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The Game of Cat and Mouse

Chapter Text

The night was young for the three stooges. Their heads were held high, excitement rid through the air between the group, and constant laughing and adornment of their success overwhelmed them. It was finally the last night they were spending together as college students. Tomorrow, they'd be adults.

The tallest and lankiest man- Rhys- was shoveling pretzels into his mouth as Vaughn and Yvette were playing one of Vaughn's video games on his Helios Dreamcast. It was a first condition model, so Rhys had to keep his distance with his food around Vaughn's precious gaming system. Heaven forbid the man ever get a single speck of dust on that thing.
"Damnit!" The short man growled, setting his controller neatly beside him, though his face scowled in rage. Yvette's face, however, showed various hints of pride and victory. It was obvious she was a very cocky character.

"Well, Vaughn" She replied, "It's not my fault my hands are faster than yours! You wanna mess with this bull, you're gonna get her horns." Yvette laughed before turning her attention to the man eating pretzels behind her. "You want a turn? I'm getting bored... and I want your pretzels."

Rhys looked at the woman skeptically, squinting his brown eyes at her as he latched onto the bag of pretzels. "Are you going to save me some of them at least? Last time I let you have some of my food, you ate at least thirty dollars worth of my spicy chips. My spicy chips, Yvette. You know how much I love my--"

The man was cut off by an irritated sigh. "Yes, yes. We know how much you love your spicy chips. I'll save you some pretzels, just play the game, dude."

With a massive amount of hesitation from Rhys, he forked over his bag of pretzels and slid off of the couch, trading places with Yvette so that he could sit next to Vaughn.

Vaughn picked up his controller and his expression went from hurt and angry to confident. He'd always been better at video games than Rhys, which made Rhys not want to play. They had a video game totem pole, and Rhys was at the bottom.

Nonetheless, Rhys picked up his controller with his salt-covered hands. He earned a glare from Vaughn before putting it back down, wiping his hands on his pajama pants, and retrieving the controller again. The game then was set to their preferences with their characters.

Rhys had always played as the characters that looked similar to him. "It's not the skill, it's the looks that kill." He'd defend himself, whereas Vaughn thought the exact opposite. His mind was on what can earn him more. It made sense for a man that majored in Accounting.

As the two men played the game, Rhys shot a few looks over at Vaughn, trying to keep his concentration on the screen. He noticed that Vaughn's tongue was lodged in between his teeth and he was leaned forward, squinting at the screen. Vaughn's iron blue eyes refused to move anywhere but on his character, and his hands acted like they had a mind of their own. Rhys didn't know how he kept losing to Yvette, he was a beast at this game.

By the end of the round, Vaughn had predictably won the match. He sat up and smiled wide, giving the same looks of cockiness that Yvette gave when she won. The spectator eating Rhys' pretzels in the background gave a small snicker in Rhys' defeat.

"Good job, V!" Yvette spoke proudly, "Maybe one day, you'll be as good as me... one day." She continued to shove the sticks of bread and salt into her mouth. Terra Cotta colored lipstick smudged around the food lover's mouth. She didn't care, however.

Vaughn took his best friend's controller and his own and got to his feet. He walked over to the movie stand and turned off the Dreamcast, setting his controllers neatly on top of the machine before rejoining his friends.

Rhys watched his every move, but he didn't know why. As the shorter male sat back beside him, Rhys decided to look at the ground rather than at Vaughn. He twiddled with his hands, not knowing what to say or what to do. Nobody at this point really did.

Suddenly, Yvette slammed the bag of pretzels beside her, only leaving an eighth of what was originally given to her. "What are we doing? We just graduated! Most of our soon-to-be- colleagues are out getting hammered and partying! We're sitting here playing some pixelated cliff fighting game and eating off-brand pretzels." She got to her feet, tugging on both of the men's shirt with one hand each, "C'mon. We're going out."

Neither one of the men really wanted to go. Going out to do anything with Yvette was always a financial nightmare because they were always the ones obligated to pay for whatever she wanted. On a good night, they wouldn't spend more than three hundred dollars. They felt bad for the poor fellow's Yvette could persuade into a date. Though, despite their lack of wanting to go, they both got up. Declining what Yvette wanted to do was always a death sentence in itself.

Rhys sighed and looked down at the future Requisitionist, eyebrows furrowing in curiosity. "And where do you suppose we go? We're underage for any bars. We can't get into any clubs." When Rhys said they couldn't get into any clubs, he gave a small nod indicating Vaughn. Since he was a stereotypical nerdy man, nobody ever let him into any parties. Rhys didn't want to make him try to go to any since they tried getting into a frat party in their Junior year of College. Apparently, Hack-A-Thon T-Shirt's only fitted cool on Rhys.

Yvette nodded in agreement. Nothing Rhys was spewing wasn't true. "I never said we had to go somewhere public. We can just buy some alcohol and lounge around. No big deal!"

Vaughn decided to chime into their discussion. "We're not old enough to buy alcohol either, Yvette." There was a pause before he spoke again, "But, you have someone you can get it from, don't you."

Yvette nodded with a sneer. "Sure do! How do you think kids are able to host most of their parties in college? Mommy and Daddy know better than to buy anything for their babies, especially if they're working at Hyperion. I have a seller down on Elpis. She disguises the booze in these bouquets or several pizza boxes. Helios guards can never tell the difference."

Rhys shook his head and gave an impressed smile. "I didn't think you'd have the money for that. You never have money any other time."

Ignoring that comment, Yvette motioned them to follow her out of Vaughn's dingy apartment.

Rhys and Vaughn gave each other a concerned look. Out of nowhere, Vaughn got an idea in his head. Something to get out of this. "Don't you have to wait for orders on Elpis. I mean, it would take a week to get here." He paused for a sort of dramatic effect, "Oh no, it looks like we're not having fun tonight." Vaughn sounded sarcastic and relieved.

A laugh slipped from Yvette's lipstick covered mouth. "Don't be silly, Vaughn. I bought a stock a few months ago for emergencies. This is the biggest emergency excuse we can have right now." There was no getting out of Yvette's scheme.

Vaughn croaked and stopped in his tracks. He wasn't having it tonight. "Yvette. If we get drunk tonight, we're gonna be hungover in the morning. If we're hungover in the morning, we're going to get fired. You two can go... But I wanna go home." It was never like Vaughn to disagree, but he did have a point. The sharpest and the shiniest were the ones who were going to make it.

Rhys nodded, agreeing with what his best friend was saying. "I mean, seriously. Why don't we save the alcohol and partying for after we're working for Hyperion? That's a better emergency."

Yvette sighed and folded her arms, eyeballing the two men. "Our first off day together, we're getting wasted. I don't care what you two say..." Well, It wasn't anger. She knew that Vaughn was right too. Yvette was just an eager celebratory person. She tapped her foot and looked at her watch. "It's getting late anyway. Go home. I'll see you two in the morning for orientation." Her heels clacked against the floor as she waddled away to her apartment.

Vaughn looked at Rhys, biting his lip a little. "Do you think she's mad?" Vaughn asked in a hushed voice.

"Don't worry about it, bro... You know Yvette, she's pushy but she knows when to quit. Sometimes."

Vaughn looked down the hall where Yvette once walked. His gaze was locked there for a good minute or two in a mist of awkward silence.

"Hey, dude." Rhys snapped Vaughn out of his trance, "Do think I can stay the night? Rebecca won't stop coming to my house and pestering me. Says we never officially broke up and junk."

"I was there when you did it though?" Vaughn replied, "You clearly said it wasn't going to work... I told you she was a nut case when you told me you asked her out." Vaughn gave a sigh, which followed with a smile, "Sure. I don't see why not. You live in my apartment more than you do yours."

Rhys couldn't argue. Vaughn's home just had a comfier flow to it. That's all.

The two bro's wandered the empty halls back to Vaughn's apartment. When they got in, Vaughn locked and bolted the door shut. He was always paranoid about people just wondering in, though it never actually happened to anyone on Helios. Trespassing wasn't a very punishable crime in the law, but the law didn't matter. Handsome Jack was the law and had been for some time. If he saw fit, he'd throw you out of an airlock for accidentally stealing a pen at the bank.

Once Vaughn made sure the door was secure, he lounged on the couch and looked at the blank television screen. It was clear something was off as he stared into the nothingness of the plasma screen.

Rhys decided to sit next to him, putting his hands in his lap and brushing his hair out of his face. Part of him wanted to ask what was wrong, the other knew that Vaughn probably wouldn't budge. Instead, he decided to go with bantering. Distracting Vaughn would likely be more beneficial for both of them.

"So... I'm getting my hair cut tomorrow."

Without taking his eyes from the screen, he smiled. "But I thought you loved your precious locks. You got mad at the mention of trimming the dead ends."

"Yeah.. well. I want to be professional. I got the opportunity to be a middle manager, Vaughn. They don't want some newbie bossing them around. Figured if I tried to make myself look older, maybe then I'd be respected."

"And you think a haircut is going to make you look grown-up?" Vaughn joked, finally turning his attention to Rhys. "You're tall. People associate tallness with age."

Rhys raised a brow and folded his arms. "Oh? And how old do I look, Vaughn?"

"Well. You're what? Six foot, two inches? I figure you look about thirty-something. The bags under your eyes help that effect."

Rhys shook his head. "If that's the case, Mister Five Foot Nothing, then you're around fifteen."

They both chuckled and sunk into the cushions of the couch. Rhys looked over and stared at Vaughn for a moment, who stared back. Vaughn was the first to turn away, and Rhys felt his cheeks flushing with warmth. They both decided to stare up at the ceiling instead. Unfortunately, that just made things a little more awkward as quietness overwhelmed them.

"We should probably get to bed, don't you think?" Rhys asked, his eyes looming over to the analog clock hanging on Vaughn's all above the television, "We have to be up really early in the morning." Rhys closed his eyes and ran his fingers through his shoulder-length hair, "Especially me. I have my haircut at six in the morning."

Vaughn nodded in agreement. "I'll get your half of the bed ready for you. At this point, it's already got your body imprint." With that, Vaughn got up and went to his room to fulfill his statement to Rhys.

Rhys slapped himself across the face, looking at the clock again and sighing to himself. He didn't know what was going on. Maybe it was just him having first-day-jitters and finding his best friend as a comfort? Yeah. It had to be that. Nothing more than that. Once he heard Vaughn's voice rang from the other room stating that the bed was ready, Rhys shook his head and got to his feet, joining his friend in a night of restless slumber.

Chapter Text

When Rhys' alarm chimed at five in the morning, a groan escaped from his lips. He rolled over and slammed his hand over his ECHO device and silenced the cursed technology. He looked around the room, forgetting exactly where he was for the first few minutes of consciousness. When he saw his best friend laying beside him, he smiled. Vaughn had his back turned to Rhys as he laid in a fetal position and hugged his pillow.

Rhys sat up and looked down at his pillow. There was a giant puddle of drool, which encouraged Rhys to blush and flip the pillow to hide the evidence. He stretched his long legs against the side of the bed and used his fingers to brush his hair back. A yawn escaped his lips and he closed his eyes yet again for a brief second before letting his feet touch the cold linoleum tiled floor. Rhys made his way to the bathroom to get ready.

Vaughn had also had the courtesy to leave Rhys out an outfit. The amount of clothes Rhys left at Vaughn's apartment left him a whole new wardrobe. That was one of the many qualities Rhys had admired about his friend since they were kids. He always kept Rhys' things just in case.

For the haircut, he left Rhys his infamous Hack-A-Thon T-Shirt with a pair of black denim jeans. Next to the casual attire was a blue striped button-up, a hexagon patterned vest, a red tie, and black slacks. It was the official uniform for middle managers. When Rhys picked up the official uniform, he saw his identification card fall from the folds in the shirt. That made him aware of what was going on today. Orientation.

Quickly, Rhys undressed from his clothes from the previous night and got into his haircut garb. He grabbed a plastic bag from underneath the sink and neatly put all of his work clothes into it. He looked over at the sleeping Vaughn once he walked out. He looked so... peaceful. Rhys found himself staring for a moment before his ECHO rang to signify it was a quarter until six. He scurried out into the space station.

The halls of Helios weren't as filled as Rhys had anticipated. A few employees and janitors here and there, but nobody in the mainstream offices. That unexpectedly came to Rhys as a relief. He didn't want to have to deal with people quite yet. He made his way down to the barbershop.

In a sense, Rhys wasn't ready to say goodbye to the hair he'd been trying to grow out since his Sophomore year of college. All that hard work being cut from his scalp. On the bright side, his shampoo and conditioner costs would surely decrease!

By the end of his haircut session, Rhys had lost at least three inches of what he desperately tried so hard to grow. He examined himself in the mirror and sighed. At least he looked somewhat presentable. The only problem now was the fluff that was evolving back into his curled locks. When the barber suggested it, Rhys patted his hair back with the gel that was provided to him. He got his bangs out of his face and exposed his very arched widow's peak. This he liked.

When Rhys had finally managed to leave the shop, it was half-past six. In an hour, he'd be working his first shift at Hyperion. This both excited and frighted the poor, ambiguous man. To distract from both, he returned to his friend's apartment.

The smell of pancakes automatically hit Rhys like a freight train. God, it smelled so sweet to him. When he closed the door, Vaughn was standing in front of the stove in his pajamas, barely awake and cooking the sweet homemade batter.

"I see you're awake." Rhys observed out loud, "How're you feeling about today, bro?"

Vaughn shrugged. The man wasn't awake enough to give a typical Vaughn response. When he turned around to look at Rhys, Vaughn's eyes widened.

"Does it look okay?" Rhys asked, rubbing the back of his neck, "I tried to get something long, but something short too."

Vaughn gave a nod. "Bro. It looks great." That response surely boosted Rhys' confidence. He wore a proud smile as he lingered over to the kitchen. Rhys' eyes fell onto the pan, his stomach responding in a loud growl.

