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Rhys would never have become a model if he hadn’t lost his arm.

He remembers, through the fuzzy film of childhood, having to spend weeks in a hospital. He remembers pain and hysteria, and feeling like his arm was slowly melting off of his body—it wasn’t, but corrosive bullets were a bitch to the nerves, and to his younger self it had certainly looked the part. He remembers the first time he’d stared at his shoulder, with no arm attached to it. He remembers crying a lot.

Most of all, though, he remembers the photographers and reporters. He remembers people lining up outside of his room in the brightly lit, sterilized hospital that he’d stayed at while he recovered. He remembers them being there when he was fitted for his first prosthetic, and he remembers seeing his picture in the news for weeks after the incident.

He still has those pictures, actually. He’s not nearly organized enough to have something as sophisticated as a collage, or even a scrapbook, but he does have a drawer full of his favorite photos, and those ones had found their way in eventually. It had, admittedly, taken some time to get them there.

When he was still recovering in the hospital, he remembers seeing those pictures on the ECHOnet, and how he’d hated them. Hated how frail they made him look, and how unbalanced—how incomplete—he appeared. The first time he printed them out, it was just to tear them up. Which, looking back, he now accepts was a poorly thought-out idea by a dramatic, angry thirteen year old, whose critical thinking skills hadn’t quite caught up to the situation he was in. It took him all of five seconds after holding the pictures in his hand to realize that he couldn’t tear them up without the use of his other, missing, one. Some clever footwork helped get the job done eventually, but the whole experience had frustrated and underwhelmed his budding teenage sense of self-righteousness, to the point that he ended up crying for half an hour afterwards.

He was a big crier, as a kid.

He still is now, actually, with the right combination of alcohol, and a suitably melancholy drinking partner. That, or any bullshit ‘family film’ that ended with the death of anyone’s lifelong family pet. Not that crying over movies counted. He and Vaughn had both agreed early on in their friendship that dead animals were a low blow, and honestly, people should get judged for not crying when that happened.

They might have come to that conclusion after a particularly stupid decision to drink an ill-advised amount of alcohol while watching My Skag & Me at three in the morning, when they'd ended up bawling into each other’s clothes during the end, but that isn’t really the point.

The point is, losing his arm is what first introduced him to the concept of having his face plastered everywhere in the media. That isn’t what jumpstarted his career—Vaughn gets the credit for that—but whenever an interviewer asks him about it, that’s the response he gives them, because that’s the one they want.

Everyone loves a tragedy, after all, and there isn’t much that people consider more tragic than a poor, innocent boy losing an arm in a horrific shooting. It’s an especially common angle with the Hyperion interviewers who talk with him. They’re all eager to get the chance to point out another reason Dahl, now certified Child Shooters, aren’t where people should be buying their guns. Because apparently their hostile takeover of Helios hadn’t been reason enough for some people.

A couple of news articles that interviewed him when he first started out, before he was coached on how to respond, had the true, less dramatic story. How he’d been a college student, majoring in business and economics when Vaughn, his roommate and best friend, had asked him to model for his final photography project. Prosthetics had played a defining roll, along with new-age machines and engineering. It had also taken about a month, with several close-calls involving some very experimental automated robots.

It’s his favorite shoot to this day, and Vaughn ended up winning an award for it.

At the time, Rhys hadn’t expected those pictures to go anywhere. He’d figured that they’d circulate around the campus for a while, maybe start a little buzz with the fine arts students. If he was lucky, he might get to finagle a free meal out of the deal, if a suitably nice cashier happened to recognize him. Rhys is occasionally good at talking his way into—and out of—things, he probably could have worked something beneficial out of having his picture taken. But beyond that? He hadn’t thought much would change.

He’d been wrong. The project exploded on the ECHOnet. A couple of interested parties had gone on-campus to talk to Rhys about modeling. That’s really what set the idea in his head. His thirteen year old self hadn’t been thinking about a career at all; he was too busy recovering from being shot. But twenty-two year old Rhys? Well, he didn’t have to be a business major to smell the opportunity provided by people quite literally bringing job opportunities to his doorstep.

So, really, Vaughn is the reason his career kick-started—although his prosthetic is the reason Vaughn asked him to help in the first place. Rhys has, to the best of his ability, returned the favor. His first contract had involved the stipulation that Vaughn be his photographer and, while that job had gone horrifically wrong—complete with Rhys losing an eye out of that whole deal. Who set up a photoshoot on Pandora, anyway? What kind of decision making had gone into that?—Vaughn ended up getting a job offer out of it, so it hadn’t been a total loss. They looked out for each other, and it worked. Even when Rhys’s attempt at helping ended up with them getting shot at by bandits.

