Chapter 1: Prologue
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.
Chapter 2: Places, People
Rhys arrives on Helios exactly six minutes later than he’s scheduled to. He’s carrying three shoulder bags, a backpack, and two suitcases, so he considers the fact that he arrived at all a minor miracle.
It also officially means he has too many clothes. It’s a reoccurring problem with him, one that Yvette has helped reduce by assigning him modeling jobs that give actual paychecks, instead of payment through trade, but it’s still something that builds up. It’s too bad none of his friends are anywhere near his size. Vaughn rocks the three-sizes-too-big shirts that Rhys gives him, but they’re not something he can go to work in, and the pants are a lost cause entirely, even around their apartment—Rhys has now accepted that his legs are just ridiculously long, and even with a belt and the legs rolled up, they don’t fit Vaughn very well.
Whatever, it’s a problem he’ll deal with after he’s had time to settle in properly. And also after he convinces Vaughn to help him. Because they’re bros, and bros help bros sort through their ridiculous amounts of clothes.
He takes the elevator over to the apartment level, nodding hello at the three other people who get on after him. The elevator’s big, but it doesn’t feel like it when he’s trying to keep ahold of an entire wardrobe with just two hands. Well, that, plus the other occupants look like they’re trying to keep as far away from him as possible, which makes everyone look more cramped than they are. He almost wants to smell himself, in case their repulsion is a reasonable reaction to his being there. Which is a ridiculous idea, because he knows he smells like sunlight and the beach. Aquator had managed to bottle that scent, and he may or may not have walked through a mist of it four separate times before leaving.
There’s no way he doesn’t smell really, really good, is what he’s saying.
He nods goodbye to the other passengers when the door dings open, because he’s a bigger person than they are. He also tries not to feel embarrassed when the final impression he leaves them with is the image of him stumbling over his own suitcase after it gets caught on the elevator’s closing door.
He fails, but it’s a good attempt.
Everyone on this level of Helios is more understanding of his dilemma, at least, and a couple of people hold doors open for him. He picks up speed the closer he gets to his destination, a smile starting to form at the edges of his lips more and more at the idea of coming home, finally. It’s been four months since his last stay on Helios, and he almost forgot how much he misses it. How much he misses Vaughn.
The door swings open before he can even reach to set his suitcase down, revealing a slightly disheveled Vaughn with a mouth full of food, and a sandwich in his hand.
“Rhee!” Vaughn greets, in a valiant attempt to shout with his mouth full.
They stare at each other for two entire seconds, grinning—and chewing—stupidly at each other, before Rhys lets go of both his suitcases and drags Vaughn into a hug. His shoulder bags swing dangerously, and he’s pretty sure one manages to hit Vaughn in his side, based on the wince, but Vaughn doesn’t hesitate to return the hug. He can feel the sandwich being dragged against his back. He’s never cared less about a mustard stain in his life.
Vaughn might care a little bit, though.
He heaves a small, wheezing laugh, because Vaughn has a strong grip. A strong everything, actually, because apparently the guy who isn’t a model is the one with the body of an Adonis. Rhys would call it unfair, but frankly he’s seen Vaughn’s workout routine, and those results are completely fair.
“Hey, buddy. You might wanna. Loosen your grip, there,” he says, only slightly exaggerating the strain in his voice. When there’s no change at all, he takes a deep breath and continues, “You’re ruining your sandwich. By rubbing it. Against my back.”
That does it, and Rhys leans back far enough to frown down at Vaughn.
“You care more about your sandwich than the fact that you were strangling your best friend?”
Vaughn is still grinning stupidly at him. He makes a big show of swallowing his mouthful of food before patting Rhys on the shoulder and saying, “I haven’t eaten in forever, dude. This sandwich is worth more than your life.” He pauses for a second, and then adds, “You smell really good, by the way.”
Rhys pulls Vaughn into another hug, just for that. He feels a little ridiculous being so vindicated by such a simple statement, but there it is. Those jerks in the elevator could suck it.
“I missed you, bro.” In spite of how true that is, he still purposely squeezes Vaughn too tight with his bionic arm. Payback’s a bitch, and he used up all of his incentive to be a bigger person with the elevator assholes. Plus, he’s just naturally the bigger person around Vaughn, he doesn’t have to add insult to injury, there.
He lets up a little when Vaughn makes a vaguely worrying squeak, thumping Rhys on the back in a way that signals alarm more than a returned expression of love. Vaughn lets in a big gasp of air and rests his forehead against Rhys’s chest.
“Missed you too, bro.”
Rhys hangs on just long enough to say, “You smell like turkey.” And then, after a pause to concentrate, adds, “And watermelon. Have you been using my shampoo?”
