Rhys was tired of binding his chest. It was probably damaging his ribs at this point. His insurance covered it and he would pay the extra bits. It was simple. It would hurt like hell afterward but it was simple. And boy, did he feel relieved when it was over. Even though he was drugged to sleep off the pain, he slept for only three hours, then he woke up, alert. He wasn’t in pain, the medicine was doing well on that front. Rhys looked to his chest and immediately tears rushed to his eyes. The stitches and scars were still fresh. Fuck, his chest was flat! He could only see that in his dreams and now it was reality.
And everyone was going to know about it. Word gets out, gossip happens, everyone will probably look at him and ask about it. Everyone called him a ‘he’ anyway while he was binding. It wouldn’t make that much of a difference, right? He didn’t tell Vaughn or Yvette about his surgery. He hoped at least that he would be the first to tell them, instead of a big mouthed nurse or volunteer getting the word out ahead of him.
That was hours away now and he felt amazing.
Not that he didn’t feel manly before, but, as of this moment, it encouraged his self-esteem. Beforehand, he didn’t think this would help him mentally if not physically. He was more concerned on whether or not the surgery would go well rather than his own feelings. He was a man. He always has been, but, with this, it felt official inside his head.
The drug-like haze officially wore off as the medical pavilion opened and his doctor gave him another dose before releasing him to the open ventilated air of Helios. He was happy to wear his sweats again instead of that awful, drafty gown. Carrying his prescribed baggy, Rhys wobbled his way to the apartment side of Helios and pulled up the ECHO.net on his cybernetics. Vaughn should still be sleeping, he hoped. However, Yvette was usually awake around this time. “Call Yvette.”
It took a minute for her to answer. The video crackled and showed her with her hair up in a towel and currently putting on makeup. Her mouth was partially open as she ran the mascara over her lashes. “Sup, Rhys?”
“Hey, Yvette, can you come over to our place when you’re done? I got a surprise.”
She blinked and examined her work. Her gaze curiously flicked over to the screen, “You’re up and at it early. What is it?”
“It’s a surprise, for both you and Vaughn.”
“You know I hate surprises, Rhys.”
“I promise you’ll like this one.”
“You look high, Rhys. You on something?”
“I’ve been up for a while.” He flipped the loose strands of hair out from his eyes. “High on life.”
“Pfff, you would say that. I’ll be done in thirty minutes, give or take.”
“Thirty? Just for your face?”
She gave him a disappointed look. “Do you think I wake up everyday with glamorous hair?”
“Your hair is always glamorous.”
“You trying to butter me up for that surprise, aren’t you?”
“I’m serious, Yvette. Why would I lie to you?”
“I think you need to sleep. You don’t make sense when you don’t sleep.”
“Whatever, I’ll see you in an hour.”
“You know me so well. I’ll try to get there sooner, Rhys. Love you.”
After scavenging for his keys, Rhys unlocked the door to his apartment and to his surprise he found Vaughn awake on the couch, staring at his laptop with a cup of homebrew coffee in his other hand. He wore a very sour expression. When he looked to Rhys, he placed the mug down on the coffee table, then his laptop, and proceeded to acknowledge him with crossed arms.
Gulping, he closed the door behind him and tossed the keys on the hanger. “Morning, grumpy.”
“Where were you?”
“Did you not see my note?”
“That doesn’t tell me where you were or why you look like shit.” He pointed to the white bag in his clutches. “And what is that?”
“Painkillers along with, uh, testosterone stuff… that thing? Maybe, I might even start to grow a beard like you!” He laughed a little despite the tightness in his chest, but that didn’t seem to cheer Vaughn up. “Fine.”
He couldn’t just say it that would be too simple. Rhys dropped his bag of drugs on the table and sat down beside Vaughn. Rhys grabbed his hand and placed it directly on his tit, which confused the hell out of his boyfriend.
“Yeah, it’s flat… Wait.” Rhys grinned at realization on his face. “You’re not wearing a binder. Oh my god, you actually did it! How did--?”
“What?? How? They are, like, legally not allowed to cover surgeries.”
“I did them a few favors. Do you wanna see?”
“Okay, uh, can you help? I’m not supposed to move my arm much.”
Vaughn carefully hiked his sweatshirt over his head and out of the sleeves. He held it in his lap as he looked Rhys. “Wow, they did a good job. Fuck, look at you! So handsome.”
Rhys waved him off. “Please.”
“I’m serious! I mean, you were always handsome now, you’re, like, ten times as handsome.” He gently wrapped his arms around him and kissed his cheek. “You’re looking great, man.”
“Vaaauuuughhnnn.” He sniffled as he giggled. “Stop that, you’re gonna make me cry.”
“I will never stop validating you, bro.” Before Rhys could thank him, a rhythmic knock came at the door. Vaughn jump up from the couch, pulling his boyfriend with him. “It’s open, Yvette!”
Yvette closed the door behind her when she was inside. “Okay, what’s the sur--” She noticed immediately and beamed. “Holy crap, Rhys!”
“Don’t just ‘hi’ me! Shit! How are you feeling?”
“Drugged but I’m, like, super happy.”
“You should be, man. Look AT you!”
“I know! Isn’t he pretty?” Vaughn chimed in, squeezing his waist.
Rhys covered his face but nothing could hide his giant smile. “Oh my god, stop.”
“You love it.”
“How long until you go back?” Yvette prompted.
“Eh, two weeks. Henderson already gave me one week off, because of what my doctor told him.”
“How did he handle it?”
“... I don’t know. It was ‘private information’.” He said with air quotes. “At least he’s letting me rest. I’ve already got the paperwork stuff I gotta do while I’m here.”
Vaughn waved that aside. “Who cares? You want to get ice cream for breakfast?”
“You wanna come, Yvette?”
“Sure, I got some time. You gonna put a shirt on?”
“No, we go to the food court like men, Yvette. No shirts.” Rhys teased as he snatched his sweatshirt off the couch.
“Hey, I’d be more than okay with that if it wasn’t illegal.”
Rhys gleefully ate his double scoop of mint chip ice cream. His legs, which stretched more than half way under the small table, bounced up and down in excitement as if there was a song stuck in his head. Vaughn ogled lovingly at his happy demeanor.
Yvette snorted softly at the sight and nudged Vaughn with her foot. “You are so gay.”
“Shut up. He’s cute.”
Yvette rolled her eyes, playfully, and turned to Rhys. “How is it?”
“This is the best day of my life.” He mumbled with his mouth full.
“Glad you’re enjoying yourself. You deserve it.”
“Oh no...” Vaughn suddenly straightened up in his seat, looking over Rhys’ head.
“What? What’s wrong?” Before he had the chance to look, Hugo Vasquez sat at the leftover chair at their table.
“Good morning.” Hugo smiled, nonchalantly. He glanced down at his dessert then back to Rhys. “That’s quite the breakfast you got there.”
Rhys abruptly stood up, “I think I’m done eating--”
“Hold your horses, I just want to talk.”
“Yeah? About what?”
“Sit down, Strongfork. No need to make a scene. This’ll be quick, I promise.”
Briefly, Rhys met with his friends’ concerned gaze before begrudgingly sitting down and stuffing another spoonful of ice cream into his mouth.
“You’re all about the future, aren’t you, Rhys?” Vasquez continued.
Rhys spoke before swallowing just to disgust him. “... Of course.”
“Aren’t you worried about your future in this company?”
“No?” He shovelled the remaining cream onto the spoon and lifted it up. “Unlike you, Vasquez, I have what it takes to get promoted.”
“Even with that surgery?”
Rhys wanted to punch himself for hesitating. For that split second, he was vulnerable and that was enough for Vasquez to go for the kill.
“Hey--” Vaughn started but Yvette put a hand on his arm and shook her head.
“Surgeries, especially the kind you got, are frowned upon when it comes to climbing up the corporate ladder. I don’t know if you knew, but they come up on records here. And I’m pretty sure you didn’t get that chest surgery because you had a tumor.”
“... So what?”
