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To Domesticate Monsters

Chapter Text

Sleeping with Handsome Jack had been unexpectedly enlightening.

Not fucking Jack; that had been a lot of things, but it hadn’t brought on any revelations, aside from an unsettling realization that being a truly awful human being was not a deal breaker for Rhys. But quick, frantic fucks slowly became longer and more regular; brief intimacies became sought out time together, unspoken and undefined until Jack sent workers to pack Rhys up and move him into his penthouse.

Rhys stood in his empty apartment and gaped, wondering what type of thieves would be so completely thorough as to steal his second-hand couch and old socks. When his Echo rang, he answered it without thinking.

“Thai,” Jack declared. “I haven’t had Thai food in forever. What do you usually get? Nevermind, I’m ordering a spread. Where are you?”

“I was robbed,” Rhys said, turning slowly in place.

“What? When?” Jack asked, voice going sharp. “Are you sure?”

“I’m standing in the middle of my apartment and I’m the only thing here. They took everything,” Rhys said, going to look at the door to see if it had been forced.

Jack was quiet a beat, then his laughter came in waves. “You’re precious, cupcake. Stop playing around and get your fine ass over here.” He hung up and Rhys only discovered he’d moved all Rhys’ stuff after he’d shown up himself, still on call with security. Jack had hung up for him and looked utterly confused by the entire argument that followed.

The argument ended when Jack threw up his arms in frustration and stalked out. By the time he came back, Rhys was asleep on the bed.

“See?” Jack muttered, rolling his eyes. “It’s better here, anyway, idiot.”

Rhys didn’t move back out, so Jack considered it a victory, overall, though odd that it had upset Rhys to begin with. The other man could be weird like that, like the time he’d come home to find all the cats that Jack was temporarily, temporarily housing until R&D 7 was finished and they could be released. Rhys had found him playing with a laser sight and a pair of kittens, and completely seemed to miss the point in regards to the massive layoffs Jack had personally executed. How Jack was the bad guy in that story, he’d never understand.

For the most part, Jack was unconcerned by Rhys’ moving in; he seemed to like having the other man close on hand. (Literally, most nights, and that unwavering, demanding focus Jack showed to his company also translated to his lover.) Whatever changes Rhys made, he accepted in stride, personally, for all he would fight like a junkyard skag when Rhys tried to change anything regarding Hyperion.

Overall, Rhys considered himself a hard worker, but he came to understand that he was sinfully sloth-like compared to Jack’s manic focus when it came to Hyperion. He was everywhere, reviewing proposals, developing new products, managing advertising campaigns, meeting with investors and prospective partners, there wasn’t a single part of the company Jack didn’t, in some way, influence or understand.

And it would have been impressive all by itself, but Jack was constantly making connections, improving and tweaking things; Rhys found him in R&D once, in a suit, covered in grease as he helped the overhaul of the new loader bots.

It wasn’t unusual for Rhys to fall asleep in the dim glow of Jack’s Echo, as the other man caught up on emails and read over contracts and proposals. The first time it happened, Rhys had laughed; Jack had wandered naked into the bathroom to get a damp washcloth for Rhys and come back reading the Anshin contract. Rhys had watched, curious to see what Jack would do, and the other man did not disappoint. He flopped back down on the bed, handed Rhys the rag, and then tilted his wrist to show Rhys the projection of the contract.

“Subclause six is weird,” Jack had said. “I think they’re trying something.”

Rhys had rested his chin on Jack’s shoulder and read over the clause. “They’re definitely up to something. It sounds like the language from the old contract.”

“That’s it,” Jack agreed, swiping a hand through the projection. He typed in a note, sent the memo back to legal, and brought up his email without seeming to notice the very naked man beside him.

Rhys enjoyed himself for a while after that, testing Jack’s focus, seeing what he could get away with and what would distract Jack from his work. Sex was almost always a sure bet, but food had only a 50-50 chance of succeeding; higher if it was something sweet. The cats had a moderate average compared to Rhys himself, but both would find themselves absently pet and set aside when Jack was fully focused. On one notable occasion, Rhys had tried to distract Jack away from a very high priority proposal and received a hand to the face, gently guiding his head to rest on Jack’s chest and hold him there, out of the way.

Someone had trained him, Rhys figured, that he needed to stick around after sex, but they hadn’t been able to get him to understand why. Jack would stay in bed the same way he hung up his dry cleaning; automatic and without any real thought. Jack wouldn’t leave, but it was rare that he fell asleep next to Rhys. More often than not, he would show up late, or still be working and Rhys would have to track him down and drag him home.

Because of their hours, because Jack thought an 80 hour work week was a vacation, it took Rhys a while to notice how rarely Jack slept. The first time he woke up in bed alone, he’d checked the entire penthouse to find himself the only one there. He had finally called Jack to find out he was in his office, on a call, and that he would be up when he finished. Rhys had gone back to sleep, but had begun to notice a pattern.

Waking up to the cold bed, he dragged on the closest thing, one of Jack’s sweaters, and padded to the elevator, barefoot. It was late enough to qualify as early, and Rhys was midyawn when he stepped in to Jack’s office.

Jack was wearing clean clothes, hair styled, working on something. He glanced up when Rhys walked in, and Rhys didn’t miss the way he immediately checked the time. On anyone else, it would have been guilt, but Rhys had a suspicion the expression Jack wore actually betrayed wariness.

It happened sometimes; Jack would say or do something and Rhys could almost see him realize that it wasn’t a normal reaction, that he’d done something odd that he never realized was weird until that moment. It was the same look Jack had given him when Rhys had been surprised by wholesale slaughter of a department, in the name of rescuing some cats.

“What’re you doing up?” Jack asked, switching off his screens to give Rhys his attention.

Rhys walked closer, catching a brief glimpse of the projects Jack had been working on, before they disappeared. “When do you sleep?” he asked, leaning back on the desk to look at Jack.

Jack blinked, then shrugged. “Worried about me, Rhysie? I got a couple hours.”

“When?” Rhys asked, folding his arms.

Jack considered it, considered lying, and decided on the truth. For a man who wore a mask, he was remarkably easy to read, Rhys thought.

“Last night,” he said.

“Is that normal for you?” Rhys asked, reaching out to mess up Jack’s perfect hair.

The wariness was back, quickly masked by bravado. “Why? Keeping track of my habits, cupcake?” Jack asked.

