.
There was not a moment of silence between them as he renacted his times during college. The thought of Rhys never came to him. He talked about him, but not in such a flamboyant way. He didn’t galavant into how wonderful he was. Realistically speaking, Rhys wasn’t a great friend at the time but neither was he. Watching Felicity laugh at his foolish nature, he found his heart choking him by the throat.
He swallowed hard. “I think I falling in love with you, Felicity.”
Her ringing laughter abruptly stopped. She gazed him in wonder, tilting her head. “You love me, Timothy?”
“I think so, or I could still be running off the adrenaline of finally being able to see you again. I can’t really figure out my own emotions anymore. It’s ah, probably after twelve at this point, I should sleep. I’m probably talking out of my ass. Hell, I could be totally lying to myself again. Who knows at this point?” He forced himself to laugh to lighten the mood but it quickly fell short when he saw her face wearing unbridled worry.
She spoke surprisingly slow, “Timothy. I would like to test a scanning feature I required from Gladstone. May I scan you?”
“Sure. Why not?” As he watched the light travel up and down his body, he inquired, “What’s the scan for?”
“The new features help me understand the medical side of people. I’m not sure why he gave a military AI this feature along with everything else. With this, I can at least help the doctors and scientists in Sanctuary. This scan will tell me your heart rate, your brain type, blood type, and things like that. It is still a work in progress from what I can tell. Scan complete.” There was a breath of silence, then she continued. “Heartbeat is 100 bpm. You were diagnosed with DID (dissociative identity disorder) when you were twelve. You discovered your fear of heights at the age of seven. You suffer from hypermetropia, also known as distance vision and most likely need reading glasses. You are allergic to the protein in fur, common house plants, and fish.”
“Fish?? I’m allergic to fish?” Timothy sat there, bewildered, “I thought it was expired...”
“Your blood type is O negative. Diagnosing the state of the brain…. My… there’s a lot of emotions here.”
“Tch, welcome to my life.”
“Confusion. There’s a twinge of happiness but also there is apathy that attempts to hide it. Anxious that is accompanied by nervousness. In your other personality I scanned: joy, he’s at ease, mostly. There’s a bit of fear. Self deprecation in the back of his head. I found only one identical emotion that both of you share.”
Nausea seeped into his stomach. He gulp, rubbing the bridge of his nose. “Goddammit, just say it.”
“You don’t look ashamed.”
“I don’t know. You have the technology. You figure it out.”
Felicity glared at his sarcastic tone. “I don’t have the ability to read your mind, Timothy Lawrence.”
“Really? You’re bringing the last name?” Timothy threw his hands up. “Fine! You want to know what’s really on my mind? I keeping falling for people I can’t have. I’m out of Moxxi’s league, Janey is gay, Athena’s gay! Nisha’s dead. Rhys has Vaughn, it’s really weird to even think about me being with either Fiona or Sasha, and you’re an AI who had an insufferable relationship with what’s his face because of your programming! You probably can’t even love me back! I can’t even touch you! I’m the living concept of being disrespectful by… existing! And honestly? After saying all of that to you? Jumping off that balcony sounds amazing right now.”
Somehow, the door to the balcony slammed shut so forcefully that Timothy was convinced that was not the wind.
“Ok… you can shut doors now.”
“Saying I’m incapable of love by being an AI is stereotyping.” She snarled, leaning over him. Her glare softened as she looked downcast, “And don’t you dare say things like that so nonchalantly. It’s scary.”
“You’re… You’re right. I don’t… I don’t have an excuse for saying that. I’m sorry.”
Felicity sighed. “As long as you listen, I forgive you.”
“Thanks… I’m sorry I always ruin… everything. Can we go back to talking about, I don’t know, something? That’s not this? Please, just forget I said anything. Please...”
He was ashamed, Felicity concluded. That was not something for her to sort out for him. “… I do want to ask you something.”
“Can you read? Sorry-- I didn’t mean to sound degrading, I meant like--” She flusteredly explained with her hands. “You see I can read files and everything but when it comes to real books, I’m just a projection-- I can’t.”
“You,” he laughed breathlessly, “You want me to read you something?”
“I-- well, if it’s possible. I know books on Pandora are considered frivolous but I would like to know what isn’t documented on the ECHO.net. That and… I am trying to disassociate your voice from Handsome Jack to, well, you. Does it still hurt?”
He rubbed his throat, “All the damn time. You’d think because I talk so much I’d get vocal fry or something. Anyway, I can try to find something downstairs. Brb.”
Whistling as he dropped hopped down the flights of steps, he did his best to ignore the empty beds, but one look at them made his shoulders droop. Right, they were at Helios. It was his fault for choosing Sanctuary, wait, he stopped himself, there’s no fault here, I wanted to be here. I wanted to make sure Felicity was okay. He scoffed at himself and searched the lockers and washing machines before finding books scattered around the crates in the corner of the room. He scooped up the five and squinted at the titles, moving them back and forth away from his face.
“God, I miss my glasses… It’s not like people know Jack that damn well with his perfect goddamn vision. 20/20, my ass.” He eventually read the first cover call Princess Bride, the other three books were philosophical and biology, the last one was... “Vored by a Varkid--what? Ew… but also morbidly interested.”
He took the books and hauled up the stairs. In one motion, he plopped himself down on the sofa and dropped the books beside him. He grabbed the first one his hand was one to read out loud to her… which was Vored by a Varkid, nevermind. He tossed that aside. “Ok, Felicity. We got Philosophy and You, Princess Bride, What’s The Matter With My Philosophy?, and What’s In You -- The Biology Of Everything. Which one?”
“What about the one that fell on the floor?”
“You don’t want to know what that one is.”
She raised a brow at him.
Huffing, Timothy snatched the novel. “Vored by a Varkid.” Her face twinged. “See?”
“But why did you bring it?”
“I have a morbid curiosity of how someone can fuck those things. Look at that image, it’s gross lookin’! At least the girl-- I think it’s a Siren-- is having a good time? Somehow?”
She pursed her lips. “... Timothy, do you not know what vore is?”
“Uhhhh, should I?”
“You, um, best read that on your own time.”
“Which one then?”
“Philosophy and You sounds the most inviting.”
“¡Órale! Esta bien chido.”
“You spoke Artemis again.”
“Arte-- oh, yeah. I got uh… it got boring on the moon. I read a lot, learned a language or two. It just slips out, I guess.”
“Can you read it like that?”
“What like? Translate this? Oh, jeez, I have trouble reading as if.”
Felicity laughed at his exaggerated stare down at the book, “You don’t have to do that. You should invest in some reading glasses.”
“I did have some but Dr. Balls for a Face threw them away saying that Handsome Jack cannot be seen with glasses!” He blew a raspberry. “Wah wah wah, he could have at least given me contact lenses.”
“Sounds like a charming man.”
“Yeah, he was… something.” Timothy flipped through the cover page, passed the introduction section, which was a good twenty pages until finding chapter one. Although his reading was slow due to his disability, Felicity did not mind. She sat down on her invisible chair, listening attentively with her eyes closed and a small smile on her lips. Taking his voice out of context of Handsome Jack, it was indeed a pleasant voice to listen to.
The night seemed to pressed on fast as the clock pictured the numbers: 4:12 am. Timothy had moved onto reading the badly written smutty book out loud because Felicity too had become curious about the biology of the book. After reading four long chapters of a book that inspired thought provoking feelings, this novel was a slap to the face with how remarkably horrible it was at describing genitals. The two were laughing so hard that Timothy was brought to tears.
“Awhgod, I’m so tired-- I think we are almost done with this, though.”
“You should really sleep, Timothy. You’re a living person, unlike me.”
“Yeah, but, you won’t be able to talk to anyone if I’m sleeping.”
“I just,” He yawned, “I wanna keep you company.”
“You’ve been very sweet to do that already, bringing me here. I can already tell that I’ll be a big help to them. You need to be rested if you’re going to show me off to this Lilith.”
He sniffled and rubbed his nose. He put his elbows onto the holoboard and gazed up at her. “I’m not really good at sleeping.”
“My diagnoses didn’t pick up on insomnia.”
“No, I just… hate sleeping in silence. I used to have monitors in my house that would play music and stuff but down here I don’t have that. I tried to play the radio once, but Sasha threw a pillow at me. The radio is broken now.”
“I… can attempt to sing you to sleep?”
“You’d do that...?”
“It was not necessarily what I was programmed for by Gladstone did install many frivolous things in my files.”
“Singing isn’t frivolous. It’s supposed to be, I don’t know, pretty.” Timothy began singing sleepily, “There ain’t no rest for the wicked~ Money don’t grow on trees~ I got… bills to pay, got mouths to feed--” He yawned again. “--Till we close our eyes for goooood.”
Felicity giggled. She had become somewhat charmed by his sweet nature. “Alright. I’ll try something.” She sucked in a breath and slowly drew out a low, pensive tone, “Where have all the good men gone and where are all the gods? Where's the streetwise Hercules to fight the rising odds?”
Although she could not touch him, she reached her hand out to pet his hair. As expected, her limb went through his head and he flinched in response, mumbling something. She drew back. There was no use pretending she could give him comfort physically and yet… She put her hand on his head, stroking his loose hair as she sang. She wasn’t sure how but Timothy reacted accordingly. His posture relaxed a lot more and she could see the corner of his mouth lifted up slightly. He was trying to sleep. There was no way he could see what she was doing. It’s possible that he could the electric energy? She hypothesized.
She couldn’t tell when he fell asleep. Unlike the Baron, he didn’t snore in his sleep, but she could see his breathing was much deeper than before. She ended her sixth song with a sigh. She gazed to the balcony at the sun glimmering over the horizon. Today was going to be her day. A fresh start. A new chapter in her life. She could feel it.
Chapter 5: Stipulation Arises
It's been years since everyone has seen each other. As usual, history repeats itself and as usual it's under life threatening circumstances.
Please note that I know only the portions that were shown in the official BL3 livestream alongside Rhys’ introduction as well as speculation of Timothy Lawrence possibly being the guy next to Hammerlock. Everything else I’d like to be limited so that the game can be fresh for me when it comes out. With that in mind, I cannot wait 4 months to have my fic gets blown to shreds by canon but do I give a shit? Nah.
now that we are in the end of the journey, I also have made a playlist to go along with all that has happened within this fic: right here.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
There was a song in his head as Timothy looked over his note cards and circled the holoboard. His feet hopped to an invisible beat. Felicity watched him with keen interest. A small smile appeared upon her lips when she heard him reading his script out loud. He moved onto the next card and puckered his lips. He hummed, flipping it to the backside then to its front again.
Timothy even decided to wear a different clothes for the occasion, since his old Hyperion clothes were more or less out of date. Due to the how high they were in the air, he decided to keep on a leather jacket that combated with a white wife beater shirt alongside his black pants. The rubber band that served as his hair tie hung on his wrist. His hair brushed along his neck as he paced, while one stray strand continued to invade his line of sight but Timothy did not give it much mind.
“Should I use myself as an example here or like, get someone from the audience? I’m thinking that could add more pizazz. It wouldn't look like we scripted it, you know? Not that they wouldn’t believe me, but you know, just in case.”
“I think that’s a good idea. Do you have a specific person?”
“Eh, well, I thought about Athena but I don’t think she’d appreciate that much, because she like… really closed off. Mordecai is a maybe. I don’t know about that big guy. Lilith makes me uncomfortable… I don’t know, maybe, maybe Fiona?”