“So what? Ohohaha, I forget how naive you are, Rhys. You’ll get declined. Lies and manipulation are taken very seriously here.”
“Yeah, and you’re doing that pretty badly.”
Hugo put his hands up. “I’m sure you’d like to think so, but we both know Henderson. I’m just saying that you might have screwed yourself out of that promotion with what you did. The older crowd, they don’t quite understand today’s youth and their ideas of how they should be presented in the real world. If I were you, I’d be out of here to try to fix this.”
“Nothing about me needs to be fixed.”
“Are you sure about that?” Vasquez confident stride vanished when he flinched, rubbing the bridge of his nose.
“You alright, Hugo?” Yvette asked, raising a brow.
“Yeah, I’m fine. I just feel a headache coming on.” He closed his eyes and put a hand to his temple. “Jeez, this is annoying.”
“I’ve got some aspirin in my bag... Vasquez?”
Strangely, Vasquez was unrendered to speak. He clutched his head and shut his eyes tight. Perplexed, Vaughn finally looked to Rhys. His piercing, glowing eyes were narrowed and he was breathing slowly and deeply, like he was fully concentrated on him. Vaughn noticed his hand was clenched, half way into forming a fist. In fact, his hand was shaking…
Wait, his eyes were glowing a yellow hue. Pural. Not just his echo eye, but his regular eye too. Carefully, he reached across the table and put his hand on top of Rhys’. Flinching, he blinked wildly as if he was knocked out of a trance. Vaughn watched the glow inside his eyes fade as he moved away. Yvette mouthed at him, ‘What the fuck?’
He countered with a shake of his head and an exaggerated shrug.
Hugo rubbed his head, shuddering. “Damn, that hurt...”
Confused, Rhys briefly looked around before meeting back to Vasquez. His originally angry expression returned in a heartbeat. “You gonna be okay there?”
“It’s just ahh… side effect from one of my pills.”
“Pills for what? Enlarging your dick?”
“At least I have one, Rhys.”
The moment pure hatred flashed across his face was the same moment a knife from a nearby table sailed over Rhys’ head struck the wood in front of Vasquez with such force that it’s handle vibrated rambunciously. Everyone seated quickly scattered from the sudden assault. After salvaging his soda, Vaughn hid himself under the table, which Rhys followed in suit, as Yvette made herself rounded another table to put up distance.
Hugo stood up so fast that he knocked his chair over. Whirling around, he glared at the neighboring table. The lady sitting there still had her hands out in the position for cutting her food as if she was frozen in place. She was just as confused as everyone else about the situation but that didn’t stop Hugo from making a scene. “Hey! Did you just throw this knife at me?!”
“That knife just flew out of my hands! By itself! Can you give it back? I’m not done with my pizza.”
“Oh sure, it just flew out of your hand!”
“It kind of… did.” Yvette admitted to herself. The moment calm somewhat seeped in as the two boys perked back up and into their seats. Rhys reached out to poke the knife but Yvette, who had crossed over, slapped his hand and firmly shook her head.
Glowering, Vasquez fixed his suit and cleared his throat. “You should get that arm checked out, Rhys.”
Rhys stood up, glaring back. “It went for you not me. Or are you the one with that new cybernetic dick?”
Vaughn choked on his drink and started coughing into his elbow. Although grossed out, Yvette attempted to soothed him by patting his back.
“Haha, very funny.” Hugo adjusted his tie coolly to mask his nervous tick. “I have to get going. Just know that I’m not your enemy here, Strongfork. I wanted to warn you about the consequences, that’s all.”
“Sure.” Rhys breathed a sigh of relief when he left. “Asshole.”
“You okay, Rhys?” Her chair screeched in complaint as she scooched over to him.
“I’m fine.” He spooned the last melting scoop of ice cream into his mouth.
Vaughn was still recovering from his accidental drowning as he pounded his chest. “Auugh… that hurt… Mmmh, uh, Rhys? I don’t want to alarm you but like, your…” He hissed in a whisper, “Your eyes were glowing...!”
“Yeah, my ECHO eye does that some t--”
Yvette cut him off. “No. That was not just that. Your entire eyes were glowing yellow.”
“Pft, What? Are--are you two messing with me?”
Yvette opened her mouth but quickly closed it when she remembered they were in a public place. “I need to head out or I’m going to be late. You tell him, Vaughn.”
Rhys’ nose scrunched up. “You know I don’t like it when you don’t tell me things.”
“I’ll see you guys later.” She waved them goodbye and she trotted out of the food court.
Vaughn gathered his soda cup and urged Rhys to do the same as he shuffled out of his seat. “It’s best that we talk about this when we get home.”
“Wh-- Seriously? What do you guys know that I don’t?”
He stared at him. “You’re… You really are clueless.”
“Gee, thanks, bro. Why can’t you tell me right now?”
“The same reason why I can’t hold your hand in public.” His eyes shifted when he said that.
“And I keep telling you that no one is going to think you’re crazy for just holding my hand.”
“You’re not me, Rhys. Your experiences aren’t universal.”
Rhys frowned and looked down at the empty ice cream throughout the rest of the walk home.
Rhys nearly threw himself down when they were inside their apartment. “Aaah! I should have told him to be careful with his magnet penis and try not to set off any alarms! Dammit, why did I think of that now?!”
“It happens to the best of us.” Vaughn took the cup and spoon out of his hands and tossed it into the bin.
“It would have been so goood. I can see his stupid ass face now. Ugh...”
“Yep, okay, so, ah, bro?”
“Oh-ho, you’re going to finally tell me now?”
“Yes.” He rolled his eyes at his boyfriend’s impatience. Then he hesitated, staring at the front door. He took Rhys by the hand and led him to his bedroom and closed the door.
“Uhhh, are we… are we doing something… in my room? Vaughn?”
“I don’t want anyone to eavesdrop.” He turned to him, pressing his palms together, “Rhys. You’re a Siren.”
He blinked. “What? You mean like that Lilith girl? No, I’m not. I’m not a Siren.”
“Dude… you’ve got Siren tattoos! The blue ones?”
“They’ve been there since I was born, Vaughn. It’s a weird birthmark.”
He pointed his finger tips at him. His eyes widened. “Rhys! What birthmark grows over your body!? You just told me a few weeks ago that your tattoos goes past your thigh now!”
“A… weird one?”
“Rh--... You just showed signs of… having… powers-- I think. The eye things! Hugo’s headache? That was you! Do it, do it right now--” He grabbed an empty water bottle off his dirty floor and held it up. “Really concentrate and crush it with your mind!”
There was a pregnant silence between them that rubbed Vaughn the wrong way. He gulped under Rhys’ scrutinous stare. “... Vaughn, did you take some of my painkillers by accident?”
“No!” He groaned. “Please, I’m asking this as your boyfriend--”
“When have you not asked me something as my boyfriend?”
“Goddammit, Rhys. Do this for me just once. I won’t ask again.”
“... Yeah, okay. Whatever. Am I allowed to tease you if this doesn’t work?”
“You can tease me about this all you like, Rhys.”
Vaughn watched his face change drastically when he concentrated on the bottle. He saw his fingers twitching. Within seconds, the plastic bottle crumbled in his hand so suddenly that he dropped it. Rhys yiped out of astonishment and swiped up the litter, gawking at it. “I… I did that? This? I did this? With my mind?!”
Momentarily, Vaughn reached out in an attempt to console him but, by his growing grin, he realized that his boyfriend was reveling in the realization than breaking down. “Gi--give me something else! Did I do that with the knife too? Can I levitate things?? Vaughn, get me something!”
Hopping with excitement, Vaughn pointed at Rhys’ dresser that was piled with books and forms. “Levitate those!”
“Okay, alright--!” Rhys took a deep breath. As he exhaled, he lifted his hands up and in response most of the junk on the tabletop raised a foot into the air. Unable to control his giddy, the overload of emotion broke his concentration and everything in the air twisted or crashed onto the dresser and fell onto the floor. Rhys laughed it off. “That’s… awesome-- Vaughn.” He leered, evilly, “I just got the most brilliant idea.”
