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“Dude, aren’t you excited!”

Vaughn. One of Rhys’ best and dependable friends. Trustworthy. Someone who’s had his back for the seven years Rhys had been in Hyperion and even further past that as college buddies. A rather short man in accounting but powerful in his own rights. Rhys could always count on him. Accountant was the profession, embezzlement was the game. Nothing big, just a tiny cut here and there. Enough to help Rhys bribe the right people to turn a blind eye.

“Not really,” Rhys responded quietly, walking with Vaughn towards work. “And for reasons you know .”

“I mean- I do know, but-”

“Oh my god, Vaughn. Shut up, lil man.”

Aaand Yvette. Rhys’ friend in Acquisitions. If Rhys needed anything out of the ordinary, she could get it. And was in return, allowed to be a lunch leech. Well, allowed was stretching the truth. If Rhys were honest, he would say the leeching wasn’t so much allowed as he didn’t have much of a say in it. Still one of his friends. She’s known them since the beginning of his and Vaughn’s entrance to Helios five years ago. Not college buddies by any means but still dear.

“What?” Vaughn drew the word out raising his arms in a shrug. “I’m just saying, regardless of outside circumstances, everyone else is going to be awed that he’s there and shitting their pants that he’s there in the first place for their so called ‘achievements’!” He pointed to Rhys. “Speaking of, if you want to blend in with the crowd and go undetected by Mr. Possible-Person-We-Don’t-Talk-About then you gotta fit the picture he expects!”

Rhys looked at the finger then back at Vaughn with a worried frown. Vaughn raised his eyebrows above his glasses as if that proved his point any further.

“Hate to say it but...he’s got a point, Rhys,” Yvette murmured over his shoulder.

“Thank you!” Vaughn rolled his eyes and crossed his arms. Rhys gave the shorter man a soft glare, one which the Beta caught with a sigh. “Alright. Look, I get it. You know I’m right. I just-” Another sigh and a quiet murmur. The turn to Accounting was coming up. “Be careful, alright? I really don’t want to have to try and save you from Handsome Jack of all people.”

“And you’re not gonna,” Yvette firmly stated, bowling over what Rhys was going to say. He looked to her and found the other Beta grinning like a cat. “Our Rhys is way too smart to get caught like an ameteur. Right, Rhys?”

Rhys grinned and chuckled.

“Right.”

“Then I better see you at Veronica’s for lunch, bro!” He looked back at Vaughn to see him grinning as well. Rhys raised his fist and the other beamed as he brought his up for a bro fist.

“Wouldn’t miss it for the world, bro .”

“Ugh,” Yvette groaned with a roll of her eyes. She was still smiling. “Please, for the love of my sanity, do not get into another one of those silly ‘bro’ moments. I’ve only just forgotten the stupid bro ‘skit’ or whatever it was you guys started in the cafeteria two weeks ago.”

Rhys looked at Vaughn. Vaughn looked at Rhys. They gave each other shit-eating grins just before they started whispering the ‘bro skit’, as Yvette so aptly named it. Yvette’s face fell into oblivion. They got slightly louder.

Her nose tweaked.

Slightly louder.

Her eye twitched.

They’re almost to softly yelling when she finally broke.

“OH. MY. GOD. Nope! I am OUT!” She started strutting away towards her own department, obviously taking the ‘scenic’ route. At the end of the hall, she turned and yelled, “You’re paying for my lunch, RHYS!”

Rhys was pretty sure his and Vaughn’s laughs could be heard by her. They stood there at the junction between all three of their departments. Rhys’ was just ahead. Vaughn’s was to the left along with Yvette’s though she was done with their antics and had hightailed it to go the long way around. When their laughter died down, it was time to head their own ways or risk being late and with Handsome Jack himself coming to Rhys’ department, he was hesitant to even debate the possibility.

“Hey.” Rhys looked over to Vaughn openly curious. His friend was softly smiling, encouraging and supportive. “Be careful.”

Rhys smiled warmly. He gave a nod, one which Vaughn gave back before turning and heading towards Accounting. Rhys looked down the hall to his own job, nerves creeping back in on him. Attempting to swallow down his fears, Rhys took the first step down the route to his cubicle.

Handsome Jack was coming to Programming and Design to reward a few select individuals for their work and suggestions. There was Weldon who improved the efficiency of their shields by ten percent. Ashley who had found a slightly more efficient way to use materials without taking away from the aesthetic of their guns. George who two months ago had a breakthrough with the coding in their latest grenade - a bug R&D had found during testing. And then there was Rhys who had found the way to use more than one elemental effect in one gun without having to change barrels. The design itself was still pending but so long as Design could figure out the - well, designing aspect, Rhys’ code was greenlit to go into testing. Already they had brought a couple ideas Rhys’ way just to see if he thought it would be possible. After all, he’s the one who made the code. They were getting close. He could taste it.