“Why don’t you just ask for a volunteer? If not, then I can diagnose you again.”
“Oh. Yeah, that works. Thanks.”
“Pssshshh, me? Nervous--” He looked at her all knowing eyebrow raise and stopped. “Fine, I won’t argue. Yes. I’m nervous.”
“I really want them to give you a chance. That’s all.”
“I can tell by the note cards you spent the morning on.”
“Aheh, yeah… I want to be believed. If i just handle this like I’m acting again, I won’t mess up… too badly.”
“You’ll do great.”
Timothy coughed into his fist. “Tha-thanks. Felicity. You’ll do awesome, too. I know you will. A-and thank you for helping me with this.” Hearing the door open downstairs, he dropped his notes in a panic. “Crap, hide, hide! Wait for my signal. You remember the signal, right?”
“How can I not--?”
Flickering her form, Felicity became transparent as Timothy gathered up his cards and stupidly threw them aside. He briefly let his hair down to fix it once more before putting it up into a ponytail. He sucked in a breath and exhaled hard. Rolling his neck, he repeated the words in his head. “Don’t suck, don’t suck, don’t suck.”
“Sup?” Lilith announced herself into the room as Mordecai, Brick, Athena, and Janey trailed behind her.
“Uh, yeah, sup?” Timothy attempted to mimic her relaxed tone but due his nervous tick of drumming his fingers, he appeared more stressed than at ease.
“Wow, you cleaned up.” Janey eyed him, showing a bit of surprise.
“Ye-- I wasn’t expecting you to come by, Janey. What’s--uh, what’s the occasion?”
“We’re going a date after this.” Athena answered, “Going on a joy ride.”
“Joy ride. That sound--sounds fun! I’ll try not to keep you here too long.”
“Uhhh, why are the monitors off?” Lilith pointed with her thumb to the wall of screens behind her. “These are never to go off.”
“Oh. Well. It’s because of of of testing last night.”
“Without my permission?”
“It wouldn’t be a surprise if I asked.”
“Tim. That’s sketchy as all hell.”
“Hey, it’s worth-- the sketchiness, alright? Trust me, for once.”
Brick opened. “Yeah, right. Where is it?”
“Yea. Not-not an it-- uh...”
“Brick… You still scare me, okay. What I am showing you is here, in this room, you just cannot see… the thing. This is big. Okay? Huge. Going to help everyone in Sanctuary, might even help build a better Sanctuary. Keep it safer. Look, I’m trying to create suspense here. ”
“Oh, trust me, we are all in suspense, kid.” Lilith jested, rolling her eyes. “Can we hurry this up?”
“I, I asked for a couple other people to be--” He heard multiple feet come up the flight of stairs. “Here they come. Good. Good.”
“Keep breathing.” Felicity whispered to him.
“What was that?” Mordecai sat up from his chair.
“What? There was nothing. No one spoke.” He cleared his throat, addressing Rhys, Vaughn, Fiona, Sasha, and Yvette. “Thanks for coming on short notice, guys. You two look like hell, what happened? Rhys, you’re walking funny.”
Rhys quickly covered the hickies on his neck with his hand. “What? Nothing! Nothhhing. We’re fine. Just sore from uh, those fights last night, right, Vaughn?”
“Yes!” Vaughn piped up. “Completely fine. Don’t pay attention to us.”
“... You sure--Okay.” He ran his fingers through his hair as he took his place by the holoboard. “Thank you, everything for coming here despite your busy schedules. I’m uh, Timothy… Lawrence, or Jack in some cases, as, as everyone here knows… Welcome to my, uh, TIM Talk. I’m glad that all of you came here, ah, safely.”
“Wait wait wait, TIM talk?” Lilith intervened, extending her arms. “What the hell does that mean?”
“Technical Intelligent Machines Talk.”
“Oh. Oh, I seriously thought you were naming it after yourself.”
“Uhh, no. I like to hope I’m not, um, not that egotistical. Anyway, please, hold all questions after this procedure.” Swiftly, his awkward cadance switched over to a more confidence speech. “Even though I have been here for a short time, I have noticed the lack of consistency in this town. So much so that everyone relies on the help of Vault Hunters. I have nothing against Vault Hunters since I am, in fact, one. However, there are instances where a Vault Hunter will not be much help. I know we have and I say it loosely, a doctor in the medical field, but what if I told you that I have someone that can tell you, with 100% accuracy, what is actually going on inside your brain. A skilled doctor in Pandora can only do so much. I have someone who can analyze a wound, how long it has been infected for, how to treat it, etc. The times that we need to amputate a limb can be minimized because of this person. What I’m telling you is only 5% of what she can actually do. There’s so much more to her. She’s so complex and so full of knowledge that I have yet to know because I don’t know what to ask her. What I do know is that she can fill a purpose here on Sanctuary. Allow me to introduce you to Felicity.”
Flickering into view, Felicity appeared over the holoboard and forced a nervous smile at everyone staring at her.
“Felicity? You… how did you find her?” Athena stepped up.
“Hello, Athena. I see you remember me.” Her gaze glided over her, no doubt the memories were flooding back to her gave her an uncomfortable stance. “Do you remember Gladstone?”
“He’s alive too?”
Timothy made an awkward hand gesture. “Uh, was. Keyword is ‘was’. He actually had Gor--”
Lilith scoffed. “Wait, isn’t she that military AI you had to kill before she tried to murder all of you?”
“People change, Lilith.” Timothy bored into her. “Gladstone programmed her to be more of an assistance than a murder machine. That thing outside? That is the death machine that I’ll go over later-- Felicity is much more complex. She can speak more languages you could ever imagine. She can build the strongest holds that you can never conceive. She is trustworthy and the perfect woman for any job you can give her. She’s like a learning sponge.”
Lilith eyed him through scrutiny as she stepped down. “Ok. Do you plan to show us then?”
“I do. The first test will be injuries. Would anyone like to volunteer?”
Yvette shoved Rhys forward. Fuming, he pointed an accusing finger at her. “No! No.”
“Hey, I’m not the one who--”
“You pushed me!”
Timothy tapped his shoulder. “Rhys, it’s harmless. She’s just going to scan you.”
Pouting, he grumbled, “Yeah, yeah, a scan. You know, it’s not like I’d had my share of trauma with stuff like this.”
“I’ve already finished scanning you, Rhys.” Felicity interjected, matter-of-factly.
“... That’s creepy.” He said in a high voice.
“Running diagnoses...” She blinked. “You have multiple bite marks on your neck and shoulders. Only a few have broken the skin but do not need to be treated. On your left hip, there is a scratch made by a MAT-49 bullet. The bleeding stopped five hours ago and has successfully going into the healing process. On the back of your right leg above the knee, there is an abrasion from fire grenade explosion that has developed into a second degree burn. The burn itself has subsided six hours ago, but you have applied a type of oil on it. You need to rub it off with a clean towel or it will be subject to an infection within another twenty-four hours. You also stubbed your toe on your right foot two hours ago this morning. Your toenail is bent. You only need to apply ice to the wound and remove the toenail with clippers.”
“Christ, Rhys.” Yvette gawked.
Without asking, Sasha walked over and pulled up Rhys’ pant leg, which made him squeak in surprise. “Yep, that is… mildly disgusting, damn.”
“Why didn’t you say anything?” Fiona asked, bending down to get a better look. “I thought you just burned your pants.”
“It did not… hurt at the time? I was focused on not dying for the most part and saving Vaughn’s ass.”
“Don’t you drag me into this.”
“You’re the one who was climbing a water tower!”
“How else was I supposed to get your attention while you were dive bombing like a maniac?”
“Hohoho! You’re calling me a maniac? You. Were climbing. A. WATER. TOWER. And you FELL! Wait, please tell me you did not do that on purpose?”
“Hell no, I-I slipped!”
“You could have died if I didn’t see you!”
“Oh my god, will you two just kiss already?” Lilith exaggerated, shaking her head with a smile.
Mordecai snorted. “Seriously.”
“Yeah, you two done bickering like you’re been married for twenty years?” Timothy poked, “Cause I still have a presentation to go through.”
Flustered, Rhys planted his gaze down to his shoes and mutter, “Sorry...”
“You put on my lotion, didn’t you?” Vaughn guessed, raising a brow.
“Yeah, you don’t ever use those for burns, bro.”
Timothy hid his discomfort by clearing his throat again. “Since you’re still up here, Rhys, we have another test we could--”
“Fine! Fine, just do it.”
“You’re uncomfortable.” Felicity stated.
Rhys gave a sarcastic laugh, “Oh, really? What gave you that idea?”
“My scan is thorough but I cannot read your mind. I can only assume that you are afraid of what I could say in front of these people who you may or may not trust. I do not aim to diminish you or claim that you are not as you claim to be. Your brain is similar to Timothy’s brain in the way of how you view yourself. As for diagnoses, your heart rate is 110 bpm. Your blood type is AB. You are allergic to gluten and latex. You have acrophobia, fear of heights, and thanatophobia, fear of death. You have suffered from anxiety, depression, and ADD since age six. Recently, as of a year ago, you began experiencing symptoms of PTSD: such as insomnia, panic attacks, the occasion nightmare, and becoming emotionally detached. I can tell by your brain activity that I am the one triggering you with stress. Shall I stop?”
“I’m not… stressed.” He argued back in vain. “I mean, half of those things you said are kind of easy to be seen. Name something that no one else has seen that I experience.”
Rhys stared with his mouth agape.
“I did not mention that beforehand, because I assumed it would trigger you--”
“What kind of hallucinations?”
“Rhys.” Vaughn urged.
“No. I want to hear this. Do you know what kind of hallucinations I get?”
“Auditory. Touch. However, I cannot say what you hear or feel.”
Rhys hands shook. “That, that… that’s… That’s extremely terrifying.”
“You gonna be okay, Rhys?” Timothy avoided any kind of contact when he took a glimpse at Vaughn’s panicked expression.
“I’m kinda… freaking out a little bit. That’s… that’s crazy that you can get all that from one scan? That’s… wow.”
“I’m sure Gladstone did a lot of research to--”
Timothy interrupted her. “Hey, that’s your compliment. Not his.”
“I’ll admit it. That is pretty cool.” Athena acknowledged with a nod.
“Just cool? That was impressive!” Janey squeezed her arm. “You don’t think you could do that with cars, do you?”
Felicity nodded. “I should be able to scan any vehicle for any kinds of mechanical issues.”
“Can I ask something?” Brick leaned towards her.
“How are you with strategies?”
“That’s a good question, Brick.” Mordecai nudged him with a gentle push on his hip.
“All depends on situation. Are you going to ask me a hypothetical instance?”
“No. I was gonna ask if you could make a campaign for Bunkers and Badasses?”
“Olvídalo, I take that back.” The rifleman hung his head.
Lilith finally let out a laugh.
Timothy could tell by her loose nature that Felicity was enjoying the possibility. “Would you like to test me?”
Timothy exhaled, pleased that she was winning his audience over. Except for Lilith, who was still holding a grudge.
“Not now, Brick. Listen, Felicity.” Lilith began, putting her hands on the edge of the holoboard. “I’m sorry, but I really don’t like the fact how perfect you are. It’s too suspicious. There has to be something you can’t do.”
