The voice came from everywhere all at once, bolting Rhys upright and out of sleep. He clutched his head and desperately looked around his darkened bedroom. Shimmering blue, Jack stood in the middle of the room, a sheaf of papers in one hand and a look of impatience on his face.
“Jack?” Rhys asked, mind racing to catch up. “How--”
“I hacked your personal terminal,” Jack said, waving off the question. “Listen, I’ve been going over the numbers for the last year, and something’s up.”
“You were dead,” Rhys pointed out, scrubbing his hands over his face in an attempt to regain some semblance of sanity. “It makes sense that sales--”
“Thank you, you should teach at the local community college,” Jack interrupted. “What am I, new? I already factored that in. Where are the goddamn extraterrestrial numbers? No one here knows how to work the damn computers.”
“There are people there?” Rhys asked. “It’s--” he checked the time. “Three in the morning on a Saturday.”
“There aren’t anymore,” Jack said, with dark satisfaction. “What are you doing?” He glanced around, as if noticing the surroundings for the first time. “God, do you live here? I thought you had stock options. Rhys, be honest with me,” he looked at Rhys, sincere concern written all over his face. “Is that a twin bed?”
“I was sleeping,” Rhys said. “Why are you even at work?”
Jack looked at him, as if waiting for the question to make sense. “Cupcake, I was dead. Do you think we’re coming back from that with a 40 hour work week and mandated vacation time? For fuck’s sake, get your head in the game.”
Rhys frowned at him. “Where’s Dianna?”
Jack glanced around, then waved a hand at the area behind him. “Somewhere outside Airlock D, thinking about what she’s done.”
“You spaced another secretary?” Rhys asked, wondering why he was surprised. Jack had gone through three his first day back. But dammit, Rhys had thought Dianna had staying power. She’d made it almost a month.
“I would have, if anyone were here,” Jack shouted to the room at large, arms spread. “It’s like I’m the only goddamn reason this company still exists. Is it me? Do I care too much?”
“I’m pretty sure that’s not the issue,” Rhys said. “What are the chances of you letting me go back to sleep?”
“Not great, kitten, not great. Pick up coffee on your way. Black, with two creams, the real stuff, not that fake crap they try to give you, and six sugars.” Jack started flipping through the papers in his hands.
“Black, but with cream and sugar… got it,” Rhys drawled, rolling out of bed.
“I’m going to need a new secretary, too, because I’m spacing Debra the minute the lazy cow decides to show up,” Jack added.
“I’m not in charge of hiring, Jack. Send HR a memo.” Rhys picked up a shirt and sniffed it. He knew better than to ask Jack to hang up, and he worried about what the man would do if he just unplugged his unit. The last thing he needed was Handsome Jack hacking into his automatic ice maker and yelling at him.
Jack let out a sigh that would have been appropriate for someone realizing they had to swim across an ocean. “Whatever,” he muttered. “Don’t forget the coffee.” He disappeared as fast as he’d appeared, leaving Rhys in a completely dark room.
Rhys thought about what he’d done to deserve any of this. Sure, he was now a minority partner at Hyperion and wealthy beyond what had been his wildest dreams, and sure, he was working with his one time idol, and five years ago, everything he had now would have been several dreams come true.
As Rhys dragged on a clean pair of pants, he considered some of the dreams he’d had in the past and how happy he’d been to wake up.
It was the screaming that caught Rhys’ attention.
Screaming wasn’t exactly unusual at Hyperion, but it was rare that it continued unabated. Rhys paused and cocked his head, listening.
“Oh God, Oh God, please, no, no nononoahhh!” The scream ended abruptly in a gunshot.
Rhys checked the time, rubbed his forehead, and continued on his way toward the now silenced screamer. As expected, there was a body in the door to Jack’s office. Oddly, his secretary, Dianna, whom Jack insisted on calling Debra, was nowhere to be found. She’d managed to survive four months, so far. The company pool had 60-1 she’d last another three months, but it was an outside chance and no one really took the bet except Hank in Accounting. (It bothered Rhys that anyone would take odds that long, especially an accountant. He’d gone back and forth on the ethics of using that as a reason to fire the man.)
A tiny whisper broke the silence. Rhys looked around to try and locate the voice, eventually finding Dianna in a ball under her desk.