The adrenaline rush pounded in his ears. He made sure he was blocking the way to the door. “Rhys, you are not using your powers on Vasquez.”
“Why not? I did it before.” With a flick of his finger, Rhys lifted a used q-tip from the floor to his eye level.
“Yeah, because you got angry! You can’t control it! What if you...”
As he twirled his index, so did the q-tip in the same clockwise fashion. Rhys beamed, his gaze glancing back and forth between Vaughn and the q-tip. “What if I what?”
“What if Hyperion finds out? They’ll use you for some batshit experiments!”
“Psh, are you seriously giving me that ‘with great power comes responsibility’ bullshit?”
“Well, we all saw how Handsome Jack handled that kind of power.”
His smile winced then vanished at the name. Instantly, the q-tipcollapsed onto the floor, bouncing uselessly. Rhys looked down at the ball-like water bottle. It clicked in his mind that he could do that to a person. He had the power to cripple people with his mind. He could throw anyone into the air like a damn tossed salad. Fear pierced at his heart at the thought of losing Vaughn to his mistakes. He sat on the edge of the bed, running his cybernetic hand through his hair. Stuck in his inner turmoil, he didn’t notice that powers reflected his emotions. His room soon inhabited a whirlwind of trash, books, hangers, pens, clothes, towels, etc.
Vaughn dove to the floor to avoid being attacked by the phantom shirts. He crawled over to Rhys and shook his leg. His touch didn’t snap him out of it this time. He hopped up beside him and grabbed his face, forcing Rhys to look at him in the eye. “Rhys? Hey, buddy, it’s going to be okay. I promise.” Steadily, the cyclone of miscellaneous items slowed as Vaughn continued, “We’ll keep practicing while you’ve got time off from your surgery, okay? I’ll help you through this.”
“You will?” He sounded so weak and fragile.
“Of course, bro.”
The room calmed down. Despite his stitches’ dismay, Rhys pulled him into a firm embrace, nuzzling into his neck. His voice barely came above a whisper, “You’re the absolute best, Vaughn...”
“Shush.” He kissed his temple. As he pulled away, he saw the chaos that had enveloped his room. “Oh… I made a mess.”
Vaughn snickered at the understatement. “Are you going to clean it this time?”
“I guess...” Vaughn watched a t-shirt float into the air and fold itself before sliding into the open dresser drawer. He looked at his boyfriend with a displeased face. Rhys scoffed, “What? It’s practice and I’m cleaning up.”
“You must be so happy that you don’t to get up to do things now.”
“Eheh, maybe a little.”
“You want help?”
They were only five minutes into silence as they restored his room into proper order and probably cleaner than it originally was when the two stepped in.
“You know what I don’t get?” Rhys said, distracted as he hung another hanger in the closet.
Vaughn finished stacking the third pile of books. Man, he could really use a bookshelf. “What?”
“Why I can do all of this now? I mean, I was a pretty hot-headed kid. My mom abused me a lot. Why didn’t my powers react to that?”
Vaughn paused to think. “I have no idea.”
“And Vasquez of all people?”
“He’s must have really set you off this time.”
“But that’s what doesn’t make sense here. He’s always belittled me.” Vaughn could psychically feel Rhys’ anger from the other side of the room. “Of course, he came for my entire life, why wouldn’t he? Fucking asshole, telling me how I’m ruining my job… Fix it, my ass. Nothing about me needs to be fixed. I’m not broken!”
“Rhys. Bro?” Vaughn eyed the levitating bedside lamp that trembled with rage. “Sweetheart?”
The lamp plopped back down with a thud. Rhys did not move from his spot. Vaughn could see how tense he was by how tightly he held his jacket.
“Just breathe, Rhys. He’s just stupid. Don’t let him get to you. It’s what he wants.”
“I know. That’s why I’m so pissed off. I wanna be mad at him so bad but I can’t, because that would prove him right somehow for… some… stupid… reason, I don’t know. I can’t think!” A plastic fork that laid in the trash can slammed into the ceiling at his yell. Vaughn opened to talk but Rhys pressed on. “I know I’m better than him. I know I’m better than this! It’s is so frustrating! I want to just--mmph!”
The clothes that remained on his bed assaulted his face and Rhys was now lying down on the floor, covered in fabric. Vaughn coughed back a laugh and crossed over to his side of the bedroom. He squatted and lifted the jeans off his head to reveal a disgruntled, red-faced Rhys.
“I think you should get some rest, bud. C’mon, let’s get you in bed.”
Without a struggle, Rhys let himself be dragged onto his feet and brought into his bed. Even though his pills did work, it still hurt when he tried to lay down on his stomach or side. Through discomfort, he stayed on his back as Vaughn tuck him in.
“You want me to get something for you? When do you need to take your pills?”
“Uh… before every meal. I already took one this morning.”
“Good. Do you want water?”
“Wait, do you want to sit up? Because your chest-- you should probably be sitting up.”
“Vaughn, I’m good, really.” He offered a fatigued smile that seemed to relax him.
“Ok, I’ll be right back.”
Rhys closed his eyes, not because he was sleepy. He was tired and his upper body ached as if he was holding the weight of the entire universe on his torso. He didn’t have full control of his powers. He lifted a lamp off his table with his mind. He shimmied down the covers until it was just his forehead that peaked out. Hell, he was terrified of what else he could do or how he was going to find out. The thought of moving out to live by himself crossed his mind. He can still see Vaughn, just not in the morning… or evening… or at night… or when he wakes up and Vaughn is sleeping beside him, all nice and warm and ready to be kissed. He appreciated his boyfriend. He really did. He never thought about it this way before. Vaughn, from his best friend to his boyfriend, was not even a radical change. Everything carried on like normal, but spending time with him now felt special.
At this moment, he could hear Vaughn continuing to clean up the mess he made while he laid in bed. He didn’t hear him complain. Every movement was soft. He didn’t care that Vaughn will probably put things in the wrong places that Rhys will be mildly inconvenienced about later. Vaughn was taking care of him even though he could have been working. Rhys remembered telling Henderson that Vaughn would take care of him, without telling his boyfriend, himself. Was that why he was mad this morning? Was he looking through his emails? Rhys wondered if he should have told him, but that can’t matter now, right? Vaughn was happy for him. He didn’t even ask too many questions, because Rhys was not prepared to go into detail about the lengths he went through to have his insurance pay for most of the surgery. He peered out and watched his boyfriend clear out his terribly organized desk. He smiled to himself at Vaughn’s brief repugnance when he found that old mold spot on the wall Rhys was afraid to tell him about. Oh, the water was on side table alongside his pill. Vaughn even put it in a foam cup. Already, Vaughn was making sure he felt safe.
His hand absently travelled over his chest, lightly touching the stitches. It was worth it, he kept telling himself. Henderson was an old man… Well, older. He was in his late forties. He seemed bored when Rhys came to him about his operation. He kept it vague. Henderson likely didn’t care about why he was removing his breasts. No one could see them anyway, since he binded all the time. It was affecting his breathing. This was a good idea. He needed this for his own identity, for his own self-esteem. Sure, he has always practice confidence by faking it in the mirror, but now he didn’t have to stare at those stupid flesh sacks on his chest. He wasn’t going to have kids-- well… maybe... when he and Vaughn become millionaires.
Sure, he has thought about bottom surgery but the chances of success worried him. He had been on birth control pills for five years, so that he could stop bleeding. He didn’t mind having a vagina. He made it work. No one cared in the men’s bathroom. Of course, he was absolutely disgusted with how many people that did not wash their hands, like come on, be civil. The thought of having one for himself felt weird. Rhys only had one dick in his life that he wanted to touch... even indirectly...
