Actions

Work Header

Five Times Rhys Tried Seducing Jack Away From Vasquez and One Time He Realized Jack Was the One Doing the Seducing

Chapter Text

There's not a lot of ways to get into Hyperion University. Dean Tassiter always makes sure his students are the best of the best - or rather, that they can pay to be the best. That means to get in, you'd have to be loaded yourself, to know loaded families or... Well, to have a lot of luck. And then, there's Jack. Even though he's only a junior, everyone knows him - from the lowest freshman to the best seniors. People say he's been handpicked by Tassiter himself. That he has ideas so weird that it must mean he'll change the world one day. Others, the ones green with envy, grind their teeth as they'd rather believe Jack made use of his others talents to get in the elitist college. They don't call him "Handsome Jack" for nothing.

Nevertheless, the man is well-known among students and professors and pretty much everyone in the school is always eager to see what kind of new crazy schemes he concocted in the lab he always uses. He's basically the entertainment for spoiled children, between boring classes and stressing exams.

 

There's a lot to know about Jack even before Rhys gets to meet him. Firstly, he's a lot older than most students, older than seniors even and some whispers that he's older than teachers (but no one will ever dare to ask Miss Kadam how old she is, not with the whip and gun strapped to her belt). Some seniors who claim to be close to him say he's married, that he has a daughter and that's why you can never see him on Wednesdays or Saturdays.

There's even talk about him being the real Dean of the campus, with Tassiter being only there to stand for him while he "evaluates" the next generation of brilliants (and rich) minds. Of course, there's a lot of bullshit among the rumors too. Rhys finds that out when he hears about the conspiracy theory that Jack's part of the government for a secret project that involves aliens and hidden treasures, that he has a doppelganger (that is almost true, but Timothy Lawrence is only his identical twin, not some poor sod who sold his face to help Jack with his shady business). Paranoid freshmen avoid him because he might have been in jail (either for killing his wife or his relatives, depending on whom you ask).

 

Handsome Jack is so well-known also because he's one of the two students who managed to get into Hyperion University with a scholarship - his work considered so great that even though his last name (that shall not be said) didn't bring any fame or money to the university, he was chosen among thousands of eager teenagers with science projects ranging from mediocre to genius. Rhys is the other one. That's how he came to hear about Jack in the first time - because everyone talked about how Rhys should be proud to be next in line, how his work would never reach the awesomeness (his teacher's words, not his) of Jack. Rhys wore Jack's designs. His prosthetic arm, slightly improved with cybernetics, is one of the earliest work of the junior. And it's because he managed to improve it that he got notified (he tries not to think too much about the fact that Jack had implanted a protocol in the code to know if someone played with his work, wonders if Jack is the reason why he's at Hyperion). He tries to only think about the beginning of the year, about the fact that Vaughn will come with him to Hyperion, about Yvette, the sharp girl they met on tour day, who shares his snarky sense of humor and his hunger for success. He thinks about all of this, while he walks through Helios' glasses doors, inhaling the scent of, well, money or at least, people with it, watching with wide eyes the majestic hall - the Hub, the tour guide said it's called. Then he stops, because there’s a crowd, a real crowd, of students surrounding the object of his thoughts and, wow, his daydreams (mostly filled by all the Hyperion-issued merchandise with Jack’s face plastered on it like a supermodel, with an easy grin and a thumb up: “With Hyperion’s program ‘Geniuses Come From Everywhere’, you can get to be me too, kiddo!”), they didn’t do Jack any justice, did they?

 

He stops right on his tracks, and almost hits Vaughn - blessed Vaughn, still with him even after all these years, even after the sleepless nights to work on his essays so he could have the perfect grades to get into the perfect university. Vaughn’s as smart as Rhys of course, but he doesn’t need to show it off as much - his family comes from money, much more than Rhys’.

Yvette on the other hand, she walks just like Rhys - like she has something to prove. She does too, because Hyperion is known to be hard on its female students, and well, Rhys might not know Yvette as much as he does Vaughn - they only met the week before, when the new students had gotten their tour around campus and some information before classes started - but, she’s smart, ambitious and Rhys is already certain she’s going to storm Hyperion and change it for the better.

 

“-o, you here? Rhys?” Like a far-away sound, Rhys finally hears Vaughn, feels the hand on his shoulder. Another voice joins in, Yvette’s, and he doesn’t have to turn and face her to know she’s smirking.

“Let it go, Vaughn, I think he just came in his pants. Too much money around him.”

“No, that’s you Yvette, not me,” he’s laughing too now, because damn but they’re here, finally. It’s a freaking dream come true and just in front of him is the rest of his, hm, let’s say, wetter dream.

 

The name “Handsome” doesn’t really do him justice either, because he’s so much more than that, a raw charisma emanating from every gestures, every big smiles and smirks, the little knowing eyes he sends to the freshmen near him, waiting to hear more of whatever story he’s spinning - how he got a barista fired, his love story with a teacher, the way a teacher once stalked him to give him flowers - anything he says, they’re suspended to his lips like he’s a goddamn god descended upon Earth.

 

“I am so going to bang him,” he says, a wistful whisper, more for himself than anyone else. But of course, his friends hear him and Yvette snickers, probably already preparing the speech she’s going to give to students so they bet on that ever happening - she’ll probably push them to bet for him. But only because it’s unlikely to happen, and that means more money for her.

Vaughn, on the other hand, well. He puts a hand on Rhys’ shoulder, another on Rhys’ cheek to turn him around, so they’re, uh, almost to eye-level. And then he pleads.

 

“Please don’t.”

 

Rhys simply grins.

 


 

 

The dream doesn’t last. First of all, Hyperion isn’t one of the best college in the world only because its students are among the 10% who own most of the world, but also because it’s freaking hard. Rhys has the absolute pleasure of rediscovering late-night studying, along with Vaughn and Yvette - who is just as brilliant as expected, even more so because somehow she manages to always get someone else to buy her lunch.

His first essay comes back with an “A -” circled in red and Rhys spends the first months of fall basically drowning himself in work so he can forget that blasted minus and get the grades he knows he can get.

(Two week into october Vaughn has started bribing the librarian so she kicks Rhys out for lunch after he forgets to eat three days in a row)

All of that studying, plus the practical works the teachers love to assign means that Rhys barely has time to remember Handsome Jack really attends the same university as him, never mind plans to make the senior fall into his arms. Well, except when he has to run away with the rest of his promotion from a building that Jack has conveniently decided to use for one of his prototypes. No one really knows what kind of robots or cybernetics he wants to create, except that he uses them to create chaos whenever he wants.

 

Teachers are used to it. Students like Rhys definitively aren’t.

 

Because apparently, he’s a dumbass (or even more of one than he thought) and he manages to lose his class, looks around to realize he’s not even in a part of Helios - the nice nickname students the main Hyperion buildings because it’s very, uh, shiny - he recognizes. That part of Helios is pretty empty, although he does hear the droning tone of a teacher slowly weaving his spell on his class to make them sleep - wait no, learn. The corridor’s empty otherwise, and every door he sees are closed.

 

So he sights, runs a hand in his hair (and grimaces because ugh, gel is disgusting). There’s a mirror in front of him so he takes a few seconds to adjust his tie, fold his collar back in place and make sure his brown hair is perfectly in place.

 

(He refuses to admit he looks a bit sick, way too exhausted for someone who only started college two months ago)

And then, finally, when he turns away from the mirror to look around and see if there’s any kind of plan of the place, he sees a cleaning lady wipe the ground. She doesn’t look happy, a frown on her face and her gestures a tad too passionate to be really useful. He wonders what happened to make her look so angry.

 

He also can’t help but admire her, because his head might be full of Handsome Jack fantasies, but well, he knows a beautiful woman when he sees one, even if her uniform doesn’t make the best outfit for her curves. That and the colour it has really doesn’t match her skin. He’d love to take her shopping so they can find better clothes… Maybe a bowl hat too, that’d suit her haircut really well... And the fact that he’s busy admiring her really doesn’t mean that she looks intimidating as fuck with her murderous look and that electronic tag on her ankle that is really familiar for someone like him who love watching crime shows his Saturday evenings.