"Do you think I can have some? I haven't eaten yet." Rhys' voice sounded a little pathetic, but his smile signified his joking manner. All Vaughn did was give a nod and flip some of those sweet, sweet pancakes. After what felt like an eternity to Rhys' stomach, Vaughn presented Rhys a stack of three thick pancakes. Syrup and butter placed on top almost aesthetically. It didn't take long for Rhys to dig into the dish.

Vaughn laughed and sat next to his best friend with his stack of cooked batter. "The accountants uniform is tacky." Vaughn laughed, biting onto the pancake onto his fork. With his mouth full, he added: "At least blue is your color."

Rhys shook his head. "I bet it'll look great on you, dude. I don't know what yours looks like, but it's sure to set you straight for orientation." They both sat in silence for a moment, eating their breakfast. It wasn't until Rhys' ECHO chimed once again to tell him that it was almost seven-fifteen. "We'd better get going."

They both got up and went to dress in their uniforms. When Rhys saw his shorter friend come out of his room, he flashed a smile and said "Looking sharp!" The favor of the smile was returned to him.

Partially nervous, partially enthusiastic, the two soon-to-be Hyperion employees went to voyage into the great company unknown. They walked beside each other, watching the employees currently working flood the hallways and push past one another. It didn't look like they had time for manners. Most held stacks of paper, some had their finger on their Bluetooth communication device and were yammering about business meetings or telling their wives they'd be working another long night. Rhys looked around in excitement when they entered the Hub of Heroism- the place where orientation was taking place for all the fresh Hyperion lackeys.

There were groups of people separated into their departments. The two best friends gave each other a concerned look. Rhys' Adam's Apple bobbed in anxiety as he parted from Vaughn and made his way to the managers' table. Yvette's table was right next to his. She looked very professional in her orange button-up and black pencil skirt. She even had the courtesy to buy herself one of those Bluetooth earpieces as well.

When Yvette saw Rhys, she signaled him a thumbs up. It was probably for the haircut, Rhys told himself. His attention turned to the woman walking in front of all the departments. She was holding a clipboard and her hair was put up nicely. It worked with her deep magenta pantsuit.

"Greetings, new Hyperion employees!" She began, "My name is Meg. I am will be your superior and advisor. Unfortunately, Handsome Jack could not attend, but he has sent his blessings and welcomes you into the Hyperion family. Today is going to be a very simple day. I will call your name, you will state your department, and afterward, we will take a tour of the facility. Once your lunch break is over, I will give you all the opportunity to explore within your departments and get familiar with the working environment you will be subjecting yourselves to. After today's orientation, you will all begin your jobs in a week. You will be paid for this period of orientation. Are there any questions?" When nobody raised their hand or spoke out, Meg smiled. "Well then, let's get to it."

Handsome Jack's assistant began saying names in alphabetical order by last name. It took a while, considering the company had hired at least a good six hundred employees. Just this process took about an hour and a half. That surely bored most of the attending parties. Once that was all said and done, she urged everyone to stand. In a sense, Meg was acting like a preschool teacher and all the new hires played the role of the overwhelmed toddlers. They all got up and crowded around the assistant and began out for the tour.

The tour all in itself took a good hour in explanations and history. It only totaled out to three hours because of the stuck up or starstruck employees asking questions about their lord and savior Handsome Jack. One of the people in customer service even dared to ask Meg if Handsome Jack loved them, to which she gave a firm yes- though her expression was showing signs of that question coming off as uncomfortable.

Once lunch was beginning, the three mates met up again at their table. Yvette gave out a sigh and put her head on the table once she sat down. The other two gave each other a look before looking back to their other friend. "Is everything okay, Yvette?" Vaughn asked, reaching a hand out to her head.

Yvette shrugged, groaning softly before sitting up. "Some of these people are idiots." Yvette replied, "I mean, did you hear the questions being asked?" She changed her tone of voice to a mocking tone, "Oh, Miss Meg! Do you think I'll be like Handsome Jack? Miss Meg, is Handsome Jack a god?" She gagged and went back to her normal voice, "It's fucking annoying if you ask me. There are a time and a place for that nonsense. They gave me an actual migraine."

Rhys kept quiet. He had the same questions for the tour guide but was glad he was smart enough to keep his mouth shut. The last thing he wanted today was to hear Yvette bicker and bitch about him.

"Let them have their fun, Yvette. We won't be around them much longer." Vaughn gave an exciting squeal, "I can't wait to see the accounting department! All the numbers and all the excel worksheets! It's all so exciting!"

Rhys looked at Vaughn and smiled. His excitement was adorable to the lanky middle manager. Yvette laughed at Vaughn's reaction. "Alright. Now that we know that... Who's buying lunch?" A devilish grin appeared onto her face.

"No! Not me. I paid for the last two times!" Vaughn protested, looking at Rhys, who rolled his eyes.

"Fine... But you owe me." That one earned an in sync laugh from his friends. They never paid each other back.

Once the food was ordered, eaten, and the bill was paid, the gang decided they were going to look at their new workplaces and meet up at Yvette's place for their previous raincheck. Since Rhys and Yvette's departments ran down the same corridor, they left Vaughn to explore on his own. There was an awkward silence between the two colleagues.

"What's the deal between you and Vaughn lately?" Yvette asked, poking her slender finger into Rhys' shoulder. When Rhys looked at her in a fake raise of a brow, Yvette squinted. "Oh, don't play dumb with me, Strongfork! I've seen the way you've been looking at Vaughn. You were more concentrated on him than that dumb video game y'all were playing. I also heard you asked to stay the night."

"Well, Yvette, I was trying to see what he was doing- observing him if you will. He's good at that game. Secondly, Rebecca won't stop stalking me. It's not unusual for women to resist my charm but, damn."

"Funny. Rebecca has a new boyfriend and she transferred to Eden-5 two weeks ago. Try again, Rhys." Her arms folded as they walked. Rhys was surely in the dog house.

"I'm just... trying to build his confidence, okay? It's nice seeing him think good about himself, especially since he's been shedding all those pounds. It's nothing more."

Yvette shook her head and rolled her eyes. "Alright. Say those are your actual intentions, Rhys. What happens if he finds out you're playing some charade?"

"Why would it matter? He doesn't even notice half the time. That's how incognito I am."

"Or how stupid you are." She corrected, looking around the corner, "This is my stop. Give me a holla when you want to tell me what's going on. I'll see you after work." With that, Yvette was off. That was a temporary relief for the salaryman.

He went into his place of work and grimaced at the sight. It was a little overwhelming to the fresh meat of a businessman. He walked around the office flooded with cubicles and people. Posters of Handsome Jack, advertisements, and job offers surrounded the heather grey and pastel yellow office walls. At the end of the section was a giant fax machine and a half operational coffee pot that looked like it was leaking from the bottom. He gazed around at the people working with amusement. As his anxiety dwindled, he was becoming more confident in his ability to be able to do this job. After an hour or so of getting familiarized with his surroundings, he called it a day and decided to go back to his place to change.

When he got home, he looked around. Rhys never realized how messy he was until after he came back from Vaughn's house. There were clothes draped around his couch, empty leftover containers littered the carpet, and the pungent smell of body odor wafted from the bedroom. Quickly, he ran to his room, got dressed in the freshest clothes he had available to him and was off to Yvette's to celebrate with his friend

Chapter Text

Rhys didn't even realize what he had on until he was out in the public domain. Surely, it did not match. His tuxedo print shirt he hadn't worn but still washed since Junior year was wrapped tightly around his torso. The man hadn't realized how much it had shrunk. His sweatpants were baggy on him and threatened to fall off at any given moment. Rhys had to tie around the front and tuck it behind itself. His shoes were sketchers. His fashion sense was currently terrible.

He was more nervous about the upcoming event to focus on his anxiety sourcing from the weird looks his coworkers were possibly giving him. Rhys paced hesitantly to Yvette's apartment. His knuckle raised as he contemplated just going home instead of doing this and dealing with the wrath of the requistionist at a later time. It wasn't until he heard the faint sound of Vaughn laughing did he press down on the flimsy oak door that separated the hallways of Hyperion and the private living area.

Yvette opened the door, hands on her hips and a squint in her eyes. "Well, glad you could join us," Yvette spoke impatiently. However, it wasn't a mad impatient. Her tone was dazed and perky. She had started without him.

"Sorry. I couldn't find anything to wear." Rhys gestures at his outfit and groaned at the thought of how idiotic he must have looked in a third-person point of view.
"Don' worry 'bout it." Yvette giggled, closing the door once Rhys entered. Towards the kitchen bar counter perched Vaughn. He was holding an unopened bottle of some sort of ale in his hands.

Rhys noticed how tightly Vaughn grabbed at the glass exterior. He could've sworn his knuckles were turning white. It wasn't until Rhys sat next to him did Vaughns clutch notably ease. "You made it." Croaked the shorter man.

Rhys gave a nod and smiled. "Wouldnt miss it for the world. You know me. I'm a party animal."

"After we start work, I can assure you that you'll never hold that title again."

Rhys looked out of Yvette's window out into the depths of the space surrounding them. The glow of the stars and the tint of the surrounding planets' glow set forth an easy feeling for Rhys.

"I'm nervous about drinking." Vaughn confessed, "I mean. I've been around people that drink. Some are really, really happy... others..." Vaughns' face grew dark, "Others show a side of them you never knew they had." There was an awkward silence before Rhys gathered the courage to clamp a hand on his friend's shoulder.
"You don't have to start big. A few beers probably won't do much... Besides, if you feel it's getting to be too much or you start acting dramatically out of character, we can always just sober you up with some ice down your shirt."

"Don't you dare." Growled Vaughn, though he added a smile.

It wasn't long until Yvette came stumbling over to the two, a bottle of Irish Whiskey in her hand. She must have had a few taste tests before her guests arrived because Rhys was starting to see how different Yvette was acting.

"Hey, you two." She sang, "Y-Yall wannsome this?" She held out the bottle and shook it a little, giggling at nothing.

Rhys shrugged and took the bottle from his friend's hands. This wasn't his first rodeo so it wasn't as intimidating. He raised the bottle to his lips, his nose taking in the strong smell of what was similar to Hydrogen Peroxide. One he opened his mouth and raised his head to take a swig. The Whiskey sure tasted like it too. The sensation of the liquid burning Rhys' throat and tightening his airway a little was relaxing. That was until he coughed from the after effect.

Vaughn looked at the alcohol nervously. "C-Can I maybe have some?" He bounced his leg up and down and was visibly anxious once again. "I'll take you up on your monitorization deal... it's not like we need a designated driver in a space station."

Rhys reluctantly handed Vaughn the bottle, prepared to pat him on the back if he choked. As Vaughn raise the liquor to his lips, he clamped his eyes shut and did it as quick as he could. The only thing he did wrong was take way more than he should've. It was only into his third or fourth sip did the man decided to give up. To nobody's surprise, Vaughn gasped for air and coughed and Rhys patted his back.

"You good?" Rhys asked, leaning forward to try and get a glimpse of Vaughn's face. All Vaughn could do in that current moment was nod. It took a good minute for his lungs to realize they weren't being filled with liquid.

Yvette snickered at the small man's reaction to the awful tasting liquor. "If you don't like that, I got others." She slurred, "They're really... really good."
Rhys eyeballed the businesswoman and raised a brow, "You sure you're a requisitionist? You should be a taste tester instead." There was no effort given to hiding his sarcasm.
"Oh, ssssshutup." She leaned against the counter for a means of support, "If I wanted to hear some dollar store Jackass tell me what I can and can't do, I'd ask you." The mean undertone given made it hard for Rhys to remind himself that Yvette was intoxicated. She didn't know what she was saying.

Vaughn cleared his throat and got up. "Yvette. Calm down. He was just joking." Rhys smiled at his defendant, but he was getting a scoop of the dish too, "Rhys. Quit being an ass."
Folding his arms like a toddler, Rhys whirled around in the stool and just spun for a few seconds. "What else you got? Vodka? Maybe some Rum?" His lips curled into a sweet smile, "Ah, how I miss the days of pineapple juice and some Malibu." Is that a girly drink? Maybe. But Rhys didn't care for the "putting hair on your chest" drinks. If he wanted to feel like acid was being poured down his throat, he would've drunk the tap water provided poorly by the space station.

"Box' over there." Yvette pointed to a corner with stacks of pizza boxes. Around them were three empty bottles of the same Irish Whiskey he was offered.

"Jesus, Yvette. You had this all just tonight?"

Vaughn noticed what Rhys was talking about and swiped the bottle of alcohol from Yvette's unsteady hands. "No more. Who knows how many drops until you end up blacking out?" Lacking the strength to do anything, Yvette just leaned against the counter and giggled to herself.

Rhys opened the stack of fake delivery boxes. It was intelligently planned out. Whoever had manufactured the hiding compartment did a good job of making the exterior look realistic, the top blending in so well it was hard to find the opening. Inside was the hole with several different types of alcohol in a very carefully cut out hole. Whoever was offering this as a sales product must have been making bank.

Rhys found an eight-ounce bottle of some strawberry shortcake flavored Vodka. It was always good to try something new, the salaryman thought. As he opened the top, the smell of strawberries and cream with a mix of alcohol hit him in the face. It was both an alluring and a strong smell. It wasn't until the man had taken a good sip did he decide if he wanted to continue.

The alcohol had the same burning sensation as any other would. This one though had the very elevated taste of strawberries and shortcake. Rhys found himself taking an alarming amount in such little notice.

Amid his intoxicated friends, Vaughn sat there in pure silence. Watching Rhys take the bottle like a champ was enough to get Vaughn up onto his feet. "I've got some reports I need to do for my new boss. I'll leave you guys to celebrate."

Before Vaughn could manage to reach the exit in his hurried state, Rhys grabbed him by the shoulder. "Is everything okay, bro?" He wasn't as wired as Yvette, but his eyes were glassy and his face flushed a deep maroon. The heat of his hand against Vaughn's shoulder would've signified intoxication without a visual perspective.