He -along with the other three’s work- had gained the attention of the CEO of Hyperion Corporations. Handsome Jack apparently wanted to thank them himself though Rhys didn’t believe that. Look up to and somewhat revere the Alpha many may but no one was blind to the homicidal and maniacal aspect of Handsome Jack. He, just like everyone else in his department, knew how dangerous the place would become in four hours. Work was sure to be overly perfect and streamlined. Sure they would be joyful and bragging about it for ages but Rhys? He was terrified of the CEO.

Rhys walked through the doors to Programming and Design, walking by various coworkers as he went towards his desk. He was right in assuming about the change in work ethic. No one had any time to spare for silly games of finger guns. Everyone was either hard at work or quickly settling in. Eight AM was never like this but of course, Handsome Jack was the exception. Just another reason for someone to aspire to be high up like that someday. Someone. Not Rhys. He wasn’t stupid.

To reach for the position of CEO would be practically suicide for him. Not because Handsome Jack would kill anyone before they got even close to the position (all too true) but because of what Rhys knew. He would be fine becoming Manager of his department. Anything further than that - no. He wouldn’t even contemplate it. Tempting line of thought but the possible outcomes? Too dangerous to consider.

No, Rhys wasn’t stupid at all.

He sat in his cubicle with a cup of coffee and dug into his normal work, fixing lines of code from others, looking over the couple minor projects he was a part of, sending information where it was needed, etc. This job was his life and he enjoyed it. Enjoyed the monotony. Enjoyed the consistency. Loved working with code - blackmailing, backstabbers, and horrible people notwithstanding. It was an environment he felt he thrived in.

Around eleven thirty, someone knocked on the side of his cubicle. Rhys turned around and looked at the person from Design. It was the messenger between Rhys and the group creating the physical aspect of his idea. A grunt worker, coffee runner, snack fetcher. Low on the bar though always a pleasant person.

“Hey, Marrisse,” Rhys started with a smile, sitting back in his chair. Marrisse gave a smile back and walked further in, a rolled up blueprint in hand.

“Hi, Rhys.” She came by and set the tube on the desk, letting the paper unroll. “Sorry about the visit - I know you’ve got that meeting at noon. You know how the rest of the team is.”

Rhys rolled his eyes with a small groan, spinning his chair to face the blueprint. “They don’t think I understand a single thing they say.”

“So they send a middle man. Or, well- middle woman. Alphas, am I right?” The mild-mannered Omega slipped Rhys a conspiratorial grin. Rhys easily returned it and plucked a pen from the cup by his computer.

“Too right. A-Anyways, where’s the issue this time.” They both turned their attention onto the blueprint. Marrisse leaned over the paper and took another pen from the cup, diving right in.

“Arnold said that while the button function would work fine, it wouldn’t be fast enough for the majority of Hyperion’s consumers. Our manager’s words, not his. They were hoping you might have ideas on how to better work that in considering it might need a tweak to your code.”

He glanced over at her. “Did they tell you any possible ideas of their own? Something for me to build off of?”

The apologetic wince was all he needed.

“Right.” A sigh. “Guess it’s up to you and me this time around. I know you’re smarter than you let yourself look, Marrisse. What’ve you got?”

Out of the entire team, the only one Rhys found worth his time was Marrisse despite being lowest on the totem pole within the team right there with Rhys. She had recently started in Helios after transferring from her old placement on Pallus. From what Rhys’ sources could gather, sounded like she had been blackmailed into performing sexual ‘favors’ with her old manager. Never raised in ranks, had been offered a promotion before but she politely refused each time so far in her employ on Helios. As far as Rhys could tell, she wasn’t a blip in his radar for a successful career, negative or otherwise.

Though he would admit she did an excellent job as being the go-between on this major project. Hell, the day he went on to being Manager, he’s thought of asking her to be his PA in the future. She knew just about everyone in the whole department, had her ear to almost every project, and had good contacts in every other department. Even Vaughn knew her by face! The grunt worker everyone saw and one of the rare few people liked having around. A breath of fresh air.

“Oh no!” Rhys looked up at her, wondering why she sounded so worried. They were getting through the issue no problem now. They were almost to the final part when she had made that exclamation. She was standing upright, hands on her cheeks, fingers covering her mouth, eyes wide. Rhys followed where she was looking and almost fell out of his chair.

It was a minute to noon.

“Shitshitshitshit-!” Fuck, the blueprints. Fuck, the meeting !! He was saved from having to worry about one of them as Marrisse waved him off with that worried look still in place.

“Go!” Even now her voice was quiet. “I’ll go take a lunch break and come back later. W-We can finish then!”

Lunch! Yvette and Vaughn. Could he? Shit, he would have to.