 

“You’re going to watch me do my job all day, or you have something to tell me?”

 

He jumps. Her voice is rougher than expected, lower too. It suits her though, because when her eyes go up to look at him, it feels like she knows what life really is about… Or something like that anyway.

 

“Hum, huh yeah I uh - I was…” he trails off, because she… Isn’t actually looking at him, but past him, and right before he can turns, there’s a heavy hand falling on his shoulder, too hard to be friendly and an awful scent of man perfume combined with sweat and aftershave invade his nose, makes him cough and hunch over. He knows who that is, he realizes, dread filling his stomach, a knot of anxiety and fear because yeah, he definitively knows and memories come back, swirling in his head until he feels almost too dizzy to stand up.

 

Vasquez is at Hyperion too, huh?

 

Rhys shouldn’t be surprised, really, Hugo Vasquez is the perfect representation of what a Hyperion University student should look like: a snivelling snake, with his pockets full of too much money and nothing but air in his head. He could have been hot, if only he didn't have that disgusting sneer deforming his face, which makes him look like a clown who smelled something bad around him (probably his perfume, Rhys guesses, because it definitively doesn't suit him and the sheer amount makes his eyes water).

 

Hello there,” Vasquez is talking to the girl, but his hand is like a claw on Rhys’ shoulder. “You must be new, darling, because that part of the building isn’t cleaned by… Your kind.”

 

Rhys isn’t sure whether that’s for the colour of her skin, or the fact that she’s a woman. Knowing the guy, probably both and he shivers, remembers the time where they were children and he had to “play” with Hugo, hide from him until he found something else to bully, usually one of the lowest servants, the ones who were desperate enough for a job that they didn’t report his abuse, even when it reeked of barely hidden racism or sexual harassment.

 

“I must say,” Vasquez goes on, “you look almost fuckable though, so I guess I won’t report you if you’re… willing to help me out a little. Privately.

 

Rhys gags. The woman just frowns more and then approaches. Her pace is measured, like she’s evaluating a potential enemy. Rhys almost feels like a prey watching two predators about to rip each other’s throat. If he remembers right, the lioness always win. He’d cheer for her, but his body still won’t move, paralyzed by the grip Vasquez has on him.

 

When she’s finally in front of them, she stops, still far enough that she can’t be grabbed.

 

Then she spits right at Vasquez’s feet., accompanying it with a snarled “Fuck off Hyperion.”

 

Rhys’ eyes widen, go from the smug expression on the janitor’s face, to the spit on the ground, and finally, he goes to stare at Vasquez’s face. It’s gone gray, like he swallowed a whole lemon, the sneer gone and replaced by bewilderment. His hand finally falls from Rhys’ shoulder, fists closed and shaking with, something - probably rage. Who was the last person to say that to Hugo Vasquez?

 

Oh yeah. That was Rhys. He - he remembers what consequences that had had.

 

And so he can’t help but intervene, because Hugo has money, a lot of it, and both in and out of Hyperion, that means everything he does will be forgotten when the cash changes hands.

“Hahaha,” he laughs, nervously, passes a hand in his hair again, tries to avoid thinking about what he’s doing - the nausea that still threatens to overwhelm him, and the cold sweat running down his back. “Looks like ‘ugly asshole’ isn’t her type, eh? How about you leave her alone now? I mean -”

But he can’t say anything more before his arm - the flesh one, because of course Hugo remembers which one is still here - is grabbed and violently twisted so Rhys faces Vasquez. The man isn’t as tall as Rhys is, but he’s definitively broader, his voice dripping with honey and laced with poison and hate.

“Rhys Bowen. I must say, ah, I’m, how should I say, surprised, that you managed to get past middle school. If I remember right, you weren’t one of the, huh, smart kids.Or one of the rich one. What was, remind me, what was your mother’s job?”

Rhys refuses to answer, stares right into Vasquez’s dark eyes, hopes the tremor he feels in his legs don’t show too much. Goddamn it, he wants to punch him.

“Oooh, you’re certainly smarter than in your youth, hm?” Vasquez smiles, distorts his face and looks like one of those ugly monsters in cheap horror movies Vaughn likes so much. “At last, you know when to keep your mouth shut when faced with your betters.”

 

(̵̉̏̓̂͊s̴̍̀̀͛͝ḧ̵́͂̅͆̈́ư̸͑́̃͛t̶̓̅̍̑͐ ̵͌̊̋̉̚u̷͆̏̅͆̓p̵͐͂̋̓͝ ̸̌͂̋́̀s̷̔̀̈́̄̑h̴̃͌̈́̾̕u̶̿̉̓̀͝t̶͆̇͋̚̚ ̸̓̌̏͑͝ư̶͛̈́͋̕p̵̏̑̉̊̑ ̴͆̀̂͗̚s̵̈̈́́̎͝h̷̍̄͒̓͝ú̶̐̈͗̔t̶̾̆̎̚͘ ̷̓̐́̑͠ũ̴̏̔̑͆p̸̛̓̏͆̀ ̵̽͆̂͘̚s̸͗̀͋̋̚h̸͂̐́̓̈u̴͋̐̌́̄t̵̎̾̒̍͗ ̶̛̊̌̈͒u̷͗̽̉̔̓p̴͗̂̓̀͒,̵͆͐̈́͛̀ ̸͑͛̐͗͘p̷̈̉̈́̌͝å̸̛͒̐̈́i̵͌̍̓̚͠n̶͂̃͌̎̏,̷̓̋̐͆̽ ̷͑̆̈́̈̉Ḧ̸́̽̿͊̾ù̸̅̀͊̀g̴̔͐͆̑̈́ő̵̈́͐̂̀ ̵̌̽̃̒̍l̸̽̉̈́͗͠ā̵̎̓̂͑u̵̎̈͒̽̏g̸̈́̒͌̈́̄h̴͂̏̉̐̒i̵̽̅͑̂͝ṅ̶͋̏̓̕g̴͆͛̇͒̃ ̶̓͒͂͌̎ā̵͒̈̐̚n̵͌̄̾̅̋d̵́̏̀͒̄ ̷̀͐̓͛͝l̵͒̓͋̎͠à̷̽̒̀͠ù̷̑̽͐̏g̸̈́̐̀͒́h̷̛̓́̅̽i̷̇̈́̀̏͌n̸̓̽͒̓̉g̶̀̒̂͋͝,̶̍̓́͆̉ ̷̛̒̄̾̇t̷̆͑̃̏͝h̵̉̈͊͘͘ȇ̸̋̃͌͝ ̵̛̅̈̔͘b̶̆̃̈̌͆l̴̾̿̆̅̚o̷̓̿̀͒̚ő̷̓̈̀̎d̴͊̾͋̈́͠ ̷̛̐́̎͘a̵̅̂́̓̒n̶̊̈́̀͝͠d̵̑͋͌̓̈́ ̸͒̃̃̂̂t̵̛̽̄͂́h̵͑̐͗͐͘a̸͂̔̓̌͝t̸̛̀̍̂̀ ̶̇͌̋̐̉f̶̽̈́̇͊̕u̷̒̅͐̈́̂c̴̄̈́̌̕͠k̸̇̉̽̄̍ĩ̵́̋̓̔n̵͌̉̈́̏̊g̵̛̃͐̾̄ ̴̛͗̊̍̂s̶̈̔͛̔͠m̵̄͒̓̀̎i̸̔̂̇͌͠l̷̇̌́̋̈́ë̸́̅͒́͠,̷͊̎̆̀̃ ̴͒̾͛̊̒s̶̍̔̊̚͘ŏ̵̋̆̇̐ ̶͐̋̇͛͋p̷̛̿͐̈̇r̶̈́̍̎̃̊o̸̾̍̀̔̂ű̶̈́̀͊̋d̴͐͌́̈́̿ ̶͊̃̔̚͠å̴͛̔͂̉r̶̈́̈́̈́̐͂e̶͂͐͒́̑n̷̔͐̅̍͝’̷̽͆͐̅͝t̶̀̽͒͂̕ ̸̇̾͋͊̓ỳ̴͗́̕͠o̷͆̒̐̏́u̵͑̂͘͘͠?̴͒̒̆̊̋ ̶́̆̋́͘D̴͆̊̒̚͝o̸̓͗́̈́͘ ̷̌̀̓̏͘ẏ̴̒̌̏̂o̶̐̀͑̅͝ű̷̈́͂̐̕ ̶̈̅́̈́͋t̶̛̋̋̈́͆h̶͊̒͌͋͘i̵̓̍̍͛̇n̵͆̍̈̒̚k̶̑̓͊̾̕ ̶̀́̓̒̕b̷̀̄̒͑̈e̸̽̂̓͆̕h̵́̈̋̎͠i̸͆̎͗͛̕n̸̿̂̑͘͘d̸͂͗̃́͘ ̵̇̈́̈́͋̕-̶͒͊̀̕͘ ̵͂̈́̋̄́ä̷́̽̓͂͠ ̵́̾̔̑͌d̴̐͗̾̈́̽i̸̊͆͋̾͠ř̸̍͐̚̚e̸̽̌̽͂̊c̶̿̅̾̂͝t̶̆̈́̃͗͠ ̴͌̐̽̚͘l̸̐͒̈́͌̕i̷̒͑̈̋͋ń̴̋͐͊̀k̸͒̔̂͒̑ ̸͂͋̂͒̕t̷̄͐͂̈́̽o̶͐̽͑͝͠ ̷͋̅̄͊͝t̶̔̀̂̈́̃ĥ̵̂̈́̑́e̵͆̽̓́͘ ̴͛̆̌̄͝b̷͗̽̓̇̕r̸͊͗͗͆̀à̷̀̆̒́ï̷̅̊̎͝n̵͛́̔̅͠ ̴̛͑̐͌̑R̷̂͋̂̽͝h̵͌̈́̐̑̓y̸̏̾͐̒͝s̶̈̌̈́̋͠,̴̛̎̆̆͛ ̴͋̀̀̍̏c̶̈̈̊͑̇à̶̀̎̽͗n̸̈͗͐̽͘’̴̂̍̎̀̕t̵̛̅̄͊̔ ̶͌̊̂͐̚s̸̿̾̍̍͝ë̸̛́̓̓́e̸̐̍̏̎͝ ̸̈́̅̕̕͘a̶͆̌͒̃̚n̶̑̉̔̿̄y̷̛͊̎͆̈t̷͐̉̌̇͝h̸̅̐̓̕͝i̴̅̓̍̏̔n̸̒̅̑͋̕g̵͋͆͗̽͘,̸̀͂̇͌͝ ̶̒̏̓͊̽s̸͛̾̔̑͘h̶̾̓̀̀̚u̸̎̃̅͘͝t̴̾͆̿̐͒ ̵̌̎͋̋̎u̸̍̈́́̍̏p̷͆͐̀͋̋,̵̀̃͊͛͑ ̶̄̇̂͝͝s̶̆̆̈́͛̆h̵̓͌̔͌̍u̵̇͛̏̉͠t̵̾͆̈́̏͠ ̵͛͂̍̍͝ũ̷̓̌̑́p̴̀͌̎͗̅,̵̛͐͆̿́ ̷̈̈́̐͒͠s̵͋̾̅̓͘c̵̿͑̽̅͘ŕ̸́͆͆͝e̴̓̽̎̐̚a̵̋̆͊̿̽ḿ̶̋̂̕͘i̸̛͐̌̽̚n̵̾̈̍͒͘g̴̈̈̍̀̎)̷͐͛̽͗̎