"As I said: I've got a report."

"Man. Why is all you ever do is work?" Terrible English.

"What?" Vaughn raised a brow, turning his body to look at Rhys, "What are you talking about?"

"All you ever do is type away at your desk or write your thesis statements or whatever." Rhys replied flatly, "You never want to do anything with us that's remotely fun. I don't know why. Are we just that bad." Yvette was too into her laughter to defend Rhys.

Vaughn's brows furrowed and his fists clenched a little. Despite showing anger physically, the look in his eyes showed hurt. "Or maybe I'm just not as arrogant as you guys are! You're getting drunk on our first night of work, Rhys! If word gets out, how do you think you'll be taken?" There was a huff of anger as Vaughn backed away, "You want to talk about being professional and mature? What about this exactly is professional and mature? Making sure you don't get alcohol poisoning?" Vaughn had never been this much of a critic, especially to Rhys.

"Vaughn... I-"

"Save it for when you're sober, Rhys. I'm going home."

With that, Vaughn disappeared into the hallways of Hyperion, the door slamming shut. Rhys turned to Yvette, who was startled by the crashing of the entryway. "What did you do?" She asked, rubbing her eyes. The alcohol was now making her extremely exhausted.

Rhys shrugged and took another good swig. He was angry with himself for sure. But Vaughn was right. He'd have to apologize when he was sober.
It didn't take very long for Yvette to call it a night, telling Rhys to go home and rest. When he tried to mention the Vaughn situation, all he got in response was a "He'll get over it." Rhys was buzzed enough to believe it.

Rhys stumbled his way home, contemplating going to Vaughn's place and apologizing. At least he wouldn't have to suffer too long with a lecture.
When he walked into the pitch-black living room smothered in clothes, he collapsed on the couch and closed his eyes. His eyelids grew heavier and heavier the more he looked into the nothingness of the room.

Live now, suffer later. That's what Rhys told himself as he drifted into a very heavy slumber.

Chapter Text

When Rhys' eyes fluttered open the next morning, his head pounded. It felt like mallets were banging onto his skull and daring to break it. It took a second for Rhys to be able to move, sitting up and propping himself against the back of the couch. His body ached from the uncomfortable position he laid himself in during his drunken rest. This was probably one of the worse hangovers Rhys had encountered since his College days. Not that it was saying much, considering that he was just fresh out of it.

The first thing Rhys did when he could think straight was check his ECHO for any messages or other misc notifications. Nothing was out of the ordinary. His notification tab was plastered with spam emails, video notifications, and his mail delivery notice. When he set the device down, Rhys tried to recollect the thoughts of what had happened the night before. With his head pounding, it made it difficult for him to think straight. All his brain could collect at that current moment was the smell of strawberries, a swig of some whiskey, and Vaughn. He couldn't remember the exchange between the two quite yet.

Rhys pulled himself off the couch. His world was dizzy and spinning around him as he waddled his way into the kitchen. Typically, Rhys would just wait until his hangovers past, but this one was hitting him harder than any other ever had. He swung open his refrigerator door and scanned the shelves. After he found what he was looking for, Rhys kicked the door shut with his feet and walked to a cabinet to grab a glass. He set a carton of eggs on the counter, opening it to reveal a dozen eggs sitting blissfully in their little cozies.

One by one, Rhys began to crack open the eggs and attempted to separate the yolk from the egg. He was concentrating so hard on getting perfect like a cooking show that he didn't even notice how many eggs he had put into his glass. When he put the carton back into the cold storage, his glass had five egg yolks with the addition egg whites he failed to part. The sight of the glass was enough to make Rhys squirm. The only reason he was doing this was that he read in an article that egg yolks helped to cure one's hangover. Maybe he should have done some more research or at least looked to see if it was a reliable source. Either way, he was roped into doing this now.

Rhys carefully picked up the glass of uncooked chicken fetus' and raised it to his lips. There wasn't a smell, but Rhys still pinched his nose to somehow avoid the taste. He parted his mouth open and began swallowing the substance. He was trying to hard not to let the gelatinous liquid touch his tongue, but it was sort of inevitable. It wasn't the taste that was as bad as intended, it was the texture. It felt like very slick slime was sliding down his throat. He gagged before he set the glass down. It was empty besides the residue that decided to stick on the glass rather than retreat into Rhys' body.

His ECHO beeped from the couch. Rhys lagged back to the sound after avoiding the obstacles that littered his path. The first thing he did was check the time. It was almost eleven in the morning. When he pulled his notification tab down, it was a message from none other than Yvette. With a groan, he tapped into the message.

"Yo, have you heard from V?" The message read, followed by several question marks being spammed from Rhys' lack of answers. Yvette had the habit if you didn't answer the minute the message was sent.

Rhys pinched the bridge of his nose and closed his eyes, trying to boggle his mind about why she would ask that. "Probably at home? I don't know. Why?"

It took a minute, but Yvette punched back with "Well. I haven't heard from him. I don't remember much from last night, but I can remember a fight."

A fight? Now Rhys was trying to ignore the pulsing pain in his head and remember back to last night. It hit him like a boulder when he remembered the words "Save it for when you're sober, Rhys."

Impulsively, Rhys changed the message tab to Vaughn. His leg started bouncing dangerously fast as he typed away. He was winging on what he was going to say. "Hey." was all Rhys could come up with. The only thing to signify Vaughn's existence was the marker that showed he read it. It was apparent Vaughn closed the message and was choosing to ignore it.

"Vaughn, buddy?" Rhys pressed, following that first message with, "I'm gonna come over. Is that okay?" Once again the message was read, but it was responded to.

"I guess." It was hard for Rhys to tell tone over text, but even an idiot can see the passive-aggressive undertone. Not bothering to shower or even change his clothes, he got up and stuffed his ECHO in his pocket, headed for the door.

It took a while to get to his destination. The sounds emitting around him made his ears sensitive and caused his head to pound harder. Hopefully, his concoction would kick in. Rhys had never had a more difficult time navigating his way through the crowds of people flooding the hallways.

When Rhys knocked at the door, it was left unanswered. He knocked again to nobody letting him in. With that, Rhys welcomed himself into his best friend's neat home. There was nobody in sight, but he could hear a faint noise coming behind a closed door in the hallway.

"Vaughn?" Rhys called, walking through the hall cautiously. He felt awkward doing this, but it wasn't like this was his first time letting himself in. The intensity of the situation was playing a devastating role in Rhys' morale- or what little of it he currently had. There were a few awkward seconds before he heard the door swing open softly.

Vaughn looked bad. He had his hair matted up into knots, his eyes possessed bags, and he still wore his pajamas. It was never like Vaughn to do such a thing. That's what made Rhys' expression go from anxious to worried. "Bro, are you doing alright?" Though Vaughn didn't drink nearly enough to get drunk, let alone a hangover, Rhys felt obligated to ask.

"Didn't sleep well," Vaughn replied hoarsely with an added shrug before turning around to go back to his bed. Rhys followed, sitting next to his best friend.

"Why not?" questioned Rhys who looked at Vaughn in genuine worry. He was convinced it was because of him. Rhys had to make himself feel like it was his fault. Whether it was because he felt at fault or he wanted the sympathy, we'll never know.

"Nightmares."

"Oh." Oh? Was that all he could say? Rhys tried so hard to think of something else to say. "What were they about?"

Vaughn shrugged again. He didn't look like he wanted to be bothered with it, but Rhys was refusing to take that as an answer this time around.

"Vaughn. Please? If you're having nightmares, I want to know why." The grim look he got from Vaughn was enough to signal that Rhys was pushing it, but he didn't care. "I don't know why you never talk about these things with me."

"Rhys... it's not that I don't want to... I can't. "

"Why can't you?" Rhys barked back, "What is holding you back from talking to me?" Traces of anger boomed in his voice. Rhys was slowing becoming more hurt about the fact Vaughn wouldn't talk to him than he was about hurting Vaughn last night. "We've been bros since we were in Junior High. You've always told me everything! Since we graduated, you've been around me less and less!" Rhys took a deep breath as Vaughn's eyes closed tightly. Rhys was pushing too many buttons at one time. "D-Did I do something?"

That was enough for a reaction. "Rhys. Y-You didn't do anything. I've just been in my little world, okay?"

"Was it what I said last night? I didn't mean that. You know that!"

Vaughn sighed heavily and leaned up, pressing his back against the headboard of the bed. "Though, what you said seriously hurt my feelings, it's not that. Its not important."

Rhys wanted so badly to yell, to scream at Vaughn and deny his claims. But all he could do was look at his friend as his selfishness faded slowly. "Alright." Rhys whispered, "You might not find it important now... but when you do, you can talk to me."

Vaughn looked at Rhys with a sad smile. "I know. I always do."

"So you're not mad...about last night?"

"Mad, no... it was just really hard to remember the fact you were drinking. In psychology we were taught that alcohol weakens the inhibition part of the brain, exposing truths. It can also just make you ramble stupid shit. I didn't know which one it was."

Rhys put a firm hand on Vaughn's lap. "You know it was stupid shit, right?" That earned a nod from Vaughn.

Without hesitation, Rhys held up his free hand and balled it into a fist midair. "Bros?"

Vaughn's smile widened as he pounded back. "Bros."

For the remainder of the day, Rhys and Vaughn laid lazily in bed. Neither wanted to get up and recoup with the world quite yet. Eventually, they fell asleep.

The two men drifted, unconsciously hooking their pinkies as they slept.

Chapter Text

A few days had passed since the encounter with Rhys and Vaughn. Though, Rhys had yet to return to his own apartment until the night before he had to start his first real shift at Hyperion. Vaughn had to push Rhys out of the door, claiming Rhys wouldn't get up in time to return to his house and get ready for work in the morning (and he was sick of the messes Rhys kept leaving behind). With a sigh of defeat, the taller man eventually budged.

The smell had somehow gotten worse in his apartment during his absence. Rhys looked around in the darkness, the stars outside being the only source light preventing him from tripping. The same, crusty clothes still littered through his apartment, not helping the atmosphere. Once he found a light source to turn on, Rhys made his to the bedroom and sighed at the sight. The man finally thought tidying need to be done. However, all Rhys did to clean was swipe everything off the mattress and replace the bare bed top with a very thin oversheet and his body. He grabbed a blanket by the edge of his bed and tried to cover up. One problem" He was three times the height of the piece of fabric, leaving half his body exposed to the elements of the artificial night. Rhys was too lazy to do anything about it.

When morning came, the sound of the alarm greeted Rhys in a loud chime. He slammed his hand down on the ECHO as -he did every morning- and rubbed his eyes. The uncomfortable mess that was his bed made it extremely hard for Rhys to get a decent night's sleep. The smell infiltrating the air did not make Rhys' morning bright either. After a few minutes of contemplating why exactly he should get up and go, Rhys eventually convinced his body to lead its way into the bathroom.

Rhys looked into the fingerprint stained mirror and realized how bad he looked. The bags under his eyes cast shadows enough to highlight his deep brown iris', his hair was matted and in knots from not brushing it in a few days, and he noticed his body odor was strong. Rhys stripped out of the clothes he had been wearing (Which was a pajama set Vaughn loaned Rhys. His other clothes were getting disgusting.) and turned on the water to the shower. Steam filled the room as Rhys stepped in, feeling a sense of relief when the stifling hot water grazed against his flesh. After carefully shampooing and conditioning his hair and body, Rhys stepped out and dried off as quick as he could. There were flakes of old hair gel dripping from his scalp, but he still felt the need to slick his hair back. Professionalism. After that lengthy process, it was time for Rhys to step into his uniform. He stepped into his clothes carefully to attempt to avoid accidentally wrinkling the outfit.

After an hour of preparing himself for the day, Rhys was out the door and hitting Vaughn up with a message. "Hey. Wanna have lunch together?" He rolled up the cuffs of his sleeves and rushed to the official work sector for Hyperion.

The halls were crowded with eager new employees and Rhys had to try his best not to mow down his co-workers. He was so excited to start what he presumed would be the rest of his life. As a working-class man, he didn't mind the concept of busting his ass in a cubicle until the day he died. Rhys visioned his way up the ladder, being the CEO of the Hyperion Corporation right beside Handsome Jack. To his dismay, everyone wanted that same thing.

His messaging system notified him as Rhys entered the management department. It was from Vaughn. "You know it, bro! I'll let you know when I'm on my break. Jameson seems like he'll give it to me at a decent time."

"Jameson?" Rhys replied

"Yeah. My boss."

Rhys replied with a thumbs-up emoji before silencing the device, getting to his section. His desk was in a small cubicle in the ending row with a Hyperion issued calendar, an analog clock, and a fishnetted cup with a few pens and pencils. It was perfect for the Hyperion man. He took a sit in the black chair that was tucked underneath the desk. It resembled one of those of which you would see a doctor use. No back, no armrests. All it had was its leather padded seat and wheels. It couldn't have been more perfect to Rhys.

He started up his office computer and was welcomed to a sign-in screen. His login information had been written on a yellow sticky note beside the screen, which Rhys was thankful for. He felt it would be best to avoid his fellow employees until he got settled in. He wasn't prepared for the potential anger he would get from being fresh out of college but so high up the ladder as a start.

A few hours had passed before his boss- a cranky executive my the name of Mrs.Cranston -announced it okay for everyone to start taking lunch breaks. Rhys took this chance to message his best friend. Obviously, he wasn't going to take his break until Vaughn was able to take his. "Dude. You ready?" It took a few minutes to pass before he got a response from Vaughn.

"Already took mine. Sorry, bro. Jameson made me because I was already over my hours. We can meet up for dinner at your place?"

Oh no. Not his place. That disaster area was not fit for any guests. Besides, Rhys hadn't been food shopping in weeks. There was nothing he could prepare.