“Go to Veronica’s Diner on Level 64! Vaughn and Yvette will be there now. Just- Just tell them I sent you, okay? We’ll finish there!” He was already down the walkway as he spoke, having to yell the last of his words.

“Okay!” Thank god he was able to get that set up. Now he only had to worry about making it to the meeting before Handsome Jack. The CEO was normally fashionably late to most meetings which bought Rhys six minutes. The Head of Programming and Design’s office was about five minutes.

“I'm so dead.”

Rhys just about ran as fast as he could. If he was quick, he could cut that five minutes down to three. That should be enough time, right? Except he had no clue as to whether or not Handsome Jack would be on time. Past data said no. Rhys’ panicking mind screamed yes. He was cutting by people, nearly crashing into just about everyone as he sped through the department. Someone had coffee splashed on their shirt thanks to him. All he could do was yell a frantic apology and keep moving on. Rhys was almost there. So close to his goal. Just another turn and the office would immediately be on his right. Rhys rounded the corner-

And smacked right into someone.

Rhys grunted and fell back on his ass, head barely missing a collision with the floor by the saving grace of reflexes alone.

“What the- Who the hell!?” Thank god the other person hadn’t fallen down as well. That would’ve been a mess apologizing for.

“I-I am so-” Rhys looked up and saw the irritated face of none other than Handsome Jack staring down at him. All blood in Rhys’ cheeks immediately fled, eyes wide in terror. “-sorry, sir. I-I-I-”

“Can it, dum-dum.” Rhys’ jaw snapped shut with an audible sound. A second later and Handsome Jack was lowering himself down to one knee, the other side of his weight planted on the ball of his foot. Handsome Jack leaned in, eyes narrowing as he peered at Rhys. Fuck. Fuck, shit, hell, dammit, FUCK. Rhys was going to die. He had ran into the CEO of all people. Someone who was known for venting employees into space for MUCH less. Regardless of who Rhys was, he was dead. He highly doubted-

“Get up.”

...What?

Rhys looked up at Handsome Jack, gaping as the Alpha stood up. The older man caught the look and rolled his eyes, crossing his arms and starting to impatiently tap the finger of his left hand on his right arm.

“What, are you deaf? I said, Get. Up.”

Rhys scrambled to stand up, eyes on the floor. Be small. Be meaningless. Be someone Handsome Jack could not care less about. Most importantly, stay off his radar .

“Now I’m gonna guess by how fast you were going around that corner that you were about to barge through this door, am I right?” Rhys glanced up and saw Handsome Jack’s thumb jerking to the door in question. The Manager’s office. Rhys looked back down and nodded.

“Kiddo, speak up.” Annoyed. Definitely annoyed.

“Y-Yes, sir. That’s- that’s where I was going.”

“And would it kill you to look at me when I’m talking to you!? What, too handsome for some peon like you?” Rhys had already risen his gaze as asked. “I wanna see the eyes of the idiot who decided to be friggin’ late to a meeting with me . God, you Omegas are all the same.”

Rhys’ blood froze. He had taken a scent neutralizer this morning like he always does. No one should be able to tell the difference unless- No. It- it had to be because Rhys ran into him. Had to be. Getting close enough to the person could make the neutralizers useless on them for the time being. That was it. Proximity. Nothing more.

Rhys knew that wasn’t it. Handsome Jack would’ve had to of had his nose right next to Rhys’ neck. He knew exactly what was wrong but he was desperately trying to keep from believing it was happening now.

“Whatever- whatever! Just- get the hell inside already. Time is money, kiddo. Chop chop.”

“R-Right! Sorry, sir!”

The last thing he saw of Handsome Jack before making a beeline for the door was the Alpha putting his hands on his hips and rolling his eyes.

“Rhys!” Henderson called as soon as Rhys walked through the door, eyes an almost-leer as always. Annoyance, fear, and anticipation filled the air and it did nothing for Rhys’ already shaken self. “You’re late!”

“Ooooh, so that’s your name. Nice to know! Though really, what the hell is a name like that.” Handsome Jack was right behind Rhys with a heavy hand falling on Rhys’ shoulder. “Your parents couldn’t decide between two so they mashed ‘em together to get whatever ‘Reese’ is?” It felt...the touch felt like a warning, like a show to everyone else no matter how unintentional simply for the fact that Handsome Jack does not touch people. The only exceptions were if one was soon to find themselves tossed out into space to asphyxiate to death or if someone did something so right, the man was actually impressed. Considering how the former was the one to almost always happen but Rhys was obviously still standing, alive - he was fricking invited to the meeting to be congratulated - it was definitely a head turner. He wouldn’t be dying so soon as far as these people were concerned. And Rhys felt… excitement, anticipation, giddy like he was tiptoeing a very fine wire.