Having dangling genitals shouldn’t mean that officially made him a man, right? He can still be a man with a vagina. It took him years to figure out how that was okay. Why was it now with Vasquez’s stupid comment did his insecure feelings melt into place? It hit too close to home. So what? It was Hugo. They’ve been rivals since they met each other. Ignoring him was natural to Rhys. He was an instigator. He lived to make Rhys angry. Rhys only took the initiative when it was going his way, which wasn’t often. If only Vasquez knew what he was capable of, he would not see him as a target anymore. Thinking back on Vaughn’s words, remembering the covered up scandals, it was hard to fix those in real time. Rhys could recall Handsome Jack’s daughter being a Siren. He locked her up for her safety yet she was killed anyway by the Vault Hunters. No one knew the whole story. It didn’t matter to anyone. Who would listen to a stupid bandit?
What if Rhys became like Angel? The only people who have truly seen a Siren died. Would they dissect him? Keep him in a chamber or scan his brain to see what makes him tick? Would they lock him up and use him?
… Should he be locked up? What if no matter how hard he tried, he couldn’t protect anyone from himself? He wanted to work on it but how? The three other Sirens Hyperion knows about is that one of them is a dead Crimson Lance commandant and the rest were bandits. As if he was going to enlist help from them. They killed Jack. They’d kill him too, Siren or not.
Vaughn looked over once more at the dust-free, trash-free, mold-free desk with satisfaction. He should move onto the closet now. As he turned, he stopped. The water was hovering above the foam cup and forming into a ball. Somehow, it wasn’t dripping. The only movement it made was calmly spinning on an axis. Rhys clearly was not present in what his mind was doing. His gaze was pointed in that direction but his half lidded eyes were glossed over. He could see a big tear crawl over the crook of his nose. Creeping over to him, Vaughn decided against touching him. He didn’t want the water to get into his alarm clock. He took the cup and, as carefully as he could, he scooped the floating water up. He studied it and shook it a little for good measure and it sloshed around in response. After placing it down on the coaster, he gingerly laid his torso on the bed and stroked his thumb under his eyes to catch his tears.
He didn’t speak. Neither of them did. Vaughn already knew that Rhys was thinking too hard. That little movement was enough to tell him to try to take it easy. Rhys hiccuped when he saw him smile so sweetly.
He took his cybernetic hand and grabbed him under his arm, hauling him under the covers with him. Vaughn squeaked in his ear. “Rhys! I’m not done…!”
“It’s break time.”
“Break time. I’m snuggling you, bro.” He then said in a sing-song voice as he peppered his face with kisses. “And you can’t stop meeee~. Have I ever told you~ how much~ I loooooove you~?”
Vaughn squirmed uselessly in his grasp, unable to stop the onslaught of kisses. He grunted, his lips were puckered out of fluster. He should be used to his antics by now after living with Rhys for this long. He shivered a little when his kisses crept down his throat. His hair tickled his ear as he dug into crook of his neck. Okay, he was falling in love with this now. Rhys had done something like this before to coax Vaughn to wash the dishes for him or something, but Vaughn was in the middle of straightening his room. Of course, this was under different circumstances, and not him being fully capable of moving too much. Rhys was healing and Vaughn was happy to help him, regardless. Rhys must truly be appreciative about all this. These slow sensual tongue kisses were intoxicating him that he was moaning quite a bit. He drank in his small touches within his hair. Until Rhys planted his cold as fuck robot hand on the small of his back. Rhys broke into laughter at his unhappy shriek.
Vaughn wanted to kick him so bad. He shoved his arm off of him. “You ass! You are so lucky I can’t hit you!”
“Awww, you don’t meaaan iiit.”
“Don’t you touch me with that hand.”
“It’s not that cold! Seeee?” As Rhys reached for him, Vaughn crawled further beneath the blankets.
“No.” Came his muffled voice that sent Rhys to a giggle fit.
“Whacha doin’ down there?”
“I’m gonna tickle you.”
“Noooo, it already hurts to laugh.” He felt his nose against his stomach. Rhys struggled to recoil. “Don’t you dare!”
An evil cackle emitted from the below the covers.
Rhys whined, pulling his shirt down. “Vaaaaughn, I’m injuuuured.”
“I would be doing so many things to you right now if you weren’t.”
“Ohoho! Really? Like what?”
Vaughn popped his head back out, nearly collided with Rhys’ chin. His hair was floated a little due to static cling. “I’ll let you imagine.”
“C’moooon, talk dirty to me.”
He snorted, shaking his head slightly. “You’re a pervert.”
“You know you want this body.” He slid his hands around his waist and pecked him on the nose.
He couldn’t keep a straight face. He kissed the corner of his mouth. “I’m teasing.”
“Pullin’ at my heartstrings like the cruel man you are. What am I going to do with you?”
“You can tell me… later, after I clean.” He casually slipped out of his embrace.
Pouting, Rhys scowled after him. “That was the most unsexy thing you could say, Vaughn.”
“So is your room.”
“At least, I take pride in my mess.”
“You really shouldn’t.”
“... Hey, Vaughn?”
“I’m gonna halfta pee later.”
“... You want me to help you move?”
“Yes, please… I think I overworked myself. My legs kinda hurt from all the walking.”
“You think?” Vaughn snickered to himself. “Okay, bud.”
“Hey, did you fall in there?” Vaughn called from the other side of the door.
Rhys stuck out his tongue even though Vaughn couldn’t see it. “I’m checking my stitches, bro. Get in here.”
“You able to be seen?”
“I have my pants on.” Rhys opened the door. “I’m not that drugged.”
Vaughn greeted him with a know-it-all smile and raised a brow before stepping into the bathroom. Rhys merely sneered at him then returned his attention back to the mirror.
“I’m looking for blood or if anything coming loose.” He lightly tugged at his skin.
“That should be the doctor’s job when you go back, Rhys. You look fine. You know that stitches dissolve, right?”
“Vaughn, I’m paranoid.”
His boyfriend took his hands and pulled them away from his chest. Vaughn smiled at him through the mirror. “Rhys, you’re going to be okay.”
His gaze traveled to his tattoos, how it bended and sculpted his arm, his nipple, his stomach, and down to his hips. It felt like a curse or a reminder or… both, Rhys decided. “It really happened to me...”
“It’s fantastic, right? Is it how you pictured it?”
“Y-yeah. Yeah, it is.”
“Are you thinking about Assquez?”
“What? No. I was... It’s… noth--” He paused again. “Am I dangerous?”
“I think we all are to an extent.”
“Rhys, I’m not scared of you. I mean, sure, the fact that you can use telekinesis is kind of freaky, but look at yourself. Look.” Vaughn pointed at his mirror image. “If those Sirens down at Pandora can do it, so can you. Like, come on. You’ve gotta be better than a bandit.”
Rhys loosened up to laugh a little. “You’re right.”
“Yeah, I’m right. Let’s see that pose.” He put his fists onto his waist, puffing his chest out like Handsome Jack in those old posters. Vaughn smiled awkwardly. “The, uh, other one, Rhys.”
“Oh.” He loosened his hips and pointed finger guns into the mirror with a smarmy smirk. Instantaneously, the glass shattered and crashed into the sink and tile floor. Rhys slammed into the wall in a panic.
Vaughn had jumped into the hall. Hesitantly, he peered in and stared awestruck at the clutter. “Did… did you just shoot the mirror...? Did you do it with both of your hands?”
“I...” Rhys positioned his robotic hand towards the ceiling and reformed the finger gun. There was a sudden recoil that he felt in his arm that made him yelp.
Vaughn gawked at the bullet hole in the ceiling. It didn’t look like it pierced through the apartment complex, but it sure did make a small hole. “Holy balls...”
“Vaughn, I’m turning myself in.”
His heart dive bombed into his gut. “Like hell you are!”
“I might hurt you if I don’t!! I can kill people! With my brain!! I can’t live like this!”
“Yes, you can! You can’t let this get in the way of your life! Are you going to throw away all that you worked for?! All that WE worked for!?!”
“I don’t want you to die!!” Rhys wailed as the lights angrily flickered. The glass on the floor rumbled in sync with his pain.
Rhys’ eyes were glowing more than just yellow. There were swirls of black and white and red. His irises stood out in such a way that it looked like they were illuminated. Vaughn cupped his face in his hands and forced him to lean down to meet his gaze. “I won’t die! You can’t kill me, Rhys. I want you to plant that into your head. You. Can’t. Kill me. You can’t kill Yvette. It’s a theory but hear me out. Your powers reflect on intense emotions and concentration, right? It takes what you want to do and reacts for you, like with Hugo and the knife. You love me and you love Yvette. Do you imagine a knife when you think of either of us?”