There’s a sheepish shrug against his chest before Vaughn pulls away. He takes another bite of his sandwich before mumbling an unintelligible string of noises and making vague hand gestures, all of which act as an extremely poor attempt at a distraction, honestly. Rhys stares at him for a second, considering pressing the issue, before he sighs. He has been gone a few months, it’s not like it was doing any good just sitting there. Plus now they both smell good today, which is great.
“Fine. Help me bring in my stuff, I feel like my arm’s going to fall off.” Rhys waggles his eyebrows, reaching up as if he really plans on detaching his arm while Vaughn rolls his eyes and inhales sharply to laugh. He ends up choking on his sandwich.
“Shit.” Rhys rushes over to pat him hard on the back. He ends up using a little too much strength, and Vaugh lurches forward, hands slamming against the doorway. There’s a second where Vaughn sounds like he’s dying, and then he coughs up the sandwich onto the floor. They both stare down at the chewed-over food. Rhys in mild disgust, and Vaughn in mourning. And also mild disgust.
Rhys isn't entirely sure what to do. The plan had been to have a nice, heartwarming meeting with his best friend, and now they were staring at a partially regurgitated sandwich lying on the ground.
“Poorly timed?” Rhys asks, finally.
There’s a long pause between them, and then Vaughn snorts, shaking his before devolving into laughter. Rhys is still staring at the glob of food on the floor, but he breaks out into a reluctant smile, brushing his hair back as he surveys how his reunion with Vaughn has turned out.
It could have gone worse, honestly.
Vaughn does eventually quiet down, lifting his glasses up to wipe at his eyes.
“Oh man, I missed you, Rhys,” he giggles again, unbidden, before turning towards him with a smile, “That was totally your fault, by the way. I’m not cleaning it up.” And then he grabs both of the suitcases still out in the hallway and heads towards Rhys’s room.
Rhys stares after Vaughn until he takes a sharp left and goes out of eyesight, his mouth half-open to protest that there’s no way in hell he’s about to pick up the globs of chewed up food Vaughn had just coughed up. He’s still standing there when he hears the suitcases hit his bed, though, and when finally he looks back at the mess on the floor, he just heaves a sigh. Shaking his head, he sets the rest of his bags on the ground—far away from the entryway, and the food—before reluctantly going to grab a giant roll of paper towels.
“So how’ve you been, buddy? We haven’t talked in like, forever,” Rhys asks, throwing away the last wad of paper towels and wiping his hand off on his already-ruined, mustered stained jacket in disgust. This is better than when he’d had to clean up after Vaughn that one time in college, but only barely. Not that he has any right to complain: he’d needed cleaning up after way more often than Vaughn had.
Vaughn comes back after setting the final bag down in Rhys’s room. He doesn’t look even remotely guilty about making Rhys clean up after his gross coughing fit, but at least he’s done eating now. With a small hop, and the use of his ridiculously defined muscles, Vaughn takes a seat on the counter so they’re both near eyelevel. He sends a thoroughly pleased grin towards Rhys.
“It’s incredible. You would not believe some of the things I get to do here, man. Like, three weeks ago, I’m doing work for this new guy. Total asshole,” Vaughn waves a hand dismissively, “Not important. Anyway, I’m assigned to photograph a gun fight! A real one! I almost got shot trying to get a good angle on this thing, and the actors have their shields up, so bullets are ricocheting everywhere, it’s crazy.” Vaugh lets out a happy little sigh and Rhys is, for a moment, brought back to their time on Pandora.
It surprises him, occasionally, how resilient Vaughn is.
“Gunfights, avoiding bullets, sounds like you’re having a good time.” He means it, and smiles when he sees Vaughn nod his head enthusiastically.
“It’s the greatest job I’ve ever had!” Vaughn jumps off the counter in his excitement before reigning himself in, barely, and moving to lean against it instead. “This is what I went to college for! I mean, I’m living the dream, man, and now you're here with me, too. I gotta tell you, I was nervous bringing up your name when the spot opened up, because our producer is exactly the kind of guy who fires people for sneezing weirdly, and no one wants his attention on them right now, least of all me, but I’m glad you’re in on it. We’re gonna have a blast shooting and—”
“Woah, woah—” Rhys cuts in, raising a hand. “What? You’re the one who got me in on this?” He still isn’t totally sure what ‘this’ is; he’d never called Yvette back to ask, and had figured Vaughn would know the details enough to fill him in. Apparently, he was right on that assumption.
Vaughn nods along. “Yeah, of course! Well, kind of. I called Yvette when I heard about the opening, and then handed my producer the file she sent down, so I didn’t do any talking. But there was no way I wasn’t going to at least give you a chance at getting in.”
Rhys pulls him into a hug again, just because he’s there and he can. He also vows to do the same thing to Yvette, the next time he sees her. Maybe with a little prior warning, he’s pretty sure she keeps a Taser in one of her pockets.