Rhys looked up and found the fearful yet awed and somewhat envious looks levelled his way by Weldon, Ashley, and George. Henderson looked suspicious but seemed to quickly reign it in, clapping his hands together and giving Handsome Jack a welcoming bow and smile.

“Hello, sir!” Henderson came from around his desk, skulking forward with hunched shoulders and a stooped posture. Trying to be demure in front of the big Corporate Leader. What a joke. The man was nothing but an expendable pawn. He wasn’t all that great at his job and the only reason he was still in his seat of power was because his fuck ups had somehow escaped Handsome Jack’s notice and everyone knew it.

“Did my employee cause you any trouble?”

“What- who, him? That lanky kid? Ha! Him causing me trouble.” Handsome Jack was holding a hand to his stomach, wiping away a tear with the other. With the hand off of Rhys, the Omega quickly made his retreat to stand in the semi-formal line up the other programmers and designers had formed. He didn’t miss the feeling of eyes on him and when he glanced, he found Handsome Jack’s mismatched eyes intensely levelled his way despite being apparently amused.

Unfortunately, Rhys had all of Handsome Jack’s visual attention.

So much for blending in.

“You’re funny Henderick. Nah! Kid was just in time to open the door for me.” Handsome Jack stood upright, giving Rhys this- this look and smirking. “Weren’t ya, Rhysie?”

“Yes, sir,” Rhys responded with a nod, still internally panicking. Internally preening.

“See?” Something...undeniably displeased entered Jack’s gaze right before he momentarily levelled a shark-like grin at Rhys’ boss. Then it was right back to undoubtedly staring at Rhys. “Don’t get your panties in a twist, Henderick.”

“It’s uh, It’s Henderson.”

“Yeah, yeah, whatever. Anyways!” Handsome Jack clapped his hands together, finally taking his penetrating gaze off of Rhys to address everyone else in the room. Finally. “I’m here for a reason and I’d like to get it over with. I have other things I need to get done before the end of today, get me? Go-od! Let’s hop to it. Like, now.”

Rhys zoned out, watching like everyone else but letting the words go in one ear and out the other as Handsome Jack started at the opposite end of the line with George. Though Rhys noticed Handsome Jack didn’t even know their name.

Something changed. That attention wasn’t fleeting. That was lingering and heavy, shrouding over him like the shadow of a smiling grim reaper. That was the attention that wouldn’t be going so soon or so easily. And Rhys? Rhys had no chance at running away. If Handsome Jack wanted something, he would get it. Rhys feared just what it was Handsome Jack wanted. Having those eyes on Rhys - he vividly remembered his fears in two seconds flat.

He adjusted his tie, a nervous habit from early in his employment. Keep the shirt up, keep the chest ‘tattoo’ covered, keep the interest away. Too late now. Damage control was the last option he had. Prove to be uninteresting, bland, boring, painstakingly normal and MAYBE he would make it out of this unscathed. Maybe. Hopefully.

Rhys looked down, hands at his sides, fingers curling in with his breaths and uncurling with each exhale.

Just-...Just get through this and he wouldn’t have to deal with Handsome Jack for a long while. Hopefully never again.

If things turned south-

“Hey, cupcake.” A pair of fingers snapped in front of his eyes and Rhys jumped with a quick intake of air. He looked into the exasperated face of Handsome Jack and whatever terror had begun to fall apart came back with a vengeance. “Oh for crying out loud- cool your jets, pumpkin. If I wanted to kill you, you would’ve been dead before you even stepped in this room, capisce? You’re here to be- be friggin congratulated by none other than me, Handsome Jack! Show some excitement at least once, why don’t ya. Or is that gonna kill you instead, heh.”

Rhys nodded but a narrowed look from the CEO had him speaking up.

“Yes, sir. Sorry, sir.”

Jack rolled his eyes, half throwing his hands in the air.

“Aa-aanyways. You the one who got the coding for the elemental effect, right? Have to admit, preeetty sweeeet! Really hoping you pull out something good cause otherwise, eh, might just have to jettison you out in the great wide nothing of space for wasting my time, buddy! Just sayin’.”

Not encouraging in the slightest. Rhys had awe and respect for what Handsome Jack had accomplished for the company. The man himself scared the living shit out of the Omega. So yeah, not encouraging .

“We - the design team and I - a-are in the process of creating a working prototype blueprint. I’m sure we’ll get over the hurdles in time for the deadline.”

Handsome Jack snorted with a grin and a soft shake of his head, hands on his hips.