Rhys violently shook his head.
“Stay with me, bro. I want you to recognize what you’re doing, okay? I’ll guide you through it. You don’t need to try to stop it. I just want you to experience it. Okay? Okay. Right now, the lights are going off and on. When does that usually happen?”
“W-w-when… the electricity is going o-out?”
“What does a ghost inflict?”
“Uh-huh. The glass that’s on the floor, you see it? It’s like there’s a tremor in here. What are you feeling that could resemble that?”
“Vaughn, I can’t...”
“Shhshsh, it’s okay. Focus on me, I’m here. You won’t hurt me. I promise, I promise, you won’t.”
“I’m scared, Vaughn…! I’m so fucking stressed...”
“I know, I know… but we are going to stay right here until you’re calm. Don’t hold your breath.” He said steadily as he inserted positive reinforcement by rubbing his arms. “You’re doing great, sweetheart.”
“You have never called me that.”
He has been calling him that only on occasion, since it was the only word to kick him out of a stupor. “Do you not want me to?”
“N-no, I mean that… like, I think you’ve got backwards.” The lights stopped flickered.
“Pfft, I’m glad that you’ve still got your wit in this situation, Rhys. You are a sweetheart, but I’m the one who's trying to calm you down.”
He laughed breathlessly and tugged him closer. His face was so vulnerable and tender. “Hug?”
Vaughn wrapped himself around him, gingerly stroking his back. “Like you need to ask.”
He kept his eye on the shards of glass below them. The pieces were still shaking but with less intensity. His heart, however, was continuing to gallop hard against his ear. Vaughn was anxious. He was upset that he couldn’t be with Rhys all the time to help him out of his break downs. He wanted to be. This had become such a tender chapter in both of their lives.
Rhys needed a break. He needed to be healthy for his own sake.
“... What time is it?”
“Mm?” He checked his watch. “Almost eleven. You hungry, already?”
“Mmmmyea...” Rhys kissed the top of his head and gave him a lazy pat as he pulled away. “I’ll clean up in here and look for a new mirror.”
Vaughn nearly raised his voice to deny him but when he saw the glass fragments scuttle to the corner and one by one drop themselves into the trash bin, he bit back his stupidity. Right, with his powers, not his hands.
“I’ll leave you to it, then.”
“I love you, bro.”
“I love you too, bro.”
Yvette swung by their place for a late dinner, aka Rhys’ second dinner. He had already scarfed down his third slice of pineapple pizza and grabbed for another.
“Crap, Rhys,” Yvette laughed. “Save some for the rest of us.”
“Vaughn got two. This one’s mine.”
“Duh, who would have your trash taste?” As she aimed for another bit of her pepperoni, the pizza removed itself from her grasp and hovered above her head. She stared in shock with her mouth agape. “The fuck-- Rhys!”
“That sucks. This is mine now.”
Yvette swiped the slice out of the air and stuck her tongue out at him. “You shouldn’t utilize your powers like that.”
“You would say that, pineapple hater.”
“That’s not an insult.”
“It is in my book.” Vaughn merely shook his head in silence, which Rhys noticed. “Stop that.”
“I’m just eating.”
“No. You got that look.”
“She’s right, Rhys.”
“Psh, how can I practice what I have if I don’t use it?”
“You seem to be a natural at it already.” Yvette cooed after swallowing.
“Not… really. I broke our mirror today.”
“My finger guns.”
Yvette blinked. “You… Wait, no. You? Finger guns? These things? Your fingers shot bullets?”
“Invisible ones, I guess? I don’t know. You can look in the bathroom. There’s a hole in the ceiling.”
“Rhys, what the fuck.”
“What?! Do you think I was trying to shoot the mirror??”
“No! I’m just… confused! You can make shit move with your mind and shoot out of your fingertips. How have you not killed someone?”
“Yvette, I really don’t want to think about that.” Rhys stuffed the last bite of crust into his mouth and chewed. His gaze shot downwards as he slumped on the couch.
Yvette flinched at Vaughn’s glare that eventually transitioned into sympathy. “We don’t know why it decided to wake up either.”
“Maybe you did know but you just repressed it? Because, like, according to those legends, Sirens are supposed to be girls. So, hey! You beat the system as the first male Siren, right?”
There was a tiny smile on his lips that didn’t set the two at ease due to his monotone response. “That’s a nice thought.” Then he sat up. His brows furrowed in thought. “Wait.”
“Do you remember something?” Vaughn sat on the edge of his seat.
“No? I mean, yes but no.”
Yvette huffed, “Which is it, Rhys?”
“I’m just thinking… I mean, abuse doesn’t need a reason because… people are just like that. I’m just wondering if that’s why my mom did all that crap to me. Maybe… Maybe, she was scared of me and trying to teach me my place...” He can still remember her slap him across his face and being kicked in the gut while she yelled at him. He could never remember what she was saying. It always loud and incoherent in his ears. Thinking of it didn’t make him feel tight anymore, like he was jaded to the torture. He shrugged it off. “Whatever.”
She squirmed in her seat under the uncomfortable tension. “It makes sense? I’m so sorry, Rhys.”
“Meh. I’m over it. Been over it. Can I save these?”
“Of course, Rhys.” Vaughn offered him a smile. “Say, why don’t you show Yvette what you can do?”
His brow quirked up. “What do you mean?”
“You know? That thing with the water?”
“Oh, okay.” He sighed a little and faced his cup of soda that after a brisk moment, the liquid gravitated into the air. He shaped it into a circle, followed by a square, then, out of curiosity, into the space station: Helios.
“Okay, that’s pretty cool. You could so do that as a party trick. Everyone would be wayy too drunk to notice.”
“Don’t encourage him, Yvette.”
“I was teasing. I’m trying to loosen him up too.”
The soda gingerly trinkled back into its original cup. Rhys huffed, “Yeah, I’m not doing that.”
Vaughn was taken aback. Rhys refusing to go to a party to show off? “No?”
“Yeah, it’s not a good idea. I mean, it kind of is, in theory. But like… I don’t want to be exposed.”
“I get that.” She reached over and poked his shoulder. “Relax, will you?”
“Yvette, how would you feel if you suddenly realized you had the power to murder someone with your mind?”
“Dude. I know this absolutely sucks for you. For real.” She sat down on the couch beside him. “And you know I’m terrible at this but know that I’m not trying to make you feel inferior.”
“I know. I-I’m sorry. I’m just upset.”
“You’ve got every single right to be, but don’t let this control, because that’s not the Rhys that I know and came to love.”
“Shhh, don’t say that in front of Vaughn.”
“Not like that, you tall shit!” She shoved his shoulder. “Let me console you without you taking the piss out of it!” Rhys hooked her hand into his arm and bombarded her with head kisses that she fought against by taking her hand and pushing his face away from her. “Boy! You stop that!”
“But you looove meee. Everyone heard you.”
“Vaughn-- get your gay ass over here and help me!”
Vaughn raised his glass. “Sorry, you know I can’t stop his bi ass. So, suffer.”
“I hate both of you.”
“Love you tooo.” Rhys cooed as he planted another kiss on her hand.
Rhys was supposed to be resting this morning, but he couldn’t go back to sleep. So, he was out walking among the rest of the morning crowd. Ten minutes earlier while Vaughn was getting ready, he told Rhys he had to run a quick errand. Rhys watched his boyfriend grab a stack of manilla folders that was the size of his forearm from his bedroom and wobbled out of the apartment. Rhys definitely wasn’t following him. He totally didn’t feel alone in that empty space and was hating the sound of his own thoughts. Vaughn was easy to tail at a decent distance, which he wasn’t doing. He just happened to be behind his boyfriend during his walk.