Man, his friends are great.
“You’re the best, Vaughn. Seriously, I’m not going to forget this. I haven’t been able to work for Hyperion since that one recruitment ad after Dahl invaded the place.” The payment had been a new arm and an ECHO-eye to replace the glass one he’d had. It’s still the best payment by trade he’s ever had, and the first deal Yvette ever made on his behalf. He’d gone out of commission for a month of recovery time, but it had definitely been worth it.
He officially now owes two people dinner. Granted, he probably already had before—Vaughn knows how to choose his battles, and, “You were the one who made me choke on my sandwich,” is a pretty safe one, because Rhys now accepts that he’s a complete pushover with his friends—but now he’s not even going to argue when Vaughn brings it up.
“So what are we even doing here? I don’t think I’m good enough with a gun to start shooting at other models, if this is supposed to be another gun demonstration.” It very well could be, too. Hyperion doing advertisements for guns is about as commonplace as skags are on Pandora. It’s kind of their thing.
Vaughn waves him off, though. Or, he tries to, Rhys hasn’t let him go yet, so the hand just ends up hitting him in the shoulder.
“Nah. I mean, Hyperion’s shooting one of those right now, too, but they’re always shooting gun ads,” Vaughn says flippantly, as if he hadn’t just gone on about how much he’d enjoyed shooting a gun ad a minute ago. “Hyperion’s expanding, man! Handsome Jack introduced it personally at a press conference, we’re starting our own clothesline. He’s making a really big deal about it, too. He spent almost the whole time talking about how cool it’s going to be.”
Rhys jerks his head in surprise, and completely ignores Vaughn’s knowing smirk. This was something Handsome Jack had personally talked about? Sure, Rhys has heard Handsome Jack’s voice overs, and seen all of his other basic promotional work, but he’d talked about it at an actual press conference? Personally announcing something like a new clothesline is probably pretty standard for the head of a business, but. Well, Hyperion isn’t exactly a standard business.
And this is Handsome Jack, the guy who had almost single handedly fought off the Dahl invasion on Hyperion before taking over the entire business. He’d pushed Hyperion into a multi-trillion dollar company in barely two years, took control of Pandora, and basically changed the game in the business world for everyone. Rhys may no longer be working towards a business degree, but it’s not like he’s abandoned his dream of one day owning his own company, and Handsome Jack is a legend, in that regard. He’s practically everything Rhys dreamed he would be when he was younger.
Rhys might have a few Handsome Jack posters in his drawer of pictures. And a few more hanging on his walls, along with a couple of the more exciting news clips on him. What can he say? He’s going to have to retire from modeling one day, there’s no reason he should fall behind in business news in the meantime.
He’s not really sure what to say to Vaughn now, though. What ends up coming out of his mouth is something like, “Wha? I, uh, wh?”
Vaughn doesn’t help at all. He’s got a smug look on his face, and his arms are crossed like he knows he’s got the upper hand here. And he does, but Rhys still resents it.
“Yeah, I was there at the time,” he says casually, making a big show of examining his fingernails, like he’s got no interest in Rhys’s reaction to that news. “Not shooting, obviously—I’m a photographer, not a cameraman, but still. It was pretty cool to see in person. And it sounds like this is something Handsome Jack has been spending a lot of personal hours on, so he’s going to be super interested in its progress. Who knows, maybe we’ll end up seeing him around.”
Rhys is torn between smacking Vaughn for purposely winding him up like this, and keeping completely still so that he doesn’t make any sudden movements and embarrass himself. He’s pretty sure if he opens his mouth, all that’s going to come out is a really ridiculous noise. It’s not like Vaughn can’t tell what he’s thinking, though, considering he can feel his entire face burning hot.
He clears his throat. The supressed noise still kind of makes it out, but he ignores it valiantly, and pointedly doesn’t look at Vaughn’s stupid, smug face.
“That’s—” his voice cracks and he forces himself to clear his throat again. “That’s cool. That’s. That sounds like.” He’s hopeless. He slumps his shoulders as Vaughn starts giggling again, and exhaustedly changes the subject, because this entire conversation is a lost cause anyway. “So what time are we leaving? You’re not usually home at eleven in the morning, even when I do manage to make the trip over here.”
There’s a quiet moment before Vaughn seems to accept the slight subject change, and he looks over to the clock hanging on the wall.
“Yeah, the new boss is still putting some things together, plus there’s a big briefing about the whole thing going on, which we’re not invited to, so we don’t need to get there until one.” Vaughn pulls a face, “Which means we’re going to be working late, so I hope you slept well. Anyway, it’s a big, all-hands project, so no one who’s assigned to this is doing anything else until it’s finished. I’ve had a lot of free time.”