 

“I’m here, because Handsome Jack himself picked me.”

 

His insides are twisting with the lie - although, is it a lie, really? - but at least Rhys has the pleasure to see the horror on Vasquez’s face, before rage replaces it. Rage and something else, something like - like -

“Listen you little shit, Jack’s mine, mine, you got that, huh? Is that clear for you you fucking freak?” Vasquez’s breath is hot against his nose, the teeth too close for him to relax, the smell still too strong, and he straighten, tries, really, he tries to make himself even taller, bigger while Vasquez laughs.

All the while, the cleaning lady stared, and Rhys has almost forgotten her until she speaks again, her voice somehow even colder than before.

“Listen, I’ve got a fucking job to do, and since you’re oh sooooo important, you probably have some fans waiting for you somewhere, so, once again, fuck off.”

Vasquez doesn’t even look at her, chuckles like they’re all friends and he’s being funny. He lets Rhys go, and Rhys can’t help but be relieved, restrains himself from showing how his arm hurt.

There’s a silence, where Rhys looks at the ground, reins in his breath,before Vasquez speaks again, final cutting words like a snake going in for the kill, fangs dripping with venom.

“You can’t do anything, Bowen.” His name’s spit like an insult, like something he ought to be ashamed of (and maybe he is). “I don’t know whose dick you sucked to get into Hyperion, but I am going to make sure you won’t get out of here with anything more than a crushed pride and crippling debts. Maye then you can join your little janitor friend here, and get many little disgusting mulat -”

He can’t finish his sentence before the janitor gets fed up with his bullshit and knees him in the groin. Rhys almost winces but well, this is Vasquez. He deserved that. So he coughs slightly, and simply says, his breathing still uneven and the panic slowly fading:

“I think the lady told you to fuck off.”

And this time, this time Hugo listens, backs away slowly, his parody of a smile back on his face.

“This isn’t over. For either of you. I’m going to make you pay, you got that? Don’t you dare put yourself in my way, Rhys. And stay away from Jack!”

Rhys nods, instinctively before remembering - no, no this is over, it’s not like before, this time he has no power over me - and so instead, he just fakes a grin and slowly, finger guns toward Hugo.

(you can’t control me - this time, your parents aren’t there to protect everything you do)

When Vasquez finally disappears around the corridor, Rhys’ legs give out. The woman - he needs to, has to ask and babbles:

“What’s your name?” Her brow shoots up (wow, smooth Rhys). “I, I just - thanks for, you know. So uh, yeah. I’m Rhys… As… you, uh, already know.” At this she laughs, takes his hand to haul him up.

“That’s Fiona for you, Rhys. So, for a Hyperion, you’re weirdly, hm, nice. And that asshole really has it out for you huh? What’d you do? Stole his boyfriend? The, huh, Handsome Jack, was it?” She frowns at the name, like it had a nasty taste into her mouth.

Rhys wants to laugh. Or cry, he’s not sure. Shakes his head, because, yeah right, as if - as if he could really seduce Handsome Jack…

Well…

He certainly can try, that’s for sure.

Chapter Text

 

 

Rhys doesn’t actually meet Jack until it’s nearly Halloween. By now, he’s virtually drowning in essays, homework, and presentations to the point where he wonders whether his professors are trying to kill him personally, or whether it’s a vendetta against the whole class - but no, he consults with Yvette and she’s just as overwhelmed as him. Apparently, being a student with a scholarship means double, possibly even triple work because, unlike most students, they don’t just need to pass their semester, they need to pass it with flying colours. Which is possible, yes, but they may die in the process.

 

So yeah, he has taken to not eating lunch - unless Vaughn is there to physically drag him to the cafeteria - and has just started living through coffee (with cream and sugar thank you very much, he’s not that desperate. Yet). That means he barely has the time to think about Vasquez - thank god - let alone see him. But sadly that also means no Handsome Jack to cheer him up during the darkest time of his life (childhood excepted), since he can’t admire him from afar in the cafeteria (where, of course, Jack always gathered a lot of attention).

 

And then, he gets an e-mail, on his student account but, whatever, it’s Handsome Jack writing to him - and Yvette, because she’s listed in the contacts too - and he thinks he’s going to faint. He doesn’t, thankfully, just hyperventilates a bit, gets some weird looks from the librarian - an adorable woman, always trying to get him to go home, especially when she’s trying to close and he’s the only student left - and, overall, looks like an idiot but that’s hardly new. It’s almost October now so people ought to be used to it.

