Alternate ending to the fourth and fifth episode of TFTB. Nothing weird or bad happened at Jack's office, only a little friendly bonding chat, and Jack gave Atlas to Rhys as a gift. The Vault Hunters left Helios in peace, beat the bad guys, opened the Vault and destroyed the monster, somehow. Fiona and Rhys entered it together, with Jack still in Rhys' head.
And here we are now, Jack sighed as he pinched the bridge of his nose, willing the growing migraine away. Being able to feel again stopped being nice when his back began to hurt and his head ache. He wasn't young anymore, unlike Rhys who happily crawled under the table, in a gap where Jack wouldn't be able to reach him without bending his hurting back.
"Rhysie, get outta there," he sighed and tried to pull the toddler out by his leg. But that only lead to Rhys losing a sock and giggling merrily, the sound echoing under the coffee table. Jack gave up, putting faith into the cleaning robots that took care of his penthouse that there is nothing dangerous under the furniture, and let the baby have some fun.
Rhys was so, so lucky that Jack was there when the Vault asked them where do they wish to be. The girl disappeared instantly, probably wishing for something stupid, like just being with her sister. Rhys was probably about to do a similar mistake, but surprisingly, it was Jack's turn to speak. Naturally, he wished to be in his own, living body, controlled and inhabited by him and him only. Nothing happened, and so he at least gave a little advice to the dumbass whose head he shared: "Wish for another Vault. Preferably some that actually does sum shit."
And in the next instant, they appeared in another Vault, right in front of the treasure. It was just a well, but Jack knew that nothing is just a well with Eridians.
"Welcome, to the Vault of the Truth-bringer," a booming voice called from all around them.
How original, thought Jack.
"What truths do you wish to learn?" it asked them.
This time, Jack didn't have enough time to stop Rhys from doing something stupid. "Show me how to make something better out of Atlas. How to fix it, create something good of it..."
"Done," the voice thundered, and for a second, Jack got to watch dozens of warnings popping up on the boy's EHCOeye, disappearing too fast for him to read them. When it stopped, he could sense that something changed in his head, and he knew that now Rhys knows, knows the answer to his question.
"Whoa," the boy muttered dumbly.
"Use the knowledge wisely," the Eridian warned in the typical Eridian manner. "You will need one more thing to be a good CEO. A good leader needs a clean head."
For a second, Jack stopped existing, and then he was back there with Rhys. Next to Rhys. In his own body. "Finally!" he called out, hugging the boy shamelessly just to feel the warmth of another person. And maybe he was happy to see him.
"What is your wish, John? What do you want to know? What knowledge do you think necessary to make your life complete?" They were mocking him, but he was too happy that he is alive to come up with a snarky response. He wasn't going to ask how to rule the universe, wasn't going to test his fate. Not yet, at least.
"Just show me how to do it right, this time. The whole living thing. Good person or sumthin'," he waved his hand dismissively. Then he heard a chuckle, and Rhys shrunk. Not only that, bud he aged backwards. And in less then five seconds, the adult man Jack might or might not be considering fuckable turned into a baby. Stupid cock-blocking aliens.
Of course, he wasn't going to leave Rhys here, because they were still something like friends. He wanted to ask the Eridian what the hell is happening and how is this going to help anyone, but a thundering roar echoed through the hall. The Vault monster. They got in without defeating it, so it was still alive, and apparently pissed.
A huge, huge serpent appeared from nowhere, made of something shiny and slimy. Jack didn't have the time to ponder over the strengths or weaknesses of such a monster, or the possible utilisation of it, because it was coming right for them. He reached for the gun that used to be strapped to his thigh, but there was nothing.
He could try to run, of course he could. Rhys would be a small morsel, but it might give him time. But don't forget – Jack was once a father. His instincts took over before he could make a bad decision, and he curled his body around the baby still sitting in a heap of clothes protectively. He expected to be swallowed whole, or maybe at least torn away from the boy, distracting the monster, but nothing happened. When he looked up, the serpent was gone.