As Felicity opened her mouth, Timothy butted in. “She is perfect, Lilith. She can be the best thing that has ever happened to Sanctuary if you stop being so paranoid!”
“I’m not paranoid! Do you think I’m paranoid?” She turned to Brick who did not meet her gaze. “Brick. Why are you not looking at me?”
“Timothy.” Felicity leaned forward for him to look at her. “You’re biased. I appreciate the compliment but I am far from perfect. While I do not know my limitations, I am happy to be tested in any way shape or form until it meets your requirements, Lilith.”
“Alright, I like the sound of that.”
“So she good to stay here?” Timothy barked, teetering on the edge of excitement.
“Yeah, your girlfriend can stay.”
“She’s not my girlfriend--I’m not in love with her!”
Lilith put her hands up in defense, “Whooaaaaa, okay. That was a pinched nerve and a half. Relax, kid, I was teasing.”
Timothy lost his voice at his own embarrassment. “.... Ah... R-right. I’m gonna… uh--” He was unable to finish his sentence before he bolted down the stairs.
Yvetted hummed, “Well, that was an interesting first impression.”
“That’s Timothy for you.” Rhys chuckled, “I can’t tell you how many times he ran away from his problems, you know, literally.”
“You mean like you?” Vaughn jested.
“Don’t project yourself onto me, Vaughn. That’s not nice.”
Foina steadfastly ignored him. “I’m going to check up on him. Make sure he hasn’t done anything stupid. C’mon, Yvette.”
Fiona did not have to look around long to find Timothy who had placed his head inside of the many washing machines. He was merely sitting there, contemplating his life.
“Man, and I thought Rhys was a mess.” Yvette commented to herself, smirking at the scene.
“Timothy.” Fiona called.
He looked at her through the glass hole, glaring. “Whaaaat?”
“I want to introduce you to everyone.”
He sighed as he hauled himself out of the washing machine. “Oh. Yeah, you’re new.”
“Timothy. Nic-nice to meet you, Yvette. I like your hair.”
“Thank you. You are already a lot nicer than any other person I’ve met on Pandora.”
“Yea, well, I was on the moon for a bit, so that might’ve changed some things. No offense, Fiona, but I thought you guys were going to take me to Helios after this?”
“Uh, plans… changed.” Fiona answered, giving Yvette a sideways glance.
“We’re going on a date here.”
“Everyone’s on a date today-- Are Vaughn and Rhys on a date too?”
“Not that I know of.” Fiona motioned with her head to follow her outside. “Gortys and Loader Bot have been sightseeing. She’ll love you.”
“She loves everyone.” Yvette corrected.
“It’ll be a nice change of pace for me.” Timothy laughed a little, drumming his fingers on his pants pocket.
In the middle of town, Gortys and Loader Bot were sitting on one of the few benches, looking up at the giant monument with the word Sanctuary etched onto it. As the three advanced towards them, Gortys immediately took notice of them and waved them down.
“Oh my god, she’s so cute.” Timothy said breathlessly, putting his hands to his cheeks.
“Gortys, Loader Bot,” She swept a hand towards Timothy. “This is Timothy. He helped us save you.”
Gortys rolled around his feet. “I feel like I’ve seen you before.”
“Uh, yeah, I get that… often. More than often… I just--I just have that kind of face, you know?” Timothy subtly nudged Fiona who was holding in a laugh.
“I guess so?”
Loader Bot gazed through him with his piercing red eye before finally patting him on the head. “You are a good boy.”
“Oh, tha thank you?”
“Hi guys!” Gortys suddenly greeted again. The three turned to see Vaughn and Rhys out of the building and walking towards them.
“Oh no...” Timothy mumbled, wishing he had a hat to cover his face.
Yvette confidently took Fiona by her hand. “Well, we best get to our date now. Won’t you lead me?”
Her cheeks flushed pink. Fiona shook her head in agreement and she guided her towards the arch. Timothy glared after them. Rhys’ giddy laugh pelted his heart. He looked over to see that Rhys has now picked Gortys up, giving her a hug.
“How was Felicity? Can I meet her now?”
“Not yet. I don’t know how long they are going to be.”
Vaughn answered, “She’s with Felicity. They are just running a few more tests.”
“I still want to play Bunkers and Badasses.” Rhys grumbled.
“I know you do.” Vaughn gave him a pat on the back as he glanced towards Timothy, who was continuing to awkward stand there and was determined to not meet his gaze. How would he even begin to apologize? Was apologizing allowed at this point?
“Could we play this time?” Loader Bot wondered.
“I want to play too!” Gortys agreed. “I wanna be the Siren!”
“Is that okay with you, Mister Siren?”
Rhys pouted. “Uh, yeah, it is, sure.”
Timothy swallowed hard after finally building up the strength to speak, “Hey, um, Vaughn? Rhys?”
“Yes?” Vaughn replied, hastily, his eyes narrowed.
“I’m… I’m really sorry about last night. I knew-- I think I knew what was going on between you two but I was just too… desperate? To realize what was goin’ on. I’m pretty dumb, but I just want to say that I am really, really sorry. If-if there’s anything I can do to make it up to you guys, I’ll do it, okay? I can totally… leave again if that--”
“Whoa, whoa, no.” Vaughn laughed, “listen, I’m sorry too about the whole-- you know.”
“Almost feeding him to worms?” Rhys finished, his arms crossed.
“I don’t have very good instincts at times.”
Timothy threw his arms up. “Hey, I deserved it.”
“No, no you didn’t. I get… really… really possessive. It’s something I need to just work on? So, that was on me.”
Rhys mumbled something.
“What was that?”
“Mm? Nothing. I didn't say a thing.”
"Yes you did!" Gortys encourage which was quickly met with Rhys shushing her.
"It was not meant for innocent ears."
"But I don't have ears!"
Vaughn pushed himself. “... In any case, I’ve been wanting to thank you, Tim, for letting me go after Rhys. Could have not called me shortstack, though.”
“That-- you’re welcome.” He nodded. “I wanted to make it up to you somehow.”
“Awww, but you’re fun sized.” Rhys giggled, in love with the blush on his boyfriend’s face. “You okay, bud?”
“What? What do you mean?”
“You went… you went apeshit. Do you not remember that?”
“Oh, did I? I mean, like, vaguely? All I can recall was being really pissed off… I didn’t kill anyone, did I?”
The two gazed at one another as they pondered. Vaughn turned to him, “No, I think you just broke a lot of their limbs.”
“I’m sure they’ll… be fine.” Rhys said somewhat assuredly before rubbing his neck. “Probably? I’ll stop. So uh, ahem, you--you did good job today.”
“You think so?”
“You really put your acting to work.” Vaughn acquiesced.
“That… that really means a lot, thanks. You guys. Does does this mean we are still friends or should I--”
“We are still friends, Tim.” Rhys smiled. “Honestly? To not be friends with me kind of takes a lot. You met Yvette, right? She kind of betrayed us for, you know, because Handsome Jack was in my head. I saved her while Helios was falling apart and we’re still friends.”
Vaughn huffed, “Yeah, thanks to me. I thought she let you die when she told me everything.”
Timothy blinked. “How is she alive still?”
“Oh, uh… well, she… she kept me hoping that Rhys was out there, because she was alive and… Rhys saved her, so I thought. I could keep trying to look for him? I did kind of threaten her the first few months together that I’d kill her if we couldn’t find him. I was… super scared.”
“Wow.” Timothy echoed. “You are possessive.”
“It’s hot, though.” Rhys happily giggled, which earned him a punch in the side from boyfriend. “Ow! I’m holding our child, Vaughn! Be gentle.”
“I’m starting to think that I got only a little taste of what Vaughn will do to make sure you are safe.”
Vaughn put his head into his hands. “Please, let’s stop talking about me… Please?”
Inside Moxxi’s Bar, Yvette surveyed the traffic light decor through a scrutinous gaze. It was trash in comparison to all the previous bars she had acquainted herself with. At least, it had a theme. She could do without Moxxi’s odd makeup, but she had a nice body to look at. She finally settled back onto Fiona, who was only holding the drink instead of sipping it. Her widened eyes blinked when they made eye contact.
“Uh, how’s your drink?”
Yvette rolled her glass around her hand. “It’s not good but it’s not bad. Yours?”
“Oh. Good. It’s good.”
“... You know I don’t bite, right?”
“Oh, no this is just… I’ve never been on a date before. A real one.”
She raised a brow. “A real one?”
“One that doesn’t involve stealing wallets or jewelry.”
“Ah. That’s a shame. I don’t have either one of those on me. Most of my shit burned up when Helios plunged.”
“Yeah, I’m… sorry about that.”
“That wasn’t your fault. That was all on Rhys… and Handsome Jack, but that’s besides the point. It was kind of a good thing that Helios crashed. Broken corporate shackles and all that. Vaughn kind of scared me straight when he found me. A good thing too. You remember how I was before, don’t you?”
“Yeah. You were pretty…. I mean pretty, um, uh...”
Yvette snorted a laugh. “You mean I’m not pretty now?”
“I--yes! You are pretty. I was trying to go somewhere with that but my brain… stopped...” She took a long sip out of her drink.
“You’re not even drunk and you’re tongue-tied!”
“I’m really not used to this.”
“First date jitters are pretty shitty thing to deal with. I should get you another drink.”
“Well, how come you aren’t, uh, jittering?”
“I’m not in control of the date.”
“It’ll wear off. Keep drinking.”
Fiona obliged with another sip and licked her lips. “So, what do you think of the place?”
“You were right. It does have it’s own Pandorian charm to it. I’m a little afraid to touch the pizza.”
“I promise, it’s not as bad as it looks.”
“I’ll take your word for it. C’mon, Fiona. Talk about yourself.”
“Is that what you do on a date?”
“You’re trying to prove to me that you’re more than Pandorian scum, remember?”
“... Right. Okay, my life wasn’t exactly extravagant. I don’t remember having any parents. It was just me and Sasha against the world… until Felix. He helped us get on our feet, helped us shape us to be con-artists.”
“And that was your choice?”
“He… exploited us but that was his mistake.”
“He pisses you off, don’t he?”
“A little bit.”
“Fiona, you’re going to break your glass if you keep squeezing it like that.”
Fiona removed her hand and shook off the tension in her fingers. “Okay, maybe, a lot.”
“So, all of you were into the get rich quick scheme. Sounds similar to two other idiots I know.”
“We are a bit similar, huh?”
“I’m honestly surprised he calls you his friend after what you went through.”
“You didn’t give a shit about them.”
“I… that’s true.”
“So what changed?”
“You know? I have no idea. I guess they grew on me. So, what’s your story?”
“You do not want to open that can of worms.”
“Fine. I was raised poor, somehow got into college, became an employee at Hyperion and nearly died because of it. That’s all you need to know.”
“What about dating?”
“The people who I dated? That’s not a good conversation to have on a first date.”
“I’m nosy and to me I think you have some really good stories.”
Yvette flicked a finger over in her direction. “You got that right. Alright, I’ll start with Rick. He was my third ex.”
“Wow, what happened with the first two?”
“Rhys stole the first one from me.”
Fiona’s jaw dropped.