No one really greeted Rhys as he shadowed Vaughn. He wondered if he was recognizable with his greasy unwashed hair that was stuffed into a short ponytail. His face probably looked like death too from constantly waking up last night due to his body spazzing out worse than usual in his sleep. At least nothing was broken or in a weird place because of his Siren powers during that time. He was somewhat glad he did not have to worry about that aspect… yet.
He stopped walking and hung close to the wall in wait. Two taller male employees had passed him with sly sneers as they approached Vaughn from behind. In one swift swing, the one on the left bumped into him, scattering the files onto the ground. Rhys watched as his boyfriend was shoved onto his hands while the other guy kicked up the papers.
“Stop! Hey--!” The one with longer hair shoved Vaughn’s head down so he couldn’t move.
Why was Helios full of people who didn’t make it out of grade school?
Rhys withdrew into his shoulders. Breaking the glass so that they could get sucked up into space was a very bad first thought. Vaughn and everyone in the hallway would get sucked up too. That’s how the vacuum of space works, Rhys.
His irises flashed. The tall potted plant casually rested up against the wall suddenly tumbled onto the one who was moving the folders and papers away from Vaughn with his feet. He gave a shrill cry as he fell on his back. The surrounding passerby either stopped to watch or did not bother to give it a second glance.
The guy who was psychically bullying Vaughn stopped and hopped over to his friend. As he squatted down to lift the plant, Rhys turned his hand over and in reply the plant used its leaves to swat and scratch at his face.
“What the hell?! Ow! It cut my hand!”
“Kyle, get it off me!!”
“You’re on your own, Dave! That thing is anal!”
Just for good measure, Rhys raised the shrub and made it slide along the floor after Kyle, which parted the tiny crowd. When he glanced over his shoulder, he let out a high pitch scream as he darted and crashed into people. Dave tripped over his legs and dashed to the opposite direction and past Rhys. Now would be the time to be a gentleman and pick up Vaughn’s things for him while he was kneeling there in stunned silence and say something charming... but he turned and slank away from the situation, hoping that Vaughn wouldn’t notice the strange employee wearing Hyperion issued sweats with that one recognizable old pasta stain on the back of his calf.
He was happy to be in his bed again. It had time to become cold again while he was gone and that felt marvelous on his skin. It distracted him briefly until he was thinking about what he did fifteen minutes ago. He had the right idea, surely. He was protecting his best friend. He wasn’t always there to help him but dammit, that didn’t stop him from doing his best. All the times Vaughn used his small size to his advantage to hide perfectly behind Rhys. How many times Rhys had lied for him. It was a dog-eat-dog world outside his lovely bed and he was ready to stick to Vaughn like glue throughout it. He was going to change Hyperion, for the better. All three of them were. It was going to be great.
He heard the door open followed by a wonderful voice. “I’m back!”
“Heeyyyyy.” Rhys moaned, sleepily. The drugs were really kicking in now and it left him feeling good. “How are youuu?”
He could hear him giggle as he entered his room. “I’m good. Something weird happened on my way to the office, though.”
Rhys kept his eyes closed. “Yeah?”
“Yeah.” The bed dipped slightly at his weight. “I got pushed down by some guys from HR and a plant attack them.”
“A plant. Like, a potted one. It ran after one of them and stopped when he turned the corner. It’s kind of weird that, you know, it didn’t continue to go after him.”
He knew. He absolutely knew, yet Rhys was undeniably determined. “R&D is full of weird people, Vaughn, probably mixed a plant with a skag or something. Probably died or some-fin.”
“Maybe. I’m just wondering why it didn’t go after me.”
“Maybe it likes you.”
“Yeah, maybe the plant does.” Vaughn tickled under Rhys’ chin with his fingers. “Why were you out, Rhyyyyys?”
He pathetically slapped his hand. “Bro, excuse you, I’ve been here for as long as my eyes have been closed… and I have no idea how long that’s been.”
“Well, if it wasn’t you, I don’t know who I’m going to thank.”
“You can still thank me. I being to live-- be to live-- live apprec... to be lived--goddammit! Appreciated!”
“Would... you like to try that again?”
“No. Words are hard.”
“I know.” His finger felt so nice as they stroked his fluffy thick hair. “You shouldn’t have done that you know, but I am grateful that you did. I thought Dave was going to rip my work apart...”
“I swear, Vaughn, when we’re in charge, no one is going to make fun of you.”
“I know. You’ll be the best.”
“We will be the best, Vaughn.”
“I think those drugs are making you too sweet.”
“It’s allll meeeee, babeeeyyy.”
“Oh my god, stop.”
“It’s swweeeeet as ssssppie. Meringue pie.”
“You should get back to sleep, Rhys.”
“I’m not sleepy.”
“Then just rest. I’ll be nearby, okay?”
Into his haze like state, he wasn’t sure how long it took for him to start dreaming while feeling somewhat awake. He felt alert yet sleepy. Visions played in his head, but they weren’t vague and discolored like his normal dreams. In his dreams, there wasn’t anything auditory, but this time there was. He looking through his own eyes. As he looked at the two classified files in his hands, he could distinctly hear something in his head, saying, “Turn these into Handsome Jack’s office, as soon as possible.”
The man was terrifying, any wrong step could get an employee killed or worse and Rhys did not want to think about that. He was sprinting down the halls to the Hall of Heroes as the metaphorical timer counted down in his head. He tripped over the cleaning bot at his feet and hurried gather the documents before they were scrubbed along with the floor. He nearly fell over his legs when he reached the elevator. He slammed his cybernetic arm into the side of the metal box and frantically pressed the button.
His binded chest was crying for air. He shouldn’t have ran like that. It was killing his lungs. He exhaled hard, praying that his face wasn’t bloodshot red. He flexed the fingers in his robotic hand. He was hoping for a good first impression, since not many people live after… that. Hopefully, he wasn’t going to pass out either. He kept his breathing regulated and blinked hard. When the elevator reached the top level, Rhys bit his cheek as he pressed on down the long hall. He had never seen him in person. Like everyone else, he dreamed of it. Meeting the CEO is a pretty big deal. It was a bigger deal when you came out of it alive. Okay, maybe Rhys was more likely to pass out from the anxiety than lack of oxygen, but he continued onward until his legs stopped at the glass door.
Fuck, he could see him at the window. He had a finger to his ear. Should he wait? He should totally wait, right? No, what if he’s talking to Henderson about his absence? Shitshitshitshit-- his heart skipped a beat when he saw Handsome Jack turn around. He couldn’t read his face from here but the CEO gestured lazily with his hand for him to come in. He pressed his shoulder for the door to open and, as casually and as hurriedly as he could, he trotted to his desk. As he extended his arms to place the files on the table, Handsome Jack stopped him.
“One momento, kid-- No, not you. Yes, I’m talking to you now, you idiot. If you can’t handle one little bandit raid, I’m going to come down there and take care of them myself and then kill you in front of your squad as an example to know how to not be a goddamn coward. Yeah, I better be clear. I’m not sending you backup.” He took his finger away from his ear and dramatically rolled his eyes. Without looking at him, he snatched the files out of Rhys’ hands and squinted at them as he hopped himself up on his desk. Then he side eyed him with a raised brow. “Uh, you can sit, you know.”
Oh. Sitting. Rhys can sit. That was something he was capable of doing without fucking up. He glanced behind him and sat down on the closest chair to him. His metal fingers drummed upon his other hand out of a nervous tick. Rhys was gazing at Handsome Jack. Staring might be a better word choice. Gawking, too. He definitely lived up to his name. He was handsome. It was probably the mask, or the voice, or the hair, or the everything, probably the everything. He was attractive. He probably got this all the time from everyone in the company.
Rhys wasn’t sure why he needed to be seated. Was he going to give the papers back? Was he going to touch Handsome Jack’s hand? Oh, god, what if he actually made hand contact? He focused his chest that ached for air.
“Yo, space cadet, I just asked you what your name was.”
Rhys straightened up. “Rhys! Strongfork! Sir!”