 

The mail is short and concise with no mistakes in it, which is already an upgrade compared to the student administration - he’s not bitter because they lost his payment for the semester then found it again after making him pay again, not at all - but then again, it’s Jack. Jack’s, well, almost perfect, from Rhys’ point of view.

 

Apparently, you two kiddos need a spiritual guide or something.

Room 12, section Q of the library, 12 o’clock.

Don’t be late.

HJ

 

Rhys snorts when he sees that Jack uses his nickname as a signature in his official mail. Yvette forwarded him the mail with a few ‘????’ added to it, almost like she’s asking ‘is this some kind of joke’. Granted, it’s a possibility, but Rhys hopes that leaving high school also meant leaving - most - of the assholes in it. Except Hugo Vasquez, sadly.

 

He doesn’t answer Yvette’s mail, because they’ll see each other in a few hours, but does send a ‘I’ll be there’ almost too eager to Jack, if only because it seems polite - he doesn’t expect another answer and doesn’t get one.

 

So, he gets back to his work, but his mind’s barely there - he keeps wondering how it will be to really meet Jack. He wonders if Vasquez will be there and frowns, because no, the asshole’s not ruining that for him thank you very much.

 

He flexes his arm, the one that’s still flesh and blood, tries to avoid moving the other (phantoms pains are freaking annoying), and goes back to the essay he was working on.

 

Still, though. Formally meeting Handsome Jack, himself.

 

Having Handsome Jack as a tutor even.

 

He must admit, he can’t help but squeal (in a very manly way) a little in his seat.

 

---------

 

“So, what you’re telling me, is that, in like, twenty minutes, you’re going to meet Handsome Jack, your idol, the king of the university, yadda, yadda.” Fiona summarizes, exhaling slowly the smoke of her cigarette. They’re behind the main building, where Fiona takes most of her breaks – because no students are supposed to go there so she can enjoy it without too many rich people around her. Rhys, being at least as poor as her, has been invited and since he’s currently stressing about his meeting, has accepted in the hope that the smoke will at least give him a heart attack before he can humiliate himself in front of Handsome Jack of all people.

 

“Yes.” Rhys nods. She punches him in the shoulder.

 

“And you’re ruining my break for this? I don’t give a fuck about the king of assholes - I mean, you can probably do better since you have at least half a heart under that disgusting fashion sense,” Rhys tries to hit her in return but she avoids her, the snake, “but I really don’t see what the problem is? Like, if you really like him – and honestly, you shouldn’t because he’s not worth any kind of love, like, did you know he once spit on one of the janitors? Granted, that one was weird, all fanboyish and stuff but still ugh – anyway, if you want to have a go at him, just. Go.”

 

Rhys listens to her ranting – it's been a few weeks since their memorable meeting and well, he can say he's used to it now. Fiona has quite a few things to say about Hyperion, Handsome Jack, and the world in general, and, if people were willing to listen to a drop-out, con artist girl who's on parole after a honey trap took a turn for the worse and is now stuck working as a janitor where she's definitively wasting her talents, well.

 

Rhys wonders if he should tell her he considers hiring her on the spot as soon as he's done with his studies - and figures out what to do with his life (and crushing debts).

 

"Now, are you going to continue staring at the wall like an idiot, or are you going to, uh, you know, go to your 'appointment' or whatever with the king of asshole town?" She asks, elbowing him in the ribs and ouch yeah no, he's keeping that good new to himself for now.

At least until he can figure out if she really likes him or is just humouring his need to hang out with people who weren't born with the whole silverware set in their mouth.

 

"I'm going, I'm going, stop hitting me," he mutters, avoiding another elbow – why is this woman so violent?! "Wait. Fiona." There's a matter he forgot entirely, too focused on the fact that Handsome Jack's going to talk to him (and Yvette, but Yvette wouldn't care less about Jack, unless he'd be able to drop their homework amounts to single digits again). "What am I going to wear?!"

 

"Oh my god, go, before I go back to prison, because I swear I'm going to fucking murder you." Figures. Well, it’s not like he has the time to go back to his flat for a meeting that is in – oh dear, twenty minutes.

 

"Yeah, yeah, you love me too much to kill me." He retorts, a few seconds too late and halfhearted at best.

 

He swallows the lump in his throat because never mind the fleeting fantasy of 'stealing' Jack away from Vasquez (if the snake was even telling the truth about Jack being his, which, full offense, but Rhys doubts a lot), he's really going to meet his idol. In a few minutes. As soon as he works up the courage to go to the library. He might have to call Yvette so she can drag his ass there, because right now, he feels frozen in place, heart beating too loud, his pulse ringing and palms sweating.

 

He's not even wearing his best tie.

 

"Hey Rhys," Fiona calls out before he leaves. "Be careful though. Where I come from, that guy's only bad news, and that's saying something.

 

 

-----

 

Thankfully for his ego, Rhys does eventually manage to, uh, gather the courage to move from Fiona's hiding spot to the library. He successfully avoids any person he might know so nothing delays him, and in the end, gets to the meeting place with a full ten minutes of advance, which means he has some extra time to panic about everything that could go wrong.

 

Oh God, what if he insults Jack's work. Because, it's not like the man's perfect but his work is as close to genius as one could expect, except - well, Rhys has to live with one of Jack's original models attached to him and that's how he came up with most of his ideas, oh god what if Jack didn't know it was how Rhys got picked and took offense?

 

What if he did know and didn't approve?

 

That's... probably not the worst thing that could happen, given Fiona's warning (which remind him, Fiona did go to prison, if only for a few months, and knows some of the police force around - does that mean, did she mean the rumours about Jack's past are true? And if so, which ones?)

 

Oh god, how is he even going to concentrate? Even before meeting with Fiona, he wasn't sure he'd be able to look at the man's face and not daydream about kissing it, now Rhys has all these questions and no one to answer them and -

 

"Rhys."

 

- it's not like he can ask because that's just asking for trouble. Jack isn't exactly known for his patience - although Rhys doubts he really strangled that guy in the bio department. Choked maybe?

 

"Rhys!"

 

Scared to death probably, and Rhys really doesn't want to know what it's like to be the victim of Jack's anger. First, because the man is unfairly attractive and Rhys isn't prepared to question his whole uh, kink preferences and how did he even get to this line of thoughts -

 

"Rhys!"

 

He jumps at the sound, turns around to see Yvette looking way too amused for it to sit comfortably with him. He stares at his friend, her small smile, her strict haircut and dress which reminds him that he really should have worn his best tie today -

 

"No no, Rhys, don't go and fall asleep standing again," Yvette interrupts his line of thoughts, again, and he's grateful really, except -

 

"Aw, come on, that was once and it was weeks ago, and - and I wasn't even sleeping!" She laughs, which makes him make a face (not a pout, because he has some dignity left).

 

"This is at least the third time actually, you just don't remember because you sleep walk - literally - and try to do your homework." Again, she laughs at him, terrible friend that she is, "I trashed it all before you could send it to any of the teachers don't worry."

 

Okay, Rhys takes it back, she's not that bad. He shudders. His grades aren't bad per see, but he can't afford to lose any more points because he sent a paper full of typos and other horrific things that a teacher should never see, ever.

 

"What were you thinking about then, if you weren't falling asleep on me again?" Yvette asks, throwing her bag on the wooden table. Great, now he's back to panic mode.

"Don't remind me please," he groans, awkwardly rubbing his palms together, then whispers, "what if he hates me Yvette?"

 

She doesn't laugh this time, simply walks further into the room to sit in one of the available chairs. The room isn't that big - it's probably meant for a small study group, able to hold five people at most - but it's comfortable, with a table big enough so that they can spread their things without getting into each other's space, which isn’t surprising – Hyperion must have the best after all.

 

“I don’t think anyone who knows you can really hate you Rhys,” she finally answers, looking weirdly solemn. She stares at him, dark eyes serious and her mouth set in a firm line. He’s – he feels bashful now because what do you say when your friend of, what, three or four years now, says that to your face?

 

Except, maybe, that she’s lucky she hasn’t met Hugo Vasquez yet.