"Raincheck my place. Why not yours?"

"Because I don't want to hang at my apartment all the time. I'll see you at six. Gtg!"

Rhys groaned. Of course, his best friend wouldn't just make this easy for him to avoid. He stood up and took a stretch, walking out of his cubicle to get something to eat.

The smell of day-old coffee illuminated the air. Rhys decided he wanted to get a taste of the authentic work experience by trying some of the caffeinated bean water. On his way to the back table, Rhys scanned and skimmed through the advertisements plastered on the walls. Some were about buying clarinets (Rhys didn't even know people played instruments on Helios), others were about hotline communications, and some were about Handsome Jack "inspirational" posters. The patterns on the wall kept repeating themselves until he reached the coffee pot. Tacked to the wall was a yellow piece of paper. "Be a Helios Hero! Looking for people willing to experiment with new technology! Department doesn't matter. If interested, contact LeRoy Quinz."

Rhys raised a brow. That was oddly vague, but it did spark his curiosity. He ripped the first phone number tag off of the wall and stuffed it in his pants pocket. Would he forget about it? Probably. But, just in case.

Many long and nagging hours passed before Rhys was let go for the day. When he got home and looked at his ECHO, the time read 5:42 pm. Rhys completely forgot he had plans, so he decided to lounge on his sofa and close his eyes for a few minutes. No harm in that, right?

BANG! BANG! BANG!

Rhys' eyes swiftly opened, looking around the room.

BANG! BANG! BANG!

Rhys looked at his door, which seemed to be the source of the pounding. He got up and answered it in irritation, only to find out his best friend had had to use his knee to knock because his hands were full of takeout food. His irritability turned into embarrassment. "You forgot, didn't you?" Vaughn asked as he shook his head.

"A little. I just got home fifteen minutes ago." He looked back into his messed up apartment. "Bro. I know we had this planned, but my place is a wreck. Are you sure we can't just do this at your place?"

"I didn't just walk halfway across the station to get food from your favorite Chinese place and bring it here to you to walk another lifetime back to my place. You've always been a messy person. How bad can it be?" Vaughn shoved past Rhys and his jaw dropped. The smell, the sight. It was all worse than he predicted. "When was the last time you cleaned, Rhys?"

"This morning!" Rhys sounded offended, "I cleaned off my bed."

Vaughn pinched the bridge of his nose and sighed. He walked to the kitchen area and set their dinner on the little space his kitchen counter had left. "You've seriously got to clean. What is that smell?"

Rhys shrugged, giving a grunt. He wished Vaughn would just let them leave. But alas, Vaughn walked to Rhys' couch and threw the articles of clothing onto the floor. "My next off day, I'm coming over and cleaning regardless if you're here or not. This is ridiculous, even for you."

"Vaughn, I'm a grown adult. I don't need you cleaning my house for me."

All Vaughn did to reply was go and grab a few boxes of glass noodles, shoving them into Rhys' chest. "Eat. It's been a long day for both of us."

The two sat on Rhys' couch and chowed down on their meal. Both acted like they hadn't eaten in years.

"How was work?" Rhys asked Vaughn, shoveling the delicacy into his mouth.

"It was alright. Jameson is a cool dude, but he's very strict. My co-workers are too anxious to talk to each other- and frankly, I'm okay with that." Suddenly, the smaller man's face lit up. "You should've seen the spreadsheets! Oh, god! The numbers were the most perfectly aligned I've ever seen! Usually, people get so many things wrong. Dates and prices, even the taxes." Vaughn continued to chatter on about the documents.

As he did so, Rhys zoned out. He looked at Vaughn but heard nothing. The way Vaughn looked when he was excited was so adorable. It was nice to see him so happy. Rhys' eyes lingered from his lips to his eyes to his body and made a detour back to his lips. He could feel his heart racing in his chest and a warm, fuzzy feeling rush over his body.

"Bro?" Vaughn snapped in Rhys' face, "Yo, Helios to Rhys. Are you there?"

Rhys jolted up. "Yeah! Sorry. I've got my mind on things."

"Oh? Like what?"

Rhys couldn't just tell him what he was actually doing. He needed an improvisation. At that moment, he remembered the note he stuffed in his pocket.

He pulled out the yellow tag and smiled. "Well, I'm going to contact this Quinz guy about something he's selling. He's looking for eager patients to help him with something I guess. His ad didn't say much, but I thought I'd look into it, ya know?"

A weary expression fell upon Vaughn's face. "I dunno. I feel like if someone doesn't fully express what they're needing, you shouldn't do it. I can't stop you... but don't be an idiot."

Rhys rolled his eyes. "Me? An idiot?" He scoffed, "Please, Vaughn. I'm perfectly capable of making sure nothing bad will happen." Just as he said that his box of noodles broke from the bottom and spilled into his lap.

Vaughn laughed and shook his head. "Sure. I'll hold you to it, Rhys."

Rhys growled and looked back at the tag. Now he didn't have a choice.

After excusing himself for a minute, Rhys pushed the noodles from his lap and went to the bathroom. He scrambled for his ECHO and called the number on the tag.

"Hello." A raspy voice spoke.

Rhys could only pray that he wasn't going to regret this.

Chapter Text

The phone call with the doctor was awkward. Rhys spent a questionable amount of time discussing things with Quinz, giving an adequate amount of fake reasoning for his intention with Quinz's program. There was no sure answer for whether or not Quinz had believed Rhys' gimmick, but he sure sounded excited. That counted for something, right? The whole call ended in the arrangement to meet three weeks to the day. Rhys would have to play out his act all because he didn't want to tell Vaughn anything.

There Rhys was in his snug cubicle three weeks later. He sat in his black rolling chair anxiously eyeing at the time. Three-thirty. He still had an hour and a half; he was still safe. Rhys turned to his screen to look at whatever information Mrs.Cranston had been shoving her employees' throats that day. Since Rhys started, he began to loathe his position. All the late nights without overtime, the lack of benefits he was promised, and the sheer disrespect he got from his co-workers all because he was higher in the chain of command and fresh out of schooling. It made him feel trapped.

His attention span kept disintegrating. Rhys just couldn't find it in himself to focus. The thought of what this man looked like- what he was- scared Rhys. Maybe he was like a regular doctor, just a typical medically licensed man. Or maybe he was like the freakshows rumors about the things in Research and Development mentioned: Mad, sinister, bloodthirsty cannibals tricking their victims into becoming their guinea pigs. At the very least, he'd be getting something out of this visit. He didn't need the money or fame. He only wanted this alibi to be over with (and his face not eaten off, of course.).

An hour had passed before Rhys' boss found the man lounging. His deep brown eyes kept a held gaze at the clock. Time ticked slower than it should have been. "Mister Strongfork!" The old crow bellowed, "Is there something bothering you so much that your computer has activated sleep mode?" Her wrinkled old finger pointed to Rhys' blacked out monitor.

"N-No, ma'am!" He sat up and turned the screen back on, "I'm sorry. Won't happen again." It seemed his boss refused to take that for an answer.

"Mister Strongfork, need I remind you why you're here this early? You showed very high scores on your aptitude testing- the highest I've ever seen." This made Rhys smile, "However, I'm beginning to think that maybe you guessed your way through that piece of junk. You have yet to show me solid work, and I don't believe this department suits you."

Rhys' heart began to drop to his stomach. God, was she going to fire him? Kill him maybe? The possibilities were endless.

"I will be speaking with the people in HR. By next week, you'll be transferred. I tried to give you a chance, young man, but it seems I made the wrong choice." With that, she stalked back to her main office.

Demoted. Rhys was being demoted. Well, it was sufficiently better than the other alternatives, but still very heart-wrenching. He didn't even know about his scores. Hell, he's completely forgotten about the scores on deck in the first place. If he'd known those stupid personality quizzes had actually meant something, maybe he would've given valid answers. No matter, there was nothing he could do.

Five o'clock hit sometime between ten to twenty years later than Rhys was patient enough for. In no time the man was clocked out and on his way back to his apartment. He had an hour to kill, so Rhys figured he'd change into something else. Formal? No, too snobby. Casual? Gross. Outgoing? That was a lie.

Lies. That's what got him here in the first place. All he could've done was tell Vaughn the truth. He wouldn't have to be here. Maybe in another universe, he'd be snuggling in a clean apartment with a boyfriend instead of hunting down clean underwear in his disaster area all by his lonesome. It was something he vowed he'd push off until later. Classic Rhys.

Once Rhys decided to just stay in his work clothes (Because to him, they gave off the 'Hyperion vibe'), he was out the door. Rhys' heart rate was off the charts and he clenched his fists at his sides. Why would seeing some strange man you've only heard from once and never met before be so anxiety crippling? Isn't that what you normally do on Helios? Especially if you consider the fact people work to serve a man they'll probably never have the honor to meet. The walls caved in a little before a small sound startled him.

Beep! Vaughn: New Message.

Thank Jack it was only his ECHO. Rhys peered at the message which read "Bro, I got a new copy of Dragon Riders. Wanna come over and play it? I'm off tomorrow, so it's totally your chance with the all-nighter."

Rhys chuckled and replied with a thumbs up. Vaughn would know that meant yes, but that Rhys was also busy. Busy: another lie to Vaughn.

Rhys walked up to a pair of big, bulky steel doors with huge bolts in them. You could probably stick your finger in one of the nail slots if you had big enough hands. By the door were a cornea reader and a hand pad. Whatever this place was, it was secure under more than a lock and key. Suddenly, a voice boomed from behind Rhys. "Hello, stranger!" It greeted.

Rhys whipped around and put a hand on his chest, barely able to breathe. There before him stood a very scrawny man with white stubble and no head hair. The lab coat he wore was an odd beige color, and his clothes were covered in numerous stains. He looked exactly like the rumors from R&D. "Are you Doctor Quinz?" Rhys asked through weighted lungs.

Eagerly, the other man nodded. "Rhys Strongfork! You a lot taller than you sound on the phone!" Quinz rushed over to the security measures and scanned his hand and cornea at the same time. Talk about killing two birds with one stone.

The door sprung to life and opened. It felt like one of those cliche horror movies. Rhys was just ready for there to be some kind of torture dungeon on the inside. Instead, there was a hospital. "Welcome to Quarantine!" an automated voice called out.

"H-Hold on. Quarantine? Why are we going into the contagious sector?"

"Considering the perfect health of almost every Hyperion employee and Helios resident, this sector is a great place to conduct my research and help you advance yourself! No disease will touch your body. I promise... sort of." Quinz walked in with excitement, gesturing Rhys to follow. For some reason or another, Rhys did as was implicated.

The hallways radiated a low light. It was hard to see anything but the ceiling lamps reflecting dimly onto the plexiglass. The floors were a fancy marble-tile mixture that was stained with shoe scuffs from previous employees and patients. Something about the feel of the place made Rhys feel off. His stomach knotted and his hands fidgeted with one another. He couldn't shake the feeling that he was probably about to get murdered, chopped into a million pieces, and sold to some psycho on Pandora for his mid-afternoon snack.

"You wouldn't believe how excited I am for this!" Quinz hummed happily, "Nobody has ever signed up for my cause. They think I'm too insane." He muttered something incoherent to himself before facing back towards Rhys, "But that's okay! You're here! We're gonna make millions, boyo. Millions!"

"What exactly are we doing, Doctor Quinz?" Rhys' fingers kept poking and tangling each other as they entered a fairly decent looking room. The decor was nice and it gave a calming demeanor. Rhys liked calm.

"For now, we're discussing possibilities. Have a seat!" His boney fingered pointed to a dusty chair similar to that of the one in his old cubicle. Rhys complied. "First things first-" he opened up the ECHO on the desk and began typing away and clicking tabs open and closed. "Mister Strongfork. What department do you currently serve?"

"Uh, Middle Management." For now, he thought.

"Age?"

"Twenty-two."

"Sexuality?"

Rhys felt himself fluster. He shook his head and stood up. "I-Is that important, doctor?" He growled, folding his arms like a toddler.

"Curious..." Quinz typed in. "Alright. Now to the best part of this appointment." He spun around in his chair and beamed with a radiant smile, "My boy, have you ever heard of cybernetic enhancements?"

"Cybernetics? Those are in prototype. Only few people have them." It took a minute for Quinz's question to click, "Wait. Do you want me to get cybernetics or something?"

Quinz nodded quickly. "Yes! You don't know how much you could make!" He shoved a flyer into Rhys' face and stood up. Pacing around, he continued, "Eridium mining is looking for someone up to this. They need scanners, they need testers, they need you!" Something in Quinz's voice made Rhys raise a brow. It sounded interesting.

"I-I don't know, LeRoy. What enhancements are they looking for?"

"These are the questions I want to hear!" Quinz rummaged through his desk and pulled out a Hyperion issued set of blueprints. "They call it Hyperion Gazer. An advanced cybernetic arm that connects to the nerves. You could control it. Of course, they'd need to remove your arm from the deltoid down an-"

"Cut off my arm?" Rhys yelped, rubbing his left and right arm.

"Yes. That is how cybernetics work, my boy." Quinz pointed to his arm, "They'd ideally take the left since it isn't your dominant hand. If they took your right, malfunctions to deal with in the beginning would be terribly difficult."

"Malfu-" He was cut off by the overjoyed doctor.

"And of course, the latest advancement of the ECHOeye. This one they'd only plant a small visible chip into your cornea with a USB slot poked into your noggin'. Unlimited access to information across Helios- across the universe! If Hyperion deems you fit for their mining operations, you'd make money! And that middle management position? It'd be lower than where you'd be."

That's what struck Rhys' interest. The thought of getting higher than where he was currently at. He needed this.

"Doctor Quinz..." He looked up from the flyer, "I'm in."

"Yes!" He cheered, "I'll have you set and approved for surgery within the next forty-eight hours! Oh, this is spectacular! You're not going to regret it, boyo!" After his chant, he rushed Rhys out of Quarantine and locked himself inside the sector, claiming to have a tremendous amount of work he had to complete for this.