Hesitantly, Jack picked the boy up, wrapped him in his shirt and got the heck out of there before the serpent changed its mind.
The boring tale of how Jack basically hitchhiked his way back to Helios, took over Hyperion again and spent one whole night binge-shopping for baby stuff can be skipped completely. The days spent at R&D screaming at the scientists to figure something out – what happened, how it happened, how can it unhappen, and if not, how can they make profit from this de-ageing process – were about as much productive. A month later, Jack finally accepted the fate and just... rolled with it?
Rhys' happy babbling grew quiet under the table, and Jack knew that the boy is finally growing tired. He spent the whole afternoon up and toddling around the house, keeping Jack from working because of his superpower to find danger even in a completely empty room. He was like a tiny, stupid, stupidly-cute magnet for trouble.
"Time for a bath, okay?" he asked the baby, not expecting an answer. Even though Rhys was able to get out a few basic words or word-like sounds, he always preferred to babble. Especially when Jack tried to teach him something, Rhys would pretend that he can't speak at all.
He bent down, pulled the half-sleeping baby from under the table and noted that it must have been really clean there, because his light blue onesie wasn't covered in dust. He might have even skipped the bath and left it for tomorrow morning if Rhys didn't throw up all over himself after eating snacks few hours ago. At moments like this, Jack was sure the Eridian was watching them and having a lot of fun.
As always, Rhys refused to go without a fight when he learned what's happening. As soon as Jack reached for the tap to run the bath, Rhys started struggling, almost falling out of his arms, but fortunately, Jack already knew how to handle a baby that hates bathing. Angel was the same.
Something warm spread in his chest at the memory, and Jack mused for a while how did it happen. He thought that any memory of Angel and his wife will forever only cause pain to him, like a stabbing wound in his chest. But ever since Rhys became a small, annoying, cute and stable part of his life, the pain grew smaller and smaller until only a little twinge was left. Now he could remember the moments he and his wife spent trying to get Angel to sleep with love, smile spreading over his face at the memory of Angel always trying to stuff as many toys in her mouth as possible.
"Hey, Rhysie," he talked gently to the struggling boy who looked close to throwing a tantrum, "look what is this," he held up a rubber duck. It was from one of his late-night shopping sprees, and there was Hyperion written on it's side. Under one wing was a caricature of a Hyperion-branded weapon. It only got the boy's attention for a second, and then he tried to wiggle free again. Muttering a mute curse, Jack reached for the other duck he had there. It was Atlas, and the stupid boy loved it. Jack tried to tell himself that the baby only likes it because there are bright red stripes on it. Little bastard.
Holding the duck, and – as expected – trying to put it in his mouth, Rhys let himself to be stripped of the onesie that went straight to the trash bin and lowered into water. When the warmth reached the middle of his chest, he finally realised the betrayal, and started crying. Jack's migraine spiked up, but he could ignore it for another couple minutes.
"Hey, hey, come on, just a few minutes," he tried to calm the boy while he quickly washed him. "If you listened to me and sat for a while after eating the puree, you wouldn't throw up and we could have avoided this," he chastised him in a loving voice, because if Rhys could pretend that he can't speak, Jack can pretend that he doesn't understand too.
Rhys stopped crying only when he was lifted from the water and wrapped in a fluffy bathrobe, twice fluffier than anything Jack ever bought for himself, and he likes to spoil himself a lot. If the Eridians want him to raise the next Atlas CEO, he will make sure to spoil him stupid. But he still hoped that the effect will be reversed eventually, maybe when he makes a groundbreaking, life-changing realisation.
"You see? Bathed and still alive. Water is good, Rhys," he chastised in the soft voice again. The boy squealed something and buried his face in Jack's chest. "Yeah, whatever, I won't argue with you..."
He quickly walked to the room that became Rhys'... palace, basically. Everything was top-quality here, the bed, the changing table, the toys, soft rug, rocking chair, everything. Only the best for the young CEO. Very young CEO. Baby CEO.