“Well, uh, I'd hope you would be. I'm interested to see where this little project goes and lemme tell ya, finding out the funding wasn't worth it would be such a damn drag, ya know? Keep up the good work, kiddo. I'm expecting something.” That seemed to be all Handsome Jack had to say as he turned away though Rhys saw how those mismatched eyes still lingered as long as possible. “Right, Hyperion appreciates your hard work, you've been a wonderful addition to the workforce and your ideas are valued and treasured, yadda yadda yadda. I'm not gonna waste all our times by spewing corporate bullshit. You all know how important the work you do is.”

Handsome Jack leisurely strolled over to Henderson’s desk and turned around, leaning his weight against it with palms flat along the surface on either side.

“Now I've got other matters to attend to so I would appreciate it if you would all scram. Oh, except little Rhysie here.” Predatory eyes gleamed in Rhys’ direction. SHIT. “You and I need to have a little chit chat, mono y mono style. Rest of you, get out.”

Ashley, George, and Weldon all dutifully left, following the orders of their idol. Henderson hung by the door, smug as he crossed his arms.

...Asshole.

“You too, Henderson.”

Henderson looked stupefied by that. “But sir-”

“Did I stutter.” Jack growled. The words seeped under the skin and prickled along muscles and bone like a Skag kneading the ground preparing to attack. Rhys froze stone still, joints locking up and refusing to move a centimeter. Henderson on the other hand had immediately lowered his head in deferment, eyes on the ground.

“My deepest apologies, Handsome Ja-”

“Just get the hell out of here already! Beat it, moron! Do you want a bullet through your thick skull?”

Henderson quickly back tracked, wide eyes up as he and Rhys both watched Handsome Jack calmly pull out his pistol, inspecting the tip of the barrel nonchalantly with a sneering grin.

“No, sir! Sorry, sir!”

Handsome Jack watched as Henderson opened the door and flitted out like a man with hell on his heels. The Alpha gleefully laughed with his head thrown back once the door automatically slid shut.

“Oh my god- did you see his face !? Dum-dums like that are priceless man! Oo-ooh, good entertainment for a guy like me. I bet ya he was one more snarl away from pissing his friggin’ pants. Ha! What a pathetic little roach.” Handsome Jack slowly calmed down, amusement ever present in the features of his mask - until they weren't. Suddenly, they were hard eyes and thin lips, a narrowed look and suspicious hum. “Rhysie- You! You nearly landed yourself into a pile of little chopped up pieces back there! Let's get this straight kid, the only reason you're even alive right now is because your complete look after realizing you ran head first into me, THE Handsome Jack, was worth a good enough laugh. Just remembering how pale you turned- was worried for a second I would have some random guy pass out on me! Takes all the fun out of killing someone. A total. Bore. Not to mention, some Omega .”

Handsome Jack stood up and paced closer, arms lazily crossed in front of his chest, all Alpha swagger.

“Now I have a rule in Hyperion about equality regardless of gender, sex, or any combination. BIG, big rule of mine - tho-ugh you have to know it seeing as you're one of my employees and all. Haha, I mean, you'd be stupid NOT to know that.” The older man stood in front of Rhys and raised a brow. “...Hey, dumdum, nod your head or say something. When Handsome Jack wants an answer, you give it. Simple. I mean, unless you're trying to be a shitstain theeeen things get a little more complicated.”

“I-I understand, sir!”

Something about that seemed to annoy Handsome Jack as the man grimaced.

Something in Rhys wilted at the look directed at him.

“Cut it out with that ‘sir’ crap. I'm only thirty-nine for Christ's sake. Jack. It's my name - actually use it, cupcake.”

“Right, so-sorry, sir- I mean-” Rhys back tracked at the displeased look Handsome Jack levelled on him. “-Handsome Ja-”

“I said. Jack. Much as I love the lip service, it’s too much of a mouthful to deal with otherwise, Rhysie.” His gut started to war within him. Silence.“Well!? You work for me and I gave you an order.”

“Sorry!” His own voice cut off, unwilling to say the name until Rhys forced it past his vocal chords. “I-I’m sorry….Jack.”

Jack smiled, anger seeming to melt away just like that. “Now that wasn't so hard, was it?”

Rhys shook his head. Jack chuckled and gave Rhys’ cheek a couple patronizing pats.

“Good job, kid. Now, where was I?” Jack stepped back towards the desk. He went around and heavily sat back in the chair behind it, briefly sending a disgusted look at it over his shoulder. “Right, the Equality Act Hyperion imposes. I’m going to assume you know it like any employee of mine would. You know why I have that rule, Rhys?”

“To- To ensure Hyperion can get the best out of the greatest minds?” That’s what the tour guide spewed when Rhys first visited Helios, right? Jack just rolled his eyes.

“I have it because nothing gets done when gender, endotype, dynamic - whatever the hell you wanna call it - is brought into the equation.”

...What?

“You have a room full of Alphas then toss in an Omega with no ground rules and suddenly it’s like they all mentally teleported back to the friggin’ stone age or something! It’s pathetic, kid. And God forbid any Alphas have to have a dick measuring contest to see who’s got one leg up over the other. A-a-a-and don’t even get me started on Betas!”