“Dianna?” he asked.
“He killed the board,” she whispered. “He called the entire board in an hour ago and spaced them all.”
Rhys had concerns that his first response wasn’t more sympathetic. He probably should have expressed surprise, or alarm. Instead, he sighed. “Why?”
“I-I-I don’t know. He was screaming about the numbers and then he just…” Dianna trailed off, eyes wide and terrified.
Rhys considered that. “Do you have the most recent figures for the new pistols?”
“I gave them to him this morning.”
“That might be it,” he said, considering. “Or he might be hungry. Look, can you get me the projected numbers for the new defense contract?”
“What about…” she trailed off, then pointed at the office.
Rhys shrugged, but before he could respond, Jack himself appeared in the door.
“What the hell are you doing here?” Jack asked, wiping blood on his shirt. “I thought we were scheduled for 3?” He looked at the desk, then spotted Dianna under it. “Oh, for fuck’s sake, like I can’t shoot you if you’re under the goddamn desk? Get up. I need the Maliwan numbers for quarter 3.”
Dianna squeaked and scurried out from under her desk with a ‘yes sir.’
Jack stared at her a minute to see if she would do anything interesting, then rolled his eyes and gestured for Rhys to follow him into his office, waving with the hand still holding his gun.
“Did you space the board of directors?” Rhys asked, stepping around the corpse of… was that Dan, from Legal?
“Of course I spaced the board of directors,” Jack said, flinging himself into his chair. “Together they managed to embezzle half my profits--”
“Our profits,” Rhys corrected.
“Our profits. Which is impressive, considering I once watched Chip try to cut a steak with a spoon.” Jack tossed his gun onto his desk. “A well done steak, too.” His tone dripped disgust.
“What happened to Dan?” Rhys asked.
“Assassination attempt,” Jack said, dismissively. He rubbed his hands together. “Hoo, it’s been a day. This is going to bug me. Did we reschedule? I swear to God, Debra, you have one goddamn job--”
Rhys shook his head. “No, I was on my way back from meeting with R&D and wanted to get the projected numbers for Hades-IV.”
Jack rolled his shoulders. “The shield licensing deal?” he asked. “Why?”
“I think I can get us a better percentage.” Rhys waved a hand. “Let me work on it and I’ll get back to you on it. Look, don’t kill Dianna. HR is having a hard time recruiting new PA’s for you. They sent me a memo that was mostly just begging me to reason with you.”
Jack groaned and let his head fall back. “I’m not some psychopath bandit, kiddo.”
Rhys politely refrained from looking at the dead body currently propping open the door and said nothing.
“Whatever. It’s not like she’s stolen a couple billion from me or anything,” Jack said. “I’ll throw her a goddamn parade.”
“Maybe just don’t shoot her,” Rhys suggested.
“Yes, mom,” Jack said.
The first time Rhys was kidnapped, no one noticed, including Rhys himself.
He was down in Accounting reviewing the latest projections for the upcoming quarters. Things seemed to go easier when he did the reviews before the department submitted the numbers to Jack; he could head off some of the inevitable explosions if he had advanced notice, though he’d been careful to keep Jack from realizing he was being handled. As a result, the turnover rate for Accounting was way down from previous years, despite the irregular trends in profits since Jack’s death and resurrection.
Rhys was a little pleased with himself that he’d managed to improve Hyperion in that small way. He might not have made a huge difference to the bottom line, but preventing a few murders here and there wasn’t a bad legacy, overall.
So, it came as a surprise when he finally packed up his things and tried to leave, only to find the door locked and the two accountants he’d been meeting with huddled together in the corner, wild eyed and waving obviously unloaded guns. Rhys didn’t even have to scan the weapons to know they weren’t loaded, both were very obviously missing their clips, even to his untrained eye.
“Uh--” he started, eloquently.
“Six BILLION credits!” Janet shouted, waving the gun. “Or we’ll fill you full of bullets!”
Rhys frowned. “Six billion credits?” he echoed.
“Yeah!” Caesar added. “In unmarked credits!”
“What’s an unmarked credit?” Rhys asked. His mind caught up to the particularities of the situation. “Are… you… mugging me? You know I don’t have six billion credits, right? I’m just the Co-CEO. Jack might have that kind of money, but I don’t think he has it liquid or anything, it’s not like...”