“Don’t get ahead of me,” Yvette continued with a boisterous laugh. “Her name was Vicky. She was an accountant at Hyperion. And apparently she was using me to get to Rhys and Rhys turned her down because and I quote ‘Yvette would kill me’. I mean, we were a month into that relationship. We were still getting to know each other and I did have some feelings for her. If Rhys decided to keep her, I would not give a shit. So Vicky turns tail back to me and says that Rhys was hitting on her and that I shouldn’t be his friend anymore. Unfortunately for her, Rhys already told me what happened via ECHO. And-- they were so sweet -- both Vaughn and Rhys asked if I wanted to make her regret trying to cheat on me. Steal her social, blackmail her, everything.”
“You said, yes didn’t you?”
She took a swig of her drink. “That’s with a different boy all together.”
“Rick. Vicky and I ended right as she tried to explain himself. So, Rick. That bitch. Where do I start? We were together a good year into our relationship. He stood me up-- this isn’t what started the whole thing yet, he stood me up because his brother, who was in engineering, was in emergency care because a Loader Bot cut one of his limbs off. I think it was his arm. So, I understood that. Shit happens and you forget to contact.”
“But where was he really?”
“That bitch-- he was right, his brother was in the ER but an hour later what he did was send me something that I wasn’t supposed to see. A few of them actually. First was a dick pic, which I’ve already seen in person so I thought it was a weird butt dial because he deleted it a minute later.”
“Yeah. Do you know who Stacy is?”
“Rhys’ ex? Oooh no, don’t tell me they were still dating at the time.”
“No, no, no, they were back in the grove of just being friends. She was dating someone else at the time. I’m prefacing that for something that’s gonna come up in a second. My ECHO goes off again and it’s a video.”
“Of his dick?” They said in unison before breaking into laughter.
“Should I even say the rest of the story?”
“Yes, yes yes, I want to hear this. I’m sorry, go on.”
“He is directly talking to Stacy, talking big with his penis out on the bed. I saw the metadata and he was in my apartment. He wasn’t even drunk and he made the most stupidest decision I’ve ever seen. I’m thinking ‘Huh. That’s interesting. I wonder what would happen if I went home right now.’ I continue to sit there and I get reminded that this was Rhys’ ex he was talking to… and they ended on some not good terms. Don’t listen to him, he sugarcoats the hell out of it all the time, because he doesn’t want her to look like the bad guy when she clearly was.”
“Yeah, I saw his entry about that.”
“Good, I won’t tell you the whole thing then. So I start a group call with Rhys and Vaughn. I think I was on speaker because I was hearing like such tiny noises. Rhys was doing work at their apartment or whatever. Vaughn just woke up from a nap. And, you know, I start it normal. Say hi and, of course, being who they are, Vaughn goes ‘how’s your date going?’ ‘Oh, actually he didn’t show up. Rick said his brother was in the ER.’ ‘Ouch, that sucks.’ I hear Rhys say and I couldn’t keep in ‘Yeah, it does. You know what else sucks? Rick is not visiting his brother. He is in my apartment, jerking it, and he sent me this video meant for Stacy Hudgens that I am sending you right now.’ I know you’ve heard them be petty before but-- and I cannot do an impression of those two. Just--just imagine how high Vaughn's voice became. I hear the video finish and it’s quiet for a good ten seconds… then I hear the video go again and stop halfway and I hear Vaughn go, ‘Oh my god, it’s not real.’ ‘What?’ ‘He got plastic surgery on his dick. Look at it! You can see where the seem starts. Your boyfriend added five more inches--I thought his muscles were compensating.’”
“Vaughn said that?”
“He wasn’t exercising at the time. Rhys is dead silent throughout Vaughn’s petty rant about how big my ex was talking while he was stroking his originally three inch dick.”
“And how did you not notice this?”
“I take my relationships pretty slow. We had sex only once. He wasn’t into blowjobs and now I know why he wasn’t. Probably scared I’d suck the plastic down my throat and choke myself.”
Fiona had to cover her mouth before spitting the alcohol she just drank. She waved for Yvette to that she was fine as she attempted to swallow.
“Are you okay?” She got on the edge of her sit, ready to move, “Do you need a doctor?”
“I’m okay--! My tongue burns. I’m good. Ach.” She patted her chest and coughed. “So you almost choked on his dick, go on.”
“No--! Haha, Rhys is dead silent while Vaughn was going off. I hear him say, ‘Yeah, I see how it is.’ To no one. I hear papers rustling and Vaughn is calling to him. Rhys finally says, ‘I’ve got an idea for some blackmail if you want me to. I can get on both of them.’ I was already trying not to cry in this restaurant; so fuck it, why not. I told them to whatever they were going to do, post it. Make it specific. Get them fired. Those boys de-fucking-livered. Apparently, Rick and Stacy had a damn game plan to get more than laid, they got off on ending relationships with people and spreading it around to blackmail. Rhys and Vaughn kept my identity safe, they got those two fired within an hour, and no one knew it was us. They managed to get footage of them forcing other people into doing some illegal shit to get promoted. Sure, Hyperion is known for that, but doing that to the company itself was a big no-no. This was just before the DAHL raid and Handsome Jack’s takeover, so no one was shot out into space yet… which I just realized is the most terrible thing I could say. Christ, we were awful!”
“Yeah, you… you really were. Rick deserved that, though. Remind me to never mess with you again.”
Yvette giggled, twirling her straw around the cup. “Yeahhhh, that was fun. Heads up though? Never ask Rhys about it.”
“I can imagine why. I know better than to tease about something like that.”
“Smart answer. Fiona, you’ve got to have some good heists, rights? Go on, it’s your turn to have story time.”
“While scavenging the room, you hear the door that lead to the hallway slowly creak open until a cloaked figure moved into the room. They haven’t noticed all of you yet for their head was downcast. The figure turns his back away from you and locked the door--.”
“I punch him!”
“Brick!” Sasha exclaimed. “We don’t even know who this is!”
Timothy raised his hand up, “I agree but also: he locked the door? It has to be… what-his-face’s adviser.”
“King Nordstrom.” Felicity corrected.
“Him, thank you. Aren’t we supposed to get information out of him about the vault?”
“It’s possible that the new encounter would merely be knocked unconscious, depending on how high Brick rolls. Are you sure you’re certain it’s the adviser?”
Brick already rolled the dice. He glared down in disappointment. “I got a 5…”
“The force of the punch is enough to knock the hood off of their head. Underneath the fabric was Jeremy Lyking, the adviser. He spat blood out from his mouth and wiped the corner of his lips. For a moment, he stood there staring at the six of you in bewilderment. His lisp slipped through as he spoke, ‘Ah, you’re not supposed to be here.’”
“No, you don’t!” Sasha yelled again. “I’m talking.”
“She’s right, Brick. You already used your turn.” Felicity nodded, much to his chagrin. “Continue, Sasha.”
“Okay,” She excitedly fidgeted in her seat. “I look at him. That doesn’t matter. You’re locked yourself in here with us and we want information.”
“Roll for intimidation.”
“... Oh hell, yeah; 15.”
“Rolling against that… 17. Adviser Lyking raises his hands in submission. ‘Okay, perhaps we can make an arrangement. Surely with this amount of people, you are looking for the key to vault, correct?’”
“Whoa, whoa, hold on.” Rhys butted in. “This has to be a trap.”
“Are you saying this as your character?”
“You gotta make a haiku, bud.” Sasha propped her head up with her elbows.
“Right, okay...” He began counting on his figures. “Whoa, whoa, whoa, hold on / This has to be a trap, guys / This guy is full--- aw shit. Shut up, shut up! I got this. Hold up one mo sec.” Vaughn choked on a crumpet. “This guy have to be ly-in / Ya boy know this well.”
“That was sad.” Brick shook his head.
“I don’t think Zer0 would say that.” Gortys agreed.
“‘Ya boy’??” Timothy asked laughing along with Sasha. “Does Zer0 actually talk like that or is that just you?”
Red faced, Rhys slid down from his seat and onto the floor where he curled up into a ball.
Vaughn gently kicked him. “Get up, bro.”
Felicity coughed back a laugh. “Adviser Lyking looks at you and waves a finger. ‘I promise this is no trap.’”
“Then why lock the door?” Loader Bot prodded.
“Well,” Felicity continued awkwardly, mimicking the character she was voicing. “This is in fact my room that we are in and I was hoping for some privacy.”
“Why’s that?” Gortys asked innocently.
“‘Don’t worry your pretty Siren head about it.’ He peers down at the lock, ‘If I made traps in my own room, I would trigger them and then I would be the real king’s fool.’”
“Oh, we’re making jokes now?” Sasha jested. “Why don’t you tell us what you want already instead of binding time to unlock that door? Hands where we can see them, buster.”
“I know that. Do you want us to overthrow the king for you, is that what you want? We were going to do that anyway.”
“We were?” Timothy nudged, confused.
“I mean, if things go wrong?”
“‘What are you willing to offer me?’ He surveys and examines each of you, as he waits for anyone to start bargaining with him.”
“I punch him.”
“Since this is not a surprise attack, he will be rolling against your initiative which is?”
“Ten… Oh. A natural twenty.”
“What?! You gotta be cheating!” Brick pouted, sneering at her.
“I am rolling the same die as you. I have never rolled a twenty in this game until now.”
“Maybe, you will get to punch him later!” Gortys said reassuringly.
“A magical shield forms around him as the punch makes contact with it. Lightning envelopes Brick’s body as you take fifteen hit point damage. Lyking laughs. ‘Mwahahahahaha! Foolish girl, you cannot touch me this time.’”
“Okay, so what all do we have then?” Sasha pondered out loud, checking over her inventory paper. “I just have guns.”
“Aside from what I got equipped? Greens and blues.”
“‘I only pick oranges.’”
“Damn,” Nosy, she leaned over Timothy’s. “Why do you have a wedding ring again?”
“Uhhhhh, because my character is divorced, I think? It’s made of a real diamond. You want that?”
Felicity shook her head. “I don’t recommend doing that: it’s out of character.”
“I have an axe.” Loader Bot announced. “If this does not go well, I will use it.”
“Let’s-- uh let’s try to keep him alive for now.” Rhys awkwardly coughed. He scanned through his inventory and shrugged. “I, pshhhh, I have my body. Wait, sorry: I am bringing sex / y back, them other boys / Don’t know how to act. I say this while I’m taking off my clothes.”
Gortys tilted her head. “That doesn’t sound right...”
“Does Zer0 have clothes?!!” Sasha yelled at the ceiling as she fell over onto Timothy, who was staring down Rhys with an unreadable expression. “Rhyyyyys! Is this your fantasy, what the fuck is thiiiiiss??”
“Why am I dating you, again?” Vaughn posed.
“You love me, get over here.” Rhys hauled Vaughn onto his lap before he had the chance to push him away and kissed his cheek.
Felicity sighed, “Rhys. I am giving you one more chance to try that haiku again.”
“No, let him keep it.” Brick joined. “It’s stupid enough to work.”
“...Haha--” He rolled a one. “What!? No! That was a nineteen! It was!!” Timothy snatched the die from the table before he could attempt to reroll it.
“‘By the king’s beard!’ Lyking shielded his eyes. ‘Fine! I’ll tell you where it is. Just please stop doing that!’”
“That works.” Loader Bot said, somewhat discouraged.
Timothy continued to stare at Rhys as Sasha threw her hands up, crying. “I hate this gaaaaame!”
“Got something to say, Tim?”
“Oh, I just hate you, that’s all.”
“Well, get in line! Where’s the key?!”