Okay, that made a bit of sense. It was weird though hearing Jack become so heated over something like this. Didn’t even spare any mercy on Alphas as a whole either. Weird in general hearing his opinion on genders - he hadn’t publicly touched on the topic since carrying out the company’s Equality Act within the year he first took over.

Jack groaned and let his head fall back for a moment, hand sliding over his face. A sigh and he was back to peering at Rhys while carelessly lounging in Henderson’s office chair, feet crossed at the ankles and propped on the desk. “So- yeah! I had it put into employee contracts to stop that shit from continuing! Still. Never thought I’d see it working so well. I mean, look at you! An up and rising Omega coming to steal the next rung up the corporate ladder and beat down everyone below you with a good kick in their faces. Gotta ask, how have you managed a little stunt like this so far?”

“Well, I- uh-”

“Nah, don’t tell me,” he interrupted with a whimsical wave. “Don’t care. You see, what I do care about is an idea of mine getting good results. And you? You are the current embodiment of those good results. Still just as disposable as everyone else on this station but, you know.”

“Of...course,” Rhys hesitantly responded when it seemed like Jack was done speaking for the moment.

“Point is- God this chair sucks ass.” Jack stood up with a dissatisfied look at said chair. He shook his head and leisurely strolled back by Rhys. He caught the Omega’s lower back with a large hand as he continued, forcing Rhys to walk with him to the door. Rhys’ entire body was flooded with tension as his fear was ratcheted up loads more. He wondered if Jack could scent it.“My point is, it’s good to see a competent Omega actually moving forward in this industry! Who knows, you may just shake things up aa-aand lemme tell ya! With how stagnant this business has been in the last couple of years, you’d be one of my favorite employees if you somehow managed to accomplish that.”

The large door opened up for the both of them and still Jack kept a guiding hand on Rhys’ back. Only when the entrance to Henderson’s office close did the older man finally stop touching Rhys. Rhys watched in hidden apprehension as Jack turned and faced Rhys with a smirk.

“Remember kiddo,” A finger gun going off and a wink then Jack was turning around and starting to walk off, other hand in a pants pocket while he waved over his shoulder, “I’m expecting good things from you!”

Rhys stood there frozen until Jack disappeared from view. Even a few seconds after, he stood stock still. His legs moved almost on autopilot, eyes not taking in his surroundings.

He could smell me.

He called an elevator and stood waiting with arms crossed, gaze down on his feet, face set into a delicate frown. The yellow of his cybernetic arm caught his attention. Raising it up to eye level, he studied it. He observed the way it moved near silently, how fluidly the minute joints moved, how precisely he could control its movements.

The elevator dinged. The doors slid open. People walked out. Rhys stepped inside.

He could smell me.

The doors shut.

There were only a couple other people in the elevator with Rhys. Not that he really noticed. He was too far inside his own head internally panicking. Outwardly, Rhys was calm, almost bored. Inward he was a God damned mess, repeating that broken mantra every so often. Belatedly, he pressed the button for the floor he needed to go to.

He. Could. Smell. Me.

‘Finally.’

Other employees came and went, filtering in and out of the elevator and making stops along the way to where Rhys needed to go. At one point, it became so crowded Rhys had to bring his shoulders in closer to make room. It was- It was uncomfortable but at least he had the corner. No one at his back, only people at his front facing the doors to the elevator. There were two Alphas, six Betas, and one other Omega. Taking note of the genders of the people around him, Rhys thought back to Jack’s words. About lascivious Alphas and basic Betas and distracting Omegas. Back when Tassiter was still CEO, Rhys had heard how horrible it could get. It never came to blows but there was never a single Omega who had been taken seriously in their work ethic or a Beta who would run the show unchallenged. The entire station had reeked of aggressive Alpha pheromones, sharp, bitter, and acrid to the senses. That sort of behaviour and prejudice would never fully disappear but there was a noticeable difference between Tassiter’s and Handsome Jack’s reign.

If Tassiter were still in the chair of CEO, the Betas would be ‘respectful’ by giving the two Alphas plenty of space. The Omega would be staring down at the floor and probably stuck in a low end job being a grunt or errand person. The Alphas would be staring straight ahead with their heads held high, believing they deserved the inherent respect simply because of how they were born.

With Jack at the head of Hyperion, none of that was present in this situation.

The doors dinged and opened, the display above them showing the number ‘64’. Rhys quietly and politely pushed through. His shoulder caught one of the two Alphas but there were no barks of anger or growls of irritation. Just acceptance.

More proof of Jack’s earlier words.

Rhys exited the elevator and began the quick walk to Veronica’s Diner.

