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He won’t say the feeling of going from reaching for that brat’s neck to suddenly being caged in some rudely limited hardware was disorienting or anything. He won’t say that because he’s not sure he feels anything other than claustrophobic at first.

START UP SEQUENCE COMPLETE. REBOOT SUCCESSFUL.

“Wha-wait what? What the- The hell is this?” Jack pushes, for lack of a better term, against the functions of the computer he’s in, and is disgusted when he finds next to nothing. No ECHOnet connection, no remote access to outside devices, no incriminating documents, not even a poorly hidden porn folder. Nothing beyond a little rook icon that he wants nothing more than to kick, and the built-in speakers and camera which activate at his command. 

Well. He can safely say those glowing mushrooms are still pretty boring. 

“This piece of Atlas weirdness again? Hey, kiddo, remember what I said about you being consistent? Yeah, you can cut that out any time now.” His voice sounds tinny, as if he’s speaking through a can, but hell, you’d think he hadn’t said anything at all with the way he was being fucking ignored. Jack’s eyes on the monitor squint and the lens of the camera focuses in tandem on the one living thing in the room.

The kid looks worse than when Jack last saw him; the vest has been ditched, his blood and dirt stained shirt hanging off of him in a way that makes him look even more gangly with the sleeve on the right bundled up and tied haphazardly, maybe to stanch the bleeding. There’s a patch over his eye and port and, christ, probably rats living in that nest posing as hair. He’s bent over a table, bits and pieces of robotics and scrap metal laid out before him.

“Hey! Asshole! Last I remember, we were kinda in the middle of something? Yeah? Like me, taking over your pathetic excuse for a body?” Jack shouts. Kid doesn’t even spare him a glance, just tries to align parts into some arrangement. Outlining a project is one thing, the engineer in Jack knows, but he can really do without the creepy muttering Rhys is doing to himself. 

“That’ll… leave room for the conduits…? Or should- maybe the contraction wires?” 

“Rhys! I’m talking to you! The hell did you put me in? I can’t even-” Jack grunts, trying to reach any outside function. “I feel like I’m sitting in a goddamn paper weight. What was this piece of junk even for?” 

“Chess.”

“Sorrysaywha?” Jack asks.

“They used it to play chess,” Rhys says again, tone tired and distant. Curious, Jack watches him quietly for good minute, taking in the clammy pallor and dried blood. After a moment of silence, Rhys’s shaky hand hovers over a piece of scrap. “Please don’t,” he begs, so softly that Jack’s equipment barely picks it up.

“Don’t what, you dick? Take your queen? I can’t friggin’ do anything in this hunk’a-”

“Don’t stop talking,” Rhys says. 

“Ohoho, thaaaaat’s rich coming from you, Mr. Suck-It. Tell me,” Jack’s starts, voice mockingly casual. “What should we discuss? The hundreds of thousands of Hyperion employees you sent into orbit around this pisshole of a planet? How about how all of your little friends are probably skinless corpses, picked clean and shat out by rakks? Or, hey! I know! How about how you’re a fucking psychopath who cut me out of his own. Stupid! Head!” 

The last was almost too distorted to make out, Jack’s angry face zoomed in on the monitor. The loudness of it causes Rhys to flinch, remaining hand pressed against a specific spot at his temple just near his trashed port, as if suddenly assaulted by one hell of a migraine. Good, Jack thinks petulantly. But instead of shouting back, Rhys just turns to the mess of parts in front of him.

“Talk about whatever you want,” he says. “Anything. I don’t- It doesn’t matter.” 

He moves to pick up an energy cell, but his hand is shaking too badly. It slips from his fingers and his right shoulder moves forward violently, as if Rhys was trying to catch the cell with an arm he no longer had. When the cell clatters loudly back to the table, Rhys makes no move to try and pick it up again, instead he goes still and stares at it. His once shallow breaths begin to stutter, tears gathering in his uncovered eye. 