 

They don’t really have the time to say anything more because the king himself enters, and, sadly, he’s followed by his buffoon.

 

Up close, Jack is just as handsome as on the Hyperion issued posters that Rhys still can’t bring himself to throw out (when Vaughn brings it up, Rhys argues that it helps him concentrate). His mask is a bit more pronounced, and it makes his jaw really wide but in Rhys’ opinion, it only makes him look more… Him.

Yeah, he’s very articulate in front of his personality crush. But he can do it.

“Wow, Tassiter didn’t tell me you two were that pretty!”

He can’t do it.

Jack's voice is warm, but it's the way he looks at Rhys (and Yvette too, but Yvette doesn't give a single damn about men in general and Handsome Jack in particular) - it makes him want to melt, which wasn't the plan at all.

Rhys resolves not to talk, because he wants to keep the dignity he has left and he's pretty sure Handsome Jack hearing his stupid voice cracks because he's too nervous to be eloquent would kill him on the spot.

Vasquez is behind Jack and the asshole looks surprised to see Rhys and Yvette - probably because he didn't expect a black woman and the poor son of immigrants to actually catch the eyes of his... Whatever Jack is to him (Rhys hopes it's not boyfriend).

"Well, well, well," Vasquez drawls, his droning voice sounding more and more like a cliche supervillain, "look who managed to stay in Hyperion for two whole months. I'd clap but, ah, if you're here it's probably because you failed a course... Or more."

Well, that's it for his vow of silence.

"Because you would know everything about failing - I mean, remember primary school? You were the only kid without a cute little smiley at the end of the year, because you were incapable of behaving and not acting like a bully, and you were sooooooo jealous you had your parents sue the school because 'it wasn't faiiiir'," he takes a whiny voice, imitates Vasquez’s tone when throwing a tantrum and that makes him think about the past, so he's getting angrier as he goes on because he can remember vividly every little thing that Hugo Vasquez did during their shared childhood, which, now that he thinks about it, makes for some great blackmail material, "So, please, talk to me about how I failed something, I can't wait to remember every stupid thing you had you parents do to protect your reputation and hide the fact that you're just one giant dumb asshole."

Vasquez's shocked into silence - ha - but now everyone is looking at Rhys, including Jack. He looks away, away from Vasquez’s increasingly red cheeks, from Jack’s interested stare and Yvette who’s probably way too understanding for his taste, ends up grumbling that he isn't failing anything thank you very much, and he's not sure why he needs a tutor, which prompts Jack into talking again, a hand on his neck and his mismatched eyes still staring at Rhys (who bravely looks towards Yvette for help):

"Weeeeeeeeeeeeeell, that's awkward, let's not talk about that anymore, although, good backbone kiddo, that'll help you in Hyperion, but no, you're not here because you failed a subject, I'm just here to make sure you stay alive because Tassiter's rep is bad enough as it is so he can't afford to lose the few 'diverse',” and at the words he rolls his eyes and makes air quotes, “students he has and let's be honest, you two look like you're going to fall over and die at any moment. This is, let's say, a course on how to organize your work so you can still eat and sleep and maaaaaaybe if you're good enough, get out of the library to relax."

Jack's about to say something else but Vasquez, who apparently had enough time to reboot during that little introduction, angrily interrupts, his voice shaking,

"Waiwawait, you're - you're going to let him talk to me like that? Jack - Jackie, come on, you can't just -"

"First, pumpkin, you don't tell me what I can and can't do and you really don’t want to call me ‘Jackie’. I give nicknames, you call me Handsome Jack. Second, we talked about that behavior of yours, dear. We said - remember what we said? - we said you're not going to be a dick to people you barely know - don't interrupt me again or I'm smacking you, " Jack waves his hand threateningly towards Vasquez's head, causing him to snap his mouth shut, "good boy, now where was I? Ah yeah, I was saying, I don't give a damn that this kid just called you out because one, he did beauuuuutifully, you should take notes by the way, and finally, you totally deserved it. Becaaaause, come on, say it pumpkin?"

"I was a dick." 'Pumpkin' dutifully mutters, his face, still red, contorted into an ugly smile.

(Rhys knows that expression well, barely stops himself from rubbing his arm or maybe just running far, far away, his body tense and his mind screaming at him to shut up, don't -)

 

"Now Hugo, stop being a dick to the kid."

(Don't -)

"It's okay, I've had bigger."

Don't say something like that. He obviously lost any will to live in the last fifteen years, away from Vasquez and his temperament. Yvette snorts - he'd almost forgotten she was here, because she knows how to make herself discreet apparently. He should ask her to teach him. That’d do wonders for his life expectancy.

"Now, that's - That's -" Jack starts, but he explodes laughing before managing to say anything more.

... Apparently, that wasn't such a bad idea? Vasquez is purple now, his eyes glaring so hard that Rhys wonders when he's going to die from their fire - or he would wonder, but the sound of Jack's laughter, and Yvette quietly snorting right besides him is enough to distract him.

Jack, of course, has a booming voice, the kind that you can't help but listen to. But his laugh isn't booming, or invasive, it's the kind that makes your head dizzy because it's so deep, right from the belly, the kind that makes Rhys wants to hear Jack sing because he's sure the King of Hyperion would be an awesome singer - just like he's awesome at everything else.

Jack lets himself laugh until he can't breathe, shuddering and palming his ribs as if it even hurts to take a breath.

"Woooooh, hoo, kid, you're - you're awesome, I like you really. Now, let's just - Hugo, get out," before Vasquez can even open his mouth, Jack's right in his space, fisting his collar and murmuring something Rhys can't hear - but it's enough to make the big asshole leave. Jack turns around to face Rhys and Yvette, gestures to them to sit down, then goes on, "Okaaaay, let's start the actual lesson. Sorry for that, he can be a handful, like - y'know, one of those tiny puppies. All bark no bite, but damn, do they take your whole goddamn schedule if you don't tame them right at the start."

He sighs, takes a chair and sits with his hands on the back of it, legs open wide and a smirk on his face.

"Now, who wants to learn how to be freakin’ immortal?!"

----

Without Vasquez around, the time passes quickly - way too quickly even. The lesson is going smoothly, and Rhys even manages to make some discreet attempts to flirt and doesn't humiliate himself once!

Jack likes him, it's pretty obvious, although he shows nearly no favoritism asides from his nicknames who evolves from a simple 'kiddo' to a 'pumpkin', something which pleases greatly Rhys, as Jack had called Vasquez by that name.

(hah, take that asshole!)

Eventually, an alarm rings on Jack's phone, indicating that their time is over - he takes their numbers and gives them his (Rhys may have let out a really tiny squeal when Jack touched his phone), in case they have any questions;

"I'm kinda pretty busy though so don't go and blow up my phone at every hour." Jack adds, with a knowing smirk.

Aaaand there go all Rhys' hopes, but it doesn't matter, he still has time to make friends with Jack and that's definitely a step towards that, right? Yvette doesn't make a move to leave, but takes out a book, saying she'll stay here to study a bit (something that makes Jack rolls his eyes, and mutters something like 'nerd'). Rhys hesitates for maybe a whole thirty seconds before deciding to go grab a coffee, so that he can keep company to Jack for a bit.

Jack doesn't mind, apparently.

"Soooo, you've had bigger, huh?" he mentions, because Rhys is an idiot and forgot he said that, and now he has to answer truthfully and says 'it was a spur of the moment thing, I'm actually a virgin because one I'm a nerd and two no one wants to fuck a one-armed monster'.

Jack is silent, frowns and stops, whirling around with a vicious stare, making Rhys stumble right into him. Rhys' heart decides it's a good time to start hammering because he's so close oh god oh god what do I do, what do I do? but Jack's face is still serious and his arms are now gripping Rhys' tightly.

... Whoops, he said that outloud, didn't he?

"I -" he stammers, "I meant, of course, your cybernetic projects aren't - they're not -"

"Say, do you want to have the biggest?"