Rhys stood frozen outside of the metal boundary. He didn't know what to do or what to say. Part of him had so much going on through his mind at once that he didn't even remember he had to meet up with Vaughn. What did he just agree to?

Beep! New message: Vaughn.

"Bro. It's getting late. Everything okay?" Talk about perfect timing. There was nobody else like Vaughn to get him back into Rhys mode.

"Yeah. Just got out. On my way!"

When Rhys walked into his best friend's apartment, the scent of tortilla chips and jalapenos hit him. God, the smell lured him further as his stomach whined for food. He approached the kitchen, seeing a giant bowl of Nachos on the countertop. "Hey!" Vaughn spoke from behind.

Rhys jumped and laughed awkwardly. "Hey, Vaughn. Fancy, uh, seeing you here?"

"In my apartment? That I pay rent for? And inhabit?" Vaughn put his hands on his hips, "Are you feeling okay?"

Rhys shrugged and reached his hand out to grab the fragrant pile of chips before it was bitterly swiped away by Vaughn. "Hungry? Well, let's make a deal. You tell me what's wrong, and you can get some chips." A sinister smile popped onto the short man's face as he shoved a few chips in his mouth.

Rhys didn't want to talk about it, but he also didn't like the smell taunting his stomach. "I..." He sighed in defeat, nearly drooling at the sight of perfection that was Vaughn's nachos, "I went to see a Hyperion doctor. I'm getting cybernetics or whatever."

Vaughn choked on his chip. "Excuse me?" He eyed down Rhys, "Why? What the hell?"

"What does it matter? I'm my own person, I can make my own decisions. You're not my dad or my bo...-" he sighed and looked down. Vaughn's face fell sympathetic.

"Rhys. I know... but, this is a really big decision. You've heard the rumors about cybernetics. You could die from electronic corrosion- or maybe you'll get addicted to surgeries. You could die on the table from bleeding out or lack of oxygen or something!" Vaughn slid the plate towards Rhys so he could eat, "And you know what happens when you accept something on Hyperion."

"If you say you're going to do it, you do it or you get killed..." Rhys felt idiotic. All he could have done was say he'll think about it, or say no to it in the first place. It seemed that the doctor knew to trick a gullible guppy when he saw one.

Vaughn walked around the counter and put a hand on his best friend's shoulder. "I'm here for you, bro. No matter how stupid your decisions are."

"Thank you, Bro."

With that, Rhys and Vaughn decided to ignore the surgery to come and focus on the night of fun-filled gaming. Though they both knew it was a bullet they couldn't dodge in the long run.

Chapter Text

It was a dreadful Tuesday morning. Out of work (unknowingly to anyone) and feeling alone, Rhys watched the time tick by slowly as he played some crossword game on his ECHO. He sat in the waiting room of some broken-down medical unit. Doctor Quinz sat across from him, bouncing in his seat like a toddler after a candy rush. "Aren't you excited, Reece!" He piped, looking around the room, "This was the only thing they had available, but it's great! I promise you the top-notch doctors will be taking care of you- at least, the doctors that can only somewhat compare to me."

As Quinz basked in his glory, a nurse popped her head out and called Rhys' name. "The doctor would like to see you now, Mister Strongfork." When Rhys sat up, she blushed and looked away. A shy one indeed. "My name is Nurse Yasmin Itzel. I'll be checking your blood pressure, heart rate, and be assisting you after your operation. I will need you to sign a few waivers, but I can guarantee nothing bad will happen. Doctor Quinz is the best doctor around!"

Rhys stopped in his tracks. He could feel the color fade from his face as he looked at Itzel. "Excuse me, did you say Doctor Quinz?" To which she replied in a nod, "If I'm being operated by him in here, who the hell is that lunatic that sent me here in the first place?

Itzel laughed and shook her head. "I thought you knew. His name is Thomas Satch. He was an old patient in the quarantine sector- one of Doctor Quinz. He lost it once the sector closed down and he couldn't seek help anymore. Poor man..." She shook her head once more, but this time in a way of sympathy, "Thomas was a good man. He used to work in culinary and catering. He's become quite knowledgable about the medical arts though!"

Rhys gulped and continued to follow Itzel down the hall. "So why does he call himself Doctor Quinz?"

"Oh, poor Thomas looked up to Doctor Quinz- he was kind of like the brother or father figure. Despite his... er, mental deterioration, he's a good man." Yasmin turned to Rhys, "I'm sorry you thought different. I promise that this surgery is legitimate. I hope that doesn't scare you out of this procedure."

Rhys looked back out into the waiting room at the man happily reading a magazine, back to the woman who looked more anxious at the extended silence. "Oh, hell. It's too late to change my mind." He continued to walk down the hall, which made Itzel smile.

They reached the exam room where Rhys sat on the small hospital bed. The bed felt gruff, but it was an upgrade from what would've been provided at Hyperion's mainstream hospitals. Itzel grabbed a plastic cuff and a pump and wrapped it around Rhys' arm. "How are you feeling- a-about the surgery."

"Nervous. Especially considering that I was convinced by a false Quinz." Rhys looked down as Itzel pumped the cuff, "But it's not like I really have a choice. I gotta find work."

"Find work?" Itzel raised a brow, removing the cuff and jotting down Rhys' blood pressure, "Your paperwork says you're in the middle management department."

"That was before my former boss thought I wasn't fit enough for middle management." A sigh escaped his lips, "Besides, data mining sounds more my speed, right?"

Itzel replied by putting her fingers on his wrist to try and find a pulse. It was incredibly high and for a sound reason. "I know you'll get the job, sir." She was trying to comfort and calm him down, "The doctor will be in in a few moments. I'll see you after your surgery." With that, she was gone.

Rhys found himself going through his ECHO, wondering if he should tell Vaughn this new information. No, he thought, because then he would have to explain why he couldn't back out of the surgery. "I'll just tell him that I found data mining more interesting" Rhys began to talk to himself aloud, "I'll never hear the end of it if Vaughn found out I got fired in the second month..."

There was a knock on the door before a man walked in. He was a short and stout man. He wore business casual under a pearly white lab coat. "Good afternoon, Mister Strongfork" He began, "My name is Doctor LeRoy Quinz. I- as well as a few of my colleagues- will be performing your surgery today. Before we administer any drugs or talk further about the procedure, we're going to transfer you to the surgery ward." Quinz gestured Rhys to get up and follow him.

"Don't patients typically go into the surgery ward on a stretcher?" Rhys tried to joke

"Yes. However, you're not unconscious or under any time of medication that would prevent you from walking to the ward." Quinz's voice sounded unenthusiastic, which sent a chill down Rhys' spine. This set up was weird. That might have been why they advertised like a bike sale rather than sending through mainstream media. This Eridium mining thing must have been so shady that nobody in their right mind would want to post it onto their social media or news articles.

Once he was set up and laid in the surgery ward, a male nurse came in and took his grand time finding a vein to stick an IV in. He slid the needle carefully through the skin and into the bloodline. What he lacked to do was make a tourniquet, which meant the nurse was inserting the needle by memory. Not anything that would worry Rhys or whatever, no way!

When the nurse put morphine into the IV bag, Rhys felt himself ease and calm down. Morphine wasn't supposed to be given until after the surgery, but Quinz must have ordered it for both before and after. Rhys wasn't complaining about this part. The less he felt, the better.

Quinz came in as the nurse left. Beside the man was a woman, who claimed she was going to be Rhys' anesthesiologist. "So, I'm sure you're aware of how the surgery works by now, but I am going to give you a small recap." He pulled out a clipboard from the end of the bed, "First, we are going to remove your arm, then we're going to dig into your eye and skull. The surgeries will be done all in this period and will take approximately seven to nine hours to complete. Do you have anyone that could pick you up upon discharge?

Rhys had to think about it. He didn't have any on-planet family. "My best friend Vaughn."

"Contact information is required. We will collect that and begin the surgery."

With that, a mask was stretched across Rhys' face and he could feel himself fading out.

A few hours had passed since Rhys was knocked out. All he knew was that the room was bright and he couldn't feel one of his arms. His head throbbed as one of his eyes was covered. Across the room was a very nervous Vaughn, talking to someone on his ECHO.

"V-Vaughn?" Rhys mouthed, barely able to get a voice out. Luckily, Vaughn heard the whisper and quickly hung up after saying he had to go.

"Rhys! Hey!" He kneeled beside Rhys' bed, taking in his hand, "How are you feeling buddy?"

"Sleepy..." He opened his mouth. It was cotton dry. "Thirsty."

"Blood loss does that to you..."

Rhys' eyes widen and he tried to sit up, but he was greeted by a searing pain in his left side. "B-Blood loss? W-What happened?"

Vaughn shook his head and figured it was a side effect of the anesthesia. "We're gonna get you fed and hydrated, then we're getting you home."

"B-But I don't want to go home!" Rhys whined and closed his eyes. It was hard for him to stay up at this point. He drifted off into slumber again. Vaughn tried to shake him awake, but his attempts were faulty.

When Rhys woke up, he woke up on his couch at home. Just a dream, he thought. However, he still couldn't see or feel his right side. He looked around, but that hurt like nothing else ever did. It was like someone was stabbing a sewing needle into his left eye socket. Vaughn put a hand on Rhys' shoulder, which made Rhys jump. When he turned in response, Rhys noticed that his apartment was much neater than he originally left it. Vaughn must have needed a time killer.

"Hey." Vaughn smiled, holding up an orange bottle, "How're you feeling?"

"Pain..." He coughed, slouching back into the cushion of his couch.

Vaughn tilted the bottle over and shook out two tiny pills before sealing its lid back on. He reached over to a glass of apple juice (Heaven forbid Rhys drink actual water) and looked up at his best friend. "Here, take these." He tried to put the pills up to Rhys' mouth, but his hand was slapped away.

"What are you doing, Vaughn?"

Vaughn blushed, looking down. "S-Sorry. I-I... I thought that maybe it would be hard with one working arm..."

Rhys' expression softened and he looked at his left side for the first time. In place of his original arm was a yellow hunk of metal with wires. It felt numb, but it looked heavy. That's when Rhys realized he'd just gotten out of surgery. This wasn't a fever dream. He'd just gotten rid of twenty-five percent of his body. "I'm sorry... I forgot about that." Rhys took the pills from Vaughn's hand and put them in his mouth before retrieving the apple juice to flush them down.

Vaughn sat there clueless on what to do or say. "Well... a lot of what you normally do you can't really... uh... do." He looked at the kitchen, "Are you hungry, I can make something small. You're on a liquid diet for two weeks- doctors orders. I can make you a mixed berry smoothie!" The mention of making a smoothie not only sounded great to Rhys, but Rhys noticed Vaughn's face lit up. He didn't know if it was because Vaughn liked to make smoothies or because he felt excited helping his best friend.

"Yeah. That sounds great." A yawn escaped from Rhys' mouth and he closed his eyes. "I'm gonna rest my eyes, bro." Rhys could feel the couch losing mass as Vaughn got up. After a few minutes of empty space, it was refilled. A cold substance alarmed Rhys' lap. When he opened his eyes, there was a purple liquid spilled onto his lap.

"Bro? A-Are you okay?" Vaughn was frantically trying to wipe Rhys' lap with his shirt sleeve. Rhys spilled it when he spilled back into an unconscious state.

Rhys laughed. Weird. "I-I'm fine, bro. It feels nice..." Suddenly, Rhys grabbed Vaughn's hand and held it in his own. Vaughn didn't know how to react. He looked at Rhys as his face flushed maroon.

"I-I'm gonna get paper towels!" Vaughn announced as he was quick to get up.

Rhys remained on the couch. His body felt like and numb, and his brain felt at ease. He couldn't feel anything- not just physically. There were no thoughts of embarrassment or careful wording; no voice in his head wanting him to shut up and hold himself back. When Vaughn returned, Rhys didn't even think about the fact this wasn't good. All he did was look at his colleague as his lap was being cleaned off. After that was done, Vaughn threw the paper into the trashcan under the coffee table and looked up at Rhys. "How are you feeling now, Rhys?"

"I feel great..." Rhys giggled and gave a smile. Vaughn looked a little more relaxed at that response but still raised a brow at the laughter.

"Good. That just means that the pills worked." Vaughn looked into Rhys' glassy eye. "Let's get you to bed, you look beat..."

Rhys gave out a whine and shook his head. "Nah, bro. I wanna hang with you." Rhys felt himself lean over to press his body onto Vaughn's, resting his head on the shorter man's shoulder. Vaughn froze but eventually wrapped an arm around Rhys as a comfort. He wanted Rhys to feel safe. He'd want to feel safe too after getting his arm and eye ripped to shreds.

"Rhys." Vaughn looked down at Rhys, "Why did you get the surgery?" Random question, but Vaughn had convinced himself that Rhys was going to chicken out.

"I lost my job last week... gotta make money somehow." No hesitation in his response. No falseness. The drugs refused to let him hold back.

"W-What?" Vaughn whispered, "Y-You lost your job...? Wh-Why didn't you tell me? I could've helped you with a better alternative..." The hurt in Vaughn's voice was visible, but his face tried to show otherwise.

"Because I knew I'd hurt you..." Rhys buried his face deeper into Vaughn's shoulder, "I always do."

Vaughn ran a hand through Rhys' hair. "Dude... You've never, ever hurt me. You've been the only one rooting for me since... Well, since forever. There's nobody else I'd ever look up to more than you." He felt his face flush and refused to look at Rhys.

Rhys looked up at Vaughn and leaned in. Vaughn stared back and jumped, realizing what Rhys was about to do. Quickly, he jumped to the other side of the couch, making Rhys have to fall back the other way. "H-Hey! Something's uh... I-... Wow is that a new light bulb?" He got up and went to inspect his false distraction.