“Yes,” Rhys said, simply. He sighed and took Jack’s hand, pulling enough to drag him out of the chair.

Jack wrapped his arms around Rhys from behind, inhaling at the base of his neck. “If you wanted me to come back to bed, princess, all you had to do is ask,” he murmured.

Rhys hit the elevator call button, unimpressed. “To sleep, Jack. You barely get any sleep, you only eat when someone remembers to feed you. You work too much.”

“Hey, someone has to,” Jack said, leaning back against the elevator wall and pulling Rhys with him. “And I have a pretty good sex life, thank you very much.”

“It’s going to kill you,” Rhys said.

Jack groaned and rolled his eyes. “Who are you, my--”

“This is what partners do,” Rhys interrupted. “Didn’t any of your ex-wives ever…” He stopped at the open, curious look on Jack’s face, the same look he had when someone showed him an interesting new bit of code.

“What?” Jack asked.

They hadn’t, Rhys realized. No one had ever nagged Jack to take care of himself. No one had worried over him. He understood sex, he understood wanting someone, needing someone, but there was a vital piece missing from Jack’s past. Rhys thought about Moxxi, thought about Nisha, pulled up the snippets of information he knew about Jack’s childhood. Had anybody ever cared about how little he slept, or how much he worked? Rhys knew the answer before he finished the question. It was written plain in the confusion on Jack’s face.

“Rhys?” Jack asked, frowning. “Stop that. You look like… I don’t know. You look awful.” He squinted his eyes at Rhys. “Geez, if it’s that big a deal--”

“I need you to sleep with me,” Rhys said, taking Jack’s hand and leading him off the elevator, back into the apartment. Jack followed, unresisting, as Rhys stopped and helped strip him out of his jacket.

“What, every night? I’m not a security blanket, kiddo,” Jack said, but he obligingly ducked his head and let Rhys pull off his tee shirt.

“Jack,” Rhys said. “It’s important. Every night.”

“Why?” Jack asked, genuinely baffled.

Rhys pulled him down on the bed and considered his answer, carefully. “It’s what heroes do,” he said.

Jack opened his mouth to protest, looked down at Rhys, then sighed and flopped back on the bed. “You’re a strange guy, Rhys,” he said, but that was the last time Rhys went to bed alone.

Chapter Text

It was one of those things Jack enjoyed, most of the time. Shareholder dinners were all about being seen, making the rounds, airing out the crown. And since his resurrection, there were always new people around, trying to get ahead, hitching their wagons to the phoenix of his rising star.

It was a first for Rhys, which just added to Jack’s entertainment. While Jack would be the first to admit he cut a very fine figure in a tux, Rhys stood up to the comparison; all long legs and sharp lines. If Jack had gotten a little handsy as a result, who could blame him? Rhys had refused to be distracted, however, and so Jack found himself watching the other man sip champagne and make nice with… ew. Dimwell. An aptly named board member and easily Jack’s least favorite sycophant.

He turned away to snag himself a new glass of champagne, listening to the conversations that swirled around him. Dimwell’s voice caught his attention, slightly slurred and just that bit louder than the rest.

“I mean, what has he really done, actually? We can all admit it. Jack’s a good mascot, but he’s not really…” and here, the buzz of conversations drowned out Dimwell’s words, though the man rallied again with: “--you’d see it too, if you weren’t too busy sucking his dick.”

Jack smiled for a photograph, dazzling, and moved closer, like a shark tasting blood in the water. Dimwell he’d deal with, that much was a foregone conclusion, but he wanted to hear Rhys’ reply. He was betting Rhys would excuse himself, or maybe try to silence the other man.

“300% market gains, and profits up by 30% across the board,” Rhys said, voice even, almost bored. He sipped his champagne and surveyed the crowd, disinterest etched in every line. He caught Jack’s eye and shook his head slightly, warning him to back off. “In his first quarter back. In his first year as CEO, he reverse engineered the Medvac systems, brought the New-U stations to market, and eventually claimed the market share and forced Dahl out of the game entirely. Aside from that, this year alone, he’s launched four new products and cut unnecessary spending in every department and our projected numbers are all showing gains of at least three points.”

Rhys set his empty glass on a nearby table, then finally looked at Dimwell, smiling like the light glinting off a razor. “But your career path makes a lot more sense now that I know you consider sucking cock a replacement for a basic understanding of business.”

Jack wasn’t sure if Rhys saw the violence blossoming in the other man, but Jack recognized it as soon as the rage hit Dimwell. He slung an arm around Dimwell’s shoulders and smiled for another picture, then turned his head to speak directly into the man’s ear, his smile wide and his voice low.

“Ah-ah-ah,” Jack said. “I want you to know, that of the two of you, I only consider one of you irreplaceable. Smile for the camera, Dimwitty, and think carefully about what you want to do next.”

Dimwell’s smile was forced and glassy as Jack toasted the photographer. “How about we meet on Monday and discuss your future with Hyperion?” he asked, patting Dimwell’s cheek. “Good talk.”

He watched Dimwell retreat before draining off his glass and snagging Rhys by the back of the neck. Rhys’ smile reached his eyes this time.

“You didn’t kill him?” Rhys asked.

“Baby, you already killed him dead, what could I do to him?” Jack nipped at his bottom lip, then turned them both to smile at the photographer. “Have I mentioned how hot you are when you’re singing my praises?”

“Calm down,” Rhys said, rolling his eyes. “A basic understanding of arithmetic does not mean I think you’re--”

“Perfect? Amazing? God like?” Jack supplied, helpfully. “The best sex you’ve ever had?”

Rhys began to gasp, clutching dramatically at his throat. “Oh! Noo! There’s no air! Your ego is too big! We’re all going to die!”

Jack laughed and caught the other man’s mouth with his own. It was a pretty picture for the front page, the two of them laughing and kissing, surrounded by the success they’d created.

Jack had the article blown up and framed, then sent a copy to Dimwell, then mostly forgot about it, because there were people doing worse than saying mean things about him. But Rhys, he discovered, Rhys would forgive Jack a multitude of sins, but in his defense of Jack, he never forgave, and he never forgot. Jack liked to win, but Rhys didn’t consider it winning unless the loser knew they lost.