“THIS IS A KIDNAPPING,” Caesar yelled. “If Hyperion wants to keep it’s CEO, they’ll pay!”
Rhys waited a beat longer to see if there was an actual threat forthcoming. When there wasn’t, he shrugged and unlocked the door. Security was outside, walking down the hall in an unhurried way, and Rhys jerked a thumb at the door behind him. “I think they just tried to kidnap me?”
“Do you want us to arrest them?” the security guard asked.
Rhys thought it over. “Maybe just notify them that they’re fired and escort them off premises?”
The guard nodded and that ended Rhys’ first kidnapping.
The second time Rhys was kidnapped, he remembered getting into the car on the way to a shuttle for a meeting off campus. The next thing he knew, he was waking up in the backseat of the admittedly nice limo and a skinny woman in black was outside, arguing with someone on her Echo.
“I’m just saying, he’s not really worth that much,” Jack’s voice said. The Echo projected a small holo of his body, giving Rhys a weird sense of deja vu. He looked bored. “I mean, he’s nice to look at and he has neat handwriting, but you’re asking an awful lot for a guy who basically just drinks coffee all day.”
“Stop deflecting! We’ll broadcast him getting shot in the head if you don’t deliver the money! How’s that for a bottom line?” the woman demanded, waving her Echo at the limo Rhys was locked in.
Jack looked at the limo. Rhys waved at him.
“Buttercup, can you hear me?” Jack asked.
“We have the security footage,” Jack said. “You actually got into the car of your own volition, without checking the driver. We have it on video. I’m currently broadcasting it to all major networks, with the headline ‘CEO Dumbass Kidnapping Attempt.’ I’m trying to find a reason to take this seriously, pumpkin, and I’m coming up blank.”
Rhys rolled his eyes and sighed. Finally, he said: “non-termination clause.”
Jack’s face immediately clouded. “Your contract didn’t cover brainless kidnapping attempts.”
“Subsection B, paragraph 4,” Rhys said. “It’s all there.”
“What?” the woman asked.
“If I die before Jack, for any reason, all future profits from any project he’s associated with are donated, 100%, to the Uplifting Bandits Society on Pandora,” Rhys said, smugly. It had been his greatest achievement to date, getting Jack to sign that contract before helping to resurrect him.
“Oh, wow, that’s smart,” the woman said.
“Thank you,” Rhys said. “So?” he asked Jack.
“Security’s on its way. Try not to get yourself, I don’t know, kidnapped again. Double kidnapped. Whatever.” Jack snarled and disconnected.
The third time Rhys was kidnapped, he was walking back to Jack’s office after a late night party, both him and Jack just a little worse for wear from the complimentary champagne.
There were six of them, men in masks, all armed, and they grabbed Rhys and attempted to drag him into a security elevator. Jack was a few steps ahead when it happened and turned around at Rhys’ aborted shout.
Jack let out a tired sigh and spread his arms at them. “Really?” he asked, then rubbed his forehead. “Look, it’s been a long day. Just put the dipwit down and crawl back into whatever sewer you came from.”
The one holding Rhys jabbed at the elevator button.
His head exploded into a cloud of red mist. Rhys yelped and ducked, trying to spit out the taste of blood. There were four soft sounds and bodies dropped around him, one almost knocking him over. He looked up in time to see Jack punch the last one in the face, then shoot him twice.
“Uh--” Rhys started, patting himself down to make sure he was in one piece.
“Not bad,” Jack observed.
“Thank you?” Rhys said, straightening.
“Not you,” Jack said, sparing him a glance. “The gun. It’s the new Magnus. I was going to do some firings in PR, to try it out, but I guess this works, too.” He examined the bodies with a detached, scientific interest. “Good rate of fire.” He nodded to himself.
Rhys exhaled and tried not to look. He couldn’t help himself. “Pulls to left a little,” he observed.
“Yeah, well you try to shoot straight after a few magnums of champagne,” Jack snipped. “Be thankful one of us is smart enough to walk around with a weapon. Geez, where’s your gun? You’re the Vice President of a weapons company, for God’s sake.”
“Co-CEO,” Rhys corrected.
“Chief Idiot is more like it,” Jack muttered, holstering his gun.
The fourth time Rhys was kidnapped, they were not messing around.