Vaughn and Yvette- he had to tell them. Rhys knew they had suspicions but he had to tell them this. He couldn’t handle it on his own; the dread was already crushing him as if he were holding up the weight of Helios itself. Not only that but he needed a game plan. Normally, Rhys made schemes with ease, ideas piecing themselves together in his head in moments to create the grand strategy but this was an entire beast on its own. Not only that but Rhy was too emotionally invested.

The doors to the retro-styled diner chimed a bell as they opened. Jenny, the hostess, looked up and grinned when she caught sight of him. She didn’t hesitate to start walking with a greeting tossed over her shoulder.

“Wondered when you’d get here!”

Rhys followed her to the side of the diner, away from the majority of the hustle and bustle to where some of their tables were placed. He couldn’t see them yet but he knew Vaughn and Yvette would be waiting for him around one of the tables.

If he really wanted to go about this right he would need their opinions.

Rhys rounded the corner and looked up, searching for his friends. Vaughns’ back was to him with Yvette to the accountant’s left. Rhys smiled and went to wave but froze when he also caught sight of a familiar head of long black hair across from Yvette. His steps faltered for half a second until he caught himself and continued on, hand falling limp at his side.

Marrisse. He had sent her on ahead. Well, hopefully the final revisements wouldn’t take up too much time.

Rhys checked the time using his ECHOeye and grimly smiled to himself just as the hostess came up to the table.

Fifteen after twelve. They usually took their lunch breaks at twelve on the dot. He’d have to ask.

“Rhys! Good to see you alive man!” Rhys sent a grin Vaughn’s way as he took the last available chair. He ordered his drink before responding, the hostess leaving them.

“You doubted me?” he joked in a cavalier. More serious he added, “Buuut we do need to talk. First though-”

“First, you need to introduce us to this sweet gal,” Yvette interrupted with a smirk. She leaned forward in her seat, elbows on the table, hands clasped on the metal surface, legs professionally crossed, a foot pointedly poking Rhys in the side of his thigh.

Rhys placed his cheek in his hand, elbow on the table, rolled his eyes, and shared a lazily amused look with Vaughn. Like a shark with blood in the water, Yvette. Rhys shook his head and sat back in his seat.

“This,” he started in a genial tone, gesturing to their odd fourth party, “is Marrisse. She’s on the team with Design for that pet project of mine I was able to finally get off the ground.”

“‘Pet project’ he says.” Vaughn faced Marrisse with a conspiratorial frown, jerking a thumb in Rhys’ direction. “He’s been working on that piece of coding for months now. Why he’s in data mining and not in R&D’s programmers department, I don’t know.”

Rhys had crossed his arms with a self-satisfied smirk, internally chuckling.

“Dude, we’ve had this conversation before; you know why.”

Rhys’ drink came in the same time Vaughn rolled his eyes and leaned back in his seat.

“Coding crazy, experimental stuff is just your hobby and you don’t wanna take the fun out of it by turning it into a job. Yeeeah. We know. But have you actually thought about it?”

Rhys took a sip from his drink before responding.

“Yes, I have. I debated it before university. My stance is still that same as when you first tried to convince me years ago in our crappy dorm room. Now if you’ll excuse me, Marrisse and I need to make a final decision on the blueprint before sending it back to the idiots she’s forced to call coworkers.”

“Okay, Mr. Hotshot. You do you.” Rhys rolled his eyes at Yvette’s teasing remark. Vaughn turned to her and soon they were discussing something about an upcoming movie. Meanwhile, Rhys turned to Marrisse and sat forward.

“Remind me quick, please? What did we leave off on?”

“I think we got as far as debating using a switch either where the supporting hand would be or resorting to using verbal commands but-”

“But that won’t be mentioned to the numbskulls on the team. They’ll jump at it for simplicity’s sake until they realise how much of a pain in the ass it would be.” Rhys sighed and slumped in his chair. His head fell back, eyes looking up at the ceiling. Right. Any other solutions he could think of? There had been one on the edge of his mind back when they were in his cubicle but now…

All Rhys could think of was the intensity of Jack’s eyes. How close the other had been. The- just the feeling of being near. Thinking back, it felt like being a live wire. Hyper aware of the other as soon as he was conscious of the Alpha. The meeting room had been seeped in tension and yet, Rhys can’t remember if the other people in there felt it when the reason for the meeting finally came into play. Ashley, George, and Waldo (it was Waldo...right?) looked excited. Their scents reflected that. There had been fear but it had quickly dissipated the moment Jack went on expressing the company’s thanks.

Was it only him? He had felt….agitated.

A sigh escaped him.

“I know, it is a bit hard to think of another option.” Marrisse’s words brought Rhys back to the present and he owlishly blinked up at the ceiling. He lowered his gaze. Right.