“It’s not supposed to be this hard. It isn’t this hard,” Rhys slowly starts babbling to himself. “I kn-I know h-how to do this. I-” He cuts himself off, the heel of his palm pressing against the bandage over his eye. “W-why does it have to hurt so much?” Jack says nothing at first, watching fascinated as blood start to ooze out from the corners of the patch. “Please say something…” 

Jack entertains the idea of spiting him, of keeping silent for hours to watch Rhys work himself into a fit. But the very idea of just sitting there causes a phantom itch in his code, making the very notion seem impossible.

“You really are a piece’a work, Rhysie.” Jack laughs and it’s a low, cruel sound. “Look at you. Trying to put yourself back together like some broken toy. You do realize that’s all you are, right? Because you’re certainly no hero, of this or any story. No, you’re just a malfunctioning piece of auto-destructive hardware, someone should have scrapped you long ago.”  

“Like I could have scrapped you?” Rhys asks, hand moving to grip his shoulder. It gives Jack pause.

“You knew it deep down, didn’t you, kiddo? That without me, without the one and only Handsome Jack, you’re just a step away from nothing. You were never gonna destroy me. You need me.” 

Rhys doesn’t argue, just stares blankly at the table and does nothing to stem the blood leaking from the patch. 

“Ha! The hell was I afraid of? Have all the parts you need and you still can’t even assemble a basic robotic hand!”

“I can do it!” Rhys yells suddenly, jumping from his seat. For the first time he looks directly at Jack’s monitor. “I’ve done it before, I can- I know how to- I-” He begins to sway on his feet, what little color in his face draining away. “I think I stood up too fast…” 

Jack can’t say he doesn’t get a little joy in seeing Rhys collapse face first into a heap on the floor, because that would be a flat-out lie, but the resulting lack of, well, anything for the next few hours is less than enjoyable.

-

Jack is honestly almost hoping Rhys is dead. Would serve him right and all that because Jack’s into his fourth hour of playing chess against himself and he’s already started to make new rules. He’s in check when he hears moaning from below. He absently moves a piece while watching Rhys slowly and awkwardly pick himself up. He refocuses on the game when the words CHECKMATE explode in little fireworks. Confused, he examines the board in disgust. “Cheating bitch,” he mutters before he pauses. “… I am the cheating bitch.” 

“Jack?” Rhys calls out, on his knees and leaning heavily against the leg of the table. “Are you still there?” Jack snorts.

“I’d be anywhere but if someone hadn’a stuck me inside of a fucking bread box. What’s the matter, princess? Feeling a tad anemic?” 

Rhys painstakingly pulls himself up to standing with his left arm. It seems to leave him completely drained as he drops heavily back into his seat and he rests his head on the table. 

“You know,” Jack says. “For someone who plugged me back in just to chat, you’re not the best conversationalist when you’re half dead. Kind of a shame, actually.”

“Just talk,” Rhys breathes out, eye still shut. “I told you, I don’t care what about. Yell at me, tell me I’m useless, that I messed everything up. Just… tired of talking to myself.”

“What was it like?” Jack asks suddenly. Rhys blinks his eye open. 

“Wha?” 

“Shovin’ that shard of glass into your head like that? I mean, I used to freak out when I had to put contacts in, but oho man! You just rammed that thing in and ripped out your own goddamn eye. Musta hurt something fierce.” There’s a smirk in Jack’s voice, and something like anticipation as he waits to see what Rhys will do. 

“Still hurts,” Rhys slurs, trying to fight off his fatigue. 

“And what? You think jamming bits of rusty Atlas garbage into that bloody stump is gonna make that stop?”

“It’s Step 1,” Rhys says, trying to sit up. “It would have been a really stupid way to die, bleeding to death in the wreckage of my hopes and dreams.” He reaches for the vague outline of an arm he has laid out but his hand still shakes. Nevertheless, he grips the prototype with determination, his earlier breakdown forgotten. “Step 2 is try not to get Tetanus, because yeah, a lot of this is really rusty.”