Rhys nods. They’ve got a fair bit of time to themselves, then, which is way more than he could have hoped for when he heard he was going to Helios. There have been times where he’s spent an entire week on Helios before he and Vaughn could really catch up, and it's always a major buzzkill. A long second of silence passes before he ends up looking over at Vaughn from the corner of his eye. “Wanna come make fun of all the new clothes I have while I unpack?”
Vaughn grins at him.
They walk into the production room at half past twelve, because Vaughn wants to go over a couple of things with the set designer, and Rhys doesn’t really want to sort through his clothes without Vaughn’s company to keep him entertained. It’s an expansive place, and it’s busier than any set Rhys has ever been on before. He can see lines of clothes being moved around, people with harassed looks on their faces shouting at other people from across the room, and a man in the middle of it all looking like he’s trying to orchestrate too many things at once.
It looks like they’re getting ready to shoot a movie, not some photographs. Rhys loves it.
“Is it always like this?”
Vaughn’s already moving ahead, weaving through the crowd quickly, and heading towards a door labeled “Photographer’s Storage” in big, black print. Just underneath is a bumper sticker, with a picture of a camera and the words “Trespassers Will Be Shot” written boldly across it. Rhys snorts and shakes his head. He’s seen a shirt with the same thing written on it lying around the living room.
“Pretty much,” Vaughn says, waving over towards a couple of people running a basket directly through the middle of the room, “PR is kind of a huge deal here; we’ve always got twenty different things going on at once, so it’s pretty hectic.”
He unlocks the door quickly and moves inside, handing Rhys a heavy, padded bag before carrying two out himself.
“We’re not going to be shooting in here today, though. They’re getting it ready for,” Vaughn pauses, looking caught out, “Uh, for tomorrow? The day after? There’s no way this many people are going to be wandering around while we’re actually shooting. Today we’ve got our own, way cooler set, on a different part of the floor.”
Rhys nods, only slightly disappointed. He loves working in big spaces, and this one is huge. It looks like it could be turned into a runway, actually, which just makes Rhys want to stay in it even longer.
Together, they walk out of the bustling room and into a slightly less busy hallway. He spends more time looking around than paying attention to where they’re going, honestly. The last time he’d been here, construction was still going on for all the repairs after the Dahl invasion. The place had still been impressive, but it’s incredible now that it’s running like it should be.
He ends up staggering a little in surprise when they walk into what’s obviously their set room, not expecting the sudden shift in atmosphere.
Everything is glowing a soft purple, like the color is actually radiating out of the walls. It almost looks bioluminescent, actually, as if the walls were living things producing their own light. There are some stronger light sources that produce a harsher, more vibrant purple, but the majority of the room is lit just by the soft, ambient glow.
Vaughn turns quickly to flash a smile at him.
“Pretty cool, right? They’ll turn the lights back on in a second, so it’ll be less, uh, purple. They’ve been testing the glow for the past week trying to get it right, and you should see the set when they take the curtains down. The view of Pandora is great.”
Rhys can feel a grin breaking out on his face as he follows Vaughn further into the room, lifting a hand out towards the wall they walk by without actually touching it. He has absolutely no clue how they managed to do this, but it’s awesome. It also makes him vaguely paranoid that he’s going to come out of this shoot with radiation sickness, or something equally distressing.
Vaughn stops him with a held out arm, the bag he’s carrying hitting Rhys in the stomach. “Hey, there’s the costume designer. I’ll introduce you, she’s going to want to see you early anyway.” Vaughn points towards a woman who looks like she’s in a deep conversation with another girl. The other girl is making hard motions at the wall, and Rhys looks at her curiously while they walk over.
“I’m just sayin’, this is gonna end up biting us in the ass. This is Hyperion, for chrissakes, a gun manufacturer, and we’ve got—”
“Vaughn! How lovely to see you,” the costume producer interrupts, spinning to flash a sharp smile in his direction. The lady she was talking to lets out an annoyed huff at being ignored. She looks between the three of them and then rolls her eyes, stomping away from them while muttering about something under her breath. Rhys watches her leave, puzzled, before turning back to the woman who’s staring very pointedly at Vaughn, not sparing a glance at the person she'd apparently just been having an argument with.
Vaughn smiles politely back up at the woman. She towers over him, is the first thing Rhys notices. A lot of people do, but she looks like she could actually rival Rhys’s height, which is a little rarer.
“Lady Hammerlock. It’s, uh, lovely to see you, too?” Vaughn says, his voice going weirdly high at the end. He looks a bit like he’s afraid she’s going to murder him, or something equally horrendous, but the costume designer doesn’t seem put off by it. She even laughs a little at him, in the same way Rhys and Vaughn occasionally laugh at cute ECHOnet videos where baby animals scare themselves by sneezing.