Rhys remained on the couch and closed his eyes. Maybe he'd blown it, but at least he'd be able to sleep it off.

Chapter Text

When Rhys woke up, he found himself in bed. How did he get there? The pain had resumed in his body, which had made it difficult for him to get out of bed. To resolve the situation he decided to stay down. Maybe, by some miracle, Vaughn would come to his rescue. That got him thinking.

Oh, god. Vaughn.

His memory was fuzzy, but he could vividly remember the distressed look on his best friend's face as he got closer to him. With that thought, part of him was against using his friend for aide. It didn't take too long for Rhys to give into his neediness. He yelled out a fragile "Vaughn!" It took a minute, but Vaughn scrambled into the room with a small smile. "Hey..." Rhys gulped, looking down at his feet.

"Hey. How're you feeling?" Vaughn sounded like a broken record at this point, but Rhys didn't mind. It was nice knowing that someone was by his side no matter how stupid he was. His friend scooted forward and sat on the bed opposite of Rhys.

"I hurt a lot." Rhys admitted with a wince, "But, I'll get over it."

Vaughn looked over Rhys' shoulder to try and examine his new artificial one. "I need to check underneath the wrapping and check for infection."

"Bro, it's only been a few hours since my surgery. I'm fine."

Vaughn bit his bottom lip. It was Vaughn's signature 'there's something I need to tell you' face. "Bro...You've been out cold for three days."

Rhys frowned. Not the usual overdramatic expression Rhys would usually give. He figured that something would have to go wrong considering the fact he just got black market cybernetics. What hit Rhys was guilt. This man was taking unpaid leave to take of Rhys, and for what? To take care of his man-child best friend? All those thoughts took a pause when Rhys felt the warmth of Vaughn's hand pile on his remaining flesh one. Rhys looked up and was greeted by a kind and caring expression. "Can I please see."

Rhys gave a nod. He winced again out of instinct when Vaughn checked under the eyepatch. "Everything on your eye looks good. That's a pretty color blue."

"Blue? They didn't say anything about a color change..."

"If it accounts for anything, I think it's a very good color on you. Matches your work uniform." Vaughn kept a straight face, but there was a tinge of pink hugging his cheeks. He lifted the eyepatch back down carefully and ventured to Rhys' arm. He lifted the bandage and his expression went pale. Rhys couldn't see, but he sensed the tension in Vaughn's grip.

"Is everything okay?"

"You've got a monster infection... The doctor said I can remove the arm if that happens. I guess you can pop this sucker off when you need to? He gave me a pamphlet, be right back." Vaughn was off.

Rhys put a hand to his eyepatch, touching it lightly. His cheeks turned color when he thought about Vaughn's compliment. Was it just for comfort?

Vaughn came back into the room with the pamphlet, a bottle of hydrogen peroxide, and some fresh bandaging. "Alright... This looks complicated." He sat on Rhys' right side so that he could get a better look at the arm. After he sat everything onto the bed with grace, he reached a hand to feel Rhys' forehead. "You're a little warm. That's not good, but it's also not bad. It means your infection's just started. If I would've waited, your fever would be higher." Vaughn began to remove the ace bandaging from the arm sling.

Rhys took a look at his arm. It wasn't the first time the metal replacement taunted him, but it was an attention seeker every time he looked to it. It felt weird being a technical cyborg. It wasn't like he could say much. It was his fault for him getting into this situation. Life lesson: Don't trust some freak in Quarantine just because you needed money for next month's rent.

Vaughn began fiddling with metal clasps Rhys couldn't see. He paralyzed himself, afraid that one wrong move could instantly damage his cybernetics. Though, he was genuinely appreciative of Vaughn's carefulness. Vaughn must have gotten the right clasp because Rhys heard a sharp click, several others followed. His arm was off with a hard tug from Vaughn. It didn't hurt as much as he anticipated, but it still hurt.
tug.

Rhys' new arm laid beside Vaughn, who was reaching for the first aid materials. "This is going to hurt... so, just stay still. Okay?" Rhys nodded, which ensued Vaughn to tilt the bottle of peroxide into a rag. Once it was nice and soaked, Vaughn began to gently dab the peroxide onto Rhys' stump. Bubbles instantly began to form as Rhys whined. Vaughn wasn't kidding when he said it was a monster.

Vaughn looked up at Rhys. Bad timing, but he was going to talk. "Bro... how do you view our relationship?"

Rhys suddenly felt time stop. His body grew numb as his eyes trailed away from Vaughn. "I-I... we're bros, bro. Why?"

There was a hint of disappointment in Vaughn's face. "Oh." He said flatly, "Just curious is all... don't wanna lose my bro..."

Rhys was washed with yet another rush of guilt. "What about you?" Way to go, Rhys.

Vaughn shrugged. "I dunno. As you said, we're just bros."

"Then why did you ask?"

Vaughn remained silent for a moment. The look on his face insinuated that there was something holding him back. "You're cleaned up."

"Vaughn." Rhys furrowed his brow, "You're avoiding my question."

"I'll rewrap your bandage."

"Vaughn!" Rhys said irritably, his temper shortening. Vaughn drew back a little as if intimidated by the sudden burst of volume. Rhys gave a short sigh, "Why are you avoiding the question?"

Vaughn straightened up. "Because, Rhys. It was a dumb thing to ask. N-Not your question... mine." Vaughn sank back down again, "Nevermind."

Rhys scooted close to Vaughn. "Vaughn. Why did you ask?"

Vaughn bit his lip again, feeling trapped. Rhys decided to move his hand closer to Vaughn's. "Vaughn..."

"You leaned in to kiss me, Rhys."

"Is that why you looked scared...?"

Vaughn was quiet, but he gave a nod. He fiddled with his fingers and looked into his lap. "It's complicated, Rhys."

"I'm sorry I scared you." Rhys replied, "I-I guess I didn't have a filter when I was drugged up."

"You didn't have a filter? What's that supposed to mean?"

Great. Now he could avoid the question or he could be truthful. The last time he decided to dodge the bullet, he ended up with his limb chopped off. "I'm gonna tell you something, but you gotta promise you won't freak out or whatever. Okay?" When Vaughn responded with a nod and locked eye contact, Rhys added "I like you more than a bro... Just being around you makes me happy, and you've been the best friend anyone could ask for. I didn't want to say anything, because I didn't want to make our friendship awkward. I've been rejected more times than I can count, so I didn't want to risk it with you. But, I've had feelings for you for... jeez, a decade almost?"

Warmth emerged onto Rhys' hand again. His heart raced, but he refused to break their eye contact. "You're more than a bro to me too, Rhys." Vaughn's face was bright pink, but he gave a very sincere smile. Rhys couldn't stop staring. He just looked so... cute.

"Really?" Rhys asked, "I-I mean. Really?" His tone of voice didn't change. He was in a stage of disbelief.

Vaughn decided to scoot closer to Rhys. "Yeah, really. I have for years."

"Years? And I never noticed?" Vaughn squeezed Rhys' hand to get his attention, "That was kind of of the point, genius. I didn't want to ruin what we have either. You've been my best friend since we were in Junior High!"

Rhys looked at Vaughn and leaned in a bit."Why did you get scared when I leaned in earlier- give or take a few days ago."

"Because you were drugged up. I didn't want to take advantage of that."

"That's sweet, Vaughn." Rhys gave a smile before leaning back. He thought that maybe lip-locking would make Vaughn nervous. He sat back into the mattress and looked up at Vaughn. "Did Yvette tell you?"

Vaughn chuckled and laid next to him. "Yeah. I thought she was getting my hopes up, though. You know Yvette."

Rhys flipped onto his right side, making sure his cybernetic side had room to breathe. "So. What does that make us?"

"I... I don't know. Friends?" Vaughn scooted a little closer, looking into Rhys' visible eye.

"Best friends?" Rhys scooted closer to Vaughn, returning eye contact.

"More than friends?" Vaughn and Rhys' noses were touching, their mouths only centimeters apart. They stared at each other for a while before Rhys laid his only hand on Vaughn's cheek. He could feel Vaughn's blush in the palm of his hand. It made him smile, which made Vaughn smile. Rhys felt his body take the wheel and lean in close, disintegrating the space between their lips.

Vaughn pressed his body against Rhys'. Rhys wrapped his arm around Vaughn's waist in response, letting their lips lock and slide against each other. Both of their chests felt light, and they felt like they were dreaming. The thoughts of security, the disappearance of all their worries. Both of the men could live like this forever, to just hold each other until tomorrow's end.

Rhys pulled back and looked at Vaughn. He noticed his friend's eyes gave a radiant light. His smile was wide and you couldn't see a trace of Vaughn's natural pale skin in his face or ears. "That was nice." Vaughn giggled, placing his head into the crook of Rhys' neck. Rhys rested his chin on top of Vaughn's head. "You're a better kisser than I thought you were."

Rhys laughed lightly. "I feel the same way...- a-about you!" Ah, the nervous man smiles anxiously in his habitat, awaiting his partner's response.

"Are we more than friends?" Vaughn looked up, raising a brow, "I-I know kissing doesn't mean that you're automatically, like, lovers. But..."

"I-If you want to be." Rhys ran his hand through Vaughn's hair. "We can be, like... boyfriends."

Vaughn's face lit up yet again and he looked up happily. "Really?" He giggled to himself, "Rhys is my boyfriend." He whispered to himself, putting his hands up to his mouth as he gasped. He was like a high school girl.

Rhys leaned over and kissed Vaughn's forehead. "I'm the one that's lucky."

"That's cheesy." Vaughn teased, holding Rhys close.

Rhys looked up at the clock and closed his eyes. "I'm hungry..."

Vaughn scurried up. "I-I can make you something!" he offered, "Maybe some pudding? O-Or yogurt?"

"Don't those take months to make though?" Rhys replied. Bad dad joke.

"Rhys. I hate you." Vaughn got up out of the bed and exited into the kitchen.

Rhys sat back and looked up at the ceiling. Maybe things were finally going to fall into plan. Low and behold, his ECHO beeped. Begrudgingly, Rhys picked up his communications device and checked what the ruckus was all about.

Beep! Message: Yvette.

Shit! Rhys looked at the message. "Have you seen Vaughn? He's been ignoring my texts."

"He's with me. He's taking care of me. Just got out of surgery." Rhys sent a smiley face to try and lighten the mood. Yvette's mood, however, was not brightened.

"Surgery?" She replied, "What surgery? What happened?"

Rhys bit his lip and sighed. "Gtg. TTYL!"

Yvette kept popping back with messages, but Rhys muted her notifications. He didn't need to hear her thoughts on the situation. He was in a good mood, save the bitch and lecture for later.

Vaughn returned with a small vanilla pudding cup with whipped topping and a glass of apple juice. He looked proud to say the least, walking up to Rhys and offering his newly claimed boyfriend the food. "I know it's not much, but I want you to eat."

Rhys smiled. He didn't mind the small portions. Sure, he was hungry, but he didn't know how much he could stomach. The surgery was taking a bigger toll on him than he thought it would. His whole body was resisting this new change, even his stomach. "Thank you, Vaughn. It's way more than enough for me." The first thing Rhys did was chug that apple juice. He was extremely dehydrated. Apple juice wasn't going to help that, but water was against Rhys' religion.

Vaughn sat beside Rhys once again as he ate. He began subtly fidgeting with his fingers and looked over at Rhys' bandaged stump. "How is it feeling, bro?"

Rhys looked up at Vaughn with his apple juice mustache and moved his eyes to his arm. "I can't feel it. Maybe that peroxide worked. The rest of my body hurts. Is this ever going to be over?"

Vaughn was now visibly nervous. "Rhys? Can I ask you something? You have to be one hundred percent honest with me. No lying- again."

Rhys nodded, digging into the vanilla goodness.

"Since we're like, like a thing... you're not gonna lie to me anymore, right? No matter what?"

Rhys looked down and stopped eating his pudding. "Vaughn. I-I don't know. I lied to protect you-"

"No. You lied to protect yourself on multiple occasions. Giving me googley eyes is one thing- but you lied about your job! You literally got cybernetics all because you lost it and instead of coming to me, you decided to chop off an arm. How'd that work out for you, Rhys?"

"Why are you so angry all of a sudden? Just five minutes ago you were okay with making out with me, and now you wanna argue?"

"I want clarification, Rhys."

"Clarification? Fine." Rhys' voice raised a little, "I didn't get the cybernetics because I lost my job, I got them because I was trying to dodge a bullet about how I felt about you. I didn't want to like you. I didn't want to ruin anything. Losing my job was just what set off the decision to actually go through with it. You think I wanted my arm and my eye removed for some Hyperion science fiction game?"

Vaughn's eyes furrowed and he looked at his hand, which were fidgeting terribly. "Rhys. I..." He didn't know what to say. He felt like he did so much wrong already. "Sorry... I'm insecure."

Rhys sighed and toned it down. "I'm sorry I lied to you. If I lie to you, I'll end up being honest. I always am."

Vaughn refused to reply. Rhys felt his guilt come to the rescue again. He slid close to Vaughn and leaned against him. Vaughn didn't move, but he felt tense. "Bro. I promise it's okay."

"I'm new at this relationship thing. I just thought maybe we'd clear a few things up." Rhys kissed Vaughn's temple and rested his chin on Vaughn's head once more.

"Well, maybe choose better timing." Rhys grabbed Vaughns's hand and held it to his lips, kissing it gently. Vaughn blushed and drew his hand back with a giggle. "This isn't my first rodeo, but it's the first one I've wanted to attend."

"Now who's being cheesy?"

Rhys rolled his eyes and laid back down, Vaughn following him. "I'm tired."

"Sleep. You need it." Both of them did. Vaughn rested his head on Rhys' chest and closed his eyes. Both of the men were out within minutes, holding each other as much as they could.

