“This was not the effect I had intended.”
“No, I get it,” Rhys says, swallowing thickly to keep his lunch down. “Museums. Classic romance stuff.” He absolutely, definitely does not gag.
It isn‘t easier the second time around, the World of Curiosities. If anything, it‘s worse. There‘s a hole in the roof somewhere. Rhys knows this not because he‘s seen it, but because there‘s a rare flash storm over the town, and the musty, pungent scent of wet fur and rot hit his nose the minute they walked in. It‘s the most macabre game of I Spy he‘s ever played, trying to find the source of the decay.
Zer0 pats him between the shoulder blades.
“Classic romance stuff,” they repeat. “Yet, despite my intentions, this is beyond words.”
“No,” Rhys says, drawing the word out to an optimistic two seconds. “No, there are definitely words for it. Unique. Uh. A... artistic. Bold...?”
“Disturbing,” Zer0 states.
“Yeah. Yeah, that‘s what I was going for.”
He leans back into Zer0‘s touch. A new addition hanging from the ceiling grabs his attention and... well.
There‘s the hole.
And the decaying flesh.
Rhys very adamantly keeps his eyes forward for the rest of the trip.
“And we haven‘t even gotten to the hall of human corpses yet,” he says, full of cheer.
That‘s when Shade decides to pop in through a vent in the wall, enthusiastic in his greeting. Zer0, true to their nature, responds with a drawn sword to his throat.
It happens faster than Rhys can register the movement beyond an arc of silver and light. Without a doubt, it’s the most arousing thing Rhys has seen in hours . Shade himself doesn’t look bothered a whit by the blade resting on his clavicle.
“Well, if this isn’t a surprise!”
“Shade,” Zer0 says a beat later, sheathing their sword.
“Zer0 the assassin!”
Rhys clears his throat. “You two know each other?”
“Oh, sure!” Shade says.
Vaguely, he does recall his own first encounter with Zer0. “Beyond the giant hole in your uh… back room?” Shade blinks. “From that fight with the guy with that stereo in his chest cavity?”
“Ohh, no! Well, yes, but no! Zer0 and I go way back!” Not unlike a clumsy gecko, Shade wriggles free of the vent, and almost manages to land on his feet. He brushes fur and dust off of his knees absently, grinning up at Zer0. “Did a few jobs for me some years ago with those cool Vault Hunter buddies of theirs! I’ll tell you what, there’s no cure for boredom and crippling loneliness like witty rejoinders and mass violence!”
“I hear that,” Rhys laughs, a little strained.
Nobody laughs with him. Gunfire sounds in the distance. Somewhere in a distant room, an audiobox monologue begins.
“So!” Shade says, clapping his hands together. “What are you two up to this beautiful day?”
“It’s pouring ,” says Rhys.
“Human courtship,” says Zer0.
Shade gasps quietly, though in response to Rhys’ correction or Zer0’s answer, Rhys really can’t be sure. “And you came here ?” he gasps again. Rhys is thinking the same thing, just… with less joy, and more skepticism.
“And we came here,” he agrees. Zer0 tilts their head in his direction, and he’s hasty to amend, “It’s romantic. Museums.” The hand on his back pats him consolingly.
“Oh gosh, well, I should leave you two alone,” Shade says, staying put.
Rhys waits a beat. “That would probably be best,” he agrees, raising his eyebrows. Shade smiles beatifically between them both.
“It’s time for you to go now,” Zer0 says. Shade pops up.
“Of course!” he says, and beams at them for a short second before stuffing himself back into the vent. Obligingly, Zer0 slots the metal covering back into place.
Rhys waits for the scuttle of retreat to fade into silence before he nods.
Zer0 turns to him, a red smiley face flashing over their helmet.
“Oh, don’t you start,” Rhys says, shoving his hands into his pockets as they meander toward the hall of corpses. The smile doesn’t disappear once they wander in. If anything, it grows.
“This is so… messed up, even for Pandora,” Rhys groans, hiking his shoulders up at the sight of Bewm.
Zer0 makes a noise. “I killed him,” they say.
Rhys’ jaw goes slack. “You’re not serious.”
Zer0 projects a cheery :D and Rhys rubs at his forehead. “This is so upsetting.”
“I am curious,” Zer0 muses, cocking their head to the side, “how the corpse was found intact. Or was it repaired?”
“We should hold hands,” Zer0 says, extending one of theirs. Rhys glances down at it.
“Yeah,” he says, taking it. “Okay.” He’s done weirder things than holding his assassin-friend’s hand in a freaky death museum.
Zer0’s four fingers are long, and slender, and slot themselves easily through Rhys’. Rhys smiles to himself, bumping his shoulder to Zer0’s like a besotted teenager in front of Commander Steele’s cadaver.
“Marginally less upsetting,” he decides, ducking his head. Briefly, his hand is squeezed.
“Aww! ” comes a voice from the vents.
“And nope,” Rhys says, a tight smile stretching over his face, “immediately changed my mind.”
“This was not the effect I had intended,” Zer0 reminds him, studying what might Steele’s tattoos with what also might be interest. Rhys sighs, partially, before he stops himself with the thought of exactly how much death dust is probably filling up his lungs.
“That’s almost reassuring.”
Zer0’s grip on his hand tightens, and Rhys finds himself being tugged closer to their side.
“And I am almost pleased to hear it.”
"Holding hands isn't going to make this mausoleum any more romantic," he says, very sure of it. "Lucky for you, I'm pretty touched by the effort."
"I was counting on it."
Rhys grins, and figures it might be his turn to squeeze Zer0's hand back.