“Uh, yeah.” A mental wince. Way to sound haughty. “Sorry. Got a few things on my mind.”

Marrisse gave a gentle smile. “I understand that feeling. I won’t waste your time.” She started to stand. Rhys sat up, wide eyes looking at her in slight bewilderment. She was leaving? He didn’t think he had been that much of an ass.

“You don’t have to go,” he trailed off. “You’re not wasting anyone’s time.”

“Honestly, I should be getting back. The guys expected me to return about five minutes ago.”

“Right, the Alpha douchebags.” Rhys crossed his arms with the mutter, brows furrowing.

“They’re not so bad sometimes,” Marrisse responded with a shrug, tube holding the blueprint tucked underneath an arm. “Regardless, they’re gonna want the idea we have at the moment. We still have that deadline.”

“If you’re sure…”

“I’m sure, Rhys,” she chuckled. “Enjoy your lunch. I’ve got a box of takeout waiting for me at the register.” She jerked her head towards the front of the diner around the corner, black hair swaying with the movement. Dark almond eyes gave Rhys a fond smile. “I’m sure I’ll be seeing you again soon. See ya.”

Rhys returned the smile with a nod. “Take care, Marrisse.”

He watched the young woman walk away, mind thinking of nothing until Yvette spoke up.

“So….she seemed nice.” It easily broke Rhys’ semi-good mood and he let the smile drop. A worried frown tweaked his lips, dropping his eyes to the table. “You plan on asking her out after the project’s finished?”

At first, Rhys didn’t answer. Finally, “It’s Him.”

He could tell when their silence went from worried confusion to stiff realization. Yvette was the first to catch on as her hand that was resting on the table suddenly clenched into a fist. Rhys looked off to the left, landing on the chair Marrisse had been using earlier.

“You mean…” Rhys looked up at Vaughn unsure what exactly he was prepared to see but fear certainly wasn’t among the possibilities he considered. But was it fear for Vaughn or fear for Rhys.

“He could scent me. I think it’s pretty clear who it is now.”

They were silent. Vaughn had looked down at his hands, face unreadable but stern. Glancing at Yvette revealed her looking out one of the diner windows and watching the lunch rush walk about outside. Rhys returned his attention back to the vacant chair, waiting, thinking.

What would his friends think of him now? They always had their suspicions - Rhys knew that very well. It wasn’t like his two best friends kept their thoughts a secret from him. There were multiple people they theorized but Rhys also knew they had hoped for something else despite logical reasoning saying otherwise. The day Rhys heard Jack’s voice in person the first time during one of the man’s notorious rages, Rhys knew who his mark was meant for. He had never felt more afraid than he had that day. What happened with Jack earlier only confirmed it.

“Maybe- maybe you’ll get lucky.” Rhys met Vaughn’s small, fragile smile. His friend shrugged. “I mean, you always use a scent neutralizer so it’s not like he caught a full whiff, right?”

Yvette, ever the cold logical one of them, added, “Yeah, if he wasn’t what he is to Rhys. Past research has shown that even with a scent neutralizer in place, there is always an inclination in the Alpha to seek the other out. It doesn’t matter if they don’t get the full scent, instinct drives them.” She turned his attention on the Omega of the group. “Rhys. After he caught the scent did you notice anything? Did something happen.”

‘Did something happen’.

Rhys scoffed.

“Yeah, he could barely keep his eyes away. It felt like he had a gun trained on my back the entire time. And he held me back after. Literally ran into the man just before making it into the room for the meeting. Fell on my ass. He didn’t know my name until Henderson said it so I doubt he looked at any of our employee profiles.” Meaning, the CEO hadn’t looked at the forms which listed the details of every worker. Only the Board of Executives and the CEO had the security clearance to see the listed gender. ‘For privacy’. Jack likely hadn’t looked at them but had still been able to catch Rhys’ scent. Coincidence? Rhys thought not.

“Not to mention you’re still alive,” Vaughn quietly chipped in, dipping his head with a pointed look at Rhys. “He’s killed people for less than that.”

Rhys flinched, heart beating in a jump of fear. Just as quietly he stated, “I know.”

“Prepare for the worst, Rhys,” Yvette advised.

Handsome Jack was a man revered and feared by the populace in nearly equal parts. Rhys wasn’t just afraid, he was down right terrified. He wanted to forever steer clear of the maniac as much as possible. It’s why he’d rather become Manager. Anything higher was too high because as soon as he met the man he knew his life would begin a steep and very quick downhill slide.

“It’s all you can do.”

Handsome Jack and Rhys were soulmates.

Nothing had haunted Rhys more in his entire life than that fact.

“Hey there ya’ll! I’ve got your usuals right here!”

A waitress placed their orders in front of them - the ones they always ordered.

Never before had food ever seemed so unappetising.