It started with Dimwell’s daughter, who went to an exclusive prep school, losing her scholarships. A few weeks later, it came out that the man’s adult son, who was running for office on some backwater planet, was having multiple affairs. A car crash put Dimwell’s wife in the hospital and his private jet was repossessed to pay a long forgotten loan. About a month after that, the daughter ran off with a bandit and the family estate burned to the ground. Jack read the article on the fire in amazement, while Rhys calmly ate breakfast.

“Shame about Dimwell,” Jack said, watching the other man.

Rhys looked up, the picture of curious innocence, and held Jack’s eyes. “Oh?” he said.

“Seems like his business partners have lost faith. The Anshin deal is going to fall through.” It was bunk; though it was a good lie because it was probably going to become a prediction, if Jack knew anything.

Rhys smiled faintly. “We should invite him out to dinner,” he said. “He’s having a rough time.”

Jack’s eyes lit up, delighted by the ruthless apathy in Rhys’ voice. “God, you’re priceless,” he said.

Rhys’ smile widened. “Don’t be ridiculous,” he said. “I’m very, very expensive.”

Chapter Text

The first time it happened, Rhys barely noticed.

It was early in their relationship and Jack was still struggling with his need for the other man. When he disappeared for a week, Rhys didn’t think anything of it; it was just another step in the dance.

The second time, they had been living together for several months. It was odd for Jack to just disappear without warning, but it wasn’t totally unheard of; he wasn’t used to having another person care about when he came or went and he forgot to tell Rhys about trips fairly often. He seemed fine when he turned up again, giving Rhys an excuse about a sudden merger that was only suspicious because it was the first and only time Rhys heard anything about it.

He’d been living with Jack for over a year, the third time, had gotten used to the other man’s habits. He read the frantic emails, ran some numbers, and came to a very upsetting total, in terms of what Hyperion euphemistically referred to as “Termination without Warning- Executive Authorization.” It was code for “Jack killed them and didn’t tell HR why.”

“You killed thirty employees this month!” Rhys said, without preamble, as he walked into Jack’s office. The other man started, then scowled.

“It should have been more than that, princess, believe me. Have you seen the latest numbers?” Jack threw a pen onto his desk in disgust. “I’m meeting with accounting later. Heads are going to roll. Well, more heads.”

“No, you’re not,” Rhys said. “I rescheduled your meetings until you learn how to control this newfound homicidal rage. We’re paying six figures per employee every time you throw a tantrum!”

Jack gaped at him, seeming surprised by Rhys’ protest. “Just because-”

“Stop. Killing. Employees. For. No. Reason,” Rhys said, carefully biting out each word. “I’m telling accounting to take the severance pay out of your paycheck.”

Jack had disappeared shortly after that. Rhys hadn’t been overly concerned the first night he spent alone, but the second night, it bothered him, especially when no one else had seen the man.

He finally broke down and put a call in to Nisha, something he hadn’t had to do since the first week he’d moved in. (He’d inadvertently discovered she knew more than the typical press release information about Jack while complaining about the cats. How Nisha came to know these things, Rhys never found out. The most intimate conversation he’d heard between Jack and Nisha had involved gun preferences. There was no evidence they had ever discussed anything deeper than that.)

“He’s gone?” Nisha said, sounding mildly interested. “Just leave it be, boy toy. He’ll come back.”

The fourth time, Rhys was paying attention. The entire month before, Jack was a short tempered, violent nightmare, barely sleeping, hyperfocused on work and driven like he was being chased. He refused to be handled by Rhys, which meant he spent most of his time pulling out fires and paying out severance to the families of the employees who didn’t avoid Jack’s notice.

His disappearance came almost as a relief and this time, Rhys called Nisha the first night.

“Where is he?” Rhys asked, voice like a phaselock grip.

“He’s your boyfriend,” she said. “Did you check—“

“Yes,” Rhys cut her off, which was never a smart idea, but he felt like he hadn’t slept in a week. “He’s gone somewhere.”

“Just leave it be,” Nisha said. “He’ll be back.”

“No,” he said. “Where is he?”

“Not my place,” she said. “I like you, but Jack’s got his own demons and that’s his business.”

“He is my business. Don’t make me ask again, Nisha,” Rhys said. “I like you and you’re terrifying, but this is Jack. I’ll run you over and I won’t think twice.”

Nisha was quiet for a long moment, then exhaled. “Look, it’s no business of mine. I’ll send you a location. The rest is between you two.”

Rhys studied the location data as it appeared. “Thank you,” he said.

“Don’t,” she said, shortly. “And Rhys? No matter how this goes down, you owe me. If you threaten me again, you’ll never see the bullet.”

It took him several hours to find the location and cursory intelligence said it would be a very bad idea to try and approach. He wasn’t sure why or how Jack had armed what appeared to be a very run down and abandoned bandit camp, but instead of trying to enter, he found the closest settlement, booked a room, and waited at the bar.

It was two more days before Jack appeared, looking exhausted and dirty, his eyes flat and blank. Rhys was going over daily reports, trying to keep the company from imploding. When he looked up, Jack was there. He stood in the doorway and stared at Rhys like a drowning man would stare at a cruise liner.

Rhys gathered up the reports and went to Jack, taking his unresisting hand. “Come on,” he said, leading the way back to the small room he’d rented. Jack followed automatically, used to Rhys leading him where he wanted, too burned out to fight or question.

He was silent the entire time it took for Rhys to convince him to shower; Rhys eventually stripped down himself and crowded into the stall with him. Jack bent his head to let Rhys wash his hair, but shied away when Rhys went to remove his mask. His eyes held an edge of panic that betrayed how exposed he already felt and Rhys left the mask where it was.

Clean, Jack stood in the tiny room, seeming at a loss. He sank onto the tiny cot.

“A shuttle’s on its way,” Rhys said. “Do you want to show me where you went?”

Jack exhaled a laugh, the first real noise he’d made. It sounded more like him, but he shook his head and shut his eyes. “I really don’t,” he said.

Rhys shrugged. “Are you going to?”

Jack looked at him, eyes assessing, weighing how big a fight this would be and if winning would be worth it. Rhys let him come to his own conclusions, waiting.

“I don’t want to go back there,” Jack finally said. He dropped his head to his hands.

Rhys left him there and went himself, armed with his understanding of Jack. It still took him the better part of the day to disengage all the traps, but he eventually found himself in an empty room. Light filtered in from gaps in the ceiling, but there was nothing to see except some scratches on the floor.