“Oh, I do adore how polite you are. Such a rare quality for a business so big, I really must talk to someone about that.”
He’s familiar enough with that mix of condescending and commanding to recognize someone who comes from serious money. He can at least sort of understand Vaughn’s insecurity now. There’s something about really, really rich people that makes it feel like breathing on them the wrong way is going to get you sent to prison for the rest of your life. And then the name clicks into place for him.
“Lady Hammerlock? As in CEO of the Hammerlock Corporation?” Rhys asks. There’s a second where he feels stupid for asking. This obviously isn’t that Lady Hammerlock, because that Lady Hammerlock is busy commanding an entire company, not playing dress up with a bunch of models. He can’t remember anyone else who shares that particular surname, though, and he’s positive he would have heard about a second Hammerlock sister.
And then Lady Hammerlock turns to look at him, a curious smile on her face. “The very same. Who are you, darling? I don’t believe we’ve ever met before.”
Rhys can feel his back straighten up, suddenly much more aware of every single part of his body. He’s talking to the CEO of one of the largest corporations in the galaxy while standing in another one of the largest corporations in the galaxy. All he needs is for Dahl to try another takeover, and his day will officially be filled with too many tycoons.
Vaughn elbows him in the side. With a lurch, he smiles back at Lady Hammerlock in a way that he’s almost certain exactly mirrors the look Vaughn had given her.
“I’m Rhys. I’ve actually modeled for your company before, ha,” he laughs nervously, and then stops when he sees her expression hasn’t changed. “I’m kind of a huge fan of yours, I’ve followed your business since I was in college.”
She’s less a self-made legend like Handsome Jack is, but she’s still the boss of a hugely successful business. He can’t not be a fan of hers, even if she’s not currently being much of a CEO. He’s not sure how that works: is she on vacation, and working as a costume designer is her idea of fun? Or is this whole thing is just some weird kind of deal between Hyperion and Hammerlock?
She laughs at him, clapping her hands in a way that snaps his attention back to her. “I remember now, yes! We were told about you a week ago, the one who’s replacing that atrocity of a model from before. And you do look just adorable, I can see why we’d hire you. Are you ready to change into your new arm?” She doesn’t wait for a reply before beginning to walk away. “Good.”
Rhys looks between her and Vaughn, completely lost. Is he supposed to follow her? It sounds like it, but they’re not even on the clock yet.
“Come, come, darling, we haven’t got all day!”
He looks helplessly at Vaughn, mouthing a, “What’s happening?” at him while following after her.
Vaughn shrugs at him. He mouths back a quick, “Good luck!” before turning back to his bags and walking over to a man Rhys doesn’t recognize. Well, if he does end up in prison for accidentally insulting a quadrillionaire, at least Vaughn will have an idea where to look for him.
Heaving a sigh, Rhys turns around and trots after where Lady Hammerlock had gone. It takes almost a full minute to catch up with her. She’s a deceptively fast walker, and, unsurprisingly, isn’t the type to wait around for anyone else.
She does at least deign to notice his presence, though, giveing him an approving nod when he catches up with her.
“About time, darling. So, for that arm of yours. I’m thinking something in silver. I know Jack’s fond of his yellow, and you do look good in it,” she says, not turning to look at him, “But it just clashes so horribly with the room, as we both saw from our time in there. Now, normally I’d go bolder than simple silver, but this entire shoot is bold enough as it is, and while an attention grabber is good, we don’t need people looking at your beautiful arm more than they look at the clothes.” She stops and makes a sharp turn down an almost entirely empty hall. It leads to large, imposing door with no identification to speak of, and she waltzes towards it like she owns the place.
Rhys tries to match her, both in pace and personality, and winds up feeling slightly winded and still completely lost. He ends up focusing solely on his curiosity over this new arm, ignoring all of his other questions. It makes it a little easier to accept the quick change of pace, at least.
He’s always a fan of getting new prosthetics, even ones he has to return at the end. Places like Hyperion are especially good for it. They’re like a secret look into the latest, cutting edge technology—the stuff that’s not going to be sold to the masses until months after their official release. And Lady Hammerlock doesn’t seem like the kind of person who’s willing to give him anything but the best.
“Here we are,” she declares, throwing the door open to a luxurious room filled with more clothes than Rhys has seen before, outside of an actual clothing store. “I wish we’d had more warning than a week, I could have asked for something much fancier, but the ones I ordered will have to do.”
She takes him past most of the clothes, through another small door that he hadn’t even seen from the entrance, and to a room with at least twenty different arms laid out. They all vary slightly in design and color, but he can tell each one was tailor-made to the specifications of this particular shoot.
“You can remove your arm now, darling. We’ll keep it in here while you’re shooting, and you can come get it after we finish each day.”