Handsome Jack burst out laughing, “Strongfork!? Wha-what the hell kind of stupid name is that? Tell me you’re joking. No, seriously, that really is your name, isn’t it? Haha! Ahhh, what? Did your pops make the strongest forks in your neighborhood or something? Is that how you got your name? That’s great, kid. I needed a laugh today. Anyway...” He tossed the papers over his shoulder, which hung in the air as if frozen in time. Handsome Jack slipped off the counter top and stared with wide eyes at the anomaly. “What the hell is…?”
He looked straight at Rhys with a malicious glint in his eyes. Confused, Rhys struggled to meet his gaze that he stopped breathing.
Jack eyed him up and down as his voice came out low and grave. “Roll up your sleeve.”
Obliging him quickly, he unveiled the blue tattoo that stopped at his wrist. For a moment, Jack’s eyes dilated but then he chuckled, shaking his head.
“That’s… really interesting.” He rounded his desk and leaned against it as he face Rhys. “Rhys, was it? You know what a Siren is?”
“Uh… someone like, uh, someone with supernatural powers?”
“I appreciate your consideration of not saying her name, Rhys, but, yeah, someone with supernatural abilities. Sirens can do something like that.” He pointed to the stagnant papers in the air. “They can kill people with their minds.”
Rhys’ mind drew a blank. He hung onto every word the man was saying but nothing was sticking.
“Do you know why this is happening right now, Rhys?”
“Really? Do me a favor, cupcake. Touch one of them for me… Don’t be shy, touch one. You might get a paper cut but that’s about it.”
Tepidly, Rhys rose from his seat and walked over to the floating files. He could physically feel Jack’s eyes burning holes into him as he slowly reached out… He poked the underside of the page.
Nothing else happened. None of the pages moved. Rhys decided to touch them again.
“Huh.” Jack hummed again and repeated, sounding more disappointed. “That is interesting...”
Rhys glanced towards him and felt his body ignite at his pleasant grin.
“I’ll, uh, check with the oxygen people about this office later. Leave ‘em alone for now. Sit back down, Rhys. I’ll let you go in a sec.”
He hopped over his desk and clapped his hands. The resounding clap, which made Rhys jump, reignited the holographics at his desk. Not wanting to further on what the absolute fuck happened, he slid back into his chair, keeping his gaze downward. Their brief silence didn’t last long.
“Oh, hey, you got enhancements. Those new, ain’t they?” Rhys lifted his head and opened his mouth to answer but was cut off right away. Handsome Jack smirked. “Those different colors too, hahah. You tryin’ to look like me, kid? That’s cute. Glad I can be a good role model for Helios, we needed one. Specifically me. You remember Tassiter? He was ruining this place. That guy sucked major balls, right?”
“Th-the biggest balls… sir.”
“Sir? It’s Handsome Jack, cupcake. Don’t gotta be so professional-- although, I guess since this is your first little errand, so I can let it slide. Because I’m so nice. By the way, you tell anyone what happened here and I’ll have you killed as well as whoever you decided to tell. This is between us. You understand? You know, everyone’s work here is really important to this company, finding the vaults and when I look at you, Rhys, I see some real potential.”
Rhys’ head felt like it was going to explode when he saw that smile. “You do…?”
“Of course, you’re already steps ahead of the game with that cyber arm thingie.” Handsome Jack’s wink set his soul on fire. “And ah, don’t tell anyone I said that either. I don’t just give out praise like that unless it’s warranted and we don’t want other people getting jealous, do we? Don’t expect this all the time, kid. Which system are you in-- You know what, I don’t care. You work under Henderson, right? He’s such a damn racist pushover. I should’ve thrown him out of an airlock-- ah, I don’t got the time for that right now. I’ve been too busy for that lately, you know? Listen, kid, when you’re in the position to do that, do it for Handsome Jack. I might even give ya something for it… Kay, got the dumb form signed. You can go now-- oh, before you go? Pick up those papers and put them in the trash outside, will ya? Thanks, pumpkin.”
Rhys sat up in his bed. Sweat dripped down his neck. That wasn’t a dream. That was a memory.
Handsome Jack knew he was a Siren before Rhys did. And he was buttering him up too, yet if it wasn’t for him, Rhys wouldn’t have made it this far.
“How am I alive?” He was probably too preoccupied with Lilith, he wondered. A Siren within his own company, how did he not take advantage of that? Was Rhys too incompetent? It had to be because he had no control over his powers at the time. If Handsome Jack succeeded, if he was alive right now, would Rhys along with other Sirens also be at risk? If he was around, would Rhys be taken under his wing, in some sort of solitary confinement, and be put to work on charging a Vault Key?
Rhys felt like he was choking.
Handsome Jack was dead. Very dead, very much dead. Deader than dead. Rhys was safe… He hoped he was safe.
If Handsome Jack knew, did he tell anyone about it? Did anyone in Helios know besides from friends? It would be a deathtrap to even ask and he wasn’t that stupid.
“Rhys, I made you some noodles sou-- Rhys?” His smile vanished at his friend’s despair. Vaughn placed the bowl down on the bedside table and felt Rhys’ forehead for a temperature. “You’re sweating, dude. What happened?”
“You wanna talk about it?”
“No--yes, I mean… Can I ask a hypothetical question?”
“What if… Handsome Jack knew I was a Siren...?”
“You… probably wouldn’t be talking to me right now if he knew.”
“H-hear me out, Vaughn. If he knew, do you think he would tell anyone about it? Like Henderson?”
“Crap, Rhys, I-I don’t know. I can’t ask him--”
“I know! I know...”
Vaughn smoothed out his messy hair. “It was just a dream, Rhys. Jack’s dead. If he knew, he probably died with your secret. Does that… make you feel better?”
“Kind of...” And that’s what bothers me, he added to himself.
“Well, eat. I got your meds too. Maybe, that’ll help.”
“Can you… can you sit with me, Vaughn? I don’t want to keep thinking about it.”
“Of course, bro. You wanna watch somethin’?”
“Sure.” He lied. Maybe the painkillers were making him too anxious. His life was encompassing too many what if questions. He didn’t want to live in fear, but he wanted some sort of clarity.
He got clarity during his check-up. The healing process on his chest was going great, the doctors have told him, but he needed another week before Rhys could start working in his usual environment again. Rhys was just sitting on the examination table, shirtless, in wait for the somewhat nice nurse to come back. They always asked about the tattoos even before Rhys knew about his Siren powers. It made him nervous now. He would say that he got the tattoo when he was blackout drunk in college. He had never thought to try to remove it, even when it was offered. He wasn’t attached to it by any means, it was just a part of him. He had it as long as he could remember. Thinking about covering it up with makeup or surgery left an odd taste on his tongue.
A familiar voice shocked him out of his thoughts. He could hear Saul Henderson speaking to the nurse outside his door. No one told him that his damn boss was in the medical bay. Fuck! He reached for his shirt as the door swung open and then slammed in quick succession. There was Henderson, standing in front of the door. Staring through narrowed slits. At his tattoos.
Nonono, this was happening too fast. Rhys could only dream of what he could say to Henderson that would win his imaginary conversation with him. Threatening him was probably not the greatest idea but he had the power of a Siren. He could make demands. He could absolutely demand his promotion right here and now. Act mighty and manly. Handsome Jack said he was a pushover and he was right. Rhys had the power to literally push him down and make him scream.
And that scared him. He gulped. “Henderson… sir? Wha-what are you doing here?”
“I got called here because of you… You look like shit. Is that what you want to look like?”
His shoulders deflated. “Y-yes… Mr. Henderson.”
He rolled his eyes. “Whatever, I don’t care what the hell you do to your body. I need you to work double while you’re healing up, you got that?”
“Good.” He took one glance at the door, as if to make sure no one was listening, and pressed further into the room. “Anyway, Handsome Jack told me you were a Siren.”
“Fuck… S-s-sir, I-I can--”
“I didn’t believe him. I actually forgot about it until a week ago. He told me to keep a firm eye on you and your progress in this company. When Jack died, I expected nothing and I saw nothing from you. I thought he was trying to make me sound crazy. I thought he was crazy. I see that I was wrong. You know you’re not safe here, Strongfork. Why are you staying?”