And right then, the moment ends, because Jack winks and lets go - he really has no shame and spares no thoughts for Rhys' poor heart, but as Rhys tries to stop blushing, hunched over to make himself smaller and hide his embarrassment, a hand gently touches his head, pats him once, twice and leaves.

He's almost sure he even heard a "You're far from a monster, pumpkin." and that makes his heart stops, his breathing quickens and he blinks, tries to will any fucking tears away - it's, when you're used to being bullied, over and over, it's hard to get yourself back up, and this is, this is too much emotions, and maybe Jack feels it too, because he backs down, starts walking away to let Rhys alone with his thoughts, to let him recompose himself.

But not before yelling something else:

 

“¡Por cierto, guapo, tu trasero es buenísimo, especialmente con tu magníficas piernas! Estoy impaciente mirarlo en todo su esplendor. ¡Hasta la vista!” Rhys straightens up, mouth open, watches Jack leaves, his hand hovering in the air in a half-assed wave - that was Spanish, right? He thinks it was, so he runs back to Yvette because Yvette know everything (almost).

She's still reading, but smiles at him and he repeats - butchers - the sentence back to her, urgently,

“So, so Yvette, what’d he say? You’re half-Spanish or something, you should know!” Rhys whispers urgently, because he’s pretty sure that was a compliment, and Jack’s voice saying things in Spanish to him is really turning him on and he needs a distraction - if only to avoid popping up a boner right in the middle of the library.

“Rhys, my aunt married a Spanish guy, whom I have seen twice, so no, I’m not half-Spanish.” She smirks then, apparently not that offended, although he does bend his head in a silent apology, scratches his neck because yeah that was, that wasn't a good assumption to make. ‘But I did take Spanish in middle and high school and I think that was about your ass.’

 

Oh god. Rhys now definitively has a boner. Damn it.

Chapter Text

Rhys sighs, then yawns, then sighs again. His laptop screen glows back at him, a painful reminder that Professor Kadam is expecting an essay in exactly five hours - wait no, four. It's officially four am now, and he's nowhere near done, especially since he has a reputation to keep with that gorgeous teacher. He wants to impress her - like half of the campus, including people who aren't even in her class - although his reasons aren't just because she's unfairly beautiful (he caught Fiona staring at her once, and he's pretty sure Nisha Kadam winked at her).

He wants to impress her because well, Jack mentioned she was the professor he banged once, and if his voice was any indication, there was more than just sex involved.

He's, uh, assessing his competition, if there is any.

And also, maybe, probably he's avoiding sleep because his birthday is creeping up on him and he hates his birthday, thank you very much Hugo Vasquez - who's surprised?

He knows he should move on, maybe see a therapist or two, because keeping all that - that - that stuff chained very deep inside of his mind, locked so tight he forgot half of the abuse can't be doing him any good, if the nightmares and the phantom pains are any indications, but, well, it's not like he can afford a therapist anyway so.

Avoiding sleep by working his ass off has the merits of having good consequences for his GPA at least.

"Ugh, I need to stop thinking about that stuff." He mutters to himself.

His 'flat' (that is more akin to a single bedroom with a very very small kitchen, and an even smaller bathroom) is neat and clean, with his clothes all folded in the wall closet. The outfit he picked himself for tomorrow is on the back of his chair, next to the door to the bathroom. His desk is probably the most disorganized thing in the room, and that's mostly because he's all over the place trying to work this essay.

Miss Kadam teaches about the relationship between modern science and humans - mainly, her classes consists of telling them horrible stories about experiments gone wrong, and scientists trying to play god and failing. He decided to compare the latest Atlas scandal - human and animals horribly mutated, cyborgs who forgot they were humans - to the Faust story but as he was searching for the latest news - a police cop gone rogue after she discovered her sister was part of the experiments - he realized how over his head he was...

Mostly because flashbacks were never something he liked.

(I'll show them - show them! you'll see; all of you -)

He clutches his robotic arm, closes his eyes, tries to will the voice out of his head.

(you're just a fucking immigrant, come to steal all of my money - you should thank me for this opportunity - you'll be a goddamn golden egg once I'm done - stop moving stupid -)

He can breathe again. The voice is gone, willed away by his screaming mind. Four am isn't a good time for him to get a panic attack - it never is, of course, but here, there's no one but himself to hear his ragged breaths, the half-swallowed sobs when he can't sleep because he can hear again Hugo fucking Vasquez playing with his body like he's a puppet with strings he can cut or remake and deciding at the tender age of fifteen that hey, if he can get away with anything, that means the runt of one of his nannies is good to be grabbed and play with.

He played doctor - quite literally, because he saw Tassiter on tv and in real life, and Tassiter had sneered and said something Vasquez hadn't liked. Something like 'you'll never amount to anything if you keep running back to your daddy and mommy when something goes wrong.'

Something went wrong that day.

And Rhys is the one who paid for it. Oh, of course, Vasquez' parents paid for the hospitals bills, and his first prosthetics, as a way to buy his silence but he still lost his arm, he's still the ugly duckling who got laughed at because hey, look at the freak with a metal arm, look at him having to relearn how to write, look how he flinches every time someone goes near, every. Single. Fucking. Time.

He needs air, he decides, so he grabs his jacket off the coat hanger, puts on comfortable shoes and almost runs out of his too small flat, runs from his past, from the tears he's shed too many times, and from the sneering voice of young Vasquez trying to make his arm into a weapon.

He's out of hairgel anyway, Rhys thinks, and he could go with some sugar to get the energy to finish his essay - it's Thursday so he has classes later in the morning, but Professor Axton - the guy who insists they call him by his first name because 'come on guys, I'm like, five years older than you, don't make me feel ancient' - will let him sleep it off, if he's lucky...

He really needs sugar. And caffeine.

The Target near his flat is open 24/7 so he goes that way, closing his jacket to protect himself from the cold wind of November - he went out without warm clothes, because he's that fucking dumb. He really hopes he won't get a cold, he doesn't need that on top of everything else.

Rhys think about Jack - Jack is his happy place, the person he thinks about when he thinks he's going to break. He remembers the way he said 'You're not a monster pumpkin' and it warms him, even with the wind blowing in his neck. He's vaguely aware he's blushing, all alone in the dark, in this barely lit street. The only big light is the Target, a few steps away, and if he were in a story, it'd be a big symbol of the journey he has to take to learn Jack's love or something.

He refuses to admit he loves those kind of stories.

"Don't be stupid - you're barely on his radar as a friend, nevermind anything else," He whispers, words whisked away by the violent wind howling (a confession to the night, said with a voice full of regret and envy because in more way than one, Handsome Jack has saved him and he wants to repay him somehow). It might snow soon, and Rhys regrets even more that he didn't take the time to get his jacket, what a fucking idiot he is. He's definitively catching a cold if he doesn't hurry.

The Target is empty, a single cashier reading a book, not even lifting his eyes to greet her new customer. Rhys doesn't envy her - she looks exhausted, dark circles under her brown eyes, her brown skin looking ashen. She's beautiful though, and Rhys wishes he had the courage to go and asks her if she wants a coffee, takes maybe two minutes to imagine - what if he did, what if they went out, and he could see if her dreads are as soft as they look, what if he could forget Jack and get this beautiful girl to love him, what if he loved her back?

"Can I help you?"

Her drawling voice brings Rhys back to Earth, reminds him he's staring and she looks amused, but also wary and he realizes how that must look like - a guy with a robot arm staring like a creep at a girl in the middle of the night. He stammers.

"Oh! Uh - oh god I'm so sorry I didn't mean, - I mean, You're so pretty - shit sorry, I just - Ijustneededhairgelnowbyeseeyou"

He sprints toward the hair products, avoiding her eyes as if they'd burn his own if he looked back. Rhys doesn't come here often, but he knows the hair products are between the pharmacy and the beauty section, so he spots the sign that says "For women" and goes that way, hoping he doesn't get lost like the walking joke he is.

And then, because of course his life is that fucked up, he runs into Handsome Jack. Literally.

Did he mention he was a walking joke?