It was dark by the time Rhys finished resetting the traps and made his way back. The bartender told him Jack had left and Rhys rode back home in thoughtful silence. He didn’t go back to the penthouse; he went to Jack’s office. The penthouse was their home, but Rhys knew where Jack lived.

As he expected, he found Jack at his desk; it was his place, his throne, his fortress. Jack had rebuilt himself into the glossy perfection of a magazine photo, donned his armor again and he smiled brilliantly when Rhys came in. He was dazzling, but Rhys was not dazzled. It was the gleam of light off broken glass, the hard glitter of diamond.

Rhys came to stand in front of Jack and leaned back against the desk. He reached out and cupped Jack’s cheek; the other man betrayed himself by canting his head into the touch.

“Do you want to tell me about the yearly trips to an empty room?” Rhys asked, giving him room to refuse. Cornering Jack never did any good; graveyards were full of people who had tried.

“How’d you find me?” Jack asked, instead of answering.

Rhys stroked his thumb over the seam of Jack’s mask. “Nisha knew where you were. That’s all she told me.”

Jack seemed to accept that, thinking it over. “Yeah, I think she followed me one year.”

“What is it?” Rhys asked, again.

“It’s where everything went wrong,” Jack said, like it was an explanation, like it was the entirety of the story. No elaboration was offered or forthcoming, but it didn’t seem like evasion to Rhys. Jack shut his eyes and leaned back, shrugging, his voice deliberately casual. “I have to go there sometimes.”

Rhys didn’t ask if it had something to do with the number of terminations Jack had performed in the past month. He didn’t ask if it had anything to do with the other man sleeping even less than usual, working longer hours, if Jack were trying to keep himself distracted. He didn’t ask if it had anything to do with the pictures he had found in the back of Jack’s closet, locked away, of a young Jack and a woman with her face scratched out or burned away. He didn’t ask about Angel, or 4n631, or any of the people missing from Jack’s life.

The wound was there, open and raw; Rhys didn’t care about what had caused it.

Instead, Rhys reached out and carefully stroked his fingers through Jack’s hair, as if he were soothing a cat. He leaned in when Jack wrapped his arms around his hips, hiding his face against Rhys’ body and inhaling deep, his shoulders like iron under Rhys’ fingertips. In the silence, Rhys keyed the lock to the office door, dropped the automated blinds over the windows, and held Jack, offering whatever comfort he had.

The fifth time Jack disappeared, Rhys went with him.

Chapter Text

It took Jack the better part of a month to track Wilhelm down, even after years of monthly poker games and working together. Wilhelm was hard enough to track when he felt like staying on the grid; off the grid, it took the full weight of Jack’s considerable resources to find him. Even after he located Wilhelm, it took him most of a week to trek out to the ramshackle cabin overlooking a horse pasture, tucked in the mountains on a backwater planet.

He told Rhys where he was going, because Rhys had made it very clear that Jack’s days of disappearing without a word were long over and not telling Rhys would have resulted in A Fight. If Rhys had been surprised to hear Jack was tracking down his old employee, he hadn’t let on, instead waving Jack off with instructions to give his regards to Timothy. That had been weird, now that Jack thought about it. He’d been pretty clear about which of his old employees he was hunting and Tim’s name had never come up.

In any case, Jack had hired a car to take him most of the way and ended up riding in a wagon the rest of the way. The cabin was nice enough, he supposed, if a little open. There were huge windows overlooking a canyon on one side, and the horses in the pasture nearby whickered softly. Jack knocked, wondering if Wilhelm had gotten any of the messages he’d sent, and was thrown for a loop when the door opened and he found himself looking into a mirror.

Timothy had obviously just woken up, clad only in a loose pair of sweats. He was in better shape than Jack was, Jack realized, and he’d let his hair grow out some. It stuck up in weird angles and the freckles were starting to come back in, but otherwise, he looked like Jack. His sleepiness became alert wariness as he recognized Jack on his doorstep. Monthly poker games had bred something akin to friendship, but Timothy had never fully lost his wariness of Jack, despite their familiarity.

“Hey, good looking,” Jack said. “Fancy running into you, here. Rhys sends his love.” The little snake had known. They were going to discuss that when Jack got back. Who else was living together without Jack knowing? Was Nisha here, too? No, Nisha would never leave her podunk town for this backwater.

“What do you want, Jack?” Timothy asked, reluctantly stepping back and waving him in.

“I was looking for Wilhelm,” Jack said, following him into the house. There was a small, reddening mark on the back of Timothy’s neck, disconcerting to see. Jack wasn’t sure how he felt about the implications of there being a hickey on the back to his-- Timothy’s neck. “He around?”

“We were sleeping,” Timothy said. “He’s probably up, though. I’ll go tell him to put down the gun.”

Timothy waved Jack towards a chair and disappeared into the back of the house. Jack wandered the kitchen, instead, absently poking at a small green plant growing on a windowsill.

“Jack,” Wilhelm rumbled from behind him. “What the hell are you doing in my house?”

Jack turned and gave the other man a dazzling smile, the one he reserved for when he needed a favor. Wilhelm looked unimpressed and wasn’t any better dressed than Timothy, clad only in a hastily pulled on pair of pants. He had a gun in one hand, dangling loose, and when Jack smiled at him, he set it down on the counter.

“I need to hire you,” Jack explained, stepping back as Wilhelm stepped forward, not retreating, not really. The other man was just so large there was barely enough room for them.

Timothy went to the coffeemaker, running his hand through his hair. “Why don’t you talk on the patio? I’ll make coffee. Jack?”

Jack waved off the offer and followed Wilhelm onto the back deck, which clung precariously to the house over the open canyon. Jack glanced over the rail and made a face, turning his back on the view.

“You know I got out of the game,” Wilhelm said. “But if you need a consult, my usual rates have gone up.”

“Who cares about the price?” Jack asked, honestly wondering. If you wanted the best, you had to pay for the best, that was just business. He offered Wilhelm the file he had brought with him. “Someone’s targeting Rhys.”

Wilhelm took the file and flipped it open as Timothy came out with two mugs of coffee. “Someone’s after Rhys?” Timothy asked, frowning.

Rhys had become an addition to their monthly poker games after he had wiped the floor with everyone the first time they played. The others found it hilarious that Rhys was a cutthroat shark when it came to cards. It turned out that had been all that was required for the group of Vault Hunters to consider Rhys one of their own. Jack felt deflected pride that they had taken such a liking to the other man; Rhys was his and it always felt good to have good taste recognized.