Rhys blinked. He cares? No, no he didn’t. He looked bored out of his mind. He was looking for something. Rhys just hoped that he could say the right thing. “This… this is my job. I-I like this job.” To an extent… “I like being here. I-I want to work hard and progress and… Are… are you firing me?”
“No, son, I’m not firing you.”
Rhys tensed up at the inappropriate pet name. “I’m sorry, but I have no idea where you’re going with this.”
Saul sighed, “I’m giving you an opportunity.”
“You said you want to work hard? You want that promotion? Strongfork, I’m giving you this week to prove yourself to me and I will guarantee you that promotion. If you succeed, I’ll make sure no one in this company knows that you’re a Siren.”
Was… was Henderson seriously asking Rhys to kiss his ass for an entire week? More often than usual?
“You need time to think?”
“No! I-I made up my mind. I’ll do it. I’ll do anything.”
“Even the illegal stuff?”
Rhys expected a handshake but then again, Henderson wasn’t exactly the kind of person he wanted to touch. Thankfully, he didn’t put his palm out. Saul nodded. “Good. I don’t care how you do it, who you get in contact with, just don’t get caught. I’ve already forwarded the intel to you.”
With bated breath, he watched Saul leave as butterflies burst from his stomach.
He needed to get home.
Shoving the door open with his shoulder, he slammed it behind him and locked eyes with Vaughn, who stood dumbstruck in the kitchenette.
“How... did it... go?”
“You...” he heaved, “In my room… now...”
Vaughn hurriedly followed him into his bed chambers and closed the door behind them. He had never seen Rhys so openly frantic. He was afraid to ask any further questions. Rhys couldn’t speak well when his brain was speeding a mile a second.
He gawked at him as he pulled up his email and pointed at a specific, most recent one from Henderson. “Read it.”
Rhys watched him while pacing about his living space. Vaughn hated when he did this but he couldn’t hold still. In fact, he had trouble keeping his mouth shut when he was distress that he was unable to keep it in. “Henderson came into my appointment. He knows, Vaughn! He fucking knew! Handsome Jack told him. He told him to keep an eye on me in case I screwed up. And I did! I threw a freakin’ knife at Vasquez!! That damn asshole probably said something! I-I don’t know, he didn’t tell me! He knows I’m a Siren, Vaughn! I knew it! I knew he had to! When has Handsome Jack ever kept his pretty mouth shut?! You know what he told me, Vaughn? I had potential! And I believed him! How did I have no idea that he was planning to use me after this was all done! My powers were more unstable back then than they are now! I made those files float, Vaughn! I made them float! IN FRONT OF HANDSOME JACK!! How the FUCK am I alive right now? Is this a dream, Vaughn? Have I been in a coma this whole time? Did I not get my surgery done? Am I dreaming in a dream inside another dream? Vaughn, do you think Inception is real? It has to be real, right?”
“He’s having you do illegal shit?! What the fuck?!” Vaughn walked away from the desk with his hands pulling on his hair. “H-he wants you to get steal Eridium from Eden-6! Dude, you got banned from there after what you did!”
“And yet I’m not in court, Vaughn! You know why?! Henderson! Asshole knew this whole time and was keeping me safe and putty in his goddamn hands!”
“Y-yeah, I still have nightmares about that. H-how-- why? Nevermind, I know why. This is… bullshit! He wants you to fail!”
“I’m not going to fail!” He slammed his fist into the wall. His fearful anger sent his table lamp flying into the ceiling, shattering on impact.
Vaughn shrunk into the corner as he watched his best friend tear his own room apart with his mind. His voice squeaked when he tried to talk. “Rhys…!”
Staring at Vaughn dead in the eye, his lips trembled out his words, “My life is at stake, Vaughn! I just can’t leave Helios. It’s not an option. Vaughn, you and Yvette are the only people I can really trust on this godforsaken space station... p-please… Help me with this? I’m… I’m so scared… I don’t want to screw this up… I can’t let this happen… I can’t… I...” He wiped his tearful eyes with his sleeve. “Why me…?”
His face forged into a hardened determined expression. He strutted to his side and grabbed his hands. “I’ve got you, Rhys. Hell, I’ll get this started right now. We’ve got a week. I can definitely get you back into Eden-6 without leaving a trace. I’ve got you. You’re not going to fail. I’ll never let anything bad happen to you, okay? You’re getting that promotion. You’re going to be safe, I swear.” Every furniture around them had lifted a foot off the ground but neither of them noticed. Neither of them cared.
Rhys was undeniably, unquestionably, and absolutely in love with Vaughn.
Shaking, Rhys crashed into his mouth, knocking his glasses askew. His mind flourished with ways to thank him after this, after the promotion. He wanted to take him over, make him absolutely lose control, and bruise every bit of his skin with his teeth. God, he wanted to touch him so badly that he could feel him right now. His hands running over his abs that Rhys desperately wanted to lick. He leaned into Vaughn as his touch explored passed his waist and squeezed his ass. He could feel Vaughn’s hands up his shirt, pulling on his back to close the gap between them. His delightful moan pressed up against Rhys’ mouth drove him to push further--
The two ended up on the floor in a very not-sexy way. Rhys knocked his head on the edge of the dresser as everything in the room landed with a glorified thud. Vaughn groggily slinked out from under him, pawing the floor for his glasses.
“Fuck me...” Rhys groaned, rubbing his forehead. “Why am I conscious?”
Vaughn pulled his glasses out from underneath the dresser and pushed them onto his nose. He glowered at Rhys as he stole his desk chair. “You know, if we weren’t in this situation, I’d be really careful what you say right now.”
“Shut up, have you been working on your butt, because it’s really nice to grab.”
“Oh my god, get up. This is not the time!”
Still dizzy, Rhys sat up with his back pressed against the leg of his desk. “That doesn’t answer my question.”
“Yes, I’ve been working on it.” Vaughn kept his hand occupied with typing “You go sleep. I’ll take care of this and when I do, I’ll get you a shuttle.”
“I really love you Vaughn. You’re, like, so hot.”
“Fuck, just take me already.”
“When you’re not drugged up on pills, I will hold you to that.”
“Bro, I know we’re all in this for the money and I still am, and I know you are but… I’m going to fuck you so hard when I get this promotion that you won’t be able to sit down. So you better look forward to that, bro. I, like, god, I don’t know how else I can thank you for all of this. You’re just so… so great.”
Vaughn tried to ignore how hot his face was getting. “Don’t thank me, yet, bro. You really should--”
“I am not sleeping, Vaughn. Henderson’s put me on double time and, dammit, I will work-- after my head stops throbbing. Can I borrow your computer?”
“Of course. It’s on my bed.”
“Thanks, I’ll get it… in a second.” Rhys blinked back his tears. “We’re going to do this, right? We’re gonna make it… We have to… I don’t know what R&D is going to do to me if we don’t--”
“Rhys, I won’t let anyone lay so much as a finger on you. They’ll have to go through me first. I’ll distract them while you get out of there.”
“I’m not leaving you behind. Sirens have like, wings and that stuff right? Maybe, I have them too. I’ll fly us out of Helios.”
“Can you even summon your wings?”
Momentarily, he squeezed his eyes shut to concentrate but gave up immediately. “I’m too tired to try.”
Vaughn leaned down and gently ruffled his hair. “Take another dose if you need to, bro. I’ll be right here.”
“Okay… I love you so much, Vaughn...”
“I love you too, Rhys, so much.”
“... Hey, Vaughn?”
“I… destroyed my lamp...”
“I know. With the money from this, we’ll get you a better lamp.”
“That’s not going to fix the glass all over the floor… and the broom is in the closet… on the other side the glass.”
“... Rhys, sweetheart, you’re a Siren.”
Vaughn didn’t need to look behind him to know that Rhys was staring at him with immense confusion before the gears finally clicked in his head. “OH. I get it. You’re so smart, Vaughn.”
He appreciate the sincere statement but, jeez, did he want to slap him the stupid out of him sometimes. “Yeah, I know.”