“Lyking pointed at the assortment of pillows on his bed. ‘Underneath those.’ Who would like to pick up the key?”
“I’ll do it!” Gortys volunteered. “I look underneath the pillows!”
“As you search behind each cushion, everyone gathers around until at last you pull out the key. It was dainty. As you present it to everyone in the room, the key eventually turns into dust in your hands. You hear Lyking cackle as the bed and the floor below you open up and drop all of you into a dungeon. ‘I lied by the way!’ He says as the ceiling closes.”
“I knew it!” Rhys slammed his hand down on the table.
“Congrats, Rhys, we’re all in prison without a key. What do we do now?” Sasha offered, her eyebrows raised.
“I use my sword to cut the bars.”
“You swing your sword at nothing. Because there are no bars in your prison cell but a metal door. You were hallucinating due to the lack of oxygen in the room. Perception check next time.” Rhys sank in his seat.
“Can I punch the door?”
“You certainly can, Brick.”
“Ha! Got a eighteen.”
“The door flies off its hinges and alerts the guards immediately. Roll for initiative.”
Thunder and lightning suddenly boomed, startling Fiona awake. Anxiously, she stood up from her bedroll and looked outside the cave. Heavy rain poured, making the surrounding foliage appear more saturated. She heaved a hefty sigh as she adjusted her old hat. Far down below her was a fort that they have been scoping out for any sign of the Calypso siblings, or their next move, or just about anything. Her instincts told her that something awful was bound to happen and this rain did not bode well for her either. Timothy was out there somewhere, hiding from the weather. Worrying about him was not going to get her anywhere, she peered over at Sasha’s roll to noticed her missing. That was when Fiona realized that she was not standing by herself.
She let out a breath of relief. “You scared me the shit out of me.”
“I said something.”
“Yeah, I asked if you were okay. Clearly, you’re not.”
Fiona gazed down once more at the camp. “What if all this is a trap, Sash? We’ve been here for a week and nothing has popped up. Don’t you find that strange?”
“I do, but we’re safe up here. Only an idiot would climb up here in this weather… You’re worried about Timothy--”
“He knows better than that.” Fiona waved the possibility off to the side. “I’m more worried about getting caught than anything else. We both heard about what they can do.”
“I know… I’m scared too.” Sasha pushed her with her shoulder. “Hey, aren’t you supposed to be the one calming me down?”
“Heheh, I guess I’m slipping a bit. I’m still not used to any of this. This whole war, going off to other planets, I thought I would be ready for it, but… I’m really not.”
“At least we’re off Pandora.”
Fiona nodded. “We got out wish… it took a couple of years--”
“... A lot of years. I’m still not over how green this planet is and rain that isn’t acid? It’s wonderful.”
Sasha took a seat on top of a crate. “You know, Fi. I’ve been pushing myself a lot to grow up. I really miss the old days. It was nice at first for the first couple of years: just the two of us. Now there’s three and… it doesn’t feel the same. I can’t believe I said that. But you know what I mean, right? I was told to expect a war but I… I never expected this.”
Fiona pulled her sister into one armed embrace. “I’m sure we’ll see everyone again soon. I’m just glad that Gortys has a safe place to call home now.”
“Mmm, me too… Do you miss Yvette, Fi?”
“Of course I do...” She said with a sigh. “She doesn’t answer my calls anymore.”
“I’m sure she’s just busy.”
Fiona quickly derailed the conversation, “Wait, why aren’t you asleep? You usually sleep through this stuff.”
“I… I never fell asleep.”
“Then try to, Sash. I’ll keep watch.”
“And have you fall asleep on me? I don’t think so.”
“I’m not that bad.” A sudden crack made Fiona jump out of her skin. “That… wasn’t thunder.”
Sasha peered over the edge of the cliff and gasped. “Fi. Get me my gun. Now, now now!”
Timothy Lawrence was cradling himself as he watched the world from his leaf shelter. His long damp hair draped and dripped onto his shoulders. He wiped his face with his sleeve and took in a deep breath. He rolled his watch over and clicked the touch pad. Instantly, a hologram of Felicity appeared before him, young and radiant as ever in his eyes.
Surprised, Felicity took in the scenery. “So, this is what you’ve been up to.”
“Sorry for not calling as much as I said I would.”
“Don’t worry. I kept myself busy. Sanctuary 3 would not be able to stay afloat without me.”
“Let’s… not talk about that mistake.”
“Heh, what? Can’t own up to it?”
“It was a first step for everyone… nearly killing a few people...” Felicity frowned. “You didn’t just call me to pretend everything is normal, did you?”
“I hate how well you know me.”
Felicity sat herself beside him. “What’s wrong? Did you run into trouble.”
“No, not yet. Jack just finished scoping this place and then the rain started and I’ve been here for an hour, I think. Maybe two. I got lonely.”
“Not to sound ungrateful, but why not call Fiona or Sasha?”
“Those two should be asleep. I’m not supposed to call them unless it’s an emergency or I’ve got a report… and I don’t. I can’t report that nothing special is happening. Those cult followers are so weirdly… to themselves. No one leaves, ever and I can’t figure out how to get in without being electrocuted.”
“Is this project too big for you three? I can tell Lilith about what is happening.”
“No, you don’t need to do that. We are doing fine so far.”
“Are you doing fine?”
“I’m lonely. I want to hear you talk. What’s been going on? How are the new Vault Hunters?”
“Oh, they are doing a great job so far. They just left Promethea in one piece and stopped the Maliwan merger.”
“That’s-- that’s good.”
Felicity crossed her arms. “You’re not even going to ask?”
“What? About Rhys? No. I already know. How’s Sanctuary, everything smooth?”
“Alright… Everything has been in tip top shape.”
“She’s well. Would you like to talk to her?”
“Would Jack like to talk to anyone?”
“... Just you.”
“Well, I can’t act like I’m okay all the time. I like what I’m doing. I feel like I am making a difference. I feel like myself here.”
“I just hate being on my own with my thoughts.”
“You know I cannot really help you.”
“I know, I know… but I still enjoy your company… I’ll never get over how you still look the same. I look like a mess compared to you.”
“AIs don’t age, Timothy… although, I will say… watching everyone age around me was a bit surreal. It felt like only a day ago you kept your hair, you had a little soul patch. We were all laughing. I was learning through all of you how to survive on Pandora… However, it was nice to watch you grow into a more confident person. You really have reached your full potential.”
“Hm… I had set myself apart to not look or feel like Handsome Jack, somehow… and I still keep my hair well kept! You see these curls?”
“Your beard could use some work.”
“... Okay, maybe, I could use a trim.”
“May I ask how Sasha and Fiona are?”
“Oh, yeah. They’re doing great. They are great. I think Sasha’s stopped tolerating me a while back. This friendship feels more natural now, you know? Fiona is still the alpha here. She’s great at keeping me busy. It’s kind of relaxing to be with them, besides the uh, wildlife butting in at times.”
“I can imagine. I was afraid when Lilith gave you this mission. I thought those reptiles were going to eat you.”
“We’re alive. No one’s got any missing limbs yet.”
“Please don’t say yet.”
Timothy smiled a little, giggling, “We’ll be fine, Felicity. We can take care of our--” His watch gave out a constant high pitched beep. “I’m… getting a distress signal from Fiona.”
“I knew I wasn’t getting stressed out for nothing.”
“I wasn’t trying to egg this on! This has happened before. Probably one of those furry things again.” Timothy pressed on his watch to turn off the alarm. “I gotta go.”
“Please, be safe.”
“You too-- Well. I mean. You already… are? Safe.”
“Just go, Tim.”
“Okay. Love you. Bye.”
Falling into his office chair, Rhys let his shoulders relax as he closed his eyes… then opened them immediately and sat up. He looked out his gigantic window to his city below. It was still raining but the thunder and lightning from the siege stopped. He twisted his mustache as his thoughts ran amok at top speed. There was so much that needed to be repaired. Buildings that needed to be rebuilt. His office was a mess too. Zer0 was overworked at this point but it was Zer0, they probably don’t even sweat. He unfolded his cybernetic arm and let the hologram statistics tumble and graph. There was over a thousand casualties, some were from the Vault Hunter but most was from Katagawa. The wannabe prick. Rhys stroked his hair. The lines and numbers were making his head hurt. Sure, he enjoyed being a CEO. He lived for it everyday. He never counted for this, however. He liked to think he played it cool, in fact, he know he did. Now that Lorelei left him to his business, his mind wandered off and he closed his eyes. For once, it was silent in his office. It was peaceful...
It was lonely.
You like being top dog, dumdum? How's it feel? It gets pretty depressing over time, doesn't it? I've gotta be bored by now.
Rhys froze. He could feel a ghost of a hand on his neck and Rhys jumped, which sent his chair into a short shaking fit. He sucked in a deep breath. "He's not real. He's not here, Rhys. Get over yourself."
Awww, is the baby having a tantrum? It's naptime, Rhysie. Let's put you under.
He tapped hurriedly on his cyber arm with two fingers to ground himself by hearing the metallic noises. "You're okay, Rhys. You're fine. Keep breathing... breathe..."
Rhys forced his eyes to stay open so that he could visually see no one trying to choke him.
"Just think about rainbows or or puppies... That-- that's not helping."
You know what I do when I'm stressed out, Rhysie?
"Don't acknowledge, just don't don't-- this is nothing."
What's stopping you from going on a rampage, pal? I mean, seriously. You got a gun right there. A window right in front of you. You could be like me. Just like you always wanted.
"No! Ahh!" A loud constant beep snapped him out of his next thought. Before anything else happened, he answered. “What is it, Loader Bot!? I mean,” He cleared his throat as he put on a more confident front. “Yes, Mister Secretary Loader… Bot?”
“Someone is heading towards your office. I told him that you were not taking visitors but he didn’t listen.”
“He slipped through security. He’s too quick. Nothing can stop this man.”
“No no no no--! Call-- call! Call Zer0! The Vault Hunter! They’re still here right? Where’s Lorelei??”
“Sir, he is almost to your door.”
“Why aren’t you doing anything then!? We have security measures for this!” His door busted open with a forceful kick. Quickly, Rhys ended the call and sat there, holding his breath. Part of him hoped that since the back of the chair was towards the door, the man would not look around much and just leave, but when has that ever worked? He could probably see his legs. New plan. Rhys pressed a button on his chair with his pinkie. Discreetly, the arm of the chair opened up to unveil a tiny emergency pistol. He gripped it tightly as heavy footsteps drew closer and closer to his desk. He put on a front, laughing low. “Sooo! You thought that you could catch me at my weakest. You’re wrong. As a CEO, it’s a must for anyone like me to have a secret weapon and unfortunately for you that weapon...” He spun his chair around, stood up and aimed his gun at the trespasser. “... is me--”
His blood ran cold at the sight of him as he lowered his hand. That height, those glasses, the beard, and how could he not recognize those abs. Oh my god, he was wearing just shorts. His mouth was like a desert as he croaked, “Vaughn…?”
His lips twitched at hearing his name. Abruptly, Vaughn vaulted over his desk and pulled Rhys into a firm embrace that knocked his gun out of his hand.
Tears were already falling from his eyes. He hugged him back as tightly as he could to know that he was truly there in his arms. “How did you--? You know what, I don’t care. Is this a dream? Please tell me this isn’t a dream.”