The important thing is that they got shot at together, because that’s what their friendship was. Two guys getting each other into truly horrifying situations.

And it all ended up working out for them, so there isn’t much Rhys can complain about. Vaughn got snatched up by Hyperion, who, Vaughn had informed him early on, had some of the coolest, most advanced, tech-involved shoots he’d even seen. And Rhys? Well, Rhys is right here. On Aquator, vacation capital of the galaxy, enjoying celebratory drinks with four other models and an entire host of production workers.

Wrap-up days have always been his favorite part of any shoot, especially after one as long as this had been. It’s the first time in more than a year that he’s been planet-side for longer than a few weeks, and it isn’t an opportunity he’d let go to waste. Meaning, of course, that he now has a killer tan and something that could almost resemble abs. A couple other models put him to shame in that department, but he’d expected that when he first came here.

Yvette was pretty clear when telling him that she only managed to get this photoshoot lined up because Aquator wanted to cash in on the media buzz Rhys naturally seemed to generate, not because he had the physique they looked for in their models.

He’s also pretty sure he saw one of the photographers digi-structing abs on some of those pictures of him, which had been both hilarious and enlightening. If he ever decides to commit to getting fit, he now has a pretty clear idea what he’s going to look like, at least.

Someone from the party pats him on the shoulder, offering up their congratulations on finishing the shoot, and Rhys clinks glasses with them in acknowledgement. A lot of the people here aren’t from the crew, they’re people rich enough, and bored enough, that an exclusive post-photoshoot celebration is interesting to them. Aquator, for all its beautiful beaches and booming economy, apparently isn’t a place that lets opportunities pass them by, and Rhys has seen what some of these people were willing to pay to get invited here.

Rhys is, for the most part, used to it. He’s nowhere near the level of filthy rich that these people are, but he’s brushed shoulders with enough of them that he can fake the look, right down to the snobbish expression, so casually present it’s almost unnoticeable, and the pristinely tailored clothing. Yvette calls it networking, and Rhys has it down to an art form, by now.

He’s about to start talking with a man who’s been blatantly eyeing him from across the beach—it’s not an Aquator party unless it’s on the shore of one of its many beaches, after all—when his ECHO Comm goes off, and he frowns as he excuses himself.

“I hope you’re having a nice time on Aquator, because you’re leaving first thing tomorrow morning.”

Rhys can’t help the fond expression that forms at Yvette’s brisk attitude. She works with at least ten other models aside from him, and the polite business tone is hard to shake after using it for hours on end. He’s familiar with the problem, and he only has to use his at the occasional ridiculously extravagant fashion expo he gets invited to.

“It’s nice to talk to you too, Yvette. I’ve been good, got a killer tan, tried not to feel jealous over the fact that every single person here has a six-pack. It’s so nice to hear a familiar voice after weeks of working with total strangers, too. Especially your beautiful, soothing tone, and—”

A huff of exasperated laughter fills his ears, and he grins to himself.

“Alright, fancy pants, I get it, less business formal when I’m talking to my favorite model.”

“You call all of us your favorite model,” he accuses lightly.

“True, you’re all interchangeable at this point. I’m talking to Joseph right now, right? I hate spending entire conversations on the wrong person, such a waste of my valuable time,” she says, voice bordering on the ridiculous with how condescending she’s trying to be.

Rhys lets out an offended squawk anyway, because he’s seen Joseph, and they look nothing alike. Rhys has much better cheekbones, and infinitely longer legs.

“I don’t have to take this, you know. One snap of my fingers, and I could get any agent I want working for me,” he says, which isn’t a lie, but is bullshit all the same. Even if he didn’t love her, she’s the best in the business. People didn’t choose to stop working with Yvette, she chose to stop working with them.

The scoff he receives says she knows exactly who’s pushing their luck, now, and Rhys smiles.

“Please, anyone else who tried to work with you would quit in a week. Besides, no one else can get you where I have you going next.”

Rhys perks up, intrigue prickling at the back of his neck, and moves farther away from the party.