He wasn’t even entirely sure what had happened; he woke up in a small, empty room, tied to a chair. The last thing he remembered was locking his office door, then nothing, not a sound, not an attack, nothing. Whatever they tied him up with was stronger than he was; even with his arm, he couldn’t get the leverage to break the bonds. He sat for a while; unsure of how much time had passed. Shouting did nothing and they had a damper somewhere. He couldn’t get any signal to activate his eye.
Finally, an unmasked man entered the room with an Echo in hand. He pointed it so the small holo of Jack could see Rhys.
“Hey,” Rhys said, voice rough from yelling. “I think I got kidnapped again.”
“Yeah, you’re late for our 3 o’clock,” Jack said. “God, this is really becoming a habit with you.”
“Uh, I don’t want to be the bearer of bad news,” Rhys said, looking up at the unmasked man. “But this guy’s not wearing a mask.”
He remembered the very long talk with the head of security, after the first kidnapping attempt. Masks meant there was a better chance they wanted to keep you alive. No mask meant they didn’t care if you knew who they were, because they were planning on killing you anyway.
The man backhanded Rhys hard enough to knock the chair over. Rhys lay where he fell, dazed from the hit.
In the background, he heard Jack make a soft sound. “When and where?” he said, finally.
Rhys heard the unmasked man give Jack details, but didn’t process most of what was said. He stared muzzily up at the holo as Jack looked down at him.
“I’ll double it,” Jack said, watching Rhys. “But I’m not showing up unless I have confirmation that he’s there and alive. If you kill him, after I find you, I’m going to hunt down everyone you’ve ever known, anyone you’ve even spoken to, anyone who’s so much as smiled at you in passing, and I’m going to skin them alive in front of you, using a rusty spoon, and make you watch as they die, slowly. And after I have killed everyone who has ever shown you the barest hint of human kindness, I’ll start on you. We’re doing amazing things with medical technology these days. You’re going to be surprised about how long we can keep someone alive, even without their skin. Do you hear me? People will have nightmares from the stories about what I will do to you. I’ll turn your name into a damnation.”
The man seemed unimpressed.
It wasn’t long after that when they moved Rhys. A woman came in and gave him a shot, something blue from a needle, and all of his muscles went to sleep on him. His head lolled as the men came and carried him out; everything was spinning, but he was pretty sure he was in a car at some point.
When they stopped, Rhys blanked out for a while. He came around to see Jack standing in an empty loading dock, the masked men around them, his hands in the air. Jack looked… cold. He looked like the statue of himself, remote and too glossy on the surface. He was obviously unarmed, but one of the kidnappers searched him, roughly, before allowing him any closer.
“You’ve got the money?” the man holding Rhys asked.
“Yeah,” Jack said. “And I’m keeping it. Nisha.” The last was said quietly and Rhys had a second to wonder what it meant before the world came apart around him. The shipping container next to them exploded, the concussive force of the blast sending Rhys flying back. Jack grabbed him and curled around his body, his shield flaring as it absorbed the impact.
They landed hard against the wall. Jack swore, then tiled Rhys’ head up to look at him.
“Hey, kiddo, you still with me?” he asked.
Rhys looked at him, trying to figure out what he’d asked. “Was that an Anshin shield?” he asked, squinting.
“Yeah, don’t make a big deal out of it. Look, buddy, I need you to stay here for a minute, okay? I have some people I need to talk to.” Jack straightened up and looked around. After a second, he picked up a piece of pipe that had been blown free in the explosion and turned back to the chaos.
Rhys heard the gunshots and later he was able to piece things together from details Jack shared. Nisha was an old friend who loved guns, Jack told him, and a damn good sniper. Good enough to kill all the kidnappers who had Rhys. Good enough not to kill them.
There were six men total, three women, on the team that had taken Rhys. Nisha took out four of them with shots to the knees, three were knocked out in the explosion, and the remaining two Jack ran down with the pipe. One was killed outright; Jack vented his rage with the pipe until there was very little left besides meat pulp. Nisha had apparently had to remind Jack of his plans for the rest, plans that didn’t include anything as simple as being bludgeoned to death.