“A group, it looks like,” Wilhelm said, trading Timothy the file for a mug. “You have a pretty good security set up,” he said to Jack. “I should know, I helped create it. Why’re you coming to us?”

Jack’s eyes went hard and his smile went sharp. These dickheads thought they could threaten Rhys and get away with it, thought there weren’t consequences to putting that small bit of fear into his lover. Stopping them was never an option, Jack would destroy them, Jack would make them wish they had never dropped out of their whore mothers. They would find out what hell was unleashed when you tried to come after what belonged to Jack.

“I want to show them the error of their ways,” he said, his voice cold and pleasant, as civilized as the sound of a clip being loaded into a gun. “I need them found and brought back to me, so we can discuss their threats.”

His voice didn’t betray his rage, but there was a sudden tension in Timothy’s shoulders, a feral gleam in Wilhelm’s eye. “Yeah, I think we can arrange that,” Wilhelm said, glancing at Timothy.

Timothy put the file in order and leaned on the railing besides Wilhelm, obviously at ease with the other man’s closeness. “Give us a week or two. We probably won’t need longer than that.”

Wilhelm smiled at Timothy, just half a quirk of lips, like the other man had done something cute. Timothy met his gaze and something unspoken passed between them. Jack wondered if that’s what he looked like when he looked at Rhys and decided it wasn’t. Timothy looked like a love-struck fool.

Ten days later, Jack met the two of them in an empty warehouse. They had seven men tied to chairs and Wilhelm was watching them with an unrelenting focus, cleaning his nails with a knife as long as Jack’s forearm. Timothy introduced the men to Jack and Wilhelm offered him the knife, which he took.

Jack examined the knife, then smiled as he looked up at the seven men. “How much do I owe you?” he asked, without looking away.

“This one’s on us,” Timothy said, before Wilhelm could answer. “But we’re staying for the conversation. They had some interesting ideas about what to do to Rhys.” When Jack looked at Timothy in surprise, his double smiled, the same sharp vicious slash of teeth that Jack had seen before on his own face. The resemblance was uncanny.

“We like Rhys,” Timothy explained.

“Wouldn’t mind something for our trouble,” Wilhelm grumbled. He stood up and crossed to a car battery, hefting the thing and bringing it over to the men. “But yeah, this one’s on us.”

It was nice to have friends, Jack thought, as the screaming began.

Chapter Text

Overall, living with Rhys wasn’t awful.

The sex was great. It had been great before Jack moved Rhys into his penthouse, but it was a relief that it continued to be great afterwards. And Jack genuinely liked Rhys’ company, hearing him snark about work or watching him try to corral Butt Stallion or his weird conversations with the cats. There were adjustments, but Jack supposed that was true with anyone.

Rhys had a thing about sleep. Jack still wasn’t sure what it was about, but it had been easier to agree than disagree. (Sometimes, disagreeing was delicious and Jack did it just because the sex was usually that bit better with the edge between them.) Rhys needed him in bed, every night, and Jack had to stay until morning, whether he slept or not. It wasn’t a rule or anything, but Jack discovered through trial and error that there were definite, defined parameters.

Because Jack was, at heart, a programmer, testing and messing with systems was in his bones and this was no exception. Rhys wasn’t picky about how Jack spent his time in bed; Jack could work from his Echo without bothering the other man, or read, or watch TV. Sometimes he lay in the dark and listened to Rhys breathe, as Jack himself dozed in and out, sleeping fitfully. Jack liked sleep fine, he just always had more important things worth prioritizing over it.

Rhys got annoyed if Jack left the bed early for any amount of time, that was Jack’s first discovery. When Rhys had woken up to find Jack sitting in a chair near the bed, there had been a flash of something in the other man’s eyes, the tightening around his lips that betrayed irritation. Jack had begun to experiment, mentally keeping track of his findings.

He could leave the bed, so long as he was back beside Rhys when the other man woke up. This was good in theory, but in practice had led to a fight when Rhys woke up for a glass of water and found Jack working in his office. Everything had changed when Timothy mentioned casually during a poker night that Wilhelm would get up significantly earlier than him to go to the gym. Jack had tried it, despite never really seeing the point of the gym and found that Rhys had no issue with this between certain hours, but definitely had an issue if Jack tried to go to the gym shortly after Rhys initially went to bed.

Rhys did not wake up easily, which was odd to Jack, because what was hard about consciousness, really? Rhys would open his eyes and stare blearily at the world until he found the will to drag himself to the kitchen for coffee. His transition from sleep to wakefulness was smoother if Jack had coffee waiting for him when he opened his eyes, and after a week of graphing Rhys’ average wake up times, Jack was able to predict him waking and had coffee hot and waiting within five minutes, plus or minus.

This led to a theory about breakfast. Jack could cook, something Rhys found fascinating. It was always easier to order food, but Jack found that Rhys objected to other people being in their bedroom, on a whole. Jack thought that was needlessly limiting, but since it meant that Rhys himself would continue to willingly be in their bedroom, he accepted this rule as well.

If Jack got up to go to the gym and then cooked breakfast, Rhys had no objections to him leaving the bed up to several hours early. Jack liked watching Rhys in the morning, the way he zoned out while eating or the worship with which he treated his coffee. It was equally fun to wake Rhys up himself; hands and lips coaxing the other man into alertness, washing sleep away with lust.

There was definitely a window of time where sex didn’t wake Rhys up fully; when Rhys would go from post coital haze back to sleep. Jack was expected to stay in this case. But if Jack woke Rhys up closer to his normal time, Jack was allowed to leave without it causing comment or concern.

Jack discovered he liked the mornings, once Rhys woke up and freed him from the cage of the bed. Rhys took time waking up, even after he’d had coffee. Sleep fogged and pliant, Jack found he could get away with things that were off limits at other times, though all agreements were time sensitive, as he found out when he got Rhys to agree to new contract terms and was later told directly that any deals made while Rhys was still in pajamas were invalid. Jack still had Legal working on that one.

As a Vice President, (or Co-CEO, or whatever title Rhys insisted on,) Rhys was a surprising asset. He didn’t have a shark’s mind, like Jack, but he set up deals like he was assembling a gun. He was ruthless enough to stay seated in Hyperion’s powerbase, but had an odd streak of charity that showed up sometimes. Like his ban on Jack killing employees without good reason. Jack was still compiling the list of good reasons, but ‘messed up my coffee order’ and ‘has an unbelievably obnoxious voice, you would have shot her, too’ were not on that list. ‘Stared at your ass a little too long,’ surprisingly, was.