Jack picked some pyjama onesie with a Loader Bot motif and quickly changed Rhys into it. Then they went to the bathroom again, to brush the six teeth he had. Rhys was half-sleeping on his shoulder as Jack moved around the kitchen, preparing a bottle of milk deftly with one hand, and when he put him to bed and let him drink, he fell asleep before he was able to drink it all, the bottle falling from his small hands.
Jack picked it up, turned off all the lights except for one small lamp, and with a sigh he sat in the rocking chair. Pulling out his comm, he got to do some work in peace before Rhys woke up exactly at midnight, as every day, crying for whichever reason. Probably to punish Jack more for his terrible past. But if that was the goal, it wasn't working, because the CEO only smiled, shutting down work. "What is it this time?" he asked the crying boy, picking him up. His nose gave him the answer, and Jack cursed; one point for the Eridians.
When Rhys was clean and in a fresh nappy, he was too lively to go to sleep willingly, but Jack knew what to do. He sat in the rocking chair again, letting the boy crawl all over him until he found a spot he liked and settled, sitting on Jack's lap, head resting on his stomach. Jack continued to rock slowly, waiting for Rhys to go to sleep, but his brown eyes refused to close.
"What is going on in the tiny head of yours, huh?" he asked him, booping his nose, making him giggle.
"Yaaa!" Rhys called out, a sound that Jack suspected was the maimed corpse of what used to be the word Jack. "Yaaa!"
"What's that?" he asked, pulling the baby up to rest on his chest.
"Yaaa," he said again, reaching out with a tiny hand towards Jack's face, pointing at him with two fingers. Pointing then turned into touching when his attention was taken by Jack's mask, and the boy started playing with the clasp. Unable to say no to him, Jack let him have his fun.
"Come on, Rhys. Say Jack. Friend Jack. Uncle Jack. Whatever you fucking want; just show me that the Eridians didn't scramble the genius brain of yours! J-a-ck. Jack."
Jack groaned, but it turned into a chuckle, then more as Rhys pulled at the clasp, making the taut skin around it tickle. "You are so stupid you probably called your mom daddy and dad by your neighbour's name," Jack insulted the unsuspecting boy without any shame, because it made him giggle again. Then Rhys' eyes travelled to the abandoned bottle. "Want your baba? Num-num? Yummy for your tummy?" But the boy reminded indifferent to the words, instead babbling his usual.
Jack handed him the bottle, repeating the words, hoping the boy will finally pick some to use. But then he frowned, catching one sound in the babbling that sounded too familiar. "Yabba?" he repeated it, and Rhys smiled and repeated it too, raising the bottle to his lips, fighting with gravity and his sleepiness. "That's what you call it?" Jack mused as he helped Rhys drink. "Where did that come from?"
When the bottle was empty, Rhys let it fall and rested his head on Jack's chest again. "Paaah," he babbled with a yawn, and Jack frowned again, because he totally heard him use this before when he was tired. Maybe Rhys used his own baby talk? Traumatised children came up with their own speech, right? But he didn't look traumatised.
He carried the boy to his crib, pressing a kiss mindlessly to his forehead. "Good night, you stupid little cuddle monster," he said to the already sleeping boy who kept clutching his finger for another second before letting go.
After setting up the baby monitor, Jack finally walked to his own bedroom. He didn't go to bed yet; instead he pulled up Rhys' old employee file. This time he didn't look up his education, or his birthday, or parents. He looked at the planet of his origin, and suddenly, it all made sense a little more. Rhys knew how to talk. But not in English. Because the planet he came from had it's own language.
"Couldn't've made it easy for me, could ya?" he chuckled. With a quick call he got some overpaid guy from HR to create a dictionary for him with the most basic words and sentences, and then he finally went to sleep. He didn't even realise his headache was gone at first, but falling asleep without pain was a feeling so unfamiliar that it made him frown. He thought back, clearly remembering still having the migraine when he was working, and then he realised when it dissipated. No better stress-relief than having a giggling baby on your lap.