After that, Rhys lost track of what happened to the kidnappers; he spent a night in the infirmary, surrounded by personal guards. Jack had come to check on him at one point, his hands smelling like soap, his hair carefully done, and his eyes as sharp as a scalpel’s edge. He read through Rhys’ file, then sat down and complained about the profit margins on the latest Hyperion shields to go to market. Rhys had listened to Jack ramble on until he fell asleep, midway through a digression on whether Jack felt like a steak or a hamburger or if he was actually hungry at all.
Rhys was discharged shortly after that, but Jack sent him a memo to take the next few days off. The guards came home with Rhys and it didn’t escape his notice that someone had done a serious security overhaul to his apartment. He wondered how they’d managed to turn his place into a fortress, given he’d only been away for a few days. He stood in the foyer and played with the lockdown modes until Jack showed up and taught him how to use the turrets.
“Jack,” Rhys said, as the other man fiddled with the control panel. He waited until Jack looked up, then offered the other man a wan smile. “Thanks. For coming to get me.”
Jack held his gaze a moment longer than necessary, just long enough Rhys saw something in his eyes, something raw and full of rage, something undeniably hungry. There was blood in his eyes, the vicious gleam of well executed violence and Rhys was reminded that underneath Jack’s glossy exterior, there was a monster, an apex predator that lived for the kill.
Jack dropped his gaze back to the panel. “Non-termination clause, remember?” he asked, voice light. “We’re on track to turn record profits this quarter. I can’t give that kind of money to bandits.”
But it was too late for casual words. Rhys wondered why he thought he’d be any different from the things Jack claimed as his. Jack was fiercely loyal in his own way; those things he made his own, he guarded jealously, defended violently. It was the reason Hyperion was the top weapons manufacturer in the galaxy; it was undeniable fact that Handsome Jack responded to threats with a ruthless focus that left only salted earth in his wake.
Rhys caught Jack’s chin in his hand, slowly, giving the other man time to process his movements. He tilted Jack’s head enough to look him in the eye again. “Yeah,” he agreed, smiling slightly. “That would be a disaster.”
“Oh, shut up,” Jack said, rolling his eyes. “I knew you would turn this into some sort of thing.”
Rhys didn’t back up, not when Jack stepped out from behind the panel and crowded closer, into Rhys’ space. “It’s not a thing?” Rhys asked. “Because it seems like it was kinda a thing.”
“Stop saying thing,” Jack snapped, irritably, but he tilted his head into Rhys’ touch. “What did you expect? Heroes don’t just ignore a kidnapping.”
“And you’re a big damn hero?” Rhys asked, raising his eyebrows.
Jack put a hand on Rhys’ hip; not pushing him away, but not pulling him any closer, either. Holding him in place.
“Haven’t you been paying attention, cupcake?” Jack murmured, his razor gaze molten as it dropped to Rhys’ mouth. “I’m the big damn hero.”
Jack would argue he made the first move because of course he did; even when Rhys had, in fact, been the one to kiss the other man. Jack later claimed that the entire rescue had been an elaborate come on and it was Rhys’ own fault he sucked at flirting.
Rhys closed the distance between them; Rhys was the one to take Jack’s mouth, though the other man quickly caught up and took over. His mouth was demanding as he backed Rhys against the security panel. The shutters over the windows came down hard, then jerked back up again as Jack lifted Rhys slightly to sit him on the control panel, then stepped between his legs and took the kiss deeper. For his part, Rhys speared his fingers through Jack’s hair, tilting his head up, into the kiss, and shifted close enough to rock their hips together. Jack’s moan tasted like a victory and Rhys smiled into the kiss.
It wasn’t until much later, in a boneless pile in Rhys’ bed, that it occurred to him to ask about the kidnappers. Jack’s hand stilled from where he’d been playing idly with Rhys’ hair and Rhys felt him tense.
“Don’t worry about them,” Jack finally said. “Everything’s being dealt with.”
“What does that mean?” Rhys asked, lifting his head.
Jack’s face gave nothing away, his eyes as flat and hard as a junkyard skag’s. “It means I’m dealing with it.”
“Did you kill them all?” Rhys asked, more curious than concerned.
Jack’s smile was a horrible thing to behold, as open and joyful as any Rhys had ever seen.
“Oh, no, babe,” Jack said, pressing a kiss to Rhys’ forehead. “I definitely did not kill them. They’re going to live a long, long time. I guarantee it.”