Rhys had his own office, (on the floor below Jack’s. Jack had commented that he liked having Rhys under him, which had earned him an eyeroll, but later Rhys had let him demonstrate just how much they both enjoyed it.) Rhys had a secretary and it had been explicitly explained that, for no reason, ever, even if she was trying to kill a kitten or hurt Rhys or stealing money, was Jack allowed to kill her.

(“I just didn’t realize you were okay with killing kittens, Rhys. This is a big deal.”

“Leave my secretary alone, Jack.”

“Even--”

“Yes.”)

She treated Jack with cool professionalism and in return, Jack pretended that she didn’t exist.

It wasn’t unusual for Rhys to show up in Jack’s office, or vice versa. Jack liked to move when he was thinking and he liked to pace Rhys’ office more than his own. Rhys had a habit of showing up with food for them to eat and he was religious about dragging Jack home at the end of the day. Jack suspected that his own assistant, Pedro, somehow kept Rhys apprised of Jack’s moods, though Jack wasn’t sure how that was accomplished, since Pedro spoke an incomprehensible language all his own.

It took Jack a while to notice it, but it became a habit for Rhys to turn up when Jack was in the middle of dealing with any of the millions of morons that worked for Hyperion. He was good at defusing Jack’s rage, while somehow, at the same time, reminding him that they were trying very hard to cut back on fatal terminations. On the few occassions when Rhys sympathized with Jack over the hapless employee, Rhys was worse than anything Jack had been considering, the other man only being satisfied after he’d utterly destroyed whatever employee was the fuck up of the moment.

Rhys was reading over a contract peacefully, seated in Jack’s office chair, when Daisy appeared. Jack had been fiddling with the wording on one of the contract’s subclauses and needed a second opinion, although he had spent most of the time enjoying the sight of Rhys reading and wondering if he could convince the other man to put business aside in favor of a more… intimate meeting.

Daisy was not a big woman. She was a black woman of indeterminable age, with a riotous mass of hair that Jack was absolutely not allowed to touch, and sharp, dark eyes. If she ever smiled, Jack had never seen it. She held a massive shotgun in her hands, one of the very exclusive, top of the line models. Rhys’ head snapped up when she entered and the other man went still when he spotted the gun.

“We have a problem, Jack,” Daisy said, leveling the gun at him. She pulled the trigger and the gun went off, blowing a hole in the wall six inches left of Jack’s shoulder. Rhys jerked upright, tumbling his chair, but Jack just frowned at the gun.

“What the hell?” Jack asked, reaching out.

Daisy handed him the gun, then spared Rhys a look. “Who is this?” she asked.

“Rhys,” Jack said, absently, turning the gun over and examining it. “He’s the Vice President.”

“Co-CEO,” Rhys corrected, his eyes darting between Jack and Daisy. “Does someone want to fill me in on what’s happening?”

Jack sighted down the gun, then glanced at Rhys in surprise. “You don’t know Daisy?” he asked. He gestured at Daisy with his free hand. “She designed most of our elite shotguns. The Conference Call was all her.”

“This will be our newest Butcher, if we can figure out why it is pulling so badly,” she said, then dismissed Rhys. “It is fine if I do not add the elemental rifling, but as soon as I do… this happens. I lost three assistants this way. Fine, the one I shot on purpose, but it was because he was a moron and I could not stand him.”

Jack hummed in agreement, beginning to take the gun apart. He held up the barrel and looked at it, then frowned. “What are the specs for this one?”

“Corrosive and radiation. Radiation is working fine, but the corrosive elements are eating through the protective plating,” Daisy said.

“R&D has some new corrosive plating prototypes,” Rhys said. “We’re scheduled for a demonstration tomorrow.”

Daisy thought about it. “Who is heading the project? Not Henderson?”

“Lopez, I think,” Rhys said. “I can check.”

“No, Lopez is good. I will go get some of this prototype. Gun,” she said to Jack, holding out a hand.

Jack reassembled the gun and handed it over, then watched her go with an amused air. “That’s a beautiful gun,” he said. “She really does design the best shotguns.”

Rhys watched her go, as well, but looked back at Jack with an expression he couldn’t read. “Has she worked with you long?” he asked.

“About five years,” Jack said. “I recruited her from Maliwan. They didn’t know what they had. She might be my second favorite employee, after you.” He raised his eyebrows to see if Rhys appreciated the compliment.

Rhys gave him a thoughtful smile, then went back to his contract. Jack, bored and thinking about the gun, eventually pulled up the latest report on it and studied the specs, trying to figure out how to improve the design. He had come up with a few bullet points-- heh-- when Rhys draped his arms around Jack’s shoulders and nipped his earlobe.

“C’mon, babe, we have reservations,” Rhys said, looking at the screen.

Jack had a moment of disorientation, looking around. “Did you finish reading the Anshin contract?” he asked.

“About three hours ago,” Rhys said.

Jack looked out the window and realized he’d lost most of the afternoon. He exhaled and saved his notes with a wave of his hand. “Reservations?” he asked, trying to orient himself in the present.

“You made them last week when you wanted ‘a steak so rare it walked to the table by itself’,” Rhys said, quoting him. He ran his fingers through Jack’s hair and Jack leaned into the caress.

Jack thought that statement over and found he was still in the mood for something bloody. He let Rhys pull him out of the chair and out of the office, absently flicking the light off behind him.

He could always finish up his notes on The Butcher later that night, after Rhys had fallen asleep.

Chapter Text

Rhys heard laughter and the clink of ice in a glass when he opened the door to Jack’s penthouse. A woman murmured something too low for him to hear. Rhys cocked his head and listened as she said something in a wickedly low tone, followed by the sound of Jack groaning. Whatever the thing between Jack and him actually was, (destined to be forever unsaid, as both of them avoided relationship talks the way other people avoided driving off cliffs,) Rhys felt they’d established their exclusivity after Jack put a bullet in an accountant who’d had the misfortune of trying to pick up Rhys. Upon reflection, maybe an actual conversation would have helped.

Carefully, quietly, Rhys followed the sound, pausing only to pick up the prototype shotgun Jack kept on his desk.