“Ah, right,” Rhys says, mostly because he feels awkward being talked at, since she obviously isn’t expecting any answer from him.
He takes a minute to power his arm down, and then goes through the rote process of removing it. He’s learned by now not to make a face when the arm comes out, and turning it off helps keep the artificial nerve-endings from sending jumbled signals through his body, but there’s still a certain raw feeling of disharmony and wrongness that comes from removing it. It passes after a second, and he sets his arm in one of the empty placeholders before turning to look at Lady Hammerlock again.
She’s staring at him with that same curious look on her face, as if she finds what he’s doing quaint or peculiar. It vanishes the second their eyes meet. Grabbing one of the many prosthetics, she walks up to him and holds it out near his socket.
He flinches on instinct. Doctors will occasionally put a new arm in for him, but he’s been able to do it himself for the majority of the time he’s had a bionic, and the thought of her jamming something into what’s essentially an open hole in his body unnerves him.
She tsks under her breath and casts a judgmental look at him.
“Honestly now, dear, I do know better than to do something as barbaric as jam an arm into your socket. I’m just trying to get a better idea how this will look on you.”
“Right, sorry, uh, Lady Hammerlock,” Rhys says, unsure what else to call her. She shoots a small smile up at him, though, so he assumes she doesn’t mind. “Force of habit.”
“Yes, I’d imagine so. My darling Alistair does the same thing, though I may actually deserve that treatment.”
She laughs off Rhys’s slightly wary expression, moving back to grab a different arm, apparently finding the first one unsatisfactory. “Not to worry, I’ve since learned from my mistake. Alistair is simply slow to forgive past transgressions.”
“Right,” Rhys says, even though he has no idea what he’s agreeing with.
She holds the new arm out to his port the same way she had the first, a critical expression on her face. It’s a nice arm. Now that Rhys isn’t so worried about getting artificially penetrated by Lady Hammerlock, he takes some time to examine it the same way she is. It’s simple, is the first thing he sees. Sleek, with more seperate parts than his normal arm has, though he can’t tell if that’s a stylistic choice or if there’s some greater functionality to it. The entire thing is understated, but still made with material fine enough that it looks like it could be worth more than every material possession he owns, combined with his life. It’s feels very ‘self-assured rich person’.
Lady Hammerlock seems to agree, because she nods once and holds it out for him to take.
“This is exactly the type of arm we’re looking for today. Put it on, make sure it works, all of that, and then I’m going to have to give you to makeup, since we’re oh so conveniently missing the clothes you’re going to be wearing.”
“Missing?” Rhys asks. He grabs the arm and examines it for a second, making sure he understands how to put it in, but flashes his eyes up at her a couple of times in question.
She doesn’t quite roll hers, but it’s a close thing.
“Yes, the designers took the entire collection back for some last second modifications after Jack came by to look at them. They’ll no doubt be right where we need them when it’s time, but for now we’ll simply have to do without.”
That's the second time she's referred to Handsome Jack as just "Jack". Rhys looks up from where he's slowly started the installation process of his new arm to ask her, curiously, “Are you a friend of his?”
“Friends? With Handsome Jack?” Lady Hammerlock scoffs, and then pauses as if to consider the question more fully. “I’m not sure I’d call anyone a friend of Handsome Jack’s, least of all myself. We’re acquaintances who share some passing similarities and interests.”
Rhys nods in acknowledgement, mulling over her answer while he finally clicks the arm into place and activates it.
It turns on with a soft whir before going completely silent. He can barely even feel the nerves reactivating as he gains sensation across an entirely artificial limb, to the point he worries that he might have installed it wrong. He wiggles his fingers experimentally to make sure it’s not completely ruined, and watches as they move fluidly. He can feel the tickle of them scraping against the arm’s palm, and lets out a small rush of breath. The arm is working perfectly fine, it just eased the transition from off and on exponentially more than he was used to. The lack of arm attachment vertigo is a little unnerving, actually.
“I take it by the look on your face that you’re pleased, then,” Lady Hammerlock says, eyeing him critically. “Good, we don’t need any more setbacks here. I still don’t know what Jack was thinking, the clothes have been ready for weeks.”
“Do you do this a lot?” Rhys asks. When all he receives is a questioning stare, he elaborates. “Work for other companies? Do costume design?” He wants to add that it doesn’t seem like she enjoys working with other people, but that sounds distinctly rude and definitely like something he could get fired over, so he keeps his mouth shut.
As it is, she doesn’t seem terribly put off by his question.
“I do all sorts of things. I don’t know what those silly magazines of yours tell you, but it’s very boring running a business. If you don’t find other interests, you stagnate, and there’s nothing worse than stagnation. It’s how Jack and I met, you know. The avoidance of stagnation.”