Luckily, Jack catches him before Rhys can make himself look even more like a fool, stumbling with his way too long legs that even on a good day with a good night of sleep makes him trip himself - but Jack's laughing, and the way they are right now, with Rhys' cheek against Jack's neck, his ear pressed against the leather jacket, he can feel Jack and smell him (he's sounding like a creep again, isn't he?).

"Careful there kitten, we don't want you to hurt that pretty face, do we?"

Just like that, Rhys's back to his usual self around Jack, red-faced and stuttering like a freaking teenager

"I - I mean - thanks - I just - I wanted -"

"Whoa, pumpkin, don't go and blush yourself to death, you're fine, we're fine, breathe."

Yeah, breathe Rhys, you're not going to embarrass yourself and everyone by blushing so much just because of a stupid nickname, and maybe also because you haven't slept in two days now, and you're running on nerves and caffeine, and you can still hear Vasquez's voice saying - Jack's mine, don't you dare try and go after him - saying all those insults and they're true aren't they?

People look at you and they laugh. You're a dumb joke, one that people tell and then laugh at because it's so terrible it's not even funny.

"Hey, hey, don't go and die on me, listen to me, pumpkin - Rhys, come on Rhys -"

He's aware that this is exactly what he wanted to avoid - a panic attack, nerves finally cracking and letting show how tired he is, tears falling on the shiny ground, his lungs screaming from lack of air, and blood pounding in his ears.

He's still not looking at Jack.

"- stay with me, I know you can do it, in and out, there you go, iiiin, and ouut, goddamnit you're exhausted, aren't you, come on, that's it -"

"Hey...he gonna be okay?"

There's a new voice, low-pitched too but distinctly feminine- he remembers, they're in a Target, the cashier - he's making a mess in a public place -

" - ess, I'm handling it -"

Rhys listens to the grumbling voice, concentrates on the hands on his shoulders, their heat seeping through his clothes, warming him. He sneezes and that's enough to make Jack laughs (the man sounds relieved too, as if he were actually worried).

(he faintly hears something like 'good boy' and prays that this is real, this isn't a dream)

"Son of a taint, you got yourself a cold or something, you're burning up. Go home and sleep, take an appointment with your doctor or something."

At this, Rhys laughs - better but still bitter.

"I can't afford a doctor, not if I want to eat."

Jack stares and says nothing. There's something like a keen understanding in his mismatched eyes - not pity, but maybe a sense of kin. Handsome Jack had been poor too before - and Hyperion isn't cheap, has never been for the likes of them. Sheer luck (and maybe some genius) is what put Jack on the top. And yet, from his throne, he's not looking down at Rhys for being at the bottom.

"Fuck that, kitten. I'll take you to my doctor - and pay."

Wait what?

" - What?" Rhys squeals, that can't - no he hasn't heard right.

"I said," Jack repeats, "I'll take you to my doctor. You'll like her - and also, I want to take a look at your arm - I know you played with it, and I wanna see your improvements."

Rhys stares, open-mouthed, at his idol, the man who just casually suggested that he'd pay a doctor to take a look at Rhys just because Rhys can't take care of himself, the man who demanded to see Rhys' improvements on the design a genius made.

He thinks this might be a dream after all.

"I've got to go now, but I'll see you tomorrow - let's meet here, we obviously live close to each other."

Jack pauses, looks at him weirdly, and Rhys shuffles on his feet, feeling self-conscious in his hand-me-down clothes while Jack can afford to pay for someone else's doctor appointment.

"You look just as good when your hair's down, kitten."

Jack raises his hand, almost as if he wants to pet Rhys but before he does anything, Rhys squeals (he really ought to stop doing that) and that makes him laugh again.

Okay, nevermind, he'll squeal all the time as long as it lets him hear Jack's amazing laugh.

"Although... I'm a bit disappointed you don't have a tie this time."

"Wait, really? You're the first one to ever say that to me - I mean, uh, thank you!"

"Well, I like a good tie on people like you kitten. Makes it easier to grab and choke."

Rhys does choke at that, because the words are whispered right next to his ear, hot breath and warm voice that makes him melt. His breath hitches, and he's lost, not sure what he can answer to that and before he can say anything, Jack's gone, grabbing something on the shelf to Rhys' left and making a run to the cashier.

Rhys doesn't follow, still trying to calm his hammering heart - he's definitively going to have a heart attack before the end of the semester with the way things are going. What. The. Fuck was that?!

On reflex, he grabs his phone, and texts the first number that comes to his mind - Vaughn will know what to make of this - this - this mystery. He knows people way better than Rhys (and that's saying something, considering poor Vaughn can barely say a sentence to anyone other than family and friends), he'll know what to do.

Bro, bro, are you awake, please tell me you're awake.

wtf it's 5am rhys

Sorry but it's an emergency, come on, help me out? or i'll tell Yvette that you're the one who ate her rice salad last time!

you wouldn't do that!! what about the bro code?!

EMERGENCY RIGHT NOW

okay okay

bro, I think I'm in love

fuck you bro and get some sleep

When he gets back to his flat, he realizes he forgot the hair gel.

---

He misses classes but Axton forgives him, emails him to say 'he should rest and then get back to work wink wink'. For some reasons, he thinks the word work isn't about the classes. It's probably his imagination but he wouldn't put it past Axton to know that he's trying to bone Jack.

Of course, the reality is way more complicated because after getting back from the store, he had fallen asleep and dreamed of Jack - but not in a sexual way. He'd dreamed about his voice, the way his arms had grounded him, the way he'd rubbed his shoulders. They'd been in his room, and Jack had laughed when he'd seen the posters of his face, had teased Rhys about them and then slowly kissed his lips, a smile on his face (Jack had been maskless too, but the edges were blurred and the only clear things were his eyes, these beautiful eyes).

He'd woken with a fever, mind hazy but memories of the dream lingering, and the idea that he'd see Jack later in the day had been enough to make him get up and take a shower.

Jack texts him, doesn't sound too worried but demanding Rhys sleep, eat and come at '5 pm sharp' so they can go together to the doctor's office. Rhys drinks his coffee and blinks at the text, a stupid grin on his face and he texts something back (can't seem to really realize he's texting Jack).

His limbs are heavy but he manages to drag himself across the streets at 4:45pm, covered from head to toe against the wind, sneezing and sniffling. He thinks his fever's gone but he can't be sure, hasn't been able to do much but sleep today and he hopes that he won't be too much of a bother to Jack.

He's early but Jack is already here, wearing his Hyperion sweater, his jacket and glasses that somehow makes him even more handsome. Rhys waves, catching Jack's attention, and smiles sleepily.

(Jack smiles back, soft and warm)

"Hey there mister 'I don't listen to my elders and I skip sleeping and eating until I make myself sick'!" is the greeting Rhys gets, along with a wink that gives him butterflies in his stomach.

"You're not that much older than me," he retorts. He knows so little about Jack though, that he could be entirely wrong - looking young doesn't mean much in their society and Jack definitively has a few years more, if only because even with his mask, there are some wrinkles around his eyes, on his forehead.

"Oh, kiddo, I'm flattered but I'm over thirty, closer to forty and you're what - twenty?"

That's a big gap to cross, but it's not like Rhys ever had any chance to begin with. Still, he answers with a petty frown, because he's not that young.

"I'm twenty-five actually - with my arm I had to, well, it took me a few years to relearn to write and use that arm as well as my flesh one so. And I had to work a bit, to be able to pay myself a better prosthetic, so I'm older than most freshman."

Jack nods, gestures to follow him, and Rhys does, towards a car that looks like it was bought twenty years ago. It's in pretty good condition though, and looks well cared off too. It's still ugly as hell though, white and grey with silver metallic sheens. Might have been to represent diamonds or something, but on a car, it doesn't reflect well, and the lilac added to the hood and the back add even more weirdness to the vehicle.

"I bought that car with my first salary," Jack says in a fond voice. "Customized her myself! Her name's Buttstallion."

Rhys tries not to laugh, he really tries but imagining Jack - leather jacket, coolest man, King of Hyperion, Handsome Jack - in a car that he affectionately calls Buttstallion is too much for his feverish brain to handle, and he bursts out laughing, hands against his ribs.