Jack had a large dining room capable of seating a small army. As far as Rhys had ever seen, he never used it, except the one time they’d gotten drunk together after a party and attempted to fuck in every room of the penthouse. The room wasn’t exactly full, now, but there were far more people than Rhys expected.

Jack sat at the head of the table, shaking his head as he took a drink. On one side, a woman in a beat up hat was helping another woman rake together cards. Across from her was a large man with implants that made Rhys’ own hum. Beside him, closing the circle, sat…

...another Jack?

“Buttercup!” Jack cried as he caught sight of Rhys. “What’re you doing here?”

“Being confused, mostly,” Rhys said, setting the shotgun on the buffet.

“Are we going to play or not?” the woman in the hat asked. She had the smallest pile of chips before her, but a determined glint in her eye.

“What are you playing?” Rhys asked.

“No limit Pandora Hold ‘em. Pull up a chair, we’ll deal you in,” Jack said. He waved a hand at the woman in the hat. “I’ll cover his buy in,” he added.

The woman in the hat began to count out a stack of chips, setting them in front of Rhys. Rhys glanced at the group once, taking stock, then shrugged and sat down. Jack belatedly introduced everyone, though he offered no explanation for how they knew each other beyond stating that the group worked for him. They weren’t any employees Rhys had ever seen before and none of them treated Jack with the usual Hyperion deference.

Pandora Hold ‘em was a relatively simple game. Each player was dealt two pocket cards, face down, and then five additional cards were dealt to the group, face up. The goal was to create the best hand using the two player cards and five community cards. There were rounds of betting after the player cards were dealt, the first three community cards, and then once after each of the remaining two community cards. Betting could range from a token buy amount up to the player’s entire cache.

Rhys folded his first six hands. Nisha took the first hand with a pair of sevens, Jack and Wilhelm went head to head the second hand, with Jack eventually buying the pot. Jack won the next hand when everyone folded, Athena took the next two hands with a flush and a low straight, and Timothy won the sixth hand after Jack tried to buy him out.

Rhys glanced at his cards-- suited twos-- and checked; he had already bought the round with the blind. Jack leaned forward, interested.

“Oh, you’re going to play this hand?” he asked.

“Might as well,” Rhys agreed, mildly.

“Refills?” Nisha asked. Tim was dealing out the cards with the ease that came with practice, and Nisha had barely glanced at her pocket cards before folding in disgust.

“I’ll take a drink,” Rhys said.

“Jack and coke,” Jack said, his attention on the flop as Tim turned over the first three community cards. Jack caught Athena looking at him and he scowled. “What?”

“You know what he drinks?” she asked, voice neutral.

“I know a lot of things, babe, I’m a smart guy,” Jack said, tossing his bet into the pot. “Call or raise.”

“Raise,” Athena said without hesitation.

“You want any garnish or anything?” Nisha asked Rhys. “Cherries, a lemon slice?”

“Lemon,” Rhys said. He picked up the drink she set beside him, without looking, and took a sip. He choked, liquid fire down his throat. “What--” he asked, looking at the drink. He sniffed it. “This is straight whiskey.”

“Nisha only makes one drink,” Tim said, sympathetically. “Whiskey straight. We should have warned you.”

“How hard is it to pour cola into a glass?” Rhys asked.

“You tell me,” Nisha said with a faint smile. “Drink your whiskey, kid. There’re sober kids in Lynchburg.”

After an hour, Rhys had played two hands and lost both, one to Jack and one to Timothy. The second time, Jack crowed his victory as he raked in the pot. Rhys rolled his eyes as he gathered up the cards to deal. He smiled as he dealt the cards out without fanfare or embellishment, though he didn’t miss how Timothy studied his hands as he sent cards flicking into place before each player. Timothy was a quiet player, with a modest pile of chips, a contrast to Jack’s go big or go home methods.

Nisha busted out first. For all she was an intimidating presence, she didn’t understand the mathematics of the game, betting big on strong pockets and playing to inside straights. (A straight was comprised of five sequential cards. Playing for an inside straight, as opposed to building on a sequence already held, was a fool’s errand. Nisha’s final hand, she’d held a five and a seven, with a nine on the flop.) She bet with an eye to the cards but no understanding of strategy.

She didn’t seem too put out by the loss, instead falling into a conversation with Wilhelm that seemed to take place in mostly undertones. Rhys’ heard her say the name “Faceripper” but didn’t catch the rest.

“That guy’s still around?” Jack asked, distracted from his hand. “I thought you put a bullet in his brain a while ago.”

Nisha shook her head. “Been tied up and haven’t had the time to round up a posse. He’s not staying local-- just hits the place and takes off to parts unknown. Killed six of my citizens last week and not a sighting since.”

“I heard he was hanging out in Toro Toro,” Timothy said. “Moxxi said something about it.”

“She’s usually a reliable source,” Wilhelm mused. “I was heading that way tomorrow. Got a bounty that’s rumored to be in the area.”

Nisha tipped her hat back with one long finger. “It’s not a paying gig,” she told Wilhelm. “I was going to take care of him myself.”

“Geez, Nisha, cheap much?” Jack said. “Go ahead and take him out, Wilhelm. I’ll put a bounty out on him tomorrow.”

“How much?” Wilhelm asked.

“At least enough to cover tonight’s losses,” Jack said, flipping over his pocket cards to reveal a pair of kings. “Read ‘em and weep, suckers.”

“I don’t mind helping out,” Timothy said, tossing his cards in and glancing at Wilhelm. Rhys didn’t miss the way his eyes lingered on the other man. “If you want back up.”

“Never needed it in the past,” Wilhelm said, throwing his cards in, as well.

“Weren’t you scheduled to make an appearance around Toro Toro?” Rhys asked Jack, eyebrow raised. “Some fundraising thing?”

Jack frowned. “I have no--” he caught Rhys’ look and raised his eyebrows in exasperated confusion. “What? Maybe?”

“Why don’t you send Timothy with Wilhelm, then? You’d have a bodyguard with you if you went yourself.” Rhys gathered up the cards.

“Uh… sure. Make it a field trip. Whatever.” Jack rolled his eyes and waved at Wilhelm and Timothy in blessing. “Have fun.”

Rhys grinned slightly and glanced at Timothy. He was impressed, the other man looked mildly interested, but didn’t betray any other emotions. Jack caught Rhys watching Timothy, but Timothy was the one who smiled, with more warmth than Rhys had ever seen from Jack.