“You’re not dreaming, bro. I promise.” Vaughn cupped his head into his hands and honed into his lips. Rhys’ lips were just as soft as he remembered. His arms trembled as Vaughn caressed his neck. Instantly, Rhys fell limp, moaning into his mouth.
Neither one thought to pull away from each other until the two were crying so much that they broke off the kiss.
“Bro! You’re alive…!” Rhys cried into his shoulder.
“You have no idea how scared I got when I heard about Maliwan. I think I’m a little too late...”
“Oh, who cares! Look at you…!”
“Look at you!” Vaughn countered, “Why is there fuzzy mold on your mouth?”
“I told you I wanted a mustache...”
“Are you sick? You usually bounce back at this point.”
Rhys sniffled, shaking his head. “I’m still in shock, bro. Shit.” He put his hands to Vaughn’s face, feeling and squishing it. “You’re real!”
Laughing through his tear, Vaughn pushed onto his lips once more before nuzzling his neck. “You didn’t forget me.”
“Why the hell would I? Just because I’m the most amazing CEO, doesn’t mean that I’d forget my best boyfriend forever.”
“There’s my Rhys…!”
“Noooo! Don’t say stuff like that!!” He whined, swaying him as they embraced.
It took them longer than thirty minutes for them to truly calm down. The two could not keep their hands off each other. Just like old times, Vaughn sat on his lap, resting his head on his chest while Rhys tangled his fingers around his hair.
“You know, Vaughn?” He hummed back. “I’ve always had this weird hole in my chest ever since Handsome Jack died. I thought this would fill it. It didn’t. Keeping myself busy for years, finally making ATLAS what it should be. Nothing helped.”
Rhys briefly gazed down to see him staring at him, his eyes filled with sympathy.
“But… seeing you here. Touching you again… Boy, does it feel a lot smaller.”
“Aw, Rhys.” He kissed his jaw. “I missed you too.”
“Mmm…” Rhys squeezed his hand before letting go. He scooched his chair to a drawer on the desk that he opened with a key. Vaughn watched him curiously as he removed a metal circle from the desk. “So I kind of want to ask you to marry me.”
All color drained from his face. “Rhys?”
“I know I asked before and I know you said no. I knew better to take it slow with you, especially since we both knew we were going to go our separate ways and I couldn’t live to break your heart to try and force you, you know?”
“You’re here. I’m here. I know everything looks like shit but dammit, everything feel so much better now with you here. I-I really hope you feel the same way? I don’t care anymore where we go from here or what happens. I love you so much, Vaughn. Will you--”
Rhys stared into his tear stained eyes, waiting on bated breath. “Yeah…?”
Tepidly, he took the ring and held it like it was the most expensive thing in the world. There was an engraving on it that read Strongfork. Vaughn Strongfork… has a more pleasant ring to it than Vaughn Little. The leader of his own parade of psychos being married to the leader of one of the most powerful corporations in the world. No pressure. When Rhys asked him before, Vaughn thought too much of the future, how the world would see him if he married someone like him. Rhys didn’t deserve that. He had gone through so much to be treated as a world wide joke. He needed this, not someone to pull him down. Vaughn was not thinking about that anymore. He present the engagement ring to Rhys and said with a cheeky smile. “Rhys Strongfork? Will you marry me?”
Rhys let out a shaky laugh. “You asshole. You utter, utter asshole. Of course, I’ll marry you… That ring is not going to fit me, bro, I’ve tried to put it on before. Butter did not work when I was trying to get it off.”
“Oh, okay…!” Vaughn slipped the ring on his fourth finger. “It’s a little tight.”
“It’s not like I could’ve called you. You dropped off...”
“I was on the run for a bit. Not so much now.”
“Is that why you said yes?”
“No… that’s a completely different reason. I… I was stupid. That’s all. I should have never said no.”
“Hey. That doesn’t matter now… It looks good on you.”
Vaughn smiled at it. “How long did you have this?”
“Uhh, ahem… Years.”
“Should I guess how many?”
“I’d be happier if you didn’t.”
“Well… thanks for not giving up on me, Rhys… Strongfork.”
Rhys swallowed. “That should not be a turn on for me, but wow am I turned on.”
Vaughn adjusted himself in a way that had his legs on either side of him.
He caught on immediately, staring at muscles. He cleared his throat once more as he subconsciously held his breath. “Uh, Vaughn? I’m a busy man, you know. I can’t really uh… relax… right now.”
Vaughn rolled his eyes. He already knew what was coming. “Is that right?”
“Yeah, y-you know it’s a lot of work--Hello. You… you are unbuttoning my shirt.”
“Mmhm. Keep going.”
Rhys could only stutter as he watched Vaughn finish his shirt. His Siren tattoos had grown since last time. They traveled down passed his stomach and possibly to his leg, which gave Vaughn irking curiosity.
Vaughn asked casually as he slipped the belt out of the loops and began wrapping the belt around Rhys' hands. “Got nothing else left to say, Rhys Strongfork?”
After a series of ‘uh’s and ‘um’s and clumsy whines, Rhys merely shook his head. “No…”
He pressed his hands into sides, caressing his hips and exploring up his body. Trailing his tattoos, Rhys gave a small whimper and closed his eyes. He could feel Rhys tremble at his touch and he savored every shaking exhale. Vaughn pressed his forehead against him. His warm breath tickled his cheek. “Fuck, I’ve missed you. I’ve missed this… Feeling you, hearing you moan, it’s almost unbearable… and you’re mine. All of you is mine...”
“Hell yeah I am...” Rhys wavered breathlessly as moved his hands so that they were wrapped around Vaughn’s neck. “Please don’t stop talking… Please don’t stop… mmph.” He broke off into another groan when Vaughn dived into his throat, gnawing at his skin. He felt his legs rub against each other underneath him and it was feeling very nice on his groin. He grinded up on him, until Rhys craned his head, letting himself get fully lost in his touch. He inhale in his cologne and let it drive him to absolutely take him until he stopped at Rhys’ wonderful moan that sent shivers up his spine.
“You…” He paused, distracted by his handiwork. “God, you look so handsome right now.”
Rhys opened his eyes slightly to meet his gaze. He panted, “Y-you mean that...?”
“You’re goddamn gorgeous, Rhys. Of course, I mean that.”
“Call me sexy.”
Vaughn slowly kissed his jaw. “You like what I’m doing, sexy?”
His chest hiccuped at the sound of that pet name. “I’m, um… really liking what you’re doing right now...with with with handsmmmmmlower. Low low--” His foot kicked floor when Vaughn found the correct spot. At that moment, Vaughn crashed into his lips and danced with his tongue to sweeten the experience. Rhys forcefully pulled him by his restraints. “Vaaauuugghhn...!”
That took him completely over. He nearly knocked the chair over when he shoved himself into Rhys. Desperately, he pulled down Rhys’ pants and he ducked under his arms. He whined as Vaughn’s heat and weight vanished from his side. Then Rhys felt his hands stroking his legs up to his hips that made him shudder. He could feel himself on the verge of a climax as Vaughn's lips trailed up his thighs. He gave a shout at feeling Vaughn’s mouth in between his thighs, arching his back.
There was that beeping again. Rhys grimaced. “Come on...!” He strained to move his cybernetic hand up and became extremely thankful that the call was not showing his face. He gritted his teeth. “Loader Bot, I’m busy. Forward to someone else.”
“It’s a distress signal from our neighboring planet. You need to hear this.”
“Loader Bot, we are not--hff, not in a position to help anyone right now--Nnn, fuck...! Ignore it! Ignore it! Busy! I’m busy!”
“Okay… Sending the message now.”
Before Rhys could turn off the projection, an old familiar face full of age and scars took up the screen. Vaughn immediately stopped what he was doing and stared wide eyed as the man spoke, “This is Timothy Jack Lawrence. My friends, Fiona and Sasha and I are in extreme danger! Like we are about to die to the Calypso Siblings danger! If there is anyone nearby--!” There were sounds of gunshot firing over his head and an animal like roar that took him by surprise. “What the fuck is that?! Fiona, look out!”
For a long string of silence, Rhys stared at the blurry picture of Timothy’s hand. Vaughn slowly stood up, studying his petrified face. He didn’t know he was holding his breath until he attempted to speak, “Rhys?”
He did not answer at first. He looked on at the hologram for another minute and turn it off with a flex of his fingers. “C-could you?” He held up his restrained hands.
Quickly, Vaughn unwrapped the belt and watched Rhys as he hiked his pants up and then gave the belt back to him. Rhys must have upgraded as some point because with a simple blink, a holomap of the planet Timothy had called from appeared in front of them.
“Enhance.” He said, automatically. The map zoomed into the coordinates. “Near a cliff side… Hmm...”
“What are you thinking, Rhys?”
He stroked the tip of his mustache in thought. “Vaughn. With how badly I’m damaged, I can’t just leave and face off with these insane siblings who can take away SIREN powers! I’d be putting myself at risk too.” He grabbed the map with his robotic hand, staring at it for another second. “Fuck it.”
Vaughn pushed him back into his chair. “Whoa whoa whoa! I thought you finally developed some common sense!”
“I have common sense! Don’t! Give me that look… Please.” He put a hand to his temple. “It’s… it’s them, Vaughn! They are alive-- for now!”
“I-I know that but you said so yourself you’ve got your own shit to take care of. What if something happens while you’re gone?”
“Then… Then that’s my fault, Vaughn. I’ll take full responsibility for it. What I cannot take responsibility for is just leaving them to die.”
“What if you die, Rhys? What if they take away your powers?”
Rhys laugh, a very sad sounding laugh that tore Vaughn's heart apart. “You know? It’s kind of funny. If you asked me that years ago I would have just given myself to them. Beg for them to take all that away from me… I want to show them that I mean business. ATLAS means business.”
“Even though you’ve barely survived a siege?”
“They don’t need to know that.”
“What if they already know that, Rhys?”
“Well, we can’t rely on a Vault Hunter for everything, now can we?” Rhys got up from his chair and made his way towards the door. He noticed immediately that Vaughn wasn’t stopping him. He turned. “Are-aren’t you coming to make sure I don’t do anything stupid?”
“You know I am.”
“Okay, cool. Let’s go.”
He looked down to see that his shirt was still unbuttoned. “Oh. Y-yes. Good eye, Vaughn.”
“... Is it going to be just us, Rhys?”
“I’m a Siren, Vaughn. I’m a one man army. I’m not who I used to be, Vaughn. I’ve mastered everything Lilith and Maya threw at me… literally at times.” He glanced at him once again. His downcast expression held strong. Rhys vainly corrected his tie. “I… I can bring Zer0, if you want? They kind of go everywhere with me anyway.”
“That… I’d appreciate that.”
Rhys held his hand out. Letting himself smile, Vaughn rounded his desk and accepted his hand. Squeezing his hand, Rhys led him out into the halls and called Loader Bot. “Hey, Loader Bot? Going to need you to prepare my ship. Make sure to tell Zer0 to meet me there. Keep Promethea stable while I’m gone, okay?”
“Affirmative. Don’t die.”
Crying out, Sasha threw her weapon at the giant fire breathing lizard to reload. The explosion of the gun only scratched the surface of its skin. She ran for cover as the creature belched out another fire ball. Fiona grabbed her and hauled her within the safety of a huge log. Timothy peered out at the creature and the Badass Psycho riding it. He ducked back when the lizard stomped around, throwing the surrounding forest in disarray.