Then there's a hand against his neck, so, so warm even though it's freezing outside and Jack's not wearing any gloves.

"Hey, don't mock my baby, she's made of real diamonds!" Jack's hand leaves, leaving a warm spot that Rhys is sure is blushing, and he raises his head just in time to see Jack is winking at him - as he usually does, looking particularly proud of himself. "Come on," Jack adds, opening the door to the driver's seat, "It's not that far but I wanted to take you for a ride."

Rhys nods, feeling like he's still dreaming - maybe he hasn't heard his alarm and is still sleeping.

Jack, of course, drives like an absolute maniac, one hand on the wheel, the other on his knee. Rhys is pretty sure he gets close to a stroke a few times, when Jack gets too close too fast to another car - or worse, when he suddenly stops to let a woman and her kids cross the street.

Still though, even the awful driving isn't enough to let him forget Jack's promised to take Rhys to his personal doctor, to pay for the appointment, and he's taking Rhys there in his own car too, mentioned he wanted to take Rhys for a ride.

It all sounds a bit like wooing, but there's still Vasquez' voice, like a stubborn insect. Jack's Hugo's boyfriend, and Rhys isn't - he's not going to be a piece on the side, no matter how nice Jack treat his 'mistresses'.

"Say, uh," His voice cracks a bit, and he winces. Come on Rhys. You can do it. "Hm. Why are you - why are you so nice to me? I mean, I'm just a freshman and. I don't really - I didn't do anything to deserve this."

Jack stays silent at first, seemingly concentrated on the road but soon enough, he quickly looks over to Rhys.

"Look kiddo. You're not confident enough - I wouldn't be interested in you if you weren't deserving. You’re obviously smart, and you’re funny as hell. You’re gonna be great and I want to be the one you thank when you recite your graduation speech. I'm Handsome Jack anyway, I can take whoever I want on a ride to my doc. Not that I would wish that on anyone to be honest, she can be a handful." He grins and Rhys can't help but shoot back:

"What, why are you taking me to her then? Is this some kind of punishment for not taking care of myself?"

Jack laughs. It's not his usual one though, this one is... Huskier somehow and Rhys can't help but shiver at the sound.

"Nah, if I wanted to punish you for that, I'd be more... Creative, Rhys." It's one of the rare times Jack has said his name, and in his mouth, it sounds almost filthy "I'm taking to this woman, because she spent years being a nurse, even though she's the best at what she does. She was badly scorned by ingrateful doctors and patients, and well, let's just say I met her back when I wasn't the most stable. She got me back on track, along with a few others. So now, I trust her - and that means," This time, Jack takes advantage of a street light and faces Rhys, his expression weirdly serious for the occasion. "That means, kiddo, that I trust her with you too."

It feels solemn, this moment. Rhys stops breathing for a few seconds, eyes staring into Jack's mismatched ones. He realizes, right in this instant, how much he wants Jack, how he wants him not just for sex, or a casual relationship - he wants Jack's friendship, and trust, and love. He's in so deep he feels like he's going to drown, except he can't, because Jack keeps throwing him those kind of hints, bubbles of air that make him think maybe, maybe he's not that unlovable.

Or maybe his mind is playing tricks on him, and Jack's just being nice.

A car honks behind them, and the moment is over. Rhys watches as Jack maneuvers the car in a parking lot, killing the engine in a quick motion and getting out without saying anything more.

Rhys really wants to believe it's just his imagination that Jack can't be flirting with him when he's going out with Vasquez, but then, Jack walks over Rhys' side and opens the door for him, a cheeky smile on his face.

"After you, princess." He says, bowing.

Rhys blushes, and wonders - is this real?

---------

"Nurse Nina" as Jack calls her, is a big woman with a heavy russian accent and a strong grip. She takes a good look at Rhys then says something in russian that has Jack laughing quietly and nodding.

The appointment passes quickly, because it really is just a cold - that could have gotten worse pretty soon had he gone on with his behaviour, Nurse Nina tells him - and he passes the physical check-up without any real problem. Apart from the fever, his running nose and the slight coughing fits he has sometimes, there's nothing problematic to take care of, which Nurse Nina quickly notes on her computer.

But then she asks him about his mental health and that's when things starts to go wrong. Somehow, he trusts her - maybe because she helped Jack - and he admits to her that he has nightmares and intrusive thoughts, and a few other things. He doesn't talk about Jack being his anchor of course - mostly because he's pretty sure it's not a healthy behaviour anyway.

She looks at him with a serious look, asks if he's seeing anyone, so he has to admit he's not wealthy enough for that, that he's only here today because Jack offered to pay.

And... Things go weird then.

She asks if he can wait for a minute, which, yes sure he can do, it's her office after all and so he watches her leave the room. There's nothing much in it, apart from the desk, computer and quite a few medical books. There's also the usual equipment for a doctor - he spends a few seconds trying to decipher what does what but it gets boring pretty quickly.

A few minutes passes and he wonders what she might be doing, because he's pretty sure he can hear voices, but as he starts getting up to see what's up, she comes back in the room, followed by Jack who looks pretty proud of himself. Which is weird.

"So, Rhys," Nurse Nina says, typing a few things on the computer as she talks, "I have to admit, you in a frightening state to me. No real financial or emotional support, parents not in the picture, few friends, apparently unable to know when it is time to take care of self. So. Jackie here, said it is okay to put him as emergency contact. And you," she points at Jack, "are going to take care of him, because he is cute kitten. Not know how to feed or clothe or anything. Is a serious duty and is very important."

"Yes Ma'am." Jack says, with a mock salute.

Rhys is too bewildered by the turn of events to say anything, although he does open his mouth to protest because - no way, Jack can't just -

"And you." Nurse Nina adds, turning towards Rhys. He straightens because she looks like she might kill him with a needle. "You going to see me every month for check up and go see a psychologist - Jack can tell you who, he knows very good ones."

"I - uh, thank you, it's very nice," Rhys stammers then, because no, he can't accept, he can't afford it's just a fucking cold, "but I just came here because of the fever, I know it's nice and all, but I don't need - I don't,"

"Look kitten," Jack says, and Rhys turns on his heel to face him, because he's starting to feel betrayed and angry he's an adult, he can take care of himself god damnit! "Hey, no need to look like that, I'm not going to force you. It's just - have you seen how thin you look? How tired? To be honest, it was my idea to have you come back and well, I don't know about the shrink, might be what you need or not. I'm not saying you need to report to me for every meal or whatever let's just..."

He looks unsure, and that's so startling Rhys actually starts listening instead of just fuming.

"I," Jack starts, then stops then starts again, eyes closed and looking oh so tired. "I was in your place once and I don't want you to do the same kind of shit I did to get out of it. So, let's just. I'm not gonna harass you, or stalk you. You got real potential kid, I can see it - hell everyone can see it, Nish was talking to me about it and Hugo won't stop complaining." He smirks, "So yeah. Let's just agree to see each other a few times a week, to eat a good lunch, talk about your studies and mine. Hell I can take you out for a drink when you have a good grade, I don't care. Whatever you want, so long as I know you're not burying yourself in work or starving yourself or whatever shitty thing you might get yourself into."

It's - it's nice, Rhys thinks. It would be a reason to see Jack, to talk to him about everything and anything. To learn to know him and to make sure he knows Rhys.

So he nods, even if there's still dread at the idea he might be setting himself up for disappointment, or worse, that Jack might end up thinking Rhys isn't worth his time.

Which, let's face it, he's not, no matter what Nurse Nina, or anyone else might say.

"Okay." He whispers. Jack nods, so Rhys knows he heard and they stay like that, standing still, unsure of what to do now that that's settled.

"Good!" Nurse Nina cries, and Rhys jumps because he honestly forgot about her. "Now, pay me and get the hell out of my office. I see you next week Rhys."

When they're outside, back in the cold, Rhys smiles and says to Jack, feeling bold:

"So... Guess that means you're my sugar daddy then?"

And Jack answers, with a smirk that makes Rhys melt a little inside,

"Only if you call me daddy, kitten."