“It’s weird, right?” he asked Rhys. He pointed at his face in clarification.

“It’s amazing is what it is,” Jack corrected. “Timmy here is my second favorite Jack.” He looked at Rhys and added, unnecessarily: “After me, of course. Do the thing, Tim.”

Timothy sighed, then plastered on a smile identical to the one Jack usually wore when dealing with the press. “Hyperion: we’re the good guys,” he proclaimed in a confident, smooth voice that sounded so much like Jack Rhys burst out laughing.

“That’s good,” Rhys said. “Can I get you to read a couple of lines for me? I’d love to have a recording of Jack--”

“Ah-ah-ah, princess, his contract specifically forbids any unauthorized appearances,” Jack said, grinning at Rhys. “Nice try, but you just have to settle for the real thing.”

“We can talk later,” Timothy said in a stage whisper, then mirrored Jack’s glare back at him, making Nisha laugh.

Rhys wasn’t surprised that Jack was good at poker; business skills translated well when it came to cards. He didn’t bluff nearly as often as Rhys would have assumed, possibly because Athena seemed to possess the knack of seeing straight through his bluffs.

She was a hard read, giving very little away. It took Rhys a few hands to figure out that while she seemed to understand the mechanics and mathematics behind the game, she rarely factored in how other players affected outcomes. For all she could see straight through Jack, she lost frequently enough that she only lasted slightly longer than Nisha. She made a soft sound of disappointment when she lost her final hand, but seemed almost completely unconcerned otherwise.

“Atlas has been making recruitment noises again,” she told Jack, as she refilled her drink.

“Atlas has been part of Hyperion for the past six years,” Jack said, rolling his eyes. “You’d think these idiots would take a hint. Who is it this time?”

“I think it’s Magdalene O’Fera, but I don’t have confirmation,” Athena said. She watched as Rhys took Timothy and Wilhelm out with a pair of eights.

“How hard would it be to get me some confirmation?” Jack asked, eyebrows raised, surprising Rhys. He could count on one hand the number of times he’d heard Jack ask for something sincerely, without sarcasm.

“Normal rate?” Athena asked.

“Yeah, yeah, Rhys can authorize payment. Send the information to him,” Jack said, glancing at Rhys. “I’ll brief you on it tomorrow before we meet with Maliwan.”

Athena turned her steady gaze on Rhys, thoughtful, watching as he folded his next hand. “I’ll do that,” she said.

Watching Wilhelm lose was an education in subtlety. The other man played barroom poker; betting on players rather than cards, but he had a decent understanding of strategy. The problem was, Timothy had a better understanding of how to play people. He would casually stretch, or drink from his beer, tap his fingers a few times, and draw Wilhelm’s focus like a laser. By the time Wilhelm was out of chips, Rhys was certain of a few things; Timothy and Wilhelm weren’t sleeping together and it definitely wasn’t Wilhelm’s choice. Rhys was also sure that Jack had no idea.

Rhys gathered up the cards for his turn to deal, aware that the group’s attention was suddenly focused on him, conversation lulling. He smiled at Jack, just a teasing thing, and watched Jack’s gaze go sharp, bleed with a predator’s intent.

“And then there were three,” Jack murmured. “Looks like Rhysie can handle himself at cards. Who knew?”

Rhys kept his smile bland as he shuffled the deck, holding Jack’s gaze as he began using only one hand. The movement drew attention, and when he was sure everyone was watching, he broke the shuffle into a Dynamo twist, flicking the cards this way and that before squaring them up again. It had been a while, but there were some things your body did which it would never forget; fake fingers and real were sure and steady as he bridged the cards, then let them fall in a cascading shuffle that ended with them in a neat stack.

He spread the cards face down in a smooth motion, then scooped them back up and cut the deck with one hand before dealing the cards out with sharp, precise movements, each hole card sliding smoothly into place before the twin Jacks.

“I feel your pain about those student loans,” Rhys said to Timothy, conversationally. “I was almost in the same boat.”

Jack looked a little thrown by the non sequitur, but Timothy was a better player than that. He narrowed his eyes, and for the first time all night, actually looked like Jack, to Rhys. “How’d you manage to pay off your debt?” he asked.

“Playing no limit Pandora Hold ‘em,” Rhys said and pushed his stack of chips into the pot without bothering to look at his cards. “All in.”

---

“I like your friends,” Rhys commented as he walked back into the living room from seeing everyone off. He stopped when he saw Nisha, instead of Jack, as he’d expected.

“That’s good,” Nisha said. “Because we liked you. Seems like Jack’s made up his mind to make you wife number four.” She splashed a bit more whiskey into her glass.

“Four?” Rhys asked, then realized that maybe that wasn’t the only part of her comment he should question.

“We don’t know much about the first one, except that she died and they had a brat,” Nisha said, shrugging. She finished off her drink and padded toward the kitchen to rinse the glass. “Moxxi was number two until he fucked that up. He roped me into the third spot after we went on a bender. Didn’t last long-- I sobered up and held a gun to his head until he signed the divorce papers.”

“This is a lot of new information,” Rhys said.

Nisha looked unconcerned. Rhys wondered what it would take to make her actually demonstrate another emotion besides confident indifference. “Didn’t work out too badly; he gave me Lynchburg in the divorce and the lawyers did a good enough job that he can’t bother me much. Moxxi lets any of his living exes drink free, so you might want to remember that.”

“Is this a ‘don’t hurt him or we’ll hurt you?’ talk?” Rhys asked.

“God, no. You go ahead and break his heart, kid, you could make a mint selling tickets to it. I’ll be front row center, if that happens. Just thought I’d pass on the welcome basket, tell you to mind the mask. He forgets to oil the hinges, they rust something fierce on him when he doesn’t. He hates dealing with it and it’s a headache for whatever idiot he’s roped into caring about him.” Nisha patted Rhys on the shoulder as she walked past him, heading for the door. “You seem smart enough to figure out the rest on your own.”

“The rest?” he asked, trailing after her.

“You’ll see,” she said, tipping her hat in goodbye. “See you next month, kid.”

Rhys stood in the doorway until Jack wandered by. “Rhys?” he asked, looking around the empty foyer.

“What? Oh. You have interesting friends,” Rhys said, looking at him. “Are they always like this?”

Jack grinned. “Nah, most of the time, they’re worse.”