“Doing this is more fun than running your own company?” He’s incredulous and he sounds it. It’s not something he can help—he’s dreamed about running his own business since he was a kid, and Lady Hammerlock gets bored doing it?
“Everything loses its charm eventually, darling,” is all she says, walking past him at a brisk pace. “Come on, we haven’t got all day!”
With a sigh, Rhys follows after her.
They make it down three separate hallways before running into Vaughn. Almost literally, if not for Vaughn’s quick footwork, and the fact that he’d practically jumped into a wall to avoid touching Lady Hammerlock. He’s breathing heavily, his face scrunched up oddly in what looks like an attempt at both polite cordiality and suppressed panic.
“Hey, you guys,” he says, trying for casual. He seems to decide against it a second later. “I mean, hi, Lady Hammerlock. Rhys. The clothes just arrived in the room. Someone said you wanted to know as soon as possible?”
Lady Hammerlock looks delighted, and she pats Vaughn on the head as she walks past both of them. “Excellent, thank you Vaughn. You’re darling as always. Come, Rhys!”
Both Vaughn and Rhys take off after her. They trail far enough behind that Rhys is relatively certain they could hold a conversation without her listening. Not that he imagines she’s particularly interested in anything he and Vaughn could have to say.
“Don’t they have assistants for things like this? Why did you have to run across the floor to come get us?” He asks, not because he’s disappointed to see Vaughn, but because he’s honestly curious.
Vaughn looks at him miserably. “I’m the short one,” he says with a sigh, which explains absolutely nothing.
“And that’s important?”
“Kind of. Listen, Rhys, our producer is a major dickbag, so just. Be ready. And don’t say anything about his hair, that’s what got the last model fired in the first place. Maybe just don’t talk to him at all, actually. Keep following Lady Hammerlock around and you’ll probably be fine.” Vaughn has never looked less certain about anything in all the time Rhys has known him.
“Well that’s reassuring,” Rhys says.
Vaugh shrugs at him helplessly, and then they pick up the pace so they’re close to Lady Hammerlock when she walks through the door.
There are at least ten more people here than when Rhys had last walked in. One of them is standing next to a rack filled with clothes, getting berated by a man with the wispiest hair plugs Rhys has ever seen. He bites his lip and looks over to Vaughn, who nods dully in confirmation.
Alright, Rhys has seen worse hair in his life. Not on the head of someone who’s obviously a pretty high-standing photoshoot producer, but still.
“Vasquez, I see you’ve finally managed to grace us with your presence,” Lady Hammerlock says by way of greeting, her voice cold.
Vasquez pauses what he’s saying to the disheveled, somewhat terrified looking man, and turns to her, smiling cockily. “Aurelia! You’re just the girl I’ve been looking for. Is there a reason this idiot,” he turns to shoot a glare at the man, “brought these new, state of the art clothes to the set instead of the changing rooms?”
“Because I asked him to, darling,” Lady Hammerlock says, as if it’s the most obvious thing in the world. She too turns to look at the fear-stricken man, smiling at him in a way that doesn't quite manage to be soothing, although it's not insincere. “Thank you so much, dear, you’ve done perfectly. Run off, now, I’m sure you’ve got many other chores to do.”
The man doesn’t waste any time, shooting them all a panicked smile as he scampers away, his pace barely qualifying as a walk.
“Is it normally like this?” Someone asks from behind Rhys.
Both he and Vaughn turn to look at them in surprise. There’s three people, all looking various shades of bemused, as they look pointedly between Vasquez and Lady Hammerlock. Rhys looks back at the two of them too for a second, and then shrugs.
“Your guess is as good as mine. You’re here for the shoot, too?”
A woman in a nice hat and a fancy, somewhat antiquated looking coat nods and smiles at him. “Yeah. Name’s Fiona, and this is Sasha and August.” She holds out a hand to him, and doesn’t flinch when he grabs it with his bionic one. She’s already okay in Rhys’s book.
Rhys smiles at her, and nods at the other two in greeting. “I’m Rhys, and this is Vaughn.”
There’s a beat where Fiona, Sasha, and August all look at Vaughn, as if trying to crack some sort of code. He smiles self-consciously and waves, a little. “Nice to meet you. I’m the photographer.”
There’s a dawning comprehension in all of their eyes, and Rhys feels slightly irked, even though he knows, reasonably, that Vaughn isn’t what a typical model would look like. Their incredulousness is still a little rude.
A loud clapping grabs Rhys’s attention before he can say anything, and he grudgingly turns around to face Lady Hammerlock and Vasquez again. They both look like they’re pointedly ignoring each other, accept for the fact that they keep edging forward to try and be the one standing in front. Lady Hammerlock is the first one to speak.