Chapter Text

The next few days for the two men had a simple dynamic. Vaughn would carefully tend to Rhys' infection, making sure it wouldn't hurt him as much as possible. The kissing and other affectionate gestures had to be put on hold, for the infection was starting to make Rhys sick. His face was pale and a lot of time was spent asleep. It made Rhys feel very, very guilty. Vaughn was still taking the time off, unpaid, to care for him.

"Rhys, honey. You've gotta get up." Vaughn lulled softly, "You've gotta eat something." He had a hot bowl of chicken and dumplings carefully balanced in one hand, and his other hand stroking Rhys' hair.

Rhys fussed a bit, slowly opening his eyes and squinting by the sudden exposure of light. "I'm tired..." He turned over, covering himself with the blanket and groaning. He heard Vaughn set the bowl down onto the nightstand and felt the staredown from Vaughn. For a short man, his stare could be felt through titanium. "Alright, alright." Turning back around, he lowered his blanket defenses.

"I'm glad you see it my way." Once he got Rhys to sit up, he carefully set the bowl into Rhys' lap. "I know you're not very hungry, so I made chicken and dumplings so you're all filled up." Despite wanting to sit as close as possible, Vaughn kept his distance from his boyfriend. Until he knew how and if it was contagious, he didn't want to be close enough to get it too. "So, I'm going back to work tomorrow."

Rhys looked at Vaughn. There was a feeling of relief, but also a scared feeling. "Oh..."

"I know you need me here, but I need to also support myself. I'll come over after work, promise." He put a hand on Rhys' lap, "Trust me when I say I will take care of you every waking moment I'm not at work, okay?"

Rhys nodded and started to eat the soup. It was delicious, but his body was fighting him on eating it. The smell was just so infuriating to his nostrils, and the piping hot liquid made his throat close up in resistance. "V, I don't know if I can eat this." He strained, setting the bowl down,

Despite the fact Rhys wouldn't eat his soup, Vaughn understood. "It could be strep." He insisted, "We really need to get you into a doctor."

"No. Absolutely not. The last thing I need is a real doctor telling me how idiotic I am for getting cybernetics from some stranger in the hallway." He crossed his arms like a child and looked away from Vaughn. Unfortunately for Rhys, Vaughn was not going to take no for an answer.

"I don't care what any doctor says about your obviously stupid decision, we need to get you better. I'm not gonna try anything with you until I know you're healthy and able to start working."

Rhys raised a brow and sneered. Insert Rhys' terrible timing for inuendos. "Not gonna try anything? What's that supposed to mean?" Before Vaughn could respond, there was a furious pounding on the front door.

"I'd better get that. Don't go anywhere." Vaughn left and returned with a look of worry and a woman's voice screaming behind him.

"I don't care if he's sick! He owes me an explanation! I'm not sitting around watching him ignore my texts for nothing!"

Rhys groaned. He completely forgot about Yvette and how she acted to being left out of the loop of things. "Hey, Yvette." He scratched, laughing nervously when he realized she was looking at his lack of an arm.

"Where is your arm, Rhys?" It wasn't her being concerned. The fact that she put her hands on her hips and raised a brow told the boys that much. She was angry. Yvette stepped up closer to the armless man, somehow managing to squint even harder.

Rhys just rolled onto his side and covered himself up again, trying to hide away from Yvette. "I'll tell you later."

"I told you, Yvette, he's sick. Give the man a break until he can at least stand on his own two feet again." Vaughn replied, looking up at Yvette. There was a sternness to his expression that made Yvette back off and slouch over to a desk chair on the other side of the room.

"Alright. But can I at least know what I missed? You haven't been to work in a week. I checked your time stamp."

"Jeez, Yvette. Way to use your ability to get into the system against me. So sorry that I want to take care of my boyf.....best friend. Boy best friend." It didn't take long for Vaughn to walk quickly out, which earned Rhys a smirk from Yvette.

"Oh. Boy best friend, huh?" Yvette sat at the end of the bed, "Wanna tell me something. Because Boyf and Boy best friend doesn't sound all the same."

Rhys didn't want to tell Yvette. It wasn't because he didn't trust her, he just didn't know how it would affect their relationship. Would she feel left out? Ashamed? Jealous. There was a huge spectrum of possibilities when it came to Yvette, and Rhys wasn't ready to risk that outcome. "Yes. Boy best friend. Ya know because you're a girl? That means your my girl best friend. It's a subtle logic." There was no sense of confidence in Rhys' voice whatsoever. This made Yvette raise a brow and snicker.

"Yeah. Uh-huh." She stood up, inching closer to the bed. There was something about the look in her eye that made Rhys feel like he was prey, and Yvette was a vulture. She looked uncomfortably hungry for the juicy details. Despite the tension, Rhys wasn't surprised. If there was one thing Yvette was no matter what the situation was, it was nosey. "Then tell me, Rhys, why Vaughn just left the room like he left his ramen on the stove."

"Maybe he did."

"Seriously. Why won't you tell me what's really going on?" Yvette started to whine a bit, but she still held an intimidating impression.

Rhys bit his lip. He took a second to weigh down the pros and the cons of telling her. Pros were she wouldn't tease him and she would probably just give up. The cons were much worse. If he didn't tell her, Yvette would continue to press both him and Vaughn, she would make a big deal out of it, and she'd accuse him of lying more than he already did. The last thing he wanted in his current physical and mental state was to hear Yvette bitch more about how Rhys lied to her.

"Yeah. Fine." He sat up, looking Yvette in the eye, "I told him, okay? He liked me back. There's no technical label on it, but..." Rhys could feel himself smile with pride. A little too much pride, "He's my boyfriend."

Normally, news like this would get Yvette to gag. However, she squealed and jumped a little. "I knew it!" Yvette took a second to collect herself before she continued. "Look. I don't normally get into all the latest gossip on who's dating who-"

"That's a lie and you know it." Rhys interrupted.

"-, but I've been waiting for this day for years! I've seen how you two look at each other! I'm just pissed off it didn't happen sooner." Yvette sat on the mattress, eyeing Rhys and settling into a very serious expression. "However, I will have to address the fact that if you hurt Vaughn, I will fuck you up. I've seen how your other relationships went, Rhys. You got selfish and wrapped up in what you wanted, and you never had any remorse for their feelings. Now, I don't know if it's because you knew you had eyes for Vaughn, but if it turns out you pull your typical Rhys shinanigans on Vaughn, I will break your dick and shove you out of an airlock. Are we clear?"

Rhys honestly wanted to get angry, wanted to scream and punch Yvette. Alas, he knew she was right. He knew that he got selfish in his relationships, that he was only in them for the sex and the false companionship. Rhys also knew it was because he had eyes for Vaughn. He couldn't fault Yvette for spewing things that weren't false.

"Crystal." Rhys replied his expression and his voice both serious, "I don't want to hurt him. I'll never forgive myself if I do." He was silent for a moment, "Are you gonna give this talk to Vaughn too? About if he hurts me?"

Yvette's response was laughter. "No!" She howled, almost rolling over, "You're hilarious!"

"Why not? I'm your best friend too!"

Yvette straightened herself up, calming her laugh and shaking her head. "Rhys, whereas that is true, Vaughn would never hurt a fly. He's never even been in a serious relationship. Yeah, a few one night stands here and there, but he's never been able to experience what it's like to have a real man in his life. I trust Vaughn."

"And you don't trust me?"

"Why should I? I pointed out why I think you'll hurt him."

That hurt Rhys. The honesty was brutal but needed. "Fair point, but I won't hurt him."

"I'll hold you to that." With that, Yvette got up and went to search for Vaughn.

As Rhys laid in his bed, staring at the ceiling as his room was vacant, he thought about what Yvette said. "You got selfish and wrapped up in what you wanted, and you never had any remorse for their feelings." He recalled. Sure, maybe he broke a few girls' hearts, but he didn't not regret it. He didn't want to be pinned as a man who just humped them and dumped them, so to speak. Did Vaughn think this was true too? Was he afraid that Rhys was going to hurt him?

Just as his thoughts flared into his head, Vaughn and Yvette walked in on que.

"Yvette, it's not a big thing to get excited about."

"Vaughn..."

"Okay, maybe it is." There was a hint of a smile, but a lot of happiness.

Rhys had just realized that he never heard Vaughn talk that way about anyone else. What confused him was why he was talking like Rhys wasn't there. It sounded like gossip in the Middle School Girls' locker room. Suddenly, Rhys felt his heart swell in his throat. As much as he hated to admit it, the way Vaughn was talking made his feelings flutter. Unfortunately, he felt the need to get their attention, so he cleared his throat.

Both parties looked at Rhys and smiled. Yvette clapped a hand on Vaughn's shoulder and patted him on the cheek with her other. "I gotta go. Do what you gotta do with Rhys and go home and get some rest. You smell like his star socks."

"Hey! For your information, they smell like lavender!" Rhys chimed.

Yvette looked at Rhys and shook her head. "Then you obviously need to buy a new brand of soap. That's not lavender, that's fucking phosphorus." For whatever reason, that earned a small chuckle from Vaughn.

"I will. Go back to work. I'll make sure Rhys checks in, okay?"

After a few more minutes, Yvette was gone and Vaughn was back at Rhys' side. Although Vaughn was trying to get affectionate (from a distance, of course) with his boyfriend, Rhys was too busy thinking about his earlier conversation. Vaughn took the hint Rhys wasn't in the mood and sighed.

"Maybe I should get going. I've gotta work in the morning." Vaughn spoke glumly, which broke Rhys' heart, "I... I'll see you later, bro."

The bro card. Ouch. "Oh, okay. Yeah. I understand. See you later!"

As Vaughn left, Rhys felt his heart drop. He already felt like he was pulling what Yvette predicted.

"Wait!" Rhys called out, and Vaughn turned around as a reply, "Have a good night, okay? I'll message you in the morning." He paused, gritting his teeth at the thought of his next sentence, "I'll even make a doctor's appointment while you're at work."

Vaughn smiled. "Alright." When he turned to walk out, he stopped, "Rhys?"

"Yeah?"

"Thank you for thinking about taking care of yourself for my sake."

Rhys wanted to get up and hug Vaughn, but he was aware his body wouldn't allow it. "Babe, I'd do anything if it meant you were happy. I promise."

Vaughn gave a small giggle at the pet name. "And I would for you too. Goodnight." Vaughn left, making sure the lights were out and the door was locked.

Rhys laid down and stared at his dimmed alarm clock. This was going to be a very long first night without Vaughn.

Chapter Text

The next few weeks were, to sum it briefly, dull. Rhys sat in bed and got rid of his infection and Vaughn stopped in for a half-hour each day. The unpaid leave had done a number on Vaughn, for Jameson was not acting kindly to Vaughn's schedule. Rhys felt guilt, but Vaughn kept assuring that it was nothing, that the long hours were worth it if it meant Rhys would be okay.

This particular night was no different. Rhys was laid down to rest, but Vaughn was right beside him fighting off sleep. In truth, Rhys was glad the infection was gone. Not only did he not feel like absolute garbage, but he also was able to cuddle up to his boyfriend without Vaughn worrying about getting sick.

"Honestly, Rhys." Vaughn rubbed his eyes, yawning immensely, "It's a normal workweek in accounting. Besides, overtime is a wage and a half. So this thing with doubles and triples is gonna make me some good money."

Rhys bit down on his bottom lip, examining the dark bags starting to tread under Vaughn's eyes. He rolled over and took Vaughn's hand, looking into his exhausted, iron blue beauties. "Vaughn, this isn't healthy- even for you." He wrapped his (now somewhat functioning) metal arm around Vaughn's shoulder and pulled him close. As his flesh hand ran through his boyfriend's matted hair, he kissed his temple gently. It was all Rhys could really think to do.

The way Vaughn's shoulders began to slouch indicated relaxation. Rhys had never felt that. He was used to his best friend being about as tense as an overcooked steak, but this slab of beef began to retract. "I know, I know. But with you out of a job, I want to make sure that you don't fall out financially. Two places aren't cheap."

Rhys' eyes widened. He got a little agitated, but he didn't move. "Hey- woah, woah, woah! Who said anything about you paying for my apartment, Vaughn? I have the money to--"

"What about food? Water?" Vaughn looked at Rhys. His expression grew more tired and his body began to tense back up, "What about your cybernetic maintenance? I can't just sit by while you fall behind and suffer." There was clearly a defensive tone to Vaughn's voice.

Rhys gave a small sigh. "Vaughn, sweetie-" He felt the shoulders begin to settle down, "I'm a grown man who makes is own grown decisions. I know you're worried, but I got this." He descended his flesh hand to Vaughn's cheek and cupped it, "I promise. I'll be back up on my feet in a few weeks. After I get my job and climb that latter to glory, I'll make sure you never have to work another day in your life- well, in the sense that you'd need to." Rhys kissed Vaughn and pressed their foreheads together, "I know how much you like your numbers or whatever."

Vaughn didn't seem to laugh at Rhys' half-assed joke. He looked worried. The way Vaughn's tongue lodged in between his teeth told Rhys he was thinking- remember, his concentration face. "And what if it doesn't happen?" Vaughn finally managed, "What if this Eridium mine deal falls through- whether they don't hire you or if Jack decides he no longer wants to fund the project. Then what?"

Rhys hadn't thought about that. He expected things to go smoothly. Sure, right now was a bit of a rocky road, but everything eventually smoothed out for Rhys. He had the looks, he had the charm, he had the enthusiasm. If this project did fall through hypothetically, Rhys still had other methods. Sure, those methods all had "WING IT!" plastered on their files, but that was a better backup than having absolutely nothing. "I don't know." Rhys decided to respond, "I'll figure it out if it comes down to that, okay?"

"No. Not okay." Vaughn snapped, "I don't want to see you just fall and make me watch from the front row." He nudged out of Rhys' arm and strayed away from his face, turning his back away from Rhys, "I'm your boyfriend, Rhys. You can't keep doing this to me anymore. Anytime I try to help, anytime I try to make sure that you don't fall on your ass, it's always 'Vaughn, I got this' or 'Vaughn, don't worry about me'." There was a frustrated sigh, "You don't know how hard that is for me. Don't worry? It's kind of hard not to worry about someone you-" He stopped himself, once again tensing, "Someone you care about. I care about you a lot..."