“You’ve got something better lined up than Aquator? I’m not trying to doubt your abilities, Yvette, but that’s sounding kinda impossible. I’m on a beach sipping really colorful martinis with a lot of beautiful people right now.”

Yvette hums vaguely, enjoying the restrained excitement Rhys does a terrible job at trying to mask. Traveling is the best part of his job, and he already knows he got lucky with this deal—there’s no way he’s going to be hired as a swimwear model again, not without some serious commitment to working out—so he’s enjoying the experience while it lasts.

She does give in eventually, though not before Rhys makes a frankly embarrassing whining noise of impatience.

“Well,” she drawls out, and he can hear the smug grin in her voice, “I don’t know about location, but I’ve heard the people where you’re going are some of the best,” she says, which, really. She can’t just say it, she has to be all vague and mysterious first.

Rhys takes a second to think on it, and, when Yvette adds in a quick, “And I know how fond you are of familiar faces,” he lights up.

She only ever brings up familiar faces with one person.

“You don’t mean—”

“Oh, I really do.”

“I’m going to be working with—”

“Yes, you are.”

“Vaughn?” It’s its own sentence, and he doesn’t feel even slightly ashamed at the excited longing in his voice. It’s been ages since he got to meet up with Vaughn in person. Or since they last talked at all, now that he thinks about it.

“Vaughn,” Yvette confirms with good humor.

Rhys lets out a whoop of joy, loud enough that people at the party can probably hear him, even though he’s out of eyesight, now. He completely ignores Yvette’s laughter, already heading towards his temporary apartment.

“I’m going to pack right now. What time am I leaving tomorrow? You’re the best Yvette, I swear, the next time I see you I’m buying you whatever you want for lunch. We’ll go to a five-star restaurant and eat until we puke, and then we’ll just move on to the next place, I can’t believe you did this. How did you do this? I didn’t know Hyperion was even looking for new models,” He doesn’t stop babbling until he’s back at the apartment he shared with every other model staying on this part of Aquator. Yvette’s muffled laughter is all she can butt-in to the conversation, not that either of them really mind.

“I can’t believe I get to see Vaughn again,” Rhys finally sighs out, falling back into his bed so he can stare happily up at the ceiling.

“Yeah, yeah, you know I always try my best to reunite you two lovebirds. It’s great for PR.”

Rhys ignores the completely accurate jibe in favor of more ceiling-staring. He heaves out a sigh that probably could be attributed to a lovesick idiot about to see his partner again, and lets a giant smile overtake his face.

“Marry me, Yvette. Right now. You’re so good to me, I’d be lost without you and your beautiful, contract-working brain,” he says with fervor.

Yvette lets out the most lady-like snort imaginable. It’s incredibly endearing and attractive, and not at all the kind of noise that Rhys could ever pull off. It just makes him want to marry her more, honestly. He’ll learn how to make an origami ring out of hundred dollar bills. Yvette always had appreciated a little creativity.

“Sorry, Rhys, I don’t agree to marriage proposals until at least the second date. You have to work a little harder than that to catch someone like me.”

Rhys’s sigh this time is still a little too happy to fully play along with his pretended mourning, but it serves its basic purpose well enough. “That’s fair. You deserve someone who appreciates you for more than your ability to hook him up with his best friend. But, maybe one day, if we’re both still single when we’re fifty years old—”

“Yeah, you’re on your own there, Rhys. There’s no way I’m going to be settling for anybody, fifty years old or not,” Yvette says, not sounding the least bit sorry at her callous refusal of his second proposal of the day.

“I can’t believe you’d just reject fifty year old me like that,” Rhys complains, “I’d be a catch. Future you is going to look at future me and regret even thinking of turning someone as dashingly attractive as I am down. And by then it will be too late.”

He can’t see Yvette physically shaking her head at him, but he knows it’s happening all the same, and grins ridiculously at the thought.

“Either you had a few too many drinks before I called, or the idea of seeing Vaughn has actually gotten you drunk. Start packing up, Rhys, you’re leaving at ten tomorrow morning, and I know you don’t want to be late.”

“Alright, alright. Talk to you later, Yvette. Get back to me on that marriage thing if you change your mind, though. I'm nice enough to at least reconsider proposing again.”

He laughs to himself as the disconnect tone is the only reply he receives. He spends another long second gazing up at his ceiling happily, content to just lie there with the thought of seeing Vaughn the only thing to keep him company, before he finally sits up again and reaches for his suitcase.

He does have a lot of packing to do, after all.