Fiona cradled Sasha in her arms. She bit down on her lip to fight the agonizing pain in her right leg. “Have you gotten any answers yet, Tim?”
“No, nothing. Felicity won’t answer me either. I swear if something happened--” He covered his ears when the lizard belted a shrill roar. The footsteps were getting closer.
Sasha shoved Timothy to the edge of their cover with her foot. “Go distract him! I’m bandaging her up.”
“Jeez--crap, fine. Okay.” Pulling out his laser gun, Timothy ran and shot at the animal and yelled. “Hey! You shit eating monster thing, come get me!”
Taking the bait, the lizard charged at him. Jack slid across the damp ground as he avoided the animal’s biting maw. He tapped a few buttons on his watch and his body ceased visibility. The creature stopped tromping around and growled in confusion, sniffing the air.
“Oh noooo! Where could I beee?” He reappeared in front of the lizard along with four hologram other versions of himself. “Surprise!”
All at once, they fired their guns. The force of the lasers were enough to momentarily shock the beast in pace. As Jack reached for his watch once again the creature roared, stunning and deafening him. Rapidly coming to his rescue, Fiona and Sasha dipped out of cover, yelling and firing at it to hopefully confuse it.
Angry, the animal bent down and readied itself to pounce on the two sisters. As it leaped into the air, fear consumed Fiona. It was coming too fast and it was too big to dodge. She felt herself being grabbed by Sasha. She feverishly returned the embrace, preparing herself for the attack. Suddenly, there was a humongous thud and a painful cry from the creature. Slowly opening her eyes, Fiona gasped.
Zer0 stood before them, their blade covered in blood. The lizard was on its side, writhing as it flipped over to stand on its legs.
Sasha let out an audible sigh. “Oh my god, thank you.”
“Do not thank me / There is still much to be done / Where are the siblings?”
Jack raised his hand as he fought for balance, “I may have lied-- about that! I’m sorry! To be honest, we were all about to die and this is not how I wanna go.”
A sudden burst a wind nearly knocked everyone over, except Zer0 and the fire breathing animal. A multitude of explosions bounced off and damaged the beast and its rider. It cried out in pain, shaking its head. As for the rider, the psycho was falling off his saddle and landed directly on his head, killing him instantly. In his place stood a familiar figure in a long billowing cape.
“Vaughn?!” Fiona gawked.
Full of rage, the lizard flung its head backwards and flung Vaughn off. Instantly, he was caught by a ray of yellow that carefully brought him down beside Zer0.
“Rhys!?” Jack exclaimed as he recovered from a bad slip.
Sasha broke from Fiona and pulled the two men into a quick hug. “I am so happy toooo--Whoa, what is on your face?”
“It’s a siege mustache. It’s a mustache. My mustache. Why is everyone reaction like my mustache is a bad thing?!”
“Miss you too, Rhys. Can we move on and kill that thing?” Fiona remarked and pointed at the beast which was gearing up for another charge.
“Right,” Vaughn pointed to Rhys’ free hand. “Sasha, you’re with us. Hold onto Rhys. Zer0, stay grounded.”
“Yes, stay grounded.” Rhys agreed, vainly. He took Vaughn and Sasha into his arms and shot into the air. Already distracted by the bright light, the lizard snarled at them, hopping into the air to try to grab the fast Siren with his teeth.
“You’re with me, sweetheart.” Jack held her hand. “Let’s get you to a safer place.”
“You kidding me? This injury is not going to stop me.”
“I’m holding you to that.” He clicked his watch again and due to Jack touching Fiona, the invisible cloak surrounded her as well. “I’m still going to put you in a better spot that isn’t down here.”
As they dodged another fireball, Rhys released Vaughn. Withdrawing his dagger, Vaughn readied himself for a rough stop. Closer, closer… He stabbed the beast’s eye and the momentum from the fall dragged him further down its scales until the force broke his hold on his dagger. Vaughn extended his hand, biting his lip. In a moment, he was swept back into the air. The grab nearly ripped his arm out of his socket and lose his grip on Rhys.
“Human hand still not as good as robot hand...! God, you’re heavy...” His voice crack as he pulled Vaughn enough so that he could wrap his arms around his middle. “How’s it going Sasha?!”
“I can’t really aim when you’re flying like this! I’m going to hit Zer0!”
“Just shoot, woman!”
“Fine!” Without a scope, she autofired her gun with reckless abandon. The animal gave an ear piercing roar once more that crippled the flying trio.
“Rhys, the cliff! The cliff! Cliff! Cliff!” Vaughn yelled, shielding his eyes.
Snapping out of his trance, Rhys pulled up and u-turned downwards. “I’m fine! I got it!”
Fiona watched them dive bomb and soar over the lizard, resuming fire. Jack helped her up another ledge on the cliff face. She became grateful at how strong his grip on her was, despite the pouring rain or else her feet would have given out by now.
“We should be safe here since they got that thing’s attention-- Wow, that Zer0 is going at it. I can see why Rhys likes them.” Jack pointed at the Assassin who was hyper focused on disabling the animal’s ability to walk by using their sword to injury its feet. "It's kind of sexy."
“Focus, Jack.” Fiona’s gun shot out of her sleeve as she began applying fire onto the stumbling lizard.
“I can’t tell if we are actually hurting it or not!” Sasha admitted, “Dammit, I’m out of ammo--Rhys! Don’t get so close.”
“I’m putting both of you down!”
“Don’t you dare!” Sasha barked back.
“Listen to me! It clearly wants me so I’ll keep distracting it while you two help Zer0.”
“I’m staying with you!” Vaughn argued when Rhys safely dropped Sasha off. “I can get the other eye!”
“I am not marrying a corpse, Vaughn!” Rhys ripped him off his arm and traversed back into the air.
“Neither am I!!” Vaughn shouted back, throwing a fist at him. “I swear if we better live through this, I am divorcing you after we get married!”
Sasha was taken aback by the statement. “You two are getting married this time?”
“I sure freakin’ hope so! Shi--!”
“Get down!” Zer0 warned as they shoved the two to the ground with them. The lizard’s massive tail waved above them menacingly. The beast swung around towards Fiona and Jack’s hiding spot, knocking the side of the cliff with its head. Running from loose rocks, Fiona jumped off the platformed and rolled onto the mud. Scraping her head out of the dirt, she shook off the reminisce of moisture off her face and jerked around for Jack. Her heart stopped when she saw him lying motionless beside a pile of boulders. She could see blood running down his head.
“Hey! Hey!” Rhys called out, hovering in front of the monster. “Focus on me, not them!”
The creature responded by lurching its neck out to bite him but was too slow to catch the Siren. Before it knew it, an explosion took over the monster’s mouth and it wailed in frustration. That was when the creature decided to prioritize smell over sight. The predator bent down, sniffling over the assortment of rocks. Since the animal ignored her completely, she sought for an opening. Two possibilities transformed in her mind: she could gamble a shot in it’s already damaged eye or she could use that dagger in its skin. Fiona took action and booked towards the beast’s blindside. When she grabbed the knife, pain shot through the creature and it pulled its head up. Fiona kept a hold with two hands, praying that the dagger would stay lodged. Her feet scrambled for footing but the sleek scales fought against her.
“Shit, shit shit--!”
“Fiona! Hang on!”
She felt herself be lifted into the air by a strong metal arm that was entirely too slick for her to stay on.
“Fiona!” Rhys grabbed her with his other hand.
As she slipped, Fiona reached out for him as fire spewed out of the animal’s mouth at them.*
Fiona woke up to a hazy world. Everything was dark and gray. Oh god, was this what happened after you die? Nothing? She sat up right and sharp pain erupted through her leg. She screamed, trying to touch it but she could feel anything. Suddenly, she was forced on her back by a warped figure and restrained her limbs.
“Stop! I have to go back! I need to protect Sasha! Please! I can’t die!”
“Fi! It’s me! Look at me!”
Fiona blinked hard until her vision grew less blurry. She found her sister above her. Her tears fell onto her chin as Fiona gasped for air. She reached out a shaking hand towards her and Sasha quickly accepted it and pressed it again her cheek.
“You’re alive, Fi. You’re okay.”
“I’m okay too. You’re in Sanctuary. Everything is going okay. I promise. I promise, it’s okay.”
“I can’t feel my leg...”
“Yeah, um… I wouldn’t look at that right now. You’ve got an IV. You’re going to be okay. Do you remember what happened?”
“I… I remember falling… and… Oh god, Jack--”
“Jack’s okay. You saved his life. He’s alive. He’s been walking around with this giant bandage on his head. It’s kind of funny to look at. He’s okay.”
“Why do you sound so out of breath?”
“You scared the shit out of me, Fi. You’ve been out for weeks.”
“Where… where’s Vaughn? Rhys?”
“They are alive. Rhys busted his robot arm when he caught you. Vaughn was practically covered with that thing’s blood when we were done with it. You remember that? Fire breathing monster?”
“I think so…? ”
“They are at Promethea. He has to recover from the Maliwan siege. You remember that right?”
“Yeah, I do.”
“Good. Good. Good. You really scared me… I thought you died, Fi… I thought you both did.”
“Wh...what happened, Sash? Tell me the whole thing.”
“W...” She sniffled and vainly rubbed her eyes but the tears continued to flow. “Rhys dived to-- to catch you and… he was going so fast that he… he took the brunt of the fall and the… the burn.. I’m just glad you guys didn’t land on anything hard… Your… your leg...” Sasha was unable to speak when she looked down. “Rhys broke his arms. I think he just recently got surgery done for his back. Both of you were unconscious. That’s when one of the Vault Hunters showed up. I don’t remember her name but she was a Siren. She really helped us beat that thing down.”
“Sasha… what’s wrong with my leg?”
“You want to talk to Rhys? I told them that I’d call them when you woke up--”
“Sasha. I… I did more than break my leg… did I?”
All Sasha could do was nod her head.
The realization did not hit Fiona as hard as she thought. Perhaps, whatever was in that IV was drugging her up so well that the shock could not register. She laid there with knitted brows. Her mouth felt dry as she spoke, “Will I get a new one…?”
“That’s what we are waiting on right now… More waiting on you to properly heal and start eating. I don’t trust Tannis. She said that you’d wake up after putting in your leg and we’d do everything from there. I may have… hid you away from her.”
“She was giving you weird shit in needles! She’s not even a real doctor doctor. We don’t have anyone on this ship who actually has a license.”
“What about Felicity?”
“Oh… her, yeah. She’s been helping me a lot… I… really haven’t left your side since we got here.” She looked away from her. “I’m sorry, I just couldn’t deal not being beside you. I wanted to first thing you see to be me. I knew you’d freak out if you didn’t. I had to make sure...”
“Is this your room?”
“It’s the room Felicity supplied us with, yes.”
“Have you let anyone in here, Sasha?”
“... Tim’s knocked a few times… to give me food.”
“You haven’t eaten at all, have you?”
“I thought you would be asleep forever, Fi.”
“I’m awake now. Go eat something.”
“No, no, I know what you’re going to do when I leave, Fiona.”
“How can I walk around like this? I’m drugged up and I can barely see straight, I doubt I can sit up right now without vomiting.” She said with a smile.
“Yeah, you should stay horizontal for now.” She hiccuped as she took a tissue to blow her nose. She lazily tossed it near the trash can and picked up an ECHO device that was beyond Fiona’s peripheral. “I’m calling Vaughn. He’s taking care of Rhys so he should answer.”