Rhys didn't move until Vaughn was done venting. He wanted to hear what Vaughn had to say. "Vaughn." He was silent for a moment. What was he gonna say? 'Sorry, I'm a jackass'? 'Sorry, what Yvette said was right'? No. It had to be heartfelt. It had to mean something. "Dude, I know. I don't say those things push you away, I do it because getting help makes me feel weak and like a leech. I know that you care, and I care about you too. That's why I do what I do."

Vaughn didn't look convinced, but he was attentive enough to turn over and look at Rhys. "I'm not Stacy or Rebecca or anyone else you've dated. You can't push me away, no matter how much you try." His eyes lingered over Rhys, staring at the wall, "How about this: If you don't have a plan and nothing goes the way you want, you can stay at my place. I've got enough bed for two, I can make sure you're fed and looking for work too."

"Vaughn, you don't have to do that." Rhys made a move to put his hand on Vaughn's cheek again, but he was shot down.

"I'm not doing anything with you until you make an effort to try and make a plan for yourself. I can't just watch you fall!" Vaughn was getting very, very angry.

"Okay! Okay!" Rhys sighed and looked into Vaughn's wandering eyes, "I promise that if something goes wrong, I will come to you for help. I will follow your plan if something goes wrong."

Vaughn looked back into Rhys' now forced heterochromatic eyes, giving a tired smile. "Thank you, Rhys. That'll really help me sleep at night." He looked over at the clock and sighed. It was nearing eleven. "Shit. I've gotta go." As Vaughn tried to get up, however, there was a stronger force pulling him down.

"You don't have to." Rhys whispered, pulling Vaughn close to his chest protectively, "I miss you. You can stay the night."

Vaughn looked up at Rhys and smiled once again. "Okay. I can do that." With a yawn, he turned his back towards Rhys and pressed against the warmth of his chest. It felt heavenly. His eyelids began to droop until there was no longer a consciousness to abide by. The last thing he did was plant a kiss on Rhys' hand before falling asleep.

When Rhys woke up the next morning, he wasn't surprised to see that he was empty-handed a boyfriend. As much as he wanted to be sad, Rhys saw this as an opportunity. Throughout that night, Rhys had been thinking about ways to make it up to Vaughn. He didn't have a lot to offer, but he wanted to show him that he was serious about their relationship- that he wasn't just the next Stacy or Rebecca.

Beep! New Message: Yvette.

Perfect.

Rhys ignored what the message had to say and went straight into a call. Before Yvette could ask why he was calling her into the middle of work, he blurted "Can you help me plan a date with Vaughn?"

The other side of the line was silent for a bit, but he heard Yvette smiling. "And why do you think I should be the one helping you?" It was typical for Yvette to fish for compliments and play hard to get.

With a sigh, Rhys sought no reason to protest against it. If he was gonna get help from someone whose planning abilities were as expert as hers, Rhys would have to get on his hands and knees and beg. "Because you're a requisitionist! You can get the goods, make the deals!" He gave an audible pout, "Please, Yvette. You're the best goddamn planner I know. I want to make something special for my boyfriend, and you're the only person I can really count on to do this." Maybe a far stretch, but he knew what to say to get Yvette to budge.

"Alright, alright. I can set one up tonight after he gets off. There's a restaurant with an artificial gazebo finish in the west wing of the station I can get you for half-off. After that, I can get some catering to Vaughn's place and you guys can get pampered like little girls at a slumber party- but that's gonna cost you full, and it's not very cheap."

"I'll just take the dinner. I'm not financially stable enough to risk the odds for the pamper session." Rhys gave a smile and closed his eyes, "Thank you, Yvette. You're the best."

"Tell me something I don't know, Rhys. I've gotta go back to work, so I'll talk to you later. Get yourself dolled up and ready by eight. I'm gonna make sure Vaughn gets off early." With that, she cut her line and the call was dropped.

Rhys sat in his bed, smiling to the ceiling as if something- or someone- had answered some unknown prayer. He was excited, but he felt the anxiety crush at his chest for a bit. "No." Rhys told himself, "There's no need to get nervous. This is your best friend- your boyfriend! Make him feel as special as he is. He isn't them. He isn't them." His words seemed to calm his nerves a tad bit, but the thought still stuck around in Rhys' head.

The rest of the day was spent thinking and keeping himself occupied until the moment was right. Eventually, he had taken his first single shower in weeks (Vaughn would typically help him get ready by removing the arm and making sure wires were covered before Rhys got in. He was courteous enough not to look at Rhys in the nude, but also made sure if Rhys needed help he'd be there.).

It was kind of lonely if Rhys had to be honest. He missed talking to Vaughn through the thin plastic of the shower curtain, Vaughn asking how he was doing, and if he felt alright to continue on by himself. He decided the best course of action was to hum to himself, which somehow turned into a famous self shower argument. He lost track of what exactly he was griping at himself for and decided that he'd lost the argument... to himself. Rhys had a questionable mind in the artificial waterfall it seemed.

Once he was out and dried off, he decided to pop his arm back on and work on his hair. Rhys took the gel that his barber had given him and slicked it back, much like the style he used back in middle management.

Ah, middle management.

He didn't miss it. As shocking as it was, he didn't miss the responsibility, the liability, the compatibility, and all the other -ilities that came with doing the deeds. He didn't miss his saggy old boss yelling at him for trying the best he could, he didn't miss the hounding from his co-workers, and he sure as hell didn't miss the complaining he heard because he was, as they would put it, a college sheep leading the Shepard. Rhys also appreciated that the lack of work made room to spend time with Vaughn.

Back at realizing he was doing his hair, he over gelled it. His hair slicked back so stiff that it wouldn't budge. Practical maybe, but also very inhuman and doll-like. After a good ten minutes of re-washing and re-drying his luxurious locks, he restyled his hair properly.

Onto the clothing portion of the night, Rhys went for a formal casual look. He took a button-up yellow shirt that Vaughn had washed for him and a vest he hadn't worn since his Hyperion job interview, along with Rhys' old slacks and skag fitted loafers. It was chic but approachable- which Rhys liked. For the next two hours, Rhys would sit in his bed all dolled up and patiently waiting for Vaughn. He kept checking his ECHO, awaiting any cue from Yvette. Finally, it happened.

New Message: Yvette.

Rhys quickly opened it. "He's on his way down, but he looks a little exhausted. We might have to make a plan B. He doesn't look suitable for a public dinner." That registered Rhys with a sigh, but he could work with that.

"Alright." He sent, pausing before he sent another message, "Plan B can be his place. Take out and fancy clothes can go together, right?"

Yvette sent a laugh-crying emoji. "Yeah, that could work. It's Vaughn, he'll be grateful no matter what it is."

Rhys quickly got on the ECHOnet and ordered some standard Hyperion take-out food. Some Chinese dinner and sweets, and he'd be set. His browsing experience was interrupted by a knock at the door. He looked at the time. Eight O'clock sharp. Rhys sprung from his chair and went to answer it.

Behind the door was a very tired, barely awake Vaughn. He looked terrible. His white shirt had been plastered in blue pen ink, his hair was ratty, and his face was drained. The sudden "Hey." made Rhys jump. It wasn't a ghost, it was actually Vaughn.

"Hey." Rhys smiled sympathetically, "You wanna come in?"

Vaughn shook his head. "No. I think I'm gonna go home, actually. Too tired for anything tonight." He rubbed his eyes, as to emphasize a point to his exhaustion, "Maybe another time." It took a second for Vaughn to register what Rhys was wearing. "Aw, shit! We're you wanting to take me out tonight?"

Rhys felt hurt. As much as he wanted to say it was okay, it wasn't. "Yeah, but it wasn't public. In fact, I was gonna ask if you wanted to have dinner at your place, seeing as you're here more than you are home and I haven't been able to get out of this damn apartment since the surgery." He gently put his hands on Vaughn's waist. "At least let me get you something to eat. You look terrible."

"Gee, thanks for stating the obvious." Vaughn said bitterly, but sighed, "Sorry, it's my tired talking. Yeah, dinner sounds nice."

"You're calling in sick tomorrow, Vaughn." Rhys suddenly demanded, "You've been working for the last two weeks straight! Doubles and triples in that dosage are gonna burn you out, man."

"Rhys, you know I can't-"

"You can! You wanna boast about how I don't accept help, talk about calling the teapot calling the kettle black. You need help. Don't worry about the money, I can even spare some change from savings if it means you take a day off!" Rhys pulled Vaughn into a loose hug, "If you keep pushing yourself onto this, you're not gonna be able to go on much longer."

"But I have to-"

"No. You don't. You want to help me, stay home tomorrow. I'll even stay home with you."

Vaughn was silent for a moment or two. Rhys had made a few good points, but the money screamed even better points. However, despite his want to just say no and go to work, Vaughn replied with "Okay, but you gotta stay with me the whole day."

Rhys gave Vaughn a studious, flashy smile. "Good. You need it more than anyone right now." With that said, Rhys planted a giant kiss on Vaughn's lips, Vaughn barely kissing back.

"Can we go now, handsome?" Vaughn returned a small smile, "My bed is calling out for me and I can't neglect it any longer."

The two men proceeded up to Vaughn's apartment. Still in it's nice and organized culture, Rhys was happy to see it. It was good to finally get out of his cramped apartment. The Helios Dreamcast sat nicely on the Television stand, but a legal pad sat next to it. That was new, but Rhys didn't think to question it. When they got to the bedroom, that's when things got a little worrisome to Rhys.

The bedroom was a mess. Vaughn's covers were thrown everywhere around the room, a pile of dirty clothes sat, smelling really raunchy, and office supplies and papers were scattered everywhere. Out of all the rooms in the apartment, Vaughn had always taken the pride and the initiative to make sure his room was immaculate. It seemed the days of working and working until he crashed had a bigger impact on Vaughn than Rhys initially thought. Rhys turned to his boyfriend, who really acted like the state of his room was normal.

"Vaughn. Go sit in the living room for a bit. I'll get your room cleaned up so we can hang comfortably." Rhys saw a look in Vaughn's eyes. He wasn't turning to face him, he wasn't reacting in a bad manner- or any manner at all. He stood still, just standing and staring at the clutter in front of him. "Vaughn?"

Vaughn shrugged. "It's fine, Rhys. I can do it later."

Rhys took Vaughn by the shoulders and forced his body to face Rhys'. "No. This isn't you. This isn't okay!" Rhys' expression was full of concern. Never, ever in his life had he seen Vaughn in such a state. He was blaming himself big time. "You're not a messy person! You don't ever have things out of order! And you surely don't ever work yourself to death like this, ever!" He took a deep breath as he saw Vaughn practically stare through Rhys. "Baby, I'm concerned."

Vaughn seemed to come to when he heard the pet name. "I...uh. I know. I'm sorry." His voice was monotone, "I know it's not healthy, but it's just for a few more weeks."

That alerted Rhys. A few more weeks? Would he even survive that long? "Vaughn. No. Absolutely not! No!" He was getting angry. Not at Vaughn, but at himself, "I know you want to have the money to support me, I know you want to make sure I live comfortably. But, damn it, Vaughn, for once in your life, focus on yourself! This isn't good for you!" Rhys let go of Vaughn and closed his eyes, "If you don't tell Jameson to cut your hours and actually give you some legal time off, I will."

Vaughn was getting angry at Rhys too. "Excuse me? You can't just tell me what to do, Rhys! You can't tell me when I can and cannot work! You can't tell me how I should be keeping my house! And you sure as fuck can't tell me how to run my life! Why are you being so pushy? I thought you'd be supportive!"

Rhys looked Vaughn in the eyes, remorse sweeping over him. Maybe he should have let Vaughn go home alone. Maybe he shouldn't have pushed his boyfriend to the edge. He didn't know what to do, what to say. There was nothing like this in his previous relationships because he never cared about them like he cared about Vaughn. Then, it hit him. He never cared about them like he cared about Vaughn.

"Because I love you, Vaughn!" He spoke loudly, almost yelling, "And I have for a long, long time. I worry because I care. I care because I love you. I'd rather see you do what's best for yourself no matter what happens to me. You don't deserve this, dude! You're a mess, and you're not getting any better!"

Vaughn stood there, flabbergasted at what just happened. "Rhys... I-I..." He was quiet, looking at his feet like a child who'd just gotten punished.

"Vaughn. You don't have to kill yourself just for my sake. I'm gonna start looking for a job tomorrow. I promise. Please, talk to Jameson."

Vaughn remained silent. All he did was walk up to Rhys, press his head into Rhys' chest, and wrapped his arms around him. "I love you too." He whispered softly, starting to tear up. The absolute exhaustion was not helping with his emotional state, but he didn't care. "I'll talk to him tomorrow as long as you start applying."

Rhys squeezed Vaughn tightly, running his metallic hand through Vaughn's chestnut hair. "Good. But, for now, go sit on the couch and I'll see to it that your bed is at least made. We can worry about the rest tomorrow. Remember to just take it a day at a time."

After a little bit, Vaughn finally obeyed Rhys and went into the living room and Rhys made the bed. It wasn't the best, but it was in a way more practical state than before. Rhys went to go retrieve Vaughn.

Rhys found Vaughn curled up on the couch, already asleep. It was a good thing he didn't officiate his order yet, it would've surely gone cold. He approached the smaller back and scooped him up in his arms. He was surprisingly light. Rhys made it a note to remind Vaughn how proud he was that he made his weight goal.

The lanky man carried his boyfriend back into the bedroom and tucked him into bed, curling up next to him without hesitation.

"Goodnight, Vaughn. I love you."

Vaughn smiled, and they slept peacefully throughout the night.