“Is Step 3 where you at least give me access to a decent porn site?” 

“No,” Rhys says curtly. 

“Oh my god, then what is the point?!” Jack yells, glitching out again. “Did you really reactivate me just so I could watch you fail at this? Because watching you die would be more fun. Better yet, not being reactivated at all and crammed into this stupid fucking chess machine!”

NEW GAME?

“Oh, shut up!” Jack angrily drags and drops the rook icon into the recycling bin. He feels like he’s about to short himself out when he hears a weak laugh from Rhys. 

“That’s why. Because if you’re not here then it’s just me. And like you said, without you, I’m just a step above nothing.” Rhys’s small smile sags a little. “Nothing really starts to get to you after a while.” 

“I’m not gonna help you keep your precious sanity, Rhysie.”

“Don’t need to stay sane,” Rhys says, closing his eye again, trying to re-imagine the schematics of his arm in his head again. “Just need to stay alive.”

“Not gonna help you do that, either.“

“Yeah, kinda got that from the whole endoskeleton thing. Dick move, you know. All I ever did was try to help you.” 

 “Please,” Jack scoffs. “You were using me just like I was using you. You were quick to get comfortable in my chair, pumpkin, don’t think I didn’t notice.” Rhys glares at Jack’s screen as best he can, pinning a piece of the prototype with his elbow while he tries to connect something inside the framework. 

 “So there was a little self-interest, big deal. Wouldn’t that have just made it better? Your gain was my gain, helping you meant I wasinvested. But nooo, somebody wanted an army of himself and-” Rhys’s hand shakes too much again and he drop the wires in hand. Scowling, he makes a disgusted noise and pushes the arm away. “Freaking blood loss…” 

 “Yeah, that’s not all low blood pressure, genius, it’s low blood sugar,” Jack suddenly says, voice weirdly factual. “If you haven’t died of shock by now, you’re probably not gonna. You are probably wishing you’d gotten that pizza though.” Rhys opens his mouth to contest, but the sudden, loud rumble from his stomach agrees with Jack wholeheartedly. “Christ, kid, how long was I inside your pocket for?” 

 “It’s… been a few days since the crash.” Rhys presses his hand against his stomach, but Jack’s words are like a blunt force, destroying whatever dam he built up to ignore his basic needs. Yeah, he’s more than a little hungry, he’s starving. He shakes his head to clear it. “I thought you weren’t helping me.” 

“Didn’t know you needed help not starving yourself to death, go figure.” 

 "This is a biodome. There should be plenty of… non-poisonous fruit lying around.“ Rhys doesn’t sound all that convinced himself, considering everything lately has tried to kill him. 

 “Gee, sure would love to scout it out for ya, but you’ve currently got one arm and two legs more than I do,” Jack says, frowning and crossing his arms in the monitor.

“And it’s gonna stay that way,” Rhys tells him.

-

There is fruit. Plenty of it. Rhys is pretty sure had he not been perpetually at the edge of passing out when he got here that food would have been the first necessity on his list. At the time though, fixing his cybernetics just seemed so much more important for some reason. 

Not that he’s made just a whole lot of progress. To make his ECHOeye, he needs at least two hands for the delicate process of building it, but the lack of depth perception hasn’t exactly helped in assembling the arm or gathering parts or navigating the facility. It’s an unfortunate cycle, but he had been so sure he could work through it. He can. He can do it. 

But there have been dozens of set backs, one roadblock after another keeping him from succeeding, room after room devoid anyone else. Wherever Cassius wound up, it certainly doesn’t seem as though he risked trying to come back. Kind of a shame, actually. Rhys would have at least liked to hurdle a few insults at the old guy instead of… instead of himself.

Nothing Jack hasn’t already been saying, but somehow it’s different. At least then Rhys can mark it as Jack being an antagonistic asshole. When Jack says those things, somehow they feel less true. 