“Heh… when’s the wedding?”
“You know, they actually are getting married this time.”
“Really? That’s great news.” She closed her eyes when the bright blue screen popped up. “I think I remember when Rhys first proposed to him. I’ve never seen Vaughn so scared.”
“Yeahhh… I think we’ve all grown a little wiser now.”
“Some more than others.”
“I don’t know. I think Rhys has gotten better, even if it’s just a little bit-- Good morning, Vaughn. Nice hair.”
“Thanks. Hey, you’re smiling again.”
“That’s awesome! Oh-- thanks, hey Fiona. How are you feeling?”
Fiona squinted at Vaughn and his fluffed out bed head pictured on the screen. “Drugged.”
“Yeah, you and Rhys are on the same boat. Rhys? Sweetie?” There was a groan off camera. “Fiona’s awake, do you wanna say hi?”
It hurt for her to laugh. “Man, he sounds worse than me.”
“He’s on a lot of pain killers.”
“The goooood shiiiit.” Rhys corrected. “I feeeel gooood. Everything is in slow moshhhhhon.”
“I think that’s just you, Rhys. How’s um-- the uh, thing, Sasha?”
“Fi knows about her leg, Vaughn. It’s okay.”
“... Oh. She must have handled that pretty well.”
“Hey Rhys!” Fiona called out, “we’re going to be twins…!”
“Yeah, I’m gonna get a cyber arm for my leg.” Sasha vainly choked back a laugh while Vaughn had to cover his mouth after a snort.
“Vaughn?” Sasha managed to cough out. “Rhys’ arm is nothing serious, right?”
“Oh no, it’s actually healing a lot faster than his back. Poor guy can’t sit up right now. He’s on a liquid diet for now.”
“I miss my chaaaiir.”
“It’s a cool chairrrr hafff you seen iiit?”
“Yes, I have, Rhys.”
“When’s the marriage?” Fiona asked as she clumsily scratched the sleepies out of her eyes.
“No, whenever Rhys is coherent again, we’ll talk about it then.”
“Ist gonna be great. Yours invited.”
“How’s Tim’s recovery going?”
“Oh, Tim’s good.” Sasha said with a unsure nod. “As far as I know.”
“You locked yourself in with Fiona, didn’t you?”
“I don’t think I asked for your opinion, Vaughn.”
“Ha!” Rhys drunkenly giggled. “Shhhhhe told youuuuuuu.”
There was a knock that Sasha momentarily thought it was on their door until Vaughn hopped up from his chair. “That’s the doctor. Sorry, I gotta turn this off. Get better soon, Fiona.”
“Okayy. You too.”
“Byyyyye Fiooonaaa!” Rhys called out a lot louder than he should.
When Vaughn ended the call, Sasha placed the device down. Fiona noticed her smile was beginning to become brighter.
“I’m glad you’re happy.”
Sasha squeezed her hand. “I got the best sister I could ever ask for.”
“Awww, stop. You don’t mean it.”
The door to the room suddenly opened. Quickly, Sasha jumped up and body blocked the bed to her sister. Timothy, who was standing at the threshold, stared at her with big eyes. “I heard Fiona talking, is she awake?”
Relaxing, Sasha beckoned him inside. “Sorry about that, I thought you were someone else.”
“Tannis? Yeah. She and Felicity are still arguing on whether or not I’m suffering from brain damage.” He knelt to meet Fiona’s gaze. “How you feeling?”
“Sleepy. You are you?”
“I think she meant to say how are you?”
“I’m doing good, aside from dizzy spells. I’m good. Actually...” He pulled out his watch. “You want her to check up?”
Sasha shrugged, “Go ahead.”
In only a moment, Felicity’s green form appeared beside them. She was massaging the bridge of her nose. “Thank you. Timothy. I needed that. Are you ready to continue?”
“Actually, it’s Fiona. She’s living among us again.”
“Ah! That’s wonderful. Hello, Fiona.”
“Do you mind if I scan you?”
“Thank you.” After a short pause, Felicity hummed, “The mind is still healing from the trauma. That’s normal. It looks like her original concussion has subsided. How much pain do you feel right now?”
“What about when you move?”
“She moved when she first woke up. I think it was mostly in the leg.” Sasha informed her.
“Thank you, Sasha. Has she been told? Good. Fiona, I need you to watch my finger, can you do that?”
Fiona kept her gaze on her finger as she moved it around her peripheral.
“Very good. Can you move your neck for me?”
Fiona carefully moved her head side to side.
“Does that make you dizzy?”
“Very good. Is she able to move her limbs?”
Sasha nodded. “She was able to move her arms.”
“She’s healing well then. The leg could still use another week of healing.”
“How’s the leg-- uh… the metal one, looking?” Timothy asked.
“It just finished it’s last test an hour ago. It’s ready whenever she’s able. The re-learning how to walk process should not take too long since it’s ingrained in your subconscious.”
“Cool. Can I sleep?” Fiona grumbled, covering her face with her hand.
“Not yet, you need food. I suggest a liquid diet for now since she cannot fully sit up. You can find some broth in that cupboard over there, Sasha.” Felicity turned towards Timothy. “As for you, we were in the middle of your appointment?”
“We don’t need to leave; I’ve already scanned you. This will be quick.” She hummed. “Can stand up for me?”
Fiona cackled when Timothy started leaning to one side before catching him. He pouted, “Shut up, you.”
“You haven’t been eating.”
“I’ve been on that diet you put me on.”
“You haven’t been eating much of the diet I put you on.”
Timothy didn’t answer right away. “I’m just not that hungry.”
“That’s only in your mind. When we are done here, eat.”
“One last thing. Close your eyes.”
Timothy obeyed once more, waiting for his next command. Then he felt something electric touch his lips and his eyes shot open. Felicity was gone.
He looked to Sasha, who was standing there holding a bowl of soup and grinning. “Did… did she just kiss me and ran off?”
“Hell yea, she did.”
“That little shit...” He about ran to the door before he stopped and gave Fiona a gentle pat on her head. “You keep feeling better, okay? Love ya.”
“Thanks.” Then he booked it out the room, his yell bouncing off the walls of the spaceship. “Felicity! We need to have a talk, ya minx, where’d you go?!”
Abruptly, Sasha’s ECHO began buzzing as she carefully spooned another helping of broth into her sister's mouth.
“Can I try?” Fiona croak, holding her hand out for the spoon.
“No, you’ll miss your mouth and waterboard yourself.”
“You never have any faith in me.”
“Pft, yep. I sure don’t.” Sasha put down the bowl and checked her ECHO. Her eyes grew small. “Fi, it’s Yvette.”
“Put her on.”
“... Okay.” She clicked on answer call and a Yvette’s disgruntled face appeared on the screen.
“Don’t you ‘Hey Yvette’ me, you idiot. What were you thinking?”
“I was thinking about how much I missed you?”
For a moment, her pissed off countenance softened until she scoffed. “You’re drugged, aren’t you?”
“I’m also very sleepy.”
“Yeah, you look like shit.”
“How are you feeling?”
“I feel like punching you in the stomach. I swear if you ever show me your face on Pandora, I will end you.”
“I love you too.”
“... Goddammit, Fiona… you’re the worst girlfriend in world.”
“Why don’t you answer my calls then?”
“You’ve been calling me? Fiona, I got a new ECHO.”
“I… oh. How come you never called me?”
“I’ve been busy down here. I don’t have time.”
“Then why call now?”
Yvette huffed. Her face finally shifted. “Fine. I was mad at you for leaving. That’s why I didn’t call. I thought I could just forget about you, but I couldn’t. When Vaughn told me what happened and now that you’re awake, all I could do was think about you. So it’s your fault that I’m behind on my work.”
“So does that mean you still like me?”
“Like you? I’d be making out with your face if I was in that room… I’m really--really glad you’re okay, Fiona.”
“Sasha’s taking good care of me, cause the best sister in the world.”
Sasha snickered, “I guess I can accept that.”
“When you’re back to being yourself, you better come back down here so I can treat you to something nice.”
“I’d like that… I’m gonna have a robot leg when I do see you.”
“Yeah, it’s gonna be hot.”
“Hot to touch underneath this Pandorian sun.” Yvette shook her head. “You’re a mess.”
“I’m your mess.”
“Awh, that hurts.”
“You’re going to hurt a lot more when you get down here, I swear… I gotta get going before I get yelled at for using up these minutes while I'm working. Sasha, you best make sure you get her walking soon.”
“Don’t worry, I will.”
“Love you, Yvette.” Fiona waved, limply.
“I love you too, baby. Talk to you soon, whenever I can.”
Another dizzy spell hit him as Timothy collapsed onto his knees when he entered his chambers. Aggressively, he shook that off and prompt himself up onto his bed. “Feliiiciiityyy. You can’t keep hiding foreeveeer!”
“You know I can.” Her voice echoed.
“I prefer that you didn’t! C’mon, I want to talk. Don’t tell me you’re the one that’s flustered here.”
“How dare you.” He couldn’t keep himself from smiling. “After all these years?”
“You’ve grown on me...”
“Say that to my face, you won’t.”
Finally, she appeared in front of him, her hands on her hips. “You’re too old to make jokes like that.”
Her form tingled against his skin when he gently took hold of her hand. He pressed her fingers against his lips. He held her hand there just to feel the warm energy she put off. It was wonderful to finally feel her on his face. He smiled up at her so lovingly. “Oh Felicity… stay. C’mon, sit.”
“I’ll just go right through you.” She teased, coyly.
“Back then you would have. You’re much stronger now, don’t you lie to me.” He kissed her hand and up her arm. “Let me hold you.”
She sighed and eased herself onto his lap. “You know a relationship like this between a patient and a doctor is strictly prohibited.”
“Oh, to hell with that.”
“Rather crude way to put it… darling.” It was odd for her to say that again but this time… this time it felt nice, natural, even.
He giggled cutely and nuzzled her shoulder, “When--when did you? You know, start loving me?”
“I don’t think that matters.”
“I guess you’re right… but I still want to know.”
“Well, it wasn’t all at once, unlike you. You fall in love too easily.”
“I’m a hopeless romantic, what can I say?”
Felicity twirled one of his long locks of hair with her finger. It wasn’t a strong will but the hair did react to the touch. “Hopeless, yes.”
“But I don’t mind that.”
Timothy leaned in for a kiss and found himself on his hands and knees on the floor. He jerked his head up and glared at Felicity who was standing over him with a smug smirk. “I am not distracting you from eating, Lawrence.”
“Really? The surname?”
“Yes, the surname. You are going to faint if you don’t do something about it.”
“Dammit, fine. Fine, fine, fine, great, really. One kiss?”
After rolling her eyes, she leveled down and pecked his cheek. “Is that better?”
“Hehehhe… yeah. Okay, I’m getting up now.”
“It’s the simple things, isn’t it?”
“You’re more than just simple, Felicity.”
"I mean the kiss, Timothy."
"Ah. Yes. Correct. Si-- Los alimentos. Getting food. And Felicity?"
"Thank you." Without an explanation, he slipped out of the room.
Yeah, I’m not ending it like that, you kidding me? I cannot believe that I actually thought I should end it on that cliff hanger, hell no. I’m not fucking, Gearbox. I ain't pulling a TFTB ending, fuck that. You may continue reading.