“Alright, I’ll be taking the models for their wardrobe change—”
“And I’ll be making sure everything is in place, which means you’re with me, short stuff. I want to see those cameras up and running before the lady and her doily squad ever get back,” Vasquez interrupts.
He can hear a snort from behind him, followed by one of the girls muttering, “Doily squad?” and the sound of someone getting hit.
“Yes, yes, I have all the faith in the world in you, Vasquez,” Lady Hammerlock says, talking over the small squabble that had begun in the back, “Alright, with me, models. Someone turn the glow back on!”
A switch is flipped and the room is radiating purple again. It’s just as ethereal as it had been the last time, and Rhys shoots a look back at the other models to see them looking appropriately wowed. What really catches his eye, though, is the effect it has on the clothes.
He hadn’t looked closely at them before, but in this light they’ve taken on a purple glow for themselves. Hanging together, they seem to be one large, pulsating mass. Rhys walks towards them quizzically, only stopped by a hand that reaches out in front of him.
“They’re beautiful, aren’t they?” Lady Hammerlock asks, lowering her arm when she sees that he’s stopped. “But you mustn’t touch until I choose the right one for you, the last thing I need is to have to explain to Jack why one of the models has ruined clothes that cost twice the salary of everyone in this room combined. Apart from me, of course.”
He can feel the others crowding around him, even though he doesn’t tear his eyes away from the clothes long enough to actually look at them.
“So how’s the glow happen?” the guy—August, Rhys thinks—asks, sounding more suspicious than awed.
“Yeah, it looks a little. Unsafe?”
Lady Hammerlock laughs. “Oh please, don’t be silly. It’s just a little manufactured fabric, hardly something that’s going to hurt you. Now step up, Rhys and the other one, you’re going first.”
Rhys steps closer obediently. There's a small scuffle behind him while the other three try to figure out who she means by "the other one" before he sees August step up next to him from the corner of his eye. He still looks like he’s expecting the clothes to jump out and bite him, not that Rhys can really blame him. If everything weren’t so beautiful, and if not for the fact that Rhys can already imagine how amazing he’s going to look in these clothes, he’d probably be just as wary as August is.
As it stands, he’s mostly just excited.
Lady Hammerlock snaps her fingers, and two women jump forward from out of nowhere, looking at her expectantly. “Take out the hexagonal patterned one,” she says, eyeing Rhys carefully. “And the matching vest and shirt.”
She holds out a hand, and the clothes are immediately placed in it. Rhys already expects the sudden jerk of her hand towards his body, and doesn’t flinch like he had with the arm. Instead he admires the cut of the clothes. He’s not sure what kind of material the jacket is made out of, but it’s naturally matte, and seems to soak up the purple glow of the trim in a way that keeps it from looking too bright. The buttons look like they could be made from real gold, and are just about the only thing yellow in all of the different articles.
It apparently passes inspection.
“Yes, I think so. Alright, Annette will show you to the changing room, your compatriots will be following behind you shortly. Do be a doll and be careful with the arm. You can pull off the one-sleeved look, but I’d rather you not for this.”
Rhys grabs the clothes from her and nods dutifully. It’s too late, Lady Hammerlock has already turned to August, looking him over critically and urging him forward further. With a small wave to Fiona and Sasha, who are watching this whole process like they’ve never seen anything like it before, he follows after one of the women who’d first handed Lady Hammerlock the clothes he was now holding.
The room that’s functioning as a changing stall is just down the hall, and Annette points out the makeup room to him before rushing back to where Lady Hammerlock is.
In a normally lit room, the glow isn’t nearly as noticeable. It’s still there, to some extent, and it outlines the hexagonal pattern on his shoulders well, but it doesn’t look like a living, pulsating entity any more, which makes Rhys feel a little better.
He’s still careful when he puts the clothes on. The shirt is standard, a stark black that’s tight around him, and feels weird against his new bionic arm. The vest is one of the lightest things he’s ever held. It seems to be made of some kind of shimmering material, which while naturally black, reflects just about any color close to it. He can immediately see the change when he puts the jacket on over top of it. The purple shimmer isn’t noticeable or garish, but it gives the entire outfit a sense of unity that Rhys can appreciate.
The other things—pants, socks, shoes—aren’t the draw to the outfit at all, and are more an afterthought than anything.
Rhys takes a second after he’s put everything on to admire himself in the mirror. He looks sharp. The almost invisible glow still stands out enough that there’s definitely something alien about his appearance, and his biotic hand is just a glint of silver. All he needs is a gun, and he could almost be intimidated by himself.
Taking a quick look at the door, he relents to his first impulse and lifts his fingers to shoot at his reflection in the mirror, making a small “Pshew, pshew,” noise for added effect. He blows off his fingers and turns towards the door with a stupid grin on his face.
This is going to be an awesome shoot.