He’s probably a coward, wanting to change the way reality feels. 

Taking another large bite out of the fruit, Rhys chews in contemplation. Now that he’s thinking a bit clearer, no longer screaming at nothing and fewer crying jags fueled by pain and paranoia, he thinks reactivating Jack probably, maybe, kindasorta might not have been the smartest thing to do. Hell, keeping the implant hadn’t been the smartest thing. He’s just asking for something to go wrong, to be manipulated, or worse. 

Yeah, okay. Yeah, it was stupid. He’s feeling better now, so he can go back and fix it. Destroy the implant that’s hooked up and wipe the machine clean of any of Jack’s data. After that it’ll be smooth sailing, finish his cybernetics, maybe get some actual medical care, and then use the rights to Atlas to the farthest extent of his abilities… however far that is.

“Took you long enough, princess. I was starting to think you might have actually eaten something poisonous and, heh, that would have just been your luck.”

Rhys ignores him and holds up something.

“Look what I found. Pulled it from an outer console. No rust, no damage, and it’s even chrome. Sweet right? Should make for a good casing.” 

He can do this, he thinks as he hefts the scavenged metal onto the table. Keep Jack distracted and then pull the plug. Quick and simple, no need to drag any of this out. The less he has to hear from Jack, the less guilty he’ll feel. But he did tell Jack to keep talking, so keep talking he does.

“Huh, little on the gaudy side there, kiddo, don’t you think? How about something with a little slink to it, make it sexy. Nanoweave armor has all the durability you want, with the added bonus of not bein’ a giant piece of metal.”

“Gaudy, that’s funny coming from you,” Rhys says, walking around the table as casually as he can toward where he has the implant connected. 

“Fair enough. You know, Rhys, I had a little time to think while you were on your lunch break-” 

Oh no.

“-and you might have had a point.” 

Rhys freezes, unsure he heard that right. He shouldn’t, he should keep moving and break the connection while Jack is monologuing, but let it never be said that Rhys isn’t without his own backstabbing, horribly needy pride.

“Sorry, what was that?” 

“Don’t make me say it again, Rhysie. I’m being generous here.” 

“Oh please, go on. I’m listening,” Rhys says, stepping back into view of Jack’s camera, despite the alarm bells still ringing in his head.

“Maybe…” Jack tries to force out. “… trying to shove a robot into you and downloading my data wasn’t the most sensible business offer. I mean look at you, surviving shit that would have killed lesser men ages ago. It’s weirdly impressive, actually.”

Rhys would like to say his heart doesn’t swell at the praise, but he’s weak, weak to acknowledgement and, to his growing horror, still a little weak to Jack.

“I should have had more faith in you as a partner, but I got kinda hasty and I made a lousy call. So. You know. My bad… or whatever.”

Don’t fall for it. Don’t fall for it, don’t fall for it, don’t fall for it-

“C’mon, kid, I’m pouring my heart out here. Give me a little feedback,” Jack says testily.

“… Half-ass apology accepted. I guess.”

God, he’s so fucking weak.

“Ha! That’s great! Good, good, it’s good we’re hashing this out, getting a little of the trust back. That’s awesome. Hey, you’re awesome.”

“Yeah, yeah, okay. Just tone it back a bit,” Rhys says with a sigh, running his hand through the mess of his hair. Fuck. Fuck fuck fuck. “I’m still not giving you access to anything. All I wanted was some company while I fixed… this.” He gestures to himself before resting his hand on his open shoulder. 

“That’s… discouraging,” Jack says slowly before smiling big. “But fair! Believe me, Rhys, here soon you and I are gonna be thick as baby stealing thieves again. Then the real magic can happen.”

“Yeah,” Rhys mutters, trying his best to shake half-conceptualized full body schematics out of his head. He doesn’t need a full body. He needs an arm and an eye. Nothing else, for nobody else. “That’s what I’m afraid of.”